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Little Madge by Mary D. Brine

 

"Oh dear! such fun! Don't I wish just for once I could be a rich lady's little girl, and wear a white dress and slippers, and a blue sash ever so wide, and curls in my hair! I do wish a fairy could fly right out of the sky this minute, and give me things I want! Oh, dear me!"

Little Madge sat perched on the iron fence surrounding a handsome house, within which a birthday party was going on merrily. It was dark outside, and the street lamps were not bright enough to betray this little watcher to the gaze of the young people who were dancing under the light of brilliant chandeliers, and sending the sweet music of their happy voices out through the open windows into the silent street, where a few moments before little Madge Lee had been trying to sell matches. So she had ceased her cry of "Matches! matches!" which seemed so feeble in comparison to the sounds of merry music that filled the street as she came slowly along, and had clambered like a little monkey to the top of the iron fence, where at last she sat securely, watching the good time going on inside the beautiful rooms.

Madge had never in all the eight years of her life owned such things as a white dress, slippers, or sash. And as for "curls in her hair," her own round head was like a boy's, so closely was the dark hair cut.

Madge, with several others as unfortunate as herself, lived with an old woman who cared for them only according to the pennies they could bring in to her each night. Whether the pennies were begged or stolen or honestly earned made little difference to her. The children were all waifs and strays whom nobody owned or seemed to care for, and, with the exception of little Madge, none of them had ever known a parent's love. Her father died when she was a baby, and after a few years' struggle with poverty, her dear mother had followed him, leaving her child to the tender mercies of Mrs. McLane. For two years Madge had lived with this woman, roaming the streets by day, and sleeping on a handful of straw at night. She was scolded when she failed to bring in her usual amount of pennies, oftener whipped than scolded, and never spoken kindly to except by some kind-hearted stranger in the street.

On this night her little heart had seemed more than ever despondent and weary, for people didn't want her matches, and pushed her aside when she would have offered them. And she was just about ready to cry, when the sound of music fell upon her ear, and drew her toward the house from whence it proceeded.

While she sat upon the railing, intent upon the scene before her, a voice at her side startled her.

"Is it here ye are, Madge Lay? Bad luck to ye, thin, won't ye be afther catchin' the lickin' from Granny McLane for not sellin' yer matches! Sure ye needn't be invyin' the stoyle of yer betthers as kin dance, for lookat!" and seizing what little remained to her of a skirt, Biddy O'Hara commenced a caper on her toes in such a way as made Madge laugh outright. In an instant Biddy dropped flat on the ground under the fence, while Madge, in a vain attempt to follow her example, caught her dress in the railing, and hung helpless, just as a lady, who had been near the window, looked out to see where the laugh came from.

Poor, frightened Madge! She was seen by the lady, who called to her, kindly, "What is the trouble, little girl? can't you get down?"

"Whisht! aisy, Madge; don't spake a wurrid for yer life!" was whispered by Biddy from her hiding-place.

But Madge's fright vanished at the kindly words and tone, and she answered: "Please, lady, I'm caught in the rail; but I wasn't a-doin' any harm, ma'am. I'll go as soon as I can get loose, please, lady."

"Arrah, thin, Madge Lay, if ye bethray me here, I'll have it out wid ye afther—now moind!" came again from the frightened Biddy, who had really nothing to be afraid of, only that her pocket held three stolen handkerchiefs, and her heart a guilty feeling that weighed like lead.

Meanwhile the lady had sent a servant out to release Madge from her predicament, and bade him also bring the child to the door. There she gave Madge a plate of ice-cream, and told her to sit down on the step and eat it. "It is late for so young a child to be out alone. How happens it so with you, little girl?" she asked.

And Madge replied, simply, "Trying to sell matches, ma'am. And I just stopped to see the fun inside here, that's all; and I happened to laugh, ma'am, and was scared, and stuck on the fence when I was tryin' to get down."

At last Madge finished her ice-cream, gave the plate to the servant, and thanking him (for the lady had returned to the children in the parlor), went down the steps with a bright face.

What she and Biddy talked about after that needn't be told here; but what Biddy did is rather important to know, because but for that particular thing I doubt if this story of "Little Madge" would have been told. A few moments more Madge watched the party, climbing the fence again in order to see better, while Biddy, in her rage over Madge's good luck, revenged herself in her own favorite way—a good slap on the little bare foot which hung over the railing.

The front door stood open, and the light from the hall chandelier shone upon something that glittered on the door-mat. The servant was not in sight; the merriment in the parlors was increasing; the way was open to any child who might see and covet the gold locket which lay ready to be picked up either by honest or dishonest hands. And Biddy O'Hara was just the child to creep up the steps as she did, and with just such naughty hands as hers pick up the locket, and, after one instant's examination of it, slip it into the pocket in which were the three stolen handkerchiefs.

