L.T. Meade.

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Produced by Avinash Kothare, Tom Allen, Charles Franks and
the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. HTML version by
Al Haines.










THE CHILDREN'S PILGRIMAGE

BY

MRS. L. T. MEADE






THE CHILDREN'S PILGRIMAGE






FIRST PART.

"LOOKING FOR THE GUIDE."



"The night is dark, and I am far from home.
Lead Thou me on"




CHAPTER I.

"THREE ON A DOORSTEP."


In a poor part of London, but not in the very poorest part - two
children sat on a certain autumn evening, side by side on a doorstep.
The eldest might have been ten, the youngest eight. The eldest was a
girl, the youngest a boy. Drawn up in front of these children, looking
into their little faces with hungry, loving, pathetic eyes, lay a
mongrel dog.

The three were alone, for the street in which they sat was a
cul-de-sac - leading nowhere; and at this hour, on this Sunday evening,
seemed quite deserted. The boy and girl were no East End waifs; they
were clean; they looked respectable; and the doorstep which gave them a
temporary resting-place belonged to no far-famed Stepney or Poplar. It
stood in a little, old-fashioned, old-world court, back of Bloomsbury.
They were a foreign-looking little pair - not in their dress, which was
truly English in its clumsiness and want of picturesque coloring - but
their faces were foreign. The contour was peculiar, the setting of the
two pairs of eyes - un-Saxon. They sat very close together, a grave
little couple. Presently the girl threw her arm round the boy's neck,
the boy laid his head on her shoulder. In this position those who
watched could have traced motherly lines round this little girl's firm
mouth. She was a creature to defend and protect. The evening fell and
the court grew dark, but the boy had found shelter on her breast, and
the dog, coming close, laid his head on her lap.

After a time the boy raised his eyes, looked at her and spoke:

"Will it be soon, Cecile?"

"I think so, Maurice; I think it must be soon now."

"I'm so cold, Cecile, and it's getting so dark."

"Never mind, darling, stepmother will soon wake now, and then you can
come indoors and sit by the fire."

The boy, with a slight impatient sigh, laid his head once more on her
shoulder, and the grave trio sat on as before.

Presently a step was heard approaching inside the house - it came along
the passage, the door was opened, and a gentleman in a plain black coat
came out. He was a doctor and a young man. His smooth, almost boyish
face looked so kind that it could not but be an index to a charitable
heart.

He stopped before the children, looking at them with interest and pity.

"How is our stepmother, Dr. Austin?" asked Cecile, raising her head and
speaking with alacrity.

"Your stepmother is very ill, my dear - very ill indeed. I stopped with
her to write a letter which she wants me to post. Yes, she is very ill,
but she is awake now; you may go upstairs; you won't disturb her."

"Oh, come, Cecile," said little Maurice, springing to his feet;
"stepmother is awake, and we may get to the fire. I am so bitter cold."

There was not a particle of anything but a kind of selfish longing for
warmth and comfort on his little face. He ran along the passage holding
out his hand to his sister, but Cecile drew back. She came out more
into the light and looked straight up into the tall doctor's face:

"Is my stepmother going to be ill very long, Dr. Austin?"

"No, my dear; I don't expect her illness will last much longer."

"Oh, then, she'll be quite well to-morrow."

"Perhaps - in a sense - who knows!" said the doctor, jerking out his
words and speaking queerly. He looked as if he wanted to say more, but
finally nodding to the child, turned on his heel and walked away.

Cecile, satisfied with this answer, and reading no double meaning in
it, followed her brother and the dog upstairs. She entered a tolerably
comfortable sitting-room, where, on a sofa, lay a woman partly dressed.
The woman's cheeks were crimson, and her large eyes, which were wide
open, were very bright. Little Maurice had already found a seat and a
hunch of bread and butter, and was enjoying both drawn up by a good
fire, while the dog Toby crouched at his feet and snapped at morsels
which he threw him. Cecile, scarcely glancing at the group by the fire,
went straight up to the woman on the sofa:

"Stepmother," she said, taking her hand in hers, "Dr. Austin says
you'll be quite well to-morrow."

The woman gazed hard and hungrily into the sweet eyes of the child; she
held her small hand with almost feverish energy, but she did not speak,
and when Maurice called out from the fire, "Cecile, I want some more
bread and butter," she motioned to her to go and attend to him.

All his small world did attend to Maurice at once, so Cecile ran to
him, and after supplying him with milk and bread and butter, she took
his hand to lead him to bed. There were only two years between the
children, but Maurice seemed quite a baby, and Cecile a womanly
creature.

