HotFreeBooks.com
The Rebel of the School
by Mrs. L. T. Meade
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Very well, dear," said Mrs. Hopkins.

She did not reproach Susy; that was not her way. She put a little kettle on the gas-stove, fetched a clean cup and saucer, and presently sat down to her belated meal.

Susy dashed upstairs. She put on her hat and jacket, snatched up a pair of gloves, and the next moment was out of the house.

"Free at last," she thought. "But, oh, what an evening I have had! I must say it is horrid to be poor. Now, if I was rich like Kathleen, wouldn't I have a gay time of it? Poor dear mother should drive in a carriage, and I'd ride on my pony by her side; and Tom should be a public school boy. There'd be no horrid shop then, and no horrid women coming in for ha'p'orths and penn'orths of paper."

But as she ran through the autumn night-air she felt that, after all, there was something good in life. Her pulses, which had been languid enough in the stuffy little parlor at the back of the shop, now galloped fiercely. She arrived two or three minutes after nine, but still in fairly good time to see a number of dark heads surrounding a bright light. This light was caused by two lamps which had been placed on the ground in the old quarry; Kathleen had brought them herself in a hamper. She had managed to buy them that day, and had smuggled them off without any one being the wiser. A large bottle of crystalline oil accompanied the lamps. Kathleen, who had dressed lamps for pleasure at home, knew quite well how to manage them, and when Susy appeared they stood at each end of a wide patch of light. Kathleen herself was in the midst of the light, and the other girls clustered round the edge.

"Isn't it scrumptious?" said Kate Rourke.—"Oh, is that you, Susy Hopkins? You are late."

"Yes, I know I am. It's a wonder I could come at all," said Susy.

"Ruth Craven hasn't come yet," said another voice.

"Yes, here she is," cried a third, and Ruth came and stood at the edge of the patch of light.

Kathleen flung off her hat, and the light from the lamps lit up her brilliant hair. Her cheeks were flaming with color, and her very dark-blue eyes looked as black as night. She faced her companions.

"Well," she said, "here we are, and we call ourselves the Wild Irish Girls. I really wonder if you English girls who are assembled here in the old quarry to-night have the least idea what it means to be a wild Irish girl. If you don't know, I'd like to tell you."

"Yes, do tell us," cried several.

"The principal thing that it means," continued Kathleen, raising her voice to a slightly theatrical pitch, and extending her arm so that the lamplight fell all over it—"the chief thing that it means is to be free—yes, free as the air, free as the mountain streams, free as the dear, darling, glorious, everlasting mountains themselves. Oh, to know freedom and then to be torn away from it! Girls, I will tell you the truth. I feel in your dull old England as though I were in prison. Yes, that's about it. I don't like England. I want you girls to join me in loving Ireland."

"But we can't hate England," said Kate Rourke; "that is quite impossible. If Ireland is your native land, England is ours, and we cannot help loving her very, very much."

"You have never known Ireland," continued Kathleen. "You are not cramped up in that favored spot; you are allowed to get up when you like and to go to bed when you like, to eat what you like, to read what books you like, to row on the lake, to shoot in the bogs, to gallop on your pony over the moors, and—and—oh, to live the life of the free."

It was Ruth Craven who now interrupted the eager words of the queen of the new society.

"Can't you tell us, Kathleen," she said, "how to get Ireland into England—how to introduce what is good of Ireland into England? That is the use of the society as far as I am concerned. With the exception of yourself we are all English girls."

"Yes," said Susy suddenly; "and we have very bad times most of us. I wish you knew what a dull evening I have just been living through—taking care of a tiny, very dull little shop. Mother was out looking after a sick child, and I had to mind the shop. Poor women came in for penn'orths of paper. I can tell you there wasn't much freedom about that; it was all horrid."

"Well, we have shops in Ireland too," continued Kathleen, "and I suppose people have to mind them. But what I want to say now is this. I have been sent over to this country to learn. My aunt Katie O'Flynn—she's the finest figure of a woman you ever laid eyes on—thought that I ought to have learning; mother thought so too, but the dad didn't much care. However, I needn't worry you about that. I have been sent here, and here I am. When I came to your wonderful school and looked all around me, I said to myself, 'If I'm not to have companions, why, I'll die; the heart of Kathleen O'Hara will be broken. Now, who amongst the schoolgirls will suit me? I saw that very dull Cassandra Weldon, and I noticed a few companions of hers who were much the same sort. Then I observed dear, pretty little Ruth Craven, and some one said to me, 'You won't take much notice of Ruth, for she's only a foundation girl.' That made me mad. Oh yes, it did—Give me your hand, Ruth.—That made my whole heart go out to Ruth. Then I was told that a lot of the girls were foundation girls, and they weren't as rich as the others, and they were somewhat snubbed. So I thought, 'My time has come. I am an Irish girl, and the heritage of every Irish girl, handed down to her from a long line of ancestors, is to help the oppressed,' So now I am going to help all of you, and we are going to found this society, and we are going to have a good time."

Kathleen's somewhat incoherent speech was received with shouts of applause.

"We must make a few rules," she continued when her young companions had ceased to shout—"just a few big rules which will be quite easy for all of us to obey."

"Certainly," said Kate. "And I have brought a note-book with me, and if you will dictate them, Kathleen, I will jot them down."

"That is easy enough," said Kathleen. "Well, I am queen."

"Certainly you are!" "Who else could be?" "Of course you are queen!" "Darling!" "Dear!" "Sweet!" "Duck!" fell from various pairs of lips.

"Thank you," said Kathleen, looking round at them, her dark-blue eyes becoming dewy with a sudden emotion. "I think," she added, "I love you all already, and there is nothing on earth I wouldn't do for you."

"Hear her, the dear! She is bringing a fine change into our lives, cried a mass of girls who stood a little out of the line of light.

"Well," said Kathleen, "I am queen, and I have my Cabinet. Now the girls of my Cabinet are the following: Ruth Craven is my Prime Minister; Kate Rourke comes next in importance; then follow Susy Hopkins, Clara Sawyer, Hannah Johnson, Rosy Myers, and Mary Rand. Now all of you girls whom I have named are expected to uphold order—such order as is alone necessary for the Wild Irish Girls. You are expected on all occasions to uphold the authority of me, your queen. You are never under any circumstances to breathe a word against dear old Ireland. The other girls who join the society will be looked after by you; you will instruct them in our rules, and you will help them to be good members of a most important society. I believe there are a great many girls willing to join. If so, will they hold up their hands?"

Immediately a great show of hands was visible.

"Now, Kate Rourke," cried Kathleen, "please take down the names of the girls who intend to become members of the Wild Irish Girls."

The girls came forward one by one, and Kate took down their names; and it was quickly discovered that, out of the hundred foundationers who belonged to the Great Shirley School, sixty had joined Kathleen's society.

"We shall soon get the remaining forty," said Mary Rand. "They will be all agog to come on. Their positions are not so very pleasant as it is, poor things!"

"Perhaps sixty are about as many as we can manage for the present," said Kathleen. "Now, girls, I intend to present you each with a tiny badge. I have a bag full of them here. Will you each come forward and accept the badge of membership?"

Kathleen's badges were very much admired, the eager girls bending down towards the light of the lamps in order to examine them more thoroughly. She had strung narrow green ribbon through each of the little silver hearts, and the girls could therefore slip them over their heads at once.

"You must hide them," said Kathleen. "The thing about these badges is that you will always feel them pressing against your hearts, and nobody else will know anything about them. They belong to Ireland and to me—to the home of the free and to Kathleen O'Hara. They seal you as my loving friends and followers for ever and ever."

Girls are easily impressed, and Kathleen's words were so fervent that some of them felt quite choky about the throat. They received their badges with hands that very nearly trembled. Kathleen next handed a slightly handsomer badge, but with exactly the same device, to the members of her Cabinet. Finally, she took the box of pale-blue cashmere blouses and opened it in the light of the lamps. The enthusiasm, which had been extremely keen before the appearance of the blouses, now rose to fever-height. Whom were these exquisite creations meant for? Kathleen smiled as she handed one to Mary Rand, another to Ruth Craven, another to Kate Rourke, and finally to each member of her Cabinet.

"I wish I could give you all a blouse apiece," she said to the other girls of the society, "but I am afraid that is not within my means. I chose these sweet blouses on purpose, because I know you could wear them at any time, girls," she added, turning to the members of her Cabinet. "Outsiders won't know. They will wonder at the beauty of your dress, but they won't know what it means; but we will know," she shouted aloud to her companions—"we will know that these girls belong to us and to old Ireland, and in particular to me, and they will be faithful to me as their queen."

"Oh dear," said little Alice Harding, a pale-faced girl, who loved fine dress and never could aspire to it, "what means can I take to become a member of the Cabinet?"

"By being a very good outside member, and trusting to your luck," laughed Kathleen. "But the time is passing, and we must proceed to what little business is left for to-night."

Each member of the Cabinet took possession of her own blouse, wrapped it up tenderly, and tucked it under her arm. Kathleen desired some one to throw the tell-tale box away, and then she collected her followers round her.

