Our Ada Elizabeth by John Strange
"The sublime mystery of
Providence goes on in silence, and
gives no explanation of itself, no
answer to our impatient questionings."--Hyperion.
The Dicki'sons lived in Blankhampton. Not
in the fashionable suburb of Greater Gate,
for the Dicki'sons were not fashionable people--far
from it, indeed. Nor yet in that exclusive part
which immediately surrounds the cathedral, which
Blankhampton folk familiarly call "the Parish." No;
they lived in neither of these, but away on the
poorer side of the town and in the narrowest of
narrow lanes--so narrow, indeed, that if a cart came
along the passer-by was glad to get into a doorway,
and stand there trembling until the danger was
past and the road free again.
I must tell you that, although they were always
called the Dicki'sons, their name was spelt in the
usual way, with an "n" in the middle and without
an apostrophe; but, as their neighbours made an
invariable rule of pronouncing the word, as they
did themselves, in the way in which I have written
it, I will take the liberty of continuing the custom
in this story.
For their position, they were rather well-to-do.
Mr. Dicki'son, the father of the family, was a plumber
and glazier--not in business for himself, but the
foreman of a business of some importance in the
town; and Mr. Dicki'son was a plain man of
somewhat reserved disposition. There were ill-natured
and rude persons in that neighbourhood who did
not hesitate to describe Mr. Dicki'son as "a sulky
beast"; but then the opinion of such was scarcely
worth having, and even they had not a word to
say against him beyond a general complaint of his
They were lively people who lived round about
Gardener's Lane. The fathers worked hard all the
week, and mostly got frightfully drunk on Saturday
nights, when they went home and knocked their
dirty, slipshod wives about, just by way of letting
them know their duty to their lords and masters.
And after this sort of thing had subsided, the wives
generally gave the children a good cuffing all round,
just by way of letting them know that they need
not hope to take any liberties with their mothers
because of their fathers' little ways; and then they
all got quieted down for the night, and got up late
on Sunday morning with headaches. If the day
was fine, the men sat dull and sodden in the
sunshine on the pavement in the wide street out of
which Gardener's Lane ran, propping their backs
against the wall and stretching their legs out, greatly
to the danger and annoyance of passers-by; and
while the men thus smoked the pipe of peace, the
women stood in groups at their doorways, scratching
their elbows and comparing their bruises; and the
children, who had gone to sleep the previous night
in tears and tribulation, found keen enjoyment
in watching for the parson and the few people
who went to the church round the corner, and
called names and uncomplimentary terms after
them as they turned in at the gates which led thereto.
Now, as Mr. Dicki'son was a person of a reserved
and taciturn disposition, who was distinctly
respectable in all his doings, who never got drunk, and
openly despised any one else who did, it will readily
be believed that he was not popular in the
neighbourhood of Gardener's Lane. He was not anxious
to be popular, and had it not been that the house
in which he lived was his own, and that it suited
his family as a home, Gardener's Lane would not
have counted him among its inhabitants.
Mrs. Dicki'son was a good deal younger than her
husband--a pretty, weak, sentimental woman, rather
gushing in disposition, and very injudicious. She
was always overwhelmed with troubles and babies;
although, as a matter of fact, she had but six
children altogether, and one of them died while still
an infant. Gerty was twelve years old, and Ada
Elizabeth just a year younger; then came a gap of
two years ere a boy, William Thomas, was born.
William Thomas, if he had lived, would, I fancy,
have inherited his father's reserved disposition, for,
I must say, a more taciturn babe it has never at
any time been my lot to encounter. He was a
dreadful trouble to his dissatisfied mother, who
felt, and said, that there was something uncanny
about a child who objected to nothing--who seemed
to know no difference between his own thumb and
the bottle which fed him, and would go on sucking
as patiently at the one as at the other; who would
lie with as much apparent comfort on his face as
on his back, and seemed to find no distinction
between his mother's arms and a corner of the
wide old sofa, which earlier and later babies resented
as a personal insult, and made remarks
accordingly. However, after six months of this
monotonous existence, William Thomas was removed from
this lower sphere, passing away with the same
dignity as he had lived, after which he served a
good purpose still, which was to act as a model to
all the other babies who resented the corner of
the sofa and declined to accept the substitution of
their thumbs, or any other makeshift, for the bottle
of their desires.
