“Oh!” cried Huldah, looking disappointed.
“Now, little brownie, before I go I want you to trust me, and to be quite frank and open, and not be afraid, for I want to be your friend. I want you to tell me all about yourself and your past life, and where you came from, and why you and Dick are quite alone in the world. Will you? I want to help you, and do what is best for both of you, but until I know all I can do nothing.”
“You won’t send us back to Uncle Tom, will you miss?” she cried, her face paling, her eyes wide with fear. “I’ll tell you everything,— I—I want to, but if you send us back to Uncle Tom, he’ll pretty nigh beat us to death, me and Dick, I know he will!” And at the mere thought of it she broke down and sobbed so violently that it was long before Miss Rose could soothe her, or calm the trembling of the half-starved, bruised little body.
She herself was shocked by the terror with which the mere thought of returning to her uncle and aunt filled the child; and her heart ached as she realised what she must have endured to bring her to such a state, for it was plain to see that Huldah was naturally a spirited, brave little creature.
In her own mind, Miss Carew determined then and there that such persons were not fit guardians for any child, and never with her consent should Huldah be sent back to be again at their mercy. Her life would be one of greater suffering even than before. She shuddered at the thought of the blows and abuse and hunger which would be her lot. The hunger for love and kindness, too, which, now she had had a glimpse of both, would be even greater than her hunger for food, and even less likely to be gratified. No—oh no!—Huldah should never face such a fate, as long as she could help her. She would seek the protection of the law first, she decided; but, in the meantime, until the law was necessary, she herself would do her best to make her life happy and useful and good. So much was due to the child.
Everyone whose life was happy, and full of love and peace and comfort, owed some share of her blessings to those who had none,—and surely here was one to whom a large share was owing.
The confession had been made, the story told, and, to her unspeakable joy and relief, Huldah had not been sent to Uncle Tom or to the workhouse. The latter fate she had dreaded even more than the former, for if she had been sent to the workhouse she certainly would have had to part with Dick; whereas, if she had gone back to the caravan, she would have had both him and Charlie, and she would rather endure hunger and beatings than lose Dick.