"Now," she said, "Rule One. To stick through thick and thin each to the other."

"Yes!" cried every voice.

"Rule Two. If possible, never to quarrel each with the other."

This rule also was received with acclamations.

"Rule Three. To have a bit of fun all to ourselves at least once a week."

This rule quite "brought down the house." They shouted so loud that if the spot had been less lonely some one would certainly have taken cognizance of their proceedings.

"Rule Four. That as far as possible we hold ourselves aloof from the paying members of the Great Shirley School."

This rule was not quite as enthusiastically received. The foundationers were not altogether without friends amongst the other girls of the school. Ruth Craven in particular had several.

"I don't think that is a very fair rule," she said. "I am fond of Alice Tennant, and I am fond of Cassandra Weldon."

"And I care for Lucy Sharp"; "And I am devoted to Amelia Dawson," said other members of the Cabinet.

Nevertheless Kathleen was firm.

"The rule must be held," she said. "In a society like ours there are always rules which are not quite agreeable to every one. My principal object in starting this society is to put those horrid paying girls in their proper places. There must not be friendship—not real friendship, I mean—between us and them."

"You are a paying girl yourself," suddenly exclaimed Mary Rand.

"I know. I wish I were not, but I can't help myself. You must allow me to stand alone; I am your queen."

"That you are, and I love you," said Mary.

"This rule must hold good," repeated Kathleen. "I must insist on my society adhering to it.—Ruth Craven, why are you silent?"

"Because I earnestly wish I had not joined. I cannot give up Cassandra, nor Alice, nor—nor other girls."

"Nonsense, Ruth! You dare not fail me now," said Kathleen, with enthusiasm. "I will make it up to you. You shall come with me to Ireland in the summer. You shall. Oh Ruth, don't fail me!"

"I won't; but I hate that rule."

"And, girls, I think we must part now," said Kate Rourke. "It is getting late, and it would never do for our secret meetings to be discovered."

"Whatever happens, we must stick together," said Kathleen. "Well, good-night; we meet again this day week."

There was quite a flutter of excitement along that lonely road as the Wild Irish Girls returned to their different homes. Susy Hopkins felt quite the happiest and most light-hearted of any. By-and-by she and Ruth Craven found themselves the only girls who were walking down the road called Southwood Lane. This road led right into the centre of the shops where Susy's mother lived.

"What a good thing," said Susy, "that I took the latchkey with me! It is past ten o'clock. Mother would be wild if she had to sit up so late."

Ruth was silent.

"Aren't you happy, Ruthie? Don't you think it is all splendid?" cried Susy.

"Yes and no," said Ruth. "You see, I am a foundationer, and when she pressed me to join I hated not to; but now I am sorry that I have joined. What am I to do about Cassandra and about Alice?"

"You think a great deal about Cassandra, don't you?"

"Oh, yes; she is quite a splendid girl, and she has been so very good to me."

"I suppose you are quite in love with her?"

"No, I don't think I am. It isn't my way to fall violently in love with girls, like some of the rest of you. But I like her; and I like Alice Tennant."

"All the same," said Susy, "it is worth sacrificing a little thing to belong to the Wild Irish Girls. Did you ever in all your life see any one look more splendid than Kathleen as she stood with the light of those big lamps upon her? She is a wonderful girl—so graceful, and with such a power of eloquence. And she has such a way of just taking you by storm; and her language is so poetic. Oh, I adore her! She is the sort of girl that I could die for. If all Irish girls are like her, Ireland must be a wonderful country to live in."

"But they are not," said Ruth. "Half of them are quite commonplace. She happens to be rich and beautiful, and to have a taking way; but all the others are not like her, I am certain of it."

"Anyhow, whether they are or not, I am glad to belong to the society," said Susy. "It will give us great fun, and we need not mind now whether the paying girls are disagreeable to us or not. Then, too, think of the blouses we have got. Oh dear! oh dear! when I put mine on on Sunday mother will gape. I shall feel proud of myself in it. It was just sweet of her to get things like this to give us. And she knew we weren't well off. Oh, I do think she's one in a thousand! She must have thought of you, Ruth, when she ordered these sweet pale-blue colors, for that color is yours, isn't it?"

"I suppose so," said Ruth. "Well, all the same, I feel rather anxious. I like her, of course, but I think she is mistaken. I must go on now, but I feel somehow——"

"What?" said Susy, with some impatience.

"As though I had not done right—as though I had something to conceal. Well, I can't help myself, only I won't hate the girls who are good to me. Good-night, Susy. We won't be in time for school in the morning if we stay talking any longer."



CHAPTER XI.

THE BLOUSE AND THE ROBBERY.

Susy Hopkins shared none of Ruth Craven's scruples. To her the Wild Irish Girls' Society was all that was lovely. She trod on air as she went down the street, and when she finally let herself into her mother's little shop, locked the door after her, and went softly upstairs, her heart was beating so loud that she hardly knew herself. She slept in a tiny room just at the back of her mother's; it was sparsely furnished, and had a sloping roof at one side. The chest of drawers also did duty as a dressing-table, and there was a small square of looking-glass placed on the top. Susy had secured a candle in a tin candlestick, with which she had lighted herself to her bedroom, but when she got there she had no intention of putting up with such feeble illumination. She first of all drew the bolt to secure herself against intrusion, and then stepping on tiptoe, she unlocked a drawer and took from it several ends of candle which she had collected from time to time. These she stuck on the dressing-table, and when she had made her little garret almost as bright as day she unfolded her pale-blue blouse. She bent low over her treasure, examining the blue embroidery, which was rendered still more fascinating with small stitches of pink silk, looking with ecstacy at the real lace round the neck and cuffs and finally pressing the delicate color against her blooming cheek.

Susy Hopkins was quite an ordinary-looking little girl. Her nose was decidedly snub, her mouth wide; but her eyes were dark and bright, and she had fairly good eyebrows. She had a low forehead, rather nice curly hair, and a high color in her cheeks.

"In this blouse I shall look a positive beauty," she thought. "Won't Tom respect me when he sees me in it on Sunday? I must try it on now; I really must."

Accordingly she slipped off her bodice, and substituted the pale-blue cashmere blouse for the ugly and threadbare garment she had removed. Whether the blouse was becoming to Susy Hopkins or not remains to be proved, but it certainly delighted its wearer, causing her eyes to sparkle and the color in her cheeks to grow brighter.

"It is the most beautiful thing I ever saw in my life," she thought. "Why, Kathleen is like a fairy godmother. And how well it fits! And what a perfect cut about the neck! And, oh! these darling little cuffs at the end of the sleeves, and this sweet pink embroidery and this little ruffle of lace round the neck. Oh! there never, never was anything made so beautifully before. I am in luck; I am—I am."

Her mother's hand knocking on the wall brought her down from the clouds.

"Go to bed, dear," called out her parent. "It is very late, and you are disturbing me."

"Yes, mother," called back Susy.

She removed the blouse, folded it in tissue-paper, put it into her drawer, blew out the candles, and got into bed. But all through the remainder of the night Susy dreamt of her blouse. The blouse filled her thoughts, otherwise she might have been in raptures over her pretty silver locket and its green ribbon. But as this was for private wear, and must on no account be shown to any one who was not a member of the society, it did not give her the amount of rapture it would otherwise have done.

"It is lovely too. It is a badge, and means a great deal," she said to herself, and she closed her hand over it as she lay in bed. "It is tiresome that I cannot show it. It is a sweet little locket, and I might save up money enough to have it gilded over. People would think I had a gold locket. I have always nearly died to have one; but of course I couldn't do that, for it would displease our queen, the darling, and I wouldn't for all I am worth do anything to annoy her. Oh dear, things are turning out lovely! I am twice as happy a girl as I was before Kathleen O'Hara came to the school."

At school next day the members of the new society looked a little conscious. Their eyes often met, and those eyes spoke volumes. Sometimes a girl would put her hand up to her neck in a somewhat significant way, and another girl would respond with a similar signal. There was a sort of suppressed excitement in the school; but the teachers remarked nothing. On the contrary, they were pleased with the way lessons were done, exercises gone through, and work accomplished. The girls were so completely in league with each other, so full of delight over the new amusement which Kathleen had started in their midst, that they had no time to be supercilious or disagreeable to the paying girls, who were left in peace. They were usually a good deal tormented by the foundationers, who took their revenge by small spiteful ways—by taking the ink when they did not want it, by removing good pens and putting bad ones in their places, by spilling ink on the blotting paper. In short, they had many ways of rendering the life of a paying girl anything but happy. To-day, however, all was peace and quiet. Kathleen walked in her radiant fashion through her lessons; her beautiful face could not but be an attraction. She was very bright and very smart, and even Alice gave her an approving glance.

"Mother is right," she thought. "She is a little better than she was. If only she would take a real interest in her work I should have hopes of her."

