“If you say anything more to me about your beastly beans,” she said, “I’ll lose my temper, and that’s straight. Can you tell me how to bring little Alf to himself again? That’s all I want to know.”
“Time will do that, unfortunately,” Burton assured her. “Where is he this afternoon?
“It’s his half-holiday,” Ellen replied, in a tone of disgust, “and where do you think he’s gone? Gone to a museum to look at some statues! The schoolmaster called for him. They’ve gone off together. All I can say is that if he don’t turn natural again before long, you can have him. He don’t belong to me no longer.”
“I am willing to take the responsibility,” Burton replied, “if it is necessary. Will you let me give you some tea?”
“I want nothing from you except my weekly money that the law provides for,” Ellen answered fiercely. “You can keep your tea. And mind what I say, too. It’s no use coming down to Clematis Villa and talking about the effect of the bean having worn off and being yourself again. You seem pretty comfortable here and you can stay here until I’m ready for you. Oh, bother holding the door open!” she added, angrily. “I hate such tricks! Get out of the way and let me pass. I can let myself out. More fool me for coming! I might have known you’d have nothing sensible to say.”
“I’m afraid,” Burton admitted, “that we do rather look at this matter from different points of view, but, as I told you before, you will find very soon that Alfred will be just the same as he used to be.”
“If he don’t alter,” Ellen declared, looking back from the door, “you’ll find him here one day by Carter Patterson’s, with a label around his neck. I’m not one for keeping children about the place that know more than their mothers. I give him another three weeks, and not a day longer. What do you think was the last thing he did? Went and had his hair cut—wanted to get rid of his curl, he said.”
“I can’t blame him for that,” Burton remarked, smiling. “I never thought it becoming. Will you shake hands, Ellen, before you go?”
“I won’t!” she replied, drawing up her skirt in genteel fashion. “I want nothing to do with you. Only, if he don’t alter, well, just you look out, for you’ll find him on your doorstep.”
She departed in a “Lily of the Valley” scent and little fragments of purple fluff. Burton threw himself into an easy-chair.
“If one could only find the tree,” he muttered to himself. “What a life for the boy! Poor little chap!”
AN AMAZING TRANSFORMATION
The novel which was to bring immortal fame and, incidentally, freedom from all financial responsibilities, to Burton, came back within a week, with a polite note which he was at first inclined to accept as some consolation until he found that it was stereotyped. Within a few hours it was despatched to another firm of publishers, taken at random from the advertisement columns of the Times. An hour or two afterwards Alfred arrived, with no label around his neck, but a veritable truant. Of the two he was the more self-possessed as he greeted his amazed parent.