THE LOVELY LADY
Out of the shadowy depths of the Forest of Ys come these glowing stories by a master writer. This is the first of the series.
HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL
SUSIE was playing with a rag doll when the lovely lady first rose above her horizon.
The lady asked questions which exacted bashful answers.
Obviously she knew more about Susie than Susie knew about her. But, at the ripe age of six, one takes pleasant people for granted. When the child rushed home after the adventure to be confronted with the insistent: “Who was she?" only one reply was forthcoming: “Fairy God-mother.” Plain, hardworking folk had to accept a golden-haired creature—Susie was positive about the golden hair—arrayed in white, who seemed to have dropped out of the blue. The inevitable: “How did she come?” provoked the artless: “I ’specks she flowed.” The child deemed her to be one of the immortals, although she carried chocolates. Susie’s people had to take Susie’s word for them, because, like the Spanish Fleet, they were out of sight; but, tightly clasped in a hot little hand, lay an authentic sovereign, swiftly slipped into an uncompromising money-box where it remained for many years a constant reminder of the lovely lady.
Susie was nearly twelve years old when “She” appeared again, just as unexpectedly. Susie failed to recognize her. But when the lady smiled and spoke in a soft, caressing voice the little girl knew that somehow, somewhere, she had seen that smile and heard that voice before.
The soft voice asked more questions. Susie answered them less bashfully. When full illumination came to her she said excitedly:
“You’re my Fairy Godmother.”
“Really? You do remember me?”
“What you give me is still in my money-box.”
“And we met here.”
Susie nodded, too breathless to speak. Down the road, not a hundred yards distant, stood a grey and silver
motor. The village where Susie lived lay on the outskirts of the Forest of Ys. Fine beech trees bordered the common where the boys played football and cricket. The girls played under the trees in summertime, after school was over.
“I gave you some chocolates.”
Susie nodded again.
“Would you like to have tea with me?”
Susie nodded for the third time, not daring to mention that it would be a second tea. She followed the lady to the motor, from which a mysterious basket was taken by the chauffeur and deposited in a shady and secluded spot. Susie hoped that some of her friends would behold her, but a sanctuary had been chosen hidden by tall bracken. The chauffeur went back to the car. Susie ate and drank and prattled as the minutes flew. It transpired presently that an overwhelming ambition obsessed her mind. She wanted a bicycle. At her present rate of saving she might hope to possess one in fifty years. She explained further, beneath discreet pressure, that the school-house was two miles away. With a bicycle of her very own, she would have more time to help “Mother.”
“You are a good little girl?”
There was the faintest inflection of interrogation. “Sometimes,” replied Susie, guardedly.
'T'HE lady blew a tiny whistle. The chauffeur pushed A his way through the nodding ferns, packed the teabasket, and disappeared with it. The lady took from a wonderful golden bag a still more wonderful box. She
lighted a cigarette. Susie had smoked brown-paper cigarettes with an occasional whiff or two of the genuine article tendered awkwardly by some “boy.” Unhappily “Mother” held strong views on the subject, but even she admitted that real ladies smoked cigarettes—the Squire’s wife, for instance. And the “Gipper” women smoked pipes! Nevertheless, in some queer unexplored corner of Susie’s mind she was measurably upset because the lovely lady “used” tobacco. She asked politely:
“Do you drink beer, Ma’am?”
“Beer? Why do you ask me if I drink beer?”
Her laughter tinkled deliciously.
“Father says ’baccy and beer go together.”
“I prefer tea,” replied the Fairy Godmother. She rose up, smiling pensively.
“Shut your eyes!” she commanded.
Susie did so.
“Open your hands.”
After a thrilling interval, Susie reopened her eyes to find a tiny parcel in hands which were not too clean.
“That,” said the lady, “is the bicycle. But it won’t turn into a bicycle for a little time. Don’t undo the packet till I am gone.”
She kissed the wondering face upturned to hers, saying softly:
“Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home!”
Susie stared at her.
“Do you like me, child?”
“ ’Course I do.”
“ ’Cause you smell so sweet.”
Susie reached her mother’s kitchen some ten minutes later, flushed and out of breath. “Mother” undid the packet
AFTER Susie had gone to bed, two persons lacking in humour and imagination, stared grimly at each other.
