'Putting both your hands afore your face too!' she went on. 'If you can't bear the looks of a poor thing, it would be better to tell her so at once, and not go and shut her out like that, hurting her feelings and breaking her heart at ten year old, poor thing!'
'It's to ease my head, Maggy.'
'Well, and if you cry to ease your head, Little Mother, let me cry too. Don't go and have all the crying to yourself,' expostulated Maggy, 'that an't not being greedy.' And immediately began to blubber.
It was with some difficulty that she could be induced to go back with the excuse; but the promise of being told a story--of old her great delight--on condition that she concentrated her faculties upon the errand and left her little mistress to herself for an hour longer, combined with a misgiving on Maggy's part that she had left her good temper at the bottom of the staircase, prevailed. So away she went, muttering her message all the way to keep it in her mind, and, at the appointed time, came back.
'He was very sorry, I can tell you,' she announced, 'and wanted to send a doctor. And he's coming again to-morrow he is and I don't think he'll have a good sleep to-night along o' hearing about your head, Little Mother. Oh my! Ain't you been a-crying!'
'I think I have, a little, Maggy.'
'A little! Oh!'
'But it's all over now--all over for good, Maggy. And my head is much better and cooler, and I am quite comfortable. I am very glad I did not go down.'
Her great staring child tenderly embraced her; and having smoothed her hair, and bathed her forehead and eyes with cold water (offices in which her awkward hands became skilful), hugged her again, exulted in her brighter looks, and stationed her in her chair by the window. Over against this chair, Maggy, with apoplectic exertions that were not at all required, dragged the box which was her seat on story-telling occasions, sat down upon it, hugged her own knees, and said, with a voracious appetite for stories, and with widely-opened eyes:
'Now, Little Mother, let's have a good 'un!'
'What shall it be about, Maggy?'
'Oh, let's have a princess,' said Maggy, 'and let her be a reg'lar one. Beyond all belief, you know!'
Little Dorrit considered for a moment; and with a rather sad smile upon her face, which was flushed by the sunset, began:
'Maggy, there was once upon a time a fine King, and he had everything he could wish for, and a great deal more. He had gold and silver, diamonds and rubies, riches of every kind. He had palaces, and he had--'
'Hospitals,' interposed Maggy, still nursing her knees. 'Let him have hospitals, because they're so comfortable. Hospitals with lots of Chicking.'
'Yes, he had plenty of them, and he had plenty of everything.'
'Plenty of baked potatoes, for instance?' said Maggy.
'Plenty of everything.'
'Lor!' chuckled Maggy, giving her knees a hug. 'Wasn't it prime!'
'This King had a daughter, who was the wisest and most beautiful Princess that ever was seen. When she was a child she understood all her lessons before her masters taught them to her; and when she was grown up, she was the wonder of the world. Now, near the Palace where this Princess lived, there was a cottage in which there was a poor little tiny woman, who lived all alone by herself.'
'An old woman,' said Maggy, with an unctuous smack of her lips.
'No, not an old woman. Quite a young one.'
'I wonder she warn't afraid,' said Maggy. 'Go on, please.'
'The Princess passed the cottage nearly every day, and whenever she went by in her beautiful carriage, she saw the poor tiny woman spinning at her wheel, and she looked at the tiny woman, and the tiny woman looked at her. So, one day she stopped the coachman a little way from the cottage, and got out and walked on and peeped in at the door, and there, as usual, was the tiny woman spinning at her wheel, and she looked at the Princess, and the Princess looked at her.'
'Like trying to stare one another out,' said Maggy. 'Please go on, Little Mother.'
'The Princess was such a wonderful Princess that she had the power of knowing secrets, and she said to the tiny woman, Why do you keep it there? This showed her directly that the Princess knew why she lived all alone by herself spinning at her wheel, and she kneeled down at the Princess's feet, and asked her never to betray her.