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Title: The Children of Wilton Chase
Author: Meade, L. T., 1854-1914
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Children of Wilton Chase" ***

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        [Illustration: 'Let's come away,' whispered Marjorie.]



                           The CHILDREN of

                             WILTON CHASE



                                  By

                           MRS. L. T. MEADE

                              AUTHOR OF

              A GIRL IN TEN THOUSAND, A RING OF RUBIES,
                       GIRLS NEW AND OLD, ETC.



                               NEW YORK

                           GROSSET & DUNLAP

                              PUBLISHERS



                            Copyright 1891

                    BY CABBELL PUBLISHING COMPANY

       *       *       *       *       *



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER                                               PAGE

I.      MARJORIE'S WAY,                                 1

II.     SHARK,                                         13

III.    ERMENGARDE'S SIN,                              25

IV.     THE DAY OF THE PICNIC,                         32

V.      LOCKED IN THE CUPBOARD,                        62

VI.     A STOLEN TREASURE,                             69

VII.    A GOOD, BOYISH SORT OF GIRL,                   82

VIII.   FATHER'S BIRTHDAY,                             97

IX.     FIVE O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING,                  104

X.      THE REIGN OF CHAOS,                           115

XI.     AFTER THE FUN,                                133

XII.    AFTER THE BIRTHDAY,                           150

XIII.   BASIL'S OPINION,                              162

XIV.    I SERVE,                                      175

XV.     LILIAS,                                       187

XVI.    THE BEAUTIFUL DRESS,                          199

XVII.   THE MORE BEAUTIFUL FACE,                      210

XVIII.  IN THE TOILS,                                 217

XIX.    SOME PEOPLE WHO DID NOT FLATTER,              228

XX.     WHAT DID BASIL MEAN?                          235

XXI.    SUSY'S FEVERISH DESIRE,                       241

XXII.   QUITE IN A NEW CHARACTER,                     250

XXIII.  BLESSED AND HAPPY,                            261

       *       *       *       *       *



THIS STORY

IS DEDICATED, WITH AFFECTION,
TO

MARJORY

A CHILD WHO, POSSESSING THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND SERVICE,
HAS INSPIRED THE IDEA OF THAT OTHER MARJORY
WHO APPEARS IN THESE PAGES.

_August, 1891._

       *       *       *       *       *



THE

CHILDREN OF WILTON CHASE

CHAPTER I.

MARJORIE'S WAY.


"I don't care," said Ermengarde. "I won't do it! I won't obey her!"

"What are you saying, Ermie?"

Ermengarde was standing by the dressing-table in her room. She had
been talking half to herself; she now turned quickly round, and
confronted a plain little girl of between eleven and twelve.

"Is that you, Marjorie? I didn't know you were listening. I had not an
idea you were in the room."

"But what _did_ you say, Ermie? Who is the person you won't obey?"

Marjorie had puckered up her brows. Her small, shrewd, sensible face
looked full of anxiety.

"Now, look here," said Ermengarde, speaking with passion, "don't you
interfere! You are always poking your finger into everyone's pie.
Leave mine alone. I don't want you to meddle, nor to help me. I
understand my own affairs. What is the matter? Are you going to cry?"

"No, Ermengarde. I don't cry. I think it's babyish."

Marjorie walked to the other end of the large bedroom, tied on a
shabby brown hat, and prepared to leave the room. When she reached the
door she turned again, and looked at her sister.

"When Basil comes home----" she began.

"Oh, don't. Why do you talk about Basil?" Ermengarde tossed her hat
off her head as she spoke. "And just when I might have been happy!
What are you lingering by the door for, Marjorie? Well, if you must
know, I am not going to obey Miss Nelson any more. She went a little
too far this morning, and I'll show her that I'm Miss Wilton, and that
she's only the governess--and--and----Now, where's that child gone to?
I do think Marjorie is a perfect nuisance. I don't see anything good
in her. Paul Pry, I call her. Paul Pry, and a little busy-body. I
suppose she'll go and make up to Miss Nelson now, and tell her what
I've said. No, though, that isn't like her. She does try to stick up
for one. Poor little plain mite. Well, I don't intend to obey Miss
Nelson, Marjorie or no Marjorie. Basil is coming home from school, and
I shall go in the carriage to meet him. I don't care what Miss Nelson
said. She's not going to keep me from meeting my own Basil. Why, I was
fourteen a month ago--a great many girls are grown up at fourteen. I
don't mean English girls, of course, but foreigners, and I'm not going
to be kept in surveillance, just as if I was an infant."

Ermengarde was quite alone in her nice room. The house was still, for
just now the children--there were a good many children at Wilton
Chase--were out. The time was the end of July, and on this very day
Basil and Eric, the two public-school boys, were coming home. The
whole house, that is the nursery and schoolroom part of the house,
were in a flutter of expectation and excitement. Nothing ever
disturbed the other end of Wilton Chase, where father and Aunt
Elizabeth, and the numerous visitors resided. But the nurseries and
the schoolrooms were generally noisy apartments, and it was very
unusual to have such a stillness as now reigned over the whole of this
important portion of the house.

Ermengarde and Marjorie slept in two pretty white beds, side by side,
in this nice, large, cheerful bedroom. Ermengarde was completely
mistress, but she did not object to Marjorie's company, for Marjorie
was very plodding and useful and self-forgetful, and Ermie liked to be
waited on, and her complaints listened to, and her worries sympathized
with.

In many ways she was a commonplace child. She had a handsome little
face, and a proud, overbearing manner. She thought a great deal more
highly of herself than she ought, and she was a constant trial to Miss
Nelson, who was a most patient, long-suffering woman.

Ermengarde had been directly disobedient that morning, and as a
punishment Miss Nelson had decided that she was not to go in the
carriage to meet her brothers at the railway station. The little girl
had stared, bridled, drawn herself up in her haughtiest style, and
determined openly to defy Miss Nelson.

She had never gone to this length of rebellion before, and when the
governess went down to the seashore, accompanied by two or three of
the children, she imagined that Ermengarde would attend to her
neglected lessons, and presently join them on the beach.

"Marjorie," said the governess, as she suddenly met the little girl in
the grounds, "I am deeply sorry, but I am forced to punish
Ermengarde. She is not to go to meet your brothers; but would
you--only, my dear child, you do look so dirty and untidy--would you
like to go in the carriage? You are a good little girl; it would be a
treat for you."

"I could get cleaned in a minute," said Marjorie. "There's my brown
Holland overall, and Hudson could brush my hair, and make it tidy."

Then she flushed, and the wistful, eager expression went out of her
eyes.

"Perhaps I had better not," she said.

"Why so, my dear child?"

Marjorie was thinking of Ermengarde. She could not complain of her
sister, but to sit by and witness her disobedience would destroy her
own pleasure.

"Ermie wouldn't like it, either," she whispered under her breath. "I
wish I hadn't got honest eyes; Ermie says they look so horrid when I
don't like a thing."

"Well, Marjorie, are you going, or are you not?" said Miss Nelson.

"I think not, Miss Nelson," said Marjorie, in a cheerful voice. "Nurse
says Bob is sure to have another teething fit, so of course he'll be
fractious, and she'll want me to pick up shells for him."

"Well, dear, you must please yourself," answered Miss Nelson gently.

She never praised Marjorie for being unselfish--no one did--they only
said it was her way, and all the people with whom she came in contact
took small kindnesses and small services from her as a matter of
course.

Ermengarde was alone in her room, and the house was delightfully
still. She waited for another moment, and then going over to the
fireplace rang a bell. In a few minutes the schoolroom maid, looking
very cross and astonished, answered the summons.

"Hudson, I am going out in the carriage. Please help me to dress,"
said Ermengarde. "And give directions that I am to be told when the
carriage is ready."

"Are you going for the young gentlemen, Miss Ermengarde?"

"Yes."

"Then you must be quick, miss, for Macnab is bringing the horses round
now."

Ermengarde had thought of making a very effective toilet, but she had
only time to put on a shady hat, her best one, snatch up her parasol
and gloves, and run downstairs.

Mr. Wilton was going himself to the station to meet his boys.
Ermengarde was always a little afraid of her father. She stepped back
now when she saw him, and slightly colored.

"Come, Ermie," he said good-naturedly, "jump in! We must be off at
once, or we shall not be in time. I suppose you have been a specially
good girl this morning, as Miss Nelson has allowed you to come."

Ermengarde murmured something which her father did not quite hear.

"You have--eh?" he repeated. "Miss Nelson knows you are coming? It is
all right, I suppose?"

"Yes, father," said Ermengarde. She raised her eyes; then she got into
the carriage with a curious sensation of being suddenly very shrunken
and small. She was a rebellious, disobedient child, but she had not
often sunk to deliberate falsehood.

The drive through the summer country on this delightful afternoon was
so invigorating, and Mr. Wilton was so little awe-inspiring, and such
a genuinely pleasant, witty, affectionate father that Ermengarde's
spirits rose. She forgot her disobedience, that horrible lie which
fear had wrung from her lips ceased to trouble her, and she chatted
quite gayly to her father.

"Why, Ermie, what a big girl you are growing," he said presently, "and
how well you express yourself! You will be quite a companion to me
when you come out."

Ermengarde lifted her handsome eyes, They sparkled with pleasure.

"Well, puss, what is it?" said Mr. Wilton.

"Only I do so wish I could come out now."

"Now? How old are you?"

"Fourteen--really, quite----"

"We'll talk about it, Ermie, when you are seventeen. Eighteen is a
better age, but as your poor mother is not living, and I--I--want a
companion, I--we'll see about it."

"Father, I do hate Aunt Elizabeth."

"Pooh, what harm does she do you? You mustn't have such strong likes
and dislikes, Ermie. You are exactly like me. I was awfully headstrong
in my time. Your aunt is an excellent woman. I wonder what I should do
without her. There must be some woman at the head of a house, you
know, puss."

"When I come out, you'll let me take care of your house for you, won't
you, father?"

"What a chit it is."

"But won't you? Do say you will, father. I should so love to govern!"

"I daresay. Here we are quite close to the station now. Easy, Macnab,
don't force the horses up this steep bit. Well, puss, what are you
looking so eagerly at me for? So you'd like to govern, eh?"

"Oh, shouldn't I? Dearly, dearly! I'd send Aunt Elizabeth and Miss
Nelson away."

"Indeed! A nice household I'd be likely to have."

"Father, I wish you would not laugh at me!"

Mr. Wilton's face generally wore an expression of somewhat kindly
sarcasm. Now a sudden look of tenderness came into his dark eyes. He
turned and looked at the handsome, restless, dissatisfied girl at his
side.

"I don't want to laugh at you, Ermie," he said, "but the fact is, I
don't profess to understand half-fledged creatures. If your mother
were alive, all would be different. Well, child, well, I'll see what
can be done when the time comes; I want you to help me, of course,
when the time comes; that is, if you have the real stuff in you, if
you are a true Wilton. All the women of our house are women of honor."

"Honor?" repeated Ermengarde vaguely.

"Yes. Truthful, and above-board, and brave. Marjorie is a Wilton,
every inch of her. Hullo! the train is in, and there come my scamps.
Well, Basil, here you are, sir--and Master Eric, too! Sorry to be
home, eh? I make no doubt you are. Now, look here, you villains, you
are not going to tear my place to pieces. How many more pets, I
wonder?"

"Only some rabbits, gov--father, I mean," said Basil.

"That's right, Basil--you know I don't allow you to 'governor' me--I
like the old-fashioned word best. So there are some rabbits, eh? How
are they to get home?"

"Oh, they can go with the pigeons and the ferrets," chimed in Eric, a
small boy with a freckled face, and bright ruddy-gold hair.

"Isn't the dogcart here, father?" asked Basil.

"No, you're to come home in state in the family coach. A cart ought to
be somewhere round for your luggage. The beasts can go in that."

"Oh, not the ferrets," said Eric. "I think perhaps I had better walk
home with the ferrets. They might eat through their basket, and get at
my fantails."

"Nonsense! stow them away under this seat, and jump in, lads. Do you
see Ermie? She's all in a flutter to kiss you."

"How do, Ermie?" said Eric. "Stick your legs well out in front, or the
ferrets may bite 'em."

Basil didn't say anything, but he clasped Ermengarde's slim fingers in
his big brown hand. Basil's squeeze signified a good deal, and
Ermengarde colored up, and her heart swelled with pride and pleasure.

"Jolly weather, isn't it?" said Basil. "I say, aren't we going to have
a time! How are all the others? How's Maggie? Are you going to have
holidays, too, while we are having ours, Ermie?"

Ermengarde's face flushed again.

"It is unfair," she said. "I wish you'd speak to father about it,
Basil. We are only to have half-holidays. Lessons all the morning, and
the afternoons with you. I do call it a shame! It's Aunt Elizabeth's
doing. She arranged it with Miss Nelson a week ago. I do wish, father,
you'd interfere."

"My dear, I never dream of interfering with your Aunt Elizabeth.--A
pretty mess I'd get into if I did [_sotto voce_].--I make no doubt,
Ermie, it's a very wise arrangement, and you fellows can have the
mornings quite free for long expeditions or anything of that sort."

"Oh, we'll have lots of the girls in the afternoon," said Eric. "I do
hope that big ferret isn't making his way out. He _is_ a stunner, sir;
why, he killed--Ermie, keep your legs away--he has teeth like razors,
sir, and once he catches on, he never lets go. He'll suck you to death
as likely as not. Now, what's up?"

Ermengarde started from her seat. She felt slightly frightened, and
very cross.

"You bring home horrid pets, Eric," she said. "And you have no
sympathy, not a bit, and you are selfish, too----"

"Oh, he's a scamp," interrupted Basil; "never mind him."

Again he stretched out his hand and took Ermengarde's.

"Tell me all about the young'uns," he said. "How are the bees? Did you
make a good sale of the honey? I want to buy out my share--come close,
I've a secret to whisper to you."

Ermengarde and Basil talked in low excited tones to one another all
the rest of the way home. Eric entertained his father with the
exploits of his favorite ferret, and the prodigious feats of prowess
performed by a certain pouter-pigeon of rare lineage. Mr. Wilton
laughed and encouraged the boy's chatter. The whole party were in high
spirits when they drew up at the lodge gates.



CHAPTER II.

SHARK.


"Hullo, here's Marjorie!" exclaimed Eric. He vaulted out of the
carriage, and flung his arms round Marjorie's little squat figure,
lifting her off the ground, and squeezing her in an ecstasy of
delight. "Here I am, Mag, and there are two pouters in a cage, and
four new fantails--they're coming with the luggage--and I've got a
lop-eared rabbit with black spots, and my ferrets--there are two of
them in the carriage. Wait until you see Shark's teeth--I call him
Shark, he's such a good 'un at biting. We'll have some fun these
holidays; don't you make any mistake!"

"Yes, yes, of course we will! I'm delighted, Eric, delighted! Where
are the ferrets? When can I see them? Oh, how are you, Basil? Have you
on a tight boot to-day? Does your corn pinch you?"

"No, I've got over those small ailments," said Basil. "What a
roundabout you are, Marjorie," he continued, pinching her cheek.
"Now, what's the matter? You are quite frowning."

Marjorie's round good-humored freckled face wore an expression of
consternation.

"I made some slippers during the term for you," she said. "They're
large, and I wadded them so that they are most comfortable. But--it
isn't that--the slippers are in your room, I put them there--Ermie,
won't you get out?"

"No," said Ermengarde. "I'm going to drive down to the house."

Marjorie frowned more than ever.

"They are all coming up from the shore; Miss Nelson, and all of them;
and they'll see the horses and they'll run. Even Miss Nelson will run,
she's so fond of Basil, and----"

Mr. Wilton, who still remained in the carriage by Ermengarde's side,
now interposed.

"We won't wait for the small fry," he said. "We'll drive on to the
house at once. Oh, yes, Eric, you can go to meet the party from the
shore of course, if you like, and Basil too."