“What does it mean?” asked Mrs. Breed.
Tom Breed scratched his head.
“I dunno’,” he answered truthfully.
“She ain’t going back on her pledged word, is she?” “I thinks the world and all of Susie—as you knows— but.. . . ”
“She’s ours,” said the woman fiercely, “ours. If so be as God A’mighty had pleased to send us kids of our own, would we ’ave loved ’em and tended ’em any better?”
“I dunno’,” said Tom again.
He smoked his pipe. As a gardener—not of the highest class—he had to concern himself with the future. Every bulb, for example, that passed through his horny hands, represented a potential flower, a thing of superlative beauty. Nevertheless, the present engrossed his energies. Rarely did he stray beyond the passing hour. Even now, confronted with an emergency, constrained reluctantly to consider it under the dominating pressure of a faithful wife, his mind moved tranquilly in its accustomed groove. He grasped the fact that Ellen was “tarr’bly upset,” but he decided that most women were subject to “flustrations.” They came and went, like the swallows.
Thirteen years before something unexpected and, in a sense, disintegrating, had happened to this good stolid fellow. At the time he was under-gardener, at a minimum wage, to a gentleman connected with the theatrical profession who leased a pretentious house in Surbiton. Ellen happened to be nurse in the same not too well regulated establishment. They came from Melshire and had been engaged to each other for many years. Each contemplated marriage as an inevitable end to innumerable “walkings out.” It would be untrue to affirm that romance had never touched this simple pair. Romance, at any rate, had inspired in each fidelity to the other. They had “walked out” for fifteen years. Breed was thirty-six; and Ellen admitted that she “might be” a year or two older than Tom.
SUDDENLY marriage was dangled before their dazed eyes. Marriage—and something else.
Tom Breed remembered perfectly the afternoon when Ellen, after imposing portentous vows of secrecy, had submitted a “proposition.” Briefly, her young lady had got into what is called “trouble.” Theatrical gentlemen are accustomed to deal drastically with trouble. They have to cut losses at a moment’s notice. The young lady in question had just made a “hit” on the musical comedy stage. Critics affirmed that “she had come to stay.”
When this information was poured into Tom Breed’s ears by Ellen he accepted it unhesitatingly. He accepted, also, Ellen’s assurance that she was prepared to do anything to help Miss Clem. He hadn’t the vaguest notion how Miss Clem could be helped.
Ellen enlightened him.
Miss Clem’s father had sent for her. The “proposition” briefly was this: two discreet persons were offered the immediate prospect of matrimony, with a baby (sex as yet undetermined) thrown in. With the baby went a snug sum of money and the freehold of a small cottage in their native village remote from Surbiton. The baby was to be theirs unalienably. The real mother of the baby had pledged herself never to claim it in this uncertain world. It was to be a—
'T'OM scratched his head * and said nothing. Ellen talked volubly.
Finally he muttered:
“It don’t seem right, dearie.”
Ellen replied quickly:
“You get me, Tom, and a cottage, and five hundred pound. I get a bit of Miss Clem. I shall never see her again, pore darling! And— and there it is.”
There it was—to take or leave!
Ultimately, they took it.
And “it,” in due time pre-
sented itself as a baby girl, who took a masterful grip of Tom’s finger before she was a month old.
We skip six years.
The first appearance of the fairy godmother aroused but slight misgiving. The golden-haired lady might have been one of the innumerable birds of passage who flit through the Forest of Ys. At the second “coming,” conviction fell upon Ellen. Birds of passage don’t drop bicycles upon little girls. And Susie was of an age to describe the visitor. Doubt fled before her description.
Ellen'shed tears; Tom smoked his pipe. Possibly the goddess. Nicotina, helped him. He said presently :
“I says this means nothink—nothink.”
“You ain’t a woman.”
“She’ll come again—and again. She was allers a sweet, loving-like creature; yes, she was.”
“What do you mean by luck?” asked Ellen.
LUCK was associated in the mind of Tom Breed with picture postcards and big cars. Both Ellen and he were well aware that Susie’s real mother was now a celebrity, and really Time seemed to have stood still with her, judging by the picture postcards. However he smoked on in contemplative silence. Ellen answered her own question:
“Is it lucky to bring a beautiful baby into this wicked world and lose it? Why the thought of losing Susie tears me to flinders. What did Miss Clem think to-day, when she kissed her own little ’un?”
