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HOME > Short Stories > The Children's Pilgrimage > CHAPTER II. A SOLEMN PROMISE.
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 When Cecile had built up the fire, she made a cup of tea and brought it to her stepmother. Mrs. D'Albert drank it off greedily; afterward she seemed refreshed and she made Cecile put another pillow under her head and draw her higher on the sofa.  
"You're a good, tender-hearted child, Cecile," she said to the little creature, who was watching her every movement with a kind of trembling eagerness. Cecile's sensitive face flushed at the words of praise, and she came very close to the sofa. "Yes, you're a good child," repeated Mrs. D'Albert; "you're yer father's own child, and he was very good, though he was a foreigner. For myself I don't much care for good people, but when you're dying, I don't deny as they're something of a comfort. Good people are to be depended on, and you're good, Cecile."
But there was only one sentence in these words which Cecile took in.
"When you're dying," she repeated, and every vestige of color forsook her lips.
"Yes, my dear, when you're dying. I'm dying, Cecile; that was what the doctor meant when he said I'd be quite well; he meant as I'd lie straight and stiff, and have my eyes shut, and be put in a long box and be buried, that was what he meant, Cecile. But look here now, you're not to cry about it—not at present, I mean; you may as much as you like by and by, but not now. I'm not crying, and 'tis a deal worse for me; but there ain't no time for tears, they only weaken and do no good, and I has a deal to say. Don't you dare shed a tear now, Cecile; I can't a-bear the sight of tears; you may cry by and by, but now you has got to listen to me."
"I won't cry," said Cecile; she made a great effort set her lips firm, and looked hard at her stepmother.
"That's a good, brave girl. Now I can talk in comfort. I want to talk all I can to you to-night, my dear, for to-morrow I may have the weakness back again, and besides your Aunt Lydia will be here!"
"Who's my Aunt Lydia?" asked Cecile.
"She ain't rightly your aunt at all, she's my sister; but she's the person as will have to take care of you and Maurice after I'm dead."
"Oh!" said Cecile; her little face fell, and a bright color came into her cheeks.
"She's my own sister," continued Mrs. D'Albert, "but I don't like her much. She's a good woman enough; not up to yer father's standard, but still fair enough. But she's hard—she is hard ef you like. I don't profess to have any violent love for you two little tots, but I'd sooner not leave you to the care o' Aunt Lydia ef I could help it."
"Don't leave us to her care; do find some one kind—some one as 'ull be kind to me, and Maurice, and Toby—do help it, stepmother," said Cecile.
"I can't help it, child; and there's no use bothering a dying woman who's short of breath. You and Maurice have got to go to my sister, your Aunt Lydia, and ef you'll take a word of advice by and by, Cecile, from one as 'ull be in her grave, you'll not step-aunt her—she's short of temper, Aunt Lydia is. Yes," continued the sick woman, speaking fast, and gasping for breath a little, "you have got to go to my sister Lydia. I have sent her word, and she'll come to-morrow—but—never mind that now. I ha' something else I must say to you, Cecile."
"Yes, stepmother."
"I ha' no one else to say it to, so you listen werry hard. I'm going to put a great trust on you, little mite as you are—a great, great trust; you has got to do something solemn, and to promise something solemn too, Cecile."
"Yes," said Cecile, opening her blue eyes wide.
"Aye, you may well say yes, and open yer eyes big; you're going to get some'ut on yer shoulders as 'ull make a woman of yer. You mayn't like it, I don't suppose as you will; but for all that you ha' got to promise, because I won't die easy, else. Cecile," suddenly bending forward, and grasping the child's arm almost cruelly, "I can't die at all till you promise me this solemn and grave, as though it were yer very last breath."
"I will promise, stepmother," said Cecile. "I'll promise solemn, and I'll keep it solemn; don't you be fretted, now as you're a-dying. I don't mind ef it is hard. Father often give me hard things to do, and I did 'em. Father said I wor werry dependable," continued the little creature gravely.
