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And tbe whole party turned into the bar, where Will was already ordering drink.
Meanwhile, the girl had gone steadily and swiftly on her way, and she was now past the Bayswater-road, and in Notting-hill; turning into Ladbrook-square, she knocked at the door of one of the houses there, and was presently admitted.
"Tell Miss Hamilton, if you please," she said to tbe servant, "that Myra Dawson has come with tbe work."
The maid ran up-stairs, and Myra sat down upon one of the hall chairs. What a nice, warm bouse it seemed! how brightly tbe fire shone through the open door of tbe dining-room! and what a fragrant smell of dinner came up tbe kitchen stairs close by! She could hear the voices of the servants talking and laughing on the basement storey; she could hear children's voices at their merry play in the top of the house, and a sweet voice talking to the maid, who had admitted her upon the drawing-room floor.
Presently the girl came running down to her again—a smart little damsel, in a fly-away cap and a white muslin apron.
"Miss Hamilton says you are to come up," she said to Myra.
And Myra ran up-stairs, and went into the warm, well-lighted drawing-room, and stopping just inside the door, she dropped a curtsey.
It was such a pretty room; the girl had never seen anything so pretty before—with the clear bright fire in the low grate, the flowing curtains, the pretty, soft-looking chairs, the open piano, the pictures, the books, the elegant little trifles everywhere. By the fire sat an elderly lady, dressed in black silk, shading her face from the blaze with a handsome Indian screen; beside her stood a young eirl, dressed in some soft, flowing material, with gold ornaments in her ears and round her wrists—a pretty, gentle, happy-looking girl.
"Come in," she said to Myra; "come and warm yourself. It is such a perishing evening. How did you ever venture out?"
"Please, Miss," said Myra, "I don't mind the cold, and I had to come."
"And you have brought my work. I see," said the young lady, taking the parcel from the girl. "Your mother keeps her word. I hope it is well done."
"Look at it, Miss, if you please." Miss Hamilton opened the parcel, and shook out several pieces of elaborate embroidery.
"Oh, mamma!" she exclaimed, "do look; it's lovely!"
Mrs. Hamilton got up, took out her gold eyeglass, and examined the wotk.
"It is beautifully done indeed, Grace," she said. "Did your mother do it all herself r" she added, turning to Myra. "No, ma'am, please. I did the most." "But don't you go to school ?" asked Grace. "I used, Miss, until mother's eyes got weak. I help her now as much as I can." And tears sprang into Myra's eyes. "Poor thing!" said happy Grace,
Then she whispered some words to her mother, who also said, "Poor thing!"
"You will not lose this now, will you ?" said Miss Hamilton again, taking a sovereign from her purse. "Your mother gets this for the work. Will you keep it safe?"
"Very safe, thank you, Miss," said Myra, her eyes sparkling.
"How will you carry it then? not in your hand t"
"I wiil put my purse in the bosom of my dress, and a pin through it, Miss," said Myra.
And unfastening her little ahaw., she bejran to stow away the money. In doing so a little gold locket, attached to a thin, worn bit of black ribbon, became displaced and fell outside her frock.
Grace pointed to it laughing, as she said, "Sweetheart already, Myra?" "No, Miss, if you please; it's mother's," the girl hastened to explain. "Poor father's likeness is in it, and it's all she has of him."
"But your father is not dead, is he)" asked Mrs. Hamilton.
"We don't know, ma'am. He maybe, for we never hear of him; but mother has a notion that he might see this locket someday, somehow, and know it, and so come home again."
"But how can he see it, if you keep it hidden?"
"That's true, ma'am ; hut I let it be seen when I'm going where it's likely he'd be. But I don't think he'll ever see it," she added sadly.
"You must only hope the best, Myra," said Grace, kindly. "And now, good night. Don't lose, your money; and tell your mother I am greatly pleased with the work, and when I want more done I'll let her know."
