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A Little Girl Lost


Yet once more, O ye little girls, I come to bid you a last good-bye--a
very last one this time. Not to you, living little girls, seeing that I
must always keep a fair number of you on my visiting list, but to a
fascinating theme I had to write about. For I did really and truly
think I had quite finished with it, and now all at once I find myself
compelled by a will stronger than my own to make this one further
addition. The will of a little girl who is not present and is lost to
me--a wordless message from a distance, to tell me that she is not to
be left out of this gallery. And no sooner has her message come than I
find there are several good reasons why she should be included, the
first and obvious one being that she will be a valuable acquisition, an
ornament to the said gallery. And here I will give a second reason, a
very important one (to the psychological minded at all events), but not
the most important of all, for that must be left to the last.

In the foregoing impressions of little girls I have touched on the
question of the child's age when that "little agitation in the brain
called thought," begins. There were two remarkable cases given; one,
the child who climbed upon my knee to amaze and upset me by her
pessimistic remarks about life; the second, my little friend Nesta--
that was her name and she is still on my visiting list--who revealed
her callow mind striving to grasp an abstract idea--the idea of time
apart from some visible or tangible object. Now these two were aged
five years; but what shall we say of the child, the little girl-child
who steps out of the cradle, so to speak, as a being breathing
thoughtful breath?

It makes me think of the cradle as the cocoon or chrysalis in which, as
by a miracle (for here natural and supernatural seem one and the same),
the caterpillar has undergone his transformation and emerging spreads
his wings and forthwith takes his flight a full-grown butterfly with
all its senses and faculties complete.

Walking on the sea front at Worthing one late afternoon in late
November, I sat down at one end of a seat in a shelter, the other end
being occupied by a lady in black, and between us, drawn close up to
the seat, was a perambulator in which a little girl was seated. She
looked at me, as little girls always do, with that question--What are
you? in her large grey intelligent eyes. The expression tempted me to
address her, and I said I hoped she was quite well.

"O yes," she returned readily. "I am quite well, thank you."

"And may I know how old you are?"

"Yes, I am just three years old."

I should have thought, I said, that as she looked a strong healthy
child she would have been able to walk and run about at the age of
three.

She replied that she could walk and run as well as any child, and that
she had her pram just to sit and rest in when tired of walking.

Then, after apologising for putting so many questions to her, I asked
her if she could tell me her name.

"My name," she said, "is Rose Mary Catherine Maude Caversham," or some
such name.

"Oh!" exclaimed the lady in black, opening her lips for the first time,
and speaking sharply. "You must not say all those names! It is enough
to say your name is Rose."

The child turned and looked at her, studying her face, and then with
heightened colour and with something like indignation in her tone, she
replied: "That _is_ my name! Why should I not tell it when I am
asked?"

The lady said nothing, and the child turned her face to me again.

I said it was a very pretty name and I had been pleased to hear it, and
glad she told it to me without leaving anything out.

Silence still on the part of the lady.

"I think," I resumed, "that you are a rather wonderful child;--have
they taught you the ABC?"

"Oh no, they don't teach me things like that--I pick all that up."

"And one and one make two--do you pick that up as well?"

"Yes, I pick that up as well."

"Then," said I, recollecting Humpty Dumpty's question in arithmetic to
Alice, "how much is one-an'-one-an'-one-an'-one-an'-one-an'-one?"--
speaking it as it should be spoken, very rapidly.

She looked at me quite earnestly for a moment, then said, "And can
_you_ tell me how much is two-an'-two-an'-two-an'-two-an'-two-an'-
two?"--and several more two's all in a rapid strain.

"No," I said, "you have turned the tables on me very cleverly. But tell
me, do they teach you nothing?"

"Oh yes, they teach me something!" Then dropping her head a little on
one side and lifting her little hands she began practising scales on
the bar of her pram. Then, looking at me with a half-smile on her lips,
she said: "That's what they teach me."

After a little further conversation she told me she was from London,
and was down with her people for their holiday.

I said it seemed strange to me she should be having a holiday so late
in the season. "Look," I said, "at that cold grey sea and the great
stretch of sand with only one group of two or three children left on it
with their little buckets and spades."

"Yes," she said, in a meditative way; "it is very late." Then, after a
pause, she turned towards me with an expression in her face which said
plainly enough: I am now going to give you a little confidential
information. Her words were: "The fact is we are just waiting for the
baby."

"Oh!" screamed the lady in black. "Why have you said such a thing! You
must not say such things!"

And again the child turned her head and looked earnestly, inquiringly
at the lady, trying, as one could see from her face, to understand why
she was not to say such a thing. But now she was not sure of her ground
as on the other occasion of being rebuked. There was a mystery here
about the expected baby which she could not fathom. Why was it wrong
for her to mention that simple fact? That question was on her face when
she looked at her attendant, the lady in black, and as no answer was
forthcoming, either from the lady, or out of her own head, she turned
to me again, the dissatisfied expression still in her eyes; then it
passed away and she smiled. It was a beautiful smile, all the more
because it came only at rare intervals and quickly vanished, because,
as it seemed to me, she was all the time thinking too closely about
what was being said to smile easily or often. And the rarity of her
smile made her sense of humour all the more apparent. She was not like
Marjorie Fleming, that immortal little girl, who was wont to be angry
when offensively condescending grown-ups addressed her as a babe in
intellect. For Marjorie had no real sense of humour; all the humour of
her literary composition, verse and prose, was of the unconscious
variety. This child was only amused at being taken for a baby.

Then came the parting. I said I had spent a most delightful hour with
her, and she, smiling once more put out her tiny hand, and said in the
sweetest voice: "Perhaps we shall meet again." Those last five words!
If she had been some great lady, an invalid in a bath-chair, who had
conversed for half an hour with a perfect stranger and had wished to
express the pleasure and interest she had had in the colloquy, she
could not have said more, nor less, nor said it more graciously, more
beautifully.

But we did not meet again, for when I looked for her she was not there:
she had gone out of my life, like Priscilla, and like so many beautiful
things that vanish and return not.

And now I return to what I said at the beginning--that there were
several reasons for including this little girl in my series of
impressions. The most important one has been left until now. I want to
meet her again, but how shall I find her in this immensity of London--
these six millions of human souls! Let me beg of any reader who knows
Rose Mary Angela Catherine Maude Caversham--a name like that--who has
identified her from my description--that he will inform me of her
whereabouts.

W. H. Hudson