Two years later was a girl, called Polly, and two
years later again was Georgie; and then, for a time,
Mrs. Dicki'son being free from the cares of a baby,
fretted and worried that "'ome isn't like 'ome without
a baby in it." But when Georgie was just turned
three little Miriam arrived, and Mrs. Dicki'son was
able to change her complaint, and tell all her
acquaintance that she did think Georgie was going
to be the last, and she was sure she was "just
Most of the children took after their mother.
True, as I have already said, William Thomas had
given signs of not doing so; but William Thomas
had not really lived long enough for any one to
speak definitely on the subject. All the rest thrived
and grew apace, and they all took after their mother,
both in looks and character, with the exception
of the second girl, "our Ada Elizabeth."
"The very moral of her father," Mrs. Dicki'son
was accustomed to sigh, as she tried in vain to trim
Ada Elizabeth's hat so that the plain little face
underneath it should look as bright and fresh as
the rosy faces of her sisters. But it was a hopeless
task, and Mrs. Dicki'son had to give it up in despair
and with many a long speech full of pity for herself
that she, of all people in the world, should have
such a hard trial put upon her as a child who was
For the child was plain. She had been a plain,
featureless baby, of uncertain colour, inclining to
drab--very much, indeed, what William Thomas was
after her. A baby who, even when newly washed,
never looked quite clean; a little girl whose
pinafore never hung right, and with tow-coloured hair
which no amount of hair-oil or curl-papers could
make anything but lank and unornamental! A
child with a heavy, dull face, and a mouth that
seldom relaxed into a smile though there were
people (not Mrs. Dicki'son among them, though)
who did not fail to notice that the rare smile was
a very sweet one, infinitely sweeter than ever was
seen on the four pretty rosy faces of the other children.
A child with a heavy, dull face.
Mrs. Dicki'son was eloquent about Ada Elizabeth's
looks and temper. "I'm sure," she cried one
day to Gerty, who was pretty, and quick of wit, and
knew to a hair's-breadth how far she could go with
her mother, "it's 'ard upon me I should have such
a plain-looking child as our Ada Elizabeth. It's
no use me trying to trim her hat so as to make
her look a credit to us. I'm sure it's aggravating,
it is. I've trimmed your two hats just alike, and
she looks no better in hers than she does in her
old school hat, and I got two nice curly tips just
alike. 'Pon my word, it's quite thrown away on her."
"And I want another feather in mine to make
it perfect, Mother," murmured Gerty, with insinuating
Mrs. Dicki'son caught at the bait thus held out
to her. "I've a good mind to take the tip out," she
"Yes, do, Mother; our Ada Elizabeth won't care.
Will you, Ada Elizabeth?" appealingly to the child
who had had the misfortune to be born plain.
"No, I don't care," returned Ada Elizabeth, whose
heart was bursting, not with jealousy, but with a
crushing sense of her own shortcomings.
"Just like her father," remarked Mrs. Dicki'son,
loosening the feather from its place with one snip
of her scissors. "He never cares 'ow he looks!
''Andsome is as 'andsome does,' is his motto; and
though he's been a good 'usband to me, and I'd be
the last to go again' him, yet I must say I do like
a bit of smartness myself. But Ada Elizabeth's
the very moral of her father--as much in her ways
as she is in her looks."
