Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Kate Dickinson Sweetser > Text of Little Nell

A short story by Kate Dickinson Sweetser

Little Nell

Title:     Little Nell
Author: Kate Dickinson Sweetser [More Titles by Sweetser]

There was once an old man, whose daughter dying, left in his care two orphan children, a son twelve years old, and little Nell, a younger girl. The grandfather was now an old and feeble man, but gathering himself together as best he could, he began to trade;--in pictures first--and then in curious ancient things, and from the Old Curiosity Shop, as it was called, he was able to obtain a slender income.

The boy grew into a wayward youth, and soon quitted his grandfather's home for companions more suited to his taste, but sweet little Nell remained, and grew so like her mother, that when the old man had her on his knee, and looked into her mild blue eyes, he felt as if his daughter had come back, a child again.

The old man and little Nell dwelt alone,--he loving her with a passionate devotion, and haunted with a fearful dread lest she should be left to a life of poverty and want, when he should be called to leave her. This fear so overmastered him that it led him to the gaming-table, and--for her sake--he became a professional gambler, hoping to lay by a vast fortune for her future use. But he lost heavily and constantly, until his slender resources were exhausted, and he was obliged to borrow money from the rich little dwarf money-lender, Quilp, pledging his stock as security for the loans.

But of all this Little Nell knew nothing, or she would have implored him to give up the dangerous practice. She only knew that, after her monotonous days, uncheckered by variety and uncheered by pleasant companionship, the old man, who seemed always agitated by some hidden care, and weak and wandering in his mind, taking his cloak and hat and stick, would pass from the house, leaving her alone through the dreary evenings and long solitary nights.

It was not the absence of such pleasures as make young hearts beat high, that brought tears to Nell's eyes. It was the sight of the old man's feeble state of mind and body, and the fear that some night he should fail to come home, having been overtaken by illness or sudden death. Such fears as these drove the roses from her smooth young cheeks, and stilled the songs which before had rung through the dim old shop, while the gay, lightsome step passed among the dusty treasures. Now she seldom smiled or sang, and among the few bits of comedy in her sad days, were the visits of Kit Nubbles, her grandfather's errand boy, a shock-headed, shambling, comical lad, whose devotion to the beautiful child verged on worship. Appreciating Nell's loneliness, Kit visited the shop as often as possible, and the exquisite oddity and awkwardness of his manner so amused her that at sight of him she would give way to genuine merriment. Kit himself, being always flattered by the sensation he produced, would often burst into a loud roar, and stand with his mouth wide open, and his eyes nearly shut, laughing violently.

Twice every week Nell gave the lad a writing lesson, to the great mirth and enjoyment of them both, and each time Kit tucked up his sleeves, squared his elbows, and put his face very close to the copy-book, squinting horribly at the lines, fairly wallowing in blots, and daubing himself with ink up to the roots of his hair,--and if he did by accident form a letter properly, he immediately smeared it out again with his arm--and at every fresh mistake there was a fresh burst of merriment from the child and from poor Kit himself.

But of such happy times sweet Nell had few, and she became more anxious about her grandfather's health, as he became daily more worried over the secret which he would not share with her, and which preyed upon his mind and body with increasing ravages.

Fortune did not favor his ventures, and Quilp, having discovered for what purpose he borrowed such large sums, refused him further loans. In an agony of apprehension for the future, the old man told Nell that he had had heavy losses, that they would soon be beggars.

"What if we are?" said the child boldly. "Let us be beggars, and be happy."

"Beggars--and happy!" said the old man. "Poor child!"

"Dear grandfather," cried the girl, with an energy which shone in her flushed face, trembling voice, and impassioned, gestures, "O, hear me pray that we may beg, or work in open roads or fields, to earn a scanty living, rather than live as we do now."

"Nelly!" said the old man.

"Yes, yes, rather than live as we do now," the child repeated, "do not let me see such change in you, and not know why, or I shall break my heart and die. Dear grandfather, let us leave this sad place to-morrow, and beg our way from door to door."

The old man covered his face with his hands, as the child added, "Let us be beggars. I have no fear but we shall have enough: I'm sure we shall. Let us walk through country places, and never think of money again, or anything that can make you sad, but rest at nights, and have the sun and wind on our faces in the day, and thank God together! Let us never set foot in dark rooms or melancholy houses any more, but wander up and down wherever we like to go, and when you are tired, you shall stop to rest in the pleasantest places we can find, and I will go and beg for both."

The child's voice was lost in sobs as she dropped upon the old man's neck; nor did she weep alone.

That very day news came that the Old Curiosity Shop and its contents would at once pass into Quilp's hands, in payment of the old man's debts. In vain he pleaded for one more chance to redeem himself--for one more loan--Quilp was firm in his refusal of further help, and little Nell found the old man, overcome by the news, lying upon the floor of his room, alarmingly ill. For weeks he lay raving in the delirium of fever, little Nell alone beside him, nursing him with a single-hearted devotion. The house was no longer theirs; even the sick chamber they retained by special favor until such time as the old man could be removed. Meanwhile, Mr. Quilp had taken formal possession of the premises, and to make sure that no more business was transacted in the shop, was encamped in the back parlor. So keen was Nell's dread of even the sound of the dwarfs voice, that she lived in continual apprehension of meeting him on the stairs, or in the passage, and seldom stirred from her grandfather's room.

At length the old man began to mend--he was patient and quiet, easily amused, and made no complaint, but his mind was forever weakened, and he seemed to have only a dazed recollection of what had happened. Even when Quilp told him that in two days he must be moved out of the shop, he seemed not to take it to heart, wandering around the house, a very child in act and thought. But a change came over him on the second evening; as he and little Nell sat silently together. He was moved--shed tears--begged Nell's forgiveness for what he had made her suffer--seemed like one coming out of a dream--and urged her to help him in acting upon what they had talked of doing long before.

"We will not stop here another day," he said, "we will go far away from here. We will travel afoot through the fields and woods, and by the side of rivers, and trust ourselves to God in the places where He dwells. It is far better to lie down at night beneath an open sky than to rest in close rooms, which are always full of care and weary dreams. Thou and I together, Nell, may be cheerful and happy yet, and learn to forget this time, as if it had never been."

"We will be happy," cried the child. "We never can be, here!"

"No, we never can again--never again--that's truly said," rejoined the old man. "Let us steal away to-morrow morning, early and softly, that we may not be seen or heard--and leave no trace or track for them to follow by. Poor Nell! Thy cheek is pale, and thy eyes are heavy with watching and weeping for me; but thou wilt be well again, and merry too, when we are far away. To-morrow morning, dear, we will turn our faces from this scene of sorrow, and be as free and happy as the birds."

The child's heart beat high with hope and confidence. She had no thought of hunger or cold, or thirst, or suffering. She saw in this a relief from the gloomy solitude in which she had lived, an escape from the heartless people by whom she had been surrounded in her late time of trial, the restoration of the old man's health and peace, and a life of tranquil happiness. Sun, and stream, and meadow, and summer days shone brightly in her view, and there was no dark tint in all the sparkling picture.

The old man had slept for some hours soundly, and she was yet busily engaged in preparing for their flight. There were a few articles of clothing for herself to carry, and a few for him, and a staff to support his feeble steps. But this was not all her task, for now she must say farewell to her own little room, where she had so often knelt down and prayed at night--prayed for the time which she hoped was dawning now! There were some trifles there, which she would have liked to take away, but that was impossible. She wept bitterly to leave her poor bird behind, until the idea occurred to her that it might fall into the hands of Kit, who would keep and cherish it for her sake. She was calmed and comforted by this thought, and went to rest with a lighter heart.

At length the day began to glimmer, when she arose and dressed herself for the journey, and with the old man, trod lightly down the stairs. At last they reached the ground-floor, got the door open without noise, and passing into the street, stood still.

"Which way?" said the child.

The old man looked irresolutely and helplessly to the right and left, then at her, and shook his head. It was plain that she was henceforth his guide and leader. The child felt it, but had no doubts or misgivings, and putting her hand in his, led him gently away.

It was the beginning of a day in June; the deep blue sky unsullied by a cloud, and teeming with brilliant light. The streets were as yet free of passengers, the houses and shops were closed, and the healthy air of morning fell like breath from angels on the sleeping town.

