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Title: Aunt Judith - The Story of a Loving Life
Author: Beaumont, Grace
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Aunt Judith - The Story of a Loving Life" ***

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[Illustration: Started off through the first figure.]



AUNT JUDITH

The Story of a Loving Life


BY

GRACE BEAUMONT



THOMAS NELSON AND SONS

LONDON, EDINBURGH,

DUBLIN, AND NEW YORK



Published 1888, 1910



CONTENTS.


     I.  A School-girl Quarrel
    II.  Aunt Judith
   III.  Will You have Me for a Friend?
    IV.  A Talk with Aunt Judith
     V.  A Fallen Queen
    VI.  Winnie's Home
   VII.  An Afternoon at Dingle Cottage
  VIII.  Forging the First Link
    IX.  The Christmas Party
     X.  Gathering Clouds
    XI.  It is so hard to say Good-bye
   XII.  I always speak as I think
  XIII.  Our Sailor Boy
   XIV.  The Prize Essay
    XV.  How shall I live through the long, long years?
   XVI.  Light in Darkness
  XVII.  I shall learn to be good now
 XVIII.  Conclusion



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


Started off through the first figure . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

"Will you have me for a friend?"

A prostrate figure with white, upturned face

The eyes, wide open, were fixed on the sheets of
  manuscript before her



AUNT JUDITH.


CHAPTER I.

A SCHOOL-GIRL QUARREL.

"Girls, girls, I've news for you!" cried Winnifred Blake, entering the
school-room and surveying the faces of her school-mates with great
eagerness.

Luncheon hour was almost over, and the pupils belonging to Mrs. Elder's
Select Establishment for Young Ladies were gathered together in the
large school-room, some enjoying a merry chat, others, more studiously
inclined, conning over a forthcoming lesson.

"Give us the benefit of your news quickly, Winnie," said Ada Irvine,
looking round from her snug seat on the broad window-ledge; "surely we
must be going to hear something wonderful when _you_ are so excited;"
and the girl eyed her animated school-fellow half scornfully.

"A new pupil is coming," announced Winnie with an air of great
solemnity.  "Be patient, my friends, and I'll tell you how I know.
Dinner being earlier to-day, I managed to get back to school sooner
than usual, and was just crossing the hall to join you all in the
school-room, when the drawing-room door opened, and Mrs. Elder
appeared, accompanied by a lady in a long loose cloak and huge
bonnet--regular coal-scuttle affair, girls; so large, in fact, that it
was quite impossible to get a glimpse of her face.  Mrs. Elder was
saying as I passed, 'I shall expect your niece to-morrow morning, Miss
Latimer, at nine o'clock; and trust she will prosecute her studies with
all diligence, and prove a credit to the school.'"  Winnie mimicked the
lady-principal's soft, plausible voice as she spoke.

"A new pupil!" remarked Ada once more, her voice raised in supreme
contempt; "really, Winnie, I fail to understand your excitement over
such a trifle.  Why, she may be a green-grocer's daughter for all you
know to the contrary;" and the speaker's dainty nose was turned up with
a gesture of infinite scorn.

"Well, and what then, Miss Conceit?" retorted Winnie, flushing angrily
at her school-mate's contemptuous tone; "I presume a green-grocer's
daughter is not exempted from possessing the same talented abilities
which characterize your charming self."

"Certainly not," replied the other with the same quiet ring of scorn in
her voice; "but, pray, who would associate with a green-grocer's
daughter?  Most assuredly not I.  My mother is very particular with
regard to the circle in which I move."

Winnie swept a graceful courtesy.

"Allow me to express my deep sense of obligation," she said mockingly,
"at the honour conferred on my unworthy self by your attempted
patronage and esteem."  Then, changing her tone and raising her little
head proudly--"Ada Irvine, I am ashamed of you--your pride is
insufferable; and my heartiest wish is that some day you may be looked
down upon and viewed with the supreme contempt you now bestow on those
lower (most unfortunately) in the social scale than yourself."

"Thanks for your amiable wish," was the answer, given in that easy,
tranquil voice which the owner well knew irritated her adversary more
than the fiercest burst of passion would have done; "but I am afraid
there is little likelihood of its ever being realized."

Winnie elevated her eyebrows.  "Is that your opinion?" she said in
affected surprise, while the other school-girls gathered round,
tittering at the caustic little tongue.  "I suppose you study the
poets, Miss Irvine; and if so, doubtless you will remember who it is
that says:--

  'Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
  To see oursels as ithers see us!'"


The mischievous child stopped for a second, and then continued: "I am
afraid you look at yourself and your various charms through
rose-coloured spectacles, certainly not with 'a jaundiced eye;'--but I
beg your pardon; were you about to speak?" and Winnie looked innocently
into the fair face of her antagonist, which was now white and set with
passion.

The blue eyes were flashing with an angry light, the pretty lips
trembling, and the smooth brow knit in a heavy frown; but only for a
few moments.  By-and-by the features relaxed their fixed and stony
gaze; the countenance resumed its usual haughty expression; and,
lifting up the book which was lying on her lap, Ada opened it at the
required page, and ended the discussion by saying, "I shall consider it
my duty to inform Mrs. Elder of your charming sentiments; in the
meantime, kindly excuse me from continuing such highly edifying
conversation."  With that she bent her head over the French grammar,
and soon appeared thoroughly engrossed in the conjugation of the verb
_avoir_, to have, while her mischievous school-mate turned away with a
light shrug of her pretty shoulders.

Winnifred Blake, the youngest daughter of a wealthy, influential
gentleman, was a bright, happy girl of about fourteen years, with a
kind, generous heart, and warm, impulsive nature.  Being small and
slight in stature, she seemed to all appearance a mere child; and the
quaint, gipsy face peeping from beneath a mass of shaggy, tangled curls
showed a pair of large laughter-loving eyes and a mischievous little
mouth.

Was she clever?

Well, that still remained to be seen.  Certainly, the bright,
intelligent countenance gave no indication of a slow understanding and
feeble brain; but Winnie hated study, and consequently was usually to
be found adorning the foot of the class.  "It is deliciously
comfortable here, girls," she would say to her school-mates when even
they protested against such continual indolence; "you see I am near the
fire, and that is a consideration in the cold, wintry days, I assure
you.  Don't annoy yourselves over my shortcomings.  Lazy, selfish
people always get on in the world;" and speaking thus, the incorrigible
child would nestle back in her lowly seat with an air of the utmost
satisfaction.

Ada Irvine smiled in supreme contempt over what she termed Winnie's
stupidity, and would repeat her own perfectly-learned lesson with
additional triumph in her tone; but the faultless repetition by no
means disconcerted her lazy school-mate, who was often heard to say,
with seeming simplicity, "I could do just as well if I chose; but then
I don't choose, and that, you see, makes all the difference."

Ada Irvine was an only child, and her parents having gone abroad in the
(alas, how often vain!) search after health, had left her with Mrs.
Elder, to whose care she was intrusted with every charge for her
comfort and advantage--a charge which that young lady took great care
should be amply fulfilled.  She was only six months older than Winnie,
but very tall, and already giving the promise of great beauty in after
years.  Talented and brilliant also, she held a powerful sway over the
minds and actions of her schoolmates, and queened in the school right
royally; but the cold, haughty pride which marred her nature failed to
make her such a general favourite as her fiery, little adversary.

In the afternoon, when the school was being dismissed for the day, Ada
sought the presence of the lady-principal; and consequently, just as
Winnie was strapping up her books preparatory to going home, a servant
appeared in the dressing-room summoning Miss Blake to Mrs. Elder's
sanctum.

"Now you're in for it, Winnie," said the girls pityingly; "Ada has kept
to her word and told.  How mean!"  But the child only tossed her curly
head, and with slightly heightened colour followed the maid to the
comfortable parlour where the lady-principal was usually to be found.

Mrs. Elder, seated by a small fire which burned brightly in the shining
grate, turned a face expressive of the most severe displeasure on the
defiant little culprit as she entered; while Ada, standing slightly in
the shadow of the window-curtain, looked at the victim haughtily, and
shaped her lips in a malicious smile at the lady-principal's opening
words.

"I presume you are aware of my reason for requesting your presence
here, Miss Blake," she began in icy tones; "and I trust you have come
before me sincerely penitent for your fault.  I cannot express in
sufficiently strong terms the displeasure I feel at your shameful
conduct this afternoon.  I never thought a pupil of this establishment
could be guilty of such unlady-like language as fell from your lips,
and it grieves me to know that I have in my school a young girl capable
of cherishing the evil spirit of animosity against a fellow-creature.
What have you to say in defence of your conduct?  Can you vindicate it
in any way, or shall I take your silence as full confession of your
guilt?"

Winnie pressed her lips tightly together, but did not speak.  "I need
not attempt to clear myself," she mentally decided.  "Ada will have
coloured our quarrel to suit herself, and being Mrs. Elder's favourite,
her word will be relied on before mine; that has been the case before,
and will be so again."

The lady-principal, however, mistook the continued silence for
conscious guilt.

"Then I demand that an ample apology be made to Miss Irvine now, in my
presence," she said once more in frigid tones.  "Come, Miss Blake; my
time is too precious to be trifled with."

Winnie's eyes sparkled, and raising her small head defiantly, she
replied, "I decline to apologize, Mrs. Elder.  I only spoke as I
thought, and am quite prepared to say the same again if occasion
offers.  Miss Irvine knows my words, if distasteful, were but too true."

The lady-principal gasped.  "Miss Blake," she cried at length,
horrified at the bold assertion, and endeavouring to quail her
audacious pupil with one stern, withering glance, "this is dreadful!"
But the angry child only pouted, and repeated doggedly, "It is quite
true."

Then Mrs. Elder rose, and laying her hand firmly on Winnie's shoulder,
said quietly, but with an awful meaning underlying her words,
"Apologize at once, Miss Blake, or I shall resort to stronger measures,
and also complain to your parents"--a threat which terrified the
unwilling girl into submission.

Going forward with flushed cheeks and mutinous mouth, she stood before
the triumphant Ada, and said sullenly, "Please accept my apology for
unlady-like language, Miss Irvine.  I am sorry I should have degraded
myself and spoken as I did, but" (and here a mischievous light swept
the gloomy cloud from the piquant face and lit it up with an elfish
smile) "you provoked me, and I am very outspoken."

Ada coloured with anger and vexation; and in spite of her displeasure,
Mrs. Elder found it difficult to repress a smile.

"That will do," she pronounced coldly; "such an apology is only adding
insult to injury.  You will kindly write out twenty times four pages of
French vocabulary, and also remain at the foot of all your classes
during the next fortnight.  Go!  I am greatly displeased with you, Miss
Blake;" and as the lady-principal waved her hand in token of dismissal,
she frowned angrily, and looked both mortified and indignant.

Winnie required no second bidding.  She drew her slight figure up to
its full height, made her exit with all the dignity of an offended
queen, entered the now deserted dressing-room, and seizing her books,
hurried from the school, and was soon running rapidly down the busy
street.

"Hallo, Win! what's the row?  One would think you had stolen the
giant's seven-league boots," cried a voice from behind.  "Did ever I
see a girl dashing along at such a rate!"  And turning round, Winnie
saw before her a tall, strapping boy, whose honest, freckled face,
illumined by a broad, friendly grin, shone brightly on her from under a
shock of fiery red hair.

"I'll bet I know without your telling me," he continued, coming to her
side and removing his heavy load of books from one shoulder to the
other.  "Been quarrelling with the lovely Ada, eh?" and he glanced
kindly at the little figure by his side.

Winnie laughed slightly.  "You're about right, Dick," she replied.
"There has been a cat-and-dog fight; only this time the cat's velvety
paws scratched the poor little dog and wounded it sorely."

"Ah! you went at it tooth and nail, I suppose," Dick said
philosophically; "pity you girls can't indulge in a regular stand-up
fight."  And the wild boy began to brandish his arms about as if he
would thoroughly enjoy commencing there and then.

The quick flush of temper was over now, and the girl's eyes gleamed
mischievously as she replied, "I've a weapon of my own, Dick, fully as
powerful as yours.  I'll use my tongue;" and the audacious little minx
smiled saucily into her brother's honest face.

A hearty roar greeted her words, and Dick almost choked before he
managed to say, "Go it, Win; I'll back you up.  Commend me to a woman's
tongue!"  And the boy, unable to control his risible faculties, burst
into a hearty laugh, which died away in a chuckle of genuine merriment.

Richard Blake, or Dick (the name by which he was generally called) was
Winnie's favourite brother, and she almost idolized the big, kindly
fellow, on whom the other members of the family showered ridicule and
contempt.  He was a bluff, outspoken lad, with a brave, true heart as
tender and pitiful as a woman's; but, lacking both the capacity for and
inclination to study, he by no means proved a brilliant scholar, and
thus brought down on himself the censure of his masters and the heavy
displeasure of his father.  "Hard words break no bones.  I daresay I
shall manage through the world somehow," he would say after having
received some cutting remark from an elder brother or sister; and
Winnie, always his stanch friend and advocate, would nod her sunny head
and prophesy confidently, "We shall be proud of you yet, Dick."

In the meantime they sauntered along, swinging their books and chatting
gaily, till a turn in the road brought them to a quiet square where
handsome dwelling-houses faced each other in sombre grandeur.

"No. 3 Victoria Square--this way, miss," said Dick, mounting the steps
and ringing the bell violently.

"What a boy you are!" laughed Winnie, following, and giving her
brother's rough coat a mischievous pull.  "Whenever will you learn
sense, Dick?" Then the door opened, and with glad young hearts brother
and sister entered their comfortable home.



CHAPTER II.

AUNT JUDITH.

The October night closed in dark and wild.  The wind, rising in fierce
gusts, swept along the streets with relentless fury, whirling the cans
on the roofs of the houses, and whistling down the chimneys with
relentless roar; passers-by drew up the collars of their coats and bent
their faces under the pitiless blast; while the rain, falling with its
monotonous splash, splash, added to the gloom and rawness of the night.

Up and down the platform of one of the principal stations in the town a
lady paced, every now and then peering into the murky darkness, or
waylaying a passing porter to ask when the down-train was due.  She was
tall and slender, but the huge bonnet and thick veil which she wore so
effectually concealed her face that it was impossible to make out
whether she was young or old.

At last a whistle and the loud ringing of the bell proclaimed that the
train was close at hand, and in all the glory of its powerful mechanism
the great locomotive swept into the busy station.  The lady, stepping
nearer the edge of the platform, gazed into the windows of the
carriages as the train passed, slackening speed; then with a quick
gesture of recognition went forward and turned the handle of one of the
doors at which a young girl was standing looking wistfully on the many
faces hurrying by.  "Nellie Latimer, I am sure," she said in a kind
voice; "'tis a dreary night to bid you welcome.  I am your Aunt Judith,
dear," and assisting the girl out of the carriage, she lifted her veil
for a single moment and laid a kiss on the fresh, young cheek.  "What
have you in the way of luggage?  One trunk.  Well, stand here while I
go and find it," saying which she glided away and was lost to view in
the bustling crowd.  In a few moments she returned, followed by a
porter bearing the modest, black box; and bidding the young traveller
come with her, left the platform, hailed a cab, and was soon driving
with her tired charge along the wet streets.

Aunt Judith gazed at the lonely little figure sitting so quietly facing
her, and mentally deciding that, wearied out and home-sick, the child
would naturally be disinclined for conversation, she leaned back on the
carriage cushion and fell into a long train of thought.

Nellie Latimer was thankful for the silence.  She had left her home
early that morning for the purpose of wintering in town with her aunts,
and, as it was the first flight from the parental nest, her heart was
sore with grief and longing.  She was the eldest daughter of Dr.
Latimer, a poor country practitioner, whose practice brought him too
limited an income with which to meet the expenses of the large family
of hardy boys and girls growing up around him.  He had sent Nellie to
the village school, and when she had mastered all the knowledge to be
gleaned there, endeavoured to instruct her himself; but he could ill
spare the time, and so hailed with feelings of the deepest gratitude a
letter from his eldest sister offering to take Nellie and give her all
the advantages of a town education, "Let the child come, John," she
wrote in her simple, kindly style; "she will help to brighten the
hearts of three old maids, and a young face will be a cheery sight in
our quiet cottage home.  She will have a thorough education, and we
shall endeavour to bring her up so that she may be a fitting helpmate
to her mother on her return home."  Dr. Latimer showed the letter to
his wife, who read it thankfully.  "Your sister is a noble woman,
John," she said brokenly; "let us accept her offer, and may God bless
her."

Thus it was that Nellie had left the home nest and come to live her
life in the busy town.  She knew almost nothing about her aunts, and
had never seen them; for Dr. Latimer dwelt in a far-off country
village, and the distance from it to the city was very great.  The
postman would occasionally bring a letter, book, or paper to the
doctor; and every Christmas a hamper filled with choice meats and other
dainties would find its way to the house, showing that the young
nephews and nieces were not forgotten by the aunts they had never seen.
Those "good fairies," as the little children styled them, were three in
number: Aunt Judith, the bread-winner--though how, Nellie as yet did
not know; Aunt Debby, the Martha of the household, hard-working and
practical; and Aunt Margaret, an invalid, seldom able to leave her
couch.

"I cannot tell you much about them, dear," Mrs. Latimer had said one
night when talking with her eldest daughter over the coming parting.
"They (meaning the aunts) were abroad on account of Aunt Margaret's
health when I first met your father, and did not return home till some
time after our marriage.  Aunt Margaret was not any better, and had
settled down into invalid habits, requiring the constant attention and
care of both sisters.  Aunt Judith spoke at one time of coming to spend
a few days with us; but Aunt Margaret could not spare her, and so she
never came.  Your father says Aunt Judith is a brave, true woman, and
keeps the little household together, besides the many kindnesses she
bestows on us.  I trust you will like your aunts, my child, and be
happy with them, even though you are away from us all."

Nellie had been thinking all this over while the cab was quickly
whirling her along the now deserted thoroughfares, and so deeply had
her mind been occupied with these thoughts that she started in
amazement when the driver drew up before the entrance of a small
cottage, and she saw a bright flood of light streaming out from the
hastily opened door.

"Here we are, dear," said Aunt Judith's kind voice breaking in on her
reverie; "this is your new home, and there is Aunt Debby waiting to bid
you welcome.  Run!  I shall follow you immediately."

Nellie, obeying, hurried up the little gravelled path, and reaching the
door, found herself folded in Aunt Debby's motherly embrace, with Aunt
Debby's arms round her, and Aunt Debby's round, rosy face pressed close
to her own.

"Dear, dear! to think I should be holding one of John's children to my
heart," said the good lady, wiping away an imaginary tear from her
soft, plump cheek.  "There, come in, child, you are thrice welcome.
How strange it all seems, to be sure;" and chatting away, Aunt Debby
led her weary niece into the cosy parlour, where the bright fire and
daintily spread table seemed to whisper of warmth and home comforts.

"There, sit down, dear, and let me unfasten your cloak," she continued,
placing Nellie on a chair and proceeding to take off her hat with its
well soaked plume.  "Dear heart! how the child resembles her father!
John's very eyes and nose, I declare.  Well, well, I'm getting an old
woman, and the sight of this fresh, young face warns me of the passing
years."

"I think, Debby, you should show Nellie her room and let her refresh
herself; there will be ample opportunity for talking to her later on,
and the child is wearied with travelling."

Aunt Judith, who had just entered, said this in such a kind voice that
it was impossible to take offence, and Miss Deborah, raising her
little, twinkling eyes to her sister's face, replied, "Ah!  Judith, I
need you to look after me still.--I have a sad tongue, my dear (to
Nellie), and am apt to chatter when I ought to be silent; come, let me
take you to your room now," and off trotted Aunt Debby with an air of
the utmost importance.

Nellie followed wearily up the tiny stair with its white matting, and
then paused in glad delight as her guide, throwing open a door on one
side of the landing, ushered her into a small room.  It was simply and
plainly furnished, as indeed was everything else in the house; but oh!
the spotless purity of the snowy counterpane and pretty toilets.  The
curtains, looped back with crimson ribbon, fell to the ground in
graceful folds.  Light sketches and illuminated texts adorned the
delicately tinted walls, and on a small table stood an antique vase
filled with fairest autumn flowers.

"Are you pleased with your little bedroom, Nellie?" asked Aunt Debby,
noting the girl's look of genuine admiration; "there's not much to be
seen in the way of grandeur, but it's clean," and practical Miss
Deborah emphasized her words by nodding her head vigorously.

"Pleased, Aunt Debby!  Why, everything is beautiful.  I never had a
room all to myself before, and this one is simply lovely.  How can I
thank you sufficiently for being so good to me?" and there were tears
in Nellie's eyes as she spoke.

"Nonsense, my dear," replied the kind woman in her brisk, cheery way;
"we are only too pleased to have you with us, and trust you will be
happy here;--now, if my tongue is not off again.  There--not another
word; wash your face and hands, child, then come down to the parlour,"
and Aunt Debby hurried from the room.

Nellie found the cold water very refreshing, and made her appearance
downstairs with a much brighter, cleaner countenance.  She found Miss
Deborah already seated before the urn, sugaring the cups and adding
cream with a very liberal hand; while Aunt Judith lay back on a low
rocking-chair looking dreamily into the glowing embers.  Both started
as the girl entered, and Miss Latimer, rising, placed a chair before
the table and bade Nellie be seated, patting her niece's head gently in
her slow, kindly fashion, ere she sat down herself and prepared to
attend to the young traveller's wants.

Nellie, though tired and home-sick, felt very hungry, and did ample
justice to the savoury meal, greatly to Aunt Debby's delight; for that
good lady had spared no pains, and had burnt her merry, plump face over
the fire, in order to make the supper a success.

Neither aunt troubled her niece with questions, but each talked quietly
to the other; and thus left alone, as it were, Nellie found sufficient
time to study both faces, and jot down mentally her opinion of each at
first sight.  One glance at Miss Deborah's rounded contour and
twinkling eyes was quite enough; but Miss Latimer's peaceful
countenance fascinated the young girl, and seemed to hold her
spell-bound.  Yet, from a critical point of view, Aunt Judith's was not
a pretty face.  It was defective in colouring and outline, and there
were lines on the quiet brow and round the patient lips; but the look
in the eyes--Nellie never forgot that look all her life--it seemed as
if Miss Latimer's very soul shone through those dark blue orbs, and
revealed the pure, spiritual nature of the woman.  A keen physiognomist
might have traced the words "I have lived and suffered" in the calm,
hushed face with its crown of silver-streaked hair; but Nellie, only a
simple child, merely gazed and wondered what it was that made her think
Aunt Judith's the most beautiful face she had ever seen.

"Now, dear," said the object of her thoughts, smiling kindly and
turning towards her when the dainty repast was over, "I think we shall
send you to bed, and after a good night's rest you will be refreshed
and ready for school-work to-morrow.  Don't trouble removing the
plates, Debby; we shall have worship first, and that will free Nellie."

Aunt Debby rose from her chair, handed Miss Latimer the old family
Bible, and placing a smaller one in Nellie's lap, reseated herself and
waited for Aunt Judith to begin.

A chapter slowly and reverently read, a prayer perfect in its childlike
simplicity, then Miss Latimer laid a hand on her niece's shoulder and
bade her "Good-night;" whilst Miss Deborah, lighting a candle, led the
way as before, and after seeing she required no further service,
treated the girl to a hearty embrace, and prepared to depart.

"A good sleep, child.  You'll see Aunt Meg tomorrow; this has been one
of her bad days, but I expect she will be much better in the morning."
These were Aunt Debby's last words, and she bustled away as if fearing
to what extent her tongue might lead her.

Nellie undressed, jumped into bed, and then, safely muffled under the
warm blankets, cried her homesickness out in the darkness.  "O mother,
mother," she sobbed, "how I miss you! it is all so strange and lonely.
What shall I do?"  But even as she wailed in her young heart's anguish,
the blankets were gently drawn aside, and a stream of light shining
down revealed the flushed tear-stained face on the pillow, and showed
Aunt Judith's gentle form bending over the sobbing figure.

"Nellie," she said in that kind voice so peculiarly her own--"Nellie,
my child, I was afraid of this;" and putting her arms round the
trembling girl, she drew the weary head to her breast, and smoothed the
tangled hair with soothing touch.  By-and-by the sobs became less
violent, and when they had finally ceased Miss Latimer spoke, and her
kind words were to the lonely heart as dew to the thirsty flowers.

In after years Nellie found what a precious privilege it was to have a
talk with Aunt Judith; and long after, when the brave, true heart had
ceased to beat, and the quietly-folded hands spoke of a finished work,
she drew from her treasured storehouse the blessed memory of wise,
loving counsels, of grand, beautiful thoughts; and carrying them into
her daily life, endeavoured to make that life "one grand, sweet song."



CHAPTER III.

WILL YOU HAVE ME FOR A FRIEND?

"Late again!  Winnifred Blake, I am ashamed of you; come, run as fast
as you can;" and scolding herself vigorously, Winnie changed her
leisurely step to a brisk trot which brought her to the schoolhouse
door exactly fifteen minutes after the hour.  "Punishment exercise
yesterday, and fine to-day--how horrible!" she broke out again,
entering the empty dressing-room and surveying the array of hats on the
various pegs, all of which seemed to rebuke her tardiness.  "Miss Smith
will purse up her lips, and utter some cutting sarcasm of course, but I
don't care," and Winnie, kicking off her boots, pitched them--well, I
don't think she herself knew where.  The jacket being next unfastened,
she proceeded to divest herself of her hat, and pulled with such
violence that the elastic snapped and struck her face severely.
Winnie's temper (so Dick declared) resembled nothing so much as a
pop-gun, going off, as it were, with a great bang on the least
provocation.  Flinging the offending article to the other side of the
room, and addressing it in anything but complimentary terms, she picked
up her books, shook her shaggy mane over her face, and marched straight
to the large class-room, where the girls were already busy over their
Bible lesson.

"Half-an-hour late, Miss Blake.  You really are improving.  Allow me to
remind you of the fine, also of Mrs. Elder's instructions to take the
lowest seat;" and Miss Smith, the senior governess, uttered the words
with withering scorn.

"Good-morning," replied the culprit, hiding an angry little heart under
a smiling exterior, and slipping her penny into the box on the
teacher's desk; "my sleep was slightly broken last night, and that made
me late."

Here the girls tittered, and Miss Smith frowned.  "Indeed," she
commented haughtily; "pray, does your constitution require a stated
interval of so many hours for sleep _every_ night?" and the governess
laid special stress on the word "every."

"Well, perhaps not," replied Winnie, coolly sitting down and proceeding
to unfasten her books; "but I always indulge in an extra half hour if I
am disturbed in my slumbers.  Broken rest tells sorely on my nervous
system, and renders both myself and others miserable."

At this point some of the pupils laughed outright, and Miss Smith's
anger rose.

"Silence!" she said, rising and tapping rapidly on the desk.  "Miss
Blake, you are a disgrace to the school.  Attend to your lesson, and
let me hear no more rude, impertinent language, or I shall punish you
severely," and the governess treated Winnie to one glance of supreme
contempt as she spoke.

The child ground her little white teeth together as she gazed on the
teacher's sour-faced visage and listened to the tones of her
high-pitched voice.  "Regular crab-apple, and as cross as two sticks,"
she muttered, knitting her brow in an angry frown, but smoothing it
hastily and calling up the necessary look of attention as Miss Smith
cast a swift glance in her direction; "how I should like to tell her
every horrid thought in my heart concerning herself.  She would be
edified," and at the bare idea Winnie shook so much with suppressed
merriment that the girl next her opened a pair of bright, hazel eyes
and stared in amazement at the audacious child.

The little mischief caught the look, and returning it with interest
found she was seated beside the new pupil whose advent had occasioned
yesterday's quarrel.  There was something very engaging in the frank,
open countenance, and Winnie smiled pleasantly as she met the
astonished gaze.

"Am I very rude and disobedient?" she asked, or rather whispered
roguishly; "you look so shocked and amazed.  Please, don't judge by
first impressions; my bark is worse than my bite, and I can be a very
good girl when I choose.  Self-praise is no honour, of course, and I
ought to be silent with regard to my various perfections and
imperfections; but if you wait patiently you will find out that
Winnifred Blake is a most eccentric character, and says and does what
no other person would say or do."

Nellie Latimer's astonishment increased as she gazed on this (to her)
new specimen of humanity.  What a dainty, fairy-like creature she
seemed, and what a mischievous gleam was lurking in the depths of those
great, shining eyes!  Nellie felt quite awkward and commonplace in her
presence; however, she managed to say shyly, "I am afraid it is I who
have been rude staring at you so; but I did not mean any harm, only you
are so different from the other girls."

