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´╗┐Title: Aunt Jane's Nieces
Author: Baum, L. Frank (Lyman Frank), 1856-1919
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.


*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Aunt Jane's Nieces" ***


AUNT JANE'S NIECES

By

EDITH VAN DYNE

1906



A LIST OF CHAPTERS


  CHAPTER

       I  BETH RECEIVES AN INVITATION
      II  MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
     III  PATSY
      IV  LOUISE MAKES A DISCOVERY
       V  AUNT JANE
      VI  THE BOY
     VII  THE FIRST WARNING
    VIII  THE DIPLOMAT
      IX  COUSINS
       X  THE MAN WITH THE BUNDLE
      XI  THE MAD GARDENER
     XII  UNCLE JOHN GETS ACQUAINTED
    XIII  THE OTHER NIECE
     XIV  KENNETH IS FRIGHTENED
      XV  PATSY MEETS WITH AN ACCIDENT
     XVI  GOOD RESULTS
    XVII  AUNT JANE'S HEIRESS
   XVIII  PATRICIA SPEAKS FRANKLY
     XIX  DUPLICITY
      XX  IN THE GARDEN
     XXI  READING THE WILL
    XXII  JAMES TELLS A STRANGE STORY
   XXIII  PATSY ADOPTS AN UNCLE
    XXIV  HOME AGAIN
     XXV  UNCLE JOHN ACTS QUEERLY
    XXVI  A BUNCH OF KEYS
   XXVII  LOUISE MAKES A DISCOVERY
  XXVIII  PATSY LOSES HER JOB
    XXIX  THE MAJOR DEMANDS AN EXPLANATION



CHAPTER I.

BETH RECEIVES AN INVITATION.


Professor De Graf was sorting the mail at the breakfast table.

"Here's a letter for you, Beth," said he, and tossed it across the
cloth to where his daughter sat.

The girl raised her eyebrows, expressing surprise. It was something
unusual for her to receive a letter. She picked up the square envelope
between a finger and thumb and carefully read the inscription, "Miss
Elizabeth De Graf, Cloverton, Ohio." Turning the envelope she found on
the reverse flap a curious armorial emblem, with the word "Elmhurst."

Then she glanced at her father, her eyes big and somewhat startled
in expression. The Professor was deeply engrossed in a letter from
Benjamin Lowenstein which declared that a certain note must be paid at
maturity. His weak, watery blue eyes stared rather blankly from behind
the gold-rimmed spectacles. His flat nostrils extended and compressed
like those of a frightened horse; and the indecisive mouth was
tremulous. At the best the Professor was not an imposing personage.
He wore a dressing-gown of soiled quilted silk and linen not too
immaculate; but his little sandy moustache and the goatee that
decorated his receding chin were both carefully waxed into sharp
points--an indication that he possessed at least one vanity. Three
days in the week he taught vocal and instrumental music to the
ambitious young ladies of Cloverton. The other three days he rode to
Pelham's Grove, ten miles away, and taught music to all who wished to
acquire that desirable accomplishment. But the towns were small and
the fees not large, so that Professor De Graf had much difficulty in
securing an income sufficient for the needs of his family.

The stout, sour-visaged lady who was half-hidden by her newspaper at
the other end of the table was also a bread-winner, for she taught
embroidery to the women of her acquaintance and made various articles
of fancy-work that were sold at Biggar's Emporium, the largest store
in Cloverton. So, between them, the Professor and Mrs. DeGraf managed
to defray ordinary expenses and keep Elizabeth at school; but there
were one or two dreadful "notes" that were constantly hanging over
their heads like the sword of Damocles, threatening to ruin them at
any moment their creditors proved obdurate.

Finding her father and mother both occupied, the girl ventured to open
her letter. It was written in a sharp, angular, feminine hand and read
as follows:

"My Dear Niece: It will please me to have you spend the months of July
and August as my guest at Elmhurst. I am in miserable health, and
wish to become better acquainted with you before I die. A check for
necessary expenses is enclosed and I shall expect you to arrive
promptly on the first of July.

"Your Aunt,

"JANE MERRICK."

A low exclamation from Elizabeth caused her father to look in her
direction. He saw the bank check lying beside her plate and the sight
lent an eager thrill to his voice.

"What is it, Beth?"

"A letter from Aunt Jane."

Mrs. De Graf gave a jump and crushed the newspaper into her lap.

"What!" she screamed.

"Aunt Jane has invited me to spend two months at Elmhurst" said
Elizabeth, and passed the letter to her mother, who grabbed it
excitedly.

"How big is the check, Beth?" enquired the Professor, in a low tone.

"A hundred dollars. She says it's for my expenses.

"Huh! Of course you won't go near that dreadful old cat, so we can use
the money to better advantage."

"Adolph!"

The harsh, cutting voice was that of his wife, and the Professor
shrank back in his chair.

"Your sister Jane is a mean, selfish, despicable old female," he
muttered. "You've said so a thousand times yourself, Julia."

"My sister Jane is a very wealthy woman, and she's a Merrick,"
returned the lady, severely. "How dare you--a common De Graf--asperse
her character?"

"The De Grafs are a very good family," he retorted.

"Show me one who is wealthy! Show me one who is famous!"

"I can't," said the Professor. "But they're decent, and they're
generous, which is more than can be said for your tribe."

"Elizabeth must go to Elmhurst," said Mrs. De Graf, ignoring her
husband's taunt.

"She shan't. Your sister refused to loan me fifty dollars last year,
when I was in great trouble. She hasn't given you a single cent since
I married you. No daughter of mine shall go In Elmhurst to be bullied
and insulted by Jane Merrick."

"Adolph, try to conceal the fact that you're a fool," said his wife.
"Jane is in a desperate state of health, and can't live very long at
the best. I believe she's decided to leave her money to Elizabeth, or
she never would have invited the child to visit her. Do you want to
fly in the face of Providence, you doddering old imbecile?"

"No," said the Professor, accepting the doubtful appellation without a
blush. "How much do you suppose Jane is worth?"

"A half million, at the very least. When she was a girl she inherited
from Thomas Bradley, the man she was engaged to marry, and who was
suddenly killed in a railway accident, more than a quarter of a
million dollars, besides that beautiful estate of Elmhurst. I don't
believe Jane has even spent a quarter of her income, and the fortune
must have increased enormously. Elizabeth will be one of the
wealthiest heiresses in the country!"

"If she gets the money, which I doubt," returned the Professor,
gloomily.

"Why should you doubt it, after this letter?"

"You had another sister and a brother, and they both had children,"
said he.

"They each left a girl. I admit. But Jane has never favored them
any more than she has me. And this invitation, coming; when Jane is
practically on her death bed, is a warrant that Beth will get the
money."

"I hope she will," sighed the music teacher. "We all need it bad
enough, I'm sure."

During this conversation Elizabeth, who might be supposed the one most
interested in her Aunt's invitation, sat silently at her place, eating
her breakfast with her accustomed calmness of demeanor and scarcely
glancing at her parents.

She had pleasant and quite regular features, for a girl of fifteen,
with dark hair and eyes--the "Merrick eyes," her mother proudly
declared--and a complexion denoting perfect health and colored with
the rosy tints of youth. Her figure was a bit slim and unformed,
and her shoulders stooped a little more than was desirable; but in
Cloverton Elizabeth had the reputation of being "a pretty girl," and a
sullen and unresponsive one as well.

Presently she rose from her seat, glanced at the clock, and then went
into the hall to get her hat and school-books. The prospect of being
an heiress some day had no present bearing on the fact that it was
time to start for school.

Her father came to the door with the check in his hand.

"Just sign your name on the back of this, Beth," said he, "and I'll
get it cashed for you."

The girl shook her head.

"No, father," she answered. "If I decide to go to Aunt Jane's I must
buy some clothes; and if you get the money I'll never see a cent of
it."

"When will you decide?" he asked.

"There's no hurry. I'll take time to think it over," she replied. "I
hate Aunt Jane, of course; so if I go to her I must be a hypocrite,
and pretend to like her, or she never will leave me her property.

"Well, Beth?"

"Perhaps it will be worth while; but if I go into that woman's house
I'll be acting a living lie."

"But think of the money!" said her mother.

"I do think of it. That's why I didn't tell you at once to send the
check back to Aunt Jane. I'm going to think of everything before I
decide. But if I go--if I allow this money to make me a hypocrite--I
won't stop at trifles, I assure you. It's in my nature to be
dreadfully wicked and cruel and selfish, and perhaps the money isn't
worth the risk I run of becoming depraved."

"Elizabeth!"

"Good-bye; I'm late now," she continued, in the same quiet tone, and
walked slowly down the walk.

The Professor twisted his moustache and looked into his wife's eyes
with a half frightened glance.

"Beth's a mighty queer girl," he muttered.

"She's very like her Aunt Jane," returned Mrs. De Graf, thoughtfully
gazing after her daughter. "But she's defiant and wilful enough for
all the Merricks put together. I do hope she'll decide to go to
Elmhurst."



CHAPTER II.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.


In the cosy chamber of an apartment located in a fashionable quarter
of New York Louise Merrick reclined upon a couch, dressed in a
dainty morning gown and propped and supported by a dozen embroidered
cushions.

Upon a taboret beside her stood a box of bonbons, the contents of
which she occasionally nibbled as she turned the pages of her novel.

The girl had a pleasant and attractive face, although its listless
expression was singular in one so young. It led you to suspect that
the short seventeen years of her life had robbed her of all the
anticipation and eagerness that is accustomed to pulse in strong young
blood, and filled her with experiences that compelled her to accept
existence in a half bored and wholly matter-of-fact way.

The room was tastefully though somewhat elaborately furnished; yet
everything in it seemed as fresh and new as if it had just come from
the shop--which was not far from the truth. The apartment itself
was new, with highly polished floors and woodwork, and decorations
undimmed by time. Even the girl's robe, which she wore so gracefully,
was new, and the books upon the center-table were of the latest
editions.

The portiere was thrust aside and an elderly lady entered the room,
seating herself quietly at the window, and, after a single glance at
the form upon the couch, beginning to embroider patiently upon some
work she took from a silken bag. She moved so noiselessly that the
girl did not hear her and for several minutes absolute silence
pervaded the room.

Then, however, Louise in turning a leaf glanced up and saw the head
bent over the embroidery. She laid down her book and drew an open
letter from between the cushions beside her, which she languidly
tossed into the other's lap.

"Who is this woman, mamma?" she asked.

Mrs. Merrick glanced at the letter and then read it carefully through,
before replying.

"Jane Merrick is your father's sister," she said, at last, as she
thoughtfully folded the letter and placed it upon the table.

"Why have I never heard of her before?" enquired the girl, with a
slight accession of interest in her tones.

"That I cannot well explain. I had supposed you knew of your poor
father's sister Jane, although you were so young when he died that it
is possible he never mentioned her name in your presence."

"They were not on friendly terms, you know. Jane was rich, having
inherited a fortune and a handsome country place from a young man whom
she was engaged to marry, but who died on the eve of his wedding day."

"How romantic!" exclaimed Louise.

"It does seem romantic, related in this way," replied her mother. "But
with the inheritance all romance disappeared from your aunt's life.
She became a crabbed, disagreeable woman, old before her time and
friendless because she suspected everyone of trying to rob her of her
money. Your poor father applied to her in vain for assistance, and I
believe her refusal positively shortened his life. When he died, after
struggling bravely to succeed in his business, he left nothing but his
life-insurance."

"Thank heaven he left that!" sighed Louise.

"Yes; we would have been beggared, indeed, without it," agreed Mrs.
Merrick. "Yet I often wonder, Louise, how we managed to live upon the
interest of that money for so many years."

"We didn't live--we existed," corrected the girl, yawning. "We
scrimped and pinched, and denied ourselves everything but bare
necessities. And had it not been for your brilliant idea, mater dear,
we would still be struggling in the depths of poverty."

Mrs. Merrick frowned, and leaned back in her chair.

"I sometimes doubt if the idea was so brilliant, after all," she
returned, with a certain grimness of expression. "We're plunging,
Louise; and it may be into a bottomless pit."

"Don't worry, dear," said the girl, biting into a bonbon. "We are
only on the verge of our great adventure, and there's no reason to
be discouraged yet, I assure you. Brilliant! Of course the idea
was brilliant, mamma. The income of that insurance money was
insignificant, but the capital is a very respectable sum. I am just
seventeen years of age--although I feel that I ought to be thirty, at
the least--and in three years I shall be twenty, and a married woman.
You decided to divide our capital into three equal parts, and spend a
third of it each year, this plan enabling us to live in good style and
to acquire a certain social standing that will allow me to select a
wealthy husband. It's a very brilliant idea, my dear! Three years is a
long time. I'll find my Croesus long before that, never fear."

"You ought to," returned the mother, thoughtfully. "But if you fail,
we shall be entirely ruined."

"A strong incentive to succeed." said Louise, smiling. "An ordinary
girl might not win out; but I've had my taste of poverty, and I don't
like it. No one will suspect us of being adventurers, for as long as
we live in this luxurious fashion we shall pay our bills promptly and
be proper and respectable in every way. The only chance we run lies in
the danger that eligible young men may prove shy, and refuse to take
our bait; but are we not diplomats, mother dear? We won't despise a
millionaire, but will be content with a man who can support us in good
style, or even in comfort, and in return for his money I'll be a very
good wife to him. That seems sensible and wise, I'm sure, and not at
all difficult of accomplishment."

Mrs. Merrick stared silently out of the window, and for a few moments
seemed lost in thought.

"I think, Louise," she said at last, "you will do well to cultivate
your rich aunt, and so have two strings to your bow."

"You mean that I should accept her queer invitation to visit her?"

"Yes."

"She has sent me a check for a hundred dollars. Isn't it funny?"

"Jane was always a whimsical woman. Perhaps she thinks we are quite
destitute, and fears you would not be able to present a respectable
appearance at Elmhurst without this assistance. But it is an evidence
of her good intentions. Finding death near at hand she is obliged to
select an heir, and so invites you to visit her that she may study
your character and determine whether you are worthy to inherit her
fortune."

The girl laughed, lightly.

"It will be easy to cajole the old lady," she said. "In two days I can
so win her heart that she will regret she has neglected me so long."

"Exactly."

"If I get her money we will change our plans, and abandon the
adventure we were forced to undertake. But if, for any reason, that
plan goes awry, we can fall back upon this prettily conceived scheme
which we have undertaken. As you say, it is well to have two strings
to one's bow; and during July and August everyone will be out of town,
and so we shall lose no valuable time."

Mrs. Merrick did not reply. She stitched away in a methodical manner,
as if abstracted, and Louise crossed her delicate hands behind her
head and gazed at her mother reflectively. Presently she said:

"Tell me more of my father's family. Is this rich aunt of mine the
only relative he had?"

"No, indeed. There were two other sisters and a brother--a very
uninteresting lot, with the exception, of your poor father. The eldest
was John Merrick, a common tinsmith, if I remember rightly, who went
into the far west many years ago and probably died there, for he was
never heard from. Then came Jane, who in her young days had some
slight claim to beauty. Anyway, she won the heart of Thomas Bradley,
the wealthy young man I referred to, and she must have been clever to
have induced him to leave her his money. Your father was a year or so
younger than Jane, and after him came Julia, a coarse and
disagreeable creature who married a music-teacher and settled in some
out-of-the-way country town. Once, while your father was alive, she
visited us for a few days, with her baby daughter, and nearly drove us
all crazy. Perhaps she did not find us very hospitable, for we were
too poor to entertain lavishly. Anyway, she went away suddenly after
you had a fight with her child and nearly pulled its hair out by the
roots, and I have never heard of her since."

"A daughter, eh," said Louise, musingly. "Then this rich Aunt Jane has
another niece besides myself."

"Perhaps two," returned Mrs. Merrick; "for her youngest sister, who
was named Violet, married a vagabond Irishman and had a daughter
about a year younger than you. The mother died, but whether the child
survived her or not I have never learned."

"What was her name?" asked Louise.

"I cannot remember. But it is unimportant. You are the only Merrick of
them all, and that is doubtless the reason Jane has sent for you."

The girl shook her blonde head.

"I don't like it," she observed.

"Don't like what?"

"All this string of relations. It complicates matters."

Mrs. Merrick seemed annoyed.

"If you fear your own persuasive powers," she said, with almost a
sneer in her tones, "you'd better not go to Elmhurst. One or the
other of your country cousins might supplant you in your dear aunt's
affections."

The girl yawned and took up her neglected novel.

"Nevertheless, mater dear," she said briefly, "I shall go."



CHAPTER III.

PATSY.


"Now, Major, stand up straight and behave yourself! How do you expect
me to sponge your vest when you're wriggling around in that way?"

"Patsy, dear, you're so sweet this evening, I just had to kiss your
lips."

"Don't do it again, sir," replied Patricia, severely, as she scrubbed
the big man's waistcoat with a damp cloth. "And tell me, Major, how
you ever happened to get into such a disgraceful condition."

"The soup just shpilled," said the Major, meekly.

Patricia laughed merrily. She was a tiny thing, appearing to be no
more than twelve years old, although in reality she was sixteen. Her
hair was a decided red--not a beautiful "auburn," but really red--and
her round face was badly freckled. Her nose was too small and her
mouth too wide to be beautiful, but the girl's wonderful blue eyes
fully redeemed these faults and led the observer to forget all else
but their fascinations. They could really dance, these eyes, and send
out magnetic, scintillating sparks of joy and laughter that were
potent to draw a smile from the sourest visage they smiled upon.
Patricia was a favorite with all who knew her, but the big,
white-moustached Major Doyle, her father, positively worshipped her,
and let the girl rule him as her fancy dictated.

"Now, sir, you're fairly decent again," she said, after a few vigorous
scrubs. "So put on your hat and we'll go out to dinner."

They occupied two small rooms at the top of a respectable but
middle-class tenement building, and had to descend innumerable flights
of bare wooden stairs before they emerged upon a narrow street
thronged with people of all sorts and descriptions except those who
were too far removed from the atmosphere of Duggan street to know that
it existed.

The big major walked stiffly and pompously along, swinging his
silver-trimmed cane in one hand while Patricia clung to his other arm.
The child wore a plain grey cloak, for the evening was chill. She had
a knack of making her own clothes, all of simple material and fashion,
but fitting neatly and giving her an air of quiet refinement that made
more than one passer-by turn to look back at her curiously.

After threading their way for several blocks they turned in at the
open door of an unobtrusive restaurant where many of the round white
tables were occupied by busy and silent patrons.

The proprietor nodded to the major and gave Patricia a smile. There
was no need to seat them, for they found the little table in the
corner where they were accustomed to eat, and sat down.

"Did you get paid tonight?" asked the girl.

"To be sure, my Patsy."

"Then hand over the coin," she commanded.

The major obeyed. She counted it carefully and placed it in her
pocketbook, afterwards passing a half-dollar back to her father.

"Remember, Major, no riotous living! Make that go as far as you can,
and take care not to invite anyone to drink with you."

"Yes, Patsy."

"And now I'll order the dinner."

The waiter was bowing and smiling beside her. Everyone smiled at
Patsy, it seemed.

They gave the usual order, and then, after a moment's hesitation, she
added:

"And a bottle of claret for the Major."

Her father fairly gasped with amazement.

"Patsy!"

People at the near-by tables looked up as her gay laugh rang out, and
beamed upon her in sympathy.

"I'm not crazy a bit. Major," said she, patting the hand he had
stretched toward her, partly in delight and partly in protest. "I've
just had a raise, that's all, and we'll celebrate the occasion."

Her father tucked the napkin under his chin then looked at her
questioningly.

"Tell me, Patsy."

"Madam Borne sent me to a swell house on Madison Avenue this morning,
because all her women were engaged. I dressed the lady's hair in
my best style, Major, and she said it was much more becoming than
Juliette ever made it. Indeed, she wrote a note to Madam, asking her
to send me, hereafter, instead of Juliette, and Madam patted my head
and said I would be a credit to her, and my wages would be ten dollars
a week, from now on. Ten dollars. Major! As much as you earn yourself
at that miserable bookkeeping!"

"Sufferin' Moses!" ejaculated the astonished major, staring back into
her twinkling eyes, "if this kapes on, we'll be millionaires, Patsy."

"We're millionaires, now." responded Patsy, promptly, "because we've
health, and love, and contentment--and enough money to keep us from
worrying. Do you know what I've decided, Major, dear? You shall go to
make that visit to your colonel that you've so long wanted to have.
The vacation will do you good, and you can get away all during July,
because you haven't rested for five years. I went to see Mr. Conover
this noon, and he said he'd give you the month willingly, and keep the
position for you when you returned."

"What! You spoke to old Conover about me?"

"This noon. It's all arranged, daddy, and you'll just have a glorious
time with the old colonel. Bless his dear heart, he'll be overjoyed to
have you with him, at last."

The major pulled out his handkerchief, blew his nose vigorously, and
then surreptitiously wiped his eyes.

"Ah, Patsy, Patsy; it's an angel you are, and nothing less at all, at
all."

"Rubbish, Major. Try your claret, and see if it's right. And eat your
fish before it gets cold. I'll not treat you again, sir, unless you
try to look happy. Why, you seem as glum as old Conover himself!"

The major was positively beaming.

"Would it look bad for me to kiss you, Patsy?"

"Now?"

"Now and right here in this very room!"

"Of course it would. Try and behave, like the gentleman you are, and
pay attention to your dinner!"

It was a glorious meal. The cost was twenty-five cents a plate, but
the gods never feasted more grandly in Olympus than these two simple,
loving souls in that grimy Duggan street restaurant.

Over his coffee the major gave a sudden start and looked guiltily into
Patricia's eyes.

"Now, then," she said, quickly catching the expression, "out with it."

"It's a letter," said the major. "It came yesterday, or mayhap the day
before. I don't just remember."

"A letter! And who from?" she cried, surprised.

"An ould vixen."

"And who may that be?"

"Your mother's sister Jane. I can tell by the emblem on the flap of
the envelope," said he, drawing a crumpled paper from his breast
pocket.

"Oh, _that_ person," said Patsy, with scorn. "Whatever induced her to
write to _me?_" "You might read it and find out," suggested the major.

Patricia tore open the envelope and scanned the letter. Her eyes
blazed.

"What is it, Mavoureen?"

"An insult!" she answered, crushing the paper in her hand and then
stuffing it into the pocket of her dress. "Light your pipe, daddy,
dear. Here--I'll strike the match."



CHAPTER IV.

LOUISE MAKES A DISCOVERY.


"How did you enjoy the reception, Louise?"

"Very well, mamma. But I made the discovery that my escort. Harry
Wyndham, is only a poor cousin of the rich Wyndham family, and will
never have a penny he doesn't earn himself."

"I knew that," said Mrs. Merrick. "But Harry has the entree into some
very exclusive social circles. I hope you treated him nicely, Louise.
He can be of use to us."

"Oh, yes, I think I interested him; but he's a very stupid boy. By the
way, mamma, I had an adventure last evening, which I have had no time
to tell you of before."

"Yes?"

"It has given me quite a shock. You noticed the maid you ordered to
come from Madam Borne to dress my hair for the reception?"

"I merely saw her. Was she unsatisfactory?"

"She was very clever. I never looked prettier, I am sure. The maid is
a little, demure thing, very young for such a position, and positively
homely and common in appearance. But I hardly noticed her until she
dropped a letter from her clothing. It fell just beside me, and I saw
that it was addressed to no less a personage than my rich aunt, Miss
Jane Merrick, at Elmhurst. Curious to know why a hair-dresser should
be in correspondence with Aunt Jane, I managed to conceal the letter
under my skirts until the maid was gone. Then I put it away until
after the reception. It was sealed and stamped, all ready for the
post, but I moistened the flap and easily opened it. Guess what I
read?"

"I've no idea," replied Mrs. Merrick.

"Here it is," continued Louise, producing a letter and carefully
unfolding it. "Listen to this, if you please: 'Aunt Jane.' She doesn't
even say 'dear' or 'respected,' you observe."

'Your letter to me, asking me to visit you, is almost an insult
after your years of silence and neglect and your refusals to assist
my poor mother when she was in need. Thank God we can do without
your friendship and assistance now, for my honored father, Major
Gregory Doyle, is very prosperous and earns all we need. I return your
check with my compliments. If you are really ill, I am sorry for you,
and would go to nurse you were you not able to hire twenty nurses,
each of whom would have fully as much love and far more respect for
you than could ever

'Your indignant niece,

'Patricia Doyle.'

"What do you think of that, mamma?'"

"It's very strange, Louise. This hair-dresser is your own cousin."

"So it seems. And she must be poor, or she wouldn't go out as a sort
of lady's maid. I remember scolding her severely for pulling my hair
at one time, and she was as meek as Moses, and never answered a word."

"She has a temper though, as this letter proves," said Mrs. Merrick;
"and I admire her for the stand she has taken."

"So do I," rejoined Louise with a laugh, "for it removes a rival from
my path. You will notice that Aunt Jane has sent her a check for the
same amount she sent me. Here it is, folded in the letter. Probably my
other cousin, the De Graf girl, is likewise invited to Elmhurst? Aunt
Jane wanted us all, to see what we were like, and perhaps to choose
between us."

"Quite likely," said Mrs. Merrick, uneasily watching her daughter's
face.

"That being the case," continued Louise, "I intend to enter the
competition. With this child Patricia out of the way, it will be a
simple duel with my unknown De Graf cousin for my aunt's favor, and
the excitement will be agreeable even if I am worsted."

"There's no danger of that," said her mother, calmly. "And the stakes
are high, Louise. I've learned that your Aunt Jane is rated as worth a
half million dollars."

"They shall be mine," said the daughter, with assurance. "Unless,
indeed, the De Graf girl is most wonderfully clever. What is her
name?"

"Elizabeth, if I remember rightly. But I am not sure she is yet alive,
my dear. I haven't heard of the De Grafs for a dozen years.'"

"Anyway I shall accept my Aunt Jane's invitation, and make the
acceptance as sweet as Patricia Doyle's refusal is sour. Aunt Jane
will be simply furious when she gets the little hair-dresser's note."

"Will you send it on?"

"Why not? It's only a question of resealing the envelope and mailing
it. And it will be sure to settle Miss Doyle's chances of sharing the
inheritance, for good and all."

"And the check?"

"Oh, I shall leave the check inside the envelope. It wouldn't be at
all safe to cash it, you know."

"But if you took it out Jane would think the girl had kept tit money,
after all, and would be even more incensed against her."

"No," said Louise, after a moment's thought, "I'll not do a single act
of dishonesty that could ever by any chance be traced to my door. To
be cunning, to be diplomatic, to play the game of life with the best
cards we can draw, is every woman's privilege. But if I can't win
honestly, mater dear, I'll quit the game, for even money can't
compensate a girl for the loss of her self-respect."

Mrs. Merrick cast a fleeting glance at her daughter and smiled.
Perhaps the heroics of Louise did not greatly impress her.



CHAPTER V.

AUNT JANE.


"Lift me up, Phibbs--no, not that way! Confound your awkwardness--do
you want to break my back? There! That's better. Now the pillow at my
head. Oh--h. What are you blinking at, you old owl?"

"Are you better this morning, Miss Jane?" asked the attendant, with
grave deference.

"No; I'm worse."

"You look brighter, Miss Jane."

"Don't be stupid, Martha Phibbs. I know how I am, better than any
doctor, and I tell you I'm on my last legs."

"Anything unusual, Miss?"

"Of course. I can't be on my last legs regularly, can I?"

"I hope not, Miss."

"What do you mean by that? Are you trying to insult me, now that I'm
weak and helpless? Answer me, you gibbering idiot!"

"I'm sure you'll feel better soon, Miss. Can't I wheel you into the
garden? It's a beautiful day, and quite sunny and warm already."

"Be quick about it, then; and don't tire me out with your eternal
doddering. When a thing has to be done, do it. That's my motto."

"Yes, Miss Jane."

Slowly and with care the old attendant wheeled her mistress's invalid
chair through the doorway of the room, along a stately passage,
and out upon a broad piazza at the back of the mansion. Here were
extensive and carefully tended gardens, and the balmy morning air was
redolent with the odor of flowers.

Jane Merrick sniffed the fragrance with evident enjoyment, and her
sharp grey eyes sparkled as she allowed them to roam over the gorgeous
expanse of colors spread out before her.

"I'll go down, I guess, Phibbs. This may be my last day on earth,
and I'll spend an hour with my flowers before I bid them good-bye
forever."

Phibbs pulled a bell-cord, and a soft faraway jingle was heard. Then
an old man came slowly around the corner of the house. His bare
head was quite bald. He wore a short canvas apron and carried
pruning-shears in one hand. Without a word of greeting to his mistress
or scarce a glance at her half recumbent form, he mounted the steps of
the piazza and assisted Phibbs to lift the chair to the ground.

"How are the roses coming on, James?"

"Poorly, Miss," he answered, and turning his back returned to his work
around the corner. If he was surly, Miss Jane seemed not to mind it.
Her glance even softened a moment as she followed his retreating form.

But now she was revelling amongst the flowers, which she seemed to
love passionately. Phibbs wheeled her slowly along the narrow paths
between the beds, and she stopped frequently to fondle a blossom or
pull away a dead leaf or twig from a bush. The roses were magnificent,
in spite of the old gardener's croaking, and the sun was warm and
grateful and the hum of the bees musical and sweet.

"It's hard to die and leave all this, Phibbs," said the old woman, a
catch in her voice. "But it's got to be done."

"Not for a while yet, I hope, Miss Jane."

"It won't be long, Phibbs. But I must try to live until my nieces
come, and I can decide which of them is most worthy to care for the
old place when I am gone."

"Yes, Miss."

"I've heard from two of them, already. They jumped at the bait I held
out quickly enough; but that's only natural. And the letters are very
sensible ones, too. Elizabeth DeGraf says she will be glad to come,
and thanks me for inviting her. Louise Merrick is glad to come, also,
but hopes I am deceived about my health and that she will make me more
than one visit after we become friends. A very proper feeling; but I'm
not deceived, Phibbs. My end's in plain sight."

"Yes, Miss Jane."

"And somebody's got to have my money and dear Elmhurst when I'm
through with them. Who will it be, Phibbs?"

"I'm sure I don't know, Miss."

"Nor do I. The money's mine, and I can do what I please with it; and
I'm under no obligation to anyone."

"Except Kenneth," said a soft voice behind her.

Jane Merrick gave a start at the interruption and turned red and angry
as, without looking around, she answered:

"Stuff and nonsense! I know my duties and my business, Silas Watson."

"To be sure," said a little, withered man, passing around the chair
and facing the old woman with an humble, deprecating air. He was
clothed in black, and his smooth-shaven, deeply lined face was
pleasant of expression and not without power and shrewd intelligence.
The eyes, however, were concealed by heavy-rimmed spectacles, and his
manner was somewhat shy and reserved. However, he did not hesitate to
speak frankly to his old friend, nor minded in the least if he aroused
her ire.

"No one knows better than you, dear Miss Jane, her duties and
obligations; and no one performs them more religiously. But your
recent acts, I confess, puzzle me. Why should you choose from a lot
of inexperienced, incompetent girls a successor to Thomas Bradley's
fortune, when he especially requested you in his will to look after
any of his relatives, should they need assistance? Kenneth Forbes, his
own nephew, was born after Tom's death, to be sure; but he is alone in
the world now, an orphan, and has had no advantages to help him along
in life since his mother's death eight years ago. I think Tom Bradley
must have had a premonition of what was to come even though his sister
was not married at the time of his death, and I am sure he would want
you to help Kenneth now."

