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HOME > Short Stories > The Children's Pilgrimage > CHAPTER III. "NEVER A MOMENT TO GET READY."
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 To all these directions Cecile listened, and she there and then took the old worn purse with its precious contents away with her, and went into the bedroom which she shared with her brother, and taking out her needle and thread she made a neat, strong bag for the purse, and this bag she sewed securely into the lining of her frock-body. She showed her stepmother what she had done, who smiled and seemed satisfied.  
For the rest of that night Cecile sat on by the sofa where Mrs. D'Albert lay. Now that the excitement of telling her tale had passed, the dreaded weakness had come back to the poor woman. Her voice, so strong and full of interest when speaking of Lovedy, had sunk to a mere whisper. She liked, however, to have her little stepdaughter close to her, and even held her hand in hers. That little hand now was a link between her and her lost girl, and as such, for the first time she really loved Cecile.
As for the child herself, she was too excited far to sleep. The sorrow so loving a heart must have felt at the prospect of her stepmother's approaching death was not just now realized; she was absorbed in the thought of the tale she had heard, of the promise she had made.
Cecile was grave and womanly far beyond her years, and she knew well that she had taken no light thing on her young shoulders. To shirk this duty would not be possible to a nature such as hers. No, she must go through with it; she had registered a vow, and she must fulfill it. Her little face, always slightly careworn, looked now almost pathetic under its load of care.
"Yes, poor stepmother," she kept saying to herself, "I will find Lovedy—I will find Lovedy or die."
Then she tried to imagine the joyful moment when her quest would be crowned with success, when she would see herself face to face with the handsome, willful girl, whom she yet must utterly fail to understand; for it would have been completely impossible for Cecile herself, under any circumstances, to treat her father as Lovedy had treated her poor mother.
"I could never, never go away like that, and let father's heart break," thought Cecile, her lips growing white at the bare idea of such suffering for one she loved. But then it came to her with a sense of relief that perhaps Lovedy's Aunt Fanny was the guilty person, and that she herself was quite innocent; her aunt, who was powerful and strong, had been unkind, and had not allowed her to write. When this thought came to Cecile, she gave a sigh of relief. It would be so much nicer to find Lovedy, if she was not so hard-hearted as her story seemed to show.
All that night Mrs. D'Albert lay with her eyes closed, but not asleep. When the first dawn came in through the shutters she turned to the watching child:
"Cecile," she said, "the day has broke, and this is the day the doctor says as perhaps I'll die."
"Shall I open the shutters wide?" asked Cecile.
"No, my dear. No, no! The light 'ull come quite fast enough. Cecile, ain't it a queer thing to be going to die, and not to be a bit ready to die?"
"Ain't you ready, stepmother?" asked the little girl.
"No, child, how could I be ready? I never had no time. I never had a moment to get ready, Cecile."
"Never a moment to get ready," repeated Cecile. "I should have thought you had lots of time. You aren't at all a young woman, are you, stepmother? You must have been a very long time alive."
"Yes, dear; it would seem long to you. But it ain't long really. It seems very short to look back on. I ain't forty yet, Cecile; and that's counted no age as lives go; but I never for all that had a moment. When I wor very young I married; and afore I married, I had only time for play and pleasure; and then afterward Lovedy came, and her father died, and I had to think on my grief, and how to bring up Lovedy. I had no time to remember about dying during those years, Cecile; and since my Lovedy left me, I have not had one instant to do anything but mourn for her, and think on her, and work for her. You see, Cecile, I never did have a moment, even though I seems old to you."
"No, stepmother, I see you never did have no time," repeated Cecile gravely.
"But it ain't nice to think on now," repeated Mrs. D'Albert, in a fretful, anxious key. "I ha' got to go, and I ain't ready to go, that's the puzzle."
"Perhaps it don't take so very long to get ready," answered the child, in a perplexed voice.
"Cecile," said Mrs. D'Albert, "you're a very wise little girl. Think deep now, and answer me this: Do you believe as God 'ull be very angry with a poor woman who had never, no never a moment of time to get ready to die?"
"Stepmother," answered Cecile solemnly, "I don't know nothink about God. Father didn't know, nor my own mother; and you say you never had no time to know, stepmother. Only once—once——"
"Well, child, go on. Once?"
"Once me and Maurice were in the streets, and Toby was with us, and we had walked a long way and were tired, and we sat down on a doorstep to rest; and a girl come up, and she looked tired too, and she had some crochet in her hand; and she took out her crochet and began to work. And presently—jest as if she could not help it—she sang. This wor what she sang. I never forgot the words:
"'I am so glad that Jesus loves me;
Jesus loves even me.'
"The girl had such a nice voice, stepmother, and she sang out so bold, and seemed so happy, that I couldn't help asking her what it meant. I said, 'Please, English girl, I'm only a little French girl, and I don't know all the English words; and please, who's Jesus, kind little English girl?'
"'Oh! don't you know about Jesus?' she said at once. 'Why, Jesus is—Jesus is——Oh! I don't know how to tell you; but He's good, He's beautiful, He's dear. Jesus loves everybody."
"'Jesus loves everybody?' I said.
"'Yes. Don't the hymn say so? Jesus loves even me!'"
"'Oh! but I suppose 'tis because you're very, very good, little English girl,' I said.
"But the English girl said, 'No, that wasn't a bit of it. She wasn't good, though she did try to be. But Jesus loved everybody, whether they were good or not, ef only they'd believe it.'
"That's all she told me, stepmother; but she just said one thing more, 'Oh, what a comfort to think Jesus loves one when one remembers about dying.'"
While Cecile was telling her little tale, Mrs. D'Albert had closed her eyes; now she opened them.
"Are you sure that is all you know, child, just 'Jesus loves everybody?' It do seem nice to hear that. Cecile, could you jest say a bit of a prayer?"
"I can only say, 'Our Father,'" answered Cecile.
"Well, then, go on your knees and say it earnest; say it werry earnest, Cecile."
Cecile did so, and when her voice had ceased, Mrs. D'Albert opened her eyes, clasped her hands together, and spoke:
"Jesus," she said, "Lord Jesus, I'm dreadful, bitter sorry as I never took no time to get ready to die. Jesus, can you love even me?"
There was no answer in words, but a new and satisfied look came into the poor, hungry eyes; a moment later, and the sick and dying woman had dropped asleep.

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