"I'll stay with Ermie," said Basil.

He jumped into the carriage again, and they drove down the long
winding avenue to the house.

Great elm trees shaded the avenue, and Basil pushed back his cap and
looked up into the green. He was a dark and handsome lad, and his
expression was unusually thoughtful for his years.

"How grand those old trees are!" he said. "Whenever I think of home
while I'm away, I remember the old elm trees in the avenue, and the
rooks' nests--I remember, too----" Here he stopped suddenly, and a
wave of red mantled his cheeks. Ermengarde's bright eyes were fixed on
him; she guessed his thoughts. Basil had often walked under those elm
trees with his mother.

Mr. Wilton had opened the _Times_, and was not attending to the
chatter of the young folk.

"You don't look quite the thing, Ermie," said Basil in a low voice.

"I'm perfectly well," she replied.

"But you turned quite white that time at the lodge. I noticed it. That
time when Marjorie wanted you to get out. Have you been worrying
yourself lately? You know you are such a girl to mope, and make
mountains out of mole-hills. School would be the place for you."

Mr. Wilton dropped his paper.

"Are you recommending school for Ermengarde?" he said. "Sometimes I
have thought of it, but your mother had a prejudice against
school-life for girls, and Ermie does very well with Miss Nelson and
the masters who come here to instruct her. Now here we are, and here's
your Aunt Elizabeth."

Miss Wilton was not a graceful woman. She was a feminine edition of
her brother, and Mr. Wilton, although handsome as a man, had by no
means the type of face which best lends itself to womanly graces.

Miss Wilton was standing on the steps in a riding-habit. Her horse had
just been taken round to the stables. She had her whip in her hand,
and her masses of hair looked untidy--her face, too, was flushed.

"Really, Roderick," she said to her brother, "that groom is past
bearing. He had the impertinence---- Oh, is that you, Basil? So you've
come back--how are you? Now one thing I do beg, and that is, that you
never come into the house except by the side door, and that you and
Eric keep your pets to yourselves. I don't mind what is done behind
the schoolroom doors, but I will not--I cannot--permit messy lounging
school-boys in my part of the house. Roderick, what is the matter? Are
you laughing at me?"

"I think I am, Elizabeth," replied Mr. Wilton. "Boys will be boys, and
no one can accuse Basil of lounging."

Miss Wilton had a very hearty loud laugh herself. She indulged in it
now, and going up to Basil, hit him a blow on the shoulders.

"You're a true Wilton," she said. "By and by I'll be proud of you--by
and by I'll want your help. You shall ride with me, and keep those
lazy intolerable grooms in some sort of order, but just at present
your place is in the schoolroom part of the house. Ermengarde! You
here? Has Miss Nelson promoted you to drive in the carriage? That is
an honor only conferred on very good children."

Ermengarde hated to be called a child. She disliked her Aunt
Elizabeth's manner to her at all times, and now she flushed and
frowned, and looked decidedly unamiable.

"Come, Basil," she said, touching her brother on his arm.

"No, miss, you're not to go with that cross face on," said her aunt.
"Look pleasant, or I shall desire Miss Nelson on no account to permit
you to drive with your father again. What is it, Roderick? What's the
matter?"

"Leave the poor child alone," said Mr. Wilton. "Run away, chicks, both
of you; run off and be happy. Now, Elizabeth, what is this story about
the groom?"

Ermengarde slipped her hand within Basil's arm, and they both walked
round to the other side of the house. High tea was spread in the
pleasant schoolroom. Miss Nelson, who looked worried and over-tired,
was desiring her pupils to take their places. All the nursery children
were to sup in the schoolroom to-night, in honor of the boys' return,
and nurse was bringing in toddling Ethel, and little Dick and Bobby,
and placing them in their chairs, and then cutting bread-and-butter
for them.

Basil rushed down a side passage to a lavatory to wash his hands, and
Ermengarde flew upstairs to dispose of her best hat. Miss Nelson had
not noticed it.

When the elder boy and girl came into the room the meal had commenced.
Marjorie, as usual, was trotting from chair to chair, helping
everyone, pushing the butter nearer to little Mollie, the youngest
schoolroom child, stopping Bobby's rebellious lips with strawberries,
and lugging a great jug of milk in her arms, and with a red face, and
chubby hands that would tremble under their load, refilling mugs of
milk as fast as they got empty.

"That will do now, Marjorie; you can sit down," called out Miss
Nelson.

Marjorie subsided at once into a seat beside Eric.

"Ermengarde," said her governess, glancing quickly at her eldest
pupil; "you are late again for tea. You forfeit five marks."

"Oh, I say," exclaimed Basil, "I'm late, too, Miss Nelson. And it
wasn't Ermie's fault, her being late this time; she could not help
herself. Why, what is the matter, Ermie?"

Ermengarde had given him a shove under the table. He looked round at
her, guessed that she did not wish him to say something, and instantly
subsided into absolute silence.

Basil was a favorite of Miss Nelson's. He was a kind-hearted lad; he
had something of Marjorie's spirit, and was always willing to throw
himself into breaches, to heal disputes, to be a sort of peacemaker
and server all round. Miss Nelson dreaded beyond anything the long
summer vacation when the boys were home from school, and the girls had
only half work. These were the weeks for disputes, for quarrels, for
disagreeables, for scrapes. During these weeks poor Miss Nelson's hair
became more gray, and her face more wrinkled and anxious; but she
dreaded the holidays, not because Basil was at home, but on account of
Eric, who was a perfect imp of mischief, and because all the home
children were more or less demoralized by his presence.

Now Miss Nelson smiled into Basil's eyes, handed him a plate of the
best strawberries, and after a pause, said: "You'd like me not to
punish Ermengarde?"

"Of course I should; she has done nothing to be punished for."

Again Ermengarde kicked him under the table. He was lifting a cup of
tea to his lips, and part of its contents were spilt on the white
tablecloth, and over his own shirt-cuff. Basil hated messes and
awkward ways of doing things. He gave Ermengarde a return kick of some
force, murmured, "You're a perfect muff, Ermie," and then looked up,
with his momentary annoyance gone, at Miss Nelson.

"Thank you for excusing Ermengarde," he said. "She's under my command
now. I'm her captain. I'll see that she's in good time in the future."

"Well, Ermengarde, you may consider yourself excused," said the
governess. "I hope you have thoroughly mastered your imposition. If
so, as you must want fresh air, you may go out with Basil for an hour
after tea."

Basil glanced at his sister's blooming and blushing face. As he did
not want to be kicked any more, however, he was silent. Marjorie had
left her seat, and was bringing all the cups up to Miss Nelson to be
refilled with tea. As the governess poured some hot water into the
teapot she turned again to Ermengarde, "Do you know your piece of
poetry, Ermie?"

Ermengarde said "Yes." This happened to be true, for the poem selected
for her punishment lesson was "Casabianca," which she admired very
much, and had long ago committed to memory for pleasure.

"Yes, I know it quite well, thank you, Miss Nelson," she said in a
cheerful voice.

The clouds had left her face; she was now in an excellent humor. To be
with Basil was always delightful to her, and she sincerely hoped that
her disobedience and open defiance of authority might never be
discovered. If it was, she was prepared to defend her action, but she
had an intuition that Basil would disapprove. His good opinion was of
the utmost value to her: she loved Basil; she had no particular
affection for any other human being, unless, perhaps, her father; but
Basil's presence caused a warm satisfied glow to steal around her
heart.

Miss Nelson had supplied all the second cups of tea. She was again at
liberty to ask her favorite a question.

"Basil, I should like to ask you in confidence, has Eric brought home
any strange pets this time?"

Basil's eyes sparkled.

"Only two ferrets," he said; "and two carrier pigeons, and two
fantails, and a pouter (Eric is dead nuts on that pouter), and a
lop-eared rabbit. I think that's all. I have some pups, too," he added
modestly, "but they are coming by parcel-post to-morrow."

"By parcel-post, Basil!" here almost screamed Marjorie. "Oh, I hope
they won't be squashed."

"Silence, children!" said the governess. A red spot had risen on both
her cheeks. "I had hoped no more pets were coming. And ferrets! I
dread ferrets. Now the pups----"

"But they're of a very wicked breed," shouted Eric. "They're worse
than my ferret Shark. They are young bloodhounds. Don't you deny it,
Basil. You know you gave a sov. for them to Dandy Macjones."

"But they are quite harmless at present," said Basil. "There are only
two; they haven't arrived yet. They'll come by post, or train, or
something to-morrow. When they do come, I'll promise to be careful."

"Yes. Basil, I believe you are a boy to be trusted.--Eric!"

"What is it, ma'am?"

Eric put on a comical face, which set all the nursery children
laughing.

"Stand up, Eric. While you are at home, at least whenever you are in
the schoolroom--in fact, I may say always--you have got to yield to my
authority."

"Thank you, ma'am. I didn't know it, ma'am."

Eric pulled his forelock after the fashion of a charity school-boy.
The nursery children clapped their hands with delight, and a wave of
color swept over Miss Nelson's face.

"I say, shut up and be respectful," growled Basil.

Eric glanced at his brother. His whole funny face became rigid except
his eyes, which still danced with mirth. He folded his hands on his
breast, and said in a demure, mincing tone, "I beg your pardon, Miss
Nelson."

Even the governess had to smile.

"It is granted, my dear boy. Now with regard to your pets. The rabbits
are not to be in the house."

"Oh, no, ma'am."

"There's no rabbit-hutch."

"I'll stow them somewhere, Miss Nelson."

"See you do. The pigeons can share the dovecotes, I suppose."

"Very well, Miss Nelson."

"The ferrets----" here Miss Nelson almost shivered. "Dangerous,
disgusting beasts!"

"I say, don't," exclaimed Eric. "Shark's a stunner!"

"Their teeth," continued the governess. "I have heard that their teeth
can penetrate through any obstacle."

"Shark's teeth!" pursued Eric. "Well, they ought to be strong; he has
six rows; when he opens his mouth they start upright."

"Six rows! Nonsense, Eric. Please don't talk in that silly way. And
once for all understand that I cannot allow that animal to be kept on
the premises."

"But he's a stunner," said Eric. "Shall I bring him in for you to
see?"

"You must not attempt it, sir. It is awful to think of such a horrid
creature being so close to one, and I forbid you to bring it into the
house."

"You shall see him, you shall see him," said Eric. "He's a perfect
tip-topper. He'd kill anything. I paid five bob for him, and six
ginger-beers, and ten and a half Betty cakes."

"Silence, Eric; I shall have to speak to your father. Keep the ferret
in his basket or box until I can have a word with Mr. Wilton."

"But he'll starve, ma'am. He'd gnaw _you_ if he was starving."

"That will do. Leave the table now, all children. I can let you know
before bed-time, Eric, what is to be done with that monster."



CHAPTER III.

ERMENGARDE'S SIN.


Late that evening, after the young folk had gone to bed, Miss Nelson,
having attired herself in a very neat black silk dress, with ruffles
of real lace round her neck and wrists, her best brooch at her throat,
and a pretty little head-dress of lace and ribbon becomingly arranged
over her iron-gray hair, went down past the schoolroom, past the heavy
oak door which divided the children's part of the house from that
portion where, according to Ermengarde, all the gay life and all the
fun went on, and finally tapped at Mr. Wilton's study-door.

It so happened that there were no visitors staying at Wilton Chase
to-night; many friends were expected the following day, but to-night
Miss Nelson knew that she would find Mr. Wilton and probably his
sister disengaged.

Her tap was responded to by a hearty "Come in!" She was right. Mr. and
Miss Wilton were both in the study. Miss Wilton was seated at her
davenport scribbling off letters at furious speed, and Mr. Wilton was
indulging in a cigar by the open window.

"Well, Miss Nelson," he said courteously; "I am glad to see you."

He placed a chair for the governess, and waited for her to speak.

"I have come----" said Miss Nelson.

She cleared her throat, she felt a little nervous.

"I have come about a--a shark----"

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Miss Wilton. She quite jumped, and the pen dropped
from her hand. "You hear her, Roderick. How interesting! Has one been
seen off the coast?"

"I mean a ferret," said Miss Nelson. "Its name is Shark. I've got
confused. Pray pardon me. One of the boys has brought it home."

"Oh, Eric," said Mr. Wilton. "I heard him chattering about it, the
little scamp. Well, Miss Nelson," he could not help laughing. "Has
that young prodigy of mine tried to frighten you unnecessarily."

"He did say the creature had six rows of teeth," said Miss Nelson; "of
course that is nonsense; but is a ferret a safe animal to have in the
house, with so many young children about, and nurse not too careful?"

"Certainly not. Thank you for coming and telling us about it, Miss
Nelson. Ferrets are not safe creatures to have near children, and
Eric's shall be removed to the gamekeeper's to-morrow."

Miss Nelson rose at once to leave the room.

"Sit down, Miss Nelson," suddenly interrupted Miss Wilton. "As you are
here I have just a word to say to you. Do you think it well to allow
Ermengarde to drive in the carriage without your escort. It so
happened that my brother was able to accompany her to-day but I--of
course I don't like to interfere--still I should have thought that it
was scarcely wise. Ermengarde is inclined to be too forward as it is."

"Ermie in the carriage to-day!" exclaimed Miss Nelson. She forgot to
keep her seat. She stood up, her pale face was deeply flushed.
"Impossible, Miss Wilton! Pardon me, you must be mistaken. Ermengarde
was not--not quite--she infringed some of my rules, and I was obliged
to give her a detention lesson. She certainly did ask to go and meet
her brothers, but I was obliged to refuse. Ermie spent the afternoon
indoors."

Miss Wilton sounded a gong by her side. A page appeared, to whom she
gave some letters.

"See they are posted at once," she said. Then the turned to the
window. "Roderick, are you asleep, or did you hear what Miss Nelson
said?"

"I beg your pardon, my dear, I confess I was not attending. I thought
you ladies were discussing some domestic matter."

"We were; a very domestic matter. Roderick, kindly tell Miss Nelson
who was your companion to the railway station this afternoon."

"Why, Ermengarde, of course. And very pleasant she made herself. I was
going to tell you, Miss Nelson, when I had the opportunity, how
pleased I am with the progress of your pupil."

"Thank you," said Miss Nelson. The flush on her face had changed to
pallor.

"You did not know of this?" continued Miss Wilton eagerly. "You are
astonished!"

Miss Nelson was silent for several seconds.

"I will speak to Ermie," she said; then in a low voice, "there has
been a misunderstanding."

She did not add any more, and Mr. Wilton, thinking that the governess
looked tired and ill, tried to engage her in some general
conversation. She answered a question or two in a very abstracted
manner, and presently left the room.

Miss Nelson had a private sitting-room, which was not thrown open to
her pupils. It was a tiny room, but the governess loved it very much.
She kept her favorite photographs here, and her best prized books.
Here she was absolutely her own mistress, and she sometimes called the
little room "Home, sweet Home." Miss Nelson was a well-educated woman;
she was between forty and fifty years of age; she had a staid and
somewhat cold manner, but she was a good disciplinarian, and
thoroughly conscientious. When Mrs. Wilton had died three years ago,
Miss Nelson had come to the Chase. Mrs. Wilton on her deathbed had
asked her husband to secure Miss Nelson's services, if possible, for
the children, and this fact alone would have prevented his ever
parting with the governess.

Miss Nelson was all that was honorable and kind, but a sort of
impenetrable reserve prevented her showing the real affection she felt
for her pupils. Consequently Ermengarde disliked her, Lucy tolerated
her, the nursery children were supremely indifferent to her, and
Marjorie alone loved her. This latter fact did not raise Miss Nelson
in anyone's estimation. It was Marjorie's fashion to love people; it
would have been unnatural, uncanny to hear round, good humored
Marjorie abusing people. Marjorie's affection was bestowed on all
creatures, therefore being common, it was in Ermie's opinion at
least, a rather worthless thing to secure.

