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Title: Good Luck
Author: Meade, L. T., 1854-1914
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Good Luck" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



GOOD LUCK


BY

MRS. L. T. MEADE



Author of Polly, A Sweet Girl Graduate, Etc.



M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY

CHICAGO ------------ NEW YORK

1896



GOOD LUCK


CHAPTER I.

Amongst the crowd of people who were waiting in the Out-Patients'
Department of the London Hospital on a certain foggy day toward the
latter end of November might have been seen an old cherry-cheeked
woman.  She had bright blue eyes and firm, kindly lips.  She was a
little woman, slightly made, and her whole dress and appearance were
somewhat old-fashioned.  In the first place, she was wonderfully
pretty.  Her little face looked something like a russet apple, so clear
was her complexion and so bright and true the light in her eyes.  Her
hair was snow-white, and rather fluffy in texture; it surrounded her
forehead like a silver halo, adding to the picturesque effect of apple
cheeks and deep blue eyes.  Her attire was quaint and old-fashioned.
She wore a neat black dress, made without the least attempt at
ornament; round her neck was a snowy kerchief of somewhat coarse but
perfectly clean muslin; over her shoulders a little black shawl was
folded corner-ways, and pinned neatly with a large black-headed pin at
her breast.  A peep of the snowy handkerchief showed above the shawl;
the handkerchief vied with the white of her hair.  On her head was a
drawn black silk bonnet with a tiny border of white net inside.  Her
hands were clothed in white cotton gloves.  She stood on the borders of
the crowd, one of them, and yet apart from them, noticeable to everyone
present by her pretty, dainty neatness, and by the look of health which
to all appearance she possessed.  This had evidently been her first
visit to the Out-Patients' Department.  Some _habitués_ of the place
turned and stared at her, and one or two women who stood
near--burdened, pallid, ill-looking women--gave her a quick glance of
envy, and asked her with a certain show of curiosity what ailed her.

"It's my hand, dear," was the reply.  "It pains awful--right up to the
shoulder."

"It's rheumatis you've got, you poor thing," said one of the women who
had addressed her.

"No, I don't think it's exactly that," was the reply; "but the doctor
'll tell.  I can't hold my needle with the pain; it keeps me awake o'
nights.  Oh, we must all have our share," she added cheerfully; "but ef
it were the will of the Almighty, I'd rayther not have my share o' pain
in my right hand."

"You does needlework fer a living, I suppose?" said a man who stood
near.

"Yes.  I only 'opes to the Lord that my working hand isn't going to be
taken from me--but there, I'll soon know."

She smiled brightly at these words, and addressed one of her neighbors
with regard to the state of that neighbor's baby--the child was
evidently suffering from ophthalmia, and could scarcely open its eyes.

It was cold in the out-patients' waiting-room, and the crowd became
impatient and anxious, each for his or her turn to see the doctors who
were in attendance.  At last the little woman with the white hair was
admitted to the consulting-room.  She was shown in by a dresser, and
found herself face to face with the doctor.  He said a few words to
her, asked her some questions with regard to her symptoms, looked at
the hand, touched the thumb and forefinger, examined the palm of the
hand very carefully, and then pronounced his brief verdict.

"You are suffering from what is equivalent to writers' cramp, my good
woman," he said.

"Lor', sir," she interrupted, "I respec'fully think you must be
mistook.  I never take a pen in my 'and oftener nor twice a year.  I
aint a schollard, sir."

"That don't matter," was the reply; "you use your needle a good deal."

"Of course, and why shouldn't I?"

"How many hours a day do you work?"

"I never count the hours, sir.  I work all the time that I've got.  The
more I work, the more money there be, you understand."

"Yes, I quite understand.  Well, you must knock it off.  Here!  I shall
order you a certain liniment, which must be rubbed into the hand two or
three times a day."

"But what do you mean by knocking it off, sir?"

"What I say--you must stop needlework.  Johnson," continued Dr. Graves,
raising his eyes and looking at the dresser, "send in another patient."
He rose as he spoke.

"I am sorry for you, my poor woman," he said, "but that hand is
practically useless.  At your age, there is not the most remote chance
of recovery.  The hand will be powerless in a few months' time,
whatever you do; but if you spare it--in short, give it complete
rest--it may last a little longer."

"And do you mean, sir, that I'm never to do sewing again?"

"I should recommend you to knock it off completely and at once; by so
doing you will probably save yourself a good deal of suffering, and the
disease may not progress so rapidly--in any case, the power to sew will
soon leave you.  Use the liniment by all means, take care of your
health, be cheerful.  Good-morning."

The doctor accompanied the little woman to the door of the
consulting-room; he opened the door for her, and bowed as she passed
out.  He treated her almost as if she were a lady, which in very truth
she was in every sense of the word.  But she did not notice his
politeness, for his words had stunned her.  She walked slowly, with a
dazed look in her eyes, through the crowd of people who were waiting to
be admitted to the different physicians, and found herself in the open
street.  Her name was Patience Reed, she was sixty-eight years of age,
and was the grandmother of six orphan children.

"Good Lord, what do it mean?" she murmured as she walked quickly
through the sloppy, dark, disagreeable streets.  "I'm to lose the power
of this 'and, and I'm not to do any more needlework.  I don't believe
it's true.  I don't believe that doctor.  I'll say nothing to Alison
to-day.  Good Lord, I don't believe for a moment you'd afflict me in
this awful sort of way!"

She walked quickly.  She had by nature a very light and cheerful heart;
her spirit was as bright and cheery as her appearance.  She picked up
her courage very soon, stepped neatly through the miry, slippery
streets, and presently reached her home.  Mrs. Reed and the six
grandchildren lived in a model lodging-house in a place called Sparrow
Street, off Whitechapel Road.  The house possessed all the new sanitary
improvements, a good supply of water was laid on, the rooms were well
ventilated, the stoves in the little kitchens burned well, the rents
were moderate, there was nothing at all to complain of in the home.
Mrs. Reed was such a hearty, genial, hard-working woman that she would
have made any home bright and cheerful.  She had lived in Whitechapel
for several years, but her work lay mostly in the West End.  She
belonged to the old-fashioned order of needlewomen.  She could do the
most perfect work with that right hand which was so soon to be useless.
Machine-made work excited her strongest contempt, but work of the best
order, the finest hand-made needlework, could be given over to her care
with perfect satisfaction.  She had a good connection amongst the West
End shops, and had year after year earned sufficient money to bring up
the six orphan children comfortably and well.  Alison, the eldest girl,
was now seventeen, and was earning her own living in a shop near by.
David was also doing something for himself, but the four younger
children were still dependent on Grannie.  They were all like her as
regards high spirits, cleanliness, and a certain bright way of looking
at life.

"I'll not be discouraged, and I'll not believe that doctor," she
murmured, as she mounted the long flight of stairs which led to the
fifth floor.  "Aint I always 'ad good luck all the days o' a long
life?"  She reached her own landing at last, panting a little for
breath as she did so.  She opened her hall door with a latch-key and
entered the kitchen.  The kitchen was absolutely neat, the stove shone
like a looking-glass, the dinner was cooking in the oven, and the table
round which the entire family were soon to dine already wore its coarse
white cloth.

"There, I'm not going to murmur," said the old woman to herself.

She went into her bedroom, took off her shawl, shook it out, folded it
neatly, and put it away.  She took off her bonnet and dusted it, pinned
it into an old white cambric handkerchief, and laid it beside the shawl
on a little shelf.  Her white gloves and white handkerchief shared the
same attention.  Then she brushed her white hair, put on a neat cap,
and returned to the kitchen.

Ten minutes afterward this kitchen was full of noise, life, and
confusion.  The four younger children had come back from Board school.
Harry, the eldest boy, had rushed in from a bookseller's near by, and
Alison, who served behind a counter in one of the shops in Shoreditch,
had unexpectedly returned.

Alison was a very tall and pretty girl.  She had dark blue eyes and an
upright carriage; her hair was golden with some chestnut shades in it.
She had a clear complexion like her grandmother's, and firm lips, with
a sweet expression.  As a rule she had a cheerful face, but to-day she
looked anxious.  Grannie gave her one quick glance, and guessed at once
that something was troubling her.

"Now, I wonder what's up?" she thought.  "Well, I shan't burden the
child with my troubles to-day."

"Come," she said in a hearty voice, "sit you all down in your places.
Kitty, my girl, say your grace.  That's right," as the child folded her
hands, closed her eyes, raised her piping voice, and pronounced a grace
in rhyme in a sing-song tone.

The moment the grace was finished a huge potato pie made its appearance
out of the oven, and the meal--good, hearty, and nourishing--began.
Grannie helped all the children.  She piled the daintiest bits on
Alison's plate, watching the girl without appearing to do so as she
played with her dinner.

"Come, Ally, you are not eating," said Grannie.  "This will never do.
It's a real pleasure to have you back in the middle of the day, and you
must show it by making a good meal.  Ah, that's better.  Help your
sister to some bread, David."

David was between fifteen and sixteen years of age, a fine well-grown
lad.  He looked attentively at Alison, opened his lips as if to say
something, caught a warning glance from her eyes, and was instantly
silent.  Alison forced herself to eat some of the nourishing pie, then
she looked full at Grannie.

"By the way, Grannie," she said, "you were to see the doctor at the
London Hospital this morning, were you not?"

"Yes, child; what about it?  I'll have a piece of bread, David, if you
will cut it for me."

David did so.  Alison detected some concealment in Grannie's voice, and
pursued her inquiries.

"What did he say?" she asked.

"Oh, what didn't he say.  Nothing special--the old kind of story.  I
never thought much of plaguing a doctor for a common sort of thing like
this.  I'm to rub the hand with liniment three times a day.  There's
the bottle on that shelf.  I 'spect I'll be all right in a week or a
fortnight.  Now, children, hurry up with your dinner; you'll have to be
off to school in less than ten minutes, so there's no time to lose."

The children began to eat quickly.  Alison and David again exchanged
glances.  Harry suddenly pushed back his chair.

"You say your grace before you go," said Grannie, fixing him with her
bright blue eyes.

He blushed a little, muttered a word or two, and then left the room.

"Harry is a good lad," said the old lady when he had gone, "but he is
getting a bit uppish.  He's a masterful sort.  He aint like you, Dave."

"I am masterful in my own way," answered David.

He crossed the room, bent over the little old woman, and kissed her on
the forehead.

"Harry and I will be a bit late to-night," he said.  "We've joined a
boys' club in Bethnal Green."

"A club?" said Grannie.  "You're young to be out at nights by yourself.
What sort of club?"

"Oh, It's a first-rate sort.  It has been opened by a good man.  He's a
right down jolly fellow, though he is a swell.  There's boxing and all
kinds of good games going on there."

"It's all right, Grannie," interrupted Alison.  "Boys must grow into
men," she added, in a quick voice.

"Dear me," answered the old woman, "I don't know nothing, I suppose!
When I was young, boys in their teens stayed at home.  But there! you
are a good lad, Dave, and I'll trust you to keep Harry out of mischief."

"Harry is well enough, Grannie, if you'd only trust him."

"Well, I suppose I must.  Give me a kiss, Dave, and be off.  Children,
loves, what are you pottering about for?"

"We're ready to go now, Grannie," said the little ones.

They shouldered their bags, put on their hats, and left the room with
considerable clatter, only first of all each small pair of legs made
for Grannie's chair, each rosy pair of lips bestowed a vigorous kiss
upon her apple-blossom cheeks.  She patted them on their shoulders,
smiled at them with happy eyes full of love; and they rushed off to
school, grumbling a little at her quick, abrupt ways, but loving her
well deep down in their hearts.

Alison stood up and began to put away the dinner things.  Alison and
Mrs. Reed were now alone.  The old woman looked anxiously at the girl.
Alison's figure was very slight and graceful.  She wore her shop dress,
too, a neat black alpaca.  The young ladies in the shops in High
Street, Shoreditch, could not afford black silk, but the shop in
question was a good one, and black alpaca, neatly made, had quite as
good an effect.  Alison's hair was put up stylishly on her head.  She
wore a little bit of cheap lace round her throat, and a bit of the same
came from under the neat wrists of her dress.  Two or three small
chrysanthemums were pinned at her bosom.  Grannie thought her quite the
lady.

"I wish, child, you wouldn't slave yourself!" she said at last
impatiently.  "What's the old woman for if it isn't to wash up and put
in order? and I'm quite certain you ought to be back at the shop by
now."

"I'm not going back," said Alison, in a low tone.

Grannie had guessed this from the first.  She did not speak at all for
a minute, then she chose to dally with the evil tidings.

"It's a holiday you are having most like," she said.  "I didn't know
they gave 'em at this time of the year, but I'm real glad.  I expect
you let Jim Hardy know.  He'll be sure to be round bimeby when his
work's over, and you'd like the kitchen to yourselves, wouldn't you?"

"No, Grannie, no," said Alison abruptly.  "There's no Jim for me any
more, and there's no work, and--and--I'm in _trouble_--I'm in trouble."

She crossed the room impulsively, went on her knees, swept her two
young arms round Grannie's frail figure, laid her head on the little
woman's sloping shoulder, and burst into tears.

Grannie was wonderfully comforting and consoling.  She did not express
the least surprise.  She patted Alison on her cheek.  She allowed the
girl to grasp her painful right hand and swollen arm without a word of
protest.

"There, lovey, there, cry your heart out," she exclaimed.  "You 'a'
lost your situation.  Well, you aint the first; you'll soon get
another, dearie, and you'll be a rare bit of comfort to me at home for
a few days.  There, set down close to me, darlin', and tell me
everythink.  Wot's up, my pretty, wot's wrong?"

"I thought I wouldn't tell you," said Alison, stopping to wipe her
tears away, "but I can't keep it back.  They have accused me in the
shop of stealing a five-pound note out of the till.  Yes, Grannie, no
wonder you open your eyes.  It is true; I am accused of being a thief.
They are all sure that I have done it.  A five-pound note is missing;
and you know how Mr. Shaw has sometimes trusted me, and sometimes, when
he has been very busy, he has allowed me to go to the desk and open the
till and take out change.  Well, that was what happened to-day.  A
customer came in and asked Mr. Shaw to change a five-pound note for
him, and Mr. Shaw went to the till to get the change, and then he shut
it up, but he left the key in the lock, meaning to get back to his
place at the desk in a minute; but business kept him, and I was the
very next person to go to the till.  I locked it after I had taken out
the change, and gave him the key.  He went back in a minute or two to
take out the money to carry to the bank, and the five-pound note was
missing.  He asked me out sharp if I had taken it--you know how red I
get when anyone suspects me.  I felt myself blushing awfully, and then
the other girls stopped working and the men, even Jim, stared at me,
and I blushed hotter and hotter every minute.  Then Mr. Shaw said: 'You
were overcome by temptation, Alison Reed, and you took the money; but
give it back to me now at once, and I'll promise to forgive you, and
say nothing more about it.'

"Oh, I was so angry, and I said they might search me, and Mr. Shaw got
angry then, and he got one of the girls to feel me all over and to turn
my pockets inside out, and he called himself real kind not to get in
the police.  Oh, Grannie, of course they couldn't find it on me, but I
was searched there in the shop before everyone.  How am I ever to get
over the shame?  I was nearly mad with passion, and I gave notice on
the spot, and here I am.  I told Mr. Shaw that I would never enter his
shop again until I was cleared, and I mean to keep my word.

"Mr. Shaw seemed more angry with me for giving notice than he was at
the loss of the note.  He said he was certain I took it, for no one
else could, and that I had hid it somewhere, and that I was afraid to
stay, and he said he wouldn't give me any character.  So here I am,
Grannie.  I have lost my eight shillings a week, and I have lost my
character, and I am suspected of being a thief--here I am, good for
nothing.  I have just got my neat shop dress and that is all."

"And does Jim Hardy know?" asked Grannie.

"He was in the shop, of course, and heard everything.  I saw he wanted
to speak, but they wouldn't let him; if he asks me again to be his
wife, I shall say 'no' to him.  I never was quite certain whether I'd
do right or wrong in marrying him, but now I'm positive.  Jim's a right
good fellow, but he shan't ever have it to say that his wife was
accused of theft.  I'm going to refuse him, Grannie.  I suppose I'll
bear all this as well as another.  I'm young, anyway, and you believe
in me, dont you?"

"Believe in you?  of course!" said Mrs. Reed.  "I never heard of such a
shameful thing in all my life.  Why, you are as honest as the day.  Of
course that note will be found, and Mr. Shaw, who knows your value,
will ask you to go back fast enough.  It 'll be all right, that it
will.  I know what I'll do, I'll go straight to the shop and speak
about it.  I'm not going to stand this, whoever else is.  It aint a
slight thing, Alison; it aint the sort of thing that a girl can get
over.  There are you, only seventeen, and so pretty and like a real
lady.  Yes, you are; you needn't pertend you aint.  Me and my people
were always genteel, and you take after us.  I'll see to it.  You
shan't be accused of theft, my dear, ef I can help it."

"But you can't help it, Grannie dear.  Whatever you say they won't
believe you.  There is a girl I hate at the shop, and only that I know
it is impossible, I could believe that she had a finger in the pie.
Her name is Louisa Clay.  She is rather handsome, and at one time we
used to be friends, but ever since Jim and I began to keep company she
has looked very black at me.  I think she has a fancy that Jim would
have taken to her but for me; anyhow, I could not help seeing how
delighted she looked when I went out of the shop.  Oh, let it be,
Grannie; what is the use of interfering?  You may talk yourself hoarse,
but they won't believe you."

"Believe me or not, Mr. Shaw has got to hear what I say," answered the
old woman.  "I am not going to see my girl slighted, nor falsely
accused, nor her good name taken from her without interfering.  It is
no use talking, Alison; I will have my way in this matter."

Grannie rose from her chair as she spoke.  Her cheeks were quite
flushed new, her eyes were almost too bright, and her poor hand ached
and ached persistently.  Alison, who had been sitting on the floor
shedding tears now and then, rose slowly, walked to the window, and
looked out.  She was feeling half stunned.  She was by nature a very
bright, happy girl.  Until this moment things had gone well with her in
life.  She was clever, and had carried all before her at the Board
school.  She was also pretty, and, as Grannie expressed it, "genteel."
She had got a good post in a good shop, and until to-day had been
giving marked satisfaction.  Her earnings were of great value to the
little home party, and she was likely before long to have a rise.  Mr.
Shaw, the owner of the haberdasher's shop in which she worked, talked
of making Alison his forewoman before long.  She had a stylish
appearance.  She showed off his mantles and hats to advantage; she had
a good sharp eye for business; she was very civil and obliging; she won
her way with all his customers; there was not a girl in the shop who
could get rid of remnants like Alison; in short, she was worth more
than a five-pound note to him, and when she was suddenly accused of
theft, in his heart of hearts he was extremely sorry to lose her.
Alison was too happy up to the present moment not to do her work
brightly and well.

The foreman in Shaw's shop was a young man of about four-and-twenty.
His name was Hardy.  He was a handsome fellow; he had fallen in love
with Alison almost from the first moment he had seen her.  A week ago
he had asked her to be his wife; she had not yet given him her answer,
but she had long ago given him her heart.

Now everything was changed; a sudden and very terrible blow had fallen
on the proud girl.  Her pride was humiliated to the very dust.  She had
held her head high, and it was now brought low.  She resolved never to
look at Hardy again.  Nothing would induce her to go back to the shop.
Oh, yes, Grannie might go to Mr. Shaw and talk as much as she liked,
but nothing would make matters straight now.

Mrs. Reed was very quick about all she said and did.  She was tired
after her long morning of waiting in the Out-Patients' Department of
the London Hospital, but mere bodily fatigue meant very little to her.
One of her nurslings--the special darling of her heart--was humiliated
and in danger.  It was her duty to go to the rescue.  She put on her
black bonnet and neat black shawl, encased her little hands once again
in her white cotton gloves, and walked briskly through the kitchen.

"I'm off, Ally," she said.  "I'll be back soon with good news."

Then she paused near the door.

"Ef you have a bit of time you might go on with some of the
needlework," she said.

She thought of the hand which ached so sorely.

"Yes, Grannie," replied Alison, turning slowly and looking at her.

"You'll find the basket in the cupboard, love.  I'm doing the
feather-stitching now; don't you spoil the pattern."

"No, Grannie," answered the girl.  Then she added abruptly, her lips
quivering: "There aint no manner of use in your going out and tiring
yourself."

"Use or not, I am going," said Mrs. Reed.

"By the way, if Jim should happen to come in, be sure you keep him.  I
have a bit of a saveloy in the cupboard to make a flavor for his tea.
Don't you bother with that feather-stitching if Jim should be here."

"He won't be here," said Alison, compressing her lips.

Mrs. Reed pottered down the long steep flight of steps, and soon found
herself in the street.  The fog had grown thicker than ever.  It was
very dense indeed now.  It was so full of sulphuric acid that it
smarted the eyes and hurt the throats and lungs of the unfortunate
people who were obliged to be out in it.  Grannie coughed as she
threaded her way through the well-known streets.

"Dear, dear," she kept muttering under her breath, "wot an evil world
it is!  To think of a young innocent thing being crushed in that sort
of cruel way!  Wot do it mean?  Of course things must be set right.
I'll insist on that.  I aint a Reed for nothing.  The Reeds are
well-born folks, and my own people were Phippses, and they were
well-born too.  And as to the luck o' them, why, 'twas past tellin'.
It don't do for one who's Phipps and Reed both, so to speak, to allow
herself to be trampled on.  I'll soon set things straight.  I've got
sperrit, wotever else I aint got."

She reached Shaw's establishment at last.  It was getting well into the
afternoon, and for some reason the shop was more full than usual.  It
was a very cheap shop and a very good one--excellent bargains could be
found there--and all the people around patronized it.  Alison was
missed to-day, having a very valuable head for business.  Shaw, the
owner of the shop; was standing near the doorway.  He felt cross and
dispirited.  He did not recognize Mrs. Reed when she came in.  He
thought she was a customer, and bowed in an obsequious way.

"What can I serve you with, madam?" he said.  "What department do you
want to go to?"

"To none, thank you, sir," answered Mrs. Reed.  "I have come to see Mr.
Shaw.  I'll be much obleeged if I can have a few words with him."

"Oh, Mr. Shaw!  Well, I happen to be that gentleman.  I am certainly
very much occupied at present; in fact, my good woman, I must trouble
you to call at a less busy time."

"I must say a word to you now, sir, if you please," said Mrs. Reed,
raising her eyes and giving him a steady glance.  "My name is Reed.  I
have come about my grandchild."

"Oh," said the owner of the shop, "you are Mrs. Reed."  His brow
cleared instantly.  "I shall be pleased to see you, madam.  Of course
you have come to talk over the unpleasant occurrence of this morning.
I am more grieved than I can say.  Step this way, madam, if you please."

He marched Grannie with pomp through the crowd of customers; a moment
later she found herself in his private office.

"Now," he said, "pray be seated.  I assure you, Mrs. Reed, I greatly
regret----"

"Ef you please, sir," said Grannie, "it is not to hear your regrets
that I have come here.  A great wrong has been done my granddaughter.
Alison is a good girl, sir.  She has been well brought up, and she
would no more touch your money than I would.  I come of a respectable
family, Mr. Shaw.  I come of a stock that would scorn to steal, and I
can't say more of Alison than that she and me are of one mind.  She
left her 'ome this morning as happy a girl as you could find, and came
back at dinner time broken-'earted.  Between breakfast and dinner a
dreadful thing happened to her; she was accused of stealing a
five-pound note out of your till.  She said she were innocent, but was
not believed.  She was searched in the presence of her fellow shop
people.  Why, sir, is it likely she could get over the shame o' that?
Of course you didn't find the money on her, but you have broke her
heart, and she 'ave left your service."

"Well, madam, I am very sorry for the whole thing, but I do not think I
can be accused of undue harshness to your granddaughter.  Circumstances
were strongly against her, but I didn't turn her off.  She took the law
into her own hands, as far as that is concerned."

"Of course she took the law into her own hands, Mr. Shaw.  'Taint
likely that a girl wot has come of the Phippses and the Reeds would
stand that sort of conduct.  I'm her grandmother, born a Phipps, and I
ought to know.  You used rough words, sir, and you shamed her before
everyone, and you refused her a _character_, so she can't get another
place.  Yes, sir, you have taken her character and her bread from her
by the same _h_act, and wot I have come to say is that I won't have it."

Mr. Shaw began to lose his temper--little Mrs. Reed had long ago lost
hers.

"Look here, my good woman," he said, "it's very fine for you to talk in
that high-handed style to me, but you can't get over the fact that five
pounds are missing."

"I 'aven't got over it, sir; and it is because I 'aven't that I've come
to talk to you to-day.  The money must be found.  You must not leave a
stone unturned until it is found, for Alison must be cleared of this
charge.  That is wot I have come to say.  There's someone else a thief
in your house, sir, but it aint my girl."

"I am inclined to agree with you," said Shaw, in a thoughtful voice,
"and I may as well say now that I regret having acted on the impulse of
the moment.  The facts of the case are these: Between eleven and twelve
o'clock to-day, one of my best customers came here and asked me to give
him change for a five-pound note.  I went to the till and did so,
taking out four sovereigns and a sovereign's worth of silver, and
dropped the five-pound note into the till in exchange.  In my hurry I
left the key in the till.  Miss Reed was standing close to me, waiting
to ask me a question, while I was attending to my customer.  As soon as
he had gone she began to speak about some orders which had not been
properly executed.  While I was replying to her, and promising to look
into the matter, a couple of customers came in.  Miss Reed began to
attend to them.  They bought some ribbons and gloves, and put down a
sovereign to pay for them.  She asked me for change, and being in a
hurry at the moment, I told her to go to the till and help herself.
She did so, bringing back the change, and at the same time giving me
the key of the till.  I put the key into my pocket, and the usual
business of the morning proceeded.  After a time I went to open the
till to take out the contents in order to carry the money to the bank.
I immediately missed the five-pound note.  You will see for yourself,
Mrs. Reed, that suspicion could not but point to your granddaughter.
She had seen the whole transaction.  To my certain knowledge no one
else could have gone to the till without being noticed.  I put the
five-pound note into the till with my own hands.  Miss Reed went at my
request to get change for a customer.  She locked the till and brought
me the key, and when I next went to it the five-pound note had
disappeared."

"And you think that evidence sufficient to ruin the whole life and
character of a respectable girl?" said Mrs. Reed.

"There is no use in your taking that high tone, madam.  The evidence
against Miss Reed was sufficient to make me question her."

"Accuse her, you mean," said Mrs. Reed.

"Accuse her, if you like then, madam, of the theft."

"Which she denied, Mr. Shaw."

"Naturally she would deny it, Mrs. Reed."

"And then you had her searched."

"I was obliged to do so for the credit of the whole establishment, and
the protection of my other workpeople; the affair had to be gone
properly into."

"But you found nothing on her."

"As you say, I found nothing.  If Miss Reed took the money she must
have hidden it somewhere else."

"Do you still think she took it?"

"I am inclined to believe she did not, but the puzzle is, who did? for
no one else had the opportunity."

"You may be certain," said Mrs. Reed, "that someone else did have the
opportunity, even without your knowing it.  Clever thieves can do that
sort of thing wonderful sharp, I have heard say; but Alison aint that
sort.  Now, what do you mean to do to clear my granddaughter?"

"I tell you what I'll do," said Shaw, after a pause.  "I like your
granddaughter.  I am inclined to believe, in spite of appearances, that
she is innocent.  I must confess that she acted very insolently to me
this morning, and for the sake of the other shop people she must
apologize; but if she will apologize I will have her back--there, I
can't act fairer than that."

"Nothing will make her step inside your shop, sir, until she is
cleared."

"Oh, well!" said Mr. Shaw, rising, "she must take the consequence.  She
is a great fool, for she'll never get such a chance again.  Suspicion
is strong against her.  I am willing to overlook everything, and to let
the affair of the five pounds sink into oblivion.  Your granddaughter
is useful to me, and, upon my word, I believe she is innocent.  If she
does not come back, she will find it extremely difficult to get another
situation."

"Sir," said Mrs. Reed, "you don't know Alison.  Nothing will make her
set her foot inside this shop until the real thief is found.  Are you
going to find him or are you not?"

"I will do my best, madam, and if that is your last word, perhaps you
will have the goodness not to take up any more of my valuable time."



CHAPTER II.

Mrs. Reed left the shop, and went home as quickly as her small, active
feet could carry her.  She was feeling quite brisked up by her
interview with Shaw, and her indignation supplied her with strength.
She got back to the model lodging in Sparrow Street, mounted to her own
floor, and opened the door with a latch-key.  Alison was sitting by the
window, busy over the needlework which Grannie would have done had she
been at home.  Alison was but an indifferent worker, whereas Grannie
was a very beautiful one.  Few people could do more lovely hand work
than Mrs. Reed.  She was famous for her work, and got, as such things
go, good prices for it.  The very best shops in the West End employed
her.  She was seldom without a good job on hand.  She had invented a
new pattern in feather-stitching which was greatly admired, and which
she was secretly very proud of--it was an intricate pattern, and it
made a very good show.  No other workwoman knew how to do it, and
Grannie was very careful not to impart her secret to the trade.  This
feather-stitching alone gave her a sort of monopoly, and she was too
good a woman of business not to avail herself of it.  It was the
feather-stitching which had mostly tried her poor hand and arm, and
brought on the horrid pain which the doctor had called writers' cramp.

