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Jill: A Flower Girl

L. T. Meade

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Jill: a Flower GirlBy L.T. MeadeIllustrations by F.H. TownsendPublished by Thomas Whittaker, New York.This edition dated 1893.

  Jill: a Flower Girl, by L.T. Meade.


  ________________________________________________________________________JILL: A FLOWER GIRL, BY L.T. MEADE.


  The London season was at its height. The weather was warm and sultry,the days were at their longest. The shops were gay with beautifuldresses, richly trimmed bonnets, gloves, parasols, hats--the thousandand one pretty articles of usefulness and beauty which are consideredindispensable by the people who drive about in carriages and live in thelarge houses in the West End of London.

  The time was night, and the more important shops were shut, but thegreat houses in Grosvenor Square revealed at this moment their fullestand most brilliant life, for this was the time when the great receptionsof the season were given.

  Before one of the largest and most important of these mansions a smallcrowd had collected. It was the sort of crowd who are fond of gettingpeeps inside the lovely palaces which they must not enter.Rough-looking boys, eager, pinched women, a few men, and even somebabies were present. They jostled one another, and each in turn triedto force his or her way to the front rank. They made remarks freelywith regard to the people who were going inside the house. Thebeautiful girls and richly dressed matrons called for their outspokenadmiration. The men of princely mien and irreproachable attire causedthe ragged girls and thin women to think timidly that fairy tales weretrue, and that real princes did live on the earth. The guests went upthe carpeted steps, and disappeared one by one into the mansion. Thepeople in the crowd scarcely breathed as they watched them. How theladies did trail their long and exquisite robes! How like angels thegirls in white looked, how like queens and princesses the older womenappeared, how kingly were the gentlemen who accompanied them! Yes, thespectacle was a fairy one; it was delightful to enjoy it all fornothing.

  The crowd were in an excellent humour, and did not mind when thepoliceman somewhat roughly pushed them back. All things considered,they enjoyed themselves quite as well as the people who went into thehouse, they were not jealous or envious in the least. Standing in frontof this motley crowd, so much in front that the brilliant gaslight fellfull upon their eager upturned faces, might have been seen a tall girlof about sixteen, and two boys a little younger. The girl was veryupright, quite clean in her person, and not only neat, but picturesquein her dress. A many-coloured cotton scarf was twisted in the form of aturban round her head; a large apron of the same material nearly coveredher black dress. On her arm she carried a large flat basket filled withroses, narcissus, forget-me-nots, and other summer flowers. Her eyeswere very dark and bright, her hair black, her complexion a pure olive.She was not only a handsome girl, but her whole effect was intenselyforeign and picturesque. Her carriage was so upright, her simple poseso stately, that one or two ladies and some of the men who were goinginto the mansion were attracted by her appearance, and remarked her toone another.

  The girl gazed after them, her black eyes wide-open, her lips slightlyparted, an eager, hungry expression all over her face. The two boys whostood with her kept nudging each other, and whispering together, andmaking remarks, some under their breath, some out loud, with regard tothe gay company who were going into the house.

  The girl never spoke. Even when her brothers pushed her roughly, sheonly moved a little away from them in absolute silence.

  "I say, Jill,"--the elder of the lads gave the young flower girl a moreviolent shove than usual--"be yer goin' to stay here all night? Most ofthe folks have come by now, I reckon, and we'd best be moving on;there's going to be no end of fun presently at that big house over thereby the corner."

  Jill shook herself, stared eagerly at the speaker, and then said, in aquick, impassioned voice, "I never see'd nothing like this afore, Bob.Sech dresses, sech faces. Oh, the light and grandeur of it all! I'vepictured it of course lots and lots o' times, but I never see'd itafore."

  "I told yer it 'ud be fine," replied Bob; "come on, you'll see more ofthe same sort at the big house at the corner. You take my 'and, Jill,and let us run. We'll get in front of the crowd ef we are quick."