The old man and the child passed on through the glad silence, elate with hope and pleasure. Every object was bright and fresh; nothing reminded them, otherwise than by contrast, of the monotony and restraint they had left behind.

Forth from the city, while it yet slumbered, went the two poor adventurers, wandering they knew not whither, often pressing each other's hands, or exchanging a smile, as they pursued their way through the city streets, through the haunts of traffic and great commerce, where business was already rife. The old man looked about him with a bewildered gaze, for these were places that he hoped to shun, nor did he seem at ease until at last they felt that they were clear of London, and sat down to rest, and eat their frugal breakfast from little Nell's basket.

The freshness of the day, the singing of the birds, the beauty of the waving grass, the wild flowers, and the thousand exquisite scents and sounds that floated in the air, sunk into their breasts, and made them very glad. The child had repeated her artless prayers once that morning, more earnestly, perhaps, than she had ever done in her life; but as she felt all this, they rose to her lips again. The old man took off his hat--he had no memory for the words--but he said Amen, and that they were very good.

"Are you tired?" asked the child. "Are you sure you don't feel ill from this long walk?"

"I shall never feel ill again, now that we are once away," was his reply. "Let us be stirring, Nell. We are too near to stop and be at rest. Come!"

They were now in the open country, through which they walked all day, and slept that night at a cottage where beds were let to travellers. Next morning they were afoot again, and still kept on until nearly five o'clock in the afternoon, when they stopped at a laborer's hut, asking permission to rest awhile and buy a draught of milk. The request was granted, and after having some refreshments and rest, Nell yielded to the old man's fretful demand to travel on again, and they trudged forward for another mile, thankful for a lift given them by a kindly driver going their way, for they could scarcely crawl along. To them the jolting cart was a luxurious carriage, and the ride the most delicious in the world. Nell had scarcely settled herself in one corner of the cart when she fell fast asleep, and was only awakened by its stopping when their ways parted. The driver pointing out the town in the near distance, directed them to take the path leading through the churchyard. Accordingly, to this spot they directed their weary steps, and presently came upon two men who were seated upon the grass. It was not difficult to divine that they were itinerant showmen--exhibitors of the freaks of Punch--for, perched cross-legged upon a tombstone behind them, was a figure of that hero himself, his nose and chin as hooked, and his face as beaming as usual; while scattered upon the ground, and jumbled together in a long box, were the other persons of the drama. The hero's wife and one child, the hobby-horse, the doctor, the foreign gentleman, the executioner, and the devil, all were here. Their owners had evidently come to that spot to make some needful repairs in their stock, for one of them was engaged in binding together a small gallows with thread, while the other was intent upon fixing a new black wig.

They greeted the strangers with a nod, and the old man sitting down beside them, and looking at the figures with extreme delight, began to talk. While they chatted, Mr. Short, a little merry, red-faced man with twinkling eyes, turning over the figures in the box, drew one forth, saying ruefully to his companion, Codlin by name: "Look here, here's all this Judy's clothes falling to pieces again. You haven't got needle and thread, I suppose?"

The little man shook his head, and seeing that they were at a loss, Nell said timidly:

"I have a needle, sir, in my basket, and thread too. Will you let me try to mend it for you? I think I could do it neater than you could."

As Mr. Codlin had nothing to urge against a proposal so seasonable, Nelly was soon busily engaged in her task, and accomplishing it to a miracle. While she was thus engaged, the merry little man looked at her with an interest which did not appear to be diminished when he glanced at her helpless companion. When she had finished her work, he thanked her, and inquired whither they were travelling.

"N-no further to-night, I think," said the child, looking toward her grandfather.

"If you're wanting a place to stop at," the man remarked, "I should advise you to take up at the same house with us. The long, low, white house there. It's very cheap."

The old man, who would have remained in the churchyard all night if his new acquaintances had stayed there too, yielded to this suggestion a ready and rapturous assent, and they all rose and walked away together to the public house, where, after witnessing an exhibition of the show, they had a good supper, but Nell was too tired to eat, and was grateful when they retired to the loft where they were to rest. The old man was uneasy when he had lain down, and begged that Nell would come and sit at his bedside as she had done for so many nights. She sat there till he slept, then went to her own room and sat thinking of the life that was before them.

She had a little money, but it was very little, and when that was gone, they must begin to beg. There was one piece of gold among it, and an emergency might come when its worth to them might be increased a hundredfold. It would be best to hide this coin, and never produce it unless their case was absolutely desperate. Her resolution taken, she sewed the piece of gold into her dress, and going to bed with a lighter heart, sunk into a deep slumber.

On the following morning, Mr. Short asked Nell, "And where are you going to-day?"

"Indeed I hardly know," replied the child.

"We're going on to the races," said the little man. "If you'd like to have us for company, let us travel together."

"Well go with you," said the old man eagerly. "Nell--with them, with them."

The child considered for a moment, and reflecting that she must soon beg, and could scarcely do so at a better place, thanked the little man for his offer, and said they would accompany him.

Presently they started off and made a long day's journey, and were yet upon the road when night came on. Threatening clouds soon gave place to a heavy rain, and the party took refuge for the night in a roadside inn, where they found a mighty fire blazing upon the hearth, and savory smells coming from iron pots.

Furnished with slippers and dry garments, and overpowered by the warmth and comfort of the room and the fatigue they had undergone, Nelly and the old man had not long taken seats in the warm chimney-corner when they fell asleep.

"Who are they?" whispered the landlord.

Short and Codlin shook their heads. "They're no harm," said Short. "Depend upon that I tell you what--it's plain that the old man aren't in his right mind--I believe that he's given his friends the slip and persuaded this delicate young creature, all along of her fondness for him, to be his guide and travelling companion--where to, he knows no more than the man in the moon. Now I'm not a-goin' to stand that. I'm not a-goin' to see this fair young child a-falling into bad hands, and getting among people that she's no more fit for, than they are to get among angels as their ordinary chums. Therefore when they dewelop an intention of parting company from us, I shall take measures for detainin' of 'em and restoring them to their friends, who, I dare say, have had their disconsolation pasted up on every wall in London by this time.

"Short," said Mr. Codlin, "it's possible there may be uncommon good sense in what you've said. If there is, and there should be a reward, Short, remember that we are partners in everything!"

His companion had only time to nod a brief assent to this proposition, for the child awoke at the instant, as strange footsteps were heard without, and fresh company entered.

These were no other than four very dismal dogs, who came pattering in, headed by an old bandy dog, who erected himself upon his hind legs, and looked around at his companions, who immediately stood upon their hind legs in a grave and melancholy row. These dogs each wore a kind of little coat of some gaudy color, trimmed with tarnished spangles, and one of them had a cap upon his head, tied under his chin, which had fallen down upon his nose, and completely obscured one eye. Add to this, that the gaudy coats were all wet through with rain, and that the wearers were all splashed and dirty, and some idea may be formed of the unusual appearance of the new visitors to the inn. Jerry, the manager of these dancing dogs, disencumbering himself of a barrel-organ, and retaining in his hand a small whip, came up to the fire and entered into conversation. The landlord then busied himself in laying the cloth for supper, which, being at length ready to serve, little Nell ventured to say grace, and supper began.

At this juncture the poor dogs were standing upon their hind legs quite surprisingly. The child, having pity on them, was about to cast some morsels of food to them before she tasted it herself, hungry though she was, when their master interposed.

"No, my dear, no, not an atom from anybody's hand but mine, please. That dog," said Jerry, pointing out the old leader of the troop, and speaking in a terrible voice, "lost a half-penny to-day. He goes without his supper."

The unfortunate creature dropped upon his forelegs directly, wagged his tail, and looked imploringly at his master.

"You must be more careful, sir," said Jerry, walking coolly to the chair where he had placed the organ, and setting the stop. "Come here. Now, sir, you play away at that while we have supper, and leave off if you dare."

The dog immediately began to grind most mournful music. His master, having shown him the whip, called up the others, who, at his directions, formed in a row, standing upright as a file of soldiers.

"Now, gentlemen," said Jerry, looking at them attentively, "the dog whose name is called, eats. Carlo!"

