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by [?]

The Olympic Toy Emporium occupied a conspicuous frontage in an important West End street. It was happily named Toy Emporium, because one would never have dreamed 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 that were set out in its ample windows; they were the sort of toys that a tired shop- assistant displays and explains at Christmas time to exclamatory parents and bored, silent children. The animal toys looked more like natural history models than the comfortable, sympathetic companions that one would wish, at a certain age, to take to bed with one, and to smuggle into the bath-room. The mechanical toys incessantly did things that no one could want a toy to do more than a half a dozen times in its life-time; it was a merciful reflection that in any right-minded nursery the lifetime would certainly be short.

Prominent among the elegantly-dressed dolls that filled an entire section of the window frontage was a large hobble-skirted lady in a confection of peach-coloured velvet, elaborately set off with leopard skin accessories, if one may use such a conveniently comprehensive word in describing an intricate feminine toilette. She lacked nothing that is to be found in a carefully detailed fashion-plate–in fact, she might be said to have something more than the average fashion-plate female possesses; in place of a vacant, expressionless stare she had character in her face. It must be admitted that it was bad character, cold, hostile, inquisitorial, with a sinister lowering of one eyebrow and a merciless hardness about the corners of the mouth. One might have imagined histories about her by the hour, histories in which unworthy ambition, the desire for money, and an entire absence of all decent feeling would play a conspicuous part.

As a matter of fact, she was not without her judges and biographers, even in this shop-window stage of her career. Emmeline, aged ten, and Bert, aged seven, 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. There is probably a latent enmity between the necessarily under-clad and the unnecessarily over-dressed, but a little kindness and good fellowship on the part of the latter will often change the sentiment to admiring devotion; if the lady in peach-coloured velvet and leopard skin had worn a pleasant expression in addition to her other elaborate furnishings, Emmeline at least might have respected and even loved her. As it was, she gave her a horrible reputation, based chiefly on a secondhand knowledge of gilded depravity derived from the conversation of those who were skilled in the art of novelette reading; Bert filled in a few damaging details from his own limited imagination.

“She’s a bad lot, that one is,” declared Emmeline, after a long unfriendly stare; “‘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 that nobody didn’t know. Now she wants to marry a lord, with ‘eaps and ‘eaps of money. ‘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 serkestic tongue; always talking serkesms, she is. She’s greedy, too; if there’s fish going, she eats ‘er own share and ‘er little girl’s as well, though the little girl is dellikit.”

“She ‘ad a little boy once,” said Bert, “but she pushed ‘im into the water when 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 somethink cruel.”