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Title: The Governess
Author: Lippmann, Julie M.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "The Governess" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Frontispiece: There she stood]



THE GOVERNESS


BY

JULIE M. LIPPMANN



_Author of_

"MAMMA-BY-THE-DAY," etc.



_Illustrated by_

CHARLES R. CHICKERING



McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart

Publishers ------ Toronto

1916



Copyright 1897 by

THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY


Copyright 1916 by

THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY


The Governess


Contents


CHAP.

     I  NAN
    II  NAN'S VISITOR
   III  MR. TURNER'S PLAN
    IV  THE GOVERNESS
     V  GETTING ACQUAINTED
    VI  WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS
   VII  OPEN CONFESSION
  VIII  NAN'S HEROINE
    IX  HAVING HER OWN WAY
     X  EXPERIENCES
    XI  CHRISTMAS
   XII  SMALL CLOUDS
  XIII  ON THE ICE
   XIV  CHANGES
    XV  A TUG OF WAR
   XVI  THE SLEIGH-RIDE
  XVII  CONSEQUENCES
 XVIII  "CHESTER NEWCOMB"
   XIX  IN MISS BLAKE'S ROOM
    XX  THROUGH DEEP WATERS
   XXI  ANOTHER CHRISTMAS



Illustrations


There she stood . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

"I'll run away first!"

The little governess was beside her

"I have a little errand to do"

"Provoking things!"



The Governess


CHAPTER I

NAN

"Hello, Nan!"

"Heyo, Ruthie!"

"Where are you going?"

"Over to Reid's lot."

"Take me?"

"No, Ruthie, can't."

The little child's lip began to tremble.  "I think you're real mean,
Nan Cutler," she complained.

Nan shook her head.  "Can't help it if you do," she returned, stoutly,
and took a step on.

"Nannie," cried the child eagerly, starting after her and clutching her
by the skirt, "I didn't mean that!  Truly, I didn't.  I think you're
just as nice as you can be.  Do please let me go with you.  Won't you?"

Nan compressed her lips.  "Now, Ruth, look here," she said after a
moment, in which she stood considering, "I'd take you in a minute if I
could but the truth is--oh, you're too little."

"I ain't too little!"

"Well, then, your mother doesn't like you to be with me, so there!"
cried Nan, in a burst of reckless frankness.

Ruth hung her head.  She could not deny it but at sight of her
companion turning to leave her she again started forward, piping
shrilly, "Nannie!  Nannie!  She won't care this time.  Honest, she
won't."

Nan stalked on without turning her head.

The hurrying little feet followed on close behind.

"Nannie!  Nannie!"

"See here, Ruth," exclaimed the girl, veering suddenly about and
speaking with decision.  "You can't come, and that's all there is about
it.  Your mother doesn't like me, and you ought not to disobey her.
Now run back home like a good little girl."

The delicate, small face upturned to hers grew hardened and set, but
the child did not move.

Nan gave her a friendly shove on the shoulder and turned on her way
again.  Immediately she heard the tap of hurrying little feet behind,
like the echoing sound of her own hasty footsteps.  She stopped and
swung about abruptly.

"Are you going to be a good little girl and go back this minute?" she
demanded sternly, calling to her assistance all the dignity of her
fourteen years, and turning on the poor infant a severe, unrelenting
eye.

The child gazed up at her reproachfully, but did not reply.

Nan felt herself fast losing patience.  "Of all the provoking little
witches!" she exclaimed, in an underbreath of irritation.

Ruth's rebuking eyes surveyed her calmly, but she made no response.

"Now be good and trot along back," cajoled Nan, changing her tactics
and stroking the child's soft hair caressingly.

There was a visible pursing of the obstinate little lips, but no
further sign of acknowledgment.

Nan dropped her voice to a tone of honey-sweetness.  "See here, Ruthie,
if you'll go home this minute I'll give you five cents.  You can buy
anything you like with it at Sam's, on the way back."  She plunged her
hand into her pocket and drew forth a bright new nickel, and held it
alluringly aloft.

The azure eyes gazed at it appreciatively, but the hand was not
outstretched to receive it.  For a second Nan reviewed the situation in
silence.  Then she flung about with a movement of exasperation, and
marched on stolidly, and the smaller feet hastened after her, keeping
pace with difficulty, and often breaking into a little run that they
might not be outstripped.

A chill autumn wind was sweeping up heavily from the northeast, and the
air was cold and raw.  Nan shuddered as she walked, and wished Ruth
were safe and sound in her own warm home, which she never should have
been permitted to leave this blustering day.  A score of plans for
ridding herself of her troublesome little follower crowded Nan's brain.
She might run and leave the youngster behind.  But then Ruth would cry,
and Nan could not bear to inflict pain on a little child.  She might
take her up in her arms and carry her bodily back to her own door.
Well, and what then?  Why, simply, she would get the credit of abusing
the little girl.  There seemed no way out of it.  She stalked on
grimly, and when she came to Reid's lot she promptly and dexterously
climbed its fence and continued her way in silence.  But the fence
proved an insurmountable obstacle to Ruth.  She stood outside and
wailed dismally.  The sound smote Nan, and made her turn around.

"Ruth Newton, you deserve to be spanked!" she announced, severely.

The child uttered another wail of entreaty.  Nan sprang up to the
cross-bar of the palings, gathered her skirts about her knees, and
leaped down.

"Here, let me boost you, since you will get over," she said sharply.

After they were both safely on the other side Ruth's spirit rose, and
she capered about in the freedom of the open space as wildly as a young
colt.  Nan had come for chestnuts.  She announced the same presently to
Ruth.  Ruth shouted gleefully.

"I'm going to climb the tree.  You can stand underneath and pick up
what I shake, only mind you don't get the burr-prickles in your
fingers, for they hurt like sixty," warned Nan.

The child nodded her head and pranced over the brown, stubbly ground
with dancing feet, her cheeks aglow and her eyes flashing with
satisfaction.

She watched Nan with the liveliest interest, and when the older girl
was once comfortably ensconced in the lofty branches, she executed a
sort of war-dance underneath, and spread her tiny skirt to catch the
rain of nuts that Nan shook down upon her from above.  But presently
this began to pall.

"I want to come up where you are, Nannie," she called, coaxingly.

"You'll have to want then," retorted Nan, carelessly munching nuts like
a squirrel.

"I could climb's good as anything if only I had a boost," drawled the
child ruefully.

Nan sprinkled a handful of shucks on her head.

"I'm going to try," ventured Ruth.

Nan laughed.

Ruth looked around, trying to discover some means by which she might
accomplish her purpose.  Nan felt so sure that the child could not do
what she threatened that she made no effort to dissuade her.  She,
herself, passed from bough to bough as nimbly as a boy, in spite of her
skirts, and in a very short time was almost out of sight among the
upper spreading branches.  She sat astride one of these, swinging to
and fro and luxuriating in her sense of freedom and adventure.  Peering
down occasionally she saw Ruth standing beneath her and sent repeated
showers of nuts spinning through the boughs to keep the child busy.
But presently Ruth disappeared.  She had spied an old piece of board
and she immediately flew to get it, her silly little head filled with
the idea of making it serve her as a ladder.  She tugged it laboriously
across the stubbly field, and her short, panting breaths did not reach
Nan's ear, full of the near rustle of leaves and the hum of the
scudding wind.

"Ahoy! below there!" she shouted nautically from above.

Ruth was too busy to respond.  The board was heavy, and it took all the
strength of her slight arms to get it in position.

"Shipmate ahoy!" repeated Nan.

By this time the board had been tilted against the tree and Ruth was
scrambling up the unsteady inclined plane, too absorbed and scared in
her adventure to reply.  She actually managed to reach the top and to
stand there tiptoeing the edge uncertainly, her small fingers clasping
the tree-trunk convulsively and her arms trying to grapple with it for
a surer hold.  But suddenly she gave a piercing scream, and Nan,
peering down through the branches in instant alarm, saw Ruth lying at
the foot of the tree in a pitiful little motionless heap, and knew in a
moment that she had tried to do what she had threatened and had failed.

It did not take Nan a minute to reach the ground.  Her heart seemed to
stand still with fear.  She flung herself from bough to bough with
reckless haste and dropped to the ground all in one breathless instant.

"Ruth," she cried, bending over the little prostrate figure in an
agony.  "Ruth, open your eyes!  Get up!  Oh, please get up!"

There was no answer.  Nan wrung her hands in despair.  The cold wind
blew over the field in chilling gusts.  It made her shudder, and
instinctively she took a step toward her warm coat, which she had
stripped off and cast aside before climbing the tree.  At sight of it a
new thought struck her.  Ruth lying there on the frosty ground would
surely take cold--perhaps die from it!  In a twinkling the soft, woolly
garment was wrapped securely about the child and Nan had her two stout
arms around her and was half dragging, half carrying her in the
direction of the distant fence.  But they had not covered a dozen yards
before she felt her strength begin to fail.  She was lifting a dead
weight, and it seemed to drag more heavily upon her every moment.  Her
arms pulled in their sockets and her breath came in painful gasps, and
she knew that if she tried to keep on as she was it would be at the
cost of increasing misery.  Still she did not give up, and at last,
after what seemed to her hours of agony and suspense, she actually
reached the limit of the field.  She laid Ruth gently upon the ground
and straightened herself up to ease her aching back and regain her lost
breath before taking up her burden again.  But as she lifted her head
her eyes fell on the high pickets before her, which seemed to confront
her with as grim defiance as if they had been bayonets.  How could she
get Ruth over?  The gate, which was at another end of the lot, was
always kept padlocked, and even if she had remembered this at first and
had carried the child there, she could not have undone the bolt.  This
was the last straw!  She felt frustrated and defeated, and a low sob of
complete discouragement broke from her.  It was useless to dream of
getting Ruth over alone.  The only way that remained was to secure
help, that was plain.  She looked about wildly, but not a soul was in
sight, and she knew in her heart that the chances were against her.
The street at this point was near the city limits, and it had not been
built up as yet.  There would be nothing to call any one here unless it
might be some boy who, like herself, had come out for chestnuts, and
what use would a mere boy be?  If only John Gardiner were here!  John
was tall and strong, and would lend a hand in a jiffy.  But John also
was miles away.  Ruth's eyes opened for a second and then closed
sleepily again.  Nan's heart leaped up with new hope.

"Ruth!  Ruth!" she called eagerly bending over her and stroking her
cheek tenderly.  But her hope was short-lived.  The eyelids remained
shut, and the child only breathed deeper than before.  Nan's own heart
seemed to stop in her anxiety for Ruth.  Suddenly she sprang to her
feet.  Surely she had heard the rattle of wheels!  Ever so far and
indistinct to be sure, but still unmistakably wheels, clattering over
some distant cobbles.  She raised her voice and shouted; then held her
breath to listen.  The clatter grew more distinct; it drew nearer and
nearer.  She clambered up the fence and stood there waving her arms and
shouting as madly as if she had been a shipwrecked mariner sighting a
sail.  She paused a moment to listen.  The rattling wheels came nearer.
She shouted again and then waited, listening intently.  The rattling
stopped.  She set up a wild howl of dismay and kept it up till her ears
seemed on the point of splitting.  But now the clatter of wheels had
begun again and she could see a milk cart rounding the corner of the
street.  She gave a long, shrill whistle and leaped down and ran
frantically out into the road, straight for the horse's head.

It was a second or two before the astonished driver could be made to
understand, but when he did, he bounded out of his cart willingly
enough, vaulted over the fence and then bade Nan "stand hard" while he
lifted Ruth into her arms.  Her weight was nothing to the brawny
fellow, and he had her safely stowed away on the seat of his cart, with
Nan crouching on the floor beside her and himself clinging to the step
outside, in less time than it takes to tell it.

Nan gave him the street and number in a trembling gasp of gratitude.
He eyed her narrowly, and then seemed to sum up his conclusion in a
low, keen whistle.  Her hat was hanging by its elastic on her
shoulders; her hair was blown out of all order by the wind; her dress
was torn and her hands were bruised and none too clean.  She had no
coat on, and her cheeks were flaming with cold and excitement.  She was
an astonishing spectacle.

"Guess you're a sort of high-flyer, ain't you?" said he at last without
a sign of ill-nature.

Nan set her jaws and did not reply.

"Oh, well, I don't want to hurt your feelings.  Only you look sorter
wild-like, you know, and as if your mother didn't know you was out."

Nan's teeth snapped.  "I haven't got any mother," she returned curtly.
"She's dead."

The milkman looked uncomfortable.  He shifted awkwardly from one foot
to the other and muttered something about being sorry.  Then for some
time there was silence.

"That's the house," announced Nan at length, jumping to the step and
hanging to the rail above the dashboard.  "That third one from the
corner, on this side.  Please let me out first.  I want to run ahead
and tell."

Almost before he could rein in his horse she was out on the pavement.
She flew to the area gate and pressed the bell with all her might.  She
kept her finger on it, and the cook came flying to the door, looking
flushed and angry at the continuous ringing.

"Well, I might o' known," she said, eying Nan with unconcealed
disfavor.  "Do you think a body's deaf that you ring like that?"

Nan flung back her head resentfully.

"Never mind what I think," she returned sharply.  "Open the gate!  Ruth
is sick!  She got hurt!  Some one's bringing her in.  Quick!"

The gate was flung open with a bang, and the woman rushed out,
clutching Ruth from the milkman's arms and carrying her into the house,
muttering mingled caresses and abuse all the while; the caresses for
Ruth and the abuse for Nan.

The milkman turned on his heel and went his way unthanked, but by the
time he got to the outer gate Nan had recollected herself, and had
rushed after him, calling:

"Oh, please!  I want to tell you--thank you ever so much!"

She was glad she had done it when she saw the gratified look on his
face.  When she got back to the area gate it was shut.  Mary the
chambermaid stood just inside it.  She made no attempt to admit Nan.
She simply stood there and looked her over from head to toe.

"Well, you're a pretty piece!" she remarked.

"None of your business if I am," retorted Nan.  "Let me in.  I want to
see Mrs. Newton."

The maid took her hand from the knob and put it on her hip.

"Mrs. Newton don't want to see you, though, I guess," she returned.
"By this time Bridget's told her all she wants to know."

"But I must see her!  I must tell her!" Nan insisted, stamping her
foot.  "Bridget don't know anything about it.  No one does but me.  Let
me in, I say!"

The girl laughed.

"Well, I'll go upstairs and tell Mrs. Newton.  Then, if she wants to
see you, she can," and she went inside and closed the door, leaving Nan
to stand shuddering in the cold outside.  Presently she came back,
carrying the coat in her hands.

"Mrs. Newton says she hasn't time to see you now.  She says she'll
attend to you later.  She says she can guess how it happened, and that
if Ruth dies it'll be your fault.  There, now, you know what's thought
of you, and you can put it in your pipe and smoke it, you great, rough
tomboy!"

The gate was thrust open a little way, the coat was flung out, and the
door slammed to again, and once more Nan found herself in the area way
alone.  Burning tears of fury sprung to her eyes.  She caught up her
despised coat and dashed wildly out of the gate in a perfect tempest of
anger and resentment.



CHAPTER II

NAN'S VISITOR

She knew what was coming when the bell rang.  She had been expecting it
all the afternoon.  But in spite of that her heart beat fast and her
breath came hard as she heard the familiar sound.  Not that she was
afraid.  She had nothing to be afraid of, she assured herself
defiantly, and besides, fear was one of the things she despised.
Whatever else she was, she was certainly not a coward.  Still she sat
in her room and waited in a state of mind that was not precisely what
one would call tranquil.

She heard Delia mount the basement stairs and then she heard her ask
the new-comer into the parlor.  A moment later there was a tap upon
Nan's bedroom door.

"Come in," she said carelessly, and pretended to be searching for some
article lost in the confusion of her upper drawer.

"You're wanted in the parlor, Nan," began Delia at once.  "It's a lady
who says she lives on the block and she wouldn't give her name, but I
think she's the one moved into Leffingwell's old house last spring--has
that little girl with the long curls, you know the one I mean.  Shall I
help you put on another dress and braid your hair over?  It's fearful
mussy-lookin'.  Or will I just go and say you'll be down in a minute
while you do it yourself?"

Nan cast a glance at her torn dress and towzled head in the mirror.
"No, Delia, I'll go as I am, and if the lady doesn't like it she
can--oh, well, I'll go down as I am."

Delia pressed her lips together, as though trying to hold back the
words of advice on the tip of her tongue.  She knew it was worse than
useless to try to argue with the girl.  She had not lived in the house
since Nan was born without learning better than to try to reason with
her when she had once declared her mind.  She stood beside the door,
and allowed Nan to pass through it before her, without saying a word.
Then she followed her quietly down stairs.  At the parlor door Nan
paused a moment, and Delia, who thought she was about to speak, paused
too, but the girl only turned sharply into the room, pulling the door
shut behind her.  Once across the threshold she halted and stood
irresolute.  Whatever the result of this meeting might prove, depended
not so much on Nan as on her visitor.

Nan, though standing in awkward silence, as stiff and as straight as a
soldier on parade, was ready to be influenced by whatever course her
caller chose to pursue; a kind word spoken at the start would melt her
at once, where a harsh one would raise in her every sort of sullen
hostility and obstinate resistance.  She was, as Delia often said to
herself, "as hard to manage as a kicking colt."  Sometimes she was
wonderfully docile, but her moods were variable, and oftenest she was
headstrong and wilful, with a fierce repugnance to curb, or what she
considered unwarrantable interference.

But it would have been difficult to convince the stranger at that
moment that Nan could ever be won, or, in fact, that she had any
tenderness to be appealed to.  There she stood, looking as erect and
impassive as a young Indian.  Her brown hair was in a state of thorough
disorder, and gave a sort of savage look to her sun-browned face.  Her
gray eyes were anything but soft at this moment; her mouth was set, and
her whole attitude seemed to be one of imperturbable indifference.  In
reality, the girl was apprehensive and embarrassed.  She set her lips
to keep them from trembling.  Her first impulse would have been to make
a clean breast of everything, frankly and truthfully, but--something in
her nature held her back.  Was it obstinacy, or was it reticence?

Her visitor did not wait to discover.  She decided the result of the
interview in the first words she spoke.

"Is your name Nan Cutler?" she asked in a voice of stern authority.

"Yes, it is!" acknowledged the girl, instantly on the defensive.

"Then it is you who are accountable for the accident to Ruth Newton?
You urged her to go with you, and when she fell--oh, you are a coward!
It was detestable!"

Nan made no reply, but stood the picture of inflexibility, facing her
accuser squarely.

"I have come to see you, not because you can undo the mischief you have
done to my child, and not because I think I can affect you in the
least, or make you sorry or ashamed, but simply to tell you that I
intend to see that you are punished, as you deserve.  I have put up
with annoyance you caused me long enough.  Your influence is bad.  All
the neighbors complain of you.  You are noisy and careless, and rough
and rude.  When any one reprimands you, you give a pert retort, or else
pretend not to hear--which is impudent.  Unless we wish our children to
be utterly ruined we must see that they are put beyond your influence
at once.  You do things that are absolutely vulgar and unbefitting a
girl of your age; you must be fourteen, at least, you look older, you
are certainly old enough to know better.  You are not a proper playmate
for our children.  You are boisterous and unladylike.  You--you--are a
perfect hoyden!"

The stranger paused for breath, while Nan surveyed her with a look of
calm indifference; an air of unconcern in anything she might say or
think that seemed as insolent as it was exasperating.

"You are a perfect hoyden!" repeated the stern voice in rising anger.
"Whatever you do is done in such a loud, violent fashion that it
becomes perfectly unbearable.  You play ball with boys.  You climb
fences and trees.  You are continually flying up and down the street on
your detestable roller-skates and shouting until the neighborhood seems
like Bedlam, and you don't appear to have the vaguest idea that
people's rights need not be infringed on in such a manner; that they
have the right to peace and quiet in their own homes.  Even if you
would content yourself with your own disorderliness!  But you are not
satisfied with doing what you know must annoy others; you seem to take
a malicious delight in bringing the little children under your
influence and making them long to follow your example.  You cannot have
the first shadow of generosity or bravery in your nature, or you would
not urge them to do what you know their parents would disapprove of.
You teach them to disobey.  My daughter never told an untruth in her
life until the other day.  I have no reason to doubt that you taught
her to tell that untruth!"

Nan's cheeks suddenly became white, but she did not open her lips.

"If you cannot be restrained by your own people at home you shall be by
some other means.  They say your own people are respectable; how can
you disgrace them so?"

Nan deigned no reply, but her lip curled contemptuously.

"They say your mother is dead."

Again no answer.

"Where is your father?"

"My father is in India.  He is in Bombay," announced Nan, deliberately.

"Who has control of you in his absence?"

"No one!" declared the girl with decision.

Mrs. Newton surveyed the lank, overgrown, girlish figure with
unconcealed scorn.

"Do you know," she said with bitter distinctness, "that you are the
most shameless, unfeeling girl I have ever beheld?  Any one else would
show some remorse for what she had done, but you--young as you are, you
are the hardest creature I have ever known.  Hard, cruel, and cold.
How can you stand there and look me in the face when you know how you
have injured me?  Tell me, does it not touch you at all that Ruth is
hurt?  Do you know or care that such a fall as she has had is enough to
cripple a child for life?  Many children have been hopelessly crippled
through far less."

The mother's voice broke, and she set her lips to keep down a sob.

"How much is she hurt?" whispered Nan after a moment.  She was
trembling all over and cold and hot by turns, and she could not command
her voice.  It was almost more than she could do to keep from bursting
into a violent fit of sobbing from her sense of injury and shame and
indignation.  But she simply would not permit herself to break down.
No one should be allowed to think they intimidated her.  But she could
not hide her anxiety about Ruth.

"Is she much hurt?" she repeated.

There was a shade of softening in her visitor's face.  "We can't tell
yet.  She has had a severe fall, and the chill coming after it may have
very serious consequences, but we can tell nothing yet.  However, I did
not come here to inform you of her condition," the voice growing stern
and the face severe again.  "I came to tell you that if Ruth is injured
I will hold you responsible.  And not only that, but I warn you that I
mean to take matters into my own hands now and see that you are
permitted to do no further mischief.  You shall be controlled.  Who has
charge of your father's affairs?  Who has any sort of authority over
you in his absence?  He must have left you in somebody's care.  He
can't have gone away leaving you with no one to look after you.  Who is
your guardian?  Tell me?  If you don't I shall find out for myself, you
may depend."

"I'm perfectly willing to tell you," declared Nan, with what seemed to
be complete coolness.  "It's Mr. Turner.  He gives Delia the money to
get me things and to keep the house.  He comes here every once in a
while to see me.  My father has him for his lawyer.  He's a friend of
his.  When Delia writes to him for money for me she sends the letter to
101 Blank Street.  That's his office.  I don't remember where his house
is.  Delia never writes to his house.  He doesn't attend to me--that
is, he isn't my guardian, but I guess he would do if you want to see
some one."

Nan delivered herself of this information as casually as though it had
been a report of the weather.  As a matter of fact she was inwardly
quivering, and every moment found it more and more difficult to control
herself.  Never in all her life before had she been so relentlessly,
harshly accused.  In trying to conceal her emotion she only gave
herself the appearance of rigid inflexibility.

Her visitor regarded her stonily for a moment and then abruptly brushed
past her toward the door.  Nan made no attempt to intercept her, but
suddenly the hard lines about her mouth relaxed, her eyes softened, and
she held out her hands with an imploring gesture.

"Won't you please tell me where Ruth is hurt?" she cried.  "Won't you
let me do something for her?  Let me--please let me!  If you'll only
listen a minute I'll tell you--"

But it was too late now.  She was given no reply; permitted no chance
to vindicate herself.  Her visitor's hard lips quivered, but she
uttered no syllable.  In a moment she was gone.

After the door had closed upon her and it was quite certain that she
would not come back, Nan turned and rushed headlong, like a young
savage, upstairs and into her own room.  What took place there it would
have been impossible to discover, for the shades were jerked fiercely
down, the door sharply shut and locked, and Delia, coming up some time
later, could not make out a sound within nor get a reply to her
requests to be admitted, though she stood outside and pleaded for an
hour.

At twilight the door was opened and Nan came out quite composed, but
bearing on her face the unmistakable traces of tears which, however,
Delia was wise enough to let pass unremarked.

"Time for dinner?" asked the girl, curtly.

"No, not yet.  It ain't but just six," replied the woman.  "Are you
hungry?  I'll get you something if you are."

"No, I'm not hungry.  But I feel kind of queer, somehow.  There's an
empty feeling I have that makes me uncomfortable.  But I'm not hungry.
O Delia!" she burst out, vehemently, "I wish--I wish--I had my mother.
A girl needs--her mother--sometimes--"

"Always," declared Delia, with conviction.

For a little time there was silence between them.  Then Nan said, "Look
here, Delia--I want to tell you something.  I feel just horribly.  I
never felt so unhappy in all my life.  That lady who was here this
afternoon is Ruth Newton's mother.  She came to see me because this
morning Ruth fell from the tree in Reid's lot and hurt herself, and
Mrs. Newton thinks I made her do it.  I didn't.  Honestly, I didn't.  I
had climbed the tree myself, and it was fun and I liked it.  Ruth would
come.  I tried to make her stay away, but she wouldn't, and when she
teased to climb the tree too, I told her not to.  She's so little and
young, and her mother doesn't think it's ladylike, and I said if she
wouldn't come with me in the first place I'd give her five cents.  But
she would tag on, and later she tried to climb the tree in spite of
everything.  She put a board up against the trunk and got on it and
then scrambled up a little way, but she didn't get far, for the board
slipped, or something, and down she went--smash!  I guess she must have
hit herself on the edge or somewhere, for when I dropped down she was
lying on the ground, and she had her eyes closed and wouldn't speak.
Then I didn't know what to do.  I wanted to lift her, but it was awful
work.  There was no one in sight.  At last I managed to tug her to the
fence, but, of course, I hadn't the strength to get her over that
alone.  I couldn't leave her and run for help, and for a long time I
did nothing but scream, in the hope that some one would come along and
hear.  And by and by I heard wheels.  It was a milk cart, and I got the
man to help me get her home.  I went right to the Newton's as fast as I
could, but when Bridget opened the door and saw who it was she was
simply furious.  They wouldn't let me in, and Mrs. Newton sent down
word she wouldn't see me, but she'd attend to me later, and this
afternoon when she called she just called me names and things, and I
couldn't explain to her, I felt so choked.  She talked to me so, I
couldn't say a word.  You don't know.  When people say such things to
me something gets in my throat, and I feel like strangling and doing
all sorts of things.  I seem to shut right up when they go at me like
that.  I can't speak.  I just feel like--well, you don't know what I
feel like.  Mrs. Newton asked me where father is, and I told her, and
then she asked about Mr. Turner, for she wants to have things done to
me, and I told her about him.  I wouldn't have her think I wanted to
get out of it.  She called me names and she thinks I taught Ruth to
tell untruths; she said so.  She says if Ruth doesn't get well it will
be my fault.  O Delia!  I didn't do it.  Honestly I wasn't to blame.
But if Ruth is going to be sick and they think I did it--I want my
mother!  How can I bear it without my mother?"

Delia gently patted the dark head that had flung itself into her lap.
Her heart ached for the girl, but her simple mind was not equal to the
task of consolation in a case like this.  She could not cope with its
difficulties.  She knew Nan was to blame for much, but she thought in
her heart that Mrs. Newton had no right to vent her wrath upon the girl
without first having heard her side of the story.  She could not
console Nan, she thought, without seeming to convict Mrs. Newton, and
if she "stood up for" Mrs. Newton, Nan would think her lacking in
sympathy for herself.  But in the midst of her wondering, up bobbed the
head from under her hand.

"Mrs. Newton says I teach the children to do wrong.  She says I'm a
hoyden.  She says I left Ruth in the cold and that I was a coward.  She
didn't give me time to tell her about how I tried to get Ruth home
myself, and that when I couldn't, how I just howled for help.  At least
she didn't want to listen when I got so I could speak.  She says
everybody thinks I'm bad, and they want to have me attended to.  She
thinks I taught Ruth to tell lies.  Think, Delia, lies!  When she said
that it was like knives!  O Delia?  I know you've been awfully good to
me always, and taken care of me since mamma died and all, but if it is
so dreadful to play ball and skate and do things like that, why did you
let me in the first place?  I hate to sew and do worsted work and be
prim, but perhaps, if you had brought me up that way I might have got
so I could stand it.  Don't you think if you had begun when I was a
baby I might have?  I don't want to have people hate me--honestly, I
don't.  When they talk to me, and say I'm rowdyish because I walk
fences and play ball with the boys and climb trees, I try not to show
it, but it hurts me way deep down.  I try to say something back so
they'll think I don't care, and sometimes, if it hurts too much, I
pretend not to hear, and that makes them madder than ever.  They don't
know how, when it's like that, I can't speak.  Perhaps if you'd brought
me up so, I might have liked dolls and thought it was fun to sit still
and sew on baby clothes.  But I don't like to, and I can't help it.
Mrs. Newton thinks because I whistle and make a noise that I'm just
mean and hateful and everything else.  She thinks I don't care.  Why,
Delia! if anything happened to Ruth I'd feel exactly as if I didn't
want to live another day.  I--I--O Delia!"

For the first time she gave way, and, hiding her head in her arms,
sobbed heavily.

By this time Delia had risen to a point of burning anger against her
child's detractor.  Her heart beat loyally for Nan, and she could
scarcely restrain the words of resentment that rose to her lips, and
that it would have been such unwisdom to have uttered.

"Never mind, Nannie lamb!" she said.  "It'll be all right in the
morning.  The child will be all well in the morning.  You'll see she
ain't so bad as they think.  And to-morrow I'll go and tell them all
about it.  And perhaps they'll see then it's better to be slow accusin'
where the guilt ain't proved.  Come, come!  Don't cry so!  Why, Nannie,
child, you haven't cried like this since you were--I can't tell how
little.  You never cry, Nan.  You're always so brave, and never give
way.  You'll have a headache if you don't stop.  Dry your tears, and
to-morrow it'll be all right."

So, little by little, she soothed the girl, and by and by Nan ate her
dinner, and then, when it was later, she went to bed.  But when
everything was hushed and still a dark figure crept noiselessly down
stairs and on into the outer darkness.  Down the street it stole until
it had reached a house, which, alone in all the row of darkened
barrack-like dwellings, showed a dimly lit window to the night.  There
it halted.  And there it stood, like a faithful sentinel, only
deserting its post when the gray light of early morning rose slowly
over the world and the city was astir once more.



CHAPTER III

MR. TURNER'S PLAN

"I am deeply sorry," said Mr. Turner, "and can only apologize in my
friend's name for any annoyance his daughter may have caused you.  Of
course I cannot agree with you that she annoys you purposely.  A child
of William Cutler could not well be other than large-hearted and
generous.  She may be a little undisciplined perhaps, but it shall be
attended to, Madam!  I assure you the matter shall be attended to."

Mrs. Newton rose.  She had called upon Mr. Turner to state her
complaint against Nan Cutler.  Now that was accomplished she would go;
only she made a mental vow that if the lawyer were not as good as his
word, if he did not take immediate steps toward rectifying the matter,
she would follow it up herself and see that she was relieved of what,
in her anger, she called "that common nuisance."

Meantime Nan herself was going about with a dead load of misery on her
heart.  Delia had gone to the Newton's house early in the morning to
inquire after the sick child's condition and to repeat Nan's story to
her mother, but that lady was "not at home," and Delia understood that
to mean that Mrs. Newton declined to receive either her or her
explanation.  She went home angry and disappointed.

"I guess the little girl ain't much hurt," she announced to Nan.
"She's in bed to be sure, but I guess that's more on account of her
cold than anything else.  She isn't going to be crippled, Nan, now
don't you fret.  She'll be all right.  Now you see if she ain't."

Nan's own flushed cheeks and brilliant eyes, the result of her
yesterday's chilly adventures, worried the good woman not a little.  If
she had dared she would have liked to "coddle her child," but Nan was
not one of the coddling kind, and would have scorned being made a baby
of.  She went about the house in one of her unhappy moods, restless and
wretched and unable to amuse herself, and finding the hours
never-endingly long.

When the bell rang she welcomed the sound as a grateful diversion and
ran to the balusters and hung over the railing to see who might be the
new-comer.  She was glad of any break in the monotony of such a
miserable day.

When Delia opened the door and admitted Mr. Turner, Nan's heart gave a
big leap.  Visions of what might be in store for her, the result of
Mrs. Newton's action against her, thronged her brain and made her
shudder with apprehension.  What if Mr. Turner had come to say that she
was to be sent to the House of Correction, or some horrid
boarding-school where one don't get enough to eat and where one
couldn't poke one's nose outside the door.  A set expression settled on
the girl's face that did not augur well for her reception of whatever
plan the lawyer might have to propose.

When Delia came to call her, she sighed.  She saw plainly enough that
Nan's "contrary fit" was on, and she wondered how much the lawyer would
accomplish by his visit under the circumstances.

Nan went down to him sullenly determined to stand by her guns and
absolutely refuse to be committed to either a reformatory or any other
establishment of a similar character.

"How do you do, my dear?" was Mr. Turner's kindly greeting as the girl
entered the room.

Nan replied, "Very well, sir," thinking, at the same time, that she
would not be disarmed by kindness nor permit herself to be cajoled into
doing anything she did not wish to do.  No one really had the right to
order her about, and she would resolutely oppose any one who assumed
such a right.

But presently she found herself telling her father's friend the story
of yesterday's disaster, quite simply and with entire willingness.

"So," Mr. Turner said at the conclusion, "I thought that the good lady
must have made a mistake.  I felt pretty sure your father's daughter
would never be guilty of cowardice nor of deliberately planning to
destroy the peace of any one.  I knew you could not be the girl Mrs.
Newton described.  She seemed to think you were--why, my dear, she gave
me to understand that you were quite wild and lawless; that you were a
bad influence in the neighborhood, and that you were so with full
consciousness of what you were doing.  We must explain to Mrs. Newton!
We must explain!"

"I don't lie!" declared Nan.  "And I'm not a coward, and I don't try to
make her mad or hurt her children, but I do climb trees and I do race
and do figures on roller-skates, and I do do the rest of the things she
says I do and that she doesn't like."

"And your school?" ventured the lawyer.

"I don't go any more," announced Nan.  "I had a fight with one of the
teachers, and so I left."

Mr. Turner gazed suddenly upon the floor.

"And this 'fight' with the teacher?  Do you remember the cause of the
disturbance?" he asked, looking up after a moment.

"She struck me with her ruler.  I had a rubber baby doll, it was the
weeniest thing you ever saw, and she wore false puffs, Miss Fowler did,
and one day, when I was at the blackboard and she was looking the other
way, I just dropped the baby doll into one of the puffs that the
hair-pin had come out of, and that was standing up on end, and it
looked so funny on her head, the puff with the baby doll standing in
it, that all the girls laughed, and then she asked me what I had done,
and I told her, and she struck me.  I wouldn't have said anything if
she had just punished me.  I knew it was wrong to pop that doll on her
head, but I just couldn't help it--it looked too funny.  But when she
struck me!  Well, I won't be struck by any one--and so I left."

The lawyer meditated in silence for a moment.  Then he said:

"Well, my dear, I think I understand the condition of things here.
Without doubt it is high time something were done.  Your father, when
he went away, gave me full authority to make such arrangements for you
as I might feel were necessary, but until now I have rather avoided
taking upon myself any responsibility.  Possibly I have neglected my
duty toward you.  But now all that shall be changed.  Don't you think
if I were to send you--"

Nan's eyes blazed.  So it was as she had felt sure it would be!  She
was to be sent away!  She did not wait for the sentence to be finished.

"Send me to the House of Correction?  I won't go, sir!  I'll run away
first!  Or a horrid boarding-school, neither.  I guess my father didn't
mean me to be made unhappy, Mr. Turner; I guess he didn't mean any one
to have authority to send me to awful places just because Mrs. Newton
says so, away from Delia and things.  You needn't send me anywhere, for
I'll run away as sure as you do."

[Illustration: "I'll run away first!"]

"Slowly--slowly!" cautioned Mr. Turner.  "You go too fast!  If you had
waited for me to finish my sentence you would have discovered that I
meant to send you neither to the House of Correction," here his eyes
twinkled with amusement, "nor to a 'horrid boarding-school.'  What I
was about to say was that I propose to send you a lady who will teach
you here at home, who will be a friend and companion to you and whom
you will be sure to love.  It is rather a curious coincidence that just
the other day I was talking to a lady who is anxious to procure just
such a position as this with you, and I am rather inclined to think
that she would be willing to come here and undertake it.  At all
events, I have written to her asking her to consider the plan and in a
day or so I shall know her decision.  If she concludes to come--if I
can induce her to come--I shall feel that you are very fortunate.  You
will forgive me if I say that while I disagree with Mrs. Newton in most
respects regarding you, I feel with her that you are somewhat--well,
somewhat ungoverned and in need of just the sort of discipline that I
am sure Miss--the lady I speak of can maintain."

He paused a moment, but when he saw that Nan made no comment or
objection he continued placidly:

"You will hear from me in the course of a day or so, as soon as I
receive word from the lady herself.  As I said, you will be very
fortunate if I can secure her services for you--more fortunate than she
will be, I fear," he said to himself, catching a glimpse of Nan's set
mouth and flashing eyes as he made his way to the door.  Later, when he
recalled her expression, he was almost inclined to hope that the lady
would decide to refuse the office.  He thought her acceptance of it
might involve her in rather more serious difficulties than he had
foreseen when he wrote to her in the first place.

As a matter of fact, Nan was in a rage at the thought of a stranger
coming into the house to interfere with her and Delia, to teach her
what she did not want to learn, and to govern her when her sole idea of
happiness was to be free and untrammeled.  Even Delia resented the
new-comer's intrusion.  Had she managed the house for fourteen years
now, ever since Mrs. Cutler's death, only to be set aside and ruled
over by the first stranger who chose to imagine her position of
governess to Nan gave her the right to interfere in household affairs?
For of course she would interfere.  Nan had drawn a vivid mental
picture of the governess, which through her persistence in repetition,
had begun to seem an actual description to herself and Delia.

"She's tall and thin and lanky and old!" declared the girl whenever the
governess, who had accepted the appointment, was mentioned.  "She has
horrid sharp eyes that spy out everything, and she wears glasses.
She'll never laugh because she'll say 'giggling is frivolous,' that's
what Miss Fowler used to say, and she'll talk arithmetic and grammar
and geography the whole blessed time.  She'll snoop in your closets,
Delia, and into my bureau drawers, and she'll find out everything we
don't want her to know.  Her hair is black and shiny, and I guess she
parts it in the middle and makes it come to the back of her head in a
little hard knot.  Oh!  I know just how she looks!  I can see her every
time I shut my eyes--the horrid thing!  Just like Miss Fowler at
school!  And how I'll hate her!  I'll hate her just as much as I did
Miss Fowler.  I'll hate her more, because I can never get rid of her:
she'll always be here.  Don't you fix up her room a single bit, Delia.
Make it look as awful as you can.  Then perhaps she won't like it
and'll leave.  I guess after a little while she won't think it agrees
with her to live here.  Then we two'll be alone again, and I tell you,
won't we be glad, Delia?"

In her heart Delia thought they would.  She did not follow Nan's advice
to make the governess' room look "as awful as she could."  She swept
and dusted it thoroughly, and set all the furniture in place, as she
had been accustomed to do for the last fourteen years, and when she had
finished the place was as uninviting as even Nan could have desired.
In fact, there was nothing attractive in the whole house.  The
furniture was all good and substantial, but Delia had a way of ranging
it against the walls in a manner that made it seem stiff and
uncompromising.  When a piece needed repairing, and with Nan about,
many a piece needed repairing often, it was stowed out of sight in the
trunk-room, or the cellar, and the carpets, which had been rich and
fashionable in their day, were allowed to lie now long after they had
become threadbare and faded.  Delia kept the handsome paintings veiled
in tarlatan winter and summer, and she never removed the slip-covers
from the parlor sofas and chairs, whatever the season might be.  Nan
did not care, because she knew nothing different, and there was no
loving, artful hand to make the best of the things and turn the house
into a home.

Mrs. Newton had shivered as she entered the place; it seemed dark and
cold and forbidding to her, and she felt the mother-want at every turn,
but this had not made her any more lenient with Nan.  Perhaps the
governess would make no allowances either.  Delia made up her mind that
if things really came to the pass where Nan was being abused, she in
person would "just step in and say her say, if it lost her her place."
She often talked of things losing her her place when the fact was that
she herself was the place: if it had not been for her the house must
have been closed, and Nan sent to boarding-school.  Mr. Cutler would
never have trusted the care of his girl to a strange servant.

"Yes, Ma'am," Delia said to herself, as she pushed the governess' bed
flat up against the wall.  "Yes, Ma'am! if I see her going for to abuse
Nan, I'll set to and give her a piece of my mind such as she ain't
likely to have got in one while, I tell you that," and she gave the
bureau a vicious tweak and pulled down the shade with a resentful jerk.

When Nan saw the room she was disgusted.

"Why, Delia Connor! you haven't done a single thing I told you to," she
cried out angrily.