Miss Nelson went into her private room now, shut and locked the door,
sat down in her easy-chair, and burst into tears. She was shocked at
Ermengarde's disobedience; Ermie's open defiance of her authority
almost terrified her. She loved all the children whom she taught, she
would have done anything, gone to the length of any sacrifice, for
their sakes. She wanted them to grow up good, honorable, worthy of
their mother, whose memory she revered. It was easy to prophesy a
bright future for Marjorie. Little Lucy, too, was a fairly amenable
child; but Ermengarde, who was as proud and reserved as Miss Nelson
herself--the governess trembled when she reflected how small was her
power over this wayward child.

She thought for a long time; three courses of action were open to her.
She might go to Mr. Wilton, open her heart to him, tell him all her
doubts and fears, and ask him to remove Ermengarde from her care. Or
she might talk to the little girl, tell her that she would shield her
from her father's anger, show her in gentle words how wrong her action
had been, assure her of the deep love she really felt for her, and
finally forgive her. Or again she might speak severely to Ermengarde,
and her severe words might be followed by severe discipline. She could
promise not to reveal her pupil's guilt to Mr. Wilton, but the
punishment she would herself inflict would be a grave one.

Miss Nelson thought far into the night, Before she went to bed, she
decided to pursue the last idea which came to her, for it seemed quite
plain to her own mind that Ermengarde's sin could not be expiated
except through punishment.



CHAPTER IV.

THE DAY OF THE PICNIC.


Early the next morning Marjorie stirred in her white bed, Then she
opened her eyes, raised her head from her comfortable pillow, and
gazed around her.

Ermie was fast asleep. The sun was pouring into the room; the clock on
the mantelpiece pointed to six.

Softly, very softly, Marjorie poked her pink toes from under the
bedclothes. Then the whole of her feet appeared, then she stood
upright on the floor. No one should help her over her toilet this
morning; she would dress, and go out into the garden. The boys were at
home; it was going to be a brilliant day. Marjorie's contented heart
danced within her. She washed and dressed herself with expedition. It
was not necessary to be particularly quiet, for nothing ever disturbed
Ermengarde's slumbers.

Having dressed and plaited her thick hair as well as she could without
aid, she knelt down by her bedside, clasped her hands over her plump
face, and repeated her prayers. Once, long ago now, Mrs. Wilton had
given the children, Marjorie among them, a little model prayer to
repeat. One of the phrases in it was this: "Please make me a faithful
servant of Jesus Christ."

Marjorie remembered quite well the first time she had used this
prayer. She recalled the expression on her mother's face, and could
have told anyone who asked her her mother's explanation of the word
servant.

The other children had forgotten the model prayer, but Marjorie used
it always. Every morning she asked God to make her a faithful servant.
It was not at all difficult for this humble little girl really to
pray. No one in the house guessed at Marjorie's prayer, or troubled
their heads about her comforting, comfortable, unselfish ways. She was
there, a plain child, useful enough, and obliging enough, but no one
thanked her, or wondered if they should miss her if she were not in
the house.

She was leaving the room this morning, when Ermengarde stirred and
opened her eyes.

"Is that you, Maggie? oh, you're dressed. Don't go for a minute, I
want to speak to you."

Marjorie closed the door which she had half opened, and went and stood
by Ermengarde's bed.

"Well?" she said.

"I'm sleepy; it's frightfully early. If I talk to you, I'll get
wide-awake. Can't you just wait in the room for a little?"

"I'm going into the garden, and I'll come back again, Ermie. Eric may
be up, and he has promised to show me Shark. I don't believe he has
got six rows of teeth."

"How you chatter, Maggie! Now I'm quite woke up. I'll have a headache
most likely this afternoon. I generally do when my first sleep is
disturbed."

"You have had a very long first sleep," said Marjorie. "It's half-past
six o'clock."

"Is it? It's all the same to me what the time is; I'm woke up now, and
it's your fault. You might be considerate, Maggie; you're the most
thoughtless child. If you had sat quietly by my bedside I wouldn't be
wide-awake now."

"Well, what can I do for you now that you are awake, Ermie?" asked
Marjorie. "Please tell me quickly, for I can't keep Eric waiting."

"Oh, it will be all Eric with you from this out. I might have guessed
that."

"No, it won't. It will be all everybody. Now, what am I to do for
you?"

Ermengarde laughed.

"Maggie, don't put on that solemn face. Of course you are a good
little thing. Now listen. Last night Basil and I made a plan."

"O Ermie! Weren't you in luck that Miss Nelson never found out about
your wickedness yesterday?"

"My wickedness?"

Ermengarde colored brightly.

"Don't you remember, Ermie? Going in the carriage when Miss Nelson
told you not. Of course you were dreadfully wicked, but I'm glad you
were not found out. Now, what's the plan?"

"You're so rude and frank, Maggie. It's a horrid habit you have. I had
forgotten all about that drive. And now you remind me and spoil my
pleasure. You are a tactless creature!"

"Never mind about me. What's the plan?"

"It's this. Dear, I hope the day is fine!"

"Yes, Ermie, it's a lovely day."

"Well, Basil thinks--are you sure the sky is not cloudy, Mag?"

"No, perfect, not a flake anywhere; go on, Ermie."

"Jolly! Basil thinks we ought to have a whole holiday to-day--we
girls, I mean. He says we might have a picnic, and go up the lake, and
land and dine on Pearl Island."

"Lovely!" said Marjorie, clasping her hands. "Only Miss Nelson
said----"

"That's just it, you always will think first of Miss Nelson."

"Ermie, you said I thought first of Eric a minute ago."

"That's another of your horrid habits, casting one's words up to one."

Marjorie clasped her hands in front of her, and closed her lips. Her
round face looked stubborn.

"I'm sure Eric is in the garden," she said.

"I'll let you go in a minute, you impatient child. Of course Miss
Nelson wants us to have lessons, but of course father is the person we
must really obey. I know father is going to London to-day, and he will
leave by the early train. And what I want you to do is this, Maggie;
to wait about for father, and catch him, and get him to consent to
give us a holiday to-day. If he says so, of course Miss Nelson has got
to submit."

"All right," said Marjorie. "I don't mind a bit. Eric and I can watch
for the carriage, and perhaps Macnab will let us drive round to the
house. Then we'll do our best to get father to consent."

She did not wait to exchange any more words with her sister, but
dashed out of the room.

At eight o'clock the schoolroom party assembled for breakfast. Miss
Nelson had decided not to say anything to Ermengarde until the meal
was over. Her salutation of the little girl was scarcely more cold
than usual, and Ermie sat down to the breakfast-table without the
least idea that her delinquency of the day before had been discovered.

Marjorie was the late one on this occasion. She rushed into the room
with her hair un-plaited and her cheeks glowing.

"A holiday! a holiday!" she cried. "Father has asked you to give us a
holiday, please, Miss Nelson, in honor of the boys. A lovely whole
holiday! Father has gone to London, but he scribbled you a message on
this card. Here it is! You'll say yes, won't you, Miss Nelson? and oh,
it is such a lovely day!"

"Get your hair plaited properly, Marjorie, and come and sit down to
breakfast," said her governess. She received Mr. Wilton's card without
comment.

Ermengarde and Basil, however, exchanged delighted glances, and Basil,
bending forward in that courteous way which always won the heart of
the governess, said, "You will let us all have the holiday together,
as my father wishes it?"

"You can go, of course, Basil," replied Miss Nelson.

She laid a stress on the word "you," but neither Basil nor Ermengarde
noticed it. They began to chat together over the delights of the day
which lay before them. The holiday spirit was caught up by the younger
children, and soon an uproar and excitement of delight arose, which
even Miss Nelson could not stem.

In the midst of the general hubbub, she touched Ermengarde on her
shoulder.

"I want a word with you, my dear. Come with me."

In some astonishment Ermengarde rose to comply. The governess took her
into her own little room.

"Shut the door," she said.

She sat down herself, and Ermengarde stood before her. Her face was
pale, her voice shook.

"Ermengarde, will you now repeat your imposition poem."

"Casabianca," said Ermengarde. She had felt a vague sense of
uneasiness at Miss Nelson's manner. Now her brow cleared. She recited
the whole poem with scarcely a mistake, and with some show of feeling.

"You have said it well," said the governess. "It relates the
extraordinary exploit of a noble-hearted child. I grieve to say there
are few such in the world. May I ask you when you learned this poem,
Ermengarde?"

"Yesterday----" began Ermengarde.

"No, don't go on. I will save you, I must save you, poor child, from
yourself. You would tell another lie. You would deceive again. Ermie,
I have loved you. I--I--have suffered for you."

"I don't know what you mean," said Ermengarde, in a voice which shook
with anger. "Am I to be--are dreadful things to be said of me? Why do
you accuse me of telling lies? Why?"

"No more, my dear pupil. For, notwithstanding your refractory and
rebellious state, you are still my dear pupil."

"You are not my dear teacher, there!"

"Hush, I cannot permit impertinence! Ermengarde, I did not look for
open and direct disobedience from you. You are full of faults, but I
did not think deceit was one of them. I have found out about your
drive yesterday."

"Oh!" said Ermie. Her face grew very pale. "Did--did Marjorie tell
you? If I thought that----"

"No matter who told me. Don't blame your sister. She's worth twenty of
you. Think of your own sin. Ermengarde, you have hurt me deeply."

"I don't care," said Ermengarde. "I said I'd go, and I went. I don't
care."

"Poor child! I can only be very sorry for you. I can only pray God to
bring you to a different state of mind. You thought to hide your sin
from me. God knew it all the time."

Ermengarde shuffled from one foot to another. There was not a trace of
repentance about her face or manner.

"At one time I thought I must tell all to your father."

Ermengarde started at this.

"I resolved not to do so."

Her face grew relieved.

"But, Ermengarde," continued the governess, "it is my duty, my solemn
duty, to punish you severely. The full extent of that punishment I
have not yet determined on, but to-day you spend in this room, where
your meals will be brought to you."

"Oh, no, no; not that," said Ermengarde suddenly. "Not to-day, not the
holiday! Let my punishment begin to-morrow, please, Miss Nelson. Do
say yes, Miss Nelson. It would be terrible not to have the holiday
with Basil, and for Basil to know the reason. Do yield on this point,
please, Miss Nelson, please, please, and I'll try to be a better girl
in future, I will truly."

"No, Ermengarde; the punishment, being merited and severe, must begin
on the day you feel it most. I am sorry for you, but I cannot, I dare
not yield. God help you, poor child, to a sorrow which leads to
repentance."

The governess left the room, locking the door behind her.

Ermengarde stood quite still for a moment, as if she was stunned. Then
she rushed to the door and tried to open it.

Miss Nelson went back to the schoolroom.

"You can have your holiday, children," she said. "Ermengarde cannot
come, nor am I at liberty to explain her absence. No, Basil; you must
not ask me. You must be happy without your sister to-day, and trust
that what is right is being done for her. Now, about the picnic.
Maggie, come here, my love. You shall take a message to cook."

"You'll come too, won't you, Miss Nelson?" asked Marjorie.

"I must, my dear. I could not allow wild young creatures like you to
embark on such an expedition without me."

"And may all the babies come, Miss Nelson?"

"Yes, if nurse can accompany them."

"It seems a pity about poor Ermie."

"Do not speak of her, Marjorie. You must trust your governess to do
what is right."

Marjorie's round face looked full of concern. She had a way of putting
her finger to her lip when she was harassed about anything. This trick
gave her the appearance of a great overgrown baby.

"Go at once and see the cook, my dear," said the governess.

Marjorie turned and left the room. In the passage she met Basil.

"What is this about Ermie?" he said at once.

"I think I know," said Marjorie. "I think I can guess."

"You'll tell me, won't you, Maggie?"

"I don't think I can, Basil. Ermie is a little--little--headstrong,
and Miss Nelson, sometimes Miss Nelson is severe to Ermie."

"I shan't like her if she is," said Basil. "I don't care a bit about
the picnic without Ermengarde, and I do consider it provoking of Miss
Nelson to keep Ermie at home on my very first holiday."

"Oh, but you know she must maintain discipline," said Marjorie,
putting her finger to her lip again.

Basil burst out laughing.

"Don't use such solemn words, Mag," he said. "You are only a baby;
words of wisdom don't suit you a bit."

"I'm eleven," said Marjorie, in a hurt voice.

She ran off to the kitchen, and delivered her message. The cook, who
was fond of good-humored little Marjorie, consulted her about the
viands. She replied solemnly, and tried to look interested, but the
zest had gone out of her voice. The first moment she had to spare she
rushed to her school-desk, and scribbled a note.

"Dear Ermie," she said, "I'm miserable that the wickedness is
discovered. Don't be a bit frightened though, for Basil shan't guess
anything. Your fond sister, MARJORIE WILTON."

This note Marjorie inclosed in one of her favorite envelopes, with a
forget-me-not wreath in blue on the flap, and before the schoolroom
party started for the picnic, she pushed it under the door of Miss
Nelson's sitting-room.

Ermengarde had expended her first rage, and she was very glad to pick
up Marjorie's note, and to read it. At first the contents of the note
gave her a slight feeling of satisfaction, and a glow of gratitude to
her little sister rushed over her. But then she remembered Miss
Nelson's words, and the conviction once more ran through her mind that
Marjorie must have been the one to tell.

"She is a canting little thing," said Ermengarde in a passion, "_My_
wickedness, indeed! Who else would call an innocent drive wickedness?
Oh, yes; she let out the whole story to Miss Nelson, and now she wants
to come round me with this letter, after her horrid tell-tale way.
Little monkey! Horrid, ugly little thing, too. Tell-tale-tit, your
tongue shall be slit. No, no, Miss Marjorie; you need not suppose that
this note blinds me! I know what you've done to me, and I'll never
forgive you--never, as long as I live!"

Ermengarde now tore up the poor little letter, and opening the window
scattered the tiny fragments to the breeze. Once again her anger
scarcely knew any bounds. They were away, the whole happy party, and
she was shut up in a dull room, compelled to endure solitary
confinement all through this glorious August day. It was insufferable,
it was maddening, and it was all Marjorie's fault!

It is astonishing how soon the mind, when angry, can establish within
itself a fixed idea. Miss Nelson had said nothing to really draw
suspicion on Marjorie, and yet Ermengarde was now thoroughly convinced
that the little girl had been the one to tell of her misdemeanor. She
did not trouble herself to examine proofs. All Marjorie's amiable and
good-natured ways were as nothing to Ermengarde then. She had
certainly told, and as long as she lived Ermie would never forgive
her.

Just then, while her anger was at its height, she heard a low whistle
under the open window. She rushed over to it, and popped out her head.
Basil was standing underneath.

"Don't, Basil," said Ermengarde; "do go away, please. I hate you to
find me here a prisoner."

"Oh, stuff, Ermie, don't be tragic over it. It's only for a day at the
most, and what's a day?"

"What's a day? One of your holidays--the first of your holidays!"

"Well, there are lots more to follow. Bear it with a good grace. It
will soon be over."

"Basil, I thought you had gone with the others."

"I wasn't ready, and Maggie has promised to send the boat back for
me."

"Maggie! As if she could give orders."

"She can remind other people though. I'd back Maggie any day never to
forget what a fellow wants."

"Oh, yes, she's first with everyone. It's a very nasty stifling hot
day."

"Poor Ermie, you're cross, so you see everything distorted. You know
whose pet you are, as well as possible--and the day is perfect,
superb."

"Am I really your pet, Basil?"

"You conceited puss, you know you are. So is Maggie, too. She's a
little darling."

The latter part of Basil's speech brought the cloud once again to
Ermengarde's face.

"Oh, of course Maggie is everyone's pet," she said.

Her brother interrupted her. "Don't begin that nonsense over again,
Ermie; it's too childish. You are under punishment, I don't know for
what. Of course I'm awfully vexed. But why abuse poor little Mag? I
say, though, do you like apples?"

"Apples? Pretty well."

"You mean awfully. I have brought you some beauties."

"How can I get them? I'm a prisoner here."