And then Miss Hamilton herself came down and let the girl out into the frosty streets.
Away she went, walking faster than she had walked before, eager to get home with the money; she was rejoicing over all the comforts it would buy for her mother, whose weakened health and failing eyesight weighed heavily upon Myra's heart. She was very proud of having worked the greater part of the piece of embroidery she had just delivered herself, for now she could get plenty to do, and her mother could devote her whole time to the fancy-basketmaking she had lately learned, and which did not try her eyes.
Then she thought of the pretty warm house she had just left, and of the girl with the white hands who had spoken so kindly, and she wondered if the rich ever had anything to trouble them; and as she walked, the little gold locket, which she bad forgotten to put back inside her dress, was swinging backwards and forwards like a pendulum.
It was bitterly cold now, and Myra's rapid
pace scarce kept the numbness out of her feet:
she soon reached the Edgware-road again, and
again the same group was collected outside the
I gin-palace, but they were not so quiet now;
'Will's drink had had its effect, and they were
i3 laughing loudly and exchanging coarse jests upon the passers-by; Will's laugh was the loudest, and Will's jest the coarsest of them all. Suddenly their roving eyes fell upon Myra's Tittle furore, and the man called Ben cried out, "There's the little girl going back, Will, that you stared so bard after a while ago. Let's hare her in, and pi ve her a glass. It will warm her this cold night."
The child heard the words, and instantly took flight, Ben and Will dashed after her; the former, after a yard or two, stumbled and fell, but the latter, being steady on his legs, soon overtook the trembling child.
"Hold hard, will you?" he said, laying no light hand upon her shoulder. "I'm not going to murder you."
"Let me go! let me go!" she cried, clasping her buds in agony, and scared for her money, which she fancied he must have seen; she twisted like an eel in his hands, and contrived to free herself, but just as she was darting off again he made a snatch at the little locket, which caught his eye at the moment; the slender ribbon gave way, and poor Myra fled on, folly conscious that her precious little trinket was gone, but too much terrified to stop to get it back.
She never drew breath until she reached,
Cling and exhausted, the door of her mother's able lodging, which was situated in one of the narrow street* off Oxford-street. She remained standing outside for fully five minutes, ill the joy gone out of her heart, for what would money be to her mother without that little trumpery piece of gold? Yes, trumpery it might be to all the world, but precious to her above all the jewels in the regalia!
Had it not been given to her by, and did it noc hold all that remained to her now of, the man who had won her young heart in the happy old days that never could come back any more ?—days when, as bonny Mary Chester, the pride of the village, she had sung blithely about her work in her father's home, down in Cornwall; a home that was like dreamland to her now, so far off and hazy did it seem; a home from which all the world looked bright, ind where no sun was too hot and no wind too cold, and from which she would go out to meet Ua, handsome William Dawson, as he came whittling home from his day's work at the "peat bouse," with his tools slung over his sbonlder in a limp basket.
And what had that time brought? It had brought marriage—happiness for a season—the birth of Myra—then temptation to the husband, resisted for a time, but more and more faintly as it became stronger—then straitened means, then failing health—finally, desertion, loneliness, and despair. A year or two passed; Myra grew into a fine, sturdy little girl; but the husband never wrote, never was heard of; and at length the unhappy wife took her broken heart, and her little child, away ftom her native village, to hide herself in the great wilderness of London. How she struggled to live on there, God
knew! She worked and worked unceasingly, wearily, for Mvra's sake, and for the sake of a great hope, which no misery and no despair could kill—the hope that her husband would come back to her again. And now that she bad fought a brave battle with poverty, and conquered —inasmuch as she and Myra had bread enough to eat and clothes enough to wear—a terrible trial, that might bring back poverty in its train, again was stealing upon her—she feared that she was going blind.