Winnie gave her an admonishing touch.

"Hush!" she whispered, "the raven is watching us.  I mean Miss Smith,"
as Nellie looked bewildered.  "We call her that because she is
everlastingly croaking;" and here Winnie, leaning back on her seat,
assumed an expression of childlike innocence and solemnity, and
appeared to be thoroughly interested in the teacher's explanations.

The lesson proceeded; slowly but surely the hands of the clock moved
steadily forward, and at last pointed to the hour, on which Miss Smith,
rising, closed her book and dismissed the class with evident feelings
of relief.

"Ten minutes' respite, then heigh-ho for a long spell of grammar,
etc.," cried Winnie, addressing Nellie as they passed into the hall.
"You don't know your lessons to-day of course, and I am so well up in
mine that I shall not be able to answer a single word; so come away
with me to this quiet nook at the end of the passage and let us enjoy a
cosy talk."

The "quiet nook" referred to was a recess at the hall window,
partitioned off by a drapery of tapestried curtains.  It was a
favourite resort of Winnie's, and here the wonderful thoughts, the
outbursts of passion, the mischievous plots and schemes, all found free
course, and many a childish secret could those heavy folds of curtain
have told had they been gifted with tongues wherewith to speak.

Dismissing the other school-fellows who were gathering round, and
shooting a triumphant glance at Ada Irvine's haughty face, she half
dragged her amused but by no means unwilling companion to the sacred
spot; and when both were comfortably perched on the window niche, she
began eagerly, "Won't you tell me your name and where you live?  I am
called Winnifred Mary Blake.  I have three big brothers, and a little
one; two sisters older than myself; a cross papa and proud step-mamma.
We live about a mile from here--No. 3 Victoria Square--and I go home to
dinner every day during recess."  Having delivered this wonderful
announcement in one breath, Winnie paused and waited for her companion
to speak.

Nellie smiled as she replied,--

"My name is Helen Latimer, and my home is far away in a country
village.  I am staying, however, in town with my aunts at present, they
live in a small cottage in Broomhill Road."

"Broomhill Road!" echoed Winnie doubtfully; "that is not west, I fancy."

"Oh no, east; I have to take the 'bus, as it is too great a distance to
walk daily."

"Not an aristocratic locality," Winnie decided mentally, "and Ada
Irvine getting hold of that little fact would use it as a means of
exquisite torture to this new girl's sensitive heart.  Poor thing! she
looks so happy and blithe too."  Thinking such thoughts, the
mischievous child turned to her companion with a soft, pitying light in
her eyes, and holding out a small flake of a hand, said gently,--

"We have not much time at our disposal just now, and I cannot say all I
would wish; but you won't find it all plain sailing at school, Nellie,
and you will be none the worse of having some one to stand by you, so
will you have me for a friend?"

[Illustration: "Will you have me for a friend?"]

The quaint gipsy face with its framework of wavy hair; the bright,
sunny countenance and laughing lips; above all, the soft, childish
voice, charmed simple-hearted Nellie, who willingly grasped the hand
extended, with these words, "I shall be only too pleased indeed."  So
the compact was sealed--a compact which remained unbroken through the
long months and years that followed.  Time and adversity only served to
strengthen the bond, and the gray twilight of life found the friends of
childhood's days friends still.

"Hark to the bell! are you ready?" asked Winnie, stretching her lazy
little form and rising reluctantly from the cosy corner; "now for a
long, long lecture on subject and predicate, ugh!  How I do hate
lessons, to be sure;" and Miss Blake, parting the tapestried curtains,
stepped along the hall with a very mutinous face.

Nellie having come to school with the fixed determination to make the
most of her time, prepared to listen to the master's instructions with
all due attention; but Winnie's incessant fidgeting and yawning baffled
every attempt, and the ludicrous answers, given with tantalizing
readiness, almost upset her gravity, despite Mr. King's unconcealed
vexation.

"This is one of her provoking days," whispered a girl, noting Nellie's
puzzled face; "she will tease and annoy each teacher as much as
possible all this afternoon---she always does so when in these moods.
Do not think her stupid, Miss Latimer; as the French master often says,
'It is not lack of ability, but lack of application.'  She won't
learn," and Agnes Drummond, one of Winnie's stanchest allies, shook her
head admonishingly at the little dunce as she spoke; but a defiant pout
of the rosy lips was the only answer vouchsafed to the friendly
warning, and the next moment an absurdly glaring error brought down on
Winnie the righteous indignation of her irritated teacher, and resulted
in solitary confinement during recess.

Sitting alone in the large empty class-room, the poor child burst into
a flood of passionate tears.  "It's too bad," she cried rebelliously,
wiping her wet eyes and flinging her book aside with contemptuous
touch.  "There, I can't go home now, and we are to have jam pudding to
dinner.  Dick will chuckle--horrid boy! and eat my share as well as his
own.  I know he will, and I do so love those kind of puddings,
especially when they are made with strawberry jam.  Oh dear, how I envy
Alexander Selkirk on his desert island!  I am sure he never had any
nasty old lessons to learn, and I think he was very stupid to grumble
over his solitude when he could do every day simply what he pleased.
Well, if I must study, I must; so, here goes," and, drawing the
despised grammar towards her once more, Winnie set herself steadily to
master part of the contents.

Meanwhile, Nellie, deprived of the companionship of her new friend, was
being sharply catechised by Ada Irvine as to her antecedents and
general history.  The girl at first innocently replied to each
question; but after a time she resented the queries, and thereby
incurred that young lady's haughty displeasure, and brought down on
herself the sharp edge of Ada's sarcastic tongue.

"Not much of a pedigree to boast about, girls," was the final verdict,
given with a slight curl of the lip, signifying unbounded
contempt,--"the grandfather on the one side a farmer, on the other a
draper; the father a poor country doctor; three old maiden aunts living
in one of our commonest localities, keeping no servant, doing their own
work, and dressing like Quakers.  It's a wonder to hear Miss Latimer
speak without dropping her h's, or otherwise murdering the Queen's
English, ha, ha!" and Miss Irvine shrugged her elegant shoulders
scornfully.

"Oh, come, Ada, that is going too far," protested some of the girls,
shocked at the rude words and the cool deliberate manner in which they
were said; but their insolent school-fellow silenced them with an
impatient gesture, as she surveyed the flushed face of her victim and
awaited a reply.

Nellie felt both hurt and indignant.  She had grown up in her quiet,
country home, totally ignorant of the arrogancy and pride so much
abroad in the busy world; and coming to school with the expectancy of
finding pleasant companions and friends, the words struck home to her
heart with a chill.

"How unkind you are!" she murmured, struggling to suppress the angry
tears; "you have no right to speak so to me.  My aunts are not rich, it
is true, and cannot afford to dress so extravagantly as many; but that
does not prevent them from being perfect gentlewomen, does it?  Your
own mother cannot be a more thorough lady than my Aunt Judith, I am
sure."

"Is that so?" said Ada with mocking sarcasm, and the contempt in her
voice was indescribable.  "What presumption! the lower classes are
beginning to look up, sure enough."

"Shame!" cried some of the girls standing near; "you are cruel, Ada."
But at that moment a slim hand touched Nellie's arm, and a merry voice
said soothingly, "Never mind her, Nellie; we all know she is not
responsible for her statements at times.  Her brain is a little
defective on one point," and Winnie's great eyes shot a mischievous
glance at Miss Irvine's haughty face.

"May I ask the reason of your special interference just now?" inquired
Ada, an angry flush deepening the rose-tint on her cheek; "possibly you
wish yesterday's scene to be repeated over again."

"Oh dear, no," answered Winnie brightly, "home-truths seldom need
repetition; they are not so easily forgotten.  But Nellie is my friend,
and I intend to fight her battles as well as my own.  Please understand
that once for all, and remember at the same time with what metal you
have to deal.--Come, Nellie, I am free at last," and the spirited
little creature led her weeping school-mate from the room.

"Didn't I warn you not to expect plain sailing?" she continued with a
knowing look; "and Ada Irvine is a perfect hurricane.  She will swoop
down on you at every opportunity, and bluster and blow; but let her
alone and never mind."

"I wish I had never left home," replied Nellie, dashing her hand across
her eyes and winking away the tear-drops vigorously.  "How can girls
say such dreadful things?  I can't bear them;" and a fresh burst of
grief followed.

"Phew!" cried Winnie, giving her an energetic shake, and knitting her
brow in a childish frown, "that's babyish.  You'll strike on every rock
and bend before each gale if you talk in such a fashion.  Don't be a
fool, Nellie; pluck up some spirit, and show Ada Irvine you're above
her contempt."  Winnie spoke as if possessed with all the wisdom of the
ancients, and gave due emphasis to every word.  "She and I are always
at what Dick calls 'loggerheads,' and I enjoy an occasional passage of
arms amazingly; only, sometimes I come off second on the field, and
that is not so pleasant.  Now," with a pretty coaxing air, "dry your
tears; the hour is almost up, and the bell will be ringing shortly.  I
hate to see people crying, I do indeed, so please stop;" and Winnie
eyed the tear-stained countenance of her friend with mingled sympathy
and impatience.

"I daresay I am very silly," replied Nellie, wiping her eyes and
scrubbing her wet cheeks with startling vehemence; "anyhow I'll stop
now.  And thank you for taking my part, Winnie; you'll be a friend
worth having, I am sure of that."

"Yes," answered the young girl, a strange dreamy smile playing on her
lips, and a soft look gleaming in the mischievous eyes, "I shall be
true as steel;" and Nellie never forgot the earnest light on the
childish face as Winnie made her simple vow.



CHAPTER IV.

A TALK WITH AUNT JUDITH.

It was evening; the daily routine of work was over, and the time come
for resting and social enjoyment.  The ruby curtains were closely drawn
in the cosy parlour at Dingle Cottage; the flames leapt and danced in
the polished grate, and the soft lamplight fell with mellowing gleam
around.  Click, click, went Aunt Debby's needles as she sat by the warm
glow, knitting industriously; tick, tick, said the little clock, its
pendulum swinging steadily to and fro.  The cat purred in sleepy
content on the rug; and Aunt Judith's gentle voice fell soothingly on
the ear as she read some book aloud from her low seat by Aunt Meg's
couch.

Nellie, curled up in the rocking-chair opposite Aunt Debby, rocked
herself in lazy comfort, and gazed on her invalid relative with rather
a doubtful expression of countenance.  Her first impression of Miss
Margaret was certainly not favourable; for the girl, though not very
keen-sighted, saw how the pale pretty face was marred by lines of
peevish discontent, and the brow continually puckered in a fretful
frown.  She was not old, Nellie decided--not much over thirty, at the
very most; but oh, how unlike Aunt Judith!  What a contrast there was
betwixt that listless, languid form on the sofa, and the quiet figure
on the low chair near!  Nellie turned with a positive sigh of relief to
rest her eyes on Miss Latimer's peaceful countenance and wonder at the
marvellous calm that always brooded there.

Every now and then some frivolous demand or complaint would come from
the invalid--her pillows required shaking; the fire was too warm; the
lamplight not sufficiently shaded; what a noise Aunt Debby's pins were
making, and could Aunt Judith not read in a lower tone?  Nellie was
surprised at Miss Latimer's good-humoured patience, and thoroughly
enjoyed Miss Deborah's occasional tart remarks, thrown out in sheer
desperation.

"Well, Meg, you would provoke the temper of a saint," she cried,
twitching her wool so violently that the thread snapped, and the ball
rolled under the table; "there you go grumbling from morning till
night, in spite of every endeavour to make you comfortable.  Your
nurses have a hard time, I assure you, and are to be pitied sincerely."

Miss Margaret's eyes filled, and a flood of tears being imminent, Miss
Latimer strove to avert the torrent by saying, "Come, come, Debby; that
is strong language to use.  You and I great healthy creatures do not
know what it is to be confined to a couch day after day, and suffer
almost constant pain.  I should feel it very hard to be unable to go
about and walk in God's beautiful sunshine, and I think one cannot be
sufficiently tender and patient towards the sick and helpless."

"Mental pain is harder to bear than physical," quoth practical Miss
Deborah, in no way convinced of her harshness by the gentle speech.
"If one were to have one's choice, I reckon," with strong Yankeeism, "a
headache would be chosen in preference to a heartache," and Aunt Debby
nodded her head knowingly.

A white, set look crossed Aunt Judith's face, and a shadow crept into
the dark eyes; but they were gone in a moment, and Miss Latimer's lips
wore their own sweet smile as she replied, "God grant you may
experience little of either, Debby; but if you do, trust me you will
find that both bring the richest blessings in their train;" and Aunt
Judith's patient face shone with a glad light as she spoke.

"Meg has failed to seize her blessings, then," said Miss Deborah
composedly.  "No, no, Judith, you are a good woman, but you won't
convince me that Margaret is justified in whining and grumbling to the
extent she does."

"I need never look for sympathy from you, Debby," broke in the invalid
with a low sob; "you are very hard-hearted, but the day will come when
all those cruel speeches will rise up and condemn you."

"When?" with provoking gravity.

"When I am no longer here" (low sobs), "and the cold earth hides me for
ever from your sight."

"So let it be," retaliated Miss Deborah, coolly proceeding to turn the
heel of her stocking, and speaking quite placidly.  "I shall remember
the amount of exasperation I received when that day comes, and be able
to meet the condemnation with becoming fortitude."

"Debby, Debby," said Miss Latimer's voice reprovingly; but the warning
came too late.  A violent fit of hysterics ensued, and Miss Margaret
was borne to her room by the much-enduring sisters, whose services were
both required to quell the outburst and settle her comfortably for the
night.

Nellie, left alone in the snug parlour, drew her chair closer to the
fire, and lifting the cat from its cosy bed on the rug, allowed it to
curl up comfortably on her lap.  "What a fuss," said the girl,
shrugging her shoulders and gazing into the bright, glowing fire.  "If
I were Aunt Meg, I should be positively ashamed of myself--peevish,
cross thing that she is.  What a contrast to Aunt Judith;" and here
Nellie fell into a fit of musing, which lasted till Miss Deborah came
in with the cloth for supper.

"How is Aunt Meg now?" she inquired, watching Aunt Debby bustling about
on hospitable thoughts intent.  "Is she better?"

"Well, yes," was the reply, given with a little twinkle of the eye;
"and a good night's rest will work wonders.  You must excuse your aunt
this evening, Nellie; she is not always so fretful, and an invalid's
life has its hard times."

Miss Deborah spoke earnestly, for although she felt justified in saying
a sharp word herself, she could ill brook the idea of any one
disparaging or thinking lightly of her invalid sister.  Nellie gave a
slight nod of assent, which seemed to signify approval of Aunt Debby's
words.  Nevertheless she retained her own opinion, and mentally
condemned poor Miss Margaret as being both weak and silly.

Supper over, Miss Deborah retired to the kitchen, where her reign as
queen was undisputed, and Miss Latimer, bidding Nellie bring a small
stool and sit down at her feet, began to stroke the soft hair gently,
and ask questions as to the day's proceedings.

"Tell me your first impressions, dear child," said the kind voice
pleasantly; and the young girl, whose heart still ached at the
remembrance of Ada Irvine's stinging words, poured forth the whole
story with a force and passion which astonished even herself.

Aunt Judith listened quietly--so quietly, indeed, that Nellie felt half
ashamed of her vehemence, and imagined she had been making "much ado
about nothing;" but in a few minutes Miss Latimer spoke, and her tones
were very tender as she said:--"So my little Nellie has learned that
school is not the sunny place she fancied it was.  Dear child, I think
your new friend gave you very good advice.  Don't be a coward, Nellie,
and allow your happiness to be marred by the insolent tongue of a
spoilt girl.  Show her a true lady is characterized, not by outward
dress and appearance, but by the innate beauty of heart and soul, and
leave your quiet endurance and pleasant courtesy to speak for
themselves.  Dear, it seems to me as if you were just beginning life
now--as if you had but newly entered the lists, and were preparing for
that battle which we have all to fight in this world.  The warfare is
seldom, if ever, an easy one, and the little stings of everyday life
are harder to bear than many a heavy trial; but you must determine to
be a brave, true soldier, Nellie, and make your life a grand, noble
one.  You may say to me it is easy to speak, but difficult to act,
which I readily grant; but, my child, although the acting may seem
almost impossible, we have one Friend ever able and willing to help us.
If we choose Him in all sincerity of heart for our Captain, we need not
fear to engage in the very thick of the fight."

Aunt Judith paused; and Nellie, seizing the gentle hand which was
stroking her head with tender touch, said, "You make me think of my
father, auntie; he speaks so often to us just as you are doing now.
Every Sabbath evening, when the little ones are in bed, he gathers us
round him; and after reading a portion of the Bible, he closes the book
and talks in the same way.  Oh, I feel so strong and brave while I
listen--I feel as if I could face the heaviest sorrow with all courage;
but when Monday comes my good resolutions vanish, and I find myself
yielding and sinning as before."

The girl gazed straight at her aunt as she spoke, fearing to see a look
of disapprobation over her weakness; but Miss Latimer's face was as
calm as ever, only the eyes seemed softer and full of such a tender,
loving light as she replied,--

"We have most of us the same story to tell, child,--a story of bravery
so long as the battle is far off, but of cowardly shrinking when the
time for hand-to-hand conflict comes.  Whilst the sunshine is all
around us and our hearts full of great gladness, we look up and thank
the good Father for his precious blessings, feeling nerved for the
fiercest fight; but when the storm-clouds gather and the golden
brightness is withdrawn, we bow before the blinding tempest and writhe
under our pain, unless--and the kind voice spoke very softly--the
Master has our hearts in his own safe keeping, unless we have learned
to love his will.  Then we can discern the bright stars of his love
shining through the darkness, and find that the apparently pitiless
storm has left diamond drops of blessing behind it.  Never despair,
Nellie; strive and pray for grace to follow in the Master's footsteps,
and you will learn what a grand, noble thing the consecrated life is,
and how truly worth living.  You know those lines of Kingsley's, do you
not?--

  'Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;
    _Do_ noble things, not _dream_ them all day long;
  And so make life, death, and the vast forever,
    One grand sweet song.'"


There was a long silence after this, during which Nellie thought
deeply, and Aunt Judith lay back in her chair with quietly-folded hands
and a far-seeing look in her patient eyes.  Then the girl said
earnestly, "Aunt Judith, I will try very hard to do my best, I will
indeed; and oh, may I come to you when things go wrong, and I can't or
won't see the right way?  It does me good to have a talk with you, and
takes half the home-sickness away.  Say yes; please do, dear, dear,
dear auntie;" and Nellie's voice sounded very earnest.

"I shall be only too glad, my child," replied Miss Latimer with her
rare sweet smile.  "Treat me as you would your own mother, dear, and
let me help you so far as I am able; only, Nellie, don't depend on your
own strength or my aid, but go straight to the Fountain-head, and find
the never-failing strength and grace for the needs of every day."

"Thank you, Aunt Judith," was the fervent response; then Aunt Debby
entered, and the conversation ceased.

Bedtime came.  Nellie retired for the night; Miss Deborah 'followed
suit;' and Miss Latimer, extinguishing the light, crossed the tiny
hall, and opening a door to the left, entered, and closed it softly
behind her.

This, her private sanctum, was like the other apartments--small and
plainly furnished, but with the same air of neatness and comfort.  A
book-case lined one side of the room entirely; a small round table
stood close to the window, bright with autumn flowers; a larger one in
the centre of the room held a desk, and was strown with papers,
magazines, etc.; while soft chairs inviting one to luxurious ease faced
the ruddy hearth, and various little nick-nacks scattered here and
there showed the graceful touch of a woman's hand.

Going to the centre table, Aunt Judith seated herself before the open
desk, looked over several closely-written sheets of manuscript, and
then furnishing herself with fresh paper, began to write rapidly.

The fire burned slowly out, and the midnight hour had long sounded ere
Miss Latimer dried her pen and laid aside her work with a tired sigh.
Crossing to the window, she raised the blind, and leaning against the
casement, looked away up at the quiet night sky.  There was no moon;
but the happy stars, shining with frosty brightness, kept their silent
watch over the sleeping world.  Oh, how still, how very hushed it was!
what a great infinite peace seemed brooding over all--a peace such as
millions of weary souls were longing to possess; not a sound to be
heard, not a ripple of unrest--only that wondrous calm.  For a long
time Miss Latimer stood drinking in the sweetness and beauty of the
nature-world, and letting her thoughts soar up, upwards to the great
Father of all, who neither slumbers nor sleeps.  What those thoughts
were we do not know; but surely some of that vast peace must have
stolen softly, silently, into her patient heart, for when she turned
away and entered a tiny bedroom leading off from her sanctum, Aunt
Judith's face seemed as it were the face of an angel.



CHAPTER V.

A FALLEN QUEEN.

Next morning Nellie set out for school in apparently the best of
spirits, returning Aunt Judith's encouraging smile with one as bright
and hopeful, and shouting a merry farewell as she ran lightly down the
garden path and closed the little gate behind her.

Arriving fully ten minutes before the hour, she found several of the
girls already assembled in the large class-room, gathered as usual in
knots, and talking gaily to one another.

"Good-morning," said Agnes Drummond, coming forward and holding out her
hand in a friendly manner.  "You are going to be a punctual pupil, Miss
Latimer."  And the other scholars, not being overpowered as yet by
Ada's presence, nodded blithely and allowed their new school-mate to
join in the general conversation.

While girlish tongues were busy and the room was filled with the hum of
merry voices, the great bell rang loudly, and at the same moment Winnie
came rushing in, crying half breathlessly as she did so, "Just in time,
girls; not a minute too soon.  Good-morning, everybody.  Do I look as
if I had been having a good race?" and she turned her piquant face
round for a general survey.

"A species of milk-maid bloom," said Ada Irvine, catching the words as
she leisurely entered the room, "which makes you appear more suited to
your friend of the dairy-maid type;" and Miss Irvine looked insolently
at Nellie's fresh bright face as she spoke.  The soft tints on the
smooth, rounded cheek deepened, and the girl bit her lip hard to keep
back the angry words.

Not so Winnie, however.  Turning a pair of great, serious eyes on her
haughty school-mate's fair, placid countenance, she said with an air of
prophetic solemnity,--

"Ada Irvine, you will yet be rewarded for all your contemptuous
speeches.  Mark my words, and see if you don't get smashed up in a
railway accident, or fall a victim to that delightfully disfiguring
disease--small-pox.  Serve you right too.  Every dog has its day: you
are enjoying yours at present, and can say and do as you please;
but--ugh! I'm disgusted at you," and Winnie "tip-tilted" her little
nose with the most charming grace imaginable.

Ada smiled loftily.

"I would not be vulgar, if I were you," she remarked calmly.  "I
suppose you learn all those choice proverbs from your aristocratic
brother.  Ah, there is Mrs. Elder coming to open the school.  Do alter
your expression, my dear; you are regarding me with such loving eyes, I
am sure she will think you are too affectionate," and Ada swept to her
seat with a mocking laugh.

The lessons commenced, and Nellie, thoroughly prepared, almost forgot
the morning's annoyance in the joy at finding herself slowly rising to
the head of the class, where Miss Irvine sat with all the dignity of an
enthroned queen.

Ten minutes' respite; then came the English, conducted by Mr. King, the
most thorough and rigid master in the school.  A question was asked--a
question calculated to tax severely the skill and ingenuity of the
active brain.  Ada hesitated for one moment, then made a fatal blunder;
and Nellie, answering correctly, slipped quietly into the seat of the
deposed sovereign.  Winnie's delight was indescribable.  One triumphant
glance after another flashed upwards to the fallen queen's angry face,
and her bright eyes fairly danced with wicked joy when, at the close of
the class, Mr. King said a few words of commendation on Miss Latimer's
abilities.

"Nellie, Nellie!  I'm proud of my friend to-day, She's a regular brick,
and deserves any amount of hugging and petting.  Oh joy, joy! how did
you manage it, dear?  You have taken the wind out of Ada's sails and
gained a feather in your cap, I can assure you.  It all seems too good
to be true.  The queen dethroned at last!" and Winnie catching Nellie
round the waist, danced her up and down the schoolroom in a regular
madcap whirl.

"You'll be late for dinner if you don't hurry home at once, Win," said
one of the elder girls, crossing over to the fire and seating herself
by its cheery blaze with a tempting book and box of caramels.  "There,
run away and don't waste your precious time in speaking uncharitable
words, dear.  Recess will soon be over;" and Elsie Drummond looked
kindly down on the little figure dancing before her with such evident
delight.

"I'm just going," replied Winnie, stopping to bestow a smile on the
elder girl's pleasant face.  "But you can't understand why I am so
happy.  You don't belong to our set, and therefore know very little
about Ada's conceit and--yes, I shall say it--priggish ways.  She's
just as horrid as can be, and I hate her," wound up the malicious
monkey, quite reckless of the character of her language.

"Agnes owns rather a sharp tongue, dear, and I hear many a tale from
her," replied Elsie, referring to her younger sister; "but I think,
Win, if you wish to be a true friend to Nellie, you will refrain from
expressing your joy at her success too openly, at least in Ada's
presence.  Such unconcealed delight will, believe me, dear, do more
harm than good."

"Oh, nonsense, Elsie," was the impetuous reply.  "I must sing and dance
my joy, it's such a splendid opportunity.  Why shouldn't I crow over
the nasty proud thing?  She needs somebody to ruffle her, and I can do
that part better than any one else in the school.--You don't mind my
having a little fun, do you, Nellie? she's such a cross-patch, you
know."

Now, as was quite natural under the circumstances, Nellie did feel not
a little elated over her success.  It was a triumph certainly, and
girl-like she found it both palatable and pleasant to rejoice over a
fallen enemy.  At the same time, however, she saw the force of Miss
Drummond's caution, and the wisdom of yielding to her advice, so
turning to Winnie she answered gently,--

"Please say no more about it; it was all chance, and Ada may gain her
old seat to-morrow again, though I mean to try to prevent her from
doing so."

But the words were simply wasted on the incorrigible child, who resumed
her fantastic war-dance as she replied,--

"No, no; I shall not make any false promise.  I mean to be a true,
loyal friend, Nell; but if a nice little malicious speech comes gliding
softly to the very tip of my tongue, I must let the words out,
otherwise there will be choking.  Prepare then for sudden squalls," and
with a mischievous laugh Winnie vanished from the room, and was soon
running along the road in the direction of home.

"The old story--late again," said Dick, looking up from his well-filled
plate as she entered and sat down opposite him at the table.  "You'll
never have time to cram down cabinet pudding and tart to-day, I'll be
bound;" and the boy grinned teasingly on the bright face before him.

"Won't I, though?" answered Winnie, nodding her head blithely, and
eying the contents of the plate brought to her by Jane the parlour-maid
with decided relish.  "Don't imagine you'll get my share to-day, Dicky
boy, for I'm as hungry as a hawk.  I have something to tell you,
however, so please listen;" and between mouthfuls she told in a
rambling style the story of Nellie's triumph and Ada's defeat, ending
with the following words, "Do you know, Dick, when I saw Ada sitting
below Nellie and looking so crestfallen, I could have risen there and
then and danced for joy before her.  Will you believe me, I felt so
glad I could hardly restrain my feet till the hour was up, and whenever
liberty was proclaimed, didn't they go well at the Irish jig!  Oh
dear!" and Winnie's face was all aglow as she waited her brother's
commendatory remarks on such behaviour.

Dick coughed, blew his nose violently, filled out some water into his
glass, quaffed the draught, cleared his throat, and then said gravely,
"I'll tell you what to do, Win.  This evening, after we have finished
studying, I'll teach you a splendid double-shuffle which you will
rehearse to-morrow (with added grace, of course,) in front of the
lovely Ada, and before all the class--Mr. King included.  My eye, what
glorious fun!" and vulgar Dick looked across at his sister with beaming
face.

"I dare hardly attempt that," she replied dolefully, "though I should
dearly love doing so.  But you see, Dick" (with energy), "Mrs. Elder
detests me so much, and I have been caught in so many faults lately,
that such an awful one as you propose would prove fatal.  Your
delightful plan must be abandoned, I am sorry to say."

"Well, perhaps after all you are right," replied the boy, changing his
teasing tone into a serious one.  "I daresay Miss Ada's rage would only
increase in fury if she saw you performing a triumph-dance and
rejoicing so extravagantly over her defeat.  I remember a few years ago
something of the same kind occurring in our school, and wasn't there a
blow-up at the end!  I was one of the little chaps then, but I managed
to keep my eyes and ears open, and knew more about the whole affair
than any one guessed."