Now Cassandra Weldon had come to the school that day with the intention of asking Ruth Craven to come home with her. She had a suggestion to make to Ruth. She knew that the little girl was very poor and very clever. Cassandra was working very hard for one of the big scholarships, and her mother had gone to the expense of getting a special coach to help her at home. Cassandra had spoken to her mother, and her mother had agreed that Ruth might come back with her each evening and also take advantage of the services of Miss Renshaw. If Ruth got a scholarship she would indeed be a happy girl, and it was Cassandra's, opinion that, although she had been such a short time in the school, she would have a very good chance if she got a little outside help.

Accordingly Cassandra waited for Ruth outside the school when lessons were over. During the morning her eyes had travelled in Ruth's direction pretty often, and her eyes had conveyed to the little girl all sorts of kind and friendly messages. But Ruth had avoided Cassandra's eyes. She had made up her mind.

"I can't be two things," she said to herself. "I have elected to go with the foundationers and with Kathleen O'Hara, although I don't care for the society, and I don't want to belong to the girls who band themselves together against the paying girls. But if I do this I certainly can't take advantage of Cassandra's kindness. I do love her—I am sure I should love her dearly—but I can't have much to say to her now."

Accordingly, while Cassandra waited for Ruth, hoping that she would appear at any moment, and that she could tell her what a good thing she had arranged on her behalf, Ruth avoided Cassandra. Presently Kathleen O'Hara, dressed somewhat extravagantly, and with her blue velvet cap perched upon the back of her golden hair, strolled out of school. She had a crimson sash round her black velvet dress, and a wide lace collar encircled her neck. She was fastening a heavily embroidered coat of blue cashmere when Cassandra accosted her.

"How do you do, Miss O'Hara?" she said.

"How are you?" replied Kathleen, just raising her brows, and then turning to say something to Susy Hopkins.

Cassandra frowned.

"How can Kathleen, who with all her eccentricities is a lady, waste her time talking to an insignificant little girl like Susy?" thought Cassandra.

Kathleen seemed to read her neighbor's thoughts, for she slipped her hand inside Susy's arm.

"I will walk with you a little way," she said; "I have something I want to say."

"One moment first," said Cassandra. "Have you seen Ruth Craven anywhere?"

"Oh yes; Ruth has left the school. Didn't you see her go? There she is, crossing the field. I suppose she is in a hurry to get home."

"Thank you," said Cassandra.

She caught up her books and started running in the direction of Ruth Craven.

"How tiresome of her to have gone so fast!" she said to herself?

Presently she shouted Ruth's name, and Ruth was obliged to stop.

"Why, Ruth," said Cassandra, "what is the matter with you? You generally wait to talk to me after school is over. Why are you in such a hurry?"

"I am not," said Ruth, who was not going to get out of her difficulty by telling an untruth.

"Well, if you are not in a hurry, why are you running across this field at the rate of a hunt? It looks as if you were—" Cassandra paused, and the color came into her cheeks—"as if you were running away from me."

Ruth was silent. Cassandra came close to her and looked into her face.

"What is the matter, Ruth?" she repeated.

"I have promised granny that I would help her with some darning this afternoon."

"Your granny must do without you, for you have got to come back with me."

"Oh, indeed, I can't!"

"But you must, my little girl. I have got the most heavenly plan to suggest to you."

Cassandra laid her hand on Ruth's shoulder. Ruth started away.

"What is it, Ruth? How queer you look! What is the matter?"

"I must get home. I promised granny."

"But listen before you decide. You know Miss Renshaw, don't you?"

"Miss Maria Renshaw, the coach. Yes, I do."

"Don't you remember my pointing her out to you?"

"Of course I remember it, Cassandra; and she looked—oh, lovely!"

"She is far more lovely than she looks—that is, if you mean she is clever and taking and all the rest. She is just perfectly splendid. She makes you see a thing at the first glance. She has a way of putting information into you so that you cannot help knowing. Oh, she is delightful! And mother says that I may have her to coach me for the big scholarship—the sixty-pounds-a-year scholarship. You know there are two of them. There is one quite in your line, and there is one in mine; and there is no earthly reason why you should not get one and I the other."

"Well?" said Ruth.

Her beautiful, fair, delicately chiselled face had turned pale. She stood very upright, and looked full at Cassandra.

"It could be easily done, dear little Ruth. Miss Renshaw would just as soon coach two girls as one, and mother has arranged it. Yes, she has arranged it absolutely. Miss Renshaw will coach you and me together. You are to come home with me every evening. She will give us both an hour. Isn't it too splendid?"

Ruth did not speak.

"Aren't you pleased, Ruth? Don't you think it is very nice of me to think of my friends? You are my friend, you know."

"Oh no," said Ruth.

"But what is it? What is the matter?"

"I—I can't."

"You can. It will be madness to refuse. Think what a chance is offered you. If you get Miss Renshaw's instruction you are safe to get that scholarship; and it is for three years, Ruth. It would send you, with a little help from your grandfather, perhaps to Holloway College, perhaps to Somerville or Newnham, or even Girton. Perhaps you could try for a scholarship in one of these great colleges afterwards. You daren't refuse it. It means—oh, it means all the difference in your whole life."

"I know," said Ruth. "Cassandra, I will write to you. I can't decide just now. I am awfully obliged to you; I can't express what I feel. You are good; you are very, very good."

Ruth caught one of Cassandra's hands and raised it to her lips.

"You are very good," she said again.

Meanwhile Kathleen O'Hara, after walking a very short way with Susy Hopkins, gave her an abrupt good-bye and started running in the direction of the Tennants' house. She did not care a bit for Susy; but being a member of the Wild Irish Girls, and not only a member, but one of the Cabinet, she must on all occasions be kind to her. Nevertheless a commonplace little girl like Susy Hopkins had not one thing in common with Kathleen.

"Everything is going splendidly," she said to herself. "No fear now that I shall not have plenty of excitement in the coming by-and-by. I mean to write to father and ask him whether I may not invite some of the members of the Cabinet to Carrigrohane. Wouldn't they enjoy it? Kate Rourke, of course, must come; and dear little Ruth Craven. How pale and sweet Ruth looked to-day! She is far and away the nicest girl in the school. I am so glad I have taken steps to prevent that horrid friendship with Cassandra coming to anything! Ruth mustn't love anybody in the school very, very much except me. Oh, things are going well, and Alice little guesses what she is driving me to by her extraordinary behavior."

Kathleen entered the house, banging the door loudly after her, as was her fashion.

Another little girl had also reached home, but she did not bang the door. She entered her mother's shop to encounter the flushed and much-perturbed face of her parent.

"Well, Susy," said Mrs. Hopkins, "I wouldn't have thought it of you."

"Why, what is it, mother?"

"There's nineteen-and-sixpence taken out of the till," said Mrs. Hopkins. "Some one must have come into the shop, for the accounts are nineteen-and-sixpence short. When I left the house yesterday there were three pounds in the till—three pounds and fivepence-halfpenny. You sold, according to your own showing, a penn'orth of paper, which makes an extra penny; but when I went into the accounts this morning I found that the whole amount was only two pounds one shilling and a halfpenny. Nineteen-and-sixpence is missing. Susy, what does this mean?"

"I am sure, mother, I can't tell you. No one came into the shop; certainly no one stole the money."

"My dear child, seeing is believing. I assure you there are only two pounds one shilling and a halfpenny in the till. I scarcely took a penny this morning, and that nineteen-and-sixpence makes it impossible for me to pay my rent, as I meant to do, to-day. Who can have come in and stolen very nearly a pound's worth of my hard-earned money?"

"Nobody, mother dear. Do let me examine the till."

"Are you quite positive that no one came into the shop?"

"Nobody, mother."

"You did not leave the shop even for a moment?"

"Yes; I went to sit in the parlor."

"Oh, Susy? there you are! I trust you with my house and property, and you leave the shop without any one in it Did you lock the till?"

Susy had an unpleasant memory of having found the till open when she returned to attend to a customer.

"No" she said, hanging her head.

Mrs. Hopkins uttered a heavy sigh.

"Oh, dear!" she said. "And as you sat in the parlor you could see the shop. You did not leave the parlor, did you?"

For one minute Susy remembered that she had gone upstairs for an exercise-book, but she determined not to tell her mother of this further enormity.

"I was either in the shop or in the parlor all the time. I only went into the parlor because I could not do my exercises in the shop. But I sat where I could see everything."

"You couldn't have done so. This money would not have gone without hands. How am I to manage I don't know. I have lost a large sum for such a poor woman."

Susy pitied her mother, tried to assure her that the fault was not hers, was convinced that the money would be found, and went on talking a lot of nonsense until Mrs. Hopkins fairly lost her temper.

"Examine the drawer for yourself" she said. "I tell, you what it is, Susy, I won't be able to buy you a new winter frock at all this year; and you will have to have your boots patched, for I can't afford a new pair. I was trying to collect a pound towards your winter things, but this puts a stop to everything."

"Mother doesn't know what a lovely blouse I've got," thought Susy. "When she sees me in that she'll be quite cheered up."

