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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Rebel Of The School - Chapter 13. Aunt Church At Dinner And The Consequences Thereof
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The Rebel Of The School - Chapter 13. Aunt Church At Dinner And The Consequences Thereof Post by :leman28 Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3512

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The Rebel Of The School - Chapter 13. Aunt Church At Dinner And The Consequences Thereof

CHAPTER XIII. AUNT CHURCH AT DINNER AND THE CONSEQUENCES THEREOF

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hall-marked and all!" she said.

She laid it down with emphasis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Kathleen O'Hara."

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

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

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

"Yes; my father owns Carrigrohane Castle."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I am sure they have, miss."

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

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

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

"That I would."

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

"Miss, it would be wonderful."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, miss, it would be heaven!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But she is no better."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susy was silent for a moment.

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

Here Susy laughed merrily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Church fixed her glittering black eyes on Susan.

"Come here, child," she said.

Susy went up to her somewhat unwillingly.

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

Susy somewhat unwillingly bent forward.

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

Susy's eyes could not help dancing.

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

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

"Will you take back the words you said?"

"Will I take back what?"

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

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

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

Meanwhile Susy entered the house with her mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Hopkins sighed.

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

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

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

"Where in the world are you going?" said her mother in a fretful tone. "I did think you'd sit quietly with me and learn your collect. If you are going out, it ought to be to church. I don't see what call you have to be going anywhere else on Sunday evening."

"I want to see Ruth Craven. Don't keep me, please; it is very important."

"But I don't know who Ruth Craven is."

"Oh, mother, I thought every one knew her. She is the very, very pretty little granddaughter of old Mr. Craven, who lives in that cottage close to the station."

"A handsome old man, too," said Mrs. Hopkins, "but I confess I don't know anything about him."

"Well, he and his old wife have got this one beautiful grandchild, and she has joined the foundationers at the Great Shirley School. Miss Kathleen O'Hara has taken up with her as well as with me and other foundation girls, and instead of having a miserable, dull, down-trodden life, we are extremely likely to have the best life of any girls in the school. Anyhow, I have a message for Ruth and I promised to deliver it."

"All right, child; don't be longer away than you can help."

Susy left the house. The distance from her mother's shop to the Cravens' cottage was a matter of ten minutes' quick walking. She soon reached her destination, walked up the little path which led to the tiny cottage, and tapped with her fingers on the door. The door was opened for her by old Mrs. Craven. Mrs. Craven was in her Sunday best, and looked a very beautiful and almost aristocratic old lady.

"Do you want my grandchild?" she said, observing Susy's size and dress.

"Yes; is she within?" asked Susy.

"No, dear; she has gone to church. Would you like to wait in for her, or would you rather go and meet her? She has gone to St. James the Less, the church just around the corner; you know it?"

"Yes, I know it," said Susy.

"They'll be coming out now," said Mrs. Craven, looking up at the eight-day clock which stood in the passage. "If you go and stand by the principal entrance, you are safe to see her."

"Thank you," said Susy.

"You are sure you wouldn't rather wait in the house?"

"No, really. Mother expects me back. My name is Susan Hopkins. My mother keeps the stationer's shop in the High Street."

"To be sure," said Mrs. Craven gently. "I know the shop quite well."

Susy said good-bye, and then stepped down the little path. What a humble abode the prime favorite, Ruth Craven, lived in! Susy's own home was a palace in comparison. Ruth lived in a cottage which was little better than a workman's cottage.

"There can't be more than two bedrooms upstairs," thought Susy. "And I wonder if there is a sitting-room? Certainly there can't be more than one. The old lady looked very nice; but, of course, she is quite a common person. I should love to be Prime Minister to Kathleen O'Hara. And why should there be such a fuss made about Ruth? I only wish the post was mine--shouldn't I do a lot! Couldn't I help mother and Tom and all of us? And there is that stupid little Ruth--oh, dear! oh, dear! Well, I suppose I must give her the message."

She hurried her steps as these last thoughts came to her, and presently she stood outside the principal entrance of the little church. St. James the Less was by no means remarkable for beauty of architecture or adornment of any sort; nevertheless the vicar was a man of great eloquence and earnestness, and in the evenings it was the custom for the little church to be packed.

By-and-by the sermon came to an end, the voluntary rolled forth from the organ, and the crowd of worshippers poured out. Susy stretched out her hand and clutched that of a slim girl who was following in the train of people.

"Ruth, it is me. I have something to say to you."

Ruth's face, until Susy touched her, had been looking like a piece of heaven itself, so calm and serene were the eyes, and so beautiful the expression which lingered round her lips. Now she seemed to awaken and pull herself together. She did not attempt to avoid Susy, but slipping out of the crowd of people who were leaving the church, she found herself by the girl's side.

"Come just a little way home with me," said Susy. "It won't take me long to say what I want to say."

She linked her hand in her companion's as she spoke. Yes, there was little doubt of it, Ruth was lovable. One forgot her low birth, her low surroundings, when one looked at her. Susy had heard of those few people of rare character and rare natures who are, as it is expressed, "Nature's ladies." There are Nature's gentlemen as well, and Nature's ladies and Nature's gentlemen are above mere external circumstances; they are above the mere money's worth or the mere accident of birth. Now, Ruth belonged to this rare class, and Susy, without quite understanding it, felt it. She forgot the humble little house, the lack of rooms, and the workmanlike appearance of the whole place. She said in a deferential tone:

"I have come to you, from Kathleen O'Hara. You have done something which has distressed her very much. She wants you to meet her to-morrow at the White Cross Corner on your way to school; she wants you to be there at a quarter to nine. That is all, Ruth. You will be sure to attend? I promised Kathleen most faithfully that I would deliver her message. She is very unhappy about something. I don't know what you have done to vex her."

"But I do," said Ruth. "And I can't help going on vexing her."

"But what is it?" said Susy, whose curiosity was suddenly awakened. "You might tell me. I wish you would."

"I can't tell you, Susan; it has nothing to do with you. It is a matter between Kathleen and myself. Very well, I will meet her. There is no use in shirking things. Good-night, Susan. It was good of you to come and give me Kathleen's message."

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