"Tell me the story, Dick," interrupted Winnie, holding a spoonful of
tart suspended betwixt her mouth and plate, and speaking eagerly; "do,
there's a dear boy."  But Dick shook his shaggy head, and answered,--

"Not just now, Win.  Our time is almost up.  Finish your pudding, old
girl, and let us away.  By-the-by, don't expect me home till after five
this afternoon;" and the boy's bright face clouded as he made this
statement.

"Why not?" was the inquiry.  "We were going to have such splendid fun
together.  Is there anything wrong?"

"Kept in," uttered in a growling tone.  "Lessons as usual badly
prepared--denounced for my stupidity, and ordered to remain after hours
and work up.  See what it is to have a dunce of a brother, Win," and
Dick, curling his lip sneeringly, endeavoured to hide his wounded
feelings by putting his hands in his pockets and trying to look
perfectly indifferent.

Winnie, on her part, burst forth indignantly,--

"Not another word against yourself, Richard Blake.  I won't listen."
Then coming to her brother's side and slipping two soft arms round his
neck, she raised her eyes with the love-light shining so softly in
them, and murmured tenderly, "Don't be downcast, dear old boy--all will
come right some day; and I am just as stupid as you are."

"No, no," cried Dick quickly.  "Indolence is your fault, Win, not
stupidity.  But I--I can't learn, and that's the simple truth.  I've
tried over and over again, but it's no good; and, of course,"
(doggedly) "no one believes that fact."

"I do," said the soft little voice.  "But, Dick, people don't know you.
There you go," (with quaint gravity) "hiding that great, kind heart of
yours, and showing only a rough exterior.  Our father and mother never
guess bow brave and good and true you are.  They'll find all that out
some day, however;" and Winnie looked into her brother's honest
freckled face with all the affection of her loyal, little heart.

"You're a decided goose, Win," was all the answer vouchsafed to her
cheering words, as the boy rose from his chair and prepared to leave
the room; but the twinkle in his eye, and kind, firm pressure of his
hand, when they parted at the street corner, spoke volumes to little
Winnie, and sent her back to school with a happy heart.

She was very thoughtful all that afternoon, however, and so quiet that
when school was over and the two girls stood on the steps of Mrs.
Elder's Select Establishment, Nellie inquired anxiously if her friend
were ill.

"Ill!" repeated Winnie with a light laugh; "not I--only, I've been
a-thinking," and a long-drawn sigh accompanied the words.

"What about?" asked her companion, descending the steps and viewing the
little figure with the great, serious look on its face.  "What a
doleful expression, Winnie!  You look as if you had, like Atlas, the
whole world on your shoulders."

"Nellie," interrupted the child--for indeed she seemed little more than
such--with the faintest quiver in her voice, "did you ever think, and
think, and think, till your head seemed bursting, and all your thoughts
got whirled together?  No?  Ah, well, I have; and somehow when I get
into these moods everything becomes muddled, and I find myself all in a
maze.  Oh!" and Winnie spoke with passionate vehemence, "often I would
give I don't know how much to find some one who could understand and
explain away my thoughts."

"Why not speak to your mother?" asked Nellie, rather surprised at this
new phase in her friend's character; "surely she should be able to help
you."

But the little girl shook her head despondingly.  "No, no, Nellie; my
stepmother is very kind and pretty, but I don't see much of her, and
she would only laugh at me."

They were strolling leisurely along the street now, and the child's
voice had a plaintive ring in it as she continued: "I was very ill
about a year ago--so ill, Nellie, that I had to lie in bed day after
day for a long time.  I can't tell what was wrong with me, but I know
the doctor used to look very grave when he saw me; and one day, after
he had gone away, nurse went about my room crying softly to herself.  I
was too weak to care or think, and only wondered dreamily what she was
crying for, till my stepmother entered, and I noticed that her eyes
were red too.  They imagined I was sleeping, I suppose, for nurse quite
loudly asked, 'Is there no hope?'  O Nellie!  I shall never forget that
moment, never so long as I live.  I seemed to realize that I was
dying--really, truly dying--and the thought was awful.  What would
happen to me after death?  I could not, I dared not die.  Springing
with sudden strength from the bed, I tried to rush anywhere, screaming,
'Save me! don't let me die!' in the most awful agony.  Then came a long
blank.  I never forgot that time, but I never spoke of it to any one.
Where was the use?  I should only have been laughed at, and told to
think about living, not dying."

There was something so pathetic in the way all this was told, there was
such an amount of pathos in the quivering voice, that Nellie's heart
ached and the tears rushed to her eyes.

"Winnie," she began gently, "I know what would do you all the good in
the world--a talk with Aunt Judith.  I am sure she would never laugh
away your thoughts or refuse to listen, she is so good and kind; and
when she speaks, one feels as if all one's wicked passions were hushed
away."

Winnie brightened visibly.

"Is that so?" she inquired; "then I should dearly like to see her.
Won't you invite me to spend some afternoon with you, Nellie, and allow
me to see Aunt Judith and your cosy wee home?"

"I shall be only too pleased, Winnie," replied her companion.  Then the
two friends parted and went their respective roads--one to a
fashionable home where gaiety reigned supreme and pleasure filled up
every hour; the other to a lowly cottage-dwelling where God's holy name
was hallowed, and the Christ-life showed itself clear and bright in
Aunt Judith's daily walk.



CHAPTER VI.

WINNIE'S HOME.

That same evening Winnie and Dick were alone together in the oak
parlour; a room sacred to themselves, where they ate, studied, played,
and lived, as it were, a life quite apart from that of the other
inmates of the family, who, occupied with business or domestic duties
through the day, spent evening after evening in a round of gaiety and
amusement.  Brother and sister enjoyed little of the society of their
elders during the week, but on Saturdays and Sabbaths they were usually
expected to lunch with their parents--an honour which, I am sorry to
say, neither appreciated; for somehow Dick seldom failed to commit a
gross blunder or make some absurd speech at a critical moment, and
Winnie, though a general favourite, refused to be happy when he was
sternly upbraided for his fault.

The father, a man of wide culture and refinement, had no patience with
his son's clumsy movements and slow brain, refusing to look under the
surface and see the great loving heart which beat there with its wealth
of warm true affection; while Mrs. Blake and the elder brothers and
sisters regarded him in the light of a good-for-nothing or general
scapegrace.  The result was that Dick hid the many sterling qualities
of his nature under a gruff, forbidding exterior, and only
tender-hearted Winnie guessed how he winced and writhed under the
mocking word or light laugh indulged in at his expense.  Resenting them
bitterly, she gathered up all the love of her passionate little heart
and showered it on him, idolizing this big brother of hers to such an
extent that even his faults seemed gilded with a halo; and her
affection being equally returned, both found their greatest happiness
in each other's society.

Oh, what fun they had together in the oak parlour!  Oh, the shouts of
ringing laughter and the merry jest of words!  Now and then Dick would
bring home with him his special friend, Archie Trollope, and what a
night would follow,--Winnie entering into their games with all the zest
of her tomboy nature.

She never felt solitary or out of place in the company of these two
boys; and they--why, they looked upon her as one of themselves: Dick
describing her to his numerous companions as being a "tip-top" girl,
and Archie singing her praises loudly to his own sisters who never knew
what it was to join in a madcap frolic, and whose voices were strictly
modulated to society pitch.

Sometimes, in the long winter evenings, the trio, tired with play,
would lower the gas, and gathering round the large, blazing fire, tell
ghost stories with such thrilling earnestness that often the ghastly
phantoms seemed to merge almost into reality, and they found themselves
starting at a falling cinder or the sound of a footstep in the passage
outside.  On those occasions the window-blind was usually drawn up to
the top, that the pale, glimmering moonlight might stream in; and as
the soft silvery beams stole silently into the room and laid their
tremulous light on the young forms and awestruck faces, the flames
leaping and crackling joined in enhancing the effect of the story by
throwing on the walls weird shadows of a moving spectral band.

But the winter days were yet to come, though the cold autumn winds and
falling leaves heralded their sure approach; and this evening Winnie
and Dick were engaged--not in wandering hand in hand into wonderland,
but in the prosaic occupation of making toffy.

Winnie, enveloped in one of nurse's huge bib-aprons, stood at a little
distance from the fire, busily studying a book of recipes; while Dick,
his honest face burnt to the colour of a lobster, was bending over a
saucepan and stirring manfully the tempting contents.

"Yes," said the young lady, laying aside the well-thumbed volume and
taking a step forward, "the quantities are correct.  I am sure this
will be excellent toffy, but--Dick, you shocking boy! whatever are you
doing?  Licking the spoon, I declare.  How very vulgar!" and Winnie
opened her eyes in horrified amazement at her brother's lack of
good-breeding.

"Well, you see, Win," replied the culprit meekly, "you so often make
mistakes and put in some awful compound that I am obliged to guard
against being poisoned.  Having a sincere affection for life, and not
being like Portia 'aweary of this great world,' I consider it my duty
to take all due precautions, and therefore _pardonnez-moi_ for tasting
the toffy."

The young cook drew her slight figure up and said with an air of
offended dignity, "I flatter myself that I am quite capable of making
excellent toffy, Richard Blake, and am well aware as to the proper
ingredients."

"Doubtless," with a sweeping bow, "but 'accidents will happen in the
best-regulated families;' and I remember how you substituted salt for
sugar the last time, and apparently never discovered your mistake till
you had dosed me with some of the vile concoction.  It was cracking
stuff, I can assure you."  Here Dick became thoroughly convulsed at the
remembrance of that disastrous night, and laughed so heartily that
Winnie fled to the rescue of her beloved toffy, and seized the spoon
from her brother's swaying hand.

"What an object you look!" she said scornfully, stirring the clear
brown liquid and inhaling its savoury odour with intense satisfaction.
"I don't see anything to laugh at;" and she began to hum the tune of an
old nursery rhyme, as if utterly indifferent to both Dick and his
laughter.

"Don't ape Madame Dignity, Win," gasped the awful boy in an almost
strangled condition; "lofty airs are not becoming to such a little
creature.  You know perfectly well what a 'go' it was, and thought I
was about to 'shuffle off this mortal coil.'"  Dick had a weakness for
Shakespeare.  "Oh dear! when I reflect upon it all and remember the
taste--" but here Winnie was obliged to give in and join in his
merriment, for the boy's face of pretended disgust was too comical to
resist.

"Dick, you are dreadful!" she said at length, the tears streaming down
her cheeks and her voice still trembling with a lurking suspicion of
laughter.  "Will you never forget that eventful night!"

"Never," replied her brother with mock gravity; "the remembrance is
printed indelibly on the records of my memory, and the taste remains
for ever fresh to my palate.  Let us change the conversation, Win; the
subject is too much for my delicate constitution."

"I am quite agreeable," quoth the young lady composedly, "and in that
case allow your hands to be active and your tongue silent.  I want the
tin buttered, and the bottle of vanilla essence brought from the
pantry.  Now, do hurry, for the toffy is almost ready."

Dick obeyed orders, and in a short time the candy was cooling outside
on the window ledge, while brother and sister, comfortably settled in
their respective chairs, were preparing to enjoy a "quiet read."

"This is a splendid book, Dick," said the little chatterbox, toying
with the leaves of her dainty volume, and glancing at the tasteful
engravings.  "All the school-girls are raving about it, and saying how
delightfully interesting the story is."

"What's the name and who's the author?" inquired Dick, too much
engrossed in his own book of wonderful adventures to give much heed to
his sister's words.  "Quick, Win; I'm just killing a whale.  Ah! now
they've got him.  Bravo!" and the boy shouted his appreciation of the
stirring tale.

"Oh, the title of the book is 'A Summer's Pleasure;' and the
author--let me see--why--" and Winnie stopped short, her eyes opened to
their widest extent and her rosy lips slightly parted.

"What's up with the girl?" queried Dick, roused by the little sister's
surprised tone and bewildered expression.  "Lot's wife could not have
looked more petrified, I'll be bound.  Do satisfy a fellow's curiosity,
Win, and don't sit there mute as a fish."

Thus admonished, Winnie gave herself a little shake and laughed lightly.

"No wonder," she said excusingly.  "Only think, Dick,--the author of
this book calls herself 'Aunt Judith,' and that is the name of one of
Nellie Latimer's aunts."

The boy gave a prolonged whistle.

"Well, you are a little fool," he said politely, "to make such a fuss
about nothing.  Dear me, Win, you don't imagine surely that Nellie
Latimer's aunt is the author of that book, simply because her name
happens to be Judith.  Why, there are hundreds of Aunt Judiths in the
world;" and philosopher Dick went back to his whales and icebergs in
lofty contempt of his sister's excitement.

"I daresay I am a goose," laughed Winnie apologetically; "but somehow
it seemed so strange to see 'Aunt Judith' staring at me from the
title-page.  Aunt Judith--" and the little girl repeated the name
softly, as if those two words held for her some subtle charm.

The minutes passed slowly one by one.  Dick was away in the far north
fighting the whales, and having wonderful adventures with polar bears;
while Winnie, curled up cosy fashion in the depths of a huge easychair,
was also absorbed in the contents of her book; when the soft
swish-swish of garments was heard coming along the passage, and the
door opened to admit a fair, stately lady, whose silken robe fell in
graceful folds to her feet, and whose arms, neck, and hair glittered
with sparkling jewels.  She was followed by two younger ladies, as
richly but more youthfully dressed; and as they entered the room a
delicious perfume distilled itself and wafted all around the sweetest
fragrance.

"Mamma!" cried Winnie, springing up and gazing admiringly on the
beautiful figure before her; "how pretty you look!  Are you going out
to-night again, and Clare and Edith also?"

"Yes, dear," replied Mrs. Blake in a softly-modulated voice; "we are
all going to the opera, and the carriage is already at the door.  I
wished to know, however, why Dick was so late in getting home this
afternoon, and so looked in on you as I was passing."

Dick, who had barely glanced up at his stepmother's entrance, and then
continued reading, now knit his brow in an angry frown, and seemed
unwilling to answer; while Clare, the elder of the two young ladies,
laughed carelessly as she said, "Our invasion for that purpose was
hardly necessary, I fancy.  It is simply the old story over
again--badly-prepared lessons."

"You're about right there," replied the boy sullenly, never raising his
eyes from the volume before him.  "What else could you expect of the
dunce?" and a bitter sneer curled the corners of his lips as he spoke,
while Winnie's warm little heart was all aglow with love and sympathy.

Mrs. Blake's face assumed an expression of peevish distress.  "I am
sure, Dick," she began plaintively, "I do not know what the end of all
this will be.  Your father is perfectly disgusted at your indolence and
ashamed of your stupidity."  The boy's eyes flashed.  "Yes, it is quite
true.  I am tired listening to his continual complaints;" and the lady
drew her fleecy wrap round her with an injured air.

"O mamma," interrupted Winnie eagerly, "you are wronging Dick.  He may
not be so clever as Algy and Tom, but he is such a dear, good boy, and
does try ever so hard to learn his lessons.  He does indeed; and I
should know best, when I study beside him every night."

"That's enough, Win," answered her brother doggedly.  "I don't care
what they believe;" and the boy, drawing his chair closer to the fire,
gazed angrily into the burning embers.

"What a respectful speech, and what charming manners!" said Edith
scornfully.  "You would grace any drawing-room, Dick.--Come away,
mamma; we shall be late.  Papa will soon bring his dutiful son to his
proper senses."

"Well spoken, Edith," said Mrs. Blake, sweeping indignantly from the
room; "the boy is a perfect boor.  I trust he may show more honour to
his father than he has accorded to me."

The door closed softly behind the unwelcome guests, the light footsteps
died away in the distance, and Winnie and Dick were once more alone in
the little oak parlour, with the dancing firelight playing on their
faces and roguishly deepening the tint on their youthful cheeks.

Dick's book had dropped from his knees, and was lying with crumpled
leaves on the rug, while the boy, his hands tightly clenched, sat in
moody silence; and Winnie's tender heart ached as she watched him.
Slipping from her chair, she crossed over to his side, and nestling
down, laid her pretty head on his arm, saying with a quiver in her
voice, "Dick, my dear, good boy, don't look like that; I can't bear it.
Oh, why do they say such things to you?"  Here the tears forced
themselves into the bright eyes as she spoke.

Dick gave the fender a vicious kick ere he replied: "I tell you what it
is, Win: one of these days I'll run away.  No, no; don't strangle me
and say I won't, for I tell you I _will_.  A fellow can't be expected
to stand this sort of thing all his life.  I'm sick of it.  Hallo!
what's up?" for Winnie's arms were clasped tightly round his neck and
the great tears were running silently down her cheeks.

"Don't go, Dick, oh, don't go!" she pleaded frantically, half choking
the boy with her violent embraces.  "Whatever should I do without you?
Dick, you must not go; only wait, and all will come right in the end.
Promise, promise!" and the little gipsy face looked pitiful in its wild
terror.

Dick's heart melted.

"There, there, dry your eyes, you wee goose; I was only teasing you.
Why, what a disconsolate-looking object somebody is!" and laughing his
sister out of her fright, the two sat chatting merrily till bed-time,
when Winnie went away to her own dainty room, and Dick also sought his
den.

Then, when alone in the darkness, the merriment died out of his face,
and as he lay thinking over his wrongs, real and imaginary, bitter
feelings swept over his heart, and the idle threat began to form itself
into fixed determination.  "I would go right off to-night were it not
for Win," he muttered, tossing restlessly on his pillows; "but I guess
she would fret sorely, and--'there's the rub.'"  Another Shakespearian
quotation.  "Well, well, I'll sleep over it;" and then Dick wandered
into the land of dreams, to be haunted by the vision of a quaint gipsy
face and great pleading eyes--a vision which rose up before him again
and again in after years, when he was out on the great waste of waters,
and the soft moon and shining stars seemed to whisper of home and
loving hearts.



CHAPTER VII.

AN AFTERNOON AT DINGLE COTTAGE.

One Saturday afternoon, about a week after the events recorded in the
last chapter, Miss Latimer stood at the window of her cosy parlour
looking out into the quiet street with its small semi-detached villas
and cottages, the tiny gardens of which were now strown with the
falling autumn leaves.  There was a slight look of expectancy in her
eyes and pleased expression on her face calculated to give any beholder
the idea that Aunt Judith was watching for something or somebody.  And
so she was; for Winnifred Blake had gladly accepted the invitation to
spend that afternoon and evening at Dingle Cottage, much to Nellie's
delight; and that young lady, too impatient to await her guest's
arrival, had gone part of the way to meet the expected visitor.

Aunt Judith, after giving a quick glance round the room to see that
everything had a comfortable, inviting look, resumed her quiet watch,
and for some time the silence of the house was unbroken, save by a
slight sound now and then proceeding from the kitchen, where Aunt
Debby, Martha-like as usual, was busy with domestic work.  At last two
figures appeared coming swiftly along the street, and Miss Latimer,
hastening to the door, opened it with words of kindly welcome as Winnie
and Nellie danced (I can use no better word) up the tiny garden path.

"Come in, dear; I am pleased to see you," she said in her gentle voice,
leading the young guest to Nellie's bedroom, and assisting her to take
off her hat and jacket.  "Nellie has spoken so often about you that you
seem no stranger to me, and I am glad to think my niece has gained such
a true, warm-hearted little friend."

Winnie, surveying the kind face bending over her, smiled at the words,
but seemed to be too much overwhelmed by an unaccountable fit of
shyness to vouchsafe any reply.  She kept her usually busy tongue
silent till the three were seated in the snug parlour, when, under the
influence of Miss Latimer's simple, homely manner, she began, as Nellie
expressed it, to thaw, and the fountain once set free produced a play
of bright, sparkling conversation.

Aunt Judith's nimble fingers plied the needle industriously, and though
she herself said little at first, her thorough enjoyment of the young
people's society was evident from the quiet, amused smile which lurked
round the corners of her lips, and the close attention she gave to the
merry flow of talk.  School and school-mates were the two chief themes
of conversation, and if now and again a remark savouring rather
strongly of girlish malice or jealousy fell from either lips, Miss
Latimer wisely made no comment; for she knew what, alas! many pay so
little heed to--that for everything there is a season, and that a word
of admonition thrown in at a wrong time serves rather to harden than
soften the heart.

"Nellie is getting on splendidly at school, Miss Latimer," announced
Winnie after a long pause.  "Ada Irvine cannot call herself the dux any
longer; and I am so glad.  It is quite delightful to see her angry,
crestfallen look each time Nellie makes a correct answer;" and Winnie's
face glowed in thorough appreciation of the present state of affairs.
"As for revenge," she continued, "there will be a terrible climax some
day, I am sure.  Even now, and this is only the beginning, she cannot
find anything too horrible for herself or the other girls to say about
Nellie."

"I am sorry to hear that," replied Aunt Judith quietly; "but Nellie
must try to win Ada's love, and not provoke her by any appearance of
triumph or self-esteem.  Draw your chairs nearer me, dears, and I will
tell you what happened to me long, long ago when I was a girl;" and
here Miss Latimer smiled on the upturned young faces and commenced her
story.

There was nothing very exciting in the tale--nothing certainly
bordering on the wonderful--and yet one might have heard a pin fall, so
great was the silence while she spoke.

Winnie sat quite still, her eyes shining like twin stars, and the whole
expression of her face denoting the most intense interest; while
Nellie, her lips slightly parted as if in expectation, also seemed to
have her attention completely absorbed: for Aunt Judith was a splendid
story-teller, and entered heart and soul into the spirit of her tale.

Miss Deborah's little bright orbs twinkled when she entered the parlour
with the tea-tray and found how the three were occupied.  There was
little heed given to her entrance, and not even a glimpse of pretty
china or a daintily-spread table could tempt the listeners' eyes or
attention from Miss Latimer and her story till the last word was
spoken, when both roused themselves with a sigh of the utmost
satisfaction.

"Oh, that was splendid!" cried Winnie eagerly.  "What a nice
story-teller you make, Miss Latimer; you talk just like a book."  Here
Aunt Debby, accidentally, of course, choked slightly.  "I could sit and
listen to you for ever,--couldn't you, Nellie?" and Winnie appealed to
her companion for an enforcement of her statement.

"Scarcely, dear, scarcely," interrupted Aunt Judith, rising from her
chair and advancing to the tea-table; "if you were to hear my stories
often, the novelty would by-and-by wear away.  But here is Aunt Debby
with the urn.  Let us see what a successful tea-maker she is, and we
can talk more about stories and story-telling afterwards."

Both girls jumped up obediently, and gathering round the tempting table
the happy party proceeded to enjoy the many goodly things displayed
thereon, and kept up such a merry strain of conversation that the room
rang with laughter; and Aunt Meg, lying in her darkened chamber,
bitterly bewailed her infirmities and the seeming lack of sympathy
vouchsafed to her in her affliction.

Tea was followed by games and other interesting amusements, all of
which Winnie enjoyed immensely; and then Aunt Judith inquired if she
would like to see an old maid's den.  "Nellie has never as yet been
privileged to cross its threshold," she finished laughingly, "so it
will be something new for both of you to inspect."

With that she led the way and ushered the two girls into her study.

Both stood for a few minutes silent, glancing round the pretty room so
simply and tastefully furnished; then with a little cry of delight they
sprang towards the bookcase and began to scan the contents eagerly.

"Why, I declare," cried Winnie excitedly, "here are ever so many books
like the one I have at home just now.  They are all by the same author
too.--Miss Latimer," she continued, turning and speaking rapidly, "she
must be a good lady who writes those books.  I have only read one of
them, entitled 'A Summer's Pleasure;' but it was beautiful, and I felt
as if I should like, oh _so much_, to talk with the author, and tell
her how earnestly I long to be good, and how I can't."

Nellie, who had taken one of the pretty volumes into her hand and was
scanning the title-page, looked up at Miss Latimer's face with a
half-incredulous light in her eyes; but Aunt Judith, gazing down on the
little figure before her, failed to catch the puzzled gleam.

"My child," she said, oh so gently, taking the small white hands and
drawing the young girl to the warm fireside, "your words do my heart
good, and help to repay me for hours of weary labour.  You wish to know
the author of those books, dear.  You feel you could tell her some of
your deepest longings.  What will you say when I confess that she
stands before you--that it is in very truth Aunt Judith who loves
children and sends them through print her best heart-thoughts?"

Nellie's face at this point was a study; but Winnie cried joyfully,--

"I knew it, I knew it! something whispered to me it was you.  Oh, Miss
Latimer, I am so glad!  Will you lend me one of your dear little books,
and may I love you because you are so good?  I wish you were my aunt; I
do indeed," and there was a lonely ache in the girlish voice as she
spoke.

Miss Latimer laid her hand on the rough curly head.

"Little Winnie," she said tenderly, "don't you know that love is a
treasure to me?  I shall prize your warm, true affection very dearly.
Call me Aunt Judith, my child; and when you read my little books, to
which you are heartily welcome, remember I am speaking simply from my
heart, with the earnest wish to raise your thoughts to the good Father
who made this beautiful world and gave us all things richly to enjoy."

Words like these had a strange sound to Winnie, and filled her with an
awe-stricken feeling; but she made no reply, only raising herself on
tip-toe she kissed Miss Latimer warmly, and turned her attention to the
bookcase again.  At that moment the door-bell rang, and Miss Deborah
announced the arrival of Dick with the carriage to take his sister
home.  So once more they re-entered the little parlour where Aunt
Debby, with kind thoughtfulness, had prepared a repast of fruit and
cake, and where Master Blake sat looking decidedly awkward and out of
place in the dainty little room.

He acknowledged Miss Latimer's greeting with a few unintelligible
words, and seemed altogether to be labouring under some restraint, till
Winnie said with a light laugh,--

"For the first time in my life, Dick, I am sorry to see you.  Whatever
made you come so soon?" and at the plain-spoken words there was such a
general laugh that the boy's reserve vanished, and--"Richard was
himself again."

Nellie and he became fast friends, and chatted away pleasantly; while
Winnie, after having partaken plentifully of fruit and cake, went to
put on her hat and jacket under Miss Latimer's escort.

"May I come again soon?" she inquired naively, looking round the tiny
room with loving eyes; "this is such a dear little house, and you are
all so kind, I should like to spend an afternoon often here."  Winnie
seemed very earnest as she spoke.

"We shall be only too pleased to see you," replied Aunt Judith, smiling
down on the upturned face, and neatly adjusting the tie round the
girl's soft neck.  "I love to have young people about me, and it is
good to hear the sound of a blithe young voice."

Those words amply satisfied Winnie, and after many good-nights had been
exchanged, she and Dick drove homewards, bearing with them two of Aunt
Judith's precious volumes.

"I say, Win, that's a jolly little house," said the boy as they rolled
along in the darkness.  "What a funny, brisk old lady Aunt Debby is!
Did you notice the way she dodged about, and how her front curls shook
and bobbed a regular jig every time she spoke?  She puts me in mind of
a little bird peeping out at you from those small twinkling eyes.
She's a rum old customer, sure enough;" and Dick chuckled at the
remembrance of Miss Deborah's round chubby face and crisp chirping
voice.

"Yes, she is rather queer," assented Winnie musingly; "but I like Miss
Latimer dearly.  She is awfully good, Dick; and fancy her being the
author of those books after all.  Is it not strange?"

"Slightly, perhaps; but 'truth is stranger than fiction,' my dear
sister.--By-the-by, I did not notice any Quaker fashion in their dress
to-night.  Miss Latimer wore some lace fal-lal about her neck, and Aunt
Debby's cap was a regular flower-garden."  Dick was a severe critic on
female attire.

"That's quite true," replied Winnie; "but if you saw them in the
street, with their long loose cloaks and huge bonnets, you would speak
differently.  O Dick, how happy they all seem! don't they? and how cosy
everything looks!  Such a contrast to our great big rooms, where you
feel like a--a--"  Winnie stopped short for lack of a simile, and her
brother supplied the missing word,--

"Pelican in the wilderness.  That's it, Win; and you're about right.
Love won't make the pot boil; but money can't buy everything, and I
reckon there's a screw loose somewhere in our home."

With that there followed a long silence, and Winnie was almost in the
land of dreams when the carriage stopped at No. 3 Victoria Square, and
Dick shouted roguishly in her ear the one word--"Awake!"

