The Child of the Children
THE CHILD OF THE CHILDREN.
By Ethel Turner.
Illustrated by Frances Ewan.
SHE was an odd little mite, with eyes that were solemn when any of her committee were about, and humorously twinkling when she was quite alone. The droop of her mouth was meek, but the swift, laughing, upward curve betrayed a wicked and disturbing comicality. She was twelve.
The suburb was a large and wealthy one, and the women thereof, being led by an altar-cloth, gift-slipper and organ-fund parson, had tended for long into missionary ways.
They had made Turkey twill frocks for the little Indian wives, tea-cosies and pin-cushions to be sold for the benefit of the unspeakable,, and therefore romantic. Celestial. Even the children constructed scrap-books, woollen balls, and dolls, in their thankfulness that they were not as other infants were, and dropped chocolate-destined pennies into a money-box that gaped hungrily to establish mission schools within the mysterious Great Wall.
But the cabling of distant horrors and the simultaneous induction of a man into the pulpit who called attention to the heathen in their midst produced a reaction. They held Dorcas societies, and presented their own poor with thick flannel petticoats—to the benefit of the pawnshops, for summer hung breathless over the land. They established a crèche, and tried to inculcate morals into the babies left there. They formed themselves into committees and went poking into all the little homes, forgetting that privacy was a thing to be revered. They took away the gaudily-painted scrap-books and the strings of beads which the children were making for eyes that had the charm of elongation. They told them rebukingly that there were beggars at their gates and poor nearer than the land of rice and idols.
So the rich little girls formed themselves into a committee, and when they had held half a dozen meetings to decide on the president, Vice-president, secretary and treasurer, and had spent their first collection in badges and pink cards and red money-boxes, they set to business and adopted a child. An orphan not being available at the time, they sought till they found a little scrap of humanity who possessed the necessary qualification of having suffered sad parental neglect. She was one of a family of seven, the solemn-eyed mite, and had spent her little span of years with great happiness in the midst of misery. The very ups and downs of her life constituted happiness. Those who have beet to-day for dinner, and mutton to-morrow, veal the next day, and so on, cannot appreciate the subtle enjoyment of tinned salmon, bananas and ice-cream on Monday, and on Tuesday a twopenny loaf quite without accompaniment. Such was the seven's young fund of wit, laughter, wisdom and philosophy, that they were happy even when their parents were in gaol, or in the hospital, or away hiding, or drunk.
But once it happened that the bruised mother of them all lay ill, even to the point of conscience waking. Sometimes her dull eyes caught through a break in the dirt-dark window a glimpse of wide clean sunshine or the sky-purity of early dawn, and a feeble longing grew up in her breast for her seven little wicked ones to taste of such delight.
So when there came into the house one day an intrusive fine lady with a bunch of violets, a temperance tract and two little girls of the Children's Charitable Association, she listened to them in quite a subdued way, and even laid the tract aside on her pillow quite mildly.
And when she heard the object of the rich little girls was to adopt a child, take it entirely away from its evil surroundings, educate, clothe and keep it with their pocket-money, and fit it for an honourable position in life, she raised herself on her elbow, and with a break in her voice and heart offered the seven.
They would only have one, however, to the grief of her conscience and joy of her heart, which was a curiously soft one. She left the selection to them, and their choice fell on the twelve-year-old one because she looked the most picturesquely neglected of them all, and had flexible lips that drooped with proper gratitude.
They took her away with them and washed her, cut and combed her hair, and dressed her in garments very neat and plain, but bewildering to her by reason of their number. They were not even shocked to hear her name was Flip—Flip Huggins—for they had a new one ready made for her—the result of a committee meeting that had agitated itself for two hours over the respective merits of Rebecca Jones, Susan Smith, and Eliza Brown. A ballot was taken, however, and the last one given to her to don with her new lilac print frock.
