The Chief Legatee
The Chief Legatee
CHAPTER XVIII. GOD'S FOREST, THEN MAN'S
The pencil and pad fell from Mr. Ransom's hands. He stared at the girl who had made this astonishing statement, and his brain whirled.
As for her, she simply stooped and picked up the pad.
"You feel badly about that," said she. "You want me to read. I'll learn. That will make me more like sister. But I know some things now. I know what you are thinking about. You are curious about my life, what it has been and what kind of a girl I am. I'll tell you. I can talk if I cannot hear. I heard up to two years ago. Shall I talk now? Shall I tell you what I told Georgian when she found me crying in the street and took me home to her house?"
He nodded blindly.
With a smile as beautiful as Georgian's--for a moment he thought more beautiful--she drew him to a seat. She was all fire and purpose now. The spark of intelligence which was not always visible in her eye burned brightly. She would have looked lovely even to a stranger, but he was not thinking of her looks, only of the hopelessness of the situation, its difficulties and possibly its perils.
"I don't remember all that has happened to me," she began, speaking very fast. "I never tried to remember, when I was little; I just lived, and ran wild in the roads and woods like the weasels and the chipmunks. The gipsies were good to me. I had not a cross word in years. The wife of the king was my friend, and all I knew I learned from her. It was not much, but it helped me to live in the forest and be happy, as long as I was a little girl. When I grew up it was different. It was the king who was kind then, and the woman who was fierce. I didn't like his kindness, but she didn't know this, for after one day when she caught him staring at me across the fire, she sent me off after something she wanted in a small town we were camping near, and when I came back with it, the band was gone. I tried to follow, but it was dark and I didn't know the way; besides I was afraid--afraid of him. So I crept back to the town and slept in the straw of a barn I found open. Next day I sold my earrings and got bread. It didn't last long and I tried to work, but that meant sleeping under a roof, and houses smothered me, so I did my work badly and was turned out. Then I sold my ring. It was my last trinket, and when the few cents I got for it were gone, I wandered about hungry. This I was used to and didn't mind at first, but at last I went to work again, and I did better now for a little while, till one evening I saw, through the stable window of the inn where I was working, two black eyes staring in just as they stared across the dying embers of the gipsy camp. I did not scream, but I hid myself, and when they were gone away stole out and got on the cars, and gave the man my last dollar--all the money I had earned--for a ride to New York. I did not know any better. I knew he never went to New York, and I thought I would be safe from him there. But of the difference between the woods and a forest of brick and stone I never thought; of night with no shelter but the wall of some blind alley; of hunger in the sight of food, and wild beasts in the shape of men. I didn't know where to go or who to speak to. If any one stared at me long, I turned and ran away. I ran away once from a policeman. He thought me a thief, and started to run after me. But people slipped in between us and I got away. What happened next I don't know. Perhaps I was thrown down, perhaps I fell. I had come a long way and I was tired. When I did know anything, I was lying on my back in a narrow street, looking up at a tall building that seemed to go right up into the sky like the great rocks I had sometimes slept under when I was with the gipsies. Only there were windows in the rock, out of which looked faces, and I got looking back at one of these faces and