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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Girl In Ten Thousand - Chapter 20
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A Girl In Ten Thousand - Chapter 20 Post by :evarley Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :422

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A Girl In Ten Thousand - Chapter 20

CHAPTER XX

Just at this moment the door was opened, and the Squire came in. He was of different stuff from his wife. When he saw Effie, his face beamed with pleasure, and he held out a big, hearty hand.

"Miss Staunton!" he exclaimed. "Why, this is a pleasure! Oh, you must not run away; you must sit down and tell me all about yourself--I've been longing to hear about you. How is your brother in the City, and your mother? I do hope she is a little better. And all those other lads and lasses? Sit down, my clear child, I insist on it--I have lots of things to say to you."

Mrs. Harvey, who was standing near the mantelpiece, came gently forward when the Squire began to speak. She looked at Effie with new interest. Her face was long and pale, she had no color in her lips, her light hair was very fashionably dressed. She wore a dress of the latest mode, and her thin fingers were loaded with rings, which flashed and shone whenever she moved her hand.

Effie hated those flashing rings--she turned her head so that she need not see them.

Mrs. Harvey began to talk in a high falsetto voice to her husband.

"Do you know, my dear," she exclaimed, "that Miss Staunton has just been so kind? She came here to offer her services for Freda; but you know dear Freda is getting on so capitally at the kindergarten, that---- Why, what in the world is the matter, Walter?"

"Matter!" exclaimed the Squire in his hearty voice. "Why, that we won't be such fools as to reject Miss Staunton's offer. I was told only a few minutes ago that that kindergarten is simply full of whooping-cough and measles--children sickening with them and going home almost every day. I was going to say that Freda must be moved."

"Oh, I should think so, indeed," said Mrs. Harvey. "Whooping-cough and measles! how terrible! and I never had whooping-cough--why, I shouldn't be able to go out for the whole season. I do hope and trust the dear child hasn't contracted the infection. Dear Miss Staunton, of course you'll come. It is exactly what we'd like best. How soon can you come?--to-morrow?--to-night?"

"Neither to-morrow nor to-night," said Effie. "But if you really wish for me, and if we agree as regards terms, the day after to-morrow."

"What do you mean by saying if we agree as to terms?" asked Mrs. Harvey.

"I want a big salary," said Effie, looking up bravely at the two, who were watching her with half-amused, half-anxious expression. "I want to come to you, and to leave the work which I love best, because I hope you may be induced to give me an exceptional salary. I want the money because my mother and my--my young brothers and sisters are almost--at least they will be, if I don't get it, almost starving."

Effie spoke in jerks. She had the greatest difficulty in keeping back her emotion. It was dreadful to have to plead with these rich people--these people who knew nothing whatever of her sore need--to whom money was so plentiful as to have lost its freshness, its desirability, its charm. It was awful to look into their faces--to see the blank, non-comprehending stare which came into Mrs. Harvey's pretty blue eyes, and to notice the puzzled expression on the Squire's face.

"You can't mean that?" he exclaimed. "You can't mean there's any chance of that?"

"There is a chance of it, but not if I come here. I know how kind you are, how noble you have been to me. I'll come to Freda. I'll do everything for her; I'll teach her, and I'll play with her, and I'll love her, and I'll nurse her if she is ill, but oh, do please be generous and give me as big a salary as you can."

"What do you expect--what do you think fair?" asked the Squire.

"I thought--I know it seems a great deal, but I thought you might be willing to give me sixty pounds a year."

"Bless you, my dear child!" exclaimed the Squire; "if you'll accept it, we'll give you a hundred and fifty."

"No, I couldn't accept that," said Effie. "It is not fair."

"Why not? We couldn't get anyone else to exactly take your place for the money; and remember we have plenty of money."

"I'll take a hundred a year, because I am in sore distress," said Effie, after a brief pause; "and--and will you pay me monthly, and may I have my first month's salary in advance? I wouldn't ask it if they didn't want it _terribly at home. Will you do this?"

