“Oh my!” she exclaimed, throwing up her hands with pleasure and surprise at the sight of Huldah walking up the path actually wearing her new purchase. “Oh my, how nice we do look! Now, I do call that just perfect!”
The child’s face was glowing with health and happiness, her eyes were beaming with affection, and eager for sympathy. Could she possibly be the little ill-used, runaway waif who had come to her door starving, only so short a time ago? Mrs. Perry asked herself the question as she looked at her, and in her heart thanked God for sending her this blessing, this chance to help another; and for staying her tongue when she had felt tempted to bid her begone.
Across her mind too flashed the thought of what might have happened to Huldah, if she had turned her away that night. Would it have been to the workhouse, or the jail she would have drifted,—this bonnie, healthy, smiling child? But her mind was drawn back to healthier thoughts by Huldah’s little brown work-worn hands.
“Don’t you like it, ma’am?” she was asking, troubled by the gravity on Mrs. Perry’s face.
“Like it!” she cried, coming back to the present with glad relief. “I should think I did, and you in it, too, dear!” and for the first time in her life she stooped and kissed the little maiden, and Huldah returned the kiss with all the warmth of her affectionate heart welling up to her lips.
It was the first time anyone had kissed her since her mother died, and the first time that she had kissed anyone but Dick and Charlie.
A MEETING AND AN ALARM.
Autumn had come now; late autumn with winter not so very far off, and the days were growing very short and dark; so short and dark that there was no chance of working early in the morning before she went downstairs, nor after she went to bed at night, except by candlelight, and she could not, of course, burn candles. So Mrs. Perry had to be taken into the secret, and Huldah worked in comfort by the fire in the afternoons, after she had done her housework.
And how she did love those cosy afternoons, and how the memory of them lived with her all her life after! The wind and rain storming outside, the snug little kitchen, where they sat so cosy and warm, Dick lying contentedly on his rug, Mrs. Perry sitting in her armchair by the fire, reading aloud from one of her few but precious books. They were old, those stories, but to Huldah they were more beautiful than any she ever came across later on.
Then came the glad day when the basket was completed. Huldah had taken more pains with it than with any she had ever made, and her care was rewarded, for a prettier, daintier basket no one could wish to possess. As soon as it was finished there arose the great question of how, and when, and where the gift should be made.
“I want it to seem as if it comes from a brownie,” Huldah insisted, eagerly. “I couldn’t make it at night, as the brownies would have done, but couldn’t I leave it, as they left their gifts, just where it is sure to be found? It would be much nicer, wouldn’t it? Miss Rose would laugh, and be so pleased. I am sure she would like to have it that way.”