They boarded her out at a neat, tiny house. There were seven of them on the committee, and one went to see her every day. Every Saturday afternoon they met and sewed for her, holding a committee meeting the while. Towards the end of it she was always sent for.
"Well, Eliza," little Laura, the daughter of a bank manager, used to say; "and how have you been getting on this i week?"
Eliza used to drop a curtsy that had as much humility in it as has a pretty soubrette on the stage. "Fust rate, my lady, you bet your boots!" she would answer.
Of course this kind of reply necessitated rebuke and correction.
Laura, an unaffected, sweet-natured child, was obliged to object to the title.
"You know, Eliza," she would say, "I told you that you weren't to say 'my lady.'"
Eliza would smack her hand hastily over her mouth. "It fairly burst out of me," she would say. "What an 'ed I've got on me!"
"And you mustn't say 'fust,'" another would say; "'first' is the word, Eliza."
"First," Eliza would amend, curtsying again—"F-i-r-s-t" (spelling it slowly), "first, first, first."
"And 'bet your boots' is very wrong," another would correct.
Eliza used to lift up the corner of her useful galatea apron to her eyes. "I'm an 'opeless 'ussy!" she would say. "I ain't worth the cotting you sew my pinnies with!"
They would reassure her kindly, almost tenderly, for her self-abasement used to touch their little hearts. They would hasten back to the first question. "How have you been getting on this week?" the President would begin again. And Eliza would answer carefully, painstakingly, as if really anxious to improve her speech, "First chop—stiffen me if I ain't!"
They never kept up the attempt at speech purification longer than a quarter of an hour. Her versatility was too much for them. For a month the attitudes befitting benefactors and benefited were kept up. For a month Eliza was seemingly humble and grateful, and the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary, the Treasurer and the Committee were graciously condescending and kind. And then one night the banker's old socialistic brother came to dine with him, and from that time a new order of things began with the waif.
The brother was rich, and a bachelor, and Laura was his godchild; naturally she had always been taught to pay the greatest respect to his opinions.
He heard of the adoption of the child and sniffed.
"Better have left the youngster alone," he said. " I know these little fine ladies of the committee. They'll order the poor girl about and condescend to her till she's imbued with a hatred of the upper classes that will last all her life. By the time she's twenty she'll thirst to hide bombs in ball-rooms."
"But, my dear Anthony," said the banker's wife, "you surely would not have Laura and the other children treat her as an absolute equal. There is no knowing where it would end."
"My dear Madeline," said the socialist, "you know my opinion on these 'betters.' I consider she is an absolute equal, only she's not had all her privileges yet. Some day I'll adopt a little street baggage myself, and you'll see what you'll see!"
"Perhaps you are right," said his sister-in-law amiably. "You generally are, Anthony. But life is too short and one's social obligations too heavy to find time to experiment. All we propose to do is to give this unfortunate child board and lodging and a certain amount of education. If she repays us by making somebody a thoroughly good servant we shall be more than satisfied, for the race will be extinct soon. And we think it may be good training for our own children to let them have the responsibility of her."
"Good fiddlesticks!" growled the socialistic uncle.
No one noticed how attentively Laura was listening; no one marked her exceeding quiet and thoughtfulness during the rest of the evening.
But the next committee meeting was like none of the preceding ones, for Laura had a "plan," and she was listened to with all the eagerness and attention which child-nature ever gives to anything adventurous.
She proposed to abandon the present method of Eliza's education and proceed for the future on entirely new lines—but secretly, of necessity. If the mothers heard of the innovation everything would be spoiled. "Mothers don't understand things like this," said Laura pathetically.
"Just let her be as if she's you or me? What fun!" said the jolly little daughter of a judge.
"But I don't quite see how we can manage it," said the Vice-President. "Lena's mother and my aunt go sometimes, you know, to see if she's getting on all right; wouldn't they find out?"
