E-text prepared by Al Haines
Note: Project Gutenberg also has an HTML version of this
file which includes the original illustrations.
See 20260-h.htm or 20260-h.zip:
A Story for Girls
FLORENCE A. SITWELL
[Frontispiece: "Little night-dresses rustled."]
S. W. Partridge & Co.
9 Paternoster Row.
I. LIFE IN THE ORPHANAGE
II. THE FLIGHT
III. IN THE HOSPITAL
IV. IN A THIRD-CLASS CARRIAGE
V. BY THE SEA
VI. CHRISTMAS DAY
"Little night-dresses rustled." . . . . . . _Frontispiece_
The Westminster clock tower.
St. Thomas' Hospital.
Kate and Frances.
LIFE IN THE ORPHANAGE.
Long before it was light, little feet were passing up and down those
great stone stairs, little voices whispered in the corridors, little
night-dresses rustled by the superintendent's door. She did not think
of sleeping, for though the moon still hung in the sky, it was
Christmas morning - five o'clock on Christmas morning at the Orphanage;
and the little ones had everything their own way on Christmas Day. So
she sat up in bed, with the candle lighted beside her, bending her head
over a book she held in her hand, and often smiling to herself as she
listened to the sounds that revealed the children's joy. She was a
grey-headed woman, with a face that might have been stern if the lines
about the mouth had not been so gentle; a face, too, that was
care-worn, yet full of peace. A tall night-cap surmounting her silvery
grey hair gave her a quaint, even laughable appearance; but the orphan
children reverenced the nightcap because they loved the head that,
night after night, bent over them as a mother's might have done.
She was reading Milton's "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity," and
only laid the book aside as the little feet gathered outside her door,
and clear, passionless voices blended in a Christmas hymn.
Then the sounds died away again in the distance, and she was left to
follow in her thoughts.
* * * * * *
Upstairs to the great dormitory the children crept; trying to be as
noiseless as the fairies who filled their Christmas stockings. Maggie,
being the gentlest, led the way, and was trusted to open creaking
doors; the younger ones formed the centre of the little army, and
behind them all marched Jane, the trusted Jane, who, though she had
been one year only at the Orphanage, had won the confidence of all.
She was the daughter of honest, industrious, working people, and had
not the sad tendencies to slippery conduct which many of the little
ones possessed. She was true in word and in deed; and no one could
measure the good of such an example amongst the children.
The full moonlight was shining in the dormitory on many a little empty
bed. Who could resist a pillow-fight? The sub-matron was up already
trimming an extra beautiful bonnet to wear on this festive day. Jane
remonstrated, but was met with a wrathful reminder that on Christmas
Day Mother Agnes let them do just what they liked, a great pillow was
hurled at poor Jane's head, and the fight began in real earnest.
Just when the excitement was at its highest pitch, a fierce cry rang
from the end of the room. The game ceased suddenly, and the children
turned to see what had happened. There was that odd little new-comer,
Kate Daniels, standing with hands clenched and dark eyes flashing, in
front of the last small bed.
"You wicked, rough girls," she said, "you have hurt my little sister.
I shall make you feel it! I shall do something dreadful to you, Mary
Kitson. I hate you!"
In their excitement the children had quite forgotten that the little
bed at the end of the dormitory had an occupant, a soft curly-headed
child of six, who slept soundly regardless of the noise, till that
awkward Mary tumbled over the bed and made her cry. They understood it
all now, and Jane and Maggie moved up to the bed-side, hoping to soothe
the sisters with kind words. But Kate stood in front of the bed
glaring at them.
"You treat us so because we are strangers," she said, "and I hate you
all. I never wanted to come here - they made me come - and I shan't stay
if I can help it. I shall run away, and take Frances."
Little Frances, meanwhile, clung crying to her sister, who went on
talking so wildly and passionately that Jane thought it better to make
a move to the lavatory with the younger children, and leave the new
girls for a time to themselves.
A great change passed over poor Kate's face when she and her sister
were once more alone together. The passion left it, and was replaced
by a melancholy smile. She sat down on the bed, took her little
sister's hand, and looked long into her face.
