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|The Dawn of A To-morrow||Frances Hodgson Burnett|
|Page 6 of 10||
The organ of whose lagging, sick pumpings Antony Dart had scarcely been aware for months gave a sudden leap in his breast. His blood actually hastened its pace, and ran through his veins instead of crawling --a distinct physical effect of an actual mental condition. It was produced upon him by the mere matter-of-fact ordinariness of her tone. He had never been a sentimental man, and had long ceased to be a feeling one, but at that moment something emotional and normal happened to him.
"You expect to live in that way?" he said.
"Ain't nothin' else fer me to do. Wisht I was better lookin'. But I've got a lot of 'air," clawing her mop, "an' it's red. One day," chuckling, "a gent ses to me--he ses: `Oh! yer'll do. Yer an ugly little devil--but ye ARE a devil.' "
She was leading him through a narrow, filthy back street, and she stopped, grinning up in his face.
"I say, mister," she wheedled, "let's stop at the cawfee-stand. It's up this way."
When he acceded and followed her, she quickly turned a corner. They were in another lane thick with fog, which flared with the flame of torches stuck in costers' barrows which stood here and there-- barrows with fried fish upon them, barrows with second-hand-looking vegetables and others piled with more than second-hand-looking garments. Trade was not driving, but near one or two of them dirty, ill-used looking women, a man or so, and a few children stood. At a corner which led into a black hole of a court, a coffee-stand was stationed, in charge of a burly ruffian in corduroys.
"Come along," said the girl. "There it is. It ain't strong, but it 's 'ot."
She sidled up to the stand, drawing Dart with her, as if glad of his protection.
" 'Ello, Barney," she said. " 'Ere 's a gent warnts a mug o' yer best. I've 'ad a bit o' luck, an' I wants one mesself."
"Garn," growled Barney. "You an' yer luck! Gent may want a mug, but y'd show yer money fust."
"Strewth! I've got it. Y' aint got the chinge fer wot I 'ave in me 'and 'ere. 'As 'e, mister?"
"Show it," taunted the man, and then turning to Dart. "Yer wants a mug o' cawfee?"
The girl held out her hand cautiously--the piece of gold lying upon its palm.
"Look 'ere," she said.
There were two or three men slouching about the stand. Suddenly a hand darted from between two of them who stood nearest, the sovereign was snatched, a screamed oath from the girl rent the thick air, and a forlorn enough scarecrow of a young fellow sprang away.
The blood leaped in Antony Dart's veins again and he sprang after him in a wholly normal passion of indignation. A thousand years ago--as it seemed to him--he had been a good runner. This man was not one, and want of food had weakened him. Dart went after him with strides which astonished himself. Up the street, into an alley and out of it, a dozen yards more and into a court, and the man wheeled with a hoarse, baffled curse. The place had no outlet.
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|The Dawn of A To-morrow
Frances Hodgson Burnett
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