So gradually it got to be an established custom
that Ada Elizabeth's attire should be shorn of those
little decorations with which Mrs. Dicki'son delighted
to add effect to her eldest child's prettiness; it was
felt to be quite useless to spend money over curly
tips and artificial roses to put above such a plain
little face, or "waste" it, as her mother put it, in
the not very delicate way in which she tried to
excuse herself to the child when some more obvious
difference than usual between her clothes and Gerty's
Ada Elizabeth made no complaint. If asked her
mind by the officious Gerty, she said she did not
care, and the answer was accepted as literal truth
by her mother and sister. But Ada Elizabeth did
care. She was not jealous, mind--alas! no, poor
child--she was only miserable, crushed with an
ever-present consciousness of her own deficiencies and
shortcomings, with a sense that in having been born
plain and in having taken after her father she had
done her mother an irreparable injury, had offered
her the deepest insult possible! She honestly felt
that it was a hard trial to her mother that she
should have such a plain and dull child. More than
once she made a desperate effort to chatter after
Gerty's fashion, but somehow the Dicki'son family
did not appreciate the attempt. Gerty stared at
her and sniggered, and her mother told her with
fretful promptness that she did not know what she
was talking about; and poor Ada Elizabeth
withdrew into herself, as it were, and became more
reserved--"more like her father"--than ever, cherishing
no resentment against those who had so mercilessly
snubbed her, but only feeling more intensely than
ever that she was unlike the rest of the world, and
that her fate was to be seen as little as possible
and not heard at all.
The time had come round for the great annual
examination of the National Schools where
the young Dicki'sons received their education, and
on the great day itself the children came in at
tea-time full to overflowing with the results of their
efforts. And Ada Elizabeth was full of it too, but
not to overflowing; on the contrary, she crept into
the kitchen, where her father and mother and little
two-year-old Miriam--commonly called "Mirry"--were
already seated at the table, and put her school-bag
away in its place with a shamefaced air, as if
she, being an ignominious failure, could have no
news to bring.
"Well," exclaimed Mrs. Dicki'son to Gerty, who
threw her hat and bag down and wriggled into her
seat with her mouth already open to tell her tale,
"did you get a prize?"
"No, I didn't, Mother," returned Gerty glibly. "A
nasty old crosspatch Miss Simmonds is; she always
did hate me, and I think she hates me worse than
ever now. Anyway, she didn't give me a prize--just
to show her spite, nasty thing!"
Mrs. Dicki'son always declared that her husband
was a slow man; and he looked up slowly then and
fixed his dull eyes upon Gerty's flushed face.
"H'm!" he remarked, in a dry tone, and then
closed his lips tight and helped himself to another
slice of bread and butter.
Gerty's flushed face grew a fine scarlet. She knew
only too well what the "h'm" and the dry tone and
the tightly-closed lips meant, and made haste to
change the subject, or, at least, to turn the interest
of the conversation from herself to her sister.
"But our Ada Elizabeth's got the first prize of all,"
she informed them; and in her eagerness to divert
her father's slow attention from herself, she spoke
with such an air of pride in the unlooked-for result of
the examination that Ada Elizabeth cast a glance
of passionate gratitude towards her, and then visibly
shrank into herself, as if, in having won so
prominent a place, she had done something to make her
mother's trials harder to bear than ever. "And
there's going to be a grander treat than we've ever
had this year," Gerty went on, in her glibest tones.
"And the dean's lady, Lady Margaret, is going to
give the prizes away, and all the company is going
to be at the treat, and--and----"
"Oh! what a pity!" exclaimed Mrs. Dicki'son,
turning a hopeless gaze upon poor Ada Elizabeth.
"Our Ada Elizabeth 'll never show up properly,
as you would, Gerty."
"Our Ada Elizabeth's lesson-books 'll show up
better than Gerty's, may be," put in Mr. Dicki'son,
in his quietest tone and with his driest manner.
"Oh! Ada Elizabeth's not clever like Gerty,"
returned Mrs. Dicki'son, utterly ignorant as she
was indifferent to the fact that she was rapidly
taking all the savour out of the child's hour of
triumph. "And you were so sure of it too, Gerty."
"So was the hare of winning the race; but the
tortoise won, after all," remarked Mr. Dicki'son
"What are you talking about, Father?" his wife
demanded. "I'm sure if tidy 'air has anything to
do with it, Gerty ought to be at the top of the
tree, for, try as I will, I can't make Ada Elizabeth's
'air ever look aught like, wash it and brush it and
curl it as ever I will; and as for 'air-oil----"
Mr. Dicki'son interrupted his wife by a short
laugh. "I didn't mean that at all"--he knew by
long experience that it was useless to try to make
her understand what he did mean--"but, now you
speak of it, perhaps Ada Elizabeth's 'air don't make
so much show as some of the others; it's like mine,
and mine never was up to much--not but what there's
scarcely enough left to tell what sort it is."