"Are you much hurt, darling?" she said, at length.
"Not so badly, but I made a great noise, didn't I!"
Kate did not answer, but wrapping a petticoat round the child, lifted
her out of bed.
"Now, Frances, darling, come with me to the window, and I will show you
the prettiest sight you ever saw, and we will forget all our troubles.
Look at the roofs with the snow on them, and the moon making such
strange, pale lights on the snow. Look at the icicles - did you ever
see such lovely ones! Look at the trees - every tiniest little branch
covered with frost! Look at the pictures the frost has made upon the
window, - see, there are forests, - and oh, more wonderful things than I
"Nobody loves you and me, Frances. We've only got each other, - and I
hate everybody but you (you needn't do that though). But I am glad
things are so pretty. One might almost think that somebody had loved
you and me, and cared to make everything so pretty to please us!"
Kate's eyes softened as she said this, - she had beautiful eyes, large
and dark. The rest of her face was plain: it showed much strength of
purpose, but little feeling. Poor Kate! the furrows on her forehead,
the old, sad smile, so unlike a child's, and the bony hands, told of
much hard work, much care, and deep and painful anxieties in the past.
She was sitting on the window ledge, half supporting little Frances in
her arms. It was no new attitude to Kate. Her figure was stunted and
slightly bent from the efforts she had made years ago to carry her
little sister about; but the weight of little Frances had rested upon
her in another way also, and it was perhaps owing to her brave efforts
to shield the child from evil and from grief that the contrast in
appearance was so marked between the two sisters. Frances with her
soft little pink and white face, her solemn eyes, and smiling mouth,
and without a hard line anywhere, looked as if life had smiled upon her.
All through the day the little strangers kept close together, and took
very little notice of what went on around them. They ate their
Christmas dinner in solemn silence, and declined to join in the games.
Mother Agnes was disappointed, for her whole heart was bound up in her
children's happiness; and least of all she could bear to see sad faces
on Christmas Day. She watched Kate with much interest, but could not
wholly understand her.
* * * * * *
Before many months had passed, a curious transformation came over Kate.
She became the recognised leader of the children. Mother Agnes saw
with despair Jane's influence waning before that of this strange new
girl. Jane was so safe, so true, so dependable; and Kate, well, who
could trust Kate, with her odd ways of going on? Sometimes she would
keep the younger ones awake half the night telling them the wildest of
tales. She had laws of her own for the play-hours, and a secret system
of rewards and punishments. But, worst of all, she was not
straightforward. Mother Agnes, with her true, honest nature, was cut
to the heart to find that Kate could act a part, and did not scruple to
do so, to shield herself and her little sister from punishment.
Kate was popular now, and yet no one loved her, and she loved no one
except little Frances. She never thought any trouble too great to be
taken for her little sister. If any one said a rough word to Frances,
Kate contrived to punish the offender in a way that was not easily
forgotten. She helped Frances with her lessons; shielded her from
blame; dressed dolls for her through whole long summer afternoons; told
her stories that aimed vaguely at having a good moral; answered her
childish questions with infinite patience.
The summer and autumn passed, and Christmas came and went; and after
Christmas an event happened, the memory of which no lapse of years
could ever efface from poor Kate's mind. A certain morning dawned,
just like other mornings, bright and cold; lessons, house-work and play
went on as usual, only, as the day was drawing to its close, some men
came to the door, carrying a little prostrate figure; and Kate was
standing in the doorway, and saw it all - saw her poor Frances lying
unconscious in the men's arms, her head terribly bruised, and her
pretty, fair curls all tossed over a deathly white face.
She was fond of clambering about by herself, and had slipped from the
roof of a little outhouse, and fallen on her head.
She was put to bed in the sick ward, and the doctor sent for. For
three days and three nights Mother Agnes and Kate watched beside her;
on the fourth day the doctor told them that he could do no more.