"Some doctors are out-and-out fools," murmured the old woman to
herself.  "He were a very nice spoke gentleman--tall and genteel, and
he treated me like a lady, which any true man would; but when he said I
had got writers' cramp in this hand, it must have been nonsense.  For
there, I never write; ef I spell through a letter once in six months to
my poor sister's only child in Australia, it's the very most that I can
do.  Writers' cramp, indeed!  Well, it's a comfort to know that he must
be wrong.  I wonder how Ally has got on with the work.  Poor dear!
I'll have to do more of that feather-stitching than ever, now that Ally
has lost her situation."

Alison looked up and saw her grandmother standing near her.  She had,
of course, been taught the feather-stitching.  Mrs. Reed had confided
this important secret to her once in a time of serious illness.

"For I may die, and it may go out of the fam'ly," she said.  "It was
begun by my grandmother, who got the first notion of it in the sort of
trail of the leaves.  My grandmother was a Simpson--most respectable
folk--farmers of the best sort.  She had wonderful linen, as fine as
silk.  She made it all herself, and then she hemmed it and marked it
and feather-stitched it with them trailing leaves.  She taught the
trail to my mother, who married Phipps, and mother had a turn for
needlework, and she gave it that little twist and rise which makes it
so wonderful pretty and neat; but 'twas I popped on the real finish,
quilting it, so to speak, and making it the richest trimming, and the
most dainty you could find.  You must learn it, Alison; it would be a
sin and a shame for it to die with me.  It must stay in the fam'ly, and
you must 'ave it on yer wedding linen, that you must."

Grannie had taken great pains teaching Alison, and Alison had tried
hard to learn, but, unlike the Phippses and the Simpsons, she had no
real turn for fine needlework.  She learned the wonderful stitch, it is
true, but only in a sort of fashion.

Now, the secret of that stitch it is not for me to disclose.  It had to
be done with a twist here, and a loop there, and a sudden clever
bringing round of the thread from the left to the right at a critical
moment; then followed a still more clever darting of the needle through
a loop, which suddenly appeared just when it was least expected.  The
feather-stitching involved many movements of the hand and arm, and
certainly gave a splendid effect to the fine linen or cambric on which
it was worked.  Grannie could do it almost with her eyes shut, but
Alison, who thought she knew all about it, found when she began to
practice that she had not taken the right loop nor the proper twist,
and she quite forgot the clever under-movement which brought the thread
from left to right, and made that sort of crinkled scroll which all the
other workwomen in West London tried to imitate in vain.  Grannie was
trimming some beautiful underlinen for a titled lady; it was made of
the finest cambric, and the feather-stitching was to be a special
feature.

She stood now, looked down at her pretty grandchild, and saw that she
had ruined the work.

"Poor dear," muttered the old woman to herself, "she dint got the turn
of it, or maybe her head is confused.  No wonder, I'm sure; for a
cleverer nor neater girl than Alison don't live."

"There, my love," she said, speaking aloud, "I've come back.  You can
put away the work now."

"Oh, Grannie!" said the girl, looking up with flushed cheeks, "have I
done it right?  It looks wrong somehow; it aint a bit rich like what
you do."

"Dearie me," said the old woman, "as ef that mattered.  You pop it back
into my drawer now."

"But have I done any harm?"

"Of course not, lovey.  Pop it into the drawer and come and make
yourself smart for Jim."

"For Jim?" said Alison, looking up with a glow on her cheeks, her eyes
shining.  "You speak as if you had good news; has anything been
discovered?"

Grannie had made up her mind to cheer Alison by every means in her
power.  She sat down now on the nearest chair, untied her
bonnet-strings, and looked affectionately at the girl.

"I have good news," she said; "yes, all things considered, I have."

"Is the money found, grandmother?"

"You couldn't expect it to be yet.  Of course, _she_ wot took it hid
it--wot else can you expect?"

"Oh, then nothing matters!" said Alison, her head drooping.

"Dearie me, child, that's no way to take misfortin.  The whole thing
from first to last was just a bit of bad luck, and luck's the queerest
thing in life.  I have thought over luck all my long years, and am not
far from seventy, thank the Lord for his goodness, and I can't
understand it yet.  Luck's agen yer, and nothing you can do will make
it for yer, jest for a spell.  Then, for no rhyme or reason, it 'll
turn round, and it's for yer, and everything prospers as yer touches,
and you're jest as fort'nate as you were t'other way.  With a young
thing like you, Ally, young and pretty and genteel, luck aint never
'ard; it soon turns, and it will with you.  No, the money's not found
yet," continued the old woman, rising and taking off her bonnet and
giving it a little shake; "but it's sure to be to-night or to-morrow,
for I've got the promise of the master that he won't leave a stone
unturned to find out the thief.  I did give him my mind, Alison.  I
wish you could have heard me.  I let out on him.  I let him see what
sort of breed I am'--a Phipps wot married a Reed."

"Oh, as if that mattered!" groaned Alison.

"Well, it did with him, love.  Breed allers tells.  You may be low-born
and nothing will 'ide it--not all the dress and not all the, by way of,
fine manners.  It's jest like veneer--it peels off at a minute's
notice.  But breed's true to the core; it wears.  Alison, it wears to
the end."

"Well, Grannie," said Alison, who had often heard these remarks before,
"what did Mr. Shaw really say?"

"My love, he treated me werry respectful.  He told me the whole story,
calm and quiet, and then he said that he was quite sure himself that
you was innocent."

"He didn't say that, really?"

"I tell you he did, child; and wot's more, he offered you the place
back again."

It was Alison's turn now to rise to her feet.  She laughed hysterically.

"And does he think I'll go," she said, "with this hanging over me?  No!
I'd starve first.  If that's all, he has his answer.  I'll never go
back to that shop till I'm cleared.  Oh, I don't know where your good
news is," she continued; "everything seems very black and dreadful.  If
it were not for----"  Her rosy lips trembled; she did not complete her
sentence.

"I could bear it," she said, in a broken voice, "if it were not
for----"  Again she hesitated, rushed suddenly across the room, and
locked herself into the little bedroom which she shared with one of her
sisters.



CHAPTER III.

Grannie pottered about and got the tea.  As she did so she shook her
old head, and once a dim moisture came to her eyes.  Her hand ached so
painfully that if she had been less brave she would have sat down and
given herself up to the misery which it caused her.  But Grannie had
never thought much of herself, and she was certainly not going to do so
to-day when her darling was in such trouble.

"Whatever I do, I mustn't let out that Ally failed in the
feather-stitching," she said to herself.  "I'll unpick it to-night when
she is in bed.  She has enough to bear without grieving her.  I do hope
Jim will come in about supper time.  I should think he was safe to.  I
wonder if I could rub a little of that liniment onto my 'and myself.
It do burn so; to think that jest a little thing of this sort should
make me mis'rible.  Talk of breed!  I don't suppose I'm much, after
all, or I'd not fret about a trifle of this sort."

The tea was laid on the table--the coarse brown loaf, the pat of
butter, the huge jug of skim milk, and the teapot full of weak tea.
The children all came in hungry from school.  Alison returned from her
bedroom with red eyes.  She cut the bread into thick slices, put a
scrape of butter on each slice, and helped her brothers and sisters.
The meal was a homely one, but perfectly nourishing.  The children all
looked fat and well cared for.  Grannie took great pride in their rosy
faces, and in their plump, firm limbs.  She and Alison between them
kept all the family together.  She made plenty of money with her
beautiful needlework, and Alison put the eight shillings which she
brought home every Saturday night from the shop into the common fund.
She had her dinner at the shop, which was also a great help.  Dave was
beginning to earn about half a crown a week, which kept him in shoes
and added a very tiny trifle to the general purse; but Harry was still
not only an expense, but an anxiety to the family.  The three younger
children were, of course, all expense at present, but Grannie's
feather-stitching and lovely work and Alison's help kept the little
family well-off.  As the old woman watched them all to-night, she
laughed softly under her breath at the stupid mistake the doctor had
made.

"Ef he had said anything but writers' cramp, I might 'a' been nervous,"
she said to herself, "but writers' cramp aint possible to anyone as
don't write.  I don't place much store by doctors after that stoopid
mistake; no, that I don't."

Alison's face was very pale.  She scarcely spoke during tea.  The
children were surprised to see her at home both for dinner and tea, and
began to question her.

"Now, you shet up, you little curiosity boxes," said Grannie, in her
brisk, rather aggressive voice.  "Ally is at home--well, because she
is."

"Oh, Grannie! what sort of answer is that?" cried Polly, the youngest
girl.

"It's the only one you'll get, Miss Pry," replied Grannie.

The other children laughed, and began to call Polly "Miss Pry," and
attention was completely diverted from Alison.

After the tea-things had been washed and the children had settled down
to their books and different occupations, there came a knock at the
door, and Hardy entered.

Alison was in her bedroom.

"Set down, Mr. Hardy," said Grannie, if her cheerful voice.  "You've
come to see Ally, I suppose?"

"Yes, if I may," answered the young man, an anxious expression on his
face.

"To be sure you may; who more welcome?  Children, run into my bedroom,
dears.  I'll turn on the gas and you can study your books in there.
Run now, and be quick about it."

"It's so cold," said Polly.

"Tut, tut, not another word; scatter, all of you."

The children longed particularly to stay; they were very fond of Hardy,
who generally brought them sweets.  Polly's quick eyes had seen a white
parcel sticking out of his pocket.  It was horrid to have to go into
Grannie's bedroom.  It was an icy-cold room; just, too, when the
kitchen was most enticing.  They had to go, however, and Grannie shut
the door behind them.

"Poor things, it will be cold for them in there," said the young man.

"Tut, tut," answered Grannie again, "you don't want 'em to be brought
up soft and lazy and good for naught.  Now then, Jim, set down and make
yourself at home."

"How is she?" asked Hardy, speaking in a low voice, and raising his
handsome eyes to the old lady's face.

Grannie's eyes blazed in reply.

"How do you expect her to be?" she answered.  "Publicly shamed as she
were; I wonder you didn't take her part, Jim, that I do."

"I felt stunned," replied Hardy; "it was all so sudden.  I tried to
push forward and to speak, but I was prevented.  There was such an
excitement, and Mr. Shaw was in a towering passion--there's no doubt of
that.  I'm sorry she has left, though."

"Well," said Grannie, "she's had the offer to take her place again if
she likes."

"Has she?  Then he doesn't believe her to be guilty?"

"No; who would who knew her?"

"Who would, indeed?" answered the young man, a glow of pride and
pleasure o& his face.

"I'll tell her you are here in a minute," said Grannie, "and then I'll
leave you two the kitchen to yourselves.  But before I go away I jest
want to say one thing--Alison won't go back."

"Won't?"

"No, nor would I let her.  Alison will stay here till she's cleared.
You are in the shop, Jim, and it's your business to find the
thief--that is, ef you love my girl, wot I take it you do."

"With all my heart, that I do," he replied.

"Then your work's cut out for you.  Now you may see her."

Grannie stepped across the kitchen.  She opened Alison's door a quarter
of an inch.

"Jim's here, Ally," she said.  "I've a job of work in my bedroom, and
the children are out of the way.  You two can have the kitchen to
yourselves ef you want to talk."

Alison's low reply was scarcely discernible.  Grannie went into her
bedroom, clicking the door behind her.  A moment or two later Hardy
heard Alison step lightly across her room.  She came out of it, crossed
the kitchen, and approached his side.  Her face was perfectly white,
her lips trembled with emotion.  She still wore her shop dress, but
there was a disheveled sort of look about her which the young man had
never noticed before.

Her beautiful fair hair was rumpled and in disorder, her deep-blue eyes
looked pathetic owing to the tears she had shed.  The young man's whole
heart went out to her at a great bound.  How beautiful she was!  How
unlike any other girl he had ever seen!  How much he loved her in her
hour of trouble!

"Oh, Alison," he said, speaking the first words that came to his lips,
"I could die for you--there!"

Alison burst into tears.  Jim put his arm round her; she did not
repulse him.  He drew her close to him, and she laid her head on his
shoulder.  He had never held her so close to him before; he had never
yet kissed her; now he kissed her soft hair as it brushed against his
cheek.

"There, there," he said, after a moment or two, during which she sobbed
in a sort of luxury of grief and happiness; "there, there, my darlin',
I am between you and all the troubles of this hard world."

"Oh, Jim, but I can't have it," she answered.

She remembered herself in a moment, withdrew her head from his
shoulder, pressed back his hands, which struggled to hold her, and
seated herself on a low stool at the opposite side of the little stove.

"It's all over, dear Jim," she said.  "I do love you, I don't deny it;
but I must say 'no' to-night."

"But why," said Hardy, "why should a nasty, spiteful bit of
misadventure like what happened to-day divide you and me?  There is no
sense in it, Alison."

"Sense or no, we can't be engaged," replied Alison.  "I won't have it;
I love you too well.  I'll never marry anybody while it's held over me
that I'm a thief."

"But, darlin', you are no more a thief than I am; you are jest the most
beautiful and the best girl in all the world.  I'll never marry anybody
ef I don't marry you, Ally.  Oh, I think it is cruel of you to turn me
away jest because you happen to be the last person seen going to the
till."

"I'm sorry if I seem cruel, Jim," she replied, "but my mind is quite
made up.  It's a week to-night since you asked me to be your wife.  I
love yer, I don't pretend to deny it; I've loved yer for many a month,
and my heart leaped with joy when you said you loved me, and of course
I meant to say 'yes.'  But now everything is changed; I'm young, only
seventeen, and whatever we do now means all our lives, Jim, yours and
mine.  This morning I were so happy--yes, that I were; and I just
longed for to-night to come, and I was fit to fly when I went to the
shop, although there was a fog, and poor Grannie's hand was so painful
that she had to go to see the doctor at the hospital; but then came the
blow, and it changed everything, just everything."

"I can't see it," interrupted Jim; "I can't see your meaning; it has
not changed your love nor mine, and that's the only thing that seems to
me of much moment.  You jest want me more than ever now, and I guess
that if you loved me before, you love me better now, so why don't you
say 'yes'?"

"I can't," she replied; "I have thought it all over.  I was stunned at
first, but for the last hour or two everything has been very plain to
me.  I am innocent, Jim.  I no more took that note out of the till than
you did; but it's gone, and I'm suspected.  I was accused of taking it,
before the whole shop.  I'm branded, that's what I feel, and nothing
can take away the brand, and the pain, and the soreness, except being
cleared.  If I were to say 'yes' to you to-night, Jim, and let you love
me, and kiss me, and by and by take me afore the parson, and make me
your lawful wife--I--I wouldn't be the sort of girl you really love.
The brand would be there, and the soreness, and the shame, and the
dreadful words would keep ringing in my ears, 'You are a thief, you are
a thief'--so I couldn't be a good wife to yer, Jim, for that sort of
thing would wear me out, and I'd be sort of changed; and well as you
love me now, it would come back to you that once the girl what was your
wife was called a thief, so I'll never say 'yes'--never, until I'm
cleared; and somehow I don't expect I ever will be cleared, for the one
that did me this mischief must be very clever, and deep, and cunning.
So it's 'good-by,' Jim dear, and you'd better think no more of me, for
I'll never go back to the shop, and I'll never wed you until I'm
cleared of this dark, dark deed that is put down to me."

"Then I will clear you; I vow it," said Hardy.

He rose to his feet; he looked very strong, and firm, and determined.

"You don't suppose that I'll lose you for the sake of a five-pound
note," he said.  "I'll clear you.  Grannie has put it on me, and now
you put it on me more than ever.  It 'll be only a day or two most like
that we'll be parted, sweetheart.  Only I wish you wouldn't stick to
this, Ally.  Let me kiss you, and let me feel that you are my own dear
love, and I'll work harder than ever to prove that you are innocent as
the beautiful dawn that you are like.  There was no one ever so
beautiful as you, like you."

Alison smiled very faintly while Jim was speaking to her, but when he
approached her and held out his arms, and tried to coax her to come
into them, she drew back.

"No," she said, "I'm a thief until I'm cleared, and you shan't kiss a
thief, Jim Hardy, that you shan't."

Her tears broke out afresh as she uttered these words; she flung
herself on the little settle, and sobbed very bitterly.



CHAPTER IV.

Jim walked quickly down the street; the fog had now partly lifted, and
a very faint breeze came and fanned his cheeks as, with great strides,
he went in the direction of Bishopsgate Street.  He had lodgings in
Bishopsgate Without--a tiny room at the top of a house, which he called
his own, and which he kept beautifully neat, full of books and other
possessions.  Hanging over his mantelpiece was a photograph of Alison.
It did not do her justice, failing to reproduce her expression, giving
no color to the charming, petulant face, and merely reproducing the
fairly good features without putting any life into them.  When Hardy
got home and turned on the gas in his little attic, he took the
photograph down from its place and looked at it hungrily and greedily.
He was a young giant in his way, strong and muscular and good-looking.
His dark eyes seemed to gather fire as he looked at Alison's picture;
his lips, always strong and determined, became obstinate in their
outline; he clenched one of his strong hands, then put the photograph
slowly and carefully back in its place.

"I have made a vow," he said to himself.  "I don't remember ever making
a vow before; I'll keep this vow, so help me Heaven!--I have got to
clear my girl; yes, when all is said and done, she is my girl.  I'll
set this thing right before a week is out.  Now let me put on my
considering cap--let me try to think of this matter as if I were a
detective.  By the way, there's that friend of mine, Sampson, who is in
the detective force; I've a good mind to run round to him and ask his
advice.  There's treachery somewhere, and he might give me a wrinkle or
two."

Jim put on his cap, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and went
out once more.  As he was running downstairs he met his landlady--he
was a favorite with her.  She accosted him with a civil word, and an
inquiry if he did not want some supper.

"No, thanks," he replied, "I will sup out to-night--good-night, Mrs.
Higgins."

She nodded and smiled.

"I wonder what's up with him," she sad to herself--"how white he do
look! and his eyes sorter dazed--he's a right good fellow, and I wish I
had more like him in the house."

Jim meanwhile was marching quickly in the direction of Sampson's
lodgings.  He had been brought up in the country, and had never seen
London until he was seventeen years of age.  His great frame and
athletic limbs were all country-bred; he could never lose that
knowledge which had come to him in his boyhood--the knowledge of
climbing and rowing, of fishing and swimming--the power to use all his
limbs.  This power had made him big and strong, and London ways and
London life could not greatly affect him.  He was very clever and very
steady, and was rising to a good position in the shop.  His thoughts
were far away now from his own affairs; they were absorbed with
Alison--with that dreadful shame which surrounded her, and with the vow
he had made to set his dear love straight.

"If there's treachery, Sampson and me will find it out between us," he
said to himself.

He was fortunate in finding Sampson in, and very soon unfolded his
errand.

Sampson was as London-bred as Jim was the reverse.  He was a little
fellow, with a face like a ferret; he had sharp-peaked features, a pale
skin with many freckles, very small, keen blue eyes, rather closely set
together, red hair, which he wore short and stuck up straight all over
his small head.  His face was clean-shaven, and he had a very alert
look.  Sampson did not live in an attic--he had a neat, well-furnished
room, on the third floor.  His room did not show the taste Jim's
did--it was largely garnished with colored photographs of handsome
young women, and some of the most celebrated cricketers and boxers of
the day.  His mantelpiece was covered with pipes and one or two
policemen's whistles.  He was indulging in a pipe when Jim was
announced.  He welcomed his friend cordially, asked him to be seated,
listened to his tale, and then sat silent, thinking very carefully over
the mystery.

"Well," said Jim, "why don't you speak?  I have got to clear this thing
in a couple of days.  My girl will have nothing to do with me until she
is cleared of this shame, so you see how things stand, Sampson.  I have
got a bit of money put by, and I'll spend it clearing her if you think
you can help me."

"No, no, 'taint my line," said Sampson, "and, besides, I wouldn't take
your money, old chap; you are welcome to my advice, but I should only
rouse suspicion if I were to appear in the matter--still, we can talk
the thing well over.  It seems to me the point is this, who was the
person who got to the till while Miss Reed's back was turned?"

"They swear that no one could get to it," replied Jim.  "The till is,
of course, in the master's desk, and Alison was close to it--she
scarcely left that part of the shop--at any rate, only to move a foot
or two away, before the customer arrived whom she was to serve.  She
served her customer, and went to ask Mr. Shaw for change.  He told her
that the key was in the till, and that she might help herself.  She
took the change out and then locked the till.  Alison is anxious enough
to be cleared, you may be quite sure, but she can't see herself how it
was possible that anyone else could have got to the till from the
moment the five-pound note was put into it until she herself took
change out and then locked it."

"Yes, of course," said Sampson, "so she thinks.  Now, one of three
things is plain.  You'll forgive me if I speak right out quite plainly,
my boy?"

"Of course," answered Hardy, with a faint smile.  "You were always
famous for telling your mind when you liked, Sampson."

"And for keeping it back when I liked," retorted Sampson.  "I wouldn't
be much of a detective if I didn't do that--still, this is my view of
the case in a nutshell.  One of three things must have happened--that
is, granted that Mr. Shaw did put the five-pound note into the till."

"Why, of course he did," said Jim, in surprise.

"We must grant that," interrupted Sampson, "or we have nothing to go
upon.  Granted that he put the money into the till, one of three things
happened.  Miss Reed was tempted and helped herself to the five-pound
note----"

Jim sprang to his feet, he clenched his big fist, and made a step
toward Sampson, who sat, slight, small, and unprovoked, in his chair.

"Sit down, won't you?" he said.

"Only I want to strangle you and kick you out of the room," said Jim.

"Well, I beg of you to refrain.  I told you that I was a blunt body.  I
don't think for a moment that Miss Reed took the money.  In that case,
one of my remaining two suppositions must have happened; either the
note is still in the drawer, pushed out of sight, or under some loose
change--hidden, the Lord knows where--or somebody did get to the till
without Miss Reed seeing that person.  My belief, and my knowledge of
human nature, induce me to think that the third idea is the right one."

"But no one could," began Jim.

"You can't say that no one could.  Lor' bless you, the artful devices
of some folks is past counting.  Now tell me, what sort are the other
girls in the shop?"

"Oh, well enough--a very respectable lot."

"You don't think any of them have a spite against your young woman?"

"Well, no, I don't suppose they have--that is----"

"Ah, you hesitate--that means that one of them has.  Now speak out,
Jim.  All depends on your being candid."

"Oh, yes!  I'll be candid enough," said Jim; "I never saw anything
wrong with the young women in the shop.  Of course, except Alison, I
have not had much to do with any of them, but Ally once said to me that
a girl called Louisa Clay had, she thought, a spite agen her.  I can't
imagine why, I'm sure."

"This is interesting," said Sampson.  "Mark my words, Louisa Clay is at
the bottom of the business.  Now tell me, what sort is she?"

"A handsome, well-mannered girl," replied Jim.  "She's about twenty
years of age, I should say, with a dash of the gypsy in her, for she
has coal-black hair and flashing eyes."

"Oh, you seem to have studied her face a bit."

"Well, she is not the sort that you could pass," said Jim, coloring;
"besides, she wouldn't stand it."

"A jealous sort, would you say?"

"How can I tell?"

"Yes you can, Jim Hardy.  I see the end of this trouble, blest ef I
don't.  How long has Alison been in the shop?"

"Six months."

"How long have you been there?"

"Oh, several years!  I was apprentice first, and then I rose step by
step.  I have been with Shaw a matter of six years."

"And how long has Louisa Clay been there?"

"I can't exactly remember, but I should say a year and a half."

Sampson now rose to his feet.

"There we are," he said.  "You are a good-looking chap, Jim; you are
taller than us London fellows, and you've got a pleasing way with you;
you were civil to Louisa before Alison came.  Come now, the truth."

"Well, she talked to me now and then," answered the young fellow,
coloring again.

"Ah, I guess she did, and you talked to her; in fact, you kept company
with her, or as good."

"No, that I didn't."

"Well, she thought you did, or hoped you would; so it all comes to the
same.  Then Alison arrived, and you gave Louisa up.  Isn't that so?"

"I never thought about Louisa one way or the other, I assure you,
Sampson.  Ally and I were friends from the first.  I hadn't known her a
fortnight before I loved her more than all the rest of the world.  I
have been courting her ever since.  I never gave a thought to another
woman."

"Bless me! what an innocent young giant you are; but another woman gave
you a thought, my hearty, and of course she was jealous of Miss Reed,
and if she didn't want the money for reasons of her own, she was very
glad to put a spoke in her wheel."

"Oh, come now, it isn't right to charge a girl like that," said Hardy.

"Right or wrong, I believe I've hit the nail on the head.  Anyhow,
that's the track for us to work.  Where does this girl Clay live?"

"With her father and mother in Shoreditch.  He's a pawnbroker, and by
no means badly off."

"You seem to have gone to their house."

"A few times on Sunday evenings.  Louisa asked me."

"Have you gone lately?"

"Not to say very lately."

"Well, what do you say to you and me strolling round there this
evening?"

"This evening!" cried Jim.  "Oh, come now," he added, "I haven't the
heart; that I haven't."

"You have no spunk in you.  I thought you wanted to clear your girl."

"Oh, if you put it in that way, Sampson, of course I'll do anything;
but I can't see your meaning.  I do want, God knows, to clear Alison,
but I don't wish to drag another girl into it."

"You shan't; that will be my business.  After all, I see I must take
this thing up; you are not the fellow for it.  The detective line, Jim,
means walking on eggs without breaking 'em.  You'd smash every egg in
the farmyard.  The detective line means guile; it means a dash of the
knowing at every step.  You are as innocent as a babe, and you haven't
the guile of an unfledged chicken.  You leave this matter with me.  I
begin to think I'd like to see Miss Clay.  I admire that handsome,
dashing sort of girl--yes, that I do.  All I want you to do, Jim, is to
introduce me to the young lady.  If her father is a pawnbroker he must
have a bit of money to give her, and a gel with a fat purse is just my
style.  You come along to the Clays and give me a footing in the house,
and that's all I ask."

Jim hesitated.

"I don't like it," he said.

"Don't like it," repeated Sampson, mimicking his manner.  "I wouldn't
give much for that vow of yours, young man.  Why, you are a soft Sawny.
You want to clear your own girl?"

"That I do, God knows."

"Then introduce me to Miss Clay."

"Oh, Sampson, I hope I'm doing right."

"Fiddlesticks with your right.  I tell you this is my affair.  Come
along now, or it will be too late."

Sampson took down his hat from the wall, and Jim, somewhat unwillingly,
followed him out of the room and downstairs.  He did not like the job,
and began to wish he had never consulted Sampson.  But the detective's
cheery and pleasant talk very soon raised his spirits, and by the time
the two young men had reached the sign of the Three Balls, Jim had
persuaded himself that he was acting in a very manly manner, and that
dear little Alison would soon be his promised wife.

Compared to Jim Hardy and George Sampson the Clays were quite wealthy
folk.  Louisa need not have gone into a shop at all unless she so
pleased, but she was a vivacious young person, who preferred having a
purse of her own to being dependent on her father.  She liked to show
herself off, and had the sense to see that she looked better in her
neat black alpaca with its simple trimmings than in any of her
beflowered and bespangled home dresses.  The Clays were having friends
to supper this special evening, and the mirth was fast and hilarious
when Hardy and Sampson entered the room.  Hardy had never seen Louisa
before in her evening dress.  It gave her a blooming and buxom
appearance.  The dress was of a flaming red color, slightly open at the
neck, and with elbow sleeves.  Louisa started and colored when she saw
Jim.  Her big eyes seemed to flash, and Sampson noticed that she gave
him a bold, admiring glance.

"She is at the bottom of this, if ever gel was," muttered the detective
to himself.

He asked Hardy to introduce him; and presently, using that tact for
which he was famous, induced Louisa to accompany him to a sofa at a
little distance, where they sat together laughing and chatting, and
Hardy was relieved to find that he need not pay this bold-looking girl
any attention.

The supper was over before the young men arrived, but the atmosphere of
the room was close with a mixture of tobacco and spirits.  Several very
fat and loudly dressed old ladies were talking to a still fatter and
more loudly dressed old lady at the head of the room.  This was the
hostess.  Clay, the pawnbroker, a little man with a deeply wrinkled
face and shrewd, beadlike, black eyes, was darting in and out amongst
his friends, laughing loudly, cracking jokes, and making himself
generally facetious and agreeable.  He clapped Jim on the shoulders,
assured him that he was delighted to see him, and dragged him up to the
sofa, where Louisa and Sampson were having a very open flirtation.

"My gel will be right glad to see yer," he said to Jim, with a broad
wink.  "Eh, Louisa, who have I brought, eh?  You are sure to give Hardy
a welcome, aint you, lass?"

"If he'll take it, of course," she replied.

She jumped up and gave Jim a second glance of unequivocal admiration.

"It was good of you to come," she said, in a low tone.  "I thought that
you were a bit troubled to-day; but maybe that is why you have come, to
be cheered up."

Jim flushed and felt uncomfortable; he could not tell Louisa his real
motive; he felt ashamed of himself, and longed to be out of this noisy
scene.

"And it isn't that I don't pity you," she continued.  "Of course I can
see that you are cut up; who would have thought that a gel like
Alison----"

Jim put up his big hand.

"Not a word," he said; "I won't discuss it--I can't!"