The moment she thought of the blouse the little girl felt a frantic desire to run upstairs to look at it.

"Mother," she said, "I don't mind a bit about the winter dress; and if my boots are neatly patched and well blacked every day, I dare say I can do with them a little longer. And I will sit with you this afternoon, mother, and help you to sew. I can't understand who could have stolen the money. Perhaps it is a practical joke of Tom's; you know he is fond of doing things of that sort now and then."

"No, it isn't, for I asked him. Who can have come into the shop? Do you think you fell asleep over your work?"

"Oh, no."

"Then it is a mystery past bearing. If nobody came in, and you never left either the shop or the parlor, that money was taken out of the till as though by magic."

"We will find it, mother; we are sure to find it," said Susy; and the way she said these words aggravated poor Mrs. Hopkins, as she said afterwards, more than a little.



CHAPTER XII.

TOM HOPKINS AND HIS WAY WITH AUNT CHURCH.

It was quite true that Mrs. Hopkins could ill afford to lose so large a sum as nineteen-and-sixpence out of her small earnings. During her husband's lifetime the stationer's shop had gone well and provided a comfortable living for his wife, son, and daughter. But unfortunately, in an evil moment he had been induced to put his hand to a bill for a friend. The friend had, as usually is the case, become bankrupt. Poor Hopkins had to pay the money, and from that moment the affairs in the stationer's shop were the reverse of flourishing. In fact, the blow killed the poor man. He lingered for a time, broken-hearted and unable to rouse himself, and finally died about three years before the date of this story. For a time Mrs. Hopkins was quite prostrate, but being a woman with a good deal of vigor and determination, she induced one of her relatives to lend her one hundred pounds, and determined to keep on with the shop. She could not, of course, stock it as fully as she would have liked; she could never extend her connection beyond mere stationery, sealing-wax, pens, and a very few books, and Christmas cards in the winter. Still, she managed to support herself and Tom and Susy; but it was a scraping along all the time. She had to count every penny, and, above all things, to avoid going in debt. She was only in debt for the one hundred pounds, which had been lent to her by an aunt of her husband's, an old woman of the name of Church, who lived in a neighboring village about four miles away.

Mrs. Church was quite rich, according to the Hopkinses' ideas of wealth. She lived alone and hoarded her money. She had not been at all willing to lend Mrs. Hopkins the hundred pounds; but as she had really been fond of Mr. Hopkins, and had at one time meant to make him her heir, she had listened to Mrs. Hopkins's lamentations, and desired her to send Tom to her to inspect him, and had finally handed over the money, which was to be paid back by monthly installments within the space of three years.

Mrs. Hopkins was so relieved to get the money that she never thought at all of the terrible tax it would be to return it. Still, by working hard morning, noon, and night—she added to her gains by doing fine needlework for several ladies, who said that no one could embroider like Mrs. Hopkins—she managed to make two ends just meet together, and she always continued to send Mrs. Church her two pounds fifteen shillings and sevenpence on the first of every month. Tom was the one who generally ran across to the old lady's with the money; and so fond was she of him that she often gave him a piece of cake, and even on one or two rare occasions kept him to dinner. Tom enjoyed his visits to Mrs. Church, and Mrs. Hopkins was sure to encourage him to go to her, as she hoped against hope that when the old lady died Tom would be left some of her money.

It was on a Wednesday that Susy sat in the parlor and forgot all about the interests of the shop; it was on that very night that the tramp had come in and helped himself to a ten-shilling-piece and some silver out of the till; and it was on the following Saturday that Mrs. Hopkins, for the first time since she had borrowed the hundred pounds from Aunt Church, as she called the old lady, found that she could not return even a portion of what had just fallen due. She called Tom to her side.

"Tom," she said, "you must go and see Aunt Church this afternoon as soon as ever you come in. You must go, and you must tell her."

"Of course I'll go, mother," answered the boy. "I always like going to Aunt Church's; she is very kind to me. She said next time I came along she'd show me things in her microscope. She has got a beetle's wing, mother, mounted on glass, and when you gaze down at it it seems to be covered with beautiful feathers, as long as though they were on a big bird. And she has got a drop of water full of wriggly things all alive; and she says we drink it by the gallon, and it is no wonder we feel bad in our insides. I'll go, right enough. I suppose you have the money ready?"

"No, Tom, that's just what I have not got. I told you how that night when I had the misfortune to go and see your aunt and look after her sick child, some one came into the shop and stole nineteen-and-sixpence out of the till. I am so short from the loss of that money that I can't pay Aunt Church for at least another week. Ask her if she'll be kind enough to give me a week's grace, Tom; that's a good boy. I can't think how the money was stolen."

"Why don't you put it into the hands of the police?" said Tom.

"Why, Tom," said his mother, looking at him with admiration, "you are a smart boy. Do you know, I never thought of that. I will go round to the police-station this very afternoon and get Police-Constable Macartney to take it up."

"But, mother, the thief, whoever he is, has left the place long before now. The money was stolen on Wednesday, and this is Saturday morning."

"Well, Tom, there's no saying. Anyhow, I will go round to the police-station and lodge the information."

Accordingly, while Susy was again trying on her lovely pale-blue cashmere blouse behind locked doors upstairs, Tom and his mother were plotting how best to cover the loss of the nineteen-and-sixpence. Naughty Susy, having made up her mind to deny herself a new frock and new boots, had given the matter no further consideration. She was accustomed to the fact that her mother was always in money difficulties. As long as she could remember, this was the state of things at home. She had come to the conclusion that grown-up persons were always in a frantic state about money, and she had no desire to join these anxious ones herself. As she could not mend matters, she did not see why she should worry about them.

Tom had a scrap of dinner and then ran off to see Aunt Church. He found the old lady sitting at her parlor window looking out as usual for him. She was dressed in rusty black; she had a front of stiff curls on her forehead, a white widow's-cap over it, and a small black crape handkerchief crossed on her breast. Mrs. Church was a little woman; she had very tiny feet and hands, and was very proud of them. She never thought of buying any new clothes, and her black bombazine dress was more brown than black now; so was her shawl, and so was the handkerchief which she wore round her neck. Her cap was tied with ribbons which had been washed so often that they were no longer white, but yellow.

She came to the door to greet Tom when he arrived, and called him in.

"Ah, Tom!" she said, "I have got a piece of plumcake waiting for you; and if you are a really good boy, and will shoo the fowls into my backyard and shut the gate on them, you may look into my microscope."

"Thank you, Aunt Church," said Tom. "Shall I go at once and shoo the fowls?"

"You had best give me my money first. Here is the box; you drop it in: two pounds in gold—I hope to goodness your mother has sent the money in gold—two pounds in gold and the rest in silver. Now then, here is the box. Drop it in like a good child, and then you shall shoo the fowls, and have your plumcake, and look in the microscope."

"But, Aunt Church—" said Tom. He planted himself right in front of the old lady. He was a tall boy, well set up, with a sandy head, and a face covered with freckles. He had rather shallow blue eyes and a wide mouth, but his whole expression was honest and full of fun. "I am desperately sorry, and so is mother."

"Eh! What?" said the old lady. She put her hand to her ear. "I am a bit hard of hearing, my dear; come close to me."

"Mother's awfully sorry, but she can't pay you to-day."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Church; "can't pay me to-day! But it's the first of the month, and she was never behindhand—I will say that—in her payments before."

"She's fretting past bearing," said Tom. "She'd give all the world to be able to pay you up, but she ain't got the money, and that's a fact. We have had a robbery in the shop, Aunt Church, and mother has took on dreadful."

"A burglary?" said Mrs. Church. "Now tell me all about it. Stand here and pour your words into my ear. I am very much interested about burglaries. Was there attempted murder? Speak up, boy—speak up."

Tom quite longed to say that there was. Had he been able to assure Mrs. Church that burglars with masks on their faces had burst into the shop at dead of night and penetrated to his mother's bedroom, and had held pistols to her throat and Susy's throat, and a great bare, glittering knife to his; and had he been further able to tell her that he himself, unaided, had grappled with the enemy, had wrested the knife from the hand of one, and knocked the loaded pistols from the hands of the others—then, indeed, he would have felt himself a hero, and the mere fact of not being able to return the money on the appointed day would not have signified.

But Tom was truthful, and he had but a lame story to tell. Nineteen-and-sixpence had been abstracted from the till. Nobody knew how it had been done, and nobody had the least idea who was the thief. Mrs. Church, who would have given her niece unlimited time to return the money had there been a real, proper, bloodthirsty burglary, was not at all inclined to show mercy when the affair dwindled down into an unknown thief taking a small sum of money out of the till.

"Why didn't you get it back?" she said. "Why didn't you send for the police? My word, this is a nice state of things! And me to be out of my money that I counted upon. Why, Tom, boy, I spend that money on my food, rent, and the little expenses I have to go to. I made up my mind when I drew that hundred pounds from my dear husband's hard-earned savings that, whatever happened, I'd make that sum last me for all expenses for three years. And I have done it, Tom—I have done it. I am in low water, Tom. I want the money; I want it just as much as your poor mother does."