The windows were ablaze with light, and there were sounds of music and
singing as brother and sister, entering the house, wended their way to
the oak parlour and warmed their hands at the cheerful blaze.  The gas
was lit, the curtains drawn, the room tidy and inviting-looking; but no
kind motherly face was there to welcome them and ask if the evening had
been a pleasant one.  At other times Winnie would not, most probably,
have felt the blank, having been accustomed to such neglect; but coming
straight from Aunt Judith's gentle presence, and with the remembrance
of her loving words and kind voice stirring the lonely little heart, it
struck home to her with a chill.  Leaving Dick to his own meditations
she slipped away to the large nursery, where old nurse sat quietly
watching the slumbers of her young charge, Winnie's little step-brother.

Here at least there was no lack of sympathy or welcome, for dearly did
the faithful servant love her first mistress's children, and bitterly
did she bewail the neglect with which the two youngest were treated.
Kneeling down by her side, Winnie rehearsed the whole history of the
afternoon and evening at Dingle Cottage; and old nurse, listening
intently, did not fail to raise her hands and express due astonishment
at the knowledge of Aunt Judith's authorship.  So the young girl was
comforted, and after kissing her little brother lovingly, she rejoined
Dick in the oak parlour, and passed the rest of the evening contentedly
in his society.



CHAPTER VIII.

FORGING THE FIRST LINK.

Autumn, with its sobbing winds and falling leaves, was over now, and
cold, sterile winter reigned supreme all around.  Day after day the
chill northern blasts swept over the busy town, bringing with them now
a tempest of blinding sleet, and again showers of softly-falling snow:
rich people wrapped themselves warmly in their furs and velvet; and the
poor, gathering their tattered garments more closely round them,
shivered under the touch of the icy king.  But if winter days brought
cold, bleak winds and murky skies, they also brought many pleasures in
their train; and young hearts beat joyfully as the Christmas-tide drew
near, and bright visions of the festive season filled each youthful
mind.

Winnie especially was in a state of great excitement, for Mrs. Blake
had promised her a party with a real Christmas tree, to which she was
at liberty to invite as many of her school-mates as she chose.  One
little trifle alone damped her happiness--namely, the command to
include Ada Irvine in the list of her invitations; and although Winnie
pouted and pleaded her dislike of that young lady, Mrs. Blake remained
firm, and insisted that her injunction should be carried out.  "Your
father was formerly on very intimate terms with Mr. Irvine, Winnie, and
I will have no slight or disrespect shown to his daughter; so, either
post her an invitation or abandon the idea of a party altogether."  And
when her step-mother spoke in that decided manner, Winnie knew she had
no alternative save to yield.

"I sincerely trust Ada Irvine will have the good sense to refuse," she
confided to Nellie the day on which the invitations were about to be
issued.  "She'll spoil the whole affair it she comes, horrid old thing;
and I did mean it all to be so nice.  Ugh! she will surely never
accept," and Winnie's face wore anything but an amiable expression.

School had not been such a very pleasant place those last few weeks,
and many of the scenes which occurred there were certainly neither
seemly nor instructive.  Open warfare reigned between Ada and Winnie,
and the skirmishes were becoming serious as well as disagreeable; for
Winnie, scouting all Nellie's proposals of being patient and winning by
love, made a fiery little adversary, and Ada Irvine's dislike of both
was rapidly deepening into the bitterest hatred--the more so when she
saw Nellie rising gradually in the esteem of both teachers and
scholars: the former being won by her steady attention and modest
behaviour; the latter by the simple, kindly spirit which characterized
all her actions.  There was much still to call for patient forbearance
and quiet endurance; but Nellie could see the golden sunlight streaming
through the clouds, and hopefully trusted that by-and-by every dark
shadow would vanish and leave never a trace behind.

This state of matters was as gall and wormwood to Ada.  Nellie's
gradual triumph, and Winnie's malicious delight thereat, roused every
evil passion in her nature; and out of her deadly hatred she meditated
a sure revenge when the opportunity came in her way.  What form it
would take she hardly knew; events would shape themselves somehow; and
then--the cold blue eyes glittered ominously at the thought of what she
termed her reckoning-day.

Many a tender, wistful thought Winnie sent to Miss Latimer, though she
had never managed to visit Dingle Cottage a second time.  Her precious
volumes were read and re-read over and over again; and it seemed as it
Aunt Judith's quiet, peaceful face shone forth from every page, and the
soft, kindly voice uttered each loving word and noble thought.  Dick
used to protest his utter weariness of Aunt Judith and her books, for
day after day she was quoted to him with never-failing enthusiasm; but
on those occasions when he did give expression to such sentiments,
Winnie merely treated him to a hearty embrace, and pursued the
interesting subject with increased earnestness.  In the meantime,
however, her mind was so fully occupied with the forthcoming party that
nothing else was on her lips from morn till eve; and with regard to
Miss Latimer, Dick had peace for a season.

Oh, what discussions took place in the old oak parlour over the
approaching festivity!  How was it to be conducted?  What was to be the
programme for the evening? and who were to be included in the list of
invitations?

"I suppose your friends will be able to dance, Dick?" inquired Winnie
one night when they were sitting together talking as usual about the
great event in prospect.  "Mamma says we cannot play games all the
evening."

"Well, I daresay they can do a hop or two when it's necessary,"
answered the boy lazily.  "Just you get hold of Archie Trollope and
he'll spin you round and round the room in a twinkle; not very
gracefully, perhaps, but with no lack of energy.  He's the boy to do
it;" and Dick laughed as he pictured the charming spectacle with his
mental eye.

Winnie looked dignified.

"If he cannot dance properly," she said, with a touch of contempt in
her voice, "most assuredly he will not have the honour of dancing with
me.  I have no desire to figure ridiculously in a ball-room," and the
little lady drew herself up proudly as she spoke.

Dick collapsed.

"The honour!" he gasped spasmodically--"the honour!  My eye! listen to
the princess!" and rolling himself about in convulsions of laughter,
the vulgar boy ended his merriment by tilting over his chair and
landing himself gracefully on the floor.

"Why not an honour, pray?" inquired Winnie, looking loftily on the
sprawling form at her feet.  "Is it not a _great_ privilege for any
gentleman to dance with a lady?" and the indignant child laid special
stress on the word "great."

Dick rose, and treating her to a sweeping Sir Charles Grandison bow,
replied, "You are right, madam; the honour is inestimable."  At this
both laughed, and continued the interrupted conversation.

"Ada Irvine has accepted her invitation, Dick," was Winnie's next
announcement, given with ominous gravity.  "No one ever imagined she
would do so, and all the school-girls are talking about it."

Dick gave a low whistle.

"Depend upon it, Win," he said solemnly, "there's something in the
wind.  Ada Irvine's not the girl to take such a step without having a
reason for so doing.  I guess you and Nellie had better look out for
squalls, for if Miss Ada's not up to some low dodge, my name's not
Richard Blake."

And even while they were speaking, the subject of their conversation
sat up in her comfortable bedroom at Mrs. Elder's, thinking over the
first link she was about to forge in the long chain of bitter malice
and deceit.  She was seated in a low basket-chair before the fire,
making a pretty picture with her long fair hair floating down her back,
and her dainty figure nestling cosily amongst the soft cushions.  Her
blue eyes had an absent, far-away look, and the small white hands lying
on her lap were nervously interlaced one with the other.

"Yes," she muttered in a low, hushed voice, "I shall have my revenge,
though I cannot as yet see the way clearly before me.  I hardly know
towards which I bear the greater hatred, but anyhow both will
suffer--Winnifred Blake for her malicious triumph and delight; Nellie
Latimer for her upsetting behaviour and quiet contempt.  Oh, how I
detest them both!" and the girl's eyes gleamed angrily.  There was a
moment's silence; then she continued, knitting her white brow in a
perplexed frown,--"I wonder how I shall manage?  One thing is certain:
I must do my best on Friday night--make a good impression on the Blake
family, and cautiously poison their minds with respect to Nellie
Latimer.  People are so credulous in this world, it is wonderful what a
word skilfully thrown in will do, and how very easily it is credited;
but I must be careful, and lay my plans with the greatest caution."

She spoke all this in a low undertone, as if fearful of being
overheard, and her eyes wandered round the room with an uneasy light
shining in their depths.  The fire-flames leaped and crackled, the
pretty room was full of warmth and comfort; yet the girl shivered
violently, and gave a scared glance towards the window as the wind went
wailing round the house like a sobbing child.  What gave her that
strange, restless feeling--that weariness of heart?  She could hardly
tell; only somehow the world seemed all changed of late, and the
Christmas-tide so close at hand failed to afford the same joy and
gladness it had done heretofore.  A great black cloud seemed to be
hiding all the sunshine from her sight; a heavy weight would keep
dragging at her heart-strings, and a continual thirst after revenge
persisted in haunting her every footstep.

Yet this time was a season of peace and holy joy--a time when hand
should clasp hand with the fervour of warm friendship, and all past
slights and wrongs be blotted out for ever, leaving room for naught in
the heart save the pure Christ-like love which makes this world a
heaven on earth.  Night after night, as the Christmas-tide drew near,
the sky spread itself over all--one curtain, of misty blue, studded
with the bright, scintillating twinkle of myriads of happy stars.
Every evening the quiet, peaceful moon shone forth rounder and
mellower; the north wind tempered its cutting blasts and touched the
sleeping earth gently, gently with its icy fingers; and the
frost-sparkles, glistering from lofty steeple and sloping roof, changed
the dingy town to a veritable fairyland.

At first Nellie had often wondered why Miss Latimer took such an
interest in the outside world, and what beauty she could see in the
busy city with its constant din and bustle.  But that was over now, for
she had learned that the nature-world was as an open book to Aunt
Judith--a treasury from which she brought forth gold, silver, and
precious stones, and scattered them throughout the world in the shape
of grand, beautiful thoughts.

Nellie found life very pleasant just now at the little cottage in
Broomhill Road.  Miss Latimer and Aunt Debby vied with each other in
every endeavour to add to her comfort and happiness; while even Aunt
Meg roused herself occasionally from her selfish torpor and tried to
brighten the tiny home.  She could gladden it wonderfully when she
chose, for Miss Margaret possessed many pleasing traits of character;
but, alas! she seldom did choose, and, as Miss Deborah quaintly
expressed it, "one had to endure innumerable showers of rain for one
gleam of sunshine."  Nellie had become so accustomed, however, to the
invalid's whims and caprices, that she thought little, if at all, about
them, and in the meantime her whole attention was engrossed with
Winnie's party.  Miss Latimer had bought her a soft white muslin for
the occasion, and Miss Deborah was busy converting it into the
prettiest party-dress imaginable.  The young girl had been at first
slightly dubious about Aunt Debby's dress-making capabilities; but her
doubts were fast disappearing as she watched the gradual progress made
under that lady's skilful fingers, and noted how beautifully and
tastefully the work was done.

"I am sure no one will have such a pretty dress, Aunt Debby," she said
one afternoon, coming into the parlour and finding Miss Deborah busy
over the dainty garment.  "It is so good of you to put yourself to all
this trouble for me, and I shall never be able to thank you as I
ought."  Nellie's eyes glistened as she spoke.

"You will soon find out your mistake, my dear," said Aunt Meg from her
couch by the fire.  "I question if one of your friends will be dressed
in so simple and cheap a material.  Why, you will be a regular dowdy,
and I told Judith so when she showed me her purchase.  She could hardly
have bought a less expensive fabric."

"Nonsense, Meg," put in Miss Deborah with a displeased frown and rapid
glance at Nellie's amazed countenance; "don't place absurd ideas in the
child's head.  You know perfectly well muslin makes a most appropriate
dress for a young girl.  I wonder what Judith would say were she to
hear you speak in that manner?"

"Look like a saint, and preach to Nellie on the vanity and vexation of
the human heart," replied the invalid, who seemed to be decidedly out
of humour.  "I am well aware of Judith's style, Debby: that is how she
covers her stinginess," and Miss Margaret gave a little sarcastic laugh
at this point.

"Hush!" almost shouted Miss Deborah, turning a pair of bright, angry
eyes in the direction of the couch.  "How dare you utter such an
untruth?  Simply because one of your endless wishes was thwarted.  Meg,
I am ashamed of you!" and Aunt Debby resumed her sewing with an air of
heavy displeasure, while the invalid relapsed into sulky silence, the
cause of her ill-humour being Aunt Judith's refusal that morning to
grant her a new dressing-gown.  "Wait a little longer, Meg; I can
hardly afford it just now, and your old one still looks pretty and
fresh," had been the quiet answer to the proffered request; but that
was sufficient to upset the invalid's equanimity for the rest of the
day, and no amount of kindness could soothe her wounded feelings.

Of course Nellie was ignorant of all this.  Still, although she did not
believe Miss Margaret's statement in reference to Miss Latimer's
meanness, the words left a sting, and the pretty dress seemed divested
of half its beauty.  "Aunt Judith might have purchased something just a
trifle more expensive," was the unuttered thought ever rising to her
lips; but, oh! how her heart reproached her when, on the evening of the
party, Miss Latimer called her into the little sanctum, and, shutting
the door, lifted a small box from the table and proceeded to unfasten
the lock.

"Aunt Debby has just been showing me your dress, Nellie," she said in
her soft gentle voice, "and now that it is finished I think it very
pretty indeed.  I hardly know why, but I have an idea _you_ consider it
too simple for evening wear; and although I am sorry should such be the
case, I cannot agree with you.  The dress seems to me quite suitable,
and its charm lies in its very simplicity.  A little trinket round the
neck, however, might be an improvement, and so, dear, I am going to
forestall my Christmas present and give it to you now.  I suppose you
will value it none the less because I used to wear it long ago in my
girlhood days;" and Miss Latimer, lifting a string of fairest pearls
from the box, clasped them round her niece's neck as she spoke.

Nellie's breath came quick and fast.

"O auntie! they are never for me," she gasped excitedly.  "They are so
beautiful, and I have been thinking such horrid things."

Aunt Judith smiled.  "I do not blame you, child.  It is only natural
such thoughts should crop up; but, Nellie, I am not so very rich, and
cannot afford to be lavish with my money.  One never knows what may
happen, and I must needs guard against a rainy day.  No, no; not
another reproachful word.  I like to see my child look fair and sweet.
Good-night, dear."  And kissing her softly.  Miss Latimer pushed the
repentant girl from the room with gentle hands.  Then closing the door,
she drew a low chair close to the fire, and, as she sat quietly
thinking, the white, set look Nellie had noticed before settled over
the patient face, while the lips quivered and drooped like those of one
in pain.

What was the mystery in Aunt Judith's life?  What suffering had stamped
its refining image on that noble, true face, and bore witness to the
fiery trial through which she had passed?

Few knew of the life of complete self-renunciation lived out in that
little home--the quiet acceptance and patient bearing of a life-long
sorrow, and the earnest endeavour day after day to follow closely the
Master's footsteps, and live his holy, blameless life.  But some day in
the great hereafter, she knew the mystery of suffering would be
explained, and that there what was here sown weeping would be reaped in
joy and gladness; and knowing this, Aunt Judith was content to wait.



CHAPTER IX.

THE CHRISTMAS PARTY.

It was the evening of the party.  The bustle and confusion which had
reigned throughout the day were now over, and the whole house blazed
with light; while the hall-door, standing hospitably open, seemed to
offer a gracious welcome to the approaching guests.

"How do I look, Win?" inquired Dick of his sister as they stood
together in the large drawing-room a little apart from the other
members of the family.  "This get-up is awful," and the boy looked down
with a gesture of disgust on his elegant evening suit.

"You'll do beautifully," pronounced Win, pirouetting in front of him, a
blithe little fairy, with soft cloudy dress of glistening fabric.
"Don't look so fierce, dear boy, however, or you will frighten all the
young ladies from your side."

Dick struggled into his gloves.  "Much I care so far as that goes," he
grumbled.  "What I wish to know is, why one needs all this war-paint
and tomfoolery.  Can a fellow not be allowed to enjoy himself without
dressing up a perfect guy?  I feel every seam in my coat splitting, and
I tell you there will be a tremendous explosion soon.  Just listen!"
and bending forward, the boy proved the truth of his words as an
ominous crack sounded, and Winnie's dismayed eye caught the glimpse of
a tiny hole in one of the back seams.

"Be careful," she cried in an awestricken voice; "there is a split, and
you'll make it worse if you wriggle about so.  Be a good boy, Dickie,
and try to prove agreeable to every one."

Saying this, Winnie treated her brother to a charming smile, and then
tripped forward as the first bevy of guests were ushered into the room.

Dick made a grimace, twisted his neck, and vehemently denounced high
collars and white ties as being decided nuisances; then remembering his
sister's parting injunction, he attempted to call up an angelic smile
to his face, and to make his most polite bow on every necessary
occasion.

The room began gradually to fill.  One after another carriages came and
went, depositing their happy burdens of laughing boys and girls before
the great hall-door, near which some little ragged children were
standing, gazing on the fairy figures and joyous faces, and wondering,
as the wind fluttered their tattered rags, why the world was so
unequally divided--why some should have so much of the good things of
this life, and others apparently so little.  Poor, weary, aching
hearts, on whom the burden and heat of the day had already fallen, they
knew not as they watched the carriages come and go, and peeped into the
warm hall all ablaze with light, how assuredly "compensation is twined
with the lot of high and low," and that the loving eye of the Almighty
Father was regarding them with the same tender care he bestowed on
their happier brothers and sisters.  They only realized, as the door
closed at last with a loud clang, and they turned away to their
miserable homes, that within that large house there were warmth, light,
and gladness, and that they were shut out from them all.  The calm
hushed sky had for them no lessons of faith and peaceful waiting; the
bright stars no tale of an Eye that neither slumbers nor sleeps.  They
only knew it was cold, cold, and that life had for them no brightness.
So the little naked figures crept shivering away; and the happy boys
and girls gathered together in the beautiful holly-decked drawing-room
never thought of the dark places of the earth, where the sunshine
rarely penetrates, and young hearts know not what it is to laugh the
glad joyous laugh of happy childhood.

Dick, who had gathered five of his special friends around him, was
evidently holding a consultation in which he himself played the most
prominent part.  The subject under consideration was that of showing
special attention throughout the entire evening to Nellie Latimer, and
of completely ignoring Ada Irvine's presence.

"Now, comrades," concluded the young orator, as a loud burst of music
warned him that the night's entertainment was about to commence, "I
presume you thoroughly understand me.  Not a single hop, remember, with
Miss Irvine, and any amount of polkas and waltzes with Miss Latimer.
The former is one of your stuck-up young ladies, who grow old before
their time; the latter, a tip-top girl like Win.  I have told you what
I know concerning both of them; go ahead and prosper, brethren, with my
humble blessing following you."  Dick, as he spoke, changed the tragic
attitude he had struck, and assumed one of staid demeanour, which
contrasted comically with his shock of fiery hair, now standing all on
end, as people say, and laughter lurking in his eyes.

The boys, however, entered heartily into the spirit of his scheme, and
replied, "You are our leader.  Forward then; light the first match, and
we will follow the train,"--whereat they all shook hands and indulged
in a low chuckle of glee.

At that moment a pretty, gloved hand touched Dick's arm, and Edith
Blake's clear, flute-like voice said, "We are forming sets for the
lancers, Dick, and you must dance.  Mamma requests you to choose Miss
Irvine for your partner, so please go and ask her at once."

The boy's eyes flashed mischievously.  "You bet I shall," he replied
with alacrity; and crossing the room, he stood before Nellie, saying in
his most genial tones, "May I have the pleasure, Miss Latimer?"

The young girl looked up with a happy smile.  "Certainly," she said,
rising and slipping her hand within his arm; "the music is splendid,
and I am so fond of dancing."

"That's right," answered Dick, leading her into the centre of the room,
and vastly enjoying the indignant glances of his step-mother and Edith.
"I like a hop myself at times, so I guess we'll get on well
together.--Now then, gentlemen, bow to your partners;" and as he
concluded, the wild boy swept Nellie the most profound bow, and started
off through the first figure with more energy than grace.

His friends, true to their promise, had all chosen partners, the sets
were formed, the music floating through the room, and still Ada Irvine
remained in her seat, fair, sweet, and smiling to the outward view, but
with a world of angry passion surging in her heart.  As she sat
watching the merry boys and girls winding joyously through the mazy
dance, Mrs. Blake came forward, and, sitting down by her side,
proceeded to question her about her parents and their movements abroad;
and Ada answered each query in a pretty, graceful manner infinitely
charming.  Then school and school-life were touched upon.  Had Miss
Irvine many friends in town?  Did she not often feel very lonely? and
why could she never come and spend an afternoon with Winnie?  These and
other questions being asked, the first drop of poison was instilled
with the skill and caution of an adept hand.

"Winnie and she had been very good friends once, before Nellie
Latimer's appearance on the scene, but since then a misunderstanding
had arisen and the friendship had been broken up.  Was Miss Latimer an
amiable girl?  Winnie seemed very much attached to her.  Ada would
rather not commit herself, but certainly Nellie's position was not such
as to justify her in being Winnie's chosen friend.  Her family were
poor, very poor indeed; her aunts eccentric, winning their own bread,
doing their own work, and living in a common locality."

All this, however, was told with much reluctance (at least apparently
so) and the earnest endeavour to tone down disagreeable parts.  Mrs.
Blake was charmed, and wondered how Winnie could prefer a fresh,
countrified-looking girl to the sweet, amiable creature Miss Irvine
appeared to be.  As she sat pondering over these things in her heart,
Ada's low voice broke again on her ear.

"Mrs. Blake," she pleaded, "kindly do not betray my confidence.  I
never meant to tell you anything about myself, and Winnie would hate me
were she to discover that I had prejudiced you against her friend;
indeed I am very sorry I spoke."

A true, noble woman would have scorned to condemn any one on account of
lowly origin and humble rank in life; but Mrs. Blake was a woman of the
world--proud, arrogant, and haughty.  She took little interest in her
younger step-children; they were allowed to live pretty much their own
lives and follow their own desires; but still there were some things
that must be checked, and this friendship with a low-born girl was one
of them.

Turning to her young guest with a swift, bright smile, she replied
sweetly, "Do not apologize, my dear; I am only too glad to have
received your information in time.  I had no idea Miss Latimer's
friends were in the position you speak of.  Had that been the case,
certainly she would not have been here to-night.  Winnie is allowed no
small amount of liberty, but close companionship with a girl so much
her inferior will not be countenanced for a moment.  You need not fear,
however, my betraying your confidence; and I trust soon to see you and
my wilful little step-daughter fast friends once more."

As she spoke Mrs. Blake rose and moved gracefully away, leaving Ada
with a bevy of laughing girls, who came flocking towards her as the
music ceased.

"Did you enjoy our dance, Nellie?" inquired Dick, wiping his warm
forehead and glancing with ludicrous dismay at the rents in his once
spotless gloves.  "I thought it all tip-top."

"Splendid," replied Nellie decidedly; "and you really managed to get
through the figures wonderfully well."

The boy's amazed countenance was amusing.

"I managed to get through the figures wonderfully well!" he reiterated
in astonishment.  "Why, Nellie, I am an accomplished dancer" (with mock
solemnity), "and have been so since the days when I was a little thing.
You should see me at the Highland fling and sword-dance.  My eye!  I go
at them well," and Dick's legs began to shuffle about as if they
desired to commence the performance.

Nellie laughed.  "Forgive me," she said pleasantly.  "I did not mean
any disparagement; only boys, as a rule, do not care about dancing, and
you seemed somehow to enjoy it all so thoroughly."

"That I did" (with emphasis), "but--hallo, Archie! is it really you?"
as a boy passed his side at that moment.  "Allow me to introduce you to
Miss Latimer.--Here, Nellie, is the very partner for you; he will dance
you off your feet in a few minutes," and Dick, hurrying away, left the
two young people regarding each other with looks of rather comical
dismay.

After that, the evening fled by all too quickly for Nellie, to whom
every moment was fraught with the purest pleasure.  Dick saw she had no
lack of partners, and constituted himself her guardian for the night,
greatly to Mrs. Blake's annoyance and Winnie's satisfaction.  The
former could find no means of laying any more commands on him, for the
boy mischievously eluded her every attempt to cross his path, and
failed most provokingly to catch her eye when a convenient season
presented itself for so doing.  Nellie, with true appreciation of his
kindness, thanked him warmly in her innocent heart, and thought she had
never spent such a pleasant evening.  There was never a cloud to darken
her enjoyment or dim the brightness of her happy face.  Mrs. Blake's
studied avoidance passed by unnoticed, as also the haughty looks of
Winnie's elder sisters; and even Ada Irvine's calm, contemptuous face
failed to ruffle her joyous spirit.

Long years afterwards she liked to look back on that evening of
thorough, uninterrupted enjoyment, when she could say in all sincerity
and truth, "I was happy;" when she danced with what seemed to be winged
feet, and the smile of gladness was ever on her lips.  Closing her eyes
softly, she could see it all again--the large holly-decked
drawing-room, with its blazing lights and bevy of merry boys and girls;
Winnie's little figure flitting here and there--her flushed cheeks and
great starry eyes; Dick's honest freckled face and kindly smile; and
the beautiful, stately hostess, who moved in the midst of them all with
the dignity of a queen.

The Christmas tree was a great success, the presents being pretty and
appropriate.  Winnie smiled her delight over a dainty long-wished-for
work-box; Dick chuckled at the splendid pair of skates now in his
possession; Ada looked gratified when a lovely fan was handed down to
her; and Nellie was speechless over a pretty morocco purse.

"It has been all so splendid, Winnie dear," she whispered when
good-nights were being exchanged; "just like fairyland.  I have enjoyed
myself wonderfully.  And now be sure and come soon to Dingle Cottage;
you will have plenty of time during the holidays, and Aunt Judith is
wearying to see you."

"I'll be only too glad, Nell," replied her friend, kissing her warmly;
"but I must get mamma's permission first.--Dick, see Nellie safely into
the cab."  Then the carriage rolled away, and the wonderful Christmas
party was over.

"I think," said Winnie, coming into the large diningroom after the last
guest had departed, and finding her brother (alas that I should have to
confess it!) prowling round the table and surreptitiously pocketing
something from every tempting dish he saw thereon, "we have had a
beautiful night, and I am sure the party has been a decided success."

"So far as the food is concerned it has," answered the boy, regarding
the good things heaped before him with a loving eye.  "I say, Win, do
let us have a tuck in at this soufflé here; we shall never see it after
to-night, and it is such prime stuff."

Winnie laughed.  "You'll require to hurry then, Dick," she replied;
"the servants will be here in a few minutes."  So the two young
gourmands sat down and commenced a second supper ere the lights were
put out and the mandate issued--"Go to bed."

For a few seconds nothing was said, both being too busily engaged with
the contents of their plates to join in any conversation; but at last
Dick poised his spoon in the air and commenced in a serio-comic tone,--

"I guess we shall have to pay for our evil deeds this evening.  I saw
the storm-warning hoisted on our step-mother's face all night, so look
out for squalls."

"Whatever do you mean?" inquired Winnie, glancing up from her plate
with an innocent look.  "I do not understand you, my dear boy."

"Oh, do you not?" replied the dear boy, mimicking her tones, and
twisting his amiable countenance into an altogether indescribable
expression.  "Do you imagine your conduct towards the lovely Ada was
not observed and commented upon by our mother and stuck-up sisters?  If
so, pray rid yourself at once of such a delusion, for I tell you, Win,
there's a storm looming in the distance for you and for me."

Winnie pouted.

"So be it!" she cried defiantly; "I don't care.  I am no hypocrite,
Dick, and must act as I feel.  I did not wish Ada to come to our party.
I hate her with my whole heart, and I believe in just letting her see
such is the case."

Dick ran his hand through his shock of hair, and opened his eyes as
widely as he possibly could.  "My word, we're waxing eloquent," he
observed approvingly.  "Go it, little sister; you're doing first-rate;"
and he helped himself liberally to another supply of soufflé as he
spoke.

"What a tease you are!" said Winnie, pushing aside her plate with a
gesture of petulance; "you know I am in earnest, not in fun."

"True, my queen" (with a mock bow), "therefore I shall no longer
descend to vulgar jesting.  But seriously, Win, I tell you frankly the
mother is awfully angry at us.  You did not study her face, perhaps,
but I watched closely, and saw a regular thunder-cloud on her brow all
night.  How could it be otherwise, when she noticed your steady
avoidance of her favourite and my open rudeness?"

"I enjoyed your open rudeness vastly, Dick," interrupted the girl, with
a twinkle sparkling in her eye and a mischievous smile on her lip.  "I
could have hugged you every time you danced with Nellie, and when I saw
you trooping your boys up to her.  Why, she was quite a belle amongst
you all."