It was quite a long speech for the unsociable and
quiet Mr. Dicki'son to come out with, and his wife
passed it by without comment, only making a fretful
reiteration of Ada Elizabeth's plainness and a
complaint of the sorry figure she would cut among the
great doings on the day of the school treat and
distribution of prizes.
"Is our Ada Elizabeth a plain one?" said
Mr. Dicki'son, with an air of astonishment which
conveyed a genuine desire for information, then turned
and scanned the child's burning face, after which
he looked closely at the faces of the other children,
so little like hers, and so nearly like that of his
pretty, mindless, complaining wife. "Well, yes, little
'un, I suppose you're not exactly pretty," he
admitted unwillingly; "you're like me, and I never
was a beauty to look at. But, there, 'handsome is
as handsome does,' and you've brought home first
prize to-day, which you wouldn't have done, may be,
if you'd always been on the grin, like Gerty there.
Seems to me," he went on reflectively, "that that
there first prize 'll stand by you when folks has got
tired of Gerty's grin, that's what seems to me. I
don't know," he went on, "that I set so much store
by looks. I never was aught but a plain man, but
I've made you a good husband, Em'ly, and you can't
deny it. You'll mind that good-looking chap, Joe
Webster, that you kept company with before you
took up with me? He chucked you up for Eliza
Moriarty. Well, I met her this morning, poor
soul! with two black eyes and her lips strapped up with
plaster. H'm!" with a sniff of self-approval, "seems
to me I'd not care to change my plain looks for his
handsome ones. 'Handsome is as handsome does' is
my motto; and if I want aught doing for me, it's
our Ada Elizabeth I asks to do it, that's all I know."
The great day of the school treat came and went.
The dean's wife, Lady Margaret Adair, gave away
the prizes, as she had promised, and was so struck
with "our Ada Elizabeth's" timid and shrinking
air that she kept her for a few minutes, while she
told her that she had heard a very good account
of her, and that she hoped she would go on and
work harder than ever. "For I see," said Lady
Margaret, looking at a paper in her hand, "that
you are the first in your class for these subjects,
and that you have carried off the regular attendance
and good-conduct prize as well. I am sure you
must be a very good little woman, and be a great
favourite with your schoolmistress."
Mrs. Dicki'son--who, as the mother of the show
pupil of the day, and as a person of much
respectability in the neighbourhood, which was not famous
for that old-fashioned virtue, had been given a seat
as near as possible to the daïs on which Lady
Margaret and the table of prizes were accommodated--heard
the pleasant words of praise, which would
have made most mothers' hearts throb with exultant
pride, with but little of such a feeling; on the
contrary, her whole mind was filled with regret that
it was not Gerty standing on the edge of the daïs,
instead of the unfortunate Ada Elizabeth, who did
not show off well. If only it had been Gerty!
Gerty would have answered my lady with a pretty
blush and smile, and would have dropped her
courtesy at the right moment, and would have
been a credit to her mother generally.
