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HOME > Short Stories > Sue, A Little Heroine > CHAPTER VII. SHOPPING.
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 Connie slept without dreams that night, and in the morning awoke with a start. What was the matter? Was she late? It was dreadful to be late at the doors of that cruel factory. Those who were late were docked of their pay.  
Peter Harris was always very angry when his daughter did not bring in her full earnings on Saturday night. Connie cried out, "Father, father!" and then sat up in bed and pushed her golden hair back from her little face. What was the matter? Where was she? Why, what a pretty room! There was scarcely any light yet, and she could not see the different articles of furniture very distinctly, but it certainly seemed to her that she was in a most elegant apartment. Her room at home was—oh, so bare! just a very poor trundle-bed, and a little deal chest of drawers with a tiny looking-glass on top, and one broken chair to stand by her bedside. This was all.
But her present room had a carpet on the floor, and there were pictures hanging on the walls, and there were curtains to the windows, and the little bed on which she lay was covered with a gay counterpane—soft—almost as soft as silk.
Where could she be? It took her almost a minute to get back the memory of last night. Then she shuddered with the most curious feeling of mingled ecstasy and pain. She was not going to the factory to-day. She was not going to work at that horrid sewing-machine. She was not to meet Sue. She was not to be choked by the horrid air. She, Connie, had got a new situation, and Mrs. Warren was a very nice woman, although she was so fat and her dress was so loud that even Connie's untrained taste could not approve of it.
Just then a voice called to her:
"Get up, my dear; I'll have a cosy breakfast ready for yer by the time yer've put yourself tidily into yer clothes."
"Yes," thought Connie to herself, "I've done well to come. Agnes is right. I wonder what she'll say when she comes to tea this evening. I wonder if she met father. I do 'ope as father won't find me. I'd real like to stay on here for a bit; it's much, much nicer than the cruel sort of life I 'ave to home."
Connie dressed by the light which was now coming in more strongly through the window. Mrs. Warren pushed a can of hot water inside the door, and the girl washed with a strange, unwonted sense of luxury. She had no dress but the dark-blue, and she was therefore forced to put it on.
When she had completed her toilet she entered the sitting-room. Mrs. Warren, in her morning déshabille, looked a more unpleasing object than ever. Her hair was in tight22 curl-papers, and she wore a very loose and very dirty dressing-gown, which was made of a sort of pattern chintz, and gave her the effect of being a huge pyramid of coarse, faded flowers.
There was coffee, however, which smelled very good, on the hearth, and there was some toast and bacon, and some bread, butter, and jam. Connie and Mrs. Warren made a good meal, and then Mrs. Warren began to talk of the day's programme.
"I have a lot of shopping to do this morning," she said, "and we'll go out not later than ten o'clock sharp. It's wonderful wot a lot o' things I has to buy. There's sales on now, too, and we'll go to some of 'em. Maybe I'll get yer a bit o' ribbon—you're fond o' blue ribbon, I take it. Well, maybe I'll get it for yer—there's no saying. Anyhow, we'll walk down the streets, and wot shops we don't go into we'll press our noses against the panes o' glass and stare in. Now then, my dear, yer don't s'pose that I'll allow you to come out walking with the likes o' me with yer 'air down like that."
"Why, 'ow is it to be done?" said Connie. "I take it that it's beautiful; I ha' done it more tidy than ever."
"But I don't want it tidy. Now then, you set down yere close to the fire, so that you can toast yer toes, and I'll see to yer 'air."
Connie was forced to obey; more and more was she wax in the hands of her new employer. Mrs. Warren quickly took the hair-pins out of Connie's thick plait. She let it fall down to her waist, and then she unplaited it and brushed out the shining waves of lovely hair, and then said, with a smile of satisfaction:
"Now, I guess there won't be anybody prettier than you to walk abroad to-day."
"But I can't," said Connie—"I don't ever wear my 'air like that; it's only young lydies as does that."
"Well, ain't you a lydy, and ain't I a lydy? You're going out with one, and yer'll wear yer 'air as I please."
Connie shivered; but presently the little dark-blue cap was placed over the masses of golden hair, the gray fur was fastened round the slender throat, and Connie marched out with Mrs. Warren.
