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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Rebel Of The School - Chapter 18. Susy Hopkins Persuades Aunt Church
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The Rebel Of The School - Chapter 18. Susy Hopkins Persuades Aunt Church Post by :Softwarepak Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :945

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The Rebel Of The School - Chapter 18. Susy Hopkins Persuades Aunt Church


Mrs. Hopkins said nothing more. Susy saw that she could have her own way, and as soon as dinner was over, without even waiting to help her mother to put the place in order, she started on her walk. She felt pleased and self-important. The day was a frosty one, and the sunset promised to be glorious. The road to Mrs. Church's house was flat and long and pleasant to walk on. Susy had no particular eye for pretty views, or she might have pleased herself with the wonderful tints of the sky, and the autumnal shades which had not altogether deserted the neighboring woods. Susy's thoughts, however, were occupied with very different matters.

"Mother is always grumbling," she said to herself; "and for that matter, so is Tom. As if I'd demean myself by taking a place! The idea of my being a servant. Why, I know I shall do very well in the future. I look high. I mean to be a lady, as good as the best. Would Miss Kathleen O'Hara take so much notice of me if I was not a very nice, lady-like sort of a girl? I am sure no one could look sweeter than I do in my pale-blue blouse. Even Tom says so. He said I looked very genteel, and that he'd like his great friend, Walter Amber, to see me. I don't want to have anything to do with Tom's friends. Poor Tom! if mother can apprentice him to somebody, that is the most that can be expected. But as for me, the very lowest position I intend to take in life in the future is that of a teacher. I shall probably be a teacher in this very school, and get my couple of hundred a year. A place indeed! Poor dear mother doesn't know what she is talking about."

Occupied with her own thoughts, the road did not turn out long to Susy. She reached Mrs. Church's very humble abode between three and four o'clock. It was still daylight. The little old lady was seated in her window; she looked very much, surprised when she saw Susy, and limped to the door and opened it.

"Come in, Susy Hopkins," she said. "I suppose your mother has sent me my money. If so, it is very thoughtful of her. If you have brought the money, Susy, you shall have a cup of tea before you start on your homeward walk. It is a fine day, child, and your cheeks look very fresh. Come in, dear; come in."

Mrs. Church hobbled back again into her small sitting-room. She got back into her chair, and motioned to Susy to take one opposite to her.

"If that is the money you have in your hand," she said, noticing that the child held a small parcel, "you may give it to me, and then go over there and get me that black cash-box. I will put the gold and silver in immediately. It is never safe to leave money about."

"But I haven't got the money, Aunt Church. Mother couldn't have saved it in the time."

Mrs. Church's face became very bleak and decidedly wintry in appearance.

"Then what have you come for, Susan?" she said. "You needn't suppose I am going to waste my good tea on you if you haven't brought the money. If you think so, you are fine and mistaken."

"I don't think so, really, Aunt Church; but perhaps when you know all you will give me a cup of tea, and perhaps you won't be so cross the next time I wear my pale-blue blouse."

"Ah, my dear, I wasn't cross at the end of the time, although I did think it a bit suspicious: your mother losing nineteen-and-sixpence of my own money out of her till--you forget that fact, Susan Hopkins; it was my money--and then you decking yourself out in the most unsuitable garment I ever saw on a little girl of your age and station. It has pleased the Almighty, Susan, to put you in a low walk of life, and in that walk you ought to remain, and dress according--yes, dress according. But, as I said, I was not displeased at the end. That was a very bonny young lady who came into your mother's shop--miles and miles above you, Susan. And how she can demean herself to call you her friend passes my comprehension."

"You are very rude, Aunt Church," said Susy; "but I am not going to be angry with you, for I want you to help us. I have got news for you, and very good news, too. But I will only tell it to you on condition."

Mrs. Church looked first skeptical, then curious, then keenly desirous.

"Well, child?" she said. "Maybe you might as well put the kettle on the fire; it takes a good long time to boil. It's a very bobbish little kettle, and it has cranky whims just as though it were a human. There's a good child, Susan; take it out and fill it at the tap, and put it on the fire to boil up while you are telling me the rest of the story. I always liked you very well, Susan; not so much as Tom, but you are quite to my liking, all things considered."

"No, you never liked me, Aunt Church," said Susy; "but I will fill the kettle if you have a fancy--although perhaps I won't be able to stay to have that cup of tea that you seem all of a sudden willing to give me."

Mrs. Church said nothing. Susy left the room with the kettle.

"I could fly out at her," thought the old lady; "but where's the good? She's hand and glove with that beautiful Miss O'Hara, and for the sake of the young lady I mustn't get her back up too much."