"He placed me under no obligations to leave the boy any money,"
snapped the old woman, white with suppressed wrath, "you know that
well enough, Silas Watson, for you drew up the will."

The old gentleman slowly drew a pattern upon the gravelled walk with
the end of his walking-stick.

"Yes, I drew up the will," he said, deliberately, "and I remember that
he gave to you, his betrothed bride, all that he possessed--gave it
gladly and lovingly, and without reserve. He was very fond of you,
Miss Jane. But perhaps his conscience pricked him a bit, after all,
for he added the words: 'I shall expect you to look after the welfare
of my only relative, my sister. Katherine Bradley--or any of her
heirs.' It appears to me, Miss Jane, that that is a distinct
obligation. The boy is now sixteen and as fine a fellow as one often
meets."

"Bah! An imbecile--an awkward, ill-mannered brat who is only fit for a
stable-boy! I know him, Silas, and I know he'll never amount to a hill
of beans. Leave _him_ my money? Not if I hadn't a relative on earth!"

"You misjudge him, Jane. Kenneth is all right if you'll treat him
decently. But he won't stand your abuse and I don't think the less of
him for that."

"Why abuse? Haven't I given him a home and an education, all because
Thomas asked me to look after his relatives? And he's been rebellious
and pig-headed and sullen in return for my kindness, so naturally
there's little love lost between us."

"You resented your one obligation, Jane; and although you fulfilled it
to the letter you did not in the spirit of Tom Bradley's request. I
don't blame the boy for not liking you."

"Sir!"

"All right, Jane; fly at me if you will," said the little man, with a
smile; "but I intend to tell you frankly what I think of your actions,
just as long as we remain friends."

Her stern brows unbent a trifle.

"That's why we are friends, Silas; and it's useless to quarrel with
you now that I'm on my last legs. A few days more will end me, I'm
positive; so bear with me a little longer, my friend."

He took her withered hand in his and kissed it gently.

"You're not so very bad, Jane," said he, "and I'm almost sure you
will be with us for a long time to come. But you're more nervous and
irritable than usual, I'll admit, and I fear this invasion of your
nieces won't be good for you. Are they really coming?"

"Two of them are, I'm sure, for they've accepted my invitation," she
replied.

"Here's a letter that just arrived," he said, taking it from his
pocket. "Perhaps it contains news from the third niece."

"My glasses, Phibbs!" cried Miss Jane, eagerly, and the attendant
started briskly for the house to get them.

"What do you know about these girls?" asked the old lawyer curiously.

"Nothing whatever. I scarcely knew of their existence until you hunted
them out for me and found they were alive. But I'm going to know them,
and study them, and the one that's most capable and deserving shall
have my property."

Mr. Watson sighed.

"And Kenneth?" he asked.

"I'll provide an annuity for the boy, although it's more than he
deserves. When I realized that death was creeping upon me I felt a
strange desire to bequeath my fortune to one of my own flesh and
blood. Perhaps I didn't treat my brothers and sisters generously in
the old days, Silas."

"Perhaps not," he answered.

"So I'll make amends to one of their children. That is, if any one of
the three nieces should prove worthy."

"I see. But if neither of the three is worthy?"

"Then I'll leave every cent to charity--except Kenneth's annuity."

The lawyer smiled.

"Let us hope," said he, "that they will prove all you desire. It would
break my heart, Jane, to see Elmhurst turned into a hospital."

Phibbs arrived with the spectacles, and Jane Merrick read her letter,
her face growing harder with every line she mastered. Then she
crumpled the paper fiercely in both hands, and a moment later smoothed
it out carefully and replaced it in the envelope.

Silas Watson had watched her silently.

"Well," said he, at last, "another acceptance?"

"No, a refusal," said she. "A refusal from the Irishman's daughter,
Patricia Doyle."

"That's bad," he remarked, but in a tone of relief.

"I don't see it in that light at all," replied Miss Jane. "The girl
is right. It's the sort of letter I'd have written myself, under the
circumstances. I'll write again, Silas, and humble myself, and try to
get her to come."

"You surprise me!" said the lawyer.

"I surprise myself," retorted the old woman, "but I mean to know more
of this Patricia Doyle. Perhaps I've found a gold mine, Silas Watson!"



CHAPTER VI.

THE BOY.


Leaving the mistress of Elmhurst among her flowers, Silas Watson
walked slowly and thoughtfully along the paths until he reached the
extreme left wing of the rambling old mansion. Here, half hidden by
tangled vines of climbing roses, he came to a flight of steps leading
to an iron-railed balcony, and beyond this was a narrow stairway to
the rooms in the upper part of the wing.

Miss Merrick, however ungenerous she might have been to others, had
always maintained Elmhurst in a fairly lavish manner. There were
plenty of servants to look after the house and gardens, and there were
good horses in the stables. Whenever her health permitted she dined in
state each evening in the great dining-room, solitary and dignified,
unless on rare occasions her one familiar, Silas Watson, occupied the
seat opposite her. "The boy," as he was contemptuously called, was
never permitted to enter this room. Indeed, it would be difficult to
define exactly Kenneth Forbes' position at Elmhurst. He had lived
there ever since his mother's death, when, a silent and unattractive
lad of eight, Mr. Watson had brought him to Jane Merrick and insisted
upon her providing a home for Tom Bradley's orphaned nephew.

She accepted the obligation reluctantly enough, giving the child a
small room in the left wing, as far removed from her own apartments as
possible, and transferring all details of his care to Misery Agnew,
the old housekeeper. Misery endeavored to "do her duty" by the boy,
but appreciating the scant courtesy with which he was treated by her
mistress, it is not surprising the old woman regarded him merely as a
dependent and left him mostly to his own devices.

Kenneth, even in his first days at Elmhurst, knew that his presence
was disagreeable to Miss Jane, and as the years dragged on he grew shy
and retiring, longing to break away from his unpleasant surroundings,
but knowing of no other place where he would be more welcome. His only
real friend was the lawyer, who neglected no opportunity to visit the
boy and chat with him, in his cheery manner. Mr. Watson also arranged
with the son of the village curate to tutor Kenneth and prepare him
for college; but either the tutor was incompetent or the pupil did not
apply himself, for at twenty Kenneth Forbes was very ignorant, indeed,
and seemed not to apply himself properly to his books.

He was short of stature and thin, with a sad drawn face and manners
that even his staunch friend, Silas Watson, admitted were awkward and
unprepossessing. What he might have been under different conditions or
with different treatment, could only be imagined. Slowly climbing the
stairs to the little room Kenneth inhabited, Mr. Watson was forced to
conclude, with a sigh of regret, that he could not blame Miss Jane
for wishing to find a more desirable heir to her estate than this
graceless, sullen youth who had been thrust upon her by a thoughtless
request contained in the will of her dead lover--a request that she
seemed determined to fulfil literally, as it only required her to
"look after" Tom's relatives and did not oblige her to leave Kenneth
her property.

Yet, strange as it may seem, the old lawyer was exceedingly fond of
the boy, and longed to see him the master of Elmhurst. Sometimes, when
they were alone, Kenneth forgot his sense of injury and dependence,
and spoke so well and with such animation that Mr. Watson was
astonished, and believed that hidden underneath the mask of reserve
was another entirely different personality, that in the years to come
might change the entire nature of the neglected youth and win for him
the respect and admiration of the world. But these fits of brightness
and geniality were rare. Only the lawyer had as yet discovered them.

Today he found the boy lying listlessly upon the window-seat, an open
book in his hand, but his eyes fixed dreamily upon the grove of huge
elm trees that covered the distant hills.

"Morning, Ken," said he, briefly, sitting beside his young friend and
taking the book in his own hand. The margins of the printed pages were
fairly covered with drawings of every description. The far away trees
were there and the near-by rose gardens. There was a cat spitting at
an angry dog, caricatures of old Misery and James, the gardener, and
of Aunt Jane and even Silas Watson himself--all so clearly depicted
that the lawyer suddenly wondered if they were not clever, and an
evidence of genius. But the boy turned to look at him, and the next
moment seized the book from his grasp and sent it flying through
the open window, uttering at the same time a rude exclamation of
impatience.

The lawyer quietly lighted his pipe.

"Why did you do that, Kenneth?" he asked. "The pictures are clever
enough to be preserved. I did not know you have a talent for drawing."

The boy glanced at him, but answered nothing, and the lawyer thought
best not to pursue the subject After smoking a moment in silence he
remarked:

"Your aunt is failing fast." Although no relative, Kenneth had been
accustomed to speak of Jane Merrick as his aunt.

Getting neither word nor look in reply the lawyer presently continued:

"I do not think she will live much longer."

The boy stared from the window and drummed on the sill with his
fingers.

"When she dies," said Mr. Watson, in a musing tone, "there will be a
new mistress at Elmhurst and you will have to move out."

The boy now turned to look at him, enquiringly.

"You are twenty, and you are not ready for college. You would be of no
use in the commercial world. You have not even the capacity to become
a clerk. What will you do, Kenneth? Where will you go?"

The boy shrugged his shoulders.

"When will Aunt Jane die?" he asked.

"I hope she will live many days yet. She may die tomorrow."

"When she does, I'll answer your question." said the boy, roughly.
"When I'm turned out of this place--which is part prison and part
paradise--I'll do something. I don't know what, and I won't bother
about it till the time comes. But I'll do something."

"Could you earn a living?" asked the old lawyer.

"Perhaps not; but I'll get one. Will I be a beggar?"

"I don't know. It depends on whether Aunt Jane leaves you anything in
her will."

"I hope she won't leave me a cent!" cried the boy, with sudden
fierceness. "I hate her, and will be glad when she is dead and out of
my way!"

"Kenneth--Kenneth, lad!"

"I hate her!" he persisted, with blazing eyes. "She has insulted me,
scorned me, humiliated me every moment since I have known her. I'll be
glad to have her die, and I don't want a cent of her miserable money."

"Money," remarked the old man, knocking the ashes from his pipe, "is
very necessary to one who is incompetent to earn his salt. And the
money she leaves you--if she really does leave you any--won't be
her's, remember, but your Uncle Tom's."

"Uncle Tom was good to my father," said the boy, softening.

"Well, Uncle Tom gave his money to Aunt Jane, whom he had expected
to marry; but he asked her to care for his relatives, and she'll
doubtless give you enough to live on. But the place will go to some
one else, and that means you must move on."

"Who will have Elmhurst?" asked the boy.

"One of your aunt's nieces, probably. She has three, it seems, all of
them young girls, and she has invited them to come here to visit her."

"Girls! Girls at Elmhurst?" cried the boy, shrinking back with a look
of terror in his eyes.

"To be sure. One of the nieces, it seems, refuses to come; but there
will be two of them to scramble for your aunt's affection."

"She has none," declared the boy.

"Or her money, which is the same thing. The one she likes the best
will get the estate."

Kenneth smiled, and with the change of expression his face lighted
wonderfully.

"Poor Aunt!" he said. "Almost I am tempted to be sorry for her. Two
girls--fighting one against the other for Elmhurst--and both fawning
before a cruel and malicious old woman who could never love anyone but
herself."

"And her flowers," suggested the lawyer.

"Oh, yes; and perhaps James. Tell me, why should she love James, who
is a mere gardener, and hate me?"

"James tends the flowers, and the flowers are Jane Merrick's very
life. Isn't that the explanation?"

"I don't know."

"The girls need not worry you, Kenneth. It will be easy for you to
keep out of their way."

"When will they come?"

"Next week, I believe."

The boy looked around helplessly, with the air of a caged tiger.

"Perhaps they won't know I'm here," he said.

"Perhaps not. I'll tell Misery to bring all your meals to this room,
and no one ever comes to this end of the garden. But if they find you,
Kenneth, and scare you out of your den, run over to me, and I'll keep
you safe until the girls are gone."

"Thank you, Mr. Watson," more graciously than was his wont. "It isn't
that I'm afraid of girls, you know; but they may want to insult me,
just as their aunt does, and I couldn't bear any more cruelty."

"I know nothing about them," said the lawyer, "so I can't vouch in any
way for Aunt Jane's nieces. But they are young, and it is probable
they'll be as shy and uncomfortable here at Elmhurst as you are
yourself. And after all, Kenneth boy, the most important thing just
now is your own future. What in the world is to become of you?"

"Oh, _that_," answered the boy, relapsing into his sullen mood; "I
can't see that it matters much one way or another. Anyhow, I'll not
bother my head about it until the time comes and as far as you're
concerned, it's none of your business."



CHAPTER VII.

THE FIRST WARNING.


For a day or two Jane Merrick seemed to improve in health. Indeed,
Martha Phibbs declared her mistress was better than she had been for
weeks. Then, one night, the old attendant was awakened by a scream,
and rushed to her mistress' side.

"What is it, ma'am?" she asked, tremblingly.

"My leg! I can't move my leg," gasped the mistress of Elmhurst. "Rub
it, you old fool! Rub it till you drop, and see if you can bring back
the life to it."

Martha rubbed, of course, but the task was useless. Oscar the groom
was sent on horseback for the nearest doctor, who came just as day
was breaking. He gave the old woman a brief examination and shook his
head.

"It's the first warning," said he; "but nothing to be frightened
about. That is, for the present."

"Is it paralysis?" asked Jane Merrick.

"Yes; a slight stroke."

"But I'll have another?"

"Perhaps, in time."

"How long?"

"It may be a week--or a month--or a year. Sometimes there is
never another stroke. Don't worry, ma'am. Just lie still and be
comfortable."

"Huh!" grunted the old woman. But she became more composed and obeyed
the doctor's instructions with unwonted meekness. Silas Watson arrived
during the forenoon, and pressed her thin hand with real sympathy,
for these two were friends despite the great difference in their
temperaments.

"Shall I draw your will, Jane?" he asked. "No!" she snapped. "I'm not
going to die just yet, I assure you. I shall live to carry out my
plans, Silas."

She did live, and grew better as the days wore on, although she never
recovered the use of the paralyzed limb.

Each day Phibbs drew the invalid chair to the porch and old James
lifted it to the garden walk, where his mistress might enjoy the
flowers he so carefully and skillfully tended. They seldom spoke
together, these two; yet there seemed a strange bond of sympathy
between them.

At last the first of July arrived, and Oscar was dispatched to the
railway station, four miles distant, to meet Miss Elizabeth De
Graf, the first of the nieces to appear in answer to Jane Merrick's
invitation.

Beth looked very charming and fresh in her new gown, and she greeted
her aunt with a calm graciousness that would have amazed the professor
to behold. She had observed carefully the grandeur and beauty of
Elmhurst, as she drove through the grounds, and instantly decided the
place was worth an effort to win.

"So, this is Elizabeth, is it?" asked Aunt June, as the girl stood
before her for inspection. "You may kiss me, child."

Elizabeth advanced, striving to quell the antipathy she felt to kiss
the stern featured, old woman, and touched her lips to the wrinkled
forehead.

Jane Merrick laughed, a bit sneeringly, while Beth drew back, still
composed, and looked at her relative enquiringly.

"Well, what do you think of me?" demanded Aunt Jane, as if embarrassed
at the scrutiny she received.

"Surely, it is too early to ask me that," replied Beth, gently. "I am
going to try to like you, and my first sight of my new aunt leads me
to hope I shall succeed."

"Why shouldn't you like me?" cried the old woman. "Why must you try to
like your mother's sister?"

Beth flushed. She had promised herself not to become angry or
discomposed, whatever her aunt might say or do; but before she could
control herself an indignant expression flashed across her face and
Jane Merrick saw it.

"There are reasons," said Beth, slowly, "why your name is seldom
mentioned in my father's family. Until your letter came I scarcely
knew I possessed an aunt. It was your desire we should become better
acquainted, and I am here for that purpose. I hope we shall become
friends, Aunt Jane, but until then, it is better we should not discuss
the past."

The woman frowned. It was not difficult for her to read the character
of the child before her, and she knew intuitively that Beth was
strongly prejudiced against her, but was honestly trying not to allow
that prejudice to influence her. She decided to postpone further
interrogations until another time.

"Your journey has tired you," she said abruptly. "I'll have Misery
show you to your room."

She touched a bell beside her.

"I'm not tired, but I'll go to my room, if you please," answered Beth,
who realized that she had in some way failed to make as favorable an
impression as she had hoped. "When may I see you again?"

"When I send for you," snapped Aunt Jane, as the housekeeper entered.
"I suppose you know I am a paralytic, and liable to die at any time?"

"I am very sorry," said Beth, hesitatingly. "You do not seem very
ill."

"I'm on my last legs. I may not live an hour. But that's none of your
business, I suppose. By the way, I expect your cousin on the afternoon
train."

Beth gave a start of surprise.

"My cousin?" she asked.

"Yes, Louise Merrick."

"Oh!" said Beth, and stopped short.

"What do you mean by that?" enquired Aunt Jane, with a smile that was
rather malicious.

"I did not know I had a cousin," said the girl. "That is," correcting
herself, "I did not know whether Louise Merrick was alive or not.
Mother has mentioned her name once or twice in my presence; but not
lately."

"Well, she's alive. Very much alive, I believe. And she's coming to
visit me, while you are here. I expect you to be friends."

"To be sure," said Beth, nevertheless discomfited at the news.

"We dine at seven," said Aunt Jane. "I always lunch in my own room,
and you may do the same," and with a wave of her thin hand she
dismissed the girl, who thoughtfully followed the old housekeeper
through the halls.

It was not going to be an easy task to win this old woman's affection.
Already she rebelled at the necessity of undertaking so distasteful a
venture and wondered if she had not made a mistake in trying to curb
her natural frankness, and to conciliate a creature whose very nature
seemed antagonistic to her own. And this new cousin, Louise Merrick,
why was she coming to Elmhurst? To compete for the prize Beth had
already determined to win? In that case she must consider carefully
her line of action, that no rival might deprive her of this great
estate. Beth felt that she could fight savagely for an object she so
much desired. Her very muscles hardened and grew tense at the thought
of conflict as she walked down the corridor in the wake of old Misery
the housekeeper. She had always resented the sordid life at Cloverton.
She had been discontented with her lot since her earliest girlhood,
and longed to escape the constant bickerings of her parents and their
vain struggles to obtain enough money to "keep up appearances" and
drive the wolf from the door. And here was an opportunity to win a
fortune and a home beautiful enough for a royal princess. All that was
necessary was to gain the esteem of a crabbed, garrulous old woman,
who had doubtless but a few more weeks to live. It must be done,
in one way or another; but how? How could she out-wit this unknown
cousin, and inspire the love of Aunt Jane?

"If there's any stuff of the right sort in my nature," decided the
girl, as she entered her pretty bedchamber and threw herself into a
chair, "I'll find a way to win out. One thing is certain--I'll never
again have another chance at so fine a fortune, and if I fail to get
it I shall deserve to live in poverty forever afterward."

Suddenly she noticed the old housekeeper standing before her and
regarding her with a kindly interest. In an instant she sprang up,
threw her arms around Misery and kissed her furrowed cheek.

"Thank you for being so kind," said she. "I've never been away from
home before and you must be a mother to me while I'm at Elmhurst."

Old Misery smiled and stroked the girl's glossy head.

"Bless the child!" she said, delightedly; "of course I'll be a mother
to you. You'll need a bit of comforting now and then, my dear, if
you're going to live with Jane Merrick."

"Is she cross?" asked Beth, softly.

"At times she's a fiend," confided the old housekeeper, in almost a
whisper. "But don't you mind her tantrums, or lay 'em to heart, and
you'll get along with her all right."

"Thank you," said the girl. "I'll try not to mind."

"Do you need anything else, deary?" asked Misery, with a glance around
the room.

"Nothing at all, thank you."

The housekeeper nodded and softly withdrew.

"That was one brilliant move, at any rate," said Beth to herself, as
she laid aside her hat and prepared to unstrap her small trunk. "I've
made a friend at Elmhurst who will be of use to me; and I shall make
more before long. Come as soon as you like, Cousin Louise! You'll have
to be more clever than I am, if you hope to win Elmhurst."



CHAPTER VIII.

THE DIPLOMAT.


Aunt Jane was in her garden, enjoying the flowers. This was her
especial garden, surrounded by a high-box hedge, and quite distinct
from the vast expanse of shrubbery and flower-beds which lent so much
to the beauty of the grounds at Elmhurst. Aunt Jane knew and loved
every inch of her property. She had watched the shrubs personally for
many years, and planned all the alterations and the construction of
the flower-beds which James had so successfully attended to. Each
morning, when her health permitted, she had inspected the greenhouses
and issued her brief orders--brief because her slightest word to the
old gardener incurred the fulfillment of her wishes. But this bit of
garden adjoining her own rooms was her especial pride, and contained
the choicest plants she had been able to secure. So, since she had
been confined to her chair, the place had almost attained to the
dignity of a private drawing-room, and on bright days she spent many
hours here, delighting to feast her eyes with the rich coloring of the
flowers and to inhale their fragrance. For however gruff Jane Merrick
might be to the people with whom she came in contact, she was always
tender to her beloved flowers, and her nature invariably softened when
in their presence.

By and by Oscar, the groom, stepped through an opening in the hedge
and touched his hat.

"Has my niece arrived?" asked his mistress, sharply.

"She's on the way, mum," the man answered, grinning. "She stopped
outside the grounds to pick wild flowers, an' said I was to tell you
she'd walk the rest o' the way."

"To pick wild flowers?"

"That's what she said, mum. She's that fond of 'em she couldn't
resist it. I was to come an' tell you this, mum; an' she'll follow me
directly."

Aunt Jane stared at the man sternly, and he turned toward her an
unmoved countenance. Oscar had been sent to the station to meet Louise
Merrick, and drive her to Elmhurst; but this strange freak on the part
of her guest set the old woman thinking what her object could be. Wild
flowers were well enough in their way; but those adjoining the grounds
of Elmhurst were very ordinary and unattractive, and Miss Merrick's
aunt was expecting her. Perhaps--

A sudden light illumined the mystery.

"See here, Oscar; has this girl been questioning you?"

"She asked a few questions, mum."

"About me?"

"Some of 'em, if I remember right, mum, was about you."

"And you told her I was fond of flowers?"

"I may have just mentioned that you liked 'em, mum."

Aunt Jane gave a scornful snort, and the man responded in a curious
way. He winked slowly and laboriously, still retaining the solemn
expression on his face.

"You may go, Oscar. Have the girl's luggage placed in her room."

"Yes, mum."

He touched his hat and then withdrew, leaving Jane Merrick with a
frown upon her brow that was not caused by his seeming impertinence.

Presently a slight and graceful form darted through the opening in the
hedge and approached the chair wherein Jane Merrick reclined.

"Oh, my dear, dear aunt!" cried Louise. "How glad I am to see you at
last, and how good of you to let me come here!" and she bent over and
kissed the stern, unresponsive face with an enthusiasm delightful to
behold.

"This is Louise, I suppose," said Aunt Jane, stiffly. "You are welcome
to Elmhurst."

"Tell me how you are," continued the girl, kneeling beside the chair
and taking the withered hands gently in her own. "Do you suffer any?
And are you getting better, dear aunt, in this beautiful garden with
the birds and the sunshine?"

"Get up," said the elder woman, roughly. "You're spoiling your gown."

Louise laughed gaily.

"Never mind the gown," she answered. "Tell me about yourself. I've
been so anxious since your last letter."

Aunt Jane's countenance relaxed a trifle. To speak of her broken
health always gave her a sort of grim satisfaction.

"I'm dying, as you can plainly see," she announced. "My days are
numbered, Louise. If you stay long enough you can gather wild flowers
for my coffin."

Louise flushed a trifle. A bunch of butter-cups and forget-me-nots was
fastened to her girdle, and she had placed a few marguerites in her
hair.

"Don't laugh at these poor things!" she said, deprecatingly. "I'm so
fond of flowers, and we find none growing wild in the cities, you
know."

Jane Merrick looked at her reflectively.

"How old are you, Louise," she asked.

"Just seventeen, Aunt."

"I had forgotten you are so old as that. Let me see; Elizabeth cannot
be more than fifteen."

"Elizabeth?"

"Elizabeth De Graf, your cousin. She arrived at Elmhurst this morning,
and will be your companion while you are here."

"That is nice," said Louise.

"I hope you will be friends."

"Why not, Aunt? I haven't known much of my relations in the past, you
know, so it pleases me to find an aunt and a cousin at the same time.
I am sure I shall love you both. Let me fix your pillow--you do not
seem comfortable. There! Isn't that better?" patting the pillow
deftly. "I'm afraid you have needed more loving care than a paid
attendant can give you," glancing at old Martha Phibbs, who stood some
paces away, and lowering her voice that she might not be overheard.
"But for a time, at least, I mean to be your nurse, and look after
your wants. You should have sent for me before, Aunt Jane."

"Don't trouble yourself; Phibbs knows my ways, and does all that is
required," said the invalid, rather testily. "Run away, now, Louise.
The housekeeper will show you to your room. It's opposite Elizabeth's,
and you will do well to make her acquaintance at once. I shall expect
you both to dine with me at seven."

"Can't I stay here a little longer?" pleaded Louise. "We haven't
spoken two words together, as yet, and I'm not a bit tired or anxious
to go to my room. What a superb oleander this is! Is it one of your
favorites, Aunt Jane?"

"Run away," repeated the woman. "I want to be alone."

The girl sighed and kissed her again, stroking the gray hair softly
with her white hand.

"Very well; I'll go," she said. "But I don't intend to be treated as
a strange guest, dear Aunt, for that would drive me to return home at
once. You are my father's eldest sister, and I mean to make you love
me, if you will give me the least chance to do so."

She looked around her, enquiringly, and Aunt Jane pointed a bony
finger at the porch.

"That is the way. Phibbs will take you to Misery, the housekeeper, and
then return to me. Remember, I dine promptly at seven."

"I shall count the minutes," said Louise, and with a laugh and a
graceful gesture of adieu, turned to follow Martha into the house.

Jane Merrick looked after her with a puzzled expression upon her face.

"Were she in the least sincere," she muttered, "Louise might prove a
very pleasant companion. But she's not sincere; she's coddling me to
win my money, and if I don't watch out she'll succeed. The girl's a
born diplomat, and weighed in the balance against sincerity, diplomacy
will often tip the scales. I might do worse than to leave Elmhurst to
a clever woman. But I don't know Beth yet. I'll wait and see which
girl is the most desirable, and give them each an equal chance."



CHAPTER IX.

COUSINS.


"Come in," called Beth, answering a knock at her door.

Louise entered, and with a little cry ran forward and caught Beth in
her arms, kissing her in greeting.

"You must be my new cousin--Cousin Elizabeth--and I'm awfully glad to
see you at last!" she said, holding the younger girl a little away,
that she might examine her carefully.

Beth did not respond to the caress. She eyed her opponent sharply,
for she knew well enough, even in that first moment, that they were
engaged in a struggle for supremacy in Aunt Jane's affections, and
that in the battles to come no quarter could be asked or expected.

So they stood at arm's length, facing one another and secretly forming
an estimate each of the other's advantages and accomplishments.

"She's pretty enough, but has no style whatever," was Louise's
conclusion. "Neither has she tact nor self-possession, or even a
prepossessing manner. She wears her new gown in a dowdy manner and one
can read her face easily. There's little danger in this quarter, I'm
sure, so I may as well be friends with the poor child."

As for Beth, she saw at once that her "new cousin" was older and more
experienced in the ways of the world, and therefore liable to prove
a dangerous antagonist. Slender and graceful of form, attractive
of feature and dainty in manner, Louise must be credited with
many advantages; but against these might be weighed her evident
insincerity--the volubility and gush that are so often affected to
hide one's real nature, and which so shrewd and suspicious a woman as
Aunt Jane could not fail to readily detect. Altogether, Beth was not
greatly disturbed by her cousin's appearance, and suddenly realizing
that they had been staring at one another rather rudely, she said,
pleasantly enough:

"Won't you sit down?"

"Of course; we must get acquainted," replied Louise, gaily, and
perched herself cross-legged upon the window-seat, surrounded by a
mass of cushions.

"I didn't know you were here, until an hour ago," she continued. "But
as soon as Aunt Jane told me I ran to my room, unpacked and settled
the few traps I brought with me, and here I am--prepared for a good
long chat and to love you just as dearly as you will let me."

"I knew you were coming, but not until this morning," answered Beth,
slowly. "Perhaps had I known, I would not have accepted our Aunt's
invitation."

"Ah! Why not?" enquired the other, as if in wonder.

Beth hesitated.

"Have you known Aunt Jane before today?" she asked.

"No."

"Nor I. The letter asking me to visit her was the first I have ever
received from her. Even my mother, her own sister, does not correspond
with her. I was brought up to hate her very name, as a selfish,
miserly old woman. But, since she asked me to visit her, we judged she
had softened and might wish to become friendly, and so I accepted the
invitation. I had no idea you were also invited."

"But why should you resent my being here?" Louise asked, smiling.
"Surely, two girls will have a better time in this lonely old place
than one could have alone. For my part, I am delighted to find you at
Elmhurst."

"Thank you," said Beth. "That's a nice thing to say, but I doubt if
it's true. Don't let's beat around the bush. I hate hypocrisy, and if
we're going to be friends let's be honest with one another from the
start."

"Well?" queried Louise, evidently amused.

"It's plain to me that Aunt Jane has invited us here to choose which
one of us shall inherit her money--and Elmhurst. She's old and feeble,
and she hasn't any other relations."

"Oh, yes, she has" corrected Louise.

"You mean Patricia Doyle?"

"Yes."

"What do you know of her?"

"Nothing at all."

"Where does she live?"

"I haven't the faintest idea."

Louise spoke as calmly as if she had not mailed Patricia's defiant
letter to Aunt Jane, or discovered her cousin's identity in the little
hair-dresser from Madame Borne's establishment.

"Has Aunt Jane mentioned her?" continued Beth.

"Not in my presence."

"Then we may conclude she's left out of the arrangement," said Beth,
calmly. "And, as I said, Aunt Jane is likely to choose one of us to
succeed her at Elmhurst. I hoped I had it all my own way, but it's
evident I was mistaken. You'll fight for your chance and fight mighty
hard!"

Louise laughed merrily.

"How funny!" she exclaimed, after a moment during which Beth frowned
at her darkly. "Why, my dear cousin, I don't want Aunt Jane's money."

"You don't?"

"Not a penny of it; nor Elmhurst; nor anything you can possibly lay
claim to, my dear. My mother and I are amply provided for, and I am
only here to find rest from my social duties and to get acquainted
with my dead father's sister. That is all."

"Oh!" said Beth, lying back in her chair with a sigh of relief.

"So it was really a splendid idea of yours to be frank with me at our
first meeting," continued Louise, cheerfully; "for it has led to your
learning the truth, and I am sure you will never again grieve me by
suggesting that I wish to supplant you in Aunt Jane's favor. Now tell
me something about yourself and your people. Are you poor?"

"Poor as poverty," said Beth, gloomily. "My father teaches music, and
mother scolds him continually for not being able to earn enough money
to keep out of debt."

"Hasn't Aunt Jane helped you?"

"We've never seen a cent of her money, although father has tried at
times to borrow enough to help him out of his difficulties."

"That's strange. She seems like such a dear kindly old lady," said
Louise, musingly.