But rapid as had been the girl's examination of the locket, she had been noticed by Madge as she sat on her high seat. However, she kept quiet about her discovery as presently she and Biddy went home through the lonely streets; but never had detective sharper eyes to watch than had Madge, who used her blue orbs to the best advantage before she tumbled down upon her share of the straw that night, and prepared to sleep—or rather appeared to prepare for sleep; for not one step toward slumber-land would the little girl go until the locket had been removed from the hole in the wall where Biddy had so slyly put it.

And so it happened that when, by-and-by, Biddy and all the others were sleeping, Madge crept over to the hole, and returned with the locket in her own possession. Then she slept too, and the locket remained safely hidden in the little girl's dress until she arose in the early morning.

"Now, thin, Madge Lay," screamed Mrs. McLane, shaking her finger at the child, "here's thim matches av yourn, an' moind ye don't come home forninst the eyes av me widout ye've sold the blissed lot, ivery wan av 'em, or it's sorra a taste av supper ye'll git the noight." So Madge was pushed out and up the steps into the glad sunshine so grateful to her. And eagerly she began to search for the house in which the party had been given the night before. It had been a strange street to Madge, and she could not quite locate it again, though she walked until her little feet ached, and she finally sat down on the curbstone of a pleasant shady avenue to rest awhile.

Madge grew discouraged. She looked up at the blue far-off sky, and dimly remembered when people had explained to her that her mamma and papa, poor as they had been in this world, had gone to live there and be happy for evermore. She remembered how she had cried, and how her mother had kissed her the very last thing, and then suddenly turned so pale and cold that the little girl grew frightened, and cried harder than ever in her life before. She hadn't had a kiss since that time from anybody; and how the little motherless heart yearned for just one more warm loving caress from the dear mother who "lived in the sky," as the child expressed it! So when presently she saw a lady and child at the basement window of the house opposite, she went over, and, kneeling at the window, offered a box of matches for sale. The lady noticed the traces of Madge's tears, and kindly inquired the cause as she bought and paid for the matches. Little Madge replied:

"I was wanting to be kissed, ma'am, and wishing for my mother in heaven, and I was so—so tired with looking for a lady who had her locket stole, ma'am, and I watched where the girl hid it, and was goin' to take it back, but I can't find the street, nor house, nor anything, ma'am; and I wish I had a mother to hold me in her lap like you hold your little girl. It must be nice to have a mother."

"Poor little girl!" said the lady, and then she suddenly added: "Come inside, please. I'll let you in, and then I want you to go up stairs with me."

Much astonished, Madge obeyed, and followed the lady up to a pleasant room where a gentleman was at work amid easels, and half-finished pictures, and the pretty confusion of an artist's studio.

"Edward, you wanted a model yesterday," said the lady. "Here's a child who might do for your street picture. See, she carries her matches with her—just the thing."

And so little Madge earned a whole silver dollar for half a day's standing in one position before the artist, who was delighted with his model, and made a charming likeness of her, matches, ragged dress, bare feet, and all. The child left the locket with her new friend to be taken care of until she might find the owner, and then went crying matches through the streets, with a happy heart, little dreaming of what would result from her morning's work.

Only a few days after that a visitor to the artist's studio was admiring his latest picture, called "The Model Match Girl."

"What a strange title?" she said.

And he laughed as he replied: "Yes, I gave it that name to please my wife, who brought me the girl. She was really a model in regard to honesty." And then he told the story of the locket, and of the gratitude of the little girl for the ice-cream the kind owner of the locket had given her; and finally the locket was produced, and recognized by the visitor as her own.

"It must have fallen from my chain while I talked to the child, and yet the dishonest girl got hold of it, after all, before my little match girl had seen it. How I wish I could find her!"

Said the artist in reply: "Well, the girl is coming in a day or two to look at the picture, and I will send her to you. I had no idea that it was you from whom the locket had been stolen. It is strange indeed!"

And thus ere very long Madge met her first kind friend, and was led to tell the whole story of her pitiful life and craving for love. And at last, through the lady's continued kindness, little Madge was transferred with many other little children from the crowded, noisy, and unwholesome street which had so long been her home, to the care of those whose business it is to take just such poor orphaned little ones to new and happy homes far off in the country, where warm, kind hearts are willing and anxious to adopt them, and bring them up to useful womanhood.

Madge wrote a letter to the lady not long ago, and after telling about her happy times in her new home, she added, "And, oh! Mrs. ——, this dear lady here kisses me good-night always, and it feels just as if I had a mother after all."