So Susy put the kettle on to boil, and then resumed her place opposite Mrs. Church.

"Susan," said the old lady, "while the kettle is boiling you might as well lay the cloth and get out the tea-things."

"No, no," said Susy; "I haven't come here to act servant to you, Aunt Church."

"You have a very nasty manner, Susan; and whatever the Almighty may mean to do with you in the future, you had best change your tune or things will go ill with you."

Susy sat quite still, apparently indifferent to these remarks.

"Well, if you won't lay the cloth, and won't help your own poor old aunt, you may as well tell me what you came for."

"Not yet. I will presently."

Susy was now thoroughly enjoying herself. Mrs. Church edged her chair a little nearer; her beady black eyes seemed to read Susy through and through.

"Go on, child; speak. 'Tain't right to keep an old body on tenter-hooks."

"I will tell you if you will promise me something. I have brought you a little bag that I made my own self, and you shall have it if you promise me something. It is a bag for your knitting. You know you said that you were always losing the ball; it would keep running under your chair, and you could never get it without stooping and hurting yourself."

"To be sure I did, child, and it is thoughtful of you to think of me. Well, but we'll talk of the bag when you have said whatever else you have got at the back of that wise little head of yours."

"I have got news that may mean a great deal to you, but before I tell it I want you to give me a promise. I want you to let mother off this month's installment of her debt."

"What?" cried Mrs. Church, turning very pale. "The money that she owes me?"

"Yes, the money she owes you. A thief came into the shop and took some of her money, and she is very short of money and very worried. I will tell you the news if you will forgive mother."

"Well," said Mrs. Church, "of all the impertinent, bare-faced, wicked little girls, you beat them all. My answer to that, Susan Hopkins, is no; and you can leave the house, for that is the last word you will get."

"Thank you, Aunt Church," said Susy. "I will leave it. It doesn't matter whether you hear the message I have come to give you or not. It is from Miss Kathleen O'Hara, but that don't matter, either. What have you to do with a young lady like Miss Kathleen O'Hara. She's as unsuitable to be with you as she is to be with me. Good-bye, Aunt Church; good-bye."

Susy got as far as the door when Mrs. Church called her back.

"Come here, you bad little thing," she said. "Sit down on that chair. Now, what do you mean?"

"I say I will give you my message if you will forgive mother."

"Then I won't. I will never hear your message."

"All right, I will go," said Susy. "I'll tell Miss Kathleen; she will be disappointed, so to speak. It was about those almshouses, but--"

"Look here, child; you tell me first, and then I'll consider."

"No, no," said Susy. "I know something better than that. You make the promise first, faithfully and truly, and then I will tell you."

After this there was a considerable wrangle between the old woman and the young girl, but all in good time Susy won her desire, and Mrs. Church made the required promise.

"Now speak," she said. "There's that kettle singing like mad, and it will boil over in a minute. You shall have a cup of tea and a nice sweet bun with it, and what more can a poor old body like myself offer? What about Miss Kathleen O'Hara?"

"Aunt Church, you can help Miss Kathleen, and she is worthy of being helped. She wants you to do something for her."

"Me?" said Mrs. Church. "And what can a poor body like me do to help her? Things ought to be the other way round; it's she who ought to help me."

"And so she will, and she said as much. She said she'd do what she could to put you into one of those sweet little almshouses; and when Miss Kathleen says a thing she means it. And there's an aunt of hers has come over from Ireland--and from all accounts she must be a perfect wonder--and she's coming, too. Oh, Aunt Church, you are in luck!"

"You are enough to distract any one, child. Susy, I told you the kettle would boil before we were ready for tea. Take it off and put it on the hob; and be careful, for goodness' sake, Susy Hopkins, or you'll scald yourself."

Susy removed the kettle from its position on the glowing bed of coals, and then resumed her narrative.

"They're all coming," she said, "and you will have to get them in by hook or crook."

"You're enough to deave a body. Who's coming, and where are they coming when they do come?"

"They're coming here, Aunt Church, a lot of them--girls like me--big girls and little girls, old girls and young girls, bad girls and good girls; girls who'll laugh at you, and girls who'll respect you; some dressed badly, and some dressed fine. They are all coming, up to forty of them in number, and Miss Kathleen O'Hara is the queen amongst them. Miss Katie O'Flynn is coming, too, and it's to your house they're to come; and it's to happen to-morrow night."

"Really, Susy, of all the impertinent children, I do think you beat all. Forty people coming into this tiny house, where we can scarcely turn round with more than two in the house! You are talking pure nonsense, Susan Hopkins, and I'll break my word if that's all you have to tell."

