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cats The Visitor from the Cellar

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The whole house in London was dull and gloomy, its lofty rooms and staircases were filled with a sort of misty twilight all day, and the sun very seldom looked in at its windows. Ruth Lorimer thought, however, that the very dullest room of all was the nursery, in which she had to pass so much of her time. It was so high up that the people and carts and horses in the street below looked like toys. She could not even see these properly, because there were iron bars to prevent her from stretching her head out too far, so that all she could do was to look straight across to the row of tall houses opposite, or up at the sky between the chimney-pots. How she longed for something different to look at!

The houses always looked the same, and though the sky changed sometimes, it was often of a dirty grey colour, and then Ruth gave a little sigh and looked back from the window-seat where she was kneeling, into the nursery, for something to amuse her. It was full of all sorts of toys—dolls, and dolls' houses elegantly furnished, pictures and books and many pretty things; but in spite of all these she often found nothing to please her, for what she wanted more than anything else was a companion of her own age, and she had no brothers or sisters.

The dolls, however much she pretended, were never glad, or sorry, or happy, or miserable—they could not answer her when she talked to them, and their beautiful bright eyes had a hard unfeeling look which became very tiring, for it never changed.

There was certainly Nurse Smith. She was alive and real enough; there was no necessity to "pretend" anything about her. She was always there, sitting upright and flat-backed beside her work-basket, frowning a little, not because she was cross, but because she was rather near-sighted. She had come when Ruth was quite a baby, after Mrs. Lorimer's death, and Aunt Clarkson often spoke of her as "a treasure". However that might be, she was not an amusing companion; though she did her best to answer all Ruth's questions, and was always careful of her comfort, and particular about her being neatly dressed.

Perhaps it was not her fault that she did not understand games, and was quite unable to act the part of any other character than her own. If she did make the attempt, she failed so miserably that Ruth had to tell her what to say, which made it so flat and uninteresting that she found it better to play alone. But she often became weary of this; and there were times when she was tired of her toys, and tired of Nurse Smith, and did not know what in the world to do with herself.

Each day passed much in the same way. Ruth's governess came to teach her for an hour every morning, and then after her early dinner there was a walk with Nurse, generally in one direction. And after tea it was time to go and see her father—quite a long journey, through the silent house, down the long stairs to the dining-room where he sat alone at his dessert.

Ruth could not remember her mother, and she saw so little of her father that he seemed almost a stranger to her. He was so wonderfully busy, and the world he lived in was such a great way off from hers in the nursery.

In the morning he hurried away just as she was at her breakfast, and all she knew of him was the resounding slam of the hall door, which came echoing up the staircase. Very often in the evening he came hastily into the nursery to say good-bye on his way out to some dinner-party, and at night she woke up to hear his step on the stairs as he came back late. But when he dined at home Ruth always went downstairs to dessert. Then, as she entered the large sombre dining-room, where there were great oil paintings on the walls and heavy hangings to the windows, and serious-looking ponderous furniture, her father would look up from his book, or from papers spread on the table, and nod kindly to her:

"Ah! it's you, Ruth. Quite well, eh? There's a good child. Have an orange? That's right."

Then he would plunge into his reading again, and Ruth would climb slowly on to a great mahogany chair placed ready for her, and watch him as she cut up her orange.

She wondered very much why people wrote him such long, long letters, all on blue paper and tied up with pink tape. She felt sure they were not nice letters, for his face always looked worried over them; and when he had finished he threw them on the floor, as though he were glad. This made her so curious that she once ventured to ask him what they were. They were called "briefs", he told her. But she was not much wiser; for, hearing from Nurse Smith that "brief" was another word for short, she felt sure there must be some mistake.

Exactly as the clock struck eight Nurse's knock came at the door, Ruth got down from her chair and said good-night.

Sometimes her father was so deeply engaged in his reading that he stared at her with a far-away look in his eyes, as if he scarcely knew who she was. After a minute he said absently: "Bed-time, eh? Good-night. Good-night, my dear." Sometimes when he was a little less absorbed he put a sixpence or a shilling into her hand as he kissed her, and added: "There's something to spend at the toy-shop."

Ruth received these presents without much surprise or joy. She was used to buying things, and did not find it very interesting; for she could not hope for any sign of pleasure from her dolls when she brought them new clothes or furniture.

It is a little dull when all one's efforts for people are received with a perfectly unmoved face. She had once brought Nurse Smith a small china image, hoping that it would be an agreeable surprise; but that had not been successful either. "Lor', my dear, don't you go spending your money on me," she said. "Chany ornaments ain't much good for anything, to my thinking, 'cept to ketch the dust."

Thus it came to pass that Ruth never talked much about what interested her either to her father or to Nurse Smith, and as she had no brothers and sisters she was obliged to amuse herself with fancied conversations. Sometimes these were carried on with her dolls, but her chief friend was a picture which she passed every night on the staircase. It was of a man in a flat cap and a fur robe, and he had a pointed smooth chin and narrow eyes, which seemed to follow her slyly on her way. She did not like him and she did not actually fear him, but she had a feeling that he listened to what she said, and that she must tell him any news she had. There was never much except on "Aunt Clarkson's day", as she called it.

Aunt Clarkson was her father's sister. She lived in the country, and had many little boys and girls whom Ruth had seldom seen, though she heard a great deal about them.

Once every month this aunt came up to London for the day, had long conversations with Nurse, and looked carefully at all Ruth's clothes.

She was a sharp-eyed lady, and her visits made a stir in the house which was like a cold wind blowing, so that Ruth was glad when they were over, though her aunt always spoke kindly to her, and said: "Some day you must come and see your little cousins in the country."

She had said this so often without its having happened, however, that Ruth had come to look upon it as a mere form of speech—part of Aunt Clarkson's visit, like saying "How d'ye do?" or "Good-bye."

It was shortly after one of these occasions that quite by chance Ruth found a new friend, who was better than either the dolls or the man in the picture, because, though it could not answer her, it was really alive. She discovered it in this way.

One afternoon she and Nurse Smith had come in from their usual walk, and were toiling slowly up from the hall to the nursery. The stairs got steeper at the last flight, and Nurse went more slowly still, and panted a good deal, for she was stouter