"You are awful cut up, old fellow, aint you?" said Louisa, moving a
step or two out of the crowd and motioning him to a corner.  "Look
here," she continued, "there's a quiet nook here, just under the
stairs; let us stand here for a minute, I want to talk to yer.  I know
you are cut up, and I am sorry--yes, that I am."

"I can't discuss it with you, Miss Clay," said Jim.

"Oh, aint it stiff of you to call me Miss Clay!" she retorted; "when
you know me so well."

"Perhaps it is," he answered, too good-natured to be rude to her.  "I
will call you Louisa if you like; but Louisa or Miss Clay, whichever
you are, I can't talk of this matter."

Louisa's great black eyes seemed to blaze like living fires.  She gave
Jim a long glance.

"Just you tell me one thing," she said, almost in a whisper.

"What is that?" he asked, surprised at her change of tone.

"Are you going to marry Alison Reed, Jim Hardy?"

"You have no right to ask me the question," he replied, "but as you
have, I will for once answer you frankly.  If I don't marry Alison
Reed, no other girl shall be my wife."

"Is that a vow?" she asked.

"You can take it as such, if you like," he said.

"I wouldn't make it," she replied.  "No man can tell how he will
change."

"I'll never change," he replied.  "I think I'll say 'good-night' now."

"Oh, dear! you aint going?  Well, you shan't go until I have had my
say.  I just wanted to know the truth; now I know it.  Look here, Jim;
I am your friend, and I am Alison Reed's friend.  There is nothing I
wouldn't do for either of you.  Alison must be cleared of the shameful
thing she was accused of in the shop to-day."

"She will be cleared," said Jim; "that is my business.  Good-night,
Louisa; I must go home."

"One minute first.  I'll help you to clear Miss Reed.  Will you sit
next me at dinner to-morrow?"

"That is as you like," replied Jim.

"Please do," she added; "I'll have made a plan by then.  Yes, Alison
must be cleared.  It seems to me that it is more a woman's work than a
man's."

"No, it is my work," said Jim.  "But I'll sit next to you with
pleasure; it is nothing to me one way or other."

Louisa's eyes drooped; an angry color flooded her face.

Jim held out his hand; she gave hers: the next minute the two young men
were again in the street.

"Well," said Sampson, "we have done good business, have we not?"

"I can't see it," replied Jim.  "Louisa is innocent.  I don't like her,
but she has had no more to do with that affair than I have had; so
there."

"Louisa Clay is guilty," replied Sampson.  "I may not be able to prove
it either to-day or to-morrow, but I will prove it before long.  You
leave this matter in my hands, Jim."

"I hate the whole thing," said Jim; "it seems awfully hard to drag
another girl into it."

"Well, I don't believe in your sort of love," sneered Sampson; "but
mark my words: Louisa is the one what took that money.  I have got a
footing in the house now, and I can work the thing and prove that I am
right in my own way."

"I don't believe a word of it," said Jim.  "Don't drag me into it any
further, Sampson, whatever you do."



CHAPTER V.

Soon after the departure of the two young men, the rest of the guests
left the Clays' house.  There was no special run on the pawnshop that
night.  Saturday night was the real night for business; then work went
on until far into the small hours of the morning, and Louisa was
obliged to turn to and help her father, but to-night there was nothing
to prevent her going to bed.  She lit her candle in the hall, and
turned to say "good-night" to her parents.

"That's a likely young man wot came here to-night," said the mother.

"What young man?" asked Louisa, her eyes flashing.

"Why, Mr. Sampson; they say he's right well off.  Don't you know who he
is, Loo?"

"No, that I don't," answered Louisa.  "I never set eyes on him before.
I thought he was just a friend of Jim Hardy's.  I thought it was Jim
you spoke of, mother, when you mentioned a likely young man."

"Oh, Jim! he's well enough," said Mrs. Clay.  "I don't go for to deny
that 'e's handsome to look at, but my thought is this, 'andsome is as
'andsome does.  Now, that young man Sampson, as you call him, will make
his fortin' some fine day.  He's in the private detective line, and
your father says there aint a sharper man in the trade.  A sharp
detective makes his fortin' in these days, no doubt on that p'int."

Louisa's face slightly lost its color; a puzzled expression, an almost
frightened look, crept into her eyes.

"So George Sampson is a detective," she said slowly; "a detective, and
he is a friend of Jim's.  I wonder why he came here?"

"Why he come 'ere!" said the old woman.  "Why do any young men come
'ere?  Oh, we needn't say why; but we know.  Good-night, child,
good-night."

"Good-night, mother," said the daughter.

She went upstairs to her own good-sized bedroom, just over the
pawnshop.  She occupied the best bedroom in the house.  She set her
candle on her chest of drawers now, and sat down where she could see
her handsome, striking-looking figure in the looking-glass.  There was
a long glass in the door of her wardrobe, and there she could see her
reflection from head to foot.  The red dress suited her well; it
accentuated the carmine in her cheeks, and brought out the brilliancy
of her eyes.  She pushed back her mass of black hair from her low brow,
and gazed hard at her own image.

"Yes," she said to herself, "I am handsome.  Ef I were a lady I'd be a
queen.  I'm handsome enough for anythink.  But what do it matter!  Good
Lor', what do _anythink_ matter when you can't get what you are
breaking your heart for!  I'd give all the world for Jim, and Jim don't
care nothink for me."

She sighed heavily.  Presently she drew herself upright, pushed her
chair back so that she could no longer see her image in the glass,
placed her two elbows on the table, pressed her cheeks down on her open
palms, and thought hard.

"Why did that man, George Sampson, come here to-night?" she said to
herself.  "Did Jim bring him knowing that he is a detective; did he
bring him because he suspects me?  Oh, he couldn't suspect me; Jim aint
that mean sort.  Still, I don't like Sampson; I don't like his coming
'ere; I don't like the way he fixes me with his ferret eyes.  Jim is
mad about Alison.  He can't suspect me, of course; but he is mad about
it all.  He is half broken-hearted, and he thinks less of me than ever.
Oh, Jim, Jim! and I do love you so terrible bad.  Why don't you love me
even a little bit back again?  I'd be good ef you loved me; I know I'd
be good.  What is there in Alison Reed for you nearly to die for her?
She aint got my looks, she aint got my eyes, she aint got my bit of
money.  I'm handsome, and I know it, and I'll have a tidy lot of money
when I'm married, for father tells me so.  What is Alison compared to
me?  Oh, nothing, nothing at all!  just a mealy-faced, white-cheeked
slip of a girl.  But somehow or other he loves her, and he don't love
me a bit; I'd do anything under the sun to win him.  Why to-day, to-day
I did a _crime_, and 'twas for him, 'twas to win him; and, after all, I
failed.  Oh, yes, I saw it to-night, I failed horribly."

Louisa pressed her hands to her aching eyes; tears rose and smarted her
eyelids; they rolled down her cheeks.

"I'm fit to kill myself!" she cried.  "I did a crime for Jim, and I
dragged a girl into it, and I failed.  Yes, I'll be straight with
myself, I did it for him.  Oh, God knows what I've suffered lately, the
mad fire and the pain that has been eating me here," she pressed her
hand to her breast; "and then to-day I was passing the desk and I saw
the note, not in the till, but lying on the floor, and no one saw me,
and it flashed on me that perhaps Alison would be accused, and anyhow
that the money would come in handy.  Shaw thought he put the note into
the till, but he never did.  It fell on the floor, and 'twas open, and
I picked it up.  I have it now; no one saw me, for I did it all like a
flash.  The whole temptation come to me like a flash, and I took the
money in a twinkling.  And now Alison is accused, and I am the real
thief.  I did it--yes, I know why I did it: to turn Jim agen Alison, so
that I might have a chance to win him for myself.  Yes, I have got the
money.  I'll jest have a look at it now."

Louisa rose as she spoke; she took a key from her pocket, opened a
small drawer in her wardrobe, and extracted from an old-fashioned purse
a crumpled five-pound note.  She stared at this innocent piece of paper
with big, wide-open black eyes.

"I wish I'd never touched it," she said, speaking her thoughts out
loud.  "But of course Jim couldn't suspect me.  Not a soul saw me when
I jest stooped and put the paper in my pocket.  No, not a living soul
saw me.  Shaw had gone away, and Alison was serving a customer, and I
did it like a flash.  I had a fine time when they accused Alison, and
she turned first white and then red; but I didn't like it when I saw
Jim shiver.  Why did he take that vow that he would marry nobody but
her?  See ef I don't make him break it!  I haven't got my looks for
nothink, and I don't love, as I love Jim, for nothink.  Yes; I'll win
him yet--I have made up my mind.  I think I know a way of blinding that
detective's eyes.  I'll jest let him think that I like him--that I'm
losing my heart to him.  _That 'll_ fetch him!  He aint married; I know
he aint, from the way he spoke.  I can soon turn a feller like that
round my little finger.  Trust _me_ to blind his eyes.  As to Jim! oh,
Jim, you _can't_ guess wot I done; it aint in you to think meanly of a
gel.  Why, Jim, I could even be _good_ for a man like you; but there!
now that I have done this thing I can't be good, so there is nothink
for me but to go on being as bad as possible; only some day--some day,
if I win yer, perhaps I'll tell yer all.  No, no; what am I saying?  Of
course you must never know.  You'd hate me if I were fifty times yer
wife, ef yer knew the bitter, bitter truth.  Alison is nothing at all
to me; I don't care whether she breaks her heart or not, but I do care
about Jim.  It is Jim I want.  I'd make him a right good wife, for I
love him so well--yes, I will get him yet--I vow it; and perhaps my
vow, being a woman's, may be stronger than his."

Louisa undressed slowly and got into bed.  Her conscience was too hard
to trouble her; but the thought of Jim and his despair stood for some
time between her and sleep.  She was tired out, for the day had been
full of excitement, but it was quite into the small hours before her
tired eyes were closed in heavy slumber.

Not far away, in a small flat in Sparrow Street, another girl slept
also.  This girl had cried herself to sleep; the tears were even still
wet upon her eyelashes.  Grannie had come into the room and looked at
Alison.  Alison and Polly slept together in the tiniest little offshoot
of the kitchen--it was more a sort of lean-to than a room; the roof
sloped so much that by the window, and where the little dressing-table
stood, only a very small person could keep upright.  Grannie belonged
to the very small order of women.  She always held herself upright as a
dart, and though it was late now, she did not show any signs of fatigue
as she stood with a shaded candle looking down at the sleeping girl.
Alison's face was very pale; once or twice she sighed heavily.  As
Grannie watched her she raised her arm, pushed back her hair, which lay
against her cheek, turned round, sighed more deeply than ever, and then
sank again into unbroken slumber.

"She's dreaming of it all," thought the old woman.  "I wonder if Jim,
bless him, will clear her.  I know he'll do his best.  I believe he's a
good lad.  I wish Alison would get engaged to him right away.  Jim's
doing well in the shop, and they might be married and--dear, dear, I
_wish_ my hand didn't ache so bad.  Well, there's one good thing about
it anyway--I needn't waste time in bed, for sleep one wink with this
sort of burning pain I couldn't, so I may jest as well set up and put
that feather-stitching straight.  It's certain true that there aint a
single thing in the world what hasn't some good p'int about it, and
here is the good p'int in this pain of mine: I needn't waste the hours
of darkness laying and doing nothink in bed."

Grannie stole out of the room as softly as she had entered.  She shut
the door behind her without making the least sound; she then lit a
little lamp, which was much cheaper than gas, saw that it burned trim
and bright, and set it on the center-table in the kitchen.  The night
was bitterly cold; the fog had been followed by a heavy frost.  Grannie
could hear the sharp ringing sound of some horses' feet as they passed
by, carrying their burdens to the different markets.  It was long past
twelve o'clock.  The little kitchen was warm, for the stove had burned
merrily all day.  Grannie opened the door of the stove now and looked
in.

"Shall I, or shall I not, put on an extry shovelful of coals?" she said
to herself; "an extry shovelful will keep the heat in all night; I have
a mind to, for I do perish awful when the heat goes out of the kitchen;
but there, it would be sinful waste, for coals are hard to get.  Ef
that doctor were right, and it were really writers' cramp, I mightn't
be able to earn any more money to buy coals; but of course he aint
right; how silly of me to be afraid of what's impossible!  Yes, I'll
put on the coals.  Thank the good Lord, this feather-stitching means a
real good income to us; and now that Ally can't bring in her eight
shillings a week, I must work extry hard, but it's false savin' to
perish of cold when you have it in you to earn good money, so here
goes."

Grannie filled a very tiny shovel, flung the precious coals into the
opening of the stove, shut it up again, and, taking the cambric from
the cupboard in the wall, sat down with needle and thread just where
the full light of the lamp could best fall on her work.  Her right hand
ached and ached--it not only ached, but burned; the pain seemed to go
up her arm; it sometimes gave her a sort of sick feeling.

"Of course it's rheumatis," she said to herself.  "Well now, what a
silly I am!  Why don't I try the liniment?  There, I'll rub some on
afore I begin to work."

She took the bottle from the mantelpiece, opened it, and poured a
little of the mixture into the palm of her left hand.  The liniment was
hot and comforting; it smarted a little, and relieved the dull inside
pain.  Grannie found herself able to move her thumb and forefinger
without much difficulty.

"There!" she said; "it's stiffening of the j'ints I'm getting.  This
liniment is fine stuff.  I must be very careful of it, though; why, I'm
a sight better already.  Now then, first to wash my 'ands, and then to
unpick the feather-stitching poor Ally did to-day.  Poor darlin', she
couldn't be expected to do it proper, but I'll soon set it right."

Mrs. Reed poured some warm water from the tap into the basin beneath,
washed her old hands very carefully, dried them well, and sat down in
quite a cheerful mood in her warm, snug, bright little kitchen to
unpick Alison's work.  The liniment had really eased the pain.  She was
able to grasp without any discomfort the very finely pointed scissors
she was obliged to use, and after an hour and a half of intricate
labor, during which she strained her old eyes in order to avoid cutting
the delicate cambric, she had at last undone the mischief which Alison
had caused that day.

"Now then, here we are, as straight as possible," she said aloud, in
her cheery way.  "It's wonderful how fresh I do feel, and this hand's a
sight better.  I declare it's a sort of Providence that the old don't
want much sleep--why, the church clock has gone two, and I aint a bit
drowsy.  I know what I'll do, I'll work till five, that's three hours;
then I'll go to bed till seven.  My hand's so comfortable that I'm sure
to sleep like a top, and seven is time enough for me to rise.  Two
hours aint such a bad lot of sleep for a woman of my years.  Let's see,
I'm sixty-eight.  In one sense sixty-eight is old, in another sense
it's young.  You slack down at sixty-eight; you don't have such a draw
on your system, the fire inside you don't seem to require such poking
up and feeding.  When you get real old, seventy-eight or eighty, then
you want a deal of cosseting; but sixty-eight is young in one sense of
the word.  This is the slack time--this is the time when you live real
cheap.  What a deal of mercies I have, to be sure; and them beautiful
grandchildren, so fat and hearty, and Alison and me to keep the house
so snug, and tight, and neat, and not a debt in the world.  Now, then,
I expect I'll get a lot of work through in these three hours.  I can
set up for the next few nights, till Ally gets her place back again,
and make up all the difference, and more, that her eight shillings a
week brings in.  Oh, thank the Lord, it's wonderful fortinit that I've
come to the easy time of life.  If I were younger now, I must have my
sleep; but at sixty-eight you, so to speak, slacks down your fire, and
_werry_ little keeps it goin'."

As Grannie thought these last vigorous and contented thoughts, she
pulled the lamp nearer, seized her needle and thread, and commenced her
feather-stitching.  For the first quarter of an hour or twenty minutes
the work went well--the mysterious twists, and turns, and darts, and
loops were all made with fidelity and exactitude--the lovely crinkled
ornament stood out boldly on the delicate cambric.  Grannie looked at
her work with intense pride and happiness.

"It's a fortin'--I do wish that gel would learn it.  Why, ef the two of
us were at it, she'd make a sight more than she do in the shop.  I
declare I'll give her a lesson to-morrow----  Oh, my God! what's that?
Oh, my God, help me!"

The needle fell through her powerless fingers; the finger and thumb
were drawn apart, as though they had not the power to get together
again.  Grannie gazed at her right hand in a sort of panic.

"There; it has happened once or twice afore," she said to
herself--"that dreadful prick and stab, and then all the power goin'
sudden-like--of course it's rheumatis--there, I've no cause to be
frightened; it's passing off; only it do make me sick and faint.  I'll
have a cup of tea and then another rub of the liniment."

The great agony frightened her very much; it took some of her high
spirits away.  She rose slowly, and made her tea, drank it off scalding
hot, and then rubbed some more liniment on the hand.  It was not quite
so comforting nor quite so warming this time as it was on the former
occasion.  She washed her hands again, and set to work.

"Oh, good Lord, give me strength!" she murmured, as she seized her
needle and thread.  "Think of all the children, Lord, and the little
ones so fat and well fed; remember me, good Lord, and take the
rheumatis away, _ef_ it's your good will."

She took up her needle with renewed courage, and once more began to
perform those curious movements of wrist and hand which were necessary
to produce the feather-stitching.  In ten minutes the pain returned,
the powerless finger and thumb refused to grasp the needle.  Large
drops of sweat stood out now on Grannie's forehead.

"Wot do it mean?" she said to herself.  "I never heerd tell of
rheumatis like this, and for certain it aint writers' cramp, for I
never write.  Oh, what an awful sort of thing writing is, when a letter
once in six months knocks you over in this way.  Dear, dear, I'm
a-shaking, but I 'a' done a nice little bit, and it's past three
o'clock.  I'll go to bed.  The doctor spoke a deal about rest; I didn't
mind him much.  He was all wrong about the pain, but perhaps he were
right about the rest, so I'll go straight to bed."

Grannie carefully slacked down the fire, put out the lamp, and stole
into the little bedroom which she shared with the two younger children.
Harry and David were already asleep in the lean-to at the other side of
the kitchen, the opposite room to Alison's.  The well-fed children in
Grannie's bed breathed softly in their happy slumbers; the little old
woman got in between them and lay down icy cold, and trembling a good
deal.  The children slept on, but the little woman lay awake with her
wide-open eyes staring straight into the darkness, and the dreadful
pain in hand and arm banishing all possibility of slumber.



CHAPTER VI.

In the morning Grannie got up as usual.  She was very white and shaky,
but she had no intention of complaining.  The pain from which she was
suffering had somewhat abated, but the poor hand and arm felt tired and
very feeble.  She longed for the comfort of a sling, but decided not to
wear one; the children would all notice it and pass remarks, and
Grannie could not bear to be commented upon.  She did not want to add
trouble to trouble just now.  She resolved to forget herself in
thoughts of Alison and the others.  She was early in the kitchen, but
to her relief and pleasure found David there before her.  Next to
Alison, David was Grannie's favorite.  He was thoughtful and
considerate.  He was a great big manly fellow, but there was also a
very sweet feminine element in him; he could be domestic without being
in the least girlish.  He was devoted to Grannie, and often, tired as
he was when he went to bed, got up early in the morning to save her
work.  He had turned on the gas, and the first thing he noticed now,
when she came in, was her worn, puckered little face.

"Why, Grannie, you are out of sorts," he said.  "Why did you get up so
early?  Surely Ally and me can manage the bit of work.  But, I say, you
are all of a tremble.  Set down, and I'll get ye a cup of tea in a
minute."

"No, Dave, no!" said the old woman, "'twill soon pass--'twill soon
pass; the rheumatis in my hand and arm has been bothering me all night,
and it makes me a bit shaky; but 'twill soon pass, Dave.  We mustn't
waste the tea, you know, lad; and I won't have a cup--no, I won't."

"Well, set there and rest," said the young man.  "Thank goodness, I
aint ashamed to work, and I'm real proud to put the kitchen straight
and tidy.  See how bright the fire is already; you warm your toes,
Grannie, and you'll soon be better."

"So I will, to be sure," said Mrs. Reed, rubbing her hands and sinking
into the chair which David had brought forward.

She gazed into the cheery flames, with her own bright-blue eyes, clear
and steady.  Then she looked straight up at David, who was in the act
of filling the kettle and placing it on the top of the stove.

"David," she said, "stoop down a minute; I have a word or two to say."

David dropped on his knees at once, and put his hand on Grannie's
shoulder.

"You aint likely to have a rise in your wages soon, are you, Dave?"

"Oh, yes, I am! arter a bit," he answered.  "Mr. Groves is real pleased
with me.  He says I am a steady lad, and he often sets me to cast up
accounts for him, and do little odds and ends of jobs.  He says he has
always railed against the School Board, but sometimes, when he sees how
tidy I can write, and how well I can read and spell, he's inclined to
change his mind."

"And what rise will he give?" said Grannie, whose mind was entirely
fixed on the money part of the question.

"Well, maybe a shilling more a week, when the first year is out."

"And that 'll be----"

"Next March, Grannie; not so long coming round."

"Yes," she replied, "yes."  In spite of herself, her voice had a sad
note in it.  "Well, you see, Dave, you can't keep yourself on half a
crown a week."

"I wish I could," he answered, looking dispirited, "but I thought you
were content.  Is there anything that worries you, old lady?"

"No, that there aint, my brave boy.  You stick to your work and please
your master; you're safe to get on."

"I wish I could support myself," said David.  "I wish I knew shorthand;
that's the thing.  A lad who knows shorthand, and can write and spell
as well as I can, can earn his ten shillings a week easy."

"Ten shillings a week," said Grannie.  "Lor' save us, what a power of
money!"

"It's true," said David; "there's a lad who was at school with me--his
name was Phil Martin--he managed to pick up shorthand, and he's earning
ten shillings a week now.  He's a bit younger than I am, too.  He won't
be fifteen for two months yet."

"Shorthand?" said Grannie, in her reflective voice; "that's writing,
aint it?"

"Why, to be sure, Grannie; only a different sort of writing."

"Still, you call it writing, don't you?"

"To be sure I do."

"Then, for the Lord's sake, don't have anythink to do with it, David.
Ef there is a mischievous, awful thing in the world, it's handwriting.
I only do it twice a year, and it has finished me, my lad--it has
finished me out and out.  No, don't talk of it--keep your half a crown
a week, and don't be tempted with no handwriting, short or long."

David looked puzzled and distressed; Grannie's words did not amuse him
in the least--they were spoken with great passion, with a rising color
in the little old cheeks, and a flash of almost fever in the bright
eyes.  Grannie had always been the perfect embodiment of health and
strength to all the grandchildren, and David did not understand her
this morning.

"Still," he said, "I can't agree with you about shorthand; it's a grand
thing--it's a trade in itself; but there's no chance of my getting to
know it, for I aint got the money.  Now, hadn't I better get breakfast?
Ally will be out in a minute."

"No, no; there's time enough.  Look here, Dave, Harry must leave school
altogether--he's old enough, and he has passed the standard.  He must
earn somethink.  Couldn't he go as one of them messenger boys?"

"Perhaps so, Grannie; but why are you in such a hurry?  Harry's really
clever; he's got more brains than any of us, and he earns a shilling or
so a week now in the evenings helping me with the figures at Mr.
Groves'."

"Do you think Mr. Groves would take him on altogether, Dave?"

"No, he'd do better as a messenger boy--but don't hurry about him
leaving school.  He'd best stay until midsummer, then he'll be fit for
anything."

"Midsummer," said the old woman to herself, "midsummer!  Oh, good Lord!"

She bent her head down to prevent David seeing the tears which suddenly
softened her brave eyes.

"What's all this fuss about Alison?" said David suddenly.

At these words Grannie rose to her feet.

"Nothing," she said, "nothing--it's nothing more than what I'd call a
storm in a tea-cup.  They have lost a five-pound note at Shaw's and
they choose, the Lord knows why, to put the blame on our Ally.  Of
course they'll find the note, and Ally will be cleared."

"It seems a pity she left the shop," said David.

"Pity!" said Mrs. Reed.  "You don't suppose that Ally is a Phipps and a
Reed for nothink.  We 'old our heads high, and we'll go on doing so.
Why, Dave, they think a sight of Alison in that shop.  Mr. Shaw knows
what she's worth; he don't believe she's a thief, bless her!
Yesterday, when I went to see him, he spoke of her as genteel as you
please, and he wanted her back again."

"Then why, in the name of goodness, doesn't she go?" said David.

"Being a Phipps and Reed, she couldn't," replied Grannie.  "We, none of
us, can humble ourselves--'taint in us--the breed won't allow it.  Ally
was to say she was sorry for having done nothing at all, and, being a
Phipps and a Reed, it wasn't to be done.  Don't talk any more about it,
lad.  Shaw will be going on his knees to have her back in a day or two;
but I have a thought in my head that she may do better even than in the
shop.  There, you've comforted me, my boy--you are a real out-and-out
comfort to me, David."

"I am glad of that," said the young fellow.  "There's no one like you
to me--no one."

He kissed her withered cheek, which was scarcely like an apple this
morning, being very pale and weary.

"Grannie," he said, "is it true that Ally is going to marry Jim Hardy?"

"It's true that Jim Hardy wants her to marry him," replied Grannie.

"I wonder if he does?" replied David, in a thoughtful voice.  "They say
that Clay's daughter is mad for Jim, and she'll have a tidy sight of
money."

"She may be as mad as she pleases, but she won't get Jim.  Now, do
hurry on with the breakfast.  What a lad you are for chattering!"

Poor David, who had certainly been induced to chatter by Grannie
herself, made no response, but rose and set about his work as
kitchen-maid and cook with much deftness.  He stirred the oatmeal into
the pot of boiling water, made the porridge, set the huge smoking dish
on the center of the table, put the children's mugs round, laid a
trencher of brown bread and a tiny morsel of butter on the board, and
then, having seen that Grannie's teapot held an extra pinch of tea, he
poured boiling water on it, and announced the meal as ready.  The
younger children now came trooping in, neat and tidy and ready for
school.  Grannie had trained her little family to be very orderly.  As
the children entered the room they came up to her one by one, and
bestowed a kiss on her old lips.  Her salutation to them was always
simple and always the same: "Bless you, Polly; bless you, Susie; bless
you, Kitty."  But immediately after the blessing came sharp, quick
words.

"Now, no dawdling; set down and be quick about it--sup up your porridge
without letting a drop of it get on your clean pinafores, or I'll smack
you."

Grannie never did smack the children, so this last remark of hers had
long fallen flat.  Alison came in almost immediately after the
children, and then, after a longer interval, Harry, looking red and
sleepy, took his place by the table.  Harry was undoubtedly the black
sheep of the family.  Both Alison and David bestowed on him one or two
anxious glances, but Grannie was too absorbed in some other thought to
take much notice of him this morning.  Immediately after breakfast the
children knelt down, and Grannie repeated the Lord's Prayer aloud.
Then came a great scampering and rushing about.

"Good-by, Grannie--good-by, Ally," came from several pairs of lips.

Then a clatter downstairs, then a silence--even David had gone away.
On ordinary occasions Alison would have departed quite an hour before
the children, as she always had to be at the shop in good time to
display her excellent taste in the dressing of the windows.  To-day she
and Grannie were left behind together.

"You don't look well, Grannie," began the young girl.

"Now, listen, Alison," said Mrs. Reed, speaking in quite a tart voice,
"ef you want to really vex me, you'll talk of my looks.  I'm at the
slack time o' life, and a little more color or a little less don't
matter in the least.  Ef I were forty and looked pale, or eighty and
looked pale, it might be a subject to worry 'em as love me; being
sixty-eight, I have let off pressure, so to speak, and it don't matter,
not one little bit, whether I'm like a fresh apple or a piece o' dough.
I am goin' out marketing now, and when I come back I'll give you a
fresh lesson in that feather-stitching."

A dismayed look crept into Alison's face; she raised her delicate brows
very slightly, and fixed her clear blue eyes on Grannie.  She was about
to speak, but something in the expression on Grannie's face kept her
silent.

"You clear up and have the place tidy against I come back," said the
little woman.  "You might make the beds, and set everything in
apple-pie order, ef you've a mind to."

She then walked into her little bedroom, and shut the door behind her.
In three minutes she was dressed to go out, not in the neat drawn
black-silk bonnet, but in an old straw one which had belonged to her
mother, and which was extremely obsolete in pattern.  This bonnet had
once been white, but it was now of the deepest, most dingy shade of
yellow-brown.  It had a little band of brown ribbon round it, which
ended neatly in a pair of strings; these were tied under Grannie's
chin.  Instead of her black cashmere shawl she wore one of very rough
material and texture, and of a sort of zebra pattern, which she had
picked up cheap many and many years ago from a traveling peddler.  She
wore no gloves on her hands, but the poor, swollen, painful right hand
was wrapped in a corner of the zebra shawl.  On her left arm she
carried her market basket.

"Good-by, child," she said, nodding to her granddaughter.  Then she
trotted downstairs and out into the street.

There was no fog to-day--the air was keen and bright, and there was
even a very faint attempt at some watery sunbeams.  There wasn't a
better bargainer in all Shoreditch than Mrs. Reed, but to-day her
purchases were very small--a couple of Spanish onions, half a pound of
American cheese, some bread, a tiny portion of margarine--and she had
expended what money she thought proper.

She was soon at home again, and dinner was arranged.

"I may as well get the dinner," said Alison, rising and taking the
basket from the old woman.