"I've swept and dusted it and that's all there was to do," retorted
Delia.

"It looks perfectly lovely," resumed Nan, stamping her foot.  "Do you
s'pose I want her to think we're glad to have her, and that we've
prepared for her?  Well, I guess not!  If she once gets into as good a
room as this she'll never go--she'll just hang on and on, and nothing
in the world will make her budge."

"What do you want me to do?" asked Delia with irritation.

Nan looked at her scornfully for a moment.  "Do?  Why, what I told you
to do!  Make the room look awful--perfectly hideous.  Make it so she
can't help but see we don't want her here.  Make it a hint--and a
strong one too."

Delia folded her arms deliberately.  "Well, whatever you want to act
like, Nan," she said, "I can tell you I ain't going to do anything
unladylike, so there!" and she stalked out of the room with dignity.

Nan surveyed the place in silence.  What was to be done?  If she
removed all the furniture but the bed and the bureau and left the
governess nothing to sit down on, it would only reflect discreditably
upon the family's supply of household goods.  If she carefully sifted
back the dust Delia had just removed, it would merely prove that the
people in this house were of a slovenly and careless habit, and that
they were sadly in need of some one to oversee their work.  Moreover,
would a person as dull of feeling as this governess must be, appreciate
the hint conveyed in so delicate and indirect a manner?  No.  She would
be sure to lose the point.  Nan felt it would never do to take any risk
of her misunderstanding.  Whatever she did must be unmistakable and
absolutely direct.

She racked her brain to discover just the right thing, but she was
rewarded by no brilliant idea, and she felt crosser than ever by the
time noon had arrived.  But suddenly, at the luncheon table, she gave a
wild leap from her chair and clapped her hands frantically, while Delia
almost let a dish fall in her surprise at this sudden and unexpected
demonstration.

"For the land's sake, what is it now?" she demanded, while Nan caught
her around the waist and whirled her about the room, vegetable dish and
all.

"I've got it!  I've got it!" screamed the girl, convulsed with inward
laughter.  "I've got the best scheme in the world.  Delia, you old
duck!  Oh, won't it settle her though!  Won't it settle her?"  But she
would not reveal who was to be settled, nor how, though Delia pleaded
earnestly to be enlightened and even offered to help her make caramels
as a bribe.

"No, thank you, Ma'am!  I wouldn't have time to boil 'em.  I'm going to
be as busy as a beaver all the afternoon, so no matter what happens
don't you disturb me," continued Nan, importantly.

Delia shrewdly suspected that the scheme afoot had something to do with
the governess, but she did not dare suggest it.

"Oh, well, what I don't know I can't cry over," she said to herself,
"and when Nan's like this, all the king's horses and all the king's men
couldn't stop her, so I might as well hold my tongue.  But I'll say
this much, I don't envy that governess her job, whoever she may be."

Meanwhile Nan had gone to her own room and shut and locked the door.
Her next move was to take her night-dress from its hook and slip it
over her head.

"Now I'm going to rehearse," she announced to her reflection in the
glass.  "First I must get my eyes to seem kind of wide and starey.  No!
not this way.  They must look like licorice-drops in milk.  There!
that's better!  All expressionless, and that kind of thing.  I s'pose I
might shut 'em, some somnabulists do; but then I'd be sure to trip over
the furniture and stub my toes, and give the whole business away.  No,
I must keep my eyes open; that's certain.  Then I must glide when I
walk.  My step must be light and ghostly and noiseless.  I must be sure
to have it ghostly and noiseless.  Now--eyes staring--one, two,
three--step ghostly and noiseless--Oh, bother!  What business had that
footstool in my way?  If I knock things over like that I'll wake the
house, and Delia would know in a minute what I was up to.  There! get
into the corner, you old thing!  Now again!  Eyes staring--step
ghostly--and noiseless--voice low and mournful, but I must manage to
make her understand every word.  Now once more--voice low and mournful--

"Alas! alas! why did she come?--why did she come?  (No, I can't say
that!  It sounds too much like 'Why did he die!  Why did he die?'  But
the alas is good!  That sounds real creepy and weird.)  Now then--Alas!
alas!  This is the worst thing that ever happened to me in all my life!
My dear, old home!  To think that anybody who isn't wanted should come
and push herself like this into my dear, old home!  O father! father!
come home from Bombay, and save me from this awful woman.  Turn her out
of the house!  Make her go back where she came from!  Her hated form
haunts me in my sleep, and I dream all night of her as I see her in the
daytime--tall--and thin--and lanky--with her hair all dragged into that
ugly little knob behind at the back of her head!  O father! father! her
eyes are like needles!  They prick me when she looks.  Save me!--save
me!  My heart will break if some one doesn't come and rescue me from
this terrible person.  Take her away--take her away!  Ah--I see her!  I
see her!  Get away--get away!  You awful creature!  Don't you know you
are causing an innocent girl to perish in her youth?  Alas, she won't
go!  Then listen, reckless woman! and remember this warning--'the way
of intruders is hard!'

"There! that ends it off with a sort of threatening dreadfulness that
ought to scare her stiff.  After I've said that in a whisper to freeze
her blood, I'll turn silently from her bedside and glide noiselessly
from the room, wringing my hair and tearing my hands; no, I mean just
the other way, and if that doesn't fix her, why--I'll have to go over
it all again, of course, so I won't forget.  Perhaps it would be a good
idea to write it down and learn it off by heart."

The idea in fact recommended itself so thoroughly to her that she
followed her own suggestion without further delay and wrote off the
entire harangue at once, making it, if possible, even more eloquent and
harrowing than it had been in the original.  It seemed a very long,
wearisome task, to commit it all to memory, but she did not grudge the
trouble.  She had never attempted anything that looked like study with
so much willingness.  The afternoon slipped away like a dream, and as
soon as dinner was over she set to work again, and by bed-time had the
thing pretty well under control.  Whenever she halted or stumbled she
went over it all again with the most patient perseverance.

"I suppose if I had stuck to things at school like this I'd have been
at the head of the class," she said to herself with a whimsical sense
of her own perversity.

Delia was completely nonplused.  She could not imagine what "that child
was up to."  There were no evidences anywhere of the means she was
going to employ in the governess' initiation.  Her room was in perfect
order, and in Nan's own chamber nothing was unusually amiss.  She got
no satisfaction from the girl herself, who kept her lips tightly
closed, except when she was mumbling over her harangue.  It was
terribly perplexing--and ominous.

"Good land!" thought Delia in real anxiety, "I only hope she ain't
going to do anything too dreadful.  I declare, if it weren't that I'm
so soft where Nannie is concerned I'd say I'd be glad that some one's
coming who may be up to managin' her.  I'm free to confess I ain't.  If
only her mother had lived!  Or, if only my dear Miss Belle hadn't gone
off to the ends of the earth--!  Miss Belle could have managed her!  No
one could resist Miss Belle, bless her!  Ah, dear me, dear me!  It's
fifteen years, and to think, I'll never see her face again!"



CHAPTER IV

THE GOVERNESS

The morning of the expected governess' arrival dawned cold and dreary.
Rain fell in torrents, and the streets were drenched and slippery with
slush.  All day Nan moped in unhappy expectation of her anticipated
thralldom.  At every sound of rumbling wheels before the door she would
fly to the window, torturing herself with the belief that this was the
hack which was conveying the tyrant-governess to the victim-pupil, and
she felt a curious sort of disappointment when no such vehicle appeared
and no such personage arrived, for always the rumbling wheels belonged
to some grocer's cart or butcher's wagon, and by evening the invader
had still not appeared.  Then Nan plucked up courage.

"I shouldn't wonder if she had been switched off the road," she said to
Delia, inclining to be quite jolly at the mere thought of such a
grateful possibility.  And she pictured to herself an accommodating
engine whizzing the unwelcome guest off into some remote region from
which she would never see the desirability of returning.  Nan wished
her no ill, but she did not wish herself ill either.  She ate her
dinner quite contentedly, and was just going to settle down comfortably
to some thrilling tale of adventure when Br--r--r! went the bell, and
she knew her fate had descended upon her.

She flew to the parlor and hid behind the folding-door.  She heard
Delia ascend the basement stairs.  She heard her come along the hall,
and then--it was very strange, but Nan really thought she heard her
give a smothered exclamation that was instantly followed by the word of
warning, "Hush!"--but she must have been mistaken, for it was only Mr.
Turner who was speaking.  He was asking for Nan herself.  She slipped
from behind the door with the hope at her heart that even now, at the
last minute, the governess had "backed out."  Certainly it looked as if
she had, since she saw only the lawyer standing by the hat-stand.  She
held out her hand to him with a real smile of greeting when--he stepped
aside and there stood the governess.

At first Nan thought it must be some little girl, so small and slender
looked the figure beside that of the tall man.  The eyes beneath the
rain-soaked brim of the governess' hat were soft and dark; her hair was
brown, and the damp wind had blown it into innumerable little curls and
tendrils about her temples, where it took on a ruddy sheen in the gas
light.  Her nose was delicate and short; her mouth, which was not
small, was fascinating from the fact that the parting lips disclosed
two rows of perfect teeth.  She had two dimples that came and went as
she smiled, and in her chin was a small cleft that was quivering a
little, Nan noticed.  She thought the governess looked as if she were
going to cry.  Her eyes seemed somewhat "teary round the lashes," and
there was no doubt about it--her chin was quivering.

"Pooh!" thought Nan.  "I might have saved myself all that worry.  She's
as afraid as she can be.  I guess I'll be able to manage her as easy as
pie."

But now Mr. Turner was addressing her.

"Nan," he was saying, "this is Miss Blake.  Can't you welcome her to
her new home, my dear?"

Nan hung back in awkward silence, but the new governess did not give
her the opportunity to make the moment an embarrassing one.  She
stepped forward, and, taking the girl's hand in her own, said softly:

"Mr. Turner has told me all about you.  I hope we shall be very happy
together."

She did not attempt to kiss her.

Nan murmured an indistinct "Yes'm," and shrank back against the wall.
Delia stood beside the new governess with a very curious expression on
her face.  For a moment there was silence, and then Mr. Turner broke in
upon it with:

"I think it would be well if Miss Blake were to be shown to her room at
once.  She is drenched with the rain and must be cold and hungry.  Will
you be good enough, Delia, to get her something to eat while Nan takes
her upstairs?"

Nan started forward quickly at the note of rebuke in the lawyer's voice.

"Oh, won't you come to your room?" she asked.

She vaguely wondered what made Delia look so strange and act in such a
dazed, uncertain fashion.  She thought she must be a sad "'fraid-cat"
to be overawed by such a little personage as the new governess.

"Now I will say good-night," said Mr. Turner to Miss Blake, as she
started to follow Nan above.  "I hope," he added in an undertone,
taking her hand, "that you will be happy.  Don't become discouraged.
Send for me whenever you need me.  I am always at your service."

She silently bowed her thanks.  Somehow she found it difficult to speak
just then.  She had been tired and cold before she entered the house,
but it seemed to her she had not known weariness or chill until now.
She felt herself shiver as she turned away from the lawyer and heard
the door close behind him.  He seemed to be leaving her alone with an
enemy.

Nan certainly looked anything but amicable.

"Here's your room," she announced, as they reached the upper landing.
She flung open a door, and the new governess found herself stepping
forth into utter darkness, where Nan herself was groping about for
matches.  The air of the place was cold and damp.  It had the feel of a
room that was unused.  It was barren and cheerless.  But in the second
preceding Nan's discovery of the matches Miss Blake hoped that when the
gas was lit it would seem more inviting.  But it did not.  It was bare
and undecorated, and presented anything but an attractive appearance.

The stranger drew two long pins from her hat without saying a word.
Nan turned on her heel and made to leave the room.

"Will you please tell me where I can find some warm water?" inquired
Miss Blake.

"Washstand in that little dressing-room.  Left-hand faucet," announced
Nan, curtly, and marched away.

The governess gently closed the door.

Perhaps if Nan had remained there to see she would have wondered if
Miss Blake were quite in her right mind.  Her behavior was certainly
extraordinary.  The tears rained down her cheeks, and she did not try
to stop them.  She just stood in the middle of the floor and gazed
about at the awkwardly-placed furniture, the faded carpet, the bare
walls, and the ugly mantel-piece as if she could not take her eyes from
them.  She turned slowly from one thing to another, and presently, in a
sort of timid, hungry way, she stretched out her hand and touched each
separate object with her caressing fingers, crying very hard the while
and murmuring to herself in so low a voice that no one could have
overheard.

Even Nan must have softened to her as she stood there crying softly and
smiling through her tears at this bare and unfamiliar room.  Even Nan
must have been moved to wonder what Miss Blake had suffered that she
was so glad to get into such an uninviting shelter as this.

But Nan was down stairs in the basement watching Delia prepare a dainty
supper for the governess, and scowling at her as she saw to what
trouble she went to make it appetizing and delicate.

"There, Delia Connor!" she burst out resentfully, "you're the worst
turn-coat I ever saw in my life!  This very afternoon you looked black
as thunder when you thought she had come, and now you are just dancing
attendance on her, as if she was the best friend you ever had!"

"Perhaps she is," responded Delia, placing sprigs of parsley neatly
about the sliced chicken and setting the coffee-pot on the range.

Nan tossed her head scornfully.  "Well, I like that!  I should think
you'd be ashamed!  A perfect stranger like her!"

Delia did not answer.  She was crushing ice for the olives, and as Nan
spoke she bent her face over the table and pounded away in silence.
But when she had finished, she lifted her head and said, amiably:

"Oh, you can't tell.  By the looks of her I should think she is a
good-natured little body.  She has the true eyes.  When you see eyes
like that you can mostly be sure they've an honest soul behind 'em.  I
shouldn't wonder if she'd be a good friend to any one who'd let her."

"Huh!" sneered Nan, wrathfully, "that means, I s'pose, that you intend
to let her.  Never talk to me of turn-coats any more, Delia Connor!"

Delia caught up a coal-hod and strode deliberately off toward the
cellar stairs.  When she came back she was laden down with kindlings
and coal.

"What you going to do with those?" demanded Nan, imperatively.

"Build a fire in the library.  I guess a spark'll look good to the poor
little soul--coming in out of the cold and wet."

This was the last straw.  Nan's eyes flashed, and she tore after Delia
upstairs, scolding as fast as the words would come.

"The idea!  The idea!  A fire!  'Poor little soul!'  And many's the
time I've come in out of the cold and you haven't even as much as lit
the gas!  Oh, no; never mind me!  I can come in out of the cold till
every tooth in my head chatters, and you wouldn't care a straw.  Why,
Delia Connor, we never have that fire lit.  You just know we don't!
There hasn't been a fire in that grate since daddy went away!  You know
very well there hasn't, and now the first thing you do is to light it
for that horrid governess-woman that's going to boss you 'round like
anything, and make me do all sorts of hateful things.  I tell you what
it is, Delia Connor, you don't care a single thing about me.  I know
just how 'twill be.  You'll help her to do anything she wants to, and
you'll never stand up for me a bit.  It's mean of you, Delia!  It's
downright mean of you.  And it's just because she's got those dimples
and things, and smiles at you as if you were her best friend.  But she
needn't think she can manage me.  I'm not going to be ordered about by
her, if she has got a soft voice and shiny eyes!"

Nan and the fire sputtered and blazed as though they were trying to see
which could outdo the other, and Delia stood by looking first at this
one and then at that with a good deal less fear of the sparks from the
grate than of those from Nan's eyes.

She knew better than to try to pacify the girl when her temper was at
such a white-heat, and she inwardly wondered what would happen if the
governess should come down while it was yet at its worst.  As if in
answer to her question they heard the sound of an opening door above,
and immediately after Miss Blake's light steps upon the stairs.  Nan
bit a word off square in the middle and set her lips tightly together.
Delia removed the "blower" from the grate and the dancing flames leaped
high up the chimney and sent a ruddy glow about the room.  The only
sounds to be heard were the comfortable ticking of the tall clock in
the corner and the low purring of the fire behind its bars.  Miss Blake
came down the hall and paused on the library threshold.

"Oh, how jolly!" she cried, clapping her hands like a delighted child
and running forward eagerly to the hearth.  "How perfectly jolly!
Don't you think an open fire is the most comfortable thing in the
world?  And I always loved this one particularly--I mean this kind,"
she corrected herself quickly.

Nan made no response.  She sat in her father's study-chair as stiff and
stolid as a lay-figure in a shop window, with her lips drawn primly
over her teeth.

Miss Blake was, or pretended to be, unconscious of her attitude,
however, and went on talking as easily as though she had the most
appreciative of listeners.

"When I was a little girl I used to love to cuddle down here on the
hearth-rug--I mean I used to love to cuddle down on the hearth-rug and
look into the burning coals.  I used to see all sorts of wonderful
things in the flames.  They used to tell me I'd 'singe my curly pow
a-biggin' castles in the air,' but I didn't mind, did I--I mean I
didn't mind," she caught herself up quickly.

Delia coughed behind her hand and hurriedly left the room in order to
get Miss Blake's supper, which she meant to serve upstairs for the
occasion.

As soon as she was gone the new governess turned toward Nan in a
strange apologetic sort of way and said:

"I think, if you'll excuse me, I'll just cuddle down on the rug as I
used to do when--when I was a little girl.  It seems so good to get
back--to an open fire that it makes me quite homesick.  You won't mind,
will you?"

Nan gave a grunt that was meant for "No," and the new governess plumped
down upon the floor with her chin in her palms and her elbows on her
knees, looking so much like a little girl that for a second Nan had a
wild impulse to plump down beside her and inquire, by way of opening
the acquaintance--

"Say, does your hair curl like that naturally--or does your mother put
it up at night?" or something equally introductory and to the point.
But of course she did no such thing, and when Delia reappeared she
found them regarding the fire in perfect silence.

At the sound of her step Miss Blake lifted her head and gave Nan a
bewildering smile.

"How stupid I have been!  Do forgive me!" she said.  "We have been
having what the Germans call 'an English conversation,' haven't we?  I
was thinking so hard I quite forgot you--and myself.  Ah, what a pretty
supper!  But I put you to so much trouble," and she turned on Delia two
very grateful eyes, while she jumped to her feet with the lightest
possible ease.

Delia beamed down upon her beatifically and gave an extra touch to the
dainty tray.  Nan from her chair scowled darkly upon the whole
performance.  Delia had deserted her cause; had gone over bodily to the
enemy--that was plain.  But she needn't flaunt her defection in Nan's
very face.  Why, it was positively disgraceful the way Delia fetched
and carried for this person already, and looked, all the while, as if
she could hardly keep from dancing for very joy at the privilege.
Well, this governess needn't think that Nan was the kind to be won over
by a few smiles and some flickering dimples.  When Nan said a thing she
meant it and she stuck to it, too.  She wasn't a turn-coat like some
folks she knew.

"'Alas, alas! my dear old home--!  To think that anybody who isn't
wanted should come and push herself like this into my dear old home!
Oh, father, her eyes are like--'  Good gracious! all that description
part would have to be changed!"  Nan pulled herself together with a
visible jerk.  How could she speak of "needly eyes" when those of the
governess were so deep and soft and gray that they made you feel
like--no, they didn't either; but they weren't needly all the same.
No!  That whole description part would have to be changed.  Bother!
Well, if it came to that she guessed she could do it!  "Her hated form
haunts me in my sleep, and I dream of her all night as I see her in the
daytime--little and dear, with her hair all shimmery and soft and her
eyes kind of kissing you softly all the time, and--"  Goodness! that
would never do!  Why it would be crazy to call on one's father to
rescue one from a person like that.  Well, she'd leave out the
description altogether, that's what she'd do.  She--

"Did you speak?" asked the governess, in her musical voice, turning
toward Nan inquiringly, and then the girl suddenly realized that she
had been mumbling her thoughts aloud.

"No, I didn't," she responded, with irritation.  "It was too bad," she
declared to herself it was, "that after all the trouble she had taken
to learn the thing by heart, she should be pestered to death by having
to make changes in it this way--at the last minute, too.  Why wasn't
Miss Blake tall and lanky and needly-eyed and a fright, she'd like to
know?  It was just like her, though!  So contrary!  To change about and
upset all Nan's plans.  Well, as long as there was so much fuss about
the thing, she s'posed she'd give it up."

"She's so little, it'll be easy enough to manage her.  I guess it isn't
worth while.  I can just say, to-morrow or next day, 'Miss Blake, I've
come to the conclusion you don't suit,' and she'll go right off.  She
may cry a little, but I won't mind that; and if she begs to stay, I'll
say, 'Now there's no use teasing!  When I once say a thing I mean it!'
and that will settle her once for all."

Delia was pressing the governess to take more supper when Nan again
waked to what was going on about her.

"Why, you don't eat any more than you used--I mean than a bird.  Do
take a little more chicken, do!  And a cup of coffee, nice and hot,
that's a good--lady!"

It was really too humiliating!  It was more than Nan could bear.  She
sprang to her feet and without a word--with nothing but a glance of
withering scorn at Delia--swept out of the room and upstairs to bed.

Miss Blake looked after her with strange, wondering eyes, but made no
attempt to follow her.  She just turned to Delia and stretched out her
hands.

"O Delia!  Delia!" she faltered, brokenly.

The woman came to her and took both the little hands in hers.  "Bless
you, dearie!" she cried.  "That I ever lived to see the day!  There,
there, lamb, don't cry so, Allanah!  See, I'm not crying, am I now?"
sobbed she, kneeling beside the stranger and hugging her knees wildly.
"Oh, but it's glad I am to see your dear face again!  Now tell me all
about it--how you came to know we need you so bad?"



CHAPTER V

GETTING ACQUAINTED

Nan, in spite of the fact that she assured herself her heart was
broken, fell asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.  She slept
heavily customarily but to-night her rest was fitful and troubled.  She
kept dreaming strange dreams that caused her to twitch in her sleep and
give queer little cries of distress and moans of fretfulness.
Sometimes she seemed to be trying to overtake something that was
constantly eluding her.  First it was a long, lank creature with
piercing eyes and a knob at the back of its head which it seemed to be
Nan's duty, not to say pleasure, to shoot off with a paper of needles.
Then it was something she must recollect or be put to death for
forgetting; some awful harangue that she had been doomed to deliver
before Delia and a vast crowd of other people, all of whom were staring
at her regretfully and murmuring to one another that it was a shame
such a hoyden should be allowed to live; and again it was some dainty
little creature with tender eyes and shining hair that Nan longed to
follow but could not because of something inside her breast that held
her back and would not let her call.

Miss Blake did not go to her room until very late.  She and Delia kept
up a steady stream of conversation until long after midnight, and even
then the governess would not have paused if Delia had not been struck
with sudden compunction.

"Dear heart alive!" she cried, scrambling to her feet hastily as the
clock chimed twelve.  "Here you've been wore out with tiredness and
excitement and I keep you up till all hours pressin' you with questions
that you ain't fit to answer, just as if we wouldn't have time an' to
spare together for the rest of our lives, please Heaven!  Now go to
bed, dearie, so you'll be all rested and fresh in the morning."

Miss Blake shook her head.  "No, not all the rest of our lives
together, Delia," she cried, hurriedly; "it can only be for a year at
most.  You said it would be a year, didn't you?  Well, then, you know I
could not stay after that."

"Go to bed, dearie," was Delia's sole response.  "And may you sleep
easy and have no dreams."

She took her upstairs herself, just as if the governess had been a
little girl; and was not satisfied until she had brushed out the masses
of shining hair and woven them into a long, ruddy braid behind.  Then
she smoothed the pillow lovingly and with another hearty "sleep well"
went down stairs to "do up" her dishes and get the house closed for the
night.

When she finally stole up to her own room through the pitchy halls she
was glad to see that there was no light in the governess' room and that
all was darkness and silence within.

"Good!  She's asleep by this time, the dear!" murmured the faithful
soul, and was soon snoring peacefully herself, quite worn out with the
excitement of the evening.

But Miss Blake was not asleep.  Her eyes stared widely into the
darkness and her brain was spinning with all sorts of teasing thoughts.
She listened to the ticking of her watch beneath her pillow--to the
muffled chime of the tall clock in the room below--to the gentle rattle
of plaster inside the walls where some hidden mouse was scuttling in
search of a stolen supper, and tried to soothe herself into a doze but
failed and tried and failed again.

Suddenly she sat bolt upright in bed.  The sound she heard now was a
new one, and one that caused her flesh to tingle.  It was the sound of
a stealthy hand upon her door.  The knob turned noiselessly, the hinges
gave a faint whine, and there on the threshold stood a white-robed
figure, ghastly and spectral in the pallid light that fell upon it from
the cloud-freed moon outside.  Miss Blake did not utter a sound and the
apparition glided forward with slow, measured steps until it stood
beside her bed.  Its eyes were staring and wide and fixed.

"It's Nan!" thought Miss Blake, not daring to speak aloud.

The apparition did not remove its gaze.  Presently it sighed.  Then it
raised its head and spoke and its voice was weirdly low and mournful.

"Alas, alas!" it wailed.  "This is the worst thing that ever happened
to me in all my life.  My dear old home!  To think that anybody who
isn't wanted should come and push herself like this into my dear old
home!  What does she know of the way I feel?  I can never tell her how
I hate to have her here, for that would be unladylike.  But oh, how I
hate it!  No, I must keep my lips closed and bear her persecution in
silence."

Two white hands were raised and wrung in a way that was truly tragic.

"O father, father!" groaned the ghost, making wild grabs at its hair,
"come home from Bombay and save me from this awful woman.  Turn her out
of the house.  Make her go back where she came from.  Her hated form
haunts me in my sleep and I dream all night of her as I see her in the
daytime."

Miss Blake caught her breath in a struggling gasp of dread as to what
would come next.

"Tall and thin and lanky, with hair all dragged into that ugly little
hard knob at the back of her head!"

The ghost paused, and its uneasy hands clasped each other convulsively
while it showed plainly that it was confused in its mind and struggling
to grasp a thought it could not express.

Miss Blake breathed a deep sigh of relief.  She had really begun to
suspect that it was a vision of herself that was haunting Nan in her
nightmare.  Of course now she knew better.  For surely she was not
"tall and lanky," and her hair was certainly not "dragged into an ugly
little knob at the back of her head."  How grateful she was it had not
proved to be herself.

"O father! her eyes are like needles."

Miss Blake could have shouted for joy.  But who could this awful
bugbear be?

"They prick me when she looks!  Save me!  Save me! my heart will break
if some one doesn't come and rescue me from this terrible person.  Take
her away!  She's coming at me with her needly eyes!  Daddy!  Daddy!"

The uneasy spirit rocked backward and forward in the intensity of its
emotion.  It stretched out its arms and wagged a threatening
forefinger, while it mumbled some unintelligible warning in a voice
that faltered and wavered, and then frayed off to a mere wheeze that
sounded suspiciously like a snore.

Miss Blake would have risen if she had dared, but she dreaded the
effect even the slightest shock might have upon Nan, in what she never
doubted was a somnambulistic trance.  But when the white-robed figure
turned slowly about and retraced its steps to the threshold, she
started up and noiselessly followed after to make sure that the girl
arrived safely in her own bed and showed no sign of further wandering
that night.

Never was a passage from room to room made more deliberately, and when
the bed was reached the phantom scrambled into it, dragged the blankets
closely about her shoulders and with a sigh of satisfaction settled
herself to slumber.

The governess crept back to her own room, thoroughly chilled and
shivering with nervousness.  It was an hour or more before she felt
herself growing drowsy, but at last she dropped asleep and slept
heavily until long past the usual rising hour.

Nan waked at her accustomed time, feeling tired and irritable.  She
found Delia in the kitchen, preparing a tempting breakfast with more
than her habitual care.

"Huh!" grunted the girl.  "We have hot muffins every morning, don't we?
And griddle-cakes! and eggs, and scallops, and fried potatoes, too!
Oh, no! we're not making any fuss for the governess.  Oh, no! none at
all!  If I were you I'd be ashamed of myself, Delia Connor!"

Delia pursed her lips together and made no retort.

It did not improve Nan's temper to have to wait for her breakfast until
Miss Blake should appear.  But Delia made no attempt to serve her, and
she was too proud to ask.  Happily the delay was not too serious, and
the governess appeared at the dining-room door just in time to prevent
the muffins from falling and Nan's temper from rising.

"Good morning!" said the cheery voice.

"--morning!" snapped Nan.

"I overslept," continued the governess apologetically; "and I am
thoroughly ashamed of myself.  I beg your pardon.  But I was very
tired.  I did not sleep over-well the first part of the night."

"You're not late--or--or anything," said Nan.  "I never get up till I
feel like it."

Miss Blake made no comment.

"And how did you sleep?" she asked after a moment, her eyes laughing
mischievously as though in spite of her, while her face remained quite
sober.

"All right," responded Nan, uncommunicatively.

"No dreams?"

The girl shook her head non-committally.

"Now, I wonder whether I could tell you your dream," ventured the
governess, the light fading a little in her eyes.

Nan did not encourage her to try.

"You were being pursued by some awful creature--oh, quite a gorgon, I
should say!"

The girl lifted her head.

"This relentless creature was deaf to all your appeals, though you
appealed to her touchingly, something after this style: Alas, Alas!
this is the worst thing that ever happened to me in all my--"

"Stop!" cried Nan, suddenly, with blazing eyes, "I didn't!  I didn't!
Delia listened.  She told on me.  You're making fun of me, and you're
both of you just as mean as you can be, so there!"

She started up from her chair, which she thrust behind her so roughly
that it fell to the ground with a bang, and rushed toward the door in a
fury of anger and mortification.

Miss Blake sprang from her place and tried to detain her, crying:

"Nan, Nan!  What do you mean?  I was only in sport!  Come back, dear,
and let me tell you all about it."  But the girl fled past her,
flinging her hand passionately away and spurning her attempt at
explanation.  A moment later the street door flung to with a loud slam.

The quick tears sprang to the governess' eyes, but she crushed them
back.

"Don't mind her, dearie," said Delia, consolingly, but with an effort
and a sigh.  "She ain't always like this.  She's sorter upset just now.
She don't mean any harm, and she'll be sorry enough for what she's done
come lunchtime.  Now, you see."

"But I don't understand," Miss Blake cried.  "She said you listened and
that you told me, and that we were both making fun of her.  She thinks
we are in league against her.  What can she mean?  Why, I was only
repeating some nonsense she said in her sleep last night, and I thought
she would be amused to hear an account of it.  She came into my room
and orated in the most tragic fashion.  What does she mean by saying
you listened and told me?"

Delia shook her head.  What she privately thought on the subject she
would not have told Miss Blake for worlds.

"If you take my advice," she ventured, "you won't mind what Nan says.
She's quick as a flash, but she's got a good, big heart of her own, and
it's in the right place, too.  Just let her be."

"Let her be?" interrupted Miss Blake, hastily, "not if this is the way
she is going to be.  That is not what I am here for.  I am here to
educate her, Delia, and I intend to do it."

Delia could see that she meant what she said.  There was a determined
expression about her mouth that would have surprised Nan if she had
seen it.  But at noon, when she returned, the governess' face was as
placid as ever.  She and Delia were discussing the price of butter in
the most intimate fashion possible, and Nan snorted audibly as she
heard them agree that it was ruinously high.

Delia had played a poor enough part before, "kow-towing" to the enemy
the first thing, but now she had deliberately betrayed her--Nan.  Had
"gone back on her" in the most flagrant fashion.  It was the meanest
thing she had ever heard of and she'd pay Delia back, you see if she
wouldn't!  To listen at key-holes and then go and tell-tale!

"Have you had a pleasant morning?" Miss Blake asked, affably, as Nan
entered the room.

She got a grudging affirmative, but nothing daunted she continued: "It
is so cold now there ought to be good skating.  Perhaps you and I can
take a spin some day.  Do you skate?"

Again Nan answered "Yes," but this time there was a gleam of interest
in her tone.

"When my trunk comes I must show you my skates.  I think them
particularly fine: altogether too fine for one who skates as
indifferently well as I do.  I am sure you will prove a much better
skater than I am.  Somehow I fancy you are very proficient."

"I like to skate, and I guess I can do it pretty well.  My father
taught me--to do figures and things.  I don't know any one who can
skate as well as my father!" said Nan, with pardonable pride.

"I used to skate a great deal when I lived in Holland," Miss Blake
observed.  "There every one is so expert that I used to feel like a
great bungler.  Seeing others do so beautifully made me feel as though
I were particularly awkward, and I really did keep in the background
because I was so ashamed of my clumsy performances.  Perhaps though,
that was only an excuse for my not being able to do better, and one
ought not to offer excuses, ought one?  Is there any pond near here on
which we might skate?"

Nan's eyes gleamed.

"Why, yes," she said.  "We could go to the Park, or if you didn't want
to go there, there's a sort of a pond they call the 'Steamer,' quite
near here.  Lots of people skate on it, and it's lovely fun.  And
there's a place the other side of the Boulevard, where you can coast
beautifully.  It's a jolly hill.  We take our bobs there, and--the boys
and me--and--"

"I," suggested Miss Blake, casually--"the boys and I."

Nan blinked her eyes.  The correction, however, passed by unresented.

"The folks here think it isn't nice for me to bob, and--and things.
They think it's rough!"

"Perhaps," ventured Miss Blake, "that may be because they have seen it
done in a rough way, or by rough persons.  You know a great deal
depends upon how you do a thing."

Again Nan blinked her eyes.  She was thinking as she had the night
before:

"Pooh!  I can manage her," while Miss Blake, quite unconscious of what
was going on in her pupil's mind, continued: "I think if the weather
holds, we may have some very good sport, you and I.  Don't you think
so?  And now run upstairs and smooth your hair and wash your hands, for
Delia will have luncheon ready very shortly, and one must make one's
self tidy for meals, you know."

And then a very singular thing occurred.  Nan found herself on the
stairs in obedience to the governess' command almost before she was
aware, and she proceeded to make herself tidy, with no thought of
refusal at all.

But at luncheon came the first tug-of-war.

Nan was about to repeat her performance of the morning, namely, to push
her chair aside when she had finished eating and unceremoniously leave
the table.

"Oh, pardon me!" interposed Miss Blake, quickly.  "Please remain at the
table!  You were excused at breakfast, but I am sure there is no
necessity for your running away again.  We must pay each other the
respect to remain seated until we have both finished eating.  You see,
I am still drinking my tea, and you must allow me another of Delia's
delicious cookies."

It was all said very gently, but Nan recognized beneath all the kind
suggestion an unmistakable tone of command.

She thrust her chair back still further.

"I don't want to wait!" she answered, dryly.  "I hate sitting at the
table after I'm through.  You can eat all the cookies you like, only I
don't want to wait."

"Ah, but, my dear, I want you to wait," Miss Blake said.  "I demand of
you no more than I myself am willing to do.  We must be courteous to
each other, and if you had not finished eating I should most certainly
remain until you had.  I expect you to do no less for me."

"Well, I can't help it!  I don't want to stay and I--I won't!" declared
Nan, with a sudden burst of defiance.

"Very well," returned Miss Blake, calmly.  "Of course, you are too old
to be forced to act in a ladylike manner if you do not desire to do so.
But, equally, I am too old to be treated with discourtesy and
disrespect.  If you are willing to behave in a rude manner and bear the
reproach that you will deserve, why, well and good--or, rather, ill and
bad!  But I cannot sit at table with any but gentle mannered people.
Unless you wish to behave as becomes a lady, we must take our meals
apart."

There was no smile now on the governess' face.  Nan suddenly got the
impression that perhaps it would not be quite "as easy as pie" to
"manage" Miss Blake.  It seemed to the girl that for the first time in
her life she had encountered determination outside of her own.  It
challenged her from every line in the governess' little figure.  For a
moment she hesitated before it.  Then, gathering herself together and
summoning her dumb demon, she gave her shoulders a sullen shrug and
left the room without a word.

Miss Blake finished her luncheon as though nothing had happened.  Then
she rose, and, going into the kitchen, said a few words to Delia--words
that caused the good woman to blink hard for a second and then
exclaimed:

"Yes'm.  I will.  It hurts me to cross the child, but I s'pose it is
best.  You have a brave spirit to set yourself against Nan.  I wouldn't
have the stren'th, let alone the will.  But I s'pose you know what you
can do."

"Oh, yes, Delia," replied the governess, with conviction.  "I know very
well what I can do, but I shouldn't know if I did not have you to help
me.  We're both conspiring for Nan's good, and we have to work
together."

The rest of the afternoon Miss Blake spent in unpacking her trunk and
in disposing of its contents.  Beside the trunk there was a cumbersome
case, a hamper, and a large crate such as is used for the shipment of
bicycles.  Delia gazed at it in wonderment.  Did the governess use a
wheel?  If so, what would Mrs. Newton say?  Delia trembled at the
thought, and eyed the box with especial interest as it was being
carried down stairs and deposited in the basement hall closet.

Nan wandered in about twilight and found the house cheerfully lighted
and warm and comfortable.  There was a fire in the library grate, and
she threw herself into a chair before it and lounged there luxuriously,
while above her head the new governess was tripping to and fro,
"putting her room to rights," Nan suspected.  She wondered about that
room.  She would have liked to go up there and see if those skates had
arrived, but of course she could not do that.  The governess must not
think she cared to see her when she wasn't forced to.  No, indeed!

Later Miss Blake came down stairs, and drawing her chair nearer the
lamp, commenced to sew.  Presently up came Delia.

"Miss Blake," she said, with an emphasis Nan noticed and did not like,
"your dinner is served."

Nan jumped up with an exaggerated yawn.  Her hair was rough and
disordered, her frock was rumpled and untidy, her hands were obviously
soiled.  Miss Blake remarked on none of these things.  She laid her bit
of needle-work upon the table and quietly passed down stairs before Nan.

The table was set for one, and the governess seated herself before the
solitary place.

Nan stood at the side of the table in stiff and silent amazement.

"Where's my place, Delia?" she called, ignoring Miss Blake, except for
an angry flash of her eyes.

But Miss Blake was not to be ignored.

"I thought you had decided to dine alone," she said.  "At least, that
was the impression you conveyed to me at luncheon.  If you have changed
your mind, Delia can easily set your place.  Shall she do so?"

The question was simple, but Nan knew what it involved.  She was
speechless with rage.  Her face alternately flushed and paled, while
her lips twitched spasmodically.

"I--I--hate you!" she cried at last, with breathless vehemence.
"You've no right here.  When my father comes he'll send you right away.
You see if he don't!"

She flung herself in a paroxysm of anger out of the room.

Miss Blake ate her dinner, it is true, but perhaps it was scarcely
strange that her relish of it was not great.  Every mouthful seemed to
choke her.  Delia saw her hand tremble as she raised her tumbler of
water to her lips.

"This'll make you sick, dearie, this striving with Nan.  She'll never
give in!  Her will is that strong."

But the governess shook her head.

Nan ate no dinner that night, and the next day she slept late; that is,
she remained in bed late.  Lying there cross and unhappy, she heard
sounds of voices in Miss Blake's room.  Occasionally there were other
sounds as well; sounds of hammering and the moving of furniture across
the floor.

When Nan was "good and ready" she rose and strolled down stairs with an
air of nonchalance that was for Miss Blake's benefit, should she chance
to see.

She found the dining-room in perfect order and the kitchen deserted.
No breakfast, hot and tempting, awaited her as of old.  Delia was
evidently upstairs, and Nan was too stubborn to call her down.  She
prowled about the closets and cupboards until she discovered some cold
oatmeal, a bit of meat also cold, and a slice of bread.  These, with a
cup of chilling milk, she gulped down hastily and with a thorough
disrelish.

"Ugh!" she exclaimed, "how I hate it--and her!"

It was a cheerless morning.  The temperature had risen and a thick rain
was falling.  There was nothing to do out-of-doors so Nan remained
within.  It was Friday, and one of Delia's sweeping days.  She was shut
up in the draughty parlor with a mob-cap on her head "cleaning for dear
life," as she expressed it.  After a brief experience of the cold and
discomfort of open windows and clouds of dust, Nan gave up trying to
talk to Delia and wandered out of the parlor as disconsolately as she
had wandered into it.  By and by she heard Miss Blake's door open and
close and saw the governess come forth, leave the house, and walk
rapidly down the street.  She turned in at the Newton's gate and
disappeared behind the vestibule door.  Nan had flown to the window to
gaze after her.

"Whatever can she want there," wondered the girl.

The question bothered her.  She had not been able to get direct news of
Ruth's condition because she had not dared inquire again after the way
she had been treated, but in a round-about manner she had heard that
the child had a fever.

"What fever?" she wondered.  "Do people die of fever?  If she dies will
that be because I left her on the ground while I ran to get that
milkman to help carry her home?"

Miss Blake was not gone long, but it was luncheon-time when she
returned.

"Ah, good morning!" she said, pleasantly, to Nan, who happened to be in
the hall.  "I have pleasant news for you.  Your little friend Ruth
Newton is better, and her mamma says she would be grateful to you and
me if we would come in once in a while and help her to amuse the poor
child.  Will you go with me to-morrow?  Mrs. Newton said particularly
that she hoped you would."

A curious expression flitted across Nan's face.

"Mrs. Newton hates me," she announced.  "She doesn't want me to see
Ruth."

Miss Blake drew off her gloves carefully.