Laura owned that a great deal of caution would be necessary. "What I thought," she said, "is this. We'll start from now and treat her just like one of ourselves. We'll have her in soon and tell her all about it. We'll teach her things she doesn't learn at that public school ourselves—dancing and French, and fancy work and things. And then in a year or so, when she is quite a lady, we'll take her to our mothers and surprise them. We'll show them the experiment can be done."
"How lovely!" said the enthusiastic little girls. It seemed the most beautiful plan in the world to them.
They ran to fetch the little grass orphan and unfold their plans to her.
"You're chiaccing," she said, with a disbelieving glance around.
They assured her eagerly of the genuineness of their intentions; all they required of her was to fall in with their ideas and leave herself entirely in their hands.
"I'm going to teach you dancing," said the President. "After school twice a week I'll come down to Mrs. Brookes and teach you in your bedroom."
The Treasurer grumbled a little at this. "I dance better than you, Laura," she said. "Professor Armande said I was the best in the class. I could teach her the Spanish waltz and the minuet, and you know you always forget them."
Laura contended that she was President and had the right to choose. "You can teach her German," she said, "or how to make those daisy mats."
"I get most marks for French," said the Hon. Secretary. "I'll teach her French."
"Well," said an unimportant member of the committee, "I'll teach her painting, and lend her my old box of paints."
The adopted one, convinced of their good faith, fell into their plans with the utmost alacrity.
"But a year!" she said scornfully. "I won't take 'arf that long. Why, I ll be a perfect lyedy in a month or two." She even helped with suggestions herself.
"Eliza Brown," she said, "ain't no kind o' name for a lyedy. You'll hev to fix another one up for me."
They all saw the good sense of this, and an animated discussion as to the new nomenclature followed. Finally "Dorothy Marjorie Gladys Fitz-Stephen" was decided upon and agreed to cheerfully by the one-time "Flip."
"An'," said the freshly christened one, "red flannel petticoats an' striped pinnies ain't no kind o' clothes for a lyedy with three names an' a 'arf."
"There's my pink party dress," said the Treasurer eagerly. "It's grown too short for me, and just hangs in the wardrobe. Mother will never miss it."
"Pink 'ud suit me great," said Dorothy Marjorie Gladys. "'As it got lace an' spangles on? 'As it got a sash? I 'ope it's cut down so me neck an' arms 'll show."
The President looked troubled.
"I don't see how you would get the chance to wear it yet, Dorothy," she said. "What would Mrs. Brookes say to it?"
"My eye!" quoth Dorothy. "Of course I'd wear this print thing over it when she was round. I could walk about me bedroom in it when she'd gone to bed. Get me used to bein' a lyedy, you know. I don't want to disgrace you when I comes out, you know."
This seemed sensible too, and the Treasurer undertook to pack up the little frock and convey it surreptitiously to the cottage.
"Ain't none of you got pink stockin's with lace let inter 'em?" said the embryo lady. "I'd look frippy with grey 'uns under the dress."
A member of the committee promised a pair. Her party dress was blue now, and she never wore her pink ones.
"An' a pair o' shoes, of course," said the adopted one. "You can't expect me to larn dancin' in copper toes."
The Vice-President, the Secretary, and four members of the committee all measured feet with her, and it fell to the Secretary to provide a pair of these necessary articles of a lady's dress.
"Here are my gloves," said the little President. "I can run home without them easily. I want you to get in the way of going to school in them, Dorothy."
Dorothy put her rough little fingers into them, after a hard struggle, and was delighted with the effect.
"Here's a bangle," said the Treasurer, pulling a silver one off her wrist; "but keep it well up your arm when Mrs. Brookes is about."
"I'll bring you a bottle of scent next time I come," said the Secretary. "Do you like heliotrope or wood-violet best?"
"You'd best fetch 'em both," said Dorothy, "an' I'll 'ave a smell at 'em afore I tell you."
"Here's a handkerchief," said a committee member, producing a tiny dainty one. "My monogram's M.G., but it will stand for your middle names, Marjorie Gladys."