"My dear, there aint nothing to get; it's all ready.  The children must
have bread for dinner to-day.  I bought a stale quartern loaf--I got a
penny off it, being two days old; here's a nice piece of cheese; and
onions cut up small will make a fine relish.  There, we'll put the
basket in the scullery; and now, Alison, come over to the light and
take a lesson in the feather-stitching."

Alison followed Mrs. Reed without a word.  They both took their places
near the window.

"Thread that needle for me, child," said the old woman.

Alison obeyed.  Mrs. Reed had splendid sight for her age; nothing had
ever ailed her eyes, and she never condescended to wear glasses, old as
she was, except by lamplight.  Alison therefore felt some surprise when
she was invited to thread the needle.  She did so in gloomy and solemn
silence, and gave it back with a suppressed sigh to her grandmother.

"I don't think there's much use, Grannie," she said.

"Much use in wot?" said Mrs. Reed.

"In my learning that feather-stitching--I haven't it in me.  I hate
needlework."

"Oh, Ally!"

Grannie raised her two earnest eyes.

"All women have needlework in 'em if they please," she said; "it's born
in 'em.  You can no more be a woman without needlework than you can be
a man without mischief--it's born in you, child, the same as bed-making
is, and cleaning stoves, and washing floors, and minding babies, and
coddling husbands, and bearing all the smaller worries of life--they
are all born in a woman, Alison, and she can no more escape 'em than
she can escape wearing the wedding-ring when she goes to church to be
wed."

"Oh, the wedding-ring! that's different," said Alison, looking at her
pretty slender finger as she spoke.  "Oh, Grannie, dear Grannie, my
heart's that heavy I think it 'll break!  I can't see the
feather-stitching, I can't really."  Her eyes brimmed up with tears.
"Grannie, don't ask me to do the fine needlework to-day."

Grannie's face turned pale.

"I wouldn't ef I could help it," she said.  "Jest to please me,
darling, take a little lesson; you will be glad bimeby, you really
will.  Why, this stitch is in the family, and it 'ud be 'a burning
shame for it to go out.  Dear, dearie me, Alison, it aint a small thing
that could make me cry, but I'd cry ef this beautiful stitch, wot come
down from the Simpsons to the Phippses, and from the Phippses to the
Reeds, is lost.  You must learn it ef you want to keep me cheerful,
Ally dear."

"But I thought I knew it, Grannie," said the girl.

"Not to say perfect, love--the loop don't go right with you, and the
loop's the p'int.  Ef you don't draw that loop up clever and tight, you
don't get the quilting, and the quilting's the feature that none of the
workwomen in West London can master.  Now, see yere, look at me.  I'll
do a bit, and you watch."

Grannie took up the morsel of cambric; she began the curious movements
of the wrist and hand, the intricate, involved contortions of the
thread.  The magic loop made its appearance; the quilting stood out in
richness and majesty on the piece of cambric.  Grannie made three or
four perfect stitches in an incredibly short space of time.  She then
put the cambric into her granddaughter's hand.

"Now, child," she said, "show me what you can do."

Alison yawned slightly, and took up the work without any enthusiasm.
She made the first correct mystic passage with needle and thread; when
she came to the loop she failed to go right, and the effect was bungled
and incomplete.

"Not that way; for mercy's sake, don't twist the thread like that!"
called Grannie, in an agony.  "Give it to me; I'll show yer."

It seemed like profanation to see her exquisite work tortured and
murdered.  She snatched the cambric from Alison, and set to work to
make another perfect stitch herself.  At that moment there came the
sudden and terrible pain--the shooting agony up the arm, followed by
the partial paralysis of thumb and forefinger.  Grannie could not help
uttering a suppressed groan; her face turned white; she felt a passing
sense of nausea and faintness; the work dropped from her hand; the
perspiration stood on her forehead.  She looked at Alison with
wide-open, pitiful eyes.

"Wot is it, Grannie--what is it, darlin'?  For God's sake, wot's
wrong?" said the girl, going on her knees and putting her arms round
the little woman.

"It's writers' cramp, honey, writers' cramp, and me that never writes
but twice a year; it's starvation, darlin'.  Oh, darlin', darlin', it's
starvation--that's ef you don't learn the stitch."

All of a sudden Grannie's fortitude had given way; she sobbed and
sobbed--not in the loud, full, strong way of the young and vigorous,
but with those low, suppressed, deep-drawn sobs of the aged.  All in a
minute she felt herself quite an old and useless woman--she, who had
been the mainspring of the household, the breadwinner of the family!
All of a sudden she had dropped very low.  Alison was full of
consternation, but she did not understand grief like Grannie's.  She
was at one end of life, and Grannie was at the other; the old woman
understood the girl--having past experience to guide her--but the girl
could not understand the old woman.  It was a relief to Grannie to tell
out her fear, but Alison did not comprehend it; she was full of pity,
but she was scarcely full of sympathy.  It seemed impossible for her to
believe that Grannie's cunning right hand was going to be useless, that
the beautiful work must stop, that the means of livelihood must cease,
that the old woman must be turned into a useless, helpless log--no
longer the mainspring, but a helpless addition to the strained
household.

Alison could not understand, but she did her best to cheer Grannie up.

"There, there," she said; "of course that doctor was wrong.  In all my
life I never heard of such a thing as writers' cramp.  Writers'
cramp!--it's one of the new diseases, Grannie, that doctors are just
forcing into the world to increase their earnings.  I heard tell in the
shop, by a girl what knows, that every year doctors push two new
diseases into fashion, so as to fill their pockets.  But for them, we'd
never have had influenza, and now it's writers' cramp is to be the
rage.  Well, let them as writes get it; but you don't write, you know,
Grannie."

"That's wot I say," replied Grannie, cheering up wonderfully.  "No one
can get a disease by writing two letters in a year.  I don't suppose it
is it, at all."

"I'm sure it isn't," said Alison; "but you are just tired out, and must
rest for a day or two.  It's a good thing that I'm at home, for I can
rub your hand and arm with that liniment.  You'll see, you'll be all
right again in a day or two."

"To be sure I will," said Grannie; "twouldn't be like my luck ef I
warn't."  But all the same she knew in her heart of hearts that she
would not.



CHAPTER VII.

Both Alison and Mrs. Reed were quite of the opinion that, somehow or
other, the affair of the five-pound note would soon be cleared up.  The
more the two women talked over the whole occurrence, the more certain
they were on that point.  When Grannie questioned her carefully, Alison
confessed that while she was attending to her two rather troublesome
customers, it would have been quite within the region of possibility
for someone to approach the till unperceived.  Of course Alison had
noticed no one; but that would not have prevented the deed being done.

"The more I think of it, the more certain I am it's that Clay girl,"
said Grannie.  "Oh, yes, that Clay girl is at the bottom of it.  I'll
tell Jim so the next time he calls."

"But I don't expect Jim to call--at least at present," said Alison,
heaving a heavy sigh, and fixing her eyes on the window.

"And why not, my dearie, why shouldn't you have the comfort of seeing
him?"

"It aint a comfort at present, Grannie; it is more than I can bear.  I
won't engage myself to Jim until I am cleared, and I love him so much,
Grannie, and he loves me so much that it is torture to me to see him
and refuse him; but I am right, aint I?  Do say as I'm right."

"Coming of the blood of the Simpsons, the Phippses and Reeds, you can
do no different," said Grannie, in a solemn tone.  "You'll be cleared
werry soon, Alison, for there's a God above, and you are a poor orphin
girl, and we have his promise that he looks out special for orphins;
oh, yes, 'twill all come right, and in the meantime you might as well
take a lesson in the feather-stitching."

But though Grannie spoke with right good faith, and Alison cheered up
all she could, things did not come right.  The theft was not brought
home to the wicked Clay girl, as Grannie now invariably called her;
Shaw did not go on his knees to Alison to return; and one day Jim, who
did still call at the Reeds' notwithstanding Alison's prohibition,
brought the gloomy tidings that Shaw was seeing other girls with a view
to filling up Alison's place in the shop.  This was a dark blow indeed,
and both Alison and Grannie felt themselves turning very pale, and
their hearts sinking, when Jim brought them the unpleasant news.

"Set down, Jim Hardy, set down," said Grannie, but her lips trembled
with passion as she spoke.  "I don't want to see anyone in my house
that I don't offer a chair to, but I can't think much of your detective
powers, lad, or you'd have got your own gel cleared long ere this."

"I aint his own girl, and he knows it," said Alison, speaking pertly
because her heart was so sick.

Jim hardly noticed her sharp words--he was feeling very depressed
himself--he sank into the chair Grannie had offered him, placed his big
elbows on his knees, pushed his huge hands through his thick hair, and
scratched his head in perplexity.

"It's an awful mystery, that it is," he said; "there aint a person in
the shop as don't fret a bit for Ally--she was so bright and
genteel-looking; and no one thinks she's done it.  If only, Alison, you
hadn't gone away so sharp, the whole thing would have blown over by
now."

"Coming of the blood----" began Grannie; but Alison knew the conclusion
of that sentence, and interrupted her.

"Bygones is bygones," she said, "and we have got to face the future.
I'll look out for another post to-day; I'll begin to study the papers,
and see what can be done.  It aint to be supposed that this will crush
me out and out, and me so young and strong."

"But you'll have to get a character," said Jim, whose brow had not
relaxed from the deep frown which it wore.

Alison gave her head another toss.

"I must do my best," she said.  She evidently did not intend to pursue
the subject further with her lover.

Jim was not at all an unobservant man.  He had seen many signs which
distressed him, both in Grannie's face and Alison's; he knew also that
Harry had been taken from school quite a year too soon; he knew well
that Alison's bread winnings were necessary for the family, and that it
was impossible to expect an old body like Grannie to feed all those
hungry mouths much longer.

"Look here," he said, rising suddenly to his feet, "I have got
something to say."

"Oh, dear, dear, why will you waste our time?" said Alison.

"It aint waste, and you have got to listen--please, Mrs. Reed, don't go
out of the room; I want you to hear it too.  Now, you look at me,
Alison Reed.  I am big, aint I, and I'm strong, and I earn good wages,
right good--for a man as isn't twenty-five yet.  I'm getting close on
two pounds a week now, and you can see for yourselves that that's a
good pile."

"Bless us!" said Grannie, "it's a powerful heap of money."

"Well, I'm getting that," said Jim, with a sort of righteous pride on
his face, "and no one who knows what's what could complain of the same.
Now, this is what I'm thinking.  I am all alone in the world; I haven't
kith nor kin belonging to me, only an uncle in Australia, and he don't
count, as I never set eyes on him.  I'd have never come to London but
for father and mother dying off sudden when I was but a bit of a lad.
I'm sort of lonely in the evenings, and I want a wife awful bad."

"Well, there's Louisa Clay, and she's willing," said Alison, who,
notwithstanding that her heart was almost bursting, could not restrain
her flippant tone.

Jim gave her a steady look out of his dark gray eyes, but did not
reply.  She lowered her own eyes then, unable to bear their true and
faithful glance.

"What I say is this," said Jim, "that I know you, Alison; you aint no
more a thief than I am.  Why shouldn't you come home to me?  Why
shouldn't you make me happy--and why shouldn't I help the lads and
Grannie a bit?  You'd have as snug a home as any girl in London; and
I'd be proud to work for you.  I wouldn't want you to do any more
shopwork.  Why should we wait and keep everybody wretched just for a
bit of false pride?  Why should you not trust me, Ally?  And I love
you, my dear; I love you faithful and true."

"I wish you wouldn't say any more, Jim," said Alison.

The note in her voice had changed from sharp petulance to a low sort of
wail.  She sank on a chair, laid her head on the table which stood
near, and burst into tears.

"Grannie, I wish you would try and persuade her," said the young man.

"I'll talk to her," said Grannie; "it seems reasonable enough.  Two
pounds a week!  Lor' bless us! why, it's wealth--and ef you love her,
Jim?"

"Need you ask?" he answered.

"No, I needn't; you're a good lad.  Well, come back again, Jim; go away
now and come back again.  We'll see you at the end of a week, that we
will."

Jim rose slowly and unwillingly.  Alison would not look at him.  She
was sobbing in a broken-hearted way behind her handkerchief.

"I don't see why there should be suspense," he said, as he took up his
cap.  "It's the right thing to do; everything else is wrong.  And see
here, Alison, I'll take a couple of the children; they don't cost much,
I know, and it will be such a help to Grannie."

"To be sure, that it will," said Grannie.  "That offer about the
children is a p'int to be considered.  You go away, Jim, and come back
again at the end of a week."

The young man gave a loving glance at Alison's sunny head as it rested
on the table.  His inclination was to go up to her, take her head
between his hands, raise the tearful face, kiss the tears away, and, in
short, take the fortress by storm.  But Grannie's presence prevented
this, and Alison would not once look up.  The old woman gave him an
intelligent and hopeful glance, and he was obliged to be content with
it and hurry off.

"I'll come again next Tuesday to get my answer," he said.

Alison murmured something which he did not hear.  The next instant he
had left the room.

The moment his footsteps had died away Alison raised her tearful face.

"You had no right to do it, Grannie," she said.  "It was sort of
encouraging him."

"Dry your tears now, child," said Mrs. Reed.  "We'll talk of this later
on."

"You said yourself I'd have no proper pride to marry Jim at present,"
continued the girl.

"We'll talk of this later on," said Grannie; "the children will be home
in a minute to tea.  After tea you and me will talk it over while they
are learning their lessons."

Grannie could be very immovable and determined when she liked.  Having
lived with her all her life, Alison knew her every mood.  She perceived
now, by her tightly shut up lips, and the little compression, which was
scarcely a frown, between her brows, that she could get nothing more
out of her at present.

She prepared the tea, therefore; and when the children came in she cut
bread and margerine for them, for butter had long ago ceased to appear
on Grannie's board.

After tea the children went into Grannie's bedroom to learn their
lessons, and the old woman and the young found themselves alone.  The
lamp was lit, and the little room looked very cheerful; it was warm and
snug.  Grannie sat with her hands before her.

"I thought I wouldn't tell you, but I must," she said.  "It's a month
to-day, aint it, Ally, since you lost your place?"

"Yes, a month exactly," replied Alison.  "It is close on Christmas now,
Grannie."

"Aye," said the old woman, "aye, and Christmas is a blessed, cheerful
time.  This is Tuesday; Friday will be Christmas Day.  We must have a
nice Christmas for the children, and we will too.  We'll all be
cheerful on Christmas Day.  Jim might as well come, whatever answer you
give him next week.  He's all alone, poor lad, and he might come and
join our Christmas dinner."

"But we haven't much money," said Alison.  "We miss what I earned at
the shop, don't we?"

"We miss it," said Grannie, "yes."

She shut up her lips very tightly.  At this moment quick footsteps were
heard running up the stairs, and the postman's sharp knock sounded on
the little door.  Alison went to get the letter.  It was for Grannie,
from a large West End shop; the name of the shop was written in clear
characters on the flap of the envelope.

Grannie took it carefully between the thumb and finger of her left
hand--she used her right hand now only when she could not help it.  No
one remarked this fact, and she hoped that no one noticed it.  She
unfastened the flap of the envelope slowly and carefully, and, taking
the letter out, began to read it.  It was a request from the manager
that she would call at ten o'clock the following morning to take a
large order for needlework which was required to be completed in a
special hurry.  Grannie laid the letter by Alison's side.

Alison read it.  She had been accustomed to such letters coming from
that firm to Grannie for several years.  Such letters meant many of the
comforts which money brings; they meant warm fires, and good meals, and
snug clothes, and rent for the rooms, and many of the other necessaries
of life.

"Well," said the girl, in a cheery tone, "that's nice.  You have nearly
finished the last job, haven't you, Grannie?"

"No, I aint," said Grannie, with a sort of gasp in her voice.

"I thought I saw you working at it every day."

"So I have been, and in a sense it is finished and beautiful, I am
sure; but there aint no feather-stitching.  I can't manage the
feather-stitching.  I can never featherstitch any more, Alison.  Maybe
for a short time longer I may go on with plain needlework, but that
special twist and the catching up of the loop in the quilting part of
the feather-stitching, it's beyond me, darlin'.  'Taint that I can't
see how to do it, 'taint that I aint willing, but it's the finger and
thumb, dearie; they won't meet to do the work proper.  It's all over,
love, all the money-making part of my work.  It's them letters to
Australia, love.  Oh, dear! oh, dear!"

Grannie laid her white head down on the table.  It was a very sad sight
to see it there, a much more pathetic sight than it had been to see
Alison's golden head in the same position an hour or two ago.  There
was plenty of hope in Alison's grief, heart-broken as it seemed, but
there was no hope at all in the old woman's despair.  The last time she
had given way and spoken of her fears to Alison she had sobbed; but she
shed no tears now--the situation was too critical.

"_Ef_ you had only learned the stitch," she said to her granddaughter.
There was a faint shadow of reproach in her tone.  "I can't show it to
you now; but ef you had only learned it."

"But I do know it," said Alison, in distress.

"Not proper, dear; not as it should be done.  I fear that I can never
show you now."

"And that is why you want me to marry Jim?" said Alison.  "I wonder at
you, Grannie--you who have such pride!"

"There are times and seasons," said Grannie, "when pride must give way,
and it seems to me that we have come to this pass.  I looked at Jim
when he was talking to-day, and I saw clear--clear as if in a
vision--that he would never cast up to you those words that you dread.
If you are never cleared of that theft, Alison, Jim will never call his
wife a thief.  Jim is good to the heart's core, and he is powerful
rich, and ef you don't marry him, my gel, you'll soon be starving, for
I can't do the feather-stitching.  I can't honestly do the work.  I'll
go and see the manager to-morrow morning; but it's all up with me,
child.  You ought to marry Jim, dear, and you ought to provide a home
for the two little ones--for Polly and little Kitty."

"And what's to become of you, Grannie, and Dave, and Harry, and Annie?"

"Maybe Jim would take Annie too, now that he is so rich."

"Do you think it would be right to ask him?"

"No, I don't; no, I don't.  Well, anyhow, it is good to have half the
fam'ly put straight.  You will think of it, Ally, you will think of it;
you've got a whole week to think of it in."

"I will think of it," said Alison, in a grave voice.

She got up presently; she was feeling very restless and excited.

"I think I'll go out for a bit," she said.

"Do, child, do; it will bring a bit of color into your cheeks."

"Is there anything I can get for you, Grannie--anything for Christmas?
You said we were to be happy till after Christmas."

"So we will; I have made up my mind firm on that p'int.  We'll have a
right good Christmas.  There's three pounds in my purse.  We'll spend
five shillings for Christmas Day.  That ought to give us a powerful lot
o' good food.  Oh, yes, we'll manage for Christmas."

"This is Tuesday," said Alison, "and Christmas Day comes Friday.  Shall
I get any of the things to-night, Grannie?"

Grannie looked up at the tall girl who stood by her side.  She saw the
restless, agitated expression on the young face.

"She'll like to have the feel of money in her hands again," thought the
little woman.  "I'll trust her with a shillin'.  Lor', I hope she'll be
careful with it.  Twelve pennies can do a mint ef they're spent
careful."

She went slowly to her cupboard, took her keys out of her pocket,
unlocked it with her left hand, and, taking her little purse from a
secret receptacle at the back of the cupboard, produced a shilling from
her hoard.

"There," she said, "for the Lord's sake don't drop it; put it safe in
your pocket.  You might get the raisins for the puddin' and the sugar
and the flour out o' this.  You choose from the bargain counter, and
use your eyes, and don't buy raisins what have got no fruit in 'em.
Sometimes at bargain counters they are all skin, and good for nothink;
but ef you are sharp you can sometimes pick up right good fruity fruit,
and that's the sort we want.  Now, don't be long away.  Yes, for sure,
we may as well have the stuff for the puddin' in the house."

Alison promised to be careful.  She put on her neat black hat and
jacket and went out.  She had scarcely gone a hundred yards before she
came straight up against Louisa Clay.  Louisa looked very stylish in a
large mauve-colored felt hat, and a fur boa round her neck; her black
hair was much befrizzed and becurled.  Alison shrank from the sight of
her, and was about to go quickly by when the other girl drew up
abruptly.

"Why, there you are," she said; "I was jest thinking of coming round to
see yer."

Alison stood still when she was addressed, but she did not make any
remark.  Her intention was to go on as soon as ever Louisa had finished
speaking.  Louisa's own intention was quite different.

"Well, I am glad," she continued.  "I have a lot of things to say.  Do
you know your place is filled up?"

"Yes," said Alison, flushing.  "Jim told me."

"Jim!" repeated Louisa, with a note of scorn.  "Don't you think you are
very free and easy with Mr. Hardy?  And when did you see him?" she
added, a jealous light coming into her eyes.

"He was at our house this afternoon.  I must say good-evening now,
Louisa.  I am in a hurry; I am doing some errands for Grannie."

"Oh, I don't mind walking a bit o' the way with you.  You are going
shopping, is it?"

"Well, yes; Christmas is near, you know."

Alison felt herself shrinking more and more from Louisa.  She hated her
to walk by her side.  It irritated her beyond words to hear her speak
of Jim.  She dreaded more than she could tell Louisa finding out how
poor they were; nothing would induce her to get the bargain raisins or
any of the other cheap things in her presence.

"I am rather in a hurry," she said; "perhaps you won't care to go so
fast."

"As it happens, I have nothing special to do.  I'll go with you now, or
I'll call in by and by and have a chat.  I don't know that old Grannie
of yours, but folks say she's quite a character.  Jim said so last
night when he was supping at our house."

"I am sure he didn't," muttered Alison under her breath angrily; but
she refrained from making any comment aloud.

"Well," said Louisa, "you'd like to know what sort of girl is coming to
Shaw's to take up your work?"

"I don't think I would," replied Alison; "I am really not interested."

"I wonder you care to tell such lies, Alison Reed!  Anyone can tell by
your face that you are just burning with curiosity and jealousy."

"You mustn't say such things to me," said Alison; "if you do, I won't
walk with you."

"Oh, my word, how grand we are!" said the other girl; "how high and
mighty, and all the rest of it!  To be sure, Alison, you were a flat to
run off the way you did that day.  There is not a person in the shop
that don't think you guilty, and small blame to 'em, I say.  Poor Jim
did fret a bit the first day or two, but I think he's pretty happy now;
he comes to our house constant.  He's very fine company is Jim, he
sings so well; and did you know he had a turn for acting?  We're
getting up a little play for Christmas Eve, and Jim's to be the hero;
I'm the heroine.  My word! it's as pretty a bit of love-making as you'd
often see.  I tell you what it is, Alison; I'll give you an invitation.
You shall come and see it; you will now, won't you?  I'll think you're
devoured with jealousy if you don't.  You will; say you will."

Alison paused for a moment--a sort of inward rage consumed her.  How
dared Jim profess such love for her, and yet give up so much of his
time to Louisa--how dared he make love to her even in play!  A sudden
fierce resolve came into her heart.  Yes, she would see the acting--she
would judge for herself.  Christmas Eve, that was Thursday
night--Thursday was a good way off from Tuesday, the day when she was
to give Jim her answer.  As she walked now by Louisa's side, she
guessed what her answer would be--she would be careful and
cautious--oh, yes, she would see for herself.

"I will come," she said suddenly, and to Louisa's great surprise--"I
will come, if you promise me one thing."

"What's that?"

"Don't tell Jim Hardy--don't say anything about it.  When he sees me
he'll know, but don't tell him beforehand."

Louisa burst into a loud, scathing laugh.

"To hear you speak, Alison," she said, "one would think that you were
somebody of consequence to Mr. Hardy.  Oh, dear--oh, dear, the conceit
of some folks!  Do you suppose it would make any _difference_ to him
whether you came or not?  But take my word for it, I won't tell him."

"Thank you," said Alison.  "Yes, I'll be there.  What time shall I
come?"

"The acting begins at nine o'clock, but there's supper first at eight;
you had best come to supper.  I will put you in a corner where you
can't get even a sight of Jim's face, then you'll be easy and happy in
your mind."

"No, I won't come to supper, but I'll come in time for the acting.  I
am very much obliged, I am sure."

Louisa gave vent to a great yawn.

"Seems to me," she said, "that you aint up to much shopping; you
haven't gone into one shop yet."

"No more I have," said Alison.  "I have changed my mind; I won't buy
the things I meant to to-night.  I'll go home now; so I'll say
good-evening."

"Good-evening," said Louisa, accompanying her words with a sweeping
courtesy which she considered full of style and grace.

She went home chuckling to herself.

"I guess that acting will finish up Alison's love affair," she thought.
"It won't be any fault of mine if it doesn't.  Oh, good-evening, Mr.
Sampson."

George Sampson, who had been looking out for Louisa, now joined her,
and the two walked back to the pawnshop arm in arm, and talking very
confidentially together, Louisa had been true to her own
predictions--she had so flattered and so assiduously wooed George
Sampson that he was her devoted slave by this time.  He came to see her
every night, and had assured Jim Hardy long ago that of all people in
the world Louisa was the last who had anything to do with the stealing
of the five-pound note.  Louisa's own charms were the sort which would
appeal to a man like Sampson, but whether he would have made up his
mind to marry her, if he did not know that she was safe to have a nice
little sum down from her father on her wedding-day, remains an open
question.

As Alison walked home, many angry and jealous thoughts whirled through
her brain.  Was Jim really false to her?--she forgot all about his face
that afternoon; she forgot his earnest words.  She only recalled
Louisa's look of triumph and the little play which was to be acted in
her presence.

"Yes, I'll be there," thought the girl; "yes, Christmas Eve shall
decide it."

She ran upstairs and entered the kitchen.  Grannie and David were
sitting side by side, engaged in earnest conversation.  David blushed
when he saw Alison, and suddenly slipped something under the table;
Grannie patted his arm softly with her left hand.

"Well, Ally, you are home in double-quick time," she said.

"Too quick, is it?" said Alison, taking off her hat and flinging
herself wearily into the nearest chair.

"No, no, my child, never too quick," said the old lady; "and did you
get a good bargain?" she added the next minute anxiously.  "Were you
careful in the spending of that shillin'?  Why, I don't see any
parcels.  For mercy's sake child, don't tell me that you dropped the
shillin'."

"No, I didn't, Grannie; here it is.  Somehow I am out of humor for
bargains to-night--that's why I come back."

Grannie took back the precious shilling tenderly.  She went to the
cupboard and restored it to her purse.  As she did so, she gave a sigh
of relief.  She was full of respect for Alison's powers, but not as a
bargainer; she was certain she could get a penny-worth more value out
of the shilling than her grand-daughter would.

"Dave," she said, turning to the lad as she spoke, "Ally and I have
made up our minds that, whatever happens, we'll have a right good
Christmas.  We'll have a puddin' and snap-dragon, and a little bit of
beef, and everything hot and tasty, and we'll have the stockings hung
up just as usual by the children's beds; bless 'em, we'll manage it
somehow--somehow or other it has got to be done.  Who knows but perhaps
cheerful times may follow Christmas?  Yes, who knows?  There's never no
use in being downhearted."

"I suppose you are thinkin' of a wedding," said Alison suddenly.

"Well, dear child, and why not?"

"There's not much chance of it," was the reply, in a defiant tone.
"Anyhow," continued Alison, "I've made up my mind to look for another
situation to-morrow."

Grannie's little white face became clouded.

"I am going to Oxford Street, to a registry office," said Alison.  "I
know lots about counter work, and I don't doubt that I may get a very
good place; anyhow, I'm going to try."

"Well, that's sperit, there's no denying that," said the old lady;
"it's in the breed, and it can't be crushed."

"David, what are you hiding under the table?" said Alison, in a fretful
tone.  She felt too unhappy to be civil to anyone.

"I have got spirit, too, and I'm not ashamed," said David suddenly.
"It's a bit o' stuff I'm feather-stitching; there--I am learning the
stitch."

"Well!" said Alison; "you, a boy?"

"Yes, I--a boy," he replied, looking her full between the eyes.

There was something in the fearless glance of his gray eyes that caused
her to lower her own--ashamed.

"Dave's the blessing of my life," said Mrs. Reed; "he has learned the
stitch, and though he do it slow, he do it true and beautiful.  It
shan't never now die out of the fam'ly."



CHAPTER VIII.

Grannie felt that matters had arrived at a crisis.  Whatever the
doctors chose to call the suffering which she endured, her right hand
was fast becoming useless.  It was with her right hand that she
supported her family; if it failed her, therefore, her livelihood was
cut off.  She was a brave little woman; never in all her long life had
she feared to look the truth in the face.  She looked at it now quietly
and soberly.  Night after night she gazed at it as she lay in her tiny
bed in her tiny bedroom, with a grandchild fast asleep at each side of
her.  She lay motionless then, in too great pain to sleep, and with the
future staring at her.

To-night she went to bed as usual.  There was no manner of use in
sitting up burning lamps and fire; it was far cheaper to lie down in
the dark in bed.  She lay down and gazed straight out into the deep
shadows which filled the little room.  It was a moonlight night, and
some of the moon's rays pierced through the tiny window, but most of
the room lay in shadow, and it was toward the shadow Grannie turned her
eyes.

"It's all true," she said to herself, "there aint no manner of use in
denying it, or turning my face from it--it's true--it's the will o' the
Lord.  My mother said to me--her as was a Simpson and married a
Phipps--she said when my father died, 'Patty, it's the will o' the
Lord.'  I didn't like, somehow, to hear her say it--the will o' the
Lord seemed so masterful like, so crushing like, so cruel.  And now the
will o' the Lord has come to me.  It wor the Lord's will to bless me
all my life hitherto, but now it is his will to make things sore dark.
Somehow I can't trust and I can't hope, for there's nothing to hope
for, and there are the children, four of 'em unable to earn their
bread.  Harry must make shift to do something, but there are three
little ones.  Oh, good Lord, don't ever let me hear the children cry
for bread!"