Through the years that had passed, through starvation and utter wretchedness, she had never, even to get a temporary loan, parted with her little gold locket. It had been her husband's gift, and she looked upon it as the one link left between them. It held his photograph and a lock of his hair. How could she part with it, when she remembered how it bad been given?—how that sweet June evening, when they stood together under the limes, in which myriads of bees were humming, he bad unfolded it from a piece of paper, and hung it round her neck, saying, as he did so, that he wished it were diamonds for her sake!
And now she was about to hear that it was lost for ever, and her desire to keep the last remnants of her fast-failing sight, in order that she might gaze at the face she loved so well, would vanish too.
Slowly Myra came up tbe stairs, but the mother knew the child's step, and she turned in her chair to watch the door, although she could not see plainly across the room. She had a lovely face still, but it was Beamed and marked with trouble, and the wistful, melancholy expression which so often attends the want of sight, was beginning to steal over her dark brown eyes.
"Is it you, my child?" she said. "You have made good speed."
"It is cold, mother, and I walked fast. Here, mother, Miss Hamilton gave me this."
And taking the purse from the bosom of her dress, she placed it in Mrs. Dawson's hand.
"What ails you, Myra? Your voice is shaking. Are you cold, my darling i"
"No, mother, I'm not cold: but oh!"—and poor Myra's voice rose to a sort of cry—" what will you say to me? what will you do? It's gone! stolen!—your locket!—the picture I"
For one instant a gleam of something like anger crossed Mrs. Dawson's face, and she clutched Myra's arm fiercely.
"Gone!" she exclaimed. "And you have dared to come home to me without it?" And then her voice and manner changed suddenly; she threw her arms round Myra's neck, and broke into a bitter cry—" My child, my child! forgive me! I don't know what I say."
Then Myra told her all, and the poor woman listened with clasped hands and bent head.
"God forgive him for taking it," she said quietly, when she had heard all. "I fear I never can."
"Hush, mother! don't say that. Maybe it will come back to you yet. The man was not a thief; and if I ever see him again—which I'm sure to do, please God—I'll ask him for it; he was just drunk a little, and I'm sure he's sorry now. He did not look like a had, wicked man."
"If he had but taken the money, and left me that!" moaned poor Mrs. Dawson, rocking herself to and fro. "I'd give all I had in the world for that bit of gold; all I had in the world."
And then, standing there, looking at her mother, watching the worn face, and seeing the tears of regret and longing for the lost treasure which rolled quietly over it, Myra vowed a vow that she would never rest until she got that treasure back, and get it back, too, before the year closed: it should be her New Year's gift to her mother.
After the outbreak, upon hearing of its loss, Mrs. Dawson never spoke of the locket again. It seemed as if she had, with a great effort, put the thought of it from her mind; but it was not so—she had always worn it herself, except when Myra went out without her, when she used to hang it round the girl's neck, as she had done upon the evening of its loss ; and a hundred times a day Myra would see her mother's fingers wander to her throat, and feel about vaguely for the little trinket, which she was wont to hold as she might have held the hand of a friend.
And so the days slipped by. Christmas came and went, and New Year's Day was fast approaching. Myra had thought over, at least, a hundred plans for the recovery of the locket, but not one of them were feasible. She had imagined the most extraordinary schemes, not one of which could by any possibility have succeeded. As she sat at her work she saw, not the embroidery before her, but the lost trinket; as she walked through the streets, she kept her eyes upon the ground, as though it were likely that the gleam of the gold might shine upon her from some crevice in the pavement.
At lust, and quite as a forlorn hope, it occurred to her to go to the place where the man had been standing when she had passed on that, to her, eventful evening. Perhaps he might be there again; and, at least, she could appeal to him to let her have the locket back. Yet even to her hopeful young imagination it did not seem probable that he had kept it ever since; but, still, of all her designs for its recovery, it was the only one which she could attempt, or which had any promise of success. And on New Year's Eve, about the same hour that she had before gone to Ladbrook-square, she set out. She had some trifling purchases to make for their modest housekeeping, which served as an excuse for her absence.