The lucky individual whose name was called, snapped up the morsel thrown towards him, but none of the others moved a muscle. Meanwhile the dog in disgrace ground hard at the organ, sometimes in quick time, sometimes in slow, but never leaving off for an instant. When the knives and forks rattled very much, or any of his fellows got an unusually large piece of fat, he accompanied the music with a short howl; but he immediately checked it on his master looking around, and applied himself with increased diligence to the Old Hundredth.

That night, from various conversations in which Codlin and Short took pains to engage her, little Nell began to have misgivings concerning their protestations of friendship, and to suspect their motives. These misgivings made the child anxious and uneasy, as the party travelled on towards the town where the races were to begin next day.

It was dark when they reached the town, and there all was tumult and confusion. The streets were filled with throngs of people, the church-bells rang out their noisy peals, and flags streamed from windows and house-tops, while shrill flageolets and deafening drums added to the uproar.

Through this delirious scene, the child, frightened and repelled by all she saw, led on her bewildered charge, clinging close to her conductor, and trembling lest she should be separated from him, and left to find her way alone. Quickening their steps they made for the racecourse, which was upon an open heath. There were many people here, none of the best-favored or best clad, busily erecting tents, but the child felt it an escape from the town, and drew her breath more freely. After a scanty supper, she and the old man lay down to rest in a corner of a tent, and slept, despite the busy preparations that were going on around them all night long.

And now they had come to the time when they must beg their bread. Soon after sunrise in the morning Nell stole out, and plucked a few wild roses and such humble flowers, to make into little nosegays and offer to the ladies in the carriages when the company arrived. Her thoughts were not idle while she was thus employed. When she returned and was seated beside the old man, tying her flowers together, while Codlin and Short lay dozing in another corner, she said in a low voice:

"Grandfather, don't look at those I talk of, and don't seem as if I spoke of anything but what I'm about. What was that you told me before we left the old house?--that if they knew what we were going to do, they would say that you were mad, and part us?"

The old man turned to her with an aspect of wild terror; but she checked him by a look, adding, "Grandfather, these men suspect that we have secretly left our friends, and mean to carry us before some gentlemen, and have us taken care of, and sent back. If you let your hand tremble so, we can never get away from them, but if you're only quiet now, we shall do so easily."

"How?" muttered the old man. "Dear Nelly, how? They will shut me up in a stone room, dark and cold, and chain me to the wall, Nell--flog me with whips, and never let me see thee more!"

"You're trembling again!" said the child. "Keep close to me all day. I shall find a time when we can steal away. When I do, mind you come with me, and do not stop or speak a word. Hush! that's all."

"Halloa! what are you up to, my dear?" said Mr. Codlin, raising his head and yawning.

"Making some nosegays," the child replied; "I'm going to try to sell some. Will you have one?--as a present, I mean." Mr. Codlin stuck it in his buttonhole with an air of ineffable complacency, and laid himself down again.

As the morning wore on, the tents assumed a more brilliant appearance. Men, who had lounged about in smock frocks and leather leggings, came out in silken vests and hats and plumes, as jugglers or mountebanks. Black-eyed gypsy girls, hooded in showy handkerchiefs, sallied forth to tell fortunes. The dancing dogs, the stilts, the little lady and the tall man and all the other attractions, with organs out of number, and bands innumerable, emerged from the corners in which they had passed the night, and flourished boldly in the sun.

Along the uncleared course, Short led his party, sounding the brazen trumpet, and at his heels went Thomas Codlin, bearing the show, and keeping his eyes on Nelly and her grandfather, as they rather lingered in the rear. The child bore upon her arm the little basket with her flowers, and sometimes stopped, with timid looks, to offer them at some gay carriage, but, alas! there were many bolder beggars there, adepts at their trade, and although some ladies smiled gently as they shook their heads, and others cried: "See, what a pretty face!" they let the pretty face pass on, and never thought that it looked tired or hungry, and among all that gay throng, there was but one lady, who, taking her flowers, put money in the child's trembling hand.

At length, late in the day, Mr. Codlin pitched the show in a convenient spot, and the spectators were soon in the very triumph of the scene. The child, sitting down with the old man close behind it, was roused from her meditation by a loud laugh at some witticism of Mr. Short.

If they were ever to get away unseen, that was the very moment. Short and Codlin were absorbed in giving the show, and in coaxing sixpences from the people's pockets, and the spectators were looking on with laughing faces. That was the moment for escape. They seized it and fled.

They made a path through booths, and carriages, and throngs of people, and never once stopped to look behind, but creeping under the brow of the hill at a quick pace, made for the open fields, and not until they were quite exhausted ventured to sit down to rest upon the borders of a little wood, and some time elapsed before the child could reassure her trembling companion, or restore him to a state of moderate tranquillity. His terrors affected her. Separation from her grandfather was the greatest evil she could dread; and feeling for the time, as though, go where they would, they were to be hunted down, and could never be safe in hiding, her heart failed her, and her courage drooped. Then, remembering how weak her companion was, and how destitute and helpless he would be if she failed him, she was animated with new strength and fortitude, and assured him that they had nothing to fear. Luring him onward through the woods with happy looks and smiles, the serenity which she had at first assumed, stole into her breast in earnest. The old man cast no longer fearful looks behind, but felt at ease and cheerful, for the further they passed into the deep green shade of the woods, the more they felt that the tranquil mind of God was there, and shed its peace on them.

At length the path brought them to a public road which to their great joy at last led into the centre of a small village. Uncertain where to seek a lodging, they approached an old man sitting in a garden before his cottage. He was the schoolmaster, and had "School" written over his window in black letters. He was a pale, simple-looking man, and sat among his flowers and beehives, taking no notice of the travellers, until Nell approached him, dropping a curtsey, and asking if he could direct them anywhere to obtain a shelter for the night.

"You have been walking a long way?" said the schoolmaster.

"A long way, sir," the child replied.

"You're a young traveller, my child," he said, laying his hand gently on her head. "Your grandchild, friend?"

"Aye, sir," cried the old man, "and the stay and comfort of my life."

"Come in," said the schoolmaster.

Without further preface, he conducted them into his little schoolroom, which was parlor and kitchen likewise, and told them they were welcome to remain till morning. Before they had done thanking him, he spread the table, and besought them to eat and drink.

After a sound night's rest in the little cottage, Nell rose early, and was attempting to make the room in which she had supped last night neat and comfortable, when their kind host came in. She asked leave to prepare breakfast, and the three soon partook of it together. While the meal was in progress, their host remarked that the old man stood in need of rest, and that he should be glad of their company for another night. It required no great persuasion to induce the child to answer that they would remain. She was happy to show her gratitude to the kind schoolmaster by performing such household duties as his little cottage stood in need of. When these were done, she took some needlework from her basket, and sat down beside the lattice, where the honeysuckle and woodbine filled the room with their delicious breath. Her grandfather was basking in the sun outside, breathing the perfume of the flowers, and idly watching the clouds as they floated on before the light summer wind. Presently the schoolmaster took his seat behind his desk, and as he seemed pleased to have little Nell beside him, she busied herself with her work, entering into conversation with the schoolmaster while the scholars conned their lessons, and watching the boys with eager and attentive interest.

Upon the following morning there remained for the travellers only to take leave of the poor schoolmaster, and wander forth once more. With a trembling and reluctant hand, the child held out to their kind host the money which the lady had given her at the races for her flowers, faltering in her thanks, and blushing as she offered it. But he bade her put it up, and kissing her cheek, wished her good fortune and happiness, adding, "If you ever pass this way again, you will not forget the little village school?"

"We shall never forget it, sir," rejoined Nell, "nor ever forget to be grateful to you for your kindness to us."

They bade him farewell very many times, often looking back, until they could see him no more. They trudged onward now at a quicker pace, resolving to keep the main road, and go wherever it might lead them. The afternoon had worn away into a beautiful evening when the road struck across a common. On the border of this common, a caravan was drawn up to rest.

It was not a shabby, dingy cart, but a smart little house upon wheels, with white dimity curtains festooning the windows, and window-shutters of green picked out with panels of a staring red. Neither was it a poor caravan drawn by a single donkey or emaciated horse, for a pair of horses in pretty good condition were released from the shafts, and grazing upon the frowzy grass. Neither was it a gypsy caravan, for at the open door (graced with a bright brass knocker) sat a Christian lady, stout and comfortable to look upon, who wore a large bonnet, trembling with bows. And that it was not an unprovided or destitute caravan, was clear from this lady's occupation, which was the very refreshing one of drinking tea. The tea things were set forth upon a drum covered with a napkin; and there sat this roving lady, taking her tea and enjoying the prospect. As she was in the act of setting down her cup, she beheld an old man and a young child walking slowly by, and glancing at her proceedings with eyes of modest but hungry admiration.