"I have explained certain matters to Mrs. Newton, Nan," she said, "and
she is quite satisfied that she was partly mistaken in her judgment of
you the other day.  She says that she is willing to apologize for some
of her accusations, and she has written you a little note.  Now, come,
and we will both go down to luncheon.  I see Delia is here to tell us
it is served."

"She takes it for granted I'll go," thought Nan, and indeed she went
quite willingly, and what was more, remained respectfully seated in her
place until Miss Blake gave her permission to depart by rising herself.



CHAPTER VI

WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS

"I think, Delia," said the governess, as Nan was about to go upstairs,
"if you have an ax, or something of the sort, I'll try to unbox my
bicycle."

Nan came to an abrupt halt.  Bicycle!  The word went through her with
an electric thrill, and sent her blood tingling.  Then she dragged
herself unwillingly away.  What had she to do with the bicycle of a
woman she hated.

"O Nan!" Miss Blake exclaimed, before the girl's lagging footsteps had
carried her halfway up the staircase, "I'm sure your strong young arms
can help us with this big elephant.  Will you lend a hand?"

Now could the governess have suspected that that was precisely what Nan
had been longing to do?  But she could not have lingered unless she had
been given the excuse by Miss Blake herself.  Had the request been made
to serve as that excuse?

Nan did not stop to question.  She came flinging down stairs, two steps
at a time, and Miss Blake and Delia smiled above her head as she bent
down, wrenching and tugging with her main strength at the boards and
stubborn nails, too excited to know that half the force she used would
have served her better.

"There! that's my bicycle!" announced Miss Blake, displaying the
beautiful machine with the pride of a possessor, when the last stay had
been unscrewed, and the slender wheel stood revealed in all the glory
of its spotless nickel-plate and rubber tires.

Nan gazed at it in speechless admiration.  It had been the dream of her
life to own such a machine, but she had pleaded for one in vain.  Mr.
Turner had explained to her that what money he held in trust for her
was no more than served to pay for her running expenses.

"You know your father is not a rich man," he had said, "and lately he
has met with losses.  He wishes you to be brought up under home
influences rather than at a boarding-school among strangers.  He
desires you to be well educated, and naturally all this costs.  Your
father is willing to make many sacrifices that you may be well provided
for, but he is not able to indulge you in a matter like this of the
bicycle.  I wish I did not have to refuse you, but I think with him,
that your most important need should be supplied first, and if after
that little remains for mere indulgence, you must be satisfied.  By and
by you will see that his course is best, if you do not see it already."

But Nan had never been able to feel that it was best that she should
not have a bicycle.  Now that the new governess had come and had proved
so "horrid," she felt it still less.  "Half the money she gets would
buy me a first-rate safety," she had thought often and often and often,
as she groaned over her father's perversity.

But here was one of the wonderful affairs actually in the house, and if
it did not belong to her, what of that?  What was it the governess was
just saying?

"I am quite sure you could use this wheel if we should shift the saddle
up a bit, that is, if you care to ride.  As soon as the ground is clear
I will teach you if you like."

Nan's face was radiant.  "Oh, I know how," she said.  "I've practiced
lots on--on--a person's I know.  Only it wasn't a--a--girl's wheel.
But I can ride."

Miss Blake was rubbing down the slender spokes with a piece of chamois
skin.

"You are welcome to use mine, then," she said simply.

Nan choked out a meagre "Thank you."  It was not a gracious
acknowledgment, but the governess accepted it, and really felt a glow
of satisfaction in having called out even so much as an acceptance of
her favor from her arbitrary young charge.

"Small favors thankfully received," she thought with a smile at her own
humility.

Nan stood leaning against the wall with her hands behind her, watching
the manoeuvres of the leathern rag as it flashed up and down the nickel
spokes and around and about the hubs, guided by the dexterous hand of
the little governess.

"Yes, I think we can pass many a jolly hour on this machine," resumed
Miss Blake, "after the ground is clear of snow, and after we are clear
of our lessons.  We'll begin our studies on Monday, Nan.  That will be
commencing with the new week, and we must be very conscientious about
our work before we indulge in any play."

"There!" thought Nan, with a rush of antagonism, "I might have known
she'd make some kind of a fuss before she'd let me use it.  I guess
she's sorry she promised in the first place, and wants to kind of back
out of it.  Oh, well, I might have known.  Now she'll pile on lessons
and things till there's no time for anything else.  That's her way of
getting out of it."

But she made no comment.  She stood kicking her heel against the
surbase, silently watching the sparkling machine.  Presently she turned
and stalked upstairs without a word.

Delia gave Miss Blake an apologetic glance, but the governess
composedly rose, and, stowing her property safely away against the
closet wall, closed the door upon it and with a kind word to the woman
beside her went upstairs as though nothing had happened.

She knew what was in Nan's mind.  She could read it as distinctly as if
the sudden wrinkles on her forehead and the quick set of her obstinate
jaw had been printed text.

"Poor child!" thought the governess, "how she hates study and--me.  How
she rebels against restraint.  So she thinks I am trying to take back
my word.  No wonder that makes her furious."

She went into her room and closed the door, but after a moment she came
back and opened it again.

"Nan might feel shut out," she said to herself, and so she left it
standing invitingly ajar that in case the girl cared to come in she
would not have to knock.  She smiled to herself as she did it.  She
knew well enough Nan would not care to come in.  "Still there might be
a chance!"--she left the door open on the chance.

The more Nan thought of Delia's baseness the more she inwardly raged
against it.  She sat in her own room with her feet over the register
and munched caramels and nursed her grievance all the afternoon.  Delia
was miserable.  She had tried by every means in her power to win at
least a look from the girl, but all her attempts were repelled and she
was treated with an overbearance that cut her to the quick.  At last
she could stand it no longer.  She left her work and went upstairs "to
have it out with Nan" and be done with it.

She knocked repeatedly at her bedroom door, but the girl obstinately
refused to utter the word of admittance.  Delia was not to be daunted,
however, by this, and at last, turning the knob, she walked boldly in
and confronted Nan squarely.

"See here, Nan," she began without waiting, "I want to know what's the
matter with you that you treat me so?  Me that has waited on you hand
and foot and tended you night and day since you was a little baby?"

The girl did not deign to raise her eyes from her book--or else they
were so rapidly filling with tears that she did not dare to do so.

Delia gulped.  "Can't you answer a civil question?" she faltered,
trying to be firm and failing utterly.

Nan cast her book to the floor and sprang up to face the woman with
blazing cheeks and eyes that flashed angry fire.

"You'd better ask me what's the matter, Delia Connor!" she burst out in
a trembling voice.  "As if you didn't know!  Do you s'pose I'll bear
everything?  It's bad enough--your being such an awful turn-coat!  You
went over to her side the first thing, and every time she bosses me you
just stand there and let her do it and never say a word.  You let her
order me about like everything and never stand up for me a bit.  Her--a
perfect stranger!  Somebody you never saw in all your life before!  But
that isn't the worst of it!  Do you s'pose I'm going to stand your
coming to my door and listening at the key-hole when I was rehearsing
and then going and telling on me--telling her all I was going to do to
her, I'd like to know?  You just wanted to get on the right side of
her, and it was the meanest thing I ever heard of in all my life.  You
came and peeked at me when I was rehearsing and then went and told her,
and I s'pose you both laughed and had a fine time over it.  You thought
you were very smart, didn't you?  But you got there too soon, Delia
Connor, for I had made up my mind I wouldn't do it, so there!  But now
you've both been so mean, I don't care who knows what I was going to
do.  I hope you told her that I don't want her here.  I hope you told
her every bit of that thing I learned by heart on purpose to recite to
her.  I hope you repeated every word of it.  It's true and I hope she
knows it.  I hope--"

"For the land's sake, Nan, do be still," broke out Delia at last after
a dozen futile attempts to stem the tide of the girl's anger.  "I
didn't listen nor peek nor anything, and you scream so loud she'll hear
every word you say.  You--now be quiet and let me speak--you walked in
your sleep last night.  You went into her room and said off a whole lot
of balderdash to her--enough to set her against you for the rest of her
life--if she ever finds out you really meant it."

Nan gave Delia an imploring, frightened look.

"Delia," she gasped, breathlessly, "do you--do you think she heard?"

Delia shook her head.

"Couldn't say for the life of me," she replied.  "Her door may have
been open when I came up; I didn't notice."

Nan looked the picture of dismay.  "Wait a minute!--I'll go see!" she
whispered earnestly, and tip-toed noiselessly into the hall.  A second
later she returned, radiant with reassurance.

"Her door is tight shut, and she's making so much noise inside her room
she couldn't possibly have heard.  Sounds as if she was dragging trunks
around or something."

"Perhaps she's packing to go 'way," suggested Delia, with a grain of
malice.

Nan fairly jumped with--well, if it wasn't joy it was something equally
as moving in its way.  "Oh, no, no!" she cried, in a sudden fever of
excitement.  "I don't want her to leave--like that.  Just think how
awful it would be to have her leave--like that!  Can't you go to her
and say I'm--you're good friends with her.  Delia, won't you please go
and tell her I didn't really mean to say off that speech at her.  I
learned it before she came, and I meant to recite it, but when I found
that she was different--so little and kind of--different, I thought it
would be mean to do it, and I gave it up.  Do go and tell her, Delia,
please, and oh, won't you hurry?"

"Now see here, Nan," interposed the woman.  "Our best plan is to wait
and see what she is going to do.  If she hasn't heard, it's all right,
and telling her would only put the fat in the fire.  On the other hand,
if she has heard and is packing up to go 'way, why, it wouldn't do much
good, I'm afraid, to try to stop her.  With all being such a lady and
so gentle in her ways, she's got a mind of her own--I can see that--and
you won't be like to get her to change it.  But she'll tell you
good-bye before she leaves, she's too much of a lady not to, no matter
how she feels, and then you can say your say, and I promise you
faithful I'll back you up."

Nan saw the wisdom of Delia's counsel, and tried to content herself to
wait.  But the suspense of every minute was awful, and she felt herself
growing frenzied under the strain.  After a time the commotion in the
next room ceased, and all was quiet as the grave.  "She's getting on
her hat now," gasped Nan.  "She'll go away and think I'm a heathen and
all sorts of horrid things.  And she hasn't got any friends or folks of
her own, and no house to go to but this.  And I s'pose she's awfully
poor, because she wouldn't be a governess if she wasn't, and oh, dear!
I don't want to have any one be a beggar, and turned out of the only
roof they've got over their heads on my account.  That's what makes me
feel so bad, Delia.  That's the only thing.  If she will go on her own
account I'll--I'll be glad, but--oh, she mustn't go this way!"

Delia turned away her face to hide a smile.

"There's nothing to do but wait," she insisted.  "If I go in there and
tell her, and she hasn't heard, why it would only give you away; don't
you see?"

Nan let herself down in her rocking-chair with a dismal drop.  "O
dear!" she cried, "I never saw anything like it!  The way things go
wrong in this house!  It's just perfectly horrid!  I wish I was with my
father, I do so!  I guess it's nicer in India than it is here, anyway;
and I'm sick and tired of living cooped up in this old stuffy place.
So there!"

Delia dusted some imaginary dust off the table with the corner of her
apron, and went down stairs to finish up her work.

In the street below the huckster was yelling "Chestnuts!  Fresh-roasted
chestnuts!"  The little charcoal oven in his push-cart sent out a
shrill, continuous whistle, and Nan had an impulse to throw something
at him.  What business had he to come here and make such a racket that
she couldn't hear what was going on in the next room.  He passed slowly
down the street, his call and the whistle of his oven growing fainter
and fainter, and finally fading quite away as he disappeared in the
distance.  Nan pricked up her ears.  Surely the sounds she heard were
those of moving feet in the next room.  Back and forth they went, now
nearer, that was to the closet, now further away again, that must be to
the bureau.  What could the governess be doing?  The lid of her trunk
was dropped, and Nan could distinctly hear the click of the catches as
they fell in place.  There was no further doubt about it!  Miss Blake
was going.  A moment later, and before Nan could collect her wits, the
door of the next room was briskly opened and closed, and the governess,
hatted and cloaked, sped quickly from the house.

Nan flew to the balusters with a hasty cry upon her lips, but was just
in time to see the door swing heavily to; and that was all.  She flung
herself down stairs two steps at a time.

"There now, Delia Connor," she cried, bursting into the kitchen with
such vehemence that the very tins rattled on their shelves.  "There,
now!  What did I tell you?  She's gone--Miss Blake's gone.  Trunks
packed--!  Everything's packed!  She'll send men to get them.  She's
gone clean off.  I told you what it would be, and you wouldn't go and
speak to her.  And now my father will be disgraced, and Mr. Turner will
blame me, and--it's all your fault, and I'll tell my father; so there!"

Delia's face paled suddenly.  She set her lips together tight.

"It's well you have some one to lay the blame on, child!" she said
shortly, and went upstairs without another word.  Nan did not care to
follow her into the governess' room, but stood outside and waited to
hear her verdict when she should have examined the premises.

"Well?" asked the girl, eagerly, as soon as she came out.

"Her trunk's shut and locked, that's certain!"

"Then she's gone for good!"

"She's gone.  There ain't a doubt about that!"

"You said she would surely say good-bye, Delia Connor, you know you
did.  You said no matter how she felt, she was such a lady she'd be
certain to say good-bye!"

"Well, and I really thought so.  I believe now she'd have said
good-bye, if--"

"If I hadn't been such a--brat?  Say it right out, Delia!  You mean it
and you might as well say what you think," broke in the girl bitterly.

Delia turned on her heel and stalked grimly down stairs.  A second
later she heard a rush of flying feet behind her, and the next moment
two arms were locked about her neck.

"Poor old Delia," cried Nan, in one of her sudden bursts of remorse.
"I'm the horridest girl that ever lived!  I know it as well as you do,
and if you weren't the patientest thing in the world you wouldn't stand
it for a minute.  But don't you go away from me too, Delia!  Please
don't!  Honest Injun, I'll try to behave!  Cross my heart I will.  And
I tell you this much, I feel just awfully about Miss Blake.  I
shouldn't wonder a bit but it would snow tonight, and she hasn't a
place to go and no money, and--O dear!  I feel like a person that ought
to be in jail!"

Delia extricated herself gently from the clinging arms.  "What makes
you think Miss Blake's as poverty-stricken as that?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't know," responded the girl.  "But I just feel she is.  And
she is so little too.  She looked so glad to get into this house that I
guess she never had much of a place to stay before."

"She don't dress like a person that's next-door to a beggar," mused
Delia.

"No, she doesn't.  She has really pretty things, hasn't she?  But I
guess they're made over and cast-off, or something.  Maybe the lady she
lived with last gave them to her?" speculated Nan.

"Maybe she did," said Delia.

The two made their way slowly down to the kitchen.  It was beginning to
grow dark and the dinner must be prepared.

"I never in all my life saw such little hands and feet," the girl
pursued.  "And she's dreadfully particular about them.  There's never a
speck on her fingers that she doesn't run right up and scrub them, and
she wears the cunningest slippers I ever saw."

"I guess she comes of nice folks," said Delia, as she began to peel the
potatoes.

"Wonder why she doesn't stay with them then?" put in Nan.

"Perhaps they're dead."

Nan pondered.  Her own motherless life had given her a very tender
sympathy for those whose "folks" were dead.  For the first time she
felt sorry for Miss Blake.  She was uneasy and distressed.  It made her
shift about uncomfortably in her chair.

"Goodness me!" she ejaculated impatiently at last, and then one of her
wild impulses took possession of her and she ran frantically up into
her own room and flung on her coat and hat.

"The whole thing's as plain as preaching.  Why didn't I think of it
before?" she said to herself, with a shake of impatience.  "Mr. Turner
told Miss Blake if she was worried or anything to go to him.  She
hasn't any money, and she's left here, so of course that's where she
is.  I'll go and bring her back."

The front door opened and shut with a bang, and Nan was out in the
street alone.  As she scudded down the pavement the electric lights
suddenly gleamed out pale and vivid from their lofty globes, and sent
wavering shadows flashing across her path.

"It's pretty late and it'll be dark as a pocket in a little while,"
thought she; but that did not detain her, and she raced on, putting
block after block between her and home in her ardor to make reparation
and to lighten her heart of its weight of compunction.



CHAPTER VII

OPEN CONFESSION

Nan knew the way to Mr. Turner's house perfectly, though she had not
been able to give Mrs. Newton the street and number.  She was observing
and clear-headed, and could have been trusted to find her way about the
entire city alone, but her father had often cautioned Delia and the
girl herself against putting her power to the test, and so it happened
that until now she had never been any considerable distance away from
home after twilight without a companion.  The way was perfectly
familiar to her--but it had never seemed so interminably long.  She
could have taken a car, but in her haste to get off she had forgotten
her pocketbook.  She saw the "trolleys" fly past her in quick
succession, and it seemed to her they whizzed jeeringly at her as they
sped.  She was by nature so fearless that even if the street had not
been thronged she would not have been afraid.  As it was she was only
alarmed lest she would get to Mr. Turner's and find Miss Blake gone.

She hurried on breathlessly, fairly skipping with impatience and
wondering what explanation she could give the lawyer in case the
governess had not told him the real reason of her departure.  Somehow
it flashed into Nan's mind that Miss Blake would not expose her.  She
was busied with this reflection as she turned off the broad,
well-lighted thoroughfare into the dimmer side-street upon which Mr.
Turner lived, and she ran up the steps of his house with the question
still unsettled.  It was not a moment before the door was opened to her
and she was admitted to the warm, luxuriously furnished drawing-room.
It was Nan's ideal of a house: "all full of curtains and soft carpets
and beautiful things."  She seated herself before the burning log-fire
with a sensation of deep well-being--only it was a little over-shadowed
by her worry about the governess.

"Well, my little lady, and what brings you here at this time of day?"
was Mr. Turner's greeting, as he strode across the room to meet her.

"O Mr. Turner!" began Nan, bluntly, "I came to see you about Miss
Blake.  I want to know--I wonder if you--"

"Indeed!  And how is that charming lady?  You must tell her I had hoped
to see her before this, but I have been unusually busy, and every
moment has been taken up.  Now tell me, isn't it as I said?  Hasn't she
completely won your heart?  Aha!  I see she has!  I see she has!"

Nan flushed and stammered, and did not reply.  Inwardly, she was in a
turmoil.  Either Miss Blake had not come here at all or the lawyer was
trying to baffle her.  And if Miss Blake had not come here, then where
was she?  A sort of dumb terror took hold of the girl and shook her
from head to foot.

"You see I was right," pursued the lawyer, cheerfully.  "I knew you
would surrender to her the first thing.  Every one does.  I think I
never knew any one who was more universally loved.  Now, how can I help
you, my dear?  Give you some extra pin-money to buy Miss Blake a
Christmas present, eh?  Is that it?"

Nan caught at the suggestion eagerly as being a way out of her
difficulty, and nodded a gulping assent.

"Well, you needn't have traveled all this distance for such a simple
matter, my dear," he assured her genially.  "And after dark, too!  A
note would have served, you know; a note would have served.  But I'm
glad you like her so well, and you shall have the money at once.  Your
father would be delighted I am sure."

It was only after Nan had been gone some time that Mr. Turner
remembered with a start that she was alone and that it was night.  It
was too late then to overtake her, so he had to resign himself with the
thought that the girl was admirably self-reliant, and that her way lay
almost entirely along well-lit and busy avenues.

The thought of danger did not occupy Nan for a moment.  Her only fear
now was for the governess.  If she wasn't at Mr. Turner's, then where
was she?  She asked herself this question over and over again.  The
girl blushed as she thought of the untruth she had been guilty of in
implying that the lawyer's suggestion had been her motive in coming to
him.  She sharpened her pace, as if to outstrip the memory of her
misdeed, but it, with her other worry, seemed to pursue her, and
presently her imagination so quickened at the thought that she actually
fancied she heard some one behind keeping step with her.  She broke
into a brisk run.  Clap! clap! came the sound of hastening feet behind
her.  With a sort of tortured courage she slackened her pace.  Whatever
was following her also took a slower gait.  She cast a furtive look
over her shoulder and gave a horrified gasp as her eyes squarely
encountered two other eyes, which were fixed upon her own in an
insulting leer from beneath the rim of a rakish felt hat which was worn
tilted on the side of a very unprepossessing head.  The eyes, bad as
they were, proved the best feature in a thoroughly vicious face, and
for the first time in her life Nan felt frightened--chokingly
frightened.  She would have rushed on, but a stealthy hand held her
back.

"Don't try to run away from me, little lady!" said an unsteady voice in
her ear in a tone that was intended to seem engaging.  "Don't try to
run away from me, if you please.  I wouldn't hurt you for the world,
no, indeed."

Nan shook herself free from the disgusting touch and hurried on without
a word.  Her hateful shadow kept abreast with her.

"You ain't afraid of me, are you?" he asked reproachfully.

Nan made no response.  Her feet seemed to cling to the pavement.  Every
time she lifted one it was with an effort.

"Oh, come now," whined the voice in her ear, "don't go on like this.  I
ain't going to hurt you.  I'm only a poor man who would be grateful for
a penny or two.  By the way, where's your pocket-book?"

Nan leaped suddenly aside, and as she did so she missed her footing,
and a cry of pain burst from her lips.  A sharp pang shot from her
ankle to her knee, and when she tried to take another step she found
the darting agony returned.  But stop she could not.  Her face grew
gray and lined with misery as she dragged forward, saving her injured
ankle as much as she could, but always having to torture it intolerably
with every onward limp.  Her persecutor caught up with her promptly,
and she cast beseeching looks for deliverance on every side, which the
hurrying, preoccupied crowd was too intent on its own affairs to see.
If only she could see a policeman!  She knew what she would do.  She
would make believe she was going past him and then suddenly veer about
and say, "Officer, this man is annoying me!" and before he had time to
realize what she had done the rowdy would be arrested.  But no
policeman was in sight, and her fine scheme could not be carried out.
Suddenly in the midst of her agony of mind and body her heart gave a
wild bound of unspeakable relief.

"Miss Blake!  Miss Blake!" she almost shrieked.

"Nan!"

The little governess was beside her in a flash, her own face almost as
white and seamed as the girl's.

[Illustration: The little governess was beside her.]

"O Miss Blake! this man--make him go away; make some one send him away.
He's annoying me--and my foot!"

The governess grew if possible a shade paler.  "What man?" she demanded
sharply, "Where?"

Nan could not speak.  She indicated with a mute gesture.  Miss Blake
looked behind her, but if there had actually been such a man as the
girl described he must certainly have taken to his heels.  They were
standing alone in the midst of the hurrying crowd.

"O Nan!" cried the governess, not stopping to argue the question,
"where have you been?  Delia and I have been frantic with worry.  She
is out now hunting for you.  She went one way and I another."

Nan could not reply.  The torture in her ankle grew fiercer with every
movement.  She shook her head silently and limped on.

"You are hurt!  You are in pain!" cried Miss Blake, now for the first
time really realizing her condition.

Nan nodded dumbly.

"Take my arm; no, lean on my shoulder!  There, that's better!  Bear
down as hard as you can and use me as your crutch!  I'm strong.  I
won't give out."

And a right good support she proved.  Happily they were but a stone's
throw from home, and it was not long before Nan was comfortably settled
on the library lounge, luxuriously surrounded by all sorts of downy
cushions and having her injured ankle bound in soothing cloths by the
tenderest of hands.  Delia, full of sympathy and the desire to help,
was bustling about nervously, tripping over bandages and upsetting
bottles of liniment, but meaning so well all the while that one could
not discourage her.

"It is only a strain.  You have turned your ankle badly and the muscles
have been wrenched, but I don't think it is an actual sprain," said
Miss Blake, consolingly.  "However, if the pain is still bad to-morrow,
we'll have a doctor in to look at it.  Do you still have Dr. Milbank,
Delia?"

Nan sat bolt upright with surprise.

"How funny!" she cried.  "However in the world did you know Dr. Milbank
was our doctor?  Why, we've had him for years and years.  Ever since I
was born and before, too.  But how could you know?"

Delia hurried out of the room muttering something about the dinner, and
Miss Blake bent her head over the bandage she was rolling.

"He lives so near," she replied haltingly.

"I've seen his sign often as I passed and--and--perhaps that is why I
thought he might be your physician.  He's so convenient--within call.
It is hard to tell what makes one jump at conclusions sometimes."

Nan sank back among her cushions not half satisfied.  "Dr. Pardee lives
near, too.  Just as near as Dr. Milbank does," she persisted.

The governess made no response, and just then Delia came staggering in
under the weight of a huge brass tray which she bore in her arms.

Miss Blake jumped to her feet.  "We're going to have a dinner-party up
here to-night, Nan," she said.  "Won't it be fun?" and she set to work
unfolding a strange foreign-looking stand that Nan had never seen
before and upon which Delia carefully placed the tray.

"Why, what a dandy little table it makes!" exclaimed Nan, admiringly.
"Where did it come from?"

"I brought it from London, but it was made in India," explained Miss
Blake.

Nan's eyes softened.  "Where papa is!" she murmured softly to herself.
"You have lots of nice things," she added, after a moment.  "These
pillows are downright daisies.  I s'pose they belong to you."

The governess served her with soup.  "They are yours whenever you care
to use them," she returned in her quiet way.

"It's jolly having dinner up here," said Nan, not quite knowing how to
respond to such a generous offer.

"Yes, isn't it?" assented the governess.

"Mrs. Newton don't use her basement for a dining-room, and neither does
Mr. Turner.  I wish we didn't.  I think it would be perfectly fine if
we could have ours up here, too."

"Why couldn't you?"

The girl leaned forward with a look of real interest in her face.

"Do you think we might?" she asked eagerly.

"I don't see why not.  The books might be shifted to the other room.
This might be re--well, re-arranged, and I'm sure it would make a
charming dining-room."

"But that ugly old glass extension back there!" protested Nan in
disgust.  "Who wants to look at a lot of old trunks and broken-up
things when one is eating?  If we could only pull it down."

Miss Blake considered a moment.

"Why not take all the old trunks and broken-up things out entirely and
make a conservatory of it.  It faces the south.  Plants would grow
beautifully there."

Nan clapped her hands.  "Why, that's perfectly splendiferous," she
cried.  "I never should have thought of it.  I say, Miss Blake, let's
do it right away, will you?  I love flowers."

"Would you take care of them?" demanded the governess with a thoughtful
look.

"Uh-huh!" nodded Nan, heartily.  "I guess I would!"

"Very well, then," returned Miss Blake encouragingly, "I'll think about
it.  Perhaps Delia wouldn't consent.  You know there is no dumb-waiter
in the house, and if she had to carry up all the dishes at every meal,
it would more than double her work."

Nan's face fell.  "O dear!" she complained.  "What a horrid old house!
Can't do a single thing with it!  It would have been such fun to change
everything about!"

Miss Blake laughed.  "Oh, if that was all your reason for wanting the
improvements," she retorted.  "I thought you wanted to gratify your
sense of the beautiful."

"Well, I do," declared Nan.

"Then we'll see what can be done," and the governess set down her glass
of water with a very knowing smile.

After dinner was eaten and Delia had carried away the tray and Miss
Blake removed the wonderful folding stand, the governess looked up
suddenly and said with unusual gravity:

"Nan, while I am here I hope you will never run out after dark alone
again.  It is dangerous.  Do you understand me, my dear?"

The girl's eyes dropped.  Yes, she understood perfectly.  When the
governess spoke in that low, decided voice it would have been hard to
mistake her meaning.

"I had to go to-night," Nan answered, in a suddenly sullen voice.

"If you had waited a few moments I could have, and most willingly would
have, gone with you.  Never hesitate to ask me.  I am always at your
service.  That is what I am here for."

Nan hesitated.  "I--I thought you had gone away--for good," she
stammered, lamely.

Miss Blake flushed.  "What made you think I had gone away for good?"
she asked, slowly repeating the girl's words.

Nan shook her head and gulped.

"I was in my room," continued the governess, after a pause, "and I
heard--"

Nan put out both hands.  "I know it!  I know it!" she gasped.  "But I
didn't mean what I said--I didn't, honestly and truly.  Before you came
I learned it off, and I meant to say it, but that was before I saw you.
I feel different now, and I hope--I hope--"

Miss Blake's hand was laid quietly on hers.  "Wait a moment, Nan.
Don't go on till you know what I was going to say.  You seem to be
trying to explain something that perhaps you might regret later.  You
think I overheard something you would rather I did not know?  What I
was going to say is this: I was in my room this afternoon and I heard a
man crying 'Chestnuts!'  It carried me back to the time when I was a
little girl and used to roast them in this very--" she hesitated, then
added slowly, "town.  So I went out to buy some, that we might have a
little jollification together with nuts and apples and perhaps a cookie
or two, if Delia would give them to us.  That is why I went out."

Nan twisted her fingers and looked down.  "And I went out because you
did," she faltered.  "I thought you had gone away, and I went to Mr.
Turner's to bring you back--if you would come.  Say, now, didn't you
hear what I said to Delia?  I was awfully mad, and I guess I spoke out
loud enough so folks on the next block could have heard.  Honest now,
didn't you?"

Miss Blake did not answer at once, and Nan could see that a struggle of
some sort was going on in her mind.  When she raised her face her eyes
were very grave.

"Yes, Nan, I did hear!" she confessed, honestly.

The girl's cheeks blazed with sudden shame.

"And yet you weren't going to leave?" she said.  "You were only going
to do a kindness to me?"

Miss Blake shook her head.

"Dear Nan," she answered, smiling wistfully, "a good soldier never runs
away for a mere wound.  He stays on the field until he has won his
battle or--until--he is mortally hurt.  I do not think you will ever
wish to cut me as deeply as that, and so--and so--I will stay
until--the general orders me off the field.  The day I hear that your
father is to come back, that day I will resign my position in this
house.  Until then, however, you must reconcile yourself to my presence
here, and I think we should both be much happier if you would try to do
so at once, my dear."



CHAPTER VIII

NAN'S HEROINE

The strain Nan had given her ankle proved more serious than either she
or Miss Blake had expected.  It threatened to keep her chained to the
sofa for days to come, and the girl's only comfort lay in the thought
that now, of course, the governess would not force the question of
study, and after she was up and about again she might be able to
dispose of it altogether, and save herself any more worry on that score.

But Monday came, and, true to her word, Miss Blake appeared in the
library after breakfast with an armful of school-books, to which she
kept Nan fastened until luncheon time.  It was perfectly clear that
there was no escape.  Miss Blake was armed with authority, and the girl
knew herself to be under control.  She fretted against it so
persistently that if the governess had not had an enduring patience she
must have despaired over and over again under the strain of Nan's
sullen tempers, fierce outbreaks, and lazy moods.  There were moments
when the girl seemed to be fairly tractable, but there was no knowing
when the whim would seize her to fall back into her old ways, so that,
at the best of times, Miss Blake did not dare relax her control.  Then
Nan would kick her heels sulkily, and comfort herself with the thought
that when her father came home all this would be put an end to.  Miss
Blake would go.  Hadn't she said so herself?  And that would finish up
this studying business quick enough.  She could cajole her father
easily into letting her stay away from school, and then--here she would
be, as happy as you please, with only those two, Delia and her dear
daddy, to look after her, and no one at all would say no to anything
she might choose to do.  It was a blissful prospect.  In the meantime
there were lessons, and--Miss Blake.

But after a few days Nan found that, somehow, the lessons were not so
hard after all, and she never would have believed that they could be so
interesting.  While as for Miss Blake--Well, a woman who sits reading
"Treasure Island" and such books to one for hours together can't be
regarded entirely in the light of a nuisance.

"I never knew geography was so nice before," Nan admitted one day after
lessons were over.  "I used to hate it, but now, why it's downright
jolly!  I never saw such beautiful pictures!  Where in the world did
you ever get so many?"

"I took them myself!"

Nan's eyes widened.  "Why, have you been to all these places?" she
asked, not a little awe-struck.

Miss Blake confessed she had.

"And you took all these photographs your own self?" persisted the girl.

The governess laughed.  "I'm like George Washington, Nan," she said.
"I cannot tell a lie!  I did them with my little--Kodak!"

Nan fairly gulped.  She would have said "Jiminy!" but she knew Miss
Blake disapproved of "Jiminy!" and somehow, she was willing to humor
her just now.

"Only," went on the governess, "it isn't a little Kodak at all.  It is
a very fine camera indeed.  Some day, if you like, I will show it to
you, and then, perhaps you will be interested enough to care to learn
how to take some photographs yourself."

Nan bounced up and down on the sofa with delight.  "Oh, won't I,
though!" she exclaimed feverishly.  "Just won't I!"

"But mind you, my dear," warned Miss Blake.  "If you once undertake it,
I want you to persist.  It is not to be any
'You-press-the-button-and-we-do-the-rest' affair.  I want you to learn
to finish up your work yourself.  Do you think you will care to take so
much trouble?"

Nan nodded energetically.

"Very well, then.  So it stands.  If you are willing to learn I'll
gladly teach."

"Who taught you?" asked the girl curiously.

Miss Blake shook her head.  "Just a man whom I paid for his trouble,"
she returned simply.  "I wanted to learn, and so I went into a gallery
and got some experience, and then came away and experimented on my own
account.  It has taken me years, and I am still working hard at it, for
I believe in never being satisfied with anything less than the best one
can do."

Nan blinked.  She herself believed in being satisfied with whatever
came easiest, unless it was in the way of some sport, where she liked
to excel.

"How jolly it must be to travel about--all over the world," said she,
musingly.  "When I'm grown up I guess I'll be a governess, or a
companion, or something, just as you are, and get a place with some
awfully nice people who will take me everywhere.  Was it nice where you
were before you came here?  Were there any girls?  Why did you leave?"

Miss Blake looked troubled, but Nan was not used to noticing other
people's moods, and did not even stop to hear the replies to her own
questions.  "If you've been all over the world, you'll know where my
father is, and can tell me about it.  Oh, do, do!  Show me some
pictures of India, won't you please?  Just think, I haven't seen my
father for two years, and he won't be home until next autumn--almost a
year from now.  You ought to see him!  He is the best man in the
world--only I guess he is lonely, because my mother died when I was a
baby, and he hasn't any one to keep house for him but Delia and me.
Mr. Turner says he has lost a lot of money lately, too.  I guess that's
why he went to India.  If I had been older he would have taken me.  But
he had to leave me here with Delia.  Delia has been in our family, for,
oh, ever so many years.  She first came to live here when my mother was
a young girl.  She says it was the jolliest house you ever saw.  My
grandfather and grandmother were alive then, and mamma had a young
friend, who was an orphan, who lived with them.  They loved her just as
if she had been their own child, and she and my mother were so fond of
each other that--well, Delia says it was beautiful to see them
together.  And such times!  There were parties and all sorts of things
all the time till, Delia says, it was a caution.  My grandfather wasn't
very well off, and lots and lots of times my mother wouldn't have been
able to go to the parties she was invited to, if it hadn't been for
that friend of hers, who used to give her the most beautiful
things--dresses, and gloves, and all she needed.  She had loads of
money, and every time she got anything for herself she got its mate for
my mother.  Don't you think that was pretty generous?"

Miss Blake bit her lip.  "One can't judge, Nan," she said.  "If your
mother shared her home with this girl and she had money and your mother
had not, I think it was only right that they should share the money
too.  No, I do not think it was generous."

Nan tossed her head.  "Well, I think it was and so does Delia," she
retorted hotly.

"It is easy enough to give when one has plenty," pursued the governess,
almost sternly.  "But when one has little and one gives that--well,
then it is hard and then perhaps one may be what the world calls
generous, though I should call it merely grateful."

Nan did not understand very clearly.  She thought Miss Blake meant to
disparage her mother's friend, the woman she had been brought up to
think was one of the noblest beings on earth.  She felt angry and hurt
and almost regretted that she had confided the story to her since she
made so little of her heroine's conduct.

"I don't care; I think she was perfectly fine and so does Delia.  My
mother just loved her and I guess she knew whether she was generous or
not.  When she went away my mother was wild.  She cried her eyes out.
But she married my father soon after that, and then--well, my
grandmother died and then my grandfather, and I was born and my mother
died and--O dear me! it was dreadful.  Delia says many and many a time
she has gone down on her knees and just prayed that that girl would
come back, but she has never come and she won't now, because it is
years and years ago and maybe she's dead herself by this time.  Do you
think Delia would have prayed for Miss Severance to come back if she
hadn't been the best and most generous girl in the world?"

Miss Blake smiled faintly.  "That settles it, Nan!" she declared.  "If
Delia wanted her back she must at least have tried to be good.  And
even trying is something, isn't it?  And now, how do you think luncheon
would taste?"

Nan was more than ever inclined to be sulky.  Her loyalty was touched.
Not alone did Miss Blake fail to appreciate her heroine, but she showed
quite plainly that she did not want to hear about her.  "All the time I
was talking she fidgeted around and looked too unhappy for anything.  I
guess she needn't think she's the only one in the world that can make
people love her.  I don't think it's very nice to be jealous of a
person you never saw.  Pooh!  I like what she said about trying to be
good.  I guess Delia knows," said Nan.

They ate their luncheon together in the library, and after they had
finished Miss Blake excused herself and went upstairs to prepare to go
out.

"After being in the house all the morning one needs a change," she
said, "and it would be a sin to spend all of this glorious day indoors."

Nan sighed.  How she longed to get away herself.  But of course that
was impossible, with this old troublesome ankle bothering her.  If she
could not step across the room, how could she hope to get into the
street?  O dear!  When would it be well?

Miss Blake was tripping about upstairs and Nan could hear her singing
as she went.  Delia was up there, too.  When Delia walked the
chandelier shook.

"She follows Miss Blake about so, it's perfectly disgusting," thought
the girl resentfully.  "Now, I wonder what she wants in my room.  I
don't thank either of them for going poking about my things when I'm
not there, so now!  Well, I'm glad she's coming down, at any rate."

The governess appeared in the library a moment later, but Nan could
scarcely see her face, she was so overladen with wraps and rugs.  She
turned the whole assortment into a chair, and before the girl could ask
a question, she found herself being bundled up and made ready for the
street.

"What are you doing?" she gasped out at length.  "You know I can't
walk."

"Nobody asked you, sir!" quoted the governess, gayly.

"Then what are you putting on my things for?"

"Ready, Delia?" sang out Miss Blake, cheerfully.

Nan heard the front door open.  Then heavy steps came clumping along
the hall, and in another moment she was being borne down the outer
steps and set comfortably in a carriage by the good old Irish coachman,
Mike, from the livery stable round the corner.

"Are you comfortable?" asked Miss Blake, with her foot on the step.
"Have you everything you need?"

Nan nodded, and the governess, taking her place beside her, motioned to
Michael, who climbed to his seat on the box, and off they drove.

"There is Delia at the window!  Let's wave to her!" cried Miss Blake,
with one of her happy girl-hearted laughs.

It seemed to Nan that she had never seen the Park look as beautiful as
it did to-day.  To be sure, most of the trees were bare, but the naked
branches stood out delicate and clear against the blue of the
violet-clouded sky and by the lake-shore the pollard willows were gray
and misty, and a few russet maple trees still held their leaves against
the sweeping wind.  They saw numberless wheels spinning along the
smooth paths, and though the governess said nothing, Nan knew she had
given up this chance of a ride for her sake.

Impulsively she put out her hand and laid it on Miss Blake's.

"If it weren't for me you'd be on your wheel now, wouldn't you?" she
asked.

"Yes," came the answer, prompt as an echo.  "But as it is I'm not on my
wheel, and it so happens that I'm doing something that gives me much
more pleasure."

"If I had a bike it would make me simply furious to have to give up a
ride such a day as this," said Nan.

"Then isn't it rather fortunate you haven't one?" asked Miss Blake,
saucily.  "But seriously, Nan, why haven't you one?"

Nan set her jaw.  "My father can't afford it," she said proudly.

The governess turned her head to look at a faraway hill, and there was
an embarrassing little pause.  When she faced about again Nan could see
that her chin was quivering, and in a spirit of tender thoughtfulness
quite new to her, she hastened to change the subject since Miss Blake
felt so badly about having asked the question.

"This is the lake where we skate in winter," she said.  "That is, most
of the girls come here.  I go to the Steamer.  I like it better."

The governess looked at it and asked, absently, "Why?"

"Oh, because its jollier there.  Most of the girls I know--I don't
know--that is, they don't know me; they don't like me much, and I'd
rather not go where they are.  John Gardiner and some other boys and I
go to the Steamer and have regular contests, and it's the best sport in
the world."

But Miss Blake was not listening.  She was thinking of other things,
and only came back to a sense of what was going on about her when Nan
gave a great sigh to indicate that she was tired of waiting to be
entertained.  The governess roused herself with a smile and an apology
and began at once to chat briskly again.

"Whenever you want Michael to turn you have only to say so," she said.
"What do you think of going down-town and buying some jelly or
something for little Ruth Newton.  We could stop there on our way home,
and you could send it up with your love."

Nan nodded heartily.  It always pleased her to give.  She enjoyed, too,
the thought of getting a glimpse of the shop-windows, which were
already beginning to take on a look of holiday gorgeousness.  So
down-town they went, and Miss Blake not alone bought the jelly, but so
many other things as well, that presently Nan began to have a feeling
that for such a poor woman the governess was inclined to be extravagant.

