Little Mother Manikin
It was Monday night, and Rosalie’s mother was dressing herself, to be ready to act in the play. Rosalie was standing beside her, setting out the folds of her white dress, and fetching everything she needed; her large necklace of pearl beads, the wreath of white lilies for her hair, and the bracelets, rings, and other articles of mock jewellery with which she was adorned. All these Rosalie brought to her, and the poor woman put them on one by one, standing before the tiny mirror to arrange them in their proper places.
It was a very thin, sorrowful face which that glass reflected; so ill and careworn, so weary and sad. As soon as she was ready, she sat down on one of the boxes, while Rosalie dressed herself.
“Oh, Mummy dear,” said Rosalie, “I’m sure you are not fit to act tonight.”
“Hush, Rosalie!” said her mother. “Don’t speak of that now. Come and sit beside me, darling, and let me do your hair for you. And before we go, Rosalie dear, sing your little hymn.”
Rosalie tried to sing it; but somehow her voice trembled, and she could not sing it very steadily. There was such a sad expression in her mother’s face, that, in the midst of the hymn, little Rosalie burst into tears, and threw her arms round her mother’s neck.
“Don’t cry, darling, don’t cry!” said her mother. “What is the matter with you, Rosalie?”
“Oh, Mummy dear, I don’t want you to go tonight!”
“Hush, little one!” said her mother. “Don’t speak of that. Listen to me, dear; I want you to make your mother a promise tonight. I want you to promise me that, if ever you can escape from this life of misery, you will do so. It’s not good for you, darling, all this wretched acting—and, oh, it makes my heart ache every time you have to go to it. You’ll leave it if you can, Rosalie, won’t you?”
“Yes, Mummy dear, if you’ll come with me,” said little Rosalie.
The poor mother shook her head sorrowfully.
“No, dear; I shall never leave the caravan now. I chose this life myself; I chose to live here, darling; and here I shall have to die. But you didn’t choose it, child; and I pray every day that God may save you from it. You remember that little village where we passed through, where you got your card?”
“Yes, Mummy dear—where we had the milk and bread.”
“Do you remember a house which I sent you to look at?”
“Oh, yes, Mummy dear—the house with a pretty garden, and a lady and her little girl gathering roses.”
“That lady was my sister Lucy, Rosalie.”
“Aunt Lucy?” said Rosalie. “Was it, Mummy dear? And was that little girl my cousin?”
“Yes, darling. I knew it was your Aunt Lucy as soon as that young woman mentioned her name. Lucy married a Mr. Leslie; and it was just like her to read to those people in the cottages, just as she used to do when we lived in that town of which I told you.”
“Then I’ve really seen her?” said Rosalie.
“Yes, darling. And now I want you to promise me that, if ever you have the opportunity of getting to your Aunt Lucy without your father knowing it, you’ll go. I’ve written a letter to her, dear, and I’ve hidden it away in that box, inside the case where the locket is. And if ever you can go to your Aunt Lucy, give her that letter. You will, won’t you, Rosalie? And show her that locket; she will remember it as soon as she sees it. And tell her, darling, that I never, never parted with it all these long, dreary years.”
“But why won’t you come with me, Mummy dear?”
“Don’t ask me that now, darling; it’s nearly time for us to go into the theater. But before you go, just read those verses about your picture once through; we shall just about have time for it before your father comes.”
So Rosalie read once more the parable of the Lost Sheep.
“Rosalie, child,” said her mother, when she had finished, “there are four words in that story which I’ve had in my mind, oh, so many times, since you read it last.”
“What are they, Mummy dear?”
“ ‘Until he find it,’ (Luke 15:4) Rosalie. All last night I lay awake coughing, and I kept thinking there was no hope for me; it was no use my asking the Good Shepherd to look for me. But all of a sudden those words came back to me just as if someone had said them to me. ‘Until He find it—until He find it. He goeth after that which is lost until He find it.’ It seems He doesn’t give up at once, He goes on looking until He find it. And then it seemed to me, Rosalie—I don’t know if I was right, I don’t know if I even dare hope it—but it seemed to me last night that perhaps, if He takes such pains and looks so long, if He goes on until He find it, there might even be a chance for me.”
