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Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Vol. XVI., December, 1880 online

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struck Miss Mackenzie as being an odd way to secure privacy for a
privileged communication, to fasten the door of their room upon those
inside. It was expressive, however.

"Ye see, mem," began the landlady, "Wishart's no a very bad man - jist
weak in the heid like - but's wife is jist something awfu', an' I could
not let her bide in a decent lodging-house. We hae to dra' the line
somewhere, and I dra' it low enough, but she wis far below that. Eh,
she's jist terrible! Wishart has a sister in Glasgae verra weel to do,
an' I h'ard him say he'd gie the lassie to her if it wer na for the
wife. The day the school-board gentleman wis here she came back: she'd
been away, ye ken, and she said she'd become a t'otaller, an' so I sed
she micht stay; but, ye see, when nicht came on she an' Wishart gaed out
thegither, an' jist to celebrate their bein' frien's again she an' him
gaed intil a public, an' she got uproarious drunk, an' the polis took
her up. Wishart wis no sae bad, sae they let him come hame; but, ye see,
he had tasted the drink, an' wanted mair, an' he hadna ony money. Ye
see, he'd promised the gentleman who came here that he widna send Baubie
oot to sing again. But he _did_ send her oot then to sing for money for
him, an' the polis had been put to watch her, an' saw her beg, an' took
her up to the office, an' came back here for Wishart. An' so before the
day was dune they were a' lockit up thegither."

Such was the story related to Miss Mackenzie. What was to be done with
Baubie now? It was hardly fair that she should be sent to a reformatory
among criminal children. She had committed no crime, and there was that
empty bed at the home for little girls. She determined to attend the
sheriff-court on Monday morning and ask to be given the custody of
Baubie.

When Monday morning came, ten o'clock saw Miss Mackenzie established in
a seat immediately below the sheriff's high bench. The Wisharts were
among the first batch tried, and made their appearance from a side-door.
Mrs. Wishart came first, stepping along with a resolute, brazen bearing
that contrasted with her husband's timid, shuffling gait. She was a
gypsy-looking woman, with wandering, defiant black eyes, and her red
face had the sign-manual of vice stamped upon it. After her came Baubie,
a red-tartan-covered mite, shrinking back and keeping as close to her
father as she could. Baubie had favored her mother as to complexion:
that was plain. The top of her rough head and her wild brown eyes were
just visible over the panel as she stared round her, taking in with
composure and astuteness everything that was going on. She was the most
self-possessed of her party, for under Mrs. Wishart's active brazenness
there could easily be seen fear and a certain measure of remorse hiding
themselves; and Wishart seemed to be but one remove from imbecility.

The charges were read with a running commentary of bad language from
Mrs. Wishart as her offences were detailed; Wishart blinked in a
helpless, pathetic way; Baubie, who seemed to consider herself as
associated with him alone in the charge, assumed an air of indifference
and sucked her thumb, meantime watching Miss Mackenzie furtively. She
felt puzzled to account for her presence there, but it never entered her
head to connect that fact with herself in any way.

"Guilty or not guilty?" asked the sheriff-clerk.

"There's a kin' lady in coort," stammered Wishart, "an' she kens a'
aboot it."

"Guilty or not guilty?" reiterated the clerk: "this is not the time to
speak." "She kens it a', an' she wis to tak' the lassie."

"Guilty or not guilty? You must plead, and you can say what you like
afterward." Wishart stopped, not without an appealing look at the kind
lady, and pleaded guilty meekly. A policeman with a scratched face and
one hand plastered up testified to the extravagances Mrs. Wishart had
committed on the strength of her conversion to teetotal principles.

Baubic heard it all impassively, her face only betraying anything like
keen interest while the police-officer was detailing his injuries. Three
months' imprisonment was the sentence on Margaret Mactear or Wishart.
Then Wishart's sentence was pronounced - sixty days.

He and Baubie drew nearer to each other, Wishart with a despairing,
helpless look. Baubie's eyes looked like those of a hare taken in a gin.
Not one word had been said about her. She was not to go with her father.
What was to become of her? She was not long left in doubt as to her
fate.

"I will take the child, sheriff," said Miss Mackenzie eagerly and
anxiously. "I came here purposely to offer her a home in the refuge."

"Policeman, hand over the child to this lady at once," said the
sheriff. -

"Nothing could be better, Miss Mackenzie. It is very good of you to
volunteer to take charge of her."