"But you have money in the bank, haven't you?"

"That is no affair of yours, Tom Hopkins. Don't talk in that silly way to me. No, I don't want you to shoo the fowls into the yard, and I don't mean to give you any plumcake. I shall have to eat it myself, for I have no money to buy anything else. And I won't show you the beautiful wings of the beetle in the microscope. You can go home to your mother and tell her I am very much annoyed indeed."

"But, Aunt Church," said Tom, "if you were to see poor mother you wouldn't blame her. She looks, oh, so thin and so tired! She's terribly unhappy, and she will be certain sure to pay you next week. It was silly of her, I will own, not to think of the police sooner; but she's gone to them to-day, ordered by me to do that same."

"That was thoughtful enough of you, Tom, and I don't object to giving you a morsel of the stalest cake. I always keep three cakes in three tin boxes, and you can have a morsel of the stalest; it is more than two months old, but you won't mind that."

"Not me," said Tom, "I like stale cakes best," he added, determined to show his aunt that he was ready to be pleased with everything. He was a very knowing boy, and spoke up so well, and was so evidently sorry himself, and so positive that as soon as ever the police were told they would simply lay their hands on the thief and the thief would disgorge his spoils, that Aunt Church was fain to believe him.

In the end she and he made a compact.

"I tell you what it is," he said. "You haven't been to see mother for a long time, and if you ain't got any money to buy a dinner for yourself, it is but fair you should have a slice off our Sunday joint."

"Sunday joint, indeed!" snapped Mrs. Church.

"You couldn't expect us not to have a bit of meat on Sunday," said Tom. "Why, we'd get so weak that mother couldn't earn the money she sends you every month."

"And you couldn't do your lessons and be the fine big boy that I am proud of," said Mrs. Church. "Now, to tell the truth, I can't bear that sister of yours—Susy, you call her—but I have a liking for you, Tom Hopkins. What is it you want me to do?"

"If you will let me come here to-morrow, I'll push you all the way to Merrifield in time for our dinner. Wouldn't you like that? And I'd bring you back again in the evening. There's your own old bath-chair that Uncle Church used to be moved about in before he died."

"To be sure, there is," said Mrs. Church, her eyes brightening. "But the lining has got moth-eaten."

"Who minds that?" said Tom. "I'll go and clean it after you have given me that bit of cake you promised me."

Everything ended quite satisfactorily as far as Tom was concerned, for Mrs. Church forgot her anger in the interest that the boy's visit gave her. She consulted him about her fowls, and gave him a new-laid egg to slip into his pocket for his own supper. Later on she allowed him to munch some very poor and very stale plumcake. Finally she gave him his heart's delight, for he was allowed to peer into the old microscope and revel in the sight of the beetle's wings with thin, sweeping plumes, as he afterwards described them.

It was rather late when Tom returned home. He burst into the parlor where his mother and Susy were sitting.

"Mother," he said, "I have done everything splendidly; and she's coming to dine with us to-morrow."

"She's what?" said Mrs. Hopkins.

"Aunt Church is coming to dine with us. She was mad about the money, and nobody could have been nastier than she might have turned out but for me. But it's all right now. We must have a nice dinner for her. She is very fond of good things, and as she never gives them to herself, she will enjoy ours all the more."

"She'll think that I am rich, when I am as poor as a church mouse," said Mrs. Hopkins. "But I suppose you have done everything for the best, Tom, and I must go around to the butcher's for a little addition to the dinner."

Mrs. Hopkins left the house, and Tom sank into a chair by his sister.

"It's golloptious for me," he said. "She's taking no end of a fancy to me. See this egg? She gave it to me for my supper. Mother shall have it. Mother is looking very white about the gills; a new-laid egg that she hasn't to pay for will nourish her up like anything."

"So it will," said Susy. "We'll boil it and say nothing about it, and just pop it on her plate when she's having her supper. All the same, Tom, I wish you hadn't asked old Aunt Church here. She is such a queer old body; and the neighbors sometimes drop in on Sundays. And I have asked Miss Kathleen O'Hara to come in to-morrow, and she has promised to."

"What?" said Tom. "That grand beauty of a young lady, the pride of the school? Why, everybody is talking about her. At the boys' school they've caught sight of her, and there isn't a boy that hasn't fallen in love with her. They all slink behind the wall, and bob up as she comes by. You don't mean that she's coming here?"

"Yes; why not? She's very fond of me."

"But she's no end of a howler. They say she's worth her weight in gold, and that her father is a sort of king in Ireland. Why should she take up with a little girl like you?"

"Well, Tom, some people like me, although you think but little of your sister. Kathleen is very fond of me. I invited her to have tea with us to-morrow, and she is coming."

"My word!" said Tom. "To think that I shall be sitting at the same table with her! I'll be able to make my own terms now with John Short and Harry Reid and the rest of the chaps. Why, Susy, you must be a genius, and I thought you weren't much of a sort."

"I am better than you think; and she is fond of me."

"And you really and truly call her by her Christian name?"

"Of course I do."

Susy longed to tell Tom about the wonderful society; but its strictest rule was that it was never to be spoken about to outsiders. Susy, as a member of the Cabinet, must certainly be one of the last to break the rules.

Mrs. Hopkins came back at that moment. She had added a pound of sausage and a little piece of pork to their usual Sunday fare. She had also brought sixpennyworth of apples with her.

"These are to make a pudding," she said. "I think we shall do now very well."

Susy and Tom quite agreed with their mother. Susy rose and prepared supper, and at the crucial moment the new-laid egg was laid on Mrs. Hopkins's plate. It takes, perhaps, a great deal of poverty to truly appreciate a new-laid egg. Mrs. Hopkins was delighted with hers; she thought Tom the noblest boy in the world for having denied himself in order to give it to her. Tears filled her tired eyes as she thanked God for her good children.

Susy and Tom watched her as she ate the egg, and thought how delicious it must taste, but were glad she had it.

The following day dawned bright and clear, with a suspicion of frost in the air. It was, as Tom expressed it, a perfect day. Susy went to church with her mother in the morning, the dinner being all prepared and left to cook itself in the oven. Tom started at about eleven o'clock on his walk to the tiny village where Mrs. Church lived.

As soon as Susy returned from her place of worship she helped her mother to get the little parlor ready. She put some autumn leaves in a jug on the center of the table. Her mother brought out the best china, which had not been used since her husband's death. The best china was very pretty, and Susy thought that no table could look more elegant than theirs. The best china was accompanied by some quite good knives and forks. The forks were real silver; Mrs. Hopkins regarded them with pride.

"If the worst—the very worst—comes," she said to Susy, "we can sell them; but I cling to them as a piece of respectability that I never want to part from. Your dear father gave them to me on our wedding-day—a whole dozen of beautiful silver forks with the hall-mark on them, and his initials on the handle of each. I want them to be Tom's some day. Silver should always be handed on to the eldest son."

Susy felt that she was almost worthy of Kathleen's friendship as she regarded the silver forks.

"You must never part with them, mother," she said—until Tom is married. Then, of course, they will belong to him."

"You are a good little girl, Susy," said her mother. "Of course, there never was a boy like Tom. It was sweet of him to give up his egg to me last night."

Having seen that the table was in perfect order, and that the dinner was cooking as well as dinner could in the oven, Mrs. Hopkins went upstairs to put on a lace collar and a neat black silk apron.

Meanwhile Susy had locked herself into her own room. The crowning moment of her life had arrived. She had made up her mind that she would wear her new blouse at dinner that day. Susy's stockings were coarse, and showed darns here and there; Susy's shoes were rough, and could not altogether hide the disfiguring patches on the toes of each; Susy's skirt was dark-blue serge, fairly neat in its way. Altogether Susy from her waist down was a very ordinary little girl—the little daughter of poor people; but from her waist up she was resplendent.

"Oh! if I could only show my sweet, sweet little badge," she thought, "it would make me perfect. But I daren't. The queen commands that it should be hidden, and the queen's commands must be obeyed."

Susy slipped into her blouse. She fastened it; she put a belt round her waist. She curtsied before her little glass. She bobbed here; she bobbed there. She looked at herself front view, then over her shoulder, then, with a morsel of glass, at her back; she surveyed herself, as far as the limited accommodation of her room afforded, from every point of view. Finally, with flushed cheeks and a very proud expression on her face, she tripped downstairs. The pale-blue cashmere blouse, with its real lace and embroidered trimmings, might have been worn by any girl, even in the highest station of life.

Mrs. Hopkins was busy in the kitchen. She called to Susy:

"Come and hold the vegetable dish, child. I hear Tom pushing Aunt Church in at the gate; I know he is doing it by the creak of the bath-chair. There never was a bath-chair that creaked like that. Hold this while I—Why, sakes alive, Susy! wherever did you get—"

"Oh, it's my new blouse, mother."

"Your new what?"

"What you see, mother—my new blouse. Don't you admire it?"