Frances wandered much through those last days, talking confusedly of
green fields, and birds singing, and of flowers. Sometimes she would
sing little snatches of the hymns they learnt in school; and she often
spoke - as little dying children do speak of Christ. Mother Agnes'
tenderness to poor Kate almost exceeded her tenderness to the dying
child, but Kate made no response to it. She answered in monosyllables,
and hung down her head with its mass of bushy hair, and dark eyes
gleaming strangely under her overhanging brow.
All was over very soon, and Kate was left with a memory, and with a
tiny little grave to tend.
Mother Agnes felt for her out of the depths of a womanly heart, but
Kate either could not, or would not speak of her sorrow to any living
She gave up all her odd ways, and became quiet, and very gentle; and as
months passed on Mother Agnes began to think that Kate had really
improved in character. She showed signs of talent in so many
directions that the Mother thought of training her for a
schoolmistress, and took real delight in planning for the child's
future, except when now and then some curious little trait of character
would raise an uncomfortable feeling which could not be dispelled.
A confirmation was to be held during the spring in the neighbouring
village; and the clergyman who prepared the Orphanage children looked
upon Kate as a most promising candidate; she was gentle, and attentive,
and wrote her papers with so much care.
The Confirmation day dawned as sweetly and as brightly as a
Confirmation day should do. The birds were singing their hearts out in
the Orphanage garden; primroses and wallflowers were blooming in every
corner; the apple-trees were in festive array, and little pink and
white petals floated on the breeze, and came in at the open windows.
Then a troop of little girls in grey dresses with white caps assembled,
prayer-book in hand, at the door, waiting for Mother Agnes.
What could keep Mother Agnes so long? The bells have been ringing for
nearly half-an-hour, and they would certainly be late! No, here she
comes, but with a very grave face - much too grave - and oh, where is
"Children, we must start," said the Mother sternly, "Kate is not
coming." Naturally the children wondered, and questioned amongst
themselves what had happened, but they little suspected the real facts.
Mother Agnes had gone to look for Kate in the dormitory, feeling that
she should like to take the child's hand in hers, and say something to
comfort and to strengthen her. But Kate was not in the dormitory. Her
grey Sunday dress lay, neatly folded on the bed, the Confirmation cap
arranged on the top of it, and by its side a note, addressed in a bold,
round hand to Mother Agnes.
What on earth could this mean? Mother Agnes stared at the dress,
fingered the note, and then unfastened it with a hand that trembled a
little. The contents were these -
"DEAR MOTHER AGNES, - You have been good to me, so I will tell you that
I am leaving, and not going to come back any more. And it is not
because I do not like you, for I do, though I have never loved any one
but Frances; but I cannot stay in this place any more. Oh! you do not
know what the pain is that I bear. When the birds sing, I seem to hear
Frances' voice singing with them as she did last spring, and I see her
running amongst the flower-beds, and I cannot look at the apple-tree
without seeing her little fair face peeping at me from between the
blossoms. Perhaps you will not care whether I go or stay, but I hope
you will not mind about me, for I shall go to London to find a place.
There's many younger than me in places already. But if I do not find a
place, perhaps I will drown myself in the river, for I am sick of life,
and I hope you will not think about me, or mind. - - KATE DANIELS."
Mother Agnes' face grew very white as she read this letter - but no time
was to be lost - she sat down and wrote a little note giving information
to the police, and sent it by a servant; and then she went downstairs
to join the waiting children. She tried to comfort herself by thinking
that Kate could not have got very far in so short a time. At the most
she could only have been gone an hour, and surely she would be quickly
found? And yet, strange misgivings took possession of Mother Agnes'
* * * * * *
Ten days later, a tall woman dressed in black was hastening at early
dawn along the Thames embankment, near Westminster. Mother Agnes
scarcely knew herself, her heart seemed bursting.
It was the old story of the one lost sheep becoming all in all to the
shepherd. The days had seemed months since poor Kate was missed, and
this first news of a girl who might possibly turn out to be Kate, had
made Mother Agnes hurry up to town by the night train, quite forgetting
that she could not disturb St. Thomas' Hospital with inquiries at such
an early hour. So she paced feverishly up and down by the river-side,
thinking. It did seem just what she could imagine Kate doing, rushing
across the road to save a little child about the age of Frances from
being run over, and both children, whoever they might be, were knocked
down by the passing omnibus. They were much injured, and were
accordingly carried to St. Thomas' Hospital. The younger child was
soon identified through her own statements, but the elder one remained
long unconscious. Her dress was very ragged, but her underclothing
bore the stamp of some institution.