Mrs. Wishart disappeared with a parting volley of blasphemy; her
husband, casting, as he went, a wistful look at Miss Mackenzie, shambled
fecklessly after the partner of his joys and sorrows; and the child
remained alone behind. The policeman took her by an arm and drew her
forward to make room for a fresh consignment of wickedness from the
cells at the side. Baubie breathed a short sigh as the door closed upon
her parents, shook back her hair, and looked up at Miss Mackenzie, as if
to announce her readiness and good will. Not one vestige of her internal
mental attitude could be gathered from her sun-and wind-beaten little
countenance. There was no rebelliousness, neither was there guilt. One
would almost have thought she had been told beforehand what was to
happen, so cool and collected was she.

"Now, Baubie, I am going to take you home. Come, child."

Pleased with her success, Miss Mackenzie, so speaking, took the little
waif's hand and led her out of the police-court into the High street.
She hardly dared to conjecture that it was Baubie Wishart's first visit
to that place, but as she stood on the entrance-steps and shook out her
skirts with a sense of relief, she breathed a sincere hope that it might
be the child's last.

A cab was waiting. Baubie, to her intense delight and no less
astonishment, was requested to occupy the front seat. Miss Mackenzie
gave the driver his order and got in, facing the red tartan bundle.

"Were you ever in a cab before?" asked Miss Mackenzie.

"Na, niver," replied Baubie in a rapt tone and without looking at her
questioner, so intent was she on staring out of the windows, between
both of which she divided her attention impartially.

They were driving down the Mound, and the outlook, usually so
far-reaching from that vantage-ground, was bounded by a thick sea-fog
that the east wind was carrying up from the Forth and dispensing with
lavish hands on all sides. The buildings had a grim, black look, as if a
premature old age had come upon them, and the black pinnacles of the
Monument stood out sharply defined in clear-cut, harsh distinctness
against the floating gray background. There were not many people
stirring in the streets. It was a depressing atmosphere, and Miss
Mackenzie observed before long that Baubie either seemed to have become
influenced by it or that the novelty of the cab-ride had worn off
completely. They crossed the Water of Leith, worn to a mere brown thread
owing to the long drought, by Stockbridge street bridge, and a few yards
from it found themselves before a gray stone house separated from the
street by a grass-plot surrounded by a stone wall: inside the wall grew
chestnut and poplar trees, which in summer must have shaded the place
agreeably, but which this day, in the cold gray mist, seemed almost
funereal in their gloomy blackness. The gate was opened from within the
wall as soon as Miss Mackenzie rang, and she and Baubie walked up the
little flagged path together. As the gate clanged to behind them Baubie
looked back involuntarily and sighed.

"Don't fear, lassie," said her guide: "they will be very kind to you
here. And it will be just a good home for you."

It may be questioned whether this promise of a good home awoke any
pleasing associations or carried with it any definite meaning to Baubie
Wishart's mind. She glanced up as if to show that she understood, but
her eyes turned then and rested on the square front of the little
old-fashioned gray house with its six staring windows and its front
circumscribed by the wall and the black poplars and naked chestnuts, and
she choked down another sigh.

"Now, Mrs. Duncan," Miss Mackenzie was saying to a comfortably-dressed
elderly woman, "here's your new girl, Baubie Wishart."

"Eh, ye've been successful then, Miss Mackenzie?"

"Oh dear, yes: the sheriff made no objection. And now, Mrs. Duncan, I
hope she will be a good girl and give you no trouble. - Come here,
Baubie, and promise me to do everything you are told and obey Mrs.
Duncan in everything."

"Yes, mem," answered Bauble reverently, almost solemnly.

There seemed to be no necessity for further exhortation. Baubie's
demeanor promised everything that was hoped for or wanted, and,
perfectly contented, Miss Mackenzie turned her attention to the minor
details of wardrobe, etc.: "That frock is good enough if it were washed.
She must get shoes and stockings; and then underwear, too, of some sort
will be wanted."

"That will it," responded the matron; "but I had better send her at
once to get a bath."

A big girl was summoned from a back room and desired to get ready a tub.
It was the ceremony customary at the reception of a neophyte - customary,
and in general very necessary too.

Baubie's countenance fell lower still on hearing this, and she blinked
both eyes deprecatingly. Nevertheless, when the big girl - whom they
called Kate - returned, bringing with her a warm whiff of steam and soap,
she trotted after her obediently and silently.