"Yes, with pleasure," said the Squire. "I insist on your accepting ten pounds a month--that will be one hundred and twenty a year. Now, will you have a check, or shall I give you the money in gold and notes?"

"The gold will be the most acceptable," said Effie. "Oh, I feel so ashamed!" she added.

"Why should you? You give us an equivalent. Besides, it makes matters more tolerable. I cannot forget----"

"Oh, don't, Walter--don't allude to that awful time!"--cried Mrs. Harvey.

The Squire shut up his lips. He took a little bundle of gold out of one of his pockets and put ten sovereigns into Effie's hand.

"It is a bargain," he said. "I cannot tell you how relieved we are. You'll be with us the morning after next? Elfreda, my love, we must tell our little Freda what a pleasure is in store for her."

"Yes, I am more than delighted," exclaimed Mrs. Harvey. "This plan suits me in every way. You won't fail us, Miss Staunton? for, in case Freda by any chance has taken that awful whooping-cough, you can keep her in isolation from the very first."

"Oh, yes!" said Effie, smiling; "but I dare say she is all right."

She shook hands with her new employers and left the house.

The gold was in her pocket. She felt that she had sold herself and her mission in life for ten sovereigns. "It is the present need which makes the thing so desperate," she said under her breath. "If George has drawn all the money, they have absolutely nothing to live on; but more will come in, and there's this to go on with. We'll manage somehow now."

She returned to the lodgings, but before she went upstairs she had an interview with the landlady.

"What do you charge my mother for rent?" she asked.

"Well, Miss Staunton," exclaimed the woman, "with the dinners and one thing and another, I am obliged to make it a pound a week."

"That is a great deal too much," said Effie. "I don't suppose it is too much for your rooms, but it is more than we can afford just now. When we first came to you, you agreed to let us the rooms without attendance for fifteen shillings a week. We cannot by any possible management afford to pay more."

"But Mrs. Staunton wished for attendance, miss--she said it made all the difference; there was half a crown for attendance and half a crown extra for kitchen fire."

"But the kitchen fire was included in the fifteen shillings a week."

"Then there wasn't late dinner."

"Surely there is no late dinner now?" exclaimed Effie.

"Oh, yes, miss; every evening Mr. Staunton requires a nice little bit of dinner sent up when he comes home. You see, miss, it is quite impossible for me to have extra fires without charging for them."

"Certainly. Well, I don't think there will be any extra dinner in future. And now please tell me exactly how much is due to you."

"Four pounds, miss; but if I'm paid one, on account, I shan't mind waiting. I'd be really sorry to dislodge such a nice lady as your mother, Miss Staunton."

"Here is the money in full," said Effie. "Will you give me a receipt?"

"Oh, with pleasure, miss. Won't you sit down? I hope, Miss Staunton, nothing will induce your good mother to move from here. I will do everything in my power to make her comfortable."

"You must understand," said Effie, "that in future she only pays fifteen shillings a week without extras. My sisters Agnes and Katie are quite old enough to do all the waiting which my mother requires. In fact they must do so, for we can't afford to pay a penny more."

"Am I to understand, miss, that there's no late dinner?"

"Certainly not."

"Very well; I am sure I'll do all in my power to oblige."

Effie left her, putting her receipt carefully in her pocket as she did so. She went upstairs and entered the little sitting-room where her mother was now pacing quickly and restlessly up and down. There was a deep flush on her cheeks, and a look of despair in her eyes.

"Oh, Effie, you've come!" she exclaimed, the moment she saw her daughter. "George has been in. There's something wrong, I know--I know there is. He came in just for a minute and he kissed me, and said he wasn't coming home to-night, and he--he looked _wild_. He stuffed a few things into a bag, and said I wasn't to expect him back to-night. I didn't dare ask him about the money. What--what can be the matter, Effie?"

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