"I think she's horrid," answered Beth, angrily; "but I mustn't let her
know it. I even kissed her, when she asked me to, and it sent a shiver
all down my back."

Louise laughed with genuine amusement.

"You must dissemble, Cousin Elizabeth," she advised, "and teach our
aunt to love you. For my part, I am fond of everyone, and it delights
me to fuss around invalids and assist them. I ought to have been a
trained nurse, you know; but of course there's no necessity of my
earning a living."

"I suppose not," said Beth. Then, after a thoughtful silence, she
resumed abruptly; "What's to prevent Aunt Jane leaving you her
property, even if you are rich, and don't need it? You say you like to
care for invalids, and I don't. Suppose Aunt Jane prefers you to me,
and wills you all her money?"

"Why, that would be beyond my power to prevent," answered Louise, with
a little yawn.

Beth's face grew hard again.

"You're deceiving me," she declared, angrily. "You're trying to make
me think you don't want Elmhurst, when you're as anxious to get it as
I am."

"My dear Elizabeth--by the way, that's an awfully long name; what do
they call you, Lizzie, or Bessie, or--"

"They call me Beth," sullenly.

"Then, my dear Beth, let me beg you not to borrow trouble, or to doubt
one who wishes to be your friend. Elmhurst would be a perfect bore
to me. I wouldn't know what to do with it. I couldn't live in this
out-of-the-way corner of the world, you know."

"But suppose she leaves it to you?" persisted Beth. "You wouldn't
refuse it, I imagine."

Louise seemed to meditate.

"Cousin," she said, at length, "I'll make a bargain with you. I can't
refuse to love and pet Aunt Jane, just because she has money and my
sweet cousin Beth is anxious to inherit it. But I'll not interfere in
any way with your chances, and I'll promise to sing your praises to
our aunt persistently. Furthermore, in case she selects me as her
heir, I will agree to transfer half of the estate to you--the half
that consists of Elmhurst."

"Is there much more?" asked Beth.

"I haven't any list of Aunt Jane's possessions, so I don't know. But
you shall have Elmhurst, if I get it, because the place would be of no
use to me."

"It's a magnificent estate," said Beth, looking at her cousin
doubtfully.

"It shall be yours, dear, whatever Aunt Jane decides. See, this is a
compact, and I'll seal it with a kiss."

She sprang up and, kneeling beside Beth, kissed her fervently.

"Now shall we be friends?" she asked, lightly. "Now will you abandon
all those naughty suspicions and let me love you?"

Beth hesitated. The suggestion seemed preposterous. Such generosity
savored of play acting, and Louise's manner was too airy to be
genuine. Somehow she felt that she was being laughed at by this
slender, graceful girl, who was scarcely older than herself; but she
was too unsophisticated to know how to resent it. Louise insisted upon
warding off her enmity, or at least establishing a truce, and Beth,
however suspicious and ungracious, could find no way of rejecting the
overtures.

"Were I in your place," she said, "I would never promise to give up a
penny of the inheritance. If I win it, I shall keep it all."

"To be sure. I should want you to, my dear."

"Then, since we have no cause to quarrel, we may as well become
friends," continued Beth, her features relaxing a little their set
expression.

Louise laughed again, ignoring the other's brusqueness, and was soon
chatting away pleasantly upon other subjects and striving to draw Beth
out of her natural reserve.

The younger girl had no power to resist such fascinations. Louise
knew the big world, and talked of it with charming naivete, and
Beth listened rapturously. Such a girl friend it had never been her
privilege to have before, and when her suspicions were forgotten she
became fairly responsive, and brightened wonderfully.

They dressed in time for dinner, and met Aunt Jane and Silas Watson,
the lawyer, in the great drawing-room. The old gentleman was very
attentive and courteous during the stately dinner, and did much to
relieve the girls' embarrassment. Louise, indeed, seemed quite at home
in her new surroundings, and chatted most vivaciously during the meal;
but Aunt Jane was strangely silent, and Beth had little to say and
seemed awkward and ill at ease.

The old lady retired to her own room shortly after dinner, and
presently sent a servant to request Mr. Watson to join her.

"Silas," she said, when he entered, "what do you think of my nieces?"

"They are very charming girls," he answered, "although they are at
an age when few girls show to good advantage. Why did you not invite
Kenneth to dinner, Jane?"

"The boy?"

"Yes. They would be more at ease in the society of a young gentleman
more nearly their own age."

"Kenneth is a bear. He is constantly saying disagreeable things. In
other words, he is not gentlemanly, and the girls shall have nothing
to do with him."

"Very well," said the lawyer, quietly.

"Which of my nieces do you prefer?" asked the old lady, after a pause.

"I cannot say, on so short an acquaintance," he answered, with
gravity. "Which do you prefer, Jane?"

"They are equally unsatisfactory," she answered. "I cannot imagine
Elmhurst belonging to either, Silas." Then she added, with an abrupt
change of manner: "You must go to New York for me, at once."

"Tonight?"

"No; tomorrow morning. I must see that other niece--the one who defies
me and refuses to answer my second letter."

"Patricia Doyle?"

"Yes. Find her and argue with her. Tell her I am a crabbed old woman
with a whim to know her, and that I shall not die happy unless she
comes to Elmhurst. Bribe her, threaten her--kidnap her if necessary,
Silas; but get her to Elmhurst as quickly as possible."

"I'll do my best, Jane. But why are you so anxious?"

"My time is drawing near, old friend," she replied, less harshly than
usual, "and this matter of my will lies heavily on my conscience. What
if I should die tonight?"

He did not answer.

"There would be a dozen heirs to fight for my money, and dear old
Elmhurst would be sold to strangers," she resumed, with bitterness.
"But I don't mean to cross over just yet, Silas, even if one limb is
dead already. I shall hang on until I get this matter settled, and I
can't settle it properly without seeing all three of my nieces. One of
these is too hard, and the other too soft. I'll see what Patricia is
like."

"She may prove even more undesirable," said the lawyer.

"In that case, I'll pack her back again and choose between these two.
But you must fetch her, Silas, that I may know just what I am doing.
And you must fetch her at once!"

"I'll do the best I can, Jane," repeated the old lawyer.



CHAPTER X.

THE MAN WITH THE BUNDLE.


In the harness-room above the stable sat Duncan Muir, the coachman and
most important servant, with the exception of the head gardener, in
Miss Merrick's establishment. Duncan, bald-headed but with white and
bushy side-whiskers, was engaged in the serious business of oiling and
polishing the state harness, which had not been used for many months
past. But that did not matter. Thursday was the day for oiling the
harness, and so on Thursday he performed the task, never daring to
entrust a work so important to a subordinate.

In one corner of the little room Kenneth Forbes squatted upon a bench,
with an empty pine box held carelessly in his lap. While Duncan worked
the boy was busy with his pencil, but neither had spoken for at least
a half hour.

Finally the aged coachman, without looking up, enquired:

"What do ye think o' 'em, Kenneth lad?"

"Think o' whom, Don?"

"The young leddies."

"What young ladies?"

"Miss Jane's nieces, as Oscar brought from the station yesterday."

The boy looked astonished, and leaned over the box in his lap eagerly.

"Tell me, Don," he said. "I was away with my gun all yesterday, and
heard nothing of it."

"Why, it seems Miss Jane's invited 'em to make her a visit."

"But not yet, Don! Not so soon."

"Na'theless, they're here."

"How many, Don?"

"Two, lad. A bonny young thing came on the morning train, an' a nice,
wide-awake one by the two o'clock."

"Girls?" with an accent of horror.

"Young females, anyhow," said Donald, polishing a buckle briskly.

The boy glared at him fixedly.

"Will they be running about the place, Don?"

"Most likely, 'Twould be a shame to shut them up with the poor missus
this glad weather. But why not? They'll be company for ye, Kenneth
lad."

"How long will they stay?"

"Mabbe for aye. Oscar forbys one or the ither o' 'em will own the
place when Miss Jane gi'es up the ghost."

The boy sat silent a moment, thinking upon this speech. Then, with a
cry that was almost a scream, he dashed the box upon the floor and
flew out the door as if crazed, and Donald paused to listen to his
footsteps clattering down the stairs.

Then the old man groaned dismally, shaking his side-whiskers with a
negative expression that might have conveyed worlds of meaning to one
able to interpret it. But his eye fell upon the pine box, which had
rolled to his feet, and he stooped to pick it up. Upon the smoothly
planed side was his own picture, most deftly drawn, showing him
engaged in polishing the harness. Every strap and buckle was depicted
with rare fidelity; there was no doubt at all of the sponge and bottle
on the stool beside him, or the cloth in his hand. Even his bow
spectacles rested upon the bridge of his nose at exactly the right
angle, and his under lip protruded just as it had done since he was a
lad.

Donald was not only deeply impressed by such an exhibition of art; he
was highly gratified at being pictured, and full of wonder that the
boy could do such a thing; "wi' a wee pencil an' a bit o' board!" He
turned the box this way and that to admire the sketch, and finally
arose and brought a hatchet, with which he carefully pried the board
away from the box. Then he carried his treasure to a cupboard, where
he hid it safely behind a row of tall bottles.

Meantime Kenneth had reached the stable, thrown a bridle over the head
of a fine sorrel mare, and scorning to use a saddle leaped upon her
back and dashed down the lane and out at the rear gate upon the old
turnpike road.

His head was whirling with amazement, his heart full of indignation.
Girls! Girls at Elmhurst--nieces and guests of the fierce old woman
he so bitterly hated! Then, indeed, his days of peace and quiet were
ended. These dreadful creatures would prowl around everywhere; they
might even penetrate the shrubbery to the foot of the stairs leading
to his own retired room; they would destroy his happiness and drive
him mad.

For this moody, silent youth had been strangely happy in his life
at Elmhurst, despite the neglect of the grim old woman who was its
mistress and the fact that no one aside from Lawyer Watson seemed to
care whether he lived or died.

Perhaps Donald did. Good old Don was friendly and seldom bothered him
by talking. Perhaps old Misery liked him a bit, also. But these were
only servants, and almost as helpless and dependent as himself.

Still, he had been happy. He began to realize it, now that these awful
girls had come to disturb his peace. The thought filled him with grief
and rebellion and resentment; yet there was nothing he could do to
alter the fact that Donald's "young females" were already here, and
prepared, doubtless, to stay.

The sorrel was dashing down the road at a great pace, but the boy
clung firmly to his seat and gloried in the breeze that fanned his hot
cheeks. Away and away he raced until he reached the crossroads, miles
away, and down this he turned and galloped as recklessly as before.
The sun was hot, today, and the sorrel's flanks begun to steam and
show flecks of white upon their glossy surface. He turned again to the
left, entering upon a broad highway that would lead him straight home
at last; but he had almost reached the little village of Elmwood,
which was the railway station, before he realized his cruelty to the
splendid mare he bestrode. Then indeed, he fell to a walk, patting
Nora's neck affectionately and begging her to forgive him for his
thoughtlessness. The mare tossed her head in derision. However she
might sweat and pant, she liked the glorious pace even better than her
rider.

Through the village he paced moodily, the bridle dangling loosely on
the mare's neck. The people paused to look at him curiously, but he
had neither word nor look for any.

He did not know one of them by name, and cared little how much they
might speculate upon his peculiar position at "the big house."

Then, riding slowly up the hedge bordered road, his troubles once more
assailed him, and he wondered if there was not some spot upon the
broad earth to which he could fly for retirement until the girls had
left Elmhurst for good.

Nora shied, and he looked up to discover that he had nearly run down a
pedestrian--a stout little man with a bundle under his arm, who held
up one hand as if to arrest him.

Involuntarily he drew rein, and stopped beside the traveler with a
look of inquiry.

"Sorry to trouble you, sir," remarked the little man, in a cheery
voice, "but I ain't just certain about my way."

"Where do you want to go?" asked the boy.

"To Jane Merrick's place. They call it Elmhurst, I guess."

"It's straight ahead," said Kenneth, as the mare walked on. His
questioner also started and paced beside him.

"Far from here?"

"A mile, perhaps."

"They said it was three from the village, but I guess I've come a
dozen a'ready."

The boy did not reply to this. There was nothing offensive in the
man's manner. He spoke with an easy familiarity that made it difficult
not to respond with equal frank cordiality, and there was a shrewd
expression upon his wrinkled, smooth-shaven face that stamped him a
man who had seen life in many of its phases.

Kenneth, who resented the companionship of most people, seemed
attracted by the man, and hesitated to gallop on and leave him.

"Know Jane Merrick?" asked the stranger.

The boy nodded.

"Like her?"

"I hate her," he said, savagely.

The man laughed, a bit uneasily.

"Then it's the same Jane as ever," he responded, with a shake of his
grizzled head. "Do you know, I sort o' hoped she'd reformed, and I'd
be glad to see her again. They tell me she's got money."

The boy looked at him in surprise.

"She owns Elmhurst, and has mortgages on a dozen farms around here,
and property in New York, and thousands of dollars in the bank," he
said. "Aunt Jane's rich."

"Aunt Jane?" echoed the man, quickly. "What's your name, lad?"

"Kenneth Forbes."

A shake of the head.

"Don't recollect any Forbeses in the family."

"She isn't really my aunt," said the boy, "and she doesn't treat me
as an aunt, either; but she's my guardian, and I've always called her
Aunt, rather than say Miss Merrick."

"She's never married, has she?"

"No. She was engaged to my Uncle Tom, who owned Elmhurst. He was
killed in a railway accident, and then it was found he'd left her all
he had."

"I see."

"So, when my parents died, Aunt Jane took me for Uncle Tom's sake, and
keeps me out of charity."

"I see." Quite soberly, this time.

The boy slid off the mare and walked beside the little man, holding
the bridle over his arm. They did not speak again for some moments.

Finally the stranger asked:

"Are Jane's sisters living--Julia and Violet?"

"I don't know. But there are two of her nieces at Elmhurst."

"Ha! Who are they?"

"Girls," with bitterness. "I haven't seen them."

The stranger whistled.

"Don't like girls, I take it?"

"No; I hate them."

Another long pause. Then the boy suddenly turned questioner.

"You know Aunt--Miss Merrick, sir?"

"I used to, when we were both younger."

"Any relation, sir?"

"Just a brother, that's all."

Kenneth stopped short, and the mare stopped, and the little man, with
a whimsical smile at the boy's astonishment, also stopped.

"I didn't know she had a brother, sir--that is, living."

"She had two; but Will's dead, years ago, I'm told. I'm the other."

"John Merrick?"

"That's me. I went west a long time ago; before you were born, I
guess. We don't get much news on the coast, so I sort of lost track of
the folks back east, and I reckon they lost track of me, for the same
reason."

"You were the tinsmith?"

"The same. Bad pennies always return, they say. I've come back to look
up the family and find how many are left. Curious sort of a job, isn't
it."

"I don't know. Perhaps it's natural," replied the boy, reflectively.
"But I'm sorry you came to Aunt Jane first."

"Why?"

"She's in bad health--quite ill, you know--and her temper's dreadful.
Perhaps she--she--"

"I know. But I haven't seen her in years; and, after all, she's my
sister. And back at the old home, where I went first, no one knew
anything about what had become of the family except Jane. They kept
track of her because she suddenly became rich, and a great lady, and
that was a surprising thing to happen to a Merrick. We've always been
a poor lot, you know."

The boy glanced at the bundle, pityingly, and the little man caught
the look and smiled his sweet, cheery smile.

"My valise was too heavy to carry," he said; "so I wrapped up a few
things in case Jane wanted me to stay over night. And that's why I
didn't get a horse at the livery, you know. Somebody'd have to take it
back again."

"I'm sure she'll ask you to stay, sir. And if she doesn't, you come
out to the stable and let me know, and I'll drive you to town again.
Donald--that's the coachman--is my friend, and he'll let me have the
horse if I ask him."

"Thank you, lad," returned the man, gratefully. "I thought a little
exercise would do me good, but this three miles has seemed like thirty
to me!"

"We're here at last," said the boy, turning: into the drive-way.
"Seeing that you're her brother, sir, I advise you to go right up to
the front door and ring the bell."

"I will," said the man.

"I always go around the back way, myself."

"I see."

The boy turned away, but in a moment halted again. His interest in
Miss Jane's brother John was extraordinary.

"Another thing," he said, hesitating.

"Well?"

"You'd better not say you met me, you know. It wouldn't be a good
introduction. She hates me as much as I hate her."

"Very good, my lad. I'll keep mum."

The boy nodded, and turned away to lead Nora to the stable. The man
looked after him a moment, and shook his head, sadly.

"Poor boy!" he whispered.

Then he walked up to the front door and rang the bell.



CHAPTER XI.

THE MAD GARDENER.


"This seems to be a lazy place," said Louise, as she stood in the
doorway of Beth's room to bid her good night. "I shall sleep until
late in the morning, for I don't believe Aunt Jane will be on
exhibition before noon."

"At home I always get up at six o'clock," answered Beth.

"Six o'clock! Good gracious! What for?"

"To study my lessons and help get the breakfast."

"Don't you keep a maid?"

"No," said Beth, rather surlily; "we have hard work to keep
ourselves."

"But you must be nearly through with school by this time. I finished
my education ages ago."

"Did you graduate?" asked Beth.

"No; it wasn't worth while," declared Louise, complacently. "I'm sure
I know as much as most girls do, and there are more useful lessons to
be learned from real life than from books."

"Good night," said Beth.

"Good night," answered the older girl, and shut the door behind her.

Beth sat for a time moodily thinking. She did not like the way in
which her cousin assumed superiority over her. The difference in
their ages did not account for the greater worldly wisdom Louise
had acquired, and in much that she said and did Beth recognized a
shrewdness and experience that made her feel humbled and, in a way,
inferior to her cousin. Nor did she trust the friendship Louise
expressed for her.

Somehow, nothing that the girl said seemed to ring true, and Beth
already, in her mind, accused her of treachery and insincerity.

As a matter of fact, however, she failed to understand her cousin.
Louise really loved to be nice to people, and to say nice thing's. It
is true she schemed and intrigued to advance her personal welfare and
position in life; but even her schemes were undertaken lightly and
carelessly, and if they failed the girl would be the first to laugh at
her disappointment and try to mend her fortunes. If others stood in
her way she might not consider them at all; if she pledged her word,
it might not always be profitable to keep it; but she liked to be on
pleasant terms with everyone, and would be amiable to the last, no
matter what happened. Comedy was her forte, rather than tragedy. If
tragedy entered her life she would probably turn it into ridicule.
Wholly without care, whimsical and generous to a degree, if it suited
her mood, Louise Merrick possessed a nature capable of great things,
either for good or ill.

It was no wonder her unsophisticated country cousin failed to
comprehend her, although Beth's intuition was not greatly at fault.

Six o'clock found Beth wide awake, as usual; so she quietly dressed
and, taking her book under her arm, started to make her way into the
gardens. Despite Louise's cynicism she had no intention of abandoning
her studies. She had decided to fit herself for a teacher before Aunt
Jane's invitation had come to her, and this ambition would render it
necessary for her to study hard during vacations.

If she became an heiress she would not need to teach, but she was not
at all confident of her prospects, and the girl's practical nature
prompted her to carry out her plans until she was sure of the future.

In the hall she met Phibbs, shuffling along as if in pain.

"Good morning, miss," said the old servant.

Beth looked at her thoughtfully. This was Aunt Jane's special and
confidential attendant.

"Do your feet hurt you?" she asked.

"Yes, miss; in the mornin' they's awful bad. It's being on 'em all the
day, 'tendin' to Miss Jane, you know. But after a time I gets more
used to the pain, and don't feel it. The mornin's always the worst."

She was passing on, but Beth stopped her.

"Come into my room," she said, and led the way.

Martha Phibbs followed reluctantly. Miss Jane might already be awake
and demanding her services, and she could not imagine what the young
lady wanted her for.

But she entered the room, and Beth went to a box and brought out a
bottle of lotion.

"Mother has the same trouble that you complain of," she said,
practically, "and here is a remedy that always gives her relief. I
brought it with me in case I should take long tramps, and get sore
feet."

She gently pushed the old woman into a chair, and then, to Phibbs'
utter amazement, knelt down and unfastened her shoes and drew off her
stockings. A moment later she was rubbing the lotion upon the poor
creature's swollen feet, paying no attention to Martha's horrified
protests.

"There. Now they're sure to feel better," said Beth, pulling the worn
and darned stockings upon the woman's feet again. "And you must take
this bottle to your room, and use it every night and morning."

"Bless your dear heart!" cried Phibbs, while tears of gratitude stood
in her faded eyes. "I'm sure I feel twenty years younger, a'ready. But
you shouldn't 'a' done it, miss; indeed you shouldn't."

"I'm glad to help you," said Beth, rinsing her hands at the wash stand
and drying them upon a towel. "It would be cruel to let you suffer
when I can ease your pain."

"But what would Miss Jane say?" wailed old Martha, throwing up her
hands in dismay.

"She'll never know a thing about it. It's our secret, Martha, and I'm
sure if I ever need a friend you'll do as much for me."

"I'll do anything for you, Miss Elizabeth," was the reply, as the
woman took the bottle of lotion and departed.

Beth smiled.

"That was not a bad thought," she said to herself, again starting for
the gardens. "I have made a firm friend and done a kindly action at
the same time--and all while Cousin Louise is fast asleep."

The housekeeper let her out at the side door, after Beth had pressed
her hand and kissed her good morning.

"You're looking quite bonny, my dear," said the old woman. "Do you
feel at home, at all, in this strange place?"

"Not quite, as yet," answered Beth. "But I know I have one good friend
here, and that comforts me."

She found a path between high hedges, that wandered away through the
grounds, and along this she strolled until she reached a rose arbor
with a comfortable bench.

Here she seated herself, looking around her curiously. The place
seemed little frequented, but was kept with scrupulous care. Even
at this hour, a little way off could be heard the "click-click!" of
hedge-shears, and Beth noted how neatly the paths were swept, and how
carefully every rose on the arbor was protected.

Elmhurst was a beautiful place. Beth sighed as she wondered if it
would ever be hers. Then she opened her book and began to work.

During the next hour the click of the hedge-shears drew nearer, but
the girl did not notice this. In another half hour James himself came
into view, intent upon his monotonous task. Gradually the motionless
form of the girl and the plodding figure of the gardener drew
together, until he stood but two yards distant. Then he paused, looked
toward the arbor, and uttered an exclamation.

Beth looked up.

"Good morning," she said, pleasantly.

James stared at her, but made no reply save a slight inclination of
his head.

"Am I in your way?" she asked.

He turned his back to her, then, and began clipping away as before.
Beth sprang up and laid a hand upon his arm, arresting him. Again he
turned to stare at her, and in his eyes was a look almost of fear.

She drew back.

"Why won't you speak to me?" enquired the girl, gently. "I'm a
stranger at Elmhurst, but I want to be your friend. Won't you let me?"

To her amazement James threw up his hands, letting the shears clatter
to the ground, and with a hoarse cry turned and fled up the path as
swiftly as he could go.

Beth was really puzzled, but as she stood silently looking after the
gardener she heard a soft laugh, and found old Misery beside her.

"It's just his way, Miss; don't you be scared by anything that James
does," said the woman. "Why, at times he won't even speak to Miss
Jane."

"He isn't dumb, is he?" asked Beth.

"Lor', no! But he's that odd an' contrary he won't talk to a soul.
Never did, since the day Master Tom was killed. James was travellin'
with Master Tom, you know, and there was an accident, an' the train
run off'n the track an' tipped over. James wasn't hurt at all, but he
dragged Master Tom out'n the wreck and sat by him until he died. Then
James brought Master Tom's body back home again; but his mind
seemed to have got a shock, in some way, and he never was the same
afterwards. He was powerful fond of young Master Tom. But then, we all
was."

"Poor man!" said Beth.

"After that," resumed Misery, "all that James would do was to look
after the flowers. Miss Jane, after she came, made him the head
gardener, and he's proved a rare good one, too. But James he won't
even talk to Miss Jane, nor even to his old friend Lawyer Watson, who
used to be Master Tom's special chum an' comrade. He does his duty,
and obeys all Miss Jane's orders as faithful as can be; but he won't
talk, an' we've all give up tryin' to make him."

"But why should I frighten him?" asked the girl.

"You tried to make him talk, and you're a stranger. Strangers always
affect James that way. I remember when Miss Jane first came to
Elmhurst he screamed at the sight of her; but when he found out that
Master Tom loved her and had given her Elmhurst, James followed her
around like a dog, and did everything she told him to. But breakfast
is ready, Miss. I came to call you."

"Thank you," said Beth, turning to walk beside the housekeeper.

According to Aunt Jane's instructions the breakfast was served in her
own room, and presently Louise, dressed in a light silk kimona, came
in bearing her tray "to keep her cousin company," she laughingly
announced.

"I should have slept an hour longer," she yawned, over her chocolate,
"but old Misery--who seems rightly named--insisted on waking me, just
that I might eat. Isn't this a funny establishment?"

"It's different from everything I'm used to," answered Beth, gravely;
"but it seems very pleasant here, and everyone is most kind and
attentive."

"Now I'll dress," said Louise, "and we'll take a long walk together,
and see the place."

So it happened that Kenneth clattered down the road on the sorrel mare
just a moment before the girls emerged from the house, and while he
was riding off his indignation at their presence at Elmhurst, they
were doing just what his horrified imagination had depicted--that is,
penetrating to all parts of the grounds, to every nook in the spacious
old gardens and even to the stables, where Beth endeavored to make a
friend of old Donald the coachman.

However, the gray-whiskered Scotsman was not to be taken by storm,
even by a pretty face. His loyalty to "the boy" induced him to be wary
in associating with these strange "young females" and although he
welcomed them to the stable with glum civility he withheld his opinion
of them until he should know them better.

In their rambles the girls found Kenneth's own stair, and were sitting
upon it when Phibbs came to summon Louise to attend upon Aunt Jane.

She obeyed with alacrity, for she wished to know more of the queer
relative whose guest she had become.

"Sit down," said Aunt Jane, very graciously, as the girl entered.

Louise leaned over the chair, kissed her and patted her cheek
affectionately, and then shook up the pillows to make them more
comfortable.

"I want you to talk to me," announced Aunt Jane, "and to tell me
something of the city and the society in which you live. I've been so
long dead to the world that I've lost track of people and things."

"Let me dress your hair at the same time," said Louise, pleadingly.
"It looks really frowsy, and I can talk while I work."

"I can't lift my left hand," said the invalid, flushing, "and Phibbs
is a stupid ass."

"Never mind, I can make it look beautiful in half a jiffy," said the
girl, standing behind the chair and drawing deftly the hairpins from
Aunt Jane's scanty grey locks, "and you can't imagine how it pleases
me to fuss over anyone."

It was surprising how meekly Aunt Jane submitted to this ordeal, but
she plied the girl with many shrewd questions and Louise, busily
working in a position where the old woman could not see her face,
never hesitated for an answer. She knew all the recent gossip of
fashionable society, and retailed it glibly. She had met this
celebrity at a ball and that one at a reception, and she described
them minutely, realizing that Aunt Jane would never be in a position
to contradict any assertion she might choose to make.

Indeed, Aunt Jane was really startled.

"However did your mother manage to gain an entree into society?" she
asked. "Your father was a poor man and of little account. I know, for
he was my own brother."

"He left us a very respectable life insurance," said Louise, demurely,
"and my mother had many friends who were glad to introduce us to good
society when we were able to afford such a luxury. Father died twelve
years ago, you know, and for several years, while I was at school,
mother lived very quietly. Then she decided it was time I made my
debut, but for the last season we have been rather gay, I admit."

"Are you rich?" asked Aunt Jane, sharply.

"Mercy, no!" laughed Louise, who had finished her work and now sat her
aunt's feet. "But we have enough for our requirements, and that makes
us feel quite independent. By the way, auntie, I want to return that
check you sent me. It was awfully good and generous of you, but I
didn't need it, you know, and so I want you to take it back."

She drew the slip of paper from her pocket and pressed it into Aunt
Jane's hand.

"It's quite enough for you to give me this nice treat in the country,"
resumed the girl, calmly. "The change from the city will do me a world
of good, and as I wanted to be quiet, and rest I declined all my other
invitations for the summer to accept yours. Isn't it glorious that we
can get acquainted at last? And I quite love Elmhurst, already!"

Aunt Jane was equally surprised and gratified. The return of the check
for a hundred dollars was very pleasant. She had drawn a similar check
for each of her three nieces, believing that it would be necessary for
her to meet their expenses, and she had considered the expenditure in
the nature of a business transaction. But Patricia had flung one check
in her face, practically, and now Louise had voluntarily returned
another, because she did not need the money. Really, Jane Merrick was
accomplishing her purpose for less money than she had expected, and
she had hoarded her wealth for so many years that she disliked to
spend any of it foolishly.

Louise had read her nature correctly. It had been a little hard to
return so large a check, but the girl's policy was not to appear
before Aunt Jane as a poor relation, but rather as a young lady fitted
by social education and position to become a gracious mistress of
Elmhurst. This she believed would give her a powerful advantage over
all competitors.

Whether she was right or not in this surmise it is certain that she
rose several points in Aunt Jane's estimation during this interview,
and when she was dismissed it was so graciously that she told herself
the money her little plot had cost had been well expended.

Afterward Elizabeth was summoned to attend her aunt.

"I want to be amused. Can you read aloud?" said the invalid.

"Not very well, I'm afraid. But I'll be glad to try," answered Beth.
"What do you like?"

"Select your own book," said Aunt Jane, pointing to a heap of volumes
beside her.

The girl hesitated. Louise would doubtless have chosen a romance, or
some light tale sure to interest for the hour, and so amuse the old
lady. But Beth erroneously judged that the aged and infirm love sober
and scholarly books, and picked out a treatise that proved ineffably
dull and tedious.

Aunt Jane sniffed, and then smiled slyly and proceeded to settle
herself for a nap. If the girl was a fool, let her be properly
punished.

Beth read for an hour, uncertain whether her aunt were intensely
interested or really asleep. At the end of that dreadful period old
Misery entered and aroused the sleeper without ceremony.

"What's the matter?" asked Aunt Jane, querrulously, for she resented
being disturbed.

"There's a man to see you, Miss."

"Send him about his business!"

"But--"

"I won't see him, I tell you!"

"But he says he's your brother, Miss."

"Who?"

"Your brother."

Miss Jane stared as if bewildered.

"Your brother John, Miss."

The invalid sank back upon her cushions with a sigh of resignation.

"I thought he was dead, long ago; but if he's alive I suppose I'll
have to see him," she said. "Elizabeth, leave the room. Misery, send
the man here!"



CHAPTER XII.

UNCLE JOHN GETS ACQUAINTED.


Beth went out to find Louise, and discovered her standing near the
stables, where a boy was rubbing down the sides of a sorrel mare with
wisps of straw.

"Something has happened," she said to Louise in a troubled voice.

"What?"

"A man has arrived who says he is Aunt Jane's brother."

"Impossible! Have you seen him?"

"No; he says he's Aunt Jane's brother John."

"Oh; I know. The peddler, or tinker, or something or other who
disappeared years ago. But it doesn't matter."

"It may matter a good deal," said practical Beth. "Aunt Jane may leave
him her money."

"Why, he's older than she is. I've heard mother say he was the eldest
of the family. Aunt Jane wont leave her money to an old man, you may
be sure."