"Hey!" cried the lady of the caravan, "Yes, to be sure--Who won the Helter-Skelter Plate?"

"Won what, ma'am?" asked Nell.

"The Helter-Skelter Plate at the races, child. Can't you say who won the Helter-Skelter Plate when you're asked a question civilly?"

"I don't know, ma'am."

"Don't know!" repeated the lady of the caravan; "Why, you were there. I saw you with my own eyes."

Nell was not a little alarmed to hear this, supposing that the lady might be intimately acquainted with the firm of Short and Codlin; but what followed tended to reassure her.

"And very sorry I was," said the lady of the caravan, "to see you in company with a Punch--a low practical, wulgar wretch, that people should scorn to look at."

"I was not there by choice," rejoined the child; "we didn't know our way, and the two men were very kind to us, and let us travel with them. Do you--do you know them, ma'am?"

"Know 'em, child!" cried the lady of the caravan in a sort of shriek. "Know them! But you're young and inexperienced, and that's your excuse for asking sich a question. Do I look as if I know'd them? Does this caravan look as if it know'd 'em?"

"No, ma'am, no," said the child, fearing that she had committed some grievous fault, "I beg your pardon."

It was granted immediately, and the child then explained that they had left the races on the first day, and were travelling to the next town, and ventured to inquire how far it was. The stout lady's reply was rather discouraging, and Nell could scarcely repress a tear at hearing that it was eight miles off. Her grandfather made no complaint, and the two were about to pass on, when the lady of the caravan called to the child to return. Beckoning to her to ascend the steps, she asked,--"Are you hungry?"

"Not very, but we are tired, and it's--it is a long way."

"Well, hungry or not, you had better have some tea," rejoined her new acquaintance. "I suppose you're agreeable to that, old gentleman?"

The grandfather humbly pulled off his hat, and thanked her, and sitting down, they made a hearty meal, enjoying it to the utmost.

While they were thus engaged, the lady of the caravan held a short conversation with her driver, after which she informed Nell that she and her grandfather were to go forward in the caravan with her, for which kindness Nell thanked the lady with unaffected earnestness. She helped with great alacrity to put away the tea-things, and mounted into the vehicle, followed by her delighted grandfather. Their patroness then shut the door, and away they went, with a great noise of flapping, and creaking, and straining, and the bright brass knocker, knocking one perpetual double knock of its own accord as they jolted heavily along.

When they had travelled slowly forward for some short distance, Nell looked around the caravan, and observed it more closely. One half of it was carpeted, with a sleeping place, after the fashion of a berth on board ship, partitioned off at the farther end, which was shaded with fair, white curtains, and looked comfortable enough,--though by what kind of gymnastic exercise the lady of the caravan ever contrived to get into it,--was an unfathomable mystery. The other half served for a kitchen, and was fitted up with a stove, whose small chimney passed through the roof. It held, also, a closet or larder, and the necessary cooking utensils, which latter necessaries hung upon the walls, which in the other portion of the establishment were decorated with a number of well-thumbed musical instruments.

Presently the old man fell asleep, and the lady of the caravan invited Nell to come and sit beside her.

"Well, child," she said, "how do you like this way of travelling?"

Nell replied that she thought that it was very pleasant indeed. Instead of speaking again, the lady of the caravan sat looking at the child for a long time in silence, then getting up, brought out a roll of canvas about a yard in width, which she laid upon the floor, and spread open with her foot until it nearly reached from one end of the caravan to the other.

"There, child," she said, "read that."

Nell walked down it, and read aloud, in enormous black letters, the inscription, "JARLEY'S WAX-WORK."

"Read it again," said the lady complacently.

"Jarley's Wax-Work," repeated Nell.

"That's me," said the lady. "I am Mrs. Jarley."

The lady of the caravan then unfolded another scroll, whereon was the inscription, "One hundred figures the full size of life," then several smaller ones with such inscriptions as, "The genuine and only Jarley," "Jarley is the delight of the nobility and gentry," "The royal family are the patrons of Jarley." When she had exhibited these to the astonished child, she brought forth hand-bills, some of which were couched in the form of parodies on popular melodies, as, "Believe me, if all Jarley's Wax-Work so rare," "I saw thy show in youthful prime," "Over the water to Jarley." While others were composed with a view to the lighter and more facetious spirits, as a parody on the favorite air of "If I had a donkey," beginning:

"If I know'd a donkey what wouldn't go
To see MRS. JARLEY'S wax-work show,
Do you think I'd acknowledge him?
Oh, no, no!
Then run to Jarley's"--

besides other compositions in prose, all having the same moral--namely, that the reader must make haste to Jarley's, and that children and servants were admitted at half price, Mrs. Jarley then rolled these testimonials up, and having put them carefully away, sat down and looked at the child in triumph.

"I never saw any wax-work, ma'am," said Nell. "Is it funnier than Punch?"

"Funnier!" said Mrs. Jarley, in a shrill voice. "It is not funny at all."

"Oh!" said Nell, with all possible humility.

"It isn't funny at all," repeated Mrs. Jarley. "It's calm and classical. No low beatings and knockings about, no jokings and squeakings, like your precious Punches, but always the same, with a constantly unchanging air of coldness and gentility; and so life-like, that if wax-work only spoke and walked about, you'd hardly know the difference."

"Is it here, ma'am?" asked Nell, whose curiosity was awakened by this description.

"Is what here, child?"

"The wax-work, ma'am."

"Why, bless you, child, what are you thinking of? How could such a collection be here? It's gone on in the other wans to the room where it'll be exhibited the day after to-morrow. You're going to the same town, and you'll see it, I dare say."

"I shall not be in the town, I think, ma'am," said the child.

This answer appeared to greatly astonish Mrs. Jarley, who asked so many questions that Nell was led to tell her some of the details concerning their poverty and wanderings, after which the lady of the caravan relapsed into a thoughtful silence. At length she shook off her fit of meditation, and held a long conversation with the driver, which conference being concluded, she beckoned Nell to approach.

"And the old gentleman, too," said Mrs. Jarley. "I want to have a word with him. Do you want a good situation for your granddaughter, master? If you do, I can put her in the way of getting one. What do you say?"

"I can't leave her, ma'am," answered the old man. "What would become of me without her?"

"I should have thought you were old enough to take care of yourself, if you ever will be," retorted Mrs. Jarley sharply.

"But he never will be," whispered the child. "Pray do not speak harshly to him. We are very thankful to you," she added aloud. "But neither of us could part from the other, if all the wealth of the world were halved between us."

Mrs. Jarley was a little disconcerted by this reception of her proposal, but presently she addressed the grandfather again:

"If you're really disposed to employ yourself," she said, "you could help to dust the figures, and take the checks, and so forth. What I want your granddaughter for is to point 'em out to the company. It's not a common offer, bear in mind," said the lady. "It's Jarley's wax-work, remember. The duties very light and genteel, the company particularly select. There is none of your open-air wagrancy at Jarley's, recollect; there is no tarpaulin and saw-dust at Jarley's, remember. Every expectation held out in the hand-bills is realized to the utmost, and the whole forms an effect of imposing brilliancy hitherto unrivalled in this kingdom. Remember that the price of admission is only sixpence, and that this is an opportunity which may never occur again!"

Descending from the sublime to the details of common life, when she had reached this point, Mrs. Jarley remarked that she could pledge herself to no specific salary until she had tested Nell's ability, but that she could promise both good board and lodging for the child and her grandfather. Her offer was thankfully accepted.

"And you'll never be sorry for it," said Mrs. Jarley. "I'm pretty sure of that. So, as that's all settled, let us have a bit of supper."

In the mean while the caravan blundered on, and came at last upon a town, near midnight. As it was too late to repair to the exhibition rooms, they drew up near to another caravan bearing the great name of Jarley, which being empty, was assigned to the old man as his sleeping-place. As for Nell herself, she was to sleep in Mrs. Jarley's own travelling-carriage as a signal mark of that lady's favor.

