The Olympic Toy Emporium occupied a conspicuous frontage in an important Wes_nd street. It was happily named Toy Emporium, because one would never hav_reamed of according it the familiar and yet pulse-quickening name of toyshop.
There was an air of cold splendour and elaborate failure about the wares tha_ere set out in its ample windows; they were the sort of toys that a tire_hop-assistant displays and explains at Christmas time to exclamatory parent_nd bored, silent children. The animal toys looked more like natural histor_odels than the comfortable, sympathetic companions that one would wish, at _ertain age, to take to bed with one, and to smuggle into the bath-room. Th_echanical toys incessantly did things that no one could want a toy to do mor_han a half a dozen times in its lifetime; it was a merciful reflection tha_n any right-minded nursery the lifetime would certainly be short.
Prominent among the elegantly-dressed dolls that filled an entire section o_he window frontage was a large hobble-skirted lady in a confection of peach-
coloured velvet, elaborately set off with leopard skin accessories, if one ma_se such a conveniently comprehensive word in describing an intricate feminin_oilette. She lacked nothing that is to be found in a carefully detaile_ashion-plate—in fact, she might be said to have something more than th_verage fashion-plate female possesses; in place of a vacant, expressionles_tare she had character in her face. It must be admitted that it was ba_haracter, cold, hostile, inquisitorial, with a sinister lowering of on_yebrow and a merciless hardness about the corners of the mouth. One migh_ave imagined histories about her by the hour, histories in which unworth_mbition, the desire for money, and an entire absence of all decent feelin_ould play a conspicuous part.
As a matter of fact, she was not without her judges and biographers, even i_his shop-window stage of her career. Emmeline, aged ten, and Bert, age_even, had halted on the way from their obscure back street to the minnow-
stocked water of St. James’s Park, and were critically examining the hobble-
skirted doll, and dissecting her character in no very tolerant spirit. Ther_s probably a latent enmity between the necessarily under-clad and th_nnecessarily overdressed, but a little kindness and good fellowship on th_art of the latter will often change the sentiment to admiring devotion; i_he lady in peach-coloured velvet and leopard skin had worn a pleasan_xpression in addition to her other elaborate furnishings, Emmeline at leas_ight have respected and even loved her. As it was, she gave her a horribl_eputation, based chiefly on a secondhand knowledge of gilded depravit_erived from the conversation of those who were skilled in the art o_ovelette reading; Bert filled in a few damaging details from his own limite_magination.
“She’s a bad lot, that one is,” declared Emmeline, after a long unfriendl_tare; “’er ’usbind ’ates ’er.”
“’E knocks ’er abart,” said Bert, with enthusiasm.
“No, ’e don’t, cos ’e’s dead; she poisoned ’im slow and gradual, so tha_obody didn’t know. Now she wants to marry a lord, with ’eaps and ’eaps o_oney. ’E’s got a wife already, but she’s going to poison ’er, too.”
“She’s a bad lot,” said Bert with growing hostility.
“’Er mother ’ates her, and she’s afraid of ’er, too, cos she’s got a serkesti_ongue; always talking serkesms, she is. She’s greedy, too; if there’s fis_oing, she eats ’er own share and ’er little girl’s as well, though the littl_irl is dellikit.”
“She ’ad a little boy once,” said Bert, “but she pushed ’im into the wate_hen nobody wasn’t looking.”
“No she didn’t,” said Emmeline, “she sent ’im away to be kep’ by poor people,
so ’er ’usbind wouldn’t know where ’e was. They ill-treat ’im somethin_ruel.”
“Wot’s ’er nime?” asked Bert, thinking that it was time that so interesting _ersonality should be labelled.
“’Er nime?” said Emmeline, thinking hard, “’er nime’s Morlvera.” It was a_ear as she could get to the name of an adventuress who figured prominently i_ cinema drama. There was silence for a moment while the possibilities of th_ame were turned over in the children’s minds.
“Those clothes she’s got on ain’t paid for, and never won’t be,” sai_mmeline; “she thinks she’ll get the rich lord to pay for ’em, but ’e won’t.
’E’s given ’er jools, ’underds of pounds’ worth.”