Beth felt a little reassured at this, and stood for a moment beside
Louise watching the boy. Presently Oscar came to him, and after
touching his hat respectfully took the mare and led her into the
stable. The boy turned away, with his hands in his pockets, and
strolled up a path, unaware that the two dreaded girls had been
observing him.

"I wonder who that is," said Beth.

"We'll find out," returned Louise. "I took him for a stable boy, at
first. But Oscar seemed to treat him as a superior."

She walked into the stable, followed by her cousin, and found the
groom tying the mare.

"Who was the young man?" she asked.

"Which young man, Miss?"

"The one who has just arrived with the horse."

"Oh; that's Master Kenneth, Miss," answered Oscar, with a grin.

"Where did he come from?"

"Master Kenneth? Why, he lives here."

"At the house?"

"Yes, Miss."

"Who is he?"

"Master Tom's nephew--he as used to own Elmhurst, you know."

"Mr. Thomas Bradley?"

"The same, Miss."

"Ah. How long has Master Kenneth lived here?"

"A good many years. I can't just remember how long."

"Thank you, Oscar."

The girls walked away, and when they were alone Louise remarked:

"Here is a more surprising discovery than Uncle John, Beth. The boy
has a better right than any of us to inherit Elmhurst."

"Then why did Aunt Jane send for us?"

"It's a mystery, dear. Let us try to solve it."

"Come; we'll ask the housekeeper," said Beth. "I'm sure old Misery
will tell us all we want to know."

So they returned to the house and, with little difficulty, found the
old housekeeper.

"Master Kenneth?" she exclaimed. "Why, he's just Master Tom's nephew,
that's all."

"Is this his home?" asked Beth.

"All the home he's got, my dear. His father and mother are both dead,
and Miss Jane took him to care for just because she thought Master Tom
would 'a' liked it."

"Is she fond of him?" enquired Louise.

"Fond of the boy? Why, Miss Jane just hates him, for a fact. She won't
even see him, or have him near her. So he keeps to his little room in
the left wing, and eats and sleeps there."

"It's strange," remarked Beth, thoughtfully. "Isn't he a nice boy?"

"We're all very fond of Master Kenneth," replied the housekeeper,
simply. "But I'll admit he's a queer lad, and has a bad temper. It may
be due to his lack of bringin' up, you know; for he just runs wild,
and old Mr. Chase, who comes from the village to tutor him, is a poor
lot, and lets the boy do as he pleases. For that reason he won't
study, and he won't work, and I'm sure I don't know whatever will
become of him, when Miss Jane dies."

"Thank you," said Beth, much relieved, and the girls walked away with
lighter hearts.

"There's no danger in that quarter, after all," said Louise, gaily.
"The boy is a mere hanger-on. You see, Aunt Jane's old sweetheart,
Thomas Bradley, left everything to her when he died, and she can do as
she likes with it."

After luncheon, which they ate alone and unattended save by the maid
Susan, who was old Misery's daughter, the girls walked away to
the rose arbor, where Beth declared they could read or sew quite
undisturbed.

But sitting upon the bench they found a little old man, his legs
extended, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, and a look of calm
meditation upon his round and placid face. Between his teeth was a
black brier pipe, which he puffed lazily.

Beth was for drawing back, but Louise took her arm and drew her
forward.

"Isn't this Uncle John?" she asked.

The little man turned his eyes upon them, withdrew his hands from his
pockets and his pipe from his mouth, and then bowed profoundly.

"If you are my nieces, then I am Uncle John," he said, affably. "Sit
down, my dears, and let us get acquainted."

Louise smiled, and her rapid survey took in the man's crumpled and
somewhat soiled shirt-front, the frayed black necktie that seemed to
have done years of faithful service, and the thick and dusty cow-hide
boots. His clothing was old and much worn, and the thought crossed
her mind that Oscar the groom was far neater in appearance than this
newly-found relative.

Beth merely noticed that Uncle John was neither dignified nor imposing
in appearance. She sat down beside him--leaving a wide space between
them--with a feeling of disappointment that he was "like all the rest
of the Merricks."

"You have just arrived, we hear," remarked Louise.

"Yes. Walked up from the station this forenoon," said Uncle John.
"Come to see Jane, you know, but hadn't any idea I'd find two nieces.
Hadn't any idea I possessed two nieces, to be honest about it."

"I believe you have three," said Louise, in an, amused tone.

"Three? Who's the other?"

"Why, Patricia Doyle."

"Doyle? Doyle? Don't remember the name."

"I believe your sister Violet married a man named Doyle."

"So she did. Captain Doyle--or Major Doyle--or some such fellow. But
what is your name?"

"I am Louise Merrick, your brother Will's daughter."

"Oh! And you?" turning to Beth.

"My mother was Julia Merrick," said Beth, not very graciously. "She
married Professor DeGraf. I am Elizabeth DeGraf."

"Yes, yes," observed Uncle John, nodding his head. "I remember Julia
very well, as a girl. She used to put on a lot of airs, and jaw father
because he wouldn't have the old top-buggy painted every spring. Same
now as ever, I s'pose?"

Beth did not reply.

"And Will's dead, and out of his troubles, I hope," continued Uncle
John, reflectively. "He wrote me once that his wife had nearly driven
him crazy. Perhaps she murdered him in his sleep--eh, Louise?"

"Sir," said Louise, much offended, "you are speaking of my mother."

"Ah, yes. It's the same one your father spoke of," he answered,
unmoved. "But that's neither here nor there. The fact is, I've found
two nieces," looking shrewdly from one face into the other, "and I
seem to be in luck, for you're quite pretty and ladylike, my dears."

"Thank you," said Louise, rather coldly. "You're a competent judge,
sir, I suppose."

"Tolerable," he responded, with a chuckle. "So good a judge that I've
kep' single all my life."

"Where did you come from?" asked the girl.

"From out on the coast," tossing his grizzled head toward the west.

"What brought you back here, after all these years?"

"Family affection, I guess. Wanted to find out what folks yet belonged
to me."

An awkward silence followed this, during which Uncle John relighted
his pipe and Beth sat in moody silence. Louise drew a pattern in the
gravel with the end of her parasol. This new uncle, she reflected,
might become an intolerable bore, if she encouraged his frank
familiarity.

"Now that you are here," she said, presently, "what are you going to
do?"

"Nothing, my dear."

"Have you any money?"

He looked at her with a droll expression.

"Might have expected that question, my dear," said he; "but it's
rather hard to answer. If I say no, you'll be afraid I'll want to
borrow a little spendin' money, now an' then; and if I say yes, you'll
take me for a Rockyfeller."

"Not exactly," smiled Louise.

"Well, then, if I figure close I won't have to borrow," he responded,
gravely. "And here's Jane, my sister, just rolling in wealth that she
don't know what to do with. And she's invited me to stay a while. So
let's call the money question settled, my dear."

Another silence ensued. Louise had satisfied her curiosity concerning
her new uncle, and Beth had never had any. There was nothing more to
say, and as Uncle John showed no intention of abandoning the arbored
seat, it was evident they must go themselves. Louise was about to rise
when the man remarked:

"Jane won't last long".

"You think not?" she asked.

"She says she's half dead a'ready, and I believe it. It's about time,
you know. She's let her temper and restless disposition wear her out.
Pretty soon she'll blow out, like a candle. All that worries her is to
keep alive until she can decide who to leave her money to. That's why
you're here, I s'pose, my dears. How do you like being on exhibition,
an' goin' through your paces, like a bunch o' trotting hosses, to see
which is worth the most?"

"Uncle John," said Beth, "I had hoped I would like you. But if you are
going to be so very disagreeable, I'll have nothing more to do with
you!"

With this she arose and marched up the path, vastly indignant, and
Louise marched beside her. At the bend in the walk they glanced back,
and saw Uncle John sitting upon the bench all doubled up and shaking
with silent laughter.

"He's a queer old man," said Beth, flushing; "but he's impudent and
half a fool."

"Don't judge hastily, Beth," replied Louise, reflectively. "I can't
make up my mind, just yet, whether Uncle John is a fool or not."

"Anyhow," snapped Beth, "he's laughing at us."

"And that," said her cousin, softly, "is the strongest evidence of his
sanity. Beth, my love, Aunt Jane has placed us in a most ridiculous
position."

That evening at dinner they met Uncle John again, seated opposite Aunt
Jane in the great dining hall. The mistress of Elmhurst always dressed
for this meal and tonight she wore a rich black silk and had her
invalid chair wheeled to her place at the head of the table. Uncle
John had simply changed his old black necktie for a soiled white one.
Otherwise his apparel was the same as before, and his stubby gray hair
was in a sad state of disarray. But his round face wore a cheerful
smile, nevertheless, and Aunt Jane seemed not to observe anything
_outre_ in her brother's appearance. And so the meal passed pleasantly
enough.

After it was finished Uncle John strolled into the garden to smoke his
pipe under the stars and Louise sang a few songs for Aunt Jane in the
dimly-lit drawing room. Beth, who was a music teacher's daughter,
could not sing at all.

It was some time later when John Merrick came to his sister's room to
bid her good night.

"Well," she asked him, "what do you think of the girls?"

"My nieces?"

"Yes."

"During my lifetime," said the old man, "I've always noticed that
girls are just girls--and nothing more. Jane, your sex is a puzzle
that ain't worth the trouble solving. You're all alike, and what
little I've seen of my nieces convinces me they're regulation
females--no better nor worse than their kind."

"Louise seems a capable girl," declared Aunt Jane, musingly. "I didn't
care much for her, at first; but she improves on acquaintance. She has
been well trained by her mother, and is very ladylike and agreeable."

"She's smarter than the other one, but not so honest," said Uncle
John.

"Beth has no tact at all," replied Aunt Jane. "But then, she's younger
than Louise."

"If you're trying to figure out what they are, and what they are not,"
returned the man, "you've got a hard job on your hands, Jane, and like
as not you'll make a mistake in the end. Where's the other niece?
Aren't there three of them?"

"Yes. The other's coming. Silas Watson, my lawyer, has just
telegraphed from New York that he's bringing Patricia back with him."

"Had to send for her, eh?"

"Yes. She's Irish, and if I remember rightly her father is a
disgraceful old reprobate, who caused poor Violet no end of worry. The
girl may be like him, for she wrote me a dreadful letter, scolding me
because I hadn't kept her parents supplied with money, and refusing to
become my guest."

"But she's changed her mind?"

"I sent Watson after her, and he's bringing her. I wanted to see what
the girl is like."

Uncle John whistled a few bars of an ancient tune.

"My advice is," he said, finally, "to let 'em draw cuts for Elmhurst.
If you want to leave your money to the best o' the lot, you're as sure
of striking it right that way as any other."

"Nonsense!" said Jane Merrick, sharply. "I don't want to leave my
money to the best of the lot."

"No?"

"By no means. I want to leave it to the one I prefer--whether she's
the best or not."

"I see. Jane, I'll repeat my former observation. Your sex is a puzzle
that isn't worth solving. Good night, old girl."

"Good night, John."



CHAPTER XIII.

THE OTHER NIECE.


Patricia sat down opposite her Aunt Jane. She still wore her hat and
the gray wrap.

"Well, here I am," she exclaimed, with a laugh; "but whether I ought
to be here or not I have my doubts."

Aunt Jane surveyed her critically.

"You're a queer little thing," she said, bluntly. "I wonder why I took
so much trouble to get you."

"So do I," returned Patsy, her eyes twinkling. "You'll probably be
sorry for it."

Lawyer Watson, who had remained standing, now broke in nervously.

"I explained to Miss Doyle," said he, "that you were ill, and wanted
to see her. And she kindly consented to come to Elmhurst for a few
days."

"You see," said Patsy, "I'd just got Daddy away on his vacation, to
visit his old colonel. I've wanted him to go this three years back,
but he couldn't afford it until I got a raise this Spring. He'll have
a glorious old time with the colonel, and they'll fish and hunt and
drink whiskey all day, and fight the war all over again every evening.
So I was quite by myself when Mr. Watson came to me and wouldn't take
no for his answer."

"Why did you object to come here?" asked Aunt Jane.

"Well, I didn't know you; and I didn't especially want to know you.
Not that I bear grudges, understand, although you've been little of a
friend to my folks these past years. But you are rich and proud--and I
suspect you're a little cross, Aunt Jane--while we are poor and proud
and like to live our lives in our own way."

"Are you a working girl?" enquired Miss Merrick.

"Surely," said Patsy, "and drawing a big lump of salary every Saturday
night. I'm a hair-dresser, you know--and by the way, Aunt Jane, it
puzzles me to find a certain kink in your hair that I thought I'd
invented myself."

"Louise dressed my hair this way," said Miss Merrick, a bit stiffly.

"Your maid?"

"My niece, Louise Merrick."

Patsy whistled, and then clapped her hand over her mouth and looked
grave.

"Is she here?" she asked, a moment later.

"Yes, and your other cousin, Elizabeth De Graf, is here also."

"That's just the trouble," cried Patsy, energetically. "That's why I
didn't want to come, you know."

"I don't understand you, Patricia."

"Why, it's as plain as the nose on your face, even if I hadn't pumped
Mr. Watson until I got the truth out of him. You want us girls here
just to compare us with each other, and pick out the one you like
best."

"Well?"

"The others you'll throw over, and the favorite will get your money."

"Haven't I a right to do that?" asked the invalid, in an amazed tone.

"Perhaps you have. But we may as well understand each other right
now, Aunt Jane. I won't touch a penny of your money, under any
circumstances."

"I don't think you will, Patricia."

The girl laughed, with a joyous, infectious merriment that was hard to
resist.

"Stick to that, aunt, and there's no reason we shouldn't be friends,"
she said, pleasantly. "I don't mind coming to see you, for it will
give me a bit of a rest and the country is beautiful just now. More
than that, I believe I shall like you. You've had your own way a long
time, and you've grown crochetty and harsh and disagreeable; but there
are good lines around your mouth and eyes, and your nature's liable to
soften and get sunny again. I'm sure I hope so. So, if you'd like me
to stay a few days, I'll take off my things and make myself at home.
But I'm out of the race for your money, and I'll pay my way from now
on just as I have always done."

Silas Watson watched Aunt Jane's face during this speech with an
anxious and half-frightened expression upon his own. No one but
himself had ever dared to talk to Jane Merrick as plainly as this
before, and he wondered how she would accept such frankness from a
young girl.

But Patricia's manner was not at all offensive. Her big eyes were
as frank as her words, but they glistened with kindliness and good
nature, and it was evident the girl had no doubt at all of her aunt's
reply, for she straightway begun to take off her hat.

The invalid had kept her eyes sternly fastened upon her young niece
ever since the beginning of the interview. Now she reached out a hand
and touched her bell.

"Misery," she said to the old housekeeper, "show my niece, Miss
Patricia, to the rose chamber. And see that she is made comfortable."

"Thank you," said Patsy, jumping up to go.

"Make yourself perfectly free of the place," continued Aunt Jane, in
an even tone, turning to Patricia, "and have as good a time as you
can. I'm afraid it's rather stupid here for girls, but that can't be
helped. Stay as long as you please, and go home whenever you like; but
while you are here, if you ever feel like chatting with a harsh
and disagreeable old woman, come to me at any time and you will be
welcome."

Patsy, standing before her, looked down into her worn face with a
pitying expression.

"Ah! I've been cruel to you," she exclaimed, impulsively, "and I
didn't mean to hurt you at all, Aunt Jane. You must forgive me. It's
just my blunt Irish way, you see; but if I hadn't been drawn to you
from the first I wouldn't have said a word--good or bad!"

"Go now," replied Aunt Jane, turning in her chair rather wearily. "But
come to me again whenever you like."

Patsy nodded, and followed the housekeeper to the rose chamber--the
prettiest room old Elmhurst possessed, with broad windows opening
directly upon the finest part of the garden.

Lawyer Watson sat opposite his old friend for some moments in
thoughtful silence. "The child is impossible." he said, at last.

"You think so?" she enquired, moodily.

"Absolutely. Either of the others would make a better Lady of
Elmhurst. Yet I like the little thing, I confess. She quite won my old
heart after I had known her for five minutes. But money would ruin
her. She's a child of the people, and ought not to be raised from her
proper level. Jane, Jane--you're making a grave mistake in all this.
Why don't you do the only right thing in your power, and leave
Elmhurst to Kenneth?"

"You bore me, Silas," she answered, coldly. "The boy is the most
impossible of all."

It was the old protest and the old reply. He had hardly expected
anything different.

After a period of thought he asked;

"What is this I hear about John Merrick having returned from the
West?"

"He came yesterday. It was a great surprise to me."

"I never knew this brother, I believe."

"No; he had gone away before I became acquainted with either you or
Tom."

"What sort of a man is he?"

"Honest and simple, hard-headed and experienced."

"Is he independent?"

"I believe so; he has never mentioned his affairs to me. But he has
worked hard all his life, he says, and now means to end his days
peacefully. John is not especially refined in his manner, nor did he
have much of an education; but he seems to be a good deal of a man,
for all that. I am very glad he appeared at Elmhurst just at this
time."

"You had believed him dead?"

"Yes. He had passed out of my life completely, and I never knew what
became of him."

"He must be an eccentric person," said Mr. Watson, with a smile.

"He is." she acknowledged. "But blood is thicker than water, Silas,
and I'm glad brother John is here at last."

A little later the lawyer left her and picked his way through the
gardens until he came to Kenneth's wing and the stair that led to
his room. Here he paused a moment, finding himself surrounded by a
profound stillness, broken only by the chirping of the birds in the
shrubbery. Perhaps Kenneth was not in. He half decided to retrace
his steps, but finally mounted the stair softly and stood within the
doorway of the room.

The boy and a little stout man were playing chess at a table, and both
were in a deep study of the game. The boy's back was toward him, but
the man observed the newcomer and gave a nod. Then he dropped his eyes
again to the table.

Kenneth was frowning sullenly.

"You're bound to lose the pawn, whichever way you play," said the
little man quietly.

The boy gave an angry cry, and thrust the table from him, sending the
chess-men clattering into a corner. Instantly the little man leaned
over and grasped the boy by the collar, and with a sudden jerk landed
him across his own fat knees. Then, while the prisoner screamed and
struggled, the man brought his hand down with a slap that echoed
throughout the room, and continued the operation until Master Kenneth
had received a sound spanking.

Then he let the boy slip to the floor, from whence he arose slowly and
backed toward the door, scowling and muttering angrily.

"You broke the bargain, and I kept my word," said Uncle John, calmly
taking his pipe from his pocket and filling it. "The compact was that
if you raised a rough-house, like you did yesterday, and got unruly,
that I'd give you a good thrashing. Now, wasn't it?"

"Yes," acknowledged the boy.

"Well, that blamed temper o' your'n got away with you again, and
you're well spanked for not heading it off. Pick up the board. Ken, my
lad, and let's try it again."

The boy hesitated. Then he looked around and saw Lawyer Watson, who
had stood motionless by the doorway, and with a cry that was half a
sob Kenneth threw himself into his old friend's arms and burst into a
flood of tears.

Uncle John struck a match, and lighted his pipe.

"A bargain's a bargain," he observed, composedly.

"He whipped me!" sobbed the boy. "He whipped me like a child."

"Your own fault," said Uncle John. "You wanted me to play a game with
you, and I agreed, providin' you behaved yourself. And you didn't.
Now, look here. Do you blame me any?"

"No," said the boy.

"No harm's done, is there?"

"No."

"Then stop blubberin', and introduce me to your friend," continued
Uncle John. "Name's Watson, ain't it."

"Silas Watson, sir, at your service," said the lawyer, smiling. "And
this must be John Merrick, who I understand has arrived at Elmhurst
during my absence."

"Exactly," said Uncle John, and the two men shook hands cordially.

"Glad to welcome you to Elmhurst, sir," continued the lawyer. "I've
known it ever since I was a boy, when it belonged to my dear friend
Thomas Bradley. And I hope you'll love it as much as I do, when you
know it better."

"Bradley must have been a fool to give this place to Jane," said Uncle
John, reflectively.

"He was in love, sir," observed the other, and they both smiled. Then
the lawyer turned to Kenneth. "How are things going?" he asked. "Have
the girls bothered you much, as yet?"

"No," said the boy. "I keep out of their way."

"That's a good idea. By the bye, sir," turning to John Merrick. "I've
just brought you a new niece."

"Patricia?"

"She prefers to be called Patsy. A queer little thing; half Irish, you
know."

"And half Merrick. That's an odd combination, but the Irish may be
able to stand it," said Uncle John. "These nieces are more than I
bargained for. I came to see one relative, and find three more--and
all women!"

"I think you'll like Patsy, anyhow. And so will you, Kenneth."

The boy gave an indignant roar.

"I hate all girls!" he said.

"You won't hate this one. She's as wild and impulsive as you are, but
better natured. She'll make a good comrade, although she may box your
ears once in a while."

The boy turned away sulkily, and began picking up the scattered
chess-men. The two men walked down the stair and strolled together
through the garden.

"A strange boy," said Uncle John, presently.

"I'm glad to see you've made friends with him," replied the lawyer,
earnestly. "Until now he has had no one to befriend him but me, and at
times he's so unmanageable that it worries me dreadfully."

"There's considerable character about the lad," said John Merrick;
"but he's been spoiled and allowed to grow up wild, like a weed. He's
got it in him to make a criminal or a gentleman, whichever way his
nature happens to develop."

"He ought to go to a military school," replied Lawyer Watson. "Proper
training would make a man of Kenneth; but I can't induce Jane to spend
the money on him. She gives him food and clothing and lodging--all
of the simplest description--but there her generosity ends. With
thousands of dollars lying idle, she won't assist the only nephew of
Tom Bradley to secure a proper education."

"Jane's queer, too," said that lady's brother, with a sigh. "In fact,
Mr. Watson, it's a queer world, and the longer I live in it the
queerer I find it. Once I thought it would be a good idea to regulate
things myself and run the world as it ought to be run; but I gave it
up long ago. The world's a stage, they say; but the show ain't always
amusing, by a long chalk, and sometimes I wish I didn't have a
reserved seat."



CHAPTER XIV.

KENNETH IS FRIGHTENED.


Lawyer Watson, unable to direct events at Elmhurst, became a silent
spectator of the little comedy being enacted there, and never
regretted that, as Uncle John expressed it, he "had a reserved seat at
the show."

Jane Merrick, formerly the most imperious and irrascible of women, had
become wonderfully reserved since the arrival of her nieces, and was
evidently making a sincere effort to study their diverse characters.
Day by day the invalid's health was failing visibly. She had no more
strokes of paralysis, but her left limb did not recover, and the
numbness was gradually creeping upward toward her heart.

Perhaps the old woman appreciated this more fully than anyone else. At
any event, she became more gentle toward Phibbs and Misery, who mostly
attended her, and showed as much consideration as possible for her
nieces and her brother. Silas Watson she kept constantly by her side.
He was her oldest and most trusted friend, and the only differences
they had ever had were over the boy Kenneth, whom she stubbornly
refused to favor.

Uncle John speedily became an established fixture at the place. The
servants grew accustomed to seeing him wander aimlessly about the
grounds, his pipe always in his mouth, his hands usually in his
pockets. He had a pleasant word always for Donald or Oscar or James,
but was not prone to long conversations. Every evening, when he
appeared at dinner, he wore his soiled white tie; at other times
the black one was always in evidence; but other than this his dress
underwent no change. Even Kenneth came to wonder what the bundle had
contained that Uncle John brought under his arm to Elmhurst.

The little man seemed from the first much attracted by his three
nieces. Notwithstanding Louise's constant snubs and Beth's haughty
silence he was sure to meet them when they strolled out and try to
engage them in conversation. It was hard to resist his simple good
nature, and the girls came in time to accept him as an inevitable
companion, and Louise mischievously poked fun at him while Beth
conscientiously corrected him in his speech and endeavored to improve
his manners. All this seemed very gratifying to Uncle John. He thanked
Beth very humbly for her kind attention, and laughed with Louise when
she ridiculed his pudgy, round form and wondered if his bristly gray
hair wouldn't make a good scrubbing brush.

Patsy didn't get along very well with her cousins. From the first,
when Louise recognized her, with well assumed surprise, as "the girl
who had been sent to dress her hair," Patricia declared that their
stations in life were entirely different.

"There's no use of our getting mixed up, just because we're cousins
and all visiting Aunt Jane," she said. "One of you will get her money,
for I've told her I wouldn't touch a penny of it, and she has told me
I wouldn't get the chance. So one of you will be a great lady, while I
shall always earn my own living. I'll not stay long, anyhow; so just
forget I'm here, and I'll amuse myself and try not to bother you."

Both Beth and Louise considered this very sensible, and took Patricia
at her word. Moreover, Phibbs had related to Beth, whose devoted
adherent she was, all of the conversation between Aunt Jane and
Patricia, from which the girls learned they had nothing to fear from
their cousin's interference. So they let her go her way, and the three
only met at the state dinners, which Aunt Jane still attended, in
spite of her growing weakness.

Old Silas Watson, interested as he was in the result, found it hard to
decide, after ten days, which of her nieces Jane Merrick most favored.
Personally he preferred that Beth should inherit, and frankly told his
old friend that the girl would make the best mistress of Elmhurst.
Moreover, all the servants sang Beth's praises, from Misery and Phibbs
down to Oscar and Susan. Of course James the gardener favored no one,
as the numerous strangers at Elmhurst kept him in a constant state of
irritation, and his malady seemed even worse than usual. He avoided
everyone but his mistress, and although his work was now often
neglected Miss Merrick made no complaint. James' peculiarities were
well understood and aroused nothing but sympathy.

Louise, however, had played her cards so well that all Beth's friends
were powerless to eject the elder girl from Aunt Jane's esteem. Louise
had not only returned the check to her aunt, but she came often to sit
beside her and cheer her with a budget of new social gossip, and no
one could arrange the pillows so comfortably or stroke the tired head
so gently as Louise. And then, she was observing, and called Aunt
Jane's attention to several ways of curtailing the household
expenditures, which the woman's illness had forced her to neglect.

So Miss Merrick asked Louise to look over the weekly accounts, and in
this way came to depend upon her almost as much as she did upon Lawyer
Watson.

As for Patsy, she made no attempt whatever to conciliate her aunt, who
seldom mentioned her name to the others but always brightened visibly
when the girl came into her presence with her cheery speeches and
merry laughter. She never stayed long, but came and went, like a
streak of sunshine, whenever the fancy seized her; and Silas Watson,
shrewdly looking on, saw a new light in Jane's eyes as she looked
after her wayward, irresponsible niece, and wondered if the bargain
between them, regarding the money, would really hold good.

It was all an incomprehensible problem, this matter of the
inheritance, and although the lawyer expected daily to be asked to
draw up Jane Merrick's will, and had, indeed, prepared several forms,
to be used in case of emergency, no word had yet passed her lips
regarding her intentions.

Kenneth's life, during this period, was one of genuine misery. It
seemed to his morbid fancy that whatever path he might take, he was
sure of running upon one or more of those detestable girls who were
visiting at Elmhurst. Even in Donald's harness-room he was not secure
from interruption, for little Patsy was frequently perched upon the
bench there, watching with serious eyes old Donald's motions, and
laughing joyously when in his embarrassment he overturned a can of oil
or buckled the wrong straps together.

Worse than all, this trying creature would saddle Nora, the sorrel
mare, and dash away through the lanes like a tom-boy, leaving him
only old Sam to ride--for Donald would allow no one to use the coach
horses. Sam was tall and boney, and had an unpleasant gait, so that
the boy felt he was thoroughly justified in hating the girl who so
frequently interfered with his whims.

Louise was at first quite interested in Kenneth, and resolved to force
him to talk and become more sociable.

She caught him in a little summer-house one morning, from whence,
there being but one entrance, he could not escape, and at once entered
into conversation.

"Ah, you are Kenneth Forbes, I suppose," she began, pleasantly. "I
am very glad to make your acquaintance. I am Louise Merrick, Miss
Merrick's niece, and have come to visit her."

The boy shrank back as fur as possible, staring her full in the face,
but made no reply.

"You needn't be afraid of me," continued Louise. "I'm very fond of
boys, and you must be nearly my own age."

Still no reply.

"I suppose you don't know much of girls and are rather shy," she
persisted. "But I want to be friendly and I hope you'll let me.
There's so much about this interesting old place that you can tell me,
having lived here so many years. Come, I'll sit beside you on this
bench, and we'll have a good talk together."

"Go away!" cried the boy, hoarsely, raising his hands as if to ward
off her approach.

Louise looked surprised and pained.

"Why, we are almost cousins," she said. "Cannot we become friends and
comrades?"

With a sudden bound he dashed her aside, so rudely that she almost
fell, and an instant later he had left the summer house and disappear
among the hedges.

Louise laughed at her own discomfiture and gave up the attempt to make
the boy's acquaintance.

"He's a regular savage," she told Beth, afterward, "and a little
crazy, too, I suspect."

"Never mind," said Beth, philosophically. "He's only a boy, and
doesn't amount to anything, anyway. After Aunt Jane dies he will
probably go somewhere else to live. Don't let us bother about him."

Kenneth's one persistent friend was Uncle John. He came every day
to the boy's room to play chess with him, and after that one day's
punishment, which, singularly enough, Kenneth in no way resented, they
got along very nicely together. Uncle John was a shrewd player of the
difficult game, but the boy was quick as a flash to see an advantage
and use it against his opponent; so neither was ever sure of winning
and the interest in the game was constantly maintained. At evening
also the little man often came to sit on the stair outside the boy's
room and smoke his pipe, and frequently they would sit beneath the
stars, absorbed in thought and without exchanging a single word.

Unfortunately, Louise and Beth soon discovered the boy's secluded
retreat, and loved to torment him by entering his own bit of garden
and even ascending the stairs to his little room. He could easily
escape them by running through the numerous upper halls of the
mansion; but here he was liable to meet others, and his especial dread
was encountering old Miss Merrick. So he conceived a plan for avoiding
the girls in another way.

In the hallway of the left wing, near his door, was a small ladder
leading to the second story roof, and a dozen feet from the edge of
the roof stood an old oak tree, on the further side of a tall hedge.
Kenneth managed to carry a plank to the roof, where, after several
attempts, he succeeded in dropping one end into a crotch of the oak,
thus connecting the edge of the roof with the tree by means of the
narrow plank. After this, at first sight of the girls in his end of
the garden, he fled to the roof, ran across the improvised bridge,
"shinned" down the tree and, hidden by the hedge, made good his
escape.

The girls discovered this plan, and were wicked enough to surprise the
boy often and force him to cross the dizzy plank to the tree. Having
frightened him away they would laugh and stroll on, highly amused at
the evident fear they aroused in the only boy about the place.

Patricia, who was not in the other girls' secret, knew nothing of this
little comedy and really disturbed Kenneth least of the three. But he
seemed to avoid her as much as he did the others.

She sooned learned from Oscar that the boy loved to ride as well as
she did, and once or twice she met him on a lonely road perched on top
of big Sam. This led her to suspect she had thoughtlessly deprived him
of his regular mount. So one morning she said to the groom:

"Doesn't Kenneth usually ride Nora?"

"Yes, Miss," answered the man.

"Then I'd better take Sam this morning," she decided.

But the groom demurred.

"You won't like Sam, Miss," he said, "and he gets ugly at times and
acts bad. Master Kenneth won't use Nora today, I'm sure."