But, alas! Gerty's glib tongue and ready smiles
had not won her the prizes which had fallen to
poor little plain Ada Elizabeth's share, and Gerty
was out in the cold, so to speak, among the other
scholars, while Ada Elizabeth, in an agony of
shyness and confusion, stood on the edge of the daïs,
first on one foot and then on the other, conscious
that her mother's eyes were upon her and that
their expression was not an approving one, feeling,
though she would hardly have been able to put it
into words, that in cutting so sorry a figure she was
making her poor mother's trials more hard to bear
than ever. Poor little plain child, she kept courtesying
up and down like a mechanical doll, and saying,
"Yes, 'm," and "No, 'm," at the wrong moments,
and she altogether forgot that the fresh-coloured,
buxom lady in the neat black gown and with only
a bit of blue feather to relieve her black bonnet
was not a "ma'am" at all, but a "my lady," who
ought to have been addressed as such. At last,
however, the ceremony, and the games and sports,
and the big tea were all over, and Ada Elizabeth
went home with her prizes to be a heroine no longer,
for she soon, very soon, in the presence of Gerty's
prettiness and Gerty's glib tongue and ready smiles,
sank into the insignificance which had been her
portion aforetime. She had not much encouragement
to go on trying to be a credit to the family
which she had so hardly tried by taking after her
father, for nobody seemed to remember that she
had been at the top of the tree at the great
examination, or, if they did recall it, it was generally as
an example of the schoolmistress's "awkwardness"
of disposition in having passed over the hare for
the tortoise. Yet sometimes, when Gerty was
extra hard upon Ada Elizabeth's dulness, or
Mrs. Dicki'son found the trial of her life more heavy
to bear than usual, her father would look up from
his dinner or his tea, as it might happen to be, and
fix his slow gaze upon his eldest daughter's vivacious
"H'm! Our Ada Elizabeth's too stupid to live,
is she? Well, you're like to know, Gerty; it was
you won three first prizes last half, wasn't it? A
great credit to you, to say nought about the 'good
conduct and regular attendance.' Yes, you're like
to know all about it, you are."
"Dear me, Gerty," Mrs. Dicki'son would as often
as not chime in fretfully, having just wit enough
to keep on the blind side of "Father," "eat your tea,
and let our Ada Elizabeth alone, do; it isn't pretty of
you to be always calling her for something. Our
Ada Elizabeth's plain-looking, there's no saying
aught again' it, but stupid she isn't, and never was;
and, as Father says, ''andsome is as 'andsome does';
so don't let me hear any more of it."
And all the time the poor little subject of
discussion would sit writhing upon her chair, feeling
that, after all, Gerty was quite right, and that she
was not only unfortunately plain to look at, but that,
in spite of the handsome prizes laid out in state on
the top of the chest of drawers, there was little doubt
that she was just too stupid to live.
It was a very mild and damp autumn that year,
and the autumn was succeeded by an equally
mild winter; therefore it is not surprising that the
truth of the old saying, "A green Christmas makes a
fat kirkyard," became sadly realized in the
neighbourhood of Gardener's Lane.
For about the middle of December a dangerous
low fever, with some leaning towards typhoid, broke
out in the parish, and the men being mostly
hard-drinkers, and the majority of the women idle drabs
who did not use half-a-pound of soap in a month, it
flew from house to house until half the population
was down with it; ay, and, as nearly always happens,
not only the hard-drinkers and the idle drabs were
those to suffer, but the steady, respectable workmen
and the good housewives came in for more than their
just share of the tribulation also. And, among others,
the Dicki'son family paid dearly for the sins and
shortcomings of their fellow-creatures, for the first to fall
sick was the pretty, complaining mother, of whom
not even her detractors could say other than that she
was cleanliness itself in all her ways. And it was a
very bad case. The good parson came down with
offers of help, and sent in a couple of nurses, whom
he paid out of his own pocket--though, if he had but
known it, he would have done much more wisely to
have spent the same amount of money on one with
more knowledge of her business and less power of
speech--and the doctor and his partner came and
went with grave and anxious faces, which did not
say too much for the sick woman's chance of recovery.
Mr. Dicki'son stayed at home from his work for a
whole week, and spent his time about equally
between anxiously watching his wife's fever-flushed face
and sitting with his children, trying to keep them
quiet--no easy task, let me tell you, in a house
where every movement could be heard in every
corner; and, as the schools were promptly closed, for
fear of spreading the epidemic, the children were on
hand during the whole day, and, poor little things,
were as sorely tried by the silence they were
compelled to keep as they tried the quiet, dull man
whose heart was full almost to bursting.
But he was very patient and good with them, and
Ada Elizabeth was his right hand in everything. For
the first time in her life she forgot her plain looks
and her mother's trials, and felt that she had been
born to some purpose, and that purpose a good one.
