« AnteriorContinuar »
pity to lose this train, and have two or three hours to wait perhaps."
"Well, I shall just get a wash and be ready in no time," said Charles. "Put up that pie in. a piece of paper, Lucy; I can eat it as well in the train."
In less than half an hour they had " really started," as Lucy expressed it. She had not been out of London all the summer, and felt quite a childish delight at the thought of sitting by the wide waters and feeling the freshness of the sea breeze. She had been eagerly looking forward to it all through the last two or three sultry weeks; anxiously fearing lest anything should arise to prevent this promised outing. But Charlie had continued in full work, the amount in the little money-box in their bedroom had steadily accumulated, the weather remained hot and fine, and the long-looked-for day had actually arrived. They were really off; Charlie carrying the bag and shawl in his hand, and a crisp fivepound note in his pocket. Lucy Allwright felt inclined to dance down the street with her baby in her arms. She was only three-and-twenty, and it seemed so delightful to leave those small close rooms, and that great noisy city, and have Charlie to go about with her all day.
They went by the underground railway to the Mansion House, and walked across to Fenchurch Street. It was well they had lost no time in getting off, for, as Charles had expected, there was a great block in Gracechurch Street, and when at last the little party arrived at Fenchurch Street they found crowds of holiday makers pouring into the station.
Charles placed Lucy and the baby in a quiet corner, and
setting the bag down beside them left them there, and took
his place amongst the crowd gathered round the ticket-office.
Lucy was amused for some time in watching the numerous
groups, so different in appearance, but all alike bent on
getting out of the hot streets into the cooler air of the
country. Presently she began to grow anxious; it was
twenty minutes past two—in seven minutes the train ought to start. Had Charlie lost them in the crowd? Just as she was making herself doubly hot and uncomfortable with this thought, he came hurrying up to her, a broad smile on his face, and clinking his money in one hand whilst the other held his tickets.
"Here's a lark !" he said, standing close in front of Lucy. "That fool of a clerk's been and given me a sov. too much change."
"A sovereign too much!" exclaimed Lucy, her eyes opening wide with astonishment. "You'd better take it back, Charlie."
"Not I," replied her husband, with a laugh. "He shouldn't have been such a duffer. 'Twon't kill the company to lose a sov., and 'twas worth that to wait such a blessed time before I could get the tickets."
"Are you sure it's too much ?" asked Lucy, anxiously.
"Rather. I'd only a shilling besides the fiver, and look!" He held out his hand in which lay five sovereigns and some silver. "He's made me a present of our tickets, and some loose silver for tea and shrimps," he added, laughing.
"I think I should take it back to him, Charlie; perhaps it'll get him into trouble," said Lucy.
"You're a little softie," replied her husband. "The company'll make it all right, never you fear; and if we don't hurry we'll lose our train after all." He took up the bag as he spoke and walked quickly across the office and up the stairs to the platform, Lucy keeping close behind him.
Baby woke up just as they were getting into the train, and occupied all Lucy's thoughts and attention until after they had started, and then she was busy looking at the places they were passing, and did not think any more about the wrong change.
"Stepney!" she exclaimed as the train stopped at the first station. "Why that's where Amy's living. I didn't know as we were going anywhere near it. I should like to see her again."
"Amy," said her husband—" what Amy?"
"Why your cousin Amy, you silly," she replied, laughing. "Why, Charlie, you're half asleep."
"What, little blue-eyed Amy, as I used to call my little wife, afore I ever see you, Lucy? Well, I haven't seen her this five years; she was a slip of a girl then, looking very delicate. P'raps she's stronger now she's married and got a baby. What's her husband, Lucy?"
"Something on the railway, I was told; guard or something, I don't rightly know, but they live at 6, Nelson Street, Stepney. Couldn't we stop and see them, going home, Charlie?"
Charles Allwright pondered for a few minutes, and then laughed as he said:
"To be sure. I'll take an extra day's holiday on the strength of that unexpected sov. We'll come quietly home with the swells on Tuesday, instead of with the tag-rag and bobtail on Monday, and we'll stop at Stepney and call on Amy. I should like to see her again. I used to be terribly fond of her; she were a sweet little lass!"
"Was it a young clerk gave you the change, Charlie?"