She hesitated.

"I think I'll ask him," said she, after a moment, and turned away into
the garden, anxious to have this plausible opportunity to speak to the
lonely boy.



CHAPTER XV.

PATSY MEETS WITH AN ACCIDENT.


"Get out of here!" shouted the boy, angrily, as Patsy appeared at the
foot of his stair.

"I won't!" she answered indignantly. "I've come to speak to you about
the mare, and you'll just treat me decently or I'll know the reason
why!"

But he didn't wait to hear this explanation. He saw her advancing up
the stairs, and fled in his usual hasty manner to the hall and up the
ladder to the roof.

Patsy stepped back into the garden, vexed at his flight, and the next
instant she saw him appear, upon the sloping roof and start to run
down the plank.

Even as she looked the boy slipped, fell headlong, and slid swiftly
downward. In a moment he was over the edge, clutching wildly at the
plank, which was a foot or more beyond his reach. Headforemost he
dove into space, but the clutching hand found something at last--the
projecting hook of an old eaves-trough that had long since been
removed--and to this he clung fast in spite of the jerk of his
arrested body, which threatened to tear away his grip.

But his plight was desperate, nevertheless. He was dangling in space,
the hard pavement thirty feet below him, with no possible way of
pulling himself up to the roof again. And the hook was so small that
there was no place for his other hand. The only way he could cling
to it at all was to grasp his wrist with the free hand as a partial
relief from the strain upon his arm.

"Hold fast!" called Patsy. "I'm coming."

She sprang up the steps, through the boy's room and into the hallway.
There she quickly perceived the ladder, and mounted it to the roof.
Taking in the situation at a glance she ran with steady steps down
the sloping roof to where the plank lay, and stepped out upon it far
enough to see the boy dangling beside her. Then she decided instantly
what to do.

"Hang on!" she called, and returning to the roof dragged the end of
the plank to a position directly over the hook. Then she lay flat upon
it, an arm on either side of the plank, and reaching down seized one
of the boy's wrists firmly in each hand.

"Now, then," said she, "let go the hook."

"If I do," answered the boy, his white face upturned to hers, "I'll
drag you down with me."

"No you won't. I'm very strong, and I'm sure I can save you. Let go,"
she said, imperatively.

"I'm not afraid to die," replied the boy, his voice full of
bitterness. "Take away your hands, and I'll drop."

But Patsy gripped him more firmly than ever.

"Don't be a fool!" she cried. "There's no danger whatever, if you do
just what I tell you."

His eyes met hers in a mute appeal; but suddenly he gained confidence,
and resolved to trust her. In any event, he could not cling to the
hook much longer.

He released his hold, and swung in mid-air just beneath the plank,
where the girl lay holding him by his wrists.

"Now, then," she said, quietly, "when I lift you up, grab the edges of
the plank."

Patricia's strength was equal to her courage, and under the excitement
of that desperate moment she did what few other girls of her size
could ever have accomplished. She drew the boy up until his eager
hands caught the edges of the plank, and gripped it firmly. Then she
released him and crept a little back toward the roof.

"Now swing your legs up and you're safe!" she cried.

He tried to obey, but his strength was failing him, and he could do no
more than touch the plank with his toes.

"Once more," called the girl.

This time she caught his feet as they swung upward, and drew his legs
around the plank.

"Can you climb up, now?" she asked, anxiously.

"I'll try," he panted.

The plank upon which this little tragedy was being enacted was in full
view of the small garden where Aunt Jane loved to sit in her chair and
enjoy the flowers and the sunshine. She could not see Kenneth's wing
at all, but she could see the elevated plank leading from the roof to
the oak tree, and for several days had been puzzled by its appearance
and wondered for what purpose it was there.

Today, as she sat talking with John Merrick and Silas Watson, she
suddenly gave a cry of surprise, and following her eyes the two men
saw Kenneth step out upon the roof, fall, and slide over the edge.
For a moment all three remained motionless, seized with fear and
consternation, and then they saw Patsy appear and run down to the
plank.

This they watched her move, and saw her lie down upon it.

"She's trying to save him--he must be caught somewhere!" cried the
lawyer, and both men started at full speed to reach the spot by the
round-about paths through the garden.

Aunt Jane sat still and watched. Suddenly the form of the boy swung
into view beneath the plank, dangling from the girl's outstretched
arms. The woman caught her breath, wondering what would happen next.
Patricia drew him up, until he seized the plank with his hands. Then
the girl crept back a little, and as the boy swung his feet upward she
caught them and twined his legs over the plank.

And now came the supreme struggle. The girl could do little more to
help him. He must manage to clamber upon the top of the plank himself.

Ordinarily Kenneth might have done this easily; but now his nerves
were all unstrung, and he was half exhausted by the strain of the past
few minutes. Almost he did it; but not quite. The next effort would be
even weaker. But now Patricia walked out upon the plank and Aunt Jane
saw her lean down, grasp the boy's collar and drag him into a position
of safety.

"Bravely done!" she murmured, but even as the sound came from her lips
the girl upon the bridge seemed in the exertion of the struggle to
lose her balance. She threw out her arms, leaned sidewise, and then
fell headlong into the chasm and disappeared from view.

Aunt Jane's agonized scream brought Phibbs running to her side. At
a glance she saw that her mistress had fainted, and looking hastily
around to discover the cause she observed the boy crawl slowly across
the plank, reach the tree, and slide down its trunk to pass out of
view behind the high hedge.

"Drat the boy!" growled the old servant, angrily, "he'll be the death
of Miss Jane, yet."



CHAPTER XVI.

GOOD RESULTS.


Uncle John could not run so swiftly as the lawyer, but he broke
through a gap in the hedge and arrived at a point just beneath the
plank at the same time that Silas Watson did.

One glance showed them the boy safely perched on top of the plank,
but the girl was bending backward. She threw out her arms in a vain
endeavor to save herself, and with a low cry toppled and plunged
swiftly toward the ground.

There was little time for the men to consider their actions.
Involuntarily they tried to catch Patricia, whose body struck them
sharply, felling them to the ground, and then bounded against the
hedge and back to the pavement.

When, half dazed, they scrambled to their feet, the girl lay
motionless before them, a stream of red blood welling from a deep cut
in her forhead, her eyes closed as if in sleep.

A moment more and the boy was kneeling beside her, striving to stay
the bleeding with his handkerchief.

"Do something! For God's sake try to do something," he wailed,
piteously. "Can't you see she's killed herself to save me?"

Uncle John knelt down and took the still form in his arms.

"Quiet, my lad," he said. "She isn't dead. Get Nora, and fetch the
doctor as soon as you can."

The boy was gone instantly, his agony relieved by the chance of
action, and followed by the lawyer, Uncle John carried his niece to
the rose chamber and laid her upon her white bed.

Misery met them, then, and following her came Louise and Beth, full of
horror and pity for the victim of the dreadful accident.

Jane Merrick had promptly recovered consciousness, for fainting spells
were foreign to her nature. Her first words to Phibbs, who was bending
over her, were:

"Is she dead?"

"Who, Miss Jane?"

"Patricia."

"I don't know, Miss Jane. Why should she be dead?"

"Run, you idiot! Run at once and find out. Ask my brother--ask
anyone--if Patricia is dead!"

And so Phibbs came to the rose chamber and found the little group
bending over the girl's unconscious form.

"Is she dead, sir? Miss Jane wants to know," said the old servant, in
awe-struck tones.

"No," answered Uncle John, gravely. "She isn't dead, I'm sure; but I
can't tell how badly she is hurt. One of her legs--the right one--is
broken, I know, for I felt it as I carried the child in my arms; but
we must wait until the doctor comes before I can tell more."

Misery was something of a nurse, it seemed, and with the assistance of
Louise, who proved most helpful in the emergency, she bathed the
wound in the girl's forehead and bandaged it as well as she was able.
Between them the women also removed Patricia's clothing and got her
into bed, where she lay white and still unconscious, but breathing so
softly that they knew she was yet alive.

The doctor was not long in arriving, for Kenneth forced him to leap
upon Nora's back and race away to Elmhurst, while the boy followed as
swiftly as he could on the doctor's sober cob.

Dr. Eliel was only a country practitioner, but his varied experiences
through many years had given him a practical knowledge of surgery,
and after a careful examination of Patricia's injuries he was able to
declare that she would make a fine recovery.

"Her leg is fractured, and she's badly bruised," he reported to Aunt
Jane, who sent for him as soon as he could leave the sick room. "But I
do not think she has suffered any internal injuries, and the wound on
her forehead is a mere nothing. So, with good care, I expect the young
lady to get along nicely."

"Do everything you can for her," said the woman, earnestly. "You shall
be well paid, Dr. Eliel."

Before Patricia recovered her senses the doctor had sewn up her
forehead and set the fractured limb, so that she suffered little pain
from the first.

Louise and Beth hovered over her constantly, ministering to every
possible want and filled with tenderest sympathy for their injured
cousin. The accident seemed to draw them out of their selfishness and
petty intrigues and discovered in them the true womanly qualities that
had lurked beneath the surface.

Patsy was not allowed to talk, but she smiled gratefully at her
cousins, and the three girls seemed suddenly drawn nearer together
than any of them would have thought possible a few hours before.

The boy paced constantly up and down outside Patricia's door, begging
everyone who left the room, for news of the girl's condition. All his
reserve and fear of women seemed to have melted away as if by magic.
Even Beth and Louise were questioned eagerly, and they, having learned
the story of Patricia's brave rescue of the boy, were very gentle with
him and took pains not to frighten or offend him.

Toward evening Louise asked Patricia if she would see Kenneth for a
moment, and the girl nodded a ready assent.

He came in awkward and trembling, glancing fearfully at the bandaged
forehead and the still white face. But Patricia managed to smile
reassuringly, and held out a little hand for him to take. The boy
grasped it in both his own, and held it for several minutes while he
stood motionless beside her, his wide eyes fixed intently upon her
own.

Then Louise sent him away, and he went to his room and wept profusely,
and then quieted down into a sort of dull stupor.

The next morning Uncle John dragged him away from Patricia's door and
forced him to play chess. The boy lost every game, being inattentive
and absorbed in thought, until finally Uncle John gave up the attempt
to amuse him and settled himself on the top stair for a quiet smoke.
The boy turned to the table, and took a sheet of paper from the
drawer. For an hour, perhaps, neither of these curious friends spoke
a word, but at the end of that time Uncle John arose and knocked the
ashes from his pipe. Kenneth did not notice him. The man approached
the table and looked over the boy's shoulder, uttering an exclamation
of surprise. Upon the paper appeared a cleverly drawn pencil sketch
of Patricia lying in her bed, a faint smile upon her face and her big
blue eyes turned pleasantly upon a shadowy form that stood beside her
holding her hand. The likeness was admirable, and if there were faults
in the perspective and composition Uncle John did not recognize them.

He gave a low whistle and turned thoughtfully away, and the young
artist was so absorbed that he did not even look up.

Strolling away to the stables, Uncle John met old Donald, who
enquired:

"How is Miss Patsy this morning, sir?" It was the name she had given,
and preferred to be called by.

"She's doing finely," said Uncle John.

"A brave girl, sir!"

"Yes, Donald."

"And the boy?"

"Why, he seems changed, in some way, Donald. Not so nervous and wild
as usual, you know. I've just left him drawing a picture. Curious. A
good picture, too."

"Ah, he can do that, sir, as well as a real artist."

"Have you known him to draw, before this?"

"Why, he's always at it, sir, in his quieter moods. I've got a rare
good likeness o' myself, as he did long ago, in the harness-room."

"May I see it?"

"With pleasure, sir."

Donald led the way to the harness-room, and took from the cupboard the
precious board he had so carefully preserved.

Uncle John glanced at it and laughed aloud. He could well appreciate
the humor of the sketch, which Donald never had understood, and the
caricature was as clever as it was amusing. He handed the treasure
back to Donald and went away even more thoughtful than before.

A few days later a large package arrived at Elmhurst addressed to
Kenneth Forbes, and Oscar carried it at once to the boy's room, who
sat for an hour looking at it in silent amazement. Then he carefully
unwrapped it, and found it to contain a portable easel, a quantity of
canvas and drawing-paper, paints and oils of every description
(mostly all unknown to him) and pencils, brushes and water colors in
profusion.

Kenneth's heart bounded with joy. Here was wealth, indeed, greater
than he had ever hoped for. He puzzled his brain for weeks to discover
how this fairy gift had ever come to him, but he was happier in its
possession than he had ever been before in all his life.

Patricia improved rapidly. Had it not been for the broken leg she
would have been out of the house in a week, as good as ever; but
broken limbs take time to heal, and Dr. Eliel would not permit the
girl to leave her bed until ten days had passed.

Meantime everyone delighted to attend her. Louise and Beth sat with
her for hours, reading or working, for the rose chamber was cheery and
pleasant, and its big windows opened upon the prettiest part of the
gardens. The two girls were even yet suspicious of one another, each
striving to win an advantage with Aunt Jane; but neither had the
slightest fear that Patricia would ever interfere with their plans. So
they allowed their natural inclinations to pet and admire the heroine
of the hour full sway, and Patsy responded so sweetly and frankly to
their advances that they came to love her dearly, and wondered why
they had not discovered from the first how lovable their Irish cousin
could be.

Kenneth, also came daily to the sick room for a visit, and Patsy had
a way of drawing the boy out and making him talk that was really
irresistible. After his fairy gift arrived he could not help telling
the girls all about it and then he brought the things down and
displayed them, and promised Patsy he would make a picture of the
garden for her.

Then, after the girl got better, he brought his easel down to her
room, where she could watch him work, and began upon the picture,
while the cousins joined him in speculations as to who the mysterious
donor could he.

"At first," said Kenneth, "I thought it was Mr. Watson, for he's alway
been very good to me; but he says he knows nothing about it. Then I
though it might be Uncle John; but Uncle John is too poor to afford
such an expensive present."

"I don't believe he has a penny in the world," said Louise, who sat by
with some needle-work.

"All he owns," remarked Beth, with a laugh, "is an extra necktie,
slightly damaged."

"But he's a dear old man," said Patsy, loyally, "and I'm sure he would
have given all those things to Kenneth had he been able."

"Then who was it?" asked the boy.

"Why, Aunt Jane, to be sure," declared Patsy.

The boy scowled, and shook his head.

"She wouldn't do anything to please me, even to save her life," he
growled. "She hates me, I know that well enough."

"Oh, no; I'm sure she doesn't," said Patsy. "Aunt Jane has a heap
of good in her; but you've got to dig for it, like you do for gold.
'Twould be just like her to make you this present and keep it a
secret."

"If she really did it," replied the boy, slowly, "and it seems as if
she is the only one. I know who could afford such a gift, it stands to
reason that either Uncle John or Mr. Watson asked her to, and she did
it to please them. I've lived here for years, and she has never spoken
a kindly word to me or done me a kindly act. It isn't likely she'd
begin now, is it?"

Unable to make a reassuring reply, Patsy remained silent, and the boy
went on with his work. He first outlined the picture in pencil, and
then filled it in with water color. They all expressed admiration for
the drawing; but the color effect was so horrible that even Patsy
found no words to praise it, and the boy in a fit of sudden anger tore
the thing to shreds and so destroyed it.

"But I must have my picture, anyhow," said the girl. "Make it in pen
and ink or pencil, Ken. and I'm sure it will be beautiful."

"You need instruction, to do water color properly," suggested Louise.

"Then I can never do it," he replied, bitterly. But he adopted Patsy's
suggestion and sketched the garden very prettily in pen and ink.
By the time the second picture was completed Patsy had received
permission to leave her room, which she did in Aunt Jane's second-best
wheel chair.

Her first trip was to Aunt Jane's own private garden, where the
invalid, who had not seen her niece since the accident, had asked her
to come.

Patsy wanted Kenneth to wheel her, but the boy, with a touch of his
old surly demeanor, promptly refused to meet Jane Merrick face to
face. So Beth wheeled the chair and Louise walked by Patsy's side, and
soon the three nieces reached their aunt's retreat.

Aunt Jane was not in an especially amiable mood.

"Well, girl, how do you like being a fool?" she demanded, as Patsy's
chair came to a stand just opposite her own.

"It feels so natural that I don't mind it," replied Patsy, laughing.

"You might have killed yourself, and all for nothing," continued the
old woman, querulously.

Patsy looked at her pityingly. Her aunt's face had aged greatly in the
two weeks, and the thin gray hair seemed now almost white.

"Are you feeling better, dear?" asked the girl.

"I shall never be better," said Jane Merrick, sternly. "The end is not
far off now."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear you say that!" said Patsy; "but I hope it is
not true. Why, here are we four newly found relations all beginning to
get acquainted, and to love one another, and we can't have our little
party broken up, auntie dear."

"Five of us--five relations," cried Uncle John, coming around the
corner of the hedge. "Don't I count, Patsy, you rogue? Why you're
looking as bright and as bonny as can be. I wouldn't be surprised if
you could toddle."

"Not yet," she answered, cheerfully. "But I'm doing finely, Uncle
John, and it won't be long before I can get about as well as ever."

"And to think," said Aunt Jane, bitterly, "that all this trouble was
caused by that miserable boy! If I knew where to send him he'd not
stay at Elmhurst a day longer."

"Why, he's my best friend, aunt," announced Patsy, quietly. "I don't
think I could be happy at Elmhurst without Kenneth."

"He has quite reformed," said Louise, "and seems like a very nice
boy."

"He's a little queer, yet, at times," added Beth, "but not a bit rude,
as he used to be."

Aunt Jane looked from one to the other in amazement. No one had
spoken so kindly of the boy before in years. And Uncle John, with a
thoughtful look on his face, said slowly:

"The fact is, Jane, you've never given the boy a chance. On the
contrary, you nearly ruined him by making a hermit of him and giving
him no schooling to speak of and no society except that of servants.
He was as wild as a hawk when I first came, but these girls are just
the sort of companions he needs, to soften him and make him a man.
I've no doubt he'll come out all right, in the end."

"Perhaps you'd like to adopt him yourself, John," sneered the woman,
furious at this praise of the one person she so greatly disliked.

Her brother drew his hands from his pockets, looked around in a
helpless and embarrassed way, and then tried fumblingly to fill his
pipe.

"I ain't in the adopting business, Jane," he answered meekly. "And if
I was," with a quaint smile, "I'd adopt one or two of these nieces o'
mine, instead of Tom Bradley's nephew. If Bradley hadn't seen you,
Jane, and loved your pretty face when you were young, Kenneth Forbes
would now be the owner of Elmhurst. Did you ever think of that?"

Did she ever think of it? Why, it was this very fact that made the boy
odious to her. The woman grew white with rage.

"John Merrick, leave my presence."

"All right, Jane."

He stopped to light his pipe, and then slowly walked away, leaving an
embarrassed group behind him.

Patsy, however, was equal to the occasion. She began at once to
chatter about Dr. Eliel, and the scar that would always show on her
forehead; and how surprised the Major, her father, would be when he
returned from the visit to his colonel and found his daughter had been
through the wars herself, and bore the evidence of honorable wounds.
Louise gracefully assisted her cousin to draw Aunt Jane into a more
genial mood, and between them they presently succeeded. The interview
that had begun so unfortunately ended quite pleasantly, and when
Patricia returned to her room her aunt bade her adieu almost tenderly.

"In fact," said Louise to Beth, in the privacy of the latter's
chamber, "I'm getting rather worried over Aunt Jane's evident weakness
for our Cousin Patsy. Once or twice today I caught a look in her eye
when she looked at Patsy that she has never given either you or me.
The Irish girl may get the money yet."

"Nonsense," said Beth. "She has said she wouldn't accept a penny of
it, and I'm positive she'll keep her word."



CHAPTER XVII.

AUNT JANE'S HEIRESS.


"Silas," said Aunt Jane to her lawyer, the next morning after her
interview with Patsy, "I'm ready to have you draw up my will."

Mr. Watson gave a start of astonishment. In his own mind he had
arrived at the conclusion that the will would never be executed, and
to have Miss Merrick thus suddenly declare her decision was enough to
startle even the lawyer's natural reserve.

"Very well, Jane," he said, briefly.

They were alone in the invalid's morning room, Phibbs having been
asked to retire.

"There is no use disguising the fact, Silas, that I grow weaker every
day, and the numbness is creeping nearer and nearer to my heart," said
Miss Merrick, in her usual even tones. "It is folly for me to trifle
with these few days of grace yet allowed me, and I have fully made up
my mind as to the disposition of my property."

"Yes?" he said, enquiringly, and drew from his pocket a pencil and
paper.

"I shall leave to my niece Louise five thousand dollars."

"Yes, Jane," jotting down the memorandum.

"And to Elizabeth a like sum."

The lawyer seemed disappointed. He tapped the pencil against his
teeth, musingly, for a moment, and then wrote down the amount.

"Also to my brother, John Merrick, the sum of five thousand dollars,"
she resumed.

"To your brother?"

"Yes. That should be enough to take care of him as long as he lives.
He seems quite simple in his tastes, and he is an old man."

The lawyer wrote it down.

"All my other remaining property, both real and personal, I shall
leave to my niece, Patricia Doyle."

"Jane!"

"Did you hear me?"

"Yes."

"Then do as I bid you, Silas Watson."

He leaned back in his chair and looked at her thoughtfully.

"I am not only your lawyer, Jane; I am also your friend and
counsellor. Do you realize what this bequest means?" he asked, gently.

"It means that Patricia will inherit Elmhurst--and a fortune besides.
Why not, Silas? I liked the child from the first. She's frank and open
and brave, and will do credit to my judgment."

"She is very young and unsophisticated," said the lawyer, "and of all
your nieces she will least appreciate your generosity."

"You are to be my executor, and manage the estate until the girl comes
of age. You will see that she is properly educated and fitted for her
station in life. As for appreciation, or gratitude, I don't care a
snap of my finger for such fol-de-rol."

The lawyer sighed.

"But the boy, Jane? You seem to have forgotten him," he said.

"Drat the boy! I've done enough for him already."

"Wouldn't Tom like you to provide for Kenneth in some way, however
humbly?"

She glared at him angrily.

"How do you know what Tom would like, after all these years?" she
asked, sternly. "And how should I know, either? The money is mine, and
the boy is nothing to me. Let him shift for himself."

"There is a great deal of money, Jane," declared the lawyer,
impressively. "We have been fortunate in our investments, and you have
used but little of your ample income. To spare fifty thousand dollars
to Kenneth, who is Tom's sole remaining relative, would be no hardship
to Patricia. Indeed, she would scarcely miss it."

"You remind me of something, Silas," she said, looking at him with
friendly eyes. "Make a memorandum of twenty thousand dollars to Silas
Watson. You have been very faithful to my interests and have helped
materially to increase my fortune."

"Thank you, Jane."

He wrote down the amount as calmly as he had done the others.

"And the boy?" he asked, persistently.

Aunt Jane sighed wearily, and leaned against her pillows.

"Give the boy two thousand," she said.

"Make it ten, Jane."

"I'll make it five, and not a penny more," she rejoined. "Now leave
me, and prepare the paper at once. I want to sign it today, if
possible."

He bowed gravely, and left the room.

Toward evening the lawyer came again, bringing with him a notary from
the village. Dr. Eliel, who had come to visit Patricia, was also
called into Jane Merrick's room, and after she had carefully read the
paper in their presence the mistress of Elmhurst affixed her signature
to the document which transferred the great estate to the little Irish
girl, and the notary and the doctor solemnly witnessed it and retired.

"Now, Silas," said the old woman, with a sigh of intense relief, "I
can die in peace."

Singularly enough, the signing of the will seemed not to be the end
for Jane Merrick, but the beginning of an era of unusual comfort. On
the following morning she awakened brighter than usual, having passed
a good night, freed from the worries and anxieties that had beset her
for weeks. She felt more like her old self than at any time since the
paralysis had overtaken her, and passed the morning most enjoyably
in her sunshiney garden. Here Patricia was also brought in her wheel
chair by Beth, who then left the two invalids together.

They conversed genially enough, for a time, until an unfortunate
remark of Aunt Jane's which seemed to asperse her father's character
aroused Patricia's ire. Then she loosened her tongue, and in her
voluable Irish way berated her aunt until poor Phibbs stood aghast at
such temerity, and even Mr. Watson, who arrived to enquire after his
client and friend, was filled with amazement.

He cast a significant look at Miss Merrick, who answered it in her
usual emphatic way.

"Patricia is quite right, Silas," she declared, "and I deserve all
that she has said. If the girl were fond enough of me to defend me as
heartily as she does her father, I would be very proud, indeed."

Patricia cooled at once, and regarded her aunt with a sunny smile.

"Forgive me!" she begged. "I know you did not mean it, and I was wrong
to talk to you in such a way."

So harmony was restored, and Mr. Watson wondered more and more at
this strange perversion of the old woman's character. Heretofore any
opposition had aroused in her intense rage and a fierce antagonism,
but now she seemed delighted to have Patsy fly at her, and excused the
girl's temper instead of resenting it.

But Patsy was a little ashamed of herself this morning, realizing
perhaps that Aunt Jane had been trying to vex her, just to enjoy her
indignant speeches; and she also realized the fact that her aunt was
old and suffering, and not wholly responsible for her aggravating and
somewhat malicious observations. So she firmly resolved not to be so
readily entrapped again, and was so bright and cheery during the next
hour that Aunt Jane smiled more than once, and at one time actually
laughed at her niece's witty repartee.

After that it became the daily program for Patsy to spend her mornings
in Aunt Jane's little garden, and although they sometimes clashed,
and, as Phibbs told Beth, "had dreadful fights," they both enjoyed
these hours very much.

The two girls became rather uneasy during the days their cousin spent
in the society of Aunt Jane. Even the dreadful accounts they received
from Phibbs failed wholly to reassure them, and Louise redoubled her
solicitious attentions to her aunt in order to offset the influence
Patricia seemed to be gaining over her.

Louise had also become, by this time, the managing housekeeper of
the establishment, and it was certain that Aunt Jane looked upon her
eldest and most competent niece with much favor.

Beth, with all her friends to sing her praises, seemed to make less
headway with her aunt than either of the others, and gradually she
sank into a state of real despondency.

"I've done the best I could," she wrote her mother, "but I'm not as
clever as Louise nor as amusing as Patricia; so Aunt Jane pays little
attention to me. She's a dreadful old woman, and I can't bring myself
to appear to like her. That probably accounts for my failure; but I
may as well stay on here until something happens."

In a fortnight more Patricia abandoned her chair and took to crutches,
on which she hobbled everywhere as actively as the others walked. She
affected her cousins' society more, from this time, and Aunt Jane's
society less, for she had come to be fond of the two girls who had
nursed her so tenderly, and it was natural that a young girl would
prefer to be with those of her own age rather than a crabbed old woman
like Aunt Jane.

Kenneth also now became Patsy's faithful companion, for the boy had
lost his former bashfulness and fear of girls, and had grown to feel
at ease even in the society of Beth and Louise. The four had many
excursions and picnics into the country together; but Kenneth and
Patsy were recognized as especial chums, and the other girls did not
interfere in their friendship except to tease them, occasionally, in a
good natured way.

The boy's old acquaintances could hardly recognize him as the same
person they had known before Patricia's adventure on the plank. His
fits of gloomy abstraction and violent bursts of temper had alike
vanished, or only prevailed at brief intervals. Nor was he longer rude
and unmannerly to those with whom he came in contact. Awkward he still
was, and lacking in many graces that education and good society can
alone confer; but he was trying hard to be, as he confided to old
Uncle John, "like other people," and succeeded in adapting himself
very well to his new circumstances.

Although he had no teacher, as yet, he had begun to understand color
a little, and succeeded in finishing one or two water-color sketches
which Patsy, who knew nothing at all of such things, pronounced
"wonderfully fine." Of course the boy blushed with pleasure and was
encouraged to still greater effort.

The girl was also responsible for Kenneth's sudden advancement in the
household at Elmhurst.

One day she said calmly to Aunt Jane:

"I've invited Kenneth to dinner this evening."

The woman flew angry in an instant.

"Who gave you such authority?" she demanded.

"No one. I just took it," said Patsy, saucily.

"He shall not come," declared Aunt Jane, sternly. "I'll have no
interference from you, Miss, with my household arrangements. Phibbs,
call Louise!"

Patsy's brow grew dark. Presently Louise appeared.

"Instruct the servants to forbid that boy to enter my dining room this
evening," she said to Louise.

"Also, Louise," said Patsy, "tell them not to lay a plate for me, and
ask Oscar to be ready with the wagon at five o'clock. I'm going home."

Louise hesitated, and looked from Miss Jane to Patsy, and back again.
They were glaring upon each other like two gorgons.

Then she burst into laughter; she could not help it, the sight was too
ridiculous. A moment later Patsy was laughing, too, and then Aunt Jane
allowed a grim smile to cross her features.

"Never mind, Louise," she said, with remarkable cheerfulness; "We'll
compromise matters."

"How?" asked Patsy.

"By putting a plate for Kenneth," said her aunt, cooly. "I imagine I
can stand his society for one evening."

So the matter was arranged to Patricia's satisfaction, and the boy
came to dinner, trembling and unhappy at first, but soon placed at
ease by the encouragements of the three girls. Indeed, he behaved so
well, in the main, and was so gentle and unobstrusive, that Aunt Jane
looked at him with surprise, and favored him with one or two speeches
which he answered modestly and well.

Patsy was radiant with delight, and the next day Aunt Jane remarked
casually that she did not object to the boy's presence at dinner, at
all, and he could come whenever he liked.

This arrangement gave great pleasure to both Uncle John and Mr.
Watson, the latter of whom was often present at the "state dinner,"
and both men congratulated Patsy upon the distinct victory she had
won. No more was said about her leaving Elmhurst. The Major wrote that
he was having a splendid time with the colonel, and begged for an
extension of his vacation, to which Patsy readily agreed, she being
still unable on account of her limb to return to her work at Madam
Borne's.

And so the days glided pleasantly by, and August came to find a happy
company of young folks at old Elmhurst, with Aunt Jane wonderfully
improved in health and Uncle John beaming complacently upon everyone
he chanced to meet.



CHAPTER XVIII.

PATRICIA SPEAKS FRANKLY.


It was Lawyer Watson's suggestion that she was being unjust to Beth
and Louise, in encouraging them to hope they might inherit Elmhurst,
that finally decided Aunt Jane to end all misunderstandings and inform
her nieces of the fact that she had made a final disposition of her
property.

So one morning she sent word asking them all into her room, and when
the nieces appeared they found Uncle John and the lawyer already
in their aunt's presence. There was an air of impressive formality
pervading the room, although Miss Merrick's brother, at least, was as
ignorant as her nieces of the reason why they had been summoned.

Patsy came in last, hobbling actively on her crutches, although the
leg was now nearly recovered, and seated herself somewhat in the rear
of the apartment.

Aunt Jane looked into one expectant face after another with curious
interest, and then broke the silence by saying, gravely, but in more
gentle tones than she was accustomed to use:

"I believe, young ladies, that you have understood from the first my
strongest reason for inviting you to visit Elmhurst this summer. I
am old, and must soon pass away, and instead of leaving you and
your parents, who would be my legitimate heirs, to squabble over my
property when I am gone, I decided to excute a will bequeathing my
estate to some one who would take proper care of it and maintain it in
a creditable manner. I had no personal acquaintance with any of you,
but judged that one out of the three might serve my purpose, and
therefore invited you all here."