“How could you know? But I’ll tell you. She’ll want to kiss her again. And she will. Lucky—! We’ve been the lucky ones. And the luck is goin’ to turn.”
Tom permitted himself one observation:
“I take it, dearie, that we has to carry on, rain or shine. I says one thing more: a reel lady bides by her given word.”
To this Ellen replied with acerbity:
“You men takes a lot for granted. I ain’t sure that Miss Clem ever was a reel lady. Call her just a bit o’ flesh and blood and ha’ done wi’ it.”
Tom, acquiescing, refilled his pipe.
LALLEN was certain, in her own mind, that Miss Clem would pay her a visit.
The pair met after the lapse of many years. Miss Clem walked up to the cottage about three, when she knew that Tom would be at work and Susie at school.
She kissed her old nurse and sat down in a snug little parlour, secretly the pride of Ellen’s heart. Ellen gazed
at Miss Clem almost speechless, partly because she had charged so little, and partly because she had changed so much. Let it be remembered that Ellen had loved devotedly this pretty sinner, who had returned her love.
“I’d ha’ known you anywheres,” gasped Ellen.
“I saw the child yesterday and I had to come to see you.”
“Yes —I guessed you would.”
“She’s a perfect darling.”
Ellen said nothing. Tears trickled down her cheeks. The great change in Miss Clem terrified her. She looked —somebody. Ellen realised, in dumb misery, that she herself was nobody. Presently Miss Clem would say gently: “I want my child.” And protest would be futile. “She looks healthy and happy and wise.”
“We done our best,” murmured Ellen.
“I was a fool to give her up,” continued Miss Clem. “Father had his own way about that. I was fairly up against it, and had to submit.”
“Yes,” assented Ellen, miserably.
“I’m stopping at the Bell Inn Puddenhurst,” continued Miss Clem. “In three weeks I begin rehearsals for the new comedy. Afterwards I’m booked for an American tour. Meanwhile is there any reason why I shouldn’t enjoy, if I can, Susie’s society?”
Ellen said desperately:
“No good’ll come of it, Miss Clem.”
“Howr do you know?”
“I just feels that way.”
“You would rather not lend her to me.”
“So onsettling,” murmured Ellen. “I mind me when Tom first took me to the theayter. I wanted to go again. I mind me when I was confirmed. I was thinking o’ my white frock wi' pink ribands, not, not o’ the laying on o’ hands.”
“All right, Ellen. I must play the game with you.”
“If you please, Miss Clem.”
UNHAPPILY, Miss Clem was accustomed to having her own way, and her “way,” admittedly, captivated the great British Public. Personal charm “got across.” It would be unkind to call her selfish. The word “thoughtless” will serve. She had the generous instincts that distinguish so many members of her profession. With her to have a good time included giving a good time. It tickled her fancy to play fairy godmother to her own child regardless of consequences.
Ellen remained silent, torn by conflicting emotions. She believed Miss Clem to be rich; and money assumes colossal proportions in the minds of the poor. Miss Clem might leave money to Susie.
Finally, she said in a hard voice:
“If you wants to have her—?”
“For a few days, if you don’t mind.”
“May be I’d ought to let her go. It’ll make talk.”
“As to that,” replied Miss Clem, “why not tell half the truth? You and Tom worked for my father for many years. When you married it was understood that I was to be godmother to Susie. As her godmother, I give her a holiday. Why not?”
LLEN assented mournfully. School would be over in a few days. Susie could go to the Bell Inn at Puddenhurst for a week.
“She ain’t got proper clothes, Miss Clem.”
“That will be my affair.” “You ain’t thinking of taking her from us?”
“Good Heavens — no! What an idea!”
“Susie may not want to go.”
Miss Clem answered promptly:
“Shall we leave that to her?”
Ellen nodded. A spark of hope was kindled in her faithful bosom. Susie had never left home; she was shy in the presence of strangers; and she had a will of her own. Deep down in heart lay the conviction that Susie would, somehow, justify the tender care expended on her.
“She’ll be here along if so be as you can wait half an hour.”
Miss Clem waited. Dur-
ing that brief half hour, she recaptured Ellen. How she did it, who can say? Ellen said to Tom afterwards:
“When she thanked me, I cried like a child.”