She told Delia so when they were alone together that evening, Miss
Blake having gone upstairs to write some letters.

"Oh, I guess you needn't worry," the woman said.

"But you don't know how many things she bought," persisted Nan.  "I'm
sure she can't afford it.  Just think, a woman that works for her
living the way she has to!  But do you know, Delia, I believe there's
something mysterious about her, anyway.  She seems to see right into
your mind--what you're thinking about; and every once in a while she
lets out a hint that the next minute she looks as if she wished she
hadn't said.  I've noticed it lots and lots of times, and I'm sure
she's trying to hide something.  What do you s'pose it is?  What fun it
would be if she were a princess in disguise."

"Well, she ain't," Delia almost snapped.  "She's just a good little
woman that's trying to do her duty as far as I can make out, and if she
spends money you must remember she has only herself to support."



CHAPTER IX

HAVING HER OWN WAY

"I know just the kind I want, and I won't wear any other," said Nan,
irritably.

Miss Blake made no reply, and the girl sauntered off to another part of
the store, and pretended to be examining a case of trimmed bonnets,
which she could not see because her eyes were half-blind with
rebellious tears.  What right had any one to tell her what sort of a
hat she ought to get!  If her father was paying for it, she guessed it
was nobody else's business to say anything.

Miss Blake held in her hand a handsome, wide-brimmed felt hat, trimmed
simply with fine ribbon and a generous bunch of quills.

"It's very girlish and suitable, ma'am!" the saleswoman said, as she
turned away to get another model.

After a moment Nan came hurrying back to the governess' side.

"Horrid old thing!" she said in a low voice, flinging her hand out with
a gesture of disgust toward the despised hat.  "It's stiff as a poker.
Do you suppose I want to have just bunched-up bows with some spikes
stuck in the middle to trim my hat!  And all one color, too!  I guess
not!"

The governess bit her lip.  "Perhaps we may be able to find something
more to your fancy," she said.  "But plumes are expensive and
perishable, and if you have too many colors your hat will look vulgar."

"I hate this place anyhow," went on Nan, disdainfully.  "Bigelow's!
Who ever thought of going to Bigelow's?"

"Your mother did," said Miss Blake, quickly.  "That is, Delia says she
did.  And I myself know it to be one of the oldest and best firms in
the city.  One can always be sure that one is getting good quality for
one's money here."

"I never was in the place before," blurted out Nan, "and I despise
their hats--every one of them.  If you won't let me go to Sternberg's,
where they have things I like, I won't get anything at all, so there!"

She suddenly let her voice fall, for the sales-woman was back again
with a fresh assortment of shapes to select from.

Miss Blake placed the hat she held gently upon a table and began to
examine the others carefully, Nan standing by in sullen silence.

"This is a pretty one--this with the tips, don't you think so?" the
governess asked, setting it on her hand and letting it revolve slowly
while she regarded it critically with her head on one side.

Nan gave a grunt of dissatisfaction.  What she wanted was a flaring,
turned-up brim, with a dash of red velvet underneath and a
bird-of-paradise on top, caught in a mesh of red and yellow ribbons.
She had seen something on this order in Sternberg's window, and it had
struck her fancy at once.

The governess hesitated, and then put down the hat she held.

"Very well.  We will go to Sternberg's," she said, quietly, to Nan, in
an undertone which the saleswoman could not distinguish.  The girl
started briskly for the door.  Miss Blake remained behind a moment, and
then followed after.

Now that she was to have her own way Nan was restored to good humor,
and kept up a stream of chatter until they reached Sternberg's.

"There!  Isn't that a beauty?" she demanded at last, indicating the hat
in the window.

Miss Blake, with difficulty, concealed a shudder.

"It seems to me rather showy.  But tastes differ, you know.  I can't
say it suits me exactly.  Still, if you are pleased--you are the one to
wear it, not I."

The hat was bought and Nan was radiant.  She insisted on donning it at
once, and Miss Blake tried not to let her discover how ashamed she was
to be seen in the street with such a monstrous piece of millinery.
Underneath her tower of gorgeousness Nan strutted like a turkey-cock.

"I told Delia before we came away that we might not be home before
dusk, so suppose we take luncheon down-town, and then, if you like, we
will go to see Callmann.  I haven't been to a sleight-of-hand
performance since I was a little girl, and I always had a liking for
that sort of thing."

"Oh, do!  Let's!  Can we?" cried Nan, in a burst of grateful excitement.

It was nippingly cold outside, and the warm restaurant proved a
delightful contrast.  It was jolly to sit in the midst of all this
pleasant bustle and be served with delicate, unfamiliar dishes by
waiters who stood behind the chair and deferentially called one "Miss."

Miss Blake left Nan to order whatever she pleased, and they dawdled
over their meal luxuriously, the color in the girl's cheeks deepening
with the warmth and excitement until it almost matched the velvet in
her imposing hat.  Every now and then she glanced furtively at her
reflection in the mirror, and the vision of that bird-of-paradise
hovering over those huge butterfly bows thrilled her with a great sense
of importance and self-satisfaction.  More than once she saw that her
hat was being noticed and commented on by the other guests, and she
tried her best to seem not aware--to look modestly unconscious.  But
Miss Blake, when she caught some eye fixed quizzically upon their
table, blushed to the roots of her hair, and felt as though it would be
impossible to bear the ordeal for a moment longer.  Still, she did not
hurry Nan, and no one knew, the girl least of all, what agonies of
mortification she was enduring.

A deep-toned clock struck one full peal.

"That's half-past one," said Miss Blake, looking up and comparing her
watch.

"When does the entertainment begin?" asked Nan.

"At two, I think, or quarter after.  If we ride up we have still a few
minutes to spare, but if we walk it would be wise to start at once."

"O let's walk," begged Nan.  "It's such fun; there's so much going on.
And now my foot is well, I just want to trot all the time."

Though Miss Blake was a good walker and took a great deal of exercise,
she always preferred to ride when she was with Nan, for the girl forged
ahead at such a rate and darted in among the maze of trucks and cars
and carriages so recklessly that there was actual danger as well as
discomfort in trying to keep abreast with her.  Still she made no
objection to "trotting," and they started off at a brisk pace.

"Don't you just love to be in the stores around Christmas-time?" asked
Nan, watching the crowds press and surge about the doorways of some of
the most popular shops.  "It's so exciting and the things seem so gay
and alluring."

"Yes, it is very attractive--all the motion and color," replied Miss
Blake, "but I don't like crowds, and when I am hemmed in at a counter
and can't get away I feel stifled and smothered, and long to scream."

"Why don't you scream then?  I would!" exclaimed Nan, with a laugh.
"I'd shriek, 'Air!  Air!' and then you'd see how quick the people would
let you out."

Miss Blake smiled with what Nan saw was amusement at some
just-remembered incident.

"I was watching a huge celebration in London one spring," she said.
"It was in honor of some royal birthday or something, and the streets
were packed with people all eager to get a glimpse of the military
parade and the notabilities who were to take part in it.  From the
window where I sat I could not see an inch of pavement, the crowd was
so dense.  At last there was a sound of martial music and the First
Regiment appeared in full gala array.  Oh, I assure you it was very
imposing and well worth taking some trouble to see.  The crowds pushed
and jostled, and beyond the first line or two at the curb no one among
them could get more than an occasional glimpse of a stray cockade or a
floating banner.  Still the people were massed solidly from the gutter
to the house-steps.  We were wondering where the enjoyment in this came
in, and congratulating ourselves that we were not doomed to struggle
and fight for space in such a huddle, when suddenly we heard a shrill
scream.  It was a woman's voice crying, 'Air!  Air!  Give me air!'  In
another instant the crowd pushed back a step, and quite a
respectably-dressed young person staggered weakly through the line to
the curb, as if to get more breathing-space.  Of course she could have
got this in a much easier way by going in the other direction, but you
see her plan was to get a better view of the procession, and she
thought that was a good method of accomplishing it.  It seemed a clever
trick, and she was just settling herself to enjoy her improved
position, when quick as a flash an order was given: Two men unrolled
one of their army stretchers; the woman was whipped up and placed upon
it; the poles were seized and off they went, carrying that misguided
creature with them through all the gaping, jeering crowd.  The last I
saw of her she was hiding her face in the coarse army blanket, probably
'crying her eyes out,' as you would say, with mortification and shame."

"What a joke!" exclaimed Nan.  "Poor thing!  She didn't see the parade
after all, and I declare she deserved to.  That was the time she was in
it though, with a vengeance."

"Look out for this cab, Nan!  Be careful.  We cross here.  Please don't
rush so--I can't keep up with you," pleaded Miss Blake.

The girl gave her shoulders an impatient shrug and drew her eyebrows
together in a scowl of irritation.  But her face cleared as she saw
Miss Blake buying their tickets at the box-office.

"Get them good and up front," she begged.  "If we're way back we can't
see a thing."

The governess hesitated an instant; then a curious expression came over
her face and she said, deliberately, "Very well, dear!  Up front they
shall be."

The house was quite full and Nan thought it a singular piece of good
fortune that there were places left just where she would have chosen to
sit.

"Just think of having come so late and yet being able to get the best
seats in the house," she said, exultantly.

Miss Blake smiled.  She understood better than Nan did why the majority
of the audience preferred places that were not so near the stage.

Both she and the girl herself soon forgot everything else in their
interest in the mysterious tricks that were being performed before
their eyes.  Of course they knew that all this magic could be
explained, but just at the moment it appeared difficult to imagine how.
A man seems really no less than a magician who can take a red billiard
ball from, no one knows where, out of mid-air, apparently, and suddenly
nipping off the end, transform it into two, each equally as large as
the first.  Presently he thinks you would like to have a third, and,
presto! he draws one out from his elbow.  Now a white one for a change!
But it is easy enough to get a white one.  He opens his mouth and there
it is, held between his teeth.  Then he thinks he will swallow a red
one.  Pop! it is gone!  A moment later he takes it out of the top of
his head.

Nan noticed that as the performance progressed the tricks grew
"curiouser and curiouser," as Alice would say, and the wizard seemed to
take his audience more and more into his confidence.  He no longer
confined himself to the stage, but came tripping down the steps that
led from the platform to the middle aisle and addressed, first this one
and then that from among his spectators--only Nan again noticed that
these always happened to be sitting as they were themselves, in the
foremost seats.  He induced a man just in front of her to come upon the
stage to "assist" him in one of his "experiments," and the girl
trembled lest at any moment he might demand a similar favor of her, for
though she was reckless enough as a general thing, she had sufficient
delicacy to dread being made conspicuous in such a place as this.

"O Miss Blake," she whispered in the governess' ear, "can't we move
back a little?  If he should make me go up there I'd sink through the
floor!"

"Probably you would.  No doubt he would let you down himself--through a
trap-door.  No, we must stay where we are and we must bear it as best
we may.  Perhaps he will overlook us."

Nan thought of her hat and the many glances it had drawn to her in the
restaurant, and for the first time she had a feeling of mistrust
regarding it.  Suppose it should fix his eye, with its towering bows
and flaming bird-of-paradise!  If it did, she would hate it forever
after.

But she soon forgot her anxiety in her interest in the wizard himself.
Silver pieces were flung in the air and then mysteriously reappeared in
the pocket of some unsuspecting member of the audience who was much
surprised at seeing them straightway converted into so many gold ones
under his very nose.  Innocent-looking hoops turned out to possess the
most remarkable faculty for resisting all attempts to link them on the
part of any one of the spectators, and yet immediately assuming all
manner of shapes and positions in the hands of the dexterous magician
himself.

At last a shallow cabinet was set upon two chairs in the centre of the
stage, and after a word or two of explanation, the wizard drew first
one chair and then the other from beneath it, and lo! the magic
cupboard remained poised in midair, without any visible means of
support whatever.

"You see, ladies and gentlemen," announced the suave magician, "this
cabinet is bare; precisely like Mother Hubbard's immortal cupboard.
Can you see anything there?  No!  I thought not.  Now I will place
within it these bells, so; and this tambourine, so; also this empty
slate.  You see it is empty.  It is quite a simple slate, such as any
school-child would use, and its sides are entirely bare.  Now I close
the doors of the cabinet, so; wave my wand, so; and--"

Immediately there followed the sounds of ringing bells and rattling
tambourine, while in a moment all of these instruments came flying out
of the top of the cabinet as if they had been vigorously flung aloft by
hidden hands.  The smiling magician stepped forward, opened the doors
of the cabinet with a flourish, and lo! it was empty save for the
slate, which proved to be covered over with scribbled characters, and
which he politely handed down to persons in the audience for
examination.

Nan was completely bewildered and so lost to all that was going on
about her that she did not realize that the wizard was tripping down
the stage steps and making his way affably up the middle aisle again.
It was only when he spoke once more that she woke with a great start,
and then to her horror she found he was addressing her.

"I am sure this young lady will not refuse me the loan of her hat for
my next experiment," he began with a persuasive smile.  "I assure you,
Miss, I will not injure it in the least.  You won't object, will you?"
and he held out his hand engagingly.

The girl stiffened against the back of her chair, so disconcerted that
she felt actually dizzy.

"Give him your hat," bade Miss Blake, quickly, as if to put an end to
their really painful conspicuousness.

Nan obeyed blindly.  The smiling magician took it with a profound bow
and held it up for all the audience to see.

"Now you perceive, ladies and gentlemen," he remarked, "that there is
nothing mysterious about this hat.  At least I am sure the ladies do.
To the gentlemen it doubtless seems very mysterious, but that is
because they do not understand the art of millinery."  As he spoke he
made his way up the aisle and to the steps that led to the stage.  "It
is a beautiful hat.  Very elaborate and of a most stylish shape, as you
see, but not at all mysterious.  Yet I mean to make it serve me in a
very interesting experiment, which I think you will admit is
exceedingly won--"

But just here he stumbled upon one of the steps, and in trying to
recover himself let Nan's cherished head-gear fall and brought his
whole weight upon it, crushing it out of all recognition.

"Oh, dear, dear!  What have I done?" he deplored in sincerest dismay.

Miss Blake's eyes fell and Nan's lips whitened.  Every one was looking
at them now, and the magician was making them even more conspicuous by
apologizing to them over and over again in the most abject fashion.

"How could I be so awkward!  Such a beautiful hat and ruined through my
carelessness.  I have no words to describe my regret.  Do forgive me!
But I promised to return your property to you uninjured, did I not,
Miss?  So, of course, I must keep my word."  He held the battered mass
of ribbons and bird-of-paradise high above his head as he spoke, and
then went forward and placed a pistol in the hand of his assistant on
the stage.  The man retired to a distance and the wizard held the hat
at arm's length as if for a target.

"Now, ready?  Then--shoot!"

A second for aim: a report; and the smiling Callmann stepped forward
with the hat in his hand, quite whole again and unimpaired.

A shudder ran through Nan as she heard the applause and saw her
property held up to public view.  She dared not turn her head to look
at Miss Blake, and she hardly heard the wizard's voice as he asked to
be permitted to use the hat for still another experiment, and she
scarcely saw how he placed it on a table, a perfectly innocent looking
table, and then proceeded to take from it a multitude of things--from a
gold watch to a clucking hen.

When the hen came to light the audience fairly shouted, and Nan thought
she could never in the world get up courage to set that hat on her head
again and walk out before the eyes of these quizzical people.

"They'll laugh at me all the way," she thought moodily.  "And if they
ever see me in the street they'll say, 'There goes that trick hat!  The
one the hen came out of!'  I wish it was in Jericho!"

Miss Blake comforted her as best she could with little hidden pressures
of the hand and whispered words of sympathy, but the rest of the
performance was torture to them both, and when, at last, it was over
and they were well on their way home, Nan heaved a great sigh of relief
and tried to summon back her courage by declaring that "I don't care if
they did laugh when that hen clucked inside it and he said he was
afraid this was what might be called 'a loud hat!'  It's heaps better
than lots I saw on other girls, so there!"

"I am glad you are satisfied with it," said Miss Blake, simply.



CHAPTER X

EXPERIENCES

For the first time since Nan could remember, the house was full of the
air of Christmas preparation.  Of course she had always had presents,
and she never failed to give Delia a gift, but there was no scent of
mystery about the holiday celebration; no delicious odor of a hidden
Christmas tree; no sense of unseen tokens; nothing to distinguish the
time from an ordinary birthday anniversary.  But this year everything
was changed, and Nan was as much occupied with her own secrets and
surprises as either Miss Blake or Delia, who whispered and dodged and
smiled cunningly all day long in the most perplexing manner.  But she
confined her preparations to her own room, while the governess
apparently needed the library and all the rest of the house, too, and
Nan found herself barred out of Miss Blake's room by her own stubborn
pride which still forbade her to go in without a formal invitation.
She was also locked out of the library which was now being made festive
for the coming holiday, so that at times she wandered about quite
helplessly in a sort of forlorn state of having nowhere to turn.

She had fallen into the habit of running over to the Newton's while
Ruth was sick, and she proved such a tender nurse and entertaining
companion that the child's mother looked forward with relief to her
visits, and only wished she would come oftener.

"She keeps Ruth so happy and contented.  It gives me a free minute to
turn 'round in, and is a real comfort."

"I thought you would find her helpful," responded Miss Blake.  "She
loves children, and they know it and love her back again.  She is very
gentle with them, and I know you may trust her, for she is as true as
steel."

"She's a changed girl, that's the whole truth of the matter.  You've
simply tamed her, the young savage!"

"Oh, Nan has a fine nature.  All she needs is judicious training.  If I
were not sure of that I should despair many and many a time.  She needs
judicious training and a world of patience and love."

Mrs. Newton dropped her work into her lap and looked up earnestly into
the governess' face.

"Yes, I can believe it.  What a rash, head-long sort of creature you
must think me!  Why, I was as bad as Nan herself, to go over there and
simply browbeat her as I did!  Do you suppose she will ever really
forgive me?"

"I'm sure she has done so already.  Nan is generous.  She does not bear
malice.  She has a vast amount of pride but as yet she does not know
how to use it."

"I should think it would be enough to break down your health--such
constant care and responsibility.  It is Nan's salvation to have you
with her, but do you think you can hold out?"

Miss Blake pondered a moment and then nodded her head decidedly.  "I
will hold out," she said staunchly.

"You don't know how boisterous she was, and how it shocked me!  At last
I grew frenzied, and when Ruth was brought in to me injured in that
way, through her fault, I supposed, I lost control of myself entirely,
and felt that, come what might, the girl must be attended to.  There's
no doubt of it, your Nan is improved, and if this neighborhood is not
made miserable by her piercing war-cries, her hairbreadth adventures,
and her eccentric behavior generally, it is all owing to you.  But here
she comes herself!  Put away your work!  Quick!"

Nan knocked politely at the open door.

"Oh, come in, dear!" said Mrs. Newton cordially, and the governess
looked at her encouragingly and smiled.

"Bridget told me to come right up," explained Nan.  "Is Ruth out?"

"No, taking a nap in the nursery.  She'll be awake soon now, I'm sure.
Take off your things and sit down."

"Won't I be in the way?"

Mrs. Newton patted her on the shoulder.  "No, my dear, you won't.  On
the contrary, it will be very pleasant to have you here to take a cup
of tea with Miss Blake and me; will you excuse me a moment while I go
and call Katy to bring it up?"

"I thought you were in your room," said Nan to Miss Blake as their
hostess left the room.

"Did you need me?  Why didn't you knock?  What was it you wanted me to
do?"

"Oh, nothing.  I didn't need you--that is, there wasn't anything I
wanted you to do, only--it seemed kind of lonely, and so I came over
here."

"And I thought you would be locked in your own room for the rest of the
afternoon.  How dreadfully mysterious we all are nowadays."

Nan laughed.  She got out of her coat with a tug and a squirm and flung
it on the lounge.  Then she wrenched off her hat (the Sternberg affair)
and tossed it carelessly after the coat.

Miss Blake bent over and straightened the untidy heap without a word.

"Delia is making mince pie-lets for dinner," announced Nan.

"How jolly of her!" said Miss Blake.

"Huh!" exclaimed Nan.  "She said you told her to."

The governess smiled.

Mrs. Newton came in a moment later and after her Katy with the tea-tray.

Nan sprawled down on the rug in complete comfort while Miss Blake and
Mrs. Newton sipped their tea and talked of all sorts of things, to
which she hardly listened.

She was full of her own thoughts, and somehow they were all connected
with the governess.  In fact, her influence seemed to pervade
everything, and Nan often wondered how the house would seem without
her, now that they had "sort of got used to having her around."
Without a doubt she made herself useful.  And somehow she managed to
make people depend on her in spite of themselves.  And yet she never
made a fuss or exaggerated the things she did.  She was always doing
"little things "--little things that didn't make any show, and yet they
were so kind they "sort of made you like her whether you wanted to or
not."  This thought came upon Nan with a start, that roused her from
her musing and made her sit bolt upright with surprise.  Had Miss Blake
made her like her, then?  After all the reproaches she had cast upon
Delia was she no better than a turn-coat herself?

"We had ours built in before we came into the house," Mrs. Newton was
saying.  "It is a vast improvement.  I wouldn't be without it for the
world."

Nan pricked up her ears.  She wondered what this desirable thing might
be.

"Who did the work?" Miss Blake asked.

"Buchanan.  And I'll say this for him, he did it well.  I haven't a
fault to find.  I think you'd be satisfied with him."

"A person doesn't like to put a piece of work like that into the hands
of a man one knows nothing about," resumed Miss Blake.  "I'm glad to
profit by your experience.  It may save me, too, a great deal of worry
and no little expense."

"Oh, yes," returned Mrs. Newton.  "If one can economize on experience
it's a great satisfaction.  It's the best school I know of.  But it's
so expensive that it ruins some of us before we're done."

"What's the best school you know of?" asked Nan, curiously.

"Experience," replied Miss Blake.

"Oh!"

"Yes; and it's a school we all have to go to at one time or another,"
put in Mrs. Newton.  "But we might make it a good deal easier for
ourselves sometimes if we'd take hints from our friends who have
graduated."

"Have you graduated?" Nan asked, half in fun, turning to Miss Blake.

But Mrs. Newton broke in before the governess could reply for herself.
"Graduated!  Well, I should think so!  Why, she has carried off honors!
She has taken a diploma--with a ribbon 'round it!"

Miss Blake laughed.  "Nothing of the sort, Nan.  I've had a few
lessons, that is all."

"Oh, tell about some of them, won't you?" cried Nan, eagerly.  "It
would be lots of fun."

The governess considered.

"Well, yes.  I will tell you of the very first lesson I can remember,
if you care to hear," she answered, with a wistful smile.  "I won't
promise it will be 'lots of fun,' though."

"Never mind!  Tell it!"  And Nan settled herself more comfortably
against the governess' knee quite as if that person were, in reality,
her prop and stay, instead of being only some one she "sort of liked in
spite of herself."

"I think it must have been the first real experience I ever had," began
Miss Blake, musingly.  "At least it is the first one I recollect.  I
was the littlest bit of a girl when my mother died; too young to
realize it, and my father scarcely outlived her a week.  He died very
suddenly.  They used to tell me that he died from grief.  Anyway, he
was sitting at his desk looking over some important papers connected
with my mother's affairs, when suddenly he put his hand to his heart,
gave a faint gasp--and was gone."

"What an elegant way to die!" broke in Nan impulsively.

Mrs. Newton gave an exclamation of real horror at her flippancy.

"Oh, you know what I mean!" the girl hastened to protest.  "I think it
must be worlds better than being sick, or hurt in an accident, or any
of those dreadful, lingering deaths."

"After that I was given over into the charge of some distant
connections of my father," continued the governess.  "They were good,
conscientious people, but they had no children of their own, and did
not like other people's.  I presume I was not a very captivating baby."

Nan straightened up suddenly.  "I bet you were, though," she
interrupted.  "You must have been a dot of a thing, with crinkly hair
and dimples, and mites of hands and feet.  I should think they would
have loved you--I mean, a poor little lonely baby like you."

Miss Blake smiled.  "Well, however that was, Nan, I was brought up very
strictly, and I assure you, I was made to mind my P's and Q's.  One
could not trifle with Aunt Rebecca!  Well, one morning I was sitting at
the foot of the staircase playing house.  I can see myself now,
squatting on the lowest step, my fat little legs scarcely long enough
to reach the floor.  I had on a checked gingham pinafore, and my hair
was drawn tight behind my ears and braided into two tiny tails with red
ribbons on the ends.  I knew it was against the rule to play house in
the hall, anywhere, in fact, but in my own little room--with the doors
shut, but somehow I felt reckless that day, and when I heard Aunt
Rebecca walking to and fro, just above my head, I didn't scamper off as
I ordinarily would have done; I just sat still and said to myself, 'I
don't care!  I don't care!'  It seemed to give me a lot of courage, and
I wasn't a bit afraid, even when Aunt Rebecca's footsteps came nearer,
and I knew she could see me from the top of the stairs.  Indeed, I grew
mightily brave; so brave, that after a couple of minutes I raised my
voice and piped out: 'Aunt Becca!  Aunt Becca!'

"'Well,' answered she, 'what is it? what do you want?'

"Even the severity of her voice didn't dismay me that rash morning.

"'I want Lilly,' said I, airily.  Lilly was my precious doll.  'She's
in her little chair in my room; won't you please to pitch me Lilly?'

"For a moment Aunt Rebecca hesitated.  I think she must have been
petrified by my audacity.  But she recovered herself and turned, and
without a word went to my room and got Lilly from her 'little chair.'
I was as complacent as if it had been quite the usual thing for Aunt
Rebecca to fetch and carry for me.  Indeed, perhaps I imagined I was
instituting a new order of things, and that in future she would do my
errands, instead of I hers.

"She came back to the head of the stairway and I looked up pleasantly,
half-expecting, I suppose, that she would come down and deliver my
darling dolly safely into my hands.  But she didn't.  If I were giving
orders she would obey me to the letter.  She 'pitched me Lilly.'  I
gave a dismal wail of dismay as I saw my dear baby come hurtling
through the air, but when she landed on her blessed head, and I heard
the crack of breaking china, I just abandoned myself to grief and
howled desperately.  Aunt Rebecca went about her business as if nothing
had happened, and by and by I stole off with my ruined dolly and cried
to myself in the back yard--because I had no one else to cry to."

"You poor little thing!" burst out Nan, indignantly.  "What a
detestable woman!  As if she could have expected such a baby to know!"

"You're wrong, Nan!" the governess said.  "It was a wholesome lesson,
and I am grateful to Aunt Rebecca for having given it to me."

"Well, I shouldn't think you would be," insisted the girl rebelliously.
"The idea of her expecting such a mite to understand!"

"Ah, but you see I did understand.  And I have never forgotten it.  I
have never asked any one to 'pitch me Lilly' since that day--I mean
never when I could go and get her myself."

Nan pondered over it moodily for a moment.  "And did you have to stay
in that house until you were grown up?" she demanded.

"Oh, no!  When I was about your age I went to boarding-school, and
everything was changed and different after that."

"How?"

"Well, I made dear, faithful friends who took me to their hearts and
who made my life rich with their love.  All that other hungry, empty
time was over, and for many years I never knew what it was to feel sad
or lonely, or to have a wish that would not have been gladly gratified
if it could be."

"Now they were something like!" ejaculated Nan.  "Dear me!  I should
think you would have been sorry when you got through school."

Miss Blake made no reply.  She put up her hand to shield her eyes from
the glare of the fire, and for a second or two there was a deep hush in
the room.  Nan was the first to break the silence.

"Goodness!" she cried, springing to her feet with a bound.  "It's as
dark as a pocket outside, and Delia'll think we're lost or something if
we don't go home."

Miss Blake surreptitiously gathered her work together and slipped it
into her bag.  "Yes, we must scamper," she exclaimed, as she turned to
help Nan on with her coat.

"Dear, dear, what a gorgeous hat!" exclaimed Mrs. Newton, as the girl
set it carelessly upon her head.

Nan looked sheepish.  "I'm glad you like it!" she ventured clumsily.

Mrs. Newton did not respond that she had not said she liked it.  She
busied herself with Miss Blake and her wraps, and replied merely, "It's
a remarkable gay affair."

Then she kissed the governess "Good-night," and saw both her and Nan
safely to the door.

The two hastened across the street to see which could get out of the
wind first.

"I beat!" panted the girl, as she stood in the vestibule and saw Miss
Blake breathlessly climb the last step.

"Yes, you beat!  Fair and square!" admitted the governess as Delia let
them in, chattering and shivering, from the chilly air.

"Who'll beat now, going upstairs?" screamed Nan.

Miss Blake made a dash for the first step and the two went flying up in
a perfect whirl of laughter and fun.

Delia had forgotten to light the gas in Nan's room and the girl
stumbled about blindly, crashing into the furniture and casting off her
coat and hat in her old headlong fashion, not stopping to think of all
Miss Blake's warnings on the subject, but just hurrying to get down
stairs and "beat" the governess in another race.

"Clean hands!  Smooth hair, and a neat dress for dinner!" sang out the
governess gayly.

Nan shrugged her shoulders in the dark and made a lunge at the
mantelpiece for a match.  She struck it and lit the gas, swinging off
to the washstand as soon as it was done.

Suddenly Miss Blake heard a shriek, a rush of feet across the floor,
and then Nan's voice exclaiming "Great Scott!" in a tone that was a
cross between a laugh and a cry.

She did not wait a moment but hurried instantly to the girl's door.

Nan was standing beside the gas fixture, and in her hand was her
cherished hat--a ruined mass of smoldering felt and charred plumage.

"Nan!" exclaimed Miss Blake, horrified at the sight.

"I know it!  Isn't it awful!  I just slung it on the globe as I always
do, and--and--when I lit the gas I forgot all about it, and it was
ablaze in a minute.  Don't say a word!  I know you've told me hundreds
of times not to put it there.  But I forgot, and--O dear! what'll I
wear on my head the rest of the winter?  But it is too funny!"

Miss Blake tried to look stern.

"I'm heartily sorry you've lost your hat, Nan," she said, kindly,
without a hint of reproach in her voice.  "You were so fond of it.  I'm
really very sorry, dear!"

Nan checked her laughter.  She let the hat fall to the floor.  A sudden
impulse seized her, and she strode up the governess and took her by the
shoulders.

"You're a real dear not to say 'I told you so!'" she cried.  "And you
haven't jeered at me, though I know you hated the hat from the start.
And now I'm going to tell you something--two things!  First: I'm never
going to hang up my clothes on the gas again, honestly!  And second: I
hated the old thing, too.  The minute I bought it I hated it, and I've
hated it ever since."

Miss Blake looked up, and their eyes met.

"Good for you, Nan," she said, standing on her tip-toes to pat the girl
approvingly on the head.  "Good for you!  And now it's my turn to
confess.  Wait a minute!"

She flew out of the room, and before Nan fairly knew she had gone she
was back again, and in her hand was a huge milliner's box.

"I couldn't help it!" she cried, half apologetically.  "I got it that
day, just to please myself--and now you'll wear it, won't you, dear?
It's very simple, but it is of the best, and it will match your coat,
you see."

She untied the string, lifted the sheets of tissue-paper, and displayed
what even Nan had to admit was a beautiful hat.

The girl looked at it in silence for a moment; then she ducked down
impulsively, and gave the governess a quick, shy kiss upon the cheek.

"Thank you," she said, huskily, with a sort of gulp, and then she ran
out of the room as fast as her feet would carry her.



CHAPTER XI

CHRISTMAS

"This is to be a German Christmas," Miss Blake said, "and we're going
to celebrate it on Christmas eve.  Of all the different customs I've
seen I like the German the best.  It is so jolly and freundlich, as
they say over there."

So on Christmas eve the library doors were thrown open for the first
time in days and days, and there stood the most glorious tree that Nan
had ever seen.  It was decked out with a hundred glistening things and
laden down with red apples, yellow oranges, and pounds and pounds of
peppermint candy, and barley-sugar figures, pretty to see and delicious
to eat, to say nothing of Marzipan, to which the girl was introduced
for the first time, and which she found altogether fascinating.
Innumerable candles burned gayly among the spreading boughs, and at the
very top hovered an angel with outspread, shimmering wings, her hands
bearing a garland of glistening tinsel, and her garments ablaze with
gold and silver decoration.  Grown girl as she was, Nan was delighted.
It was all so new and strange; so different from anything she had ever
experienced before.

Beside the tree were tables spread with white cloths, and upon these
lay the presents, and wonderful presents they proved.  Miss Blake and
Delia had outdone themselves, and Nan's table was a sight to behold.
It seemed to her it held everything she had ever expressed a wish
for--except a bicycle, of course.

A pocket-kodak from Miss Blake, a banjo from her father, skates from
Delia, she had longed for just such a new pair, and innumerable other
articles bearing no giver's name, but coming, every one, from the same
generous source Nan knew well enough.  She absolutely lost her head in
the delight of possessing such an array of treasures.

Her own little offerings seemed to her poor and mean in comparison with
this display; but Miss Blake's eyes actually filled with grateful tears
at the sight of the half-dozen linen handkerchiefs the girl had marked
for her with so much trouble and at the cost of so many hours of
recreation, and Delia hugged her rapturously at the sight of the
gorgeous dress-pattern that Nan had selected for her "all alone by
herself," and that had come out of the saving of more than a
half-year's allowance of precious pocket-money.

"Now, Nan!" said Miss Blake, when the first excitement had somewhat
subsided, "there is one more surprise that Delia and Mr. Turner and I
have planned for you, and as I expect it to arrive at any moment now,
and as it is pretty big I want you to help clear away these tables to
give it lots of room to move about in.  We want to get everything out
of the way and all the presents safely stowed aside upstairs so nothing
will be broken.  While we are going back and forth you may guess what
it is, if you like."

"A bicycle?" ventured Nan, striding upstairs with her kodak in one arm
and a bundle of books in the other.

"No, it's not a bicycle.  Guess again.  I'll give you two more,"
answered the governess, following after her with her load.

"I know what I want next to a bicycle."

"What?"

"I don't like to say."

"Why?"

"Well, you know," hesitated the girl, "if I said what it was, and if
what you've got turned out something different, you might feel
disappointed because you might think I did."

Miss Blake smiled.  "That's a generous thought, Nan," she said; "but I
give you free leave to speak out."

Even now the girl hesitated, and stood awkwardly balancing herself
against the baluster-rail.  "Even if you wanted to you couldn't give it
to me," she blurted out, at length.

"Why?" repeated Miss Blake.

"Because--oh, because--it wouldn't come," she cried, with a rueful
laugh.

"Now that sounds ominous," exclaimed the governess, as she and Nan
started on their last trip.  "It sounds as if you wanted a horse, or
something of that sort, that might prove balky."

"No, it isn't a horse.  But it's balky enough, if that's all."

"Then tell me why it wouldn't come?"

Nan let her armful of gifts fall on her counterpane in a heap.  "Oh,
because--because--its mothers don't approve of me.  What I want is a
party, so there! and I couldn't have one because, even if my father
could afford it, no one would come.  Grace Ellis wouldn't, nor Mary
Brewster, nor any of those girls I'd want.  They turn up their noses at
me because they think I don't know how to behave.  Once Louie Hawes
spoke to me and I liked her, but the next time I saw her she looked the
other way, and I suppose some one had told her something she didn't
approve of.  So she wouldn't come either--no matter how much I asked
her, and of course I wouldn't ask her at all.  Mrs. Andrews up the
street asked me to Ruth's party last winter, but I heard their girl
tell Delia that she did it because she had known my mother and felt
obliged to, so I wouldn't go.  I couldn't after that, you know.  I did
go to the Buckstone twins' party, but all the other girls got off in
corners and laughed and talked, and I was left out and had to shift for
myself.  So I went and talked to John Gardiner and Harley Morris and
those, and of course we got on first-rate--we always do, for if I can't
dance I can skate, and the boys got me to promise I'd go with them the
next good ice, and we got talking about other things, and I never
thought anything about the girls any more until Mrs. Buckstone came up
and said, 'I'm sorry, my dear, to break up this pleasant group, but we
can't permit you to monopolize our young gentlemen.  The rest of the
young ladies are waiting for partners.'  Then I knew I had got myself
into a scrape, for Mrs. Buckstone was dreadfully icy and the girls were
furious.  So you see no one would come."

Miss Blake caught up a stray lock of hair at the girl's temple and
tucked it back into place, smoothed the ribbon upon her "best dress"
collar, and said tenderly:

"Well, that will all be made right to-night, I guess.  Come, take my
hand, and let's fly down stairs, and be ready to receive, for you've
got your wish--there's the bell!--and your party is coming in."

They met the first comers on the stairs, and had to hurry past them to
avoid getting caught by a second installment.  After that the guests
came quick and fast, and Nan had all she could do to welcome them and
wonder dimly in between how things were to be started, so that
everybody should have a good time.

But, bless you!  She might have saved herself the trouble, for Miss
Blake simply set things going without any bother at all, and before Nan
realized what was happening, she saw the governess and big John
Gardiner leading in a lively game, while the music of a piano and some
violins, which were hidden away out of sight, fell upon her delighted
ear.  She followed the sound, and it took her to the glass extension,
which, to her astonishment, was all alight, and fragrant with flowering
plants and towering palms.  The "old trunks and things" that had
littered the place were gone, and in their stead was all this soft
greenness and bloom, while from above hung graceful lanterns, sending
out a tender light that made the leaves look shadowy and waxen, and
gave the spot a peculiar air of mystery and grace.

She found Louie Hawes and Ruth Andrews hidden away in a snug corner
behind a screening rubber-tree.  They were apparently deep in
conversation when she came up, but at sight of her they fell suddenly
silent and looked embarrassed and ill at ease.  For a moment Nan was at
a loss what to do.  Then, all at once, Miss Blake's rule for etiquette
flashed across her mind:

"When you don't know how to act, Nan, do something honest and kind, and
that will be sure to be right."

She told herself that perhaps after all, the girls had not been talking
about her, and said to them pleasantly:

"Do you like it away back here?  It's rather out of the way of the
games; but don't you want to play?"

"Oh, yes; by and by," stammered Ruth, awkwardly.  "It's awfully pretty
in this conservatory, and Lu and I got in here and couldn't get away.
One wants to sit still and just enjoy it.  I think I never saw such
dainty lanterns."

The conversation seemed on the point of coming to a standstill, but Nan
plunged in again, her sense of being hostess spurring her on.

"I guess they're some Miss Blake brought with her from China, or
somewhere.  She has been around the world, and has collected any number
of beautiful things.  Some of them are perfectly fine."

"Oh, I think she herself is one of the loveliest things!" cried Ruth,
enthusiastically.  "She has a darling face.  One wants to kiss her,
she's so dear!"

"Mamma says she used to know her years ago at school," said Louie.
"She says she is one of the finest characters she knows.  She was
delighted to have me come when Miss Blake asked me to your party."

"Yes, it was awfully nice of you to think of us," put in Ruth,
laboriously.

Again the conversation threatened to flag.  But here was Nan's
opportunity to do something honest, and she did it.

"Oh, don't thank me.  I didn't think of you," she returned bluntly;
"that is, I didn't know anything at all about the party myself until a
little while ago.  Miss Blake did it all.  I don't know how in the
world she ever happened to ask just the ones I wanted, though."

Ruth and Louie exchanged glances.  Then they laughed.

"Well, if you didn't think of us," they said, "you wanted us, so it's
nice of you all the same."

That broke the ice, and it wasn't five minutes before all three were
sitting together and chatting as comfortably as if they had been on the
most intimate terms of friendship for years, and it was only Nan's
sense of her responsibility as hostess that dragged her away at last.

"Miss Blake will wonder where we are.  Won't you come into the other
room?  Besides you can't enjoy being cooped up in this little corner
when the fun is going on outside."

"Oh, but we do enjoy it!" protested Ruth.  "It's giving us a chance to
get acquainted with you.  And we want you to promise us that you'll go
skating with us day after to-morrow.  Please do!"

"Of course we know how you skate," declared Louie, "and we'll be so
proud to have such a champion in our club.  Say you'll come!  And don't
hold it against us that we haven't asked you before."

Nan's heart leaped.  "Why, I'll love to," she said with a frankness
equal to Louie's own, adding in a tone quite new to her, "if Miss Blake
will let me."

Grace Ellis and Mary Brewster lifted their eyebrows in surprise as the
three girls appeared in the doorway, chatting so intimately and being
so plainly on the best of terms.

"Dear me!" whispered Grace, "what's come over Lu and Ruth?  They
actually look as if they liked her."

"Don't you believe it," declared Mary sourly.  "They're here at her
party and they can't exactly shove her off in her own house, but it
will be 'for one night only.'  Now you see!  They won't want her around
now any more than they have before--a rowdyish thing like that."

She had scarcely replaced her bitter expression by one more suited to
the time and place when Louie came over to where they were, her face
wreathed in smiles, and her arm flung impulsively around Nan's waist.

"O girls!" she cried.  "Isn't it nice?  Ruth and I have made Nan
promise that she'll come skating with us day after to-morrow, and she's
going to join the club.  Won't it put a feather in our cap to have such
a member?"

Mary knit her brows and Grace smiled icily.

"Very nice," they responded coldly.