“Are you ready?” said Augustus’ voice, at the door of the caravan. “We’re just going to begin.”
Rosalie and her mother jumped hastily up, and, thrusting the Testament into the box, they hurried down the caravan steps and went into the theater. There were still a few minutes before the performance would begin, and Rosalie made her mother sit down on a chair in the little room behind the stage, that she might rest as long as possible.
Several of the company came up to the poor woman, and asked her how she was, in tones which spoke of rough though kindly sympathy. Rosalie looked earnestly in their faces, and read there that they did not think her mother equal to her work; and it filled her little heart with sorrowful forebodings.
She had never seen her mother look more lovely than she did at the beginning of the play; there was a bright colour in her face, and her beautiful eyes shone more brilliantly than ever before. Rosalie really hoped she must be better, to look so well as that. But there was a weary, sorrowful expression in her face, which went to the child’s heart. Her mother repeated the words of the play as if they were extremely distasteful to her, and as if she could hardly bear the sound of her own voice. In her eyes there was a wistful yearning, as if she were looking at and longing for something far, far away from the noisy theater. She never smiled at the bursts of applause; she repeated her part almost mechanically, and, from time to time, Rosalie saw her mother’s eyes fill with tears. She crept to her side, and put her little hand in hers as they went up to the platform after the first performance was over.
Her mother’s hand was burning with fever, and yet she shivered from head to foot as they went out on the platform into the chill night air.
“Oh, Mummy dear,” said Rosalie, in a whisper, “you ought to go back to the caravan now.”
But Rosalie’s mother shook her head mournfully.
About halfway through the next play there came a long piece which Rosalie had to recite alone, the piece which her father had been teaching her during the last week. She was just halfway through it, when, suddenly, her eyes fell on her mother, who was standing at the opposite side of the stage in a tragical position. All the colour had gone from her face, and it seemed to Rosalie that each moment her face was growing whiter and more deathlike. She quite forgot the words she was saying, all remembrance of them faded from her mind. She came to a sudden stop. Her father’s promptings were all in vain, she could hear nothing he said, she could see nothing but her mother’s sorrowful and ghastly face.
And then her mother fell, and some of the actors carried her from the room. Rosalie rushed forward to follow her, and the noise in the theater became deafening. But she was stopped on the stairs by her father, who blamed her most cruelly for breaking down in her part, and ordered her to return immediately and finish, accompanying his command with most awful threatenings if she refused to obey.
Poor little Rosalie went on with her recital, trembling in every limb. Her mother’s place was taken by another actor, and the play went on as before. But Rosalie’s heart was not there. It was filled with a terrible, sickening dread. What had become of her mother? Who was with her? Were they taking care of her? And then a horrible fear came over her lest her mother should be dead—lest when she went into the caravan again she should only see her mother’s body stretched upon the bed—lest she should never, never hear her mother speak to her again.
As soon as the play was over, she went up to her father, and, in spite of the annoyed expression of his face, begged him to allow her to leave the theater and to go to her mother. But he told her angrily that she had spoilt his profits quite enough for one night, and she must take care how she dared to do so again.
Oh, what a long night that seemed to Rosalie! When they went out on the platform between the performances, she gazed earnestly in the direction of her mother’s caravan. A light seemed to be burning inside, but more than that Rosalie could not see.
It seemed as if the long hours would never pass away. Each time she went through her recital, she felt glad that she had at least once less to say it. Each time that the Town Hall clock struck, she counted the hours before the theater would close. And yet, when all was over, and when Rosalie was at length allowed to return to the caravan, she hardly dared to enter it. What would she find within?
Was her mother dead, and was her father hiding it from her till her part was over, lest she should break down again?
Very, very gently she opened the door. There was a candle burning on the table, and by its light Rosalie could see her mother lying on the bed. She was very pale, and her eyes were tightly closed. But she was breathing, she was not dead. The relief was so great that Rosalie burst into tears.
When she first came into the caravan, she thought that her mother was alone, but a small hoarse whisper came from the corner of the caravan, “Don’t be frightened, my dear,” said the voice, “it’s only me. Toby told me about your mother, and so I came to sit with her till you came.”
Rosalie walked to her mother’s side, and on the box by the bed she found a little creature about three feet high, with a very old and wrinkled face.
