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LADY SYBIL LENDS A HAND
Brooks glanced at the card which was brought in to him, at first carelessly enough, afterwards with mingled surprise and pleasure.
"Here is some one," he said to Mary Scott, "whom I should like you to meet. Show the young lady in," he directed.
Some instinct seemed to tell her the truth.
"Who is it?" she asked quickly. "I am very busy this morning."
"It is Lady Sybil Caroom," he answered. "Please don't go. I should like you to meet her."
Mary looked longingly at the door of communication which led into the further suite of offices, but it was too late to think of escape. Sybil had already entered, bringing into the room a delicious odor of violets, herself almost bewilderingly beautiful. She was dressed with extreme simplicity, but with a delicate fastidiousness which Mary at any rate was quick to appreciate. Her lips were slightly parted in a natural and perfectly dazzling smile. She came across to Brooks with outstretched hand and laughter in her eyes.
"Confess that you are horrified," she exclaimed. "I don't care a bit. I've waited for you to take me quite long enough. If you won't come now I shall go by myself."
"Go where?" he exclaimed.
"Why, to one of the branches--I don't care which. I can help for the rest of the day." He laughed.
"Well, let me introduce you to Miss Scott," he said, turning round. "Mary, this is Lady Sybil Caroom. Miss Scott," he continued, turning to the younger girl, "has been my right hand since we first started. If ever you do stand behind our counter it will have to be under her auspices."
Sybil turned courteously but with some indifference towards the girl, who was standing by Brooks' chair. In her plain black dress and white linen collar Mary perhaps looked more than her years, especially by the side of Sybil. As the eyes of the two met, Sybil saw that she was regarded with more than ordinary attention. She saw, too, that Mary was neither so plain nor so insignificant as she had at first imagined.
"I am sure you are very much to be congratulated, Miss Scott," she said. "Mr. Brooks' scheme is a splendid success, isn't it? You must be proud of your share in it."
"My share," Mary said, in quiet, even tones, "has been very small indeed. Mr. Brooks is alone responsible for it. The idea was his, and the organization was his. We others have been no more than machines."
"Very useful machines, Mary," Brooks said, with a kind glance towards her. "Come, we mustn't any of us belittle our share in the work."
Mary took up some papers from the desk.
"I think," she said, "that if you have no more messages for Mr. Flitch I had better start. We are very busy in Stepney just now."
"Please don't hurry," Brooks said. "We must try and manage something for Lady Sybil."
Mary looked up doubtfully.
"Unless you ask Lady Sybil to look on," she said, "I don't quite see how it is possible for her to come."
"Lady Sybil knows the conditions," Brooks answered. "She wants to have a try as a helper."
Mary raised her eyebrows slightly.
"The chief work in the morning is washing children," she remarked. "They come to us in a perfectly filthy condition, and we wash about twenty each, altogether."
"Well, I'm not at all afraid of that," she declared. "I could do my share. I rather like kiddies."
"The other departments," Mary went on, "all need some instruction. Would you think it worth while for one day? If so, I should be pleased to do what I can for you."
Sybil hesitated. She glanced towards Brooks.
"I don't want to give a lot of unnecessary trouble, of course," she said. "Especially if you are busy. But it might be for more than one day. You have a staff of supernumerary helpers, haven't you, whom you send for when you are busy? I thought that I might be one of those."
"In that case," Mary answered, "I shall be very glad, of course, to put you in the way of it. I am going to my own branch this morning at Stepney. Will you come with me?"
"If you are sure I shan't be a nuisance," Sybil answered, gratefully. "Good-bye, Mr. Brooks. I'm awfully obliged to you, and will talk it all over at the Henages' to-night."
The two girls drove off in Sybil's brougham. Mary, in her quiet little hat and plain jacket, seemed to her companion, notwithstanding her air of refinement, to be a denizen of some other world. And between the two there was from the first a certain amount of restraint.
"Do you give up your whole time to this sort of work?" Sybil asked, presently.
"I do now," Mary answered. "I had other employment in the morning, but I gave that up last week. I am a salaried official of the Society from last Monday."
Sybil stole a swift side-glance at her.
"Do you know, I think that it must be a very satisfactory sort of life," she said.
Mary's lips flickered into the faintest of smiles. "Really!"
"Oh, I mean it," Sybil continued. "Of course, I like going about and enjoying myself, but it is hideously tiring. And then after a year or two of it you begin to realize a sort of sameness. Things lose their flavour. Then you have odd times of serious thought, and you know that you have just been going round and round in a circle, that you have done nothing at all except made some show at enjoying yourself. Now that isn't very satisfactory, is it?"
"No," Mary answered, "I don't suppose it is."
"Now you," Sybil continued, "you may be dull sometimes, but I don't suppose you are, and whenever you leave off and think--well, you must always feel that your time, instead of having been wasted, has been well and wholesomely spent. I wish I could have that feeling sometimes."
Despite herself, Mary felt that she would have to like this girl. She was so pretty, so natural, and so deeply in earnest.