Nan's eyes flashed, and then suddenly lowered.  "Oh!  I didn't give a
definite promise," she returned quietly, and with unexpected dignity.
"I said if Miss Blake would let me.  I'm afraid she won't.  I hurt my
ankle not long ago, and I haven't dared exercise it much since.
Probably Miss Blake will think I ought to save it for a while yet."

"But you were out on Saturday," protested Ruth.  "I saw you.  Your
ankle is only an excuse.  You skate so easily, it couldn't be a strain."

Grace looked at Mary with a curious expression in her eyes, but neither
of them added her voice to the other girls' solicitations, and the
little group stood there in what threatened to become a painful silence
when Nan felt a light touch on her shoulder, and, turning around,
discovered Miss Blake standing at her elbow.

"O Nan!" she said, smiling brightly at the other girls, as if to excuse
herself for not including them in her familiarity, "won't you please go
and see if you can't entertain that poor young Joe Tracy?  I've done my
best, but he won't come out of his shell for all I can do, and I think
your hearty, breezy way is just what he needs.  He looks so forlorn,
tucked away 'all alone by himself,' as you would say."

She patted the girl affectionately on the shoulder as she sent her on
her way, saying heartily, as she passed out of ear-shot: "I always feel
perfectly secure when I can fall back on Nan to help me out with shy,
sensitive people.  She has such a great, warm heart that it seems to
thaw their stiffness right out of them."

Louie threw her arm impulsively about the governess' waist:

"You're such a dear!" she cried, demonstratively; "and I'm over and
over obliged to you for letting me come here and get acquainted with
Nan.  I think she is ever so nice, and it's a shame that we haven't
known each other before."

Miss Blake gave the girl a hearty smile.

"Better late than never," she returned gayly.

Grace Ellis reddened and Mary Brewster tilted her chin superciliously,
but they both turned their eyes suddenly in the direction of the other
end of the room as Ruth Andrews grasped Miss Blake's arm, and whispered
excitedly:

"For goodness' sake, do look over there!  Nan has got Joe Tracy
laughing already."

Sure enough, the lad's pale, sensitive face was all aglow, and, as he
listened to what the girl was saying, his eyes brightened and his mouth
danced up at the corners in a laugh of genuine appreciation.  Nan was
gesticulating in her own graphic fashion, and the girls could easily
follow her by watching her expression and her vivid pantomime.

Plainly she was describing the sleight-of-hand performance to her
bashful friend, and Miss Blake could readily see that she was not
sparing herself in the recital.

She raised her hands to her head and pretended to take off her hat,
which she made a show of reluctantly surrendering to some one who
received it with a profound bow.  Then she suddenly leaned forward, as
if stumbling on something, and the next moment she held up her hand and
seemed to be regarding some article upon it with an exaggeratedly
doleful expression that was such an exact imitation of the renowned
wizard's that Miss Blake recognized it at once, and laughed as heartily
as Joe Tracy himself.  By this time the girls were thoroughly
interested, and kept their eyes fixed on Nan so that they might not
lose one gesture nor the slightest change of expression.

"O dear!  Those Buckstone girls!  Why do they get in my way," lamented
Louie Hawes, "I wish they wouldn't crowd round her so.  First thing
they know she'll notice them, and stop short off and won't tell any
more."

"Hush, Lu!  There go John Gardiner and Harley Morris!"

But Nan was in full swing now, and too absorbed in her story to be
aware of the little court that had gathered around her.  Joe Tracy's
eyes followed her every movement with greedy interest, and when she at
length imitated the flapping wings of the clucking hen he simply
shouted with laughter and clapped his hands vigorously, quite lost to
all but his appreciation and sense of the fun of the thing.

It seemed to remind him of something similar in his own experience, for
he immediately started in on a description of his own, and Nan sat
listening in her turn with rapt attention.  Every now and then a shout
of laughter would come from the group in the distant corner, and the
girls longed to go over and join in the fun.

"Listen to John Gardiner 'haw-haw!'" cried Mary Brewster.

"Don't the Buckstone twins give funny little giggles?" interposed Louie.

"Why can't we go over and listen too?" suggested Ruth.

So they all, even Grace Ellis and Mary Brewster, went softly toward the
alluring corner, and were just in time to catch the end of Joe Tracy's
story, which was so witty that John Gardiner swayed back and forward
with delight and shook the room with his hearty laugh, and the
Buckstone girls' giggle joined in like a shrill accompaniment.

It had all come about so naturally that Joe Tracy did not realize that
he had been orating to a roomful, and he did not seem to mind it at all
when he discovered that he and Nan had had an audience.  His shyness
was quite gone and his face was radiant with enjoyment.

The piano and violins started in again, and Miss Blake was heard
inviting bulky Tom Porter to escort her down to supper.

Of course, Nan had known all along that there would be something to
eat, but she had not dreamed of such a spread as this.

It made her eyes shine and her cheeks glow to hear such whispered words
as these:

"Yes, indeed!  Aren't you?"

"Far and away the jolliest one yet!"

"Do get me some more salad, won't you, please?  It's the best I ever
ate!"

"Up-and-down jolly time.  A fellow likes to be made feel at home like
this."

Miss Blake, who without seeming to be watching any one, saw that every
one was well supplied, kept a constant eye on Nan, and at last, on the
strength of what she discovered, thought it was time to interfere.

"Now sit down, my dear," she commanded softly, coming up behind the
girl and touching her gently on the arm.  "You are getting all tired
out and having nothing to eat yourself.  Every one is served and the
waiters will look out for the rest.  I have saved a place for you in
the corner beside Louie and Ruth.  So go now and rest and eat and enjoy
yourself.  You must not be the only one at your party who is neglected."

Nan gave her a grateful look and dashed off toward Louie and Ruth who
were beckoning wildly to her to come.  They had so much to tell that
they almost forgot their plates in their eagerness to talk.

"Grace Ellis is just wild to come over here," confided Louie.

"But Mary Brewster won't let her.  Mary just bosses Grace about till I
think it's positively disgraceful," whispered Ruth.

John Gardiner sauntered up.

"Got everything you want?" he asked in a manful effort to be attentive.

"No!" replied Nan, promptly, with a twinkle in her eye.  "I want a
bicycle, please.  Won't you get me one?" and she held out her plate as
if to have it supplied with the desired article.

The tall fellow laughed.  "With pleasure," he said, and took the plate
and marched off with it.

"O dear!  I hadn't finished my salad!" lamented Nan, looking
regretfully after him.

Louie managed to telegraph their dilemma to Harley Morris, who promptly
responded to it by appearing with another plate of salad and a dish of
sandwiches.  He did not go away after Nan was served, but stayed on and
led in the laugh when John Gardiner reappeared with a tiny ice cream
bicycle daintily poised against a mound of jelly, which he presented to
Nan with a low bow full of mock dignity, saying:

"You have only to command and you are obeyed.  Here is your wheel, and
may it go as fast as if it were geared to a hundred."

"Thank you," replied Nan, accepting the joke and the plate at the same
time.  "It'll go fast enough, no fear of that.  Eating is never up-hill
work with me, and this has nothing to do but coast, you see," and she
swallowed the first mouthful down with a jolly laugh.

"Look over at Mary Brewster!  She's trying her best to pretend she
ignores us," whispered Ruth, but not so low but that the young fellows
could hear.

"Is one who ignores an ignor--amus?" asked Harley Morris, grinning
broadly at his own witticism.

"Yes," promptly answered Louie.  "And in this case especially so, for
she doesn't know what she's losing."

There were more games after supper, and last of all came the jolliest
part of the whole evening, an old-fashioned Virginia reel, Miss Blake
and John Gardiner leading and the rest following with the heartiest of
zest.  In and out they tripped and up and down they ran till all were
fairly out of breath.  Then suddenly Miss Blake seized John's hand, and
away they sped toward the library, the rest following helter-skelter,
where the Christmas tree stood all lighted and ablaze.

"All hands round!" shouted John, as they formed a ring and pranced
gayly about the fragrant tree.

Then up rose the governess' cheery voice, singing the dear old
Christmas carol that is always new:

  "Hark! the herald angels sing
  Glory to the new-born King;
  Peace on earth and mercy mild;
  God and sinners reconciled."


And the rest joined in and made the house re-echo with their hearty
chorus:

  "Joyful all ye nations rise,
  Join the triumph of the skies;
  With th' angelic host proclaim,
  Christ is born in Bethlehem!"


It seemed to melt the hearts of every one there, for the voices that
presently said "Good-night," were full of peace and good-will, and even
Mary Brewster's had a ring of sincerity in it as she murmured:

"Good-night, Miss Blake!  Good-night, Nan.  I've had a charming
evening, and I hope we'll know each other better after this."



CHAPTER XII

SMALL CLOUDS

It proved an ideal Christmas day.  Clear and cold and spotlessly white,
for the snow fell heavily all through the night, and covered everything
with a mantle of glistening frost.

Nan looked out of her window, and gave a gasp of delight as she saw the
shimmering, rime-covered trees, with the sunshine striking full upon
them and bringing out sparks of light from every branch and twig.
Whatever sounds there were in the streets came to her softened and
mellowed over the snow-laden ground, and as she listened she felt a
great wave of inward happiness surge into her heart and make the
possibilities of life seem very different to her from anything she had
ever dreamed of before.  The snow, the sound of chiming Christmas
bells, worked upon her, and made her feel that it would be easy to be
good, and that her days ought all to be like this; that she would make
them so, serene and melodious, every one a festival.

She heard Miss Blake stirring in the next room, and tore herself away
from her dreams to begin the day well with a prompt appearance at the
breakfast table.

"It seems to me that if father were only here I wouldn't have a thing
left in the world to wish for," she said happily, spearing a gold-brown
scallop with her fork and eating it with relish.

Miss Blake put down her coffee-cup just as she was carrying it to her
lips, and her face wore the curious expression that Nan had so often
noticed there and could never account for.  But the girl was too busy
with her own thoughts to regard it to-day, and the governess hastened
to respond:

"Then next year, please God, you will be quite entirely happy.  And a
year is not long to wait."

"No, indeed!" broke in Nan.  "Why, I never knew the time to go as
quickly as it does lately.  It doesn't seem any while at all since you
came, and you've been here over two months.  Just let's think what
we'll do next Christmas, when father is home.  To begin with, I'm going
down to the dock with Mr. Turner, so that when the ship comes in he'll
see me the first thing.  Then we'll come up here, and you and Delia
will be waiting to welcome him at the door, and there'll be decorations
and things and--"

"You forget, dear Nan," Miss Blake said, gently interrupting her, "that
I shall not be here then."

The girl's face fell and the light died out of her eyes.  Then she
brightened again suddenly.

"Oh, you must, you must!  Why, my father will want to see you.  Of
course you'll be here.  You'll have to stay and meet him.  You can
surely do as much as that.  You don't know how dear my father is!  And
so handsome and good!  Why, if you once saw him you couldn't possibly
be afraid.  He's simply the kindest man in the world, and when he
smiles at you, you just love him--you can't help it."

Miss Blake herself smiled faintly.  "I am sure he is all you say, Nan,"
she replied.  "But listen!  There go the first bells.  We must hurry or
we shall be late for church."

The girl rose and made her way rather slowly to the stairs.  Somehow
she felt less light-hearted than she had done a few minutes before.
What was it?  She could not understand.  The world had seemed all joy
and sunshine to her a quarter of an hour since, and now there was a
cloud over her heart that dimmed for her even the radiant prospect of
her father's return.

"I feel just like sitting down and having a good cry--if I ever did
such a thing," she said to herself as she fastened on her new hat and
tried to be glad that it was so becoming.

But as she and Miss Blake walked along the streets in the midst of a
crowd of happy, chatting church-goers her spirits rose, and she nodded
gayly to the Buckstone girls and Harley Morris, and broke into quite a
ripple of laughter as John Gardiner overtook them and asked if the
wheel he had brought her the night before had proved a good one.

"Oh, it was immense!" answered Nan, merrily.

The services were beautiful, and Nan entered into them heart and soul,
listening to the sermon with rapt attention and letting her fresh young
voice swell out jubilantly in the dear, familiar carols as she had
never done before.

As they went out of church Miss Blake said to her softly:

"You won't mind going on without me, will you, Nan?  I have a little
errand to do before I go home.  Tell Delia I'll be back in time for
dinner."

[Illustration: "I have a little errand to do"]

"But why can't I go with you?" demanded the girl.

"Because it--it wouldn't be best.  I will explain it to you later.  Now
I must go.  Tell Delia what I said.  But if I should happen to be
delayed don't wait, and don't--that is, tell Delia not to worry.
Good-bye!" and she was around the corner before Nan could say another
word.

Ruth Andrews joined her and they walked along together, falling at once
into the easy terms of familiarity that had sprung up between them the
night before.

"O Nan!" began Ruth abruptly, "you aren't going to be such a goose as
to back out of joining the skating club just because--well, because
Mary Brewster's such a prig?  She isn't the whole membership, not by a
good deal, and the rest of us count on your coming.  Why, you'll be a
tremendous acquisition.  And the first meet is to-morrow.  Won't you
come?"

Nan hesitated.  "It isn't because I'm a goose," she said at length.
"That is, I mean--oh, I can't explain it, but really, Ruth, I'd rather
not join.  I wouldn't have a good time myself, and I'd only be spoiling
Mary Brewster's pleasure.  It's no use.  I know she's not the whole
club, and I really think the rest of you would like to have me, but
somehow, knowing she didn't want me, would spoil the whole thing and
I'd just be miserable the entire time."

Ruth shook her head as if at the hopeless state of Nan's obstinacy, but
she broke in again immediately with a new suggestion:

"Besides, I don't think you can be at all sure she feels that way now.
Why, I myself heard her telling you and Miss Blake that she hoped you
and she would know each other better after this."

"Well, so we do," said Nan, whimsically.  "I know now for a certainty
that she doesn't want me, and she knows that I won't go where I'm not
wanted, and if that isn't getting acquainted with a vengeance I'd like
to know what is."

Ruth laughed ruefully, but broke in, with sudden inspiration: "O dear!
You're as proud as a peacock, Nan Cutler.  Louie will be dreadfully
disappointed, for she told me to tell you she counted on you to take
her out.  She's never skated much, you know, and she's wobbly on her
ankles.  She's afraid of the teachers, and she doesn't like to ask the
boys, because they hate to have a girl hanging on to them, and the rest
of us have as much as we can do to attend to our own affairs."

Nan's face lit up with quick pleasure.  "Oh, if Louie needs me I'll
come in a jiffy.  If you see her, won't you tell her I'll be only too
happy to teach her everything I know?"

"Then we'll call for you at ten sharp to-morrow morning," announced the
wily Ruth, and before Nan could change her mind she had slipped off and
left her standing with her word given at her steps.

"Where's Miss Blake?" asked Delia, opening the door in answer to Nan's
ring and seeing her alone.

"Gone off somewhere on an errand or something.  I don't know.  She said
she'd be home for dinner, but if she wasn't, not to worry and not to
wait."

Delia wrung her hands.  "O Nan, child, why did you let her away from
you?  She's gone to the Duffys; I know she has.  And they've scarlet
fever in the house.  The milkman told me so this morning at mass.
She's been going there for weeks, doing for them and carrying them
money and things.  The youngest of the children had been sick all the
week, and now she's down with the fever.  If I'd only thought to tell
her this morning!  But my head was so full of the breakfast and
clearing up a bit after last night that I forgot.  Oh, why did you let
her away from you?"

"How could I know?" cried Nan, almost savagely.  "I never knew she went
to such places!  What has she got to do with the Duffys, anyhow?  Why
hasn't somebody stopped her from going, I should like to know?  She's
no business to run such risks.  The first thing you know she'll catch
the fever, and then--and then--"

She turned her back on Delia, and the next moment was flying upstairs
two steps at a time.

"What are you going to do, Nan?" cried the woman.

"Go after her and bring her home!" shouted the girl.

But Delia barred the way when she tried to come down again.  "You can't
do that, Nan," she protested.  "It would only make things worse.  Just
wait, and see if she comes home to dinner."

"No; I want to go now!" persisted the girl.

"But don't you see it would only worry her?" insisted Delia.

Nan considered.  "Well, I'll wait till dinner," she admitted; "but if
she isn't here by then I'll start."

She sat down by the parlor window and commenced to watch.  It seemed to
her that every one in town came into sight but the one she was looking
for with such curious anxiety.  Suddenly her heart gave a great leap.
She flew to the front door and flung it wide.

"She's come!  She's come!" she shouted to Delia, exultantly.

"Nan, Nan!" cried Miss Blake, hearing the joyous ring in her voice and
seeing the glad light in her eyes.  "What is the matter?  Has anything
happened?  Has--has any one come?"  As she spoke her lips grew white.

"Yes!  You're the matter!  You've happened!  You've come!  I tell you
I'm glad!  And don't you ever go to those Duffys again, where there's
scarlet fever, and you can die of it!"

Miss Blake sank upon the hall-chair and held her hand to her heart.

"Why, what's the matter?" gasped Nan, frightened at the sight of her
white face.

"Nothing, dear, nothing!  I was startled--that was all."

"But who startled you?" persisted the girl.

"Not you.  It is all over now."

"You see," Nan hastened to explain, "the milkman told Delia there was
scarlet fever at the Duffys, and we thought you had gone there, and it
scared us to death."

"But I told you to tell Delia not to worry."

"Much good telling would do!  Besides, you didn't tell me not to worry.
Of course, she'd worry anyhow and so would I.  But is it true?  Have
the Duffys got scarlet fever?"

Miss Blake hesitated.  Then she said, truthfully, "Yes, they have, Nan.
Little Mary Ellen has it.  But you need not be afraid.  I would not
come back into this house without taking every precaution."

Nan cast on her an indignant look.  "And you think that's what made us
worry?" she asked, and turned on her heel and tramped upstairs in high
displeasure.  But she had scarcely got as far as the landing when she
felt a hand upon her arm.

"Nan, forgive me.  I didn't think so--really.  I know you had my safety
in mind.  But I have been very careful all along.  And now I have a
good nurse for the child, and I think she will pull through."

"But promise me you won't go there any more," demanded Nan, sternly,
only half mollified.

"I promise gladly.  They don't need me now, and it would be wicked to
take an unnecessary risk."

"Well, I should think so.  Now, remember, you've promised.  O Delia!
Is dinner ready?"

All through the meal Miss Blake was aware of Nan's eyes fixed upon her
in a peculiarly scrutinizing gaze.  She was puzzled, but asked no
questions, sure that, sooner or later, the girl would disclose the
reason herself.  At length it came.

"Does your head ache, Miss Blake?"

"No, dear; why?"

"Because your cheeks are pretty red, and I thought you might not be
feeling very well."

"Probably the brisk wind has made them so, for I feel very well indeed."

"Oh!"

But at twilight Miss Blake came upon her bending double over a volume
of the Encyclopaedia, and a glance showed her what article the girl was
studying.  It was that headed "Scarlet fever."

The book was shut with a clap, and Nan stalked off to replace it in the
book-case without a word.  She came back in a moment, however, and
stood before Miss Blake like a grim young Fate, her dark eyes full of
care and worry.

"See here!  You've got to take something.  There's no use fooling with
a sickness like that.  Your cheeks are red, and I shouldn't wonder but
your throat is sore.  When you came home you kind of went to pieces on
the hall chair, and I guess your head is aching this minute.  I don't
say you've got scarlet fever, but--it looks mighty like it, that's all.
Now don't be scared.  I'll take care of you.  I can, you know, if I put
my mind to it."

Miss Blake dared not hug her, though it was precisely what she longed
to do.  She dared not laugh at her, either, for that would give lasting
offense when Nan was so deadly in earnest.  What she did was to say
brightly, but in quite as off-hand and matter-of-fact way as the girl
herself had spoken:

"I'm sure you could.  But you see I am perfectly well.  Honestly, I
haven't a pain nor an ache, and if my cheeks are still red it's because
the skin has been frost-nipped.  I give you my word of honor I will go
to a doctor if I feel the slightest symptom."

Her tone was so heartily sincere that Nan could not doubt her.  She
drew a long breath of relief, as if a heavy load had been lifted from
her heart, and threw herself upon the lounge with a contented sigh.

"Just think," she said.  "Last night this time I didn't even know I was
going to have a party, and now it's all over and done with, and Ruth
and Louie want me to go skating with them to-morrow.  It's been the
happiest Christmas I ever spent, with the exception of the Duffy part,
and I wish it could last forever."

"I think some of it will," replied Miss Blake in her gentle voice, as
Delia came to light the lamps.



CHAPTER XIII

ON THE ICE

There was a great crowd on the lake.  It was perfect skating weather,
and every one who had skates and could use them, had come to enjoy the
advantage of the first real ice of the season.  The banks were thronged
with onlookers, and it was a great inspiration to the expert ones to
know that their performances would be watched and commended by such an
audience as this.

"Goodness, girls!  Did you ever see such a crush?" asked Louie
feverishly, hurrying her pace, as she, Nan, and Ruth neared the spot.

"There won't be room to move," announced Nan, adding with a laugh,
"much less to fall down in."

"All the better for me!  I'll put on my skates and let the crowd push
me round.  I'm never too sure of myself, but in a crush like this, one
can't go over, so I'm saved a heap of worry!" cried Ruth with a jolly
laugh.

Nan's skates were on in a twinkling, and she longed with all her heart
to be off and away.  But the sight of poor Louie, struggling vainly
with her refractory straps, kept her back.

"Oh, do hurry," urged Ruth excitedly.

"Did you ever see such contrary things?" gasped Louie, her cheeks
crimson with cold, and the exertion of bending double in her fur jacket.

"Give them to me; I'll get them on in a jiffy," and Nan was down on her
knees and the skates secured before Louie had even time to thank her
with a look.

"Now, do come on!" cried Ruth, fairly dancing with eagerness.

"Oh, wait! wait!  Please wait!" pleaded Louie.  "This is the first time
I've been on the ice this year, and I feel so nervous I could scream."

John Gardiner spun past with a nod and a flourish, but a moment later
wheeled about and came skimming up to where they were standing, saying
briskly:

"Jolly day, isn't it?  Ice in first-rate shape, too.  Too many people,
but after a few of them get tired out it will be all right.  Don't
suppose they'd care to stand aside and let us show them what skating
is, eh, Nan?"

Nan laughed.  "Perhaps they wouldn't like the figures we'd cut.  I'm
not sure I would myself.  Pride goes before a fall, and I'd rather be a
bit humble and keep on my feet."

"As though you'd ever take a tumble," cried the young fellow with great
scorn.  "Oh, I say, come along and let's do a turn or two, as we did on
the Steamer last year.  Don't you remember what a rousing cheer we got?
Let's try it again."

For an instant Nan's blood leaped.  She liked to do daring things, and
she loved applause.  John Gardiner was as much at home on his skates as
she was on hers, and they were singularly at ease together.  Moreover,
way down in her heart was a sort of lurking pride at being especially
chosen by this favorite among the "fellows" and being seen with him in
his attractive suit and his graceful "Norwegians" that were the envy
and admiration of all the other fellows in town.  It certainly was a
temptation, and for a moment Nan yielded to it.  Then she looked at
Louie's anxious face and shook her head.

"I'm heaps obliged," she said.  "But I guess I'd better not to-day.  It
wasn't much harm at the Steamer, for there was no crowd there to speak
of; but here it's so public, I'm afraid it wouldn't look well."

John threw back his head and laughed.

"As if you cared how things look!" he cried, frankly.

Nan's cheeks reddened furiously.  She looked down and drew a figure on
the ice with the tip of her skate.  Her confusion could not escape him,
and he caught himself up instantly.  "I mean, you've always been so
sensible, you know.  You haven't cared for tattle or nonsense.  That's
what's made us like you so.  A fellow hasn't had to be on the continual
jump for fear your hat wasn't on straight or your hair was coming down.
You're as plucky as a boy, and it's like having another jolly, good
fellow about when you're around.  You're not going back on all that?
You aren't going to turn girly-girly?  You aren't going to be a Nancy,
are you?"

She lifted her head with a jerk.  "No; I'm going to stay plain Nan,"
she retorted.  "But I can't go out with you this morning, John--at
least not now.  Later I may take a turn if you're willing."

He saw that there was no shaking her resolution, and turned away with a
frown and a sigh.

"Very well.  If you won't, you won't.  I'll look you up by and by,
though, and maybe you'll have changed your mind by then," and he was
off like a flash, his flying feet seeming scarcely to touch the ice,
and his long, curved, glistening skates flashing back the sunlight from
their dazzling nickel blades.

Louie clutched Nan's arm.  "Oh, I'm so glad you didn't go!" she said,
agitatedly.  "I'm all of a tremble, and I'm sure I'll slip if you don't
hold on to me."

So Nan held on to her, and slowly piloted her this way and that, urging
her gently to strike out alone, and patiently waiting until she had the
courage to try.  Ruth darted hither and thither, minding it as little
when she went down herself as when she was the cause of others doing
so, and always skating with an awkward energy that was refreshing to
behold.

"O Nan!" panted Louie, "how did you learn?"

"By getting up whenever I fell down," declared Nan, succinctly.

Ruth came toward them with arms flying like windmills.

"O girls!" she gasped; but just here her feet went from under her, and
she sat squarely upon the ice with a great plump.  "O girls!" she
repeated, not a bit abashed and without trying to get up, "Mary
Brewster and Grace are over there, and they just asked John to take
them out--at least Mary did--and he said he was ever so sorry, but his
'card was full,' and they are simply furious."

"Get up!" commanded Nan, with lips that would twitch in spite of her
efforts to control them.  "You'll catch your death of cold!"

Ruth grasped her outstretched hand and struggled to her feet.  "How are
you getting on, Lu?" she asked, shaking the snow from her skirts.

"I think I'm doing a little better.  Don't you, Nan?" appealed Louie,
tremulously.

"Why, yes.  You'll skate as well as any one after you've once gained
courage," Nan returned cheerfully, and took up the slow, tedious task
again of steering her laboriously this way and that, Louie meanwhile
clinging to her arm and uttering little panic-stricken shrieks that
irritated Nan beyond measure.  No one could conceive how hard it was
for the girl not to desert her clinging companion.  She knew in her
heart that Louie would never master the knack unless she were made to
rely upon herself.  As long as she could depend on Nan's support she
would not make any effort to use her own energy, nor would she exert
her will-power to force herself to strike out alone.  The ice was in
perfect condition to-day, but it would not long remain so with such a
crowd cutting it to pieces, and the sun already thawing the powdered
snow and threatening to do more damage to-morrow.  If Nan lost her
chance now she might not have another so good in weeks to come, for the
weather was always uncertain and the holidays were short.  Everything
seemed to urge her to break loose from her self-imposed martyrdom and
go her way rejoicing; the crisp air that sang in her ears and filled
her with a sense of glorious exhilaration; the shimmering sunlight on
the ice that seemed to scud before her and invite her to join in the
race; the knowledge that she was in reality doing Louie a doubtful
service by staying beside her, and, last of all, the look of
disappointment in John's eyes as he shot past them at intervals, and
saw that Nan was not yet ready to capitulate.  A sort of war with
herself was waging in her mind; her sense of duty against her
preferences; her long established habits against her newly found
resolutions.  She had resolved to be like other girls in the future.
It was like headlong, impulsive Nan to make a resolve like this, and
never stop to realize that it was only the exaggeration of herself that
proved objectionable; that it would be as impossible for her to be
sedate and silent and serious as for a dashing dandelion to become a
dainty buttercup.

To her it seemed as if Miss Blake and the rest--were demanding of her
just such a metamorphosis and she had been trying--she really had--to
recast herself in the mold she thought they exacted.  And now here came
John Gardiner, surely the nicest and most mannerly young fellow she
knew, and the one whom even Miss Blake was pleased to call "a perfect
gentleman"--here came John Gardiner, and told her that her despised
characteristics were precisely the ones that made her valuable.  She
shook her head.  It was no use; she could not understand.

"O Nan!" cried Louie, shunting along clumsily by her side and clutching
her arm in desperation.  "Won't you please get me over to the shore?
I'm all tired out.  I guess I'll go in for a bit and warm up and get
rested, and then I'll come out again, may be, and take another try."

Nan assented with alacrity.

"You've made a pretty good beginning," she said with new encouragement
in her voice.

"Oh, it's always the same!" wailed Louie.  "Year before last I got so I
could do it quite respectably, and then last year I had to learn all
over again.  I really thought I'd pick it up where I left off this
year, but you see how it is!  The very sight of the ice when I'm on
skates makes me quake."

"Just force yourself to do it and you'll be surprised to see how soon
you'll be skimming all over creation," advised Nan, as she unfastened
her friend's skates and saw her start stiffly up the path to the Lodge.

Her heart gave a bound as she realized that she was at last alone and
untrammeled.  She pulled her Russian cap well into place, thrust her
hands deep into her pockets, and set out for the middle of the lake,
her lithe young body swaying gently forward as she was carried this way
and that by her gliding feet.  She looked about for John, but he was
nowhere to be seen, and she concluded that he had given up expecting
her and had either gone home or joined other friends.  Ruth was forging
about after her own peculiar fashion, getting in every one's way and
under every one's feet, and enjoying it all immensely.  She was
perfectly self-reliant, and Nan did not feel that there was any
necessity of offering assistance or even companionship to such a
self-sufficient, resolute maiden, and so she set about enjoying her
independence with a clear conscience.  A moment later she had forgotten
everything but the keen delight of the delicious exercise; the fresh
current of air upon her cheeks; the sense of flashing through space
"without any appreciable effort; the knowledge of her mastery of the
art.  She had not a shadow of fear.  Instead, she felt a sort of wild
exultation in her own daring, and set about doing difficult feats with
an added delight in the very risk of the thing.  Suddenly a shadow shot
toward her from the back, caught her by the arm and went flying
forward, suiting his rhythm to hers in an instant.

"Oh! heyo, John!  I thought you'd gone home!" said Nan.

"Not a bit of it.  Think I'd leave the ice when it's as prime as this?
Not much.  What under the canopy have you been about all this time?
Toting Lou Hawes around when you ought to be making the best of the
rarest chance you'll get this season, maybe?"

"Oh, that's all right," rejoined Nan in a matter-of-fact way.  "I liked
to do it--for a change.  And she's a little timid."

"Well now, you're free, let's have a couple of extra good turns just to
make up for lost time," and he took her hand and started off on a fine,
free swing, Nan gliding beside him in such perfect accord that it
seemed as if one impulse moved them both.  They swung apart rejoined,
and swung apart again.  Then, dropping her hand John gave a curving
glide to the right which took him a pace ahead of her, and she,
repeating his movement, but toward the left, passed easily before him
on the other side, so on and on in a sort of progressive chain, until
at a sign they sped backward, reversing the order in which they had
come, and reached the starting point and circled round it, clasping
crossed hands and chatting gayly the while.

John saw that they had already attracted some attention, and it only
made his pulses quicken.  He also saw that Nan was oblivious to
everything, but the mere delight of what she was doing, and he did not
think it worth while to remind her that this was not the Steamer, and
that if she wished to be inconspicuous, as she had suggested, she would
better limit herself strictly to a commonplace gait.  Instead he bent
toward her, and said in a quick, low undertone, "I'll bet a quarter
you've forgotten how to cut your name."

"Oh, have I?" cried Nan, the spur pricking sharply at her pride.  "Want
to see me do it?" and off she went accordingly, accomplishing the
difficult figure without a thought of hesitation, and returning to his
side laughing and triumphant.

"Now the spiral!  Forward!  Left foot first!  Now right!  Combination!"

John gave the directions in a sort of tense whisper.  He was mortally
afraid Nan would become conscious, and see what was going on about her.
But he might have spared himself the trouble.  She was absolutely blind
to the crowd that had gathered about them, and all the commendation she
was aware of was that which he gave her in a murmured "Good!" or "Fine!"

A wide circle had been cleared for them, and in it they and one or two
other hardy souls were exhibiting their prowess, while the throng
outside whispered and applauded and made comments on the different
skaters and their respective skill and grace.

"There!  That's the serpentine he's doing now!  Isn't it pretty?"

"It must be frightfully hard to go backward like that!"

"I should think he'd fall on his head!"

"Look!  See!  She's starting off again!  Doesn't she do it well?"

"Who is she, anyway?"

Nan had completed her figure, and was waiting at the edge of the circle
for John to finish his and to come and join her.  She stood well back,
so that she might not interfere with the others, and thus it was that
she was waked from her trance with an abrupt shock by the sound of two
whispering voices, seeming almost at her ear, their murmur carried so
in the chill, crystal air.

"Didn't I tell you she was a bold thing?"

"Sh!  She'll hear you!  She's right in front of us--only those men
between."

"No she won't, either.  We're too far away.  Didn't I tell you Lu's and
Ruth's friendship was for one night only?  I knew well enough why Lu
asked her to come.  Any one could see through that.  She wants to learn
how to skate, and this was as ready a way as any to be taught, and she
jumps at the chance."

"Oh, do hush!  She'll hear!"

"Don't care if she does.  I don't know what your opinion is, but mine
is that it's positively brazen of her to do such things before a crowd
like this.  Dragging John Gardiner into it, too!  It's a disgrace!"

"Sh, please!  There he comes!"

Nan pulled herself wearily forward a step or two to meet him.

"I say, what's up?  What's the matter?" he demanded anxiously, looking
into her face and seeing the change it had undergone.

"Nothing!  Nothing!" she reassured him quickly.  "I'm tired, that's
all.  And I didn't realize these people were watching us.  Let's get
out of this.  I hate the way they stare.  I want to go home."

John took her by the elbow and steered for the bank.

"Won't you find Grace and Louie first?  You came with them, didn't you?
They won't know what's become of you."

"I don't care!  I want to go home!" she repeated irritably.

They sped forward silently, and in a moment had reached the shore.  Nan
trembled so as she tried to unfasten her skates that John pushed her
hands aside and made her submit to having him assist her.

"You've caught cold!" he said remorsefully, "I was a brute to keep
urging you on.  But I didn't dream you were tired.  You looked so
bright and well."

"I'm not tired.  I haven't caught cold!" said Nan.  "Don't bother about
me, please.  Go back and finish up your skate!"

"Thank you kindly, ma'am," rejoined he, removing his own skates.  "But
I've finished it up already," and he grasped her arm and tramped her
off in the direction of the Park entrance with vigorous steps.

"Won't Lou and Ruth wonder?" he ventured again after a moment of
silence.

"No!  They don't care!" cried Nan, dismally.

"The mischief they don't!" and John gave vent to an exclamation of
disbelief. "Why, Ruth was only telling me half an hour ago how good and
generous you were, and Louie caught me in the Lodge and went into regular
spasms over you. You're the patientest, the generousest--everythingelse-est
girl she knows. I had actually to tear myself away from her raptures when I
saw that you were free of her and could take a turn with me."

Nan shook her head.

"No, you're wrong, John!" she said hopelessly.  "They don't like me.
None of them do.  It's no use.  I thought Christmas eve I might make
them, perhaps--but I give it up.  I'm too--different!"

"Now, see here, Nan!" cried John, stopping suddenly in the middle of
the path and confronting her squarely, "this change of base has come on
you all of a sudden.  You weren't in such a state before.  You've seen
something or heard something that's given you a turn.  Say now, haven't
you, honestly?"

Nan gulped and nodded grimly.

"I thought so.  Well, now, you say you're different from the other
girls, and so you are in most ways, but just at present you're doing
the silliest trick I know.  Going off by yourself and making people
miserable all around.  Do you know what a fellow would do in your
place?  Why, he'd go straight to the man he'd heard or seen back-biting
him and he'd make him come out fair and square and own up--or shut up.
'You pays your money and you takes your choice.'  That's what a fellow
would do.  But girls prefer to be martyrs and go about 'letting
concealment prey upon their damask cheeks' and all that namby-pamby
nonsense.  Pshaw!  I wouldn't give a rush for a girl's courage.  It's
all humbug."

"It isn't any such thing!" cried Nan, hastening to defend her sex.  "It
isn't because I'm afraid that I don't go straight up to the--the
person.  It's because I have too much pride.  I wouldn't demean myself
by letting her know I care."

"Oh, fudge!  Pride!  I like that!  Care?  Why, whoever she is, she can
see that, anyhow, with half an eye.  It's as plain as preaching.  You
came with Lu and Ruth, and were as gay and jolly as could be.  Then,
all of a sudden, you turn grumpy and want to go home, and say Lu and
Ruth don't like you.  The explanation of that is simple enough.  You've
heard some one saying something about you, or pretending to repeat
something Lu and Ruth have said about you.  There!  Now haven't I hit
the nail on the head?"

Nan made no reply.

"I wager I have, though," continued the young fellow, watching her
closely, and drawing many of his conclusions from the evidence of her
tell-tale face.  "And I'd be ashamed, even if I were a girl, to let
myself be worried by a thing like that.  Besides, it isn't fair to Lu
and Ruth.  You ought to give them a chance to set themselves straight.
You've no right to believe things of them till you've their own word
for it that it's true.  Give them a chance, and if they act queer you
can throw them over."

"But I can't ask them," burst out Nan.  "It wasn't anything they said.
It was about the way they feel, and if I give them a chance they may
throw me over."

John laughed.  "True for you.  They may.  But anyway, you'd have done
the just thing.  Whatever they did to you, you'd have played fair."

Nan thought a moment.  Suddenly she turned on her heel and began to
retrace her steps.  "I'm going back," she said, stoutly, "to find Lu
and Ruth! and--and--give them that chance."

"There!  Now you're behaving like an honest man," announced John, with
gusto.  "One can't afford to be too perpendicular."

But before they had taken a dozen steps they came upon the two girls
themselves, running breathlessly toward them.

"O Nan!" panted Louie.  "What is the matter?  Are you sick?  Are you
hurt?  We couldn't find you anywhere!"

"We looked all over and got terribly nervous, and at last Mary Brewster
told us you had gone home," Ruth broke in, gaspingly.

"She said John had taken you, and that you kind of walked as if you
were dizzy or something.  We've run all the way!  Do say, are you
sick?" pleaded Louie.

"Or hurt?" articulated Ruth.

John and Nan regarded each other solemnly for a moment.  Then they both
broke into a peal of laughter.  Nan was the first to speak.

"No, I'm not sick and I wasn't hurt--the way you mean.  I was a
goose--that's all.  I want you to forgive me."

"What for?" demanded the girls, in a breath.

"Why, for--for--making you run after me," replied Nan.



CHAPTER XIV

CHANGES

"Let's go back after luncheon," suggested Ruth as they tramped homeward.

The others assented heartily enough, and Nan was so eager to return to
her sport that she did not wait for Delia to let her in at the upper
door, but burst through the basement way, and ran against Miss Blake in
the lower hall.

"Oh, excuse me!" she panted.  "We've had a glorious time.  We're going
out again.  Please may I have a bite of something quick, so I can run?
We want to make the most of the daylight, and Lu can almost go alone."

"Certainly.  Delia has everything on the table.  But won't you want to
run upstairs and give your face and hands a little scrub?"

Nan's forehead wrinkled, and she was on the point of uttering an
exclamation of disgust.  But she caught herself up, and pressing her
lips together hard, flew upstairs without a word of protest.  She
finished her luncheon in marvelously quick time.

"If you wish to go you may be excused," her companion announced, as the
last crumb was swallowed.  A gleam of surprise lit upon Nan's face.

"Thank you," she said, and went her way feeling more contented with
herself than she had done in many a long day.

It was late when she returned, and not finding Miss Blake in any other
part of the house, she went to the governess' room and tapped on the
door for admittance, a thing she had never done before, from pure
perversity and a determination not to "let any person suppose she cared
to see them when she didn't have to."

Miss Blake herself opened the door to her and invited her to "step into
her parlor," most cordially, adding:

"I'm just having my afternoon tea.  Won't you take a cup with me?"

At first Nan could scarcely find voice to reply, so strange did she
feel in this altered room.  When she had last seen it it was bare and
cold and comfortless, and now--

The windows were draped with inner curtains of dainty Swiss.  Hangings
of some soft, pale green stuff hung before them and in all the
doorways.  The bed was shoved into a far corner of the room, and where
it had once been, against the wall, a low bookcase now stood,
displaying rows of tempting books upon its well-laden shelves, and
above them delicate bits of bric-à-brac.  A rug covered the centre of
the floor.  The ugly mantel-shelf was hidden from sight by an Oriental
scarf, and upon it stood all manner of odd and curious trifles.  The
shabby lounge was covered by a fine old rug and piled with cushions,
while beside it stood the quaint stand and brass tray that Nan had
feasted from when her foot was lame; only now it held a brightly
burnished alcohol kettle, out of which steam was issuing in the most
hospitable fashion possible.  Here also were dainty cups and saucers,
and here it was that Miss Blake brewed her tea after she had led her
guest to a chair and helped her remove her cap and coat with all the
solicitude of a veritable hostess.

"Well, how has the day gone?" asked she, trying not to betray her
amusement at Nan's obvious amazement.

"Oh, finely!  We had a jolly good time.  Lu can go alone now.  John and
I took her out and simply made her skate.  Ruth goes floundering about
like a seal, and every one laughs at her, but she's so good-natured she
doesn't mind, and one can't help liking her.  Such a funny thing
happened.