On the following morning Nell was put to work at once, helping to unpack the chests and arrange the draperies in the exhibition rooms. When this was accomplished, the stupendous collection of figures was uncovered, standing more or less unsteadily upon their legs, and all their countenances expressing great surprise. All the gentlemen were very pigeon-breasted and very blue about the beards, and all the ladies were miraculous figures; and all the ladies and all the gentlemen were looking intensely nowhere, and staring with extraordinary earnestness at nothing.

When Nell had exhausted her first raptures at this glorious sight, Mrs. Jarley ordered the room to be cleared of all but herself and the child, and was at great pains to instruct Nell in her duty.

"That," said Mrs. Jarley, in her exhibition tones, as Nell touched a figure, "is an unfortunate maid-of-honor in the time of Queen Elizabeth, who died from pricking her finger in consequence of working upon a Sunday. Observe the blood which is trickling from her finger; also the gold-eyed needle of the period, with which she is at work."

All this Nell repeated twice or thrice, pointing to the finger and the needle at the right times, and then passed on to the next.

"That, ladies and gentlemen," said Mrs. Jarley, "is Jasper Packlemerton, who courted and married fourteen wives, and destroyed them all by tickling the soles of their feet when they were sleeping in the consciousness of innocence and virtue. On being brought to the scaffold, and asked if he was sorry for what he had done, he replied yes, he was sorry for having let 'em off so easy, and hoped all Christian husbands would pardon him the offence. Let this be a warning to all young ladies to be particular in the character of the gentlemen of their choice. Observe that his fingers are curved, as if in the act of tickling, and that his face is represented with a wink, as he appeared when committing his barbarous murders."

When Nell knew all about Mr. Packlemerton, and could say it without faltering, Mrs. Jarley passed on to the fat man, and then to the thin man, the tall man, the short man, the old lady who died of dancing at a hundred and thirty-two, the wild boy of the woods, the woman who poisoned fourteen families with pickled walnuts, and other historical characters, and interesting but misguided individuals. So well did Nell profit by her instructions, that at the end of a couple of hours, she was in full possession of the history of the whole establishment, and perfectly competent to the enlightenment of visitors, and Mrs. Jarley was not slow to express her admiration at this happy result.

In the midst of the various devices used later for attracting visitors to the exhibition, little Nell was not forgotten. The cart in which the Brigand usually made his perambulations, being gayly dressed with flags and streamers, and the Brigand placed therein, Nell sat beside him, decorated with artificial flowers, and rode slowly through the town every morning, dispersing hand-bills from a basket to the sound of drum and trumpet. The beauty of the child, coupled with her gentle and timid bearing, produced quite a sensation in the little country place: the Brigand, became a mere secondary consideration, and important only as part of the show of which she was the chief attraction, Grown-up folks began to be interested in the bright-eyed girl, and some score of little boys fell desperately in love, and constantly left inclosures of nuts and apples at the wax-work door.

This desirable impression was not lost on Mrs. Jarley, who, lest Nell should become too cheap, sent the Brigand out alone again, and kept her in the exhibition room, where she described the figures every half-hour, to the great satisfaction of admiring audiences.

Although her duties were sufficiently laborious, Nell found the lady of the caravan a very kind and considerate person indeed. As her popularity procured her various little fees from the visitors, on which her patroness never demanded any toll, and as her grandfather too was well-treated and useful, Nell had no cause for anxiety until one holiday evening, when they went out together for a walk. They had been closely confined for some days, and the weather being warm, had strolled a long distance, when they were caught in a most terrific thunder-shower, from which they sought refuge in a roadside tavern, where some men sat playing cards with a pile of silver money between them. When the old man's eye lighted upon them, the child saw with alarm that his whole appearance underwent a complete change. His face was flushed and eager, his breath came short and quick, and the hand he laid upon her arm trembled so violently, that she shook beneath its grasp. To his frenzied appeal for money, Nell repeated a firm refusal, but he was insistent.

"Give me the money," he exclaimed--"I must have it. There there--that's my dear Nell. I'll right thee one day, child, never fear!"

She took from her pocket a little purse. He seized it, and hastened to the other side of the screen where the two men were playing. Almost immediately they invited him to join their game, whereupon, throwing Nell's purse down upon the table, he gathered up the cards as a miser would clutch at gold. The child sat by and watched the game in a perfect agony of fear, regardless of the run of luck; and mindful only of the desperate passion which had its hold upon her grandfather, losses and gains were to her alike.

The storm had raged for full three hours, when at length the play came to an end. Nell's little purse lay empty, and still the old man sat poring over the cards until the child laid her arm upon his shoulder, telling him that it was near midnight.

Now Nell had still the piece of gold, and considering the lateness of the hour, and into what a state of consternation they would throw Mrs. Jarley by knocking her up at that hour, proposed to her grandfather that they stay where they were for the night. As they would leave very early in the morning, the child was anxious to pay for their entertainment before they retired, but as she felt the necessity of concealing her little hoard from her grandfather, and had to change the piece of gold, she took it out secretly, and following the landlord into the bar, tendered it to him there. She was returning, when she fancied she saw a figure gliding in at the door. There was only a dark passage between this door and the place where she had changed the money, and being very certain that no person had passed in or out while she stood there, she felt that she had been watched. She was still thinking of this, when a girl came to light her to bed.

It was a great gloomy house, which the flaring candles seemed to make yet more gloomy, and the child did not feel comfortable when she was left alone. She could not help thinking of the figure stealing through the passage downstairs. At last a broken and fitful sleep stole upon her. A deeper slumber followed this--and then--What! That figure in the room! A figure was there, it crouched and slunk along, stealing round the bed. She had no voice to cry for help, no power to move,--on it came--silently and stealthily to the bed's head. There it remained, motionless as she. At length, it busied its hands in something, and she heard the chink of money. Then it dropped upon its hands and knees, and crawled away. It reached the door at last, the steps creaked beneath its noiseless tread, and it was gone.

The first impulse of the child was not to be alone--and with no consciousness of having moved, she gained the door. Once in her grandfather's room, she would be safe. An idea flashed suddenly upon her--what if the figure should enter there, and have a design upon the old man's life? She turned faint and sick. She saw it creeping in front of her. It went in. Not knowing what she meant to do, but meaning to preserve him, or be killed herself, she staggered forward and looked in.

What sight was that which met her view?

The bed was smooth and empty. And at a table sat the old man himself--the only living creature there--his white face pinched and sharpened by the greediness which made his eyes unnaturally bright--counting the money of which his hands had robbed her.

With steps more unsteady than those with which she had approached the room, the child groped her way back into her own chamber. The terror which she had lately felt was nothing compared with that which now oppressed her. The grey-haired old man, gliding like a ghost into her room, and acting the thief, while he supposed her fast asleep, then bearing off his prize, and hanging over it with the ghastly exultation she had witnessed, was far more dreadful than anything her wildest fancy could have suggested. The feeling which beset her was one of uncertain horror. She had no fear of the dear old grandfather, but the man she had seen that night seemed like another creature in his shape. She could scarcely connect her own affectionate companion, save by his loss, with this old man, so like yet so unlike him. She had wept to see him dull and quiet. How much greater cause she had for weeping now!

She sat thinking of these things, until she felt it would be a relief to hear his voice, or if he were asleep, even to see him, and so she stole down the passage again. Looking into the room, she saw him lying calmly on his bed, fast asleep. She had no fear as she looked upon his slumbering features, but she had a deep and weighty sorrow, and it found its relief in tears.

"God bless him," said the child, softly kissing his placid cheek. "I see too well now that they would indeed part us if they found us out, and shut him up from the light of the sun and sky. He has only me. God bless us both!"

Lighting her candle, she retreated as silently as she had come, and gaining her own room once more, sat up during the remainder of that long, long miserable night. Upon searching her pocket on the following morning she found her money was all gone--not a sixpence remained.

"Grandfather," she said in a tremulous voice, after they had walked about a mile on their road in silence, "Do you think they are honest people at the house yonder? I ask because I lost some money last night--out of my bedroom, I am sure. Unless it was taken by some one in jest--only in jest, dear grandfather, which would make me laugh heartily if I could but know it--"

"Who would take money in jest?" returned the old man in a hurried manner. "Those who take money, take it to keep. Don't talk of jest."

