Our Ada Elizabeth by John Strange Winter

"The sublime mystery of Providence goes on in silence, and gives no explanation of itself, no answer to our impatient questionings."--Hyperion.

CHAPTER I

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 unsociable temper.

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 wore out."

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 undeniably plain.

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.

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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 suggestiveness.

Mrs. Dicki'son caught at the bait thus held out to her. "I've a good mind to take the tip out," she said hesitatingly.

"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 was contemplated.

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.

CHAPTER II

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 sententiously.

"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 das 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 das, 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 das, 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 countenance.

"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.

CHAPTER III

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.

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"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 with her?"

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 again.

"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."