"Oh, rot about your being a prisoner. Well, fair lady, you see if your
knight can't come to your assistance. Now, catch!"

He threw up a small piece of cord which he had weighted with lead.
Ermengarde secured it.

"Pull, pull away! You will soon be in possession of the spoil."

Ermengarde pulled, and presently a dainty basket, which she recognized
as Marjorie's most treasured receptacle for her working things, was
grasped by her willing hands.

"Now, good-by, Ermie. I'm off. The boat will be back by now. Of course
I shan't botanize without you to-day, never fear. By-by; eat your
apples, and reflect on the shortness of a single day."

Basil bounded across the lawn, cleared the haha at the end, and
disappeared from view.

His interview with Ermengarde had both a soothing and a tonic effect
on her. She felt almost cheerful as she sat by the open window, and
munched her apples. That basket contained more than apples. There was
one large peach, and two slices of rich plumcake were stowed away
under the fruit. Then, perhaps dearest possession of all, Marjorie's
own special copy of "Alice in Wonderland" lay at the bottom of the
basket.

After making a hearty meal of the fruit and cake, Ermengarde drew Miss
Nelson's own easy-chair in front of the window, and taking up
Marjorie's book began to read. She felt almost comfortable now; the
punishment was not so unbearable when a brother sympathized and a
sister lent of her best. The precious little copy of "Alice" had
received a stain from the juice of the peach, and Ermengarde tried to
wipe it out, and felt sorry for its owner.

After all Marjorie was good-natured, and if she had been base enough
to tell, she had at least the grace to be sorry afterward. Ermengarde
thought she would ask Marjorie when she had told, how she had told,
and where. She felt that she must believe her little sister, for no
one had ever heard even the semblance of an untruth Marjorie's honest
lips.

Ermengarde sat on, and tried to lose herself in Alice's adventures.
She was not at all sorry for her disobedience of the day before, but
she was no longer in a state of despair, for her punishment seemed
finite, and but for the thought of the wild happiness of the others,
her present state was scarcely unendurable.

Just then, raising her eyes, she saw a little girl walking down one of
the side-paths which led round to the kitchens. She was a girl
scarcely as tall as herself, neatly dressed in a pink cotton frock and
white sun-bonnet. Her legs were encased in nice black stockings, and
her small dainty feet wore shining shoes with buckles. Ermengarde
instantly dropped her book, leaned half out of the window, and called
in a loud voice, "Susy--Susy--Susan Collins! come here!"

Little Susan raised an extremely pretty face, blushed, laughed, and
ran gayly forward.

"Is that you, Miss Ermengarde?" she said. "I thought you were away
with the others. Father has helped to take them up to Pearl Island,
better than two hours ago now."

"Did they look happy, Susy? Tell me about them. Did you see them go?"

"Yes, miss, I was standing behind the rose-hedge. Miss Maggie, she did
laugh wonderful, and Master Eric, he just dashed in to give us his
ferrets to take care of for him, miss."

"And was Basil there, Susy?"

"No, miss, they went off without him. I heard father say he'd bring
back the boat for Master Basil, and I thought for sure you'd be going
with him, miss. I hope, Miss Ermengarde, you ain't ill."

"I'm not ill in body, Susan. But I've been most basely treated. I've
been betrayed."

"Oh, my word!" said Susan Collins. She pushed back her sun-bonnet, and
revealed her whole charming curly golden head. She was a beautiful
little girl, and Ermengarde had long ago made a secret friend of her.

"I've been betrayed, Susy," continued Ermie. "But I can't tell you by
whom. Only _some one_ has told tales about me, and so I have been
punished, and have been locked up in this room. I'm locked up now; I
can't get out. I'm a prisoner!"

Ermengarde felt her woes all the more keenly as she related them.
Susy's blue eyes grew bright with pity.

"Ain't it cruel?" she said. "I call it base to punish a lady like
you, Miss Ermengarde, and you one of the best of created mortals."

"It's Miss Nelson," said Ermengarde. "She's dreadfully prejudiced; I
find it almost impossible to endure her."

"I never did think nothing of that governess," said Susan with vigor.
"It ain't for me to say it, but she don't seem fit company for the
like of you, Miss Ermengarde. If I was you, I'd pay her out, that I
would."

"Oh, I have more than her to pay out," said Ermengarde. "I have been
very unkindly treated."

"That you have, miss, I'm sure."

Susy's sympathy was very sweet to Ermengarde. She leaned farther out
of the window, and looked down at the pretty little girl.

"I'm glad you were passing, Susy," she said.

"I'll stay for a bit, if you like, miss. I'm in no sort of a hurry."

"I wish you could come and sit with me, Susy; I can't shout to you
from the window. People who are passing may hear us."

"That they may, miss. There never was a truer saying than that trees
have ears."

Ermengarde looked round her apprehensively. She had been many times
forbidden to have any intercourse with Susan Collins, whose father,
although he retained his post as gamekeeper, was regarded by Mr.
Wilton as a somewhat shady character. Ermengarde fancied she liked
Susy because of the little girl's remarkable beauty, but the real
reason why her fancy was captivated was because Susy was an adroit
flatterer.

When she spoke about trees having ears, Ermengarde glanced to right
and left.

"Perhaps you had better go," she said. "I have got into one scrape. I
don't want to get into a second."

"There's no one round yet, miss. The men are all at their dinners."

"Well, but some of the house-servants."

"There are none of them in sight, Miss Ermengarde. Do you think I'd
get you into trouble on my account? Oh, dear, I wish I could come up
and sit with you for a little."

"I wish you could, Susy."

"Well, miss, it's easy done, if you'll only say the word."

"What do you mean? This door is locked. Hudson has to bring me my
meals, and no one in all the world can bribe Hudson to open the door."

"I don't want her to, miss. Oh, Miss Ermengarde, you are treated
'ard."

"Yes, Susy, I am treated very hard. Well, as you can't come and keep
me company, you had better go away."

"But I can come to you, miss. A locked door won't keep me out. I'll
hide my basket of eggs behind that laurel bush, and then I'll be with
you in a jiffy."

"Can you really come? What fun! You are a clever girl, Susy."

"You wait and see, miss."

Susan Collins rushed off, adroitly hid her basket, and returning,
climbed up an elm tree which happened to grow a few feet from the
window, with the lightness and agility of a cat. When she reached a
certain bough she lay along it, and propelled herself very gently
forward in the direction of the window.

"Now stretch out your two hands, miss."

Ermengarde did so, and in a moment Susy was standing by her side in
Miss Nelson's pretty little room.

"My word!" she exclaimed. "I never see'd such a lot of grand things
before. Tell me, Miss Ermengarde, do all these fine books and pictures
belong to the governess?"

"Oh, yes; those are pictures of Miss Nelson's friends."

"Dear me, what a queer-looking young lady that is, that one in the
white dress, and long legs, and the hair done old-fashioned like."

"That?" said Ermengarde. She went over and stood by the mantelpiece,
and looked at a large, somewhat faded miniature which held a place of
honor among a group of many other pictures and photographs.

"Ain't she a queer-looking child?" said Susy. "Why, she has a look of
Miss Nelson herself. Do you know who she is, Miss Ermengarde?"

"No," said Ermengarde. "But I think there's a story about that
picture. Marjorie knows. Marjorie has a way of poking and prying into
everything. She's awfully inquisitive. I don't interest myself in
matters in which I have no concern. Now come over and sit by the
window, Susy. You must sit back, so that no one can see us from the
grounds; and when Hudson brings my dinner, you must dart into that
cupboard just behind us."

"Oh, yes, miss. Hudson won't catch me poaching on these preserves."

Susy was fond of using expressions which belonged to her father's
profession. She was a very imaginative child; and one secret of her
power over Ermengarde was her ability to tell long and wonderful
stories. Horrible, most of these tales were--histories of poachers,
which she had partly heard from her father, and partly made up
herself. Ermengarde used to hold her breath while she listened.
Between these thrilling tales, Susan artfully flattered. It was not
necessary to make her compliments too delicate. She could say the same
thing every time they met. She could tell Ermengarde that never, since
the world was created, was there to be found such another beautiful,
clever, and noble little girl as Ermengarde Wilton. Ermie was never
tired of hearing these praises.

She was very glad to listen to them now. By the time Susan Collins had
been half an hour in the room, Ermie was once more certain that
Marjorie had betrayed her, that Miss Nelson was the most tyrannical of
mortals, and that she herself was the most ill-used of little girls.

At the end of half an hour Hudson unlocked the door, and brought in
some dinner for Ermie. When the key was heard in the lock, Susan hid
herself in a deep cupboard which stood behind a screen.

Hudson laid down the tray with Ermengarde's dinner, told her to eat
plenty, and retired. As she left the room she said she would return
for the tray in half an hour. She did not say any word of sympathy to
Ermengarde. Hudson was always on the side of discipline; she thought
that the children of the present day sadly needed correction; and when
one of the young Wiltons was punished, she generally owned to a sense
of rejoicing. That did not, however, prevent her supplying the culprit
with an excellent meal, and Ermengarde now raised the covers from a
plump duck done to perfection, some green peas, and delicious floury
new potatoes. A greengage tart, with a little jug of cream, also
awaited the young lady's pleasure.

She called Susy out of her cupboard with a glad voice.

"Come, Susan," she said, "there's plenty for us both. As there are
only plates and knives and forks for one, I'll eat first, of course,
but you can wash the things up, and have a good meal after me. We must
be quick about it though, for Hudson will be back in half an hour."

"Oh, yes, miss, that we will. I'm wonderful hungry, Miss Ermengarde,
and your nice dinner do look enticing."

At the appointed time Hudson returned. She brought in a couple of
peaches and a bunch of grapes for Ermengarde.

"Miss Ermengarde!" she said in consternation, "you don't mean to say
you've eaten up all the duck! And the tart, too! Well, I do call that
greedy. Where's the sorrow that worketh to repentance when there's
such an appetite? You'll be ill, miss, and no wonder."

"But I didn't eat all the duck, really, Hudson--I didn't truly!"

"My dear, what's left of it? Only a little bit of the back. Why, this
plump bird ought to have dined three people. Miss Ermengarde, you
certainly will be very ill, and you deserve it. No, I won't leave
these peaches and grapes--I'd be afraid. Good-afternoon, miss, I'll
look in at tea-time. But don't you expect nothing but dry toast then."

Hudson took her tray down to the kitchen, where she remarked on
Ermie's enormous appetite.

"A whole duck!" she said. "I didn't think any young lady could eat so
much. And most times Miss Ermie picks at her food."

Upstairs, in Miss Nelson's pretty little sitting-room, Ermengarde was
scolding Susy for eating so much duck. Susy was retorting with some
passion that she had not had more than her share, and over this
dispute the two friends came almost to a quarrel.

Susy, however, had no wish not to keep on the sunny side of Miss
Ermengarde's affections, and after her momentary irritation had cooled
down, she adroitly changed the subject. Once more she administered
broad flatteries; and impressed upon Ermengarde the fact that she was
a long-suffering and ill-used martyr.

"I wouldn't stand it," said Susy. "No, that I wouldn't. I ain't a lady
like you, Miss Ermie, but I wouldn't stand what you do."

"What would you do, Susy? How would you help yourself?"

"What would I do? Well, I'd go to my pa', and I'd have a talk with
him. I'd let him know that--obey that old horror of a governess?"

"You mustn't speak about her like that, really, Susy."

"Miss, I'm open; that's what I am. I says what I means, and when I see
a poor dear put upon, and treated worse than a baby, and punished as
if we were back in feudal ages, I say that the one who does it is a
horror. You think the same, Miss Ermie, though you're too proud to say
it."

"We don't express ourselves in that way in our class," said
Ermengarde, with a slow distinguished sort of smile which always
abashed Susy. "Yes, Miss Nelson is very suitable with the children,
but I do think I am beyond her. I am old for my years, and no one can
call fourteen young."

"It's a noble age, miss," said Susy, in a tone of rapture. "I'm only
twelve, but I aspires to fourteen continual."

"Oh, you," said Ermengarde. "You're different; girls in your class
don't come out. You are not presented, you have no future. It is quite
a different matter with me. I shall be in society in a few years at
latest. What I should like my father to do is----"

"To send you to a select seminary, miss--I know!"

"You don't know, Susan, A select seminary! the very word is vulgar.
No; I should like my father to allow me to pursue my own education
under the control of masters who are specialists in each branch."

"Miss, you talk very learned."

Susan suppressed a yawn, and going to the window looked out.

"I know what I'd do," she said. "I'd pay that fine lady governess of
yours out. It would be tit for tat with me. Couldn't you do something
as would put her in a fret, Miss Ermie?"

"I don't know what to do," said Ermengarde. "Miss Nelson is not easily
fretted."

"Well, I'd find a way. Certainly I'd do something; see if I wouldn't."

"Hush!" said Ermengarde. "Listen! What is that?" She put her head out
of the window. Susy prepared to follow her example, but Ermie pushed
her back.

"I hear Basil's voice," she said. "They are coming back--yes, they are
all returning. Susy, you had better get into the cupboard. Hide as
fast as you can. Miss Nelson is certain to come up here, the very
first thing. O Susy, do get into the cupboard at once! I shall be
ruined if you are discovered up here."

Ermengarde's tone had risen to one of piteous entreaty. Susy, a little
loath--for she could scarcely believe that her fun was so nearly
over--was dragged and almost pushed into the cupboard. When she had
got her captive, Ermengarde took the precaution to lock the cupboard
door and put the key in her pocket.

"Oh, Miss, don't go away and leave me locked in," called the poor
prisoner through the keyhole. "Don't you go a-forgetting of me, Miss
Ermie, or I'll be found a moldified skeleton here, by and by." Susy's
tone was tearful, and Ermie's piteous entreaties to her to hush were
scarcely listened to. Footsteps were heard coming down the corridor.

"She's coming! I shall be betrayed. Do be quiet, Susy!" whispered
Ermengarde in an agony.

At that moment the room door was unlocked, and Miss Nelson came in.

"I thought I heard you talking to some one, my dear," she said.

"I was only repeating some poetry over," said Ermengarde, raising her
delicate brows.

She hated herself for telling this lie. She had yet to learn that one
act of deceit must lead to another.

"I am glad you are improving your mind, Ermie," said the governess.

She went up to the little girl, took one of her cold hands, and kissed
her.

"Well, my dear, we have all come back, and on your account. Basil
pleaded very hard for you. He certainly is a dear fellow; I don't
wonder you love him, my dear. He pleaded for you, Ermengarde, and
I--my love, I have yielded to his request. I have come back to say
that I forgive you, Ermie. You will try to obey me in future, my dear
child, and this punishment, owing to Basil's intercession, may be
considered at an end. We are all going to have tea in the hay-field,
and you are to join us there. Run up to your room, dear, and put on
your brown holland frock. I will wait for you here. Kiss me, Ermie,
before you go."

Ermengarde went up to her governess. She went slowly, for she had the
greatest possible difficulty in keeping her tears back. But for Susy's
presence in the cupboard this sudden forgiveness and deliverance
would have set her dancing for joy. As it was, her heart felt like
lead, and she hated herself for her meanness.

"Kiss me, Ermie," said Miss Nelson. "There, my child. My dear, you
need not look down-hearted any more. I was obliged to punish you, but
I don't think you will willfully and deliberately disobey me again.
Cheer up now, Ermengarde; the past is past. You must ask God to give
you strength to do better in the future, my dear. And--one thing--I
want you to believe in my love, Ermie; I don't show it much. It is one
of my trials that I can't show all that I feel, but--your mother's
child is beloved by me, Ermengarde."

"Oh, don't speak of mother," said Ermengarde, with a little sob. She
rushed out of the room. When she came back her governess was standing
by the window.

"I cannot make out what I did with the key of my cupboard," she said.
"I thought I left it in the door."

"Perhaps you have it in your pocket," said Ermengarde.