When they got into the tiny bedroom, which they shared together, Cecile
helped her little brother to undress, and tucked him up when he got
into bed.

"Now, Toby," she said, addressing the dog, whose watchful eyes had
followed her every movement, "you must lie down by Maurice and keep him
company; and good-night, Maurice, dear."

"Won't you come to bed too, Cecile?"

"Presently, darling; but first I have to see to stepmother. Our
stepmother is very ill, you know, Maurice."

"Very ill, you know," repeated Maurice sleepily, and without
comprehending; then he shut his eyes, and Cecile went back into the
sitting-room.

The sick woman had never stirred during the child's absence, now she
turned round eagerly. The little girl went up to the sofa with a
confident step. Though her stepmother was so ill now, she would be
quite well to-morrow, so the doctor had said, and surely the best way
to bring that desirable end about was to get her to have as much sleep
as possible.

"Stepmother," said Cecile softly, "'tis very late; may I bring in your
night-dress and air it by the fire, and then may I help you to get into
bed, stepmother dear?"

"No, Cecile," replied the sick woman. "I'm not going to stir from this
yere sofa to-night."

"Oh, but then - but then you won't be quite well to-morrow," said the
child, tears springing to her eyes.

"Who said I'd be quite well to-morrow?" asked Cecile's stepmother.

"Dr. Austin, mother; I asked him, and he said, 'Yes,' - at least he said
'Perhaps,' but I think he was very sure from his look."

"Aye, child, aye; he was very sure, but he was not meaning what you
were meaning. Well, never mind; but what was that you called me just
now, Cecile?"

"I - I - - " said Cecile, hesitating and coloring.

"Aye, like enough 'twas a slip of your tongue. But you said, 'Mother';
you said it without the 'step' added on. You don't know - not that it
matters now - but you won't never know how that 'stepmother' hardened my
heart against you and Maurice, child."

"'Twas our father," said Cecile; "he couldn't forget our own mother,
and he asked us not to say 'Mother,' and me and Maurice, we could think
of no other way. It wasn't that we - that I - didn't love."

"Aye, child, you're a tender little thing; I'm not blaming you, and
maybe I couldn't have borne the word from your lips, for I didn't love
you, Cecile - neither you nor Maurice - I had none of the mother about me
for either of you little kids. Aye, you were right enough; your father,
Maurice D'Albert, never forgot his Rosalie, as he called her. I always
thought as Frenchmen were fickle, but he worn't not fickle enough for
me. Well, Cecile, I'm no way sleepy, and I've a deal to say, and no one
but you to say it to; I'm more strong now than I have been for the day,
so I'd better say my say while I have any strength left. You build up
the fire, and then come back to me, child. Build it up big, for I'm not
going to bed to-night."




CHAPTER II.

A SOLEMN PROMISE.


When Cecile had built up the fire, she made a cup of tea and brought it
to her stepmother. Mrs. D'Albert drank it off greedily; afterward she
seemed refreshed and she made Cecile put another pillow under her head
and draw her higher on the sofa.

"You're a good, tender-hearted child, Cecile," she said to the little
creature, who was watching her every movement with a kind of trembling
eagerness. Cecile's sensitive face flushed at the words of praise, and
she came very close to the sofa. "Yes, you're a good child," repeated
Mrs. D'Albert; "you're yer father's own child, and he was very good,
though he was a foreigner. For myself I don't much care for good
people, but when you're dying, I don't deny as they're something of a
comfort. Good people are to be depended on, and you're good, Cecile."

But there was only one sentence in these words which Cecile took in.

"When you're dying," she repeated, and every vestige of color forsook
her lips.

"Yes, my dear, when you're dying. I'm dying, Cecile; that was what the
doctor meant when he said I'd be quite well; he meant as I'd lie
straight and stiff, and have my eyes shut, and be put in a long box and
be buried, that was what he meant, Cecile. But look here now, you're
not to cry about it - not at present, I mean; you may as much as you
like by and by, but not now. I'm not crying, and 'tis a deal worse for
me; but there ain't no time for tears, they only weaken and do no good,
and I has a deal to say. Don't you dare shed a tear now, Cecile; I
can't a-bear the sight of tears; you may cry by and by, but now you has
got to listen to me."

"I won't cry," said Cecile; she made a great effort set her lips firm,
and looked hard at her stepmother.