“And you ain’t the sloppy sort, neither.”
“She wasn’t play-actin’, Tom.”
“She cried, too, poor dear!”
“Dearie me! What a showery afternoon!”
SUSIE came back from school rather tired and cross.
She expressed mild surprise at sight of Miss Clem, but obviously, was more concerned with the satisfaction of, carnal appetites. If “Comp’ny ” stayed to tea there would be cakes and perhaps honey.
During tea Miss Clem astounded the child by telling her half the truth.
"Your mother,” she said, “was my nurse. She bath’d me. She taught me to say my prayers. I daresay they were the same prayers you say to her.”
■‘•Just about the same,” admitted Ellen.
Susie became pop-eyed with interrogation.
“Do you say the same prayers, Ma’am?”
“Not quite the same,” answered Miss Clem. “When I was naughty, your mother spanked me, good and hard, too.”
“Mother don’t spank me,” said Susie triumphantly. Ellen and Miss Clem exchanged glances. And Ellen’s glance was eloquent of everything left unsaid. It established her position. Miss Clem understood that this hard-featured elderly woman had been unable to spank Susie, although the temptation to do so must have been strong. However, Ellen assigned another reason for this remarkable abstention:
"Tom says that more naughtiness is spanked into a child than out of it.”
“Father,” said Susie, “don’t say much, but he thinks an awful lot.” Then, suddenly bashful, she continued hesitatingly:
“Ought I to call you Miss Clem, as Mother does?”
“You call ’er Ma’am,” said Ellen peremptorily. Then, with terror clutching her, she went on:
“This lady is your godmother. That’s why she gave you money to buy a bicycle.”
“Will she learn me my catechism?”
“Certainly not,” said Miss Clem.
“You will please remember that she is very different from the likes of us.”
“I am indeed,” said Miss Clem.
Susie assimilated this, and nodded sagaciously. “Mother used to bath me once a week. I baths meself now.”
“Pardon! I baths meself now, Ma’am.”
In Miss Clem’s considered opinion the right moment had come. Susie was feeling the better for her tea, and smilingly at ease with her godmother.
“Would you like to pay me a little visit?”
IT WAS, perhaps characteristic of the speaker that she attempted no wiles with the child. Susie had been kissed lightly when she came in.
“You can go if you wants to,” said Ellen.
Susie hesitated, looking from one woman to the other. A plunge into the unknown world dismayed her. Valiantly she compromised.
“If you please, Ma’am, I’d like it ever so if I might have tea once again in the Forest with you.”
“We can manage more than that. I’m asking you to stay with me for a few days at Puddenhurst. If you should feel homesick, my car would whisk you back here in less than half an hour. I’m going away soon, far, far away, and as you are my godchild I should like to see more of you. What do you say?”
Susie glanced at Ellen. But Ellen looked down her long nose at the rough hands clasped together upon her ampie lap.
Susie turned to inspect her godmother. To her surprise that wonderful lady was looking down her lovely nose, staring, apparently, at the rings upon her fingers. Possibly she had bells on her toes, too. The rings challenged Susie’s attention; they sparkled invitingly.
“You ain’t got a little girl of your very own, Ma’am?” “No,” said Miss Clem. “Arid that is why I want to borrow you for a few days.”
“Yes, Ma’am; and, reelly an’ truly, if I do pay you a visit I can run over home when I wants to?”
“That is understood.”
“Rightie O! I’ll come ori appro, Ma’am.”
Miss Clem started. She recalled the day when she had rehearsed “on appro.” It was strange to hear the familiar phrase in Susie’s mouth, but she guessed that Ellen, living in a remote rural district, had to send for many things “on appro.”
Miss Clem laughed, as she replied:
“But I am to be ‘on appro,’ not you.”
“If you please, Ma’am.”
WITHIN the week Susie entered a new and wonderful world. Upon the first afternoon, the silver-grey car whirled her into Westhampton, into a paradise of shops. Miss Clem was too much of an artist to overdress the child. Only the simplest things were bought. Susie said naively:
“I’d like Cissy Mowland to see me.”
“She won’t,” said Miss Clem, firmly. “We, you and I, are playing a sort of game—dressing-up is part of it. I’m just pretending that you’re mine. I might have had a little girl exactly like you.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Do you think I favor Father or Mother?”
