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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Children's Pilgrimage - Part 1. "Looking For The Guide" - Chapter 4. Toby
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The Children's Pilgrimage - Part 1. 'Looking For The Guide' - Chapter 4. Toby Post by :jensrsa Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2075

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The Children's Pilgrimage - Part 1. "Looking For The Guide" - Chapter 4. Toby


Quite early in that same long morning, before little Maurice had even opened his sleepy eyes, the woman whom Mrs. D'Albert called Aunt Lydia arrived. She was a large, stout woman with a face made very red and rough from constant exposure to the weather. She did not live in London, but worked as housekeeper on a farm down in Kent. This woman was not the least like Mrs. D'Albert, who was pale, and rather refined in her expression. Aunt Lydia had never been married, and her life seemed to have hardened her, for not only was her face rough and coarse in texture, but her voice, and also, it is to be regretted, her mind appeared to partake of the same quality. She came noisily into the quiet room where Cecile had been tending her stepmother; she spoke in a loud tone, and appeared quite unconcerned at the very manifest danger of the sister she had come to see; she also instantly took the management of everything, and ordered Cecile out of the room.

"There is no use in having children like _that about," she said in a tone of great contempt; and although her stepmother looked after her longingly, Cecile was obliged to leave the room and go to comfort and pet Maurice.

The poor little girl's own heart was very heavy; she dreaded this harsh new voice and face that had come into her life. It did not matter very greatly for herself, Cecile thought, but Maurice--Maurice was very tender, very young, very unused to unkindness. Was it possible that Aunt Lydia would be unkind to little Maurice? How he would look at her with wonder in his big brown eyes, bigger and browner than English eyes are wont to be, and try hard to understand what it all meant, what the new tone and the new words could possibly signify; for Mrs. D'Albert, though she never professed to love the children, had always been just to them, she had never given them harsh treatment or rude words. It is true Cecile's heart, which was very big, had hungered for more than her stepmother had ever offered; but Maurice had felt no want, he had Cecile to love him, Toby to pet him; and Mrs. D'Albert always gave him the warmest corner by the hearth, the nicest bits to eat, the best of everything her poor and struggling home afforded. Maurice was rather a spoiled little boy; even Cecile, much as she loved him, felt that he was rather spoiled; all the harder now would be the changed life.

But Cecile had something else just at present to make her anxious and unhappy. She was a shrewd and clever child; she had not been tossed about the world for nothing, and she could read character with tolerable accuracy. Without putting her thoughts into regular words, she yet had read in that hard new face a grasping love of power, an eager greed for gold, and an unscrupulous nature which would not hesitate to possess itself of what it could. Cecile trembled as she felt that little bag of gold lying near her heart--suppose, oh! suppose it got into Aunt Lydia's hands. Cecile felt that if this happened, if in this way she was unfaithful to the vow she had made, she should die.

"There are somethings as 'ud break any heart," she said to herself, "and not to find Lovedy when I promised faithful, faithful to Lovedy's mother as I would find her; why, that 'ud break my heart. Father said once, when people had broken hearts they _died_, so I 'ud die."

She began to consider already with great anxiety how she could hide this precious money.

In the midst of her thoughts Maurice awoke, and Toby shook himself and came round and looked into her face.

Toby was Maurice's own special property. He was Maurice's dog, and he always stayed with him, slept on his bed at night, remained by his side all day; but he had, for all his attachment for his little master, looks for Cecile which he never bestowed upon Maurice. For Maurice the expression in his brown eyes was simply protecting, simply loving; but for Cecile that gaze seemed to partake of a higher nature. For Cecile the big loving eyes grew pathetic, grew watchful, grew anxious. When sitting very close to Maurice, apparently absorbed in Maurice, he often rolled them softly round to the little girl. Those eyes spoke volumes. They seemed to say, "You and I have the care of this little baby boy. It is a great anxiety, a great responsibility for us, but we are equal to the task. He is a dear little fellow, but only a baby; you and I, Cecile, are his grown-up protectors." Toby gamboled with Maurice, but with Cecile he never attempted to play. His every movement, every glance, seemed to say --"_We don't care for this nonsense, I only do it to amuse the child."

On this particular morning Toby read at a glance the new anxiety in Cecile's face. Instantly this anxiety was communicated to his own. He hung his head, his eyes became clouded, and he looked quite an old dog when he returned to Maurice's side.

When Maurice was dressed, Cecile conducted him as quietly as she could down the stairs and out through the hall to the old-world and deserted little court. The sun was shining here this morning. It was a nice autumn morning, and the little court looked rather bright. Maurice quite clapped his hands, and instantly began to run about and called to Toby to gambol with him. Toby glanced at Cecile, who nodded in reply, and then she ran upstairs to try and find some breakfast which she could bring into the court for all three. She had to go into the little sitting-room where her stepmother lay breathing loud and hard, and with her eyes shut. There was a look of great pain on her face, and Cecile, with a rush of sorrow, felt that she had looked much happier when she alone had been caring for her. Aunt Lydia, however, must be a good nurse, for she had made the room look quite like a sickroom. She had drawn down the blinds and placed a little table with bottles by the sofa, and she herself was bustling about, with a very busy and important air. She was not quiet, however, as Cecile had been, and her voice, which was reduced to a whisper pitch, had an irritating effect, as all voices so pitched have.

Cecile, securing a loaf of bread and a jug of milk, ran downstairs, and she, Maurice, and Toby had their breakfast in truly picnic fashion. Afterward the children and dog stayed out in the court for the rest of the day. The little court faced south, and the sun stayed on it for many hours, so that Maurice was not cold, and every hour or so Cecile crept upstairs and listened outside the sitting-room door. There was always that hard breathing within, but otherwise no sound. At last the sun went off the court, and Maurice got cold and cried, and then Cecile, as softly as she had brought him out, took him back to their little bedroom. Having had no sleep the night before, she was very weary now, and she lay down on the bed, and before she had time to think about it was fast asleep.

From this sleep she was awakened by a hand touching her, a light being flashed in her eyes, and Aunt Lydia's strong, deep voice bidding her get up and come with her at once.

Cecile followed her without a word into the next room.

The dying woman was sitting up on a sofa, supported by pillows, and her breathing came quicker and louder than ever.

"Cecile," she gasped, "Cecile, say that bit--bit of a hymn once again."

"I am so glad Jesus loves me,
Even me."

repeated the child instantly.

"Even me," echoed the dying woman.

Then she closed her eyes, but she felt about with her hand until it clasped the little warm hand of the child.

"Go back to your room now, Cecile," said Aunt Lydia.

But the dying hand pressed the little hand, and Cecile answered gravely and firmly:

"Stepmother 'ud like me to stay, Aunt Lydia."

Aunt Lydia did not speak again, and for half an hour there was silence. Suddenly Cecile's stepmother opened her eyes bright and wide.

"Lovedy," she said, "Lovedy; find Lovedy," and then she died.

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