"How lucky!" said the President.
The adopted sighed. "Wot goes agen me orful," she said, "is me red flannul petticoats; just like workhus kids 'ave, they are—show's yours."
The President turned back the hem of her little short frock and displayed underneath the torchon-trimmed white skirt, white flannel embroidered with silk. The Vice-President was requested to do the same; the Secretary, the Treasurer, the members of the committee, all wore white and daintily stitched petticoats.
"I'll bring' you one of mine," said the warm-hearted little President when she saw how the difference affected the one who wore scarlet flannel. "And can't you spare one each, Nellie and Francey? she must have three at least; your nurse wouldn't miss them as she's a new one."
Nellie and Francey promised, and the Secretary, eager to outshine them, slipped off her white muslin under-skirt, with all its tucks and embroidery, and presented it to "Dorothy" on the spot.
"But what about Mrs. Brookes," said the anxious President.
"Dorothy" assured them it was quite safe. Mrs. Brookes never looked into her clothes box, and even if she did she would only think the things were the cast-off clothes of the young ladies. Indeed, one of them could say a word to her that they were gifts, and there could be no objection.
And so the plan progressed.
In a couple of months Dorothy was able to speak to her public-school companions of "mon père" and "ma mère," and say "s'il vous plait" when she wanted a bite of some one's banana, and "merci" when she got it. She was looked upon by them all as one of the most superior of girls. Did she not carry a scented cambric pocket-handkerchief? had she not a real silver bangle, with a three-penny piece attached, jangling on her wrist? True, her school frocks were strong prints and winceys like their own, but who else of them could turn up their bottom hems and display lace and fine stitching beneath? She learned to make daisy mats, she dabbed some red and green paint on paper, and was able to say she had painted a rose. She learned to dance. Every Monday and Thursday the President went down to the little house.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Brookes," she would say.
"Good afternoon, Miss Laura," the woman would answer. "Do you want Liza? I think she's playing in her bedroom. Will I call her?"
But Laura always refused to cause her that trouble,and said she would go herself. Over the threshold into the clean little hall, up the oil-clothed stairs to the little room.
"Are you there, Dorothy?"
"'Course I am! You are late! Look 'ere, if you can't get down sooner, Laura, I'm goin' out to play; I ain't goin' to larn dancin' if you keep me waitin' like this."
"I couldn't help it, Dorothy dear, it was my music lesson, and I didn't know my piece. I was so busy making you a handkerchief sachel I hadn't time to practise it."
"Is it lined with silk?" Dorothy would demand.
Perhaps Laura would have to confess that only mere muslin or sateen formed the inner part, and Dorothy would be quite displeased.
"You and Fan, and Min, and Floss, 'ave silk in yours, I'll bet," she would say. "Ain't you got a bit you could do it with? If I'm to be a lyedy you may as well do it proper."
Then the lesson would commence, Dorothy being already tricked out in the pink party frock with the pink stockings and soiled white kid shoes.
She had learned to polka, and had taken to the highland schottische with the utmost avidity, but the intricacies of the waltz and mazurka Laura could not teach her, though she tried till she was breathless with having to hum the music and dance at one and the same time.
The lithe, active street child took to this pastime with the greatest abandon. Two or three times, when Laura had been able to smuggle her into her own house in her mother's absence, and give the lesson with one of the other girls at the piano, the music had made her like a little wild thing. She leaped, and hopped, and twirled, pirouetted and swayed about for all the world like a dancing dervish. It was quite useless for Laura to say the steps she took were none of them in the highland schottisohe; the moment the piano began the music of that stirring dance that moment she gave her legs and arms and body free play.
At the end of three months the committee decided that a year was far too long a time to wait to try the effect of the experiment on their mothers. And as Netta Burns' (the Vice-President) birthday was drawing near, with a lovely party promised to mark it, it was decided that the occasion should be taken to introduce Dorothy into the polite society for which it was now considered she was fit.