Miss Clem stared at a dark head and dark eyes.
“I think you are like your father,” she said slowly. “Well, I never! Father’s hair was ginger befoie it turned grey.”
“Do you remember Father well?”
Miss Clem became exasperatingly silent. But Susie was accustomed to silence. She stared at this lady of infinite surprises, wondering at her luck in finding such a godmother.
“It’s a fairy tale,” she said presently.
“My having you for a godmother, but I’m not a bit like Cinderella.”
“You have small feet.”
“I’m always growing out o’ my shoes. That worrits Father. It means less baccy.”
“And less beer?”
“Father ain’t a oner for beer. Mother’s ever so proud o’ that. Shall I tell you a secret?”
“Father’s never the worse for liquor, never, never!” She prattled on, artlessly revealing the characters of the two persons to whom she had been entrusted.
THE sunny hours flitted by. Most of them were spent in the Forest. Each day there was the excitement of unpacking a luncheon basket and a tea basket. Susie—much to Miss Clem’s astonishment—displayed Arcadian lore: she knew the names of birds and flowers; she repeated, quaint little echo, the slow phrases that had dropped from the lips of Tom Breed, luminously revealing his powers of observation. Miss Clem was urban. She had known many men and many cities. In her heart, probably, she regarded her father’s gardener as a clod-hopper. Now, his simple wisdom., filtering through the mind of a child, amazed her. She realized that Susie was happy and contented, that she had the bloom and delicacy of texture of some wild flower.
Upon the third day an incident happened. The strangely assorted pair were alone upon the spacious moors that rise above the oaks planted by William of Orange. They had passed a gypsy encampment.
“The gippers are nice people,” said Susie.
“Oh, yes, Ma’am.”
“When I was your age, I was told that they stole children.”
Susie opened wide her eyes.
“Why should they? They have such heaps of their own. They do steal chickens, but not from folks who are good to ’em. They never steal from us. And they tell fortunes. Old Mother Stanley told mine.”
“What did she tell you?”
“O’ course I’m a Forest child, the child o’ sun and air,” insensibly she adopted the sing-song patter, “the happy-go-lucky child.”
“A live-and-die in the Forest child. May be I’ll marry one o’ the keepers. That would be ever so nice, wouldn’t it? And I mean to have lots of children, because they’re the gifts of the Lord.”
“Who says so?”
At this point the incident occurred. A .cuckoo called. “Poor Cuckoo,” said Susie.
SUSIE explained volubly, quoting Tom Breed.
“They was late this year - see?” Miss Clem nodded. “And the hedge sparrows nested early. There was Hedgings in a nest in our hedge afore we heard the first cuckoo. I ’specks there won’t be so many cuckoos next year, because their eggs won’t hatch out. I used to hate the cuckoos, but Father said I ought to be* sorry for ’em.”
“Tell me,” cooed Miss Clem. She wondered what Tom Breed would have to say about cuckoos.
“It’s awful, ain’t it? that they has no nesties of their own. And they never knows the fun o’ fending for their little ’uns.”
“Is it fun?”
“ ’Course it is. Mr. Fox has his good times when he’s hunting for Mrs. Vixen an’ the cubs. Mother Owl
helps Father Owl to hunt for the second brood. For why? because the first brood keeps the second brood cosy and warm, so Mother Owl can gad about a bit.” “You are teaching me more than I’m teaching you, Susie. But what do you think of cuckoos? Do you think it very hateful of a bird to lay its egg in another nest and to leave its little one to—hedge-sparrows.” Susie considered this, with her head on one side. “Father says it takes a mort o’ people to make a world, and I ’specks it’s just so wi’ birds. If there was no cuckoos we’d miss ’em, wouldn’t we? I counted ten t’other day; yes, I did. God wouldn’t ha’ made cuckoos if they wasn’t wanted.”
“That’s a very comforting thought,” said Miss Clem. VI.
UPON the fourth day, in the morning, Susie was sent back to the cottage to spend a couple of hours with Ellen. She described faithfully her adventures. Ellen listened with a face like a graven image. Each word fell like molten lead upon her heart. It was so obvious that the child had been captivated.
“She’s just lovely,” she concluded.
