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CHAPTER XXI._A Girl in Ten Thousand

 Effie did all in her power to soothe her mother. It was past the hour for her return to St. Joseph's, but under the present circumstances she could not give this matter a thought. Mrs. Staunton was strung up to a terrible condition of nervousness.158 She walked faster and faster about the room; she scarcely spoke aloud, but muttered words under her breath which no one could hear. At every footfall on the stairs she started. Sometimes she went to the door and flung it open—sometimes she went to the window and pressed her face against the glass. Darkness set in, and the lamps were lit in the street. Katie went to the window to pull down the blinds.

"No, don't touch them," said Mrs. Staunton fretfully—she still kept staring out into the street. Presently she called Effie to her.

"Doesn't that man turning the corner look something like George?" she exclaimed.

Effie looked eagerly.

"No, that's not George," she said.

"Agnes, you have better sight," called Mrs. Staunton to her next daughter; "come and watch with me—we are sure to see him soon. It can't be that he has gone away for the night—for the whole night. Isn't that him? Look at that man,—that one crossing the road—that one in the waterproof. Oh, how hard it is raining! If George is out much longer, he'll be drenched to the skin. Aggie, look; and you, Katie, can't you watch? Now, that man, isn't that George?"

"No, no, mother!" answered the poor children, in affright.

Mrs. Staunton kept on making exclamations. Again and again she cried out hopefully that surely George was coming now; but George himself never really appeared. Effie knew that she would get into hopeless disgrace at St. Joseph's. No matter! she could not leave her mother at such a moment. Each instant she became more anxious about her. She called Agnes aside, and told her that she had put a stop to the late dinner, and also to the extra attendance,159 but as probably some dinner had been ordered for that evening, she had better go down and bring it up, as Mrs. Staunton must be forced to eat at any cost.

Agnes tripped out of the room, and presently returned with a couple of pork chops and some baked potatoes. She flung them down on the table, exclaiming that the tray was heavy. She looked cross, and evidently seemed to think that Effie was making a great fuss over nothing.

"Why can't George be away for a single night without everyone getting into such a state?" she murmured.

Effie took the tray from her and gave her a look of reproach. She laid the cloth herself, and made the table look as pretty as she could. She then went to her mother, drew her gently but firmly away from the window, and, making her sit down, tried to coax her to eat.

Mrs. Staunton looked at the chops with dazed eyes.

"Those were for George," she exclaimed. "What a shame to bring them up before he has come into the house! They'll be cold and sodden, and he hates his food sodden. You don't suppose I'm going to touch my boy's dinner? No, not I! Put the chops down in the fender, Aggie. When George comes in, I always ring the bell twice. How careless of Mrs. Robinson! Effie, my dear, I don't think we can stop with her if she treats us in this fashion. It's perfectly disgraceful to cook George's food before he is ready for it."

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