To her surprise, her stepmother bent forward and and kissed her. The kiss she gave was warm, intense, passionate; such a kiss as Cecile had never before received from those lips.
"You're a good child," she said eagerly; "yes, you're a very good child; you promise me solemn and true, then I'll die easy and comforted. Yes, I'll die easy, even though Lovedy ain't with me, even though I'll never lay my eyes on my Lovedy again."
"Who's Lovedy?" asked Cecile.
"Aye, child, we're coming to Lovedy, 'tis about Lovedy you've got to promise. Lovedy, she's my daughter, Cecile; she ain't no step-child, but my own, my werry own, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh."
"I never knew as you had a daughter of yer werry own," said Cecile.
"But I had, Cecile. I had as true a child to me as you were to yer father. My own, my own, my darling! Oh, my bonnie one, 'tis bitter, bitter to die with her far, far away! Not for four years now have I seen my girl. Oh, if I could see her face once again!"
Here the poor woman, who was opening up her life-story to the astonished and frightened child, lost her self-control, and sobbed hysterically. Cecile fetched water, and gave it to her, and in a few moments she became calm.
"There now, my dear, sit down and listen. I'll soon be getting weak, and I must tell everything tonight. Years ago, Cecile, afore ever I met yer father, I was married. My husband was a sailor, and he died at sea. But we had one child, one beautiful, bonnie English girl; nothing foreign about her, bless her! She was big and tall, and fair as a lily, and her hair, it was that golden that when the sun shone on it it almost dazzled you. I never seed such hair as my Lovedy's, never, never; it all fell in curls long below her waist. I was that proud of it I spent hours dressing it and washing it, and keeping it like any lady's. Then her eyes, they were just two bits of the blue sky in her head, and her little teeth were like white pearls, and her lips were always smiling. She had an old-world English name taken from my mother, but surely it fitted her, for to look at her was to love her.
"Well, my dear, my girl and me, we lived together till she was near fifteen, and never a cloud between us. We were very poor; we lived by my machining and what Lovedy could do to help me. There was never a cloud between us, until one day I met yer father. I don't say as yer father loved me much, for his heart was in the grave with your mother, but he wanted someone to care for you two, and he thought me a tidy, notable body, and so he asked me to marry him and he seemed well off, and I thought it 'ud be a good thing for Lovedy. Besides, I had a real fancy for him; so I promised. I never even guessed as my girl 'ud mind, and I went home to our one shabby little room, quite light-hearted like, to tell her. But oh, Cecile, I little knew my Lovedy! Though I had reared her I did not know her nature. My news seemed to change her all over.
"From being so sweet and gentle, she seemed to have the very devil woke up in her. First soft, and trembling and crying, she went down on her knees and begged me to give yer father up; but I liked him, and I felt angered with her for taking on what I called foolish, and I wouldn't yield; and I told her she was real silly, and I was ashamed of her. They were the bitterest words I ever flung at her, and they seemed to freeze up her whole heart. She got up off her knees and walked away with her pretty head in the air, and wouldn't speak to me for the evening; and the next day she come to me quick and haughty like, and said that if I gave her a stepfather she would not live with me; she would go to her Aunt Fanny, and her Aunt Fanny would take her to Paris, and there she would see life. Fanny was my youngest sister, and she was married to a traveler for one of the big shops, and often went about with her husband and had a gay time. She had no children of her own, and I knew she envied me my Lovedy beyond words.
"I was so hurt with Lovedy for saying she would leave me for her Aunt Fanny, that I said, bitter and sharp, she might do as she liked, and that I did not care.
"Then she turned very red and went away and sat down and wrote a letter, and I knew she had made up her mind to leave me. Still I wasn't really frightened. I said to myself, I'll pretend to let her have her own way, and she'll come round fast enough; and I began to get ready for my wedding, and took no heed of Lovedy. The night before I was married she came to me again. She was white as a sheet, and all the hardness had gone out of her.
