Henry S. Mackarness.

Sweet flowers online

. (page 1 of 13)
Online LibraryHenry S. MackarnessSweet flowers → online text (page 1 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



' A child entered, holding in the skirt of her little clean frock four
young rabbits."











I Of













MAY 291





" How do you sell your violets, girl ? " asked
a man, as he passed a girl, almost a child, stand-
ing leaning against a railing in one of the
London thoroughfares.

" Twopence a bunch, sir."

" Twopence. Oh, me ! I've only got a penny
in coppers can't change a shilling."

"You shall have it, sir for luck," said the
girl, eagerly. "I haven't sold a bunch to-

" Haven't you ? Who do you sell for your-


"Yes, sir, and sister she's a cripple, sir; I
supports her this way ; and nayther she nor me
'av 'ad any victuals to-day."

"Now ain't you telling me a nice lot of
'crams'?" and the man looked at her with a
merry twinkle in his eyes, and a smile breaking
out over his good-looking healthy face, in such
strange contrast to the wan, pallid one of the
girl he was addressing.

" No, sir, that I'm not, I'm a-telling on you
the rale truth, sir ; we ain't got no father
nor mother, sir : father he was killed, sir,
falling off a 'ouse, he was, and mother died of
the fever, sir and it fell in Janie's legs,
and she ain't never been able to move, sir,

"And you keep Janie and yourself on two-
penny bunches of violets ! "What a little keeping
you must want ! " answered the man. " I sup-
pose you don't have salmon more than twice a

The girl stared at him, and answered,


" Please, sir, we don't have nothing but Mrs.
Jacohs's teapot and some bread."

" Mrs. Jacobs's teapot ? what indigestible
food ! No wonder you don't get fat, my dear.
Well, look here, give me two more bunches, and
take that and go and get something for supper
more nourishing than a teapot; " and taking the
flowers she eagerly offered him, he placed in her
hand a shilling, and with a cheery " good-bye,
and good luck to you," the man went on before
she had time to thank him or offer him the

"Did he mean me to have it all?" she
thought. " I don't believe he did. I'll run after

But with her basket to carry, and the old
leather boots, miles too big for her, on her stock -
ingless feet, she could not catch the young strong
fellow who, striding on so quickly, was soon lost
to sight; and so putting it in the little box
amongst the flowers, in which she carried her
money, she gave up the pursuit, contenting her-


self by saying, " If ever she see him she'd pay
him ; " and then as the weather was cold and
gusty and she knew that Janey wanted food
she determined to hawk about no more that day,
but go to the shop, and get some bread and an
ounce of tea for a treat for Janey, instead of the
tea leaves from her own breakfast their good-
hearted landlady allowed them, and which she
had described as " Mrs. Jacobs' s teapot."

Happily as she walked to the shop, which was
on her road home, she sold a few more bunches
of her fragrant flowers, and so was able to add
a piece of butter and an egg for Jane to her

And the young man went on to Hungerford
Pier, and, getting on board a boat, went up the
river to Battersea ; and landing there, went on
to a house in a little clean street, looking brighter
and prettier than all the rest, from the parlour
window of which looked out a face as bright and
clean as the house, as his quick, firm step came
up the little garden. The face was quickly at


the door. It belonged to a young girl some
nineteen or twenty years old, who exclaimed,

"Ohl you dear, good hoy, to get home so
soon. And violets delicious ! thank you."

" I like that who said they were for you ? "
he said, stooping forward to kiss her forehead,
and putting the flowers behind him.

" Why, John, who should they be for but me ? "

" But suppose I was to tell you they were
mine, given to me by a fair lady ; what should
you say then ? "

" I should say I didn't believe you, John
that's what I should say. Here he is, mother,"
she said, pushing open the door of the little
parlour, into which he followed her.

" Now, sir, give me the flowers, and let me
pay you for them ; let's see, three bunches, two
kisses apiece. Oh ! sit down, I can't stand on
tiptoe so long."

Down he sat as he was bidden, and with
apparent satisfaction received the six kisses


bestowed on him, while a little old woman, a
curious likeness of what the young man might
be at her age, sat laughing merrily, and seeming
to enjoy the performance.