"No, I have felt in my pocket. Well, we can't wait now. The children
will be starving for their tea. I promised to show Basil some
photographs which I have in the cupboard, but they must wait for
another time. Come, Ermengarde."



CHAPTER V.

LOCKED IN THE CUPBOARD.


Punishment has many degrees, and the sense of humiliation which
Ermengarde felt, when that morning she had been left prisoner in Miss
Nelson's sitting-room, was nothing indeed to the agony which she
endured when, supposed to be free and pardoned, she walked with her
governess to the hay-field.

Every moment she expected to hear Susy's piercing yells following her.
Susy was a child with little or no self-control. She hated dark rooms;
her imagination was unhealthy, and fostered in her home life in the
worst possible way. Ermengarde knew that she could hear Miss Nelson's
conversation, and every moment she expected her voice to arise within
the cupboard in protest.

When no sound came, however, a dreadful idea took possession of poor
Ermie's brain. The cupboard was not large; suppose Susy had been
suffocated. This terror became so insupportable that several times the
miserable child was on the point of confessing all. What kept her
back from doing this was the thought of Basil. While the ghost of a
chance remained she must avert the possibility of Basil looking down
on her. For Basil to despise her would have been the bitterest cup
which life at present could hold out to poor Ermengarde.

Miss Nelson and her pupil reached the hay-field, and then ensued a
scamper, a rush. Marjorie, Eric, Basil, Lucy, all crowded round their
sister. They were unfeignedly delighted to have her with them, and
Ermie could not but reflect how happy she would now be but for Susy.

"We are going to have such a time," said Marjorie. "After tea we are
going to build a hayrick, quite in a new way. It's to be hollow
inside, like a room, and pointed at the top, with a hole to let the
air in, and--why, what's the matter, Ermie? You look as white as
anything. We thought you'd be so fresh, for you have done nothing all
day. Now, I am tired, if you like. Oh, haven't I run?"

Marjorie stopped talking to mop her heated forehead.

"But it was glorious fun," she began, the next minute. "I thought Eric
would have capsized the boat, he laughed so. Only Basil was a bit
mopy. He's not half himself when you're away, Ermie, Now, hadn't you
better sit down? You do look white."

Ermengarde glanced round her. At that moment she and Marjorie were a
few feet away from the others. Basil was trotting meekly up and down
with a small sister aloft on each broad shoulder. Eric was sending all
the small fry whom he could reach into screams at his superabundant
wit and spirits. Miss Nelson went over to help nurse to get the tea
ready. For a brief moment the two sisters were alone.

In an instant Marjorie would be called. She was never long left to
herself in any group. Ermie had not a second to lose. She clasped
Marjorie's hand convulsively.

"Maggie, I want you to help me."

"Of course I will, Ermie. What is it? Coming, Eric! What's the matter,
Ermie?"

"Oh, do get those children away for a minute."

"Maggie, Maggie, Maggie!" shouted several voices, headed by Eric's.

"Coming, Eric. Keep back, all of you. I'm talking to Ermie for a
minute. Now, Ermie, quick. What is it?"

"I want to go back to the house, without any one noticing. Help me to
go back at once."

"How can I help you! How queer you look."

"O Maggie, it's so important! Don't question me. Only help me."

"Poor Ermie, you do look in a state!"

"And no one must know. Maggie, I did think you'd be clever enough to
find an excuse for me. I trusted to you. Don't fail me, Maggie."

"Let me think," said Marjorie. "You'll come back again?"

"Yes, I won't be gone any time."

"I'll fly across to nurse. Stay where you are--I'll be with you again
in a minute."

Marjorie ran across the hay-field, stooped down by old nurse's side,
had a short and eager colloquy, and returned to Ermengarde.

"Ermie, nurse wants those rusks which baby always has with his tea.
She says you'll find the box in the nursery cupboard. Will you fetch
them in a hurry? Baby is so hungry."

"Oh, what nonsense!" said Basil, who had now come up. "The idea of
sending Ermie! Where's the nursemaid?"

"Alice went to the house with another message. You had better go,
Ermengarde; nurse is in a hurry."

"I don't mind going a bit," said Ermengarde. She looked ready to fly.
Her lips were trembling.

"You look as tired as anything now, Ermie," said Basil. "I'll go, if
it comes to that. Where are those wretched rusks to be found, Maggie?"

"You can't go, Basil. You are to light the fire for the gypsy tea."

"It's lighting."

"Well, it's going out again. I know it is; or the kettle is sure to
boil over, or something. Do be on the spot, and let Ermie make herself
useful for once in a way."

Ermengarde ran off; the tension of her feelings would permit of no
further delay. She heard Basil scolding Marjorie as she hurried across
the hay-field. Ermengarde had never run so fast in her life. What
should she find when she got back to that sitting-room. Would Susy be
dead? If so----But her terrified thoughts would take her no further.

She was not a particularly active little girl, and her quick running
soon deprived her of breath. Oh, what a distance lay between that
hay-field and the house! At last the lawn was gained, then the gravel
sweep, then the side-door. She could only totter upstairs, and by the
time she reached Miss Nelson's room she was really almost fainting.

She managed to stagger across to the cupboard, unlocked it, and then
sank down in a chair. Susy instantly made her appearance; she was not
dead, but she was extremely red in the face and very angry.

"You did serve me a trick, Miss Ermie! Oh, my word, I didn't think as
you'd treat me as bad as that! Why, I might have been--I thought I was
to be suffocated, miss."

"Never mind now," said Ermengarde. "I'm ever so sorry; I----" Her
voice faltered. In her relief and thankfulness at finding Susy alive
and well, she went up to the little girl and kissed her. Then she
burst into tears.

"Miss Ermie!"

If Susan Collins was fond of anyone, it was Ermengarde.

"Don't you take on, miss," she said affectionately.

Ermie's tears touched her so much that she felt she would have endured
another half-hour of the cupboard to help her.

"Don't cry, please, Miss Ermie," said Susy. "I know you couldn't help
yourself. I didn't want you to have a scolding; no, that I didn't; so
it's all right, miss; I'm none the worse. I was a bit choky in the
cupboard, but I'm as well as ever now."

Ermengarde soon dried her tears.

"I must go back to the hay-field at once," she said, "I'll leave you
now, Susy. Don't be long here. Run downstairs while there's no one
about. Good-by, Susy. I'm glad you are not hurt."

Ermengarde nodded to Susan Collins, and with a light heart left the
room. She went to the nursery, secured the baby's rusks, and returned
to the hay-field.

During the rest of that evening no one seemed happier, or laughed more
often than Ermengarde. She thought herself safe, and it never occurred
to her as possible that the doings of that day could ever be known.



CHAPTER VI.

A STOLEN TREASURE.


When Ermengarde left the room, Susy looked round her. She was a
thoroughly comfortable young person; her nature had plenty of daring
in it, and she was not prone to timidity. She was not much afraid of
being caught, and she did not feel at all inclined to hurry out of the
governess's room.

Susy was one of those unfortunate little mortals whose pretty face,
instead of bringing with it a blessing, as all beauty ought, had quite
the reverse effect upon her. It made her discontented. Like many other
foolish little maids, she longed to have been born in a higher station
than Providence intended; she longed to be rich and a lady.

Susy was an only child, and her mother, who had once been a
lady's-maid, always dressed her neatly and with taste. Susy spoke with
a more refined accent than most children of her class; her dress, too,
was better than theirs; she thought a very little would make her what
she most desired to be, a lady. And when Ermengarde began to take
notice of her, she felt that her ambition was all but fulfilled.

Ermie had often met Susy in the grounds, and, attracted by her
beautiful little face, had talked to her, and filled the poor child
with conceit. Mr. Wilton had once seen Ermengarde and Susy chatting in
a very confidential manner together. He at once separated the
children, told Ermie she was not to make a friend of Susan Collins,
and told Susan Collins that she was to mind her place, and go back to
her mother. These instructions he further reiterated to Miss Nelson
and to Susan's father. The children were forbidden to speak, and
Ermengarde, proud, rebellious, without any real sense of right or
honor, instantly contrived to evade her father's commands, and saw
more of Susy than ever.

Not until to-day, however, had Susan Collins been inside Wilton Chase.
Over and over she had longed to see the interior of what her mother
was pleased to call the 'noble pile.' But not until to-day had this
longing been gratified. In a most unexpected way she at last found
herself at the Chase. She had enjoyed a good dinner there. That dinner
had been followed by nearly an hour of great misery and terror. Still,
she had been there, and she reflected with pride that, in
consequence, she could now hold up her head higher than ever.

She was certainly not in a hurry to go away. Miss Nelson's room seemed
a magnificent apartment to Susy. She was sure no one could come into
it at present, and she walked round and round it now, examining its
many treasures with a critical and somewhat envious spirit.

Once again, in the course of her wanderings, she came opposite the
picture of the old-fashioned child--the child whose hair was curled in
primitive and stiff ringlets, whose blue eyes looked out at the world
with a somewhat meaningless stare, and whose impossible and rosy lips
were pursed up in an inane smile.

Susy gazed long at this old-world portrait. It was set in a deep frame
of blue enamel, and inside the frame was a gold rim. Susy said to
herself that the picture, old-fashioned though it was, had a very
genteel appearance. Then she began to fancy that the blue eyes and the
lips of the child resembled her own. She pursed up her cherub mouth in
imitation of the old-world lady. She smiled into the pictured eyes of
the child of long ago.

In short Susy became fascinated by the miniature; she longed to
possess it. With the longing came the temptation. Why should she not
take it? The theft, if it could be called by such an ugly name, could
never be traced to her. Not a soul in the place would ever know that
she had been shut up in Miss Nelson's room. Only Ermengarde would
know, and Ermie would not dare to tell.

Susy looked and longed and coveted. She thought of the pleasure this
picture would give her in her own little attic-room at home. How she
would gaze at it, and compare her face with the face of the
old-fashioned child. Susy hated Miss Nelson, and if that good lady
valued the picture, she would be only the more anxious to deprive her
of it.

Miss Nelson had often and often snubbed Susy; she had also been cruel
to Ermengarde. Susy could avenge Ermie as well as herself, if she took
away the miniature.

Susan was not the child long to withstand any sudden keen desire. She
stretched up her hand, lifted the little miniature from its hook on
the wall, and slipped it into the pocket of her pink frock.

Its place looked empty and deserted. Susy did not want its loss to be
discovered too soon. She looked around her, saw another miniature on
the mantelpiece; without waiting even to look at it, she hung it in
the place where the child's picture had been, and then, well pleased,
turned to go. First of all, however, she performed an action which she
thought particularly clever and praiseworthy.

Poor Ermengarde had left the cupboard open when she rushed from the
room, but Susy took the precaution to lock it, and taking out the key,
threw it carelessly on the floor behind a chair. Then, satisfied that
she had done her best both for Ermie and herself, she left Miss
Nelson's room, running fearlessly down the now deserted back-stairs,
and out into the courtyard.

She went round to the laurel bush behind which she had concealed her
basket of eggs, picked it up, delivered its contents to the cook, and
ran home singing a gay song.

Her mother remarked on Susy's long absence, but when the little girl
said she had been tempted to linger in the meadows, Mrs. Collins did
not question her any further. She hastened to prepare an extra good
tea for her darling, for of course Susy's dinner with Ermengarde could
not be mentioned.

Meanwhile all went merrily in the hay-field. Eric excelled himself in
his rare power of story-telling. Basil and Ermie sat side by side, and
whispered together. Miss Nelson had seldom seen a softer look on her
elder pupil's face than now. She determined that Basil and his sister
should be together as much as possible during the holidays.

Presently the little ones went home, and by and by the elder children
followed their example. Miss Nelson saw that Marjorie was tired--that
Ermie, too, looked pale--and she made them both go to bed early.

It was rather late when the governess returned to the schoolroom. She
only went there to fetch one of her pupils' exercise-books, but seeing
Basil reading on one of the sofas, she stopped to talk to him. She was
a very direct person, and in conversation she always went straight to
the point.

"It is a great comfort to me to have you at home, Basil," she said.

Basil looked up at her. Then he dropped his book and started to his
feet.

"Won't you sit down?" he said politely.

"No, I am going into my own room directly. I repeat that I am glad you
are at home, Basil. There was a talk of your going north instead, was
there not?"

"Yes. Uncle Charlie wanted me to fish with him."

"It is on Ermengarde's account that I am glad," pursued the governess.

Basil nodded.

"I came back on account of Ermie," he said. Then he colored, and added
quickly, "But I like being at home best."

"Yes, my dear boy, I understand. You are unselfish. You and Marjorie
are remarkably unselfish. Basil, you have a great influence over your
eldest sister; oh yes, I can see. In many respects Ermengarde is a
difficult child; I want you to use your influence well, and----Will
you come into my room, Basil?"

Basil picked up his book. Of course he would go. He did not want to;
he thought it was rather fudge talking about his influence; and as to
his being unselfish, he liked his own way as well as any one else. Had
he not almost blubbered about not going to Scotland, and although he
had thought of Ermie, still he had given up his desires with a pang.
He hated Miss Nelson to think better of him than he deserved, but he
did not know how to explain himself, and he followed her in rather a
limp fashion into her private sitting-room.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, when he got there, "what a tiny room! Do they
put you off with this? Oh, I say, I call it a shame!"

Miss Nelson loved her private sitting-room, and hated to hear it
abused. She also particularly disliked the expression with which Basil
had commenced his speech.

"I don't wish to interfere, my dear boy, but those words--you will
excuse me--I am shocked."

"Do you mean 'by Jove'?"

"Yes; don't repeat the expression. It sounds like a calling upon false
gods."

"Oh, I say, all our fellows do it."

"Does that make it right?"

Basil fidgeted, and wished himself back in the schoolroom.

"You were going to speak about Ermie," he said.

Miss Nelson seated herself by the open window. It was a warm and very
beautiful summer's night. A gentle breeze came in, and fanned the
governess's tired brow.

"What about Ermie?" said Basil. He wanted to get back to his book, and
to the unrestraint of the dear old schoolroom.

"I think you have a good influence over Ermengarde," said Miss Nelson,
raising her face to his.

"Yes, yes," he answered impatiently; "more than one person has said
that to me. I have a good influence, but why should I have a good
influence? I mean, why is it necessary? Ermie isn't worse than other
people. It sounds as if you were all abusing her when you talk of my
good influence. I hate humbug. I'm no better than other fellows. I'm
fond of Ermie I suppose, and that's about the beginning and end of my
influence."

"Exactly," said Miss Nelson. She was not listening to all the boy's
words. Her thoughts were far away.

"Ermie is difficult," she began. Then she stopped and uttered an
exclamation.

"Look, Basil, is that a key at your feet?"

Basil stooped, and picked up the key of Miss Nelson's cupboard.

"Put it in the lock of the cupboard behind you, my boy. I am glad it
is found--truly glad. I thought I could not have put it away. And yet
Ermengarde seemed so sure that it was not in the lock when she was in
the room."

"Oh, it fell out, I suppose," said Basil. He was not interested in the
key, and he stood up now, prepared to go.

"Those photographs I spoke about are in the cupboard, Basil. I could
not bring them to you because I could not find the key. Would you like
to see them now?"

"Thanks," said Basil. "Perhaps, if you don't mind, I had better look
at them by daylight."

When Basil said this, Miss Nelson also stood up. He looked at her,
being quite sure now she would wish him good-night and let him go. Her
eyes had a peculiar, terrified, staring expression. She rushed to the
mantelpiece; then she turned and grasped the boy's arm.

"Basil," she said, "the picture is gone!"

"What picture?" he asked. He was really frightened at the anguished
expression in Miss Nelson's matter-of-fact face.

"Mine," she answered, clasping his hand tighter. "My treasure, the
picture of my----" here she broke off. "It is gone, Basil--see, and
another put in its place! My miniature is gone! it has been stolen!"

"No, no," said Basil. "It couldn't have been. People don't steal
pictures at the Chase. There are no thieves. Let me look for it for
you."