"That's a good, brave girl. Now I can talk in comfort. I want to talk
all I can to you to-night, my dear, for to-morrow I may have the
weakness back again, and besides your Aunt Lydia will be here!"

"Who's my Aunt Lydia?" asked Cecile.

"She ain't rightly your aunt at all, she's my sister; but she's the
person as will have to take care of you and Maurice after I'm dead."

"Oh!" said Cecile; her little face fell, and a bright color came into
her cheeks.

"She's my own sister," continued Mrs. D'Albert, "but I don't like her
much. She's a good woman enough; not up to yer father's standard, but
still fair enough. But she's hard - she is hard ef you like. I don't
profess to have any violent love for you two little tots, but I'd
sooner not leave you to the care o' Aunt Lydia ef I could help it."

"Don't leave us to her care; do find some one kind - some one as 'ull be
kind to me, and Maurice, and Toby - do help it, stepmother," said Cecile.

"I _can't_ help it, child; and there's no use bothering a dying woman
who's short of breath. You and Maurice have got to go to my sister,
your Aunt Lydia, and ef you'll take a word of advice by and by, Cecile,
from one as 'ull be in her grave, you'll not step-aunt her - she's short
of temper, Aunt Lydia is. Yes," continued the sick woman, speaking
fast, and gasping for breath a little, "you have got to go to my sister
Lydia. I have sent her word, and she'll come to-morrow - but - never mind
that now. I ha' something else I must say to you, Cecile."

"Yes, stepmother."

"I ha' no one else to say it to, so you listen werry hard. I'm going to
put a great trust on you, little mite as you are - a great, great trust;
you has got to do something solemn, and to promise something solemn
too, Cecile."

"Yes," said Cecile, opening her blue eyes wide.

"Aye, you may well say yes, and open yer eyes big; you're going to get
some'ut on yer shoulders as 'ull make a woman of yer. You mayn't like
it, I don't suppose as you will; but for all that you ha' got to
promise, because I won't die easy, else. Cecile," suddenly bending
forward, and grasping the child's arm almost cruelly, "I can't die at
_all_ till you promise me this solemn and grave, as though it were yer
very last breath."

"I will promise, stepmother," said Cecile. "I'll promise solemn, and
I'll keep it solemn; don't you be fretted, now as you're a-dying. I
don't mind ef it is hard. Father often give me hard things to do, and I
did 'em. Father said I wor werry dependable," continued the little
creature gravely.

To her surprise, her stepmother bent forward and and kissed her. The
kiss she gave was warm, intense, passionate; such a kiss as Cecile had
never before received from those lips.

"You're a good child," she said eagerly; "yes, you're a very good
child; you promise me solemn and true, then I'll die easy and
comforted. Yes, I'll die easy, even though Lovedy ain't with me, even
though I'll never lay my eyes on my Lovedy again."

"Who's Lovedy?" asked Cecile.

"Aye, child, we're coming to Lovedy, 'tis about Lovedy you've got to
promise. Lovedy, she's my daughter, Cecile; she ain't no step-child,
but my own, my werry own, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh."

"I never knew as you had a daughter of yer werry own," said Cecile.

"But I had, Cecile. I had as true a child to me as you were to yer
father. My own, my own, my darling! Oh, my bonnie one, 'tis bitter,
bitter to die with her far, far away! Not for four years now have I
seen my girl. Oh, if I could see her face once again!"

Here the poor woman, who was opening up her life-story to the
astonished and frightened child, lost her self-control, and sobbed
hysterically. Cecile fetched water, and gave it to her, and in a few
moments she became calm.

"There now, my dear, sit down and listen. I'll soon be getting weak,
and I must tell everything tonight. Years ago, Cecile, afore ever I met
yer father, I was married. My husband was a sailor, and he died at sea.
But we had one child, one beautiful, bonnie English girl; nothing
foreign about her, bless her! She was big and tall, and fair as a lily,
and her hair, it was that golden that when the sun shone on it it
almost dazzled you. I never seed such hair as my Lovedy's, never,
never; it all fell in curls long below her waist. I _was_ that proud of
it I spent hours dressing it and washing it, and keeping it like any
lady's. Then her eyes, they were just two bits of the blue sky in her
head, and her little teeth were like white pearls, and her lips were
always smiling. She had an old-world English name taken from my mother,
but surely it fitted her, for to look at her was to love her.