Mrs. Hopkins was so stunned that she could not speak for a moment. Her face, which had been quite florid, turned pale. She suddenly put up her hand and caught Susy by the arm.

"Oh, mother, don't!" said the little girl. "Your hand isn't clean. Oh, you have made a stain! Oh, mother, how could you?"

"Run upstairs at once, child, and take it off. For the life of you don't let her see it; she'd never forgive me. It isn't fit for you, Susy; it really isn't. Wherever did you get it from? Where did you buy it?"

Now Susy had really no intention of making a secret with regard to the blouse. She meant to tell her mother frankly that it was a present from Miss Kathleen O'Hara, but Mrs. Hopkins's manner and words put the little girl into a passion, and she was determined now not to say a word.

"It is my secret," she said. "I won't tell you how I got it, nor who gave it to me. And I won't take it off."

Just then there were voices, and Aunt Church called out:

"Where are you, Mary Hopkins? Why don't you show yourself? Fussing over fine living, I suppose. Oh, there is your daughter. My word! Fine feathers make fine birds.—Come over and speak to me, my dear, and help me out of this chair. Now then, give me your hand. Be quick!"

Susy put out her hand and helped Mrs. Church as well as she could out of the bath-chair. Tom winked when he saw the splendid apparition; then he stuck his tongue into his cheek, and coming close to his sister, he whispered:

"Wherever did you get that toggery?"

"That's nothing to you," said Susy.

Mrs. Church glanced over her shoulder and looked solemnly at Susy.

"It's my opinion," she said, speaking in a slow, emphatic, rather awful voice, "that you are a very, very bad little girl. You will come to no good. Mark my words. I prophesy a bad end for you, and trouble for your unfortunate mother. You will remember my words when the prophecy comes true. Help me now into the parlor. I cannot stay long, but I will have a morsel of your grand dinner before I leave."



CHAPTER XIII.

AUNT CHURCH AT DINNER AND THE CONSEQUENCES THEREOF.

When Mrs. Church was comfortably established in the easy-chair in the little parlor, with her feet on the fender, and a nice view of the street from the window near by—when her best widow's-cap was perched upon her head, and her little black mitts were drawn over her delicate, small hands—she looked around her and gave a brief sigh of satisfaction.

"Upon my word," she said, "I'm not at all sorry I came. There's nothing like seeing things for yourself. Most elegant damask on the table. Mary Hopkins, where did you get that damask?"

Mrs. Hopkins, whose cheeks were flushed, and who looked considerably worried, replied that it had been left to her by her own mother.

"My mother was a housekeeper in a nobleman's family," she said, "and she was given that cloth and two or three more like it. I have 'em in the linen-chest upstairs, and I wouldn't part with 'em to anybody."

"I admire your pride," said Mrs. Church. "Next door to pride comes honesty. I am sometimes inclined to believe that it comes afore pride; but we needn't dispute that delicate point at present. And the silver forks. My word!—Tom, my boy, pass me a fork to examine."

Tom took up a fork and handed it to Mrs. Church.

"Hall-marked and all!" she said.

She laid it down with emphasis.

"Perhaps you know," she said, fixing her beady black eyes upon Mrs. Hopkins's face, "that I'll be very low as regards victuals for the rest of this week. But never mind; I am never one to press what it ain't convenient to return. Ah! and here comes the dinner. Well, I will say that I have a good appetite.—You can push me right up to the table, Tom, my boy."

Tom did push the old lady into the most comfortable seat. She now removed her mittens, put a napkin on her lap, and bent forward with a look of appetite to regard the different dishes which Ellen, the tiny twelve-year-old servant, brought in. Ellen trembled very much in the company of the old lady, and Mrs. Hopkins trembled still more. But Susy, who saw no reason why she should bow down before Aunt Church, ate her good dinner with appetite, tossed her little head, and felt that she was making a sensation. Tom was very attentive to Mrs. Church, and helped her to a large glass of ginger-wine. She thoroughly enjoyed her dinner, and, while she was eating it, forgot all about Susy and the pale-blue cashmere blouse.

But when the meat had been followed by the apple-pudding, and the apple-pudding by some coffee which was served in real china cups, and Mrs. Church had folded her napkin and swept the crumbs from her bombazine dress, and Mrs. Hopkins, assisted by Susy, had removed the cloth, and the little maid had swept up the hearth, Mrs. Church began to recollect herself. It is true she was no longer hungry nor cold, for the fire was plentiful, and the sun also poured in at the small window. But Mrs. Church had a memory and, as she believed, a grievance. In her tiny house on the common four miles away firing was scarce, and food was scarcer. The owner of the house did not care to spend more than a very limited sum of money on coals and food. There was nothing in the cottage for Mrs. Church's supper except a bit of stale cake, a hunch of brown bread, and a little tea. The tea would have to be drunk without milk, and with only a modicum of brown sugar, for Mrs. Church was determined to spend no money, if possible, until Mrs. Hopkins paid the debt which had been due on the previous day. It was one thing, therefore, for Mrs. Church's debtors to eat good roast beef and good boiled pork and good apple-pudding, but it was another thing for Mrs. Church to tolerate it. She fixed her eyes now on Susy in a very meaning way. Susy had never appealed to the old lady's fancy, and she appealed less than ever to-day.

"Come right over here, little girl," said Mrs. Church, waving a thin arm and motioning Susy to approach.

Susy Hopkins, remembering her blouse and her proud position as a member of the Cabinet of the Queen of the Wild Irish Girls, felt for a moment inclined to disobey; but Mrs. Church had a certain power about her, and she impelled Susy to come forward.

"Stand just in front of me," she said, "and let me look at you. My word! I never did see a more elegant figure. Don't you think that you are something like a peacock—fine above and ugly below?"

"No, I don't, Aunt Church," said Susy.

"Tut, tut, child! Don't give me any of your sauce, but just answer a straight question. Where did you get that bodice? It is singularly fine for a little girl like you. Where did you get it?"

"I don't think it is any business of yours, Aunt Church."

"Susy!" said her mother in a voice of terror. "Don't talk like that. You know very well you mustn't be rude to Aunt Church.—Don't mind her, aunt; she is a very naughty girl."

"I am not, mother," said Susy; "and it's awfully unkind of you to say it of me. I am not a bit rude. But it is not Aunt Church's affair. I didn't steal the blouse; I came by it honestly, and it wasn't bought out of any of Aunt Church's money."

"That remains to be proved," said Mrs. Church. "Susan Hopkins, I don't like you nor your ways. When I was young I knew a little girl, and you remind me of her. She had a face summat like yours, no way pretty, but what you'd call boastful and conceited; and she thought a sight of herself, and put on gay dress that she had no call to wear. She strutted about among the neighbors, and they said, 'Fine feathers make fine birds,' and laughed at her past bearing. But she didn't mind, because she was a little girl that was meant to go to the bad—and she did. She learned to be a thief, and she broke her mother's heart, and she was locked up in prison. In prison she had to wear the ugly convict-dress with the broad-arrow stamped on all her clothes. Afterwards, when she came out again, her poor mother had died, and her grandmother likewise; and her brother, who was the moral image of Tom there, wouldn't receive her in his house. I haven't heard of her for a long time back, but most likely she died in the work-house. Well, Susan, you may take my little story for what it is worth, and much good may it do you."

"I think you are very rude indeed, Aunt Church," said Susy. "I don't see that I'm bound to submit to your ugly, cruel words. I like this blouse, and I'll wear it whenever I wish."

"Oh, hoity-toity!" said the old lady; "impudent as well as everything else. That I should live to see it!—Mary Hopkins, can it be convenient to you to let me have the remainder of my hundred pounds? There wasn't any contract but that I could demand it whenever I wanted it, and it is about convenient to me that I should have it back now. You owe me between thirty and forty pounds, and I'd like, I will say, to see the color of my money. It can't be at all ill-convenient to you to give it to me when you can afford blouses of that quality for your impudent young daughter. Real lace, forsooth! I know it when I see it. We'll say Wednesday week to receive the money, and I will come over in my bath-chair, drawn by Tom, to take it; and I will give Tom a whole shilling for himself the day I get it back. That will be quite convenient to you, Mary Hopkins, won't it?"

"Susy," said poor Mrs. Hopkins, "for goodness' sake, leave the room.—Aunt Church, you know perfectly well that I am not responsible for the naughty ways of that naughty little girl. It's apologize to you she shall, and that before you leave this house. And you know that if you press me now to return the money in full I'll have to sell up the shop, and the children won't have anything to eat, and we'll all be ruined. You wouldn't be as cruel as that to your own flesh and blood, would you?"

"Well, Mary, I only said it to frighten you. I ain't at all a cruel woman. On the contrary, I am kind-hearted; but I can't stand the sauce of that little girl of yours. It's my opinion, Mary, that the lost money of yours is on the back of your Susan, and the sooner you get her to confess her sin the better it will be for us all."