"We were standing still for a minute waiting for Lu to catch her
breath, and all at once we saw Ruth coming galloping toward us in her
ridiculous way.  A big, fat man was skating in the other direction, but
nowhere near her, and we didn't notice him particularly till she veered
suddenly off and crashed straight into him, without any excuse at all,
just hurled into him plump, and bowled him square over.  It was the
most deliberate thing I ever saw.  She had gone out of her way to do
it, but, of course, she didn't mean to.  They both went crashing down
with such a thump I thought it would break the ice, and as he went over
he said: 'Good gracious!' in the mildest, funniest voice you ever
heard.  John hurried off and helped him up, and I got Ruth on her feet
again, all covered with snow, and as mortified as could be, but choking
with laughter.  The man looked worried, and we asked him if he was
hurt.  He said, 'No!  Oh, no indeed!' and then he turned to Ruth with
the most embarrassed sort of apologetic smile--just as if he had been
to blame.

"'I'm so sorry!' he stammered.  'It is the strangest thing how it could
have occurred.  I thought you were over there.  I really thought I was
in no one's way.  Oh, would you mind telling me--a--what I said when
I--a--fell?'

"Lu was swallowing her pocket-handkerchief to keep from laughing out,
and I know I was grinning.

"Why, I think you said, 'Good gracious!'" said Ruth, shakily.

"'Oh, thank, you!' the man cried, looking ever so much relieved.  'I
thought I said 'Good gracious,' but I--I wasn't sure.  I'm very glad!'
and he shambled off as if he were lamed for life, poor thing, while
Ruth and Lu and John and I simply rocked with laughter.  And now when
anything happens John says 'Good gracious!' in the mildest tone, and
then goes on, 'What did I say?  Oh, thank you.  I thought I said "Good
gracious," but I wasn't sure!'" and Nan broke into a chuckle at the
mere recollection of the thing.  Miss Blake laughed in sympathy, and
she and Nan drank their tea and nibbled their wafers in the most
amicable fashion possible, talking over, not alone the pleasant
experiences, but also that which had threatened to spoil Nan's day, the
remembrance of which made her shudder even now.

She repeated the incident to Miss Blake, concluding with:

"I don't care what they think!"

"John was right," declared Miss Blake, "and you did what was brave and
just.  But don't give up trying to win Mary's and Grace's good opinion,
Nan.  I want you to be respected and loved, and you can be, if you will
only be as true to yourself as you are to your friends.  You were not
satisfied to let Lu and Ruth rest under a false accusation this
morning.  Neither should you be satisfied to let yourself.  Prove to
Mary and Grace that you are neither bold nor brazen.  Force them to see
that you are kind and lovable and courageous."

"Oh, dear!  How can I?" despaired Nan.

"Why, simply by being so," declared Miss Blake.

Nan fell silent, and then, when Miss Blake was just beginning to wonder
what new caprice her guest had fallen victim to, she broke out
impetuously:

"Oh, I say Miss Blake! it is just festive in here.  I never saw
anything that began to be so pretty."

It was genuine praise, and Miss Blake really flushed with gratification
as she replied:

"Thank you, Nan.  I think myself it is cozy, and I am very happy if my
little nest pleases you.  It is a very simple one.  I am my own
upholsterer and my own decorator, so I have a special reason to value
any praise of my small domain.  You must come often if you like it
here, for I love to play hostess to so appreciative a guest!"

Nan settled back among the cushions with a contented sigh.

"I wish," she said presently, "I wish the rest of the house looked this
way."

"If you really would like to make some changes, Nan, I will do my best.
What there is in the house is good and substantial, and with a little
alteration could be made to serve very well."

Nan looked up eagerly.

"Oh, let's try and fix up the house, for father's coming home.  Mr.
Turner will give us some money to pay for repairs, I guess--he always
does when pipes burst and things.  Won't it be jolly to watch father's
face when he comes in and sees it all so pretty here?  Poor old papa!
Mr. Turner says he may come in the fall, and so we'll have all the
summer to work and plan in, and then when he's here, won't we have a
jubilation, Miss Blake?"

The governess stooped to pick up a pin, and she did not reply.  Then
she rose and carried the tea-cups and plates to the washstand, where
she began rinsing them carefully.

"When your father comes home I shall not be here, you know," she said
simply; "but you will be very happy together, and I am sure he would
enjoy a pretty home!"

The radiance in Nan's face faded suddenly.  The same dull pain was at
her heart that she had felt and shrunk from yesterday.  Only now it did
not pass away, and all the evening she seemed to be haunted by a
peculiar sense of impending misfortune.  It was as though she had been
reminded of some unhappy occasion that she had tried to forget.  Every
once in a while after that, when she saw Miss Blake laboriously toiling
to renovate some dilapidated piece of furniture, or heard her
discussing with Delia the remaining possibilities of this carpet or
that pair of curtains, she felt an almost uncontrollable desire to cry
out--so sharp was the sudden sting of regret that bit at her
conscience--and so keen the pain that pierced her heart.

Miss Blake left her to enjoy her holidays in perfect freedom, but as
soon as they were spent the books were brought out again and lessons
resumed as strictly as if the discipline of an entire school depended
on it.

But study had grown to have no terrors for Nan, and she was not at all
aware of the thorough course she was being put through, because it was
all accomplished in such an unobtrusive fashion.  Miss Blake had a
system of her own which she put into practice, and the girl followed
her unconsciously with an interest that showed how wise an one it was.
Latin and mathematics proved the most troublesome of the tasks, and
would perhaps have led to some serious differences of opinion if Miss
Blake had not confessed herself at the start "rusty" in these
particular branches and suggested that they "go over them together."

"I really never was very strong in either of them, and it will do me
good to review," she explained.

So, spurred on by the thought of competition, Nan did her best; went
through the declensions with a rush, and quite outstripped her
fellow-student in the matter of algebraic problems.

History was always simple enough with Miss Blake to make it seem like
the most dramatic of romances, and the girl discovered a fresh interest
in the Roman heroes when the scenes of their exploits was so
graphically described to her, and when she could build up the ancient
city for herself by the aid of Miss Blake's admirable photographs of
the present.

"It seems to me you have done more traveling than any one I ever knew!"
exclaimed the girl for the hundredth time one day.

"It has been all I had to do," rejoined the governess wistfully.  "For
many, many years I have had nothing else.  But now all that is changed,
and--as it is half-past one, and I hear Delia coming up to announce
luncheon, I'll dismiss my class, and declare school over for to-day."

"That is always the way," mused Nan, "whenever I refer to her and try
to start her telling about herself she veers off and talks of something
else.  Queer about her traveling so much, though.  I wonder how she
came to do it--when she's so poor.  She never said straight out she was
some one's companion, and I don't think a governess would be taken all
over the globe like that."

While the ice lasted Nan had many a good hour upon her skates.  Miss
Blake too donned hers, and at these times the tables were turned and
Nan became the patient teacher, the governess the obedient pupil.

"My ankles are weak," pleaded the pupil in apology for persistent
failure.

"Exercise 'em and they'll grow strong!" declared the intrepid
instructor in peremptory tones.

"It's no use, I can't reverse, Nan!"

"Pooh!  'Never say can't till you've proved that the task is
impossible,'" quoted Nan, with a gleam of mischief in her eyes.

"You're real mean, so there!" responded Miss Blake in return with such
a good imitation of her own querulous tone that the girl burst into a
shout of laughter, and the two started off again to make another,
perhaps futile attempt, at the difficult feat, until, by the latter
part of the winter, Miss Blake acquitted herself so creditably that her
teacher regarded her with pardonable pride, and declared,

"There, now!  You ought to be 'all primmed up with majestick pride.'
You skate as well as anybody now, and you've got rid of every particle
of nervousness."

There were many things beside skating that the governess set herself to
accomplish during these months, and Mrs. Newton often took her to task
for working so hard.

"You are beginning to look completely fagged.  Do let the house go.
What do you fret over it for?  If Nan wants alterations, why not let
Mr. Turner engage competent people to do the work?  You have
responsibility enough without planning and overseeing all these
improvements."

But Miss Blake only shook her obstinate little head and continued to
discuss ways and means with Mr. Turner and Delia and to direct the
workmen, who presently took possession of the house, and made it seem
like a Bedlam into which order could never be restored.

"Oh, that's fine!" cried Nan, clapping her hands when she heard of the
governess' plans.  "That hall closet was no good anyhow.  Delia only
kept her brooms and dust-cloths there, and it's just the place for a
dumb-waiter.  But if we turn the library into a dining-room, what are
you going to do with the books?"

"The best of them can be put on low shelves along the parlor walls, and
we'll take the rest upstairs and make a sort of cozy study of the front
room for your father."

"Splendid!" cried Nan.

For weeks the place was in a turmoil.  Carpets were taken up, some of
them never to go down again, curtains were unhung, cleaned and folded
carefully away, and when the coast was clear the work of remodelling
began in earnest.

It seemed to Nan as if it would never come to an end, but little by
little things began to assume a more promising aspect, and at length
the last lingering workman dragged himself reluctantly away, and then
Delia descended upon the place, armed with scrubbing-brush and pail,
and waged a mighty war upon every spot of dust or paint anywhere to be
found.

The parlor had been freshly papered, and its walls no longer frowned
gloomily down upon the inoffensive guest, but seemed to cast a faint,
rosy smile at the redecorated hall and the new dining-room beyond.
Miss Blake stripped away every vestige of tarletan, and let the fine
oil paintings display themselves unveiled to the public eye.

"We can have the windows screened if we are afraid of flies," she said
as she folded away the unsightly shrouds, and Delia echoed, "Why, so we
can!" in the promptest assent, and as though it had been her own idea
all along.

The draperies were of the simplest sort, but Nan thought them
perfection.  She fairly danced with delight as she fancied her father's
face when he should see his altered home.  He would never recognize in
this attractive, tasteful room the old, gloomy parlor of former days.

The furniture was drawn out of its martial line and placed here and
there in inviting positions by loving, artful hands.  Various pieces
were banished altogether, and where this chair or that had grown shabby
Miss Blake renewed its usefulness by covering it over with some odd
material that harmonized nicely with the old-fashioned shape of the
frame and the tone of the rest of the room.

A simple fireplace had been set in the blind chimney-piece, in which
were placed grandma's graceful andirons, buried so long in the attic
that Nan had never seen them, while the old mantel-shelf in the library
was torn out altogether and a stately new one put in its stead, and in
this too was a place for wood and fire-dogs.  The two French windows
leading into the glass extension were transformed into doorways, and
gave pleasant vistas of a blooming conservatory, into which the south
sun shone genially the best part of the day.

Louie and Ruth came in on a special visit of inspection when the work
was all completed, and it did not detract from Nan's enjoyment to hear
them say that they thought the house one of the prettiest they had ever
seen.

"It has such a fresh, comfortable look," exclaimed Louie.

"As if you lived in every part of it and enjoyed it yourself, and
wanted other people to enjoy it with you," added Ruth.

"So we do," declared Nan; "that's just what we do.  Isn't it, Miss
Blake?"

And Miss Blake nodded a smiling assent, though she knew quite well that
until very lately Nan had never thought about the matter at all.  She
had taken her home for granted, and it never had occurred to her to try
to improve it in any wise.  But the governess had had more in mind than
the mere indulging of the girl's fancy when she set about rearranging
the place.  As in most of her characteristic schemes there was "a
method in her madness."  Nan soon discovered that a dainty home brought
its obligations with it.

"Do you notice," said Miss Blake one day, "that since the household
arrangements have been altered there has been a good deal more work to
be done?"

"Why, I don't know," rejoined Nan; "why should there be?"

"Because all these bits of bric-à-brac we have set about must be dusted
every day, and because throwing the parlor open, as we do, makes
another room to look after.  Then the plants in the conservatory should
be carefully tended if we want them to live, and Delia has to take
double the steps she used to take when we ate in the basement.  Really,
Nan, as things stand, I feel the work is going to be too hard for her."

"Dear me!  Whatever are we going to do?" demanded the girl anxiously.

"Simply, she must have help."

"You mean another servant?"

"No, not that.  I cannot increase the household expenses in such a way
without your father's knowledge and approval.  What we have done now is
almost more than I dare think of.  My only comfort is that it has come
out of your money."

Nan gave a start.  "My money!" she exclaimed.  "Why, I never knew I had
any.  Goodness! tell me about it."

"There is nothing to tell.  Simply, some one who owed your mother a
debt and was unable to discharge it during her lifetime, has paid in a
certain part of it to Mr. Turner for your benefit--or so he tells me.
Both he and I thought it wise to use it in this way.  The house is
virtually yours, and unless you improve it from time to time it will
decrease in value.  We both felt that since you wished it, and since it
might be looked upon in the light of protecting your property, we might
safely lay out the money as we have done without first consulting your
father."

"Oh, I'm glad," cried Nan.  "I didn't want him to know.  It'll be all
the bigger surprise to him when he comes home.  But what are we going
to do about Delia?"

"That is what I want you to tell me," rejoined Miss Blake.

"I?" queried the girl.  "Why, I'm sure I don't know what we can do,
unless we hire another girl--and you say father can't afford that."

"Now, Nan, listen to me," said Miss Blake, seriously, drawing her chair
to the girl's, and emphasizing her words by laying her hand upon hers
and tapping it gently whenever a point was made.  "Let us put the
matter quite plainly, and see if we can't come to a conclusion that
will both help Delia and save us the trouble of engaging another maid.
One pair of hands can't do the work in this house!  You admit that?"

"Yes; I s'pose so," conceded Nan.

"Well then, obviously, we must secure the aid of another pair--perhaps
even two."

"Uh-huh!" assented the girl cheerfully enough.

"Not only that, we must secure the aid of another pair, if not two, at
no additional expense to your father."

Here Nan's head began to drop.  "That's what floors me," she responded
perplexedly.  "The rest is easy enough to settle; but how in the world
we are going to get people to work for us for nothing--"

"What are those things in your lap, Nan?" asked the governess suddenly
with a quick smile and an extra tap of the finger on the girl's palm.

"My hands, of course."

"Why shouldn't they be the pair we need?  I cordially offer the use of
mine."

"Oh!"

Nan's face was rather blank.  "I hate housework," she added, and her
mouth drew down at the corners in a pout of petulance.

"I doubt if any one really cares for it.  But it must be done, and in
this case you and I must consent to do it, at least in part.  Now that
you have looked the facts in the face, let us say no more about it,
after we have settled just what we prefer to do.  I have always taken
care of my own room.  Will you see to yours after this?"

"I s'pose so.

"Then there is the dusting and the plants."

"I'll take the plants," Nan hastened to declare.

"And the dishes on Mondays and Tuesdays?" continued Miss Blake.

There was a pause.

"If there's one thing I despise it's washing dishes," cried the girl,
her voice trembling with irritation.

The governess looked down at her own two delicate little hands and
seemed to be considering.  Then she raised her head quickly, and said,
without a shade of resentment in her voice:

"Very well then, dear, I'll take the dishes.  So here is the way it
stands: You care for the plants and your own room and I'll look after
my room and do the dusting and the dishes."

"You'll have more to do than I," hesitated Nan.

"No matter; if you do your share well, and don't neglect it, I am
willing to stand by my part.  Is it a bargain?"

Nan nodded grimly, and they shook hands upon it.



CHAPTER XV

A TUG OF WAR

"Is Nan in?" asked Ruth, coming to the house one day in the very teeth
of a blinding snowstorm, and putting the question to Delia with a very
decided note of excitement in her voice.

"Yes, she's in; but she's pretty busy," replied Delia, showing the
guest into the dining-room, where the bright logs were blazing
cheerfully in the fireplace, and where Miss Blake, enveloped in a huge
apron, was kneeling before the hearth and polishing its tiles till they
shone like gems.  She stopped to welcome the guest in her own hearty,
informal fashion.

"O Ruth! come in and sit down.  I wondered who could be brave enough to
face a storm like this.  Why, it is almost a blizzard.  Take off your
things, dear, and get warmed.  You won't mind my going on with my work?"

"Oh, no! not at all.  Please don't stop.  Thank you.  This is as
comfortable as can be.  But then, one always is comfortable here.  I
came to see Nan about something important.  She's busy?"

"Yes, in her room.  But if you don't mind waiting a little I think she
will soon be able to come down," responded the governess genially.

"Then I'll sit here, if you don't mind," and the girl settled herself
in an engulfing armchair with a sigh of satisfaction, her eyes
following Miss Blake from place to place as she tripped briskly about,
energetically wielding her dust cloth and whisk broom and humming
contentedly as she worked.

"Perhaps you won't approve of the plan that I've got in my mind, and
won't let Nan go into it," ventured Ruth, presently.

"I can't fancy you suggesting anything that I would so seriously
disapprove of as that," returned Miss Blake, smiling kindly, but asking
for no further enlightenment on the subject than her guest was inclined
to give of her own accord.

"Well, then, it's this: If the cold weather lasts we'll have elegant
sleighing, with all this snow, and I want to hire a sleigh, just any
common old thing will do, and fill it with straw, and all of us girls
and boys go off on a screamingly fine sleigh-ride.  If it clears we'll
have a full moon, and I think it would just be the jolliest thing in
the world.  Now please say Nan can go.  She'll love to I know, and she
always makes things snap so," pleaded the girl, fixing her eyes on Miss
Blake's face with a peculiar intensity of expression.

The governess hesitated.

"Oh, please say she can," reiterated Ruth.

"My dear Ruth, I can't say anything until I know more of the matter.
You say you girls and boys are to go.  What girls and boys do you mean?"

"Why, Lu and Grace and Mary and the Buckstone girls, of course; and
John Gardiner and Harley Morris and Everett Webster, and oh! all those
fellows--the ones in our set; you've met them all."

"And is there to be no grown woman in the party--no chaperone?"
suggested Miss Blake.

Ruth looked down and began picking a thread from the thumb of her glove.

"Oh, of course; mamma wouldn't let me go unless there was a chaperone,"
she replied after a moment, but tamely, with the ring all faded out of
her voice.

"No, I am sure she would not," the governess remarked dryly.

"I thought of you at once," Ruth began again with an upward glance that
however did not meet Miss Blake's eye.  "But then we all thought that
it would be too much to ask of you--to ride all those miles with a
noisy crowd in the cold and night, and--so on, and so--so--just before
I came here I ran into Mrs. Cole and asked her to chaperone us, and she
said she would."

The governess laid her duster on a chair, and unbuttoned her apron very
deliberately.

"Mrs. Cole," she repeated half-aloud, as if speaking to herself, and
her tone had something in it that seemed to call for some sort of
justification from Ruth.

"You know she's just been married, and she's as full of fun as she can
be.  And she likes a good time immensely, and loves to be with us
girls, and it won't bore her a bit to go, and it's ever so much better
to have her than--than--some one who wouldn't enjoy it, you know."

"Is Mr. Cole to be of the party?" Miss Blake inquired, still with that
odd inflection.

"Why, no," responded Ruth, twisting her handkerchief into a hard knot.
"There won't be room for him.  But Mrs. Cole said it didn't matter in
the least.  She says she often goes off and leaves him, and he has just
as nice a time sitting home with his cigar and a book or something."

"They have been married, I think, three months," Miss Blake commented
half to herself.

"Yes, about," replied Ruth.  "And Mrs. Cole is just as gay and jolly as
she ever was.  You may think that it isn't very dignified for a married
woman to--"

"Oh! my dear Ruth," interrupted the governess hastily, "I am not
disparaging Mrs. Cole, and I have no right to express an opinion
concerning her conduct, but I think--yes, I am quite sure that I prefer
Nan not to join your party."

Ruth jumped from her chair with a cry of protest: "O Miss Blake!  Don't
say that!  Think of it, we're going to drive down as far as Howe's and
have a supper and it will be such fun.  We want Nan awfully.  She's
just the best company in the world, and if she doesn't go it will
be--well, it will be too bad.  Do please say she may."

Miss Blake shook her head somewhat sadly.  "I can't say so, Ruth.
There are special reasons why Nan ought not to go--reasons that I can
only explain to her, but which I am sure she will understand.  You
other girls have your mothers, but Nan has none, and that means that
she has no protector, now that her father is absent, unless I can stand
in such a relation to her.  Believe me, I do not voluntarily deny Nan
any pleasure, but there are some instances in which I must."

"But it's going to be perfectly proper," Ruth insisted, almost in
tears.  "You don't think my mother would let me go if it wasn't going
to be perfectly proper, do you, Miss Blake?"

The governess stood before the fire and rested her arm on the high
mantel-shelf, tapping the fender lightly with the toe of her slipper.
At Ruth's question she turned her head quickly from the flames toward
the girl with a compassionate smile.

"No," she hastened to declare, "I am sure your mother would not let you
go to anything that she knew to be in any respect not altogether as it
should be."

There was just the shade of an emphasis on the word knew--just the
merest breath of a pause before it.  Miss Blake gazed frankly and
fearlessly into the girl's eyes as she spoke, and Ruth's lids dropped
suddenly as if she had been trying to look at the sun and it had
blinded her.

There was a pause and in it they could distinctly hear Nan's feet going
to and fro on the floor above their heads, and her sharp young voice
shouting the chorus of some tuneless popular air, in her own perfectly
cheerful, earless fashion.

"Oh, Miss Blake, please!" quavered Ruth.

If she had known the governess as well as Nan did she would have known
that it was worse than useless to "tease."  As it was, she was aware of
some force here that did not appear in her own easy-going mother, and
unconsciously she bowed to it--but even as she did so she gave a last
wail of entreaty from pure force of habit.

"Please, Miss Blake!"

"No, Ruth.  I can't consent to Nan's joining you.  If she goes, it will
be in direct defiance of my authority and against my wish and approval.
But when she hears what I have to say I do not think she will go."

"Don't think who will go?" demanded an eager voice, as Nan came pelting
in at the door, having flung down stairs in such a whirl that they had
scarcely realized she had started before she was here.

"Heyo, Ruth!  When did you come?  You're a dear girl to venture out a
day like this!  Who'll go where, 'you don't think,' Miss Blake?"

Ruth rose and began dragging on her gloves.  "Hello," she said,
blankly, in return for the other's greeting.

"Who'll go?  Who'll go?" insisted Nan, tapping the floor with her foot
to emphasize her impatience.

Ruth looked at Miss Blake a little sullenly, and said nothing.  Miss
Blake looked at Nan.

"You," she returned simply.  "I was just saying to Ruth that I am sure
you would not go anywhere against my plainly expressed wish."

The girl threw back her head with an unrestrained laugh.

"Oh, now, you're bragging!" she cried breezily.  "Don't count too much
on me.  I'm a queer creature.  I don't know what I'd do if I were hard
put!"

Ruth glanced at Miss Blake again as she buttoned her coat.  The
governess' face was quite placid, but there was an expression in her
eyes that was quite new to the girl and that she did not care to face.

"The fact of the matter is, Nan," Miss Blake explained, "Ruth has come
here to invite you to join a sleighing party to be given--what night
did you say, Ruth?"

"The first clear one," responded the girl still sullenly.

"The first clear night," resumed Miss Blake.  "All your friends are
going, and it would give me as much pleasure to have you join them as
it would you to do so, but--under the circumstances it is impossible to
do anything save--" she paused an instant, and Nan broke in impatiently:

"Under what circumstances?  There aren't any circumstances!  A
sleighing party!  Why, it'll be just magnificent and gorgeous!  Of
course I'll go.  Hurrah!  Ruth, you're a dear to ask me!  Go?  Well, I
should think so!"

Ruth fastened her fur boa about her neck, and murmured something almost
inaudible about having to hurry home.

"Well, you can count on me," cried Nan, flinging her arm about her
friend's waist and escorting her to the door.  "Good-bye!  Thanks heaps
for asking me!  Las' tag!"

The front door slammed, and the girl came back to the library with her
cheeks aglow and her eyes flashing.  "What fun!" she exclaimed.  "I
know what we'll do!  We'll go down to Howe's and have a supper and a
jolly good time generally.  Mary Brewster and Grace and Ruth had it all
planned out for the next good snow, and I'd forgotten.  O goody!"

Miss Blake was standing as they had left her, by the fire, with her
foot upon the fender and her hand upon the high mantel-shelf.  Now she
took them both down and turned to Nan, saying in a low, controlled
voice:

"Nan, I want to talk to you about this party.  And you must hear me
out, even if some of the things I am about to say do not please you."
She kept her eyes on the girl's face as she spoke, and saw its
expression change quickly from one of eager anticipation to one of
growing apprehension and then again to one of dogged opposition.  So
vivid were these changes that she almost lost the necessary courage to
go on, for she read in them that her task promised to be no easy one.

"Well?" said Nan, tapping her foot impatiently, as Miss Blake did not
at once continue.

"Please sit down here, and I will try to say what I have to say as
quickly as possible," resumed the governess, drawing a long breath.

Nan obeyed, but with a decidedly impatient fling of herself upon the
low ottoman Miss Blake had indicated.

"As I said to Ruth," the low voice commenced, "under almost any other
circumstances it would give me the greatest pleasure to know that you
were to enjoy this sleighing party with the others.  If Mrs. Andrews or
Mrs. Hawes were going it would settle the question at once."

"Or if you were," suggested Nan, with a curl other lip.

Miss Blake's face paled, and for an instant she regarded Nan in a sort
of surprised, hurt silence.  Then she replied, steadily: "Yes, or if I
were.  But as it is Mrs. Cole, the case is entirely altered.  Mrs. Cole
is scarcely more than a girl herself, and--I say this to you, Nan,
simply because I must--she has never been, to my idea, a lady-like
young woman.  She has always been flippant and frivolous and
boisterous; anything but a good companion for a number of impulsive,
impressionable girls like yourself."

"Oh, pshaw!" interrupted Nan, impatiently.  "There's nothing against
her at all.  She's lots of fun, and a body'd be a great goose that
tried to suit all the old frumps in town.  She said so herself, and
she's married and she knows."

A ghost of a smile flitted across Miss Blake's face.  Nan's emphasis
reflected so directly on her own condition of unauthoritative
spinsterhood.

"If you and the other girls have no more careful a chaperone, one who
will be no more of a restraint than Mrs. Cole, I am afraid the party
will prove a rather uproarious one.  And I cannot help thinking that
this is precisely the reason Mrs. Cole has been asked to attend you;
that you might not be under any restraint.  I don't for a moment think
any of you girls would deliberately take advantage of your liberty, but
you are full of animal spirits, and when you get in full swing it is a
little hard, perhaps harder than you know, to rein yourselves in.  I am
afraid Ruth has not been quite candid with her mother.  At all events,
I am sure that if Mrs. Andrews realized the circumstances she would
think twice before letting Ruth go.  It is not only that I think Mrs.
Cole will not prove a restraint; I am afraid she will intentionally
lead you on.  And if she does, I am afraid your sleigh-ride will be
decidedly unconventional."

"I hope we'll have a splendid time," announced Nan, setting her jaws
with a snap of her teeth.

But the governess went on as if she had neither seen nor heard.

"It is very important, Nan, that you especially should not be
identified with anything of the sort.  It might injure you in such a
way that the harm could never be repaired."  She paused and Nan
straightened herself with a jerk.

"I'd like to know why it's more important for me than for the other
girls?  If their mothers think it's good enough for them I guess it's
good enough for me, and if they can be trusted I guess I can."

Miss Blake hesitated, but only for a moment.  Then she went on steadily
and firmly, but without the least suggestion of sternness in her voice
or manner.

"The reason is simply this: You have not had the advantages the other
girls have had.  You have had no mother; no careful, loving training
from the first, and--excuse me, dear--your behavior has shown it.  How
could it be expected not to do so?  People have criticized you, and
their criticisms have been severe, unjust even.  Lately you have set
yourself right with most of your neighbors, but it has been hard work,
and it has been only begun.  It will still be hard work to keep their
good opinion.  If you want to hold a place in their esteem you must
earn it and keep on earning it.  The other girls might do with perfect
safety what you could not dream of doing, because in them it would be
looked on merely as a single slip; with you it would be backsliding.
Do you understand me, Nan?"

There was no reply, but the girl's bent head was answer enough.  Miss
Blake passed her hand tenderly over the roughened hair, and for a long
time there was silence between them.  Nan was thinking, and Miss Blake
was content to let her think.

The tall clock in the corner tapped out the minutes with slow, even
ticks.  The fire burned steadily on the hearth, and the logs settled as
they burned.  Outside the high wind raced madly around bleak street
corners, carrying the snow before it in white, blinding clouds.  The
air was so full of the swirling, eddying flakes that it dimmed the
light and made evening seem to have settled down long before its usual
time.  Every now and then there came to them from the conservatory a
faint, faint breath from a blossoming daphne, as though the delicate
thing were breathing out sweet gratitude for its shelter from the storm.

Nan could not help responding to the quieting influence of it all.  It
was very, very different from the place as it used to be, and she felt
the difference and the suggestiveness of it more now than she had ever
done before.

Suppose the change in herself was as marked as this?  Every one seemed
to like her nowadays.  They said she was altered and improved, and if
they said so, she supposed it must be true.  What, then, if she were to
turn about and be her old self again?

What if Miss Blake were to give the house its old aspect again?  Ugh!
It was disheartening even to think of such a thing.  But granting that
she were to let things go back, she couldn't undo some of the
improvements she had made?  So it seemed reasonable to Nan that even if
she let herself be as she had been for awhile, just to rest from the
constant trying to be good, for a day or so, the really important
changes must still remain; like the dumbwaiter and the wall paper and
the frescoes and the woodwork.  And, pshaw!  Just going to this
sleigh-ride wasn't going to prove that she was backsliding, anyway!
Miss Blake was too particular--making an awful fuss over nothing.  Mrs.
Cole was all right enough.  Lots of nice people knew her, and the girls
always liked to have her around, she was so gay and jolly.  And now
that she was married, it was fun to have her chaperone them, for she
never interfered, nor was wet-blankety, like mothers and people, no
matter what was going on.  In fact, she often urged them on and
suggested things the girls themselves would never have thought of, so
that wherever she was the fun promised to run high.  It was too bad of
Miss Blake to have put the case as she had.  It simply meant that if
Nan went she deliberately disobeyed her wish and defied her authority.

For the first time the girl seemed to get a glimpse of the tactful,
tender way in which she had been guided.  She saw that this was the
first instance in which she had been put under definite restraint.
Always before Miss Blake had left her seemingly to decide for herself,
and she had never been aware of the influence that led her in the right
direction.

But this was different.  This was discipline, and she rose against it
instantly.

If she did not go on the sleigh-ride she would only be obeying Miss
Blake's injunction.  There was no credit or virtue in that.  There
might be some satisfaction in denying one's self a pleasure if one felt
one were independent, and that what one did was self-abnegating and
laudable.  But if one acted under compulsion--!  Pooh!  Nan guessed
Miss Blake thought she was a mere child to be ordered about like that.

And yet, with all this, there was a strange unfamiliar tugging at her
heart to confess herself willing to obey.  She actually had to make an
effort to keep from doing so.  She scarcely knew how it happened, but
all at once she became conscious that she had shaken herself together
and that she was saying, in no very gracious voice to be sure, but
still that she was saying, "Well, if you will have it your own way, you
will I suppose.  There!  I promise you I won't go on the sleigh-ride.
Now, does that satisfy you?"

Miss Blake took her hand from Nan's hair so hastily that the girl
lifted her head in astonishment.  But the governess had neither the air
of being angry nor of being wounded as she feared.  She simply rose and
said in quite a matter-of-fact tone as she turned toward the door:

"I demanded no promise of you, Nan, and I give you back your word.
Moreover, I entirely recall my injunction.  Do as you please.  If you
decide to go you will neither be disobeying my order nor breaking your
own promise.  You are quite free and untrammeled, my dear."

Nan sprang to her feet.

"Huh!" she cried in an exasperated manner, "I know what you mean!  You
mean I am quite free to go and--take the consequences.  That's what you
mean."

Miss Blake paused but made no reply.

"But suppose there aren't any consequences?" pursued Nan, biting her
lip and scowling darkly from between her knitted brows.

Miss Blake turned her head.

"There are always consequences," she said over her shoulder in a voice
that was very low and serious.



CHAPTER XVI

THE SLEIGH-RIDE

The storm lasted for three days and then came a term of perfect
weather.  Under foot the snow was packed hard and tight into a compact
mass over a bed of ice, and overhead the sun shone out from a cloudless
sky, while the air was so keen that it kept the mercury very close to
the zero mark even at midday.

"How is this for high?" demanded Ruth exultantly, as she and Nan met
toward the end of the week, the first time they had seen each other
since that stormy day when the subject of the sleigh-ride had first
been broached to Miss Blake.

"The weather, you mean?  Oh, perfectly fine!" responded Nan.

Ruth drew a step nearer to her.

"It's all arranged for to-night.  Not a soul has refused; every one
we've asked is going, and the sleigh is a regular old ark.  We've got
everything our own way.  Mike, from the stables, is as solid as a brick
wall.  The horses are perfectly safe and we're going to have footstoves
to keep our toes warm.  Mrs. Cole has telephoned down to Howe's to have
our supper ready, and we're going to have a simply stunning time."

Nan tried to smile, but failed, and Ruth was too full of her own
affairs to notice.

"We're going to start at eight sharp.  First we thought we'd pick up
the party as we went along, but Mrs. Cole said it would waste too much
time, so we're all going to meet at her house.  I've so much on my mind
my head's spinning.  Be sure you're on hand at eight.  We're not going
to wait for any one."

"O Ruth!" faltered Nan, flinging out a detaining hand as the girl was
about to go.  "I'm not going.  Didn't I tell you?"

Ruth stopped short and gazed at her in bewilderment.

"Not going!  What on earth do you mean?"

"I can't go; that's all," stammered Nan, flushing hotly at the seeming
weakness of the confession.

Ruth stared at her blankly.

"Well, I like that!" she enunciated at length.

"Why, I told you, didn't I?" asked Nan.

"Told me what?  That you weren't going?  Well, I should say not.  Miss
Blake said you couldn't but you said flat down you would, and, of
course, I believed you.  Don't you remember the last words you said as
I went away that day were that I could count on you?  And so, of
course, I counted."

Nan stood and regarded the snow at her feet in silence.

"It's right-down mean to back out at the last minute when the party's
all made up and the couples all arranged and you've given your word.
We've been awfully careful whom we've asked, because we only wanted a
certain kind--not alone a certain number.  Of course, we could get lots
of girls to take your place and jump at the chance; but we prefer you,
and you'd given your promise."

Nan ground the snow under her foot until it squeaked.

"I thought you were sick, or something, when you didn't come around,"
went on Ruth, sternly.  "I never imagined for a minute it was because
you meant to flunk and leave us in the lurch like this.  If I'd thought
that I wouldn't have gone to all the trouble I did to save you a place
next to John Gardiner when Mary Brewster was fighting tooth and nail to
get it."

The pinched snow squeaked again under Nan's grinding heel, this time
louder than before.

"It's all nonsense, Miss Blake's not wanting you to go," pursued Ruth.
"Everything is as proper as pie, and if the boys get to carrying on a
little too much Mrs. Cole will settle them in no time.  She's real
determined when she makes up her mind.  What under the sun does Miss
Blake think we are going to do?  But that's no matter now.  You gave me
your word, and you've no right to go back on it.  Besides, it'll set us
all topsy-turvey with our accounts, for if you don't go of course you
won't turn in your share of the tax, and we couldn't ask any one at the
last minute just to come as a make-shift and expect her to pay for the
privilege.  The end of it will be the rest of us will have to make it
up, and if you think that's fair I don't!"

"I'll gladly pay my dues," returned Nan, more meekly than Ruth had ever
heard her speak.  "You can ask any one you choose as my substitute, and
say anything you please to explain my not going, and I'll stand by you."

This began to sound serious, and Ruth felt it was time to clinch her
argument.

"If you go out Louie Hawes will, too.  Her mother said she'd let Lu go
if Miss Blake would let you, but that if Miss Blake objected she
thought it would be best not to have Lu join.  She said she made Lu's
going entirely conditional on yours.  So, you see, if you back out
you'll not alone be breaking your promise, but you'll be breaking up
the party and making a mess of it all round.  I told Mrs. Hawes you
were going, and Lu's heart is set on it.  If she has to stay back now,
at the last minute like this, it will disappoint her dreadfully, and I
wouldn't blame her if she never spoke to you again."

Nan felt that she had been driven into a corner, and that there was but
one way out of it.  In spite of her strong desire to go with the girls,
she had determined to stick to her resolve to stay behind.  She had
hardly known why she had tried to avoid them all these days.  But now
she knew.  It was because she was afraid they would shake her
resolution.  Once she would have called herself cowardly for trying to
spare herself such temptation, but now she knew better; she saw she had
been simply wise.  It would not have been brave, but merely reckless,
to have done otherwise.  She had known ever since Miss Blake spoke that
she was free to do as she pleased.  That she was held by no promise;
that she was compelled by no stronger claim than Miss Blake's
disapproval, which might be, after all, only a groundless personal
prejudice, she thought.  She hardly realized why she felt bound to
obey.  And now along came Ruth to prove that there were other claims
outside Miss Blake's.  She remembered perfectly having said that Ruth
could count on her.  Here was a very definite promise, although it had
been made in half-ignorance, and she understood clearly that Ruth meant
to make her keep it.  Then, again, she was directly responsible for
Louie's disappointment, and this seemed to her, as Ruth had intended it
should seem, a compelling conclusion.  If she had been older her
reasoning would not have stopped here, but, as it was, she perceived
only two sides to the question, and this that Ruth had just presented
seemed infinitely more convincing than the one Miss Blake had tried to
make clear to her.  Ruth's logic she could understand; the governess'
seemed vague and incomprehensible.  In one case she had been coerced
into making a promise from which she had later been absolved; in the
other she had given her word of her own free will, and she was being
stoutly held to it.  There were other influences at work, but Nan did
not know it.  She honestly believed she was waiving all considerations
but those with which her duty was concerned, and she thought she had
done so when she broke out with a sort of impatient groan:

"Oh, dear!  I never saw such a tangle!"

"Well," returned Ruth grimly, "I don't know anything about that, but
whatever it may be, I've got the strong end of the line and I mean to
hold it.  You've just got to go and that's all there is to it."

Nan gave a rueful laugh.  She more than half-liked to have Ruth leave
her no alternative.  It somehow made her seem less responsible to
herself.  If the decision were taken out of her hands she could not be
held accountable and--the enjoyment would be there all the same.

"I wish you'd let me off, Ruth," she protested weakly, as a sort of
last sop to her conscience.

Ruth saw that she had prevailed and gave her head a triumphant toss.
"Well, I won't, so there!  And what's more I can't stand here wasting
time like this another minute.  I have a hundred things to do before
eight o'clock, so good-bye!  Be sure you're on time for we won't wait a
second, and if you don't arrive none of us will ever speak to you
again, so there!"

Nan stood dumbly stubbing her toe into a little mound of snow quite a
minute after Ruth had left her.  She had not even glanced up when, in
response to her friend's last declaration, she had said, "Very well;
I'll be on hand," and her voice had sounded so flat and lifeless that
Ruth thought it better to hasten off before the words could be
recalled.  When Nan spoke in that half-hearted tone Ruth had no faith
in her strength of purpose.  She walked home in a doubtful frame of
mind, wondering if, after all, the promise would be kept.

But Nan had no such misgivings.  She knew perfectly well that she was
"in for it" now, but, strange to say, she felt no exultation in the
prospect.

"Oh, dear!" she snapped out peevishly, with a last vicious dig of her
heel into the snow, "every bit of enjoyment is taken out of it, I never
saw anything so provoking, in the whole of my life.  If Miss Blake only
hadn't been so mean, I might have been spared all this fret and bother
and been just as jolly as any of them.  But how can a person have a
good time when they know there's some one at home pulling a long face
and making one feel as if one were breaking all the laws.  It's just
too bad, that's what it is."

But Miss Blake neither "pulled a long face" nor by any other means
tried to impress Nan with a sense of her disapproval.  She took her
decision quietly, and made no comment upon it one way or the other.
But when it neared dressing time, and the girl had gone to her room to
prepare, she tapped gently for admittance and came in, bearing in her
hand a coquettish sealskin hood which she generously offered to Nan,
saying:

"It's bitterly cold, and I know you won't want to tie a comforter about
your ears.  If you will wear this I shall be only too happy to lend it
to you.  See, the cape is so full and deep your chest and back can't
get chilled, and it is not at all clumsy, as so many of them are.  Try
it on.  I think it will be becoming and I know it will keep you warm."

Nan was at a loss for words.  Miss Blake had none of the air of heaping
coals of fire on her head, but just for a second the girl suspected her
of it and hung back reluctantly.  Then she looked into the frank,
honest eyes and all her suspicion vanished.

"You're--you're awfully kind," she stammered, hastily.

"Try it on," repeated Miss Blake, cordially.

Nan took the soft, warm thing by its rich brown ribbons and, setting it
snugly on her head, tied the strings into a big broad bow beneath her
chin.

"It's not so unbecoming!" commented the governess, observing Nan
critically with her head on one side.

Nan looked in the mirror.  What she saw there was the reflection of a
flushed, excited face with keen, young eyes that were just now
unusually large and bright.  Sundry riotous tendrils of hair had
escaped from their restraining combs and were flying loose at the
temples, and, framing all, was a circle of dusky, flattering fur which
lent a look of softness and roundness to the firm, square chin and rose
above the brow in a quaint, coquettish peak which was vastly graceful
and becoming.

"O Miss Blake!" cried Nan, her eyes flashing with pleasure, "isn't it
the darlingest thing?  And as warm as toast!  I'll be ever and ever so
careful of it.  You're awfully good to lend it to me.  But I really
think I oughtn't to take it.  Something might happen; it might get
lost."

"Don't give it another thought," Miss Blake said, kindly.  "Just wear
it and keep warm and comfortable.  You must take the gloves, too.  They
will keep your fingers cozy."

So Nan set out looking like a young Russian in her borrowed furs and
feeling what satisfaction she might in the consciousness that she was
appearing, if not behaving, at her best.

She found most of the party already assembled at Mrs. Cole's and as the
door was opened to her, a loud chorus of shouting laughter met her ears
and she was laid hold of by a dozen hands and dragged forward under the
gaslight.

"Pooh!" shrieked the chorus again.  "This one's easy enough!  Nan
Cutler! first guess," and she was released as hurriedly as she had been
set upon, while the entire company fell upon a later comer and tried to
discover the identity of the muffled, veiled individual before she had
either spoken or recovered from the unexpected onslaught.

"Well, Nan," cried Harley Morris, jovially, "you're the only girl who
isn't muffled out of all recognition.  We've had a dandy time trying to
identify some of them."

"I never saw you look so well," declared Louie Hawes, generously, with
her eyes glued to the fascinating peak.

"Nor I," broke in Mary Brewster.  "Really, I didn't know you at first.
That hood is as disguising to you as our veils are to us."

Nan flushed, but made no response.  Harley Morris gave a low whistle
and strolled off to join John Gardiner, who was standing before the
fire talking with grave-faced Mr. Cole, and as he went she heard him
murmur under his breath:

"Sweet remark!  Oh, these dear girl friends!"

It instantly changed her feeling from momentary resentment toward Mary
to pity for her.

All at once Mrs. Cole's shrill treble was heard high above the hum and
murmur of the other voices, crying:

"Now, girls and boys, time's almost up!  It any of the party's missing,
he or she will be left behind!  Prompt's the word."

Then, stepping over to her husband, she tapped him lightly on the
shoulder and said:

"There now, Tom, I'm glad we're going, for you're looking as solemn as
an owl.  Cheer up and have a lovely time with your book and that jolly
fire, and don't forget to go to bed at nine o'clock like a good little
boy."

Mary Brewster laughed, and most of the others joined in her merriment.
But Mr. Cole looked so troubled and stern that Nan, who was gazing at
him from the corners of her eyes, saw no reason to laugh at his wife's
sally, but felt a much greater inclination to cry for pity of him and
his anxious face.

Suddenly she was roused from her musing by John Gardiner's voice close
at her ear.

"Nan!" he said.

"Oh, heyo, John!"

"I want to tell you something," he went on, nervously, in a hesitating
whisper.  "From the looks of her, Mrs. Cole means to carry things with
a high hand to-night.  Hope we won't come to grief.  Sometimes the
motto is 'everything goes,' and then it isn't so easy to hold back and
stand for the things you ought to.  I depend on you, Nan, to keep a
level head, for some of us'll have to act as ballast or we'll all go
under."

Nan's face glowed with gratification.  "All right, John," she responded
staunchly, and then, Mrs. Cole giving the signal, in an instant the
roomful seemed to fling itself helter-skelter to the hall-door,
fastening boas and mufflers as it went, all eager and breathless to be
off.  There was a deal of laughing and exclaiming, shrieking and
protesting as the girls were bundled, one after another, into the
sleigh.

"Is this you, Lu?"

"Yes.  O dear!  I have lost my veil.  No, here it is, dragged under my
chin."

"I thought I was to sit next to you, Nan!"

"Oh, that's all right, Mary's there, and it's too late to change now.
No matter."

John Gardiner leaped up.

"I say there, Mike, hold your horses for a second.  Would you mind
moving down a place, Mary?  Thanks!  Mrs. Cole said I was to sit next
to Nan, and as we are all under her orders to-night I'm bound to obey.
There! this is what I call festive!  'A thorn between two roses,' eh?"
and he settled himself comfortably between the two girls with a great,
hearty laugh and a final "Ready!" at which word the horses started into
a brisk trot.  Their bells broke into a silver chime; the sleigh swept
smoothly over the glaze of snow, and the evening's fun began.

Some one had brought a tin horn, and this was blown with such a vim
that conversation was impossible.  But remarks and retorts were shouted
from one side to the other, and the tamest of them brought forth peals
of laughter.

The heaven above them was densely black, and out of it flashed
innumerable stars like sparks white-hot and quivering with inward fire.
But the wind that swept across the sky was so cold that it made it seem
to contract and retreat and leave the shivering world an inconceivable
depth below.

Swathed and bundled as they were, the girls very soon began to feel the
deadly chill in the icy air.

"Nan's shivering like an ash-pan!" John cried out suddenly.  "Has
anybody got an extra shawl or something they can lend her?"

"Hush!" returned the girl, trying to control her trembling, "it's
nothing; I'm all right."

"Pity she can't keep warm with John Gardiner beside her!" Mrs. Cole
suggested.

In the shadow Nan's teeth came together with a snap of disgust.  She
saw now what it was in Mrs. Cole that offended Miss Blake.  She had
never noticed it before, but it had been there, and she knew it.  John
made no retort, while the others laughed and applauded.

"Here, Nan!" spoke up some one at the other end of the sleigh, "here's
a cigarette.  Take it and warm yourself before its genial blaze," and
it was passed along from hand to hand, its ruddy point glinting out in
the shadow as it went along.  When it came to Mary, instead of handing
it on at once, she held it a moment, then suddenly raised it to her
lips.

"Hey, there!  Turn off the draught!" cried its owner merrily at sight
of the newly-glowing tip.

"Shut down the damper!" shouted some one else.

"I dare you to smoke it!" laughed Mrs. Cole.

Mary deliberately took a long puff.

Nan leaned back behind John and laid her gloved hand impulsively on
Mary's shoulder.  "O Mary!" she protested in a whisper.  "Don't.
Please!  It'll make you sick."

But the girl was not to be thwarted.  She shook off Nan's hand
impatiently.

"Mind your own business!" she replied, and took another puff.

On they swept through the icy air, across the snow-covered country,
amid the white night.  The horn blew; the voices sang and shouted, and
finally the sleigh swung up before the hospitable road-house, where
every window was alight and their steaming supper awaited them.

It was harder to get out of the sleigh than it had been to get in it,
for joints that at first had been limber and strong were now stiff and
cramped from cold and disuse, and the girls made a sorry show, limping
and halting from the sleigh to the house.  When Nan first gained the
ground she could hardly stand, but a little vigorous exercise soon sent
the blood tingling through her veins again and unknotted her muscles,
and she was about to run gayly up the path when she felt a hand upon
her shoulder, and looking round saw Mary Brewster beside her, her face
ghastly and drawn in the pallid moonlight and her chin quivering weakly
in a manner that Nan saw at once was not the effect of the cold.

"Lean on my shoulder and I'll get you up to the house in a jiff," she
said, in a low whisper.

Mary clung to her, wavering and faint, without a word, and in the
confusion no one noticed her plight.  Nan had fairly to drag her up the
steps, and then again up the staircase to the room the woman of the
place had showed them when Nan had drawn her aside and told her of
their dilemma.

"It's the cold!" gasped Mary, crying abjectly between her spasms of
misery.

"No such thing!" returned Nan stoutly.  "It's that villainous
cigarette.  But never mind now.  There!  Don't think of anything but
getting better.  I'll stroke your head for you.  It must be aching
terribly."

So she soothed and comforted the girl as best she could, and the kind
mistress of the house came up every now and then with offers of help
and reports of how the supper was progressing below, and after a while
Mary grew quieter and could do something beside moan and cry and wring
her hands over her own wretchedness.

"Nan," she whispered presently in a conscious-smitten voice, "I want
you to leave me and go down stairs.  You've given up the best part of
the fun for me, but you shan't lose it all.  Please go down!"

Nan shook her head.  "No, you don't, ma'am!" she declared cheerfully,
and Mary was too exhausted to argue the question.  She felt deliciously
drowsy and the freedom from pain made her tearfully happy.  Vague,
dreamy thoughts were wandering through her brain, and one of them was
that Nan had been very kind to her.  She had not deserved it.  She had
been mean to Nan.  She admitted it.  She ought to beg her forgiveness.
It was so good to be out of pain that she was willing to do anything to
prove her gratitude.  She opened her eyes and saw Nan bending over her
with a face full of sympathy.  She put up her hands and drew the face
down to hers, her lip trembling like a little child's.

"Kiss me, Nan!"

Nan kissed her.

"I want you to forgive me.  I've been hateful to you and you've been
generous and kind and--I love you for it.  I'd like to be your
friend--if you'd let me, after the way I've treated you."

Nan kissed her again.  "Never mind that now.  We'll begin all over, and
I guess I can behave a little better myself.  Now go to sleep and get a
good nap before it's time to go home."



CHAPTER XVII

CONSEQUENCES

As soon as she saw that Mary had fallen soundly asleep Nan rose and
slipped noiselessly down stairs.  She had no trouble in finding the
supper-room, for she had only to follow the echoing sounds to be led
directly to the door.  She stood a moment on the threshold before she
laid her hand upon the knob.  It seemed to her she had never heard such
a hub-bub, but as she listened she seemed to hear, over and above it
all, Miss Blake's soft voice saying quietly:

"If you and the other girls have no more careful a chaperone than Mrs.
Cole, I am afraid your party will prove a rather uproarious one."

"Rather uproarious!" Nan smiled, as she repeated the words to herself.
Then she turned the knob and pushed open the door.

The clamor surged louder than ever, and for a second seemed almost to
stun her.  Dishes were clattering, and every one seemed doing his or
her best to add to the tumult and confusion.  No one noticed Nan
standing dumbly in the doorway, and it was only when some one's eye
fell upon her as she took a step or two forward that there was a cry of
"Hullo!  Here's Nan!" and she was pulled to the table, forced into a
chair, and plied with all sorts of dishes and questions, until she put
her hands to her ears and begged for mercy.

"Here's some salad!  Take this!"

"The jelly's most gone and what's left of it is melted.  But you're
welcome to it such as it is and what there is of it."

"Where have you been all this time?"

"We've been calling you every sort of a name for being so rude as to
stay away from the supper."

"Oh, Nan had her good reason," shouted Mrs. Cole, pushing back her
chair and springing to her feet.

"Come, girls and boys!" she cried shrilly, "it's getting late.  If we
want to dance we'd better be about it."

Of course that led to a general uprising, and in a moment the whole
tableful was swarming toward the parlor.

"How do you like it, Nan?" asked John Gardiner, quizzically, coming and
leaning toward her to whisper the question in her ear, as they stood at
one side waiting for the music to begin.

"Like it!" repeated Nan, "I think Mrs. Cole's simply--well, I'm sorry
she was ever asked to come.  It would all have been so different if we
had had Mrs. Andrews or Mrs. Hawes or--just imagine Miss Blake acting
as she has to-night!"

"I can't imagine it!" returned John, emphatically, "and worse yet, Mike
is in no condition to drive us home.  He's been drinking.  I went out
to see if the horses were all right and being fed, you know, and there
I heard about it.  Mike simply mustn't drive."

Nan pressed her hands together and gave a stifled groan.

"That's what I wanted to tell you," continued John, hurriedly.  "It
isn't safe to let him try and I'm going to take his place myself.  I
don't know how long I can stand it, for it's colder than ever and I
haven't any driving gloves, but I'll do the best I can and perhaps some
of the other fellows will lend a hand."

Nan thought a minute.  "I tell you what," she declared at last, "I'm
going to do part of the driving myself.  I'll sit up front and when you
give out I'll lend a hand and we'll get through somehow.  I've Miss
Blake's gloves and they are as warm as toast."

The anxious look faded a little from John's face, and in spite of
himself he showed he was relieved.  "I may not have to give up at all,"
he said at length; "but if I do there's not a fellow in the whole lot
I'd rather trust the reins to than you.  Come!  They're making a move.
Get your things on as quick as you can and be where I can see you so we
can take our places without making too much talk."

In a twinkling Nan had flown upstairs, roused Mary and helped her to
get ready and was hooded and cloaked and standing in the hall-way.  The
others came up one by one and presently the big door was opened and
they trooped through it out into the waiting sleigh.  John gave Nan a
hand and she sprang quickly to the place beside him on the driver's
seat.  They started.

It proved a very different matter sitting on that unsheltered box
facing the wind to cuddling, as they had done before, among the warm
straw with their faces shielded from the current by the high protecting
sides of the sleigh, and after a very little while Nan had to set her
teeth to keep from crying out for the pain in her stinging cheeks.

Back of them the rest of the party shouted and tootled and yodeled as
cheerfully as ever.  Every one wanted to know what had become of Mike,
and as nobody could tell but John and Nan, and they wouldn't, the
questions went unanswered, and by and by the subject was dropped and
only occasional spiteful jokes made by Mrs. Cole at the expense of
John's driving and Nan's sitting beside him while he did it.

Happily the horses knew the way home and were eager to get there, so
they did not have to be urged or guided.  But it was necessary to hold
a tight rein, and John's hands soon began to feel tortured and twisted
with the strain upon them biting through their numbness like screws of
pain.  He shook his head determinedly when Nan offered to relieve him,
and at last she had to wrench the reins from him in order to take her
share of duty and give him a chance to recover a little.

So, taking turns faithfully like good comrades, and exchanging never a
word, they got the sleigh and its load safely into town at last, and
not one of the gay, irresponsible party knew how difficult an
achievement it had been.

Miss Blake herself opened the door to Nan and let her in.  One glance
at her, as she stood huddled and quivering with cold in the vestibule,
was enough.  Not a question was asked.  She was led gently into the
warm dining-room, her hood and cloak taken from her and her frozen
hands briskly chafed, while on Miss Blake's tea-stand stood her little
brass kettle, bubbling and purring merrily above its alcohol flame, and
hinting broadly at soothing cups of something "grateful and comforting."

Nan let herself be waited upon in a sort of half dream.  The agony in
her hands had been so great that it had taken all her strength to bear
it, and now it was going she felt weak and babyish.

"O dear!" she broke down at last, with a gulp of relief.  "It's been an
awful evening!  Mrs. Cole was detestable.  Do you know what she did?"
and then came out the whole story pell-mell: all told in Nan's blunt,
uncompromising way, and giving Miss Blake a better idea than anything
else could have done of just how right she had been in opposing the
girl's going under such chaperon age.

She was too wise to say "I told you so," and she was too sincere to try
to gloss over the probable result of the episode.  She looked grave and
thoughtful when Nan had finished her account, and her voice was very
serious as she said:

"What the consequences to the others may be I don't know; I dread to
think.  But I feel that at least you and John and Mary have seen things
as they are, and will profit by your experience.  You remember the talk
we had at Mrs. Newton's before the holidays?  She said 'Experience is
an expensive school, and only fools can afford to go to it,' or
something like that; you are no fool, Nan.  I think you will see more
and more plainly, as time goes on, that there are some things that we
cannot afford to do.  We cannot afford to buy a momentary pleasure at
the price of a lifetime of regret, and we cannot afford to spend even
one day of our life in unscrupulous company.  It costs too much.  We
think we have a very keen business sense, we men and women, but we
allow ourselves to be cheated every day we live in a way that would
disgust us if we were dealing in dollars and cents.  Self-respect is
more valuable than momentary enjoyment, yet those boys and girls sold
one for the other to-night.

"As for you, I think you made a good exchange, Nan, when you gave up
your supper for Mary's sake.  Love is a reliable bank, dear, and you
can't make too many deposits in it.  It always pays compound interest,
and the best of it is, it never fails."

Nan's lips opened as if she were about to speak, but she closed them
again, and sat looking into the fire very seriously and silently for
some time.  Then the lips parted again, and this time the words came,
though even now with an effort:

"I guess you'll think it's no credit to me that I'm sorry I went.  But
I am sorry, and I would be if it had been the best time in the world.
I didn't want to go, really, after you said you'd--rather I wouldn't.
I didn't, honestly.  It won't do either of us any good for me to say
now that I wish I had done as you wanted me to.  But I do wish it.
I've hated myself all along for acting as I did.  Now don't let's say
anything more about it--but--but--I wanted you to know how I feel."

There was an ominous catch in her voice that warned Miss Blake not to
pursue the subject.  Nan could humble herself to apologize, but to
follow the abasement up by shedding tears on it was too much for her
dignity, and she fought against it stolidly.

But the governess knew her well enough by this time to feel assured
that what she said was true, and she accepted the clumsy, halting
"amende" as gratefully as if it had been the most graceful of
acknowledgments.

"Dear me," she broke in, in quite a matter-of-fact way.  "Do you know
that the small hours are getting to be large hours, and we are sitting
here as unconcernedly as if it were just after dinner.  Come, let us
both get upstairs and to bed as fast as our feet can carry us," and she
promptly set the example by extinguishing the lamp and helping Nan to
shoulder her armful of wraps.

"Oh, by the way," she said, as they readied the upper hall, and the
girl was about to make return of the hood, "you may keep it if you
will.  Accept it and the gloves, with my love, as a sort of recompense
for what other things you have missed this evening."

Nan was too overcome by the richness of the gift to make any response
at all for a moment.  Then she blurted out awkwardly, though in a very
grateful voice:

"You're so good to me it makes me--ashamed.  You're always giving me
things.  It isn't right.  You give away everything you have."

Miss Blake lifted her chin and laughed gayly over the cleft in it.

"No, I don't," she returned, tip-toeing to drop the gloves, like a
blessing, on the girl's head.  "I have one or two things which I keep
all for myself.  But if I like to give presents, do you know what it's
a sign of?  It's a sign I'm poor.  Poor people are always possessed by
a passion for giving presents.  It's true!  I've always noticed it!
Good-night!"

And that was the last Nan heard about the affair from Miss Blake.
Unfortunately--or fortunately--it was not the last she heard of it from
others, by any means.  It was a long, long time before it was allowed
to drop.

In the first place, Michael was discharged from the stables, and this
led to a vast amount of discussion, for the poor fellow, who was
temperate by nature, was thrown out of employment in midwinter, and his
predicament seemed a pitiable one to those who really understood the
facts in the case.

Miss Blake, when she heard of the affair, had bidden John Gardiner
bring the man to her.  She heard his story, and then sent him off with
a few kindly, encouraging words, and the poor fellow felt comforted in
spite of the facts that she had given him neither money nor any
definite promise of help.  When he had gone she sat for some time
thinking busily, her chin in her palms and her elbows propped on the
desk in front of her.  She was still for so long that John and Nan
stole off after a while and tried experiments with the kodak on some
back-yard views, and when they came back to Miss Blake's room to ask
her opinion on some point of focus they found the place deserted and
the governess gone.

The next day Mike was discovered sitting smilingly enthroned in his
accustomed place on the lofty box of the livery "broom-carriage," and
he vouchsafed the information to congratulating friends that: "Ut's
another chanct Oi hav, though how Oi come boy ut ye'll niver know anny
moar than Oi do mesilf, for Misther Allen was that set agin me he
wuddn't hear a wurrud Oi'd sa'.  But Oi have another chanct and ut's
mesilf 'll see till ut, ut lasts me me loife-toime."

"O dear!" complained Ruth to Nan, "I never want to hear the name of
sleigh-ride again so long as I live.  Everywhere I go, they say so
significantly: 'We hear you had a very gay time the other night!  Well,
well! such things wouldn't have been tolerated when I was young!' and
then they make some cutting remark about Mrs. Cole, and I'm afraid it's
not going to be very pleasant for her after this, for none of our
fathers and mothers want to have anything more to do with her.  They
say her example has been so bad.  And one can't have a bit of fun
nowadays, for we're all being kept on short rations to pay up for the
other night."

But as the weeks passed the gossip died away and then every one
breathed freer again.

Latterly Nan was filling her part of the household contract with
considerably less ill-will than she had shown at the beginning, but
even now there were occasional lamentations when the day was especially
enticing, and her spirits rose and soared above the pettiness of
bed-making and the degradation of dusting.  It took her about twice as
long to get through with her share of the work as it took Miss Blake,
and she could never console herself with the thought that it was
because the governess shirked.  Occasionally she let her own tasks go
"with a lick and a promise," as Delia described it, bat when she saw
the thoroughness with which Miss Blake did even the least important
thing she had the grace to be ashamed and to determine on a better
course in the future.  But before she really settled down to a stricter
habit of conscientiousness something happened that gave her more of an
impulse than a course of lectures would have done.

The winter had been a long and unusually severe one, but by March it
seemed reasonable to suppose that its backbone was broken.  Nan had
preferred the care of the conservatory to the duller and less
interesting work of dish-washing, and Miss Blake, in letting her take
her choice, had only exacted the promise that her charge was not to be
neglected.  Nan had, as we know, given her hand upon it, and so the
matter stood.  The governess never "nagged" her about her duties; she
took it for granted that the girl would honorably keep her word.

And indeed for some time she was tolerably thorough, watering the
plants and loosening the soil about their roots; sponging the leaves of
the rubber trees and palms and picking off all the shriveled leaves and
faded petals from the flowering shrubs and keeping the temperature at
as nearly the right degree as was possible with such varying weather
and their simple device for heating the place.

But she found it was much more of a tax than she had first supposed.
At the start plants had seemed so much more inviting than dishes that
she had appropriated the care of them at once, and now that she
discovered what her selection really involved she felt almost
aggrieved, and was inclined to be cross when she saw Miss Blake's tasks
finished for the day while her own was scarcely more than begun.

"Provoking things!" she would declare as she dashed a double spray of
water on the rubber trees that did not need it, and gave but a mere
sprinkle to the blossoming azalias that did: "if I'd known what a
nuisance you were I can tell you I never would have taken you!  Here!
will you come off, or won't you?" and she would give some wilted
blossom a vicious jerk that would set the entire plant shaking in its
pot as though it were trembling with distress at the rough treatment it
was receiving.  If Miss Blake heard her she gave no sign.  Sometimes
when they passed a florist's window she would stop and look wistfully
in at the bewildering display, and Nan would know that she was longing
to go in and buy some especially fascinating orchid or unusually rare
crysanthemum.  But she would not yield to her impulse, for on one
occasion the girl had said with a shrug of impatience:

"For goodness' sake don't get any more.  It's all I can do to attend to
the bothersome things now.  I wish they were all in Hong Kong--every
one of them."

[Illustration: "Provoking things!"]

So since then there had been no further additions to the conservatory,
and Miss Blake had to check her horticultural ardor or confine it to
her window-sill upstairs.

But the plants throve in spite of their ungracious nursing, and when
she was not irritated by them Nan was very proud of the fine showing
they made.

"I think that double, white azalia is one of most beautiful things I
ever saw: so pure and delicate!" said Mary Brewster to Miss Blake,
hanging over it in honest admiration one leaden-skied day when she come
to carry Nan off to her house to dinner and was waiting while the girl
went upstairs to get ready.

"Yes," replied the governess, "I love it!  But then, I love all the
dear things--even those poor woolly-leaved little primroses that have
almost less charm for me than any flowers I know.  I'm so glad they are
all doing so well.  I can't bear to bring a plant into the house and
then have it die.  It seems almost like murder.  But now I must run
away.  I have an appointment with my dentist at three.  It is very good
of you to ask Nan to dinner to-night, and I'm doubly glad it happens as
it does, for she would have to dine alone if she stayed at home, for I
have to go out of town on business and cannot get back tonight.  Delia
will call for Nan at nine o'clock.  Good-bye, and have a pleasant
evening!" and she caught up her satchel and was off in a twinkling.

But after she had let herself out of the front door she came back and
called Nan to the head of the stairs.

"It's bitterly cold," she said.  "I had no idea it was so severe!  Be
sure you wrap up warmly, Nan, and don't forget your gloves and leggings
when you come home.  Oh, and the plants!  You'll not fail to look after
them when you get in--the last thing before you go to bed?  I think it
will freeze to-night, and they will need extra heat.  Now, good-bye
again, and God bless you!"

Nan waved her a vigorous adieu with the towel she held in her hand, and
this time the governess was off in earnest.

The two girls followed her out not long after, and went laughing and
chatting down the street.

"I've asked Grace and Lu and Ruth to come in after dinner, and we're
going to have a candy-pull.  I didn't ask John, but I told him what was
up, and he said he and Harley and Everett had been wanting to call for
some time, and as I'd be sure to be in, he thought they might as well
do it to-night.  I told him he'd have to 'call' loud, for we'd be in
the kitchen, and probably wouldn't hear him, and he said he'd see to it
that we did; so I suppose we'll have them too."

Among them all it proved a gay evening, and seemed unusually so, for of
late jollifications had been rare.  As Ruth said, "they were all kept
on short rations to pay up for the other night."

It appeared to Nan when Delia arrived that she had made a mistake in
the hour, and had appeared at eight instead of nine; but as it happened
Delia purposely delayed in order that her girl might have an extra
sixty minutes, and when she pointed to the clock, whose short hand
pointed to ten, Nan could only shake her head, and say: "Well, I
suppose so--but it doesn't seem as if it could be."

It was so cold that Delia had brought an additional wrap for her, and
the girl was glad to avail herself of it when she felt the nip of the
freezing air.

"Why, it's much worse than it was this afternoon," she said.  "If this
is spring, I'd just as lief have winter.  I tell you what it is, Delia,
it won't take me long to tumble into bed.  I'm frozen stiff already.  I
hope you locked up before you came out, so all we'll have to do will be
to go upstairs.  I hate to putter about in the cold."

It seemed strange to go to bed without Miss Blake's cheery
"Good-night!" ringing in her ears.  It was the first time the governess
had spent a night away from home since she first came to the house,
almost six months ago, and Nan devoutly hoped there wouldn't be a
repetition of the performance in another half-year.  Her empty room
gave one "les homeseeks."

In order to forget it and to escape the cold, Nan cut short her
preparations for the night and got into bed with as little delay as
possible.  She cuddled comfortably between her smooth sheets and soft
blankets and in a moment was soundly asleep.

When she waked the next morning it was with a vague feeling of
responsibility, as though she had gone to sleep with a weight of some
calamity on her heart.  As she dressed she tried to recall it but there
was nothing in yesterday's experience to depress her and she ran down
to breakfast determined to shake off the haunting impression.  But all
through the meal it clung to her and she could not get rid of it.  To
be especially virtuous in Miss Blake's absence and show her that she
was "dependable," she took the dish-washing upon herself and got
through with it speedily.  Then up to her room to set that in order,
and then down to the conservatory to attend to the plants.

It was just as this juncture that Delia heard a wild cry of distress
ring through the house.  She ran upstairs in a fright and found Nan
standing at the threshold of the conservatory door gazing in and
wringing her hands.  The sight that met her eyes was a pitiful one.
There was not one plant among them all that had outlived the night.
The leaves of all were frozen black.



CHAPTER XVIII

"CHESTER NEWCOMB"

"Oh, do you think I could?" demanded Nan, eagerly.

Miss Blake considered a moment.  "I don't see any reason why it might
not be arranged."

"It's right by the sea and Ruth says they never fuss about clothes down
there.  Just anything will do."

The governess smiled.  "Nevertheless I think you will need a couple of
changes.  I have sometimes been asked to visit country houses where
'anything would do,' and I've generally found that it all depends on
what one understands by 'anything.'"

"I can wear a shirt-waist in the morning and in the afternoon I can
wear a--a--another one," announced Nan.

Miss Blake laughed.  "You poor child," she said, "I do believe you
haven't much beside for the summer."

"You see," broke in Nan, shamefacedly, "Delia didn't know anything
about styles and I didn't--care, and so we sort of let clothes go.  It
isn't because father wouldn't want me to have nice things."

Miss Blake took her up quickly.  "I know it is not.  And now we must
set to work at once to get you properly provided, for you are old
enough now to 'care,' not necessarily about styles, but certainly about
making a creditable appearance, and I want you to have a suitable
wardrobe so that you may always keep yourself tidy."

It seemed to Nan that the wardrobe Miss Blake proceeded to provide for
her was something more than merely "tidy."  The frocks were simple, it
is true, but very dainty and tasteful, and in her new interest in them
and the way they were made she quite forgot to complain at the extra
inch or two which the governess caused to be added to the length of the
skirts.

There had been some stormy scenes when the winter dresses were being
made, Nan insisting that she would not wear "such horrid dangling
things that were forever getting in her way."  She wanted her skirts
made short, and if she couldn't have her skirts made short, etc.

The skirts had not been made short, and these were even longer.  Clad
in them Nan looked very tall and womanly, and Delia realized for the
first time that her "baby" had ceased to be a little girl.

So at last the preparations were completed and the girl started off to
spend a fortnight with Ruth at the Andrews' beautiful summer home by
the sea.  Then came gay times.  Early morning dips in the surf;
clam-bakes on the beach; long, lazy hours spent on the veranda, when
the day was too warm for exercise, and when it was cooler, fine spins
along the hard, white sand, for miles beside the shimmering sea.

Nan grew as brown as an Indian, for she scorned shade-hats, and
oftenest had nothing on her head at all but her own thick thatch of
riotous brown hair.

Ruth's brother taught Nan to swim, and she entered into it with so much
zest that to his surprise he found his only difficulty lay in trying to
restrain her.  Nothing seemed to daunt her, and whatever any one else
did she immediately wanted to try.

"The fact of the matter is," young Mr. Andrews declared one day, "you
ought to have been a boy.  You'd make a capital fellow."

"I know it," admitted Nan, frankly.  "I love boys' sports and pranks,
and to think that all my life I've just got to 'sit on a cushion and
sew up a seam.'  It's perfectly awful."

"Fancy!" exclaimed Miss Webster, a fellow-guest, and a young lady whom,
by the way, Nan regarded with a good deal of disdain, because she
seemed what John Gardiner called "girly-girly," and was flirtatious.
"Fancy!  Why, I wouldn't be a man for anything in the world!  Just
think what hideous clothes they wear."

"Thank you, Miss Webster,"  retorted Mr. Andrews with mock solemnity.

"Oh, I didn't mean you," she returned with an emphasis and a soft
glance of the eyes.  "You really dress extremely well.  I adore your
neck-ties and your boots are dreams."

Helen Andrews tried to hide a scowl of irritation.  Alice Webster was
her friend, and she disliked having her display herself in her worst
light.  She knew her to be a warm-hearted, honorable girl whose gravest
fault, which, after all, might be only a foible, was her tendency to
turn coquettish when she was in the society of gentlemen.

Ruth rose and beckoned Nan to follow her.

"Isn't she a lunatic?" she demanded, as soon as they were out of
ear-shot.

"Perfect idiot!" responded Nan.  "I should think your brother would
just duck her in the water some fine day when she's making those
sheep's eyes at him.  I would if I were in his place."

"Oh, he doesn't care.  He thinks she's lots of fun.  Besides, he's
going away to-morrow, and won't see her again unless Helen makes her
stay longer."

"What'll she do for some one to make eyes at?"

"Don't know.  Helen generally has a lot of company, but just now there
seems to be a famine in the land!"

Suddenly Nan stood stock still.

"What's the matter?" demanded Ruth.

Nan waited a moment, and then bent over and whispered something in her
ear.

"Magnificent!  We'll do it!" cried Ruth, clapping her hands, and
breaking into a peal of laughter.

"Not to-night--while your brother is here!" protested Nan.

"Of course not.  To-morrow though, sure.  Carl will be gone and the
coast clear, and meanwhile we'll drill."

For the remainder of the day the girls were absorbed in something which
took them to their room and kept them there, and they only appeared
when dinner was announced, and the family already seated at the table.

"Well, Miss Nan," Carl Andrews exclaimed, "I wish you were a boy, and
I'd take you up into the mountains with me and teach you how to handle
a gun."

"What fun!" cried Nan.

"Yes, it would be great sport, and I warrant you'd like camp-life, too.
It's just the sort of thing that you'd enjoy.  Only I'm afraid it would
agree with you so well that you would grow an inch a week, and
considering you are a girl you'd better not get any taller."

"O dear!  Don't say that," groaned Nan, "for I probably shall grow lots
more as it is.  You see I'm not quite sixteen yet.  Do people ever get
their growth before they are sixteen, Mrs. Andrews?"

"Oh, sometimes," replied the lady kindly.  "I scarcely think you will
grow any more, my dear.  But I wouldn't worry about it in any case if I
were you."

"But I don't want to tower over everybody," wailed the girl.  "Just
think, I'm head and shoulders above Miss Blake now!"

"But Miss Blake is a 'pocket Venus!'  Just as high as one's heart,"
said Carl Andrews.  "I took her home the other night and she barely
reached to my shoulder."

"Then you and Nan must be about the same height!" said Helen.

Nan made a grimace.

"Good rye grows high!" quoted Miss Webster, good-naturedly.  And then
the elder Mr. Andrews, who was a little deaf, began to talk about the
crops, probably thinking they had been discussing grain, since he heard
the word "rye."

Early the next morning Carl Andrews started off, and the family waved
him a vigorous good-bye from the veranda steps, and after he had gone
the different members of the household went about their own particular
business, and did not meet again until luncheon-time.

It proved an unusually warm day, and when evening came the young people
were glad to sit quietly on the veranda in the dark and enjoy the
heartening breeze that swept up from the sea.  Mr. and Mrs. Andrews had
gone, as was their custom, out driving immediately after dinner, and so
the four girls were left to themselves.  They were just laughing over
Ruth's description of one of Nan's exploits when the maid appeared
bearing a letter on a salver.

"For Miss Cutler," she said, and handed it to Nan.

The girl excused herself and hastened indoors to read it.  A moment
later she called to Ruth.

"It may be news from home," surmised Helen.  "I hope it's nothing
serious.  Her father is away; has been for two years or more.  I
believe they expect him home this fall," and then she and Alice fell to
talking of other things and Helen was just wishing Carl could see her
friend in this mood, and know how womanly and sensible she could be
when suddenly they both stopped talking at the sight of a man's figure
coming up the long pathway from the outer road.

"Who can it be?" whispered Helen.

"A tramp?" suggested Miss Webster.

"No.  A tramp wouldn't come straight up to the house.  It must be a
caller; possibly a friend of Carl's," murmured Helen.

The stranger came directly toward the veranda, but at the steps he
paused a moment as though embarrassed at sight of the two girls
unexpectedly rising to meet him from out of the shadow.

"Is Mr. Andrews in?" he asked, in a low, shy voice, and Helen said she
was sorry, but neither her father nor brother were at home.  To which
did he refer?

"To Mr. Carl Andrews," and then it was explained that he and Mr. Carl
Andrews were great chums.  They--

"Won't you take a seat," asked Helen, hospitably, and he accepted at
once while she introduced Miss Webster and herself and he gave his name
as Chester Newcomb.

"Oh, yes; I've often heard Carl speak of you," declared Helen, and then
she had to excuse herself to answer Ruth who was calling to her
vociferously from upstairs.

"I'm afraid Nan has had bad news," she said, anxiously.  "Excuse me,
please.  I'll go and see what she wants and be back directly."

Mr. Newcomb and Miss Webster fell at once into an easy chat.  That is,
Miss Webster did.  She rattled on in her least attractive manner, and
became so absorbed that she only noticed how long Helen had been absent
when Mr. Newcomb rose to go and she had not yet returned.

"Pray don't call her," he entreated.  "She probably is very much
engaged.  I--I am spending a couple of weeks here and shall be charmed
to come again if I may."

Miss Webster could only in turn assure him that she--that Helen and she
would also be charmed, and then he bowed himself off, striding down the
path with a free, somewhat boyish swing, and disappearing at length in
the shadow of the shrubbery.

He came frequently after that and the girls began to chaff Miss Webster
about her "conquest" for he never seemed to care to come when the rest
were about, but chose such times for his calls when he and Alice could
stroll in the garden after dusk or sit and watch the sea and the stars
from the shadow of the broad veranda.

It was very romantic and Miss Webster wore a dreamy, rapt expression
nowadays that sent Nan and Ruth off into fits of laughter when they
were out of the range of her eyes and ears.

"What a pity it is he can't be here to see?" gasped Ruth.

"Oh, he sees enough, never you fear," Nan assured her.  "When one casts
sheep's eyes like that they hit even in the dark!  Poor thing!  She is
such a goose.  Last night when he told her he was going to-morrow she
grew quite tragic and--"

"O Nan!  How could you listen?" cried Ruth in a shocked voice but
immediately after going into another spasm of laughter.

"She quotes Shakespeare at him," gasped Nan, convulsed with mirth, and
not a bit abashed.  "You ought to hear.  It's rich!"

"Well, we must see that the coast is clear to-night for I s'pose she
will be particularly touching, and Helen is getting awfully hard to
manage.  It wouldn't do to interrupt them at the last minute just when
he was getting pathetic maybe.  I wonder what he'll do?"

"He'll be real dignified," declared Nan, solemnly.  "You wait.  He'll
be eloquent even if he is 'only a boy' as she says."

So the two girls disappeared utterly after dinner, and when Mr. Newcomb
arrived he found Miss Webster quite alone, for Helen also was nowhere
to be seen.

"She hasn't been very well lately," Miss Webster explained.  "She looks
terribly pale and anxious and I'm afraid she has something on her mind.
Her headaches worry me!" and then she fell back into her poor, little
artificial manner again and sighed and looked sentimental and was
altogether "idiotic" as Nan would have said, and their two low-pitched
voices could be heard murmuring away in the stillness until poor Helen,
who was really half sick with a nervous headache upstairs, could have
cried with irritation and pain.

She sat up on the bed when Ruth came into the room, and attacked her at
once.

"I can't stand it another minute.  It's driving me wild!"

"Hush!  It's only to-night.  This is the last time.  Don't make a
scene!" pleaded Ruth.

"I'll never get over it," wailed Helen.  "It simply is the most
detestable thing I ever knew.  In our own house too!  If this weren't
the last time I--"

What she would do was never discovered for just at that moment a shrill
scream ran through the night, followed by the exclamation in a familiar
voice:

"Great Scott!  My wig!"

And Ruth and Helen rushed below to find Miss Webster in a state of
collapse on one of the veranda settees and Nan standing over her, clad
in complete male attire, and fanning her frantically with a curly,
blonde wig which she wrenched by force from the trellis where it had
inadvertently caught.

"I was just leaning back and being beautiful, and it got hooked on a
wire or something, and when I went to get up it stayed there and gave
me away!" she promptly explained.

Then there was a scene.

Miss Webster wept!  Nan lamented!  Ruth laughed, and Helen scolded, and
no one heard a word any one else was saying.

But after a time every one grew calmer.

"O Helen!  I've made such a fool of myself," cried Alice abjectly.
"How can you ever respect me again?"

"Respect you?  Think of me!" sobbed Helen.  "Can you ever forgive me
for knowing it all this time and letting it go on?  Nan, you wretched
girl, come here this minute and beg Miss Webster's pardon.  Ruth
Andrews, this is your work, Miss!  See what you have done, and in your
own house, too!"

But at this time Alice surprised them all.  She put a gentle hand on
Helen's arm and said quite simply, and with a touching dignity:

"Please don't ask anybody to beg my pardon.  I deserved the lesson!
The girls needn't say a word.  I--I--I am a goose, but I'll really try
to be better, and the kindest thing they can do is never to refer to it
again."

The rare tears sprang to Nan's eyes, and she grasped Miss Webster's
hand in a grip that hurt.

"You're downright fine!" she said, "and I'll never forget you as long
as I live."

And then she had to beat a hasty retreat to escape Mr. Andrews and his
wife, who were just driving up to the door.

But the secret leaked out, and she and Ruth were reprimanded sharply by
Mrs. Andrews who, for once in her life, turned severe and called them
sternly to account, and it was Alice Webster herself who interceded for
them, and begged that everything be forgiven and forgotten.

They were her devoted slaves after that, and Nan, whose fortnight had
been extended, at the Andrews' request, to a month, took especial
delight in fetching and carrying for her to the close of her stay, and
in every possible manner making her feel how sincerely she regarded and
respected her.

As for Miss Webster, she seemed like another girl.  In fact, Carl
Andrews declared that he had never known what a "good sort" she was and
said he was mighty glad they had prevailed upon her to stay.

He never knew why the mere mention of his friend, Chester Newcomb's
name should cause such a convulsion in the household, and when that
gentleman finally arrived, and the family met him for the first time,
it certainly seemed strange that they should all redden and stammer as
if they had been "awkward nursery children appearing at dinner."

Nan especially could not be induced to have anything to say when he was
near, and when Carl discovered this he took a mischievous delight in
forcing her into his company and watching her try to "squirm" out of it
again.  Miss Webster took pity on her and in the simplest, most natural
way came to her rescue whenever she was being victimized, and by and by
it became apparent even to Carl himself that "Ches and Miss Webster hit
it off first-rate."

But at last Nan's visit really drew to a close, and, in spite of her
reluctance at leaving these good friends, she felt satisfied to go
home--she did not stop to ask herself why.

Town seemed very stuffy and tame after the freedom of the country and
the sea, but when Miss Blake asked her if she would like to go away
again she replied: "Not alone," and then blushed shamefacedly and tried
to change the subject.

