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HOME > Short Stories > The Children's Pilgrimage > CHAPTER VI. MERCY BELL.
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 The farm in Kent, called Warren's Grove, belonged to an old lady. This lady was very old; she was also deaf and nearly blind. She left the management of everything to Lydia Purcell, who, clever and capable, was well equal to the emergency. There was no steward or overseer of the little property, but the farm was thoroughly and efficiently worked. Lydia had been with Mrs. Bell for over twenty years. She was now trusted absolutely, and was to all intents and purposes the mistress of Warren's Grove. This had not been so when first she arrived; she had come at first as a sort of upper servant or nurse. The old lady was bright and active then. She had a son in Australia, and a bonnie grandchild to wake echoes in the old place and keep it alive. This grandchild was a girl of six, and Lydia was its nurse. For a year all went well; then the child, partly through Lydia's carelessness, caught a malignant fever, sickened, and died. Lydia had taken her into an infected house. This knowledge the woman kept to herself. She never told either doctor or grandmother—she dared not tell—and the grief, remorse, and pain changed her whole nature.  
Before the death of little Mercy Bell, Lydia had been an ordinary young woman. She had no special predisposition to evil. She was a handsome, bold-looking creature, and where she chose to give love, that love was returned. She had loved her pretty little charge, and the child had loved her and died in her arms. Mrs. Bell, too, had loved Lydia, and Lydia was bright and happy, and looked forward to a home of her own some day.
But from the moment the grave had closed over Mercy, and she felt herself in a measure responsible for her death, all was changed in the woman. She did not leave her situation; she stayed on, she served faithfully, she worked hard, and her clever and well-timed services became more valuable day by day. But no one now loved Lydia, not even old Mrs. Bell, and certainly she loved nobody. Of course the natural consequences followed—the woman, loving neither God nor man, grew harder and harder. At forty-five, the age she was when the children came to Warren's Grove, she was a very hard woman indeed.
It would be wrong, however, to say that she had no love; she loved one thing—a base thing—she loved money. Lydia Purcell was saving money; in her heart she was a close miser.
She was not, however, dishonest; she had never stolen a penny in her life, never yet. Every farthing of the gains which came in from the well-stocked and prosperous little farm she sent to the county bank, there to accumulate for that son in Australia, who, childless as he was, would one day return to find himself tolerably rich. But still Lydia, without being dishonest, saved money. When old Mrs. Bell, a couple of years after her grandchild's death, had a paralytic stroke, and begged of her faithful Lydia, her dear Lydia, not to leave her, but to stay and manage the farm which she must give up attending to, Lydia had made a good compact for herself.
"I will stay with you, Mistress Bell," she had replied, addressing the old dame in the fashion she loved. "I will stay with you, and tend you, and work your farm, and you shall pay me my wages."
"And good wages, Lydia—good wages they must be," replied the old lady.
"They shall be fair wages," answered Lydia. "You shall give me a salary of fifty pounds a year, and I will have in the spring every tenth lamb, and every tenth calf, to sell for myself, and I will supply fowl and eggs for our own use at table, and all that are over I will sell on my own account."
"That is fair—that is very fair," said Mrs. Bell.
On these terms Lydia stayed and worked. She studied farming, and the little homestead throve and prospered. And Lydia too, without ever exceeding by the tenth of an inch her contract, managed to put by a tidy sum of money year by year. She spent next to nothing on dress; all her wants were supplied. Nearly her whole income, therefore, of fifty pounds a year could go by untouched; and the tenth of the flock, and the money made by the overplus of eggs and poultry, were by no means to be despised.
Lydia was not dishonest, but she so far looked after her own interests as to see that the hen-houses were warm and snug, that the best breeds of poultry were kept up, and that those same birds should lay their golden eggs to the tune of a warm supper. Lydia, however, though very careful, was not always very wise. Once a quarter she regularly took her savings to the bank in the little town of F—t, and on one of these occasions she was tempted to invest one hundred pounds of her savings in a very risky speculation. Just about the time that the children were given into her charge this speculation was pronounced in danger, and Lydia, when she brought Cecile and Maurice home, was very anxious about her money.
Now, if Mrs. D'Albert did not care for children, still less did Lydia Purcell. It was a strange fact that in both these sisters their affection for all such little ones should lie buried in a lost child's grave. It was true that, as far as she could tell, Mrs. D'Albert's love might be still alive. But little Mercy Bell's small grave in the churchyard contained the only child that Lydia Purcell could abide. That little grave was always green, and remained, summer and winter, not quite without flowers. But though she clung passionately to Mercy's memory, yet, because she had been unjust to this little one, she disliked all other children for her sake.
It had been great pain and annoyance to Lydia to bring the orphan D'Alberts home, and she had only done so because of their money; for she reflected that they could live on the farm for next to nothing, and without in the least imagining herself dishonest, she considered that any penny she could save from their fifty pounds a year might be lawfully her own.
Still the children were unpleasant to her, and she wished that her sister had not died so inopportunely.
As the two children sat opposite to her in the fly, during their short drive from the country station to the farm, Lydia regarded them attentively.
Maurice was an absolutely fearless child. No one in all his little life had ever said a cross word to Maurice, consequently he considered all the people in the world his slaves, and treated them with lofty indifference. He chattered as unreservedly to Lydia Purcell as he did to Cecile or Toby, and for Maurice in consequence Lydia felt no special dislike; his fearlessness made his charm. But Cecile was different. Cecile was unfortunate enough to win at once this disagreeable woman's antipathy. Cecile had timid and pleading eyes. Her eyes said plainly, "Let me love you."
Now, Mercy's eyes too were pleading; Mercy's eyes too had said, "let me love you," Lydia saw the likeness between Mercy and Cecile at a glance, and she almost hated the little foreign girl for resembling her lost darling.
Old Mrs. Bell further aggravated her dislike; she was so old and invalidish now that her memory sometimes failed.
The morning after the children's arrival, she spoke to Lydia.
"Lydia, that was Mercy's voice I heard just now in the passage."
"Mercy is dead," answered Lydia, contracting her brows in pain.
"But, Lydia, I did hear her voice."
"She is dead, Mistress Bell. That was another child."
"Another child! Let me see the other child."
Lydia was obliged to call in Cecile, who came forward with a sweet grave face, and stood gently by the little tremulous old woman, and took her hand, and then stooped down to kiss her.
Cecile was interested in such great age, and kept saying to herself, "Perhaps my grandmother away in the Pyrenees is like this very old woman," and when Mrs. Bell warmly returned her soft little caress, Cecile wondered to herself if this was like the mother's kiss her father and told her of when he was dying.
But when Cecile had gone away, Mrs. Bell turned to Lydia and said in a tone of satisfaction:
"How much our dear Mercy has grown."
After this nothing would ever get the idea out of the old lady's head that Cecile was Mercy.

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