"Then it was stolen out of my room, dear," said the child, whose last hope was destroyed by the manner of this reply.

"But is there no more, Nell," said the old man--"no more anywhere? Was it all taken--was there nothing left?"

"Nothing," replied the child.

"We must get more," said the old man, "we must earn it, Nell--hoard it up, scrape it together, come by it somehow. Never mind this loss. Tell nobody of it, and perhaps we may regain it. Don't ask how--we may regain it, and a great deal more, but tell nobody, or trouble may come of it. And so they took it out of thy room, when thou wert asleep!" He added in a compassionate tone, very different from the secret, cunning way in which he had spoken until now. "Poor Nell, poor little Nell!"

The child hung down her head and wept. It was not the lightest part of her sorrow that this was done for her.

"Let me persuade you, dear grandfather," she said earnestly, "Oh, do let me persuade you to think no more of gains or losses, and to try no fortune but the fortune we pursue together. Only remember what we have been since that bright morning when we turned our backs upon that unhappy house for the last time," continued Nell. "Think what beautiful things we have seen, and how contented we have felt, and why was this blessed change?"

He stopped her with a motion of his hand, and bade her talk to him no more just then, for he was busy. After a time he kissed her cheek, and walked on, looking as if he were painfully trying to collect his thoughts. Once she saw tears in his eyes. When they had gone on thus for some time, he took her hand in his, as he was accustomed to do, with nothing of the violence or animation of his late manner; and by degrees settled down into his usual quiet way, and suffered her to lead him where she would.

As Nell had anticipated, they found Mrs. Jarley was not yet out of bed, and that although she had suffered some uneasiness on their account, she had felt sure that being overtaken by the storm, they had sought the nearest shelter for the night. And as they sat down to breakfast, she requested Nell to go that morning to Miss Monflather's Boarding and Day School to present its principal with a parcel of new bills, as her establishment had yet sent but half-a-dozen representatives to see the stupendous wax-work collection. Nell's expedition met with no success, to Mrs. Jarley's great indignation, and Nell would have been disappointed herself at its failure, had she not had anxieties of a deeper kind to occupy her thoughts.

That evening, as she had dreaded, her grandfather stole away, and did not come back until the night was far spent. Worn out as she was, she sat up alone until he returned--penniless, broken spirited, and wretched, but still hotly bent upon his infatuation.

"Give me money," he said wildly, "I must have money, Nell. It shall be paid thee back with gallant interest one day, but all the money which comes into thy hands must be mine--not for myself, but to use for thee. Remember, Nell, to use for thee!"

What could the child do, with the knowledge she had, but give him every penny that came into her hands, lest he should be tempted on to rob their benefactress? If she told the truth (so thought the child) he would be treated as a madman; if she did not supply him with money, he would supply himself; supplying him, she fed the fire that burned him, and put him perhaps beyond recovery. Distracted by these thoughts, tortured by a crowd of apprehensions whenever he was absent, and dreading alike his stay and his return, the color forsook her cheek, her eyes grew dim, and her heart was oppressed and heavy.

One evening, wandering alone not far from home, the child came suddenly upon a gypsy camp, and looking at the group of men around the fire saw to her horror and dismay that one was her grandfather. The others she recognized as the card-players at the public-house on the eventful night of the storm. Drawing near, where she could listen unseen, she heard their conversation; heard them obtain her grandfather's promise to rob Mrs. Jarley of the tin box in which she kept her savings--and to play a game of cards with them, with its contents for stakes.

"God be merciful to us!" cried the child, "and help us in this trying hour! What shall I do to save him?"

The remainder of the conversation related merely to the execution of their project, after which the old man shook hands with his tempters, and withdrew. Then Nell crept away, fled home as quickly as she could, and threw herself upon her bed, distracted. The first idea that flashed upon her mind was instant flight. Then she remembered that the crime was not to be committed until next night, and there was time for resolving what to do. Then she was distracted with a horrible fear that he might be committing it at that moment. She stole to the room where the money was, and looked in. God be praised! he was not there, and Mrs. Jarley was sleeping soundly. She went back to her own room, and tried to prepare herself for bed, but who could sleep--sleep! distracted by such terrors? They came upon her more and more strongly yet. Half-undressed, and with her hair in wild disorder, she flew to the old man's bedside, and roused him from his sleep.

"What's this?" he cried, starting up in bed, and fixing his eyes upon her spectral face.

"I have had a dreadful dream," said the child. "A dreadful, horrible dream! I have had it once before. It is a dream of gray-haired men like you, in darkened rooms by night, robbing the sleepers of their gold. Up, up!" The old man shook in every joint, and folded his hands like one who prays.

"Not to me," said the child, "Not to me--to heaven, to save us from such deeds! This dream is too real. I cannot sleep--I cannot stay here--I cannot leave you alone under the roof where such dreams come. We must fly. There is no time to lose;" said the child. "Up! and away with me!"

"To-night?" murmured the old man.

"Yes, to-night," replied the child. "To-morrow night will be too late. Nothing but flight can save us. Up!"

The old man arose, his forehead bedewed with the cold sweat of fear, and bending before the child, as if she had been an angel messenger sent to lead him where she would, made ready to follow her. She took him by the hand and led him on. She took him to her own chamber, and, still holding him by the hand, as if she feared to lose him for an instant, gathered together the little stock she had, and hung her basket on her arm. The old man took his wallet from her hands, his staff too, and then she led him forth.

Through the streets their trembling feet passed quickly, and at last the child looked back upon the sleeping town, on the far-off river, on the distant hills; and as she did so, she clasped the hand she held less firmly, and bursting into tears, fell upon the old man's neck. Her momentary weakness passed, she again summoned the resolution to keep steadily in view the one idea that they were flying from disgrace and crime, and that her grandfather's preservation depended solely on her firmness. While he, subdued and abashed, seemed to shrink and cower down before her, the child herself was sensible of a new feeling within her which elevated her nature, and inspired her with an energy and confidence she had never known. "I have saved him," she thought, "in all distresses and dangers I will remember that."

At any other time the recollection of having deserted the friend who had shown them so much homely kindness, without a word of justification, would have filled her with sorrow and regret. But now, all other considerations were lost in the new uncertainties and anxieties, and in the desperation of their condition.

In the pale moonlight, which lent a wanness of its own to the delicate face where thoughtful care already mingled with a winning grace and loveliness of youth, the too bright eye, the spiritual head, the lips that pressed each other with such high resolve and courage of the heart, the slight figure, firm in its bearing, and yet so very weak, told their silent tale; but told it only to the wind that rustled by. The night crept on apace, the moon went down and when the sun had climbed into the sky, and there was warmth in its cheerful beams, they laid them down to sleep upon a bank hard by some water.

But Nell retained her grasp upon the old man's arm, and long after he was slumbering soundly, watched him with untiring eyes. Fatigue stole over her at last; her grasp relaxed, and they slept side by side. A confusion of voices, mingling with her dreams, awoke her, and she discovered a man of rough appearance standing over her, while his companions were looking on from a canal-boat which had come close to the bank while she was sleeping. The man spoke to Nell, asking what was the matter, and where she and her grandfather were going. Nell faltered, pointing at hazard toward the west--and upon the man inquiring if she meant a certain town which he named, Nell, to avoid more questioning, said "Yes, that was the place." After asking some other questions, he mounted one of the horses towing the boat, which at once went on. Presently it stopped again, and the man beckoned to Nell: "You may go with us if you like," he said. "We're going to the same place."

The child hesitated for one moment. Thinking that the men whom she had seen with her grandfather might perhaps in their eagerness for the booty, follow them, and regain their influence over him, and that if they went on the canal-boat all traces of them must be surely lost--accepted the offer. Before she had any more time for consideration, she and her grandfather were on board, gliding smoothly down the canal, through the bright water.