"Yes; I flatter myself we trotted her out very well, and the fellows
all agree she is good fun.  But oh, what a dodging I had to manage my
point!  Every few minutes I descried the mother bearing down upon me,
and was obliged to skeedaddle."  Dick's language never was remarkable
for elegance.

"Well, I am not the least wee bit sorry for my behaviour," said Winnie,
rising as she heard the sound of approaching footsteps; "and if I am to
get a scolding I must just get it.  You'll be able to console me when
it is over, will you not?  Meantime I intend to forget it all in sleep,
so--good-night, Dick;" and the little fairy, in her soft, airy
garments, waved him a tiny kiss as she vanished from the room and
hurried to her own pretty apartment.

Dick, with his well-filled pockets, retired also; the servants
entering, closed the shutters and put out the lights; the feeble fire
flickered for a little, then died slowly, and deep, unbroken slumber
settled over all.

Meanwhile, outside in the quiet night the snow was falling softly,
silently--wrapping the sleeping earth in a pure, unsullied
winding-sheet, and covering the church steeples with its feathery
flakes.  Hush! hush! how silently, yet how quickly, the snow showers
fell.  Slowly the hours passed by.  Morning stealing in swept back the
clouds of night and darkness, and the sun, peeping through with his
warm, genial ray, shone down with a light which grew brighter and
brighter as the world wakened up and the merry Christmas bells sent
their happy chimes pealing through the frosty air.



CHAPTER X.

GATHERING CLOUDS.

Rough, rumpled hair, two soft eyes drowned in tears, flushed, angry
cheeks and pouting lips, was the picture which met Dick's view one
morning when he entered the oak parlour two days after the eventful
party.  Christmas had passed by pleasantly and tranquilly for both
children.  They had had the regular Christmas dinner--turkey,
mince-pies, plum-pudding, etc.--and the afternoon and evening had been
filled with youthful pleasure and amusement.  Sabbath also was calm and
peaceful, so calm, indeed, that Winnie began to think their fears were
groundless, and Mrs. Blake's annoyance a mere myth; but Dick, more
suspicious, decided it was only the lull before the storm, and on the
Monday he found his suspicions verified.  The hurricane burst, and
resulted in a forlorn little maiden bathed in tears, and a boy whose
heart burned within him at the remembrance of cruel words and unjust
accusations.

"I say, Win," he cried, coming forward into the room and leaning his
elbows on the table with careless disregard to elegance of attitude,
"what a miserable object you look! for all the world like a drowned
rat.  Can't you dry those weeping eyes and speak to a fellow for a few
minutes?  It is dreadful being treated to a regular shower-bath in this
cold weather," and Dick tried to conjure up the faintest glimmer of a
smile to the dolorous countenance.

Winnie wailed: "O Dick, I was so happy; and now everything is wrong.
Mamma says she is very much displeased with me, and--" but here sobs
choked the little plaintive voice, and rendered the latter part of the
sentence quite unintelligible.

Her brother's lips curled.

"Win," he said impressively, "you're a good little creature, and the
mother is fond of you.  In a few days she will forget all this
annoyance, and things will go on with you as smoothly as before; but I
am different.  I shall never be able to blot out of my heart the words
the governor" (Dick's usual name for his father) "said to me this
morning,--never so long as I live.  It was not only about this
affair--that I could have stood--but he raked up all my sins and
shortcomings from the days when I was a little boy, and heaped them,
one after the other, on the top of my devoted head.  I was bad, stupid,
and awkward--the disgrace of the school, and the butt of my companions.
He was perfectly ashamed of me, and so on."  Dick's eyes were flaming.
"But I tell you, Win, what it is: the crisis has come, and I'll do
something desperate."

His sister's tears overflowed again.  "I hate crying, I do indeed," she
said, scrubbing her cheeks viciously at every fresh outburst; "but the
nasty little trickly drops will come.  Dick, dear old boy, I'm sorry
for you; will you not be sorry for me too?  Just listen: I am never to
have Nellie for my friend again.  She must never come here, and I must
never go and see Aunt Judith any more."

Dick looked up in amazement.  "Why not, Win?  What has all that to do
with your conduct towards Ada?"

"I don't know," with another quiver of the lips.  "Mamma spoke about
Nellie first, asking where she lived, and if her aunts worked in any
way.  Of course I told her simply what I knew, and then she said all
our friendship must end now; she would never have allowed Nellie to be
invited to our party had she known so much about her before."

"But dear me, Win," interrupted the boy impatiently, "the mother
consented when you asked to spend that afternoon at Dingle Cottage some
time ago.  Why should she turn round and condemn the friendship now?"

"Oh, I can explain that easily.  Mamma was hurrying to go out with
Clare and Edith when I begged permission, and said yes without making
any inquiries; but she scarcely spoke to Nellie on Friday evening, and
I cannot understand what has made her so angry all at once."

"Did she say anything against Nellie personally?"

"No; but she is not in my position in life, and I must not make a
friend and confidante of her.  We may speak at school of course, but
that is all," and Winnie's grief burst out afresh at this point.

Dick meditated.

"I wonder," he said at length, a slow light dawning in his eyes, "if
Ada Irvine can have been putting the mother up to this?  It would be
quite in keeping with some of her low dodges."

Winnie shook her head.  "I thought so myself at first, but mamma led me
to believe otherwise.  She says Ada is such a sweet, amiable girl, and
much more suitable in every way than Nellie for a friend.  I fired up
at that, however, and declared I hated Ada, adding she was a sneak, and
did horrible things at school."

"Oh, you would give her true character to the mother, I have no doubt,"
put in Dick with twinkling eyes; "but the question is, 'What was the
effect?'"

"'I was prejudiced--and no one is faultless in this world.'"

A short period of silence followed, during which Winnie wept copiously,
and Dick sat beating a tattoo on the table.

"You'll soon have no eyes left," he observed practically, as the little
drenched handkerchief was again brought into use to wipe away the
flowing tears.  "Cheer up, Win, old girl, and don't look as if your
grandmother had died half an hour ago."

"But you do not know the worst of it yet, Dick," cried the girl,
raising her tear-stained face and speaking in heart-breaking tones.  "I
promised Nellie I would come and spend one afternoon with her during
the holidays, and now I can't get.  Oh!  I wish so much to go."

"Then do so," replied Dick doggedly.  "There's no great harm in that;
and after all, what reward does one receive for being conscientious and
obedient?"

His sister looked aghast.  "I dare not," she whispered; "mamma would be
so angry.  And yet--if I might go only this once."

Dick being in anything but a filial mood said decidedly, "There's no
use in whining and moaning, Win.  You can spend Wednesday afternoon at
Dingle Cottage if you wish, without any one in the house finding that
out.  Edith and Clare are away from home; Algy and Tom never trouble
about us; and both the mother and governor will be spending that entire
day with the Harveys at Springfield.  As for nurse and the servants,
I'll manage them."

"Let me think," replied Winnie.  She leaned forward towards the table,
drooped her head slowly on her little white hands, and then the
struggle began--the struggle between good and evil, between the paths
of right and wrong.

"Just this once," she murmured yearningly--"only this once;" and as she
strove and wrestled inwardly, it seemed as if two figures stole
silently to her side and stood with earnest eyes watching the weary
battle.  "I'll never do it again," she muttered, "but--only to say
good-bye;" and at this the dark figure smiled triumphantly, while the
white, spotless one listened with saddening eyes.

This was no mean struggle in which Winnie was engaged.  Many a one had
fallen under a lesser temptation; for a visit to Aunt Judith meant
much, oh so much, to her.  There was something in the atmosphere of
Dingle Cottage that raised the young girl to a loftier, purer standard;
something that made her yearn after what was good and holy, and stirred
up the childish heart to reach after the things which belong unto our
peace.  She would never feel so again.  How could she, when there was
none to guide her in the paths of right--none to tell how she might
weave a golden sunshine into her life, and leave lingering tracks of
light behind her?  All these thoughts passed through her childish brain
as she sat with low bowed head and aching heart, thinking and
struggling, oh so wearily.  At length the contest was ended; and
turning to Dick with a look of firm determination on her face, Winnie
said briefly, "I will go."  So the struggle was over, and the dark
figure reigned triumphant, while the white-robed one stole weeping away.

"Write and let Nellie know then," replied Dick, preparing to leave the
room.  "I am going off to skate with Archie Trollope, and can post your
letter on my way to the pond if you choose."

Winnie opened her desk--a birthday gift--and her heart smote her as she
wrote in a crude, girlish hand:--


"_December 27th, 18--_.

"MY DEAR NELLIE,--I shall come and spend Wednesday afternoon with you
all at Dingle Cottage.  If suitable, do not trouble replying to this
scribble.--

Your loving friend,
  WINNIE M. BLAKE."


"There," she said, sealing the envelope and handing it to her brother,
"I have written; and you--you will come for me at night, Dick."

"Of course I shall, Win," answered the boy, looking down with wistful,
loving eyes on his favourite sister, "and we shall have a jolly time
for once.  Put all gloomy thoughts aside, old girl, and let us be happy
while we may."  With that he treated her to a rough, hearty embrace,
making teasing remarks at the same time about boiled gooseberry eyes
and swollen lids; then giving one parting hug, marched out of the room,
and a few minutes after the loud clanging of the hall-door intimated
that Master Richard Blake had gone out for the day.

The afternoon was spent by Winnie in driving with her step-mother, who
tried in many pleasant ways to atone for the morning's harshness; and
so well did she succeed that the little girl's heart ached sorely and
quailed at the remembrance of the deceit she was practising.  But, she
would never do it again, no, never again, and only this once could not
be such a very great sin.

So the time passed, and Wednesday came at last, a true winter's day,
with snow-mantled earth and keen, hard frost.

"Don't be late in coming for me, Dick," was Winnie's parting
injunction, as he saw her safely into the 'bus.  "I shall expect you
soon after tea."  And the boy promised.

The little sister looked after him as he strode briskly away.  "What a
dear, kind brother he is!" she murmured lovingly.  "How should I manage
without him?  Good old Dick.  He is all the world to me."  And the boy,
tramping along the slippery streets with giant steps, was
muttering--"Poor Win! she will fret very much at first, and I shall
miss her sorely; but it can't be helped--I must run away."

Meanwhile the 'bus, whirling rapidly through the busy streets, stopped
in due time at Broomhill Road, and Winnie, alighting with flushed,
expectant face, found Nellie awaiting her eagerly.

"How good of you to come, dear! and how pretty you look!" she said,
kissing her little guest affectionately.  "I was so pleased to get your
note on Monday evening."

"You cannot guess how glad I am to be here, Nellie," replied Winnie
simply, slipping her hand through her friend's arm as they walked
rapidly along the quiet road.  "Your home seems like an Eden to me, and
spending a few hours with you all there one of my greatest pleasures."

After this both tongues went merrily till Dingle Cottage was reached,
and Winnie stood once more in the snug parlour, listening to the hearty
welcomes which fell so pleasantly on her ears.  The tiny home wore its
usual air of cosy comfort, and the faces of its inmates seemed
positively to shine with happiness and content.  Aunt Debby's chubby
countenance was all aglow, and Aunt Meg's peevish visage, having
apparently caught the reflex of her smile, looked very fair and sweet
as the invalid turned it brightly towards the youthful visitor.

"A thousand welcomes, child!" cried Miss Deborah delightedly, drawing
Winnie to her ample bosom, and treating the girl to a hearty hug (the
word, though not eloquent, is singularly expressive); "it is good to
see your pretty face again.  This is Aunt Meg," pointing to the
invalid.  "I do not think you have ever met her before."  Then Winnie
was obliged to cross over to the sofa and shake the thin white hand
that looked so small and fragile.

"Is your brother coming for you at night, dear?" inquired Miss Latimer,
turning from her seat by the window and giving the young guest a
tender, loving glance in answer to a certain wistful look cast in her
direction.

"Oh yes; he promised," replied Winnie assuredly.  Then with a little
burst of vehemence--"Dear Aunt Judith, I wish to enjoy myself so very,
very much to-day, and be ever so happy."

All looked startled at the passion in the girl's voice, with the
exception of Aunt Debby, who viewed everything in a practical light.

"So, so! very good indeed," she said, knitting industriously, and with
added vigour.  "We'll do our best to gratify your wish, child; and one
ought to be specially happy at this season of the year, I suppose."

The talk then became general, and Aunt Meg, laying aside her fretful
voice for the time being, wakened up and became the life of the small
party, chatting in such a pretty, graceful manner, and seeming
altogether so full of animation, that Winnie wondered if this could
really be the cross, peevish invalid Nellie had so often described.
Ere long, however, she learned that appearances are sometimes
deceitful, and that a gentle face and plaintive air can often be
assumed as occasion warrants.  It so happened that just as Miss Deborah
was preparing to see about the tea the postman's knock sounded at the
door, and one of the dear home-letters was handed to Nellie.

"Please excuse me," she said to Winnie, breaking the seal and
commencing to read; "the children have been ill with scarlet fever, and
I am anxious to know if they are better."

The sheets were large and closely written, consequently some little
time was spent over them; but at length the last word was read, and
then Nellie, replacing the letter in its envelope, said with a happy
smile, "Mother writes the little ones are improving daily, and she
thinks they will soon be quite well.  She sends you all her love, and
is glad to hear Aunt Meg is feeling so much stronger.  She hopes, if
the improvement continues, to see either you, Aunt Judith, or Aunt
Debby home with me in the summer-time."

The invalid's face darkened, and Miss Deborah's merry orbs twinkled
ominously.  Nothing suited Miss Margaret better than to pose as a
saintly sufferer, burdened day by day with a weary load of
never-ceasing pain.  It was wonderfully pleasant at times to assume the
_rôle_ of the patient martyr, and talk of lonely days and nights borne
without murmuring.  But once hint at any visible improvement, once
mention an increase of colour on the pallid cheeks or a clearer light
in the dimmed eyes, and Aunt Meg's wrath knew no bounds.  Having
fathomed this secret in the invalid's nature, we can readily understand
the twinkle lurking in Aunt Debby's orbs as she scented the coming
storm.

"Who told you I was feeling better, Nellie?" demanded Miss Margaret;
and Winnie started at the anger in the voice, only a few minutes since
so soft and gentle.  "Who gave you authority to utter--to write such a
falsehood?  Better!" (with infinite scorn), "and my poor frame racked
with such excruciating pain.  Do you imagine, because a load is borne
with unmurmuring patience, that the weight is gradually lessening and
the burden will soon be lifted?  Answer me at once.  Who dared to tell
you I was much stronger?"

Nellie's amazement was extreme, but she replied quietly, while Winnie
sat by Miss Latimer's side, every fibre of her mischievous nature
quivering with thorough enjoyment.  "I only said what I believed to be
true, Aunt Meg.  You have been looking better, and I heard Aunt Judith
telling a lady the other week that there was a very marked improvement
lately, and that she was thankful to be able to say so."

Miss Margaret cast a withering glance at Miss Latimer's quiet face.

"That is all in a piece with the rest of Judith's stinginess," she
observed sneeringly.  "I know only too well why she speaks of being
thankful.  Were I to regain my wonted strength, there would naturally
be less nourishing food required and fewer doctor's bills.  Oh! I only
wish I could honestly say I feel a daily increase of health; but, alas!
the very thought of being a heavy burden and viewed in the light of a
constant nuisance helps to weaken and keep me low."

At this point Nellie drew Winnie towards the window and tried to engage
her in conversation; while Aunt Debby, lowering her voice, muttered,
audibly enough, however, for the girls to hear, "Don't make a fool of
yourself, Meg, and talk such utter rubbish."

The invalid's rage increased, and she was about to make some rejoinder,
when Miss Latimer interposed.  "Hush, Margaret," said the quiet, gentle
voice; "for my sake do not speak so before the children.  You know
perfectly well, dear, you are wilfully misinterpreting my words.  I am
only too happy to be able to gladden your life in any way."

But the invalid refused to be pacified.

"Ah!  I understand you, Judith.  You do not wish to have your true
character exposed to the public.  It suits you to pose as the saint
abroad, I suppose, and--" but here Miss Latimer interrupted her.

"Margaret," she replied firmly, "you must either be silent or leave the
room.  I cannot listen to such conversation in the presence of our
guest; and if you refuse to comply one way or the other, I shall be
obliged to send the girls into my study."

"Oh no! not at all," returned Aunt Meg, her voice suddenly assuming the
most plaintive, martyr-like tone; "the house does not belong to
me.--Debby, will you assist me to my bedroom? and--no, Judith, I could
not think of troubling you; but perhaps Nellie would help her poor aunt
for once."

Now all this time Winnie had been enjoying the tragic scene immensely,
and shaking inwardly with suppressed laughter, greatly to Nellie's
distress.

"Oh, be quiet, Win; she will hear you," whispered the girl hurriedly,
as a low ripple of laughter was hastily smothered by a mock cough.  But
the warning came too late.  Aunt Meg caught the choking sound and in a
moment the saintly expression on her face gave place to one of intense
rage and indignation.  This sudden transformation was too much for
Winnie's risible faculties.  The whole affair struck her in such a
comical light that she lost all control over herself, and, with a wild
burst of stifled laughter fled hastily from the parlour to Nellie's
bedroom, where that young lady quickly followed.

"Close the door--close the door, Nell!" gasped Winnie, holding her
handkerchief to her mouth and vainly endeavouring to suppress the
laughter.  "I know it's dreadfully wicked to behave in this manner, but
I can't help myself," and off the child went again; while Nellie,
unable to resist, joined in the merry peal.  When both stopped at
length, the tears were running down their cheeks, at the sight of which
Winnie nearly repeated the performance.  "This is awful," she panted,
wiping her eyes and fanning her hot cheeks violently; "but when I begin
to laugh I must just continue till I have emptied all the laughter out
of me: then I am all right.  No, Nellie, do not go away yet; wait till
I am quite calm."

Before Nellie could reply, Aunt Debby opened the door, and looking in
shook her head admonishingly.  "I should like to know if you are not
both ashamed of yourselves," she said severely; but there was laughter
lurking in her eyes and playing about the corners of her lips which
belied the severity of her words.  Winnie jumped up, and throwing her
arms round the good lady's neck, replied, "I have been very rude and
naughty, dear Miss Deborah; but indeed I did not mean any harm," and
she held up her rosy mouth for a kiss of pardon.

"There, there, it's all right, child.  I understand.  Come down to the
parlour now; tea is ready."  And with that, active, cheery Aunt Debby
trotted away, leaving the two culprits to follow at their leisure.



CHAPTER XI.

"IT IS SO HARD TO SAY GOOD-BYE."

When Nellie and Winnie re-entered the parlour they found the table
spread, Aunt Debby seated as usual before the urn, and Miss Latimer
standing by the window gazing up at the murky sky, where the leaden
clouds predicted a gathering snowstorm.  Winnie ran up to her.  "Aunt
Judith," she said humbly, "I am very much ashamed of myself; please
forgive me."

Miss Latimer patted the upraised face, and the pained look died out of
her eyes.  "Never mind, child," she replied pleasantly; "it is all
right.  I understand" (as the girl still looked anxious); "I know you
had no thought of grieving us."

So the subject was dropped, and once more they gathered round the
simple board whereon every dainty was displayed with such charming
taste.  There, tongues loosened and the merry chatting recommenced,
while Winnie's spirits rose wonderfully.  Putting from her with a
strong determined will every sad thought and the burden of grief so new
for her to bear, she laughed and talked, the gayest of the
gay--speaking in her own quaint style, and laughing her own clear
ripple of silvery laughter.

After tea Miss Latimer called her into the cosy study, and bidding her
seat herself snugly, she said: "Aunt Debby requires Nellie's assistance
for a short time at present, so you will have to endure an old maid's
company meanwhile; but before we settle ourselves to enjoy a nice, cosy
chat, I wish you to accept a Christmas gift from me.  It is my latest
work, and I only received the first copies yesterday.  I have written
your name on the title-page, and I think, dear, you will value the
little volume for my sake."  As she spoke Aunt Judith handed a small
book, beautifully bound in blue and gold, to her young visitor, who
received it at first in speechless silence.  She looked at the pretty
volume--the elegant binding and clear, bold type; then with a great cry
flung herself down by Miss Latimer's side and sobbed out, "Oh, I love
you so, you are so kind to me; and it is so hard to say good-bye."

Aunt Judith seemed amazed.  "I do not understand you, child," she said
simply.  "What do you mean?  Try to calm yourself and explain, dear."

Then between sobs the story of a child's grief was laid before Miss
Latimer, and told with such a depth of pathos that the listener's soft
womanly heart ached in response to the plaintive tale.

"And your mother does not know you are here to-day, Winnie?" she
inquired when the sad little voice had ceased.  "You had no permission
from her to come?"

The girl shook her head.  "I suppose I am very disobedient," was the
simple answer; "but, Aunt Judith, the temptation was too hard to
resist.  I felt I must see you all again, even though it was only to
say good-bye."

Miss Latimer sighed.  "You must not come any more, dear, never after
to-night--at least not until your mother gives her full, free consent.
You think all this very hard, little Winnie, but you do not know how
deeply I feel about it also.  You had stolen into my heart, child, and
I was beginning to find your love very sweet and precious--not that I
shall love you less or cease to care for you, but all this pleasant
social intercourse must end now.  Nay, do not grieve so, darling.  It
is all very dark and perplexing to you at present perhaps; but rest
assured God has some beautiful lessons for us to learn--lessons that
will give us a glimpse of, and may yet prove as stepping-stones to,
that higher life which is the only life worth living."

Winnie sighed despairingly.  "Aunt Judith," she said, raising a pair of
wet eyes full of a child's agony to the listener's face, "I shall never
be good now.  You do not know the pleasure it has been to me to come
here, or the strange thoughts that fill my heart when I see how happy
you all are in this dear little home.  Somehow God seems very near
here, Aunt Judith, and the Christ-life you talk about so beautiful, I
go away determined to try to lead it too--to be good, brave, and true.
But that is all over now; for oh! no one in my home speaks of God and
heaven, or talks softly of Jesus and his love, and I can't be good if
none will stretch out a helping hand and show me the way."

Miss Latimer drew the little quivering figure closer in her embrace as
she answered, "Don't say that, child, don't say that.  A human friend
often leads astray--God never.  We must not rest our entire confidence
on human guides, or lean altogether on earthly props, but, holding out
our hands to the great Father above, with all the simplicity of little
children, leave ourselves unreservedly in his keeping.  Sometimes the
way is dark--so dark, dear" (and the gentle voice faltered for a
moment), "sometimes the path proves rugged and steep; but, little
Winnie,--

  'The easy path in the lowlands hath little of grand or new,
  But a toilsome ascent leads on to a wide and glorious view;
  Peopled and warm is the valley, lonely and chill the height,
  But the peak that is nearer the storm cloud is nearer
      the stars of light.'

And so, dear, in the time of shadow rest in the hollow of God's hand,
and Christ himself will help you to lead his own perfect life."

The conversation at this point being interrupted by the arrival of
Dick, Miss Latimer found no opportunity of renewing it that evening;
but while Winnie, who had once more dashed the tears from her eyes with
a child's abandonment of grief, was busily engaged with Miss Deborah
and Nellie, she drew the boy aside, and with his aid was able to gather
together the scattered threads of his sister's disconnected story.

Dick could not very well understand how, but there was something about
Aunt Judith which seemed to inspire confidence; and although Miss
Latimer with delicate tact retrained from asking more than was
absolutely necessary, the boy found himself laying bare his heart quite
unintentionally, and ended by confessing his determination to run away
to sea.  "I must go," he finished doggedly; "I can't stand this kind of
life any longer, and--I won't."

Miss Latimer looked very grave.

"I have no right to interfere, Dick," she said quietly, "and perhaps I
should scarcely have listened to your story; but from what has been
told me and my own eyes have seen, I thought Winnie's brother one who
would scorn to do a cowardly, dishonourable action."

The boy looked amazed at the strong, emphatic language; while Aunt
Judith, nothing daunted, continued,--

"Yes, it is perfectly true, Dick.  You see I do not fear to speak as I
think, and such a course as you purpose pursuing seems to me both mean
and sinful.  Running away--stealing out of your father's house like a
thief in the night; try to picture it fully, clearly to yourself, and
then let me hear your verdict once again.  You talk of always having
longed for a sailor's life; you speak about the great attraction of the
sea.  Well, that in itself is good; but why go forth to it in the way
you are contemplating?  Have you ever spoken to your father on the
subject?"

"Never," replied Dick; "but my step-mother and sisters knew all about
it."

"And what was their verdict?"

"Laughter, and the information that I was too great a stupid to be a
sailor."  The boy's tones were very bitter.

Miss Latimer scanned the honest, open face, and replied,--

"Well, Dick, we hardly know each other yet, and it may be you will
denounce me as an interfering old maid; but if I may proffer my advice,
I would say, Lay your heart bare before your father, tell him simply
what your desire is; and if after that he says 'Go,' then God's
blessing follow you, my dear boy."

She rose as she spoke, and crossing the room joined the group chatting
so pleasantly together, while Dick remained quietly in his seat.  But
there sprang up in the boy's heart that night a pure, holy feeling of
respect, almost amounting to veneration, for all women who, like Miss
Latimer, kept their garments white and unsullied in this evil world,
and stood up so bravely in the cause of truth and right.  He never
forgot the soft, tender voice or the warm pressure of the hand as she
reasoned with him; but thinking it all over in the still night-hush, he
determined to win her approbation, and carve out for himself a noble
life.

The evening passed by very rapidly for both Winnie and Dick, and at
length it was time to say good-bye.

Nellie and Miss Deborah, being still in ignorance as to the course
events had taken, wondered at the child's low sob when Miss Latimer
kissed her, and marvelled even more at her strange conduct in running
down the garden path immediately after, without pausing to bid one and
all her usual merry good-night.  But the explanation was soon made; and
then Aunt Debby's indignation blazed forth, while Nellie listened in
simple amazement to the strange tale.

"The very idea, Judith!" gasped the good lady, shaking her head with
such vehemence that all the little curls in front danced and coquetted
with one another; "just as if we would contaminate the child, or were
so very much her inferiors.  Dear heart!  I declare the news has given
me quite a turn--it is so absurd."

"I think we had better drop the subject altogether, Debby," replied
Miss Latimer.  "Nellie, I know, will respect her aunts' wishes, and act
as we think best.--Will you not, my child?"

"Of course, auntie," murmured Nellie faintly; "but I don't quite
understand.  Why could Winnie come here with full permission one day
and be forbidden the next?  I know," she continued bitterly--"at least
it is not Ada Irvine's fault if I do not--that I am very much Winnie's
inferior in many ways; but still Mrs. Blake knew all that before."
Here Nellie burst into tears, for she was only human, and wounded pride
and vanity mingled with genuine grief at the loss of her friend.

"Comfort her yourself, Judith," muttered Aunt Debby, meditating a rapid
exit to the kitchen.  "If I begin, I shall be sure to be saying
something spiteful and wicked, for my temper is at boiling-point just
now," and with that the good lady disappeared to the humbler regions,
there to vent her indignation in violent washing up of unoffending cups
and saucers.

Meanwhile Nellie had her evening talk, but for once it failed to soothe
her wounded feelings; and when she lay down on her soft warm bed, she
carried with her bitter, angry thoughts which chased the slumber from
her eyes and the rest from her heart.  She could not understand why
Mrs. Blake should put an end so suddenly to her intimacy with Winnie;
and Aunt Judith either could not or would not throw one single ray of
light on the subject.  The whole story would leak out at school, and
what a time would follow!  Nellie writhed inwardly at the awful
prospect, and wept bitterly, till at length, thoroughly worn out, she
fell fast asleep, and the silent passing hours ushered in the dawn of
another new day.



CHAPTER XII.

"I ALWAYS SPEAK AS I THINK."

The Christmas holidays were over now, and once more governesses and
pupils were busy giving and receiving instruction in Mrs. Elder's
Select Establishment for Young Ladies.  A few scholars still remained
absent, reluctant perhaps to come back to hard work after three weeks'
ease and gaiety; and amongst the list of truants was the name of
Winnifred Blake, whose blithe little face had been like a ray of
sunlight in the dingy school-room.  "Confined to the house through
indisposition," Mrs. Elder explained to each anxious inquirer after the
tiny favourite.  "Nothing serious; only a cold caught during
holiday-time."  But the days passed by, and still no Winnie appeared.

