English Literature

The Bountiful Lady by Thomas Cobb

The Bountiful Lady by Thomas Cobb



It was not a dream, this wonderful thing that happened to Mary Brown, although it seemed very much like a dream at first.

Mary was a pretty, round-faced, dirty little girl who had neither a father nor a mother nor a brother nor a sister. Nobody had kissed her since she could remember, although it was only the day before yesterday that Mrs. Coppert had beaten her.

She lived in a poor, narrow street, and during the daytime she spent many hours in the road. During the night she lay on a sack on the floor of a small room with three other children. Sometimes, when she played in the road, Mary almost forgot she was hungry; but for the most part, she was a sorrowful little girl. She had none of the things which you like the best—she did not even know there were such things in the world; she seldom had enough to eat, and her clothes were very ragged and dirty indeed.

One afternoon she was playing in the gutter, it happened to be a little past tea-time, although Mary did not always have any tea; she had no toys, but there was plenty of mud, and you can make very interesting things out of mud if you only know the way. Mary kneeled in the road, with her back to the turning, the soles of a pair of old boots showing beneath her ragged skirt, as she stooped over the mud, patting it first on one side then on the other, until it began to look something like the shape of a loaf of bread. Mary thought how very nice it would be if only it was a loaf of bread, so that she might eat it, when suddenly she seemed to hear a loud clap of thunder and the day turned into night.

She did not feel any pain, but the street and the mud all disappeared, and Mary Brown knew nothing. For a long time, although she never knew for how long, she was Nowhere!

It might have been a month or a week or a day or an hour or even only five minutes or one minute or a second, but when she found herself Somewhere again it was somewhere else.

Mary had been playing in the road, feeling very hungry, with her hands on the soft mud, when this strange sensation came to her and she knew nothing else. And when she opened her eyes again, she was not in the road any longer, as she would have expected; though for some time yet she could not imagine where she was or how she had come there.

She was lying on her back, but not upon the floor of the poor house in William Street; she lay on something quite soft and comfortable far above the boards. All around her she saw an iron rail, and at the corners two bright yellow knobs. Above, she saw a clean white ceiling, whilst the walls, which were a long way from the bed, seemed to be almost hidden by coloured pictures.

Instead of her ragged dress, Mary wore a clean, white night-gown, and there was not a speck of mud on her hands, which astonished her more than anything else.

‘They can’t be my hands,’ she thought; ‘they must belong to somebody else. They look quite clean and white, and I am sure I never had white hands before.’

Then some one came to the bed-side and stood staring down into Mary’s face. She wore a cotton dress and a white cap and apron such as Mary had never seen before. She had a pale face, and very kind, dark eyes. Mary liked to watch her when she walked about the room, and presently she brought a tray covered by a cloth, on which stood a cup and saucer. She began to feed Mary with a spoon, and Mary thought she had never tasted anything so nice before. She felt as if she did not want anything else in the world—only to know where she was and how she had come here, and whether she should ever be sent back to Mrs. Coppert and William Street.

But although she wanted to know all this, she did not ask any questions just yet, for somehow Mary could not talk as she used to do. But her thoughts grew very busy; she wondered what were the names of the different things she had to eat; she wondered who the tall, dark man with the long beard could be, who came to see her every morning and looked at her right foot and felt her left wrist in a strange way. One day she raised her head from the pillow to look at the foot herself.

‘I see you are better this morning,’ said the tall man. ‘Do you feel better?’

‘Quite well, thank you,’ answered Mary, and when he went away, Mary looked up at the lady with the kind, dark eyes, and asked, ‘What is the matter with my foot, please?’

‘Ah! that is to prevent you from running away and leaving us,’ was the answer. ‘When we bring little girls here we don’t want them to run away again.’

‘I shouldn’t run away,’ said Mary solemnly; ‘I shouldn’t really. I don’t want to run away.’

‘That’s right.’

‘Only where is it?’ asked Mary.

‘Now don’t you think it’s a very nice place?’

‘Oh, very nice!’ cried Mary. ‘I know what it is,’ she added; ‘it’s all a dream! Only I hope I’m not going to wake again.’

‘What nonsense you’re talking,’ was the answer. ‘Of course you are awake, dear.’

‘Why do you call me dear?’ asked Mary.

‘Because I’m very fond of you.’

‘But why are you fond of me?’ asked Mary. You will notice she rather liked to ask questions when she got the chance, but they had been very seldom answered until now.

‘Well, now I wonder why!’ was the answer. ‘Let me see! Haven’t I made you comfortable and given you nice beef-tea and jelly?’