  "No," said Jill, "I don't want to see no other crowd. There were angelsand princes and princesses going into that 'ere house. I don't want tosee nothink more--my head's full o' the sight, and my eyes sort o'dazzled. I'm goin' 'ome now to mother; I ha' a power o' news to tellher."

  She turned away as she spoke, moving quickly through the crowd with herfree, stately step.

  Many people turned to look at her, but she did not appear to see them.Even when one or two called to her to stop and sell some of her flowers,she did not pay the least attention.

  The gay streets where the grand folks lived were quickly passed, andJill found herself in a poor and squalid neighbourhood. The hour waslate, but these streets were all alive as if it were noon. Childrenquarrelled and played in them, women gossiped, men lounged out of thepublic-houses, stared at Jill and called after her as she walked quicklyby.

  A child tumbled down in front of her path and lay screaming and rubbingits dirty little face in a puddle. This sight caused her to stop; shestooped, picked up the little creature, gave it a fully blown rose fromher basket and walked on again.

  At last she reached a large corner building which was let out in flatsto poor people. She turned in here, ran up the stairs lightly andquickly, until she reached the top landing, there she stopped before arudely-painted door.

  The door had a knocker, which Jill sounded loudly. There was noresponse whatever from within. She turned a little pale at this, putdown her ear to the keyhole, and listened eagerly. Not a sound reachedher from the other side of the closed door. She knocked once again,then putting her lips to the keyhole, she called through it in a high,sweet voice:

  "It's me, mother; it's Jill! Open the door, please, mother, I ha' lotsof news."

  No response came to this petition. The same absolute, unbroken silencereigned inside the room. Jill paused to consider for a moment. Theexalted dreamy look left her face; a certain sharpness, mingled withanxiety, filled her black eyes. After a very brief pause, during whichshe watched the closed door with a kind of sad patience, she picked upher basket and ran down to the next landing. The door here had a neatlittle knocker, which was polished and shining. Jill gave a singleknock, and then waited for a reply. It came almost immediately. Awoman with a night-cap on opened the door, uttered an exclamation atsight of the girl, put out her hand to draw her into the room, and spokein a voice of agitation:

  "You don't mean to tell me, Jill Robinson, that yer mother ain't 'omeyet? Why the--"

  "Don't say any more!" exclaimed Jill, eagerly. "I'm goin' out to lookfor mother. She's maybe took faint, or something o' that sort. Willyou take care of my flowers till I come back, Mrs Stanley?"

  "Need you ask, honey? You lay 'em in there in the cool. You 'asn'tsold too many to-day, Jill. What a full basket!"

  "Yes, but they're mostly buds. They'll look lovely to-morrow when Ifreshens 'em up. Now I must go to look for mother."

  "This ain't a fit hour for a girl like you to be out, Jill."

  "Any hour's fit when a girl can take care on herself," responded Jill,proudly.

  She ran quickly down-stairs, leaving her flowers in the passage of MrsStanley's little flat. Just outside the door of the big building shecame upon a motley crowd of men and women. They were eagerly gazing atsomething which excited at once their amusement and derision.

  The crowd was too thick for Jil
l to see what attracted them, but asound, full, strong, and sweet, drew her attention. She was walkingquickly past the people, but this sound arrested her steps. It causedthe colour to flame into her cheeks, and an angry light to leap out ofher eyes. With a rapid, deft movement she pushed her way through thepeople. She guessed, even before her eyes assured her of the fact, whatwas the matter.

  "Go it again, Poll Robinson!" shouted the men. "Oh! you took that noteprime. You never wor in better voice. Go it again, my beauty! Nowthen, let's listen, all of us, to handsome Poll Robinson. You give usanother song, Poll, now then."

  A tall, powerfully-built woman of about five-and-thirty was standing inthe middle of the street; her bonnet was pushed on one side of her head,her dress was slovenly, her