After a while the door opened, and Kate's yellow head appeared. "Speak
with ye, mem?" she said. "I hae her washen noo, but what for claes?"

"Eh yes. - Miss Mackenzie, we can't put her back into those dirty
clothes."

"Oh no. - I'll come and look at her clothes, Kate." As she spoke Miss
Mackenzie rose and followed the matron and Kate into a sort of kitchen
or laundry.

In the middle of the floor was a tub containing Miss Wishart mid-deep in
soapsuds. Her thick hair was all soaking, and clung fast to her head:
dripping locks hung clown over her eyes, which looked out through the
tangle patient and suffering. She glanced up quickly as Miss Mackenzie
came in, and then resigned herself passively into Kate's hands, who with
a piece of flannel had resumed the scrubbing process.

Miss Mackenzie was thinking to herself that it was possibly Baubie
Wishart's first experience of the kind, when she observed the child
wince as if she were hurt.

"It's yon' as hurts her," said Kate, calling the matron's attention to
something on the child's shoulders. They both stooped and saw a long
blue-and-red mark - a bruise all across her back. Nor was this the only
evidence of ill-treatment: other bruises, and even scars, were to be
seen on the lean little body.

"Puir thing!" said the matron in a low tone, sympathizingly.

"Baubie, who gave you that bruise?" asked Miss Mackenzie.

No answer from Baubie, who seemed to be absorbed in watching the drops
running off the end of her little red nose, which played the part of a
gargoyle to the rest of her face.

Miss Mackenzie repeated the question, sternly almost: "Bauble Wishart, I
insist upon knowing who gave you that bruise."

"A didna gie't to mysel', mem." was the answer from the figure in the
soapsuds. There was a half sob in the voice as of terror, and her manner
had all the appearance of ingenuousness.

The matron and Miss Mackenzie looked at each other significantly, and
agreed tacitly that there was no use in pushing the question.

"Od!" said Kate, who had paused in the act of taking a warm towel from
the fireplace to listen, "a'body kens ye didna gie it till yoursel',
lassie."

"Where are her clothes?" said the matron. "Oh, here. Yon frock's good
enough if it was washed; but, losh me! just look at these for clothes!"
She was exhibiting some indescribable rags as she spoke.

"Kate," said Miss Mackenzie, "dress her in the lassie Grant's clothes:
they are the most likely to fit her. Don't lose time: I want to see her
again before I go."

Kate fished up her charge, all smoking, from the soapsuds and rubbed her
down before the fire. Then the tangled wet hair was parted evenly and
smoothed into dark locks on either side of her face. Raiment clean, but
the coarsest of the coarse, was found for her. A brown wincey dress
surmounted all. Shoes and stockings came last of all, probably in the
order of importance assigned to them by Kate.

From the arm-chair of the matron's sitting-room Miss Mackenzie surveyed
her charge with satisfaction. Baubie looked subdued, contented, perhaps
grateful, and was decidedly uncomfortable. Every vestige of the
picturesque was gone, obliterated clean by soap and water, and Kate's
hair-comb, a broken-toothed weapon that had come off second best in its
periodic conflicts with her own barley-mow, had disposed for ever of the
wild, curly tangle of hair. Her eyes had red rims to them, caused by
superfluous soap and water, and in its present barked condition, when
all the dirt was gone, Baubie's face had rather an interesting, wistful
expression. She seemed not to stand very steadily in her boots, which
were much too big for her.

Miss Mackenzie surveyed her with great satisfaction. The brown wincey
and the coarse apron seemed to her the neophyte's robe, betokening
Baubie's conversion from arab nomadism to respectability and from a
vagabond trade to decorous industry.

"Now, Baubie, you can knit: I mean to give you needles and worsted to
knit yourself stockings. Won't that be nice? I am sure you never knitted
stockings for yourself before."

"Yes, mem," replied Baubie, shuffling her feet.

"Now, what bed is she to get, Mrs. Duncan? Let us go up stairs and see
the dormitory."

"I thought I would put her in the room with Kate: I changed the small
bed in there. If you will just step up stairs, Miss Mackenzie?"