"I couldn't see who it was through that stupid little window, and there were such a lot of fellows shoving behind I'd no time to look, if I'd wanted to, which I didn't."
"I hope he won't get into trouble," said Lucy.
"Don't you go and be silly," said her husband. "He'll take care of himself, never you fear. Why, here's the sea already, I declare; oh, no, it's the river. Doesn't it look jolly, old girl, all shining in the sun?"
And Lucy held baby up to see the cows grazing in the
green fields, and the great ships on the broad river beyond,
and forgot everything but the pleasure of gliding through
the quiet country scenery, with the sweet summer breeze
blowing in freshly upon them. That brief August holiday
was to the full as delightful as Lucy's brightest dreams had
pictured it . They found some modest rooms in a quiet little
house in a cheap neighbourhood away from the water; but
they had a great green field opposite their windows, and a little garden behind where Lucy and baby could sit under the deep shade of an old oak tree during the hottest part of the day, whilst Charles smoked his pipe beside them, or strolled down to the pier to talk to the boatmen. As the day wore on and the sun grew less fierce, they would go out and sit on the green cliff that slopes to the water's edge, and watch the passing of the great steamers bound for far distant lands, and laden with hundreds of emigrants; or walk down the long pier and watch the sun set in a great sea of gold and purple. By Monday morning Lucy and baby had roses in their cheeks and bright sparkling eyes.
"I wish I could get country work," said Charles; "the fresh air suits you two wonderful."
"I wish you could," said Lucy. "But, lor, there," she added, "it's a shame to say a word; why, lots of folk worse than we can't have even a day or two like this to set 'em up. It has been lovely, Charlie, something to think about all winter."
"And it ain't over yet, little woman. We needn't go till the four-o'clock train to-morrow; that'll give us plenty of time to call at Stepney and see Amy; it'll be growing cooler then."
Lucy did not enjoy those last hours quite so keenly. She could not altogether get over a little feeling of compunction about that unexpected sovereign. She had said a word more about it the first evening of their arrival, but her husband snapped her up with:
"Now don't you go for to spoil all our holiday, worrying me about that,, Lucy. I know what's what; I'm not a thief," and Lucy was silenced, and in the great pleasure of the long summer hours, spent out of doors with her husband and child, the matter gradually faded from her mind.
But the pleasant holiday came to an end at last, like everything else, and on Tuesday afternoon the long train went whirling towards town, and Lucy took her last lingering look at the green fields and the shining river, before the closely-built houses shut them from her view, and soon after
the train drew up at Stepney.
"Amy '11 be surprised to see us, I reckon," said Charles, as they walked through the close streets.
"That she will," replied Lucy. "I wonder if her husband '11 be at home; I've never seen him."
"Nor I neither," said Charles. "I fancy he's a bit of a scholard, a cut above us carpenter fellows."
"Amy was always a rare girl for her books," said Lucy; "she wasn't so strong as most of us, and would sit reading whilst we was romping."
"Nelson Street," said Charles, looking up at a name over his head; "here we are. It's a poor-looking street, Lucy, closer and narrower than ours even."
"Ever so much," replied Lucy; "and doesn't the pavement seem hot after the cool grass and the water?"
The door of No. 6 stood open, and a child sat on the doorstep.
"Does Mrs. Green live here?" asked Charles.
"Right up a-top," was the answer, and the little party proceeded to mount the stairs. The houses were small, so that "right a-top" did not mean a very long journey; but Lucy felt the hot atmosphere grow hotter as they mounted the narrow stairs, and was sorry her cousin should live in such a stuffy place.
A sweet faint voice called "Come in" when they knocked at the topmost door, and Lucy turned the handle and entered.
A slight girlish figure, with soft fair hair and gentle blue eyes, rose from a chair by the open window, and, with a cry of pleasure and surprise, came forward to meet them.
"Lucy! and Charlie, too! Well, this is like old times. How bonny you're looking, Lucy; and baby, too. My poor little man is very weakly."
"You don't look much to boast of yerself, Amy," said Charles; "you flushed a bit when we came in, but you're as white as can be now."
"The heat tries us both," she replied; "these top rooms are always the hottest, and there's no air to speak of, even