As Grannie whispered these words out into the darkness, she laid her
left hand tenderly on the flaxen head of her youngest grandchild.  Her
hand stroked down the smooth, round head; the child stirred in her
dreams, murmured "Grannie," and turned over on her other side.  She was
very well, and very happy--as plump as a little button--a bonny,
bright-eyed creature.  Grannie used to adore her stout legs.

"Kitty have always been so well fed," she used to say; "that's the
secret--there's nothink like it--nothink."

And she had held the fat baby, and by and by the fat little girl, up
admiringly for less fortunate neighbors to criticise.

Now the fiat had fallen; the bread-winner could no longer earn the
family meal, and Kitty and the others would have to do without their
bread and butter.

"It is true, and it must be faced," thought the old woman.  "The p'int
to be considered now is, how is it to be faced?  Wot's the best way?"

Grannie thought matters over very carefully.  Before the morning she
had marked out a line of action for herself.  Christmas Day should come
and go before any of the dark shadow which filled her own breast should
descend upon the younger members of the household.  David and Alison
knew about it, or at least they partly knew, although it was impossible
for them to quite realize the extent of the disaster.  It was arranged,
too, that Harry was to leave school, so he also must partly guess that
something was up; but the little ones had never known sorrow yet, and
Grannie resolved that they should have a perfect Christmas Day.
Afterward, if Alison would only consent to marry Jim, half the family
would be provided for.  For Grannie, although she was proud, had no
false pride, and she felt that a man who was earning such magnificent
wages as two pounds a week might undertake the care, at any rate for a
time, of two little children.  But even granted that Alison and the two
youngest were off her hands, there were still David, Harry, and Annie
to provide for.  Grannie could not see her way plain with regard to
these three members of the family.  She resolved to ask the advice of
an old clergyman of the name of Williams, who had often before given
her valuable counsel.  Mr. Williams was most kind; he was full of
resources; he took a great interest in the poor; he had known Grannie
for close on twenty years; he might be able to help her in this
critical moment of her fate, Having made up her mind so far, the little
woman fell asleep.

When she heard at an early hour the following morning that Alison was
still fully resolved to seek for a new situation, she suggested that
she should call at the shop in Regent Street, see the manager, and
explain to him as best she could that it was out of Grannie's power to
do any more needlework.

"You had best go," said Grannie, looking up at the girl with her bright
blue eyes, and a determined expression steeling her sweet old mouth
almost to sternness.  "Jest see the manager, Mr. Squire, and tell him
the simple truth.  Take him back this underclothing; it is finished
beautiful all but the feather-stitching.  I know he'll be put out, but
I suppose he'll give me half pay--o' course, I don't expec' more.  Ef
that cambric had been properly feather-stitched there was thirty
shillings to be got on it; but I'll be glad of fifteen, and you can let
Mr. Squire know.  I am pleased that Dave knows the stitch, for he can
teach it to his wife when he gets one.  He have promised, dear lad;
there's a fortin' in it yet, for a member of the fam'ly wot _hasn't_
learned handwriting.  It's them schools wot are at the bottom of all
this trouble, Alison.  Talk of edication!  My mother, wot was a Simpson
by birth, could only put a cross agin her name, but Lor', wot a fine
woman she was with sprigs!--we called the beginning of the
feather-stitching sprigs in them days.  It was she invented sprigs, and
she had no writers' cramp, nor a chance o' it, bless her!  Now then,
dearie, run off, and bring me back the fifteen shillings.  We'll try to
keep up 'eart till after Christmas Day."

Alison was very silent and depressed, but she promised to do exactly as
her grandmother wished in the matter of the feather-stitching; and with
the cambric made up into a neat parcel she soon left the little flat.

Grannie sighed deeply when she saw her go.  The little woman felt that
she had burned her boats; there was no going back on anything now.  She
had severed with her own hands her best connection, and nothing could
ever be the same again.  A sort of agony came over her as she heard
Alison running downstairs, a fierce desire to call her back, to beg of
her not to go to Mr. Squire at all that day; but one glance at the
swollen, useless hand made her change her mind.  She sat down limp on
the nearest chair, and one or two slow tears trickled out of her eyes.

By dinner time Alison was back; she was full of her own concerns, and
considered Grannie and the feather-stitching, for the time being, quite
a secondary matter.

"The shop is a very good one," she said, "and they want a girl.  If I
can bring a good character, I am very likely to get the situation.  It
is twelve shillings a week, four--four shillings more than Shaw used to
give me.  If only I can get Shaw to give me a character I'll be all
right, and on twelve shillings a week we can keep up the house somehow;
can't we, Grannie?"

Grannie pursed up her lips, but did not speak.

She knew far better than Alison that these small wages, although an
immense help, could not possibly do the work which her
feather-stitching money had accomplished.

"Well, dearie," she said, after a pause, "I am glad that things are so
far good; but have you quite made up your mind not to marry poor Jim,
then, Alison?"

"No, no, not quite," she replied, coloring; "but the fact is, I want
two strings to my bow.  By the way, I did not tell you that the Clays
have invited me to a party there to-morrow night?"

"The Clays!" exclaimed Grannie.  "Sakes! you aint goin' to them?"

"Yes, but I am.  I have promised."

"I don't think the Clays are the sort of people that a girl of your
breed ought to know, Alison.  Poor as we are, we hold up our heads, and
why shouldn't we, being----"

"Oh, Grannie, here is your fifteen shillings," interrupted Alison.  "I
saw Mr. Squire, and he said he was sorry, but he really could not offer
more, as the feather-stitching was not done."

"He were put out, weren't he?" said Grannie, her little face puckered
up in her intense anxiety to know how Mr. Squire bore the calamity.

"After a fashion, yes," said Alison; "but he said the new embroidery
which is coming in so much would do quite as well, and he knew a woman
who would do the things in a hurry.  He said: 'Give my compliments to
Mrs. Reed, and say I am sorry to lose her nice work,' and he paid me my
money and bowed me out of the shop."

"It is all over, Grannie," continued the girl, cruel in her severity,
and not knowing she was stabbing the old woman's heart at every word.
"You place wonderful store by that feather-stitching, but the new
embroidery will do quite as well for all the fine ladies, and other
women will get the money."

"Yes, yes," said Grannie, "yes, it is the will o' the Lord.  Somehow,
that seems to steady me up--to bear it like."

She went out of the room tottering a little, but came back quite
cheerful when the children returned home for the midday meal.

After dinner Alison went to see Mr. Shaw.  She did not like this job at
all, but she knew she had no chance of getting another place unless she
could induce Shaw to give her a character.  She planned how best to go
to the shop without being observed by the rest of the shop people.  She
was too handsome a girl not to have created a great deal of attention
during her stay at Shaw's, and now, with this story about the theft
hanging over her head, she would be more interesting and more worthy of
criticism than ever.  She dreaded beyond words being seen at Shaw's,
more particularly by Louisa Clay and Jim Hardy.  She crept in by a side
entrance, and as the shop was very full at this hour (Christmas being
so close at hand, the crowd this afternoon was denser than ever), she
managed to escape attention.  She could see without being noticed.  She
observed Louisa flaunting about the shop, looking very handsome, and on
every possible occasion appealing to Jim for advice or help.  Jim was
the walker to-day, and Louisa was always calling him to her on one
pretext or another.  It seemed to Alison's jealous eyes that the young
man did not dislike her too-evident attentions.  He always replied to
her with courtesy, and, according to Alison, stood by her side longer
than was necessary.

"I must get that situation in Oxford Street," muttered the girl to
herself.  "I shall feel fit to kill those two if ever they are wed, and
the further I am off the better."

Her angry and excited feelings gave her courage, and she was able to
ask a comparative stranger--a girl who scarcely knew her--if she could
see Mr. Shaw.

"I am afraid you cannot to-day," was the reply.  "The manager is too
busy, but if you like to call again----"

"No, no, I see him there.  I'll ask him myself," was the reply.

"Lor', what cheek!" muttered the new shop-girl; but Alison was too far
away to hear her.

She had approached Mr. Shaw as he was wishing one of his customers "A
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."  He turned round with a smile on
his lips.  Things were doing remarkably well, and he could afford to be
cheerful.  Suddenly his rather staring, bloodshot eyes encountered the
full gaze of Alison's clear blue ones.

"Eh, Miss Reed?" he said, stepping back in astonishment.

"Yes, sir; can I speak to you?" said Alison.

"Certainly, my dear, certainly; come this way.  She has found out who
the thief is, and will come back once more," muttered the manager to
himself.  "She's the best and most attractive shopwoman I ever had; she
shall come back immediately after Christmas."

He hurried Alison through the shop into his own little counting-house.
He shut the door then, and asked her to seat herself.

"How are you?" he said, fixing his eyes with a sort of coarse
admiration on her face.  "You have got at the truth of this miserable
matter, have you not?  Now, I wonder who the thief is, eh?  Well, all I
can say is this: I am right glad that you know.  We miss you, Miss
Reed, in the shop.  Your services have been of great value to us.  I
shall have the person who took that money prosecuted; there's not the
least doubt about that.  Your character will be abundantly cleared, and
you can resume your post here immediately after the Christmas holidays."

"I thought," said Alison, "that you had got someone else to fill my
place."

"So I have, so I have--that Jenkins girl--the daughter of poor Tom
Jenkins, who died in the autumn; but, bless you, she's no good; she
don't even know the meaning of drawing on a customer!  You see, Miss
Reed, I don't mean to flatter you, but you have got the tact, and just
when the sales are beginning you will be invaluable.  I can offer you a
percentage on all the remnants you dispose of.  Come, now, that's a
bargain; you'll be right welcome back.  You have got tact, and if I may
be allowed to say so--_looks_."

Here the manager gave Alison another broad stare.

"By the way, who is the thief?" he continued.

"You quite misunderstand me, sir," said Alison.  "I have not found the
thief--I have not the faintest idea who stole that money; I only know
that I did not, and that nothing will induce me to set foot again in
this shop as one of the staff until I am cleared."

"Then, my good girl, may I ask what in the world you are wasting my
time for?"

He approached the door of his tiny counting-house, and half opened it
as he spoke.

"One minute, sir, please.  Although I cannot of course come here, I
naturally want to get another situation."

"I dare say; but that is not my affair."

"Oh, yes, please, sir, it is!  I have just heard of a very good post in
Oxford Street.  I saw the manager this morning, and he said that he
would give me the situation if you could recommend me.  Will you, sir;
will you give me a character, Mr. Shaw?"

"You have cheek," said Shaw, in a deliberate voice.  "Do you suppose I
am going to recommend a thief?"

"But, oh, sir, oh, Mr. Shaw, you know I am not that!"

"I don't know anything of the kind; I only know that you are a brazen,
unreasonable hussy.  You know perfectly well that when you left here
you forfeited your character.  Yes, your attitude, let me tell you,
Miss Reed, cuts both ways.  If you don't choose to come here until you
are cleared, I don't give you a character until you are cleared.  Come,
now, that's a fair bargain, is it not?"

"Oh, sir, it is so hard of you!" said Alison.  "Sir, if you would but
be merciful!"

"That's my last word," said Shaw.  "I must go back to attend to my
customers."

He left the counting-house abruptly, and Alison did not take long in
following his example.

"It is no good, Grannie," she said, when she entered her little home
half an hour afterward.  "Shaw is as hard as a millstone.  He won't
give me a character until I am cleared; and, as I never shall be
cleared, why, I'll never get a character, and I cannot get a situation.
What is to become of me, Grannie; oh, Grannie, what is to become of me?"

At these words Alison gave way to the most terrible, overpowering
grief.  She did not know how to comfort Grannie, but Grannie knew how
to comfort her.  She patted her as if she were a baby; she stroked her
soft hair, and kissed her hot cheeks, and laid her head on her own
little shoulder, and made tea, although the supply in the caddy was
getting very low, and then talked to her as she knew how, and with
wonderful cunning and power of Jim, Jim, Jim.

As Alison loved Jim this subject could not but be of interest to her.

"There's no other way out of it," said Grannie finally.  "He is yer
sweetheart, faithful and true--he don't suspect you; he never will
suspect you.  You whisper 'yes' to him on Christmas night, dearie, and
don't wait for next Tuesday.  It's the right thing to do, it's the only
right thing to do."



CHAPTER IX.

On Christmas Eve, Grannie went out and stayed away for about an hour.
She looked mysterious when she came back.  She wore her zebra-pattern
shawl, which was quite bulged out with parcels.  These she conveyed
quickly into her bedroom, notwithstanding the devouring eyes which the
children cast upon them.

"Out of that," she said, pushing them all aside; "none of your
curiosity, or you'll get nothing.  What right have you to suppose as
I'm agoin' to waste my money a-giving presents to little brats like
you?  Now, out of the way, out of the way.  For goodness' sake Polly,
set down and finish stoning 'em raisins.  Annie, is that a currant I
see in yer mouth, you bad, greedy girl?  I'll whack you, as sure as my
name's Grannie."

Then Grannie disappeared into her room and locked the door amid the
screams of excitement and laughter of the happy children.  "I am an old
fool to do it," she said to herself, trembling a good deal, for somehow
she had been feeling very weak the last few days; the constant pain and
anxiety had told upon her.  "I am an old fool to spend seven and
sixpence on nothing at all but gimcracks to put into the Christmas
stockings; but there, I must see 'em happy once again--I must--I will.
Afterwards there'll be a dark time, I know; but on Christmas Day it
shall be all light--all light, and cheerfulness, and trust, for the
sake of the dear Lord wot was born a babe in Bethlehem."

Grannie very carefully deposited her parcels in the old-fashioned
bureau which stood in the corner of the tiny bedroom.  She locked it up
and put the key in her pocket, and returned to the little sitting room.

Alison was busy trimming her party dress.  She had a party dress, and
quite a stylish one.  It was made of pink nun's-veiling, which she had
got very cheap as a bargain at Shaw's when the summer sale was over.
The dress was made simply, quite high to the throat, with long sleeves,
but the plain skirt and rather severe-looking bodice, with its frill of
lace round the throat and wrists, gave Alison that curiously refined,
ladylike appearance which was so rare in her station of life.  She had
a sort of natural instinct which kept her from overdressing, and she
always looked the picture of neatness.  She was furbishing up the lace
on the dress now, and Polly was seated by the little table stoning the
raisins for the Christmas pudding, and gazing with admiration at her
sister all the while.  The Christmas bustle and sense of festivity
which Grannie had insisted on bringing into the air, infected everyone.
Even Alison felt rather cheerful; as she trimmed up the old dress she
kept singing a merry tune.  If it was her bounden duty to marry Jim--to
return the great love he bore her--to be his faithful and true
wife--then all the calamity of the last few days would be past.  Good
luck would once more shine upon her.  Once again she would be the
happiest of the happy.

"Oh, yes, I love him!" she murmured to herself.  "I love him better
every day, every hour, every minute; he is all the world to me.  I
think of him all day long, and dream of him all through the night.  I
could be good for him.  If he is strong enough and great enough to get
over the fact of my being accused of theft, why, I'll take him; yes,
I'll take him.  It will make Grannie happy too.  Poor old Grannie! she
don't look too well the last day or two.  It is wonderful, but I think
she is fretting sore about that feather-stitching.  Poor dear! she
thinks more of that feather-stitching than of most anything else in the
world; but, Lor' bless her, they'll soon be putting something else in
its place in the West End shops.  The feather-stitching will be
old-fashioned beside the embroidery.  Poor old Grannie, it is hard on
her!"

By this time the tea hour had arrived.  Alison took her dress into her
little bedroom, laid it on the bed, and came back to help to get ready
the family meal.  David and Harry both came noisily upstairs to partake
of it.  They were going out immediately afterward to the boys' club,
and told Grannie that they would not be back to supper.

"There are going to be real high jinks at the club to-night," said
Harry; "a magic lantern and a conjurer, and afterward we are to play
leapfrog and billiards, and end up with a boxing match.  That swell,
Mr. Rolfe, is the right sort.  Anyone would think that he had known
boys from this part of the world all his days."

"Boys is boys all the world over," said Grannie; "be they rich or poor,
high or low, they are just the same--mischeevous, restless young
wagabones.  Now then, Harry, for goodness gracious, don't spill your
tea on the cloth.  My word! wot a worry you all are."

"You know you don't think so, Grannie," said the audacious boy.  His
black eyes laughed into her blue ones; she gave him a smile into which
she threw her whole brave heart.  He remembered that smile in the dark
days which were to follow.

Tea was over, and presently Alison went into her room to dress.  She
did not intend putting in an appearance at the Clays' before nine
o'clock, and she told Grannie not to sit up for her.  Of course Jim
would see her home.  It occurred to her, and her heart beat faster at
the thought, that she might be able to give Jim his final answer on her
way home; if so, what a glorious Christmas present would be hers.
Accordingly, as she dressed her hair she sang a cheerful little song
under her breath.  Grannie heard her in the kitchen, paused with her
finger on her lip, and enjoined silence for a moment, and then smiled
in a very heart-whole manner.

"To be sure," she murmured to herself "the will of the Lord seems full
o' mercy to-night.  Wot do it matter about an old body like me, ef
things go right for the children?  Oh, good Lord, I commit these
children to thy care; do for 'em wot is right, and don't trouble about
an old body.  I don't count; I know my place is safe enough for me in
the Kingdom.  I need not fret about wot is left for this world."

When Alison came out of her room, looking beautiful, and fifty times
too good for the company she was to be with, Grannie gave her a kiss,
which was so full of gladness and meaning as to be almost solemn.

"And Jim will see you home," said the old lady.  "Oh, yes, yes!"

"To be sure; but don't sit up, Grannie," said Alison.

"I won't ef you don't wish it, love.  You'll find the key under the
mat; now go off, and a Christmas blessin' with you."

Alison departed, and soon afterward the younger children were hustled
off to bed.  They were very much excited, and did not at all wish to
retire at this comparatively early hour, but Grannie was peremptory.
She had plenty of work to do after the rogues were asleep, she
murmured.  So off to bed they went, with a couple of raisins each by
way of comfort; and when she thought they were snoring she slipped
softly into her room to fetch the brown paper parcels, and the long
woolen stockings which year after year had done duty for the Santa
Claus gifts.  If she suspected it, she took good care not to look;
nevertheless, the fact remains that the three little snorers did open
their eyes for a brief moment, and did see the parcels going out, and
the stockings following them, and then turned round to hug each other
in an ecstacy of bliss.  On this occasion Alison's companion slept with
her two sisters, and they kept up a little chatter, like birds in a
nest, for quite five minutes after Grannie had left them.  She heard
them, of course,--for every sound could be heard in the little
flat,--but she took no notice.

"Bless 'em, how happy they are!" she said to herself.  "Bless the Lord,
oh, my soul.  I do declare there's a sight o' good to be got out of
life, writers' cramp or not.  Now, then, to open these parcels."

The parcels when opened produced a wonderful array of cheap workboxes,
needle-cases, pin-trays, ornamental pens, boxes full of bon-bons, penny
whistles, twopenny flutes, a Jew's-harp or two; in short, a medley of
every kind of heterogeneous presents which could be produced with the
modest sum of from a penny to twopence halfpenny.  Grannie fully
believed in numbers.  She knew from past experience that the children
would rather have half a dozen small things than one big thing.  The
worsted stockings, too, which had been knit in a bygone age, by the
celebrated Mrs. Simpson, the inventor of the sprig, were deep and long.
They took a great deal of filling, and Grannie knew what keen
disappointment would be the result if each stocking was not chock-full.
She collected her wares, sorted them into six parcels, laid the six
stockings on the table by the side of the gifts, and then began to
select the most appropriate gifts for each.  Yes; Alison should have
the little basket which contained the pretty thimble, the little plush
pin-cushion glued on at one corner, and two reels of cotton kept in
their place by a neat little band, and the needle-book at the opposite
side.

"This is the werry nattiest thing I have seen for many a day," murmured
Grannie, "and only tuppence three farthings.  I'll take the price off,
of course.  Now, suppose Ally comes back an engaged girl, could she
have anything prettier than this little basket?  It shall go in the top
of the stocking, jest where it can peep out and look at her the first
thing in the morning."

The stockings were filled at last; the toes and heels dexterously
stuffed out with apples and oranges; the gifts following next--each
separate gift wrapped in paper, and tied neatly with string.

"Quite half the fun is in the untying of the string," thought Mrs.
Reed.  "Oh, how the little 'earts will go pitter-patter!  Don't I know
it myself?  Why, when I were nothing more than a five-year-old Phipps,
I remember as well as possible taking my presents out of this werry
stocking, and trembling all over when I couldn't untie the knot of the
parcel which held that cock made of sugar, wot I kept on the
chimney-piece for many and many a day afterward; for though mother give
it to me, she wouldn't let me eat it."

The six stockings were filled, and each stocking hung at the foot of
its future owner's bed.  The children were sound asleep now, and the
boys at the club, and the girl at her party forgot all about such a
trivial thing as poor old Santa Claus and his stocking, but Grannie was
very thankful that the stockings should hang at the foot of the beds
for the last time.  When all was done and the kitchen made as neat as a
new pin she fell on her knees and uttered a short prayer--a prayer
which was more praise than prayer.  She then got into bed, and quickly
fell asleep; for she was very tired, and, wonderful to say, her hand
and arm did not ache as much as usual.

Not far away was Tragedy coming to meet her with quick strides, but the
little woman was under the shadow of God's wing to-night, and had
neither fear nor trouble.



CHAPTER X.

When Alison arrived at the Clays' the fun was in full swing.  The house
was crowded--not only the long sitting room, but the little hall, and a
good way up the stairs.  A stage had been erected at one end of the
sitting room; on this stage now the actors were disporting themselves.
As Alison had not arrived in time for supper, no one took any notice of
her when she appeared.  She found that it was quite impossible to hope
to get a corner, either to sit or stand, in the room where the acting
was going on.  She had, therefore, to content herself with leaning up
against the wall in the passage, and now and then bending forward so as
to see the one person about whom she was the least interested--Jim
himself.

The play was a very poor affair, and consisted of several short scenes
acted in the style of charades, with impromptu conversations, which
mostly consisted of coarse jests and innuendoes; but the loud laughter
of the spectators assured Alison that this style of thing was quite up
to their level.  She felt rather sickened at Jim's taking part in
anything so commonplace; but her love for him, which grew daily, gave
her a certain sense of rest and happiness at even being in his
vicinity.  He did not know she was there, but that mattered little or
nothing.  When the play was over he would come out and see her, and
then everything would be smooth and delightful.  She forgot to be
jealous of Louisa; she even forgot the fact that a few short weeks ago
she had been publicly accused of theft; she only knew that she wore her
best frock; she was only conscious that she looked her best and
brightest, that when Jim's eyes did rest upon her he could not but
acknowledge her charm; she was only well aware that it was Christmas
Eve, and that all the world was rejoicing.  She stood, therefore, in
the crowded hall with a smiling face, her hands lightly, clasped in
front of her, her thoughts full of peace, and yet stimulated to a
certain excited joy.

Between the acts people began to go in and out of the large sitting
room, and on these occasions Alison was jostled about a good bit.  She
was quite pushed up against the stairs, and had some difficulty in
keeping her balance.  She saw a man stare at her with a very coarse
sort of admiration.  She did not know the man, and she shrank from his
gaze; but the next moment she saw him speaking to a girl who she knew
belonged to Shaw's establishment.  The girl's reply came distinctly to
her ears.

"Yes, I suppose she is pretty enough," she said.  "We always spoke of
her as genteel at Shaw's.  Oh, you want to know her name, Mr. Manners?
Her name is Alison Reed.  She left Shaw's because she stole a
five-pound note.  It was awfully good of him not to prosecute her."

"That girl a thief!" said the man who was addressed as Manners.  "I
don't believe it."

"Oh, but she is!  She was in such a fright that she left the shop the
very day she was accused.  That shows guilt--don't it, now?"

Alison could not hear Manners' reply, but after a time, the sharp voice
of the girl again reached her ears.

"They do say as Jim Hardy, our foreman, was sweet on her, but of course
he has given her up now; he is all agog for Louisa Clay, the girl he is
acting with to-night.  They say they are sweethearts, and they'll be
married early in the year.  It is a very good match for him, for Louisa
has lots of money and----"

The speakers moved on, and Alison could not catch another word.  She
had gained a comfortable position for herself now, and was leaning
firmly against the wall.  The words which had reached her she fully and
completely realized.  She was accustomed to being considered a thief;
she always would be considered a thief until that five-pound note was
found.  It was very painful, it was bitter to be singled out in that
way, to have attention drawn to her as such a character; but the words
which related to Jim she absolutely laughed at.  Was not Jim her own
faithful lover?  Would he not see her home to-night, believing in her
fully and entirely?  Oh, yes.  Whatever the world at large thought of
her, she was good enough for Jim.  Yes, yes.  She would promise to be
his to-night, she would not wait until next Tuesday.  What was the good
of pushing happiness away when it came so close?  A cup full of such
luck was not offered to every girl.  She would drink it up; she would
enjoy it to the full.  Then envious and malicious tongues would have to
be quiet, for she would prove by her engagement that Jim, at least,
believed in her.  She drew up her head proudly as this thought came to
her.

The next act in the noisy little play was just beginning, and those who
cared for seats in the room were pushing forward; the crowd in the
passage was therefore less oppressive.  Alison moved forward a step or
two, and stood in such a position that she was partly sheltered by a
curtain.  She had scarcely done so before, to her great astonishment,
Hardy and Louisa came out.  They stood together for a moment or two in
the comparatively deserted passage.  Other characters occupied the
stage for the time being, and Louisa was glad to get into the
comparatively fresh air to cool herself.

"Oh, aint it hot?" she said.  "Fan me," she added, offering Jim a huge
fan gaudily painted in many colors.

She unfurled it as she spoke, and put it into his hand.

"Make a breeze o' some sort," she said; "do, or I'll faint!"

Jim looked pleased and excited.  He was fantastically dressed in the
stage costume in which he had shortly to appear.  Alison, partly
sheltered by the curtain, could see well without being seen herself.

"The play is going splendid, Jim," said Louisa.  "I'm ever so pleased."

"I am glad of that," replied Jim.

"I thought you would be.  Well, I do feel a happy girl to-night."

"And when is it to be?" said Jim, bending down and looking earnestly
into her face.

She flushed when he spoke to her, and immediately lowered her eyes.

"I aint made up my mind quite yet," she said.

"But you will?" he replied, in a voice full of solicitude.

"I don't know.  Would it please you if I did?"

"I needn't say that it would," was the reply.  "I think it would make
me real happy."

"Well, ef I thought that----"

Louisa took her fan out of Jim Hardy's hand and began to toy with it in
a somewhat affected manner.  Then her expression changed to one of
absolute passion.

"I don't think there is anything in heaven above, or the earth beneath,
I wouldn't do, Jim Hardy, even to please you for half an hour; to
please you is the light of life to me.  So, if you wish it, let it
be--there!  I can't say any more, can I?"

"You can't; you have said enough," he replied gravely.  "There is our
call," he added; "we must go back.  Are you cooler now?"

"Much cooler, thanks to you."

The call came a second time.  Louisa hurried forward; Jim followed her.
Neither of them noticed the listening girl behind the curtain.  The
next moment loud cheers filled the room as Hardy and Louisa took their
places side by side in the front of the stage.

Alison waited until the great uproar had subsided, then she slipped
into the dressing room where she had gone on her arrival, put on her
hat and jacket steadily and calmly, and went home.  She had no
intention now of waiting for Jim.  She never meant to wait for Jim any
more.  He was false as no man had ever been false before.  She would
forget him, she would drive him out of her life.  He had dared to come
and talk of marriage to her when he really loved another girl; he had
dared to give her words of tenderness when his heart was with Louisa
Clay.

"It is all over," whispered Alison quite quietly under her breath.

She wondered, in a dull sort of fashion, why she felt so quiet; why she
did not suffer a great deal more; why the sense of disappointment and
cruel desertion did not break her heart.  She was sure that by and by
her heart would awaken, and pain--terrible, intense pain would be her
portion; but just now she felt quiet and stunned.  She was glad of
this.  It was Christmas Eve, but Jim was not walking home with her.
The Christmas present she had hoped for was not to be hers.  Well,
never mind, to-morrow would be Christmas Day.  Jim was invited to
dinner, to that good dinner which Grannie had no right to buy, but
which Grannie had bought to give the children one last happy day.
Alison herself had made the cake and had frosted it, and Alison herself
had stirred the pudding, and had thought of Jim's face as it would look
when he sat with the children round the family board.  He would never
sit there now; she must never see him again.  She would write to him
the moment she got in, and then, having put him out of her life once
and for ever, she would help Grannie to keep the Merry Christmas.

She walked up the weary number of steps to the flat on the fifth floor.
She found the key under the mat, and then went in.  Grannie had left
everything ready for her.  Grannie had thought of a betrothed maiden
who would enter the little house with the air of a queen who had come
suddenly into her kingdom.  Grannie, who was sound asleep at this
moment, had no idea that Despair itself was coming home in the last
hours just before the blessed Christmas broke.  Alison opened the door
very softly, and, going into the kitchen, took down her writing
portfolio from a little shelf where she generally kept it, and wrote a
short letter to Jim.


