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A rainy November afternoon was drawing to its close. The sun had set in a haze of fog, to which it gave a fleeting warmth of colour. The street lamps were lit, and chinks of light showed here and there through the shuttered windows of the tall, dingy houses in a dull old square not far from Euston Station.

Yes, chinks of light were coming from almost every house, casting little gleams of brightness on to the wet pavements and rusty iron bars guarding the areas; but from one, the last in the square, considerably more was to be seen.

Uncertain blobs of light, now broad, now narrow, from the windows of the dining-room, suggested that the curtains were being drawn back impatiently every few minutes, that someone


 might look out into the uninviting darkness; and at least three times in one half-hour a broad blaze streaming out into the night assured the passers-by that the hall door of Number 20 had been opened wide, despite the fog and rain.

If they had paused at such a moment they might have seen a slender figure, with brown hair blown away from her bright face, and eager eyes that searched the familiar square, regardless of the cold, until a call from within made her slowly close the door and return into the brightness that looked doubly bright after the darkness without.

“Father and Hugh won’t come any the quicker because you send a draught right through the house, dear!” a pleasant-looking girl of two or three-and-twenty remarked, as Sydney came dancing and singing into the shabby school-room after her third unsuccessful journey to the door; “they are hardly ever in before half-past five, you know.”

“It feels like half-past six, at least!” cried Sydney. “Oh, dear! oh, dear! I’ve never known half-past five so awfully long in coming!”

“Sydney! Sydney!” Mildred said reprovingly, “don’t you remember what mother was


 saying to you only yesterday? You really must give up slang and schoolgirl ways, now you are going to be eighteen next month, and to put your hair up, and leave off doing proper lessons and——”

“And become a real, celebrated authoress!” shouted Tom, who was despatching bread and butter at the table with a highly satisfactory appetite. “You’ll have to mind your shaky grammar now, Syd.”

“Of course I shan’t be a celebrated authoress quite at once,” said Sydney modestly. “I believe you are usually rather more grown up than eighteen first, and have a little more experience. But it makes one feel ever so much older when one is really going to be in print.”

“And when you’ve earned a whole guinea—twenty-one whole shillings!” little Prissie contributed in an absolutely awestruck voice.

“Read us the letter again, Syd,” Hal demanded, stretching out his long legs to the cheerful blaze. “Go ahead; I really don’t think I took it all in.”

And Sydney, nothing loth, produced that wonderful letter, which had come in quite an ordinary way by the four o’clock post that afternoon, together with an advertisement about a dairy-farm for mother, and an uninteresting-looking


 envelope for father, with “Lincoln’s Inn” upon the back.

The outside of her letter was quite ordinary-looking too, Sydney had thought, when Fred and Prissie had almost torn the envelope in half, in their anxiety each to have the pleasure of bringing it upstairs to her. Just a narrow envelope, with something stamped upon the back, and her name in very scrawly hand-writing—“Miss Sydney Lisle.”

And then, when she had turned it over several times, and all the Chichester children who were in had had a look at it, and tried to guess what the raised and twisted letters on the back might mean, Sydney had opened it.

And there was a typed letter, and inside the letter a cheque for a guinea—actually a guinea, the largest sum Sydney had ever owned in the course of her seventeen years! She never will forget the wonder and delight of that moment!

“It’s a guinea—twenty-one whole shillings!” she had told the wildly-excited Madge and Fred and Prissie. “The Editor of Our Girls has sent it to me. He is going to print my story in the next week’s issue, and he calls me ‘Madam’!”

This was the astounding news which was


 told afresh to every member of the Chichester family as he or she set foot inside the door, and which made the hands of the school-room clock stand still to Sydney, as she waited for Dr. Chichester and Hugh to come in from the hospital and hear it.

How surprised father would be, and what a lovely new fountain pen she would buy for him! And Hugh—Hugh was always so specially pleased when anything nice happened to Sydney! She would get Hugh to take her out and help her to choose presents for everyone out of that wonderful guinea, which seemed as inexhaustible as Fortunatus’s purse.

Father and mother (what a present mother should have!), and Mildred—Mildred wanted a new pair of gloves; she should have suède, the very best. And Hal and Dolly and Tom—Tom should have the bicycle-lamp he was longing for, in spite of his remark about her grammar; and Madge and Ronald and dear little Freddie and Prissie, oh, what a doll she would get for Prissie! with real eyelashes and hair that you could brush! And old nurse must have a present, too, and Susan the cook. And Hugh—Hugh should have the very best present of anybody’s, after mother.

So absorbed was she in these thoughts that


 she never heard the front door open and the steps, which she had been waiting for so long, come down the passage to the school-room.

The watched pot had boiled the minute that she took her eyes from it: Hugh Chichester was standing in the doorway looking at her.

“Oh, Hugh!” She was at his side in a moment, and pouring out the great news in words that would hardly come fast enough to please her.

He put his hands upon her shoulders and looked down—such a long way he had to look from his six feet two inches—at her glowing face.

“Why, Syd,” he said, “that’s first-rate, isn’t it? Well done!”

“Three cheers for Miss Lisle, the celebrated authoress!” yelled Tom, rising from his chair and waving his tea-cup. The toast was received with enthusiasm.

“Only I wish it were ‘Miss Chichester,’” said Ronald; “it’s so silly for old Syd to have a different name!”

“Oh, well, she can’t help that,” Tom contributed; “and her father and mother gave her to us, so it’s just the same.”

“Yes, she’s ours right enough,” said Hugh,


 putting his arm round his “little sister,” as Sydney Lisle would have called herself.

And then, quite suddenly, Dr. Chichester’s voice was heard calling “Sydney! Sydney!”

“There’s father calling; mother must have told him!” Sydney cried, and, gathering together her precious cheque and letter, she rushed out like a whirlwind.

“The pater is in the drawing-room, Syd,” Hugh called after her; “he just took up his letters and went straight in there to mother,” he added, for the others’ benefit. Sydney was already out of hearing, and only echoes of her fresh young voice came floating back to them, as she ran down the long back passage and up the stairs through the hall to the drawing-room.

“Merrily! merrily shall I live now! Merrily! merrily!”

Mildred stooped to pick up the mending-basket which Sydney’s energetic movements had swept off her knee. “I wonder whether Sydney ever will grow up!” she said.

“Well, she’s right enough as she is,” said Hugh, at last beginning on his long-delayed tea.

Sydney’s merry voice was hushed as she came into the drawing-room, for mother did not like


 boisterous ways, and father might be tired. But, though her feet moved soberly, her eyes were dancing as she held out the precious letter to the doctor, standing by the window.

He turned, and Sydney suddenly forgot the guinea.

What made him look so old and strange? And surely mother’s head was bent down low above her work to hide her tears! Sydney stopped short, with an exclamation of dismay.

Father grasped a letter in a hand that shook. Vaguely she saw that the crumpled envelope had “Lincoln’s Inn” upon the back. It was the letter which had come with hers at four o’clock that afternoon!

The hall clock heralded the striking of six by a variety of strange wheezing sounds: when it had slowly tinged away the six strokes, father spoke.

Ficción y literatura
enero 24
Rectory Print
Babafemi Titilayo Olowe

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