When darkness came, worn out by watching and waiting in vain for Adrien, she again found herself without a home and without shelter; so, crouching on a doorstep, as she had done the previous evening, overcome with fatigue, she fell asleep.
In the course of the night a dark-robed woman, passing on the usual round of duty assigned to her, stopped and looked at her. She was one of the band of Good Samaritan Sisters of Mercy established in some of our London suburbs, who seek out the helpless and downtrodden in the race of life—with healing in their hands and pity in their hearts—striving to raise them up from their hopeless position to something better. She stopped, bent down, and, drawing her veil aside, looked closely at the motionless face. Then she sighed and turned her head away.
“So beautiful! So young! Can it be possible? Sister, sister!”
Jessica awoke at the gentle touch, and sprang to her feet.
“Johann! Don’t strike me,” she exclaimed, with her eyes half closed. “I——”
“My poor girl, no one shall beat you. Will you come with me?”
“With you?” repeated Jessica, now fully awake, but still eyeing the Sister with some suspicion. “Where? Not far?”
“No, not far. But why do you say that? Is there any one you particularly wish to be near?”
“No,” replied Jessica, adding to herself, as the sister of Mercy took her hand, “but she shall not take me far away from him.”
“A roof of thatch is better than that of heaven,” is an old Spanish proverb, and means, doubtless, that the poorest accommodation is better than none, or that which the streets provide. Jessica, clinging to the Sister of Mercy’s succouring hand, was gently led from the silence of the streets to the still greater silence of an attic in a quiet byway.
Here, seated by the remains of a small fire in a narrow grate, she watched with awkward interest, that was much like indifference, the efforts of her rescuer to revive the dying embers. Soup was warmed for her, but for a time she refused to take it.
“I am not hungry,” she said. “Only tired—so tired! Why did you wake me, lady?”
“I awoke you because you were unhappy, and it was dangerous for one so young as you to lie asleep in the streets,” replied the meek-eyed woman. “But you must not call me ‘lady’; I am not a lady. Call me ‘Sister.’”
“But you are not my sister,” said Jessica petulantly. “I haven’t any sister or brother, or father or mother.”
“Poor thing!” said the woman, who by this time had made up a bed, plain enough it is true, but luxurious after the cold doorsteps, and she now helped Jessica to undress. “Poor thing, you are quite cold; and what are all these bruises? Ah! why will men be so cruel, when Heaven is so kind?”
“I don’t know,” said Jessica, who took the question as directed to herself. “I don’t know anything. Besides, all men ain’t cruel. He wasn’t; he was kind—oh, so kind!”