‘I like them very much,’ said Mary.

‘Well, then, I daresay that’s why I like you. Because we generally like persons if we do kind things for them.’

‘I see,’ said Mary, but she didn’t understand at all. ‘But I’m sure it’s a dream,’ she added, ‘and I do hope I shan’t wake!’

‘Oh dear!’ was the answer. ‘Now, do you know what I do to prove little girls are awake?’

‘No,’ said Mary, opening her eyes widely.

‘Do you know what pinching is?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Mary, for Mrs. Coppert was very fond of pinching.

‘Well, when I want to prove a little girl is awake, I pinch her.’

‘But I know I’m not,’ said Mary. ‘I can’t be. It’s all part of the dream—your telling me that.’

Mary began to spoil her dream by looking forward to the time when she must awake to find herself upon the floor at the house in William Street, with her ragged dress waiting to be worn again. Still, it was the most real dream she had ever had, and it certainly seemed to be a very long one.

But when another week had passed, Mary began to see it was not really a dream after all. Everything was just as nice as ever, or even nicer; she had the most delicious things to eat and drink: chicken and toast, and all sorts of nice puddings, boiled custard, jelly, and grapes and oranges. She was able to sit up in bed to eat them too, and she wore a blue dressing-gown, and the lady with the kind, dark eyes read delightful stories. Now, this was something quite new to Mary Brown, and the stories seemed almost as wonderful as the change in her own little life.

She only knew of the things she had seen or heard at William Street—not nice things at all. She had imagined all the world must be like that, for although she was very young, Mary had often thought about things. Still, she had never thought of anything half so wonderful as Jack-and-the-Beanstalk, or Ali Baba, or Aladdin, or Cinderella. Mary grew quite to love Cinderella, and I can’t tell you how many times she heard the story of the glass slipper.

‘I know how I came here now!’ she exclaimed one afternoon.

‘Do you indeed?’ was the answer. ‘Then, perhaps, you will tell me!’

‘I’m like Cinderella,’ said Mary. ‘Cinderella was very miserable, and I was very miserable. Then her fairy-godmother came to make her happy; she gave her all kinds of pretty dresses and things—the fairy-godmother did—and some one has given me all kinds of nice things, and taken me away from William Street and brought me here; so, of course, I know it must be my fairy-godmother too.’ Then Mary was silent for a little while. ‘Are you my fairy-godmother?’ she asked.

‘No,’ was the answer. ‘I am not nearly important enough to be anybody’s fairy-godmother.’

‘Who are you?’ asked Mary.

‘Well, I am Sister Agatha.’

‘Oh, then it wasn’t you who brought me here!’ said Mary, looking a little disappointed.

‘I wasn’t sent for until afterwards,’ answered Sister Agatha.

‘Who sent for you?’ asked Mary.

‘The person who brought you here.’

‘But who was that?’ cried Mary excitedly. ‘Please do tell me whether it was a fairy! I’m sure it was, because it couldn’t be any one else, you see.’

‘Then that settles the question,’ said Sister Agatha, with a smile, and Mary thought it did.

‘Where is she?’ she asked.

‘A long, long way off! She had to go away the day after you came, so she asked me to take care of you till she saw you again. But she won’t be long now.’

‘Is she very beautiful like the fairies you’ve read to me about?’ asked Mary.

‘I don’t suppose there ever was anybody so beautiful,’ answered Sister Agatha.

‘And has she got wings like this?’ asked Mary, opening a book that lay on the bed and pointing to one of its coloured pictures.

‘I shouldn’t wonder,’ said Sister Agatha; ‘only she doesn’t show them every day, because it isn’t the fashion to wear wings, you know.’

‘I think that’s a pity,’ answered Mary; and from that day she thought of scarcely anything else but how she had been brought away from William Street by her fairy-godmother, just like Cinderella.

Of course, Mary Brown had never imagined that she had a fairy-godmother—who could imagine such a thing in William Street! But then Cinderella had never imagined that she had a fairy-godmother either, until the night of the grand ball.

One day Sister Agatha told Mary she might get out of bed; she was carefully wrapped in a dressing-gown and a blanket and carried to a comfortable arm-chair. On her left foot she wore a pink woollen shoe, but the other foot looked so clumsy in its great bandages, that Sister Agatha covered it over.

‘I wish you would untie it,’ said Mary; ‘I really won’t run away. I shan’t run away, because I want to see my fairy-godmother so much.’

‘Well,’ answered Sister Agatha, ‘you will see her very soon now; for she is coming to-morrow.’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s