Nellie had never seen or heard of her since that night at Dingle
Cottage when they had laughed so heartily together over poor Aunt Meg
and her infirmities; and she felt the separation keenly.  At first the
other school-mates plied her with questions regarding Winnie's absence,
all of which she was unable to answer or parry successfully; and so by
degrees, and the help of Ada's sarcastic tongue, the secret oozed out,
and Nellie's star paled accordingly.  The poisoned shaft of
carefully-veiled words struck home with new power: there was no Winnie
to whom to turn for sympathy, and so the old cross had to be taken up
again and carried day after day.  Some of the girls sided sensibly with
Nellie, and tried to make school-life pleasant to her; but they were
unfortunately in the minority, and often got snubbed and censured by
the others for their kindness.

One afternoon, however, as Nellie was wending her way home from school,
a hand was laid on her shoulder, while an honest, kindly voice said
suddenly in her ear, "Well, it is good to get a peep at you again,
Nell.  How are you?" and Dick's freckled face shone down on the rosy
one by his side.

The girl looked up with a happy smile.  "O Dick!" she gasped; and then
it seemed as if words failed her, and she stood simply holding his
hand, and gazing with such genuine happiness into his eyes that the boy
laughed outright.

"What's up, Nell?" he inquired teasingly.  "I declare such evident
admiration makes me feel quite bashful."

Nellie gave a little soft smile.  "Don't be a tease, Dick," she said;
"I am only so pleased to see you and hear about Winnie."

Dick placed his hand on his heart and bowed.  "The pleasure is mutual,"
he began; but receiving an energetic shake of the arm he continued,
"Oh, Win will soon be all right.  She's been croaking like a raven for
the last fortnight or so, but is almost well now."

"When did she catch cold?"

Dick lowered his voice.  "Coming home that night from Dingle Cottage.
We missed the 'bus--walked--and Win caught a chill."

"Was she very ill?"

"Oh no; but the doctor would not allow her to go out or even run from
one room to the other, so she has been cooped up in the oak parlour all
this time."

"Tell her I am very sorry, and she is to accept my dear love.  Will
you, Dick?" and Nellie looked pleadingly up in the boy's kindly face.

"That I shall" (with emphasis).  "And, here, I may as well give you a
piece of information, Nell.  This is Wednesday--on Saturday afternoon I
sail for Calcutta."

Nellie stared.  "What do you mean?" she cried in bewilderment.

"Precisely what I say, my dear girl," replied the wild boy, vastly
enjoying her amazement.  "Perhaps you'll never see me any more, so do a
little weep--no, not here," as Nellie out of mischief slipped her hand
into her pocket; "we should have a crowd round us in no time if you
did, but in the--ahem!--privacy of your own room;" and Dick's eyes
sparkled.

"Calcutta!  Does that mean you are going to be a sailor after all?  O
Dick, have you gained your wish at last?  I am so glad for your sake."

Human sympathy is very sweet.  Dick's face beamed as he answered, "Yes,
Nell; the governor has given his consent.  It was not so very difficult
to obtain after all" (a trifle sarcastically), "therefore I'm off on
Saturday."

"What is Winnie saying to all this?"

The boy's face saddened a little.

"Win's a brick," he replied enthusiastically; "she never says anything
about herself, but talks of all the different countries I shall see,
and hopes no harm will befall me.  Dear little Win!"  Dick's voice was
very tender as he spoke.

A silence followed, then the boy held out his hand.  "Well, Nell, I
must say good-bye now.  I'm on an errand of importance, and dare not
delay.  Don't quite forget me, and be good to Winnie.  There--ta-ta!"
and away sped Dick before Nellie had time to utter a single word.

About two hours afterwards he re-entered his own home, and made
straight for the oak parlour, chuckling to himself at the thought of
Winnie's delight when he told her his conversation with Nellie.  But
disappointments sometimes accompany our enjoyments, and Dick's bright
anticipations of a quiet hour with his favourite sister received a
decided check; for on nearing the door, which was slightly ajar, he
heard the murmur of voices, and peering in cautiously saw, to his great
dismay, Mrs. Blake and Winnie entertaining no less honourable a visitor
than Miss Irvine.  Dick smiled derisively at the tones of the
carefully-modulated voice, and ground his strong, white teeth on
detecting the malicious spite lurking under pretty sentences full of
apparent kindliness.

"I must apologize, Winnie, for not calling and inquiring after your
health before this," Ada was saying as Dick approached; "but I have
been assuming the _rôle_ of an invalid myself lately, and Mrs. Elder
would not allow me to venture out of doors till I was thoroughly
convalescent."

Mrs. Blake looked affectionately at her young visitor.  "I did not know
you were unwell, my dear.  Are you quite recovered now?"

"Yes, thank you; but there was not very much wrong with me, dear Mrs.
Blake, only a slight touch of cold in the throat.  Mrs. Elder is so
careful, however, I am sure I owe her a debt of gratitude I shall never
be able to repay."  Then turning to Winnie, Ada continued with a pretty
show of anxiety, "I was very sorry to hear of your illness, Win.  How
did you manage to catch such a severe cold?"

"That is what I cannot tell," interrupted Mrs. Blake, feeling inclined
to shake her naughty little step-daughter for her sullen behaviour
towards this amiable young visitor.  "I happened to be from home one
day during the Christmas holidays, and on my return found Winnie
coughing dreadfully and quite fevered with cold."

Ada meditated a few seconds.  "I wonder," she said at length, in slow,
deliberate tones, "if your illness dated from that afternoon you spent
at Dingle Cottage almost a month ago?  I was visiting an old woman, a
former _nurse_ of mine, who lives in the house opposite, that same day,
and remember perfectly seeing you and Miss Latimer standing together at
one of the windows."

"Surely you must have been mistaken, my dear.  Winnie never visits at
Dingle Cottage now," Mrs. Blake interposed unconsciously.

"Perhaps, but I hardly think so.  However" (with a look of the utmost
innocence), "Winnie will be able to solve that riddle," and the
spiteful girl turned towards her sick friend and awaited the reply.

Winnie's cheeks were burning, and the great eyes full of a withering
contempt.  Raising them calmly to her visitor's placid face, and
without a trembling of the proud young lips, she answered
quietly,--"Your surmise was correct, Ada.  I did spend an afternoon
lately at Dingle Cottage; and I am afraid, as you so kindly hinted
before, that my cold dated from that night."

Mrs. Blake was angry, very angry indeed, but too well bred to show her
annoyance before her visitor.  She changed the subject with ready tact,
and made a most fascinating hostess; while Winnie sat in dead silence,
with a great scowl disfiguring her pretty face, and Dick danced his
displeasure on the door-mat.

After a short time Ada rose to leave, and holding out a daintily-gloved
hand to her sullen companion, said sweetly, "Good-bye, Winnie.  I trust
you will soon be better; and if I can possibly find leisure for another
visit, rest assured I shall drop in on you some day soon."

"Pray, don't," replied Winnie, wilfully disregarding her step-mother's
look of heavy displeasure.  "Your visit has not afforded me such a vast
amount of pleasure that I could wish its repetition at an early date.
We never were friends, Ada" (with ungoverned passion), "never so long
as I can remember.  You hate me, and I--I detest you; why, then, will
you persist in assuming a friendship that has no foundation?"

Dick's war-dance continued with greater vigour at this point, while
Mrs. Blake in haughtiest tones said to Winnie, "How dare you insult
Miss Irvine in this manner?  Apologize at once, I command you."

Ada's face, as she turned it towards her hostess, wore a sweet, patient
look, with just the tiniest flicker of pain about the curves of the
perfect lips.  "Please, do not blame Winnie too severely, Mrs. Blake,"
she pleaded mildly; "her words are to some extent true, but I--" and
the lids drooped slowly over the lovely eyes, while a faint flush
tinged the delicate cheeks--"I was trying to turn over a new leaf and
gain Winnie's love."

"My eye, what a cram!" muttered Dick from behind the door.  "Oh, but
she acts the hypocrite capitally.  Now then for Win's happy reply.  It
will be both sweet and original, I prophesy, for the little monkey is
bristling all over like an insulted hedgehog.  Here goes!" and the
boy's ear was once more applied cautiously to the keyhole.

Winnie had risen by this time, and was confronting her adversary with a
look almost capable of annihilating a less daring foe than Ada Irvine.
Quite undaunted by the fear of future punishment, and recognizing only
the great wrong this girl was doing her, she said, "I think you are a
female Judas, Ada, and your true character will come to light some day.
I know--" but Winnie got frightened at the awful look in Mrs. Blake's
eyes, and stopped short, while Ada took refuge in tears.

"Come away, my dear," said her hostess, leading her gently from the
room; "Winnie is not herself today.  When the child is in a passion her
language is uncontrollable; but I shall see she sends you a proper
apology for her rudeness."

Dick heard no more, having to slip away at that moment and hide behind
one of the statues in the passage during the exit of his step-mother
with the weeping Niobe; but when the sound of their footsteps had died
away in the distance, he rushed into the oak parlour, and seizing
Winnie round the waist, treated her to several convulsive hugs and
various exclamations of supreme delight.

"Well, old girl, you did the thing first-rate," he panted, throwing
himself into a chair and rubbing his hands vigorously together.  "You
deserve to be commended, Win.  Dear heart, as Aunt Debby says, what a
tongue somebody has!"

"I don't care," pouted Winnie, endeavouring to straighten her sash,
which Dick had been using as a handle during the hugging process; "I
only said what was true, and would repeat it all over again if she
cared to listen."

"Bravo! what a hard heart the girl possesses!  Cold as an icicle, too,
not to melt under the influence of such dewy tears shed
from--ahem!--'sweetest eyes were ever seen.'"

"Crocodile tears!" (with scorn.) "I don't know how she managed to
squeeze them up.  I never saw Ada Irvine weep before.  As for
apologizing, I won't, no matter what happens."

"Perhaps your gentle friend had an onion hidden within the folds of
her--_mouchoir_.  See how nicely I can speak French.  You remember, in
the story of Beauty and the Beast, how the wicked sisters rubbed their
eyes with onions to 'pretend' they were weeping."  Dick's eyes were
dancing as he spoke.

Winnie's indignation, however, would admit of no reply, and she sat
silently, like a little bird with its plumage all ruffled; while her
brother, stretched lazily opposite, gazed on the angry face and
soliloquized accordingly.

  "Alas for the rarity
  Of Christian charity,"

quoth the incorrigible boy.  "Come, Win, be magnanimous for once and
forgive.  Think what it would be to bask continually in the sunshine of
the lovely Ada's smiles.  But there--poor little bird! did I stroke its
pretty feathers all the wrong way, and make it very cross?"

How much more Dick would have said remains a mystery, for Mrs. Blake
interrupted the interesting conversation by her entrance, and commanded
him to leave the room.

"I'll take possession of the door-mat once again," he decided, giving
Winnie an encouraging look as he passed out.  "Eavesdropping is a low,
mean thing, I know; but Win may require my assistance, and altogether
it's as well I should be on the spot."

There is no need to describe the conversation that ensued between Mrs.
Blake and her troublesome step-daughter.  The good lady was justified
in her displeasure at Winnie's daring disobedience; but her words were
cold, cruel words, little calculated to inspire the love and confidence
of a warm, tender-hearted child.  She would listen to no
expostulations, she refused to reason; her commands must be obeyed;
Winnie would never dare to set her laws at defiance again; and at the
close of the session she would be transferred to another school.  As
regarded Ada, she must write a humble apology, and in the future show
that sweet, amiable girl every respect.

Winnie stoutly refused (Dick chuckled with delight), and Mrs. Blake's
anger waxed stronger at the little rebel.  She meditated for a few
seconds on the best method of punishment, and then said coldly,--"I
shall say nothing further in the meantime, Winnie, concerning your
flagrant act of disobedience in connection with Miss Latimer.  When you
feel truly penitent, and confess your sorrow, I shall be pleased to
accept your apology; but I insist on a letter being written to Miss
Irvine now.  One hour is at your disposal, and if at the end of that
period I return and find you still obdurate, then to-morrow's pleasure
is cancelled,--you will not be allowed, as promised, to see over Dick's
ship."  With that Mrs. Blake left the room, and Winnie was left to
solitude and reflection.

For a long time she sat firmly determined to suffer anything rather
than yield.  Her young heart burned with anger and pride--she hated
everybody and everything; but in the end love for Dick conquered, and
the required note was written.

"I don't mean one single word of all that scribble," she cried,
pitching the letter to the other end of the room.  "I hate to humble
myself, so I do, and I should like to say all sorts of horrid things to
Ada Irvine; but I can't give up to-morrow's treat, and I wish to see as
much of my dear old Dick as possible.  Wait till I get back to school,
however, and there will be fun."  Winnie's face brightened at the
thought, and the old mischievous smile came back to her lips.  After
all there was a good amount of wicked enjoyment to be derived from
having an enemy.



CHAPTER XIII.

OUR SAILOR BOY.

If one had peeped into the oak parlour on Thursday evening, one would
naturally have imagined the room to be untenanted, save for the
presence of a little white dog curled in peaceful slumber on the rug;
but had the heavy folds of curtain been withdrawn, they would have
disclosed to view the form of a young lady nestling back in the window
embrasure, with two soft white hands folded wearily on her lap.  The
night was cold, but bright with moonlight; and the stars peeping in at
the window, the blind of which was drawn up to the top, whispered
together of the fairy picture she made with the moonbeams straying over
her quiet, thoughtful face, and playing hide-and-seek amongst the
meshes of her dark glossy hair.

"How pretty she looks!" they murmured softly, sparkling down their
twinkling lights on the frost-gemmed city below.  But the little stars
failed to notice the weary look of discontent and dissatisfaction on
that fair face, which marred all the beauty of the fairy picture.

She had left the gay drawing-room and fashionable company under plea of
a headache, and finding the oak parlour untenanted, had hidden herself
snugly behind the curtains.  But Edith Blake's headache had evidently
merged into a heartache; for it was a weary, weary face that turned
from the window as approaching footsteps warned her of some one's
intrusion.  Drawing aside the ruby folds and peering out cautiously,
the girl saw Winnie enter and go straight towards the fire, where she
proceeded to ensconce herself snugly on the rug, and lift the little
white dog into her lap.

"Poor little doggie!" she said, stroking the affectionate animal, which
was licking its mistress's gentle hand; "poor Puck! you'll have to love
me very much after Dick goes away.  I like to be loved, doggie; but no
one in this house believes in love except my dear boy, and it is lonely
when not a single creature cares, for you.  I should like to enjoy a
good cry, Puck; but I must not make Dick sad, and it is a baby-fashion
to cry when things go wrong and you can't get what you wish.  But, oh
dear! whatever shall I do after my dear good boy is gone away?"

"Write long letters and think of him every day," put in a blithe, merry
voice at the door; and Winnie sprang up with a cry of delight as Dick
strode into the room attired in all the splendour of his new uniform.

"How do I look, Win?" he cried, touching his cap, and standing in all
the pride of his young, bright strength, ready to be admired.  "Am I
respectable?"

But he need hardly have asked that question, for the little sister's
face was all aglow, and her rosy lips laughing a glad, proud smile.

"Respectable!" (with scorn); "why, Richard, you're simply _splendid_!
And oh! you do look every inch a sailor."

"I thought I would let you see me in full uniform before packing up my
baggage," said Dick, by way of apology for his childish display.  "Look
at the brass buttons, Win, and the badge on my cap; they make me feel
as if I were a sailor already."

Winnie duly admired.

"I hope you'll have a good voyage, and not find the work too hard," she
whispered afterwards, and the boy answered.

"Win," he began impressively, "I intend putting my whole 'shoulder to
the wheel.'  If I cannot work with the brain, I will strive my very
best with hand and heart, and do my duty come what may.  I mean to be a
true man, and live an honest, upright life, not in order to gain every
one's good opinion (though of course I should dearly like that too),
but because it is right."

Winnie's eyes were shining.  "I told you so," she said, clapping her
hands joyously.  "You'll be a king amongst men yet.  And oh, how
proudly our father will some day talk of 'my sailor son!'"  The boy's
face flushed with pleasure.  "But, Dick, you won't care less for me
when you become both good and great; will you?" and the pretty voice
had a wistful ring in it as Winnie neared the close of her sentence.

"Good! why, you're an angel compared with me, Win," said the boy
lovingly; "but we'll both try our best, dear.  I'm a great, rough boor
of a lad, Win, and you're such a dainty, fairy creature.  But think how
grand it would be to know that every day you at home and I out on the
ocean were striving to do our duty and live as we ought to live.  I've
been all wrong in the past, I know, and it is little wonder the others
don't care much about me; but I mean to strike out afresh and begin all
over again.  See here, Winnie; this is my farewell gift to you.  I
thought you would prize it more than anything else," and Dick placed a
beautiful pocket Bible in his sister's hands.

Winnie touched the little volume reverently, and the eyes of the
listener behind the curtains grew dim as the child's soft voice
replied, "I cannot thank you as I would, Dick, for your lovely present;
but I love you dearly, dearly.  I shall keep it always close beside me,
and read a portion every day.  Bow down your head, dear boy, and let me
kiss you for your goodness."

Dick submitted to the caress, and then invited Winnie up to his room in
order to inspect a few presents he had received from some of his
school-fellows; and when brother and sister had disappeared, Edith
stole softly from her place of concealment, and the dancing fire-flames
saw that her eyes were wet with tears.

"I have caught a glimpse of true life to-night," she said, smiling
wistfully; "and it has shown me how hollow, hollow is the false one I
daily lead.  Poor Dick!  I am afraid we have misjudged him after all,
and may yet find out, as Winnie so confidently prophesies, that he is
worthy of all honour and admiration.  As for her, she will learn, so
far as lies in my power, that love is to be found in the house,
although her sailor boy has left the parent nest."  Then seating
herself in the cosiest-looking chair, she lay back and waited quietly
for the return of the owners of the oak parlour.

In the course of half-an-hour they re-appeared, and gazed with
wide-open eyes on the fair intruder; but Edith, laughing lazily, bade
them come forward and welcome the unexpected guest.

Winnie sprang to her side.  "We are both awfully pleased to see you,
Edith," she said; "only you surprised us so.  Whatever brings you here
when there are guests in the drawing-room?"

"I had a headache," replied the elder sister, drawing the little girl
close to her side and beginning to toy with the tangled hair;
"besides"--looking up at the big, stalwart youth standing near--"I
wished to enjoy a little of Dick's society before he goes away."

Dick's face relaxed into a broad grin of unbelief, and Winnie cried out
"Oh!" then caught herself and stopped short; but Edith's equanimity
remained undisturbed.

"It is quite true," she said with a charming smile.  "I see you are in
full uniform, Dick.  Stand back, and let me admire my sailor brother."

Edith could be very lovable and winning when she liked, and to-night
she seemed thoroughly bent on doing her utmost to please.  The boy,
though mystified at this sudden change in his fashionable sister,
obeyed her command, and stood erect before her, feeling perhaps a
little bashful, but never flinching under the steady scrutiny.

"You look very well," she said after a little pause.  "Sit down, Dick;
I wish to speak to you.  I know perfectly Winnie is wondering why the
cross elder sister is sitting here taking such an interest in you both
to-night.  But don't ask an explanation for such conduct; only believe
that her heart is not so hard as you deem it, and that she has begun to
look under the surface for some one's true character."

Winnie gave the speaker's hand a little squeeze of approbation, while a
pleased smile lit up Dick's face.  As neither spoke, however, Edith
continued: "And now, may I crave of you, Dick, a very great favour?
Winnie is to be driven down to-morrow afternoon to see through your
ship.  May I come too? or is she to be the only privileged young lady?"

The boy looked incredulously at his pretty sister.  "Are you really in
earnest, Edith?" he inquired, "or are you laughing at me?"

"I mean what I say, Dick," was the grave reply; "but if you would
rather I remained at home, I shall not trouble you."

"Oh, come! do come!" whispered Winnie delightedly.  "Dick will be only
too pleased;--will you not, dear old boy?"  So it was settled; and
Edith rose to leave the cosy room, which seemed to her at that moment
like a haven of rest.

"It was very, very good of you to come and spend a wee quiet time with
us," said Winnie, as she watched her beautiful sister shaking out her
crumpled skirts and pushing back little stray locks of hair from her
white forehead.  "Do you know we are going to have a great treat
to-morrow night?  Archie Trollope is coming in; and cook has promised
us a delicious supper in honour of Dick's last evening at home."

"I think you ought to give me an invitation," replied Edith, pausing at
the doorway.  "I should like to enjoy the feast too.--No, no," as Dick
and Winnie exchanged doubtful glances; "I was only teasing you both.
Accept my best wishes for a happy evening, dears.  Good-night;" and
then the soft silken figure glided quietly away.

"I'm glad she really did not mean what she said," announced Dick,
giving a sigh of relief as he threw himself down on the rug beside Puck
and commenced to tease that worthy little animal; "but I think, Win, if
we had pressed her she would have come."

"I am sure of it," replied Winnie.  "She looked so disappointed when we
did not speak.  But, Dick, was she not ever so nice to-night? and is
she not beautiful?"

"Yes," replied her brother, pulling Puck's tail mischievously; "but
we're a good-looking family, Win, with the exception of myself."

The little girl's reply was thoroughly characteristic: "Every house has
its ugly duckling, dear boy," she observed quaintly, "and they seldom
turn out swans except in story-books.  However, it does not matter very
much about a man's personal appearance; and you--why, you might have
been a great deal worse."

Dick roared at the attempted consolation.  "What a Job's comforter you
are, Win!" he said with a broad grin; "but as you say, little sister, a
man's personal appearance, though it sometimes goes a long way, is not
the main thing, and I reckon Dick Blake will manage through the world
well enough in spite of freckled skin and fiery hair."

"Of course he will," replied Winnie; "there's no doubt about that."

Then the two began to talk seriously and lovingly their own
heart-thoughts, and the minutes passed all too rapidly.  Both started
when the clock struck the hour for retiring, and there was a little
quiver in Winnie's voice as she wished her brother good-night, and
thought that only another evening, then the kind face bending over her
would be looking out on the wide waste of waters, and she would have to
whisper her loving good-nights to the stars instead.  "Oh, my dear, my
dear," she sobbed to herself in the darkness, "how sorely, sorely I
shall miss you!  But I am so glad there is a great, good Father in
heaven who will guide and keep you wherever you are.  Oh! if Aunt
Judith were only here to say something comforting to me--something that
would ease this ache of sorrow at my heart and help me to feel strong
and brave."

Then, as she lay weeping out her loneliness in the quiet night, some
words she had read in one of Aunt Judith's books stole softly into her
mind, like a ray of golden sunlight penetrating through the chinks of a
darkened room: "Whatever is grieving you, however burdensome or trivial
the trouble may be, tell it to Jesus."

Winnie's eyes flashed, and springing out of bed with sudden
determination she knelt down, a little, fragile figure, by the window
ledge, and prayed reverently and trustingly her first heart-prayer.  It
was a very simple petition, uttered in Winnie's own quaint style, at
the language of which some people might have smiled; but I think that
in heaven there would be a great hush amongst the white-robed throng as
they bent their heads to catch the first breathings of a child's soul
upwards.  And oh, the bursts of hallelujahs as the trusting words
floated to the throne of grace, and told of a young heart groping in
the darkness for the strong, firm clasp of a Father's hand!

Next afternoon, when the carriage drove round to the door as appointed,
the little girl, running downstairs warmly muffled up, found Edith
wrapped in soft velvets and furs, thoroughly equipped for the drive.
There was the faintest suspicion of a smile wreathing the corners of
her lips as she stood tapping impatiently the tesselated floor of the
hall with her tiny high-heeled boot, and running the gauntlet of a few
teasing remarks from her two brothers, who were loitering near; but on
Winnie's approach she turned round, and waving a careless farewell,
accompanied her little sister down the broad stone steps to the
carriage, where Mr. Blake was awaiting them.

The drive proved to be a pleasant one, and in a short time they found
themselves at the docks, and saw the great ships ranging far and near,
with their tapering masts pointing upwards to the cloudy sky.  The
_Maid of Astolat_ lay close at hand, and as they went on board Dick
appeared, his face black and grimy, but all aglow with a welcoming
smile.

"You come along with me," he said, drawing Winnie aside, as the
captain, a tall, gentlemanly-looking man, stepped forward and addressed
Mr. Blake.  "I'll do the honours of the ship tip-top, Win, and show you
all round in first-rate style;" and the little sister delivered herself
over to his guidance.

How they peered about, to be sure--here, there, everywhere; and how
proudly Dick aired the small amount of nautical language he had managed
to pick up!  Rough men turned and smiled half unconsciously as the two
blithe figures flitted past and their merry laughter rang out in the
frosty air.  They seemed so happy, and the hearts hardened by sin and
adversity sighed over their bygone childhood's days, and thought what a
blessed thing it was to be young.

Returning from their exploration, brother and sister found Mr. Blake
and Edith still talking to the captain, whose grave, stern face was
rapidly relaxing under the influence of that young lady's winning
manner and bright, sparkling conversation.  Dick eyed the group as he
drew near, and then a comical thought seemed to strike him, for he was
heard to mutter, "Jemima! what a lark!" and he twitched his face into a
decided grimace of amusement.

There was scant time in which to make remarks, however, for Mr. Blake
required to be back in the city at a certain hour, and Winnie must not
be exposed to the night air.  So good-byes were courteously exchanged.
The Blakes, re-entering their carriage, drove rapidly away, and soon
the high, tapering masts appeared like specks in the distance.

Next day the _Maid of Astolat_ sailed from the harbour, bearing on
board the strong, stalwart figure and honest, true face of Richard
Blake.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE PRIZE ESSAY.

One day, towards the close of the school, great excitement prevailed in
Mrs. Elder's Select Establishment for Young Ladies, the cause being a
communication made through the lady-principal to her pupils from a
gentleman and relative of hers lately returned from India.  He had
visited the school several times within the last few months, and seemed
to take an interest in it; but still there was no lack of astonishment
when Mrs. Elder announced one morning that her friend, Mr. Corbett, had
intimated his intention of awarding a special prize to the pupil who
would write the best essay on any of the three following
subjects--namely, Christmas joys, a short account of the French
Revolution, and a brief review of one of Sir Walter Scott's novels.
The babble of tongues that ensued after this intimation was wonderful.
Mrs. Elder laughingly beat a hasty retreat, and Miss Smith lay
resignedly back in her chair, and waited till peace and order were
restored.

"Of course Ada will win the prize," was the general comment, "she is so
clever, and Mr. King always praises her essays.  Nellie can't come near
her in the way of composition; but we must all try to do our best, for
the honour of the school."

The elder girls, who were not included in the list of competitors, felt
inclined to second these remarks, and Ada smiled triumphantly when she
heard them whispered abroad.  There was little doubt in her own mind as
to who was likely to be the successful candidate, and she only wondered
which subject would best show forth her brilliancy of style and
composition.

Winnie and Nellie, firm friends still in spite of all restraints,
consulted together, and spoke of the utter uselessness of their most
strenuous endeavours.  "We've no chance against Ada," they said
disconsolately, "but like the others we'll have to attempt something."

"What will you try, Winnie?" inquired Nellie.  "I think I'll tackle
'the French Revolution.'"

Winnie's brow was wrinkled in perplexity.  "Do you know, Nell," she
said at length, looking up with a curious gleam in her eyes, "I never
tried very hard in all my life to write a really good essay.  I just
mixed anything together and popped it down higgledy-piggledy style, as
Dick would say.  Yet sometimes I have beautiful thoughts, and they run
together in such beautiful words that I think I may manage to produce a
respectable paper after all.  I know nothing about the French
Revolution, simply nothing.  I have never read any of Sir Walter
Scott's novels, and could not criticise or review one to save my life.
But Christmas joys--ah, yes, I might attempt that;" and Winnie looked
hopeful at this point.

"Very well, Win, we've decided," responded Nellie; then, Agnes Drummond
coming forward and addressing them, their conversation was interrupted
for the present.

Ada Irvine's triumph was by no means so complete as she fancied it
would be, though there was still much to cause her satisfaction.
Almost every day she had the pleasure of seeing Winnie grow furious and
Nellie wince under some cutting sarcasm thrown out with well-directed
aim by some of the most fashionable girls in the school, and not even
the former's reappearance and championship could allay to any extent
the open insults which beset the defenceless girl during school hours.

"Go! you are not my friends," the stanch little ally had said when she
found how matters stood on her return after her illness.  "I hate and
despise every one of you from the bottom of my heart.  You call
yourselves ladies, but I tell you no true lady would lower herself to
utter such words as fall from your lips.  I know who your ringleader
is, and if the heartiest hatred will do her any good, she has mine.
But act as you please; only remember Nellie is now, and ever will be,
the one true friend of my life.  And as for her aunts, let me tell you
you are not worthy to touch the hem of their garments."

