All six women were there because their country was at war, and because they felt it to be their duty to assist it to remain at war for the present. They were the nucleus of a committee on War Savings, and they were waiting for their Chairman, who was the Mayor of the borough. He was also a grocer.
Five of the members were discussing methods of persuading poor people to save money. The sixth was making spots on the table with a pen.
They were interrupted, not by the expected Mayor, but by a young woman, who came violently in by the street door, rushed into the middle of the room, and got under the table. The members, in surprise, pushed back their chairs and made ladylike noises of protest and inquiry.
“They’re after me,” panted the person under the table.
All seven listened to thumping silence for several seconds, and then, as no pursuing outcry declared itself, the Stranger arose, without grace, from her hiding-place.
To anybody except a member of a committee it would have been obvious that the Stranger was of the Cinderella type, and bound to turn out a heroine sooner or later. But perception goes out of committees. The more committees you belong to, the less of ordinary life you will understand. When your daily round becomes nothing more than a daily round of committees you might as well be dead.
The Stranger was not pretty; she had a broad, curious face. Her clothes were much too good to throw away. You would have enjoyed giving them to a decayed gentlewoman.
“I stole this bun,” she explained frankly. “There is an uninterned German baker after me.”
“And why did you steal it?” asked Miss Ford, pronouncing the H in “why” with a haughty and terrifying sound of suction.
The Stranger sighed. “Because I couldn’t afford to buy it.”
“And why could you not afford to buy the bun?” asked Miss Ford. “A big strong girl like you.”
You will notice that she had had a good deal of experience in social work.
The Stranger said: “Up till ten o’clock this morning I was of the leisured classes like yourselves. I had a hundred pounds.”
Lady Arabel was one of the kindest people in the world, but even she quivered at the suggestion of a common leisure. The sort of clothes the Stranger wore Lady Arabel would have called “too dretful.” If one is well dressed one is proud, and may look an angel in the eye. If one is really shabby one is even prouder, one often goes out of one’s way to look angels in the eye. But if one wears a squirrel fur “set,” and a dyed dress that originally cost two and a half guineas, one is damned.