" It's all very fine," he said, when he was
allowed to speak, " but I tell you I gave a shil-
ling for those flowers, ma'am, so you just owe
me six more."

" Oh ! John, you did NOT, did you ? Oh ! that
was naughty I'll never forgive you ; I am
angry." Whereupon she fell to kissing him
again, just as though she was very angry.

"A shilling for a few violets, John!" said
the old lady in the corner ; " why, is flowers so
dear this spring ? "

" "Well no, mother ; I was taken silly, I think.
I knew the little woman liked a flower, so I was
going to buy one bunch of a girl who'd got a
basket full ; and then she said it was twopence.
Well, I didn't think Amy was worth having
all that spent on her," he said, looking saucily
up in his wife's face, " so I offered her a penny.


She said so eagerly I might have it, she had
sold none all day and I looked at her poor,
thin, white cheeks, and her tattered clothing,
and somehow this little face seemed to come
between me and her," he said, laying his hand
on the face which was looking up into his, " and
like a soft as I am I took this little lot, and gave
her double their value."

" Ah ! my boy," said the old lady, " one half
the world don't know how the other half lives."
" I say, Amy," he said, in a lower voice, with
a glance at their mother, "she said she sup-
ported a lame sister with selling her flowers."

" Did she, John ? Poor girl ! I AM glad you
bought them it may get her a better supper."

" I hope so. I shouldn't fancy a teapot my-
self ; but there's no accounting for taste."
" A teapot what do you mean ? "
"Well, I did not know what she meant ; but
when I asked her if she had salmon more than
twice a week, she said she only had Mrs. Jacobs's
teapot and some bread."


" Why, sir, didn't you know, poor thing, she
meant the leaves were wetted again for her;
when Mrs. What's-her-name "

" No, not Whats-a-name, Jacobs."

"Well, Jacobs has finished her tea or
breakfast, she fills the pot up again for her. I
can see what she means."

"Ah ! there, we are not all so clever as you."

" No, that we are not. Now, look here, go
and make yourself smart, for we are going to
have company to tea, ain't we, mother ? "

" Oh ! yes, that we are, John. Amy's little
ladies are coming."

" Bless me ! I suppose I must put on my
diamond studs, and my dress coat and white
tie, and pumps and silk stockings."

" Of course," said his wife, laughing. " You
make yourself respectable, sir. Clean boots
and clean hands, and brush up your hair, and
look your best; now run away, whilst I get

" Run, must I ? Well, there isn't much room


to run in this large mansion. If I was to go
very fast, I should find myself out of the back
yard, through my neighbour's wall ; but I'll do
my best to make haste. Is there any soap ? "

" Soap, yes."

" All right ! Is there any towel ? " he said,
putting his head in at the door again.

" Oh yes, you tiresome thing ! everything."

" Hurrah ! Then I'll be back in the twinkling
of a bed -post."

" What a merry heart he has! " said the old

" Yes, hasn't he ? He's like sunshine in the
house : it's thanks to you, you know, mother,
it's your bright nature shining in his. When
I think of you and all the trouble you've borne
so bravely, I think you the eighth wonder of the
world," said Amy, as she busied herself about
the room, stirring up the fire to make the kettle
boil, getting out from a drawer her best table-
cloth and teapot real silver a wedding


" Well, you see, Amy, it's just our natures,
and we'd ought to be very grateful when we
have such. There's some as can't help grizzling
if they scratch their fingers or lose a penny,
while another will break their legs and lose a
fortune, and still smile over it."

" Just like you, mother."

" I don't think I smiled much, though, Amy
dear, when my poor legs got bad."

" You found out how to comfort yourself and
John, mother, and never let him lose heart and

" No, no, poor boy : why that would have
been ungrateful, when he was working for me,
he needed all his good spirits to help him along
to bear the burden I had become to him."

" Ah, bless him ! there's not many like him,"
said the happy little wife.

"I suppose not, or you would not have
proposed to him in the barefaced way you did,"
said John, who had entered the room in time to
hear the last speech.


" "Why, John, I have a great mind to box
your ears. Shall I, mother ? "

" I think he deserves it, my dear."

" I would if I'd only time, hut I must make the
toast the conceit and impudence of the fellow !
Now cut the bread, while I get out a pot of

" "Well, hut you know you did, Amy, under
the chestnuts in Bushy Park."