Mrs. Warren's own dress was in all respects the reverse of her pretty young companion's. It consisted of a very voluminous silk cloak, which was lined with fur, and which gave the already stout woman a most portly appearance. On her head she wore a bonnet covered with artificial flowers, and she enveloped her hands in an enormous muff.
"Now, off we go," said Mrs. Warren. "You'll enjoy yerself, my purty."
It is quite true that Connie did—at least, at first. This was the time of day when, with the exception of Sundays, she was always buried from view in the ugly warehouse. She was unaccustomed to the morning sunshine, and she was23 certainly unaccustomed to the handsome streets where Mrs. Warren conducted her.
They walked on, and soon found themselves in crowded thoroughfares. At last they stopped before the doors of a great shop, into which crowds of people were going.
"Oh, what a pretty girl!" said Connie to her companion.
A young girl, very like Connie herself—so like as to make the resemblance almost extraordinary—was entering the shop, accompanied by an old gentleman who was supporting himself by the aid of a gold-headed stick. The girl also had golden hair. She was dressed in dark blue, and had gray fur round her neck. But above the fur there peeped out a little pale-blue handkerchief made of very soft silk.
"That's purty," whispered Mrs. Warren to Connie. "Yer'd like a 'andkercher like that—yer shall 'ave one. Get on in front o' me; you're slimmer nor me; I want to push into the shop."
Connie obeyed. As she passed the fair young girl, the girl seemed to notice the extraordinary likeness between them, for she turned and looked at Connie and smiled. She also said something to her companion, who also stared at the girl. But stout Mrs. Warren poked Connie from behind, and she had to push forward, and presently found herself in the shop.
There it seemed to her that Mrs. Warren did very little buying. It is true she stopped at several counters, always choosing those which were most surrounded by customers; it is true she pulled things about, poking at the goods offered for sale, and making complaints about them, but always keeping Connie well to the fore.
A delicate color had sprung into the girl's cheeks, and almost every one turned to look at her. The shopmen turned; the shopgirls gazed; the customers forgot what they wanted in their amazement at Connie's beauty. Her hair, in especial, was the subject of universal admiration—its thickness, its length, its marvelous color. The girl herself was quite unconscious of the admiration which her appearance produced, but Mrs. Warren knew well what a valuable acquisition she had made in little Connie.
When they left the shop she seemed to be in high good-humor. But, lo and behold! a change had taken place in the outside world. The sun, so bright and glorious, had hidden himself behind a murky yellow fog, which was coming up each moment thicker and thicker from the river.
"Oh dear!" said Mrs. Warren.
"Oh dear!" cried Connie too. "We won't get lost, will us, ma'am?"
"Lost?" cried Mrs. Warren, with a sniff. "Now, I call this fog the most beautiful fortunation thing that could have 'appened. We'll have a real jolly morning now, Connie. You come along o' me. There, child—walk a bit in front. Why, ye're a real, real beauty. I feel sort of ashamed to be walkin' with yer. Let folks think that you're out with yer nurse,24 my pretty. Yes, let 'em think that, and that she's screening yer from misfortun' wid her own ample person."
Thus Connie walked for several hours that day. In and out of crowded thoroughfares the two perambulated. Into shops they went, and out again they came. Everywhere Connie went first, and Mrs. Warren followed very close behind.
At last the good lady said that she had done her morning's shopping. Connie could not well recall what she had bought, and the pair trudged soberly home.
When they got there Mrs. Warren went straight to her own bedroom, and Connie sat down by the fire, feeling quite tired with so much exercise. Presently Mrs. Warren came out again. She had changed her dress, and had put on an ample satin gown of black with broad yellow stripes. She was in high good-humor, and going up to Connie, gave her a resounding smack on the cheek.
"Now," she said, "yer won't think 'ard of poor Mammy Warren. See wot I've gone an' got an' bought for yer."
Connie turned quickly. A soft little blue handkerchief, delicately folded in tissue-paper, was laid on the table by the girl.
"Why—why—that ain't for me!" said Connie.
"Yes, but it be! Why shouldn't it be for you? I saw yer lookin' at that purty young lydy who was as like yer as two peas. I watched 'ow yer stared at the blue 'andkercher, and 'ow yer sort o' longed for it."