Now, before Mrs. Hopkins had time to utter a word with regard to this preposterous and appalling suggestion of Aunt Church's, there came a loud knock on the little street-door, and, listening in the parlor, the people within could distinctly hear the rustle of silk petticoats.

"Who in the world can that be?" said Mrs. Hopkins.

Tom turned first red and then white, and rushed into the passage. Susy, who had been crying in the shop, also appeared on the scene.

"I'll open the door," said Tom. "Do wipe your eyes, Susy; don't let her see you crying. It's herself, of course."

The knocker was just going to be applied to the door again, when Tom opened it with a flourish, and there stood, waiting on the steps, a very brilliant apparition. This was no less a person than Miss Kathleen O'Hara, in her Sunday best.

Now, Kathleen tried to bear with Mrs. Tennant's advice with regard to her clothes in the week, but on Sundays she was absolutely determined that her love of finery should find full vent. Accordingly, from her store of rich and beautiful garments, she chose the gayest and the most likely to attract attention. On the present occasion she wore a crimson velvet toque. Her jacket was bright blue, and she had a skirt to match. On her neck she wore a rich necklet of flaming beads, which was extremely becoming to her; and thrown carelessly round her neck and shoulders was a boa of white fur, and she had a muff to match. Altogether her radiant dress and radiant face were quite sufficient to dazzle Tom. But Susy pushed past Tom and held out her hand.

"Oh, Kathleen," she said, "I am glad you have come. You'd best come into the shop with me; there's company in the parlor, and I don't think you'd care about it."

Kathleen, of course, was just as pleased to stay in the shop with Susy as to go into any other part of the house; but just then Mrs. Hopkins put a sad, distressed face outside the door, and Mrs. Church's voice was heard in high and grating accents:

"I want to see the person who is talking in the passage."

"Oh! don't go in," said Susy. "It's Aunt Church, and she's dreadful."

"An old lady?" cried Kathleen. "I love old ladies."

She pushed past Susy and made her appearance in the parlor.

Now, Mrs. Church was a person of discernment. She strongly objected to gay dress on the person of little Susy Hopkins; but, as she expressed it, she knew the quality. Had she not lived all her earlier days as housekeeper to a widowed nobleman? Could she ever forget the fine folk she helped to prepare for in his house? Now, Kathleen, standing in the tiny room, had a certain look of wealth and distinction about her. Mrs. Church seemed to sniff the fine quality air in a moment; she even managed to rise from her chair and drop a little curtsy.

"If it weren't for the rheumatics," she said, "I wouldn't make so bold as to sit before you, miss."

"But why shouldn't you? I'm sorry you suffer from rheumatism. May I bring a chair and come and sit near you? Are you Mrs. Hopkins—Susy Hopkins's mother?"

"Indeed, my dear, I'm truly thankful to say I am not. And what may your name be, my sweet young lady?"

"Kathleen O'Hara."

"Oh, dear, but it's a mouthful."

"I'm not English," said Kathleen; "I'm Irish. Do you know, in our country we have old ladies something like you. A good many of them have dresses like you; and they live in little cottages, and we bring them up to the castle and give them good food very, very often. There are twelve of them, and they all live in their tiny cottages close to each other. We make a great fuss about them. They love to come to the castle for tea."

"The castle!" said Mrs. Church, more and more impressed. "I should think they would like it. Who wouldn't like it? It's a very great honor for an old lady to be entertained to her tea in a castle. And so you live in a castle, my bonny young lady?"

"Yes; my father owns Carrigrohane Castle."

"Eh, love! it is a mouthful of a word for me to get round my lips. But never mind; it is but to look at you to see how beautiful and good you are."

"And you are beautiful, too," said Kathleen. "I mean, you are beautiful for an old lady. I love the beauty of the old. But I want to see Mrs. Hopkins, and I want to see Susy. Susy is a great friend of mine."

Mrs. Church opened her eyes very wide; her mouth formed itself into a round O. An eager exclamation was about to burst from her lips, but she restrained herself.

"And a very good little girl Susan Hopkins is," she said, after a moment's pause; "and a particularly great friend of mine, being, so to speak, my grand-niece.—Mary, my dear, call your little girl in."

Mrs. Hopkins, in some trepidation, crossed the room and called to Susy, who was still sulking in the shop.

"My visitor and all," she kept saying. "And I wanted to have her all to myself; I had such a lot to say to her. I never saw anybody quite so horrible as Aunt Church is to-day."

"Never mind, Susy; never mind," said her mother. "The young lady is pleasing your aunt like anything, and she has sent for you."

"Come along in, Susan, this minute," called out Mrs. Church. "Come, my pet, and let's have a little talk."

"Go, Susy, and be quick about it," said her mother.

By the aid of Tom and Mrs. Hopkins, who pushed Susy from behind, she was induced to re-enter the little parlor. There, indeed, all things had changed. Kathleen called to her, made room for her on the same chair, and held her hand. Mrs. Church glanced from one to the other. Only too well did she see the difference between them. One was a rather plain little girl, the daughter of her own relation; the other was a lady, beautiful, stately, and magnificently dressed.

"I know her kind," thought Aunt Church. "I have aired beds for quality of that sort, and I have watched them when they danced in the big ballroom, and watched them, too, when their sweethearts came along, and seen—oh, yes, many, many things have I seen, and many, many things have I heard of those fair young ladies of quality. She belongs to them, and she likes that good-for-nothing, pert little Susy Hopkins! Yet it don't matter to me. Susy shall have my good graces if she has secured those of Miss Kathleen O'Hara."

Accordingly, Mrs. Church changed her tactics. She praised Susy in honeyed words to the visitor.

"A good little girl, miss, and deserving of anything that those who are better off can do for her. She is a great help to her mother.—Mary Hopkins, come nigh, dear. You are very fond of your Susy, aren't you?"

"Of course I am," said Mrs. Hopkins in an affectionate voice.

Susy longed to keep up her anger, but she could not. She was soon smiling and flushing.

"And what a neat little bodice my Susy is wearing!" said Mrs. Church. "And bought with her own hard-earned savings. You wouldn't think so, would you, miss?"

"It gives her great credit," said Kathleen in a calm voice. "I like people to wear smart clothes, don't you, Mrs. Church? If you lived on our estate, I would dress you myself. I love to see our old ladies gaily dressed. On Christmas Day they come to the castle and have dinner as well as tea. It is wonderful how smart they look."

"They are very lucky ladies—very lucky," said Mrs. Church. "They don't wear old bombazine like this, do they?"

"Your dress suits you very well, indeed," said Kathleen; "but my old ladies wear velveteen dresses. They save them, of course. We don't want them to be extravagant; but they always come up to the castle in velveteen dresses, with white caps, and white collars round their necks; and they look very nice. They have a happy time."

"I am sure they have, miss."

"Yes, they have a very happy time. They want for nothing. There was an old lady belonging to our house who left a certain sum of money, and the old ladies get it between them. They get six shillings a week each, and a dear little house to live in. We are obliged to supply them with as much coal as they want, and candles, and a new pair of blankets on the first of every November, and a bale of unbleached calico on the first of May. You can't think how comfortable they are. And then, of course, we throw in a lot of extra things—the black velveteen dresses, and other garments of the same quality."

"It must be a wonderful place to live in. Is it very difficult to get into one of these houses, missy?"

"I don't know. Would you like to come?"

"That I would."

"I'll write to father and ask him if you may."

"Miss, it would be wonderful."

"You'd be very picturesque amongst them," said Kathleen, gazing at Mrs. Church with a critical eye. "And you'd have so much to tell them; because all the rest are Irish, and they have never gone beyond their own country. But you have seen such a lot of life, haven't you?"

"Miss, I can't express all the tales I could tell. I lived with the quality for so long. I lived with Lord Henshel until he died; I was housekeeper there. Oh, I could tell them lots of things."

"It would be very nice if you came over; and I am almost sure there is a cottage vacant," said Kathleen in a contemplative voice. "It seems unfair to give the cottages entirely to Irish people. We might have one English old lady. You would enjoy it; you'd have such a lovely view! And you might keep your own little pig if you liked."

Mrs. Church was not enamored with the idea of keeping a pig.

"Perhaps fowls would do as well," she said. "I have a great fancy for birds, and I am fond of new-laid eggs."

"Fowls will do just as well," said Kathleen, rising now carelessly from her seat. "Well, Mrs. Church, I will write to father and let you know if there is a vacancy; and you could come back with me in the summer, couldn't you?"

"Oh, miss, it would be heaven!"

"Can't we go out and have a walk now, Susy?" said Kathleen, who found the small parlor a little too close for her taste.

Susy rushed upstairs, put on her outdoor jacket and a cheap hat, and, trying to hide the holes in her gloves, ran downstairs. Kathleen, however, was the last girl to notice any want in her companion's wardrobe. She had all her life been so abundantly supplied with clothes that, although she loved to array herself in fine garments, the want of them in others never attracted her attention.

"Susy," she said the moment they got out of doors, "what is the matter with Ruth Craven?"

"With Ruth Craven?" said Susy, who was by no means inclined to waste her time over such an uninteresting person.