By this time the hearts of Louise and Beth were fluttering with
excitement, and even Patsy looked interested. Uncle John sat a little
apart, watching them with an amused smile upon his face, and the
lawyer sat silent with his eyes fixed upon a pattern in the rug.

"In arriving at a decision, which I may say I have succeeded in
doing," continued Aunt Jane, calmly, "I do not claim to have acted
with either wisdom or discernment. I have simply followed my own whim,
as I have the right to do, and selected the niece I prefer to become
my heiress. You cannot accuse of injustice, because none of you had a
right to expect anything of me; but I will say this, that I am well
pleased with all three of you, and now wish that I had taken pains to
form your acquaintance earlier in life. You might have cheered my old
age and rendered it less lonely and dull."

"Well said, Jane," remarked Uncle John, nodding his head approvingly.

She did not notice the interruption, but presently continued:

"Some days ago I asked my lawyer, Mr. Watson, to draw up my will. It
was at once prepared and signed, and now stands as my last will and
testament. I have given to you, Louise, the sum of five thousand
dollars."

Louise laughed nervously, and threw out her hands with an indifferent
gesture.

"Many thanks, Aunt," she said, lightly.

"To you, Beth," continued Miss Merrick, "I have given the same sum."

Beth's heart sank, and tears forced themselves into her eyes in spite
of her efforts to restrain them. She said nothing.

Aunt Jane turned to her brother.

"I have also provided for you, John, in the sum of five thousand
dollars."

"Me!" he exclaimed, astounded. "Why, suguration, Jane, I don't--"

"Silence!" she cried, sternly. "I expect neither thanks nor protests.
If you take care of the money, John, it will last you as long as you
live."

Uncle John laughed. He doubled up in his chair and rocked back and
forth, shaking his little round body as if he had met with the most
amusing thing that had ever happened in his life. Aunt Jane stared
at him, while Louise and Beth looked their astonishment, but Patsy's
clear laughter rang above Uncle John's gasping chuckles.

"I hope, dear Uncle," said she, mischievously, "that when poor Aunt
Jane is gone you'll be able to buy a new necktie."

He looked at her whimsically, and wiped the tears from his eyes.

"Thank you, Jane," said the little man to his sister. "It's a lot of
money, and I'll be proud to own it."

"Why did you laugh." demanded Aunt Jane.

"I just happened to think that our old Dad once said I'd never be
worth a dollar in all my life. What would he say now, Jane, if he knew
I stood good to have five thousand--if I can manage to outlive you?"

She turned from him with an expression of scorn.

"In addition to these bequests," said she, "I have left five thousand
to the boy and twenty thousand to Mr. Watson. The remainder of the
property will go to Patricia."

For a moment the room was intensely still. Then Patricia said, with
quiet determination:

"You may as well make another will, Aunt. I'll not touch a penny of
your money."

"Why not?" asked the woman, almost fiercely.

"You have been kind to me, and you mean well," said Patricia. "I would
rather not tell you my reasons."

"I demand to know them!"

"Ah, aunt; can't you understand, without my speaking?"

"No," said the other; but a flush crossed her pale cheek,
nevertheless.

Patsy arose and stumped to a position directly in front of Jane
Merrick, where she rested on her crutches. Her eyes were bright and
full of indignation, and her plain little face was so white that every
freckle showed distinctly.

"There was a time, years ago," she began in a low voice, "when you
were very rich and your sister Violet, my mother, was very poor. Her
health was bad, and she had me to care for, while my father was very
ill with a fever. She was proud, too, and for herself she would never
have begged a penny of anyone; but for my sake she asked her rich
sister to loan her a little money to tide her over her period of want.
What did you do, Jane Merrick, you who lived in a beautiful mansion,
and had more money than you could use? You insulted her, telling her
she belonged to a family of beggars, and that none of them could
wheedle your money away from you!"

"It was true," retorted the elder woman, stubbornly. "They were after
me like a drove of wolves--every Merrick of them all--and they would
have ruined me if I had let them bleed me as they wished."

"So far as my mother is concerned, that's a lie," said Patsy, quietly.
"She never appealed to you but that once, but worked as bravely as she
could to earn money in her own poor way. The result was that she died,
and I was left to the care of strangers until my father was well
enough to support me."

She paused, and again the room seemed unnaturally still.

"I'm sorry, girl," said Aunt Jane, at last, in trembling tones. "I was
wrong. I see it now, and I am sorry I refused Violet."

"Then I forgive you!" said Patsy, impulsively. "I forgive you all,
Aunt Jane; for through your own selfishness you cut yourself off from
all your family--from all who might have loved you--and you have lived
all these years a solitary and loveless life. There'll be no grudge
of mine to follow you to the grave, Aunt Jane. But," her voice
hardening, "I'll never touch a penny of the money that was denied my
poor dead mother. Thank God the old Dad and I are independent, and can
earn our own living."

Uncle John came to where Patsy stood and put both arms around her,
pressing her--crutches and all--close to his breast. Then he released
her, and without a word stalked from the room.

"Leave me, now," said Aunt Jane, in a husky voice. "I want time to
think."

Patricia hobbled forward, placed one hand caressingly upon the gray
head, and then bent and kissed Aunt Jane's withered cheek.

"That's right," she whispered. "Think it over, dear. It's all past
and done, now, and I'm sorry I had to hurt you. But--not a penny,
aunt--remember, not a penny will I take!"

Then she left the room, followed by Louise and Beth, both of whom were
glad to be alone that they might conquer their bitter disappointment.

Louise, however, managed to accept the matter philosophically, as the
following extract from her letter to her mother will prove:

"After all, it isn't so bad as it might be, mater, dear," she wrote.
"I'll get five thousand, at the very worst, and that will help us on
our way considerably. But I am quite sure that Patsy means just what
she says, and that she will yet induce Aunt Jane to alter her will. In
that case I believe the estate will either be divided between Beth and
me, or I will get it all. Anyway, I shall stay here and play my best
cards until the game is finished."



CHAPTER XIX.

DUPLICITY.


Aunt Jane had a bad night, as might have been expected after her
trials of the previous day.

She sent for Patricia early in the forenoon, and when the girl arrived
she was almost shocked by the change in her aunt's appearance. The
invalid's face seemed drawn and gray, and she lay upon her cushions
breathing heavily and without any appearance of vitality or strength.
Even the sharpness and piercing quality of her hard gray eyes was
lacking and the glance she cast at her niece was rather pleading than
defiant.

"I want you to reconsider your decision of yesterday, Patricia," she
begun.

"Don't ask me to do that, aunt," replied the girl, firmly. "My mind is
fully made up."

"I have made mistakes, I know," continued the woman feebly; "but I
want to do the right thing, at last."

"Then I will show you how," said Patricia, quickly. "You mustn't think
me impertinent, aunt, for I don't mean to be so at all. But tell me;
why did you wish to leave me your money?"

"Because your nature is quite like my own, child, and I admire your
independence and spirit."

"But my cousins are much more deserving," said she, thoughtfully.
"Louise is very sweet and amiable, and loves you more than I do, while
Beth is the most sensible and practical girl I have ever known."

"It may be so," returned Aunt Jane, impatiently; "but I have left each
a legacy, Patricia, and you alone are my choice for the mistress of
Elmhurst. I told you yesterday I should not try to be just. I mean to
leave my property according to my personal desire, and no one shall
hinder me." This last with a spark of her old vigor.

"But that is quite wrong, aunt, and if you desire me to inherit your
wealth you will be disappointed. A moment ago you said you wished to
do the right thing, at last. Don't you know what that is?"

"Perhaps you will tell me," said Aunt Jane, curiously.

"With pleasure," returned Patsy. "Mr. Bradley left you this property
because he loved you, and love blinded him to all sense of justice.
Such an estate should not have passed into the hands of aliens because
of a lover's whim. He should have considered his own flesh and blood."

"There was no one but his sister, who at that time was not married and
had no son," explained Aunt Jane, calmly. "But he did not forget her
and asked me to look after Katherine Bradley in case she or her heirs
ever needed help. I have done so. When his mother died, I had the boy
brought here, and he has lived here ever since."

"But the property ought to be his," said Patricia, earnestly. "It
would please me beyond measure to have you make your will in his
favor, and you would be doing the right thing at last."

"I won't," said Aunt Jane, angrily.

"It would also be considerate and just to the memory of Mr. Bradley,"
continued the girl. "What's going to became of Kenneth?"

"I have left him five thousand," said the woman.

"Not enough to educate him properly," replied Patsy, with a shake of
her head. "Why, the boy might become a famous artist, if he had good
masters; and a person with an artistic temperament, such as his,
should have enough money to be independent of his art."

Aunt Jane coughed, unsympathetically.

"The boy is nothing to me," she said.

"But he ought to have Elmhurst, at least," pleaded the girl. "Won't
you leave it to him, Aunt Jane?"

"No."

"Then do as you please," cried Patsy, flying angry in her turn. "As a
matter of justice, the place should never have been yours, and I won't
accept a dollar of the money if I starve to death!"

"Think of your father," suggested Aunt Jane, cunningly.

"Ah, I've done that," said the girl, "and I know how many comforts I
could buy for the dear Major. Also I'd like to go to a girl's college,
like Smith or Wellesley, and get a proper education. But not with your
money, Aunt Jane. It would burn my fingers. Always I would think that
if you had not been hard and miserly this same money would have saved
my mother's life. No! I loathe your money. Keep it or throw it to the
dogs, if you won't give it to the boy it belongs to. But don't you
dare to will your selfish hoard to me."

"Let us change the subject, Patricia."

"Will you change your will?"

"No.".

"Then I won't talk to you. I'm angry and hurt, and if I stay here I'll
say things I shall be sorry for."

With these words she marched out of the room, her cheeks flaming, and
Aunt Jane looked after her with admiring eyes.

"She's right," she whispered to herself. "It's just as I'd do under
the same circumstances!"

This interview was but the beginning of a series that lasted during
the next fortnight, during which time the invalid persisted in sending
for Patricia and fighting the same fight over and over again. Always
the girl pleaded for Kenneth to inherit, and declared she would not
accept the money and Elmhurst; and always Aunt Jane stubbornly refused
to consider the boy and tried to tempt the girl with pictures of the
luxury and pleasure that riches would bring her.

The interviews were generally short and spirited, however, and during
the intervals Patsy associated more than ever with her cousins, both
of whom grew really fond of her.

They fully believed Patricia when she declared she would never accept
the inheritance, and although neither Beth nor Louise could understand
such foolish sentimentality they were equally overjoyed at the girl's
stand and the firmness with which she maintained it. With Patsy out of
the field it was quite possible the estate would be divided between
her cousins, or even go entire to one or the other of them; and this
hope constantly buoyed their spirits and filled their days with
interest as they watched the fight between their aunt and their
cousin.

Patricia never told them she was pleading so hard for the boy. It
would only pain her cousins and make them think she was disloyal to
their interests; but she lost no opportunity when with her Aunt Jane
of praising Kenneth and proving his ability, and finally she seemed to
win her point.

Aunt Jane was really worn out with the constant squabbling with her
favorite niece. She had taken a turn for the worse, too, and began to
decline rapidly. So, her natural cunning and determination to have her
own way enhanced by her illness, the woman decided to deceive Patricia
and enjoy her few remaining days in peace.

"Suppose," she said to Mr. Watson, "my present will stands, and after
my death the estate becomes the property of Patricia. Can she refuse
it?"

"Not legally," returned the lawyer. "It would remain in her name,
but under my control, during her minority. When she became of age,
however, she could transfer it as she might choose."

"By that time she will have gained more sense," declared Aunt Jane,
much pleased with this aspect of the case, "and it isn't reasonable
that having enjoyed a fortune for a time any girl would throw it away.
I'll stick to my point, Silas, but I'll try to make Patricia believe
she has won me over."

Therefore, the very next time that the girl pleaded with her to make
Kenneth her heir, she said, with a clever assumption of resignation:

"Very well, Patricia; you shall have your way. My only desire, child,
is to please you, as you well know, and if you long to see Kenneth the
owner of Elmhurst I will have a new will drawn in his favor."

Patricia could scarcely believe her ears.

"Do you really mean it, aunt?" she asked, flushing red with pleasure.

"I mean exactly what I say, and now let us cease all bickerings, my
dear, and my few remaining days will be peaceful and happy."

Patricia thanked her aunt with eager words, and said, as indeed she
felt, that she could almost love Aunt Jane for her final, if dilatory,
act of justice.

Mr. Watson chanced to enter the room at that moment, and the girl
cried out:

"Tell him, aunt! Let him get the paper ready at once."

"There is no reason for haste," said Aunt Jane, meeting; the lawyer's
questioning gaze with some embarrassment.

Silas Watson was an honorable and upright man, and his client's
frequent doubtful methods had in past years met his severe censure.
Yet he had once promised his dead friend, Tom Bradley, that he would
serve Jane Merrick faithfully. He had striven to do so, bearing with
her faults of character when he found that he could not correct them.
His influence over her had never been very strong, however, and he had
learned that it was the most easy as well as satisfactory method to
bow to her iron will.

Her recent questionings had prepared him for some act of duplicity,
but he had by no means understood her present object, nor did she mean
that he should. So she answered his questioning look by saying:

"I have promised Patricia that you shall draw a new will, leaving
all my estate to Kenneth Forbes, except for the bequests that are
mentioned in the present paper."

The lawyer regarded her with amazement. Then his brow darkened, for he
thought she was playing with the girl, and was not sincere.

"Tell him to draw up the paper right away, aunt!" begged Patricia,
with sparkling eyes.

"As soon as you can, Silas," said the invalid.

"And, aunt, can't you spare a little more to Louise and Beth? It would
make them so happy."

"Double the amount I had allowed to each of them," the woman commanded
her lawyer.

"Can it all be ready to sign tonight?" asked Patsy, excitedly.

"I'll try, my dear," replied the old lawyer, gravely. Then he turned
to Jane Merrick.

"Are you in earnest?" he asked.

Patsy's heart suddenly sank.

"Yes," was the reply. "I am tired of opposing this child's wishes.
What do I care what becomes of my money, when I am gone? All that I
desire is to have my remaining days peaceful."

The girl spring forward and kissed her rapturously.

"They shall be, aunt!" she cried. "I promise it."



CHAPTER XX.

IN THE GARDEN.


From this hour Patsy devoted herself untiringly to Aunt Jane, and
filled her days with as much sunshine as her merry ways and happy
nature could confer. Yet there was one thing that rendered her uneasy:
the paper that Lawyer Watson had so promptly drawn had never yet been
signed and witnessed. Her aunt had allowed her to read it, saying she
wished the girl to know she had acted in good faith, and Patsy had no
fault at all to find with the document. But Aunt Jane was tired, and
deferred signing it that evening. The next day no witnesses could be
secured, and so another postponement followed, and upon one pretext or
another the matter was put off until Patricia became suspicious.

Noting this, Aunt Jane decided to complete her act of deception.
She signed the will in the girl's presence, with Oscar and Susan to
witness her signature. Lawyer Watson was not present on this occasion,
and as soon as Patsy had left her Miss Merrick tore off the signatures
and burned them, wrote "void" in bold letters across the face of the
paper, and then, it being rendered of no value, she enclosed it in a
large yellow envelope, sealed it, and that evening handed the envelope
to Mr. Watson with the request that it be not opened until after her
death.

Patricia, in her delight, whispered to the lawyer that the paper
was really signed, and he was well pleased and guarded the supposed
treasure carefully. The girl also took occasion to inform both Beth
and Louise that a new will had been made in which they both profited
largely, but she kept the secret of who the real heir was, and both
her cousins grew to believe they would share equally in the entire
property.

So now an air of harmony settled upon Elmhurst, and Uncle John
joined the others in admiration of the girl who had conquered the
stubbornness of her stern old aunt and proved herself so unselfish and
true.

One morning Aunt Jane had Phibbs wheel her into her little garden, as
usual, and busied herself examining the flowers and plants of which
she had always been so fond.

"James has been neglecting his work, lately," she said, sharply, to
her attendant.

"He's very queer, ma'am," replied old Martha, "ever since the young
ladies an' Master John came to Elmhurst. Strangers he never could
abide, as you know, and he runs and hides himself as soon as he sees
any of 'em about."

"Poor James!" said Miss Merrick, recalling her old gardener's
infirmity. "But he must not neglect my flowers in this way, or they
will be ruined."

"He isn't so afraid of Master John," went on Phibbs, reflectively, "as
he is of the young ladies. Sometimes Master John talks to James,
in his quiet way, and I've noticed he listens to him quite
respectively--like he always does to you, Miss Jane."

"Go and find James, and ask him to step here," commanded the mistress,
"and then guard the opening in the hedge, and see that none of my
nieces appear to bother him."

Phibbs obediently started upon her errand, and came upon James in the
tool-house, at the end of the big garden. He was working among his
flower pots and seemed in a quieter mood than usual.

Phibbs delivered her message, and the gardener at once started
to obey. He crossed the garden unobserved and entered the little
enclosure where Miss Jane's chair stood. The invalid was leaning back
on her cushions, but her eyes were wide open and staring.

"I've come, Miss," said James; and then, getting; no reply, he looked
into her face. A gleam of sunlight filtered through the bushes and
fell aslant Jane Merrick's eyes; but not a lash quivered.

James gave a scream that rang through the air and silenced even the
birds. Then, shrieking like the madman he was, he bounded away through
the hedge, sending old Martha whirling into a rose-bush, and fled as
if a thousand fiends were at his heels.

John Merrick and Mr. Watson, who were not far off, aroused by the
bloodcurdling screams, ran toward Aunt Jane's garden, and saw in a
glance what had happened.

"Poor Jane," whispered the brother, bending over to tenderly close the
staring eyes, "her fate has overtaken her unawares."

"Better so," said the lawyer, gently. "She has found Peace at last."

Together they wheeled her back into her chamber, and called the women
to care for their dead mistress.



CHAPTER XXI.

READING THE WILL.


Aunt Jane's funeral was extremely simple and quiet. The woman had
made no friends during her long residence in the neighborhood, having
isolated herself at "the big house" and refused to communicate in any
way with the families living near by. Therefore, although her death
undoubtedly aroused much interest and comment, no one cared to be
present at the obsequies.

So the minister came from Elmwood, and being unable to say much that
was good or bad of "the woman who had departed from this vale of
tears," he confined his remarks to generalities and made them as brief
as possible. Then the body was borne to the little graveyard a mile
away, followed by the state carriage, containing the three nieces
and Kenneth; the drag with Silas Watson and Uncle John, the former
driving; and then came the Elmhurst carryall with the servants. James
did not join these last; nor did he appear at the house after
that dreadful scene in the garden. He had a little room over the
tool-house, which Jane Merrick had had prepared for him years ago, and
here he locked himself in day and night, stealthily emerging but to
secure the food Susan carried and placed before his door.

No one minded James much, for all the inmates of Elhurst were under
severe and exciting strain in the days preceding the funeral.

The girls wept a little, but it was more on account of the solemnity
following the shadow of death than for any great affection they bore
their aunt. Patsy, indeed, tried to deliver a tribute to Aunt Jane's
memory; but it was not an emphatic success.

"I'm sure she had a good heart," said the girl, "and if she had lived
more with her own family and cultivated her friends she would have
been much less hard and selfish. At the last, you know, she was quite
gentle."

"I hadn't noticed it," remarked Beth.

"Oh, I did. And she made a new will, after that awful one she told us
of, and tried to be just and fair to all"

"I'm glad to hear that" said Louise. "Tell us, Patsy, what does the
will say? You must know all about it."

"Mr. Watson is going to read it, after the funeral," replied the girl,
"and then you will know as much about it as I do. I mustn't tell
secrets, my dear."

So Louise and Beth waited in much nervous excitement for the final
realization of their hopes or fears, and during the drive to the
cemetery there was little conversation in the state carriage.
Kenneth's sensitive nature was greatly affected by the death of the
woman who had played so important a part in the brief story of his
life, and the awe it inspired rendered him gloomy and silent. Lawyer
Watson had once warned him that Miss Merrick's death might make him an
outcast, and he felt the insecurity of his present position.

But Patsy, believing he would soon know of his good fortune, watched
him curiously during the ride, and beamed upon him as frequently as
her own low spirits would permit.

"You know, Ken," she reminded him, "that whatever happens we are
always to remain friends."

"Of course," replied the boy, briefly.

The girl had thrown aside her crutches, by this time, and planned to
return to her work immediately after the funeral.

The brief services at the cemetery being concluded, the little
cavalcade returned to Elmhurst, where luncheon was awaiting them.

Then Mr. Watson brought into the drawing room the tin box containing
the important Elmhurst papers in his possession, and having requested
all present to be seated he said:

"In order to clear up the uncertainty that at present exists
concerning Miss Merrick's last will and testament, I will now proceed
to read to you the document, which will afterward be properly probated
according to law."

There was no need to request their attention. An intense stillness
pervaded the room.

The lawyer calmly unlocked the tin box and drew out the sealed yellow
envelope which Miss Merrick had recently given him. Patsy's heart was
beating with eager expectancy. She watched the lawyer break the seal,
draw out the paper and then turn red and angry. He hesitated a moment,
and then thrust the useless document into its enclosure and cast it
aside.

"Is anything wrong?" asked the girl in a low whisper, which was yet
distinctly heard by all.

Mr. Watson seemed amazed. Jane Merrick's deceitful trickery,
discovered so soon after her death, was almost horrible for him to
contemplate. He had borne much from this erratic woman, but had never
believed her capable of such an act.

So he said, in irritable tones:

"Miss Merrick gave me this document a few days ago, leading me to
believe it was her last will. I had prepared it under her instruction
and understood that it was properly signed. But she has herself torn
off and destroyed the signature and marked the paper 'void,' so that
the will previously made is the only one that is valid."

"What do you mean?" cried Patsy, in amazement. "Isn't Kenneth to
inherit Elmhurst, after all?"

"Me! Me inherit?" exclaimed the boy.

"That is what she promised me," declared Patsy, while tears of
indignation stood in her eyes, "I saw her sign it, myself, and if she
has fooled me and destroyed the signature she's nothing but an old
fraud--and I'm glad she's dead!"

With this she threw herself, sobbing, upon a sofa, and Louise and
Beth, shocked to learn that after all their cousin had conspired
against them, forebore any attempt to comfort her.

But Uncle John, fully as indignant as Patricia, came to her side and
laid a hand tenderly on the girl's head.

"Never mind, little one." he said. "Jane was always cruel and
treacherous by nature, and we might have expected she'd deceive her
friends even in death. But you did the best you could, Patsy, dear,
and it can't be helped now."

Meantime the lawyer had been fumbling in the box, and now drew out the
genuine will.

"Give me your attention, please," said he.

Patsy sat up and glared at him.

"I won't take a cent of it!" she exclaimed.

"Be silent!" demanded the lawyer, sternly. "You have all, I believe,
been told by Miss Merrick of the terms of this will, which is properly
signed and attested. But it is my duty to read it again, from
beginning to end, and I will do so."

Uncle John smiled when his bequest was mentioned, and Beth frowned.
Louise, however, showed no sign of disappointment. There had been a
miserable scramble for this inheritance, she reflected, and she was
glad the struggle was over. The five thousand dollars would come in
handy, after all, and it was that much more than she had expected to
have before she received Aunt Jane's invitation. Perhaps she and her
mother would use part of it for a European trip, if their future plans
seemed to warrant it.

"As far as I am concerned," said Patsy, defiantly, "you may as well
tear up this will, too. I won't have that shameful old woman's money."

"That is a matter the law does not allow you to decide," returned the
lawyer, calmly. "You will note the fact that I am the sole executor of
the estate, and must care for it in your interests until you are of
age. Then it will he turned over to you to do as you please with."

"Can I give it away, if I want to?"

"Certainly. It is now yours without recourse, and although you cannot
dispose of it until you are of legal age, there will be nothing then
to prevent your transfering it to whomsoever you please. I called
Miss Merrick's attention to this fact when you refused to accept the
legacy."

"What did she say?"

"That you would be more wise then, and would probably decide to keep
it."

Patsy turned impulsively to the boy.

"Kenneth," she said, "I faithfully promise, in the presence of these
witnesses, to give you Elmhurst and all Aunt Jane's money as soon as I
am of age."

"Good for you, Patsy," said Uncle John.

The boy seemed bewildered.

"I don't want the money--really I don't!" he protested. "The five
thousand she left me will be enough. But I'd like to live here at
Elmhurst for a time, until it's sold or some one else comes to live in
the house!"

"It's yours," said Patsy, with a grand air. "You can live here
forever."

Mr. Watson seemed puzzled.

"If that is your wish, Miss Patricia," bowing gravely in her
direction, "I will see that it is carried out. Although I am, in
this matter, your executor, I shall defer to your wishes as much as
possible."

"Thank you," she said and then, after a moment's reflection, she
added: "Can't you give to Louise and Beth the ten thousand dollars
they were to have under the other will, instead of the five thousand
each that this one gives them?"

"I will consider that matter," he replied; "perhaps it can be
arranged."

Patsy's cousins opened their eyes at this, and began to regard her
with more friendly glances. To have ten thousand each instead of
five would be a very nice thing, indeed, and Miss Patricia Doyle
had evidently become a young lady whose friendship it would pay to
cultivate. If she intended to throw away the inheritance, a portion of
it might fall to their share.

They were expressing to Patsy their gratitude when old Donald suddenly
appeared in the doorway and beckoned to Uncle John.

"Will you please come to see James, sir?" he asked. "The poor fellow's
dying."



CHAPTER XXII.

JAMES TELLS A STRANGE STORY.


Uncle John followed the coachman up the stairs to the little room
above the tool-house, where the old man had managed to crawl after old
Sam had given him a vicious kick in the chest.

"Is he dead?" he asked.

"No, sir; but mortally hurt, I'm thinkin'. It must have happened while
we were at the funeral."

He opened the door, outside which Susan and Oscar watched with
frightened faces, and led John Merrick into the room.

James lay upon his bed with closed eyes. His shirt, above the breast,
was reeking with blood.

"The doctor should be sent for," said Uncle John.

"He'll be here soon, for one of the stable boys rode to fetch him. But
I thought you ought to know at once, sir."

"Quite right, Donald."

As they stood there the wounded man moved and opened his eyes, looking
from one to the other of them wonderingly. Finally he smiled.

"Ah, it's Donald," he said.

"Yes, old friend," answered the coachman. "And this is Mr. John."

"Mr. John? Mr. John? I don't quite remember you, sir," with a slight
shake of the gray head. "And Donald, lad, you've grown wonderful old,
somehow."

"It's the years, Jeemes," was the reply. "The years make us all old,
sooner or later."

The gardener seemed puzzled, and examined his companions more
carefully. He did not seem to be suffering any pain. Finally he
sighed.

"The dreams confuse me," he said, as if to explain something. "I can't
always separate them, the dreams from the real. Have I been sick,
Donald?"

"Yes, lad. You're sick now."

The gardener closed his eyes, and lay silent.

"Do you think he's sane?" whispered Uncle John.

"I do, sir. He's sane for the first time in years."

James looked at them again, and slowly raised his hand to wipe the
damp from his forehead.

"About Master Tom," he said, falteringly. "Master Tom's dead, ain't
he?"

"Yes, Jeemes."

"That was real, then, an' no dream. I mind it all, now--the shriek of
the whistle, the crash, and the screams of the dying. Have I told you
about it, Donald?"

"No, lad."

"It all happened before we knew it. I was on one side the car and
Master Tom on the other. My side was on top, when I came to myself,
and Master Tom was buried in the rubbish. God knows how I got him out,
but I did. Donald, the poor master's side was crushed in, and both
legs splintered. I knew at once he was dying, when I carried him to
the grass and laid him down; and he knew it, too. Yes, the master knew
he was done; and him so young and happy, and just about to be married
to--to--the name escapes me, lad!"

His voice sank to a low mumble, and he closed his eyes wearily.

The watchers at his side stood still and waited. It might be that
death had overtaken the poor fellow. But no; he moved again, and
opened his eyes, continuing his speech in a stronger tone.

"It was hard work to get the paper for Master Tom," he said; "but he
swore he must have it before he died. I ran all the way to the station
house and back--a mile or more--and brought the paper and a pen and
ink, besides. It was but a telegraph blank--all I could find. Naught
but a telegraph blank, lad."

Again his voice trailed away into a mumbling whisper, but now Uncle
John and Donald looked into one another's eyes with sudden interest.

"He mustn't die yet!" said the little man; and the coachman leaned
over the wounded form and said, distinctly:

"Yes, lad; I'm listening."

"To be sure," said James, brightening a bit. "So I held the paper for
him, and the brakeman supported Master Tom's poor body, and he wrote
out the will as clear as may be."

"The will!"

"Sure enough; Master Tom's last will. Isn't my name on it, too, where
I signed it? And the conductor's beside it, for the poor brakeman
didn't dare let him go? Of course. Who should sign the will with
Master Tom but me--his old servant and friend? Am I right, Donald?"

"Yes, lad."

"'Now,' says Master Tom, 'take it to Lawyer Watson, James, and bid him
care for it. And give my love to Jane--that's the name, Donald; the
one I thought I'd forgot--'and now lay me back and let me die.' His
very words, Donald. And we laid him back and he died. And he died.
Poor Master Tom. Poor, poor young Master. And him to--be married--in
a--"

"The paper, James!" cried Uncle John, recalling the dying man to the
present. "What became of it?"

"Sir, I do not know you," answered James, suspiciously. "The paper's
for Lawyer Watson. It's he alone shall have it."

"Here I am, James," cried the lawyer, thrusting the others aside and
advancing to the bed. "Give me the paper. Where is it? I am Lawyer
Watson!"

The gardener laughed--a horrible, croaking laugh that ended with a
gasp of pain.

"_You_ Lawyer Watson?" he cried, a moment later, in taunting tones.
"Why, you old fool, Si Watson's as young as Master Tom--as young as I
am! You--_you_ Lawyer Watson! Ha, ha, ha!"

"Where is the paper?" demanded the lawyer fiercely.

James stared at him an instant, and then suddenly collapsed and fell
back inert upon the bed.

"Have you heard all?" asked John Merrick, laying his hand on the
lawyer's shoulder.

"Yes; I followed you here as soon as I could. Tom Bradley made another
will, as he lay dying. I must have it, Mr. Merrick."

"Then you must find it yourself," said Donald gravely, "for James is
dead."

The doctor, arriving a few minutes later, verified the statement.
It was evident that the old gardener, for years insane, had been so
influenced by Miss Merrick's death that he had wandered into
the stables where he received his death blow. When he regained
consciousness the mania had vanished, and in a shadowy way he could
remember and repeat that last scene of the tragedy that had deprived
him of his reason. The story was logical enough, and both Mr. Watson
and John Merrick believed it.

"Tom Bradley was a level-headed fellow until he fell in love with your
sister," said the lawyer to his companion. "But after that he would
not listen to reason, and perhaps he had a premonition of his own
sudden death, for he made a will bequeathing all he possessed to his
sweetheart. I drew up the will myself, and argued against the folly of
it; but he had his own way. Afterward, in the face of death, I believe
he became more sensible, and altered his will."

"Yet James' story may all be the effect of a disordered mind," said
Uncle John.

"I do not think, so; but unless he has destroyed the paper in his
madness, we shall he able to find it among his possessions."

