EVEN considered as the result of a confinement, Flossie Elk was remarkable.
    Her succeeding in being born at all, ‘seeing,’ as he neighbours said, ‘how things were,’ was so awe-inspiring, that for more than a year she was—until superseded by Mrs. Lewis’s Ben, who was run over by a lorry, ‘and never a mark on him’—merely the local proof of divine intervention in emergencies. ‘While there’s life, there’s ’ope. Look at Mrs. Elk’s Flossie.’
    Even to Mrs. Elk, proud though she was of her first and, by the doctor’s orders, only baby, Flossie, for the first thirteen months of her existence, was more an achievement against hopeless odds, than a personality. Then Mrs. Elk had occasion to re-visit the hospital in which the achievement had taken place, for what she described as ‘feeling all of a drop’, and while she was seeing the doctor, a nurse took Flossie. When, later, Mrs. Elk emerged triumphant, complete with minor scaffoldings, the doctor came with her to the door and saw the baby. He picked her up off the nurse’s lap.
    “Good God!” he said. “This can’t be that baby.” For the struggle that had produced Flossie was still a nightmare memory.
    Mrs. Elk nodded, and then sighed heavily to in­dicate God’s mercies.
    “It’s wonderful we’re both here.”
    The Doctor glanced across at Mrs. Elk’s meagre figure, sandy straggling hair, and featureless grey-toned face, and then looked at the golden-haired, blue-eyed perfection of Flossie.
    “It’s a miracle she’s here. Why, the child’s a beauty.” He tossed Flossie up in the air, she gurgled appreciatively. “Go on looking like that, Miss, and you’ll set the Thames on fire.”
    Going home in the tram Mrs. Elk, for the first time, studied Flossie purely as Flossie, and quite apart from the difficulty of her arrival, and the scales fell from her eyes.
    Mr. Elk was a greengrocer, not in a big way, but what he called ‘a tidy little business.’ He was a greengrocer not from accident, but from conviction. As a boy he had been put to work for a milkman, and his round had taken him through Covent Garden, and the sight of the market had stirred ambition in him, ‘one day he’d live in the country, and grow green stuff like that, and send it up to London in carts.’ After finishing as milk-boy, he had packed for a stores, and from that had risen to driving a van. During the van period a fellow-driver sold him a ticket in the stores sweep on the Derby, and he won sixty pounds. The years had dimmed his vision of the country, but the vegetables were still there, and so, with his sixty pounds, he bought the premises and good-will of a little bank­rupt greengrocery business in the Fordham Road, London, S.E. Some men have a vocation for one thing, some for another, Mr. Elk’s was for the buy­ing and selling of vegetables. On the whole, shoppers are people of sense, and it was not long before the ladies of the district learnt that ‘Elk’s’ in the Fordham Road had really good stuff at no more than you’d pay for it anywhere else. So Mr. Elk prospered. He was just beginning to prosper when he met Fanny Stubbs. Fanny had not long left school, and though she stood all day in the wet, working in a tea factory, she looked none the worse, and was, in a sandy way, almost pretty. Mr. Elk thought her a miracle of beauty, and Fanny thought him a bit of all right, and the greengrocer shop a treat. So about a year after first meeting, they were married. They had been married eight years when they achieved Flossie.
    Arrived home from the hospital, Mrs. Elk put Flossie into her pram, and went into the shop. Mr. Elk was shifting brussels sprouts from one basket to another. Mrs. Elk leant against a sack of potatoes.
    “George, have you ever ’ad a good look at our Flossie?” Her voice was heavy with unspoken things.
    Mr. Elk paused with both hands full of sprouts.
    “Why, what’s up? She’s all right, ain’t she?”
    “All right!” Mrs. Elk laughed meaningly; a laugh calculated to make any father feel a fool. “You never looked at her, I suppose? She’s only going to be a great beauty, that’s all.”
    Mr. Elk was a regular attendant at the service of the mission house on the corner of the Fordham Road. Its religious views were indefinite, a warm odorous fug, combined with the more sentimental of the hymns induced a slight emotionalism easily mistaken for repentance. When this feeling was at its height, the minister, whose chief gift was an admirable sense of timing, would preach, brainlessly, but with fervour, of sin. Mr. Elk, slightly glazed by the heat, and the hymns, would lie back in his chair and allow fragments of what he heard to lodge in his mind. One of those fragments, repeated so often that it could scarcely avoid lodging, was the danger of beauty.
    “Don’t talk so silly, Fanny,” he said, continuing the house-removal of the brussels sprouts. “Don’t you listen to what’s said of a Sunday? Beauty is a lure of Satan.” He dropped the last sprout into its basket. “If our Floss grows up a good sensible girl as’ll make a nice wife for some man that’s all we ask ’eaven for.”
    Mrs. Elk read serials in the papers, and knew the astounding power wielded by the beautiful. The possession of beauty might not make for goodness, and  sensibleness, in the sense that Mr. Elk and the minister meant, but it did make for a life very much more exciting than that led by Fanny Elk in the Fordham Road.
    “Oh well, we shall see what we shall see,” was all she said to Mr. Elk, but to Flossie, as she picked her out of the pram, she murmured fiercely, “If you ’ave the looks, you use ’em, my girl.”
    Flossie gurgled.