"There is no reason why you shouldn't, is there?" she said, more kindly than she had as yet spoken. "I can assure you that I very often have the blues, and I don't consider mine by any means the happiest sort of life. But, of course, one feels differently a little if one has tried to do something--and you can if you like, you know."
Sybil's face was perfectly brilliant with smiles.
"You think that I can?" she exclaimed. "How nice of you. I don't mind how hard it is at first. I may be a little awkward, but I don't think I'm stupid."
"You think this sort of work is the sort you would like best?"
"Why, yes. It seems so practical, you know," Sybil declared. "You must be doing good, even if some of the people don't deserve it. I don't know about the washing, but I don't mind it a bit. Do you think it will be a busy morning?"
"I am sure it will," Mary answered. "A number of the people are getting to work again now, since the Tariff Revision Bill passed, and they keep coming to us for clothes and boots and things. I shall give you the skirts and blouses to look after as soon as the washing is over.
"Delightful," Sybil exclaimed. "I am sure I can manage that."
"And on no account must you give any money to any one," Mary said. "That is most important."
"I will remember," Sybil promised.
Two hours later she broke in upon her mother and half-a-dozen callers, her hat obviously put on without a looking-glass, her face flushed, and her hair disordered, and smelling strongly of disinfectant.
"Some tea, mother, please," she exclaimed, nodding to her visitors. "I have had one bun for luncheon, and I am starving. Can you imagine what I have been doing?"
No one could. Every one tried.
Getting theatre-tickets at the theatre! She waved them aside with scorn.
"I have washed fourteen children," she declared, impressively, "fitted at least a dozen women with blouses and skirts, and three with boots. Besides a lot of odd things."
Lord Arranmore set down his cup with a little shrug of the shoulders.
"You have joined Brooks' Society?" he remarked.
"Yes! I have been down at the Stepney branch all the morning. And do you know, we're disinfected before we leave."
"A most necessary precaution, I should think," Lady Caroom exclaimed, reaching for her vinaigrette, "but do go and change your things as quickly as you can.
"I must eat, mother, or starve," Sybil declared. "I have never been so hungry."
A somewhat ponderous lady, who was the wife of a bishop, felt bound to express her disapprobation.
"Do you really think, dear," she said, "that you are wise in encouraging a charity which is not in any way under the control of the Church?"
"Oh, isn't it?" Sybil remarked. "I'm sure I didn't know. But then the Church hasn't anything quite like this, has it? Mr. Brooks is so clever and original in all his ideas."
The disapprobation of the bishop's wife became even more marked.
"The very fact," she said, "that the Church has not thought it wise to institute a charitable scheme upon such--er--sweeping lines, is a proof, to my mind, that the whole thing is a mistake. As a matter of fact, I happen to know that the bishop strongly disapproves of Mr. Brooks' methods."
"That's rather a pity, isn't it?" Sybil asked, sweetly. "The Society has done so much good, and in so short a time. Every one admits that."
"I think that the opinion is very far from universal," the elder lady remarked, firmly. "There appears to be no discrimination shown whatever in the distribution of relief. The deserving and the undeserving are all classed together. I could not possibly approve of any charity conducted upon such lines, nor, I think, could any good churchwoman."
"Mr. Brooks thinks," Sybil remarked, with her mouth full of cake, "that it is the undeserving who are in the greatest need of help."
"One could believe anything," the bishop's wife said stiffly, "of a man who adopted such principles as that. And although I do not as a rule approve of Mr. Lavilette or his paper, I am seriously inclined to agree with him in some of his strictures upon Mr. Brooks."
Sybil laughed softly.
"I hadn't read them," she remarked. "Mother doesn't allow the man's paper in the house. Do you really mean that you have it at the palace, Mrs. Endicott?"
The bishop's wife stiffened.
"Mr. Lavilette has at times done great service to the community by his exposure of frauds of all sorts, especially charitable frauds," she said. "It is possible that he may shortly add to the number."
Lord Arranmore shook his head slowly.
"Mr. Lavilette," he said, "has also had to pay damages in one or two rather expensive libel cases. And, between you and me, Mrs. Endicott, if our young friend Brooks chose to move in the matter, I am afraid Mr. Lavilette might have to sign the largest cheque he has ever signed in his life for law costs."
The bishop's wife rose with an icy smile.
"I seem to have found my way into Mr. Brooks' headquarters," she remarked. "Lady Caroom, I shall hope to see you at the palace shortly."
"Poor me," Sybil exclaimed, as their visitor departed. "She only asked you, mummy, so as to exclude me. And poor Mr. Brooks! I wish he'd been here. What fun we should have had."
"Oh, these Etrusians," Lord Arranmore murmured. "I thought that a bishop was very near heaven indeed, all sanctity and charity, and that a bishop's wife was the concentrated essence of these things--plus the wings."
Sybil laughed softly.
"Sanctity and charity," she repeated, "and Mrs. Endicott. Oh!"
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