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Produced by Lionel Sear





THE STORY OF JESSIE.

BY MABEL QUILLER-COUCH.


CONTENTS



Chap.

I A LETTER FOR SUNNYSIDE COTTAGE.

II JESSIE ARRIVES.

III SHOPPING AND TEAING.

IV A GARDEN SUNDAY-SCHOOL.

V HAPPY DAYS.

VI TAKEN BY SURPRISE.

VII THE JOURNEY AND THE ARRIVAL.

VIII THE NEW HOME.

IX MISS PATCH.

X CHARLIE REACHES HOME.

XI TOO LATE.

XII SPRINGBROOK AGAIN.




THE STORY OF JESSIE.




CHAPTER I.


A LETTER FOR SUNNYSIDE COTTAGE.

Thomas Dawson was busy in the kitchen trying to make the kettle boil,
and to get the fire clear that he might do a piece of toast. He had
already tidied up the grate and swept the floor, and as he stood by
the table with the loaf in his hand, about to cut a slice, his eye
wandered down through the dewy, sunny garden, where every tree and
bush was beginning to show a little film of green over its brown
branches.

But before he could notice anything in the garden, his attention was
attracted by the sight of Daniel Magor, the postman, standing at the
gate and fumbling with the latch. Thomas dropped the loaf and the
knife, and went out to meet him, leaving the house-door wide open to
the beautiful morning sunshine, which poured in in a wide stream
right across the kitchen, lighting up with golden radiance the
flowers in the window, the old-fashioned photographs on the wall, the
china on the dressers, and the cat lying asleep on the scarlet
cushion in the arm-chair by the fire.

When he saw Thomas coming the postman ceased fumbling with the latch
and waited, holding two letters in his hand.

"Lovely weather, Mr. Dawson. You ain't to work this morning!" he
remarked in a tone of surprise.

Thomas shook his head slowly. "No, my wife is bad, she've been bad
all night with a sick headache. She's better this morning, but I
stayed home to get her some breakfast, and tidy up a bit.
When anybody's sick they don't feel they want to do much."

"You'm right," agreed the postman feelingly. "I gets sick headaches
very bad myself, and when I wakes with one it seems to me I don't
care whether folk gets their letters or not. I am glad I didn't feel
like that this morning, Mr. Dawson, for it's good to be alive on such
a day, and I've got two letters for you."

"Both of 'em for me!" said Thomas in surprise, and holding out his
hand to take them. "I don't think I've had two to once in my life
before."

The postman laughed. "If folks didn't get more than you do we
postmen would soon be out of a job, I reckon!" But Thomas was gazing
at his letters with such a perplexed, preoccupied air, that he did
not reply, and Daniel, with a long, inquiring look at him, said
"Good-morning," and went on his way.

"One is the seed-list," muttered Thomas to himself, as he retraced
his steps through the garden under the budding May-trees, "but it
passes my understanding to know who can have sent the other.
It - it can't be from - from her," he added, with sudden thought,
speaking as though it pained him even to put such a thought into
words.

The old cat, hearing his footsteps on the path, roused herself and
went out to meet him, but for once he paid no heed to her, and
passing into the house sat himself down in the chair by the window,
while he still gazed with troubled eyes at the outside of the
envelope, and the blurred post-mark which told him nothing.
Moments passed before he could summon up courage to open it, for in
his heart he felt almost certain who the writer was, and he dreaded
to read what might be written; and when at last he did make up his
mind, his hand trembled so as he tore open the envelope, that his
misty eyes could scarcely make out what was written, or take in the
meaning.

"Dear Father and Mother " - for seconds he was unable to read beyond
that beginning, so strange yet familiar it seemed after all these
years of silence - "I hope you will not refuse to open a letter from
me, and I hope that you will try to forgive me for all that's past,
and for what I am about to do. You would if you knew all. I wrote
to you and told you I had married Harry Lang. I hope you had the
letter and read it. I was happy enough for a time, but Harry has had
no work to speak of for more than a year, and though we've sold all
the little I'd got together, we have been nearly starving many a
time. At last, though, Harry has got a good job offered him in a
gentleman's racing stables. It is a fine berth to have got, the
wages is good, and there are rooms to live in, and we can't refuse it
after all we have been through, but they won't allow no children.