Again she walked quickly through the frosty streets, and soon reached the Marble Arch, close to which the tavern was situated. How well she remembered the very look of the place! She would, she thought, have known it out of a hundred, although there was nothing about it
very different from any other establishment of a like nature.
It was brilliantly lighted, of course; but there was no group outside the door. Myra stole up gently, pushed back the swinging panel, and peeped in. Some six or eight men were standing drinking, and her heart gave a great bound as she recognised one or two of the faces; but, alas! the face she wanted, she saw only too soon, was not among them.
"What was to be done? Should she go boldly in, and remind the comrades of the man she was seeking of the adventure, and ask them where he was to be found i But her courage failed: she was just at the age when roughness and coarseness from the other sex was very hard to bear—that is, hard to those who are innately refined and modest, aa was poor Myra. So she let the door swing to again, and, wrapping her arms tightly in her shawl, she remained standing outside, and resolved to wait.
And she did wait, or rather walked, patiently to and fro for more than an hour, listening and watching. The crowd in the street grew somewhat thinner; it was getting very late, and her mother would be wondering what had become of her. Just as she was going to give up in despair, and to return home, the door of the gin-palace opened, and two of the men came out. They were not very tipsy—at least, one of them was not, and he supported his companion. They turned towards Regent-street, and that being her road home, Myra followed them, and she tried to keep as close to them as possible without being observed, in the hope of learning something from their conversation.
But they had no conversation, so to speak. One of them was argumentative, surly, and inclined to be musical—he stammered out snatches of songs, picked up at some theatre or "music-hall:" the other seemed wholly bent upon keeping his companion straight upon his course. At length, under a lamp-post, the drunken man came to a standstill, and seemed to insist upon being taken somewhere out of the direct road; his companion remonstrated, and Myra's heart again beat fast as she heard his words—
"I tell you, Ben, it's no use; he has cut his old mates since, that night, and I, for one, am too proud to push myself where I'm not welcome. Come away home, there's a good chap."
"I'm not a good chap, and I won't go home. I'll go to Will, and tell bim he's a sneak! I must go to Will, I say! Let me go."
And he struggled hard to free himself.
"Well, go, and be to you!" cried
the other at last. "But I tell you he won't speak to you; he was never the same since that night."
"There was poison in the little gold box," hiccupped Ben; "was that it? Never mind, I'll have him out; he won't turn on an old pal. Will was always ready to stand treat to a friend —Will's a rare good un."
Apd on be staggered, Myra following, and
hping that nothing would turn the drunken ran from his purpose now.
On they went, through bye-streets and dark court-, until poor Myra began to fear that she would never be able to make her way home again. At last they stopped before an open door—the door of a lodging-house evidently, for '.here were lights in almost all the windows, and people were passing in and out and up and down the narrow stairs.
"Will you go up ?" inquired Ben's companion of him.
The fellow looked up the dark entry for a moment, and then turning away, with the inconsistency of drunkenness, he swore a great
oath that he would see Will before he'd
climb op that break-neck stair that night.
Without another word,his companion dragged tia off, and before Myra had time to realize folly what had happened, they were out of siiht.
She was terribly disappointed ; she had been
led almost to the door of the man whom she
had been praying to meet, and now she must
go back again without finding him. He might
be in that house, it was true; but how was she
to look (or him ?—what excuse was she to make
for asking for him? Just then she became
aware that a ragged girl, of about her own age,
was standing leaning against the door-post
watching her. She did not look as if she would
be civil or obliging; but still it was better to
risk a snub than to lose a chance, so going a step
forward, Afrra asked timidly,
"Does a man called Will lodge here?"
Tie girl put her head on one side, and peered
at Myra with a pair of sharp, bird-like eyes.
"And supposing he does, what does you want of him?" she asked, in a voice sharp as her eyes.