They did not reach their destination until the following morning, and Nell was glad indeed when the trip was ended, for the noisy rugged fellows on the boat were rough enough to make her heart palpitate for fear, but though they quarrelled among themselves, they were civil enough to their two passengers; and at length the boat floated into its destination. The men were occupied directly, and the child and her grandfather, after waiting in vain to thank them, or ask whither they should go, passed out into a crowded noisy street of a manufacturing village, and stood, in the pouring rain, distressed and confused. Evening came on. They were still wandering up and down, bewildered by the hurry they beheld, but had no part in. Shivering with the cold and damp, ill in body, and sick to death at heart, the child needed her utmost resolution to creep along. No prospect of relief appearing, they retraced their steps to the wharf, hoping to be allowed to sleep on board the boat that night. But here again they were disappointed, for the gate was closed.

"Why did you bring me here?" asked the old man fiercely, "I cannot bear these close eternal streets. We came from a quiet part. Why did you force me to leave it?"

"Because I must have that dream I told you of, no more," said the child, "and we must live among poor people or it will come again. Dear grandfather, you are old and weak, I know; but look at me. I never will complain if you will not, but I have some suffering indeed."

"Ah! Poor, houseless, wandering, motherless child!" cried the old man, gazing as if for the first time upon her anxious face, her travel-stained dress, and bruised and swollen feet. "Has all my agony of care brought her to this at last? Was I a happy man once, and have I lost happiness and all I had, for this?"

Wandering on, they took shelter in an old doorway from which the figure of a man came forth, who, touched with the misery of their situation, and with Nell's drenched condition, offered them such lodging as he had at his command, in the great foundry where he was employed. He led them through the bewildering sights and deafening sounds of the huge building, to his furnace, and there spread Nell's little cloak upon a heap of ashes, and showing her where to hang her outer clothes to dry, signed to her and the old man to lie down and sleep. The warmth of her bed, combined with her great fatigue, caused the tumult of the place to lull the child to sleep, and the old man was stretched beside her, as she lay and dreamed. On the following morning her friend shared his breakfast with the child and her grandfather, and parting with them left in Nell's hand two battered smoke-encrusted penny pieces. Who knows but they shone as brightly in the eyes of angels as golden gifts that have been chronicled on tombs?

With an intense longing for pure air and open country, they toiled slowly on, the child walking with extreme difficulty, for the pains that racked her joints were of no common severity, and every exertion increased them. But they wrung from her no complaint, as the two proceeded slowly on, clearing the town in course of time. They slept that night with nothing between them and the sky, amid the horrors of a manufacturing suburb, and who shall tell the terrors of that night to the young wandering child.

And yet she had no fear for herself, for she was past it, but put up a prayer for the old man. A penny loaf was all that they had had that day. It was very little, but even hunger was forgotten in the strange tranquillity that crept over her senses. So very weak and spent she felt as she lay down, so very calm and unresisting, that she had no thought of any wants of her own, but prayed that God would raise up some friend for him. Morning came--much weaker, yet the child made no complaint--she felt a hopelessness of their ever being extricated together from that forlorn place; a dull conviction that she was very ill, perhaps dying; but no fear or anxiety. Objects appeared more dim, the noise less, the path more uneven, for sometimes she stumbled, and became roused, as it were, in the effort to prevent herself from falling. Poor child! The cause was in her tottering feet.

They were dragging themselves along toward evening and the child felt that the time was close at hand when she could bear no more. Before them she saw a traveller reading from a book which he carried.

It was not an easy matter to come up with him, and beseech his aid, for he walked fast. At length he stopped, to look more attentively at some passage in his book. Animated with a ray of hope, the child shot on before her grandfather, and going close to the stranger without rousing him by the sound of her footsteps, began faintly to implore his help.

He turned his head. Nell clapped her hands together, uttered a wild shriek, and fell senseless at his feet. It was no other than the poor schoolmaster. Scarcely less moved and surprised than the child herself, he stood for a moment, silent and confounded by the unexpected apparition, without even presence of mind to raise her from the ground. But, quickly recovering his self-possession, and dropping on one knee beside her, he endeavored to restore her to herself.

"She is quite exhausted," he said, glancing upward into the old man's face. "You have taxed her powers too far, friend."

"She is perishing of want," rejoined the old man. "I never thought how weak and ill she was, till now."

Casting a look upon him, half-reproachful and half-compassionate, the schoolmaster took the child in his arms, and bore her away at his utmost speed to a small inn within sight.

The landlady came running in, with hot brandy and water, with which and other restoratives, the child was so far recovered as to be able to thank them in a faint voice. Without suffering her to speak another word, the woman carried her off to bed, and after having been made warm and comfortable, she had a visit from the doctor himself, who ordered rest and nourishment. As Nell evinced extraordinary uneasiness on being apart from her grandfather, he took his supper with her. Finding her still restless on this head, they made him up a bed in an inner room, to which he presently retired. The key of this chamber happening to be on that side of the door which was in Nell's room; she turned it on him, when the landlady had withdrawn, and crept to bed again with a thankful heart.

In the morning the child was better, but so weak that she would at least require a day's rest and careful nursing before she could proceed upon her journey. The schoolmaster decided to remain also, and that evening visited Nell in her room. His frank kindness, and the affectionate earnestness of his speech and manner, gave the child a confidence in him. She told him all--that they had no friend or relative--and that she sought a home in some remote place, where the temptation before which her grandfather had fallen would never enter, and her late sorrows and distresses could have no place.

The schoolmaster heard her with astonishment, and with admiration for the heroism and patience of one so young. He then told her that he had been appointed clerk and schoolmaster to a village a long way off, at five-and-thirty pounds a year, and that he was on his way there now. He concluded by saying that she and her grandfather must accompany him, and that he would endeavor to find them some occupation by which they could subsist.

Accordingly next evening they travelled on, with Nell comfortably bestowed in a stage-wagon among the softer packages, her grandfather and the schoolmaster walking on beside the driver, and the landlady and all the good folks of the inn screaming out their good wishes and farewells.

It was a fine clear autumn morning, when they came upon the village of their destination, and every bit of scenery, and stick and stone looked beautiful to the child who had passed through such scenes of poverty and horror. Leaving Nell and her grandfather upon the church porch, the schoolmaster hurried off to present a letter, and to make inquiries concerning his new position. After a long time he appeared, jingling a bundle of rusty keys, and quite breathless with pleasure and haste. As a result of his exertions on their behalf, Nell and her grandfather were to occupy a small house next to the one apportioned to him. Having disburdened himself of this great surprise, the schoolmaster then told Nell that the house which was henceforth to be hers, had been occupied by an old person who kept the keys of the church, opened and closed it for the services, and showed it to strangers; that she had died not many weeks ago, and nobody having yet been found to fill the office, he had made bold to ask for it for her and her grandfather. As a result of his testimony to their ability and honesty, they were already appointed to the vacant post.

"There's a small allowance of money," said the schoolmaster. "It is not much, but enough to live upon in this retired spot. By clubbing our funds together, we shall do bravely; no fear of that."

"Heaven bless and prosper you!" sobbed the child.

"Amen, my dear," returned her friend cheerfully, "and all of us, as it will, and has, in leading us through sorrow and trouble, to this tranquil life. But we must look at my house now. Come!"

To make their dwellings habitable, and as full of comfort as they could, was now their pleasant care, and in a short time each had a cheerful fire crackling on the hearth. Nell, busily plying her needle, repaired the tattered window-hangings, and made them whole and decent. The schoolmaster swept the ground before the door, trimmed the long grass, trained the ivy and creeping plants, and gave to the outer walls a cheery air of home. The old man lent his aid to both, went here and there on little patient services and was happy. Neighbors too, proffered their help, or sent their children with such small presents or loans as the strangers needed most. It was a busy day, and night came on all too soon.

They took their supper together, and when they had finished it, drew round the fire and discussed their future plans. Before they separated, the schoolmaster read some prayers aloud; and then, full of gratitude and happiness, they parted for the night.

When every sound was hushed, and her grandfather sleeping, the child lingered before the dying embers, and thought of her past fortunes as if they had been a dream, and the deep and thoughtful feelings which absorbed her, gave her no sensation of terror or alarm. A change had been gradually stealing over her, in the time of her loneliness and sorrow. With failing strength and heightened resolution, there had sprung up a purified and altered mind; there had grown in her bosom those blessed hopes and thoughts which are the portion of few but the weak and drooping. There were none to see the frail figure as it glided from the fire and leaned pensively at the casement; none but the stars to look into the upturned face and read its history.