"Well, my dear, my girl and me, we lived together till she was near
fifteen, and never a cloud between us. We were very poor; we lived by
my machining and what Lovedy could do to help me. There was never a
cloud between us, until one day I met yer father. I don't say as yer
father loved me much, for his heart was in the grave with your mother,
but he wanted someone to care for you two, and he thought me a tidy,
notable body, and so he asked me to marry him and he seemed well off,
and I thought it 'ud be a good thing for Lovedy. Besides, I had a real
fancy for him; so I promised. I never even guessed as my girl 'ud mind,
and I went home to our one shabby little room, quite light-hearted
like, to tell her. But oh, Cecile, I little knew my Lovedy! Though I
had reared her I did not know her nature. My news seemed to change her
all over.

"From being so sweet and gentle, she seemed to have the very devil woke
up in her. First soft, and trembling and crying, she went down on her
knees and begged me to give yer father up; but I liked him, and I felt
angered with her for taking on what I called foolish, and I wouldn't
yield; and I told her she was real silly, and I was ashamed of her.
They were the bitterest words I ever flung at her, and they seemed to
freeze up her whole heart. She got up off her knees and walked away
with her pretty head in the air, and wouldn't speak to me for the
evening; and the next day she come to me quick and haughty like, and
said that if I gave her a stepfather she would not live with me; she
would go to her Aunt Fanny, and her Aunt Fanny would take her to Paris,
and there she would see life. Fanny was my youngest sister, and she was
married to a traveler for one of the big shops, and often went about
with her husband and had a gay time. She had no children of her own,
and I knew she envied me my Lovedy beyond words.

"I was so hurt with Lovedy for saying she would leave me for her Aunt
Fanny, that I said, bitter and sharp, she might do as she liked, and
that I did not care.

"Then she turned very red and went away and sat down and wrote a
letter, and I knew she had made up her mind to leave me. Still I wasn't
really frightened. I said to myself, I'll pretend to let her have her
own way, and she'll come round fast enough; and I began to get ready
for my wedding, and took no heed of Lovedy. The night before I was
married she came to me again. She was white as a sheet, and all the
hardness had gone out of her.

"'Mother, mother, mother,' she said, and she put her dear, bonnie arms
round me and clasped me tight to her. 'Mother, give him up, for
Lovedy's sake; it will break my heart, mother. Mother, I am jealous; I
must have you altogether or not at all. Stay at home with your own
Lovedy, for pity's sake, for pity's sake.'

"Of course I soothed her and petted her, and I think - I do think
now - that she, poor darling, had a kind of notion I was going to yield,
and that night she slept in my arms.

"The next morning I put on my neat new dress and bonnet, and went into
her room.

"'Lovedy, will you come to church to see your mother married?'

"I never forgot - never, never, the look she gave me. She went white as
marble, and her eyes blazed at me and then grew hard, and she put her
head down on her hands, and, do all in my power, I could not get a word
out of her.

"Well, Cecile, yer father and I were married, and when we came back
Lovedy was gone. There was just a little bit of a note, all blotted
with tears, on the table. Cecile, I have got that little note, and you
must put it in my coffin. These words were writ on it by my poor girl:
"'Mother, you had no pity, so your Lovedy is gone. Good-by, mother.'

"Yes, Cecile, that was the note, and what it said was true. My Lovedy
was gone. She had disappeared, and so had her Aunt Fanny, and never,
never from that hour have I heard one single word of Lovedy."

Mrs. D'Albert paused here. The telling of her tale seemed to have
changed her. In talking of her child the hard look had left her face,
an expression almost beautiful in its love and longing filled her poor
dim eyes, and when Cecile, in her sympathy, slipped her little hand
into hers, she did not resist the pressure.

"Yes, Cecile," she continued, turning to the little girl, "I lost
Lovedy - more surely than if she was dead, was she torn from me. I never
got one clew to her. Yer father did all he could for me; he was more
than kind, he did pity me, and he made every inquiry for my girl and
advertised for her, but her aunt had taken her out of England, and I
never heard - I never heard of my Lovedy from the day I married yer
father, Cecile. It changed me, child; it changed me most bitter. I grew
hard, and I never could love you nor Maurice, no, nor even yer good
father, very much after that. I always looked upon you three as the
people who took by bonnie girl away. It was unfair of me. Now, as I'm
dying, I'll allow as it was real unfair, but the pain and hunger in my
heart was most awful to bear. You'll forgive me for never loving you,
when you think of all the pain I had to bear, Cecile."

"Yes, poor stepmother," answered the little girl, stooping down and
kissing her hand. "And, oh!" continued Cecile with fervor, "I wish - I
wish I could find Lovedy for you again."

