CHAPTER I.—“I PROMISE.”
“And how is she to-day, Nan?” said the kindly voice of Mrs. Richmond.
The time was early spring. The lady in question had come into a dark and somewhat dismal room; she herself was richly wrapped in furs and velvet; her large, smooth face was all beams and smiles. A dark little girl with thin cheeks, about eleven years of age, clasping a battered doll in her arms, looked full up at her.
“She is no better,” said Nan; “and I think perhaps it would be a good plan for you to go.”
“What a little monkey you are!” said Mrs. Richmond. “But I do not mind you, my dear Anna; I have known you too long. Come here, dear, and let me look at you.”
Nan laid her doll on the table and approached slowly. Her dress was untidy, her hair unkempt. There were traces of tears round her eyes, but none showed at that moment; the sad eyes looked bold and full and defiant into the kindly face of the lady.
“You are not too tidy, my dear little girl; that pinafore would be the better for the wash-tub. And must you play with that horrid old doll?”
“I would not give up dear Sophia Maria for anybody on earth,” said Nan in a determined voice; and now she went back and clasped her ragged and disreputable-looking baby to her breast.
“But you might have a new one.”
“I would not like a new one, thank you.”
“And you are rather old to play with dolls. Now, my Kitty and my Honora have long ceased to make babies of themselves; you must when you come.”
“I must when I come!” repeated Nan; and now, her eyes grew very big and bright and angry. “Oh! please,” she added, “will you excuse me? I want to go up to mother.”
“Certainly, dear. Tell her I am here, and would be glad to have a talk with her.”
Nan vouchsafed no reply to this, and left the room. Mrs. Richmond sat on in thought; she folded her hands in her lap.
“I will do my duty,” she said to herself; “it is my duty. Poor, dear Amy was always improvident, and careless of her health. She married without means; her husband died within a year; there is this child now eleven years of age and with no provision. Ah!”
There came a tap at the door, and the wizened and somewhat cross face of a middle-aged woman appeared.
“How do you do, Mrs. Vincent?” said Mrs. Richmond. She always spoke cordially to every one; her face beamed kindness itself on all the world.
Mrs. Vincent came in slowly.
“I am glad you have called, ma’am; the poor thing upstairs is very bad—very bad indeed—not likely to live many hours, the doctor says.”
“Oh! my good soul, I had not an idea that it was so near as that.”
“I am telling you the truth, madam; and the fact is, her poverty is excessive, and”——
“Now listen to me, Mrs. Vincent. Everything she needs as far as you are concerned will be paid for; see that she has every imaginable comfort. And leave the room.”
Mrs. Richmond’s kindly eyes could flash when occasion arose, and Mrs. Vincent, curtsying and mumbling, but highly delighted all the same, went downstairs.
There was no sign of Nan coming back, and Mrs. Richmond, after waiting for a quarter of an hour, determined to go upstairs to her sick friend’s room. The door was a little ajar; she pushed it open and went in. Nan was lying across the bed, her face close to the very white face of a woman whose features were wonderfully like her own. The woman’s eyes were open, and her lips were moving. Mrs. Richmond came and, without saying a word, lifted the child off the bed. Nan turned in a wild fury; she felt very much inclined to strike the intruder, but the look on her visitor’s face restrained her.
“You can stay, dear, if you like,” said Mrs. Richmond; and then she went round to the other side of the bed.
“Have you anything to tell me, Amy, before you go?” she asked.
There came a low—very low—murmur, and a glance of the dying woman’s eyes in the direction of the child.
“I will see to everything, dear; I have promised.”
“And if—if at the end of a year—— You remember—you remember that part, don’t you, Caroline?”
“I remember it. It will not be necessary.”
“But if it is—if it should be—you will send her”——
“I faithfully promise.”
“You are so good!” said the dying woman.
“God bless you! You have made things easy for me.”
“Come here, Nan, and kiss your mother,” said Mrs. Richmond suddenly.
The child, overawed by the entire scene, advanced. She pressed her lips to the lips growing colder moment by moment.
“And now leave the room,” said Mrs. Richmond. “Go—obey me.”
Categories: English Literature