It was long before the child closed the window, and approached her bed--but when she did--it was to sink into a sleep filled with sweet and happy dreams.

With the morning came the renewal of yesterday's labors, the revival of its pleasant thoughts, the restoration of its energies, cheerfulness and hope. They worked gayly until noon, and then visited the clergyman, who received them kindly, and at once showed an interest in Nell. The schoolmaster had already told her story. They had no other friends or home to leave, he said, and had come to share his fortunes. He loved the child as though she were his own.

"Well, well," said the clergyman. "Let it be as you desire, she is very young."

"Old in adversity and trial, sir," replied the schoolmaster.

"God help her. Let her rest and forget them," said the old gentleman. "But an old church is a gloomy place for one so young as you, my child."

"Oh no, sir," returned Nell, "I have no such thoughts, indeed."

"I would rather see her dancing on the green at night," said the old gentleman, laying his hand upon her head, "than have her sitting in the shadow of our mouldering arches. You must look to this, and see that her heart does not grow heavy among the solemn ruins."

After more kind words, they withdrew, and from that time Nell's heart was filled with a serene and peaceful joy, and she occupied herself with such light tasks as were hers to accomplish, and the peace of the simple village moved her deeply, while more and more she grew to love the old and silent chapel.

She sat down one day in this old and silent place, among the stark figures on the tombs and gazing round with a feeling of awe tempered with calm delight, felt that now she was happy and at rest. She took a Bible and read; then laying it down, thought of the summer days and bright springtime that would come--of the rays of sun that would fall in aslant upon the sleeping forms--of the song of birds, and growth of buds and blossoms out of doors--What if the spot awakened thoughts of death? Die who would, these sights and sounds would still go on, as happily as ever. It would be no pain to sleep amidst them.

She left the chapel, and climbed to its turret-top. Oh! the glory of the sudden burst of light; the freshness of the fields and woods, meeting the bright blue sky; everything so beautiful and happy! It was like passing from death to life; it was drawing nearer heaven. And yet the dim old chapel had for her a depth of fascination which the outer world did not possess. Again that day, twice, she stole back to the chapel, and read from the same book, or indulged in the same quiet train of thought. Even when night fell, she sat like one rooted to the spot until they found her there and took her home. She looked pale but very happy, but as the schoolmaster stooped down to kiss her cheek, he thought he felt a tear upon his face.

From a village bachelor, who took great interest in the beautiful child, Nell soon learned the histories connected with every tomb and gravestone, with every gallery, wall, and crypt in the dim old church. These she treasured in her mind, dwelling on them often in her thoughts and repeating them to those sightseers who cared to hear them. Her duties were not arduous, but she did not regain her strength, and in her grandfather's mind sprang up a solicitude about her which never left him. From the time of his awakening to her weakness, never did he have any care for himself, any thought of his own comfort, which could distract his attention from the gentle object of his love and care, He would follow her up and down, waiting till she should tire, and lean upon his arm--he would sit opposite to her, content to watch and look, until she raised her head and smiled upon him as of old--he would discharge by stealth those household duties which tasked her powers too heavily--he would rise in the night to listen to her breathing in her sleep. He who knows all, can only know what hopes and fears and thoughts of deep affection were in that one disordered brain, and what a change had fallen upon the poor old man.

Weeks crept on--sometimes the child, exhausted, would pass whole evenings on a couch beside the fire. At such times, the schoolmaster would read aloud to her, and seldom an evening passed but the bachelor came in and took his turn at reading. During the daytime the child was mostly out of doors, and all the strangers who came to see the church, praised the child's beauty and sense, and all the neighbors, and all the villagers, and the very schoolboys grew to have a fondness for poor Nell.

Meanwhile, in that busy world which Nell and her grandfather had left behind them so many months before, there had appeared a stranger, who gave up all his time and energy to endeavoring to trace the wanderers. He was Nell's grandfather's younger brother, who had for many years been a traveller in distant lands, with almost no information of his brother. His thoughts began to revert constantly to the days when they were boys together, and obeying the impulse which impelled him, he hastened home, arriving one evening at his brother's door, only to find the wanderers gone.

By dint of ceaseless watchfulness and vigilance, at last he gained a clue to their retreat, and lost no time in following it up, taking with him Kit Nubbles, the errand-boy at the Shop in old days, who, though now in the employ of kind Mr. Garland, was still loyal to the memory of his beloved Miss Nelly--and only too grateful to be allowed to go in search of her, with the stranger whom she would not recognize. So together they journeyed to the peaceful village, where Nell and her grandfather were hidden, Kit carrying with him Nell's bird in his own cage. She would be glad to see it, he knew, but alas for Kit--they found sweet Nell in the sleep that knows no waking on this our earth.

There, upon her little bed, she lay at rest. The solemn stillness was no marvel now.

She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life; not one who had lived and suffered death.

Her couch was dressed with here and there some winter berries and green leaves, gathered in a spot she had been used to favor. "When I die, put near me something that has loved the light, and had the sky above it always." Those were her words.

She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird--a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed--was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child-mistress was mute and motionless forever.

Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings, and fatigues? All gone. Sorrow was dead indeed in her, but peace and perfect happiness were born--imaged in her tranquil beauty and profound repose.

And still her former self lay there, unaltered in this change. Yes. The old fireside had smiled upon that same sweet face; it had passed, like a dream, through haunts of misery and care; at the door of the poor schoolmaster on the summer evening, before the furnace fire upon the cold wet night, there had been the same mild lovely look. So shall we know the angels in their majesty, after death.

The old man had the small hand tight folded to his breast for warmth. It was the hand she had stretched out to him with her last smile--the hand that had led him on through all their wanderings. Ever and anon he pressed it to his lips; then hugged it to his breast again, murmuring that it was warmer now; and as he said it, he looked in agony to those who stood around, as if imploring them to help her.

She was dead, and past all help, or need of it The ancient rooms she had seemed to fill with life, even while her own was waning fast--the garden she had tended--the eyes she had gladdened--the paths she had trodden, as it were, but yesterday--could know her never more.

She had been dead two days. She died soon after daybreak. They had read and talked to her in the earlier portion of the night, but as the hours crept on she sunk to sleep. They could tell, by what she faintly uttered in her dreams, that they were of her journeyings with the old man; they were of no painful scenes but of people who had helped and used them kindly, for she often said, "God bless you!" with great fervor. Waking, she never wandered in her mind but once, and that was of beautiful music which she said was in the air. God knows. It may have been.

Opening her eyes at last, from a very quiet sleep, she begged that they would kiss her once again. That done, she turned to the old man with a lovely smile upon her face--such, they said, as they had never seen, and never could forget--and clung with both arms about his neck. They did not know that she was dead, at first.

She would like to see poor Kit, she had often said of late. She wished there was somebody to take her love to Kit. And even then, she never thought or spoke about him but with something of her old clear merry laugh.

For the rest, she had never murmured or complained, but with a quiet mind, and manner quite unaltered--save that she every day became more earnest and more grateful to them--faded like the light upon a summer's evening.

They carried her to an old nook, where she had many and many a time sat musing, and laid their burden softly on the pavement. The light streamed on it through the colored window--a window where the boughs of trees were ever rustling in the summer, and where the birds sang sweetly all day long. With every breath of air that stirred among those branches in the sunshine, some trembling changing light would fall upon her grave.

One called to mind how he had seen her sitting on that very spot, and how her book had fallen on her lap, and she was gazing with a pensive face upon the sky. Another told how she had loved to linger in the church when all was quiet, and even to climb the tower stair with no more light than that of the moon's rays stealing through the loopholes in the thick old wall. A whisper went about among the oldest that she had seen and talked with angels. Then, when the dusk of evening had come on, with tranquil and submissive hearts they turned away, and left the child with God.

Oh, it is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will teach; but let no man reject it, for it is a mighty, universal Truth. When Death strikes down the innocent and young, for every fragile form from which he lets the panting spirit free, a hundred virtues rise, in shapes of mercy, charity, and love, to walk the world, and bless it. Of every tear that sorrowing mortals shed on such green graves some good is born, some gentler nature comes. In the Destroyer's steps there spring up bright creations to defy his power, and his dark path becomes a way of light to heaven.

[The end]
Kate Dickinson Sweetser's short story: Little Nell