" Now, John, do hold your tongue ahout the
chestnut trees, or I shall put the jam in the tea,
or else some silly thing or other," said the little
wife, laughing and hlushing.

" Don't she look guilty, mother ; now I ask

" "Well, John, hut I would not tell tales out of

" Never mind, old girl, I was quite ready to
say ' yes,' wasn't I ? "

" I shall do something desperate to you, John,
in a minute. Oh, look ! here come my little
darlings, I declare. "Well, the table is laid.


put the water in the pot, John dear it does boil,
while I open the door;" and she ran out to
admit into her little bright house two little girls,
about five and eight years old, with their nurses.
Then there was such a hugging and kissing,
such a buzz of many voices in the little room,
together with the singing of the kettle, which did
its best towards the general hilarity, and happier
faces, lighter hearts, and merrier tongues never
sat at any banquet than amongst the little party
at tea at John Milman's.


N a narrow dirty court, in a house the
windows of which were so dirty that the in-
habitants could not have seen any prospect
from them had it been even more inviting than
the row of tumble-down wretched dwellings that
faced them, old pieces of filthy rags doing duty
for the panes of glass which had been broken by
stones thrown by the shoeless, wretched children
who played in the gutter all day, in such a
house, in the back attic, on a mattress laid on
two broken chairs, was a small spare form,
which might have been a woman's or a child's, so
old-looking and worn and wan were the pinched
features of the poor pale face. There was

scarcely any furniture in the room. The walls,

c 2


covered with filthy paper, were broken away in
places, showing the laths. A bedstead, on
which lay a ragged counterpane and a piece of
torn blanket, stood in one corner ; a wooden box,
on which was a bottle with a piece of rushlight
stuck in it, a chair, and a table, one leg of which
was broken, comprised "the household gods."
And in the desolation lay the wan suffering
form on the mattress.

Presently the door opened, and a light seemed
to come in with it which shone on the sufferer's
face ; for a smile, strange visitor to those sad
features, spread over them as a girl entered
carrying a basket half filled with violets and

" Here I come, Janey : haven't sold them all,
you see ; so there they are for you to look at till
to-morrow," she said, placing the basket with
its fragrant burden near the sick child.

" I'm glad and I'm sorry, Nelly : you've got
no money, I suppose ? "

" Oh yes ! a little. I've sold the half, you


know, but I couldn't see him. I stood just in
the same place, so here goes the sixpence back
in the money-box ; " and, opening the cupboard
which, like Mother Hubbard's, was quite bare,
save a few broken bits of crockery ware, she
took a small box from the top shelf and put in it
a sixpence.

" Ain't you never going to spend that, Nelly ?"

" Not unless you want food, Janey. I'll keep
it as long as I can, in hopes of giving it him
back. He wasn't, you see, a rich gentleman ; he
was a working sort of man, and sixpence is six-
pence to him, I'll lay."

" It's a great chance if you ever do see him
again out there in all that bustle and crowd.
So many feet seem treading up and down for
ever. I lay here wondering what they are all
like, and where they are all going to."

" I often stand amongst them wondering too,
Janey ; but see, all among these flowers lies our
supper I'm sure you want some : has Mrs.
Jacobs given you anything ? "


" Yes, she brought me some broth to-day, the
district-lady sent ; but it wasn't nice ; I couldn't
eat it. Nothing does seem nice, I can't eat any-
thing ; but never mind, Nelly," she said, putting
her thin arms round her sister's neck as she
stooped to get the things from the basket, " it
will be the sooner over, and these heavy, weary
limbs will pain me no more : ' there's nae pain
nor care in the land o' the leal.' " She sang the
words in a childish, weak, but exquisitely sweet
voice, and Nelly said

" Don't, Janey : I can't see what I'm doing
when you sing. ' ' The big tears had filled her eyes
and made a mist before them.