"My miniature--my portrait. I don't speak of it--I can't!" Her voice
shook. "No, no; it is gone. You see, Basil, it always hung here, and
now another has been put on the same hook. That shows that the deed
was intentional; the miniature is stolen!"

She sat down and clasped her hands over her face; her thin long
fingers trembled.

"I'm awfully sorry for you," said Basil. He could not understand such
emotion over any mere picture, but he had the kindest of hearts, and
distress of any sort always moved him.

"I'm awfully sorry," he repeated.

Miss Nelson looked up at his tone.

"Basil," she said, "when you have very few things to love, you value
the few intensely. I did--I do. You don't know, my boy, what it is to
be a lonely woman. May you never understand my feelings. The miniature
is gone; it was stolen, purposely."

"Oh, we'll find the thief," said Basil. "If you are sure the picture
was taken, we'll make no end of a fuss, and my father will help. Of
course you must not lose anything you value in this house. You shall
have it back; we'll all see to that."

"Thank you, Basil; I'm sure you'll do your best."

Miss Nelson's face looked as unhappy as ever.

"You must try and cheer up, Miss Nelson," said the school-boy. "You
shall have your picture, that I promise you."

Miss Nelson was silent for a minute.

"Perhaps I shall get it back," she said after a pause. "But it won't
be the same to me again. No, nothing can be the same. I've got a
shock. Basil, I have worked for you all. When your mother died, I
came--I came at her request. A more brilliant governess could have
taught your sisters, but I can truly say no one more conscientious
could have ministered to them, and no one on the whole could have
loved them more faithfully. I have, however, been misunderstood. Only
one of your sisters has responded to me. Marjorie has been sweet and
true and good; the others--not that I blame little Lucy much--a child
is always led by her elders--but----"

"What does all this mean?" said Basil, almost sternly. He knit his
brows. He felt that he was going to be somebody's champion, and there
was fight in his voice.

"This is what it means, Basil," said Miss Nelson. "I am sorry to pain
you, but I believe Ermengarde has taken my miniature."

"Ermie a thief? What do you mean? She's my sister--she's a Wilton! How
can you say that sort of thing, Miss Nelson? No wonder poor Ermie does
not quite get on with you."

"She never gets on with me, Basil. She is disobedient, she is
unresponsive. I have taken more pains for her than for the others.
To-day I was obliged to punish her for two offenses of a very grave
character. She took my miniature out of revenge; I am sure of it."

"No, I am certain you are mistaken. You have no right to accuse her
like this."

"I wish I could think I was mistaken, Basil, but all circumstances
point to the fact that Ermengarde in revenge took away my portrait. I
locked her into this room as a punishment, as a severe punishment for
a most grave offense. She was very angry and very defiant. The
picture was in its usual place when I locked her into the room. She
spent the greater part of the day here. When I come here to-night the
portrait has been exchanged for another."

"Yes; your room has been empty for hours. Some one else has come in
and done the thing, if indeed it has been done at all."

"What do you mean? The picture is gone!"

"The housemaid may have been dusting, and put another in its place."

"No, Basil, the housemaid would not touch my private possessions; I
dust them and arrange them myself. I dusted my miniature only this
morning, and this white rosebud and maidenhair I placed under it. I
always put fresh flowers under my portrait; I did so to-day as usual.
No, as you say, there are no thieves at Wilton Chase. Ermie has taken
the miniature out of revenge. She knew I valued it."

"You are mistaken," said Basil, "and I think you are cruel!"

He left the room in a great rage.



CHAPTER VII.

A GOOD, BOYISH SORT OF GIRL.


The next day was Saturday. The lessons done this morning by
Ermengarde, Marjorie, and Lucy were little more than nominal. A master
came to give the little girls instruction in music at eleven o'clock,
and after their half-hour each with him, they were considered free to
spend the rest of the day as they pleased.

Rather to Basil's surprise Miss Nelson said nothing whatever to Ermie
about the loss of her miniature. The governess's face was very pale
this morning, and her eyes had red rims round them, as though she had
wept a good deal the previous night. She was particularly gentle,
however, and Basil, who alone knew her secret, could not help being
sorry for her.

He was still angry, for he thought her idea about Ermengarde both
unjust and cruel; but her softened and sad demeanor disarmed him, and
he longed beyond words to give her back the miniature.

Ermie was in excellent spirits this morning. She thought herself well
out of yesterday's scrape, and she looked forward to a long and happy
afternoon with her brothers. She was particularly bright and attentive
over her lessons, and would have altogether won Miss Nelson's
approval, had not her sad mind been occupied with other matters.

Marjorie was the first to go to her music lesson this morning. She
returned from it at half-past eleven, and then Ermengarde went to
receive Mr. Hill's instructions.

Basil was standing in the passage, sharpening a lead pencil as she
passed.

"I'll be free at twelve, Basil," she called to him. "Where shall I
find you?"

"I'll be somewhere round," he replied, in a would-be careless tone.
"Maggie, is that you? I want to speak to you."

He seemed anxious to get away from Ermengarde, and she noticed it, and
once more the cloud settled on her brow.

"Come out, Mag; I want to speak to you," said Basil. "You are free at
last, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes; I'm free. What were you so chuffy to Ermie, for? You seemed
as if you didn't care to have her with you!"

"Oh, don't I care? I'm thinking of her all the time. It's about her I
want to speak to you, Maggie, But, first of all have you heard of
Miss Nelson's loss?"

"No, what loss?"

"Some one has taken a miniature out of her sitting-room."

"A miniature? Which--which miniature? Speak, Basil."

"You needn't eat me with your eyes, Maggie. I don't know. I didn't do
it!"

"Oh, no; but what miniature is it, Basil?"

"I tell you, I didn't see it, Maggie. It hung over her mantelpiece,
and she kept flowers under it. She seemed to prize it a great lot."

"Not the picture of a rather silly little girl with blue eyes and a
smile? Not that one? Don't tell me it was that one, Basil."

"Then you do know about it. I suppose it was that one. She was in an
awful state."

"No wonder. Oh, poor Miss Nelson!"

"Do talk like a reasonable being, Maggie. What was there so
marvelously precious in the picture of a silly little girl?"

"Yes, but _that_ silly little girl was her own--not her child, but her
sister, and she loved her beyond all the world, and--the little sister
went to the angels. Once she told me about her--only once. It was on a
Sunday night. Oh, poor Miss Nelson!"

"Well, don't cry, Mag--she must have the picture back. She has got a
horrid thought in her head about it, though."

"A horrid thought? Miss Nelson has a horrid thought? Oh, Basil, don't
you begin to misunderstand her."

"Shut up!" said Basil. "Who talks about my misunderstanding her? She
has got a wrong notion into her head about Ermie, that's all. She
thinks Ermie took the miniature out of revenge. There! Is not that bad
enough? Now, what's the matter, Maggie? You are not going to tell me
that you think Miss Nelson is right?"

"No," said Marjorie, shaking her fat little self, after an aggravating
habit of hers when she was perplexed. "Of course I don't think
anything of the kind, still----" She was remembering Ermengarde's
agitation of the day before--her almost frantic wish to return alone
to the house.

Marjorie grew quite red as this memory came over her.

"Well, won't you speak?" said Basil. "Miss Nelson must get back her
miniature."

"Of course she must, Basil."

"She believes that Ermengarde took it."

"Yes; of course she is mistaken."

"She is very positive."

"Oh, that's a way of hers. She's quite obstinate when she gets an idea
into her head."

"A fixed idea, eh?" Basil laughed.

Marjorie did not join in the laugh, she was feeling intensely solemn.

"Miss Nelson is very angry, and in dreadful trouble," Basil went on
presently. "I quite thought she would speak to Ermengarde this
morning."

"She has not said a word, Basil."

"I know that."

"Basil, let me speak to Ermie."

"But now, you're not going to accuse her, or any rubbish of that sort,
Maggie?"

"As if I would, Basil!"

"Then I wish you would speak to her. I'm uncomfortable enough about
the whole thing, I can tell you. I hate to have anybody think such
thoughts of Ermie."

"I'll tell her," said Marjorie eagerly. "I'll tell her the miniature
is lost."

She ran off, and Basil took another pencil out of his pocket and began
to sharpen it. He did not like the aspect of affairs at all. His
interview with Marjorie had given him no real satisfaction. Marjorie
had not thrust the idea of Ermie's guilt from her with the horror he
had expected. Of course she had agreed with him, but not with that
emphasis he had desired. He felt rather sickened. If Ermengarde could
be mean and shabby, if by any possibility, however remote, Ermengarde
had stooped to theft for the sake of a petty and small revenge, then
he was very sorry he had not gone to Scotland, that was all. He'd give
up Ermie if she was that kind, but of course she wasn't. It was horrid
of him to lend even half credence to such a belief. He would go and
have a game of cricket with Eric, and get such a monstrous idea out of
his head.

When they were preparing for dinner, Marjorie told her sister about
the stolen miniature. She told the story in her own characteristic
way. She was determined to take no unfair advantage of Ermie, and so,
while washing her hands, and purposely splashing the water about, and
with her back so turned that she could not get a glimpse of Ermie's
face, she burst forth with her news. When she turned round, Ermengarde
was calmly combing out her long hair.

"It's dreadful, isn't it?" said Marjorie.

"Dreadful," echoed Ermengarde, but her voice did not sound excited.

"And she was so fond of that little sister," continued Marjorie.

"I never heard of any sister," said Ermengarde in a profoundly
uninterested voice. "Let us come down to dinner, Maggie; the gong has
sounded."

Marjorie gave vent to a very heavy sigh. She had got no satisfaction
out of Ermengarde, and yet her manner gave her a sense of insecurity.
She recalled again Ermie's strange excitement of the evening before,
and wondered in vain what it all meant.

At dinner-time Miss Nelson's face was paler than ever. It was noticed
now by the three people who shared her secret. Eric and Lucy were
perfectly comfortable and easy in their minds, but the older children
felt a sense of constraint. After dinner Eric asked Marjorie to come
with him to visit his ferrets.

"They are at Collins's, you know," he said. "I hope Collins is
treating them properly. If he does not, Shark will pay him out; that's
a certainty. Come along, Mag."

"I will presently," said Marjorie.

"Oh, no; you must come at once. I have a lot to do this afternoon; you
can't keep me waiting."

A good-humored smile played over Marjorie's sunny face. "Other people
have a good deal to do too," she said. "I'll come soon, Eric. You can
wait for me outside. I won't keep you long; but I have something
_important_ to do first."

Eric went away feeling very cross. If Marjorie took to giving herself
airs, the world might as well stop at once. What use was Marjorie
except to be at everybody's beck and call; and more especially at
his--Eric's--beck and call. He kicked his heels into the gravel,
thrust his hands into his trousers pockets, and put on all the airs of
an ill-used mortal.

Meanwhile Marjorie, whose important business made her round face look
intensely solemn, was trotting down the corridor to Miss Nelson's
sitting-room. She guessed that she would find the governess there. To
her gentle little tap Miss Nelson replied at once, and the little girl
came in and stood before her.

"What is it, Marjorie?" said her governess. "Have you anything to say
to me? I am busy. Why don't you go out with your brothers?"

"I wanted to give you a kiss," said Marjorie, "and to tell you--to
tell you--that if the other little girl loved you, so do I. I thought
I'd tell you; I know it won't be a real comfort, but I thought perhaps
you ought to know."

"It is a real comfort, Marjorie," said Miss Nelson in a softened
voice. "Give me that kiss, dear. Thank you, my love. You are a good
child, Marjorie--a dear child. Now run away and play."

"You have a headache, I know," said Marjorie, "and see how the sun
does stream in at this window. May I pull down the blinds? And will
you lie on the sofa? Do, and I will bathe your head with eau de
Cologne. I wish you would let me."

"No, dear, the others are waiting for you."

"Let them wait. Eric wants me to see his ferrets. I'd much rather stay
with you."

Miss Nelson knew that Marjorie adored Eric, and that whatever pets of
his happened to be in vogue had the strongest fascination for her.
Nevertheless she did lie down on the sofa, and her little pupil's
gentle hand felt all that was delightful and soothing as it touched
her brow. When Marjorie stole out of the room, Miss Nelson had dropped
asleep.

Eric was still waiting. He was amusing himself peeling an early autumn
apple, eating it in a discontented sort of way, for he was not very
hungry, and watching the windows for Marjorie to appear. He was
delighted when he saw her, but he would not show his pleasure.

"Come on," he said, in a gruff voice. "I don't know why I waited for
you. Half the evening is gone already. Do be quick, Mag; how you
loiter!"

"I've an apple in my pocket for Shark," said Marjorie.

She tucked her hand comfortably through Eric's arm. She was feeling
very sunshiny and happy, and soon managed to bring back the
ever-bubbling humor to the little boy's lips.

About a quarter of an hour later, a sort of bundle rolled rather than
walked into the Collinses' neat little cottage. Mrs. Collins uttered
an exclamation and darted forward. She did not at once recognize that
the bundle consisted of Marjorie and Eric, who, with peals and bursts
of laughter, had in this style intruded themselves into her modest
dwelling.

"Let go, Mag, don't throttle me!" screamed Eric.

"Well, leave the apple in my pocket; I'm going to feed Shark."

Mrs. Collins conducted her two little visitors to the yard, where
Shark and his companion ferret resided in their wire cage. Marjorie
sank down in front of the cage, and gazed at the ferrets quite as long
and as earnestly as Eric could desire.

"They are beautiful," she said at last. "More especially Shark."

Eric felt that if it were not undignified, he could have hugged his
sister. They left the yard, and re-entered Mrs. Collins's house the
dearest of friends.

They were going into the kitchen to beg for a piece of brown cake,
which they knew Mrs. Collins could make to perfection, when, hearing
voices raised in dispute, Marjorie drew Eric back.

"Let's come another time for the cake," she whispered. "The
passage-door is open, we can go out that way."

"Wait a second, Mag. I forgot to take a squint at Lop-ear. Just stay
where you are, I'll be with you in a twinkling."

Marjorie stood still; Eric departed. The following words fell on
Marjorie's ears:

"It's all very well to talk, Susy, but I'm quite sick of you and your
mysteries, and I _will_ know what you're hiding under your apron."

"I can't tell you, mother. It's a secret between Miss Ermengarde and
me."

"Well, show it to me, anyhow. _I_ don't mind your talking to miss,
though the family make such a fuss about it. If it's anything she gave
you, you might as well show it to your mother, Susy."

"Yes, she did give it to me; she gave it to me yesterday."

"Well, show it to me."

"No, no; that I won't."

"What is it? you might tell me that."

Marjorie distinctly heard Susy's pleased childish laugh.

"Oh, you'll never guess," she said; "it is so pretty--all sorts of
color, blue and pink and white, and--and----But you _shan't_ see, that
you shan't."

Before Marjorie could hear more Eric hurried back.

"Now we'll have a game of cricket," he said to his sister.

Marjorie followed him without a word. She was a very good cricketer
for a little girl, and she and Eric often had a jolly game together.
The two went to the cricket-field, and the game began.

On Eric's side it was vigorously played; but had Marjorie's arm lost
its cunning? Her bowling went wide of the mark, Eric proposed that he
should bowl, and she should bat. This made matters no better. Finally
he stopped the game in disgust.

"You're awfully changed, Mag," he said, half between sorrow and anger.
And then he marched out of the field. He felt an intense pity for
Marjorie. "She always was a good, boyish sort of a girl," he said to
himself, "but she's getting like the rest of them. Girls are a poor
lot, and she's like the rest."

At another time Marjorie could not have borne to see Eric look at her
sorrowfully. She took no notice now, however, but the moment her
brother left the field, she turned on her own heel and went back to
the Collinses' cottage. Mrs. Collins had gone out, but Susy was
standing by the door. Susy wore a blue cotton frock to-day, and her
curly hair was pushed back from her fair and pretty face. She was
standing in the porch talking to the canary. He was pouring out a
flood of song, and Susy was looking up at him, and trying to bring
notes something like his from her rosy lips.