"But indeed—indeed I didn't."
"Anyhow, here's another, and yer can have it, and wear it peeping out among yer fur. I take it that yer blue 'andkercher'll take the cake."
"Then you've bought it for me?" said Connie.
"Yus—didn't I zay so?"
"But I never seen yer do it," said Connie.
"Seen me do it?" said Mrs. Warren, her eyes flashing with anger. "You was too much taken up with yer own conceits, my gel—hevery one staring at yer, 'cos poor old Mammy Warren 'ad made yer so beautiful. But though you was full to the brim o' yourself, I warn't so selfish; I were thinkin' o' you—and yere's yer 'andkercher."
Connie took up the handkerchief slowly. Strange as it may seem, it gave her no pleasure. She said, "Thank you, Mrs. Warren," in a subdued voice, and took it into her little bedroom.
Connie felt that she did not particularly want to wear the handkerchief. She did not know why, but a trouble, the first of the many troubles she was to undergo in the terrible society of Mrs. Warren, came over her. She went back again and sat down by the fire. During the greater part of the afternoon the stout woman slept. Connie watched her furtively. A strong desire to get up and run away seized her. Could she not get out of that house and go back to Sue and25 Giles? How happy she would feel in Giles's bare little room! How she would enjoy talking with the child! With what wonder they would both listen to Big Ben as he spoke in that voice of his the number of the hours! Giles would make up fairy-tales for Connie to listen to. How Connie did love the "wonnerful" things he said about the big "Woice"! One day it was cheerful, another day sad, another day very encouraging, another day full of that noble influence which the child himself so largely exercised. At all times it was an angel voice, speaking to mankind from high above this sordid world.
It helped Giles, and it helped Connie too. She sat by the fire in this well-furnished room and looked anxiously towards the door. Once she got up on tiptoe. She had almost reached the door, but had not quite done so, when Mrs. Warren turned, gave a loud snore, and opened her eyes. She did not speak when she saw Connie, but her eyes seemed to say briefly, "Well, don't you go any farther"; and Connie turned back into her small bedroom.
Sharp at four o'clock Mrs. Warren started up.
"Now then," she said, "I'm goin' to get the tea ready."
"Can I help you, ma'am?" asked Connie. "Shall I make you some toast, ma'am?"
"Toast?" cried Mrs. Warren. "Toast? Do you think I'd allow yer to spile yer purty face with the fire beatin' on it? Not a bit o' it! You set down there—it's a foine lydy you be, and I ha' to take care of yer."
"But why should yer do that, ma'am? I ain't put into the world to do naught. I ha' always worked 'ard—father wanted me to."
"Eh?" said Mrs. Warren. "But I'm yer father and mother both now, and I don't want yer to."
"Don't yer?" said Connie.
She sank down and folded her hands in her lap.
"I must do summut to whiten them 'ands o' yours," said Mrs. Warren; "and I'm goin' to get yer real purty stockings an' boots to wear. You must look the real lydy—a real lydy wears neat boots and good gloves."
"But I ain't a lydy," said Connie; "an' wots more," she added, "I don't want to be."
"You be a lydy," said Mrs. Warren; "the Halmighty made yer into one."
"I don't talk like one," said Connie.
"No; but then, yer needn't speak. Oh lor'! I suppose that's Agnes a-poundin' at the door. Oh, stand back, child, and I'll go to her."
Mrs. Warren opened the door, and Agnes stepped in.
"I ha' took French leave," she said. "I dunno wot they'll say at the factory, but yere I be. You promised, you know, Mrs. Warren, ma'am, as I shouldn't 'ave naught to do with factory life, niver no more."
"You needn't," said Mrs. Warren. "I ha' a deal o' work for yer to get through; but come along into my bedroom and we'll talk over things."
Mrs. Warren and Agnes disappeared into the bedroom of the former, Mrs. Warren having first taken the precaution to lock the sitting-room door and put the key into her pocket. Poor Connie felt more than ever that she was a prisoner. More than ever did she long for the old life which she had lived. Notwithstanding her father's drinking bouts, notwithstanding his cruelty and neglect, the free life, the above-board life—even the dull, dull factory life—were all as heaven compared to this terrible, mysterious existence in Mrs. Warren's comfortable rooms.

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