" All right, I won't, Nelly. I often wish I
could go out singing as I used, and help you.
Usen't I to bring a lot o' money home ? "

" Yes, Janey, but I never liked you a-being in
the streets: you was always such a wan wee
thing ! "

" Yes, but that helped me ; for people would
say pitying things as they passed me. One


woman gave me a shilling once, with tears
dropping down her cheeks, and said I remem-
ber it so well, Nelly, and often think of it ' I
should sing in heaven soon.' Ah ! " she said,
sighing and lifting her eyes to the blackened
ceiling above her, beyond which she seemed to
see the bright-eyed choir and all the heavenly
host singing their songs of praise ; for a long,
longing look came into her sad eyes.

" "Welt, you ain't there yet, in spite of her," said
Nelly somewhat roughly. She dared not indulge
in sentiment ; it did not match with the hard,
stern reality of her daily life. To work hard for
a bare subsistence, to sleep cold, to hunger daily,
to know no change nor brightness in her life since
first she could remember gazing with craving
eyes at the portion of food given her by her
mother, had almost taken out of her all womanly
tenderness all belief in love, in rest, in hope.
Life to her represented only a piteous struggle
to live ; death simply a release from struggling.
But the poor, gentle, suffering, helpless sister was


the one tie which made it seem worth her while to
fight on, to keep honest, patient, earnest, the poor
babe she scarcely more herself had taken from
the dead mother's breast, and loved ever since with
a yearning love which did not show itself in tender
loving words, but in the hard daily toil the
self-denial, that made her give the scanty food
she earned to the sick girl and go without her-
self. Alas ! too many such lives are passed in
crowded cities ; and it is well for the little happy
children whose bright merry days pass on as
childhood's should without toil or sorrow
guarded from the knowledge of evil and sin by
loving care, to remember the sadder lives of these
little sisters who know not, nor ever will know,
a life so bright as theirs.


SOME few weeks after the purchase of his
violets John Milman was again making for the
Pier on his way home, when a loud cry of " Hie ! "
arrested him ; and, turning quickly, the man who
had stopped him called out, " There's a gal keeps
a-running after you; " and to his surprise he saw
and he remembered her at once the poor violet-
seller making the best of her way to him through
the crowded thoroughfare, and with the old
difficulty of the wretched boots impeding her
progress. He walked back towards her, and
smilingly asked if she wanted him for a customer

" No, sir," she said, panting for breath, and
wiping her hot face ; " it's this here as is


yourn. I've been a-watching for you every
day since."

" Mine what ? "

" This here sixpence, sir," she said, handing it
to him " it aint a had un, sir ; really it's your
very own as I've kep in a box ever since," she
continued eagerly, finding he said nothing, but
stood and handled the coin.

" Why, girl, I don't know what you mean : did
I drop sixpence ? "

" No, sir, you give me a shilling for sixpen'orth
of flowers, and never stopped for no change. I
runned arter yer then, I did ; but my boots is so
old they won't let me run much."

"Why, you very extraordinary party," said
John, regarding her with the merry twinkle in
his eyes which brightened all his face, "I
declare you ought to be shown as a very
miracle of honesty. I meant the shilling for you,
to help you and the lame sister to some better
victuals than an indigestible teapot. Take the
sixpence back, and give me another sixpenny-


worth of flowers, lilies of the valley, eh ! they
are beauties. Now tell me where you live."
He wrote down in his pocket-book what she
told him, and, wishing her good-by, he went
on his way, and she, poor thing, with a lighter
heart than she had had since the sixpence
burdened it, put that and the one he paid
her together in the box under the flowers,
and went back to the street-corner where she
usually took her stand, and where a few who
dealt regularly with her expected to find

It was near a fashionable draper's, and it
amused the poor girl to see the ladies in their
carriages flocking into the shops. She would
stand looking at their rich dresses, wondering
how much they cost, how many they had if
they were better dressed than that on Sunday
what they had for dinner, such people as
they something better than a saveloy or piece
of dry bread, she fancied ; wondering if they
were ever hungry, ever thirsty or cold. Some-


times she sold a few flowers to them, or to
the men-servants whilst they waited for the
carriages. She had only just taken her stand
after parting with John, when an elegant open
carriage drew up, and a girl about her own
age, accompanied by her mother, alighted and
entered the shop. The girl looked at her as
she passed, and a gleam of pity came into
her beautiful face, as she whispered some-
thing eagerly to her mother ; to which she

" Oh ! no, my dear love, certainly not never
buy in the street : those flowers carry all sorts of
infection and horrible things."

