Nobody thought of consequences. There was a lighted paraffin lamp on the table and nothing else handy. Mrs Brown's head presented a tempting mark, and of course Mr Brown's lengthy stay at 'The Three Fingers' had something to do with it; but nobody thought of Miss Brown, aged four, who was playing happily on the floor, unruffled by the storm to which she was so well accustomed.
Mrs Brown ducked; there was a smash, a scream, and poor little Miss Brown was in a blaze. The shock sobered the father and silenced the mother. Miss Brown was extinguished with the aid of a table- cover, much water, and many neighbours; but she was horribly burnt all over, except her face.
* * * * *
I made Miss Brown's acquaintance a few days later. She was lying on a bed made up on two chairs, and was covered with cotton wool. She had scarcely any pain, and could not move at all; and the small face that peered out of what she called her "pitty warm snow" was wan and drawn and had a far-away look in the dark eyes.
Miss Brown possessed one treasure, her 'luvly miss.' I suppose I must call it a doll, though in what its claim to the title consisted I dared not ask; Miss Brown would have deeply resented the enquiry. It was a very large potato with a large and a small bulge. Into the large bulge were inserted three pieces of fire- wood, the body and arms of 'luvly miss'; legs she had none.
How Miss Brown came by this treasure I never heard. She had an impression that it "flied froo the winder"--I fancy Mr Brown had a hand in the manufacture in one of his lucid moments; but it was a treasure indeed and the joy of Miss Brown's life. She held long conversations with 'luvly miss' on all familiar subjects; and apparently obtained much strange and rare information from her. For example, Miss Brown and 'luvly miss' in some previous stage of their existence had inhabited a large chimney-pot together, "where it was always so warm and a bootie 'mell of cookin'.'" Also she had a rooted belief that one day she and 'luvly miss' would be "hangels wiv' black weils and basticks." This puzzled me for some time, until I discovered it to be an allusion to the good deaconess who attended her, and whom Mrs Brown in gratitude designated by this title.
Alas for little Miss Brown and her 'luvly miss'! their respective ends were drawing near. I went in one Friday, a week or so after the accident, and found Mrs Brown in tears and despair, and Miss Brown with a look of anguish on her poor little pinched face that was bad to see. 'Luvly Miss' was no more.
It was Mr Brown again; or, to trace back the links of occasion, it was the action of 'The Three Fingers' on Mr Brown's frail constitution. He had come in late, seen 'luvly miss' on the table, and, with his usual heedlessness of consequence, had chucked her into the dying embers where--alas that I should have to say it!-- she slowly baked. Little Miss Brown, when the miserable truth was broken to her, neither wept nor remonstrated; she lay quite still with a look of utter forsaken wretchedness on her tiny white face, and moaned very softly for 'luvly miss.'
I came face to face with this state of things and I confess it staggered me. I knew Miss Brown too well to hope that any pink- and-white darling from the toy-shop could replace 'luvly miss,' or that she could be persuaded to admit even a very image of the dear departed into her affections. Then, too, the doctor said Miss Brown had but a few days at the most, perhaps only hours, to live; and comforted she must be.
All at once I had an inspiration, and never in my life have I welcomed one more. I knelt down by little Miss Brown and told her the story of the Phoenix. I had not reckoned in vain upon her imagination: would I "yerely and twooly bwing" her "werry own luvly miss out of the ashes?" I lied cheerfully and hastened away to the dust-bin, accompanied by Mrs Brown.
In a few minutes we returned with a pail of ashes, the ashes, of course, of 'luvly miss' mingled with those of the cruel fire which had consumed her. I danced solemnly round them, murmured mysterious words, parted the ashes, and revealed the form of 'luvly miss.' Love's eyes were not sharp to mark a change, and little Miss Brown's misplaced faith in me was strong. Never shall I forget the scream of joy which greeted the restored treasure, or the relief with which I saw an expression of peace settle once more on Miss Brown's face.
I saw them again next day. Little Miss Brown was asleep in her last little bed, still wrapped in the "pitty warm snow," and 'luvly miss' lay beside her.