On ordinary occasions Marjorie, remembering the home mandate, would
not have entered into any prolonged conversation with Susy. She forgot
all this now in her eagerness and desire for information.

"Susy!"

"Yes, Miss Marjorie."

Susy had no particular love for Marjorie. Marjorie was downright in
manner, plain in face, no flatterer. Susy came out of the cottage
slowly, looking behind her, as she did so, at the singing canary.

"Come here, Susy, come quickly; I want to say something to you."

"Yes, Miss Marjorie, what is it?"

"What were you saying to your mother just now? I overheard you in the
passage. What was it all about?"

"I don't remember, miss, I'm sure."

Susy's color had changed from red to white.

"Where were you, miss, when I was talking?" she said after a pause.

"I was in the passage, waiting for Eric. You must remember what you
said. Your mother was asking you to show her something. Something you
said Ermengarde had given you."

"Oh, I remember now, miss. Miss Ermie do give me things now and then."

"But you said she gave you this, whatever it was, yesterday."

"I couldn't have said yesterday, Miss Marjorie."

"You did, Susy; I heard you."

"I couldn't have said yesterday, really, miss."

"But you did, Susy; you said yesterday as plain as possible. You said
'she gave it to me yesterday'; those were your very words."

"I must have meant another day, miss; I'm careless in my words, often
and often."

"What did she give you, Susy? Do tell me."

"Only a yard of blue stuff to make a frock for my doll."

"But how could a yard of blue stuff be pink white and all sorts of
colors?"

"Well, miss, I suppose I meant my doll. She's pink and white enough,
I'll show her to you, if you like, and then you'll believe me. Shall I
run and fetch her to show you, miss?"

"Oh, if you are as sure as all that, you needn't trouble," said
Marjorie.

She left the cottage without even waiting to bid Susy good-by. Eric
was still lounging about, waiting for her, and Marjorie ran up to him,
all her usual spirits once more shining in her face.



CHAPTER VIII.

FATHER'S BIRTHDAY.


The great event of the year at Wilton Chase came in the summer. It
came just at the time when all the children could enjoy it--when they
were all at home and together.

This event was Mr. Wilton's birthday. It had been his custom, as long
as any of the children could remember, to devote this day to them. He
was their willing slave, their captive to do what they pleased with
during the long hours of that summer day.

Aunt Elizabeth, who hated being brought into close contact with what
she termed "unfledged creatures," generally left the house for that
occasion. The oak doors which divided the schoolroom from the grown-up
portion of the building were thrown open, and happy rioters might have
been seen darting about in all directions. In short, during this day
Chaos reigned instead of order. Each child did as he or she liked
best, with a reckless disregard to all future consequences.

In preparation for the feasting which went on during father's
birthday, nurse was wont to see that all the useful unpleasant nursery
bottles were well filled. She sent them to the chemist a week before,
and when they were returned, put them grimly away in the cupboard.

"These," she would remark, "have nothing to do with father's birthday,
but they come in handy the day after."

Miss Nelson also made preparations for the after effects of this day
of unrestraint. She laid in a good store of clean manuscript paper,
for she knew many impositions would have to be written, and she looked
well through the poetry books and books of French selections, to see
which on an emergency would be suited to the capacities of the
delinquents, who would be certain to have to learn them amidst tears
and disgrace.

The children's maid, too, laid in stores of buttons and hooks, and
tapes and ribbons, for the repairing of the clothes which must come to
grief in the general riot.

Thus all that the careful elders could do was done, but the children
cared for none of these things. To the children the day itself stood
before them in all its glory, and they gave no thought or heed to any
after-time of reckoning.

Mr. Wilton's birthday arrived in the beginning of the second week of
the summer holidays. The first exuberance of joy, therefore, at having
the boys at home again, was past, and all the young folk could give
themselves up to the ecstasy which the day itself afforded.

"Good-by, Roderick," said Miss Elizabeth Wilton to her brother. She
came in in her neat traveling-dress, and surprised him over a late
breakfast.

"Why, where are you off to?" he asked.

"Where am I off to? I'm going to town, of course."

"To town, in August! What do you mean, Lizzie?"

"You may well shrug your shoulders, and ask me what I mean. _You_,
Roderick, are the cause. Your birthday comes to-morrow."

"Good gracious! And I had forgotten all about it."

"Well, the children remember it, and so do I. Good-by, Roderick. I'll
be home again on Friday evening. I don't want to stay longer in that
stifling London than I can help."

Miss Wilton took her departure, and Mr. Wilton stretched out his hand
to the toast-rack, took a piece of toast which he absently broke in
two, and once more buried his head in his _Times_. There were a good
many interesting items of intelligence this morning, and Mr. Wilton
was a keen politician. Between him, however, now, and the clearly
printed type of the paper, came the vision of to-morrow.
To-morrow--his birthday, and the day when everything was turned
topsy-turvey, and the children and Chaos reigned supreme.

Mr. Wilton was a very affectionate father, but no one must think the
worse of him for shrinking at this moment from the ordeal which lay
before him. When the day came, he would throw himself into the fun,
heart and soul--he would be the life of the rioters, the ringleader of
the pleasure-seekers. He would do this, and he would enjoy himself,
but in anticipation the prospect was not cheerful. He had forgotten
all about his birthday; he had further made arrangements for
to-morrow--he was to see a friend in the neighboring town; they were
to lunch together, and discuss the autumn shooting. Afterward he had
intended to ride some miles farther on and visit a lady, a certain
Mrs. Gray, who had been a great friend of his wife's, and whom he had
rather neglected of late. He had made all his plans; they were none of
them vital, of course, and they could be postponed, but it was
disagreeable to have to do this.

Mr. Wilton pushed his _Times_ aside, rose from the breakfast-table and
went out. He must order his horse and ride over at once to
Quarchester, and put his friend off. How ridiculous if would sound to
have to say, "My dear Furniss, the young ones are celebrating my
birthday to-morrow, so I can't come."

Mr. Wilton stood on the gravel sweep, called a groom, gave the
necessary directions, and looked around him. He was glad none of the
children were about--he did not want to discuss the birthday until he
felt in a better humor. What a good thing the children were employed
elsewhere!

Just then, however, he heard a shrill childish laugh, and the next
moment little Lucy, hotly pursued by fat Marjorie, dashed into view.
Lucy rushed up to her father, clasped her arms round his legs and
looked up into his face.

Marjorie panted up to her. "No, no, Lucy, you are unkind," she said.
"It is wrong of you to run away like this, and when Miss Nelson is so
sad, too."

"Hullo, Maggie, have you no word of greeting for me?" asked her
father.

"Oh, father, I beg your pardon; I wanted to catch Lucy and bring her
back to prayers. She's quite wild this morning; I expect it's because
of the birthday being so near, but it does tease Miss Nelson so when
the children don't come in quietly to prayers."

"Run into the house this moment, Lucy," said Mr. Wilton, in a tone
which all the children immediately obeyed. "You stay, Maggie."

Lucy trotted off.

"Was I right in hearing you say, Maggie, that Miss Nelson was ill?"

"Not exactly ill, father, but she's fretting."

"Fretting? What about?"

Marjorie edged up to her father in the confidential way which made
people take to her at once.

"It's her little sister's picture," she said. "A miniature, and
it's--it's lost. It--it can't be found."

"I never knew Miss Nelson had a sister."

"Oh, yes; only she's dead--a dear little girl--she died a long time
ago, and Miss Nelson is very fond of her miniature, and it's--it's
lost!"

Just at this moment the groom appeared, leading Mr. Wilton's spirited
bay mare.

"What a tragic face, Maggie," said her father, chucking her under the
chin. "We must only trust that the picture is mislaid, not lost. Now,
good-by, my dear, I am off to Quarchester."

As Mr. Wilton rode down the avenue he thought in a slightly
contemptuous way of Marjorie's information.

"I do trust Miss Nelson is not too sentimental," he murmured. "Poor
Maggie looked absolutely tragic over her governess's loss. I really
was prepared to hear of some recent bereavement; but the loss of a
miniature, and of course it is only mislaid! I do trust Miss Nelson is
the right person to bring up a tender-hearted little thing like
Maggie. Now, Ermengarde----Hullo! there _is_ Ermengarde!"

Yes, just ahead of him, and quite unconscious that she was observed,
walked Ermengarde in close confabulation with Susan Collins.

Mr. Wilton's brow darkened as he saw the two together.

"This is absolute carelessness on Miss Nelson's part," he said to
himself. "She knows my wishes, and it is her business to _see_ that
Ermengarde obeys. I must have a very serious talk with Miss Nelson
when I return home this afternoon, but I have no time to attend to the
matter now. If I don't hurry, I shall miss seeing Furniss."

Mr. Wilton galloped quickly away, found his friend at home, and in
conversation with him forgot all home worries. He forgot them so
absolutely that he accepted an invitation to spend the day and dine.
In consequence it was near midnight when he returned to Wilton Chase,
and the fact that to-morrow was his birthday again absolutely escaped
his memory.



CHAPTER IX.

FIVE O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING.


"Maggie, Maggie, wake up, I say!"

"Yes, who's there. I'm so sleepy. Oh, it's you, Eric. What do you
want?"

"It's father's birthday, and the clock has just struck four. You
promised you'd get up at four."

"Yes; but, oh dear me, I _am_ so sleepy."

Marjorie yawned, and twisted about on her pillow.

"Are you sure it wasn't three that struck, Eric?"

"No, four; I counted the strokes. I thought you liked getting up
early."

"So I do, but don't talk so loud, or you'll wake Ermie."

"Catch me wanting her to get up, cross old thing!"

"Eric, you are unkind, and Basil wouldn't like it."

"Bother Basil! what do I care? I say, Mag, are you going to pop out of
bed?"

"I suppose so. Go outside the door and wait for me, Eric, and _do_ be
quiet."

Eric departed, whistling under his breath, and kicking his heels so
restlessly that only the soundest sleeper could still remain in the
land of dreams.

Marjorie rubbed her eyes, stretched herself, yawned, and finally,
stimulated by threatening knocks of Eric's on the other side of the
door, managed to tear herself away from her warm snug bed. She saw the
sunlight streaming in through the closed window-curtains, but August
though it was, this early hour of the morning was chilly, and Marjorie
shivered as she tumbled not too tidily into her clothes. Eric would
not give her time to take her usual cold plunge-bath, and she was
decidedly of opinion that plans which looked delightful the night
before are less alluring when viewed by the candid light of morning.

Marjorie was a hearty child in every way, hearty at work and at play,
hearty, too, at sleep, and it was hard to be debarred of quite a third
of her usual allowance. She dipped her face and neck, however, in cold
water, which effectually woke her up, and when she had brushed out her
thick hair, and knelt for a moment or two at her little bed to say her
usual morning prayers, she felt quite cheerful, and joined Eric with
her usual sunny good humored face.

"That's right," said Eric, clasping her hand. "Isn't the morning
scrumptious? Not a bit of a cloud anywhere. Now let's be off to wake
father."

"To wake father! at four o'clock in the morning! What do you mean,
Eric?"

"It's twelve minutes past four, if it comes to that," said Eric. "You
were an awful time getting into your clothes, Mag. And why shouldn't
we wake father? It's his birthday. He will like us to wake him!"

Marjorie, however, judging from her own too recent experience, thought
differently.

"It really _is_ too early," she said. "He wouldn't like it a bit, and
why should we vex father because it's his birthday?"

"You forget that he never is vexed with anything we do on his
birthday," said Eric. "It's our day, and we couldn't be scolded,
whatever we did. _Do_ come along, Maggie; I have it all planned so
jolly. Father is to come with us, and unmoor the boat, and help us to
gather the water-lilies. Do come on, and don't waste the precious
time. I tell you, father will like it."

Marjorie was very unselfish, but she was also easily persuaded,
particularly by her chosen and special chum, Eric. Accordingly, after
a little further demur, she consented to go with her brother to their
father's room.

It was very still in the house, for not a servant as yet had thought
of stirring. Eric pushed back the oak doors, which so effectually
divided the nursery people from the grown ups.

"There you stay, you nasty things!" he said, hooking them back with an
air of great triumph. "This is our day, and you can't keep us
prisoners. Come along, Mag, I've broken the prison-bars."

Marjorie's own spirits were rising fast. After all, it was delicious
to be up in the early morning. She was glad she had taken the trouble
to get out of bed now.

The children ran down the wide corridor into which the best bedrooms
opened. They paused at length outside their father's door. Here
Marjorie once again grew a little pale, but Eric, with a look of
resolution, turned the handle of the door and went in.

Marjorie followed him on tiptoe. Father's room was very large, and to
the culprits who stood just inside the door, looked solemn and
awe-inspiring. Even Eric felt a little subdued; the chamber seemed so
vast, and the great four-poster, away by itself in an alcove, had a
remote and unapproachable aspect. It was one thing to have a
rollicking, merry, good-humored father to romp about with all day, and
another to approach the solemn personage who reposed in the center of
that bed.

"Let's come away," whispered Marjorie.

"Fudge!" retorted Eric. "It's father's birthday! It's _our_ day! Come
along--he can't be angry with us even if he wished."

Thus exhorted, but with many misgivings at her heart, Marjorie
followed her brother across the big room and up the two steps which
led to the alcove.

A picture of the children's mother hung over the mantelpiece. It was a
very girlish picture, and represented a slim figure in a white dress,
with a blue sash round her waist. The face was a little like
Ermengarde's, but the eyes which looked down now at the two children
had Marjorie's expression in them. There were other portraits of Mrs.
Wilton in the house, later and more matronly portraits; but Marjorie
liked this the best--the girlish mother seemed in touch with her
youthful self.

"Do come away, Eric," she said again, and tears almost sprang to her
eyes. It seemed cruel to wake father just to add to their own
pleasure.

Eric, however, was not a boy to be lightly turned from his purpose.
He had very little sentiment about him, and had stern ideas as to what
he termed his rights. Father's birthday was the children's lawful day:
on that day they were one and all of them kings, and the "king could
do no wrong."

Accordingly this little king, with a somewhat withering glance at his
sister, stepped confidently up to the big bed, raised himself on
tiptoe, so as to secure a better view, and looked down with his chubby
expectant face on his slumbering father.

It is all very well for the little folk, who are in bed and asleep as
a rule between eight and nine in the evening, to feel lively and
larky, and quite up to any holiday pranks at four o'clock on a
summer's morning; but the older and less wise people who sometimes do
not close their eyes until the small hours, are often just enjoying
their deepest and sweetest slumbers about the time the sun likes to
get up.

This was the case with Mr. Wilton. He had not arrived home until
midnight--he had found some letters before him which must be replied
to--he had even dipped into a book in which he was specially
interested. Then his favorite spaniel Gyp had begun to howl in his
kennel, and Mr. Wilton had gone out to see what was the matter.

So, from one cause or another, he had not laid his tired head on his
pillow until one and two o'clock in the morning.

Therefore Mr. Wilton was now very sound asleep indeed, and not Eric's
buzzing whispers nor Marjorie's cautious repentant "Hush--hush, Eric!"
disturbed him in the very least.

"How _lazy_ of father!" pronounced Eric in a tone of withering scorn.
"He has not even stirred. Oh, you needn't go on with your
'hush--hush!' Mag--he's as sound as a button. Look here, I must speak
a little louder. Fa--ther! oh, I say, father, open your eyes!"

Eric's voice became piteous, but the eyes remained closed, the face
peaceful and immovable.

"We might both of us jump on the bed at the same moment," said Eric.
"That ought to shake him a good bit, and perhaps he'd begin to yawn.
Oh, jolly, it's a spring mattress; we can give him a great bounce if
we jump on together. Now then, Mag, be sure you jump when I do."

Marjorie, still looking rather terrified, but led on by Eric's
indomitable spirit, did spring on the bed, and so heavily that she
rolled on to Mr. Wilton's leg. He started, groaned, said "Down, Gyp!"
in a very angry voice, and once more pursued his way in dreamland,
without any idea that two little imps were perched each on one side
of his pillow.