The party reached the dormitory by a narrow wooden staircase, the
whiteness of which testified to the scrubbing powers of Kate's red arms
and those of her compeers. All the windows were open, and the east wind
came in at its will, nippingly cold if airy. They passed through a
large, low-ceilinged room into a smaller one, in which were only four
beds: a small iron stretcher beside the window was pointed out as
Baubie's. Miss Mackenzie turned down the red-knitted coverlet and looked
at the blankets. They were perfectly clean, like everything else, and,
like everything else too, very coarse and very well worn.

"This will do very nicely. - Baubie, this is to be your bed."

Baubie, fresh from the lock-up and Kennedy's Lodgings, might have been
expected to show some trace of her sense of comparison, but not a
vestige of expression crossed her face: she looked up in civil
acknowledgment of having heard: that was all.

"I shall look in again in the course of a week," announced Miss
Mackenzie. - "Good-bye, Baubie: do everything Mrs. Duncan tells you."

With this valedictory Miss Mackenzie left the matron, and Kate attended
her down stairs; and Baubie was at last alone.

She remained standing stock-still when they left her by the
bedside - when the door, shut by Kate, who went out last, hid them from
her view. She listened in a stupid kind of way to the feet tramping on
the bare boards of the outer dormitory and down the stairs: then all was
still, and Baubie Wishart, clean, clothed and separated from her father
for the first time in her life, was left alone to consider how she liked
"school." She felt cold and strange and lonely, and for about three
minutes' space she abandoned herself without reserve to the sensation.
Then the heavy shoes troubled her, and in a fit of anger and impatience
she suddenly began to unlace one. Some far-off sound startled her, and
with a furtive, timorous look at the door she fastened it up again. No
one came, but instead of returning to the boot she sprang to the window,
and, mounting the narrow sill, prepared to survey the domain that lay
below it. There was not much to see. The window looked out on the back
green, which was very much like the front, save that there was no
flagged walk. A few stunted poplars ran round the walls: the grass was
trodden nearly all off, and from wall to wall were stretched cords from
which fluttered a motley collection of linen hung out to dry. There was
no looking out of it. Baubie craned her adventurous small neck in all
directions. One side of the back green was overlooked by a
tenement-house; the other was guarded by the poplars and a low stone
wall; at the bottom was a dilapidated outhouse. The sky overhead was all
dull gray: a formless gray sea-mist hurried across it, driven by the
east wind, which found time as well to fill, as it passed, all the
fluttering garments on the line and swell them into ridiculous
travesties of the bodies they belonged to, tossing them the while with
high mockery into all manner of weird contortions.

Baubie looked at them curiously, and wondered to herself how much they
would all pawn for - considerably more than three shillings no doubt.
She established that fact to her own satisfaction ere long, although she
was no great arithmetician, and she sighed as she built and demolished
an air-castle in her own mind. Though there was but little attraction
for her in the room, she was about to leave the window when her eye fell
on a large black cat crouched on the wall, employed in surveillance of
the linen or stalking sparrows or in deadly ambush for a hated rival.
Meeting Baubie's glance, he sat up and stared at her suspiciously with a
pair of round yellow, unwinking orbs.

"Ki! ki! ki!" breathed Baubie discreetly. She felt lonely, and the cat
looked a comfortable big creature, and belonged to the house doubtless,
for he stared at her with an interested, questioning look. Presently he
moved. She repeated her invitation, whereon the cat slowly rose to his
feet, humped his back and yawned, then deliberately turned quite round,
facing the other way, and resumed his watchful attitude, his tail tucked
in and his ears folded back close, as if to give the cold wind as little
purchase as possible. Baubie felt snubbed and lonely, and drawing back
from the window she sat down on the edge of her bed to wait events.

Accustomed as she was to excitement, the experiences of the last few
days were of a nature to affect even stronger nerves than hers, and the
unwonted bodily sensations caused by the bath and change of garments
seemed to intensify her consciousness of novelty and restraint. There
was another not very pleasant sensation too, of which she herself had
not taken account, although it was present and made itself felt keenly
enough. It was her strange sense of desolation and grief at the parting
from her father. Baubie herself would have been greatly puzzled had any
person designated her feelings by these names. There were many things in
that philosophy of the gutter in which Baubie Wishart was steeped to the
lips undreamt of by her. What she knew she knew thoroughly, but there
was much with which most children, even of her age and class in life,
are, it is to be hoped, familiar, of which Baubie Wishart was utterly
ignorant. Her circumstances were different from theirs - fortunately for
them; and amongst the poor, as with their betters, various conditions
breed various dispositions. Baubie was an outer barbarian and savage in
comparison with some children, although they perhaps went barefooted
also; but, like a savage too, she would have grown fat where they would
have starved. And this she knew well.