Mother Agnes went over in her mind every word of the short report she
had received, again and again.
How strange London looked at this early hour! She scarcely knew it in
the dim grey light, with hardly a sound in the streets, and there
floated into her mind lines of Wordsworth's, written from this very
spot at this very hour, three-quarters of a century ago -
"Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep,
And all that mighty heart is lying still!"
But was it all so still? What of the sick in the hospitals,
constrained to watch and bear the world's burdens through the long
hours of darkness. Oh, if she could only pierce those great walls and
stand by the bed-side of the poor girl of whom her thoughts were now so
* * * * * *
Even the children's ward in St. Thomas' Hospital looked strange and
un-home-like in that dim grey light. It was nearly silent too, except
for occasional little moans, coming from little beds. But from one bed
there came something besides a moan: a childish voice half whispered
the word "Kate."
"Yes, dear," came from the next bed, in a low voice, "what is it?"
"Do you feel better, dear Kate? and would my doll help you to bear the
Kate smiled gently. "I do feel a little better; and I am getting
rather big for a doll. But tell me, what is your name, dear? What am
I to call you?"
"My name is Frances," said the little girl.
Kate shuddered, and tried to turn her head away.
"Is anything the matter?" asked the little voice, as Kate did not speak.
"No, nothing," said poor Kate, not very truthfully - and then to change
the subject - "Where are your people? Where do you live?"
"I have five, up in heaven, waiting for me," said Frances slowly, "and
I live with my aunt. She keeps a baker's shop, and when I am not at
school, I clean the floors, and mind the little ones, and I go to bed
when the baby does, to keep her quiet. And when the stars come out, I
lie there, thinking of my father and our own little ones, and thinking
of Jesus Christ, thinking, - thinking, - longing to see His face."
The great voice of the great Westminster clock at this moment told the
hour. How solemn it sounded in the stillness; even more solemn than
when it speaks out above the roar of London life in the day-time.
[Illustration: The Westminster clock tower.]
"I am going to sleep again now," said the little child. "Good-night,
dear Kate; God bless you, and mind you wake me if the pain is bad."
IN THE HOSPITAL.
At last Mother Agnes stood by Kate's bed side. How pale the poor girl
looked and her dark eyes seemed to have grown larger and more pathetic
than they used to be. A real gleam of pleasure passed over her face as
her eyes rested on Mother Agnes.
"You are good to come to me," said Kate. "I did not think you would
have cared. How did you know I was here?"
"Because, dear child, I took every possible pains to find out what had
become of you; and heard of you at last."
"I was afraid you would send the police after me," said Kate, "and that
is why I did not take the straight road to London, but went a long way
"Then what did you do for food and shelter all that time?"
"I had a shilling of my own," said Kate in a weary voice, "and that
lasted me in bread for some days. And at nights I slept in barns and
outhouses, and once under the open sky. But when I got near London, I
was so weak for want of food that I thought I should have died; and I
lay down by the roadside, and could not get any farther. And then some
poor men who were tramping the country for work passed that way, and
they took pity on me, and gave me some broken meat they had with them,
and something out of a bottle, - it may have been brandy for aught I
know, - but it set me on my feet again, and so I got to London.
"And I tried to think of any one I knew there. I did not dare to go
near our district lady who sent me to the Orphanage, for fear she
should send me back. And I thought of old Sally Blackburn, who used to
live next door to us in Westminster, and made a living with buying and
selling cast-off clothing and she was good to us, - and when father came
in very drunk, she would take us children into her little place to be
out of the way. So I hunted her up; and then, Mother Agnes, I did a
very wrong thing. She is old and stupid, and very poor, and I could
not take food and lodging with her for nothing, - so I gave her my
Orphanage dress. She was pleased with it, and said it was worth quite
ten shillings, and gave me a ragged old dress in exchange, - and
something to buy a bit of print with to run up a dress for going out in
the mornings to look for a place. And oh, ma'am, it was such a
wretched, dismal, dark place she lived in; I didn't know how to abide
it after the Orphanage; and yet I wouldn't have gone back for worlds."