Netta had been granted permission to ask all her school-fellows to the party—the school being exceedingly select. And fortunately Mrs. Burns had never seen the much-talked-of child of the children, having but recently returned from England.
Five of them went down to dress her on the all-important day; the ceremony had to be performed at five in the afternoon, although the party did not commence till seven, for there were their own five toilets still to be made. The waif was tricked out in a pale-blue frock belonging to the Vice-President; she wore white gloves that the Secretary had saved up to buy, and a beautiful blue sash of the Treasurer's. They frizzed her hair with hot curling-tongs, they lent her bracelets and brooches, then wrapped her up in a little red cloak.
"Don't move," said the President. "Sit still all the time on the bed, Dorothy; if you get the least bit out of order everything will be spoiled."
"Will I start at 'arf-past six?" said Dorothy. "I'd best be early, so you can fix me up if anythink's coming off."
"No, seven will do," they said. "No one will come till seven, and it's not five minutes' walk; there will be such a lot coming just then, so you won't be noticed."
"And don't talk much, Dorothy, dear," said the little Vice-President; "you know we haven't taught you quite everything yet, and if you say any of your funny things they'll find out."
"Mum's the word," said the child. "I'll do nothink but nod or shake me 'ed, 'ceptin' at supper, then you'll 'ave ter let me gas a bit so I'll get the thinks I like."
"Well, be very careful," they said, "and do sit still till the time; one bit of your hair is beginning to come uncurled already."
"Will I sit 'ere on the pillow?" said Dorothy, seating herself with a great show of carefulness.
"Yes, that will do," they said. But when they had gone, and the utmost craning out of the windows showed no flutter of their pretty frocks, Dorothy stole down-stairs, through the backyard and over the fence, seeing the gate was locked.
Who but trustful children could have imagined she could have missed so glorious an opportunity for displaying herself to her family?
Over the ground, up and down streets, went the little blue satin slippers. When at last she reached her own miserable lane she took off her red cloak and carried it daintily on her arm. How the boys cheered her and the girls envied! But there was no time for anything but a condescending little bow or two as she tripped through their ranks. In her own wretched little home tea was progressing; the times were evil and tea—milkless tea—formed the repast. Into the midst of them all rushed the gay, dazzling little figure. She devoured the dingy mother with kisses, she sprang into the arms of the grimy father, the sisters and brothers almost pulled her to pieces. Their astonishment was enormous; before, on the visits that none of her adopters knew she paid, she had been plainly and serviceably dressed, and she had kept the change secret that their surprise might be all the greater.
"I'm a lyedy now," she said. And in her own mind there was not the faintest doubt but that she was. "I've bin a lyedy for gone two months. I'm goin' to a swell party to-night; the 'ole lot o' you can come and stand at the front door and watch us goin' in."
Of course they all went—the father, mother, and the six children who had not had the good fortune to be adopted. They grouped themselves on the pavement near the steps and watched in open-mouthed admiration the streams of glad little people arriving. Dorothy slipped in among a whole carriage load of little ones just come and was carried on with the rush away out of the people's sight. But when the stream of vehicles ceased and the strains of music began inside and the watchers found it dull and began to think of returning since they could see nothing at all, then into the midst of them again slipped Dorothy. "I've been nicking all over the house," she said breathlessly, "an' I've fixed it all up grand. Tim and Ned can climb up the spouting there, an' that winder looks in the room the supper's set in; I've left two lats of the blind up. I've ripped a hole in the curtain at the dancin'-room winder; dad and mother can stand up close to it and look in and keep liftin' Tiny and baby up. And look here." They looked, and were shown two handsome little opera cloaks. "I nicked these out o' the dressin'-room," she said; "the woman thought I was gettin' 'em because it was cold downstairs. Jimmy and Polly can put 'em on, and I'll smuggle 'em up into the room. It's 'Punch and Judy' show an' actin' goin' to be, an' every one sittin' down, so their boots won't show."