Myra had experience of London children, and the thought she might be able to buy the information she needed. Slipping her hand into her pocket, she drew out a fourpenny piece, and holding it up, she said—
"I'll give you that if you show me his room." The child held out her thin, dirty hand. "Don't you try to gammon me with your tricks," she said. "Is it good?" Then, hwingsatisfied herself that the coin was genuine, we added: "You just cut along to the very top of the bouse, and there you'll find Black Will, as we calls him, and I wish you joy of your welcome when you get to him."
Myra asked no more: with a swift step she vent up sundry flights of stairs, and found herself presently upon a narrow landing, off which one room opened. The girl's heart was heating wildly, and she was obliged to sit down on the topmost step to recover herself. She had formed no plan of action—she could not form one—she must trust to Providence; I fear she called it chance, if she called it anything. The room door was open, and a feeble light streamed out into the lobby—the light from a solitary candle. Myra took courage, and steal
ing forward on tiptoe, she looked into the room.
It was a good-sized chamber, with a low-coved ceiling, but the furniture in it was shabby and spare. There was a low bed, covered with a coarse coloured rug, in one corner, a small table in the centre, a little painted deal press, and two chairs. Upon one of the latter, with his arms resting upon the table, and his head bent down upon them, sat the strong man, with the swarthy face and the dark hair, who was called by his companions " Will." He was apparently asleep, for he was breathing regularly, and his figure had the relaxed, pliant look which repose always gives.
For some time Myra watched him from the door; then encouraged by the utter stillness, she crept on into the room. Ob, how cautiously she stepped, fearing to wake him, if he were indeed asleep, yet longing for him to start up, and see her, and hear what she had to say. She had been frightened at first, but she was quite calm then. He might be very angry; he might turn upon her for disturbing him; he might even strike her, but she knew he could not kill her; and if she only got back the locket, what mattered a few hard words, or even a blow? So she crept on and on, and winced whn the boards creaked, and looked over her shoulder every moment, thinking that her shadow was some one following her.
At last, after many pauses, she reached the table where Will sat; she could hear his breathing plainly enough now; she could see the long, black hair, grizzled with grey, which fell over his hands, and which in another half-hour, when the candle had burned down, would be perilously near the flame. She was very close to him, and a strange, vague, yearning kind of pity crossed her young heart for that strong man, who was so quiet in his deep repose. What was he, and why was he so lonely? He did not seem poor, for his clothes were good; had he neither wife, nor child, not friends, but drunken Ben, and such as he? Myra was very young, scarcely more than a child, but all the desire to give love and sympathy, which is inherent in the hearts of most women, rose up in her heart then. It was New Year's Eve, a solemn snd happy time, when most people, even the poorest, have something, or some one to care for near them; she was poor herself, but she had her mother, and her mother had her. Why was this poor fellow so lonely? As the question again and again recurred to her, she restrained herself with difficulty from passing her hand softly over his hair, and down upon his rough coat.
It was a curious scene — the strong man sleeping quietly, the timid girl standing over him with pity in her eyes; and yet they were strangers to each other.
But where was the locket? She was there to get that, and not to expend sympathy on the man who had taken it; but somehow it did not seem possible that her mother's treasure could be in that poor room. When a thing is precious to ourselves, or to one char to us, we fancy that those in whose sight it is really worthless, will think it precious also, and care for it well. She looked about, and felt that it could not be there; he bad sold it, he had lost it: ah! why had he not kept it? She almost cried aloud in her sore disappointment.
She moved a little nearer to the front of the sleeping man, and as she did so the glitter of something which might be gold caught her eyes upon the table: it was half hidden by the long, falling hair of the sleeper. An exclamation of joy rose to Myra's lips, and she fell upon her knees to bring her eyes closer: she peered under the scattered locks; had she dared she would have pushed them aside, but, after all, what need? She knew the locket—she would have known it had she not seen it half so well. To get it was the next thing. If she could but snatch it out softly without waking him, and fly with it unseen! What matter what he said when he awoke and missed it ?—there was no dishonesty in taking her own; and if she aroused him, she would pray him, on her knees, to give it to her for her mother's sake.
