MOTHER AND CHILD
Ida Starr, dismissed by the schoolmistress, ran quickly homewards. She was unusually late, and her mother would be anxious. Still, when she came within sight of the door, she stopped and stood panting. How should she tell of her disgrace? It was not fear that made her shrink from repeating Miss Rutherford’s message; nor yet shame, though she would gladly have hidden herself away somewhere in the dark from every eye; her overwhelming concern was for the pain she knew she was going to cause one who had always cherished her with faultless tenderness,—tenderness which it had become her nature to repay with a child’s unreflecting devotion.
Her home was in Milton Street. On the front-door was a brass-plate which bore the inscription: “Mrs. Ledward, Dressmaker;” in the window of the ground-floor was a large card announcing that “Apartments” were vacant. The only light was one which appeared in the top storey, and there Ida knew that her mother was waiting for her, with tea ready on the table as usual. Mrs. Starr was seldom at home during the child’s dinner-hour, and Ida had not seen her at all to-day. For it was only occasionally that she shared her mother’s bedroom; it was the rule for her to sleep with Mrs. Ledward, the landlady, who was a widow and without children. The arrangement had held ever since Ida could remember; when she had become old enough to ask for an explanation of this, among other singularities in their mode of life, she was told that her mother slept badly, and must have the bed to herself.
But the night had come on, and every moment of delay doubtless increased the anxiety she was causing. Ida went up to the door, stood on tiptoe to reach the knocker, and gave her usual two distinct raps. Mrs. Ledward opened the door to her in person; a large woman, with pressed lips and eyes that squinted very badly; attired, however, neatly, and looking as good-natured as a woman who was at once landlady and dressmaker could be expected to look.
“How ’s ’t you’re so late?” she asked, without looking at the child; her eyes, as far as one could guess, fixed upon the houses opposite, her hands in the little pocket on each side of her apron. “Your mother’s poorly.”
“Oh, then I shall sleep with her to-night?” exclaimed Ida, forgetting her trouble for the moment in this happy foresight
“Dessay,” returned Mrs. Ledward laconically.
Ida left her still standing in the doorway, and ran stairs. The chamber she went into—after knocking and receiving permission to enter, according to the rule which had been impressed upon her— was a tolerably-furnished bedroom, which, with its bright fire, tasteful little lamp, white coverlets and general air of fresh orderliness, made a comfortable appearance. The air was scented, too, with some pleasant odour of a not too pungent kind. But the table lacked one customary feature; no tea was laid as it was wont to be at this hour. The child gazed round in surprise. Her mother was in bed, lying back on raised pillows, and with a restless, half-pettish look on her face.