"Yes. You must go to her house; you must insist on seeing her, and you must find out and let me know what is wrong. She has written me a most mysterious letter; she has actually asked me to let her withdraw from our society. Ruth, of all people!"

"It is very queer of her," said Susy, "not to be grateful and pleased, for she is no better than the rest of us."

"No better than the rest of you, Susy?" said Kathleen, raising her brows in surprise. "But indeed you are mistaken. The rest of you are not a patch on her. She is my Prime Minister. I can't allow her to resign."

"Oh, well," said Susy, "if you think of her in that way—"

"Of course I think of her in that way, Susy. I like you very much, and I want to be kind to everybody; but to compare you or Mary Rand or Rosy Myers, or any of the others, with Ruth Craven—"

"But she is no better."

"She is a great deal better. She is refined and beautiful. She mustn't go; I can't allow it. But she has written me such a queer letter, and implored and besought of me not to come to see her, that I am forced to accede to her wishes. So you will have to go to her to-night and tell her that she must meet me on my way to school to-morrow. Tell her that I will go a bit of the way towards her house; tell her that I will be at the White Cross Corner at a quarter to nine. You needn't say more. Oh, Susy, it would break my heart if Ruth did not continue to be a member of our society."

"I will do what you want, of course," said Susy. "I'd do anything in the world for you, Kathleen. It was so kind of you to come to see us this afternoon. You will keep your promise and come and have tea with us, won't you?"

"I am very sorry, but I am afraid I can't. I do wish I had a home of my own, and then I'd ask you to have tea with me. But, Susy, how funnily you were dressed to-day, now that I come to think of it! You did look odd. That blouse is too smart for the coarse blue serge skirt you were wearing."

"I know it is; but I can't afford a better skirt. Mother is rather worried about money just now. I know I oughtn't to tell you, but she is. And, do you know, before you came in Aunt Church was so horrid. She got quite dreadful about the blouse, and she tried to make out that I had stolen the money from mother to buy it. Wasn't it awful of her? I can tell you it was a blessing when you came in. You changed her altogether. What did you do to her?"

"Well," said Kathleen, "I rather like old ladies, and she struck me as something picturesque."

"She's a horrid old thing, and not a bit picturesque. I hate her like poison."

"That is very wrong of you, Susy. Some day you will get old yourself, and you won't like people to hate you."

"Well, that's a long way off; I needn't worry about it yet," cried Susy. "I do hate her very much indeed. And then, you know, when you appeared she began to butter me up like anything. I hated that the worst of all."

"I am sorry she is that sort of old lady," said Kathleen after a pause; "but I have promised to try and get her into one of our almshouses. It would be rare fun to have her there."

"But she is not a bit poor. She oughtn't to go into an almshouse if she is rich," said Susy.

"Of course she mustn't go into an almshouse if she is rich; but she doesn't look rich."

"She is quite rich. I think she has saved three hundred pounds. You must call that rich."

"I'm afraid I don't," said Kathleen.

Susy was silent for a moment.

"There are so many different views about riches," she said at last. "I am glad you are so tremendously rich that you think nothing of three hundred pounds. Mother and I often sigh and pine even for one pound. For instance, now—But I mustn't tell you; it would not be right. Perhaps Aunt Church will be a little nicer to me now that you have taken her up. I'll threaten to complain to you if she doesn't behave."

Here Susy laughed merrily.

"That's all right, Susan," said Kathleen. "I must go back now, for I have promised to go for a walk with Mrs. Tennant. No one ever thinks about her as she ought to be thought of; so I have some plans in my head for her, too. Oh, my head is full of plans, and I do wish—yes, I do, Susy—that I could make a lot of people happy."

"You are a splendid girl," said Susy. "I wish there were others like you in the world."

"No, I am not splendid," said Kathleen, her lovely dark eyes looking wistful. "I have heaps and lashons of faults; but I do like to make people happy. I always did since I was a little child. The person I am most anxious about at present is Ruth: I love Ruth so very much. You will be sure to see her this evening, won't you?"

"Sure and certain," said Susy. "I am very much obliged to you, Kathleen; you have made a great difference in my life."

The two girls parted just by the turnstile. Kathleen passed through on her way across the common to Mrs. Tennant's house, and Susy went slowly back to the High Street and the little stationer's shop.

She found Mrs. Church in the act of being deposited in her bath-chair, and Tom, looking proud and flushed, attending on her. Mrs. Hopkins was also standing just outside the shop, putting a wrap round the old lady and tucking her up. When Susy appeared her mother called out to her:

"Come along, you ungrateful girl. Here's Aunt Church going, and wondering why you have deserted her during the last hour."

"That's just like you, Mary Hopkins," said old Mrs. Church. "You scold when there's no occasion to, and you withhold scolding when it's due. I don't blame your daughter Susan for going out with that nice young lady. I am only too pleased to think that any daughter of yours should be taken notice of by a young lady of the Miss Kathleen O'Hara type. She's a splendid girl; and, to tell you the honest truth, none of you are fit for her to touch you with a pair of tongs."

"Dear, dear!" said Susy. "But she has touched me pretty often. I don't think you ought to say nasty things of that sort, Aunt Church, for if you do I may be able to—"

Aunt Church fixed her glittering black eyes on Susan.

"Come here, child," she said.

Susy went up to her somewhat unwillingly.

"My bark is worse than my bite," said old Mrs. Church. "Now look here; if you bring that charming young lady to see me, and give me notice a day or so before—Tom can run over and tell me—if you and Tom and Miss Kathleen O'Hara would come and have tea at my place, why, it's the freshest of the plumcakes we'd have, not the stalest. And the microscope should be out handy and in order, and with some prepared plates that my poor husband used, which I have never shown to anybody from the time of his death. I have a magnifying-glass, too, that I can put into the microscope; it will make you see the root of a hair on your head. And I will—Whisper, Susy!"

Susy somewhat unwillingly bent forward.

"I will give you five shillings. You'd like to trim your hat to match that handsome blouse, wouldn't you?"

Susy's eyes could not help dancing.

"Five shillings all to yourself; and I won't press your mother about the installment which was due to me yesterday. I'll manage without it somehow. But I want to see that beautiful young lady in my cottage, and you will get the money when you bring her. That's all. You are a queer little girl, and not altogether to my taste, but you are no fool."

Susy stood silent. She put her hand on the moth-eaten cushion of the old bath-chair, bent forward, and looked into Mrs. Church's face.

"Will you take back the words you said?"

"Will I take back what?"

"If not the words, at least the thought? Will you say that you know that I got this blouse honestly?"

"Oh, yes, child! I'd quite forgotten all about it. Now just see that you do what I want; and the sooner the better, you understand. And, oh, Susy, mum's the word with regard to me being well off. I ain't, I can tell you; I am quite a poor body. But I could do a kindness to you and your mother if—if certain things were to come to pass. Now that's about all.—Pull away, Tom, my boy. I have a rosy apple which shall find its way into your pocket if you take me home in double-quick time."

Tom pulled with a will; the little bath-chair creaked and groaned, and Mrs. Church nodded her wise old head and she was carried over the country roads.

Meanwhile Susy entered the house with her mother.

"What a blessing," said Mrs. Hopkins, "that that pretty young lady happened to call! I never saw such a change in any one as what took place in your aunt after she had seen her."

"Well, mother, you know what it is all about," said Susy. "Aunt Church wants to get into one of those almshouses."

"Just like her—stingy old thing!" said Mrs. Hopkins.

"I don't want her to get in, I can tell you, mother; and when Kathleen and I were out I told Kathleen that she was a great deal too rich. She asked me what her means were, and I said I believed she has three hundred pounds put by. Now, mother, don't you call that riches?"

"Three hundred pounds!" said Mrs. Hopkins. "That depends, child. To some it is wealth; to others it is a decent competence; to others, again, it is poverty."

"Kathleen didn't think much of it, mother."

"Well," said Mrs. Hopkins, "I have notions in my head. Maybe this very thing can be turned to good for us; there's no saying. I think if your aunt was sure and certain to get into one of those almshouses she might do a good turn to you, Susy; and she's sure and certain to help Tom a little. But there! we can't look into the future. I am tired out with one thing and another. Susan, my dear child, where did you get that beautiful pale-blue blouse?"

"I didn't get it through theft, mother, if that's what you are thinking of. I got it honestly, and I am not obliged to tell; and what's more, I won't tell."

Mrs. Hopkins sighed.

"Dear, dear!" she said, and she sat down in the easy-chair which Mrs. Church had occupied and stared into the fire.

"I am not nearly as low-spirited as I was," she said after a pause. "If Miss Kathleen will do something for Aunt Church, it stands to reason that Aunt Church won't be hard on us."

Susy made no answer to this. She stood quiet for a minute or two, and then she went slowly upstairs. She removed the beautiful blouse and put on a common one. She then wrapped herself in an old waterproof cloak—for the sunshiny morning had developed into an evening of thick clouds and threatening rain—and went downstairs.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse