By NAOMI ROYDE-SMITH
IHE rats were much worse tonight. Miriam wondered if they were having a party' She sat up in bed, hugging round her thin little shoulders the curtain that did duty as a blanket, and looking fearfully into the dark corners of the attic. If only she had a box of matches she would light the candle again, even if Mum did expect it to last her a whole week.
Miriam was terrified of the attic, and she ktiew she would never get used to sleeping in it. It was very high, with beams under the roof all covered with cobwebs, and as soon as it was dark rats used to come out and scamper across the floor and gnaw and nibble and scratch. It was bad enough in the daytime, but at night, besides the rats, there were queer humps and bulges that looked like old men with sacks on their shoulders, and Miriam was sure that one of them moved every time a rat squeaked. It was awful sleeping up here by herself, but ever since Mum's cough had got so much worse and the doctor said that Miriam mustn't sleep in her bed any longer— mustn't even sleep in the same room— Mrs. Sykes had made up a bed for her here and Mum had said it was ever so kind of her, being as they were behind with the rent.
Miriam knew all about being behind with the rent because she had heard the lady next. door talking to Mrs Sykes about it, and Mrs Sykes had said how could she press the poor thing when she was that bad, and the doctor saying she'd be gone under the twelve-month if she didn't get away from Easley Street. But what could Miriam do? She was only eight and she had to go to school every day, so she couldn't even run errands for people to make money to buy extra food. The children up the street that she sometimes played with seemed to get what they wanted by saying prayers in their church. Miriam wondered if it would do any good if she tried that? She had been inside their church once, just to. look. There were a lot of lights and a beautiful lady like a doll in a. blue robe, and she was holding a dear little baby. The baby was stretching out its arms and smiling. Paasps that was the Christ Child that Betty Hopkins said was bringing her a dolls house for Christmas. She said they always lit candles in front of the crib. Miriam wondered what that was; he supposed it was something they kept In the church, and she wondered if it would be any good her lighting a candle in front of it? Could she spare hers to make Mum better? It would mean going upstairs to the attic in the dark for a whole week, and she didn't think she could do that—not with all the rats scampering about,
But in the morning, with the grey light filtering in through the cracks in the roof and the rats all back in their holes, Miriarn'e courage returned.
* fr Mum wasn't so well in the ?miming, and Mrs Sykes told Miriam to run out and play in the street for a bit, so it seemed a good time to go to the church, She put on her coat and cap and ran up to the attic for the candle. She didn't want Mrs Sykes to see her going off with the candlestick, so she buttoned it inside her jacket. It hurt rather, sticking Into her. but that was the only way of hiding it. The church wasn't far away, and when she got there a whole lot of people were going in, so Miriam hoped nobody would notice her.
She could see a lot of candles burning at the far end, and making her way through the throng of people flocking up to the crib, stood entranced before what she saw. This was better than anything they'd had in the big stores in the Commercial Road, where a man in a red coat with a long white beard walked about with et sack over his shoulders. Miriam had been rather frightened of that beard and the man's deep booming voice when he told the children to come and look what he'd got in his sack. There was nothing frightening about this. The baby on its bed of straw looked so happy and smiling, and it was holding out as arms to Miriam just as much as to say: "What is it you want, little girl?" And there were a lady and gentleman, too, in such funny clothes. And fancy having all them sheep and cows! Was this what Betty called the crib? There certainly seemed to be a lot of people saying their prayers round it.
Miriam unbuttoned her jacket and took out the " Present from Brighton." She lit the candle carefully from the flame of one of those on the stand and then put It down on the step in front of the crib. She didn't want the baby to overlook it, so she put it as near to him as she could, and then, looking up into the face of the smiling bambino, said,
" Please, Baby, make Mum orl right. 'Svery important."
With beating heart and a sense of high achievement Miriam slipped into a seat just as the Procession was entering the church for High Mass. But she had no eyes for that; she was gazing delightedly at her candle, burning so much more brightly than any of the others in all its braveee. of pink and gilt_ She'd always thought that a lovely picture of the Pier at Brighton, and didn't it show up lovely now with all them other lights!
They did a lot of funny things in this church, thought Miriam. They rang bells and there was a lovely smell, and she liked the music; and the pipe under her seat was nice and warm. She'd come again some time.
* * *
When Mass was over Miriam went back to the crib and looked anxiously at her candle. It wasn't nearly burnt out. Would " A Present from Brighton' be all right if she left it? She could come back later and fetch it, but she did hope no one would knock it over and break it.
Slowly, for she was a bit uneasy about leaving the china candlestick in so unprotected a place, Miriam made her way to the door of the church. It was nice and sunny outside, and she ran all the way home.
There seemed to be a lot of people at Mrs Sykes's—all the neighbours as far as Miriam could make out.
" Where's Mum?" she asked, a curious tightening in her throat.
" You come alongerme an' have a nice
Contsinued in previous column.