She managed the difficult task with complete success. There were over a hundred children in the room, and all eyes were turned eagerly on the curtain that hid the stage. Just a few glanced round at the new entry, but they only saw three more little girls and looked away again.
The committee had seen and spoken to the waif, and intended to look after her presently and see she had an enjoyable evening, but just now they were engrossed with the acting.
Oh, how those three little girls enjoyed that acting! Jenny laughed hysterically the whole time, Polly shrieked with delight at each fresh witticism, Flip applauded frantically. The three or four "grown-ups" in the room turned to look at them amusedly from time to time; their whole-hearted abandonment of happiness was good to watch.
It was not till the acting was over, and the chairs being cleared away for games and dancing, that the little ragged skirts and the burst old boots were discovered beneath the splendid capes.
One mite, resplendent in irreproachable foot-gear and dainty frock, nudged another one excitedly.
"Just look at those girls!" she said. Flip caught the whisper and gave her sisters the word.
"Skip," she said, "and leave the cloaks." Then she herself plunged in among the other well-dressed ones so as not to be compromised.
"Why," cried another girl, "that's my opera cloak!"
"And that's Florence Manning's!" cried another.
The poor little intruders saw there was no chance of watching the dancing, so they took their sister's advice. Before the grown-up people could be told they darted towards the door and forced their way without much difficulty through the groups of children there, who were too busy chattering to notice anything unusual. Once in the hall they were safe; the only servant there merely saw a lot of children running after two other children—it all seemed part of the party.
At the door the ragged ones paused for one second, pulled off their beautiful cloaks and flung them at their pursuers; the next minute the darkness had swallowed them up.
"Any'ow," said Flip to herself, "they've seen somethink." When the dancing began she forgot her family who were flattening their noses on the glass, forgot the mothers who were to be impressed by her behaviour, forgot every injunction of her committee.
"Suppose you dance with this little boy," said a lady to her who was endeavouring to find partners for everyone. But the waif shook her head vigorously.
"It's whips better dancin' on yer own nuts," she said.
She fairly rushed into the middle of the floor and there began the wild antics the committee had so dreaded.
"Dorothy!" cried the President, catching at her arm and fairly forcing her to stop. Then in a whisper she besought her to be careful. "You're spoiling everything," she said.
"Oh, dry up! Let me 'ave a bit of fun for once!" was Dorothy's loudly spoken retort, and she went back to her hoppings and leapings amongst the dancers.
An exhibition of conjuring followed, given by Laura's socialistic uncle, who fancied he had a real gift for sleight of hand. He borrowed a hat and a handkerchief, and everyone distinctly saw him put the handkerchief in. But then he turned the hat so that they could all see, and shook it, and lo, it was perfectly empty!
They gazed at each other in awed surprise.
"Yah!" cried Dorothy's shrill voice; "saw yer push it up yer sleeve."
Of course everyone laughed, and the old gentleman went red with annoyance. But presently he essayed another trick. He borrowed another hat and displayed its perfect emptiness; he held up his empty hands: "This is one of the most marvellous bits of prestidigitation known," he said. "You have all seen this hat holds nothing in the world: I will now see if I can extract anything from its emptiness. You can all observe my hands go nowhere but into the hat, and they are both open and turned to you. Yet what is this?" He began to pull out yards and yards and yards of different coloured ribbons; a fan followed, a baby's rattle—no end of mysterious things. "Where can they have come from?" he cried, as if mystified.
The children breathed deeply and gazed at him entranced. But again Flip's contemptuous voice was heard. "'E 'ad 'em up his sleeves," she cried, "an' kep' jerkin' of 'em down. I seed a little packet with the ribbing in fall out."
This time the touchy old gentleman flung down the hat and stalked straight off the stage, mortally offended, and nothing would induce him to conjure again that night.
