CHRISTMAS IN TWO HOMES
When Ida Starr was dismissed from school it wanted but a few days to the vacations. The day which followed her mother’s removal to the hospital was Christmas Eve. For two hours on the afternoon of Christmas Day, Ida sat in silence by the bedside in the ward, holding her mother’s hand. The patient was not allowed to speak, seemed indeed unable to do so. The child might not even kiss her. The Sister and the nurse looked pityingly at Ida when they passed by, and, when the visitors’ time was at an end, and she had to rise and go, the Sister put an orange into her hand, and spoke a few hopeful words.
Night was setting in as she walked homewards; it was cold, and the sky threatened snow. She had only gone a few yards, when there came by a little girl of her own age, walking with some one who looked like a nurse-maid. They were passing; but all at once the child sprang to Ida’s side with a cry of recognition. It was little Maud Enderby.
“Where have you been, Ida? Where are you going? Oh, I’m so glad; I wanted so to see you. Miss Rutherford told us you’d left school, and you weren’t coming back again. Aren’t you really? And sha’n’t I see you?”
“I don’t know, I think not,” said Ida. In her premature trouble she seemed so much older than her friend.
“I told Miss Rutherford you weren’t to blame,” went on Maud eagerly. “I told her it was Harriet’s own fault, and how shockingly she’d behaved to you. I expect you’ll come back again after the holidays, don’t you?”
Ida shook her head, and said nothing.
“But I shall see you again?” pleaded the little maid. “You know we’re always going to be friends, aren’t we? Who shall I tell all my dreams to, if I lose you?”
Dreams, in the literal sense of the word. Seldom a week went by, but Maud had some weird vision of the night to recount to her friend, the meaning of which they would together try to puzzle out; for it was an article of faith with both that there were meanings to be discovered, and deep ones.
Ida promised that she would not allow herself to be lost to her friend, and they kissed, and went their several ways.
Throughout the day the door of Mr. Smales’s shop had been open, though the shutters were up. But at nightfall it was closed, and the family drew around the tea-table in the parlour which smelt so of drugs. It was their only sitting-room, for as much of the house as could be was let to another family. Besides Mr. Smales and his daughter Harriet, there sat at the table a lad of about thirteen, with a dark, handsome face, which had something of a foreign cast His eyes gleamed at all times with the light of a frank joyousness; he laughed with the unrestraint of a perfectly happy nature. His countenance was capable, too, of a thoughtfulness beyond his years, a gravity which seemed to come of high thoughts or rich imagination. He bore no trace of resemblance