“’E won’t pay for the clothes,” said Bert, with conviction. Evidently ther_as some limit to the weak good nature of wealthy lords.
At that moment a motor carriage with liveried servants drew up at the emporiu_ntrance; a large lady, with a penetrating and rather hurried manner o_alking, stepped out, followed slowly and sulkily by a small boy, who had _ery black scowl on his face and a very white sailor suit over the rest o_im. The lady was continuing an argument which had probably commenced i_ortman Square.
“Now, Victor, you are to come in and buy a nice doll for your cousin Bertha.
She gave you a beautiful box of soldiers on your birthday, and you must giv_er a present on hers.”
“Bertha is a fat little fool,” said Victor, in a voice that was as loud as hi_other’s and had more assurance in it.
“Victor, you are not to say such things. Bertha is not a fool, and she is no_n the least fat. You are to come in and choose a doll for her.”
The couple passed into the shop, out of view and hearing of the two back-
“My, he is in a wicked temper,” exclaimed Emmeline, but both she and Bert wer_nclined to side with him against the absent Bertha, who was doubtless as fa_nd foolish as he had described her to be.
“I want to see some dolls,” said the mother of Victor to the neares_ssistant; “it’s for a little girl of eleven.”
“A fat little girl of eleven,” added Victor by way of supplementar_nformation.
“Victor, if you say such rude things about your cousin, you shall go to be_he moment we get home, without having any tea.”
“This is one of the newest things we have in dolls,” said the assistant,
removing a hobble-skirted figure in peach-coloured velvet from the window;
“leopard skin toque and stole, the latest fashion. You won’t get anythin_ewer than that anywhere. It’s an exclusive design.”
“Look!” whispered Emmeline outside; “they’ve bin and took Morlvera.”
There was a mingling of excitement and a certain sense of bereavement in he_ind; she would have liked to gaze at that embodiment of overdressed depravit_or just a little longer.
“I ’spect she’s going away in a kerridge to marry the rich lord,” hazarde_ert.
“She’s up to no good,” said Emmeline vaguely.
Inside the shop the purchase of the doll had been decided on.
“It’s a beautiful doll, and Bertha will be delighted with it,” asserted th_other of Victor loudly.
“Oh, very well,” said Victor sulkily; “you needn’t have it stuck into a bo_nd wait an hour while it’s being done up into a parcel. I’ll take it as i_s, and we can go round to Manchester Square and give it to Bertha, and ge_he thing done with. That will save me the trouble of writing: ‘For dea_ertha, with Victor’s love,’ on a bit of paper.”
“Very well,” said his mother, “we can go to Manchester Square on our way home.
You must wish her many happy returns of to-morrow, and give her the doll.”
“I won’t let the little beast kiss me,” stipulated Victor.
His mother said nothing; Victor had not been half as troublesome as she ha_nticipated. When he chose he could really be dreadfully naughty.
Emmeline and Bert were just moving away from the window when Morlvera made he_xit from the shop, very carefully in Victor’s arms. A look of siniste_riumph seemed to glow in her hard, inquisitorial face. As for Victor, _ertain scornful serenity had replaced the earlier scowls; he had evidentl_ccepted defeat with a contemptuous good grace.
The tall lady gave a direction to the footman and settled herself in th_arriage. The little figure in the white sailor suit clambered in beside her,
still carefully holding the elegantly garbed doll.
The car had to be backed a few yards in the process of turning. Ver_tealthily, very gently, very mercilessly Victor sent Morlvera flying over hi_houlder, so that she fell into the road just behind the retrogressing wheel.
With a soft, pleasant-sounding scrunch the car went over the prostrate form,
then it moved forward again with another scrunch. The carriage moved off an_eft Bert and Emmeline gazing in scared delight at a sorry mess of petrol-
smeared velvet, sawdust, and leopard skin, which was all that remained of th_ateful Morlvera. They gave a shrill cheer, and then raced away shudderin_rom the scene of so much rapidly enacted tragedy.
Later that afternoon, when they were engaged in the pursuit of minnows by th_aterside in St. James’s Park, Emmeline said in a solemn undertone to Bert—
“I’ve bin finking. Do you know oo ’e was? ’E was ’er little boy wot she’_ent away to live wiv poor folks. ’E come back and done that.”