While she was gone the governess had committed an extravagance.  She
had bought a new bicycle.

"What under the sun did you do that for?" demanded Nan.  "Your other
was a beauty and as good as new."

"But it wasn't new," suggested Miss Blake, lamely.

"Pooh!" sniffed Nan.

"I wanted this year's model."

"Oh, very well!  If you can be as particular as all that!  How much did
they allow you on the other machine?  I hope you made a good bargain,"
said Nan.

"I didn't let them have the other machine," hesitated Miss Blake.  "It
didn't seem worth while.  Besides I may want to use it myself
sometimes.  Won't you come down and see the new one?"

Of course Nan did not delay, and she went into raptures over the
beautiful wheel, praising it generously as she examined every point
with the eye of a connoisseur.

"But it seems to me a pretty high frame!" she speculated, standing off
and taking it in from a distance.

"I wanted a high frame," responded Miss Blake.

"Seems to me pretty well up in the air for you, even with the saddle
down," insisted Nan, doubtfully.

"You try it," suggested the governess.  "If it suits you it will
certainly be too high for me."

"It does suit me," announced Nan, balancing herself by a hand against
the wall.  "You'd better send it back and get a lower frame."

But Miss Blake shook her head.

"No, I like this and I'm going to keep it.  But of course if it is too
high I can't use it, and so--so--I'm afraid you'll have to, Nan.  You
won't mind, will you?  I mean getting your birthday present this way
ahead of time?  I thought if we waited you'd lose the whole summer."

Nan flung herself from the wheel in a rapture of surprise.  It seemed
too good to be true.  She could not believe it.  Miss Blake had her
thanks more in the girl's radiant delight than in the mere words she
spoke, though these were genuine enough and full enough of gratitude.

All through the long season after that, whenever the heat was not too
intense, Nan and her wheel could have been seen flashing through the
Park or taking a well-earned rest in the cool shadow of the Dairy
porch, where a sip of water seemed sweeter than ambrosia and a fugitive
breeze more aromatic than any zephyr from Araby the blest.

Sometimes she and Miss Blake took longer trips into the country, and
then the governess had to be constant in her warnings to her against
her reckless fashion of riding.  Again and again she spoke, and Nan
always meant to take heed and then always forgot, and fell back into
her old way once more.

"I can't resist such a coast as that was," she would plead.  "And if I
got off for every old man who thinks he has the right to the road I'd
be dismounting all the while."

"I beg you not to take such risks," Miss Blake would rejoin.  "It
simply spoils my ride for me, Nan, to see you so reckless.  Such
head-long wheeling has nothing to recommend it.  It is neither expert
nor admirable.  When you fling along so blindly you are merely doing a
foolish, heedless thing and running serious risks.  I am sure you will
come to grief some day."

"Don't you worry!  I am as much at home in my saddle as I would be in a
rocking-chair.  See me ride without touching the handle-bars!"

And presently she would lose all recollection of her good resolve, and
go hurling on at a break-neck speed in the van of some skittish horse,
or slowly zig-zag ahead in the path of some stolid coachman, causing
him to anathematize all wheelmen in general and this especially
provoking specimen in particular, while her watching companion held her
breath in trembling alarm.

At last Miss Blake told Nan decidedly that unless she were willing to
ride properly she must give it up altogether.

"I cannot stand this strain any longer," she said, in real distress.

She and Mrs. Newton and the girl herself were taking their first ride
in company since the early summer.  Now it was autumn, and the leaves
were turning.  Mrs. Newton had just come back from the country, and Nan
was eager to display her skill, which she felt had improved not a
little since their neighbor's departure.

The fresh wind, keen and bracing as it came from the sea, filled her
with a sense of new strength and energy, and she felt the effect of the
invigorating atmosphere in her blood.  A scent of burning leaves was in
the air, and the indescribable suggestion of coming winter gayety.
To-day the road was crowded with carriages.  They thronged the
fashionable drive, and lent it a peculiarly animated aspect.
Equestrians and wheelmen were also out in full force, and the presence
of so many people set Nan's blood tingling with excitement.  She tossed
her head back, as the governess uttered her decision, with the
impatience of a mettlesome horse.

"Now remember!" warned Miss Blake.

Perhaps it was just this extra little warning that proved too much for
Nan's overcharged, headstrong spirit--or perhaps she did not hear in
the midst of the noise of hoofs and wheels about them.

They were spinning noiselessly along the outer edge of the driveway
leading from the Park entrance to the cycle path, when suddenly Nan
gave a quick run forward and then made a swift dart for the other side,
weaving perilously in and out among the horses and moving vehicles,
dexterously dodging, veering, and turning until Miss Blake's heart
throbbed thickly from dread and her pulses beat heavily in her temples.

"I must overtake her," she cried to her companion.  "She will be
killed!  I must save her!"

Even as she spoke her breath caught in a short gasp, and she turned
suddenly rigid and ashen white.

Coming up the road at full speed was a horse, whose driver, sitting
close over its haunches in his narrow sulky, was racing his animal
against one similarly driven and urging it on to its utmost pace for
winning honor.

At his approach a clear path was made for him by the turning right and
left of the throng--by all save Nan.

She heard a man's voice shout hoarsely to her.  The oncoming horse had
the speed of a racer.

A spirit of mad defiance possessed her.  She steered straight as an
arrow before her.  Then, like a flash, she veered, dodging from under
the horse's very nose.  She had accomplished her feat very cleverly.

But alas, for Nan!

Even as she sped on, full of the exquisite thrill of exultation in her
own prowess she heard behind her the sound of a dull, fear-thickened
cry.  Then a sudden confusion of voices and the cessation of rolling
wheels.  She stopped and turned.

The onward sweep of the mass of vehicles had been instantaneously
checked.  The road was clear for some rods before her and in the centre
of this open space lay--a broken bicycle.

A little group of men crowded close about some central object on the
ground.  Women were wringing their hands and weeping hysterically, and
one woman--it was Mrs. Newton--was crying wildly,

"Let me go to her!  Let me go!"

The circle of men upon the ground made way, and then Nan saw what it
was around which they knelt.

She gave a quick, fierce cry of pain.  The little governess lay quite
still and motionless.  Her eyes were closed; her face was white as
marble.  All her bright hair was lying loose about her temples--and it
was streaked with blood.



CHAPTER XIX

IN MISS BLAKE'S ROOM

Nan never forgot that scene.  It seemed to her afterward, that even in
the midst of the horror that almost stupefied her and made her blind,
it had been indelibly photographed upon her brain to the merest detail
with torturing distinctness.

She could see Mrs. Newton's drawn, livid face, and the stern, set
expression of the men who gathered about in knots here and there
discussing the accident in whispers, or arranging the best means of
getting back to town.  A doctor, who happened to be near at hand, had
sprung forward at the first moment of alarm, and he and a strange,
kind-faced woman were together bending over the prostrate form between
them, while over all arched the high dome of the blue October sky,
beyond them stretched the level road, narrowing in the distance to a
point that seemed to pierce the sea, and on either side spread the
branches of bordering maple trees, each shining brilliant and gorgeous
In the autumn sunlight.

Presently, in response to a demand from the doctor, a low-hung carriage
drew out from the ranks of waiting vehicles, and into it was lifted,
oh, so carefully! the inert form of the governess, and her head laid
upon Mrs. Newton's lap.

Nan pressed close to the wheels.

"Can't I go with her?" she whispered.

Her companion gazed at her blankly for a moment.  Then she seemed to
realize the question, and answered it.

"No," she replied.  "Get my machine, and--and hers, and see that some
one carries them back for us--some man will do it."

Then without another word she turned her head away, and slowly, slowly
the carriage moved and began its snail's-pace journey townward.

Nan looked helplessly about her.

"Won't some one take the bicycles home?" she pleaded.

She never knew who performed the office.  She never cared.  She gave
some stranger her address without the slightest interest as to whether
he was trustworthy or no, and then, mounting her own machine, she sped
home as fast as the wheels would turn.

Thus it was that when the dreary little cavalcade reached home at last
everything was in readiness for its reception.

There was no difficulty nor delay in getting upstairs, and in an
incredibly short time the place had assumed the air of hushed solemnity
that always seems to overhang the spot where illness is.

Nan crouched outside the threshold of the sick-room and listened to the
low sounds within with a feeling of overwhelming guilt at her heart.
She dared not go in.

At last the door was opened, and the physician stepped forward.  He saw
Nan cowering in the gloom.

"What is this?" he asked kindly.

Nan dragged herself up painfully, as though her limbs had been made of
lead.

"Have I--have I--killed her?" she managed to gasp.

The doctor bent on her a pitying look.

"Killed her?" he repeated.  "I do not know what you mean.  Do you mean
will she die?  No, my child, not if we can help it--and God grant we
may.  But it may be long, very long, before she is well.  She has been
badly hurt, poor little soul!"

Then followed a term of harrowing suspense.  Nights when Nan thought
the sun had forgotten how to rise--so long they seemed and never ending.

The fever that followed the first season of lethargy raged fierce and
hot for many a day, and the delirium that accompanied it was difficult
to quell.  It seemed at times as though it must burn the patient's very
life away.  It was during these days that Nan learned how much she had
caused her friend to suffer.  What, in her moments of consciousness,
she had never permitted to pass her lips, now in these hours of
delirium she dwelt on and repeated over and over.  It was of Nan,
always of Nan that she spoke.

Nan must have this; Nan must not do that.  It was her duty to protect
Nan and guard her.  She followed the girl in perilous journeys; she
tried to guide her from dangerous courses.  She betrayed her anxious
care for her in every word she uttered.  And then sometimes she would
say something that Nan could not comprehend.

"Florence's child!" she would murmur.  "Florence's child!" and then she
would catch herself back with a sudden look of fear as though she had
betrayed a secret.

"My mother's name was Florence," Nan would say brokenly.  "But I don't
know what she means.  She never knew my mother."

At last came a change, and then Nan was excluded from the room.

"You might excite her, and she must be carefully guarded against any
chance of that," the doctor said in explanation.

But Nan was almost too happy to care.  The first sound of the low,
sweet voice speaking intelligently sent a thrill of passionate
gratitude to her heart.

How she and Delia plotted and planned for the invalid.  How Nan made
the room to fairly blossom with the flowers that daily came pouring in
from all manner of strange and unexpected sources.

"I never knew she had such lots of friends," the girl said one day to
Delia.

The woman looked down at her with a flash of superior understanding in
her eyes.

"She's a wise one," she said.  "She goes her own way, and it's little
she asks of any one and it's less she says.  But what she does ain't
little, I can tell you, Nan.  I know of many a thing she's done for
those who, if they haven't got money, have the grateful hearts in them
to remember kindness and to love the one that shows it to them.  Some
day you'll know her for what she is, and then you'll never strive
against her any more and you'll love her as many another has done
before you."

The girl gazed straight into the woman's eyes.  "I love her now,
Delia," she said.  "I've loved her from the first minute--only I didn't
know it some of the time and the rest I was a horrid--little--beast, so
there!"

Oh, the happy days that Nan spent in that quiet room above stairs.  How
she grew to love it!  The sunshine coming through the curtains and
making great patches of mellow light upon the floor seemed more bright
here than anywhere else.  If it rained, this place was less dreary than
any other, and in sun or storm it was the only spot that Nan felt had
the power to quell her wayward mood when it rose against her will and
urged her back to her hoydenish exploits once more.

Miss Blake, lying back against her snowy pillows, had a look of such
inexpressible sweetness to Nan that often and often the girl would
fling herself beside the bed with her arms about the fragile figure,
crying:

"Oh, you dear, you dear! how I love you!" and then the other, with a
very happy smile would invariably answer, "And I you, Nan."

It was all understood between them now.  Pardon had been humbly asked
and freely granted, and there was now only the remaining regret of
impending separation; the dread of the parting that was to come.

At one time they had thought that it would occur within a few weeks'
time, and the joy that Nan felt in her father's return was overshadowed
by the grief she experienced in the coming loss of her friend.

But now the date of Mr. Cutler's home-coming had been postponed.  He
would leave Bombay as he had at first intended, but business would
detain him in London, and he could not expect to reach home until that
was completed--so Mr. Turner said.

Thus Nan had to reconcile herself to her disappointment and the
indefiniteness of her father's return, in the thought that if her
meeting with him was deferred, why, so was her parting from Miss Blake.

The weeks that passed before the governess was fairly convalescent had
brought them well into November.  They had been busy, helpful weeks for
Nan.  In her thought for her friend's comfort she had unconsciously
learned a lesson in gentleness and patience that nothing else could
have taught her.  Her voice grew lower, her step lighter, and the touch
of her fingers more delicate.  All this could never have been
accomplished in such a short space by ordinary means, but Love is a
magical teacher and he instructed her in his art.

As the dear invalid grew stronger Nan tried to beguile the long hours
by reading aloud to her from her favorite authors, sage philosophers,
wise poets, and tender tale-tellers.  Sometimes she did not at all
comprehend the meaning of the pages she read, but Miss Blake was always
ready to give her "a lift" over the hardest places, and to her surprise
she grew really to love these serious books, and to get an insight into
the beauty of their character.

Once in awhile she would take up the daily paper to give her friend an
idea of "what was going on in the world," seriously reading discussions
about this "bill" or that "question" with absolutely no conception of
what the whole thing was about.

One day, it was during the last of November, she sat before the fire in
the governess' room feeling especially contented and placidly happy.
Miss Blake, safely ensconced among her cushions, was cozily sipping a
cup of bouillon.

The room was very still.

Suddenly Nan jumped to her feet, and, clasping her hands high over her
head, said, with a luxurious sort of yawn:

"Oh--my!  How I'm liking it nowadays.  Things are so sort of sweet and
cozy.  Do you s'pose it's too good to last?  Do you s'pose it has
anything to do with my trying to be good and not letting my 'angry
passions rise'?"

The governess nodded her head, but made no other reply and after an
instant Nan slipped to the floor again, and, sitting Turk-fashion
beside her companion's knee, considered how possible it would have been
for Miss Blake to have taken that occasion to lecture her on the past
error of her ways.  But she had learned that it was not the governess'
way to preach.  That nod was as eloquent as a sermon to Nan, and she
understood it perfectly.

"Shall I read you something from 'The Tribune'?" she asked, after a
moment's musing.  And she took up the paper and began searching for the
editorial page.  When she had found it she set about reading the first
leader that came to hand, quite regardless of whether it would prove
interesting to her auditor or not.  The fact that it was unintelligible
to her seemed a sort of guarantee, in her mind, that it would be
interesting to Miss Blake.  She read on and on until both her breath
and the column itself came to a stop.

"You poor child," said the governess affectionately.  "Don't read
another word of that.  How stupid it must be for you.  Here, take this
book of dear Mary Wilkins.  We can both of us understand her, and she
will do us both good.  You need not victimize yourself a moment longer,
dear Nannie."

But Nan, radiant with good humor, felt a sort of glory in just such
self-victimizing.  She searched through the page for further
unintelligible text.

All at once she paused and read a few lines to herself.  Then she burst
into a laugh.

"Here's something about a man who has such a funny name.  It's James
Murty, alias Dan Divver, alias Shaughnessy.  What a last
name--Shaughnessy!  And why was he called alias twice over, Miss Blake?
I didn't know one could have the same name more than once.  It seems
awfully expensive--I mean extravagant." Miss Blake laughed.

"You are thinking of Elias, Nan.  This man's name is not Elias.  Alias
is pronounced differently, and is not a name at all, but a word
signifying otherwise, or otherwise called.  It means that the man has
gone under those different titles.  And I don't think I care to hear
what it has to say about the gentleman, dear.  He probably isn't just
the sort of person whose exploits would make fair reading."

"Is he bad?" asked Nan.

"I should gather, from his names, that his existence had been somewhat
checkered," replied the governess with a twinkle in her eye.

"Is it wicked to go under other names than your own?"

Miss Blake flushed as she bent forward to place her empty cup upon the
table by her side.  She was far from strong yet; the slightest exertion
brought the blood to her cheeks.

"Not necessarily," she said.  "But as a general rule people whose lives
have been simple and upright do not need to live under an assumed name.
Of course there might be exceptional cases--and there is a difference
between an alias and an incognito."

"What's an incognito?" questioned Nan.

"Why, if a person of rank or importance travels through a country and
wishes to escape publicity, he often does so incognito--that is,
unknown.  He will drop his official title and take his family name or
part of his family name with a simple prefix.  For instance, a king
might care to be known as the Duke of So-and-so; a Duke as Mr. ----,
whatever his surname chanced to be.  That would not be wicked and it
would not be an alias.  And sometimes people who are not nobles find it
desirable to remain unrecognized for a time.  Take it for granted that
I was not, in reality, a governess at all; I mean that I was not forced
by circumstances to take such a position, but that I for some reason
chose to assume it.  That I cared to come here and be with you because
I had known and loved your parents long ago and wished to do my best
for their child.  Then suppose I did not care to disclose my identity
to--to--people because of--well, no matter--I simply came here giving
you but part of my name--not the whole, why it might not be a wise
course, but it certainly could not be called a wicked."

"Oh, how I wish you had," cried Nan.  "It would be splendid fun.  Just
like a princess in disguise and things.  Say you aren't a governess and
that your name isn't Blake.  Oh, please do.  It'll be just like
fairy-stories if you will."

"How can I, dear, when I am and it is?" replied the governess, slowly.
"I am no princess in disguise, I assure you.  I am simply a very
prosaic little woman and your devoted friend.  I don't think I could
possibly discover anything at all resembling a fairy-tale in my life.
But some time, perhaps, when you are older, and when--I mean, if we
meet again, I will tell you all there is to tell about myself--that is,
if you care to listen.  It will not be exciting--but you might care to
know it."

"Oh, I would, I would!" the girl exclaimed heartily.  "But I hate to
have you talk of 'if we meet again.'  Why, we must, Miss Blake.  Don't
you know I couldn't live and know I wasn't to see you any more?  It's
like the most awful thing that could happen to have you go way at all,
and the only way I can bear it is thinking of how we'll see each other
often and often.  Why, my father will be so thankful to you for taking
such care of me!  I guess he won't know what to do.  And when you see
him and find how good he is, you won't be afraid a bit.  You'll just as
lief stay here as not.  He's the best, the dearest--oh, you couldn't
help but like my father."

A soft hand patted her head in loving appreciation, but not one word
said the governess, and the two sat together in silence for some time
thinking rather sober thoughts, until the sound of the door-bell broke
in upon the stillness and brought Nan to her feet and sent her flying
to the balusters to peep over and discover who the late caller might be.

"It's Mr. Turner, and he asked for you," she said, coming back into the
room and bending to gather up the scattered news sheets that strewed
the floor.  "He looked as solemn as an owl, and he asked for you in a
voice that made me feel ever so queer--it was so trembly."

"He may be cold," suggested Miss Blake.

She rose and settled the pillows upon the divan.  She would have to
receive her guest up here.  She was not yet permitted to venture below.
She and Nan stood ready to receive him as he entered the room, and
after the first greetings the girl was about to sit down beside her
friend when the lawyer said abruptly:

"My dear, I must ask you to permit me to talk to Miss Blake alone
to-day.  I have some private business to transact with her.  You will
pardon me for asking you to leave us."

Nan rose immediately with a smile of good-natured understanding, but as
she turned to leave the room she saw that the face of the governess was
deathly white, and she ran back to her, crying:

"What is it; oh, what is it?  Are you faint?  Let me get you something."

She was in a sudden bewilderment of alarm.  Miss Blake gently put her
aside, saying calmly,

"Why, nothing is the matter, Nan.  Nothing at all, my dear.  I am
strong and well now, you know.  Quite strong and well.  You must not
make Mr. Turner think I am ill, else he will go away again, and I shall
not know what he has to say to me.  I am quite able to hear--whatever
it is.  So go away, dear."

The girl obeyed, and the next moment the door had closed behind her,
and only the sound of her voice from without, singing in happy
reassurance, broke the stillness of the room where the lawyer and the
governess stood facing each other silently.



CHAPTER XX

THROUGH DEEP WATERS

Mr. Turner was the first to speak.  "Sit down," he said kindly.  "You
must not stand."

Miss Blake sank into her place upon the divan, but she did not lean
back.  She sat stiffly upright, nervously locking and unlocking her
fingers in her lap and compressing her lips tightly, but asking no
questions--saying no word.

The lawyer drew a chair beside her and slowly, deliberately seated
himself in it.

"You remember," he began at length, in a hesitating sort of way, "that
I told you some time ago that I had some reason to fear that affairs
were not prospering at Bombay.  I wish to come to the point at once; to
spare you all suspense.  I am afraid Mr. Cutler is in some serious
difficulty, and--"

He paused.  The governess leaned forward, and her breath came quickly.

"Go on," she whispered.

"For some time past his letters have been most unsatisfactory.  He has
seemed depressed and discouraged.  What word I have received from him
during the past few months has been of such a character as to lead one
to form the gravest suspicions.  His letters have been short and
hurried--written, evidently, under great mental strain.  And latterly
they have ceased altogether.  For the last two months, ever since you
have been ill, I have heard literally nothing from him.  His plan was
to leave Bombay in September.  That he kept to his original purpose I
have no reason to doubt.  He was on the steamer, or, at least, his name
was on its passenger list.  Of course while you were so ill I could say
nothing to you of this--besides I had only my suspicions then.  But as
time passed, and no communication from him reached me I grew
apprehensive.  Within the last two weeks I have sent numberless
dispatches to him to his London address, but not one of them has
received a reply--in fact, no one of them has been delivered to him.
The people there do not know where he is.  I have cabled to Bombay,
thinking he might have been detained there unexpectedly, but that, too,
has proved of no avail.  The Bombay house know nothing of his
whereabouts.  He left them as he intended to do in September, and since
then they have heard from him as little as I."

Miss Blake's eager eyes seemed to search the lawyer through and
through.  He shifted uneasily in his place.

"It is very difficult to go on," he said, with a nervous, constrained
cough.

"Quick!  Quick!" whispered the governess.  "Tell me everything
now--this minute.  Tell me!  Tell me!"

"There is little more to tell," said Mr. Turner sadly.  "This afternoon
I received a wire from his London banker, and it seems--that--he,
William Cutler, is--is--dead."

There was a low cry.  Miss Blake had leaped to her feet at his words,
and now she was swaying forward as though too faint to stand.  The
lawyer sprang forward to save her from falling, but she pushed him away
with both hands almost savagely.

"No, no!" she gasped.  "I am strong.  I am strong.  But--God pity us!
My poor little Nan--and--oh, my poor little Nan!"

She sank back upon the divan and buried her face in her outstretched
arms.

The lawyer rose and went to the window.

Outside the wind blew drearily.  The bare trees showed but dimly
through the gathering dusk.  It was a bleak, cold outlook.  Presently
down the street came a man with a lighted torch and set the gas-flames
to flickering in every lamp along his way.

Mr. Turner watched him until he had passed out of sight--then he turned
about and came back to the sofa once more.

Miss Blake had raised her head and sat staring blankly before her,
dry-eyed, but with an expression far sadder than tears; the dull,
lifeless look of helpless misery that has not yet been touched with
submission.

"Shall I leave you now?" asked the lawyer softly.  "Perhaps you would
rather be alone.  I can come again--whenever you wish.  Perhaps it
would be better for me to come again when you are stronger--better able
to bear it."

She turned her large eyes upon him in a sort of mute supplication.  All
the light had gone out of them now.  Mr. Turner reseated himself and
continued:

"He died in a hospital in London of a malignant fever.  No one saw him.
He was buried within twenty-four hours, I presume according to the law
in such cases.  Of course, I have no particulars, only the barest
outline of facts.  Undoubtedly I shall receive a letter by the next
steamer, giving details.  It is all desperately sad--heart-breakingly
sad.  Poor fellow!  So young and to die alone among strangers."

Miss Blake stretched out her hands supplicatingly.

"Don't," she pleaded.

"Shall I tell Nan?" Mr. Turner asked after a moment.  "Perhaps it would
be better if I should.  You have undergone enough."

"No, no!" she cried.  "No one must tell her but myself.  But first I
must talk to you about--about--you know when I came here I had reasons
for wishing her not to know who I was.  Now I will tell her.  There is
no more need to withhold anything.  Delia always knew--from the
first--but she never told Nan and she never would have told.  But that
is all over now.  There is no need for secrecy any more.  And I will
stay with her.  I will keep her with me always.  She has no one else
now, and I--I--I am free to do as I please.  If--if he has left her
unprovided for, why, that shall make no difference to her.  I have
plenty and she shall share it with me.  She shall never feel the care
or want of anything that I can supply.  Ah, Mr. Turner, I am glad I
came.  It has been hard, but I am glad I came."

She broke down completely.  Her frail figure shook with shuddering sobs.

But she was not a woman to give way long, and in a moment she regained
her self-control.

"I must have time to think," she said.  "Everything seems so changed
and strange.  I scarcely know where I stand.  The suddenness of it has
been so horrible.  I suppose he must have been ill for a long time--too
ill to write.  And by and by when they took him to the hospital he must
have been unconscious, and so they could not communicate with his
friends.  That would account for it all, his not writing nor receiving
the dispatches--and his friends not knowing where he was."

Mr. Turner nodded.  Then he rose.

"I will leave you now," he said.  "You are completely worn out.  If you
will take my advice you will defer telling Nan until tomorrow.  I fear
the strain will prove too great for you."

She smiled faintly.

"Oh, no," she replied.  "I am stronger than you think.  But the child
shall not be told tonight.  I will leave her in peace for one night
longer.  I will let her get one more good night's rest.  Then
to-morrow, when she is refreshed and strengthened by her sleep she can
learn it all."

The lawyer held out his hand.  "This has been one of the hardest trials
of my life," he said.  "But you have helped me by your bravery and
fortitude.  I thank you from my heart.  Good night!" and in a moment he
was gone.

That evening Miss Blake bade Delia take Nan to the Andrews'.  She wrote
a short note to Ruth's mother in which she begged her to keep the girl
through the evening and make her as happy as she could.  She briefly
stated the reason for her request.

Nan knew that something was being kept from her but she never suspected
what.  She fancied it must be connected with Miss Blake's private
affairs, and she asked no questions.  When she reached the Andrews' her
exuberant spirits reasserted themselves and she spent a gay evening
with Ruth, Mrs. Andrews leading in the fun and seeing that no one
passed a dull moment.  They played all sorts of games, and then finally
Bridget appeared with the crowning delight, a tray upon which a
tempting array of good things was set forth.  How Nan enjoyed it!  She
often thought afterward what a happy evening it was.  At ten o'clock
Delia called for her and she went home through the still night,
thinking all sorts of merry thoughts.  Miss Blake listened with
apparent interest to her description of her evening's jollification,
and when she had finished gave her an especially tender good-night
kiss, saying:

"God bless you, my Nan.  Sleep well, dear, and let us both pray for
strength to bear God's will."

The next morning after breakfast Nan discovered why Miss Blake had bade
her especially to pray for strength.

Poor child!  She felt so utterly weak and helpless in her misery.  At
first she could scarcely realize what had befallen her and she kept
insisting, "It isn't my father that has died.  It is some one else.
How can I feel that he isn't alive?  He can't be dead!  He isn't!  He
isn't!  Why, only yesterday I was expecting he would soon be home.
It's some other man who hasn't got a daughter that loves him so."

But by and by she grew desperate in her wretchedness and then it took
all Miss Blake's influence to restrain her from really wearing herself
out in the abandon of her grief.

But by evening the house was quiet.  Nan's loud sobbing had ceased and
she lay quite still and exhausted, stretched upon the divan in Miss
Blake's room, with her throbbing head in the governess' lap.  A tender
hand stroked her disheveled hair, a tender voice spoke words of comfort
to her, and she was soothed and solaced by both.

"Shall I tell you a story, Nan?" asked Miss Blake at length.

The girl gave a silent nod of assent.

"Well, once upon a time," began the governess in a gentle monotone,
"there lived two girls and they were friends.  They loved each other
dearly.  One was tall and fair and beautiful, and the other was small
and dark, and if people ever thought her even pretty it was because
love lighted their kind eyes and made it seem that what they looked
upon was sweet.

"The first girl had father and mother and a happy home.  The second was
an orphan, having nothing to remind her of the parents she had lost
when she was a baby but the fortune they had left her.  She never knew
what love meant until she met her beautiful friend.  Then she learned.
Oh, how those two girls loved each other!  When Florence, the beautiful
one, found that Isabel had no home she pleaded with her parents to take
her into theirs, and they not only took her to their home but to their
hearts as well.  And so she and her dear friend grew up together like
sisters, and the little lonely girl was not lonely any more, but very,
very happy among those she loved.  Well, time went on, and by and by
when the two girls had become quite young women, the first more
beautiful than ever, the other a little less plain, maybe, something
happened that, in the end, caused them to be separated forever.

"God sent into their lives the self-same experience and into their
hearts the self-same thought.  It was a beautiful experience and a
beautiful thought, but if it was to mean happiness for one, it must be
at the cost of grief to the other.  Perhaps it was because they both
knew this that neither of them told her secret.  But presently it was
decided which was to have the happiness.  It came to the one who
expected it least--who had the least right to expect it.  It came to
Isabel, and for a moment she thought she might accept it.  But it was
only for a moment.  Then she knew that she must relinquish it.  It
would have been base, would it not, my Nan, to have defrauded the
friend who had done so much for her?  And so she, Isabel, left the
house that had been her home for so many years, and quite solitary and
alone sailed across the sea to the other side of the world, and there
she stayed for--well, over a dozen years, my dear.

"It was soon after she went away that your mother--I mean Florence--was
married.  Isabel heard of it and was glad.  And later, when she learned
that a dear little daughter had been born to Florence, she was happier
still.  But then came sad news.  Oh, such sad news!  The beautiful
young mother died, died and left her little baby girl behind her with
only the poor father to take care of it.

"Then, after that, Isabel heard nothing more for a long, long time, for
Florence's good parents were dead and her husband and Isabel
were--well, not at enmity, Nan, but not at peace together.  It was all
owing to a misunderstanding, but that did not alter it.  They were not
friends and Isabel was too proud to write and ask him whether all went
well with him and the little daughter or whether she might perhaps help
to care for the child.  And so years passed and then one day Isabel
felt that she could remain away from America no longer.  All the time
there had been a great longing in her heart to return, but she had
tried to smother it and tell herself that she had no Fatherland; that
America was no more to her than any of the strange countries she had
lived in; that her acquaintances abroad were as much to her as her
friends at home.  But, as I say, by and by she could resist her desire
no longer, and so one day she set sail for America--I think it must
have been after she had been absent for quite fourteen years--and oh!
how her heart beat when she saw the dear land once more.  Well, I must
make my story short, Nan, so I will not tell you how it came about that
she first heard that Florence's little daughter had grown into a tall
girl; that she was living in the old house where Isabel had spent so
many happy years; that her father had gone to some far Eastern country
and left her in the charge of a faithful servant of her mother's who
had loved them all in days gone by.  But she learned all this and more
beside and then something told her that it was her duty to go to
Florence's child and care for her and show her as well as she might how
to be a noble, true, and lovely woman, as her mother had been before
her.  So she went to the little girl as governess and at first the
child was opposed to her, but by and by she--I really think she grew to
love her almost as much as the governess loved the child.  And all this
time the father never knew who was caring for his girl because in the
letters that went to him the governess was spoken of by but part of her
name.  She chose to live incognito, you know what that is, Nan, because
she feared if he knew who was serving his child as governess he would
write to her in his proud fashion and say:

"No; I need no one to care for my daughter for love.  Whomever I employ
I will pay.  You are a wealthy woman.  You need not work for money.  My
few poor dollars are nothing to you.  Besides--"

"And then I think, Nan, he would have referred to the old disagreement
and it would all have been very painful, and she would have had to go
away and been lonely ever after and have left undone her duty to
Florence's child.  So she lived quietly in the old house with the
little girl and the servant and all went well for a year and
then--well, then, dear Nan, I think I need not tell what happened then.
But, oh, my dear, you are my own little girl--Florence's child and I
loved her, ah!  I loved her so.  For her sake you are mine now.  Never
say that you are 'all alone' again.  I have taken you as a sacred
trust.  Come to me, Nan, for I am lonely too, I am lonely too."



CHAPTER XXI

ANOTHER CHRISTMAS

It was Christmas eve.  Nan was sitting before the dining-room fire
curled up in a huge arm chair thinking.  Her pale face had grown
wonderfully sweet during the last few weeks; the curves about her mouth
had softened; her eyes had lost their keen sparkle and gained a softer
light instead.  She seemed to have undergone a complete transformation,
and any one seeing the headstrong hoyden of the year before would have
found it difficult to recognize her in this gentle-mannered girl with
her serene brow and patient eyes, to whom suffering had taught so hard
a lesson.  Her black dress and her parted hair gave her a wonderfully
meek look.  But Nan was not meek.  She was merely controlled.  The same
hot passions still rose in her breast, but she tried to restrain them
now.

This evening she was thinking over all that had happened during the
past year; especially she was trying to project her thoughts into the
future, and to imagine what would occur in the years to come.  She had
not yet become accustomed to the idea of life without her father.  It
seemed to her that he must be alive, and she often waked up in the
night from such a vivid dream of him that it seemed as though he really
stood beside her, and that she might feel his hand if she stretched
forth her own in the dark.  It was difficult to reconcile herself to
living without the hope of his return; it was hard to convince herself
that she must never look forward to receiving a letter from him again.
But she knew it must be accomplished, and the effort would help to make
a noble woman of her.

As she sat there in the dim room, with only the fire to light it, she
wondered whether anything could make of her as noble a woman as was her
"Aunt Isabel."  In her heart she felt not.  Aunt Isabel was simply
perfect in the girl's sight, and if she could ever have been brought to
doubt her perfection, why, there was Delia to prove it with her
emphatic:

"No, ma'am!  There ain't no one in this world like her.  She is the
best, the generousest, the most self-sacrificin' soul on earth--that
she is, and I've known her ever since she was a child.  If any one was
to ask me the name of the woman I've most call to honor an' love, I'd
say 'twas Isabel Blake Severance an' never stop a minute to think it
over."

And both Nan and Delia had long ago decided that while other women
might be more beautiful, no one could have softer, sunnier hair than
Aunt Isabel, nor truer, tenderer eyes, nor a prettier nose nor a
sweeter mouth.  And Nan was quite confident that if one hunted the
whole globe over one could not find dimples more entirely winning nor
hands whose touch was so absolutely soothing and soft.

But Miss Severance could never be brought to admit these important
facts, though Nan often sought to convince her of their truth.  She was
too busy a woman to have time to think whether she were beautiful or
not.

"Good is the thing," she would say, in her brisk fashion.  "If I can
look in the glass and see the reflection of a good woman there, I have
no right to regret that she is not a beautiful one."

Just now she was upstairs, busied with some matter of mysterious
importance from which Nan was excluded.  She and Delia had been shut
into her room all the afternoon.  Nan had ample time and opportunity
for the manufacture of her own Christmas gifts, Aunt Isabel being so
much occupied, behind closed door, with hers.

For quite a time now Nan had been forced to station herself in the
regions below stairs, where she would hear the bell if it rang, so that
Delia might be free to give all her attention to Miss Severance.
Evidently great things were in operation above.  Nan wondered what it
could all be about.

Christmas had lost much of its joyousness this year, but still there
was a little flavor of merriment left.  Aunt Isabel had no sympathy
with the hark-from-the-tombs-a-doleful-sound attitude.  She thought it
was one's duty to be as cheery and hopeful as possible, and not to add
to the misery of the world at large by forcing it to witness one's
private grief.  She and Nan had their hours of tender mourning and
sincere regret, but it was always Miss Severance's desire that no
unwholesome brooding should be indulged in by either of them.

So the girl tried to restrain the tears that would rise at the thought
of these saddened holidays, and endeavored to bring her mind to bear on
more happy subjects.  She thought of her plans for the next day; she
made a mental recount of the gifts she had prepared, and then, somehow
against her will, her memory took her back to that morning when she had
heard of her father's death and listened to Miss Severance's story, and
she lived over again those intense moments when it almost seemed to her
her mother had been restored to her in this rare friend.  The simple
history had a peculiar fascination for the girl, and she liked to think
that it was here, in these very rooms, that it all had been enacted.

She liked to look into those books of Miss Severance's that had her
mother's name upon the fly-leaf, and she liked to think that they were
given to "Bell with Florence's fond love."

Miss Severance had several photographs of her mother as a girl that Nan
had never seen, and she was fond of looking them over and exclaiming at
the "old-fashioned" frocks and quaintly arranged hair, and wondering
whether this happy-looking girl ever discovered the sacrifice her
friend had made for her.

One day Nan asked Miss Severance as much, but Aunt Isabel had shaken
her head gravely and said:

"No, Nan, she never did.  And don't think of that part of the story, my
dear.  It was no more than I ought to have done.  You must not make a
piece of heroism of it.  I only told it to you because unless I had, it
would have been difficult to explain why I left her and went so far
away."

"Aunt Isabel," Nan said, "won't you tell me just what it was you gave
up?"  But Miss Severance shook her head.

What the girl could not at all comprehend was the fact of any one's
being "not at peace" with Aunt Isabel.  Aunt Isabel, who never was
unjust nor unkind, nor anything but generous and good to every one.
She thought if she could have spoken to her father she could have
convinced him that he was mistaken about Aunt Isabel.  But that was
impossible now.  Her father--again the hot tears came surging up, and
her breast began to heave.

Suddenly she started.  What was that?  She jumped to her feet.
Somebody was turning the knob of the street door and fitting a key in
the lock.  At first it was her impulse to cry out, but she mastered
herself and ran quickly through the parlor and stood bravely on the
threshold waiting for the door to open and admit the intruder.  Her
heart beat like a trip-hammer in her side, and the pulses in her wrists
and temples throbbed painfully.  She saw the door move inward, she felt
the rush of cold outer air upon her face, and then--

In a moment she was locked in two strong arms, her head was pressed
against a dear, broad chest, and she was crying "Father!  Father!" in a
perfect ecstasy of rapture and a tempest of tears.

For a few moments neither of them said a single word.  They just clung
to each other and wept--the strong man as well as the slender girl.

They seemed to lose all other thought in the joy of the meeting.  Then
somehow they found themselves in the library, and Nan, still sobbing
for very happiness, was listening to her father as he told her how, for
many months, he had been ill, but had tried to fight it off and
overcome it, because he was so anxious to get home, and he could not
bear to think he might be prevented.  Then, just before his ship
sailed, and after he had enrolled himself among the list of passengers,
and bidden good-bye to those he knew, he was stricken down and for
weeks lay unconscious, between life and death, as utterly unbefriended
as though he had been in the midst of a wilderness.  How he came to
recover he never knew, but it seemed as though his great longing for
home gave him strength to battle through the dreadful fever.  Then,
almost too feeble to stand, he was taken to the ship and borne to
England, his body weak from suffering, but his heart strong with hope.

The voyage was a severe one, and before he reached London he had a
relapse, so that when they entered port he had to be carried ashore,
and, too ill to know or care what happened to him, was taken to a
lodging-house and nursed back to health once more by the keeper
herself, whose son was the steward of the ship on which he had crossed.

"You can fancy, Nannie, that I had only one thought all that time--to
get back to you.  The first move I was able to make was to the ship,
and I sailed without having seen or spoken to a soul I knew in London.
Then on board I met a friend, who told me of the report of my death,
and I knew that you must have heard it.  The people at the bank would
communicate with Turner, I felt sure.  Ah, what days those were!  It
seemed as though we should never reach land.  But we got in to-day, and
you can imagine that I have not lost one moment in coming to you,
sweetheart.  But how my girl has changed.  Grown so tall and womanly.
I'm afraid I've lost my little Wildfire.  But the girl I've found in
her stead is a hundred times dearer."

Then Nan clung to him again and they were very happy, feeling how good
God was, and how very blessed it felt to be together.

For a while they both stopped talking and sat quite still, holding
hands, while each heart offered up a prayer of gratitude.

They did not hear an upper door open, nor did they notice a light
footstep in the hall above.  But at the sound of a gentle voice calling
"Nan!" they both started up, and the girl's grasp of her father's hand
tightened, for she felt him suddenly start and tremble.  She tried to
answer but could not for the joy she felt and the quick fear of this
other loss she would have to suffer now.

"Nan!"

Still the girl could not reply, though she tried, and her father's face
had grown rigid and white, as though it were carved in marble.

Then down the stairs and through the hall came Aunt Isabel, stopping at
the threshold of the dining-room door for a moment to accustom her eyes
to the dimness within.

There she stood--the bright light from the hall lamp falling full upon
her head and the ruddy glow of the fire illuminating her face.

Nan caught up her father's hand, for she felt him suddenly shrink and
falter.

The little figure in the doorway neither stirred or moved.

For an instant there was perfect silence in the room, and then Nan saw
her father stride forward with a look of the most wonderful happiness
upon his face, and heard him utter one word in a tone that set her
heart to beating.

"Bell!"

And somehow then she knew it all.  In one brief flash she read the
whole story, and she saw that it was to be completed at last, and that
the loss she had feared she would not know at all, but something
infinitely happier and more sweet.


THE END





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