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of a married sister with whom she now lived, but who had but little influence over the wayward girl. Of her father Kate only knew that he had left his wife when she herself was an infant, and had never since been heard of.
The morning hours passed on till the welcome stroke of one released the workers, who passed out as they had entered, and dispersed down lane and yard to their separate homes. Kate, accompanied by two or three of her companions, turned down a side street, and reached a narrow court. In the darkest part of the entrance a door opened on a flight of narrow, twisted stairs, up which Kate climbed to her "home." Poor girl! she had never known the real meaning of the word. The room which she entered was low and poorly furnished. A shelf ran round it about a yard from the ceiling, and on this stood a row of old hats, in every stage of wear and dilapidation, for Kate's brother-in-law was a cleaner and renewer of hats. He was not at work now, however, but lounging at one end of the room, smoking a short and dirty pipe, his coarse and haggard look telling too plainly the sad tale of vice and intemperance. A woman was busied at the fire in shaking and turning out a smoking saucepan of potatoes, her strong likeness to her younger sister Kate almost hidden by the marks of suffering, and, alas! of ungoverned temper, which was partly the cause, partly the consequence, of her husband's bad habits and ill usage. They had no children, and such tenderness as was still left in Mrs. Barnes' heart was all bestowed on the girl who had been so long her charge; but Kate resented her sister's attempts to influence or control her, being anxious to mark that she was, as she often declared, "her own mistress."
The three sat down in silence to their meal, a silence broken from time to time by the sound of violent fits of coughing, which seemed to come from a room close at hand. These at last grew so frequent that the man uttered ah impatient oath, declaring roughly that folks had no business to be ill, and spoil other folks' quiet who paid for their rooms. "'Tis more than she does, I'll be bound, with her canting ways," he added, as he stuck his fork into the last potato.
Kate answered, more from opposition than from any feeling of pity for their ailing neighbour, " I daresay she wouldn't choose to cough if she could help it; and at least she hasn't got herself to blame for being ill, like some folks I know of." The man answered angrily, and, as too often happened, the dinner-hour passed in quarrelling and discord. On her way back to work one of her companions overtook her, and, walking by her side, said, " Do you know how Rachel Carrington is? She lies in the room next to yours, you know."
"Pretty bad, to judge by her cough," said Kate; "and that's all I know, or want to know about her. She's not my sort."
"Oh!" said the other, with a little disappointment in her tone, " I was just going to ask you if you wouldn't go in and look to her this evening. She'll be expecting me to do for her, poor thing; and our Tommy is ailing, so that mother can't spare me."
"I'm a deal too busy for fussing after her," said Kate; "and beside, I don't want a sermon on the error of my ways. I'm bad enough, maybe, but I won't stand cant."
"You don't know Rachel, if you talk of cant. She's not one of that sort, not a bit."
"Isn't she? Well, I, for one, never could bear her ways, thinking herself too good for anything but to go to church and read her Bible. I don't think folks any the worse for being up to a bit of fun."
"Well, and I'm sure Rachel is merry enough even now she is so ill. She has always a cheerful word. I wish you would look in; you'd soon see how different she is from what you fancy."
"Haven't you done T said Kate, impatiently. "There's no talking to yqu now; 'tis ' Rachel, Rachel,' all day long; you'll be a saint yourself soon. Pray, didn't your Rachel ever talk to you about the sin of wearing that rose in your Sunday bonnet?"
The other girl began an angry reply; but the factory gates were reached, and the two were soon parted by the crowd eagerly pressing in as each went to their own work.
"Far too busy," was the excuse which Kate had given; yet her home did not look as if she spent much time or thought on its care, and there was little else to occupy her when work was over. On her return this evening she did not go to the room of the suffering girl, but to the little closet in which she herself slept, and soon stole down again, in a gay bonnet and shawl, to the corner of the street, where three or four other girls were waiting for her, and together they went, laughing and joking boisterously, to the cheap concert room, to pass the evening in noise and foolish jesting, and in the companionship of others ready to lead them into further wrong. Kate, however, though, as usual, leader of the fun, was not quite in spirits this evening. More than once she stopped short in the midst of her mirth, and a look of almost sadness passed over her face.