“Who are you?” said Rosalie.
“I belong to the Dwarf Show, my dear,” said the old woman. “There are four of us there, and not one of us more than three feet high.”
“But isn’t it going on tonight?” said Rosalie.
“Yes, it’s going on, my dear; it always goes on,” said the tiny old woman. “But I’m old and ugly, you see, so I can be better spared than the others. I only go in sometimes, my dear; old age must have its liberties, you see.”
“Thank you so much for taking care of my mother,” said Rosalie. “Has she spoken to you yet?”
“Yes, my dear,” said the old woman; “she spoke once, but I couldn’t well hear what she said. I tried to reach up near to her mouth to listen; but you see I’m only three feet high, so I couldn’t quite manage it. I thought it was something about a sheep, but of course it couldn’t be that, my dear; there are no sheep here.”
“Oh, yes,” said Rosalie, “that would be it. We had been reading about sheep before we went into the theater.”
Just then a noise was heard at the door of the caravan, and Augustus entered. He went up to his wife, and felt her pulse; then he muttered, “She’s all right now. Let her have a good sleep; that’s all she wants, Rosalie.”
He looked curiously at the dwarf, and then left the caravan and shut the door.
“Rosalie,” said the tiny old woman when he had gone, “I’ll stay with you tonight, if you like.”
“Oh, would you?” said little Rosalie. “I should be so glad!”
She felt as if she could not bear all those long, dark hours alone, beside her unconscious mother.
“Yes,” said the dwarf, “I’ll stay. Only you must go and tell them in our tent. Can you find it, do you think?”
“Where is it?” said Rosalie.
The little old woman described the situation of the tent, and Rosalie put a shawl over her head, and went in search of it. There were some stalls still lighted up, and the flaring gaslight showed Rosalie an immense picture hanging over the tent, representing a number of diminutive men and women; and above the picture there was a board, on which was written in large letters—“The Royal Show of Dwarfs.”
Rosalie had some difficulty in finding the entrance to this show. She groped round it several times, pulling at the canvas in different places, but all to no purpose. Then she heard voices within, laughing and talking. Going as near to these as possible, she put her mouth to a hole in the canvas, and called out, “Please will you let me in? I’ve brought a message from the little lady that lives here.”
There was a great shuffling in the tent after this, and a clinking and chinking of money. Then a piece of the canvas was pulled aside, and a little squeaky voice called out, “Come in, whoever you are, and let us hear what you’ve got to say.”
So Rosalie crept in through the canvas, and stepped into the middle of the tent.
It was a curious scene which she saw when she looked round. Three little dwarfs stood before her, dressed in the most extraordinary costumes, and far above over their heads there towered a tall and very thin giant. Not one of the tiny dwarfs came up to his elbow. On the floor were scattered tiny tables, diminutive chairs, and dolls’ umbrellas, which the little people had been using in their performance.
“What is it, my dear?” said the giant loftily, as Rosalie entered.
“Please,” said Rosalie, “I’ve brought a message from the little lady that belongs to this show.”
“Mother Manikin,” said one of the dwarfs, in an explanatory tone.
“Yes, Mother Manikin,” repeated the giant, and the two other dwarfs nodded their heads in assent.
“My mother’s very ill,” said Rosalie, “and she’s taking care of her; and she’s going to stay all night, and I was to tell you.”
“All right,” said the giant majestically.
“All right, all right, all right,” echoed the three little dwarfs.
Then the two lady dwarfs seized Rosalie by the hand, and wanted her to sit down and have supper with them. But Rosalie steadily declined; she must not leave her mother nor Mother Manikin.
“Quite right,” said the giant, in a superior voice; “quite right, child.”
“Quite right, child, quite right,” repeated the three little dwarfs.
Then they escorted Rosalie to the door of the show, and bowed her gracefully out.
“Tell Mother Manikin not to come home in daylight,” called the giant, as Rosalie was disappearing through the canvas.
“No, no,” said the three dwarfs; “not in daylight!”
“Why not?” said Rosalie.
“Our pennies,” said the giant mysteriously.
“Yes, our pennies and halfpennies for seeing the show,” repeated the dwarfs. “We must not make ourselves too cheap.”