"It's true enough. Have you never heard of our society? Well, of course not, so I will tell you. It is this way, Aunt Church: When Miss Kathleen came to the school she took pity on us foundationers. She founded a society, and we used to meet in the old quarry just to the left of Johnson's Field; and right good times we had. She promised us all sorts of things. It was she who gave me that blouse that you seemed to think I had bought with the money which was taken from mother's till. And she gave me this. See, Aunt Church; if you look you will believe."

Here Susy pulled from the neck of her dress a little heart-shaped locket with the device and name of the society on it.

"Look for yourself," she said.

Mrs. Church did look. She put on her spectacles and read the words, "The Wild Irish Girls, October, 18--."

"Whatever does this mean?" she said. "The Wild Irish Girls! It doesn't sound at all a respectable sort of name."

"I am one," said Susy, beginning to skip up and down. "I am a Wild Irish Girl."

"That you ain't. You don't know the meaning of the thing. You are nothing but a little, under-bred Cockney."

"Thank you, Aunt Church. I do feel obliged for your kind opinion of me. But now, are you going to help Miss Kathleen, or are you not? She can't have the girls--the Wild Irish Girls, I mean--any longer at the quarry, for it's getting noised abroad in the school, and there are those who'd think very little of telling on us; and then we might all be expelled, for it's contrary to the rules of the governors that there should be anything underhand or anything of that sort in the place. So it is this way: we have got into trouble, we Wild Irish Girls, and dear Miss Kathleen is determined that, come what will, the society must not suffer; and she thinks you could help. And if you help in any sort of fashion, why, she'll take precious good care that you get into one of those little almshouses. She said I was to see you to-day, and I was to take her back the answer. And now, will you help or will you not?"

"Well, I never!" said Mrs. Church.

When she had uttered these words she sank back in her chair. Her knitting was forgotten; her old face looked pale with anxiety.

"Have a cup of tea; it will help you to think more than anything," said Susy, and in a brisk and businesslike fashion she dived into the cupboard, took out the cups and saucers, a little box of biscuits, a tiny jug of milk, a caddy of tea, and proceeded to fill the little teapot. By-and-by tea was ready, and Susy brought a cup to the old lady.

"There, now," she said. "You see what it means to have a nice little girl like me to wait on you. You'd have taken an hour hobbling round all by yourself. Now what will you do?"

"What shall I do?" said Mrs. Church. "Look round, Susan Hopkins, and ask me what I am to do! How many of those forty can be squeezed into this room?"

"Let me think," said Susy.

She looked round the room, which was really not more than twelve feet square.

"We couldn't get many in here," she said. "Four might stand against the wall there, and four there, and so on, but that wouldn't go far when there are forty. We must have the backyard."

"What! and upset the pig?" said Mrs. Church.

"Oh, Aunt Church, you really can't think of Brownie at a moment like this! They must all congregate in the yard, and you shall look on. Oh, you'll enjoy it fine! But you ought to have tea for Miss O'Hara and Miss Katie O'Flynn; you really ought. Think, Aunt Church; it is quite worth while when you have an almshouse in view; and you know that for all the rest of your life you are to have a house rent-free, coal and light, and six shillings a week."

"It's worth an effort," said Mrs. Church; "it is that. But I doubt me, now that the thing seems so near, whether I shall like the crossing. I can't abide finding myself on the salty sea. I have that to think over, and that is against the scheme, Susy Hopkins."

"And what do a few hours' misery signify," said Susy, "when you have all the rest of your life to live in clover?"

"That's true--that's true," said the old lady. "If you are positive that it won't upset Brownie--"

"You can lock Brownie up; I will take charge of the key."

"And have him grunting like anything."

"He won't be heard with forty of them."

"It does sound very insurrectionary and wrong," said Mrs. Church; "but if you are certain sure she will keep her word--"

"If I am sure of anybody, it is Miss Kathleen."

"She looks a good sort."

"And then, you know, Aunty Church, you can clinch matters by having a nice little tea for her; and afterwards, if you don't speak up, I will. I'll tell her you expect to get the almshouse after doing so much as to entertain forty of her guests."

"Well, look here, Susy, you have thrust yourself into this matter, and you must help me out. I suppose I must have a tea, but it must be a very plain one."

"No; it must be a very nice tea. Oh, I'll see to that. Mother shall send over some things from town--a little pink ham cut very thin, and new-laid eggs--"

"And water-cress," said Mrs. Church. "I have a real relish for water-cress, and it's a very long time since I had any."

"You have got your own fowls," said Susy, "so they will supply the eggs; and for the rest I will manage. You are very good indeed, aunty, and mother will be so pleased. Kiss me, Aunt Church. I must be off or I'll be getting into a terrible scrape."

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