"You know how your mother is, Miss Clara," Agnes said
firmly. "It's like that going to Kensal Green. It don't change, and
it won't change."
Clara lowered her eyes to the prayer book. For a moment or two, she was silent, apparently reading. Then she raised her head. "Agnes," she said tremulously, "there's something I want you to help me with . Something I want dreadfully."
Agnes exchanged the comb for the brush. "I'm sure I don't know what it could be, miss. I don't suppose Princess Victoria had as many frocks as you have, nor such toys, neither."
Clara's stomach tightened. Once Agnes got started on how lucky she was, she was likely to go on a long time. There wasn't time to waste. She spun around. " Please," she begged, " please "
Agnes dropped the brush. Clara dove for it and held it out to her.
"What is it?" demanded Agnes.
"I want to give tea to the children," Clara answered.
"Professor Grisini's children. You see, Agnes, that's why I wanted the puppet show so much because of the children. There's a girl and a boy. The boy works the fantoccini, and the girl can play the flute and the fiddle. She was ever so nice." She caught hold of Agnes's hands. "I want to talk to them just them with no one else about; no grown- ups. They're so clever they must know so many things I don't. Think of it, Agnes. They earn their own living!"
Agnes's mouth twisted. At Clara's age, Agnes had been a scullery maid. She saw no romance in earning a living. "You know that's wrong, miss. Your mother wouldn't like it a bit. And what would your little friends think, having to take tea with common children like those Greaseenies?"
Clara shook her head. "Oh, I don't mean that! Of course it wouldn't do to have them with the other children! But we could have tea before the party, if you'll help. You see, Professor Grisini will be here to set up the stage at two, and the guests won't come till three. I thought perhaps if the professor was given a hot drink in the kitchen, I could have a tray for the children." She tugged at Agnes's hands. "Please, Agnes! Just toast and tea and jam. And then, I've made them both a little parcel to take home oranges and sweets. Please, Agnes!"
Agnes jerked her hands out of Clara's. "I don't know what you'll take a fancy for next, Miss Clara. Taking tea with dirty foreigners?"
Clara sidestepped the question. "They're not dirty," she pleaded, which wasn't true; the girl had looked clean, but the man and the boy were very dirty. "And they're not foreigners. The professor is, but the girl is as English as I am, and she talks like a lady. Please, Agnes."
"Miss Cameron won't allow it," Agnes said. She expected this argument to clinch the matter there was no chance that Clara's governess would approve of Clara's mingling with common children but Clara was ready for her.
" Mamma gave Miss Cameron a half day," she answered. "She's going to visit her sister in Islington and won't be back until three."
Agnes tried another tack. "You know how your father feels about people tracking dirt into the nursery "
Clara interrupted her. "They needn't come up to the nursery. We could take tea in the drawing room, where they set up the stage. I could watch them set up. Oh, please, Agnes!"
Agnes snorted. "You're stagestruck, that's what you are."
Clara switched tactics. "If you're too busy," she said daringly, "I could carry the tea tray myself. I could put my pinafore over my birthday frock and creep down the back staircase and ask Cook "
Excerpted from Splendors and Glooms by Laura A Schlitz. Copyright © 2012 by Laura A Schlitz. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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