a shout up the stairs; and three of our cousins themselves appeared, followed by Uncle Joe and Aunt Rosina - all got up in their Sunday best, and all just popped in, they said, for a âpeekâ at Miss Butler, if Miss Butler had no objection.
More chairs were brought up, and more cups; a fresh round of introductions was made, and the little room grew stuffy with heat and smoke and laughter. Somebody said what a shame it was we had no piano for Miss Butler to give us a song; then George - my eldest cousin - said, âWould a harmonica serve the purpose?â and produced one from his jacket pocket. Kitty blushed, and said she couldnât; and everyone cried, âOh please, Miss Butler, do!â
âWhat do you think, Nan,â she said to me, âshould I shame myself?â
âYou know you wonât,â I said, pleased that she had turned to me at the last, and used my special name before them all.
âVery well, then,â she said. A little space was cleared for her, and Rhoda ran down to her house, to fetch her sisters to come and watch.
She sang âThe Boy I Love is Up in the Galleryâ, and âThe Coffee Shop Girlâ - then âThe Boyâ again for Rhodaâs sisters, who had just arrived. Then she whispered to George and to me, and I fetched her a hat of Fatherâs and a walking-cane, and she sang us a couple of masher songs, and ended with the ballad with which she finished her set at the Palace, about the sweetheart and the rose.
We cheered her then, and she had her hand shaken, and her back slapped, ten times over. She looked very flushed and hot at the end of it all, and rather tired. Davy said, âHow about a song from you now, Nance?â I gave him a look.
âNo,â I said. I wouldnât sing for them with Kitty there, for anything.
Kitty looked at me curiously. âDo you sing, then?â she said.
âNancyâs got the prettiest voice, Miss Butler,â said one of the cousins, âyou ever heard.â
âYes, go on, Nance, be a sport!â said another.
âNo, no, no!â I cried again - so firmly that Mother frowned, and the others laughed.
Uncle Joe said, âWell, thatâs a shame, that is. You should hear her in the kitchen, Miss Butler. Sheâs a regular song-bird, she is, then: a regular lark. Makes your heart turn over, to hear her.â There were murmurs of agreement throughout the room, and I saw Kitty look blinkingly my way. Then George whispered rather loudly that I must be saving my voice for serenading Freddy, and there was a fresh round of laughter that set me gazing and blushing into my lap. Kitty looked bemused.
She asked then, âWho is Freddy?â
âFreddy is Nancyâs young feller,â said Davy. âA very handsome chap. She mustâve boasted about him to you?â
âNo,â said Kitty, âshe has not.â She said it lightly, but I glanced up and saw that her eyes were strange, and almost sad. It was true that I had never mentioned Fred to her. The fact was, I barely thought of him as my beau these days, for since her arrival in Canterbury I had had no evenings spare to spend with him. He had recently sent me a letter to say, did I still care? - and I had put the letter in a drawer, and forgotten to reply.
There was more chaff about Freddy, then; I was glad when one of Rhodaâs sisters caused a fuss, by snatching the harmonica from George and giving us a tune so horrible it made the boys all shout at her, and pull her hair, to make her stop.
While they quarrelled and swore, Kitty leaned towards me and said softly, âWill you take me to your room, Nan, or somewhere quiet, for a bit - just you and me?â She looked so grave suddenly I feared that she might faint. I got up, and made a path for her across the crowded room, and told my mother I was taking her upstairs; and Mother - who was gazing troubledly at Rhodaâs sister, not knowing