“Goodnight, child,” said the giant.
“Goodnight, child,” said the dwarfs.
Sorrowful as she was, they almost made Rosalie smile, they were such tiny little creatures to call her “child” in that superior manner. But she hastened back to the caravan, and after telling Mother Manikin that she had delivered her message to her friends, she took up her place by her mother’s side.
It was a great comfort having little Mother Manikin there, she was so kind and considerate, so thoughtful and clever, and she always seemed to know exactly what was wanted, though Rosalie’s mother was too weak to ask for anything.
All night long the poor woman lay still, sometimes entirely unconscious, at other times opening her eyes and trying to smile at poor little Rosalie, who was sitting at the foot of the bed. Mother Manikin did everything that had to be done. She was evidently accustomed to a sickroom and knew the best way of making those she nursed comfortable. She climbed on a chair and arranged the pillows, so that the sick woman could breathe most easily. And after a time she made the poor tired child take off her white dress, and lie down at the foot of the bed, wrapped in a woollen shawl. And in a few minutes Rosalie fell asleep.
When she awoke, the gray light was stealing in at the caravan window. She raised herself on the bed and looked round. At first she thought she was dreaming, but presently the recollection of the night before came back to her. There was her mother sleeping quietly on the bed, and there was little Mother Manikin sitting faithfully at her post, never having allowed herself to sleep all that long night, lest the sick woman should wake up and want something.
“Oh, Mother Manikin,” said Rosalie, getting down from the bed and throwing her arms round the little old woman’s neck, “how good you are!”
“Hush, child!” said the dwarf. “Don’t wake your mother; she’s sleeping so peacefully now, and has been for the last hour.”
“I’m so glad!” said Rosalie. “Do you think she will soon be better, Mother Manikin?”
“I can’t say, my dear; we’ll leave that just now. Tell me what that picture is about up there? I’ve been looking at it all night.”
“Oh, that’s my picture,” said Rosalie. “That shepherd has been looking for that lamb all over, and at last he has found it, and is carrying it home on his shoulder. And he is so glad it is found, though he has hurt himself very much in looking for it.”
“And what is that reading underneath?” said the little old woman. “I can’t read, my dear, you see; I am no scholar.”
“ ‘Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.’ (Luke 15:6,10)”
“What does that mean, child?” said the old woman.
“It means Jesus is like the shepherd, and He is looking for us, Mother Manikin. And it makes Him so glad when He finds us.”
The dwarf nodded her head in assent.
“We ask Him every day to find us, Mother Manikin—Mummy and me; and the story says He will look for us until He finds us. Shall I read it to you? It’s what Mummy and I were reading before we went in to the play.”
Rosalie went to the box and brought out the little black Testament, and then, sitting at Mother Manikin’s feet, she read her favorite story of the lost sheep.
“Has he found you, Mother Manikin?” she said, as she closed the book.
The little dwarf put her head on one side, and smoothed her tiny gray curls, but made no answer. Rosalie was almost afraid she had vexed her, and did not like to say anything more. But a long time afterwards—so long that Rosalie had been thinking of a dozen things since—Mother Manikin answered her question, and said in a strange whisper, “No, child, He hasn’t found me.”
“Won’t you ask Him, dear Mother Manikin?” said Rosalie.
“Yes, child. I’ll begin today,” said the little dwarf. “I’ll begin now, if you’ll say the words for me.”
Rosalie slipped down from her stool, and, kneeling on the floor of the caravan, she said aloud, “O Good Shepherd, you are looking for Mummy and me; please look for Mother Manikin, too. And please put her on Your shoulder and carry her home. Amen.”
“Amen!” said old Mother Manikin, in her hoarse whisper.
She did not talk any more after this. About six o’clock there came a rap on the caravan door, and a woman in a long cloak appeared, asking if Mother Manikin were there. She belonged to the Royal Show of Dwarfs, and she had come to take Mother Manikin home before the business of the market-place commenced. Some men were already passing by to their work; so the woman wrapped Mother Manikin in a shawl, and carried her home like a baby, covering her with her cloak, so that no one should see who she was. Rosalie thanked her with tears in her eyes for all her kindness; and the little woman promised soon to come again and see how her patient was.