The silver grey motor came for Susie punctually and whirled her back into fairyland. Ellen had work to do, but she didn’t do it. She sat in the kitchen, in a hard, straight-backed chair, and pondered many things in her heart. In a dumb, miserable fashion she had always divined that this bitter hour would come. She suffered the more poignantly because she guessed that Miss Clem was suffering too. Before Tom Breed came in at tea-time, she wrote a letter and posted it herself. To Tom she said nothing beyond stating the simple fact that Susie had paid her a visit. Tom ate and smoked in silence. But the fingers which filled his pipe were not quite steady. Before he went to dig in his own garden, he said a word:
“My back be broad enough, old ’ooman, to carry your troubles.”
Ellen replied in a hard voice:
“I knows that. But God A’mighty, seemin’ly, stiffened your back, Tom, an’ put less starch into mine.”
ELLEN rose betimes next morning, and put her small parlor into order. She was expecting a visitor, and the visitor came. Ellen dusted an immaculate chair upon which Miss Clem sat down with little of her accustomed grace.
“You offer to give up Susie?”
“For her sake, perhaps for my sake, not for your own?” “For her sake, Miss Clem.”
“Have you talked this over with Tom?”
“Not yet. He knows. We both knows what you can give the child. Speakin’ plainly, wi’out offense, Susie is a love child. She needs love.”
“But you have given her that. Perhaps I wanted to make sure. Perhaps,” she hesitated, “perhaps, Ellen, I have made sure that you have done what I left undone. Susie is the happiest little creature I have ever met.” “Ah-h-h! that hurts.”
“Hurts? Why should it hurt?”
“Well, just suppose that I’m not what you take me to be. If I told you that I’d been hopin’ an’ prayin’— yes, prayin’—that Susie would get homesick, that of her own accord she'd come back to me an’ tell me so... . But ’tisn’t Nature, not child’s nature. She reaches out, bless ’er! to you—her own mother. I knowed it must be so; so did Tom, although never a word from him. I ain’t a whiner, never held wi’ that, and I ain’t a fool. Susie can’t help bein’ happy wi’ you. When I hoped for the contrary I was up against God A’mighty. Maybe I wrote that letter because I knew what sort o’ miserable sinner I be.”
“And what do you think I thought when I read it?” “I dunno’, Miss Clem. You ain’t changed much. You was allers the loving sort, but naughty. Naughtiness couldn’t be spanked out o’ you. I reckons you’ve wanted Susie time an’ time again as you’ve wanted nothing else.” t.
Miss Clem shivered.
“We can’t get away from it, can we? She’s yours. We’re rough folk, me an’ Tom, and set in our ways. When I holds up my finger Susie don’t allers come tc me. But she flew to you at the first sign. It was a sign to me.”
“Do you blame me for trying to make her happy?’ Ellen compressed her lips.
“Do you, Ellen?”
“Your letter has overwhelmed me. I read between every line of it a spirit of self-sacrifice of which I an incapable. I feel very small, Ellen, as I sit here in th( presence of a noble woman.”
“We has to consider -Susie.”
“Yes. Shall we try to do so?” Ellen nodded. “I I should take her, what will happen? She will havi to live my life. I am dependent on my profession I should not be ashamed of telling the world that she is mine. I could give her much that perhaps you overvalue. But —happiness? Is that to be found in my restless world? If she stays with you, if—if I drift out of her life just as I drifted into it, she will grow up in this quiet peaceful place, find satisfaction in simple, costless things. ... I have never been satisfied, Ellen, never. I want, I—I can’t do without the roar of the crowd, excitement, change. These do not make for happiness.”
Continued on page 42
Continued from page 18
She stood up. Ellen rose too. They looked at each other honestly, conscious that the child stood between them, stretching out eager hands to each.
Miss Clem spoke again.
“I am a creature of impulse, Ellen, but I have learned to distrust my impulses. I shall do nothing rashly. Let us wait a little longer.”
Ellen bowed her head resignedly.
WHEN Tom came in, she told him what had passed without comment. He perceived that she had accepted the situation and he, for his part, accepted it as resignedly.
After tea, he went out. Ellen was very “short” with a neighbour who dropped in and retired hastily, not according to plan. The neighbour told her eldest daughter that Mrs. Breed was “shewin’ her age, turnin’ sourish; an’ keepin’ ’erself to ’erself.”