She sighed deeply as she said this. Mother Agnes tried to turn her
thoughts away by talking cheerfully on other subjects for a time, and
made Kate tell all she knew of the little girl in the next bed.
"I shall come up again to town in a day or two, to see you," Mother
"Will you?" said Kate. "Thank you. I did not think you would have
"I do care for you," said Mother Agnes, with her eyes full of tears;
"but Kate, there is someone who cares more."
"I don't believe He cares," said Kate sadly. "I don't see why He
should care for me. I know it's all in the Bible; but that was written
many hundred years ago. Please forgive me, ma'am, for speaking so. I
don't wish to be rude, but I really can't believe it."
Just at that moment the patients' tea was carried in, so that no
further talk was possible. Mother Agnes, with an aching heart, said
good-bye to Kate, and hurried off to catch her train.
Next day there was a consultation, for Kate was not doing well; and the
doctors broke to her the news that she would have to lose her leg. It
did not seem to distress her in the least. She took it quite quietly;
but a passion of sobs broke from the next little bed.
"O doctor! doctor!" said a child's voice; "don't go and hurt dear Kate
"Don't be frightened about it," said Kate. "I shall be moved into
another room, and you will know nothing about it till it is all over."
"I am not frightened," said the child; "but oh, sirs, if somebody's leg
must be cut off, please, please let it be my leg instead of Kate's."
Frances in her eagerness had forgotten her own pain; and had raised
herself in bed, and stretched out her arm towards the doctors.
The elder of the two men came toward her, and bent over her. "My dear
child," he said, "you are doing very well; there is no need to cut off
your leg. And try not to distress yourself about your friend, for only
what is wisest and best is being done for her."
"I will try and be good, and not mind so much, please sir," said
Frances; and then she hid her face in the pillow, and tried to choke
down her sobs.
The doctors moved away at last, and Kate turned a pair of wondering
eyes upon Frances as she said:
"What made you wish to lose your leg instead?"
"Only Kate, because I love you more than I could tell any one. And if
you must lose your leg, please God, I will comfort you for it as much
as ever I can."
"Thank you, dear," said Kate, very much touched, - and after that she
relapsed into silence.
Easter fell very late that year. Good Friday was kept in the hospital
after Kate had lost her leg. There was a service in the ward, and
moreover, the nurse came and sat by Kate's side, and read to her the
fifty-third chapter of Isaiah.
"She doesn't seem to take much notice of reading," the nurse said later
to Mother Agnes, who had come up again to see Kate. They little knew
that it was the first "notice" that Kate had ever taken of anything in
Kate would not talk to-day to Mother Agnes. She answered gently, but
shortly, and could not be drawn into conversation. One of her old fits
of reserve seemed to have taken hold of her.
Mother Agnes was going away, deeply disappointed, when the nurse told
her the story of little Frances wishing to lose her leg for Kate's
sake. And also, how the children had grown to love each other; and
what a dear child Frances was, and how she talked to Kate of everything
that is good.
And then Mother Agnes was comforted, for she saw that all she had to do
was to stand aside, and let a little child do the work. And as she
walked along the Thames Embankment in the glory of the setting sun, it
came into her mind how Christ had taken all that was sweetest on earth,
the love and trust of little children, the love of the father for the
child, of the shepherd for the sheep, and made earthly love the
stepping-stone to raise us into the thought of the possibility of that
greater Love outside ourselves.
[Illustration: St. Thomas' Hospital.]
The next time she came to the hospital, Kate had much to ask her about
the Orphanage. They talked pleasantly for a short time; and then,
after a pause Kate said: "Mother Agnes, something is frightening me."
"What is it, Kate?"
Another pause - so long that it seemed as if Kate did not mean to speak
again - and then she said: "The love of God frightens me."
"But, Kate, _that_ was meant to be the greatest joy and comfort of our