Rising to her feet again she held the table firmly with one band, while with the other she tried to draw the little trinket towards her; but she was too eager and too much excited for such a delicate task, and more than once she touched the bowed head with her trembling fingers, and then suddenly, just as the locket was within her reach, with a start the man awoke and sprang to his feet, and his dazzled and bewildered eyes fixed themselves on Myra in utter amazement: in an instant he seemed to have divined her object in his room, for he clutched the locket and thrust the hand which held it into his bosom.
She flung herself upon her knees before him, and stretched out her hands imploringly; but not one word could she speak. Then as she crouched there looking up at him, with her bonnet falling bark, and her large brown eyes (so like her mother's eyes) fixed upon his face, a great and sudden change passed over him, the expression of anger faded from his eyes; his mouth quivered, and his hand fell gently upon the girl's upturned head.
Then, as if the touch had unloosed her tongue, she cried wildly: "Oh don't keep it from me. Let me have it, for mother's sake! That little bit of gold is all she has left to her of my father."
A gentle voice, a voice which she could hardly think belonged to that great rough man, told her not to fear, and asked her how she had found him out; and when he heard, again the soft light shone in his eyes, and his dark stern ace seemed to soften and grow young.
"Come, my girl," he said at last, when Myra had finished her simple story, "it's late for you to be wandering alone in these streets; I '11 take you home, and perhaps you'll say a prayer for me this blessed New Year's Eve. I am very glad you found me out, for I never meant to rob
you of your locket; see, here it is, I'll carry it safe for you. Won't you trust me?"
"I would rather carry it myself," faltered Myra, " and I can find my way home."
"There," he said, "take it; but at least I must see you safe out of these queer dark streets. Tell me where you want to go."
Myra named the place.
"I'll put you into Oxford Street," he answered, picking up a Glengarry bonnet from the floar. "Don't break your neck in the dark," he added, blowing out the candle.
The girl left the room before him, and stood quietly waiting on the dark landing until he locked the door; then she followed him downstairs, and out into the street. She shivered as the frosty air sent a chill through her.
"You're cold," Will said, abruptly; "tie this round you."
And before she could stop him he had unrolled a thick woollen scarf from his own neck and flung it about hers. His manner was very odd, Myra thought; there was a strange mixture of tenderness and roughness in it which she could not understand. It was as if Nature had made him tender, and habit had made him rough.
Myra remonstrated, but he would not listen, and walked on quickly in front.
In about half an hour they reached Oxfordstreet, and the way had seemed very long to Myra. When she found herself again upon familiar ground she stopped, and, not hearing her footfall after him, Will stopped too. "I am all right now," she said. "Here is your scarf, and thank you."
"Keep it," he answered, laying his broad hand over her two little ones which were loosening the knot upon the scarf; "I gave you a weary tramp after your little box. I said before I never intended to have taken it, but the ribbon snapped sudden-like; but I'm glad now I did, for—"
"You wouldn't if you had seen how mother breaks her heart for it," interrupted Myra, bitterly; "but it's all right now."
"It will be, may-be," he answered; "time will tell. Good night, and a happy new year! Won't you shake hands f"
Myra gave him her hand, but not heartily. She could not forgive him for the drunken frolic which had deprived her poor mother for so long of the one comfort of her life. So they parted, and the girl instantly began to run: every moment was now like an hour until she was by her mother's side. At last her house was reached : it was late for her to be out alone; but she was too happy to think of that now. She ran up the stairs, and into their little sitting-room: it was quite dark, save - a glimmering spark of fire in the small grate. "Mother!" she called softly—"mother!" But there was no answer. She went forward in silent terror, not knowing what she might find; but there, in the old arm-chair, she saw by the dim light the figure she loved. Worn