“You don’t know what I’ve got!” she answered, holding up her clenched fist.
“I s’pose she won’t never come no more,” said Alfred.
“Look!” she answered, opening her fingers and disclosing a damp penny, the bribe of one of the nurses.
“Matron says she’s cruel, and ’as forgot about us, same as they all do,” said Alfred.
Then Lizzie took up her old wail. The penny dropped and rolled in a fine curve along the boards.
“There, don’t ’e cry, Liz,” he said. And they sat huddled together overcome by the dull exhaustion of childish grief. The chapel bell began to ring. Alfred took a corner of her white pinafore, wetted it, and tried to wash off the marks of tears. And as they hurried away Lizzie stooped and picked up the penny.
A few minutes later they were at service in their brick and iron chapel, which suburban residents sometimes attended instead of going to church in the evening.
“My soul doth magnify the Lord,” they sang, following the choir, of which the head-master was justly proud. And the chaplain preached on the text, “Thou hast clothed me in scarlet, yea, I have a goodly heritage,” demonstrating that there was no peculiar advantage about scarlet, but that dark blue would serve quite as well for thankfulness, if only the children would live up to its ideal.
“This is a wonderful institution,” said the chaplain’s friend after service, as they sat at tea by the fire. “It is a kind of little Utopia in itself, a modern Phalanstery. How Plato would have admired it! I’m sure he’d have enjoyed this afternoon’s service.”
“Yes, I daresay he would,” said the chaplain. “But you must excuse me for an hour or so. I make a point of running through the infirmary and ophthalmic ward on Sundays. Oh yes, we have a permanent ward for ophthalmia. Please make yourself comfortable till I come back.”
His friend spent the time in jotting down heads for an essay on the advantages of communal nurture for the young. He was a lecturer on social subjects, and liked to be able to appeal to experience in his lectures.
Next morning came a letter written in a large and careful hand: “My dear Alfred,—I hope these few lines find you well, as they don’t leave me at present. I fell down the office stairs last night and got a twist to my inside, so can’t come to-day. Kiss Liz from me, and tell her to be good. From your loving mother, Mrs. Reeve.”
Day followed day, and the mother did not come. The children lived on, almost without thought of change in the daily round, the common task.
It was early in Christmas week, and the female officers were doing their best to excite merriment over the decorations. Snow was falling, but the flakes, after hesitating for a moment, thawed into sludge on the surface of the asphalte yard. Seeing Alfred shivering about under the shed, the superintendent sent him to the office for a plan of the school drainage, which had lately been reconstructed on the most sanitary principles. The boy found the plan on the table, under a little brass dog which someone had given the superintendent as a paper-weight.