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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

Pitt paused before one of these open doors

style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER XLIV.


They drove a long distance, much of the way through uninteresting regions. Pitt stopped the cab at last, took Betty out, and led her through one and another street and round corner after corner, till at last he turned into an alley again.

'Where are you taking me now, Mr. Pitt?' she asked, in some trepidation. 'Not another Martin's Court?'

'I want you to look well at this place.'

'I see it. What for?' asked Betty, casting her eyes about her. It was a very narrow alley, leading again, as might be seen by the gleam of light at the farther end, into a somewhat more open space--another court. _Here_ the word open had no application. The sides of the alley were very near together and very high, leaving a strange gap between walls of brick, at least strange when considered with reference to human habitation; all of freedom or expanse there was indicated anywhere being a long and very distant strip of blue sky overhead when the weather was clear. Not even that to-day. The heavy clouds hung low, seeming to rest upon the house-tops, and shutting up all below under their breathless envelopment. Hot, sultry, stifling, the air felt to Betty; well-nigh unendurable; but Pitt seemed to be of intent that she should endure it for a while, and with some difficulty

she submitted. Happily the place was cleaner than Martin's Court, and no dead cats nor decaying vegetables poisoned what air there was. But surely somewhat else poisoned it. The doors of dwellings on the one side and on the other stood open, and here and there a woman or two had pressed to the opening with her work, both to get light and to get some freshness, if there were any to be had.

Half way down the alley, Pitt paused before one of these open doors. A woman had placed herself as close to it as she could, having apparently some fine work in hand for which she could not get light enough. Betty could without much difficulty see past her into the space behind. It was a tiny apartment, smaller than anything Miss Frere had ever seen used as a living room; yet a living room it was. She saw that a very minute stove was in it, a small table, and another chair; and on some shelves against the wall there was apparently the inmate's store of what stood to her for china and plate. Two cups Betty thought she could perceive; what else might be there the light did not serve to show. The woman was respectable-looking, because her dress was whole and tolerably clean; but it showed great poverty nevertheless, being frequently mended and patched, and of that indeterminate dull grey to which all colours come with overmuch wear. She seemed to be middle-aged; but as she raised her head to see who had stopped in front of her, Betty was so struck by the expression and tale-telling of it that she forgot the question of age. Age? she might have been a hundred and fifty years old, to judge by the life-weary set of her features. A complexion that told of confinement, eyes dim with over-straining, lines of face that spoke weariness and disgust; and further, what to Betty's surprise seemed a hostile look of defiance. The face cleared, however, as she saw who stood before her; a great softening and a little light came into it; she rose and dropped a curtsey, which was evidently not a mere matter of form.

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