And then there came an awful day, when the
mother's illness was at the worst, when the two
nurses stood one on each side of the bed and freely
discussed her state, in utter indifference to the husband
standing miserably by, with Gerty's little sharp face
peeping from behind him.
"Eh, pore thing, I'm sure!" with a sniff and a sob,
"it is 'ard at 'er age to go i' this way--pore thing, it
is 'ard. Which ring did you say Gerty was to 'ave,
love?" bending down over the sick woman, who was
just conscious enough to know that some one was
speaking to her--"the keeper? Yes, love; I'll see to
it. And which is for Ada Elizabeth?"
"Her breathing's getting much harder," put in the
woman on the other side; "it won't be long now.
T' doctor said there was a chance with care, but I
know better. I've seen so many, and if it's the
Lord's will to take her, He'll take her. We may do
all we can, but it's no use, for I've seen so many."
Mr. Dicki'son gave a smothered groan, and turning
sharply round went out of the room and down the
narrow creaking stairs, with a great lump in his throat
and a thick mist in front of his eyes. A fretful wail
from little Mirry had fallen upon his ear, and he found
her sobbing piteously, while Ada Elizabeth tried in
vain to pacify her. She was more quiet when she
found herself in his arms; and then he noticed, with
a sudden and awful fear knocking at his heart, that
there was something wrong with his right hand, Ada
Elizabeth--that she looked fagged and white, and that
there was a brilliancy in her dull grey eyes such as
he had never seen there before.
"Ada Elizabeth, what ails you?" he asked anxiously.
"Ada Elizabeth, what ails you?" he asked anxiously.
"Nought, Father; I'm a bit tired, that's all," she
answered, pushing her heavy hair away from her
forehead. "Mirry was awake all night nearly, and I
couldn't keep her quiet hardly."
Mr. Dicki'son looked closely at Mirry; but
though the child was evidently heavy and inclined to
be fretful, there was not the same glitter in her eyes
as there was in her sister's.
"Here, Gerty," he said, "nurse Mirry a bit. I
want to go upstairs for a minute."
"Can't Ada Elizabeth have her?" asked Gerty,
who always wanted to be in the sick-room, so that
she might know the latest news of her mother and be
to the front whoever came--for in those dark days,
between the rector and the doctors and the
neighbours who came in and out, there were a good many
visitors to the little house. "Our Ada Elizabeth
always keeps Mirry quiet better than I can, father."
"Do as I bid you," returned Mr. Dicki'son sharply;
and thus rebuked, Gerty sat crossly down and
bumped little Mirry on to her knee with a burst of
temper, which set the child wailing again.
Mr. Dicki'son had already reached the sick-room,
where the nurses were still standing over his
half-unconscious wife's bed.
"I want you a minute, missus," he said to the one
who had been so anxious concerning the disposal of
Mrs. Dicki'son's few bits of jewellery. "Just come
downstairs a minute."
The woman followed him, wondering what he
could want. "Just look at this little lass," he said,
taking Ada Elizabeth by the hand and leading her
to the window. "Do you think there is aught amiss
There is little or no reserve among the poor, they
speak their minds, and they tell ill news with a
terrible bluntness which is simply appalling to those
of a higher station; and this woman did not hesitate
to say what she thought, notwithstanding the fact
that she knew that the man was utterly overwrought,
and that the child's fever-bright eyes were fixed
earnestly upon her.
"Mr. Dicki'son," she cried, "I'll not deceive you,
no; some folks would tell you as nought ailed, but
not me--wi' her pore mother dying upstairs. I
couldn't find it in my 'eart to do it; I couldn't
indeed. Pore Ada Elizabeth's took, and you'd better
run round to Widow Martin's and see if t' doctor's
been there this morning. He telled me I might send
there for him up to one o'clock, and it's only ten
minutes past. Ada Elizabeth, lie down on t' sofa,
honey, and keep yourself quiet. Gerty, can't you
keep Mirry at t' window? Ada Elizabeth's took
with the fever, and can't bear being tewed about wi' her."