Quite a blankness fell on the merry party; it was early for supper yet, but the hostess felt nothing else would break up the gloom. She had made a very decided mental note that never again would she allow Netta to ask a child she herself did not know personally.
"What is her name?" she asked Netta in great annoyance.
"Dorothy Marjorie Fitz-Stephen," mumbled Netta.
"How did you come to know her? How did you ask her? Surely she does not go to anyone else's house?"
"She's been to Laura's house often, and to Flora's and Marion's. She doesn't make more noise than Nora Chilchester or Wilfred Boyle. Don't be horrid to her, mother."
Mrs. Burns still looked dissatisfied, but led the way to the supper-room.
When everyone was attended to she had time to observe the strange child. A gentleman came up laughing at the same moment. "See that little youngster in blue," he said; "'pon my word, I never dreamed any child—especially any girl—could eat as she has done. I've kept getting her jelly, cake, trifle—trifle, jelly, cake, and never once has she said, 'No, thank you,' to anything. Every fresh thing I ask her to have she says, 'Rather,' or 'You bet,' or 'Trot it out,' and empties her plate in an incredibly short time. There'll be a funeral to-morrow."
"Look at her now," he added, excitement in his tone. "Well, this is past everything. When I was sixteen, and had a schoolboy's gluttony, I never equalled this small person. Do look at her."
Mrs. Burns peered across at the little girl in blue. She was standing, hidden as she thought by the stout socialist, and down the low-cut neck of her loose dress she was cramming cakes, sweets, fruits, everything she could lay her hands on. Then she slipped through the crowd and out of the room. "Gone to eat in solitude on the stairs," said the laughing gentleman. How was he to know of the family outside in the darkness waiting to be satisfied?
In a few minutes she was back again, and the performance was repeated. When she came back the third time and started to fill up the dress front still again, he followed her.
"The custard thing was scrummy!" he heard a boy's voice say. "Couldn't you find another?"
"Didn't you nick a spoon or fork this time?" said another.
"No," said the blue-clad mite; "an' I ain't goin' to neither, so just dry up about it!"
"Zimmie want lol-lol," said a tiny urchin.
"I'll slip back and get some more; there are some spiffin' choc'lats," said the girl, and darted in again.
But there were several new arrivals in the supper room—mothers and fathers come to take the small ones home. Laura's mother recognised the child of the children instantly. "What nonsense is this?" she said, laying her hand on the blue shoulder.
The committee gathered up with hanging heads and drooped lips; the failure of their experiment was very bitter to them.
"What is the meaning of this? Why are you here, Eliza?" repeated the mother of Laura.
The waif fell back instantly into the language of humility she always used to her grown-up patrons. "I'm a 'opeless 'ussy!" she said, "pack me off 'ome agen." She took off her sash and offered it to the lady. "Take it away," she said; "I ain't fit to look at it—I ain't fit to live."
"How could you be so foolish, Laura?" said her mother, strong annoyance in her tone. "What made you do such a thing?"
"We—we—we were making a lady of her," was Laura's forlorn reply. Tears were in her eyes, her mouth trembled.
"What are they doing to my girl?" said her godfather, coming up.
The child sprang to him. "Oh, uncle," she said, "dear, dear, dear uncle! don't let her be made a servant of, will you? Oh, we had nearly got her to be a lady. Darling uncle! do take her yourself, will you? You said you'd adopt one some day."
But the socialist looked resentfully at the spoiler of his tricks. "No, thank you, Laura," he said; "I'll make my own choice when I do."
The waif was returned to Mrs. Brookes under the care of a servant. All the "lady-like" clothes were taken from her; she was bidden learn to sweep and dust, as it befitted one whose profession would naturally be represented by a broom and a dust-pan.
At the end of a month, so melancholy to her was the transition from Dorothy Marjorie Gladys Fitz-Stephen to Eliza Jones, that she incontinently took to her heels one fine day, and, prevailing on her parents' indulgence, became Flip Huggins again.