Billy’s Rose by George R. Sims

Billy’s dead, and gone to glory—so is Billy’s sister Nell:
There’s a tale I know about them, were I poet I would tell;
Soft it comes, with perfume laden, like a breath of country air
Wafted down the filthy alley, bringing fragrant odors there.

In that vile and filthy alley, long ago one winter’s day,
Dying quick of want and fever, hapless, patient Billy lay,
While beside him sat his sister, in the garret’s dismal gloom,
Cheering with her gentle presence Billy’s pathway to the tomb.

Many a tale of elf and fairy did she tell the dying child,
Till his eyes lost half their anguish, and his worn, wan features smiled;
Tales herself had heard haphazard, caught amid the Babel roar,
Lisped about by tiny gossips playing round their mothers’ door.

Then she felt his wasted fingers tighten feebly as she told
How beyond this dismal alley lay a land of shining gold,
Where, when all the pain was over,—where, when all the tears were shed,—
He would be a white-frocked angel, with a gold thing on his head.

Then she told some garbled story of a kind-eyed Saviour’s love,
How He’d built for little children great big playgrounds up above,
Where they sang and played at hopscotch and at horses all the day,
And where beadles and policemen never frightened them away.

This was Nell’s idea of heaven,—just a bit of what she’d heard,
With a little bit invented, and a little bit inferred.
But her brother lay and listened, and he seemed to understand,
For he closed his eyes and murmured he could see the promised land.

“Yes,” he whispered, “I can see it, I can see it, sister Nell,
Oh, the children look so happy and they’re all so strong and well;
I can see them there with Jesus—He is playing with them, too!
Let as run away and join them, if there’s room for me and you.”

She was eight, this little maiden, and her life had all been spent
In the garret and the alley, where they starved to pay the rent;
Where a drunken father’s curses and a drunken mother’s blows
Drove her forth into the gutter from the day’s dawn to its close.

But she knew enough, this outcast, just to tell this sinking boy,
“You must die before you’re able all the blessings to enjoy.
You must die,” she whispered, “Billy, and I am not even ill;
But I’ll come to you, dear brother,—yes, I promise that I will.

“You are dying, little brother, you are dying, oh, so fast;
I heard father say to mother that he knew you couldn’t last.
They will put you in a coffin, then you’ll wake and be up there,
While I’m left alone to suffer in this garret bleak and bare.”

“Yes, I know it,” answered Billy. “Ah, but, sister, I don’t mind,
Gentle Jesus will not beat me; He’s not cruel or unkind.
But I can’t help thinking, Nelly, I should like to take away
Something, sister, that you gave me, I might look at every day.

“In the summer you remember how the mission took us out
To a great green lovely meadow, where we played and ran about,
And the van that took us halted by a sweet bright patch of land,
Where the fine red blossoms grew, dear, half as big as mother’s hand.

“Nell, I asked the good kind teacher what they called such flowers as those,
And he told me, I remember, that the pretty name was rose.
I have never seen them since, dear—how I wish that I had one!
Just to keep and think of you, Nell, when I’m up beyond the sun.”

Not a word said little Nelly; but at night, when Billy slept,
On she flung her scanty garments and then down the stairs she crept.
Through the silent streets of London she ran nimbly as a fawn,
Running on and running ever till the night had changed to dawn.

When the foggy sun had risen, and the mist had cleared away,
All around her, wrapped in snowdrift, there the open country lay.
She was tired, her limbs were frozen, and the roads had cut her feet,
But there came no flowery gardens her poor tearful eyes to greet.

She had traced the road by asking, she had learnt the way to go;
She had found the famous meadow—it was wrapped in cruel snow;
Not a buttercup or daisy, not a single verdant blade
Showed its head above its prison. Then she knelt her down and prayed;

With her eyes upcast to heaven, down she sank upon the ground,
And she prayed to God to tell her where the roses might be found.
Then the cold blast numbed her senses, and her sight grew strangely dim;
And a sudden, awful tremor seemed to seize her every limb.

“Oh, a rose!” she moaned, “good Jesus,—just a rose to take to Bill!”
And as she prayed a chariot came thundering down the hill;
And a lady sat there, toying with a red rose, rare and sweet;
As she passed she flung it from her, and it fell at Nelly’s feet.

Just a word her lord had spoken caused her ladyship to fret,
And the rose had been his present, so she flung it in a pet;
But the poor, half-blinded Nelly thought it fallen from the skies,
And she murmured, “Thank you, Jesus!” as she clasped the dainty prize.

Lo! that night from but the alley did a child’s soul pass away,
From dirt and sin and misery up to where God’s children play.
Lo! that night a wild, fierce snowstorm burst in fury o’er the land,
And at morn they found Nell frozen, with the red rose in her hand.

Billy’s dead, and gone to glory—so is Billy’s sister Nell;
Am I bold to say this happened in the land where angels dwell,—
That the children met in heaven, after all their earthly woes,
And that Nelly kissed her brother, and said, “Billy, here’s your rose”?