Mr. Dicki'son was off after the doctor like a shot,
and less than a quarter of an hour brought him back
to see if the nurse's fiat was a true one. Alas! it
proved to be too true, and the kind-hearted doctor
drew the grief-stricken man on one side.
"Look here, Dicki'son," he said, "your wife is very
ill indeed; it's no use my deceiving you--her life
hangs on a thread, and it will be only by the greatest
care if she is pulled through this. The child has
undoubtedly got the fever upon her, and she cannot
have the attention she ought to have here. There is
not room enough nor quiet enough, and there's
nobody to attend to her. Get her off to the hospital at once."
"The hospital!" repeated Mr. Dicki'son blankly.
He had all the horror of a hospital that so many of
his class have.
"It's the child's best chance," answered the doctor.
"Of course, it may turn out only a mild attack. All
the better that she should be in the hospital, in any
case; in fact, I wish your wife was there this minute."
"Doctor," said Mr. Dicki'son hoarsely, "I don't
like my little lass going to the hospital. I don't like it."
"But there is no help for it, and she'll be far better
off there than she would be at home," the doctor
answered; "but, all the same, they'd better not talk
about it before your wife. Even when she is delirious
or half-unconscious she knows a good deal of what's
going on about her. I'll step up and have a look at
her, and will speak to the women myself."
Before a couple of hours were over, Ada Elizabeth
was comfortably in bed in the quiet and shady ward
of the well-managed hospital, and in the little house
in Gardener's Lane the struggle between life and
death went on, while Gerty had to devote herself as
best she could to the children. Gerty felt that it
was desperately hard upon her, for Mirry and
six-year-old Georgie fretted without ceasing for "our
Ada Elizabeth," and would not be comforted; not,
all the same, that Gerty's ideas of comfort were very
soothing ones--a bump and a shake, and divers
threatenings of Bogle-Bo, and a black man who came
down chimneys to carry naughty children away, being
about her form; and little Mirry and Georgie found
it but a poor substitute for the tender if dull patience
of "our Ada Elizabeth."
However, in spite of all the very real drawbacks
which she had to fight against, Mrs. Dicki'son did
not die; slowly and painfully she struggled back to
her own senses again, with a dim realization of how
very near the gate of death she had wandered. But,
alas! by the time the doctor had, with a kindly pat
upon his shoulder, told Mr. Dicki'son that his wife
would live if no very serious relapse took place, the
fever had fastened on another victim, and little Mirry
was tossing to and fro with fever-flushed face, and
the same unnatural brilliancy in her bonny blue eyes
as had lighted up Ada Elizabeth's dull, grey ones.
They had not taken her to the hospital; it was
so full that only urgent cases were admitted now: and
since the mother was on the road to recovery, there
was time to attend to the child. And so she lay in
the next room to her mother, whose weakened senses
gradually awoke to the knowledge of what was going
on about her.
"Is that Mirry crying?" she asked, on the
morning when the child was at its worst.
"Now don't you fret yourself, love," returned the
nurse evasively. "T' bairn's being took care of
right enough; they will cry a bit sometimes, you
know"; and then she shut the door, and the mother
dozed off to sleep again.
But in the evening the pitiful wail reached her ears
again. "I want our Ada 'Liz'bet'," the child's fretful
voice cried; "Mirry do want our Ada 'Liz'bet' so
bad-a-ly--me want our Ada 'Liz'bet'."
Mrs. Dicki'son started nervously and tried to lift
herself in her bed. "I'm sure Mirry's ill," she
gasped. "Mrs. Barker, don't deceive me. Tell me,
is she ill?"
"Well, my dear, I won't deceive yer," the nurse
answered; "poor little Mirry's been took with the
fever--yes, but don't you go and fret yourself.
Mrs. Bell's waiting of her, and she wants for nought, and
t' doctor says it's only a mild attack; only children
runs up and down so quick, and she's a bit more
fretful than usual to-night, that's all."
"Mirry do want our Ada 'Liz'bet'," wailed the sick
child in the next room.
Mrs. Dicki'son turned her head weakly from side
to side and trembled in every limb.