With this idea in mind, Mr. Watson ordered the servants to remove the
gardener's body to a room in the carriage-house, and as soon as this
was done he set to work to search for the paper, assisted by John
Merrick.

"It was a telegraph blank, he said."

"Yes."

"Then we cannot mistake it, if we find any papers at all," declared
the lawyer.

The most likely places in James' room for anything to be hidden were a
small closet, in which were shelves loaded with odds and ends, and an
old clothes-chest that was concealed underneath the bed.

This last was first examined, but found to contain merely an
assortment of old clothing. Having tossed these in a heap upon the
floor the lawyer begun an examination of the closet, the shelves
promising well because of several bundles of papers they contained.

While busy over these, he heard Uncle John say, quietly:

"I've got it."

The lawyer bounded from the closet. The little man had been searching
the pockets of the clothing taken from the chest, and from a faded
velvet coat he drew out the telegraph blank.

"Is it the will?" asked the lawyer, eagerly.

"Read it yourself," said Uncle John.

Mr. Watson put on his glasses.

"Yes; this is Tom Bradley's handwriting, sure enough. The will is
brief, but it will hold good in law. Listen: I bequeath to Jane
Merrick, my affianced bride, the possession and use of my estate
during the term of her life. On her death all such possessions, with
their accrument, shall be transferred to my sister, Katherine Bradley,
if she then survives, to have and to hold by her heirs and assignees
forever. But should she die without issue previous to the death of
Jane Merrick, I then appoint my friend and attorney, Silas Watson, to
distribute the property among such organized and worthy charities as
he may select.' That is all."

"Quite enough," said Uncle John, nodding approval.

"And it is properly signed and witnessed. The estate is Kenneth's,
sir, after all, for he is the sole heir of his mother. Katherine
Bradley Forbes. Hurrah!" ended the lawyer, waving the yellow paper
above his head.

"Hurrah!" echoed Uncle John, gleefully; and the two men shook hands.



CHAPTER XXIII.

PATSY ADOPTS AN UNCLE.


Uncle John and Mr. Watson did not appear at dinner, being closeted in
the former's room. This meal, however, was no longer a state function,
being served by the old servants as a mere matter of routine. Indeed,
the arrangements of the household had been considerably changed by the
death of its mistress, and without any real head to direct them
the servants were patiently awaiting the advent of a new master or
mistress. It did not seem clear to them yet whether Miss Patricia or
Lawyer Watson was to take charge of Elmhurst: but there were few tears
shed for Jane Merrick, and the new regime could not fail to be an
improvement over the last.

At dinner the young folks chatted together in a friendly and eager
manner concerning the events of the day. They knew of old James'
unfortunate end, but being unaware of its import gave it but passing
attention. The main subject of conversation was Aunt Jane's surprising
act in annulling her last will and forcing Patricia to accept the
inheritance when she did not want it. Kenneth, being at his ease when
alone with the three cousins, protested that it would not be right
for Patsy to give him all the estate. But, as she was so generous,
he would accept enough of his Uncle Tom's money to educate him as an
artist and provide for himself an humble home. Louise and Beth, having
at last full knowledge of their cousin's desire to increase their
bequests, were openly very grateful for her good will; although
secretly they could not fail to resent Patsy's choice of the boy as
the proper heir of his uncle's fortune. The balance of power seemed to
be in Patricia's hands, however; so it would be folly at this juncture
to offend her.

Altogether, they were all better provided for than they had feared
would be the case; so the little party spent a pleasant evening and
separated early, Beth and Louise to go to their rooms and canvass
quietly the events of the day, and the boy to take a long stroll
through the country lanes to cool his bewildered brain. Patsy wrote a
long letter to the major, telling him she would be home in three days,
and then she went to bed and slept peacefully.

After breakfast they were all again summoned to the drawing-room, to
their great surprise. Lawyer Watson and Uncle John were there, looking
as grave as the important occasion demanded, and the former at once
proceeded to relate the scene in James' room, his story of the death
of Thomas Bradley, and the subsequent finding of the will.

"This will, which has just been recovered," continued the lawyer,
impressively, "was made subsequent to the one under which Jane
Merrick inherited, and therefore supercedes it. Miss Jane had, as
you perceive, a perfect right to the use of the estate during her
lifetime, but no right whatever to will a penny of it to anyone. Mr.
Bradley having provided for that most fully. For this reason the will
I read to you yesterday is of no effect, and Kenneth Forbes inherits
from his uncle, through his mother, all of the estate."

Blank looks followed Mr. Watson's statement.

"Good-by to my five thousand," said Uncle John, with his chuckling
laugh. "But I'm much obliged to Jane, nevertheless."

"Don't we get anything at all?" asked Beth, with quivering lip.

"No, my dear," answered the lawyer, gently. "Your aunt owned nothing
to give you."

Patsy laughed. She felt wonderfully relieved.

"Wasn't I the grand lady, though, with all the fortune I never had?"
she cried merrily. "But 'twas really fine to be rich for a day, and
toss the money around as if I didn't have to dress ten heads of hair
in ten hours to earn my bread and butter."

Louise smiled.

"It was all a great farce," she said. "I shall take the afternoon
train to the city. What an old fraud our dear Aunt Jane was! And how
foolish of me to return her hundred dollar check."

"I used mine," said Beth, bitterly. "It's all I'll ever get, it
seems." And then the thought of the Professor and his debts overcame
her and she burst, into tears.

The boy sat doubled within his chair, so overcome by the extraordinary
fortune that had overtaken him that he could not speak, nor think even
clearly as yet.

Patsy tried to comfort Beth.

"Never mind, dear," said she. "We're no worse off than before we
came, are we? And we've had a nice vacation. Let's forget all
disappointments and be grateful to Aunt Jane's memory. As far as she
knew, she tried to be good to us."

"I'm going home today," said Beth, angrily drying her eyes.

"We'll all go home," said Patsy, cheerfully.

"For my part," remarked Uncle John, in a grave voice, "I have no
home."

Patsy ran up and put her arm around his neck.

"Poor Uncle John!" she cried. "Why, you're worse off than any of us.
What's going to become of you, I wonder?"

"I'm wondering that myself," said the little man, meekly.

"Ah! You can stay here," said the boy, suddenly arousing from his
apathy.

"No," replied Uncle John, "the Merricks are out of Elmhurst now, and
it returns to its rightful owners. You owe me nothing, my lad."

"But I like you," said Kenneth, "and you're old and homeless. Stay at
Elmhurst, and you shall always be welcome."

Uncle John seemed greatly affected, and wrung the boy's hand
earnestly. But he shook his head.

"I've wandered all my life," he said. "I can wander yet."

"See here," exclaimed Patsy. "We're all three your nieces, and we'll
take care of you between us. Won't we, girls?"

Louise smiled rather scornfully, and Beth scowled.

"My mother and I live so simply in our little flat," said one, "that
we really haven't extra room to keep a cat. But we shall be glad to
assist Uncle John as far as we are able."

"Father can hardly support his own family," said the other; "but I
will talk to my mother about Uncle John when I get home, and see what
she says."

"Oh, you don't need to, indeed!" cried Patsy, in great indignation.
"Uncle John is my dear mother's brother, and he's to come and live
with the Major and me, as long as he cares to. There's room and to
spare, Uncle," turning to him and clasping his hand, "and a joyful
welcome into the bargain. No, no! say nothing at all, sir! Come you
shall, if I have to drag you; and if you act naughty I'll send for the
Major to punish you!"

Uncle John's eyes were moist. He looked on Patsy most affectionately
and cast a wink at Lawyer Watson, who stood silently by.

"Thank you, my dear," said he; "but where's the money to come from?"

"Money? Bah!" she said. "Doesn't the Major earn a heap with his
bookkeeping, and haven't I had a raise lately? Why, we'll be as snug
and contented as pigs in clover. Can you get ready to come with me
today, Uncle John?"

"Yes," he said slowly. "I'll be ready, Patsy."

So the exodus from Elmhurst took place that very day, and Beth
travelled in one direction, while Louise, Patsy and Uncle John took
the train for New York. Louise had a seat in the parlor car, but Patsy
laughed at such extravagance.

"It's so much easier than walking," she said to Uncle John, "that the
common car is good enough," and the old man readily agreed with her.

Kenneth and Mr. Watson came to the station to see them off, and they
parted with many mutual expressions of friendship and good will.
Louise, especially, pressed an urgent invitation upon the new master
of Elmhurst to visit her mother in New York, and he said he hoped to
see all the girls again. They were really like cousins to him, by this
time. And after they were all gone he rode home on Nora's back quite
disconsolate, in spite of his wonderful fortune.

The lawyer, who had consented to stay at the mansion for a time, that
the boy might not be lonely, had already mapped put a plan for the
young heir's advancement. As he rode beside Kenneth he said:

"You ought to travel, and visit the art centers of Europe, and I shall
try to find a competent tutor to go with you."

"Can't you go yourself?" asked the boy.

The lawyer hesitated.

"I'm getting old, and my clients are few and unimportant, aside from
the Elmhurst interests," he said. "Perhaps I can manage to go abroad
with you."

"I'd like that," declared the boy. "And we'd stop in New York,
wouldn't we, for a time?"

"Of course. Do you want to visit New York especially?"

"Yes."

"It's rather a stupid city," said the lawyer, doubtfully.

"That may be," answered the boy. "But Patsy will be there, you know."



CHAPTER XXIV.

HOME AGAIN.


The Major was at the station to meet them. Uncle John had shyly
suggested a telegram, and Patsy had decided they could stand the
expense for the pleasure of seeing the old Dad an hour sooner.

The girl caught sight of him outside the gates, his face red and
beaming as a poppy in bloom and his snowy moustache bristling with
eagerness. At once she dropped her bundles and flew to the Major's
arms, leaving the little man in her wake to rescue her belongings and
follow after.

He could hardly see Patsy at all, the Major wrapped her in such an
ample embrace; but bye and bye she escaped to get her breath, and then
her eyes fell upon the meek form holding her bundles.

"Oh, Dad," she cried, "here's Uncle John, who has come to live with
us; and if you don't love him as much as I do I'll make your life
miserable!"

"On which account," said the Major, grasping the little man's hand
most cordially, "I'll love Uncle John like my own brother. And
surely," he added, his voice falling tenderly, "my dear Violet's
brother must be my own. Welcome, sir, now and always, to our little
home. It's modest, sir; but wherever Patsy is the sun is sure to
shine."

"I can believe that," said Uncle John, with a nod and smile.

They boarded a car for the long ride up town, and as soon as they were
seated Patsy demanded the story of the Major's adventures with his
colonel, and the old fellow rattled away with the eagerness of a
boy, telling every detail in the most whimsical manner, and finding
something humorous in every incident.

"Oh, but it was grand, Patsy!" he exclaimed, "and the Colonel wept on
my neck when we parted and stained the collar of me best coat, and he
give me a bottle of whiskey that would make a teetotaler roll his eyes
in ecstacy. 'Twas the time of my life."

"And you're a dozen years younger, Major!" she cried, laughing, "and
fit to dig into work like a pig in clover."

His face grew grave.

"But how about the money, Patsy dear?" he asked. "Did you get nothing
out of Jane Merrick's estate?"

"Not a nickle, Dad. 'Twas the best joke you ever knew. I fought with
Aunt Jane like a pirate and it quite won her heart. When she died she
left me all she had in the world."

"Look at that, now!" said the Major, wonderingly.

"Which turned out to be nothing at all," continued Patsy. "For another
will was found, made by Mr. Thomas Bradley, which gave the money to
his own nephew after Aunt Jane died. Did you ever?"

"Wonderful!" said the Major, with a sigh.

"So I was rich for half a day, and then poor as ever."

"It didn't hurt you, did it?" asked the Major. "You weren't vexed with
disappointment, were you, Patsy?"

"Not at all, Daddy."

"Then don't mind it, child. Like as not the money would be the
ruination of us all. Eh, sir?" appealing to Uncle John.

"To be sure," said the little man. "Jane left five thousand to me,
also, which I didn't get. But I'm not sorry at all."

"Quite right, sir," approved the Major, sympathetically, "although
it's easier not to expect anything at all, than to set your heart on a
thing and then not get it. In your case, it won't matter. Our house is
yours, and there's plenty and to spare."

"Thank you," said Uncle John, his face grave but his eyes merry.

"Oh, Major!" cried Patsy, suddenly. "There's Danny Reeves's
restaurant. Let's get off and have our dinner now; I'm as hungry as a
bear."

So they stopped the car and descended, lugging all the parcels into
the little restaurant, where they were piled into a chair while the
proprietor and the waiters all gathered around Patsy to welcome her
home.

My, how her eyes sparkled! She fairly danced for joy, and ordered the
dinner with reckless disregard of the bill.

"Ah, but it's good to be back," said the little Bohemian, gleefully.
"The big house at Elmhurst was grand and stately, Major, but there
wasn't an ounce of love in the cupboard."

"Wasn't I there. Patsy?" asked Uncle John, reproachfully.

"True, but now you're here; and our love, Uncle, has nothing to do
with Elmhurst. I'll bet a penny you liked it as little as I did."

"You'd win," admitted the little man.

"And now," said the girl to the smiling waiter, "a bottle of red
California wine for Uncle John and the Major, and two real cigars.
We'll be merry tonight if it bankrupts the Doyle family entirely."

But, after a merry meal and a good one, there was no bill at all when
it was called for.

Danny Reeves himself came instead, and made a nice little speech,
saying that Patsy had always brought good luck to the place, and this
dinner was his treat to welcome her home.

So the Major thanked him with gracious dignity and Patsy kissed Danny
on his right cheek, and then they went away happy and content to find
the little rooms up the second flight of the old tenement.

"It's no palace," said Patsy, entering to throw down the bundles as
soon as the Major unlocked the door, "but there's a cricket in the
hearth, and it's your home, Uncle John, as well as ours."

Uncle John looked around curiously. The place was so plain after the
comparative luxury of Elmhurst, and especially of the rose chamber
Patsy had occupied, that the old man could not fail to marvel at the
girl's ecstatic joy to find herself in the old tenement again. There
was one good sized living-room, with an ancient rag-carpet partially
covering the floor, a sheet-iron stove, a sofa, a table and three or
four old-fashioned chairs that had probably come from a second-hand
dealer.

Opening from this were two closet-like rooms containing each a bed and
a chair, with a wash-basin on a bracket shelf. On the wails were a
few colored prints from the Sunday newspapers and one large and fine
photograph of a grizzled old soldier that Uncle John at once decided
must represent "the Colonel."

Having noted these details, Patsy's uncle smoothed back his stubby
gray hair with a reflective and half puzzled gesture.

"It's cozy enough, my child; and I thank you for my welcome," said he.
"But may I enquire where on earth you expect to stow me in this rather
limited establishment?"

"Where? Have you no eyes, then?" she asked, in astonishment. "It's the
finest sofa in the world, Uncle John, and you'll sleep there like a
top, with the dear Colonel's own picture looking down at you to keep
you safe and give you happy dreams. Where, indeed!"

"Ah; I see," said Uncle John.

"And you can wash in my chamber," added the Major, with a grand air,
"and hang your clothes on the spare hooks behind my door."

"I haven't many," said Uncle John, looking thoughtfully at his red
bundle.

The Major coughed and turned the lamp a little higher.

"You'll find the air fine, and the neighborhood respectable," he said,
to turn the subject. "Our modest apartments are cool in summer and
warm in winter, and remarkably reasonable in price. Patsy gets our
breakfast on the stove yonder, and we buy our lunches down town, where
we work, and then dine at Danny Reeves's place. A model home, sir, and
a happy one, as I hope you'll find it."

"I'm sure to be happy here," said Uncle John, taking out his pipe.
"May I smoke?"

"Of course; but don't spoil the lace curtains, dear," answered Patsy,
mischievously. And then, turning to her father, she exclaimed: "Oh,
daddy! What will the Uncle do all the day while we're at work?"

"That's as he may choose," said the Major, courteously.

"Couldn't we get him a job?" asked Patsy, wistfully. "Not where
there'll be much work, you know, for the Uncle is old. But just to
keep him out of mischief, and busy. He can't hang around all day and
be happy, I suppose."

"I'll look around," answered the Major, briskly, as if such a "job"
was the easiest thing in the world to procure. "And meantime--"

"Meantime," said Uncle John, smiling at them, "I'll look around
myself."

"To be sure," agreed the Major. "Between the two of us and Patsy, we
ought to have no trouble at all."

There was a moment of thoughtful silence after this, and then Patsy
said:

"You know it won't matter, Uncle John, if you don't work. There'll
easy be enough for all, with the Major's wages and my own."

"By the bye," added the Major, "if you have any money about you, which
is just possible, sir, of course, you'd better turn it over to Patsy
to keep, and let her make you an allowance. That's the way I do--it's
very satisfactory."

"The Major's extravagant," exclaimed Patsy; "and if he has money he
wants to treat every man he meets."

Uncle John shook his head, reproachfully, at the Major.

"A very bad habit, sir," he said.

"I acknowledge it, Mr. Merrick," responded the Major. "But Patsy is
fast curing me. And, after all, it's a wicked city to be carrying a
fat pocketbook around in, as I've often observed."

"My pocketbook is not exactly fat," remarked Uncle John.

"But you've money, sir, for I marked you squandering it on the train,"
said Patsy, severely. "So out with it, and we'll count up, and see how
much of an allowance I can make you 'till you get the job."

Uncle John laughed and drew his chair up to the table. Then he emptied
his trousers' pockets upon the cloth, and Patsy gravely separated the
keys and jackknife from the coins and proceeded to count the money.

"Seven dollars and forty-two cents," she announced. "Any more?"

Uncle John hesitated a moment, and then drew from an inner pocket of
his coat a thin wallet. From this, when she had received it from his
hand, the girl abstracted two ten and one five dollar bills, all crisp
and new.

"Good gracious!" she cried, delightedly. "All this wealth, and you
pleading poverty?"

"I never said I was a pauper," returned Uncle John, complacently.

"You couldn't, and be truthful, sir," declared the girl. "Why, this
will last for ages, and I'll put it away safe and be liberal with
your allowance. Let me see," pushing the coins about with her slender
fingers, "you just keep the forty-two cents, Uncle John. It'll do for
car-fare and a bit of lunch now and then, and when you get broke you
can come to me."

"He smokes," observed the Major, significantly.

"Bah! a pipe," said Patsy. "And Bull Durham is only five cents a bag,
and a bag ought to last a week. And every Saturday night, sir, you
shall have a cigar after dinner, with the Major. It's it our regular
practice."

"Thank you, Patsy," said Uncle John, meekly, and gathered up his
forty-two cents.

"You've now a home, and a manager, sir, with money in the bank of
Patsy & Company, Limited," announced the Major. "You ought to be very
contented, sir."

"I am," replied Uncle John.



CHAPTER XXV

UNCLE JOHN ACTS QUEERLY.


When Patsy and the Major had both departed for work on Monday morning
Uncle John boarded a car and rode downtown also. He might have
accompanied them part of the way, but feared Patsey might think him
extravagant if she found him so soon breaking into the working fund of
forty-two cents, which she charged him to be careful of.

He seemed to be in no hurry, for it was early yet, and few of the
lower Broadway establishments were open. To pass the time he turned
into a small restaurant and had coffee and a plate of cakes, in spite
of the fact that Patsy had so recently prepared coffee over the
sheet-iron stove and brought some hot buns from a near-by bakery. He
was not especially hungry; but in sipping the coffee and nibbling the
cakes he passed the best part of an hour.

He smiled when he paid out twenty-five cents of his slender store for
the refreshment. With five cents for car-fare he had now but twelve
cents left of the forty-two Patsy had given him! Talk about the
Major's extravagance: it could not be compared to Uncle John's.

Another hour was spent in looking in at the shop windows. Then,
suddenly noting the time. Uncle John started down the street at a
swinging pace, and presently paused before a building upon which was
a sign, reading: "Isham, Marvin & Co., Bankers and Brokers." A
prosperous looking place, it seemed, with a host of clerks busily
working in the various departments. Uncle John walked in, although the
uniformed official at the door eyed him suspiciously.

"Mr. Marvin in?" he inquired, pleasantly.

"Not arrived yet," said the official, who wore a big star upon his
breast.

"I'll wait," announced Uncle John, and sat down upon a leather-covered
bench.

The official strutted up and down, watching the customers who entered
the bank or departed, and keeping a sharp watch on the little man upon
the bench.

Another hour passed.

Presently Uncle John jumped up and approached the official.

"Hasn't Mr. Marvin arrived yet?" he enquired, sharply.

"An hour ago," was the reply.

"Then why didn't you let me know? I want to see him."

"He's busy mornings. Has to look over the mail. He can't see you yet."

"Well, he will see me, and right away. Tell him John Merrick is here."

"Your card, sir."

"I haven't any. My name will do."

The official hesitated, and glanced at the little man's seedy garb and
countryfied air. But something in the angry glance of the shrewd
eye made him fear he had made a mistake. He opened a small door and
disappeared.

In a moment the door burst open to allow egress to a big, red-bearded
man in his shirtsleeves, who glanced around briefly and then rushed at
Uncle John and shook both his hands cordially.

"My dear Mr. Merrick!" he exclaimed, "I'm delighted and honored to see
you here. Come to my room at once. A great surprise and pleasure, sir!
Thomas, I'm engaged!"

This last was directed at the head of the amazed porter, who, as the
door slammed in his face, nodded solemnly and remarked:

"Fooled ag'in, and I might 'a' known it. Drat these 'ere billionaires!
Why don't they dress like decent people?"

Uncle John had been advised by Patsy where to go for a good cheap
luncheon; but he did not heed her admonition. Instead, he rode in a
carriage beside the banker to a splendid club, where he was served
with the finest dishes the chef could provide on short notice.
Moreover, Mr. Marvin introduced him to several substantial gentlemen
as "Mr. John Merrick, of Portland"; and each one bowed profoundly and
declared he was "highly honored."

Yet Uncle John seemed in no way elated by this reception. He retained
his simple manner, although his face was more grave than Patsy had
often seen it; and he talked with easy familiarity of preferred stocks
and amalgamated interests and invested, securities and many other
queer things that the banker seemed to understand fully and to listen
to with respectful deference.

Then they returned to the bank for another long session together, and
there was quite an eager bustle among the clerks as they stretched
their necks to get a glimpse of Mr. Marvin's companion.

"It's John Merrick" passed from mouth to mouth, and the uniformed
official strutted from one window to another, saying:

"I showed him in myself. And he came into the bank as quiet like as
anyone else would."

But he didn't go away quietly, you may be sure. Mr. Marvin and Mr.
Isham both escorted their famous client to the door, where the Marvin
carriage had been ordered to be in readiness for Mr. Merrick's
service.

But Uncle John waived it aside disdainfully.

"I'll walk," he said. "There are some other errands to attend to."

So they shook his hand and reminded him of a future appointment and
let him go his way. In a moment the great Broadway crowd had swallowed
up John Merrick, and five minutes later he was thoughtfully gazing
into a shop window again.

By and bye he bethought himself of the time, and took a cab uptown. He
had more than the twelve cents in his pocket, now, besides the check
book which was carefully hidden away in an inside pocket; so the cost
of the cab did not worry him. He dismissed the vehicle near an uptown
corner and started to walk hastily toward Danny Reeves's restaurant, a
block away, Patsy was standing in the doorway, anxiously watching for
him.

"Oh, Uncle John," she cried, as he strolled "I've been really worried
about you; it's such a big city, and you a stranger. Do you know
you're ten minutes late?"

"I'm sorry," he said, humbly; "but it's a long way here from
downtown."

"Didn't you take a car?"

"No, my dear."

"Why, you foolish old Uncle! Come in at once. The Major has been
terribly excited over you, and swore you should not be allowed to
wander through the streets without someone to look after you. But what
could we do?"

"I'm all right," declared Uncle John, cordially shaking hands with
Patsy's father. "Have you had a good day?"

"Fine," said the Major. "They'd missed me at the office, and were glad
to have me back. And what do you think? I've got a raise."

"Really?" said Uncle John, seeing it was expected of him.

"For a fact. It's Patsy's doing, I've no doubt. She wheedled the firm
into giving me a vacation, and now they're to pay me twelve a week
instead of ten."

"Is that enough?" asked Uncle John, doubtfully.

"More than enough, sir. I'm getting old, and can't earn as much as a
younger man. But I'm pretty tough, and mean to hold onto that twelve a
week as long as possible."

"What pay do you get, Patsy?" asked Uncle John.

"Almost as much as Daddy. We're dreadfully rich, Uncle John; so you
needn't worry if you don't strike a job yourself all at once."

"Any luck today, sir," asked the Major, tucking a napkin under his
chin and beginning on the soup.

Uncle John shook his head.

"Of course not," said Patsy, quickly. "It's too early, as yet. Don't
hurry, Uncle John. Except that it'll keep you busy, there's no need
for you to work at all."

"You're older than I am," suggested the Major, "and that makes it
harder to break in. But there's no hurry, as Patsy says."

Uncle John did not seem to be worrying over his idleness. He kept on
questioning his brother-in-law and his niece about their labors, and
afterward related to them the sights he had seen in the shop windows.
Of course he could not eat much after the feast he had had at
luncheon, and this disturbed Patsy a little. She insisted he was
tired, and carried her men away to the tenement rooms as soon as
possible, where she installed them at the table to play cribbage until
bed-time.

The next day Uncle John seemed to be busy enough, although of course
Patsy could not know what he was doing. He visited a real-estate
office, for one thing, and then telephoned Isham, Marvin & Co. and
issued a string of orders in a voice not nearly so meek and mild as
it was when he was in Patsy's presence. Whatever he had undertaken
required time, for all during the week he left the tenement directly
the Major and his daughter had gone to the city, and bustled about
until it was time to meet them for dinner at the restaurant. But he
was happy and in good spirits and enjoyed his evening game of cribbage
with the Major exceedingly.

"You must be nearly bankrupt, by this time," said Patsy on Tuesday
evening.

"It's an expensive city to live in," sighed Uncle John.

She gave him fifty cents of his money, then, and on Friday fifty cents
more.

"After a time," she said, "you'll manage to get along with less. It's
always harder to economize at first."

"How about the bills?" he inquired. "Don't I pay my share of them?"

"Your expenses are nothing at all," declared the Major, with a wave of
his hand.

"But my dinners at Danny Reeves' place must cost a lot," protested
Uncle John.

"Surely not; Patsy has managed all that for a trifle, and the pleasure
of your company more than repays us for the bit of expense."

On Saturday night there was a pint of red wine for the two men, and
then the weekly cigars were brought--very inexpensive ones, to be
sure. The first whiff he took made Uncle John cough; but the Major
smoked so gracefully and with such evident pleasure that his
brother-in-law clung manfully to the cigar, and succeeded in consuming
it to the end.

"Tomorrow is the day of rest," announced Patsy, "so we'll all go for a
nice walk in the parks after breakfast."

"And we sleep 'till eight o'clock, don't we, Patsy?" asked the Major.

"Of course."

"And the eggs for breakfast?"

"I've bought them already, three for a nickle. You don't care for more
than one, do you, Uncle John?"

"No, my dear."

"It's our Sunday morning extra--an egg apiece. The Major is so fond of
them."

"And so am I, Patsy."

"And now we'll have our cribbage and get to bed early. Heigho! but
Sunday's a great day for folks that work."



CHAPTER XXVI.

A BUNCH OF KEYS.


Uncle John did not sleep well. Perhaps he had a guilty conscience.
Anyway, he tossed about a good deal on the sofa-bed in the
living-room, and wore himself out to such an extent that when Patsy
got up at eight o'clock her uncle had fallen into his first sound
sleep.

She never disturbed him until she had made the fire and cooked the
coffee and boiled the three white eggs. By this time the Major was
dressed and shaved, and he aroused Uncle John and bade him hurry into
the closet and make his toilet, "so that Patsy could put the house to
rights."

Uncle John obeyed eagerly, and was ready as soon as the Major had
brought the smoking rolls from the bakery. Ah, but it was a merry
breakfast; and a delicious one into the bargain. Uncle John seemed
hungry, and looked at the empty egg-shells regretfully.

"Next time, Patsy," he said, "you must buy six eggs."

"Look at his recklessness!" cried Patsy, laughing. "You're just as bad
as the Major, every bit. If you men hadn't me for a guardian you'd be
in the poorhouse in a month."

"But we have you, my dear," said Uncle John, smiling into her dancing
eyes; "so we won't complain at one egg instead of two."

Just then someone pounded on the door, and the girl ran to open it.
There was a messenger boy outside, looking smart and neat in his
blue-and-gold uniform, and he touched his cap politely to the girl.

"Miss Patricia Doyle?"

"That's me."

"A parcel for you. Sign here, please."

Patsy signed, bothering her head the while to know what the little
package contained and who could have sent it. Then the boy was gone,
and she came back slowly to the breakfast table, with the thing in her
hand.

"What is it, Patsy?" asked the Major, curiously.

"I'm dying to know, myself," said the girl.

Uncle John finished his coffee, looking unconcerned.

"A good way is to open it," remarked the Major.

It was a very neat package, wrapped in fine paper and sealed with red
wax. Patsy turned it over once or twice, and then broke the wax and
untied the cord.

A bunch of keys fell out first--seven of them, strung on a purple
ribbon--and then a flat, impressive looking letter was discovered.

The Major stared open-mouthed. Uncle John leaned back in his chair and
watched the girl's face.

"There's a mistake," said Patsy, quite bewildered. Then she read her
name upon the wrapper, quite plainly written, and shook her head.
"It's for me, all right. But what does it mean?"

"Why not read the letter?" suggested the Major.

So she opened the big envelope and unfolded the stiff paper and read
as follows:

"Miss Patricia Doyle, Becker's Flats, Duggan Street, New York. Dear
Miss Doyle: An esteemed client of our house, who desires to remain
unknown, has placed at your disposal the furnished apartments 'D,'
at 3708 Willing Square, for the period of three years, or as long
thereafter as you may care to retain them. Our client begs you to
consider everything the apartments contain as your own, and to use
it freely as it may please you. All rentals and rates are paid in
advance, and you are expected to take possession at once. Moreover,
our firm is commanded to serve you in any and every way you may
require, and it will be our greatest pleasure to be of use to you. The
keys to the apartments are enclosed herewith.

"Most respectfully,

"Isham, Marvin & Co."

Having read this to the end, in a weak voice and with many pauses,
Miss Patricia Doyle sat down in her chair with strange abruptness and
stared blankly at her father. The Major stared back. So did Uncle
John, when her eyes roved toward his face.

Patricia turned the keys over, and jingled them. Then she referred to
the letter again.

"Apartments D, at 3708 Willing Square. Where's that?"

The Major shook his head. So did Uncle John.

"Might look in a directory" suggested the latter, uncertainly.

"Of course," added the Major.

"But what does it all mean?" demanded Patsy, with sudden fierceness.
"Is it a joke? Isham, Marvin & Co., the great bankers! What do I know
of them, or they of me?"

"That isn't the point," observed the Major, reflectively. "Who's their
unknown and mysterious client? That's the question."

"To be sure," said Uncle John. "They're only the agents. You must have
a fairy godmother, Patsy."

She laughed at the idea, and shook her head.

"They don't exist in these days, Uncle John. But the whole thing must
be a joke, and nothing more."