"'Mother, mother, mother,' she said, and she put her dear, bonnie arms round me and clasped me tight to her. 'Mother, give him up, for Lovedy's sake; it will break my heart, mother. Mother, I am jealous; I must have you altogether or not at all. Stay at home with your own Lovedy, for pity's sake, for pity's sake.'
"Of course I soothed her and petted her, and I think—I do think now—that she, poor darling, had a kind of notion I was going to yield, and that night she slept in my arms.
"The next morning I put on my neat new dress and bonnet, and went into her room.
"'Lovedy, will you come to church to see your mother married?'
"I never forgot—never, never, the look she gave me. She went white as marble, and her eyes blazed at me and then grew hard, and she put her head down on her hands, and, do all in my power, I could not get a word out of her.
"Well, Cecile, yer father and I were married, and when we came back Lovedy was gone. There was just a little bit of a note, all blotted with tears, on the table. Cecile, I have got that little note, and you must put it in my coffin. These words were writ on it by my poor girl: "'Mother, you had no pity, so your Lovedy is gone. Good-by, mother.'
"Yes, Cecile, that was the note, and what it said was true. My Lovedy was gone. She had disappeared, and so had her Aunt Fanny, and never, never from that hour have I heard one single word of Lovedy."
Mrs. D'Albert paused here. The telling of her tale seemed to have changed her. In talking of her child the hard look had left her face, an expression almost beautiful in its love and longing filled her poor dim eyes, and when Cecile, in her sympathy, slipped her little hand into hers, she did not resist the pressure.
"Yes, Cecile," she continued, turning to the little girl, "I lost Lovedy—more surely than if she was dead, was she torn from me. I never got one clew to her. Yer father did all he could for me; he was more than kind, he did pity me, and he made every inquiry for my girl and advertised for her, but her aunt had taken her out of England, and I never heard—I never heard of my Lovedy from the day I married yer father, Cecile. It changed me, child; it changed me most bitter. I grew hard, and I never could love you nor Maurice, no, nor even yer good father, very much after that. I always looked upon you three as the people who took by bonnie girl away. It was unfair of me. Now, as I'm dying, I'll allow as it was real unfair, but the pain and hunger in my heart was most awful to bear. You'll forgive me for never loving you, when you think of all the pain I had to bear, Cecile."
"Yes, poor stepmother," answered the little girl, stooping down and kissing her hand. "And, oh!" continued Cecile with fervor, "I wish—I wish I could find Lovedy for you again."
"Why, Cecile, that's just what you've got to do," said her stepmother; "you've got to look for Lovedy: you're a very young girl; you're only a child; but you've got to go on looking, always—always until you find her. The finding of my Lovedy is to be yer life-work, Cecile. I don't want you to begin now, not till you're older and have got more sense; but you has to keep it firm in yer head, and in two or three years' time you must begin. You must go on looking until you find my Lovedy. That is what you have to promise me before I die."
"Yes, stepmother."
"Look me full in the face, Cecile, and make the promise as solemn as though it were yer werry last breath—look me in the face, Cecile, and say after me, 'I promise to find Lovedy again.'"
"I promise to find Lovedy again," repeated Cecile.
"Now kiss me, child."
Cecile did so.
"That kiss is a seal," continued her stepmother; "ef you break yer promise, you'll remember as you kissed the lips of her who is dead, and the feel 'ull haunt you, and you'll never know a moment's happiness. But you're a good girl, Cecile—a good, dependable child, and I'm not afeared for you. And now, my dear, you has made the promise, and I has got to give you directions. Cecile, did you ever wonder why your stepmother worked so hard?"
"I thought we must be very poor," said Cecile.