"Don't you wish Rachel Carrington could see us now, Kate?" said one of the girls.
"Such as she don't know what pleasure is," answered another.
"That's all you know," said the first speaker. "I'll never believe but she knows the way here as well as we."
"You stop that talk," said Kate, suddenly. "We choose to please ourselves, right or wrong; but you've no right to speak against those that are different."
"Why, Kate Roper, wonders will never cease! Here, girls, Rachel Carrington is going to make a saint of Kate."
Kate laughed bitterly. "It would take more than Rachel to do that. No, 'tis not that I like Rachel or her notions; but I do like fairness. I always was one to stand up for them as are spoke against."
Meanwhile, in a small garret room, lay Rachel Carrington, her young face very white and drawn with pain. Her eyes were closed, but they opened as little steps were heard slowly climbing the stairs, and a little girl of about six years entered, her pinafore full of sticks for the fire.
"Tis only me," she said. "Now I will make you a fire; and when the kettle is hot you shall have tea—such good tea."
But the sticks would only sputter and go out, and absolutely refused to light the tiny bits of coal above; and little Rose was obliged to leave the fire unlit, and nestle close to Rachel on the bed, while they both listened for the steps of the girl whose kind office it was to make Rachel's fire, and tidy her room. It grew late, and Rose must go— eight o'clock, nine, half-past nine, and now the sick girl was obliged to give up all hope of comfort or food for that night. She tried very hard not to feel forsaken, repeating over and over to herself all the comforting promises and loving words of God's holy book, with which her memory was stored. "None of them that trust in Him shall be desolate," murmured the lonely girl. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;" and peace and sweet calm came in answer to her prayer for trust and strength. She could forget the craving for tea now; she could forget herself and her pain, and her thoughts wandered at length to her former companion at work, Kate Roper. She had heard her return and her hasty departure, and sadly thought how her evening would be spent, for she loved Kate, and felt, like many others, the attraction of her strong nature, and she prayed for the wilful, determined girl, who seemed to have forgotten to pray for herself. Half-past ten. Rachel's watchful ear caught the sound of a hushed tread on the stairs, and to her surprise the door of her own room was opened, and Kate looked in, with a candle in her hand which showed her face wearing, even more than usual, a look of wilful defiance.
"Not asleep, Rachel," she said, in a dry, hard tone. "Oh, no wonder! Why, the place is enough to freeze you, and you look like a stone."
In a minute she had piled and lit a fire, and soon the kettle was beginning, in a somewhat unwilling and dogmatical fashion, the song which at last it poured forth gaily and gladly; and then Kate made the tea, and brought it, hot and comforting, to the poor invalid. But Kate kept throughout her sullen and reserved look—would not stay for thanks, but leaving her candle to light Rachel while she drank her tea, went in the dark to her own room.
After this, however, Kate began to slip into Rachel's room whenever she knew that no one else was there, and, in her own strange fashion, did many kindnesses to the sick and lonely girl. Moreover, she went less to the penny concerts; yet Rachel knew that she was often out till late, and she became very anxious about her, especially as, through one and another, she heard of her constant meetings with some one with whom she declared herself to be "keeping company," but whose name she would not tell, and who was never seen near her home. Day by day Rachel noticed a change growing on Kate's face, which was losing all its brightness, and becoming sometimes set and determined, at others perplexed and miserable. Rachel constantly prayed for her, and sought some way of winning her confidence without offending her pride, or seeming to make herself judge and pattern; but Kate gave her no opportunity until one evening in March, when she came in, looking more unhappy than usual, and loitered about, as if wishing to tell Rachel something.
"Dear Kate," said Rachel, tenderly, " I am sure you are not happy."
"Happy? I tell you, Rachel, I am wretched, wretched. I wish I could change places with you. I wish I were dead, and with mother." And she sobbed passionately.
"What is it, dear?" asked Rachel.
"I can't tell you—I can't tell any one—no one can help me, and it's no use talking," said Kate, turning away.
Rachel put out her wasted hand, and drew Kate close to her. "Dear Kate," she said, "perhaps you can't tell me: but don't you think you would be happier if you told Jesus?"