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“You have no business on our door-step,” said the girl harshly. “Go away directly, or I shall tell my servant to call a policeman.”
Then, as she entered the brougham after her mother, she addressed the respectable footman angrily, giving him the benefit of a strong nasal intonation.
“Howard, why do you let such dirty beggars come near the carriage? What are you paid for I should like to know? It is perfectly disgraceful to the house!"
“Very sorry, miss!” said the footman gravely; “I didn't see the—the person before.” Then shutting the brougham door, he turned with a dignified air to the unfortunate creature who still lingered near, and with sweeping gesture of his gold-embroidered coat sleeve, said majestically:
“Do you 'ear? Be hoff!”
Then having thus performed his duty, he mounted the box beside his friend the coachman, and the equipage rattled quickly away, its gleaming lights soon lost in the smoke-laden vapours that drooped downwards like funeral hangings from the invisible sky to the scarcely visible ground. Left to herself, the woman who had vainly sought charity from those in whom no charity existed, looked up despairingly as one distraught, and seemed as though she would have given vent to some fierce exclamation, when a feeble wail came pitifully forth from the sheltering folds of her shawl. She restrained herself instantly and walked on at a rapid pace, scarcely heeding whither she went, till she reached the Catholic church known as the “Oratory.” Its unfinished façade loomed darkly out of the fog; there was nothing picturesque or inviting about it, yet there were people passing softly in and out, and through the swinging to and fro of the red baize-covered doors there came a comforting warm glimmer of light. The woman paused, hesitated,—and then having apparently made up her mind, ascended the broad steps, looked in and finally entered. The place was strange to her;-she knew nothing of its religious meaning, and its cold uncompleted appearance oppressed her. There were only some half dozen persons scattered about like black specks in its vast white interior, and the fog hung heavily in the vaulted dome and dark little chapels. One corner alone blazed with brilliancy and colour;this was the Altar of the Virgin. Towards it the tired vagrant made her way, and on reaching it sank on the nearest chair as though exhausted. She did not raise her eyes to the marble splendours of the shrine,--one of the masterpieces of old Italian art; she had been merely attracted to the spot by the glitter of the lamps and candles, and took no thought as to the reason of their being lit, though she was sensible of a certain comfort in the soft lustre shed around her. She seemed still young; her face, rendered haggard by long and bitter privation, showed traces of past beauty, and her eyes, full of feverish trouble, were large, dark, and still lustrous. Her mouth alone,—that sensitive betrayer of the life's good and bad actions-revealed that all had not been well with her; its lines were hard and vicious, and the resentful curve of the upper lip spoke of foolish pride not unmixed with reckless sensuality. She sat for a minute or two motionless,--then with exceeding care and tenderness she began to unfold her thin torn shawl by gentle degrees, looking down with anxious solicitude at the object concealed within it. Only a baby,—and withal a baby so tiny and white and frail, that it seemed as though it must melt like a now-flake beneath the lightest touch. As its wrappings were loosened, it opened a pair of large, solemn blue eyes and gazed at the woman's face with a strange pitiful wistfulness. It lay quiet, without moan,-a pinched pale miniature of suffering humanity,—an infant with sorrow's mark painfully impressed upon its drawn small features. Presently it stretched forth a puny hand and feebly caressed its protectress, and this too with the faintest glimmer of a smile. The woman responded to its affection with a sort of rapture; she caught it fondly to her breast and covered it with kisses, rocking it to and fro with broken words of motherly endearment.
“My little darling!” she whispered softly. “My little pet! Yes, yes I know! So tired, so cold and hungry! Never mind, baby, never mind! we will rest here a little, then we will sing a song presently and get some money to take us home. Sleep a while longer, dearie! There! Now we are warm and cosy again!”
So saying she re-arranged her shawl in closer and tighter folds so as to protect the child more thoroughly. While she was engaged in this operation, a lady in deep mourning passed close by her, and advancing to the very steps of the altar, knelt down, hiding her face with her clasped hands. The tired wayfarer's attention was attracted by this; she gazed with a sort of dull wonder at the kneeling figure robed in rich rustling silk and crape; and gradually her eyes wandered upwards, upwards, till they rested on the gravely sweet and serenely smiling marble image of the Virgin and Child. She looked and looked again,-surprised,—incredulous; then suddenly rose to her feet and made her way to the altar-railing. There she paused, staring vaguely at a basket of flowers, white and odorous, that had been left there by some reverent worshipper. She glanced doubtfully at the swinging silver lamps, the twinkling candles; she was conscious too of a subtle strange fragrance in the air as though a basketful of spring violets and daffodils had just been carried by; then, as her wandering gaze came back to the solitary woman in black who still knelt motionless near her, a sort of choking sensation came into her throat and a stinging moisture struggled in her eyes. She strove to turn this hysterical sensation to a low laugh of disdain; “Lord, Lord!” she muttered beneath her breath, "what sort of place is this, where they pray to a woman and a baby?”
At that moment the lady in black rose; she was young, with a proud, fair but weary face. Her eyes lighted on her soiled and poverty-stricken sister, and she paused with a pitying look. The street wanderer made use of the opportunity thus offered, and in an urgent whisper implored charity. The lady drew out her purse, then hesitated, looking wistfully at the bundle in the shawl.
“You have a little child there?” she asked in gentle accents. “May I see it?"
“Yes, lady;" and the wrapper was turned down sufficiently to disclose the tiny white face, now more infinitely touching than ever in the pathos of sleep.
“I lost my little one a week ago," said the lady simply, as she looked at it. “He was all I had.” Her voice trembled, she opened her purse and placed a half-crown in the hand of the astonished supplicant. “You are happier than I am; perhaps you will pray for me! I am very lonely!”
Then dropping her long crape veil so that it com-, pletely hid her features, she bent her head and moved softly away. The woman watched her till her graceful