"No, my dear, yer father had that little bit of money coming in from France every year. It will come in for four or five years more, and it will be enough to pay Aunt Lydia for taking care on you both. No, Cecile, I did not work for myself, nor for you and Maurice—I worked for Lovedy. All that beautiful church embroidery as I sat up so late at night over, the money I got for it was for my girl; every lily I worked, and every passion-flower, and every leaf, took a little drop of my heart's blood, I think; but 'twas done for her. Now, Cecile, put yer hand under my pillow—there's a purse there."
Cecile drew out an old, worn Russia-leather purse.
"Lovedy 'ud recognize that purse," said her mother, "it belonged to her own father. She and I always kept our little earnings in it, in the old happy days. Now open the purse, Cecile; you must know what is inside it."
Cecile pressed the spring and took out a little bundle of notes.
"There, child, you open them—see, there are four notes—four Bank of England notes for ten pounds each—that's forty pounds—forty pounds as her mother earned for my girl. You give her those notes in the old purse, Cecile. You give them into her own hands, and you say, 'Your mother sent you those. Your mother is dead, but she broke her heart for you, she never forgot your voice when you said for pity's sake, and she asks you now for pity's sake to forgive her.' That's the message as you has to take to Lovedy, Cecile."
"Yes, stepmother, I'll take her that message—very faithful; very, very faithful, stepmother."
"And now put yer hand into the purse again, Cecile; there's more money in the purse—see! there's fifteen pounds all in gold. I had that money all in gold, for I knew as it 'ud be easier for you—that fifteen pounds is for you, Cecile, to spend in looking for Lovedy; you must not waste it, and you must spend it on nothing else. I guess you'll have to go to France to find my Lovedy; but ef you're very careful, that money ought to last till you find her."
"There'll be heaps and heaps of money here," said Cecile, looking at the little pile of gold with almost awe.
"Yes, child, but there won't, not unless you're very saving, and ask all sensible questions about how to go and how best to find Lovedy. You must walk as much as you can, Cecile, and live very plain, for you may have to go a power of miles—yes, a power, before you find my girl; and ef you're starving, you must not touch those four notes of money, only the fifteen pounds. Remember, only that; and when you get to the little villages away in France, you may go to the inns and ask there ef an English girl wor ever seen about the place. You describe her, Cecile—tall, a tall, fair English girl, with hair like the sun; you say as her name is Lovedy—Lovedy Joy. You must get a deal o' sense to do this business proper, Cecile; but ef you has sense and patience, why you will find my girl."
"There's only one thing, stepmother," said Cecile; "I'll do everything as you tells me, every single thing; I'll be as careful as possible, and I'll save every penny; but I can't go to look for your Lovedy without Maurice, for I promised father afore ever I promised you as I'd never lose sight on Maurice till he grew up, and it 'ud be too long to put off looking for Lovedy till Maurice was grown up, stepmother."
"I suppose it would," answered Cecile's stepmother; "'tis a pity, for he'll spend some of the money. But there, it can't be helped, and you'll do your best. I'll trust you to do yer werry best, Cecile."
"My werry, werry best," said Cecile earnestly.
"Well, child, there's only one thing more. All this as I'm telling you is a secret, a solemn, solemn secret. Ef yer Aunt Lydia gets wind on it, or ef she ever even guesses as you have all that money, everything 'ull be ruined. Yer aunt is hard and saving, and she do hanker sore for money, she always did—did Lydia, and not all the stories you could tell her 'ud make her leave you that money; she 'ud take it away, she 'ud be quite cruel enough to take the money away that I worked myself into my grave to save, and then it 'ud be all up with Lovedy. No, Cecile, you must take the purse o' money away with you this very night, hide it in yer dress, or anywhere, for Aunt Lydia may be here early in the morning, and the weakness may be on me then. Yes, Cecile, you has charge on that money, fifty-five pounds in all; fifteen pounds for you to spend, and forty to give to Lovedy. Wherever you go, you must hide it so safe that no one 'ull ever guess as a poor little girl like you has money, for anyone might rob you, child; but the one as I'm fearing the most is yer Aunt Lydia."

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