"Dear Jim: I have made up my mind, and in this letter you will get your
final answer.  I will not marry anybody until I am cleared of this
trouble about the five-pound note; and whether I am cleared or not, I
shall never marry you, _for I don't love you_.  I found out to-night it
was all a mistake, and what I thought was love was not.  I don't love
you, Jim, and I never wish to see you again.  Please don't come to
dinner to-morrow, and please don't ever try to see me.  This is final.
I don't love you; that is your answer.

"ALISON REED."


Having signed the letter in a very firm hand, Alison put it into an
envelope, addressed and stamped it.  She then went out and dropped it
into a pillar-box near by.  Jim would get it on Christmas morning.



CHAPTER XI.

Christmas Day went by.  It was quiet enough, although the children
shouted with glee over their stockings and ate their dinner heartily.
There was a depressed feeling under all the mirth, although Alison wore
her very best dress and laughed and sang, and in the evening played
blindman's buff with the children.  There was a shadow over the home,
although Grannie talked quietly in the corner of the Blessed Prince of
Peace, and of the true reason for Christmas joy.  Jim's place was
empty, but no one remarked it.  The children were too happy to miss
him, and the elder members of the party were too wise to say what they
really felt.

Boxing Day was almost harder to bear than Christmas Day.  Alison stayed
quietly in the house all the morning, but toward the afternoon she grew
restless.

"Dave," she said, "will you and Harry come for a walk with me?"

"To be sure," answered both the boys, brightening up.  The little girls
clamored to accompany them.

"No, no," said Grannie, "you'll stay with me.  I have a job on hand,
and I want you to help me.  It is tearing up old letters, and putting
lots of things in order.  And maybe I'll give you a chocolate each when
it is done."

The promise of the chocolates was comforting, and the little ones
stayed at home not ill pleased.  Alison went out with her two brothers.
She held herself very erect, and there was a proud look on her face.
She had never looked handsomer nor more a lady.  David felt very proud
of her.  He did not understand her just now, it is true, but he was
pleased when people turned round to look at her; and when admiring
glances came in her way, he walked close to her with an air of
protection, and was glad that his sister was better looking than other
fellows'.  They all turned their steps in the direction of Victoria
Park.  They had just got there when quick footsteps overtook them, and
Jim Hardy came up.

"Hullo," he said, when he approached the little party.  "Stop, can't
you?  I have been running after you all this time."

David and Harry both stopped, but Alison walked on.

"That's all right," said Jim, nodding to the boys.  "You stay back a
bit, won't you, like good fellows?  I want to have a talk with your
sister."

Harry felt inclined to demur, for he was fond of Jim, and his own
pleasure always was first with him; but David understood, and gripped
his brother's arm fiercely, holding him back.

"Keep back," he said, in a whisper; "can't you see for yourself that
there's trouble there?"

"Trouble where?" said Harry, opening his eyes.

"You are a muff.  Can't you see that something has put Alison out?"

"I can see that she is very disagreeable," said Harry.  "I suppose she
is in love, that's what it means.  She is in love with Jim Hardy.  But
he is going to marry Louisa Clay; everybody says so."

"Shut up," said David.  "You are a silly.  Hardy thinks no more of
Louisa than he does of you."

"Well, let us make for the pond and leave them alone," said Harry.  "I
do believe the ice will bear in a day or two."

The boys rushed off to the right, and Alison and Jim walked down the
broad center path.  Alison's heart was beating wildly.  The love which
she was trying to slay rose up like a giant in her heart.

"But I won't show it," thought the proud girl to herself.  "He shall
never, never think that I fret because he has thrown me over for
another.  If, loving me, he could care for Louisa, he is not my sort.
No, I won't fret, no, I won't; I'll show him that I don't care."

"I'm glad I met you," said Jim.  Jim was a very proud fellow, too, in
his own way.  Alison's queer letter had pierced him to the quick.  Not
having the faintest clew to her reason for writing it, he was feeling
justly very angry.

"I didn't come in yesterday," he continued, "when you made it so plain
that you didn't want me; but, all the same, I felt that we must talk
this matter out."

"There's nothing to talk out," said Alison.  "You knew my mind when you
got that letter, and that's about all I've got to say."

"That letter was a lie from first to last," said Jim boldly.

Alison turned and looked full at him.  Her face was white.  Her big
blue eyes blazed and looked dark.

"The letter was true," she said.  "Girls can't help being contrary now
and then.  I don't want to see you again, I don't want to have anything
to do with you.  I made a mistake when I said I loved you.  I found out
just in time that I didn't.  It was a right good thing I found it out
before we was wed, instead of afterwards; I did, and we are safe, and
you can give yourself, heart and soul, with a clear conscience, to
another."

"I can't make out what you are driving at," said Jim.  "You know
perfectly well, Alison, that I love no one in all the world but
yourself."

"Oh! don't you?" said Alison.

"Really, Ally, you will drive me mad if you go on talking in that
unreasonable way.  Of course I don't care for anyone but you, and you
always gave me to understand that you returned my love.  Come, darlin',
what is it?  You must know that after all you have said to me in the
past, I can't believe that letter of yours; it is all against common
sense.  People can't love and then unlove in that sort o' fashion.
Tell me the truth, Ally.  Something made you angry; and you love me as
much as ever, don't you, darlin'?  Come, let us make it up.  There is
something at the bottom of this, and you ought to tell me.  As to your
not loving me, that is all fudge, you know."

Alison's heart, which had lain so dead in her breast, began suddenly to
stir and dance with a queer excitement.  After all, had she made a
mistake?  Was Jim really faithful to her after all?  But, no; how could
she mistake?  She had heard the words herself.  Oh, yes, of course, Jim
was false; and for all he had such an honest voice, and the truest eyes
in all the world, Alison must turn her back on him, for she could not
doubt the hearing of her own ears and the seeing of her own eyes.

"I am sorry," she said, in a cold voice, when Jim had paused and looked
eagerly for her answer.  "I am sorry, but after all it is a pity that
we met to-day, for my letter really told you everything.  I don't love
you.  You wouldn't marry a girl what didn't love you; would you, Jim?"

"No, no," said Jim; "no marriage could be happy, it would be a cruel
mistake, without love.  It seems to me that marriage is a sin, an awful
sin, if there aint love to make it beautiful."

"Well, then, it would be a sin for us to marry," said Alison.  "You can
see that for yourself.  You need have no scruples, Jim; you can do what
you wish."

"Well, that is to marry you," said Jim.  "Come, Ally, there is a
strange thing over you, my dearie, but show me your true self once
again.  Come, darlin'.  Why, you are going nigh to break my heart, the
way you are going on."

For a moment Alison's belief in what she had herself seen was staggered
by Jim's words and the ring of pain in his voice, but only for a
moment.  The thought of Louisa and the tender way he had looked at her,
and her bold words of passion, were too vivid to be long suppressed.
Alison's voice took a note of added scorn as she replied:

"It's real shabby o' you to worry me when I have given you a straight
answer.  I don't love you, not a bit, but there's another girl what
does.  Go to her--go and be happy with her."

"What do you mean?" said Jim, turning pale.

Alison's eyes were fixed angrily on him.

"Oh, I see, I can move you at last," she Said.  "You didn't think that
I could guess, but I can.  Go to Louisa--she loves you well, and I
don't--I never did--it was all a big mistake.  Girls like me often
fancy they love, and then when the thing comes near they see that they
don't; marriage is an awful thing without love--it is a sin.  Go and
marry Louisa; she'll make you a good wife."

"Alison," said Jim, "there can be only one explanation to the way you
are going on to-day."

"And what is that?" she asked.

"There must be someone you like better than me."

"Of course there is," said Alison, with a shrill laugh.

"I love Grannie better than him.  I love Dave better," whispered the
excited girl wildly, under her breath.

"Of course there is," she repeated.  "There is nothing for opening the
eyes like seeing your true love at last."

"Then you _have_ explained matters, and I haven't a word to say,"
answered Jim, in a haughty voice.

He drew himself up,--his eyes looked straight into hers,--she shivered,
but did not flinch; the next moment he had turned on his heels and
walked away.

He walked quickly, leaving the miserable, distracted girl alone.  He
thought he understood at last; Alison had another lover.  Who could he
be?  Jim had certainly never heard of anybody else.  Still, this was
the true explanation--she had admitted as much herself.

"Go to Louisa Clay--she loves you well," the angry girl had said to him.

Well, why should not he go to Louisa?  Louisa was not his style, but
she was handsome, and she had a good bit of money, and he had guessed
long ago that she loved him.  He did not want to hear of Alison's new
lover, and of Alison's engagement, and of Alison's marriage without
putting some shield between himself and the bitter words that would be
spoken, and the laugh that would be all against him.  He was proud as
well as steadfast; he was daring as well as true.  If Alison could give
him up as she had done, why should he not take the lesser good?  It was
true that Louisa had admitted, or almost admitted, her engagement to
Sampson, which was really the wedding poor Jim had alluded to on
Christmas Eve; but Jim knew that matters were not settled in that
direction yet, and he was too angry just now not to feel a keen desire
to cut Sampson out.  He went straight, therefore, to the Clays' house.
His heart was just in that sort of tempest of feeling when men so often
take a rash step and lay up misery for themselves for the whole of
their remaining days.

Mr. and Mrs. Clay were out, but Louisa was at home; she had a cold, and
had not cared to venture out in the raw December air.  Jim was shown
into a snug little parlor at the back of the shop.  Louisa was
becomingly dressed, and looked remarkably handsome.  She started with
pleasure when she saw Jim, colored up to her eyes, and then noticing
something which she had never noticed before in his glance, looked
down, trembling and overcome.  At that moment her love made her
beautiful.  Jim saw it trembling on her lips.  The reaction between her
warmth and Alison's frozen manner was too much for him; he made a
stride forward, and the next moment had taken her in his arms; his
kisses rested on her lips.  She gave a sigh of ineffable bliss.

"Oh, Jim!" she said, "has it come to this?  Am I to have my heart's
desire after all?"

"If I am your heart's desire, you can have me, and welcome," answered
Jim.

"Oh, Jim!  I love you so much.  I am the happiest gel in all the world.
Kiss me again, do.  Oh, how I love you!"

"My dear girl," said the young man.

He did not say yet that he loved her back again, but his heart was
beating high.  At that moment he was not proof against her beauty,
which in its own way was remarkable.

"Then we're engaged," she said.  "Oh, Jim, is it true that such
happiness is come to me?  I feel sort o' frightened.  I never, never
thought that such good could come to me."

"We're engaged, that is if we can be straight and above-board,"
answered Jim; "but first I must know what about Sampson.  He has asked
you to be his wife, hasn't he?"

"Yes, yes.  Oh, don't trouble about him.  Sit close to me, can't you,
and kiss me again."

"I must know about Sampson first," said Jim.  "Have you given him a
promise?"

"Not yet, I don't love him a bit, you see; but when I thought you'd
never come forward, and that all your heart was given to Alison
Reed----"

Jim shuddered and drew himself away from Louisa.

"I thought," she continued, "that George Sampson would be better than
nobody, so I told him he might come for his answer to-night, and he'll
get it too.  He always knew that I loved yer.  Why, he even said so.
He said to me, not a week ago, 'You can't win him, Louisa, so don't
waste your breath on him, but come to an honest fellow what loves yer,
and who don't think nothing of any other gel.'"

"But doesn't it seem hard on the honest fellow?" said Jim, with a smile.

"Oh, no, it don't!  Do you think I'd look at him after what you have
said?  Oh, I'm so happy!  Sit by me, and tell me when you first thought
of throwing over Alison Reed for me?"

"Listen," said Jim.  "There is nothing now between Alison and me.  I'll
try to make you a good mate; I will try to do everything to make you
happy, and to give you back love for love; but if you value our future
happiness, you must make me a promise now."

"What's that?" she asked, looking up at him, frightened at the
solemnity in his tone.

"You must never talk of Alison to me.  Promise, do you hear?"

"Oh, why not?  You can't care for her a bit, or you wouldn't come to
me."

"I like you most--I wouldn't ask you to marry me if I didn't; but I
won't talk of Alison.  If you can't have me without bringing up her
name, say so at once, and everything shall be at an end between us.
Now you have got to choose.  Alison's name is not to pass yer lips to
me.  We are not to talk of her, do you understand?  Do you promise?"

"I promise anything--anything, if you will only kiss me again."



CHAPTER XII.

The next day it was all over the place that Jim Hardy and Louisa Clay
were engaged.  Harry heard the news as he was coming home from doing a
message for Grannie; Grannie heard it when she went shopping; Alison
heard it from the boy who sold the milk--in short, this little bit of
tidings of paramount interest in Alison's small world was dinned into
her ears wherever she turned.  Jim was engaged.  His friends thought
that he had done very well for himself, and it was arranged that the
wedding was to take place just before Lent.  Lent would fall early this
year, and Jim's engagement would not last much over six weeks.

Notwithstanding all she had said the day before, Alison turned very
pale when the cruel news came to her.

"What can it mean?" said Grannie, who followed the girl into her
bedroom.  "I don't understand it--there must be an awful mistake
somewhere.  You can't, surely, have thrown over a good fellow like
that, Alison?"

"No, he threw me over," said Alison.

"Child, I jest don't believe yer."

"All right, Grannie; I'm afraid I can't help it whether you believe me
or not.  Jim is dead to me now, and we won't talk of him any more.
Grannie dear, let us go into the kitchen; you and I have something else
to attend to.  What is to come o' me?  What am I to do for myself now
that I can't get a situation for want of a character, and now that I
have lost my young man?"

Alison laughed in a bitter way as she said the last words.  She looked
straight out of the window, and avoided meeting Grannie's clear blue
eyes.

"I must get something to do," said Alison.  "I am young, and strong,
and capable, and the fact of having a false charge laid to my door
can't mean surely that I am to starve.  I must get work, Grannie; I
must learn to support myself and the children.  Oh, and you, you dear
old lady; for you can't do much, now that your 'and is so bad."

"It do get worse," said Grannie, in a solemn voice; "it pains and burns
awful now and then, and the thumb and forefinger are next to
useless--they aint got any power in 'em.  'Taint like my usual luck,
that it aint.  I can't understand it anyhow.  But there, child, for the
Lord's sake don't worry about an old body like me.  Thank the Lord for
his goodness, I am at the slack time o' life, and I don't want no
thought and little or no care.  I aint the p'int--it's you that's the
p'int, Ally--you and the chil'en."

"Well, what is to be done, grandmother?  It seems to me that we have
not a day to lose.  We never could save much, there was too great a
drag on your earnings, and mine seemed swept up by rent and twenty
other things, and now neither you nor I have been earning anything for
weeks.  We can't have much money left now, have we?"

"We have got one pound ten," said Grannie.  "I looked at the purse this
morning.  One pound ten, and sevenpence ha'penny in coppers; that's
all.  That wouldn't be a bad sum if there was anythink more coming in;
but seeing as ther' aint, it is uncommon likely to dwindle, look at it
from what p'int you may."

"Well, then, we haven't an hour to lose," said Alison.

"We haven't an hour to lose," repeated Grannie.  She looked around the
little room; her voice was cheerful, but there was a dreary expression
in her eyes.  Alison noticed it.  She got up and kissed her.

"Don't, child, don't; it aint good to move the feelin's when things is
a bit rough, as they are now.  We have got to be firm, Alison, and we
have got to be brave, and there aint no manner o' use drawing on the
feelin's.  Keep 'em under, say I, and stand straight to your guns.
It's a tough bit o' battle we're goin' through, but we must stand to
our guns, that's wot I say."

"And I too," said the girl, stiffening herself under the words of
courage.  "Well now, I know you are a very wise woman, Grannie; what's
to be done?"

"I am going to see Mr. Williams, that old clergyman in Bayswater wot
was so good to me when my husband died.  I am going to see him
to-morrow," said Grannie.  "Arter I have had a good spell of talk with
him, I'll tell you more."

"Do you think he could get me a situation?"

"Maybe he could."

"I wish you would go to him at once, Grannie.  There really doesn't
seem to be a day to be lost."

"What's the hour, child?  I don't mind going to him now, but I thought
it might be a bit late."

"Not at all; you'll see him when he comes home to dinner.  Shall I go
with you?  Somehow I pine for a change and a bit of the air."

"No, darlin', I'd best see him by myself, and then there's the bus fare
to consider; but ef you'd walk with me as far as St. Paul's Churchyard,
I'd be much obleeged, and you can see me into the bus.  I am werry
strong, thank the Lord; but somehow, when the crowd jostle and push,
they seem to take my nerve off--particular since this 'and got so bad."

Grannie went into her little room to get ready for her expedition, and
Alison also pinned on her hat and buttoned on her pilot-cloth jacket.
Grannie put on her best clothes for this occasion.  She came out
equipped for her interview in her neat black shawl and little quilted
bonnet.  The excitement had brought a bright color to her cheeks and an
added light to her blue eyes.

"Why, Grannie, how pretty you look," said her granddaughter.  "I
declare you are the very prettiest old lady I ever saw."

Grannie was accustomed to being told that she was good-looking.  She
drew herself up and perked her little face.

"The Phippses were always remarked for their skins," she said;
"beautiful they was, although my poor mother used to say that wot's
skin-deep aint worth considering.  Still, a good skin is from the Lord,
and he gave it to the Phippses with other good luck; no mistake on that
p'int."

The next moment the two set out.  It was certainly getting late in the
day, but Alison cheered Grannie on, repeating several times in a firm
and almost defiant manner that there was not an hour to be lost.  They
got to St. Paul's Churchyard, and Alison helped Grannie to get into an
omnibus.  The old woman got a seat near the door, and smiled and nodded
brightly to her granddaughter as the bus rolled away.  Alison went back
very slowly to her home.  She had a terrible depression over her, and
longed almost frantically for something to do.  All her life she had
been a very active girl.  No granddaughter of Mrs. Reed's was likely to
grow up idle, and Alison, almost from the time she could think, had
been accustomed to fully occupy each moment of her day.  Now the long
day dragged, while despair clutched at her heart.  What had she done?
What sin had she committed to be treated so cruelly?  Grannie was
religious; she was accustomed to referring things to God.  There was a
Rock on which her spirit dwelt which Alison knew nothing about.  Now,
the thought of Grannie and her religion stirred the girl's heart in the
queerest way.

"I don't do any good," she said to herself; "seems as if the Lord
didn't care for poor folks, or he wouldn't let all this sort of thing
come on me.  It aint as if I weren't always respectable; it aint as if
I didn't always try to do what's right.  Then there's so much bad luck
jist now come all of a heap: Grannie's bad hand, which means the loss
of our daily bread, and this false accusation of me, and then my losing
Jim.  Oh, dear, that's the worst part, but I won't think of that now, I
won't.  I feel that I could go mad if I thought much of that."

When Alison returned to the flat in Sparrow Street it was in time to
get tea for the children.  The little larder was becoming sadly bare;
the Christmas feast was almost all eaten up, and Alison could only
provide the children with very dry bread, and skim milk largely diluted
with water.

"Grannie wouldn't treat us like that," said Kitty, who was extremely
fond of her meals.

"You may be thankful if you even get dry bread soon," said Alison.

The three little girls stared up at her with wondering, terrified eyes.
Her tone was very morose.  They saw that she was unapproachable, and
looked down again.  They ate their unpalatable meal quickly, and in
silence.  Alison kept the kettle boiling on the fire against Grannie's
return.

"You haven't taken any tea yourself," said Polly, who was Alison's
room-fellow, and the most affectionate of the three.

"I aint hungry, dear; don't notice it," said the elder sister in a
somewhat gentler tone.  "Now you may run, all of you, and have a play
in the court."

"But it's quite dark, and Grannie doesn't like us to be out in the
dark."

"I don't think she'll mind when I tell her that I gave you leave.  I
have a splitting headache and must be alone for a bit.  It is a dry
night, and the three of you keep close together, and then you'll come
to no harm.  There, run off now, and don't bother me."

Kitty stared hard at her sister; Polly's eyes flashed with pleasure at
the thought of a bit of unexpected fun; Annie was only too anxious to
be off.  Soon Alison had the little kitchen to herself.  She sat by the
fire, feeling very dull and heavy; her thoughts would keep circulating
round unpleasant subjects: the one pound ten and sevenpence halfpenny
which stood between the family and starvation; Jim and Louisa--Louisa's
face full of triumph, and her voice full of pride, and Jim's devotion
to her; Grannie's painful right hand, and the feather-stitching which
she, Alison, had never taken the trouble to learn.

"The old lady was right," she said, half under her breath, half aloud.
"She's a deal wiser than me, and I might have done worse that follow
her advice.  I wish I knew the stitch now; yes, I do.  Oh! is that you,
Dave?" as her brother came in; "but we have done tea."

"I have had some," said David.  "Mr. Watson called me into his room,
and gave me a cup.  What is it, Ally; what's the matter?"

"You needn't ask," said Alison.  "You don't suppose I am likely to be
very cheerful just now."

"I am ever so sorry," said the boy.  "I can't think how this trouble
come to you."

"If it's Jim," she answered angrily, "you needn't worry to find out,
for I'll tell you.  I don't love him no more.  He would have married me
if I cared to have him, but I didn't see my way to it.  Now let's drop
the subject."

David sat down not far from the fire.  He held out his hands to the
blaze.  There was a sort of pleased excitement about him which Alison
after a time could not help noticing.

"You look quite perky about something," she said.  "It is good for any
of us to be cheerful just now.  What's up?"

"Where's Grannie?" said Dave.  "I'd like to tell her first."

"Oh, very well, just as you please.  But she is out.  She won't be back
for a good bit yet."

"Aint it very late for her to be out?  Where is she gone?"

"To Bayswater--to talk to a clergyman who used to befriend us in the
old days.  What is your news, David?  You may as well tell me."

"Why, it's this.  Mr. Watson has just had a long talk with me.  He
wants me to help him with the accounts, and not to do messages any
more.  He could get a lad for messages, he says, who hasn't got such a
head on his shoulders as I have.  I can do bookkeeping pretty well, and
he'll give me some more lessons.  I am to start next week doing
office-work, and he'll give me five shillings a week instead of half a
crown.  I call that prime; don't you, Alison?"

"To be sure it is," she answered heartily.  She was very fond of David,
and the note of exultation in his voice touched her, and penetrated
through the deep gloom at her heart.

"Why, this will cheer Grannie," she continued.

"There's more to tell yet," continued David, "for I am to have my meals
as well as the five shillings a week; so there'll be half a crown at
the very least to put to the family purse, Alison, and I need be no
expense, only just to sleep here.  I'll bring the five shillings to
Grannie every Saturday night, and she can spend just what I want for
clothes and keep the rest.  I guess she'll make it go as far as
anybody."

"This is good news," continued Alison.  "Of course five shillings is a
sight better nor nothing, and if I only got a place we might keep the
home together."

"Why, is there any fear of our losing it?" asked David.

"Dear me, David, can we keep it on nothing at all?  There's Grannie not
earning sixpence, and there's me not earning sixpence; and how is the
rent to be paid, and us all to be kept in food and things?  It aint to
be done--you might have the common sense to know that."

"To be sure I might," said David, his brow clouding.  "After all, then,
I don't suppose the five shillings is much help."

"Oh, yes, it will support you whatever happens, and that's a good deal.
Don't fret, Dave; you are a right, good, manly fellow.  You will fight
your way in the world yet, and Grannie and me we'll be proud of you.  I
wish I had half the pluck you have; but there, I am so down now that
nothing seems to come right.  I wish I had had the sense to learn that
feather-stitching that you do so beautifully."

David colored.

"I aint ashamed to say that I know it," he said.  "I dare say I could
teach it to you if you had a mind to learn it."

But Alison shook her head.

"No; it's too late now," she said.  "It takes months and months of
practice to make a stitch like that to come to look anything like
right, and we want the money at once.  We have got scarcely any left,
and there's the rent due on Monday, and the little girls want new
shoes--Kitty's feet were wringing wet when she came in to-day.  Oh,
yes, I don't see how we are to go on.  But Grannie will tell us when
she comes back.  Oh, and here she is."

Alison flew to the door and opened it.  Mrs. Reed, looking bright and
excited, entered.

"Why, where are the little ones?" she said at once.  "Aint they reading
their books, like good children?"

"No, Grannie.  I'd a headache, and I let them go into the court to play
a bit.  You don't mind, do you?"

"Not for once, I don't," said Grannie; "but, Dave, lad, you'd better
fetch 'em in now, for it's getting real late.  They may as well go
straight off to bed, for I have a deal I want to talk over with you two
to-night."

Alison felt impatient and anxious; she could scarcely wait to hear
Grannie's news.  The old lady sat down near the fire, uttering a deep
sigh of relief as she did so.

"Ally, my dear," she said, "I'm as weary as if I were seventy-eight
instead of sixty-eight.  It's a long walk back from St. Paul's
Churchyard, and there was a crowd out, to be sure; but it's a fine
starlight night, and I felt as I was walking along, the Lord's in his
heaven, and there can never be real bad luck for us, his servants, what
trusts in him."

Alison frowned.  She wished Grannie would not quote Scripture so much
as she had done lately.  It jarred upon her own queer, perverse mood;
but as she saw the courageous light in the blue eyes she suppressed an
impatient sigh which almost bubbled to her lips.  She got tea for
Grannie, who drank it in great contentment.  David brought the children
in.  They kissed Grannie, and were hustled off to bed, rather to their
own disgust, and then David, Grannie, and Alison sat gravely down, and
looked each at the other.

"Where's Harry?" said Grannie suddenly.  "Why aint the boy to home?"

"I expect he's at the Boys' Club," said David.  "He's very fond of
running round there in the evening."

"There's no harm in that, Grannie," said Alison.  "Don't fret about
Harry.  Now tell us your news, do.  Did you see Mr. Williams, and can
he do anything?"

"I saw Mr. Williams," said Grannie.  "He remembered me quite well.  I
told him everything.  It seems to me that he has put things straight.
I don't say that things aint sore--no, I don't go to pretend they
aint--but somehow they seem straightened out a bit, and I know wot to
do."

"And what's that, Grannie?" asked David, taking her left hand very
tenderly in his as he spoke.

Grannie had been leaning back in a sort of restless attitude.  Now she
straightened herself up and looked keenly at the boy.

"It means, lad," she said, after a pause, "the sore part means this,
that we must give up the little bit of a home."

"We must give it up?" said David, in a blank sort of way.  "Oh, wait a
while; you don't know about my five shillings a week."

"Dave has got a rise," interrupted Alison.  "Mr. Watson thinks a sight
of him, and he's to go into the house as a clerk, and he's to have five
shillings a week and his meals.  So he's provided for."

"But your five shillings a week won't keep up the home, Dave, so
there's no use thinking of it, from that p'int o' view."

"Go on, please, Grannie; what else have you and Mr. Williams arranged?"

"It's the Lord has arranged it, child," said Grannie, "it aint Mr.
Williams.  It's that thought that makes me kind o' cheerful over it."

"But what is it, Grannie?  We are to give up the home?"

"Well, the home gives us up," said Grannie, "for we can't keep the
rooms ef we can't pay the rent, and the children can't be fed without
money.  To put it plain, as far as the home goes, we're broke.  That's
plain English.  It's this 'and that has done it, and I'll never believe
in eddication from this time forward; but there's no use goin' back on
that now.  Thank the Lord, I has everything settled and clear in my
mind.  I pay the last rent come Monday, and out we go."

"But where to?" said Alison.  "There's a lot of us, and we must live
somewhere."

"It's all settled, and beautiful too," said Grannie.  "Mr. Williams
knows a lady who 'll be right glad to have you, Alison.  The lady is a
friend of his, and she wants a sort of upper maid, and though you are a
Phipps and a Simpson and a Reed all in one, you needn't be too proud to
do work o' that sort.  He said she was quite certain to take to you,
and you are to go to see her to-morrow morning.  She lives in
Bayswater, and wants a girl who will attend on her and go messages for
her and keep her clothes in order.  It will be a very light, genteel
sort o' place, and you'll have a right good time there, Alison.  And
then the three little girls.  Mr. Williams said it was wonderful lucky
I called to-day, for he has got three vacancies for a school for orphan
children in the country, and for a wonder he don't know any special
orphan children to give them to this time, and he says that Kitty and
Polly and Annie can go, and they'll be well fed, and well taught, and
well clothed, and when they are old enough they'll go to service
perhaps.  Anyhow, they'll be taught how to earn their living.  So they
are settled for, and so are you, and it seems as if David's settled for
too.  As to Harry, I told Mr. Williams all about him, and he says he'll
think what he can do; he expects he can get him taken on somewhere, for
he is a smart lad, although a bit wild in his ways."

"But what is to come of you, Grannie?" said Alison, after a long pause.

Grannie jumped up when Alison made this remark.

"Well, I'm goin' on a visit," she said, "jest to freshen me up.  It
don't matter a bit about me--life is slacking down with me, and there
aint the least cause to worry.  I'm goin' on a visit; don't you fret,
children."

"But where to?" asked Alison.  "You don't know anybody.  I have never
heard that you had any friends.  The Phippses and the Simpsons are all
dead, all those you used to know."