"Oh, nonsense, Winnie!" one of the girls had replied, in a
half-condescending manner; "I am sure you can't forget your mother's
opinion on the subject."

"And who informed you about my mother's opinion?  It must have been
Ada; and that throws light on what has puzzled me lately.  I think I
may thank her for all this trouble I have been and am still
experiencing.  No, do not try to defend her; one day we shall be quits."

"But Ada is never rude or disagreeable to you now, Win," pleaded
another girl.  "There has been a marked change in her manner lately.
She is very gentle and kind to you.  As for blaming her about telling
tales, that is hardly fair.  She really said very little concerning
Mrs. Blake and her opinion of Nellie.  Where she got her information we
do not know, but she told us decidedly it was not from your
step-mother."

Winnie looked incredulous.  "That is quite sufficient," she replied
with dignity; "I would rather hear no more.  But you may tell Ada from
me that I am not to be deceived by her new tactics, and have no desire
to possess such a treasure as a serpent-friend."

The subject had then been dropped, and from that time Winnie would have
nothing to do with any girl who uttered a single word against her
friend.  Ada she treated with supreme indifference, and disdained to
accept a proffered friendship vouchsafed to suit that young lady's
amiable plans.  As regarded Nellie, she never walked with her after
school hours, or sought her society so frequently as she had done in
the happy bygone days (Miss Latimer had strictly forbidden that); but
still the love betwixt the two was warm and true, and Ada felt her
hatred deepen as she saw how all her endeavours failed to break the
strong bond of friendship binding the one to the other.  A certain
circumstance, however, caused her immense satisfaction--namely, Mrs.
Elder's growing dislike of Nellie Latimer.  The lady-principal was,
unfortunately, guilty of favouritism, and ever since Ada had been
placed under her charge she had shown a marked preference for and
indulgence towards her.  Such being the case, one can readily imagine
how a woman of such a weak, selfish nature would resent the quiet
dethronement of her young favourite, and see the honours she had been
accustomed to take now won by an insignificant girl of no particular
birth or station in society.  Ada, not slow to find all this out,
viewed it with supreme delight, and was careful to fan the flame by
various hints and insinuations thrown out with becoming modesty.

Nellie marked the change, but bore it uncomplainingly, striving to live
it down and let the discipline accomplish its own sharp yet beneficial
work.  "I shall withdraw you from the school should you choose,
Nellie," Miss Latimer had said once when the girl broke down and wept
over the heavy burden laid upon her.  "But I would like you to fight it
out, and grow better, braver, and nobler under the conflict."  That was
sufficient for Nellie, who, meekly relifting the old cross, strove to
carry it cheerfully, feeling amply rewarded for her quiet endurance
when she daily realized the rare love and tenderness that surrounded
her in the peaceful home at Broomhill Road.

The examination day was fast approaching, and the prize essays, which
had to be given in a week beforehand, were delivered over to the
lady-principal's charge--neat rolls of paper prettily tied up with
gaily-coloured knots of ribbon.  Then followed more excitement, till
the hour arrived when guests and pupils met together in the large
school-room, and the usual performance took place before the eyes of
smiling mothers and friends.  At length it was over, and the clergyman
stepping forward to award the prizes, Winnie found some leisure to gaze
around and scan the sea of faces in front of her.

There was Mrs. Drummond, calm and placid as usual; her own step-mother
and Edith, both looking so fresh and fair in their bright summer
attire, and--but here Winnie caught a glimpse of a noble, true face
looking at her from under the brim of a quiet Quaker bonnet, and in a
moment her little face was all aglow with a great throb of love.

What occurred after that seemed a blank.  She never heard Nellie's name
called repeatedly, or noted Mrs. Blake's haughty look as the young girl
modestly received her prizes and blushed under the words of
commendation uttered by the clergyman.  Her thoughts were far away in
the past, and she was living those two happy days over again at Dingle
Cottage, when the world appeared so wondrously fair, and life full of
bright laughing sunshine.

But now came a pause in the proceedings.  The prizes were all
distributed, and pupils and friends wakened to a state of great
expectancy as old Mr. Corbett stood up by the minister's side and
nervously prepared to make his oration.  After a few preliminary
remarks customary on the occasion, he spoke of the surprise and
pleasure he had experienced in reading over the essays delivered to him
by Mrs. Elder, his old and esteemed friend.  They displayed much talent
and brilliancy of style, and reflected great credit on the school.  One
especially amazed him (here Ada's head drooped modestly) by the rich,
beautiful thoughts, set, as it were, in such quaint, original language.
He was almost startled by the amount of genius shining forth from every
sentence; and although the essay was written in a crude girlish style,
it was worthy of the highest commendation, and he had great pleasure in
awarding the prize to--Miss Winnifred Blake.

There was a long silence, followed by murmurs of amazement and
congratulation.  But Winnie did not seem to hear them; she only sat
gazing dreamily, with dim, dazed eyes, as if hardly capable of
realizing the good fortune which had befallen her.

"Rise, dear," whispered Elsie Drummond, who was standing close by;
"every one is waiting to see you receive the prize.  We are all so glad
over your success.  Now go;" and she gave the child a gentle push in
the clergyman's direction.  The words wakened Winnie, and then, with a
great flash, came the realization that she, and not Nellie, had
triumphed over Ada; and as the knowledge came home with full power to
her heart, her great eyes sparkled their mischievous joy, and she
stepped forward, a glad, triumphant gleam shining in their depths.

Few of the onlookers that day ever forgot the scene before them: the
little fairy figure clad in daintiest summer attire; the flushed gipsy
face and dark, lustrous eyes peeping from under the mass of curly hair;
and the wondrously joyous smile which broke over her lips as she bent
her pretty head on receiving the glittering medal from the minister's
hand.  I think Mrs. Blake was proud of her step-daughter for once in
her life.

A short time afterwards, just as she was preparing to start homeward,
Winnie remembered that her music was lying in one of the school-rooms,
and bidding some of the girls wait her return she bounded up the steep
flight of stairs to go in search of it.

On reaching the top step, however, Ada met her, and the pale, angry
face and haughty mien roused every malicious feeling in Winnie's
nature.  Looking up with a face in which wicked triumph and delight
were plainly depicted, she said sweetly, "O Ada, would you care to
inspect my medal?  You have been so kind to me lately I am sure you
will rejoice at my wonderful success."

Ada returned her gaze with one of steady, contemptuous disdain, and
dropping the mask of friendship which had been so hard for her to wear,
she replied haughtily, "Wonderful indeed! so wonderful, in fact, that I
may be pardoned for refusing to credit the essay as being your own
composition.  Do you think it is natural for a dunce (I repeat the
word), who has been in the habit of writing the most childish nonsense,
to break on the world suddenly as a genius, and startle every one with
her wonderful thoughts?  It stands to reason that some underhand work
has been going on; and such being the case, I prefer to hold myself
aloof from one who could be guilty of any mean, despicable action."

Strong language to use.  Winnie's anger rose to a white heat as she
listened.  "Explain yourself!" cried the enraged child; "I fail to
understand your words."

Ada's lip curled.  "You are an admirable actress," she said calmly;
"you would make your fortune on the stage.  Unfortunately, however, I
am not easily deceived.  You know perfectly well the prize essay is no
work of yours."

"Whose then?" in a voice of suppressed passion; and the quiet, mocking
tones answered,--

"Suspicions are easily roused, and when one can disobey a parent once,
one can easily do so again."

Winnie looked bewildered.  "You are speaking in riddles," she cried
angrily; "I demand a proper explanation."

"Then you shall have it," replied Ada, spitefully enjoying her
momentary triumph.  "Mrs. Elder, Miss Smith, and ever so many of the
girls believe that your wonderful Miss Latimer assisted with your
essay.  Nay, do not interrupt: we give you credit for the bare outline,
but the originality and quaint rich thoughts are decidedly beyond the
powers of a dunce."

Winnie listened in amazement, and as the last words fell slowly from
the lips of the cold, haughty girl, she cried out in her bitter anger,--

"It is false! false! and you know that too; but, Ada Irvine, I can
almost excuse your insulting words.  It must be humiliating to see a
dunce, and one towards whom you bear so much affection, win a prize of
which you deemed yourself secure.  I forgive you when I think how hard
it must be to feel yourself the laughing-stock of the school; and I
would remind you in the future to value your talents at their true
worth."

Winnie paused, and it seemed, to use a common-place phrase, as if the
tables were turned; for the little girl looked cool and calm now, while
her adversary's face was white and set with passion.  Springing forward
she raised her hand, and Winnie, in order to avert the blow, stepped
back, forgetful of her dangerous position.  Then rang through the house
a wild scream followed by the sound of a heavy fall; and the startled
inmates, gathering from various quarters, found lying at the foot of
the steep stairs a prostrate figure with white upturned face and
firmly-closed eyes.

[Illustration: A prostrate figure with white, upturned face.]



CHAPTER XV.

HOW SHALL I LIVE THROUGH THE LONG, LONG YEARS?

A balmy summer morning in the month of July.  Outside, and far up
overhead, a dappled sky shining down on a world of light and beauty;
green verdant slopes and wide sweeps of meadowland glistening still
with the early dew; flowers blossoming everywhere, from the modest
daisy and golden buttercup to the queenliest rose and fairest lily;
birds singing from every bush and tree their morning trill of
flute-like melody; bees humming busily hither and thither; butterflies
flitting idly by or resting snugly in the heart of a flower; in short,
the world of nature all awake and joying with a pure, glad joy in the
golden summer sunshine.

Inside a darkened room, with softly-shaded blinds and peaceful hush
brooding over all, a girl--one might almost say a child--lying quietly
on a dainty bed with white, weary face and closed eyes, round which
dark lines of pain and suffering are plainly circled; and lastly, a
young lady nestling back in a low basket-chair and keeping tender watch
over the slight figure stretched so motionless before her.  Suddenly
the heavy lids unclose, and a pair of tired eyes are raised, with a
sad, pathetic look, to the watcher's face.

"Is that you, Edith?" asks the weak voice in low, feeble tones; and the
young lady, bending down to press a kiss on the white brow, answers,--

"Yes, dear; and I am so glad you have enjoyed such a nice long sleep."

The child raised one thin, fragile hand, and pushing back the hair from
her damp forehead, spoke once more.  "I was dreaming, Edith,--dreaming
the old days were back again, and that Dick and I were having such fun
in the oak parlour.  Archie Trollope was there too, and we were chasing
each other round and round the room; but neither Dick nor Archie could
catch me, my feet seemed so nimble.  I thought it was true, Edith, and
a great weight rolled from my heart; but oh"--and the low wail
accompanying the words pained the listener sorely--"I awoke and found
it was all a dream."

"My poor little Winnie!" replied the young lady, smoothing the pained
lines from the invalid's brow with soft, gentle touch.  But the child
had not yet finished.

"Edith," she continued, a wild, haunting look of unrest stealing into
her eyes, "I am so tired lying here day after day.  I want to be out in
the sunshine with the birds and the flowers.  Tell me, when shall I be
able to walk in the sunlight once more?"

Edith's face was wet with tears.  "Try to be patient, dear," she said
in a somewhat broken voice; "one does not recover very quickly from an
illness such as yours."

Winnie seemed dissatisfied.  "You don't look me straight in the face
when you speak, Edith, and your voice has a little tremble in it.
Hush! hear how the birds are singing!  They know I dearly love the
sunshine, and are calling me out into the midst of it; I hear them
every day warbling so happily.  Do you think they ever wonder why I
never come--why I never dance up and down the garden walks and spend
hours with them and the flowers as I did last year?  And the sea,
Edith--some nights, when the wind is sleeping and not a leaf stirring
on the trees, I can hear the waves crooning a low, sweet song as they
wash along the wide beach of sand.  They also seem to be calling me out
into their midst; and I--O Edith, I cannot come."

There was a passionate ring of pain in the voice, and the look of
unrest had given place to one of intense yearning.  Edith's tears fell
fast as she laid her head down on the pillow beside her little sister
and pressed warm kisses on the quivering lips.

"Little Winnie," she whispered, "don't you think it is hard, hard for
us to see you lying suffering here?  Oh, my dear, can't you guess how
we miss your little dancing figure, and your bright, merry chatter?
Our hearts are sore for you, dearest, in your pain and weariness, and
we would sacrifice anything to be able to raise you up strong and well
soon.  But we cannot; and, oh, little sister, try to wait patiently a
little longer."

"You say that every day, Edith," answered the child pettishly.  "It is
always the old, old story--wait a little longer; and when you speak in
that strain a great fear creeps into my heart and won't be shut out.  I
try not to listen; I think upon other things; I tell it to go away, but
it still remains.  Edith, O Edith! tell me that some day I shall stand
up strong and well; tell me quick, quick, for something whispers that
will never be."

"Nonsense, dear!" faltered the elder sister; "you must not become
fanciful.  In a short time I hope to see you quite better."

"You don't say you are perfectly certain, Edith," cried Winnie, still
suspicious, "and you look at anything rather than me.  I believe my
fear is too true; and if so, how shall I live through the long, long
years?"

Edith hardly knew how to reply.  "Hush, Winnie, hush!" she began
pleadingly; "you are rushing to rash conclusions.  And only think,
dear, we have you, though weak and helpless, spared to us still.  What
if you had died?"

"I wish I had," replied the girl wildly; "I would far rather lie
quietly under the daisies than live a long, long crippled life.  Oh, to
think I shall never again run races on the sandy shore, and laugh when
the little waves splash my feet; never pluck the wild flowers and make
sweet, fragrant posies; never climb the forest trees or sit under the
great pines I love so well!  I can't bear it, Edith; indeed I can't.  I
wish I were dead."

Her sister was about to speak, but she pushed her aside, saying feebly,
"Oh, if I could only get my strength back again!  I never knew what a
blessing health was till I lost it."  There was such a depth of pathos
in the weak voice, such an undertone of sadness, that Edith almost
broke down again.

"Winnie," she said softly, "I wonder how Aunt Judith would answer you
just now?"

Winnie looked up through her tears.  "I don't know," she replied
wistfully; "but she can't understand how awful it is to lose health for
life in one day."

"No," responded Edith; "but I think, Winnie, Miss Latimer must have had
some exceeding bitter sorrow--some terrible trial to bear in her own
time."

"How?" with a gesture of surprise.

"Because, dear, those books of hers which I have been reading to you
lately are full of grand, loving thoughts, and strong, helpful words,
such as could only come from a heart torn and bleeding through
suffering.  I never saw Miss Latimer, as you know, Winnie, but I am
ready to say with you she must be a good, noble woman."

The little girl's eyes were brimming over again.  "Don't speak of her,
Edith; it makes me wish so much to see her, and mamma has forbidden
that."

"Not now, Winnie, not now!" said Edith eagerly; "she would be only too
pleased to see your friend.  At first, when you were so ill, you called
continually for Aunt Judith, and Algy was sent to Dingle Cottage in
search of her.  He found, however, only a fast-closed door, and could
gain no information as to where she had gone from any of the
neighbours.  It seems the whole family left town for the summer on the
afternoon of the examination day, so that I am sure Miss Latimer does
not even know you are ill.  She and Nellie were not in the school at
the time of your accident."  Edith's voice faltered at this point: but
rapidly recovering herself, she continued: "Then we bought all Aunt
Judith's books, dear, to try to cheer you a little.  It was the only
thing we could do.  Some day, when we return to town, you will see Miss
Latimer again."

Winnie lay weeping quietly.  At last she said, "Please leave me alone
for a short time, Edith; I wish to think it all out myself," and the
elder sister obeyed.

Slipping on her hat, she passed out of the house into the sunshine and
wended her way slowly towards the shore, the words ringing in her ears
with that low wail of intense pain--"How shall I live through the long,
long years?"

Poor Winnie! her fears were but too well grounded.  No hope was
entertained of her ever being able to leave her couch again.

When the kind-hearted doctor had broken the news to the sorrowing
family, almost the first thought of each was, How would she bear it?
How would she, the little restless sprite, always flitting about here
and there, endure perhaps a long life of crippled helplessness?  And
oh! how were they to tell her of the sad future, stretching far into
the coming years?  It was all very well to waive her questions in the
meantime, but that could not be done much longer.  Already the child
seemed listening to each word with a haunting sense of fear; and now
that they had taken her from the busy town to their quiet sea-side
home, where summer after summer she had danced about in innocent glee,
the dread deepened as the days went by and she felt no sign of
returning strength to her feeble frame.  There was no need to tell the
sad tidings after all, however--she had found out for herself; and the
necessary part now was to teach her how to live bravely and cheerfully
through the long, long years.

Edith's thoughts were very dreary as she walked quietly through the
little sea-side village, and saw the happy, sun-kissed children, full
of health and strength, playing on the sandy shore, and shouting their
lusty laughter to each other, while one who would have joined so
heartily in their merriment was lying pale and weary on a lonely couch
of pain.  The little wistful face and tired eyes kept ever rising up
before her, while the words rang continually in her ears,--"How shall I
live through the long, long years?"

With a quick impatient movement she drew out her watch, and noting the
hour, saw that the mail had been due some little time ago, and letters
would be lying at the small post-office.  Entering the little shop, she
found another occupant besides herself preparing to receive a small
budget of papers from the shopwoman's hands.

"No letters to-day, Miss Latimer; only these papers," the girl was
saying as Edith stepped towards the counter.--"Good-morning, Miss
Blake; we are glad to see you amongst us again."

The lady started at Edith's name, and turning, looked earnestly at the
graceful figure from under the brim of a shady hat--a gaze which Edith,
busy with her own thoughts, failed to observe.

"Three letters for you to-day, miss," the shopwoman continued, "and one
with a foreign post-mark on it.  I'm thinking it'll be from Master
Dick."

Edith lifted the letters.  "Yes," she said with a bright smile, "you
are quite right, Janet.  It is addressed to my little sister; how
pleased she will be!"

The girl's eyes saddened.  "Is Miss Winnie keeping stronger?" she
inquired in a subdued voice; "we were all so sorry to hear about her
illness, dear lamb."

The young lady shook her head.  "Not much, Janet; but of course we have
only been here a week as yet.  We are hoping she will reap the benefit
of the sea-air by-and-by.  Good-morning."  And Edith, gathering her
letters together, left the shop and turned slowly in the direction of
home.  In a few minutes she heard rapid footsteps behind her, and a
low, sweet voice said gently, "May I be pardoned for addressing Miss
Blake?"

Raising her eyes in surprise, Edith saw the stranger lady close at her
side, looking very much agitated.

"Certainly!" she replied courteously.  "Can I assist you in any way?"
And the stranger replied--

"I do not know whether you will ever have heard Winnie speak of me or
not.  My name is Latimer, and your little sister was a great friend of
my niece.  They were always together at school, and Winnie spent two
afternoons with us when we were in town, I--"

But she was allowed to proceed no further, for Edith stood holding out
her hands, and saying with shining countenance, "You are Aunt Judith,
are you not?  I am so pleased to have met you, Miss Latimer.  My little
sister is very ill.  Will you come and see her now?"

Miss Latimer looked perplexed.  "I am staying here at present," she
said simply, "and intend remaining till the end of August; this air
seems so beneficial to my invalid sister.  I hardly know how to reply
to your invitation, Miss Blake.  I never knew till the other day about
Winnie's accident, and I should dearly like to see the child; but
still--"

"Please do not finish your sentence, Miss Latimer," replied Edith,
blushing with confusion.  "We owe you an ample apology for our
rudeness, and both my father and mother will be only too delighted to
see you.  Winnie has been calling for you continually, and my brother
went to Dingle Cottage, but found you out of town."

"Yes," said Miss Latimer; "the doctor advised us to come here on
account of my youngest sister.  Nellie was with us during the month of
June, but has gone home till we return to town.  I thank you for your
kindness, Miss Blake, and will call at your house to-morrow.  I am
sorry I cannot accompany you this afternoon."

Edith looked up at the true, noble face, shaded by the simple summer
hat; and as she did so, a slow, sweet smile broke over Aunt Judith's
lips and lighted up her whole countenance.

"No wonder Winnie loved her!" thought the gay, fashionable girl.  "I
feel as if I could kneel in all reverence at her feet, she looks so
good and pure."  But she only said aloud,--"Then I shall expect you
to-morrow afternoon, Miss Latimer.  Our house is easily found.  You
will see the name, Maple Bank, on the gate.  Please do not disappoint
us; and oh! I am so glad I have met you at last."

So they parted, and Edith stepped homewards with a lightened heart.

Mr. and Mrs. Blake received her news quietly.  They would rather the
intimacy had not been renewed, but for Winnie's sake no opposition
would be made now.  They would find out Miss Latimer's present home,
and call on her that evening.  As for telling Winnie, it might be
better, perhaps, to keep her still in ignorance till the following day.

Clare alone turned up her haughty nose when Edith related the morning's
adventure, and inquired if she too were becoming infected with the
Latimer mania.  "For my part," concluded the proud girl, "I think our
parents very foolish--encouraging Winnie in all her whims and fancies.
There will be no end to them soon.  I am very sorry for the child, but
I still decidedly disapprove of giving in to her continually.  I should
not be surprised if this wonderful Aunt Judith becomes a daily visitor
before long.  However, I wash my hands of the whole affair."  And
lifting a book, Clare passed out through the window into the garden;
while Edith, disgusted at the cruel words, went slowly upstairs, and
placed Dick's precious letter in Winnie's hands.

It was a wonderful epistle, spiced with grand nautical phrases, and
brimful of the truly marvellous and incredible in nature.  Winnie
laughed heartily over the absurd yarns, described with sailor-like
veracity, and then gave a little cry of joy when Edith, who was reading
the letter aloud, ended with the following words:--"And now, my dear
little Win, if we have favourable weather you may expect to see your
dear old Dick home about the end of September; and won't we have a
jolly time of it then!  No end of larks and mischief.  I suppose you
will still be at Maple Bank when my ship comes in, so" (here Edith
stopped, but the child bade her read every single word) "see and keep
well and strong, that you may be able to enjoy all sorts of capers
with--Your loving sailor brother, DICK."

"Don't look at me like that, Edith," said Winnie, when the long letter
was carefully folded up and returned to its envelope.  "I am not going
to cry or even think; my heart is too sore.  No one must tell Dick till
he comes home.  Let him remain in ignorance as long as possible."  Then
she closed her eyes wearily and remained silent.  But Edith was not to
be deceived by any apparent calmness or resignation, and knew only too
well that the child's whole soul was crying out in rebellion at the sad
trial which had befallen her.

Daylight stole softly, silently away; the summer breeze sighing a
dreamy even-song through the forest trees, lulled the singing birds to
rest; the little flowers drooped their pretty heads, and closed their
dewy petals in slumber; the busy whirr and hum of insects ceased,--and
the nature-world was hushed in sleep.  Only the restless sea broke on
the peaceful calm with its ceaseless swish-swish of waves.  And far,
far out on the ocean breast, leaning over the bulwark of a gallant
ship, homeward bound, was a young sailor, gazing across the moonlit
waters, and thinking of the bright fairy sister waiting to give him a
joyous welcome back.



CHAPTER XVI.

LIGHT IN DARKNESS.

"How pretty my room is to-day, Edith!  You have made it all bright and
fairy-like with flowers.  Yes, open the blinds, please, and let the
sunshine in; my head is really better this morning, and I wish all the
light I can possibly get."  So spoke Winnie, as she watched her sister
scattering sweet posies of flowers throughout the entire room, and felt
the sweet, subtle perfume of "the flowers that in earth's firmament do
shine."

"Why are you so particular to-day, Edith?" she continued, as that young
lady flitted about, looping and relooping the soft lace curtains,
pouncing on every stray speck of dust, and sweeping every
medicine-bottle out of sight.  "Jane tidied the room as usual this
morning, and yet here you are, poking into every corner, and arranging
and rearranging everything.  One would think the Queen was coming to
see me.  What is the reason of it all?" and Winnie looked decidedly
curious.

"So you are going to have a visitor, dear," replied Edith, bringing a
fragrant nosegay over to the bedside and laying it on the snowy pillow.
"Now don't ask me any questions, for I dare not tell.  Only wait
patiently and you will see for yourself."

The child did not seem particularly charmed.  "I hate visitors, Edith,"
she said, the sunshine dying out of her face, and the restless, weary
look stealing into her eyes; "they make my heart full of wicked,
rebellious thoughts when I see them coming into the room so well and
strong.  I detest their long faces and sympathetic remarks.  Ugh! I
suppose they mean to be kind, but when they speak I feel as if I hated
everything and everybody."

"I don't think you will tell me all that this afternoon," replied Edith
with a knowing smile.  "It is always the unexpected that happens, and I
shall be very much surprised if you do not count this day as one of the
bright spots in your life.--Ah, there is the bell.  Give me a kiss,
Win, and keep a pretty smile for the unwelcome visitor."  So saying
Edith tripped away, and Winnie waited in gloomy silence the advent of
the hated guest.  Why could people not leave her alone?  Why did they
require to come and flaunt all their bright, strong health before her?
She wished none of their sympathy and condolences--only leave her alone
to her grief and misery.

These being her thoughts, it was a very cross, peevish face which met
Miss Latimer's gaze as she entered the sick chamber in company with
Mrs. Blake and confronted the little invalid.

"I have brought a friend to see you, dear," said the step-mother,
smiling down on the quiet figure with its weary, pain-stricken face.
"You will be pleased to welcome her, I know, and have so much to talk
about that my presence can be easily dispensed with for a little time."
As she spoke, Mrs. Blake smoothed the sick girl's brow lovingly, and
then withdrew, leaving the two friends together once more.

There was no need to ask, "Are you glad to see me, Winnie?" for the
great eyes, shining with a wonderfully joyous light, told the tale the
lips refused to utter.  Forgetting her helplessness, the child
stretched out her arms and tried to rise, but sank back with a low cry
of pain, and those piteous words, "O Aunt Judith, come to me quickly,
for I cannot go to you."

Miss Latimer was greatly moved, and could do nothing at first but kiss
the little face once so fresh and sweet, now pinched and wan with
suffering.

"Dear child," she said at length, "my heart is bleeding for you.  Tell
me, Winnie, how did all this happen?" and with Aunt Judith's arms round
her, and a sense of peaceful rest stealing over her weary frame, the
sick girl told all that there was to tell, simply, truthfully, with no
attempt to screen herself from blame.

"I was wrong to speak as I did," she finished sadly, "but I had
provocation.  O Aunt Judith, I cannot express the awful feeling of
hatred I bear towards Ada, when I think that if it had not been for her
I should be running about in the sunshine now."

"Hush, Winnie! do not say that," replied Miss Latimer softly; "her
heart will be heavy enough now, I fancy, and--"  But here Winnie broke
in:--

"No, Aunt Judith.  I don't believe she feels the least little particle
of sorrow.  She ran away when I fell, and never even came to ask for me
after the accident.  No one knows she had anything to do with my fall
except my own family, and they decided to leave her alone and make no
remark.  Mamma was awfully good.  She said she had formed a wrong
estimate of Ada's character, and told me I had been right."

There was a few minutes' pause, then Winnie continued: "I know, Aunt
Judith, you think I am very wicked for hating Ada so bitterly; but, oh!
look what she has done to me.  My life is spoilt" (with the old wail of
an infinite pain); "I shall never be able to walk again."

Miss Latimer's eyes grew misty, and Winnie continued:---

"You are good and true, Aunt Judith.  You sit there looking at me with
such a kind, loving face, and don't say like the others, 'Wait a little
longer, Winnie; some day you will be all right again.'"  Then repeating
the words, with a weary depth of woe in her voice--"I shall never be
able to walk again; and, O Aunt Judith, can you guess what that means
to me?"

"Yea, my darling, I can," whispered the patient listener, "and your
cross is a heavy one to carry."

"Heavy!" muttered the sick girl; "so heavy that I shall not be able to
carry it patiently.  It is bad enough just now, Aunt Judith, but think
what it will be when the months go rolling by and find me still weak
and helpless.  How shall I bear my life, such a weary, weary life, week
after week, and year after year?  I loved the world so much--the
bright, beautiful world with all its sunshine and flowers; and now I
feel as if I were withdrawn from it altogether.  What will Dick say
when he comes home, and I cannot go with him here and there as in the
dear old days?  Aunt Judith, I can see no light anywhere.  Teach me,
you who are so brave and strong, how to bear my life now."

Miss Latimer kissed the little quivering face with its sad, mournful
eyes; then drawing her chair closer to the bedside, she kept her loving
arms round the sobbing child and tried to comfort her.