Kate's yellow head, appearing at the door to summon her to dinner, put
an end to her gloomy reverie. And with this, her first meal, began
Baubie's acquaintance with the household of which she was to form an
integral portion from that hour.

They gave her no housework to do. Mrs. Duncan, whom a very cursory
examination satisfied as to the benighted ignorance of this latest
addition to her flock, determined that Baubie should learn to read,
write and sew as expeditiously as might be. In order that she might
benefit by example, she was made to sit by the lassie Grant, the child
whose clothes had been lent to her, and her education began forthwith.

It was tame work to Baubie, who did not love sitting still: "white seam"
was a vexation of spirit, and her knitting, in which she had beforehand
believed herself an adept, was found fault with. The lassie Grant, as
was pointed out to her, could knit more evenly and possessed a superior
method of "turning the heel."

Baubie Wishart listened with outward calmness and seeming acquiescence
to the comparison instituted between herself and her neighbor. Inwardly,
however, she raged. What about knitting? Anybody could knit. She would
like to see the lassie Grant earn two shillings of a Saturday night
singing in the High street or the Lawnmarket. Baubie forgot in her flush
of triumphant recollection that there had always been somebody to take
the two shillings from her, and beat her and accuse her of malversation
and embezzlement into the bargain. Artist-like, she remembered her
triumphs only: she could earn two shillings by her braced of songs, and
for a minute, as she revelled in this proud consciousness, her face lost
its demure, watchful expression, and the old independent, confident
bearing reappeared. Baubie forgot also in her present well-nourished
condition the never-failing sensation of hunger that had gone hand in
hand with these departed glories. But even if she had remembered every
circumstance of her former life, and the privations and sufferings, she
would still have pined for its freedom.

The consequence of her being well fed was simply that her mind was freed
from what is, after all, the besetting occupation of creatures like her,
and was therefore at liberty to bestow its undivided attention upon the
restraints and irksomeness of this new order of things. Her gypsy blood
began to stir in her: the charm of her old vagabond habits asserted
itself under the wincey frock and clean apron. To be commended for
knitting and sewing was no distinction worth talking about. What was it
compared with standing where the full glare of the blazing windows of
some public-house fell upon the Rob Roy tartan, with an admiring
audience gathered round and bawbees and commendations flying thick? She
never thought then, any more than now, of the cold wind or the day-long
hunger. It was no wonder that under the influence of these cherished
recollections "white seam" did not progress and the knitting never
attained to the finished evenness of the lassie Grant's performance.

None the less, although she made no honest effort to equal this model
proposed for her example, did Baubie feel jealous and aggrieved. Her
nature recognized other possibilities of expression and other fields of
excellence beyond those afforded by the above-mentioned useful arts, and
she brooded over her arbitrary and forcedly inferior position with all
the intensity of a naturally masterful and passionate nature. It was all
the more unbearable because she had no real cause of complaint: had she
been oppressed or ill-treated in the slightest degree, or had anybody
else been unduly favored, there would have been a pretext for an
outbreak or a shadow of a reason for her discontent. But it was not so.
The matron dispensed even-handed justice and motherly kindness
impartially all round. And if the lassie Grant's excellences were
somewhat obtrusively contrasted with Baubie's shortcomings, it was
because, the two children being of the same age, Mrs. Duncan hoped to
rouse thereby a spark of emulation in Baubie. Neither was there any
pharisaical self-exaltation on the part of the rival. She was a
sandy-haired little girl, an orphan who had been three years in the
refuge, and who in her own mind rather deprecated as unfair any
comparison drawn between herself and the newly-caught Baubie.

Day followed day quietly, and Baubie had been just a week in the refuge,
when Miss Mackenzie, faithful to her promise, called to inquire how her
_protégée_ was getting on.

The matron gave her rather a good character of Baubie. "She's just no
trouble - a quiet-like child. She knows just nothing, but I've set her
beside the lassie Grant, and I don't doubt but she'll do well yet; but
she is some dull," she added.


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Online LibraryVariousLippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Vol. XVI., December, 1880 → online text (page 12 of 20)