"I'm goin' to some friends of Mr. Williams," said Grannie, "and I'll be
werry comfortable and I can stay as long as I like.  Now, for the
Lord's sake don't begin to fret 'bout me; it's enough to anger me ef
you do.  Aint we a heap to do atween this and Monday without fussin'
over an old lady wot 'as 'ad the best o' good luck all her days?  This
is Tuesday, and you are to go and see Mrs. Faulkner to-morrow morning,
Alison.  I have got her address, and you are to be there by ten
o'clock, not a minute later.  Oh, yes, our hands will be full, and we
have no time to think o' the future.  The Lord has the future in his
grip, chil'en, and 'taint for you and me to fret about it."

Grannie seated herself again in her old armchair.

"Fetch the Bible, Dave," she said suddenly, "and read a verse or two
aloud."

David rose to comply.  He took the family Bible from its place on the
shelf.  Grannie opened the old book reverently.

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide
under the shadow of the Almighty," read David.

Grannie looked solemnly at the boy while the words so familiar and
comforting fell from his lips.  He read or to the end of the
magnificent Psalm.

"I guess there's a power of luck in that hidin' place for them as can
find it," she said, when he had finished.

Then she kissed the boy and girl and went abruptly away to her own room.

"What does she mean by going on a visit?" said David to his sister.

"I don't know," said Alison fearfully.

"It can't be----" began David.

"No, no; don't say it, Dave," interrupted Alison.   "Don't say it
aloud, don't----"  She clapped her hands suddenly to his lips.  "I
can't bear it," she said suddenly.  "I won't hear it.  No, it's a
visit.  It's all true; it's only a visit.  Good-night, Dave."

She went away to her own room.  During the darkness and misery of that
night Alison scarcely slept; but old Grannie slept.  God had given his
angels charge of her, and no one ever had more peaceful slumber.



CHAPTER XIII.

Monday came all too quickly.  Grannie was very masterful during the few
days which went before.  She insisted on all the grandchildren doing
exactly what she told them.  There were moments when she was almost
stern; she had always been authoritative, and had a certain commanding
way about her.  This week, even Alison did not dare to cross her in the
smallest matter.  There was not a single hitch in the arrangements
which Mr. Williams had sketched out.  Mrs. Faulkner took a great fancy
to Alison, absolutely believed in her honesty and truth, and engaged
her for a month's trial on the spot.  She told her to be sure to be
with her by ten o'clock on Monday to begin her new duties.  Grannie
went herself to see Mr. Watson; she had a private talk with him which
no one knew anything about.  He told her that David was a boy in a
hundred, that he was certain to do well, for he was both clever and
conscientious.  He said that he could easily manage to fit up a bed for
him in the back part of the shop; so he was provided for, and,
according to Grannie and Mr. Watson, provided for well.  When Harry
heard of the family's exodus, he left the house without a word.  He
came back in the course of two or three hours, and told Mrs. Reed what
he had done.

"I am going to sea," he announced.  "I saw the captain of the _Brigand_
down at the West India Docks, and he'll take me as cabin boy.  I dare
say the life is a bit rough, but I know I shall like it.  I have always
been so keen for adventure.  I am off to-morrow, Grannie; so I am out
of the way."

Grannie kissed the boy between his straight brows, looked into his
fearless, dancing, mischievous eyes, and said a word or two which he
never forgot.  She sent him off the next morning with the best wardrobe
she could muster, half a crown in his pocket, and her blessing ringing
in his ears.

"'Taint much; it's a rough life, but it's the best that could be done,"
she said to Alison.  "Ef he keeps straight he'll have good luck, for
it's in the breed," she continued; then she resumed her preparations
for the little girls.

They went away on Saturday, and Alison, David, and Grannie had Sunday
to themselves.  It was a sort of day which Alison could never talk of
afterward.  It ought to have been very miserable, but it was not; there
was a peace about it which comforted the much-tried girl, and which she
often hugged to her heart in some of the dark days which were close at
hand.

"Now, chil'en," said Grannie, on the evening of that day, "you two will
please go off early in the morning and leave me the last in the old
house."

"But mayn't we see you as far as the railway station?" said Alison.

"No, my love, I prefer not," was the response.

"But won't you tell us where you are going, Grannie?" said David.  "It
seems so queer for us to lose sight of you.  Don't you think it a bit
hard on us, old lady?"

Grannie looked very earnestly at David.

"No," she said, after a pause, "'taint hard, it's best.  I am goin' on
a wisit; ef it aint comfortable, and ef the Lord don't want me to stay,
why I won't stay; but I'd rayther not speak o' it to-night.  You must
let me have my own way, Dave and Alison.  We are all suited for, some
in one way and some in t'other, but I'd rayther go away to-morrow with
jest the bit of fun of keeping it all to myself, at least for a time."

"Is it in the country, Grannie?" said Alison.

"I'm told it's a fine big place," replied Grannie.

"And are they folks you ever knew?"

"They're friends o' Mr. Williams," said Grannie, shutting up her lips.
"Mr. Williams knows all about 'em.  He says I can go to see you often;
'taint far from town.  You won't really be very far from me at all.
But don't let us talk any more about it.  When a woman comes to my time
o' life, ef she frets about herself she must be a mighty poor sort, and
that aint me."

Monday morning dawned, and Grannie had her way.  Alison and David both
kissed her, and went out into the world to face their new duties.  They
were not coming back any more to the little home.  Grannie was alone.

"I haven't a minute to waste," she said to herself after they had gone,
bustling about as she spoke.  "There's all the furniture to be sold
now.  The auctioneer round the corner said he would look in arter the
chil'en were well out o' the way.  Oh, I dare say I shall have heaps of
time to fret by and by, but I ain't agoin' to fret now; not I.
There'll be a nice little nest-egg out of the furniture, which Mr.
Williams can keep for Alison; and ef Alison gets on, why, 'twill do for
burying me when my time comes.  I think a sight of having a good
funeral; the Lord knows I want to be buried decent, comin' of the breed
I do; but there, I've no time to think of funerals or anything else
now.  I had to be masterful this week to 'em darlin's, but 'twas the
only thing to do.  Lor' sakes!  Suppose they'd begun fussing over me,
what would have become of us all?"

At this moment there came a knock at the door.  Grannie knew who it
was.  It was the agent who came weekly, Monday after Monday, to collect
the rent.

"Here's your rent, Mr. Johnson," said Grannie, "and I  hope you'll get
another tenant soon.  It was a right comfortable little flat, and we
all enjoyed ourselves here.  We haven't a word to say agen our
landlord, Mr. Johnson."

"I am very sorry to lose you as a tenant, Mrs. Reed," said Mr. Johnson,
giving the bright-eyed little woman a puzzled glance.  "If there is
anything in my power----"

"No, there aint!  No, there aint!" said Grannie, nodding.  "We has made
fresh arrangements in the fam'ly, and don't require the rooms any
longer.  I'll have the furniture out by twelve o'clock to-day, sir, and
then the rooms will be washed out and tidied.  A neighbor downstairs
has promised to do it.  Will you please tell me where I shall leave the
key?"

"You may leave it with Mrs. Murray on the next flat," said Mr. Johnson.
"Well, I am sorry to lose you as a tenant, Mrs. Reed, and if ever you
do want to settle down in a home again, please let me know, and I'll do
my very best to provide you with a comfortable one."

"I 'spect I won't have to pay no rent for my next home," said Grannie
softly, under her breath, as she turned away from the door.  "Oh, Lord,
to think that you're gettin' a mansion in the sky ready for an old body
like me, and no rent to pay neither!  Dear Lord, to think it is getting
ready for me now!  I am about as happy an old woman as walks--that I
am."

Grannie felt the religion which was part and parcel of her life
extremely uplifting that morning.  It tided her safely over an hour so
dark that it might have broken a less stout heart.  The auctioneer came
round and priced the furniture.  Every bit of that furniture had a
history.  Part of it belonged to the Reeds, part to the Phippses, and
part to the Simpsons.  It was full of the stories of many lives; but,
as Grannie said to herself, "I'll have heaps of time by and by to fret
about the eight-day clock, and the little oak bureau under the window,
and the plates, and cups, and dishes, and tables; I need not waste
precious minutes over 'em now."

So the auctioneer, who somehow could not cheat those blue eyes, offered
a fair price for the little "bits o' duds," and by twelve o'clock he
sent round a cart and a couple of men to carry them away.  The flat was
quite bare and empty before Grannie finally locked the hall door and
took the key down to Mrs. Murray.

Mrs. Murray was very fond of Grannie, and was extremely inclined to be
inquisitive; but if ever Mrs. Reed had been on her full dignity it was
this morning.  She spoke about the good luck of the children in having
found such comfortable homes, said that household work was getting a
little too much for her, and that now she was going away on a visit.

"To the country, ma'am?" said Mrs. Murray.  "It is rather early for the
country jest yet, aint it?"

"It is to a very nice part, suitable to the season," replied Grannie,
setting her lips firmly.  "I'm always in luck, and I'm in my usual good
luck now in findin' kind friends willin' and glad to have me.  I will
wish you 'good-day' now, ma'am; I mustn't keep my friends waiting."

"But won't you have a cup of tea afore you go, for you really look
quite shaky?" said Mrs. Murray, who noticed that Grannie's left hand
shook when she laid the key of the lost home on the table.

"No, no, ma'am.  I expect to have tea with my friends," was the reply.
"Thank you kindly, I am sure, Mrs. Murray, and I wish you well, ma'am."

Mrs. Murray shook hands with Grannie and looked at her kindly and
affectionately as she tripped down the winding stairs for the last time.

Grannie wore her black silk bonnet, and her snow-white kerchief, and
her neat little black shawl, and her white cotton gloves.  Her
snow-white hair was as fluffy as usual under the brim of her bonnet,
and her eyes were even brighter, and her cheeks wore a deeper shade of
apple bloom about them.  Perhaps some people, some keen observers,
would have said that the light in the eyes and the bloom on the cheeks
were too vivid for perfect health; but, as it was, people only remarked
as they saw her go down the street, "What a dear, pretty old lady!
Now, _she_ belongs to some of the provident, respectable poor, if you
like."  People said things of that sort as Grannie got into the omnibus
presently, and drove away, and away, and away.  They did not know, they
could not possibly guess, what Grannie herself knew well, that she was
only a pauper on her way to the workhouse.  For Mrs. Reed had kept her
secret, and the keeping of that secret was what saved her heart from
being broken.  Mr. Williams had used influence on her behalf, and had
got her into the workhouse of a parish to which she had originally
belonged.  It was in the outskirts of London, and was, he said, one of
the best and least severe of the class.

"Provided the children don't know, nothing else matters," thought
Grannie over and over, as she approached nearer and nearer to her
destination.  "I am just determined to make the best of it," she said
to herself, "and the children need never know.  I shall be let out on
visits from time to time, and I must keep up the story that I am
staying with kind friends.  I told Mr. Williams what I meant to do, and
he didn't say it were wrong.  Lord, in thy mercy help me to keep this
dark from the children, and help me to remember, wherever I am, that I
was born a Phipps and a Simpson.  Coming of that breed, nothing ought
to daunt me, and I'll live and die showing the good stock I am of."

The omnibus set Grannie down within a quarter of a mile of her
destination.  She carried a few treasures tied up in a silk
handkerchief on her left arm, and presently reached the big gloomy
gates of the workhouse.  Mr. Williams had made all the necessary
arrangements for her, and she was admitted at once.  A male porter,
dressed in hideous garb, conducted her across a courtyard to a
bare-looking office, where she was asked to sit down.  After a few
minutes the matron appeared, accompanied by a stoutly built woman, who
called herself the labor matron, and into whose care Grannie was
immediately given.  She was taken away to the bath-room first of all.
There her own neat, pretty clothes were taken from her, and she was
given the workhouse print dress, the ugly apron, the hideous cap, and
the little three-cornered shawl to wear.

"What's your age?"  asked the matron.

"Sixty-eight, ma'am," replied Grannie.

"Let me see; surely there is something wrong with that hand."

"Yes, ma'am," replied Grannie solemnly; "it is the hand that has
brought me here.  I was good at needlework in my day, ma'am, but 'twas
writing as did it."

"Writing! did you write much?" asked the matron.

"No, ma'am, only twice a year at the most, but even them two letters
cost me sore; they brought on a disease in the hand; it is called
writers' cramp.  It is an awful complaint, and it has brought me here,
ma'am."

The labor matron looked very hard at Grannie.  She did not understand
her words, nor the expression on her brave face.  Grannie by no means
wore the helpless air which characterizes most old women when they come
to the workhouse.

"Well," she said, after a pause, "hurry with your bath; you needn't
have another for a fortnight; but once a fortnight you must wash here.
At your age, and with your hand so bad, you won't be expected to do any
manual work at all."

"I'd rayther, ef you please, ma'am," said Grannie.  "I'm not accustomed
to settin' idle."

"Well, I don't see that you can do anything; that hand is quite past
all use, but perhaps the doctor will take a look at it to-morrow.  Now
get through that bath, and I'll take you to the room where the other
old women are."

"Good Lord, keep me from thinkin' o' the past," said Grannie when the
door closed behind her.

She got through the bath and put on her workhouse dress, and felt, with
a chill all through her little frame, that she had passed suddenly from
life to death.  The matron came presently to fetch her.

"This way, please," she said, in a tart voice.  She had treated Grannie
with just a shadow of respect as long as she wore her own nice and
dainty clothes, but now that she was in the workhouse garb, she looked
like any other bowed down little woman.  She belonged, in short, to the
failures of life.  She was hurried down one or two long passages, then
through a big room, empty at present, which the matron briefly told her
was the "Able-bodied Women's Ward," and then into another very large
room, where a bright fire burnt, and where several women, perhaps fifty
or sixty, were seated on benches, doing some light jobs of needlework,
or pretending to read, or openly dozing away their time.  They were all
dressed just like Grannie, and took little or no notice when she came
in.  She was only one more failure, to join the failures in the room.
These old women were all half dead, and another old woman was coming to
share their living grave.  The matron said something hastily, and shut
the door behind her.  Grannie looked round; an almost wild light lit up
her blue eyes for a moment, then it died out, and she went softly and
quietly across the room.

"Ef you are cold, ma'am, perhaps you'll like to set by the fire," said
an old body who must have been at least ten years Grannie's senior.

"Thank you, ma'am, I'll be much obleeged," said Grannie, and she sat
down.

Her bath had, through some neglect, not been properly heated; it had
chilled her, and all of a sudden she felt tired, old, and feeble, and a
long shiver ran down her back.  She held out her left hand to the
blaze.  A few of the most active of the women approached slowly, and
either stood and looked at her, or sat down as near her as possible.
She had very lately come from life; they were most of them accustomed
to death.  Their hearts were feebly stirred with a kind of dim
interest, but the life such as Grannie knew was dull and far off to
them.

"This is a poor sort of place, ma'am," said one of them.

Grannie roused herself with a great effort.

"Ef I begin to grumble I am lost," she said stoutly to herself.  "Well,
now, it seems to me a fine airy room," she said.  "It is all as it
strikes a body, o' course," she added, very politely; "but the room
seems to me lofty."

"You aint been here long, anybody can see that," said an old woman of
the name of Peters, with a sniff.  "Wait till you live here day after
day, with nothin' to do, and nothin' to think of, and nothin' to hear,
and nothin' to read, and, you may say, nothin' to eat."

"Dear me," said Grannie, "don't they give us our meals?"

"Ef you like to _call_ 'em such," said Mrs. Peters, with a sniff.  And
all the other women sniffed too.  And when Mrs. Peters emphasized her
condemnation of the food with a groan, all the other old women groaned
in concert.

Grannie looked at them, and felt that she had crossed an impassable
gulf.  Never again could she be the Grannie she had been when she awoke
that morning.



CHAPTER XIV.

It was bitterly cold weather when Grannie arrived at the workhouse.
Not that the workhouse itself was really cold.  Its sanitary
arrangements were as far as possible perfect; its heating arrangements
were also fairly good.  Notwithstanding the other old women's groans,
the food was passable and even nourishing, and beyond the fact that
there was an absence of hope over everything, there were no real
hardships in the great Beverley workhouse.  There were a good many old
women in this workhouse--in fact, two large wards full--and these were
perhaps the most melancholy parts of the establishment.  They slept on
clean little narrow beds in a huge ward upstairs.  There was a
partition about eight feet high down the middle of this room.  Beds
stood in rows, back to back, at each side of this partition; beds stood
in rows along the walls; there were narrow passages between the long
rows of beds.  The room was lighted with many windows high up in the
walls, and there was a huge fireplace at either end.  By a curious
arrangement, which could scarcely be considered indulgent, the fires in
very cold weather were lit at nine o'clock in the morning, after the
paupers had gone downstairs, and put out again at five in the
afternoon.  Why the old creatures might not have had the comfort of the
fires when they were in their ward, it was difficult to say, but such
was the rule of the place.

Grannie's bed was just under one of the windows, and when she went
upstairs the first night, the chill, of which she had complained ever
since she had taken her bath, kept her awake during the greater part of
the hours of darkness.  There were plenty of blankets on her little
bed, but they did not seem to warm her.  The fact is, there was a great
chill at her heart itself.  Her vitality was suddenly lowered; she was
afraid of the long dreary future; afraid of all those hopeless old
women; afraid of the severe cleanliness, the life hedged in with
innumerable rules, the dinginess of the new existence.  Her faith
burned dim; her trust in God himself was even a little shaken.  She
wondered why such a severe punishment was sent to her; why she, who
wrote so little, should get a disease brought on by writing.  It seemed
all incomprehensible, unfathomable, too dark for any ordinary words, or
any ordinary consolation to reach.

For the first time in her life she forgot her grandchildren, and the
invariable good luck of the family, and thought mostly about herself.
Toward morning she fell into a troubled doze, but she had scarcely
seemed to drop asleep before a great bell sounded, which summoned her
to rise.  It was just six o'clock, and, at this time of the year, pitch
dark.  The long ward was now bitterly cold, and Grannie shivered as she
got into her ugly workhouse dress.  The other old women rose from their
hard beds with many "ughs" and groans, and undercurrents of grumbling.
Grannie was much too proud to complain.  They were all dressed by
five-and-twenty past six, and then they went downstairs in melancholy
procession, and entered the dining-hall, where their breakfast,
consisting of tea, bread and margarine, was served to them.  When
breakfast was over they went upstairs to the ground floor, and Grannie
found herself again in the ward into which she had been introduced the
night before.

The women who could work got out their needlework, and began to perform
their allotted tasks in a very perfunctory manner.  Grannie's fingers
quite longed and ached for something to do.  She was sent for presently
to see the doctor, who examined her hand, said it would never be of any
use again, ordered a simple liniment, and dismissed her.  As Grannie
was returning from this visit, she met the labor matron in one of the
corridors.

"I wish you would give me something to do," she said suddenly.

"Well, what can you do?" asked the matron.  "Has the doctor seen your
hand?"

"Yes."

"And what does he say to it?"

"He says it will never be any better."

"Never be any better!"  The labor matron fixed Grannie with two rather
indignant eyes.  "And what are you wasting my time for, asking for
work, when you know you can't do it?"

"Oh, yes; I think I can, ma'am--that is, with the left hand.  I cannot
do needlework, perhaps, but I could dust and tidy, and even polish a
bit.  I have always been very industrious, ma'am, and it goes sore agen
the grain to do nothin'."

"Industrious indeed!" muttered the matron.  "If you had been
industrious and careful, you wouldn't have found your way here.  No,
there is no work for you, as far as I can see.  Some of the able-bodied
women do out the old women's ward; it would never do to trust it to an
incapable like yourself.  There, I can't waste any more time with you."

The matron hurried away, and Grannie went back to her seat by the fire,
in the company of the other old women.  They were curious to know what
the doctor had said to her, and when she told them they shook their
heads and groaned, and said they all knew that would be the case.

"No one _h_advanced in life gets better here," said Mrs. Peters; "and
you are _h_advanced in life, aint you, ma'am?"

"Not so very," replied Grannie indignantly.  She felt quite young
beside most of the other old paupers.

"Well now, I calc'late you're close on eighty," said Mrs. Peters.

"Indeed, you are mistook," replied Grannie.  "I aint seventy yet.  I'm
jest at the age when it is no expense at all to live, so to speak.  I
were sixty-eight last November, and no one can call that old.  At least
not to say very old."

"You look seventy-eight at the very least," said most of the women.
They nodded and gave Grannie some solemn, queer glances.  They all saw
a change in her which she did not know anything about herself.  She had
aged quite ten years since yesterday.

The one variety in the old women's lives was their meals.  Dinner came
at half-past twelve, and supper at six.  All the huge old family went
up to bed sharp at eight.  There could not possibly be a more dreary
life than theirs.  As the days passed on, Grannie recovered from her
first sense of chill and misery, and a certain portion of her brave
spirit returned.  It was one of the rules of the workhouse that the
pauper women of over sixty might go out every Sunday from half-past
twelve to six.  They might also go out for the same number of hours on
Thursday.  Those who were in sufficiently good health always availed
themselves of this outing, and Grannie herself looked forward quite
eagerly to Sunday.  She scarcely slept on Saturday night for thinking
of this time of freedom.  She had obtained permission to wear her own
neat dress, and she put it on with untold pride and satisfaction on
this Sunday morning.  Once again some of the spirit of the Simpsons and
Phippses came into her.  She left the workhouse quite gayly.

"I feel young again," she murmured to herself as she heard the ugly
gates clang behind her.

She walked down the road briskly, took an omnibus, and by and by found
herself at Bayswater.  She had asked Alison to wait in for her, telling
the girl that she might be able to pay her a little visit on Sunday.
When she rang, therefore, the servants' bell at Mrs. Faulkner's
beautiful house, Alison herself opened the door.

Alison looked handsomer than ever in her neat lady's-maid costume.

"Oh, Grannie," she exclaimed.  "It is good for sore eyes to see you.
Come in, come in.  You can't think how kind Mrs. Faulkner is.  She says
I'm to have you all to myself, and you are to stay to dinner, and David
is here; and the housekeeper (I have been telling the housekeeper a lot
about you, Grannie) has given us her little parlor to dine in, and Mrs.
Faulkner is out for the day.  Oh, we'll have quite a good time.  Come
downstairs at once, dear Grannie, for dinner is waiting."

"Well, child, I am pleased to see you so spry," said Grannie.  Her
voice felt quite choking when she entered the big, luxurious house.
"I'll be able to keep it up fine," she murmured to herself.  "Lor', I'm
a sight better; it was the air of that place that was a-killin' me.
I'll keep it up afore the chil'en, and ef I can manage to do that, why
bless the Lord for all his mercies."

David was waiting in the housekeeper's room when Grannie got
downstairs.  Grannie had never known before what a power of comfort
there was in David's strong young step, and the feel of his firm
muscular arms, and the sensation of his manly kiss on her cheek.

"Aye, Dave," she said, "I'm a sight better for seeing you, my lad."

"And I for seeing you," replied the boy.  "We have missed Grannie,
haven't we, Ally?"

"Don't talk of it," said Alison, tears springing to her blue eyes.

"Well, we're all together again now," said Grannie.  "Bless the Lord!
Set down each side of me, my darlin's, and tell me everything.  Oh, I
have hungered to know, I have hungered to know."

"Mine is a very good place," said Alison.  "Mrs. Faulkner is most kind."

"And ef it weren't for thinking of you, Grannie, and missing you," said
David, "why, I'd be as happy as the day is long."

"But tell us about yourself, dear Grannie," said Alison.  "How do you
like the country, and are Mr. Williams' friends good to you?"

"Real good! that they are," said Grannie.  "Why, it's a beautiful big
place."

"They are not poor folks, then?" said David.

"Poor!" said Grannie.  "I don't go for to deny that there are some poor
people there, but they as owns the place aint poor.  Lor' bless yer,
it's a fine place.  Don't you fret for me, my dearies.  I'm well
provided for, whoever aint."

"But how long are you to stay?" said David.  "You can't always be on a
visit with folks, even if they are the friends of Mr. Williams."

"Of course I can't stay always," said Grannie, "but Mr. Williams has
arranged that I am to stay for a good two or three months at least, and
by then, why, we don't know what 'll turn out.  Now, chil'en, for the
Lord's sake don't let us waste time over an old body like me.  Didn't I
tell you that I have come to the time o' life when I aint much 'count?
Let's talk of you, my dearies, let's talk of you."

"Let's talk of dinner first," said David.  "I'm mighty hungry, whoever
aint."

The dinner served in Mrs. Faulkner's housekeeper's room was remarkably
nourishing and dainty, and Grannie enjoyed the food, which was not
workhouse food, with a zest which surprised herself.  She thought that
she had completely thrown her grandchildren off the scent, and if that
were the case, nothing else mattered.  When dinner was over the sun
shone out brightly, and Alison and David took Grannie out for a walk.
They went into Kensington Gardens, which were looking very bright and
pretty.  Then they came home, and Grannie had a cup of tea, after which
she rose resolutely and said it was time for her to go.

"I will see you back," said David, in a determined voice.  "I have
nothing else to do.  I don't suppose those friends of Mr. Williams who
are so good to you would mind me coming as far as the door."

"Yes, they would," said Grannie, "they wouldn't like it a bit."

"Now, Grannie, that's all nonsense, you know," said the young man.

"No it aint, my lad, no it aint.  You've just got to obey me, David, in
this matter.  I know what I know, and I won't be gainsaid."

Grannie had suddenly put on her commanding air.

"I am on a visit with right decent folks--people well-to-do in the
world, wot keep up everything in fine style--and ef they have fads
about relations comin' round their visitors, why shouldn't they?
Anyhow, I am bound to respect 'em.  You can't go home with me, Dave,
but you shall see me to the 'bus, ef you like."

"Well," said Dave, a suspicious, troubled look creeping up into his
face, "that's all very fine, but I wish you wouldn't make a mystery of
where you are staying, dear Grannie."

"I don't want to," said Grannie.  "It's all Mr. Williams.  He has been
real kind to me and mine, and ef he wants to keep to himself what his
friends are doing for me, why shouldn't I obleege him?"

"Why not, indeed?" said Alison.  "But are you sure you are really
comfortable, Grannie?"

"And why shouldn't I be comfortable, child?  I don't look
uncomfortable, do I?"

"No, not really, but somehow----"

"Yes, I know what you mean," interrupted David.

"Somehow," said Alison, "you look changed."

"Oh, and ef I do look a bit changed," said the old woman, "it's cause
I'm a-frettin' for you.  Of course I miss you all, but I'll get
accustomed to it; and it's a beautiful big place, and I'm in rare luck
to have got a 'ome there.  Now I must hurry off.  God bless you, my
dear!"

Alison stood on the steps of Mrs. Faulkner's house, and watched Grannie
as she walked down the street.  The weather had changed, and it was now
bitterly cold; sleet was falling, and there was a high wind.  But
Grannie was leaning on Dave's arm, and she got along bravely.

"I don't like it," said Alison to herself, as she went into the house.
"Grannie's hiding something; I can't think what it is.  Oh, dear, oh
dear, how I wish Jim had been true to me.  If he only had, we would
have made a home for Grannie somehow.  Grannie is hiding something.
What can it be?"

Meanwhile David saw Grannie to the omnibus, where he bade her an
affectionate "good-by."  She arranged to come again to see her
grandchildren on the following Sunday if all was well.

"But ef I don't come, don't you fret, Dave, boy," was her last word to
the lad.  "Ef by chance I don't come, you'll know it's because it aint
quite convenient in the family I'm staying with.  Now, good-by, Dave.
Bless you, lad."

The omnibus rolled away, and Grannie snuggled back into her corner.
Her visit to her grandchildren had cheered her much, and she thought
that she could very well get through a dreary week in the workhouse
with that beacon post of Sunday on ahead.  She would not for the world
trouble the children on work-a-day Thursday, but on Sunday she might as
a rule get a sight of them.

"And they suspect nothin', thank the good Lord!" she said, hugging her
secret to her breast.

She left the omnibus at the same corner where she had left it on the
previous Monday.

The weather meanwhile had been changing for the worse; snow was now
falling thickly, and the old woman had no umbrella.  She staggered
along, beaten and battered by the great tempest of wind and snow.  At
first she stepped on bravely enough, but by and by her steps grew
feeble.  The snow blinded her eyes and took away her breath, it
trickled in little pools down into her neck, and seemed to find out all
the weak parts of her dress.  Her thin black shawl was covered with
snow; her bonnet was no longer black, but white.  Her heart began to
beat at first too loudly, then feebly; she tottered forward, stumbling
as one in a dream.  She was cold, chilled through and through;
bitterly, bitterly cold.  Suddenly, without knowing it, she put her
foot on a piece of orange-peel; she slipped, and the next moment lay
prone in the soft snow.  Her fall took away her last remnant of
strength; try as she would, she found she could not rise.  She raised
her voice to call for assistance, and presently a stout laboring man
came up and bent over the little prostrate woman.

"Let me help you to get up, ma'am," he said politely.

He caught hold of her swollen right hand.  The sudden pain forced a
sharp scream from her lips.

"Not that hand, please, sir; the other," she said.  She put out her
left hand.

"Nay, I'll lift you altogether," he said.  "Why, you are no weight at
all.  Are you badly hurt, ma'am?"

"No, no, it's nothin'," said Grannie, panting, and breathing with
difficulty.

"And where shall I take you to?  You can't walk--you are not to attempt
it.  Is your home anywhere near here, ma'am?"