Ellen, as soon as the neighbour had departed, went back to the parlour. In it were some precious souvenirs of Susie. Half a dozen photographs, her first doll, her first shoe, a front tooth, a few picture books, well-thumbed, and a sampler worked by Susie and expensively framed.
These articles—and many more—were removed by Ellen and carried to the tiny attic where Susie slept.
“You can bide here,” said Ellen to herself.
It is significant that after these labours she cooked for Tom a supper which was slightly better than usual. But after supper, when Tom reached for the Family Bible, she protested grimly:
“Read the chapter to yourself, Tom.” She went back into the kitchen, leaving Tom to his own reflections. He stared at the Bible, still in his hand, and replaced it on the shelf. Then, moved by a sudden impulse, he opened it at the page which recorded his marriage with Ellen. Under that entry was another recording the birth of Susie. Tom shook his head. Had he acquired the habit of speaking aloud his thoughts, he might have said :
“1 don’t hold wi’ lies. They comes homealong to roost.”
Nevertheless, having done an honest day’s work, he slept well and soundly. Ellen lay beside him wide-awake, unable to sleep because she was appalled by the sense of her own wickedness. She had refused to listen to the Word of God,
and deliberately, she had laid her down without repeating her prayers. She had forsaken God because, so it seemed to her. God had foisaken a faithless old woman. To her simple mind a sacrifice was demanded which she was incapable of making. Obviously, the great patriarch, Abraham, had been fashioned out of stouter stuff. Ellen Breed envisaged herself as “shoddy.” And, all her life, she had regarded shoddy with disdain.
SHE was moving about the kitchen, when Tom woke up. With an effort which the Recording Angel may have appreciated, she greeted her husband with a smile when he sat down to his sizzling rasher.
“I must purtend,” she thought. “I must go on purtendin’ for the rest o’ my onatural life.”
Tom was back at work at eight to the minute. Ellen washed up. In her goings to and fro across the kitchen, she found herself furtively shying, so to speak, at the Bible. Finally, she covered it with a clean duster, and then sat down to compute the years which, according to the Psalmist's span, stretched drear and dral before her tearless eyes ....
Presently she heard the click of a latei and light foot-steps. They must, she swiftly decided, belong to Cissie Mow land. The child, as usual, was coming te borrow something, a loaf of bread, a pat o butter, or a few potatoes.
“She shan’t have nothink,” though Ellen. “Drat the child, and her mothe too. Drat everybody!”
She hardened her ears against tin familiar tap on the door. To her surpris« it burst open.
Susie stood upon the threshold.
But—what a Susie!
Not the spick and span visitor of th« day before yesterday but a Susie in he old clothes, covered with dust, and soh bing piteously.
“My lamb!” ejaculated Ellen.
She snatched the child to her arms am crooned over her.
“I runned away,” sobbed Susie, runned away.”
“You runned away? For why?”
“ ’Cause I was homesick.”
THE full explanation was not forth coming at once. Bit by bit it leakefrom the quivering lips. The fairy god mother had changed into a cross, unkin witch. The pupils of Susie’s eyes dilate as she became more articulate.
“I never wants to leave home no more, she declared; “I wouldn’t stay with In again, not if it were never so. She wa cross last night an’ cross this morning, s -so 1 runned away. if she comes t fetch me you won’t lemme go back, wi you, Mother?”
Ellen replied in an odd voice:
“She won’t come back, Susie.”
Tom Breed passed final judgment o the episode. When Ellen told him wh Susie had run home, he was filled with it dignation. To his utter confounding Ellen laughed.
“Miss Clem, as you knows, was nearly as dear to me, Tom, as our little Susie. And she never was one to do things by ’alves, neither. She’s a playactress, she is, and she earns her hunderd pound a week, as I’ve often told you.”
“Playactress?” echoed Tom Breed. “You means—?”
“Never you mind what I means. Less said about that the better.”
Tom digested this for half a minute. Then he observed slowly:
“When you told me, Ellen, what Miss Clem earned, I felt a bit sore like, but now I understands. And I says this—and I sticks to it—if ’twas playactin’ as sent Susie back to us, Miss Clem ain’t overPAID