"If work hadn't been so hard to get, and we starving, we would have
waited for something else, for it nearly kills me to part with my
Jessie, but I've got to, and, dear father and mother, I hope you will
forgive me, but I am sending her to you. She is all I've got, and I
am nearly crazy at losing her, but I don't know what else to do.
Life is very hard sometimes. I know you will be good to her, and you
can't help loving her, I know. She is very good and quiet, and she
will not give mother very much trouble, and I pray with all my heart
she may be a better child, and more of a comfort to you than I have
ever been.

"Your broken-hearted but loving,

"Lizzie.

"P.S. - She is five years old and strong and healthy. I had her
christened Jessamine May to remind me of the jessamine and the
May-trees at home, for I love my old home dearer than any place in
the world. Forgive me, dear father and mother, and be good to my
precious darling."

For minutes after he had reached the end of the letter, poor Thomas
Dawson sat with tears running fast over his weather-worn cheeks.
"My little maid," he kept saying to himself, with a sob in his
breath, "my Lizzie starving! starving! and me with a plenty and to
spare!" It was his own child he was thinking of, his own Lizzie, the
little maiden who had been the apple of his eye, the joy and pride of
his life - and this was what she had come to!

The kettle sang and boiled on the hob, the fire burnt clear, but the
loaf lay on the table uncut, and still the old man sat staring before
him at the letter spread on the table, heeding nothing until a
thought came which roused him completely - though only to a deeper
sense of trouble. "However am I going to break the news to mother,"
he groaned. "Oh, my! but it'll upset her something cruel - and that
lazy, good-for-nothing fellow that she could never abide, have
brought it all upon us!"

His thoughts and his wonderings, though, were brought to a sudden
stop by the touch of a hand on his shoulder. "Why, Thomas, you were
so quiet I thought you must be asleep, or ill, or something, and I
was so worried I had to get up at last and come down and see."
Then, as her husband turned to her, and she caught sight of his face,
she grew really alarmed. "What is it? What has happened? There is
trouble, I can see it. Tell me what it is, quick, for pity's sake.
Don't 'ee keep me waiting."

He rose, and gently putting her into the chair he had been occupying,
he handed her Lizzie's letter. "That's the trouble, mother," he
said; "it might have been worse - that's all I can say. You must read
it for yourself, it'd choke me to do so if I was to try," and he went
away to the door and stood there gazing out at the sunny garden where
the daffodils bowed gently before the soft breeze, and the crocuses
opened their golden cups to the sun. But he saw nothing, all his
mind was given to his wife, and the letter she was reading, and to
wondering how she would bear it, and what he could say to comfort
her.

At last a long low cry reached him, and he turned hastily back into
the kitchen; but, instead of seeing her white and shaken and weeping,
as he was prepared to see her, the face that looked up to him was
quivering with eagerness and love and joy.

"She's sending us her little one, father!" she gasped in a voice
quavering with glad excitement. "Lizzie's little girl, our own
little grandchild! We shall have a child about the place again,
something to love and work for. You see, Lizzie turns to us in her
trouble, poor girl, and it must be a terrible trouble to her," with a
momentary sadness dimming the joy in her eyes. "But, oh, I am so
thankful, so happy." Then, springing to her feet, "I am well now!
this is the medicine I wanted. Father, when do you think she will
come? I must get the place all nice and tidy, and a room ready for
her, in good time too, and it seems to me I'd best set to work at
once or I shall never get a half done!"

Thomas did not say much, his heart was too full for speech, but the
inexpressible relief he felt showed in his face and his blue eyes.
"I'm glad you takes it like that, mother," he said simply, "I was
afraid."

"Afraid! afraid of what? That I shouldn't want her!"

But at that moment the kettle boiled over with a great hiss, and
brought them back to everyday affairs again.

"Well, any way," said Thomas, with a happy smile on his pleasant old
face, "we can allow ourselves time for a bit of breakfast, or maybe
when she does come we shall be past speaking a word to show her she's
welcome," and while both of them laughed over his little joke, he
made the long-delayed cup of tea, and, though both were too excited
to eat, they sat down together to their breakfast.



CHAPTER II.


JESSIE ARRIVES.

Unwell though she had been, Mrs. Dawson would not let her husband do
a single thing indoors to help her in preparation for the little
newcomer.

"No. Men is only in the way," she said decidedly. "I shall get on
twice as fast if you leave me the place to myself." So, knowing that
she meant what she said, Thomas went out and set to work in the
garden, for, of course, that must be made trim, too, for the little
five-year-old grandchild. He forked over the earth in all the beds,
tied up to a stick every daffodil that did not stand perfectly
upright by itself, trimmed the sweetbriar hedge, and swept the paths.

"If I'd got the time," he called in to Patience, "I would give the
gate a coat of paint."

"I wish you could," she called back, "and the front door, too, it'd
be the better for it. To a stranger, I dare say it'll look shabby."

Evidently they expected the new-comer to be a very critical little
person.

"I can whitewash the back porch," thought Thomas, "and I'll do it
without saying anything to mother. It will be a bit of a surprise to
her."

But while he was putting on the last brushful or two, a thought came
to him which sent him hurrying into the house in quite a flurry.

"Mother!" he called up the stairs, "mother! we don't know when she's
coming, Lizzie didn't say - and what's to prevent her coming to-day?"

Patience dropped her scrubbing-brush and sat down on the top stair,
overcome with excitement and surprise. "To-day! this very day!
Oh dear! oh dear! how careless of Lizzie not to tell us! The poor
child might come at any time, and nobody be there to meet her, and we
can't write and ask, for she didn't give us any address to write to.
Lizzie did use to have some sense before she took up with that Harry
Lang, but now - "

Patience lapsed into silence because she could not find words which
would sufficiently express her feelings. She was tired and irritable
too, and she never could endure uncertainty.

Thomas had been standing by all this while, thinking deeply.
"Well," he said at last, "it's my belief she'd send her off as soon
as she could after she'd wrote the letter, for if Lizzie had a hard
thing to do, she was one as couldn't stop to think much about it, or
she'd never do it at all. She's put London on the top of her letter,
and the London train comes in at four-fifteen, and I'm thinking I'd
better go and meet it, any way, and then, if the child don't come by
it, I can tell Station-Master I'm expecting my little grandchild, but
I don't know exactly when, and when she do come, will he keep her
safe if I ain't there in time. I can't think of nothing better than
that."

Patience rose briskly, with a look of relief on her face. There was
something very wonderful in the thought that before another night she
might be holding her own little grandchild in her arms. "What a
head-piece you have got, father!" she cried admiringly. "Well, I
mustn't stay here talking, or I shan't be ready. If I'd got the time
I'd have whitened the ceiling and put a clean pretty paper on the
walls of the little room."

"Little room! - are - are you giving her - Lizzie's room?" There was a
note of shock or dismay in Thomas's voice.

"Yes," said Patience shortly. "The child must have a room, of
course, and there isn't any other!" she answered shortly, because it
hurt her to say what she had to, and she knew it would hurt Thomas
even more to hear it. Lizzie's little bedroom had never been looked
into by him since Lizzie had run away and left them, and Patience
herself had only gone in now and then, when, for the sake of her own
pride in her cottage, and to prevent her neighbour's comments, the
window had to be cleaned and a fresh muslin blind put up.

She returned to the room now, and with a few deft touches, a turn and
a twist or two, she moved the little bed and the bits of furniture
out of their usual positions, and into some they had never occupied
before. "Now it won't remind him so much," she said softly to
herself, "it looks quite different," and she went out leaving door
and window wide, for the sun and the soft breeze to play through.

With this new joy and the music she carried in her heart, her hands
and feet flew through their work, so that by three o'clock the
spotless stairs were scrubbed, and the neat kitchen made even neater,
and Patience herself was ready to change her gown and put herself
tidy.

Thomas was still busy in the garden. She did not know what about,
but soon after she had gone up to her room she heard him calling her.

"What is it, father?" she called back. "I am up-stairs."

"I - I've got a little rose-bush that I've been bringing on in a pot,
I - I thought," he concluded shyly, "I - thought the little maid would
fancy it, perhaps, in her room."

A mist of tears dimmed Patience's eyes for a moment. "Bless his dear
old heart," she said to herself softly, "how he thinks of
everything." Aloud, she said heartily, "Why, of course she would,
father. She'd be sure to love it, a real plant of her own! Will you
put it up there, on the window-ledge? I've got my dress off, and I
can't come for a minute," she added casually, in a tone very
different from the eagerness with which she listened to hear if he
did so.

"It would be a good time for him to break through, and go into the
room again," she thought to herself. But Thomas did not fall in with
her little scheme.

"I'll put it on the top stair, where you can see it," he called up,
"and I'll go and tidy myself now, and make a start for the station.
I shan't be so very much too soon."

"Only half-an-hour or so," said Patience to herself with a smile.
Aloud she said, "I think you're wise, father, then you'll be able to
take it easy on the way, and to explain to Station-Master all about
it, in case she don't come, and I expect you'll find she won't be
here for a day or two."

They kept on telling each other that, to try and prevent themselves
from counting on it too much.

"No, I don't see how she can come to-day, but I'll step along to see
the train come in; it'll satisfy our minds. We shouldn't feel happy
to shut up the house and go to bed if we didn't know for certain."

So Thomas started off with a calm, businesslike air, outwardly, but
inside him his heart was beating fast with expectation, and his step
grew quicker and quicker as soon as he was out of sight of his own
cottage windows.

He slackened his pace a little when he came within sight of the
station, for it looked as quiet and sleepy as though no train was
expected for ages yet; and the eager, shy old man felt that the men
at the station would laugh at him for arriving more than half-an-hour
before any train was due. For a moment he decided to turn away and
walk in some other direction until some of the time had passed, but
the seats on the platform looked very restful, and the platform,
bathed in the soft afternoon sunshine, looked wonderfully peaceful
and inviting. There was not a sign of life, or a sound or a
movement, except that of the little breeze ruffling the young leaves
on the chestnuts in the road outside.

"I'll explain to Mr. Simmons that I come early so as to be able to
tell him about the little maid, while he'd got a few spare minutes
before the train came in," he decided, and, with a sigh of relief,
made his way into the station. He was tired after his exciting, busy
day, and glad to sit down alone, to think over all that the day had
brought them, and was likely to bring them.

Mr. Simmons, the station-master, must have been tired too, though his
day had been neither busy nor exciting, for when at last he did
appear, he was stretching and yawning as though the nap he had been
having in his office had not been quite long enough for him.

When he saw Thomas his eye brightened, and he joined him at once, for
he dearly loved a gossip, and he had in his mind a long story that he
was impatient to pour out to somebody. The story was so long and so
interesting that the whistle of the fast-approaching train was heard
long before it was ended, and of his own story Thomas had not been
able to tell a word.

"Is that the London train?" he asked eagerly, starting to his feet.

"It is, sir. Are you going by it?"

"No - o, oh no," said Thomas. His face flushed and his hands shook as
a carriage door opened here and there and a passenger got out.

"Are 'ee expecting somebody?" asked the station-master, with just a
touch of impatience in his voice. He did not approve of this reserve
in Thomas, just after he had confided all that story to him too.

"Well, I hardly know," said Thomas slowly. "I am, and I ain't."
A dull sick feeling of bitter disappointment filling his heart as he
saw that beyond the two men who had sprung out at once, no one else
was appearing. "I was going to tell 'ee about it, only the train
corned in. I'm - I'm expecting my little granddaughter. She may come
any day, by any train, so far as we know, for they - her mother, at
least, forgot to say which."

The station-master, seeing that his presence was not required by the
new arrivals, stood ready to listen to Thomas's story. "Didn't tell
you when to expect her!" he exclaimed in surprise.

"No - o," said Thomas reluctantly. He shrank from talking about it,
for fear Mr. Simmons would ask questions he did not want, or was
unable, to answer. "She overlooked it, I reckon; and there hasn't
been time to write and get an answer, so I thought I'd just step up
and see this train in."

"Well, we may as well go the length of her and make sure," said Mr.
Simmons, "if the child is very young, she may be afraid to move, or
p'raps she doesn't know that this is where she ought to get out."

Fresh hope rose in Thomas's heart as they made their way along the
whole length of the train. The guard and the porter paused in their
gossip to turn and look at them, the engine-driver hanging lazily
over the side of his box watched them idly. Thomas, who was filled
now with fear that the engine would start off at a wild pace before
they had time to search the carriages, was somewhat relieved by the
lazy look of them all.

"Do you know if there was any little girl on board booked to
Springbrook?" Mr. Simmons asked the guard as they drew near him.

"Why, yes, I b'lieve there was," answered the man casually. "Got in
at St. Pancras. Hasn't she got out?"

