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A short story by A. A. Milne

Old Friends

Title:     Old Friends
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

"It was very nice of you to invite me to give you lunch," I said, "and if only the waiter would bring the toast I should be perfectly happy. I can't say more."

"Why not?" said Miss Middleton, looking up. "Oh, I see."

"And now," I said, when I had finished my business with a sardine, "tell me all about it. I know something serious must have brought you up to London. What is it? Have you run away from home?"

Miss Middleton nodded. "Sir Henery," she added dramatically, "waits for me in his yacht at Dover. My parents would not hear of the marriage, and immured me in the spare room. They tried to turn me against my love, and told wicked stories about him, vowing that he smoked five non-throat cigarettes in a day. Er--would you pass the pepper, please?"

"Go on," I begged. "Never mind the pepper."

"But, of course, I really came to see you," said Miss Middleton briskly. "I want you to do something for me."

"I knew it."

"Oh, _do_ say you'd love to."

I drained my glass and felt very brave.

"I'd love to," I said doubtfully. "At least, if I were sure that----" I lowered my voice: "Look here--have I got to write to anybody?"

"No," said Miss Middleton.

"Let me know the worst. Have I--er--have I got to give advice to anybody?"


There was one other point that had to be settled. I leant across the table anxiously.

"Have I got to ring anybody up on the telephone?" I asked in a hoarse whisper.

"Oh, nothing like that at all," said Miss Middleton.

"Dash it," I cried, "then of _course_ I'll do anything for you. What is it? Somebody you want killed? I could kill a mayor to-day."

Miss Middleton was silent for a moment while allowing herself to be helped to fish. When the waiters had moved away, "We are having a jumble sale," she announced.

I shook my head at her.

"Your life," I said, "is one constant round of gaiety."

"And I thought as I was coming to London I'd mention it to you. Because you're always saying you don't know what to do with your old things."

"I'm not _always_ saying it. I may have mentioned it once or twice when the conversation was flagging."

"Well, mention it now, and then I'll mention my jumble sale."

I thought it over for a moment.

"It will mean brown paper and string," I said hopelessly, "and I don't know where to get them."

"I'll buy some after lunch for you. You shall hold my hand while I buy it."

"And then I should have to post it, and I'm _rotten_ at posting things."

"But you needn't post it, because you can meet me at the station with it, and I'll take it home."

"I don't think it's quite etiquette for a young girl to travel alone with a big brown-paper parcel. What would Mrs. Middleton say if she knew?"

"Mother?" cried Miss Middleton. "But, of course, it's her idea. You _didn't_ think it was mine?" she said reproachfully.

"The shock of it unnerved me for a moment. Of course, I see now that it is Mrs. Middleton's jumble sale entirely." I sighed and helped myself to salt. "How do I begin?"

"You drive me to my dressmaker and leave me there and go on to your rooms. And then you collect a few really old things that you don't want and tie them up and meet me at the 4.40. I'm afraid," she said frankly, "it _is_ a rotten way of spending an afternoon; but I promised mother."

"I'll do it," I said.

My parcel and I arrived promptly to time. Miss Middleton didn't.

"Don't say I've caught the wrong train," she said breathlessly, when at last she appeared. "It does go at 4.40, doesn't it?"

"It does," I said, "and it did."

"Then my watch must be slow."

"Send it to the jumble sale," I advised. "Look here--we've a long time to wait for the next train; let's undress my parcel in the waiting-room, and I'll point out the things that really want watching. Some are absolutely unique."

It was an odd collection of very dear friends, Miss Middleton's final reminder having been that _nothing_ was too old for a jumble sale.

"_Lot One_," I said. "A photograph of my house cricket eleven, framed in oak. Very interesting. The lad on the extreme right is now a clergyman."

"Oh, which is you?" said Miss Middleton eagerly.

I was too much wrapped up in my parcel to answer. "_Lot Two_," I went on. "A pink-and-white football shirt; would work up into a dressy blouse for adult, or a smart overcoat for child. _Lot Three._ A knitted waistcoat; could be used as bath-mat. _Lot Four._ Pair of bedroom slippers in holes. This bit is the slipper; the rest is the hole. _Lot Five._ Now this is something really good. _Truthful Jane_--my first prize at my Kindergarten."

"Mother _is_ in luck. It's just the sort of things she wants," said Miss Middleton.

"Her taste is excellent. _Lot Six._ A pair of old grey flannel trousers. _Lot Seven._ Lot Seven forward. Where are you?" I began to go through the things again. "Er--I'm afraid Lot Seven has already gone."

"What about Lot Eight?"

"There doesn't seem to be a Lot Eight either. It's very funny; I'm sure I started with more than this. Some of the things must have eaten each other on the way."

"Oh, but this is _heaps_. Can you really spare them all?"

"I should feel honoured if Mrs. Middleton would accept them," I said with a bow. "Don't forget to tell her that in the photograph the lad on the extreme right----" I picked up the photograph and examined it more carefully. "I say, _I_ look rather jolly, don't you think? I wonder if I have another copy of this anywhere." I gazed at it wistfully. "That was my first year for the house, you know."

"Don't give it away," said Miss Middleton suddenly. "Keep it."

"Shall I? I don't want to deprive---- Well, I think I will if you don't mind." My eyes wandered to the shirt. "I've had some fun in _that_ in my time," I said thoughtfully. "The first time I wore it----"

"You really _oughtn't_ to give away your old colours, you know."

"Oh, but if Mrs. Middleton," I began doubtfully--"at least, don't you--what?--oh, all right, perhaps I won't." I put the shirt on one side with the photograph, and picked up the dear old comfy bedroom slippers. I considered them for a minute and then I sighed deeply. As I looked up I caught Miss Middleton's eye.... I think she had been smiling.

"About the slippers," she said gravely.

. . . . .

"Good-bye," I said to Miss Middleton. "It's been jolly to see you." I grasped my parcel firmly as the train began to move. "I'm always glad to help Mrs. Middleton, and if ever I can do so again be sure to let me know."

"I will," said Miss Middleton.

The train went out of the station, and my parcel and I looked about for a cab.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Old Friends