"My darling," said the kind, gentle voice, the voice Winnie had so
longed and thirsted for, "I do not think you know how deep the pain is,
how warm the sympathy, I feel for you.  You say the broad, flowery way
along which you have hitherto travelled has ended now, and nothing lies
stretched before save an interminable waste of blackness through which
you imagine it impossible to journey.  Yet, will you believe me, dear
child, when I tell you that in the blackened tract of moorland you will
find a joy, a peace passing all understanding, and learn that the life
you now deem too hard to live is a grand, beautiful life, and your
weary couch of pain but the school where the Master teaches some of his
purest, holiest lessons!  The darkness may be very thick and dense for
a time, Winnie, but by-and-by light will begin to break through, and
night give place to day; and if the flowery way should never again open
up before you, you will find in the rugged upland path the sunshine of
God's favour, while his presence shall go with you, and he will give
you rest.  My child, my little Winnie, this grievous stroke may yet
prove the greatest blessing to yourself and others.  Do not say your
life is spoilt; perhaps the true life is only now beginning."

The young girl looked up earnestly into the gentle face.  "Speak on,
Aunt Judith," she pleaded.  "It makes me feel good to hear you talk
like that; but then" (with sad despair) "when you go away I know I
shall be as wicked and rebellious as ever.  Your words lull all the
evil passions to sleep; but in the long, dark night they will waken up,
and I shall be wishing I were dead again.  Say something more, Aunt
Judith.  Tell me how I am to keep the good feelings always in my heart,
and be willing to live through the long, long years."

Then Miss Latimer's soft voice spoke again; and, cradled lovingly in
those tender arms, the sick girl learned where to find the daily
strength and grace for every need; and how to gather up the scattered
threads of her life together, and weave them into a golden web shining
with the lustre of simple faith and holy resignation.

Some time afterwards Mrs. Blake entered, and Miss Latimer rose to
depart; but Winnie would not let her go just yet.  She had so many
questions to ask, and there was so much she wished to know.  How were
Miss Deborah, Aunt Margaret, and Nellie?  When would they all return to
town?  Had Aunt Judith written a new book lately? and if so, what was
it called?  Miss Latimer had a busy time answering all those queries,
but at last the young invalid was satisfied; and promising to come
again soon, Aunt Judith said good-bye, and left the room with a heavy
heart.

Mrs. Blake following, thanked her for her visit, and hoped she would
repeat it at an early date.  The young step-mother saw the error she
had made in the past, and with graceful tact tried to atone for her
open rudeness to this grave, noble woman, who seemed like a queen in
spite of the simplicity of her garments.

Miss Latimer's sweet, true nature harboured no feeling of umbrage or
malice, and her smile was frank and friendly as she willingly accepted
the invitation.  Then Edith, appearing at that moment, offered to
accompany her part of the way home, and Mrs. Blake returned to the
sick-room and Winnie.

The child's face looked flushed and animated.  "Mamma dear," she said
sweetly, "thank you for allowing me to see Aunt Judith again.  I shall
not be so cross and troublesome now.  She has been telling me what a
beautiful life I may yet lead in spite of my pain and helplessness, and
her words have hushed the bad thoughts to rest."

The fair, frivolous lady seemed bewildered, but replied, "I am willing
to confess my error, Winnie: Miss Latimer is no longer an unwelcome
visitor here," then she changed the subject.

Meanwhile the days passed on, and Miss Latimer became a frequent guest
at Maple Bank, winning all due respect and honour by the true dignity
of her nature and sweet womanly heart.  Edith hailed those visits with
pleasure; and Winnie--ah! they were like great spots of sunshine to the
sick girl fretting sorely under her load of pain.

She was by no means a patient invalid this restless child, and the
constant lying day after day and the monotony of sick-room life tried
her exceedingly.  It was only natural that such should be the case;
that the wild tomboy nature, with its bright flow of animal spirits,
should chafe and rebel at this heavy discipline.  But one becomes
wearied of constant murmuring, and sometimes those around her waxed
impatient.  Then it was that Miss Latimer's soothing words came into
use, and the strong hand was stretched out to help the failing feet;
and by-and-by, slowly yet surely, the discipline began to show its
fruit, and Winnie to learn the first lesson in the school of pain.

August at length drew near to a close.  Miss Latimer and her little
household returned to town.  The days began rapidly to creep in, and
the beautiful harvest moon "grew like a white flower in the sky."

"Let us go home, mamma," pleaded Winnie.  "I should like to be back in
town when Dick's ship comes in; and it is so lonely here.  I shall not
feel so much at meeting him where we have not the same opportunity to
romp about; and oh! although it is very wrong and selfish of me to
trouble you, I cannot bear to meet him here."

The child's words were very pathetic, and so, yielding to her wish, the
Blakes returned to town.

Winnie sighed her satisfaction when safely deposited in the oak parlour
once more.  Then the old life began again--the same, yet not the same;
for although everything around was as it had been in the bygone days,
Winnie herself was changed, and the busy, active life over for ever.
But she had her happy times too; for the oak parlour was rapidly
becoming the room of the household, and Winnie seldom knew what it was
to be left alone.  Thither came Aunt Judith with her soft, gentle
words; Nellie, fresh from the dear home circle, her troubles all blown
away by the happy home atmosphere; Edith and Clare, with their gay
young voices and dainty ways; and all the members of the family,
slipping in every now and then to see how the little invalid was
progressing.  Her quiet submission was daily becoming more patent; and
as those around noted the efforts at cheerfulness and patience, their
love gradually increased, and Winnie the invalid was tenfold dearer to
the hearts of her family than Winnie the little tomboy had been.  Her
days were not idle ones by any means; for as her health in some
respects improved, a daily governess was engaged to come and instruct
her, and under Miss Montgomery's mild tuition Winnie laid aside her
former indolence and began to show an interest in her studies.

The papers were eagerly scanned now for news of the expected ship, but
the days sped on and still nothing was heard of the longed-for vessel.
At length, however, one evening in the beginning of October, when the
gray twilight was creeping silently over the busy town, Edith and
Winnie were together in the oak parlour--the one sitting toasting
herself cosily at the fire, the other lying on her invalid couch
half-asleep.  Downstairs in the large drawing-room a few guests were
assembled, and the sound of voices singing floated sweetly upwards and
fell soothingly on the sick girl's ear.

"Edith!" she said, opening her sleepy eyes for a moment, "I wish you
would go down beside the others and enjoy yourself.  I feel in a
deliciously comfortable mood just now, and will not miss you at all.
Do obey me!" and she looked fondly over at the pretty figure basking
lazily in the firelight glow.

Edith roused herself.  "I should like to join them for a short time,
Win; but it seems selfish leaving you all alone, and nurse is too busy
to come and sit beside you just now."

"Oh, I shall not weary," was the bright reply; "besides, the music will
lull me to sleep in a few minutes.  Run away, and think of me as
enjoying my forty winks."

The elder sister rose, and kissing Winnie's little face, went slowly
from the room, along the passage, and down the broad carpeted stair.
She had hardly entered the drawing-room and returned the greetings of
the merry guests, when a loud ringing at the door bell was followed by
the heavy tread of a man's foot in the hall, and the next minute
Richard Blake strode into the gaily-lighted room and confronted the
assembled company.

"Just like the old Dick," thought his brothers and sisters, rising to
welcome the young sailor, whose sun-tanned face was shining with honest
delight.  "Fancy stalking into a drawing-room in rough sea-faring
clothes, and startling every one with his sudden appearance."  But in
spite of such condemnation their welcome was hearty and genuine; for
the boy looked so happy and overjoyed himself, it was impossible not to
be infected with his gladness of heart.

"Straight from the ship," he explained to his step-mother, standing
like a young hero in the midst of the gay company, with a great joy
rippling over his kindly face.  "Got into dock only this afternoon; and
here I am, turned up again like the old sixpence.--Any yarns to spin?
you ask.  Why, any amount.  But in the meantime I am desperately
hungry, and could relish a hearty meal."  Then turning to Edith: "Where
is Winnie?  Up in the oak parlour, I suppose.  Well, I'm off to her at
once.  She ought to have been the very first to bid me welcome."

A silence fell on all, and looks were exchanged of mingled sorrow and
perplexity.

"What is to be done?" questioned Mrs. Blake inwardly.  "Some one must
break the news to him before he enters the oak parlour."

Dick, in complete ignorance of the effect his words were causing,
wheeled round towards the door and prepared to leave the room, when
Edith stepped forward saying, "Yes; Winnie is in her own sanctum as
usual.  Come; I will accompany you there."

The boy stopped in amazement.  "What for?" he inquired bluntly; "I
would much rather go alone first."

"Yes, I know," was the confused reply; "but please humour me this
once;" and Edith slipped past him as she spoke.

Dick followed, a little mystified and annoyed; but his amazement
increased when Edith, opening the library door, drew him into that room
and closed the door swiftly behind him.

"Bless my boots! is the girl mad?" ejaculated the boy, turning to the
tables and chairs for sympathy.  "I am beginning to wonder if I have
fallen into the clutches of some escaped lunatic.  I say, Edith, old
girl, do you take those fits often?"

His sister, however, had no answering smile on her lips, and her voice
shook slightly as she replied, "Dick, please prepare yourself to hear
bad news.  You ought to have been told before, but we kept the evil day
as far off as possible.  Dear little--"  Then she stopped short,
terrified at the expression on her brother's face.

"Don't beat about the bush, Edith," he cried in a voice hoarse with
emotion; "I can bear anything better than suspense.  Tell me, is Winnie
dead?  But no,"--glancing at his sister's shining garments--"it cannot
be that, thank God;" and he drew a long sigh of relief at this point.

"No, Dick," responded Edith, giving him a glance of warm sympathy,
"but--" and very simply and tenderly she broke the sad tidings to the
agitated boy.

Then there tell on the silence and stillness of the room the sound of a
strong heart's sobs, as Dick, in spite of all his manliness, laid his
head on the table and wept like a little child.

Oh, how often, often in his lonely night-watches had he pictured this
home-coming--dwelling on and gloating over each little detail as a
miser does over his gold, till the whole dream-picture became beautiful
with a golden glory.  He saw the tiny, fairy figure flying to meet him,
the quaint gipsy face glowing its joyous welcome, and the great dark
eyes shining their wondrous gladness.  He felt the clasp of two soft
arms round his neck, the touch of warm kisses on his lips, and heard
the bright, merry voice melting into sweetest tones, as words of love
and tenderness were poured into his hungering ear.  And this was the
end of it all--his dream-picture shattered, and a young life blasted
through a haughty girl's thirst for revenge.

Dick's heart was full of rage and hatred.  "If Ada Irvine were within
my reach just now," he muttered, "she would live to regret this day."
Then raising his head, he looked, and found Edith had slipped away and
left him alone with his grief.

The boy rose, sighing heavily.  "I am hardly myself yet," he said,
dashing his rough, sun-burnt hand across his eyes, and moving slowly
towards the door.  "What a fool I am, giving way like this!  But these
things unman a fellow, and I need not be ashamed of my tears.  Where
did they say she was?  In the oak parlour.  Well, here goes;" and off
strode Dick, swinging along the lighted hall and up the broad stairs at
what he afterwards described as the rate of knots.



CHAPTER XVII.

"I SHALL LEARN TO BE GOOD NOW."

"Dick, Dick! is it really you?  O my dear boy, I can hardly believe
it!" and Winnie clasped her feeble arms tighter round the young
sailor's neck, as if fearful of waking and finding it all a dream.

"Yes, it's the same old fellow turned up again, Win," was the reply,
given half chokingly.  "Nip me, and you will find I am neither ghost
nor spirit, but real flesh and blood."  And the boy, kneeling by the
invalid's couch, felt his eyes growing dim and misty again at the sound
of the weak young voice lingering so lovingly over his name.

"I am so glad," said the child, lying back amongst her soft cushions,
and looking at the big stalwart form before her.  "I have been longing
and longing to see you, Dick, through each weary day and night;
yearning for the touch of your hand and sound of your voice: and now,
to think you are really, truly here, alive and well!  God is very good,
dear," and the low voice uttered the last words solemnly and reverently.

The boy looked at his little sister wonderingly.  "Have you learned to
say that from the heart, Win?" he asked with greater earnestness in his
tones.  "Looking at your life as it is now, as it is likely to be all
through the future years, can you still repeat the words, 'God is very
good'!"

The child's lips drooped, and a sad look brooded over the pale white
face; but the meek voice continued, perhaps somewhat tremulously, "Not
always, Dick; but that is in the wicked hours, when I am full of
sinful, rebellious thoughts.  Some days like just now, however, his
goodness seems to stand out in a bright, clear light, and a great hush
of peace falling on me, I find myself whispering over and over again,
'God is very good.'  Aunt Judith says it may be a long time, but sooner
or later I shall be able to repeat those words, not only now and then,
but every day of my life, even in the darkest hours; and that will be
splendid.  You must not be too sorry for me, dear old boy.  Do you
remember asking me before you went away to try to live as I ought to
live, and do my duty nobly and well?  I could not keep my promise,
Dick.  When I was able to go about in the bright, beautiful world, I
did wicked, wrong things whenever I felt inclined.  I enjoyed every
pleasure to the very full, no matter who suffered; but now--I shall
learn to be good now."

Dick was almost overcome again.  "Win," he said huskily, "you're an
angel!  When you speak like that you cause all my sins and shortcomings
to rise up before me, and I feel as if I were not worthy of your love
and tenderness.  Ah, little sister, it is little pure souls like yours
that help to keep men right in this world, and guard them in the hours
of temptation and danger.  God bless you, Winnie darling.  I thank him
for giving me such a precious sister."

And this was the boy laughed at and mocked by the other members of the
family; spoken of as a dunce and scapegrace, and who would never make
his mark in the world.  Ah, well! what did it matter?  The true, honest
life now beginning to declare itself would soon tell its own tale, and
prove that there are more Sir Galahads walking on the earth than people
dream of, whose "strength is the strength of ten, because their hearts
are pure."

For a long time the two, brother and sister, sat talking
together--talking over past, present, and future, and feeling that the
long separation had only served to deepen and intensify the love they
bore each other.  And now a new link was knitting the twain more firmly
together,--the link of pain and helplessness on the one side, and
strong protecting strength on the other.

After that the days fled all too rapidly.  Sailor Dick made a great
difference in the house.  It was something new to hear the fresh,
hearty voice trolling out wild sea-songs, and to listen to yarn after
yarn told with infinite gravity, and yet brimful of the ridiculous and
impossible.  The rough, hardy sea-faring life had improved the boy
wondrously, bringing out the noblest traits in his character, making
him less sensitive and more self-reliant.  Captain Inglis, who had
called on Mr. Blake, and was now a welcome visitor at the house in
Victoria Square, stated his thorough satisfaction at Dick's conduct
during the whole voyage, and spoke of him in the most praise-worthy
terms.  Altogether there was great cause for commendation; and the boy
awoke to the delightful knowledge that he was no longer being
down-trodden and treated with disrespect, and that some day Winnie's
prophecy might be verified of his father being proud of him yet.

"Blessings on the skipper's head," he said one afternoon to Winnie,
when she told of Captain Inglis's genuine satisfaction.  "He's a
thoroughly good old chap, and not one of the crew could say a word
against him.  But I say, Win, what makes him come poking about here so
often?  Why should he not give his old mother the benefit of his spare
time?  Poor body! it's rather hard lines being left so much alone."

"She's coming to see me," put in Winnie laughingly.  "Captain Inglis
had been telling her about the cross invalid sister you possessed, and
she asked if she might be allowed to call some day."

Dick whistled.

"So that's the way the wind is blowing?" he muttered under his breath.
"Well, this is a truly wonderful world in which we live."  Then aloud
to Winnie: "You'll like her, Win; she's a first-rate old lady, brimming
over with kindness.  Shouldn't wonder if she invites you to stay with
her later on; and, my eye! if she does, just you go.  She'll pet and
molly-coddle you till you won't know whether you're standing on your
head or feet; and I'll bet you'll be as snug as a bird in its nest."

Winnie looked interested.  "Has she a nice house?"

"Tip-top, and nobody in it save herself and the servants.  The skipper
has plenty of money, and goes to sea from choice, not necessity.--Why,
I declare, Win, here he is again, coming along the street.  He gave me
a half-holiday, but I did not think he was going to take one himself as
well.  If this kind of thing continues much longer, you may
congratulate yourself on having another brother soon;" and Dick winked
knowingly.

"What do you mean?" asked Winnie, staring open-eyed; but the
mischievous boy had vanished and left her alone in her bewilderment.

All good things come to an end, and every day has its close.  The _Maid
of Astolat_ was ready to set sail again, and once more the time drew
near to say good-bye.

"Farewell, Win, my little angel sister," whispered Dick, kissing the
sweet face with dimmed, misty eyes.  "God keep you for ever and ever,
and bring me safe home to you again."  Then followed a long, lingering
embrace; and Winnie was left to wait and hope till the long months and
days would pass and her sailor boy return once more.

"Yes, I miss him sorely, Aunt Judith," she said one evening to Miss
Latimer about a fortnight after the ship had sailed; "but I have so
much to be thankful for, that I feel as it I dared not grumble.  You
have no idea how greatly he is improved, and how much more highly he is
thought of now by every one in the house.  I wish you had been able to
see him, Aunt Judith."

"So do I, Winnie; but I was too ill the day he called, and this is only
my second walk out of doors."

"Were you very unwell?" questioned Winnie, again scrutinizing her
friend's face anxiously.  "Aunt Judith, I don't believe you are nearly
better.  There are great hollows round your eyes, and your face looks
haggard and worn."

"Nonsense, dear," answered the kind voice, and Miss Latimer's smile was
very bright.  "Remember I am an old woman, and pain leaves traces on an
aged face.--What about yourself, Winnie? is the darkness brightening
yet?"

"I think so, Aunt Judith; and Dick helped me so much.  Perhaps the
beautiful life is within my reach after all."

"There's no 'perhaps' in the matter, dear," said Miss Latimer softly;
"but my little Winnie must be patient, for the grand, sweet song of
life has its beginning, and the opening chords may be tremulous and
low.  Child," she continued passionately, "the grandest songs--the
songs that echo and re-echo through eternity's limitless bounds--are
wrung from hearts crushed and bleeding with anguish, and the infinite
peace and calm come only after long strife and pain.  Darling, my
earnest prayer for you is that God would perfect in you his own image,
and that you may come forth from the furnace of affliction with
Christ's own brightness shining in your face."

That was the last talk Miss Latimer ever had with Winnie.  She had been
far from well lately, and after reaching home that night complained of
feeling very tired.

"Go to bed, auntie," pleaded Nellie; "I am sure you are fit for no work
to-night;" and Aunt Debby seconded the words.  But Miss Latimer shook
her head with a slow, sweet smile.

"My last chapter must be finished this evening, child," she said,
gently yet firmly; "after that I shall please you all by taking a long,
long rest."

Persuasion seemed useless; and the midnight hour found Aunt Judith busy
at her desk, filling up page after page with those wonderful thoughts
of hers.

Aunt Debby could not rest that night.  Something in Miss Latimer's
manner and appearance had awed and frightened her, driving the sleep
from her little bright eyes and chilling her heart with a vague,
undefined sense of fear.  At length, in the middle of the night, she
rose, unable to quell the uneasy thoughts which haunted her, and
stealing softly downstairs, opened the door of her sister's sanctum and
looked in.  The lamp had burned low in the socket, and was casting a
sickly gleam over all; the fire had died out, and the gray-white ashes
gave a dreary, deserted appearance to the room.  A great hush brooded
around; and yet not so awful was that intense stillness as the solemn
calm which seemed to infold the quiet figure sitting so silently in the
midst.

Aunt Judith sat before her desk, her head bent slightly forward on her
hands.  There was nothing unnatural or alarming in the position, but an
awful dread stole into Miss Deborah's heart and caused it to beat with
a wild fear.

"Judith!" she called tremblingly; but the quiet figure never stirred,
and no response came from the pallid lips.  Aunt Debby flashed the
light of her candle full on Miss Latimer, and then started back with an
exceeding bitter cry, for the face on which the light shone so clearly
was white and rigid in death.  The eyes, wide-open, were fixed on the
sheets of manuscript before her, as if she had been earnestly studying
the closing words; and the face, though white with the pallor of the
dead, still retained its own sweet expression.  Looking down at the
written sheets, Aunt Debby noticed the last chapter was finished, and
knew Aunt Judith's life-work had ended with it.

[Illustration: The eyes, wide open, were fixed on the sheets of
manuscript before her.]

"My last chapter must be written to-night, child; after that I shall
please you all by taking a long, long rest."  How those words rung in
Miss Deborah's ears as she stood gazing on that silent figure, sitting
so quietly in that awful death-hush!  Not the quiver of an eyelid; not
a tremble of the lip; only that great, solemn calm.  It was all over
now.  The pain and weariness; the constant striving after the true and
beautiful; the daily self-renunciation; the life so completely devoted
to the service of others; and the last lingering notes of the grand,
sweet song had been sung in silence and alone.  "Goodness and mercy
have followed me all the days of my life," she had remarked to Aunt
Debby not so long ago, "and, thank God, even in the darkest night I
have never failed to find a star brightening through the gloom."  Now
the earthly shadows were done with for ever; the bleeding feet had trod
the last steps of the thorny way, and entered by the gate into the holy
Jerusalem, where "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have
entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for
them that love him."



CHAPTER XVIII.

CONCLUSION.

Six summers has the green grass waved and sweet flowers bloomed over
Aunt Judith's grave; six long, long years have come and gone since Miss
Deborah entered that silent room and found the death-angel casting his
dread shadow there.  And what have the seasons brought?  Ease to the
sorrowing heart and laughter to the weeping eyes.  "Time heals all
wounds; one cannot mourn for ever," say the wise people, and in nine
cases out of ten their words hold good, though I think there are some
sorrows which no lapse of time can cure--sorrows which deepen and
intensify as the years roll on; only the wound, bleeding inwardly, is
hid with a sacred reverence from the gaze of the outside world, and is
known to the sore-stricken heart alone.

Be that as it may, however, Miss Latimer's friends could afford to
laugh and smile now, and joy as she had done in God's beautiful
sunshine.  The earth is still as fair, the skies as blue as they were
in the bygone days when her quiet voice drew the thoughts of those
around her to the nature-world with all its wondrous beauty, and each
can say with glad accord,--

  "Daisies are white upon the churchyard sod,
    Sweet tears the clouds lean down and give;
  The world is very lovely.  Oh, my God,
    I thank thee that I live."

Let us take one more look at them ere we close the book and lay it
aside reverently and tenderly as we would the folded page in a closing
life.

It is a cold, wintry evening.  Outside the wind is sweeping up and down
the streets, wailing like a soul in pain.  The rain is dashing against
the windowpanes, and beating with wild, ungovernable fury on those
exposed to the disturbing elements.  But inside warmth and comfort
reign supreme.  The oak parlour is all ablaze with light, and the
laughter and merriment filling the whole room betoken the happy, genial
spirits of the occupants.  Let us see if we still recognize one and
all--if six years have wrought no ravages or particular change on those
we knew in their happy childhood days.

Close by the fire, lying on a luxuriously-cushioned couch, is a young
lady, whose pale, thin face bears traces of weary pain.  Yet the dark
eyes are bright and smiling, and the voice has still its own merry
ring, which plainly betrays the old Winnie of bygone days.  Surely Aunt
Judith's words are coming true, and she is learning beautiful lessons
in the school of pain; for the pale face shines with a peaceful calm,
and the words which fall from her lips are the words of one who has
been in the furnace of affliction and come forth tried as silver.

Seated near on a low stool, with legs stretched forth in lazy comfort,
is Dick, newly home from a long, perilous voyage.  He is very much
improved and changed, but in the gallant young officer one can still
discover traces of the bluff sailor boy whose kind, honest heart won
for him the love and friendship of all with whom he associated.  He has
continued to rise steadily in his profession, and Mr. Blake is proud of
his scapegrace son at last.

A little further away, at the other side of the fire, sits Edith,
smiling and light-hearted as ever, and with the same fair, sweet face;
but a plain golden band, circling one white finger, proclaims that the
gay, laughing girl has found a woman's true place in the world, and
that the grave, gentlemanly captain has won his suit in the end.

And now we have come to the last occupant of the room--a young lady,
seated in very unladylike fashion on the rug, and so little changed
that in the fresh bright countenance we have no difficulty in
recognizing our old friend Nellie Latimer.  She is spending a few weeks
in town with Winnie, and if report speaks true, there is a possibility
that in the dim future Winnie may find a sister in her old school-mate
of past years.

"How nice and cosy we all look!" she is saying in her blithe young
voice; "one values light and warmth on a night like this.  Hush! do you
hear the wind?  I pity those on the sea to-night."

Dick looks grave.  "Ah, Nellie," he replies quietly, "pity hearts that
are watching and praying in their lonely homes."

"The wind," says Winnie in a low whisper, "always makes me think of
Aunt Judith in her quiet grave.  I suppose it is a stupid feeling, but
I hate the thought of the rain dripping and making a wet, wet sod above
her.  I should like the sunshine to be always lingering on her quiet
resting-place."

The laughter has died out of each face, and eyes become a little misty,
showing the dead friend is still near and dear to the hearts of those
who loved her.

"Dear Aunt Judith," murmurs Nellie sadly, "we never realized how good
she was till we lost her.  Every one with whom she came in contact
seems to have felt the benefit of her influence; and I--why, I owe her
more than I can ever tell."

"I think we may all say that, Nell," adds Dick.  "It was she who first
inspired me with a reverence for all women, and helped to make me what
I am now."

"As for me," says Winnie with a sad, sweet smile, "she showed me the
way wherein I should walk, and taught me the great beauty of the
Christ-life."

Then Edith's clear voice broke in: "And I--I have learned from Miss
Latimer lessons that will help me throughout all my life.  She has
been, I think, as an angel of light to us all, and I shall never forget
what we owe to her goodness and love."

"I have always been going to ask some of you girls," says Dick, "if
Aunt Judith knew she was likely to die in such a sudden manner.  Every
time I came home I had that question on my mind, and yet never managed
to ask it."

Nellie replied: "Oh yes! and Aunt Debby knew also.  That was why Aunt
Judith lived so humbly and simply.  She felt she was the mainstay of
the family,--that both Aunt Debby and Aunt Meg looked to her for their
livelihood; and so she strove hard to win and lay aside money, with the
hope that if she were called away suddenly there would be sufficient to
keep them snugly and comfortably after her death.  She suffered from
severe paroxysms of pain at intervals, and each attack left her weaker
and feebler.  Then, besides, she seemed to have had some great sorrow,
though Aunt Debby never told me what it was.  Oh! they missed her
dreadfully at first; but since they left Dingle Cottage and came to
settle down beside my father, they have been more cheerful."

"Do you like having them so near you?" inquires Edith; and Nellie
answers truthfully,--

"I like being beside Aunt Debby, she helps us so much; but Aunt Meg is
very trying at times."

At that moment Captain Inglis, who has been closeted with Mr. Blake in
the library, enters, and then the conversation changes.  The old
school-days are talked over, pranks and punishments described amidst
shouts of laughter; and by-and-by the talk drifts on to Ada Irvine and
the prize essay.

"Have you ever heard of or seen Ada lately?" asks Dick curiously.  "I
suppose she is quite a young lady and a great beauty now."

"Agnes Drummond called the other day," replies Winnie quietly, "and
said she had met Ada last week at a friend's house.  It seems she is
just as haughty and proud as ever; but, O Dick, I am sure you will be
sorry when I tell you that all her beauty is gone.  The whole face is
completely marred by small-pox, which she caught when abroad with her
father."

"Serves her jolly well right," cries Dick, the old man in his nature
coming to the front.  "A girl who can act as she acted deserves a
righteous punishment.  I don't suppose she has ever eaten humble pie to
you girls yet?"

"No, and never will," puts in Nellie.  "She persists to this day in
saying Win gained Mr. Corbett's medal through Aunt Judith's help, and
that I never learned a single lesson without assistance."

"Hark!" says Captain Inglis, "there is the carriage.--Edith, my dear,
it is time we were going home."  So the merry party breaks up, and soon
the silence of midnight settles over the city.

Slowly the wind lulls itself to rest; the storm is over; the
rain-clouds sweep back from the sky, and the stars gleam forth with
softened brilliancy over the sleeping world; while the fair, placid
moon, rising from a mist of vapours, shines down on the sodden earth,
and lingering near a quiet churchyard lays her tearful beams, fondly,
tenderly, on a peaceful grave marked only by a marble cross and the
simple words,--"Aunt Judith."



THE END.





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