"No."

Thomas hurried on more quickly. If she was booked for Springbrook,
and wasn't in the train, no one knew what might have happened to her.
She might have fallen out, or been stolen, or she might have got out
at the wrong station, and a terrible fear weighed on him as he
hurried on.

"Hi! Mr. Dawson, come here! Is this of her, do you think?"

Thomas ran along the platform to the carriage where the
station-master stood, and both looked in. The compartment was empty,
save for a little figure, huddled up fast asleep in one corner.
Thomas looked at her, and his eyes grew misty. "Ye - es, that's of
her," he answered. He hesitated, not because he doubted, for, though
the little face was flushed and tear-stained, and the dark hair all
rumpled about it, it might have been his own little Lizzie again.

The men looked from the child to each other helplessly. "What had we
best do?" said the station-master, in a tone lowered so that it might
not waken the little sleeper. "If she opens her eyes and sees us all
here she'll be frightened."

"And if I touch her it'll wake her up with a start," said her
grandfather anxiously. But before they had settled the knotty point,
the engine-driver, growing tired of waiting, let off a shrill whistle
from his engine and with the sound the little sleeper stirred, opened
her eyes, and sat up suddenly. The porter hastily disappeared from
the doorway, the station-master left the carriage too, but the guard
remained, and nodded and smiled at her reassuringly.

"You remember me, don't you, little one! I've brought you all the
way home, and here we are, and here is grandfather come to see you."

Jessie sat up and looked from one to the other with troubled eyes.
"I want mother," she said at last, with piteously trembling lips.

"Oh, now, you ain't going to cry again, are you?" cried the guard,
pretending to be shocked. "Good little girls don't cry. 'Tis time
to get out, too, the train is going on, and you'll be carried away,
if you don't mind what you're about, and then how will mother ever be
able to find you? Come along, get up like a good little maid."

Poor Jessie, really frightened at the thought of such a fearful
possibility, turned piteously to her grandfather, who had been all
this time standing by awkwardly, wondering what he could do or say.
But at that look he forgot himself and his doubts, and the guard and
everything but the pitiful frightened look on the little face.

"Come along with grandfather," he said coaxingly, dropping on his
knee beside her. "Come along with me, dear, and I'll take care of
you till mother comes. Granny is home waiting for 'ee with a
bootiful tea, and there's flowers, and a kitten, and a fine little
rose-bush in a pot that grandfather picked out on purpose for 'ee.
Wouldn't you like to come and see it all?"

"Will Jessie have roses?" she asked eagerly, her eyes growing bright
and expectant.

"Yes, I shouldn't be surprised if there's one nearly out already.
Let's go home quick, and see, shall we? It had got a bud on it when
I left, maybe it'll be out by this time, if not you can be sure it
will be to-morrow."

The engine gave another shrill whistle, the train jerked and
quivered. Thomas hastily gathered up Jessie in his arms, shawl and
all. "Where's your box, and all the rest of it?"

"Haven't got any."

"Haven't got any! Your clothes, I mean, frocks and hats and boots
and suchlike."

"I've got on my boots," putting out her feet, and showing a very
shabby broken pair, "and there's a parcel there, my old frock is in
it, and my pinny, that's all."

Thomas picked up the parcel, and hurried out of the already
slowly-moving train.

"Tickets, please," said the man at the gate.

"Have 'ee got your ticket?" Thomas inquired anxiously.

"Yes," she nodded; "but you must put me down, please; it is in my
purse, and my purse is in my pocket, and I can't get at it while you
are holding me."

Her grandfather did as he was told, and Jessie, freeing herself from
the great shawl which enveloped her, shook out her frock, and diving
her hand into her pocket, drew out an old shabby purse. The clasp
was broken, and it was tied round with a piece of string, but her
little fingers quickly undid this, and from the inside pocket drew
out her railway ticket and a ha'penny. In giving the porter the
ticket she had some trouble not to give him the ha'penny too.

"I can't give you my money," she explained gravely, "for it is all
I've got, but I had to put it in there with the ticket, because
there's a hole in my purse that side, do you see?" and she showed it
to the man, pushing her finger through the hole that he might see it
better. "It was mother's purse, but she lost a sixpence one day, and
then she gave it to me. It does all right for me, 'cause I only have


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