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Once a Week By A. A. Milne Characters: 4613

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

(Mrs. Barclay begins)

It was a beautiful Sunday morning. All nature browsed in solemn Sabbath stillness. The Little Grey Woman of the Night-Light was hurrying, somewhat late, to church.

Down the white ribbon of road the Virile Benedict of the Libraries came bicycling, treadling easily from the ankles. He rode boldly, with only one hand on the handle-bars, the other in the pocket of his white flannel cricketing trousers. His footballing tie, with his college arms embroidered upon it, flapped gently in the breeze. To look at him you would have said that he was probably a crack polo player on his way to defend the championship against all comers, or the captain of a county golf eleven. As he rode, his soul overflowing with the joy of life, he hummed the Collect for the Day.

It was exactly opposite the church that he ran into the Little Grey Woman of the Night-Light. He had just flashed past a labourer in the road-known to his cronies as the Flap-eared Denizen of the Turnip-patch-a labourer who in the dear dead days of Queen Victoria would have touched his hat humbly, but who now, in this horrible age of attempts to level all class distinctions, actually went on lighting his pipe! Alas, that the respectful deference of the poor toward the rich is now a thing of the past! So thought the Virile Benedict of the Libraries, and in thinking this he had let his mind wander from the important business of guiding his bicycle! In another moment he had run into the Little Grey Woman of the Night-Light!

She had seen him coming and had given a warning cry, but it was too late. The next moment he shot over his handle-bars; but even as he revolved through the air he wondered how old she really was, and what, if any, was her income. For since the death of the Little White Lady he had formed a habit of marrying elderly women for their money, and his fifth or sixth wife had perished of old age only a few months ago.

[Hall Caine (waking up). Who, pray, is the Little White Lady?

Mrs. Barclay. His first wife. She comes in my book, "The Broken Halo," now in its two hundredth edition.

Hall Caine (annoyed). Tut!]

"Jove," he said cheerily, as he picked himself and her and his bicycle up, "that was a nasty spill. As my Aunt Louisa used to say to the curate when he upset t

he milk-jug into her lap, 'No milk, thank you.'" His brown eyes danced with amusement as he related this reminiscence of his boyhood. To the Little Grey Woman he seemed to exhale youth from every pore.

"What did your Aunt Louisa say when her ankle was sprained?" she asked with a rueful smile.

In an instant the merry banter faded from the Virile Benedict's brown eyes, and was replaced by the commanding look of one who has taken a brilliant degree in all his medical examinations.

"Allow me," he said brusquely; "I am a doctor." He bent down and listened to her ankle.

It did not take Dr. Dick Cameron's quick ear long to find out all there was to know. His manner became very gentle and his voice very low; and, though he continued to exhale youth, he did it less ostentatiously than before.

"I must carry you home," he said, picking her up in his strong young arms; "you cannot go to church to-day."

"But the curate is preaching!"

Dr. Dick murmured something profane under his breath about curates. He had, alas! these moments of irreverence; as, for instance, on one occasion when he had spoken of Mr. Louis N. Parker's noble picture-play, "Joseph and his Brethren," quite shortly as "Jos. Bros."

"I will carry you home," he said gently. "Tell me where you live, Little Grey Woman."

She smiled up at him bravely. "The Manor House," she said.

His voice became yet more gentle. "And now tell me your income," he whispered; and his whole being trembled with emotion as he waited for her reply.

[Mrs. Barclay. There! That's the end of the chapter. Now it's your turn.

Hall Caine (waking up). I don't know if I told you that in my last great work of the imagination, in which I collaborated with the Bishop of London, I wrote throughout in the first person. Nearly a million copies were sold, thus showing that the heart of the great public approved of my method of telling my story through the mouth of a young and innocent girl, exposed to great temptation. I should wish, therefore, to repeat that method in this story, if you could so arrange it.

Mrs. Barclay. But that's easy. The Little Grey Woman shall tell Dr. Dick the story of her first marriage. I did that in my last book, "The Broken Halo," now in its two hundredth edition.

Hall Caine (annoyed). Tut!]

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