In spite of all her pain and weakness, a flush of shame came into the
old cheeks.

"It is nigh here, very nigh," said Grannie, "but it aint my home; it's
Beverley workhouse, please, sir."

"All right," said the man.  He did not notice Grannie's shame.

The next moment he had pulled the bell at the dreary gates, and Grannie
was taken in.  She was conveyed straight up to the infirmary.



CHAPTER XV.

It wanted but a week to Jim Hardy's wedding day.  Preparations were in
full swing, and the Clays' house was, so to speak, turned topsy-turvy.
Jim was considered a most lucky man.  He was to get five hundred pounds
with his bride.  With that five hundred pounds Louisa proposed that Jim
should set up in business for himself.  He and she would own a small
haberdasher's shop.  They could stock it well, and even put by a
nest-egg for future emergencies.  Jim consented to all her proposals.
He felt depressed and unlike himself.  In short, there never was a more
unwilling bridegroom.  He had never loved Louisa.  She had always been
repugnant to him.  In a moment of pique he had asked her to marry him,
and his repentance began half an hour after his engagement.  Still he
managed to play his part sufficiently well.  Louisa, whose passion for
him increased as the days went on, made no complaint; she was true to
her promise, and never mentioned Alison's name, and the wedding day
drew on apace.  The young people's banns had already been called twice
in the neighboring church, the next Sunday would be the third time, and
the following Thursday was fixed for the wedding.  Jim came home late
one evening tired out, and feeling more depressed than usual.  A letter
was waiting for him on the mantelpiece.  He had already given notice to
quit his comfortable bedroom.  He and Louisa were to live for a
time--until they had chosen their shop and furnished it--with the
Clays.  This arrangement was very disagreeable to Jim, but it did not
occur to him to demur; his whole mind was in such a state of collapse
that he allowed Louisa and her people to make what arrangements they
pleased.

"There's a letter for you upstairs," said his landlady, as he hurried
past her.

The young man's heart beat fast for a moment.  Could Alison by any
chance have written to him?  He struck a light hastily and looked at
the letter, which was lying on his table.  No, the handwriting was not
Alison's, and when he opened it the first thing he saw was a check,
which fell out.


"My Dear Nephew [ran the letter], I hope this finds you well, as it
leaves me.  You must be a well-grown lad now, and, in short, have come
to full man's estate.  I have done well in Australia, and if you like
to join me here, I believe I can put you in the way of earning a good
living.  I inclose a draft on the City Bank, London, for one hundred
pounds, which will pay your passage and something over.  If you like to
come, you will find me at the address at the head of this paper.  I am
making lots of money, and if you have a head on your shoulders, you can
help me fine in my business.  If you don't care to come, you may use
the money to start housekeeping when you marry; but if you are wise you
will take my advice.

  "Your affectionate uncle,
    "JAMES HARDY."


Jim fingered the check, and looked absently before him.

"Why shouldn't I get clear out of the whole business?" he said.  "I
could leave the country to-morrow with this money, and go out and join
Uncle James, and make my fortune by and by.  Why should I stick to
Louisa when I hate her?  It's all over with Alison and me.  Oh, Alison,
how could you love another fellow when I loved you so well, and was so
true to you?  I can't understand it--no, I can't.  I don't believe for
a moment that she was telling me the truth the other day--why, there is
no other fellow.  I have made inquiries and I can't hear of anyone.  It
isn't as if hundreds wouldn't want her, but she is keeping company with
no one.  I believe it was an excuse she made; there's a mystery at the
bottom of it.  Something put her out, and she was too proud to let me
see what it was.  And, oh dear, why was I so mad as to propose marriage
to a girl like Louisa Clay?  Yes; why shouldn't I get quit of the thing
to-night?  I have the money now.  I can take Uncle James's advice
to-night; why shouldn't I do it?"

Jim stood straight up as these thoughts came to him.  He slipped the
foreign letter into his pocket, walked with a long stride to the
window, flung the sash open, and looked out into the night.

"I can't do it," he muttered; "it isn't in me to be an out-and-out
scoundrel.  She is not the girl I want, but I have promised her, and I
must stick to it; all the same, I am a ruined man.  Oh, if Alison had
only been true to me."

"Now, old chap, what are you grumbling to yourself for?" said a voice
just behind him.

He turned abruptly and met the keen-eyed, ferret-looking face of the
detective Sampson.  Sampson and Jim had not been very friendly lately,
and Jim wondered now in a vague sort of way why his quondam friend had
troubled himself to visit him.

"Sit down, won't you?" he said abruptly.  "There's a chair."

"I'll shut the door first," said Sampson.  "I have got a thing or two
to say to you, and you may as well hear me out.  You aint behaved
straight to me, Jim; you did a shabby thing behind my back; but, Lor'
bless you, ef it's saved me from a gel like Louisa Clay, why, I'll be
obleeged to you to the end of my days.  Look here, I was very near
committing myself with that girl.  'Twasn't that I loved her, but I
don't go for to deny that she was good-looking, and she certainly did
tickle my fancy considerable, and then when I thought of the tidy bit
of silver that she would have from her father, I made up my mind that
she would be a good enough match for me; but mind you, I never thought
her straight--I never yet was mistook in any character I ever studied
carefully.  I couldn't follow out my calling if I did, Jim, old chap;
and that you know well."

"I don't suppose you could, George," said Jim; "but I think it only
fair to tell you before you go a step further, that I am engaged to
Louisa, and I can't hear her run down by anyone now.  So you may as
well know that first as last."

"Engaged or not," said Sampson, with curious emphasis, "you have got to
hear a thing or two about Louisa Clay to-night."

"If it is bad, I won't hear it," said Jim, clenching his big hand.

"Then you are a greater fool than I took you for; but, look here,
you've got to listen, for it concerns that other girl, the girl you
used to be so mad on, Alison Reed."

Jim's hands slowly unclenched.  He turned round and fixed his great
dark eyes with a kind of hungry passion in them on Sampson's face.

"If it has anything to do with Alison I am bound to hear it," he said.

"Then you love her still?" said Sampson, in surprise.

"Love her!" replied Jim; "aye, lad, that I do.  I am near mad about
her."

"And yet you are going to marry Louisa Clay."

"So it seems, George, so it seems; but what's the good of talking about
what can't be cured?  Alison has thrown me over, and I am promised to
Louisa, and there's an end of it."

"Seems to me much more like that you have thrown Alison over," said
Sampson.  "Why, I was in the room that night of the play-acting, and I
saw Alison Reed just by the stairs, looking as beautiful as a picter,
and you come up with that other loud, noisy gel, and you talked to her
werry affectionate, I must say.  I heard what she said to you--that
there wasn't a thing in heaven above, or in earth beneath, she wouldn't
do for you.  Maybe Alison heard them words too; there's no saying.  I
was so mad at what I thought Louisa's falsehood to me, that I cut the
whole concern fast enough.  Well, that's not what I have come to talk
on to-night; it is this: I think I have traced the theft of that
five-pound note straight home at last."

"You haven't?" said Jim.  "Oh, but that's good news indeed; and Alison
is cleared?"

"She is; but I don't see how it is good news to you, for the theft is
brought home to the gel what is to be your wife in less than a week."

"Nonsense!" said Hardy.  "I always said you were too sharp on Louisa.
She aint altogether to my taste, I am bound to confess, although I have
promised her marriage; but she's not a thief.  Come, now, you cannot
get me to believe she's as bad as that."

"You listen to me, Hardy, and stay quiet," said Sampson.  "I can put
what I know in a few words, and I will.  From the very first I
suspected Louisa Clay.  She was jealous of Alison, and had a motive for
tryin' to do her a bad turn.  She was over head and ears in love with
you, as all the world could see.  That, when I saw her first, I will
own, I began to think as she'd be a good mate for myself, and it come
over me that I wouldn't push the inquiry any further.  It might be well
to know a secret about your wife, to hold over her in case she proved
troublesome by'm-by.  I am not a feller with any high notions, as
perhaps you have guessed--anyhow, I let the thing drop, and I went in
for Louisa for the sake of her money.  When she threw me over so sharp,
you may suppose that my feelings underwent a head-to-tail sort of
motion, and I picked up the clew pretty fast again, and worked on it
until I got a good thread in my hand.  I needn't go into particulars
here about all I did and all I didn't do, but I managed first of all to
pick up with Shaw, your master.  I met him out one evening, and I told
him that I knew you, and that you were in an awful taking because your
gel, Alison Reed, was thought to have stolen a five-pound note.  He
talked a bit about the theft, and then I asked him if he had the number
of the note.  He clapped his hand on his thigh, and said what a fool he
was, but he had never thought of the number until that moment.  He had
looked at it when he put the note in the till as he supposed, and by
good luck he remembered it.  He said off to me what he believed it was,
and I entered it in my notebook.

"'I have you now, my fine lady,' I said to myself, and I went off and
did a little bit of visiting in the smartest shops round, and by and by
I heard further tidings of the note.  It had been changed, two days
after it had been stolen, by a young woman answering to Louisa Clay in
all particulars.  When things had come as far as that, I said to
myself----

"'Ef there is a case for bluff, this is one.  I'll just go and wring
the truth from Louisa before she is an hour older.'

"So I went to see her only this morning.  I blarneyed her a bit
first--you know my style--and then I twitted her for being false to me,
and then I got up a sort of pretense quarrel, and I worked on her
feelings until she got into a rage, and when she was all hot and
peppery, I faced right round on her, and charged her with the theft.

"'You stole that five-pound note from the till in Shaw's shop,' I said,
'and you let Alison Reed be charged with it.  I know you stole it, so
you needn't deny it.  The number of the note was, one, one, one, seven.
I have it written here in my note-book.  I traced the note to Dawson's,
round the corner, and they can swear, if necessary, in a court of
justice, that you gave it to them in exchange for some yards of black
silk.  By the way, I believe that is the very identical silk you have
on you this minute.  Oh, fie, Louisa! you are a bad 'un.'

"She turned white as one of them egg-shell china cups, and she put her
hands before her eyes, and her hands shook.  And after a bit she said:

"'Oh, George, don't have me locked up, and I'll tell you everything."

"'Well, you'll have to put it in writing,' I said, 'or I won't have a
crumb of mercy on you.'

"So I got the story out of her, Jim.  It seems the note had never been
dropped into the till at all, but had fallen on the floor just by the
manager's desk, and Louisa had seen it and picked it up, and she
confessed to hoping that Alison would be charged with it.  Here's her
confession in this envelope, signed and witnessed and all.  So now, you
can marry her come Thursday ef you like."

Sampson got up and stretched himself as he spoke.

Jim's face, which had turned from red to white, and from white again to
crimson, during this brief narrative, was now stern and dark.

"I am obliged to you, Sampson," he said, after a pause.

"What will you do?" asked the detective, with some curiosity.  "I see
this is a bit of a blow, and I am not surprised; but what will you do?"

"I can't tell.  I must think things over.  Do you say you have the
confession in your pocket?"

"Yes; in my breast pocket.  Here is the envelope sticking out above my
coat."

"Give it to me," said Jim, stretching out his big hand.

"Not I.  That's my affair.  I can make use of this.  Why, I could hold
a thing of this sort over the head of your fair bride, and blackmail
her, if necessary."

"No, no, Sampson; you are not a ruffian, of that sort."

George Sampson suddenly changed his manner.

"As far as you are concerned, Jim, I am no ruffian," he said.  "To tell
the plain truth, I have always liked yer, and I'll act by you as
straight as a die in this matter.  If you never do anything else,
you've saved me from being the husband of that gel, and I'll be
thankful to you for it to my dying day.  But for the Lord's sake, don't
you put yourself into the noose now.  You can't be so mad, surely."

"Leave me for to-night, Sampson," said Jim in a voice of entreaty.  "I
can't say anything, I must think.  Leave me for to-night."

The detective got up slowly, whistled in a significant manner, and left
the room.

"Now, if Jim Hardy is quixotic enough to marry Louisa Clay after what I
have said, I'll never speak to a good man again as long as I live," he
muttered.

But Jim Hardy had not made up his mind how to act at all; he was simply
stunned.  When he found himself alone he sank down on a chair close to
his little center table, put his elbows on the table, and buried his
head in his big hands.  The whole bewildering truth was too much for
him.  He was honest and straight himself, and could not understand
duplicity.  Louisa's conduct was incomprehensible to him.  What should
he do now?  Should he be true to one so false?  This question began
dimly to struggle to obtain an answer in his mind.  He had scarcely
begun to face it, when a knock at the door, and the shrill voice of his
landlady calling out, "I have got a letter for you, Mr. Hardy, you are
in favor with the post to-night," reached him.

He walked across the room, opened the door, and took the letter from
the landlady's hand.  She gave him a quick, curious glance; she saw
shrewdly enough that something was worrying him.

"Why do he go and marry a girl like that Clay creature?" she muttered
to herself as she whisked downstairs.  "I wouldn't have her if she had
double the money they say he's to get with her."

Jim meanwhile stared hard at the writing on his letter.  It was in
Louisa Clay's straggling, badly formed hand.  He hastily tore open the
envelope, and read the brief contents.  They ran as follows:


"DEAR JIM,--I dare say you have heard something about me, and I don't
go for to deny that that something is true.  I was mad when I did it,
but, mad or sane, it is best now that all should be over between you
and me.  I couldn't bear to marry you, and you knowing the truth.  Then
you never loved me--any fool could see that.  So I am off out of
London, and you needn't expect to see me any more.

  "Yours no longer,
    "LOUISA CLAY."


Jim's first impulse when he had read this extraordinary and unexpected
letter was to dance a hornpipe from one end of the room to the other;
his next was to cry hip, hip, hurrah in a stentorian voice.  His last
impulse he acted upon.  He caught up his hat and went out as fast as
ever he could.  With rapid strides he hurried through the crowded
streets, reached the Bank, and presently found himself on the top of an
omnibus which was to convey him to Bayswater.  He was following his
impulse with a beating heart, eyes that blazed with light, and lips
that trembled with emotion.  He had been a prisoner tied fast in chains
of his own forging.  All of a sudden he was free.  Impulse should have
its way.  His heart should dictate to him in very earnest at last.
With Louisa's letter and his uncle's letter in his pocket, he presently
reached the great house where Mrs. Faulkner lived.  He had often passed
that house since Alison had gone to it, walking hungrily past it at
dead of night, thinking of the girl whom he loved but might never win;
now he might win his true love after all--he meant to try.  His
triumphant steps were heard hurrying down the pavement.  He pulled the
servants' bell and asked boldly for Alison.

"Who shall I say?" asked the kitchen-maid who admitted him.

"Say Jim Hardy, and that my message is urgent," was the reply.

The girl, who was impressed by Jim's goodly height and breadth, invited
him into the housekeeper's parlor, where Alison joined him in a few
minutes.  Her face was like death when she came in; her hand shook so
that she could scarcely hold it out for Jim to clasp.  He was master,
however, on this occasion--the averted eyes, the white face, the
shaking hand were only all the more reasons why he should clasp the
maiden he loved to his heart.  He strode across the room and shut the
door.

"Can we be alone for a few minutes?" he said.

"I suppose so, Jim, if--if it is necessary," said Alison.

"It is necessary.  I have something to say."

Alison did not reply.  She was trembling more than ever.

"I have got to say this," said Jim: "I am off with Louisa Clay.  We're
not going to be married.  I don't want her, I never wanted her, and now
it seems that she don't want me.  And, Alison, you are cleared of that
matter of the five-pound note."

"Cleared?" said Alison, springing forward, and her eyes lighting up.

"Yes, darlin', cleared," said Jim boldly.  "I always knew you were as
innocent as the dawn, and now all the world will know it.  Sampson,
good fellow, ferreted out the truth, and it seems--it seems that Louisa
is the thief.  Sampson can give you all particulars himself to-morrow;
but I have come here now to talk on a matter of much more importance.
I have always loved you, Alison, from the first day I set eyes on you.
From that first moment I gave you all my heart; my life was yours, my
happiness yours, and all the love I am capable of.  In an evil hour a
shadow came atween us; I was mad at losing you, and I asked Louisa to
wed me; but though I'd 'a' been true to her--for a promise is a
promise--I'd have been the most miserable man what ever lived, for my
heart would have been yours.  I'd have committed a sin, an awful sin,
but, thank God, I am saved from that now.  Louisa herself has set me
free.  There's her letter; you can read it if you want to."

Jim pulled it out of his pocket, and thrust it before Alison's dazzled
eyes.

"No, no!" she said, pushing it from her; "your word is enough.  I don't
want to see the letter."

She hid her face in her shaking hands.

"I was always true to you," continued Jim, "in heart at least; and now
I want to know if there is any reason why you and me should not be wed
after all.  I have got money enough, and I can wed you and give you a
nice home as soon as ever the banns are read, and there'll be a corner
for Grannie too, by our fireside.  Come, Alison, is there any reason,
any impediment? as they say in the marriage service.  There aint really
any other feller, is there, Ally?  That was a sort of way to cheat me,
Ally; wasn't it, darlin'?"

"Oh, Jim, yes, yes," cried Alison.  "I always loved you with all my
heart.  I loved you more than ever the day I gave you up, but I was
proud, and I misunderstood, and--and--oh, I can say no more; but I love
you, Jim, I love you.  Oh, my heart is like to burst, but it is all
happiness now, for I love you so well--so true--so very, very dearly."

"Then that's all right," he answered solemnly.  He took her into his
arms there and then and held her fast to his beating heart.  They
kissed each other many times.

Alison and Jim were married, and Grannie went to live with them.  She
was indispensable to the brightness of their home, and even more
indispensable to the success of their little shop; for Grannie had a
natural turn for business, and if her eyes were the kindest in all the
world, they were also the sharpest to detect the least thing not
perfectly straight in those with whom she had to deal.  So the shop,
started on thoroughly business principles, flourished well.  And the
young pair were happy, and the other children by and by made a good
start in the world, and Grannie's face beamed more and more lovingly as
the years went on, but never to her dying day did she reveal the secret
of her visit to the workhouse.

"It was the one piece of bad luck in all my happy life," she was wont
to murmur to herself, then she would smile and perk up her little
figure.  "Lord knows, I needn't ha' been frighted," she would add;
"comin' o' the breed of the Phippses and Simpsons, I might ha' known it
wouldn't last--the luck o' the family bein' wot it is."



THE END



THE FLOWERS' WORK

"See, mother!  I've finished my bouquet.  Isn't it beautiful?  More so,
I think, than those made by the florist which he asked two dollars for,
and this has cost me but seventy-five cents."

"Yes, yes, it is very pretty.  But, dear me, child, I cannot help
thinking how illy we can spare so much for such a very useless thing.
Almost as much as you can make in a day it has cost."

"Don't say _useless_, mother.  It will express to Edward our
appreciation of his exertions and their result, and our regards.  How
he has struggled to obtain a profession!  I only wish I could cover the
platform with bouquets, baskets and wreaths tonight, when he receives
his diploma."

"Well, well; if it will do any good, I shall not mind the expense.
But, child, he will know it is from you, and men don't care for such
things coming from home folks.  Now, if it was from any other young
lady, I expect he'd be mightily pleased."

"Oh, mother, I don't think so.  Edward will think as much of it, coming
from his sister-in-law, as from any other girl.  And it will please
Kate, too.  If _we_ do not think enough of him to send him bouquets,
who else could?  Rest easy, mother, dear; I feel quite sure my bouquet
will do much good," answered Annie, putting her bouquet in a glass of
water.

She left the room to make her simple toilet for the evening.

Mrs. Grey had been widowed when her two little girls were in their
infancy.  It had been a hard struggle for the mother to raise her
children.  Constant toil, privation and anxiety had worn heavily on her
naturally delicate constitution, until she had become a confirmed
invalid.  But there was no longer a necessity for her toiling.  Katy,
the elder daughter, was married; and Annie, a loving, devoted girl,
could now return the mother's long and loving care.  By her needle she
obtained a support for herself and mother.

Katy's husband held a position under the government, receiving a small
compensation, only sufficient for the necessities of the present, and
of very uncertain continuance.  He was ambitious of doing better than
this for himself, as well as his family.  So he employed every spare
hour in studying medicine, and it was the night that he was to receive
his diploma that my little story begins.

The exercises of the evening were concluded.  Edward Roberts came down
the aisle to where his wife and Annie were seated, bearing his
flowers--an elegant basket, tastefully arranged, and a beautiful
bouquet.  But it needed only a quick glance for Annie to see it was not
_her_ bouquet.  Although the flowers were fragrant and rare, they were
not so carefully selected or well chosen.  Hers expressed not alone her
affection and appreciation, but _his_ energy, perseverance and success.

"Why, where is my bouquet?  I do not see it," asked Annie, a look of
disappointment on her usually bright face.

"Yours?  I do not know.  Did you send me one?" returned her
brother-in-law.

"Indeed I did.  And such a beauty, too!  It is too bad!  I suppose it
is the result of the stupidity of the young man in whose hands I placed
it.  I told him plain enough it was for you, and your name, with mine,
was on the card," answered Annie, really very much provoked.

"Well, do not fret, little sister; I am just as much obliged; and
perchance some poor fellow not so fortunate as I may have received it,"
answered Edward Roberts.

"Don't, for pity's sake, let mother know of the mistake, or whatever it
is, that has robbed you of your bouquet.  She will fret dreadfully
about it," said Annie.

All that night, until she was lost in sleep, did she constantly repeat:

"I wonder who has got it?"

She had failed to observe on the list of graduates the name of _Edgar
Roberts_, from Ohio, or she might have had an idea into whose hands her
bouquet had fallen.  Her brother Edward, immediately on hearing Annie's
exclamation, thought how the mistake had occurred, and was really glad
that it was as it was; for the young man whose name was so nearly like
his own was a stranger in the city, and Edward had noticed his
receiving _one_ bouquet only, which of course was the missing one, and
Annie's.

Edgar Roberts sat in his room that night, after his return from the
distribution of diplomas, holding in his hand Annie's bouquet, and on
the table beside him was a floral dictionary.  An expression of
gratification was on his pleasant face, and, as again and again his
eyes turned from the flowers to seek their interpreter, his lips were
wreathed with smiles, and he murmured low:

"Annie Grey!  Sweet Annie Grey!  I never dreamed of any one in this
place knowing or caring enough for me to send such a tribute.  How
carefully these flowers are chosen!  What a charming, appreciative
little girl she is!  Pretty, I know, of course.  I wonder how she came
to send me this?  How shall I find her?  Find her I must, and know her."

And Edgar Roberts fell asleep to dream of Annie Grey, and awoke in the
morning whispering the last words of the night before:

"Sweet Annie Grey!"

During the day he found it quite impossible to fix his mind on his
work; mind and heart were both occupied with thoughts of Annie Grey.
And so it continued to be until Edgar Roberts was really in love with a
girl he knew not, nor had ever seen.  To find her was his fixed
determination.  But how delicately he must go about it.  He could not
make inquiry among his gentlemen acquaintances without speculations
arising, and a name sacred to him then, passed from one to another,
lightly spoken, perhaps.  Then he bethought himself of the city
directory; he would consult that.  And so doing he found Greys
innumerable--some in elegant, spacious dwellings, some in the business
thoroughfares of the place.  The young ladies of the first mentioned,
he thought, living in fashionable life, surrounded by many admirers,
would scarcely think of bestowing any token of regard or appreciation
on a poor unknown student.  The next would have but little time to
devote to such things; and time and thought were both spent in the
arrangement of his bouquet.  Among the long list of Greys he found one
that attracted him more than all the others--a widow, living in a quiet
part of the city, quite near his daily route.  So he sought and found
the place and exact number.  Fortune favored him.  Standing at the door
of a neat little frame cottage he beheld a young girl talking with two
little children.  She was not the blue-eyed, golden-haired girl of his
dreams, but a sweet, earnest dove-eyed darling.  And what care he,
whether her eyes were blue or brown, if her name were only Annie?  Oh,
how could he find out that?

She was bidding the little ones "good-bye."  They were off from her, on
the sidewalk, when the elder child--a bright, laughing boy of
five--sang out, kissing his little dimpled hand:

"Good-bye, Annie, darling!"

Edgar Roberts felt as if he would like to clasp the little fellow to
the heart he had relieved of all anxiety.  No longer a doubt was in his
mind.  He had found his Annie Grey.

From that afternoon, twice every day he passed the cottage of the widow
Grey, frequently seeing sweet Annie.  This, however, was his only
reward.  She never seemed at all conscious of his presence.  Often her
eyes would glance carelessly toward him.  Oftener they were never
raised from her work.  Sewing by the window, she always was.

What next?  How to proceed, on his fixed determination of winning her,
if possible?

Another bright thought.  He felt pretty sure she attended church
somewhere; perhaps had a class in the Sabbath school.  So the next
Sunday morning, at an early hour, he was commanding a view of Annie's
home.  When the school bells commenced to ring, he grew very anxious.
A few moments, and the door opened and the object of his thoughts
stepped forth.  How beautiful she looked in her pretty white suit!  Now
Edgar felt his cause was in the ascendancy.  Some distance behind, and
on the other side of the street, he followed, ever keeping her in view
until he saw her enter a not far distant church.  Every Sunday after
found him an attentive listener to the Rev. Mr. Ashton, who soon became
aware of the presence of the young gentleman so regularly, and
apparently so much interested in the services.  So the good man sought
an opportunity to speak to Edgar, and urge his accepting a charge in
the Sabbath school.  We can imagine Edgar needed no great urging on
that subject; so, frequently, he stood near his Annie.  In the library,
while selecting books for their pupils, once or twice they had met, and
he had handed to her the volume for which her hand was raised.  Of
course a smile and bow of acknowledgment and thanks rewarded him.

Edgar was growing happier, and more confident of final success every
week, when an event came which promised a speedy removal of all
difficulty in his path.  The school was going to have a picnic.  Then
and there he would certainly have an introduction to Annie, and after
spending a whole day with her, he would accompany her home and win the
privilege of calling often.

The day of the picnic dawned brightly, and the happy party gathered on
the deck of the steamer.  The first person who met Edgar Roberts' eye
was his fellow-student, Edward Roberts.  Standing beside him were two
ladies and some children.  When Edgar hastened up to speak to his
friend, the ladies turned, and Edward presented:

"My wife; my sister, Miss Grey."

Edgar Roberts could scarcely suppress an exclamation of joy and
surprise.  His looks fully expressed how delighted he was.

Three months had he been striving for this, which, if he had only known
it, could have been obtained so easily through his friend and her
brother.  But what was so difficult to win was the more highly prized.
What a happy day it was!

Annie was all he had believed her--charming in every way.  Edgar made a
confidant of his friend; told him what Edward well knew before, but was
wise enough not to explain the mistake--of his hopes and fears; and won
from the prudent brother the promise to help him all he could.

Accompanying Annie home that evening, and gaining her permission for
him to call again, Edgar lost no time in doing so, and often repeated
the call.

Perhaps Annie thought him very fast in his wooing, and precipitate in
declaring his love, when, after only a fortnight visiting her, he said:

"Annie, do you like me well enough, and trust in me sufficiently, to
allow me to ask your mother to call me her son?"

Either so happy or so surprised was Annie, that she could not speak
just then.  But roses crowded over her fair face, and she did not try
to withdraw the hand he had clasped.

"Say, Annie, love," he whispered.  She raised her eyes to his with such
a strange, surprised look in them, that he laughed and said:

"You think I am very hasty, Annie.  You don't know how long I've loved
you, and have waited for this hour."

"Long!--two weeks," she said.

"Why, Annie, darling, it is over three months since I've been able to
think of anything save Annie Grey--ever since the night I received my
diploma, and your sweet, encouraging bouquet, since that night I've
known and loved you.  And how I've worked for this hour!"

And then he told her how it was.  And when he had finished, she looked
at him, her eyes dancing merrily, and though she tried hard to keep the
little rosebud of a mouth demurely shut, it was no use--it would open
and let escape a rippling laugh, as she said:

"And this is the work my bouquet went about, is it?  This is the good
it has done me--"  She hesitated; the roses deepened their color as she
continued: "And you--"

"Yes, Annie, it has done much good to me, and I hope to you too."

"But, Edgar--" it was the first time she had called him thus, and how
happy it made him--"I must tell you the truth--I never sent you a
bouquet!"

"No! oh, do not say so.  Can there be another such Annie Grey?"

"No; I am the one who sent the bouquet; but, Edgar, you received it
through a mistake.  It was intended for my brother-in-law, Edward!"

"Stop, Annie, a moment--  Are you sorry that mistake was made?  Do you
regret it?" said Edgar, his voice filled with emotion.

"No indeed, I am very glad you received it instead," Annie ingenuously
replied; adding quickly, "But, please, do not tell Edward I said so."

"No, no; I will not tell him that you care a little more for _Edgar_
than _Edward_.  Is that it?  May I think so, Annie?"

She nodded her head, and he caught her to his heart, whispering:

"Mine at last.  My Annie, darling!  What a blessed mistake it was!  May
I go to your mother, Annie?"

"Yes; and I'll go with you, Edgar, and hear if she will admit those
flowers did any good.  She thought it a useless expenditure."

The widow Grey had become very much attached to the kind, attentive
young man, and when he came with Annie, and asked her blessing on their
love, she gave it willingly; and after hearing all about the way it
happened, she said:

"Never did flowers such a good work before.  They carried Edgar to
church, made a Christian of him, and won for Annie a good, devoted
husband, and for me an affectionate son."



THE END.



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