They were not long in the shop, and when
they came out again the young lady got back
into the carriage, and the mother walked on to
a shop a few doors beyond: she watched her
mother out of sight, and then eagerly beckoned
to Nelly.

"You look ill, and hot, and tired,'* she
said kindly to her. "No, I don't want your


flowers ; but tell me, have you earned anything
to-day ? "

" Not much, my lady, yet ; but I dare say I
shall sell more later. "Won't you buy some
lilies, my lady ? they're so very sweet."

" No ; mamma does not like me to have your
flowers. Do you live on what you earn like this?"

" I tries to, my lady," was the sad reply.

" Have you a mother and father ? "

" No, lady only a sick sister to keep as well
as myself."

The tears rose to the bright blue eyes, and
hastily taking a purse from her pocket, she
placed five shillings in the astonished girl's
hand, and motioned her away just as her mother
returned to the carriage.

" You've not been buying flowers now, Eveline,
when I told you not ? "

" No, ma, of course not ; you said no."

" You were talking to her ? "

" Yes. Did you look at her ? who did she
remind you of ? "


" My dear, I don't know ; I did not look at

" Mother, a face that I have never forgotten,
and never shall forget the widow who came
to beg papa to do something for her, as
her husband was killed in his service, and you
know "

" Papa would not and quite right too. He
was not called upon in the least ; it was nothing
to do with him : it was the builder's place to
help his workmen."

" Oh ! but her story was so sad, her face so
piteous, the weary look in her poor eyes haunted
me for months ; and I see it often now, and I
saw it again in that girl's face."

" I know, my dear, you made yourself very
absurd about it at the time ; and your father
and I both laughed at you young girls are
so romantic and impulsive. I dare say it was
a very good thing for the woman : she doubt-
less made a fine harvest of her husband's


The girl turned with a gesture of annoyance
away from her mother, and said no more ; and
they drove home to the splendid house, the
building of which had cost, beyond its costly sum
of money, one human life ; and the orphan girl
hurried to her dreary lodgings, to show with
pride and joy to her suffering sister the wealth
she had got that day.

Many times more did the young lady visit the
shop near which, with her basket of flowers,
stood poor Nelly, whose sad face lighted with a
smile when she saw her, and to whom she
always dropped a curtsey. She could never
forget the beautiful face which had looked with
such pity on her. Her mother would not, or
could not, see the likeness to the pale widow
who came to plead her sad cause, but promised
Eveline that as she appeared to take some
interest in her she might inquire where she
lived, and see how they could help her, the next
time they saw her ; but it was in the height of
the season, and Eveline had many engagements,


so that some time elapsed before she again
thought of the poor flower girl. Then twice she
drove to the street, hut she was not there; and so
the subject faded from her memory.


IT was springtime again. Beneath the shelter
of their leaves lay the fragrant violets ; prim-
roses dotted all the banks, mingling with blue-
bells and daffodils ; and groups of children were
busy filling baskets with the fair blossoms; in
wood and lane; and at one pretty ivy-covered
cottage, beside the gate of a noble park, two
children stand with hands and pinafores full of

" Only violets, Jack, father said, only

" I've ony dot violets," said the tiny boy.

"Come in, then;" and pushing open the
door, the little girl entered the cottage, fol-
lowed by her brother, and running up to a girl,


seated near the window at work, they showered
the sweet flowers into her lap.

She looked up with a smile, as she gathered
some of them in her hand.

"Thank you, dears thank you," she said,
stooping to kiss them.

"That's right, little ones," said a bright
voice from another room, the door of which
stood open ; " get a jug, Jim, and put them in
water for her we loves violets, don't us ? They
first brought us to know our kind and useful
Xelly, and now we don't know what we should
do without her."

"Why, whoever is father bringing along?" said
the woman, coming into the room. "I do
believe they are coming here, and my hands are
all floury."

Nelly was tying up the flowers in bouquets,
silently, something glistening on them which
was not dew.

" There's no need to sell them now, dear,"
said the woman, kindly and cheerfully.


Nelly only nodded her head : as the door
opened, and her old friend John Milman en-
tered, followed by a young lady, Nelly sprang

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryHenry S. MackarnessSweet flowers → online text (page 1 of 13)