"Why can't Ada Elizabeth go to her?" she burst
out at last.
The nurse coughed awkwardly. "Well, my dear,"
she began, "poor Ada Elizabeth isn't 'ere."
"Isn't 'ere!" repeated Mrs. Dicki'son wildly, and
just then her husband walked into the room and up
to the bedside.
She clutched hold of him with frantic eagerness.
"Father," she cried hysterically, "is it true our
Mirry's took with the fever?"
"Yes, Em'ly; but it's a very mild case," he
answered, feeling that it was best in her excited and
nervous condition to tell her the exact truth at once.
"She's fretty to-night, but she's not so ill that you
need worry about her; she's being took every care of."
"But she's crying for our Ada Elizabeth,"
Mrs. Dicki'son persisted. "Hark! There she is again.
Why can't Ada Elizabeth be quick and go to her?
Where is she? What does Mrs. Barker mean by
saying she isn't 'ere?"
Mr. Dicki'son cast a wrathful glance at the nurse,
but he did not attempt to hide from his wife any
longer the fact that Ada Elizabeth was not in the
house. "You know you was very ill, Em'ly, a bit
back," he said, with an air and tone of humble
apology, "and our Ada Elizabeth was taken with the
fever just the day you was at the worst; and there
was no one to wait on her, and the doctor would
have her go to the hospital, and--what was I to do,
Em'ly? It went against my very heart to let the
little lass go, but she was willing, and you was taking
all our time. I was very near beside myself, Em'ly
I was, or I'd never have consented."
Mrs. Dicki'son lay for some minutes in silence,
exhausted by the violence of her agitation; then the
fretful wail in the adjoining room broke the stillness
"I do want our Ada 'Liz'bet'," the child cried
piteously. Mrs. Dicki'son burst out into passionate
sobbing. "I lie 'ere and I can't lift my finger for
'er," she gasped out, "and--and--it was just like
Ada Elizabeth to go and get the fever when she was
most wanted; she always was the contrariest child
that I had, always."
Mr. Dicki'son drew his breath sharply, as if some
one had struck him in the face, but with an effort
he pulled himself together and answered her gently:
"Nay, wife--Emily, don't say that. The little lass
held up until she couldn't hold up no longer. I'll go
and quiet Mirry. She's always quiet enough with
me. Keep yourself still, and I'll stop with the bairn
until she's asleep"; and then he bent and kissed her
forehead, and passed softly out of the room, only
whispering, "Not one word" to the nurse as he passed her.
But, dear Heaven! how that man's heart ached
as he sat soothing his little fever-flushed child into
quietness! I said but now that he drew his breath
sharply as if some one had struck him in the face.
Alas! it was worse than that, for the wife of his
bosom, the mother of his children, had struck him,
stabbed him, to the lowest depths of his heart by her
querulous complaint against the child who had gone
from him only a few hours before, on whose little
white, plain face he had just looked for the last time,
and on which his scalding tears had fallen, for he
knew that, plain, and dull, and unobtrusive as she
had always been--the butt of her sister's sharp
tongue, the trial of his wife's whole existence--he
knew that with the closing of the heavy eyes the
brightest light of his life had gone out.
And little Mirry, wrapped in a blanket, lay upon
his breast soothed into slumber. Did something fall
from his eyes upon her face, that she started and
looked up at him? She must have mistaken the one
plain face for the other, for she put up her little hot
hand and stroked his cheek. "You tum back, Ada
'Liz'bet'?" she murmured, as she sank off to sleep
again; "Mirry did want you so bad-a-ly." The sick
child's tender words took away half the bitterness of
the sting which his wife had thrust into his heart,
and his whole soul seemed to overflow with a great
gush of love as he swayed her gently to and fro.
She had loved the unattractive face, and missed it
bitterly; she had wearied for the rare, patient smile
and the slow, gentle voice, and, to Mr. Dicki'son's
dull mind, the child's craving had bound Ada
Elizabeth's heavy brows with a crown of pure gold, with
the truest proof that "affection never was wasted."