"Why, Cecile, that's just what you've got to do," said her stepmother;
"you've got to look for Lovedy: you're a very young girl; you're only a
child; but you've got to go on looking, _always - always_ until you find
her. The finding of my Lovedy is to be yer life-work, Cecile. I don't
want you to begin now, not till you're older and have got more sense;
but you has to keep it firm in yer head, and in two or three years'
time you must begin. You must go on looking until you find my Lovedy.
That is what you have to promise me before I die."

"Yes, stepmother."

"Look me full in the face, Cecile, and make the promise as solemn as
though it were yer werry last breath - look me in the face, Cecile, and
say after me, 'I promise to find Lovedy again.'"

"I promise to find Lovedy again," repeated Cecile.

"Now kiss me, child."

Cecile did so.

"That kiss is a seal," continued her stepmother; "ef you break yer
promise, you'll remember as you kissed the lips of her who is dead, and
the feel 'ull haunt you, and you'll never know a moment's happiness.
But you're a good girl, Cecile - a good, dependable child, and I'm not
afeared for you. And now, my dear, you has made the promise, and I has
got to give you directions. Cecile, did you ever wonder why your
stepmother worked so hard?"

"I thought we must be very poor," said Cecile.

"No, my dear, yer father had that little bit of money coming in from
France every year. It will come in for four or five years more, and it
will be enough to pay Aunt Lydia for taking care on you both. No,
Cecile, I did not work for myself, nor for you and Maurice - I worked
for Lovedy. All that beautiful church embroidery as I sat up so late at
night over, the money I got for it was for my girl; every lily I
worked, and every passion-flower, and every leaf, took a little drop of
my heart's blood, I think; but 'twas done for her. Now, Cecile, put yer
hand under my pillow - there's a purse there."

Cecile drew out an old, worn Russia-leather purse.

"Lovedy 'ud recognize that purse," said her mother, "it belonged to her
own father. She and I always kept our little earnings in it, in the old
happy days. Now open the purse, Cecile; you must know what is inside
it."

Cecile pressed the spring and took out a little bundle of notes.

"There, child, you open them - see, there are four notes - four Bank of
England notes for ten pounds each - that's forty pounds - forty pounds as
her mother earned for my girl. You give her those notes in the old
purse, Cecile. You give them into her own hands, and you say, 'Your
mother sent you those. Your mother is dead, but she broke her heart for
you, she never forgot your voice when you said for pity's sake, and she
asks you now for pity's sake to forgive her.' That's the message as you
has to take to Lovedy, Cecile."

"Yes, stepmother, I'll take her that message - very faithful; very, very
faithful, stepmother."

"And now put yer hand into the purse again, Cecile; there's more money
in the purse - see! there's fifteen pounds all in gold. I had that money
all in gold, for I knew as it 'ud be easier for you - that fifteen
pounds is for you, Cecile, to spend in looking for Lovedy; you must not
waste it, and you must spend it on nothing else. I guess you'll have to
go to France to find my Lovedy; but ef you're very careful, that money
ought to last till you find her."

"There'll be heaps and heaps of money here," said Cecile, looking at
the little pile of gold with almost awe.

"Yes, child, but there won't, not unless you're _very_ saving, and ask
all sensible questions about how to go and how best to find Lovedy. You
must walk as much as you can, Cecile, and live very plain, for you may
have to go a power of miles - yes, a power, before you find my girl; and
ef you're starving, you must not touch those four notes of money, only
the fifteen pounds. Remember, only that; and when you get to the little
villages away in France, you may go to the inns and ask there ef an
English girl wor ever seen about the place. You describe her,
Cecile - tall, a tall, fair English girl, with hair like the sun; you
say as her name is Lovedy - Lovedy Joy. You must get a deal o' sense to
do this business proper, Cecile; but ef you has sense and patience, why
you will find my girl."

"There's only one thing, stepmother," said Cecile; "I'll do everything
as you tells me, every single thing; I'll be as careful as possible,
and I'll save every penny; but I can't go to look for your Lovedy
without Maurice, for I promised father afore ever I promised you as I'd
never lose sight on Maurice till he grew up, and it 'ud be too long to
put off looking for Lovedy till Maurice was grown up, stepmother."

"I suppose it would," answered Cecile's stepmother; "'tis a pity, for
he'll spend some of the money. But there, it can't be helped, and
you'll do your best. I'll trust you to do yer werry best, Cecile."

"My werry, werry best," said Cecile earnestly.


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