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Betty, The Hotel Child
by [?]

I WAS in the lounge when I made her acquaintance, enjoying a pipe after tea, and perhaps–I don’t know–closing my eyes now and then.

“Would you like to see my shells?” she asked suddenly.

I woke up and looked at her. She was about seven years old, pretty, dark, and very much at ease.

“I should love it,” I said.

She produced a large paper bag from somewhere, and poured the contents in front of me.

“I’ve got two hundred and fifty-eight,” she announced.

“So I see,” I said. I wasn’t going to count them.”

“I think they’re very pretty. I’ll give you one if you like. Which one will you choose?”

I sat up and examined them carefully. Seeing how short a time we had known each other, I didn’t feel that I could take one of the good ones. After a little thought I chose quite a plain one, which had belonged to a winkle some weeks ago.

“Thank you very much,” I said.

“I don’t think you choose shells at all well,” she said scornfully. “That’s one of the ugly ones.”

“It will grow on me,” I explained. “In a year or two I shall think it beautiful.”

“I’ll let you have this one too,” said she, picking out the best. “Now, shall we play at something?”

I had been playing at something all day. A little thinking in front of the fire was my present programme.

“Let’s talk instead,” I suggested. “What’s your name?”


“I knew it was Betty. You look just like Betty.”

“What’s yours?”

Somehow I hadn’t expected that. After all, though, it was only fair.

“Orlando,” I said.

“What a funny name. I don’t like it.”

“You should have said so before. It’s too late now. What have you been doing all day?”

“Playing on the sands. What have you been doing?”

“I’ve been playing in the sand too. I suppose, Betty, you know nearly everybody in the hotel?”

“Oh, I play with them all sometimes.”

“Yes; then tell me, Betty, do you ever get asked what time you go to bed?”

“They ALL ask me that,” said Betty promptly.

“I think I should like to ask you too,” I said, “just to be in the movement. When is it?”

“Half-past six.” She looked at the clock. “So we’ve got half an hour. I’ll get my ball.”

Before I had time to do anything about it, the ball came bouncing in, hit me on the side of the head, and hurried off to hide itself under an old lady dozing in the corner. Betty followed more sedately.

“Where’s my ball?” she asked.

“Has it come in?” I said in surprise. “Then it must have gone out again. It noticed you weren’t here.”

“I believe you’ve got it.”

“I swear I haven’t, Betty. I think the lady in the corner knows something about it.”

Betty rushed across to her and began to crawl under her chair. I nervously rehearsed a few sentences to myself.

“It is not my child, madam. I found it here. Surely you can see that there is no likeness between us? If we keep quite still perhaps it will go away.”

“I’ve got it,” cried Betty, and the old lady woke up with a jerk.

“What are you doing, child?” she said crossly.

“Your little girl, madam,” I began–but Betty’s ball bit me on the head again before I could develop my theme.

“Your little girl, sir,” began the old lady at the same moment.

“I said it first,” I murmured. “Betty,” I went on aloud, “what is your name, my child?”

“You’ve just said it.”

“I mean,” I corrected myself quickly, “where do you live?”


I looked triumphantly at the old lady. Surely a father wouldn’t need to ask his own child where she lived? However, the old lady was asleep again. I turned to Betty.

“We shall have to play this game more quietly,” I said. “In fact, we had better make some new rules. Instead of hitting me on the head each time, you can roll the ball gently along the floor to me, and I shall roll it gently back to you. And the one who misses it first goes to bed.”