"We'll discover that," asserted the Major, shrewdly scrutinizing
the letter, which he had taken from Patsy's hands. "It surely looks
genuine enough, on the face of it. I've seen the bank letter-head
before, and this is no forgery, you can take my word. Get your things
on, Patsy. Instead of walking in the park we'll hunt up Willing
Square, and we'll take the keys with us."

"A very good idea," said Uncle John. "I'd like to go with you, if I
may."

"Of course you may," answered the girl. "You're one of the family now,
Uncle John, and you must help us to unravel the mystery."

The Major took off his carpet slippers and pulled on his boots, while
Patricia was getting ready for the walk. Uncle John wandered around
the room aimlessly for a time, and then took off his black tie and put
on the white one.

Patsy noticed this, when she came out of her closet, and laughed
merrily.

"You mustn't be getting excited, Uncle John, until we see how this
wonderful adventure turns out." she said. "But I really must wash and
iron that necktie for you, if you're going to wear it on Sundays."

"Not a bad idea," said the Major. "But come, are we all ready?"

They walked down the rickety steps very gravely and sedately, Patsy
jingling the keys as they went, and made their way to the corner drug
store, where the Major searched in the directory for Willing Square.

To his surprise it proved to be only a few blocks away.

"But it's in the dead swell neighborhood," he explained, "where I have
no occasion to visit. We can walk it in five minutes."

Patsy hesitated.

"Really, it's no use going, Dad," she protested. "It isn't in reason
that I'd have a place presented me in a dead swell neighborhood. Now,
is it?"

"We'll have to go, just the same," said Uncle John. "I couldn't sleep
a wink tonight if we didn't find out what this all means."

"True enough," agreed the Major. "Come along, Patsy; it's this way."

Willing Square was not very big, but it was beautiful with flowers and
well tended and 3708 proved to be a handsome building with a white
marble front, situated directly on a corner. The Major examined it
critically from the sidewalk, and decided it contained six suites of
apartments, three on each side.

"D must be the second floor to the right." he said, "and that's a fine
location, sure enough."

A porter appeared at the front door, which stood open, and examined
the group upon the sidewalk with evident curiosity.

Patsy walked up to him, and ignoring the big gold figures over the
entrance she enquired:

"Is this 3708 Willing Square?"

"Yes, Miss," answered the porter; "are you Miss Doyle?"

"I am," she answered, surprised.

"One flight up, Miss, and turn to the right," he continued, promptly;
and then he winked over the girl's head at Uncle John, who frowned so
terribly that the man drew aside and disappeared abruptly. The Major
and Patsy were staring at one another, however, and did not see this
by-play.

"Let's go up," said the Major, in a husky voice, and proceeded to
mount the stairs.

Patsy followed close behind, and then came Uncle John. One flight up
they paused at a door marked "D", upon the panel of which was a rack
bearing a card printed with the word "Doyle."

"Well, well!" gasped the Major. "Who'd have thought it, at all at
all!"

Patsy, with trembling fingers, put a key in the lock, and after one or
two efforts opened the door.

The sun was shining brilliantly into a tiny reception hall, furnished
most luxuriously.

The Major placed his hat on the rack, and Uncle John followed suit.

No one spoke a word as they marched in humble procession into the
living-room, their feet pressing without sound into the thick rugs.
Everything here was fresh and new, but selected with excellent taste
and careful attention to detail. Not a thing; was lacking, from the
pretty upright piano to the enameled clock ticking upon the mantel.
The dining-room was a picture, indeed, with stained-glass windows
casting their soft lights through the draperies and the side-board
shining with silver and glass. There was a cellarette in one corner,
the Major noticed, and it was well stocked.

Beyond was a pantry with well filled shelves and then the
kitchen--this last filled with every article that could possibly
be needed. In a store-room were enough provisions to stock a
grocery-store and Patsy noted with amazement that there was ice in the
refrigerator, with cream and milk and butter cooling beside it.

They felt now as if they were intruding in some fairy domain. It was
all exquisite, though rather tiny; but such luxury was as far removed
from the dingy rooms they had occupied as could well be imagined. The
Major coughed and ahemmed continually; Patsy ah'd and oh'd and seemed
half frightened; Uncle John walked after them silently, but with a
pleased smile that was almost childish upon his round and rugged face.

Across the hall were three chambers, each with a separate bath, while
one had a pretty dressing-room added.

"This will be Patsy's room," said the Major, with a vast amount of
dignity.

"Of course," said Uncle John. "The pins on the cushion spell
'Patricia,' don't they?"

"So they do!" cried Patsy, greatly delighted.

"And this room," continued the Major, passing into the next, "will be
mine. There are fine battle-scenes on the wall; and I declare, there's
just the place for the colonel's photograph over the dresser!"

"Cigars, too," said Patsy, opening a little cabinet; "but 'twill be a
shame to smoke in this palace."

"Then I won't live here!" declared the Major, stoutly, but no one
heeded him.

"Here is Uncle John's room," exclaimed the girl, entering the third
chamber.

"Mine?" enquired Uncle John in mild surprise.

"Sure, sir; you're one of the family, and I'm glad it's as good as the
Major's, every bit."

Uncle John's eyes twinkled.

"I hope the bed is soft," he remarked, pressing it critically.

"It's as good as the old sofa, any day," said Patsy, indignantly.

Just then a bell tinkled, and after looking at one another in silent
consternation for a moment, the Major tiptoed stealthily to the front
door, followed by the others.

"What'll we do?" asked Patsy, in distress.

"Better open it," suggested Uncle John, calmly.

The Major did so, and there was a little maid bowing and smiling
outside. She entered at once, closing the door behind her, and bowed
again.

"This is my new mistress, I suppose," she said, looking at Patsy. "I
am your servant, Miss Patricia."

Patsy gasped and stared at her. The maid was not much older than she
was, but she looked pleasant and intelligent and in keeping with the
rooms. She wore a gray dress with white collar and white apron and
cap, and seemed so dainty and sweet that the Major and Uncle John
approved her at once.

Patsy sat down, from sheer lack of strength to stand up.

"Who hired you, then?" she asked.

"A gentleman from the bank," was the reply. "I'm Mary, if you please,
Miss. And my wages are all arranged for in advance, so there will be
nothing for you to pay," said the little maid.

"Can you cook?" asked Patsy, curiously.

"Yes, Miss," with a smile. "The dinner will be ready at one o'clock."

"Oh; you've been here before, then?"

"Two days, Miss, getting ready for you."

"And where will you sleep?"

"I've a little room beyond the kitchen. Didn't you see it, Miss
Patricia?"

"No, Mary."

"Anything more at present, Miss Patricia?"

"No, Mary."

The maid bowed again, and disappeared toward the kitchen, leaving an
awe-struck group behind her.

The Major whistled softly. Uncle John seemed quite unconcerned. Patsy
took out her handkerchief. The tears _would_ come in spite of her
efforts.

"I--I--I'm going to have a good cry," she sobbed, and rushed into the
living-room to throw herself flat upon the divan.

"It's all right," said the Major, answering Uncle John's startled
look; "the cry will do her good. I've half a mind to join her myself."

But he didn't. He followed Uncle John into the tatter's room and
smoked one of the newly-discovered cigars while the elder man lay back
in an easy chair and silently puffed his pipe.

By and bye Patsy joined them, no longer crying but radiant with glee.

"Tell me, Daddy," said she, perching on the arm of the Major's chair,
"who gave me all this, do you think?"

"Not me," answered the Major, positively. "I couldn't do it on twelve
a week, anyhow at all."

"And you robbed me of all my money when I came to town," said Uncle
John.

"Stop joking," said the girl. "There's no doubt this place is intended
for us, is there?"

"None at all," declared the Major. "It's ours for three years, and not
a penny to pay."

"Well, then, do you think it's Kenneth?"

The Major shook his head.

"I don't know the lad." he said, "and he might be equal to it,
although I doubt it. But he can't touch his money till he comes
of age, and it isn't likely his lawyer guardian would allow such
extravagances."

"Then who can it be?"

"I can't imagine."

"It doesn't seem to matter," remarked Uncle John, lighting a fresh
pipe. "You're not supposed to ask questions, I take it, but to enjoy
your new home as much as you can."

"Ex--actly!" agreed the Major.

"I've been thinking," continued Uncle John, "that I'm not exactly fit
for all this style, Patsy. I'll have to get a new suit of clothes to
match my new quarters. Will you give me back ten dollars of that money
to buy 'em with?"

"I suppose I'll have to," she answered, thoughtfully.

"We'll have to go back to Becker's flats to pack up our traps," said
the Major, "so we might as well go now."

"I hate to leave here for a single moment," replied the girl.

"Why?"

"I'm afraid it will all disappear again."

"Nonsense!" said Uncle John. "For my part, I haven't any traps, so
I'll stay here and guard the treasure till you return."

"Dinner is served, Miss Patricia," said the small maid, appearing in
the doorway.

"Then let's dine!" cried Patsy, clapping her hands gleefully; "and
afterward the Major and I will make our last visit to Becker's flats."



CHAPTER XXVII.

LOUISE MAKES A DISCOVERY.


Uncle John did not stay to guard the treasure, after all, for he knew
very well it would not disappear.

As soon as Patsy and the Major had departed for Becker's flats, he
took his own hat from the rack and walked away to hunt up another
niece, Miss Louise Merrick, whose address he had casually obtained
from Patsy a day or two before.

It was near by, and he soon found the place--a pretty flat in a
fashionable building, although not so exclusive a residence district
as Willing Square.

Up three flights he rode in the elevator, and then rang softly at the
door which here the card of Mrs. Merrick.

A maid opened it and looked at him enquiringly.

"Are the ladies in?" he asked.

"I'll see. Your card, sir?"

"I haven't any."

She half closed the door.

"Any name, then?"

"Yes, John Merrick."

She closed the door entirely, and was gone several minutes. Then she
came back and ushered him through the parlor into a small rear room.

Mrs. Merrick arose from her chair by the window and advanced to meet
him.

"You are John Merrick?" she enquired.

"Your husband's brother, ma'am," he replied.

"How do you do, Uncle John?" called Louise, from the sofa. "Excuse my
getting up, won't you? And where in the world have you come from?"

Mrs. Merrick sat down again.

"Won't you take a chair?" she said, stiffly.

"I believe I will," returned Uncle John. "I just came to make a call,
you know."

"Louise has told me of you," said the lady. "It was very unfortunate
that your sister's death deprived you of a home. An absurd thing,
altogether, that fiasco of Jane Merrick's."

"True," he agreed.

"But I might have expected it, knowing the woman's character as I
did."

Uncle John wondered what Jane's character had to do with the finding
of Tom Bradley's last will; but he said nothing.

"Where are you living?" asked Louise.

"Not anywhere, exactly," he answered, "although Patsy has offered me
a home and I've been sleeping on a sofa in her living-room, the past
week."

"I advise you to stay with the Doyles," said Mrs. Merrick, quickly.
"We haven't even a sofa to offer you here, our flat is so small;
otherwise we would be glad to be of some help to you. Have you found
work?"

"I haven't tried to, yet, ma'am."

"It will be hard to get, at your age, of course. But that is a matter
in which we cannot assist you."

"Oh, I'm not looking for help, ma'am."

She glanced at his worn clothing and soiled white necktie, and smiled.

"But we want to do something for you," said Louise. "Now," sitting up
and regarding him gravely, "I'm going to tell you a state secret. We
are living, in this luxurious way, on the principal of my father's
life insurance. At our present rate of expenditure we figure that the
money will last us two years and nine months longer. By that time I
shall be comfortably married or we will go bankrupt--as the fates
decide. Do you understand the situation?"

"Perfectly. It's very simple," said the old man.

"And rather uncertain, isn't it? But in spite of this, we are better
able to help you than any of your other relatives. The Doyles are
hard-working folks, and very poor. Beth says that Professor De Graf is
over head and ears in debt and earns less every year, so he can't be
counted upon. In all the Merrick tribe the only tangible thing is my
father's life insurance, which I believe you once helped him to pay a
premium on."

"I'd forgotten that," said Uncle John.

"Well, we haven't. We don't want to appear ungenerous in your eyes.
Some day we may need help ourselves. But just now we can't offer you a
home, and, as mother says, you'd better stay with the Doyles. We have
talked of making you a small allowance; but that may not be necessary.
When you need assistance you must come to us, and we'll do whatever we
can, as long as our money lasts. Won't that be the better way?"

Uncle John was silent for a moment. Then he asked:

"Why have you thought it necessary to assist me?"

Louise seemed surprised.

"You are old and seemed to be without means," she answered, "and that
five thousand Aunt Jane left to you turned out to be a myth. But tell
me, have you money, Uncle John?"

"Enough for my present needs," he said, smiling.

Mrs. Merrick seemed greatly relieved.

"Then there is no need of our trying to be generous," she said, "and I
am glad of that on all accounts."

"I just called for a little visit," said Uncle John. "It seemed
unfriendly not to hunt you up, when I was in town."

"I'm glad you did," replied Mrs. Merrick, glancing at the clock. "But
Louise expects a young gentleman to call upon her in a few minutes,
and perhaps you can drop in again; another Sunday, for instance."

"Perhaps so," said Uncle John, rising with a red face. "I'll see."

"Good bye, Uncle," exclaimed Louise, rising to take his hand. "Don't
feel that we've hurried you away, but come in again, whenever you feel
like it."

"Thank you, my dear," he said, and went away.

Louise approached the open window, that led to a broad balcony. The
people in the next flat--young Mr. Isham, the son of the great
banker, and his wife--were sitting on the balcony, overlooking the
street, but Louise decided to glance over the rail to discover if the
young gentleman she so eagerly awaited chanced to be in sight.

As she did so Mr. Isham cried in great excitement:

"There he is, Myra--that's him!" and pointed toward the sidewalk.

"Whom?" enquired Mrs. Isham, calmly.

"Why John Merrick! John Merrick, of Portland, Oregon."

"And who is John Merrick?" asked the lady.

"One of the richest men in the world, and the best client our house
has. Isn't he a queer looking fellow? And dresses like a tramp. But
he's worth from eighty to ninety millions, at least, and controls most
of the canning and tin-plate industries of America. I wonder what
brought him into this neighborhood?"

Louise drew back from the window, pale and trembling. Then she caught
up a shawl and rushed from the room. Uncle John must be overtaken and
brought back, at all hazards.

The elevator was coming down, fortunately, and she descended quickly
and reached the street, where she peered eagerly up and down for the
round, plump figure of the little millionaire. But by some strange
chance he had already turned a corner and disappeared.

While she hesitated the young man came briskly up, swinging his cane.

"Why, Miss Louise," he said in some surprise, "were you, by good
chance, waiting for me?"

"No, indeed," she answered, with a laugh; "I've been saying good-bye
to my rich uncle, John Merrick, of Portland, who has just called."

"John Merrick, the tin-plate magnate? Is he your uncle?"

"My father's own brother," she answered, gaily. "Come upstairs,
please. Mother will be glad to see you!"



CHAPTER XXVIII.

PATSY LOSES HER JOB.


Uncle John reached Willing Square before Patsy and her father
returned, but soon afterward they arrived in an antiquated carriage
surrounded by innumerable bundles.

"The driver's a friend of mine," explained the Major, "and he moved us
for fifty cents, which is less than half price. We didn't bring a bit
of the furniture or beds, for there's no place here to put them; but
as the rent at Becker's flat is paid to the first of next month, we'll
have plenty of time to auction 'em all off."

The rest of the day was spent most delightfully in establishing
themselves in the new home. It didn't take the girl long to put her
few belongings into the closets and drawers, but there were a thousand
little things to examine in the rooms and she made some important
discovery at every turn.

"Daddy," she said, impressively, "it must have cost a big fortune to
furnish these little rooms. They're full of very expensive things, and
none of the grand houses Madam Borne has sent me to is any finer than
ours. I'm sure the place is too good for us, who are working people.
Do you think we ought to stay here?"

"The Doyles," answered the Major, very seriously, "are one of the
greatest and most aristocratic families in all Ireland, which is the
most aristocratic country in the world. If I only had our pedigree I
could prove it to you easily. There's nothing too good for an Irish
gentleman, even if he condescends to bookkeeping to supply the
immediate necessities of life; and as you're me own daughter,
Patricia, though a Merrick on your poor sainted mother's side, you're
entitled to all you can get honestly. Am I right, Uncle John, or do I
flatter myself?"

Uncle John stroked the girl's head softly.

"You are quite right," he said. "There is nothing too good for a
brave, honest girl who's heart is in the right place."

"And that's Patsy," declared the Major, as if the question were
finally settled.

On Monday morning Mary had a dainty breakfast all ready for them at
seven o'clock, and Patsy and her father departed with light hearts for
their work. Uncle John rode part way down town with them.

"I'm going to buy my new suit, today, and a new necktie," he said.

"Don't let them rob you," was Patsy's parting injunction. "Is your
money all safe? And if you buy a ten dollar suit of clothes the dealer
ought to throw in the necktie to bind the bargain. And see that
they're all wool, Uncle John."

"What, the neckties?"

"No, the clothes. Good-bye, and don't be late to dinner. Mary might
scold."

"I'll remember. Good-bye, my dear."

Patsy was almost singing for joy when she walked into Madam Borne's
hair-dressing establishment.

"Don't take off your things," said the Madam, sharply, "Your services
are no longer required."

Patsy looked at her in amazement. Doubtless she hadn't heard aright.

"I have another girl in your place," continued Madam Borne, "so I'll
bid you good morning."

Patsy's heart was beating fast.

"Do you mean I'm discharged?" she asked, with a catch in her voice.

"That's it precisely."

"Have I done anything wrong, Madam?"

"It isn't that," said Madam, pettishly. "I simply do not require your
services. You are paid up to Saturday night, and I owe you nothing.
Now, run along."

Patsy stood looking at her and wondering what to do. To lose this
place was certainly a great calamity.

"You'll give me a testimonial, won't you, Madam?" she asked,
falteringly.

"I don't give testimonials," was the reply.

"Do run away, child; I'm very busy this morning."

Patsy went away, all her happiness turned to bitter grief. What would
the Major say, and what were they to do without her wages? Then she
remembered Willing Square, and was a little comforted. Money was not
as necessary now as it had been before.

Nevertheless, she applied to one or two hair-dressers for employment,
and met with abrupt refusals. They had all the help they needed. So
she decided to go back home and think it over, before taking further
action.

It was nearly ten o'clock when she fitted her pass-key into the carved
door of Apartment D, and when she entered the pretty living-room she
found an elderly lady seated there, who arose to greet her.

"Miss Doyle?" enquired the lady.

"Yes, ma'am," said Patsy.

"I am Mrs. Wilson, and I have been engaged to give you private
instruction from ten to twelve every morning."

Patsy plumped down upon a chair and looked her amazement.

"May I ask who engaged you?" she ventured to enquire.

"A gentleman from the bank of Isham, Marvin & Co. made the
arrangement. May I take off my things?"

"If you please," said the girl, quietly. Evidently this explained why
Madam Borne had discharged her so heartlessly. The gentleman from
Isham, Marvin & Co. had doubtless interviewed the Madam and told her
what to do. And then, knowing she would be at liberty, he had sent her
this private instructor.

The girl felt that the conduct of her life had been taken out of her
own hands entirely, and that she was now being guided and cared for by
her unknown friend and benefactor. And although she was inclined to
resent the loss of her independence, at first, her judgment told her
it would not only be wise but to her great advantage to submit.

She found Mrs. Wilson a charming and cultivated lady, who proved so
gracious and kindly that the girl felt quite at ease in her presence.
She soon discovered how woefully ignorant Patsy was, and arranged a
course of instruction that would be of most benefit to her.

"I have been asked to prepare you to enter a girls' college," she
said, "and if you are attentive and studious I shall easily accomplish
the task."

Patsy invited her to stay to luncheon, which Mary served in the cosy
dining-room, and then Mrs. Wilson departed and left her alone to think
over this new example of her unknown friend's thoughtful care.

At three o'clock the door-bell rang and Mary ushered in another
strange person--a pretty, fair-haired young lady, this time, who said
she was to give Miss Doyle lessons on the piano.

Patsy was delighted. It was the one accomplishment she most longed to
acquire, and she entered into the first lesson with an eagerness that
made her teacher smile approvingly.

Meantime the Major was having his own surprises. At the office the
manager met him on his arrival and called him into his private room.

"Major Doyle," said he, "it is with great regret that we part with
you, for you have served our house most faithfully."

The Major was nonplussed.

"But," continued the manager, "our bankers, Messers. Isham, Marvin
& Co., have asked us to spare you for them, as they have a place
requiring a man of your abilities where you can do much better than
with us. Take this card, sir, and step over to the bankers and enquire
for Mr. Marvin. I congratulate you, Major Doyle, on your advancement,
which I admit is fully deserved."

The Major seemed dazed. Like a man walking in a dream he made his way
to the great banking house, and sent in the card to Mr. Marvin.

That gentleman greeted him most cordially.

"We want you to act as special auditor of accounts," said he. "It is a
place of much responsibility, but your duties will not be arduous. You
will occupy Private Office No. 11, and your hours are only from 10
to 12 each morning. After that you will be at liberty. The salary,
I regret to say, is not commensurate with your value, being merely
twenty-four hundred a year; but as you will have part of the day to
yourself you will doubtless be able to supplement that sum in other
ways. Is this satisfactory, sir?"

"Quite so," answered the Major. Twenty-four hundred a year! And only
two hours' work! Quite satisfactory, indeed!

His little office was very cosy, too; and the work of auditing the
accounts of the most important customers of the house required
accuracy but no amount of labor. It was an ideal occupation for a man
of his years and limited training.

He stayed in the office until two o'clock that day, in order to get
fully acquainted with the details of his work. Then he closed his
desk, went to luncheon, which he enjoyed amazingly, and then decided
to return to Willing Square and await Patsy's return from Madam
Borne's.

As he let himself in he heard an awkward drumming and strumming on the
piano, and peering slyly through the opening in the portierre he was
startled to find Patsy herself making the dreadful noise, while a
pretty girl sat beside her directing the movements of her fingers.

The Major watched for several minutes, in silent but amazed
exultation; then he tiptoed softly to his room to smoke a cigar and
wait until his daughter was at liberty to hear his great news and
explain her own adventures.

When Uncle John came home to dinner he found father and daughter
seated happily together in a loving embrace, their faces wreathed with
ecstatic smiles that were wonderful to behold.

Uncle John was radiant in a brand new pepper-and-salt suit of clothes
that fitted his little round form perfectly. Patsy marvelled that he
could get such a handsome outfit for the money, for Uncle John had on
new linen and a new hat and even a red-bordered handkerchief for the
coat pocket--besides the necktie, and the necktie was of fine silk and
in the latest fashion.

The transformation was complete, and Uncle John had suddenly become an
eminently respectable old gentleman, with very little to criticise in
his appearance.

"Do I match the flat, now?" he asked.

"To a dot!" declared Patsy. "So come to dinner, for it's ready and
waiting, and the Major and I have some wonderful fairy tales to tell
you."



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE MAJOR DEMANDS AN EXPLANATION.


That was a happy week, indeed. Patsy devoted all her spare time to her
lessons, but the house itself demanded no little attention. She would
not let Mary dust the ornaments or arrange the rooms at all, but
lovingly performed those duties herself, and soon became an ideal
housekeeper, as Uncle John approvingly remarked.

And as she flitted from room to room she sang such merry songs that it
was a delight to hear her, and the Major was sure to get home from the
city in time to listen to the strumming of the piano at three o'clock,
from the recess of his own snug chamber.

Uncle John went to the city every morning, and at first this
occasioned no remark. Patsy was too occupied to pay much attention to
her uncle's coming and going, and the Major was indifferent, being
busy admiring Patsy's happiness and congratulating himself on his own
good fortune.

The position at the bank had raised the good man's importance several
notches. The clerks treated him with fine consideration and the heads
of the firm were cordial and most pleasant. His fine, soldierly figure
and kindly, white-moustached face, conferred a certain dignity upon
his employers, which they seemed to respect and appreciate.

It was on Wednesday that the Major encountered the name of John
Merrick on the books. The account was an enormous one, running into
millions in stocks and securities. The Major smiled.

"That's Uncle John's name," he reflected. "It would please him to know
he had a namesake so rich as this one."

The next day he noted that John Merrick's holdings were mostly in
western canning industries and tin-plate factories, and again he
recollected that Uncle John had once been a tinsmith. The connection
was rather curious.

But it was not until Saturday morning that the truth dawned upon him,
and struck him like a blow from a sledge-hammer.

He had occasion to visit Mr. Marvin's private office, but being told
that the gentleman was engaged with an important customer, he lingered
outside the door, waiting.

Presently the door was partly opened.

"Don't forget to sell two thousand of the Continental stock tomorrow,"
he heard a familiar voice say.

"I'll not forget, Mr. Merrick," answered the banker.

"And buy that property on Bleeker street at the price offered. It's a
fair proposition, and I need the land."

"Very well, Mr. Merrick. Would it not be better for me to send these
papers by a messenger to your house?"

"No; I'll take them myself. No one will rob me." And then the door
swung open and, chuckling in his usual whimsical fashion, Uncle John
came out, wearing his salt-and-pepper suit and stuffing; a bundle of
papers into his inside pocket.

The Major stared at him haughtily, but made no attempt to openly
recognize the man. Uncle John gave a start, laughed, and then walked
away briskly, throwing a hasty "good-bye" to the obsequious banker,
who followed him out, bowing low.

The Major returned to his office with a grave face, and sat for the
best part of three hours in a brown study. Then he took his hat and
went home.

Patsy asked anxiously if anything had happened, when she saw his face;
but the Major shook his head.

Uncle John arrived just in time for dinner, in a very genial mood,
and he and Patsy kept up a lively conversation at the table while the
Major looked stern every time he caught the little man's eye.

But Uncle John never minded. He was not even as meek and humble as
usual, but laughed and chatted with the freedom of a boy just out of
school, which made Patsy think the new clothes had improved him in
more ways than one.

When dinner was over the Major led them into the sitting-room, turned
up the lights, and then confronted the little man with a determined
and majestic air.

"Sir," said he, "give an account of yourself."

"Eh?"

"John Merrick, millionaire and impostor, who came into my family under
false pretenses and won our love and friendship when we didn't know
it, give an account of yourself!"

Patsy laughed.

"What are you up to, Daddy?" she demanded. "What has Uncle John been
doing?"

"Deceiving us, my dear."

"Nonsense," said Uncle John, lighting his old briar pipe, "you've been
deceiving yourselves."

"Didn't you convey the impression that you were poor?" demanded the
Major, sternly.

"No."

"Didn't you let Patsy take away your thirty-two dollars and forty-two
cents, thinking it was all you had?"

"Yes."

"Aren't you worth millions and millions of dollars--so many that you
can't count them yourself?"

"Perhaps."

"Then, sir," concluded the Major, mopping the perspiration from his
forehead and sitting down limply in his chair, "what do you mean by
it?"

Patsy stood pale and trembling, her round eyes fixed upon her uncle's
composed face.

"Uncle John!" she faltered.

"Yes, my dear."

"Is it all true? Are you so very rich?"

"Yes, my dear."

"And it's you that gave me this house, and--and everything else--and
got the Major his fine job, and me discharged, and--and--"

"Of course, Patsy. Why not?"

"Oh, Uncle John!"

She threw herself into his arms, sobbing happily as he clasped her
little form to his bosom. And the Major coughed and blew his nose, and
muttered unintelligible words into his handkerchief. Then Patsy sprang
up and rushed upon her father, crying;

"Oh, Daddy! Aren't you glad it's Uncle John?"

"I have still to hear his explanation," said the Major.

Uncle John beamed upon them. Perhaps he had never been so happy before
in all his life.

"I'm willing to explain," he said, lighting his pipe again and
settling himself in his chair. "But my story is a simple one, dear
friends, and not nearly so wonderful as you may imagine. My father had
a big family that kept him poor, and I was a tinsmith with little work
to be had in the village where we lived. So I started west, working my
way from town to town, until I got to Portland, Oregon.

"There was work in plenty there, making the tin cans in which salmon
and other fish is packed, and as I was industrious I soon had a shop
of my own, and supplied cans to the packers. The shop grew to be
a great factory, employing hundreds of men. Then I bought up the
factories of my competitors, so as to control the market, and as I
used so much tin-plate I became interested in the manufacture of this
product, and invested a good deal of money in the production and
perfection of American tin. My factories were now scattered all along
the coast, even to California, where I made the cans for the great
quantities of canned fruits they ship from that section every year.
Of course the business made me rich, and I bought real estate with my
extra money, and doubled my fortune again and again.

"I never married, for all my heart was in the business, and I thought
of nothing else. But a while ago a big consolidation of the canning
industries was effected, and the active management I resigned to other
hands, because I had grown old, and had too much money already.

"It was then that I remembered the family, and went back quietly to
the village where I was born. They were all dead or scattered,
I found; but because Jane had inherited a fortune in some way I
discovered where she lived and went to see her. I suppose it was
because my clothes were old and shabby that Jane concluded I was a
poor man and needed assistance; and I didn't take the trouble to
undeceive her.

"I also found my three nieces at Elmhurst, and it struck me it would
be a good time to study their characters; for like Jane I had a
fortune to leave behind me, and I was curious to find out which girl
was the most deserving. No one suspected my disguise. I don't usually
wear such poor clothes, you know; but I have grown to be careless of
dress in the west, and finding that I was supposed to be a poor man I
clung to that old suit like grim death to a grasshopper."

"It was very wicked of you," said Patsy, soberly, from her father's
lap.

"As it turned out," continued the little man, "Jane's desire to leave
her money to her nieces amounted to nothing, for the money wasn't
hers. But I must say it was kind of her to put me down for five
thousand dollars--now, wasn't it?"

The Major grinned.

"And that's the whole story, my friends. After Jane's death you
offered me a home--the best you had to give--and I accepted it. I had
to come to New York anyway, you know, for Isham, Marvin & Co. have
been my bankers for years, and there was considerable business to
transact with them. I think that's all, isn't it?"

"Then this house is yours?" said Patsy, wonderingly.

"No, my dear; the whole block belongs to you and here's the deed for
it," drawing a package of papers from his pocket. "It's a very good
property, Patsy, and the rents you get from the other five flats will
be a fortune in themselves."

For a time the three sat in silence. Then the girl whispered, softly:

"Why are you so good to me, Uncle John?"

"Just because I like you, Patsy, and you are my niece."

"And the other nieces?"

"Well, I don't mean they shall wait for my death to be made happy,"
answered Uncle John. "Here's a paper that gives to Louise's mother the
use of a hundred thousand dollars, as long as she lives. After that
Louise will have the money to do as she pleases with."

"How fine!" cried Patsy, clapping her hands joyfully.

"And here's another paper that gives Professor De Graf the use of
another hundred thousand. Beth is to have it when he dies. She's a
sensible girl, and will take good care of it."

"Indeed she will!" said Patsy.

"And now," said Uncle John, "I want to know if I can keep my little
room in your apartments, Patsy; or if you'd prefer me to find another
boarding place."

"Your home is here as long as you live, Uncle John. I never meant to
part with you, when I thought you poor, and I'll not desert you now
that I know you're rich."

"Well said, Patsy!" cried the Major.

And Uncle John smiled and kissed the girl and then lighted his pipe
again, for it had gone out.





*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Aunt Jane's Nieces" ***

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