She had not been brought up in America at all. She had been born in France, in a beautiful chateau, and she had been born heiress to a great fortune, but, nevertheless, just now she felt as if she was very poor, indeed. And yet her home was in one of the most splendid houses in New York. She had a lovely suite of apartments of her own, though she was only eleven years old. She had had her own carriage and a saddle horse, a train of masters, and governesses, and servants, and was regarded by all the children of the neighborhood as a sort of grand and mysterious little princess, whose incomings and outgoings were to be watched with the greatest interest.
“There she is,” they would cry, flying to their windows to look at her. “She is going out in her carriage.” “She is dressed all in black velvet and splendid fur.” “That is her own, own, carriage.” “She has millions of money; and she can have anything she wants–Jane says so!” “She is very pretty, too; but she is so pale and has such big, sorrowful, black eyes. I should not be sorrowful if I were in her place; but Jane says the servants say she is always quiet and looks sad.” “Her maid says she lived with her aunt, and her aunt made her too religious.”
She rarely lifted her large dark eyes to look at them with any curiosity. She was not accustomed to the society of children. She had never had a child companion in her life, and these little Americans, who were so very rosy and gay, and who went out to walk or drive with groups of brothers and sisters, and even ran in the street, laughing and playing and squabbling healthily–these children amazed her.
Poor little Saint Elizabeth! She had not lived a very natural or healthy life herself, and she knew absolutely nothing of real childish pleasures. You see, it had occurred in this way: When she was a baby of two years her young father and mother died, within a week of each other, of a terrible fever, and the only near relatives the little one had were her Aunt Clotilde and Uncle Bertrand. Her Aunt Clotilde lived in Normandy–her Uncle Bertrand in New York. As these two were her only guardians, and as Bertrand de Rochemont was a gay bachelor, fond of pleasure and knowing nothing of babies, it was natural that he should be very willing that his elder sister should undertake the rearing and education of the child.
“Only,” he wrote to Mademoiselle de Rochemont, “don’t end by training her for an abbess, my dear Clotilde.”
“Roses!” cried Uncle Bertrand. “Is it that the child is mad? They are the jewels of my sister Clotilde.”
Elizabeth clasped her hands and leaned towards Dr. Norris, the tears streaming from her uplifted eyes.
“Ah! monsieur,” she sobbed, “you will understand. It was for the poor–they suffer so much. If we do not help them our souls will be lost. I did not mean to speak falsely. I thought the Saints–the Saints—” But her sobs filled her throat, and she could not finish. Dr. Norris stopped, and took her in his strong arms as if she had been a baby.
“Quick!” he said, imperatively; “we must return to the carriage, De Rochemont. This is a serious matter.”
Elizabeth clung to him with trembling hands.
“But the poor woman who starves?” she cried. “The little children–they sit up on the step quite near–the food was for them! I pray you give it to them.”
“Yes, they shall have it,” said the Doctor. “Take the basket, De Rochemont–only a few doors below.” And it appeared that there was something in his voice which seemed to render obedience necessary, for Monsieur de Rochemont actually did as he was told.
For a moment Dr. Norris put Elizabeth on her feet again, but it was only while he removed his overcoat and wrapped it about her slight shivering body.