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The Dawn of A To-morrow Frances Hodgson Burnett

Chapter II

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As he drew back he heard something fall with the solid tinkling sound of coin on the flag pavement. When he had been in the pawnbroker's shop he had taken the gold from his purse and thrust it carelessly into his waistcoat pocket, thinking that it would be easy to reach when he chose to give it to one beggar or another, if he should see some wretch who would be the better for it. Some movement he had made in bending had caused a sovereign to slip out and it had fallen upon the stones.

He did not intend to pick it up, but in the moment in which he stood looking down at it he heard close to him a shuffling movement. What he had thought a bundle of rags or rubbish covered with sacking --some tramp's deserted or forgotten belongings--was stirring. It was alive, and as he bent to look at it the sacking divided itself, and a small head, covered with a shock of brilliant red hair, thrust itself out, a shrewd, small face turning to look up at him slyly with deep-set black eyes.

It was a human girl creature about twelve years old.

"Are yer goin' to do it?" she said in a hoarse, street-strained voice. "Yer would be a fool if yer did-- with as much as that on yer."

She pointed with a reddened, chapped, and dirty hand at the sovereign.

"Pick it up," he said. "You may have it."

Her wild shuffle forward was an actual leap. The hand made a snatching clutch at the coin. She was evidently afraid that he was either not in earnest or would repent. The next second she was on her feet and ready for flight.

"Stop," he said; "I've got more to give away."

She hesitated--not believing him, yet feeling it madness to lose a chance.

"MORE!" she gasped. Then she drew nearer to him, and a singular change came upon her face. It was a change which made her look oddly human.

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"Gawd, mister!" she said. "Yer can give away a quid like it was nothin'--an' yer've got more--an' yer goin' to do THAT--jes cos yer 'ad a bit too much lars night an' there's a fog this mornin'! You take it straight from me--don't yer do it. I give yer that tip for the suvrink."

She was, for her years, so ugly and so ancient, and hardened in voice and skin and manner that she fascinated him. Not that a man who has no To-morrow in view is likely to be particularly conscious of mental processes. He was done for, but he stood and stared at her. What part of the Power moving the scheme of the universe stood near and thrust him on in the path designed he did not know then--perhaps never did. He was still holding on to the thing in his pocket, but he spoke to her again.

"What do you mean?" he asked glumly.

She sidled nearer, her sharp eyes on his face.

"I bin watchin' yer," she said. "I sat down and pulled the sack over me 'ead to breathe inside it an' get a bit warm. An' I see yer come. I knowed wot yer was after, I did. I watched yer through a 'ole in me sack. I wasn't goin' to call a copper. I shouldn't want ter be stopped meself if I made up me mind. I seed a gal dragged out las' week an' it'd a broke yer 'art to see 'er tear 'er clothes an' scream. Wot business 'ad they preventin' 'er goin' off quiet? I wouldn't 'a' stopped yer --but w'en the quid fell, that made it different."

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The Dawn of A To-morrow
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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