"It's too bad," said Eric. "The whole morning will go at this rate; it
will soon be five o'clock. Oh, I say--pater--father--gov! do wake!"

"You shouldn't say pater or gov," said Marjorie. "Father doesn't like
it."

"Much he cares! He doesn't hear anything. He's stone deaf--he's no
good at all!"

"Well, we shouldn't say words he doesn't like, even if he is asleep,"
said Marjorie in her properest tones.

"I like that," said Eric. "And why mayn't I say pater, I wonder? Pater
is the Latin of father. It's a much nicer word than father, and all
our fellows say it. You think it isn't respectful because you're an
ignorant girl, Maggie, but Julius Cæsar used to say pater when he was
young, so I suppose I may."

"Father looks very handsome in his sleep," said Marjorie, turning her
head on one side, and looking sentimentally at her parent.

"He doesn't," said Eric. "He looks much better with his eyes open. Oh,
I say, I can't stand this! The morning will go, and we'll never get
our water-lilies. Father, wake up! Father, it's your birthday! Don't
you hear us? Here, Mag, let's begin to jump up and down again on the
bed. Couldn't you manage to hop on his leg by accident? You're heavier
than me."

Marjorie and Eric joined hands, the fun entered into their souls, and
they certainly jumped with energy.

Mr. Wilton began to have a very bad dream. Gyp, his favorite spaniel,
seemed suddenly to have changed into a fiend, and to have seized him
by the leg. Finally the dream dissolved itself into a medley of
laughter and childish cries. He opened his eyes: two little figures
with very red faces and very disordered hair were tumbling about on
his bed.

"Eh--what? Is the house on fire?" he gasped.

"Oh, father! At last!" exclaimed Marjorie. She flung herself upon him,
and began to kiss him all over his face.

"My dear child--very affectionate of you, no doubt, but why this
sudden rush of devotion in the middle of the night?"

"It isn't!" exclaimed Eric in a voice of awful emphasis. "It's nearly
five o'clock!"

"And it's your birthday," said Marjorie, beginning to kiss him again.

"Yes," continued Eric, "it's your birthday, father. _Our_ day, you
know."

The victim in the bed lay quite still for a moment. That much grace
he felt he must allow himself to recover from the shock of the
announcement. Then he said, as cheerfully as he could speak, "What did
you say the hour was?"

"Close on five o'clock--awfully late," answered both children,
shouting their words into his ears.

"All right; what do you want me to do?"

"To get up at once, and come with us to gather water-lilies."

"Oh!"

"Isn't it a delightful plan?"

"Very. Are you sure the morning isn't wet?"

"The morning wet, father! The sun is shining like anything. Run to the
window, Mag, and pull the blind up. Now you can see, can't you,
father?"

"I can, thanks, Eric."

"Well, aren't you getting up?"

"I will, if you will both favor me by retiring into the corridor for
five minutes. And listen, even though it is my birthday, it isn't
necessary to have any more vic----I mean, we need not wake the rest of
the house."

"Oh, we'll be as quiet as mice," retorted Marjorie. "_Dear_ father,
you'll promise to be very quick?"

"_Dear_ Maggie, I promise; I am your devoted and humble servant for
the rest of the day."

"Isn't father delicious?" said Marjorie, as they waited in the
passage.

"Delicious!" retorted Eric; "what a girl's expression! One would think
you were going to eat him. I tell you what it is, pater ought to be
very much obliged to us for waking him. He was lazy, but he'll have a
time of it for the rest of the day."



CHAPTER X.

THE REIGN OF CHAOS.


A cold bath and a rapid toilet afterward effectually removed all
traces of sleep from Mr. Wilton's eyes.

"I feel like a sort of knight putting on my armor," he said to
himself. "I am going on a crusade for the rest of the day. A crusade
against all my established customs, against all my dearly loved order,
against my newspaper, my books, my quiet pleasant meals. Well, it is
for the sake of the children; and their mother, bless her"--here he
glanced at the picture of the girl over the mantelpiece--"would smile
at me if she could. Oh, yes, I buckle on my armor cheerfully enough.
Hey, for Chaos! Hey, for wild Mirth and childish Frivolity! Here I
come, Eric and Maggie--poor patient little mice that you are! Here's
father at last. Give me your hand, Mag: you may jump on my shoulder,
if you like. Now for a race downstairs to the garden, and then you can
tell me what you got me out of my bed in the middle of the night
for."

Miss Wilton was quite right when she left the Chase the day before.
She certainly would not have enjoyed being awakened from her early
morning slumbers by the wild raid which now took place through the old
house. There was a scamper, a rush, some shouts, not only from
childish throats, but from a manly and decidedly bass voice. The poor
respectable old house would have looked shocked if it could, but who
cared what anything looked or felt when Chaos was abroad?

About three hours later a somewhat draggled-looking party might have
been seen approaching the Chase. They were all dead tired, and all
very untidy, not to say disreputable in appearance. The little girl's
brown Holland frock was not only torn, but smeared with mud and some
sort of green mossy stuff which produces a deep stain very difficult
for laundresses to remove. The little boy was also in a sorry plight,
for he had a scratch across his cheek, and his knickers were cut
through at the knees; while the big boy, in other words, the man,
looked the most untidy, the most fatigued, the most travel-stained of
all.

Ermengarde, in her neat white cool frock, with a green sash tied round
her slim waist, and her long fair hair streaming down her back, came
out to meet this party. She was accompanied by Lucy, who was also neat
and fresh and trim. The two had stepped out of the house to gather a
few flowers to put on the breakfast-table, and now they assumed all
the virtuous airs of those good moral people who do _not_ get up to
catch the early worm.

"_What_ a figure you are, Maggie! and what a disgraceful noise you and
Eric made this morning," she began, in her most grown-up and icy
tones.

"Oh, please don't scold us, Ermengarde," said Mr. Wilton. "Look at our
water-lilies, gaze well at them, and be merciful."

Yes, the water-lilies were superb--each jaded conqueror was laden with
them--buds and blossom and leaf, all were there--_such_ buds, such
blossoms, heavy and fragrant with richness.

Ermie adored flowers. She uttered a little shriek of delight when her
father held up a great mass of enormous waxen bells for her to bury
her face in.

"Oh, delicious!" she exclaimed, "but how tired you all are!"

"Yes, yes, yes," exclaimed Victor No. 1, "tired and starving,
absolutely starving. Get us some breakfast, good Ermie, and put the
lilies in water as quickly as you can."

Miss Nelson presided at the breakfast-table, and as this meal was
eaten in the comfortable old schoolroom, and as Miss Nelson looked
just as usual, just as orderly, just as neat and prim as she did
yesterday, and as she would again to-morrow, her presence had a
certain calming effect upon the rioters. They ate their meal with some
decorum, and not more than three children spoke at the same moment.

There was a grand consultation immediately after breakfast as to the
proceedings of the day, and here it must be confessed Chaos once more
mounted his throne, and held a most determined sway.

After ten minutes of babel, Marjorie suddenly squatted herself on the
floor, and began to write furiously.

This was her programme: "Rush upstairs and dress as fast as
possible--don't be long on account of keeping the carriages waiting.
Put on our oldest, but we must be neat on account of father not liking
dirty hands, and smuts on the top of the nose, and smears anywhere--we
had better wear our best, perhaps--tumble into the carts and carriages
and wagons, and drive to Bee's Head, that's ten miles away. Eric wants
to go, the others don't; Lucy and I are for Salter's Point, on account
of the shells, and that's in the other direction. I think it's quite
eleven miles. Ermengarde votes for the Deep Woods, although I hate
midges. Well, we'll all go somewhere, and we'll take every scrap of
food that the house holds, even if there is to be a famine afterward;
well, perhaps we oughtn't to take every scrap, for the servants at
home will be hungry, and we'll want supper ourselves; we'll be
starving for it, I expect. Eric says the ferrets must come with us,
for they ought to have fun like the rest of us on father's birthday,
particularly Shark, who has a great sense of humor. Ermie is nearly
crying, for she's afraid Shark will bite her, and Basil is winking at
her, and trying to comfort her, and he's frowning at Eric with the
other side of his mouth, and Eric is putting out the tip of his tongue
when he thinks no one is looking at him, which is vulgar, even though
it is father's birthday. What was I saying? I do get cramped and
mixed, huddled up on the floor, scribbling. We're to go for a long
drive, to Bee's Head, or somewhere, and the horses and the carriages
and the servants and the ferrets and the children and father and all
the food are to come too, and we are to have a great ball--no, that's
in the evening--and supper, and the fireworks will go off. Dear, dear,
where are the fireworks to be squeezed? it's a most confusing sort of
day."

"Maggie!" suddenly exclaimed Basil.

She raised a flushed face.

"What are you doing, huddled up on the floor like a ball; and what's
that queer squiggly bit of paper in your hand?--it looks all over
hieroglyphics. Here, I must see!" he snatched at the paper, held it
aloft, and read Marjorie's programme aloud amid the roars of the
company.

"I was only trying to make what we said less confusing," answered
Marjorie. "I was getting it down as hard as I could, and I said I was
mixed; anyone else would have been mixed too, I think."

"I should rather think they would," said Basil. "So that's the
nonsense we have been talking all this time. Thank you, Maggie, for
showing us ourselves. Now, sir," here Basil turned round and addressed
his father. Mr. Wilton looked at him with the greatest admiration; he
felt years younger than his son at the moment.

"Now, sir," proceeded Basil, "we cannot go to Bee's Head, and Salter's
Point, and the Deep Woods all in the same morning, as the three places
happen to be in totally different directions, and as each of them also
happens to be from ten to twelve miles from here. We must make a
choice, and we must abide by it. It's your birthday, father, and you
ought to choose. Which shall it be?"

"Thank you, my boy, but I would not have the responsibility of a
choice for the world--I don't feel equal to it. You young folks must
make the selection among you."

"I'm for Bee's Head and the lighthouse!" screamed Eric; "there's a man
at the lighthouse of the name of Bolster, and he promised to get me
some crabs, and I know he'd like to have a good stare at Shark. I'm
for Bee's Head and the lighthouse; that's what I'm for!"

"I think the Deep Woods would be best," said Ermengarde. "It's sure to
be grilling in the sun to-day, and I expect there'll be a good deal of
dust, and the dust and the sun together do make your face feel so
horrid and smarty. Don't they, Basil?"

"I don't know," said Basil, whose eyes were trying to interpret
whether his father had any unspoken choice which might guide his own.

"Whereas in the Deep Woods it will be deliciously cool and fresh,"
proceeded Ermengarde in her sedate tones.

"Think of the midges and the gnats!" exclaimed Marjorie. "Oh, I'd
rather have the sun any day! Who cares whether we are burnt or not?
Now at Salter's Point there are such lovely shells, real cowries, and
those little pointers, and those _sweet_ little yellow sea-snail
shells."

"Yes--yes--yes--I want to go to Salter's Point!" exclaimed Lucy.

"Oh, the lighthouse is twice the fun," exclaimed Eric, "and I know
Shark----"

"Once for all, father," exclaimed Ermengarde, "you are not going to
allow that odious ferret to destroy the whole pleasure of our day? I
do wish, father, you'd vote for the Deep Woods."

"Here comes Miss Nelson; she shall decide," answered Mr. Wilton. "No,
Eric, my boy, Shark must stay at home. There! I have said it--no more
words. Miss Nelson, please come and be our deliverer. These young
people have divided ideas with regard to the locality for the great
birthday picnic. Some vote for Bee's Head, some for Salter's Point,
some for the Deep Woods--all cannot be pleased; you shall therefore
make the choice. Where are we to go?"

All the anxious pairs of eyes were immediately turned on Miss Nelson.
She quite blushed under their battery.

"Think of Bolster and the lighthouse!" exclaimed Eric. "Bolster has a
tank where he keeps his crabs alive. He can take us up the tower,
too, and show us the lanterns."

"Think of the shade of the Woods," said Ermengarde.

"Oh, those cowrie and yellow snail shells!" sighed Marjorie.

Miss Nelson only caught these last words. She looked down into the
pleading gray eyes of her favorite, and her choice was made.

"We will go to Salter's Point," she said.

Some hurrahs, accompanied by some groans, met her decision; but it was
a satisfaction to have anything fixed, and the children rushed
upstairs to prepare for the great picnic.

It was discovered that the large wagonette and the pony-carriage could
accommodate the whole party, and accordingly, soon after eleven
o'clock, they started in the highest possible spirits--even Miss
Nelson casting away her mantle of care for the time, and Mr. Wilton,
who had now thoroughly entered into the spirit of the fun, enjoying
himself as much as the youngest child present.

It was a glorious day, the breeze was only fresh, and the dust,
notwithstanding Ermengarde's fears, by no means excessive.

The little girl soon therefore got over her slight disappointment at
Miss Nelson's choice not having been the same as her own. She was
seated by her favorite Basil's side, in the pony-carriage, the more
riotous party, with Mr. Wilton at their head, having elected to go in
the wagonette.

Miss Nelson and two of the younger children sat opposite to Ermengarde
and Basil. Ermengarde would rather have had another _vis-à-vis_, but
as the governess devoted her whole time to amusing the two little
ones, Ermengarde decided to take no notice of her, and to give herself
up to the delights of Basil's conversation.

Basil was a boy who, with all his sunny and pleasant ways, had a very
reserved nature. There were in reality two Basils: one with a kindly
word, a joke, a light jest, an affectionate manner for each and every
one he came across; the other was made of sterner stuff--grave, with
deep thoughts and high aspirations, and very strong, almost rigid
ideas with regard to honor and rectitude--this was the inner Basil,
whose existence Ermengarde knew of, whom she adored, loved, admired,
dreaded.

This Basil had a heart which could be wounded, and Ermengarde knew
well that, if she caused that deep heart a pang, it might close its
doors against her, and shut her out in the cold, outside its affection
and influence forever.

By superficial observers Basil was considered one of the most
forgiving and the most easily pleased people in the house. But
Ermengarde knew better. She knew things might happen which might make
Basil a very stern and unrelenting young judge.

This morning, however, all was sunshine. Basil was in his sunniest
humor. He would not talk all the time to Ermengarde, but gave Miss
Nelson and the children enough of his conversation to make them feel
in it all, and consequently in excellent spirits. But for his sister
he had some tender glances, and one or two allusions which no one
understood but herself, for the brother and sister had spent happy
birthdays like this in their mother's time, and they were both
thinking of her to-day.

A part of the road which led to Salter's Point wound through the woods
which lay at the back of Wilton Chase. There was plenty of shade,
therefore, here, and Ermengarde lay back on her comfortable seat with
a great feeling of rest and security. She almost forgot that miserable
day which followed the boys' return from school; she even looked at
Miss Nelson without being haunted by any sense of reproach. The
governess's worn face looked quite peaceful and happy; and Ermengarde
hoped that she had really forgotten that tiresome old-fashioned
miniature which had so mysteriously disappeared from her room. Ermie
trusted that the stolen miniature would soon be forgotten, and she was
fully convinced that her share in its disappearance would never be
known.

The wagonette, with its two horses, had disappeared from sight, and
the pony-carriage, drawn by the pretty Shetlands with their tinkling
bells, was about to emerge through the park-gates, when there came a
sudden interruption. This was caused by Collins, the head keeper, who
stepped across the road, and touched his hat to the whole party, and
to Ermengarde in particular.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Nelson," he said, addressing himself first of
all to the governess, "but the fact is we are in a little bit of
trouble at home, and the good wife said if I stood here I'd be sure to
see Miss Ermengarde passing, and she knew Miss Ermengarde would come
to Susy, just for one minute, as she wants her so very badly."

On hearing these words Ermengarde turned so white that Miss Nelson
thought she was going to faint. She started to her feet at once with a
half-cry. "Oh, please let me go," she said eagerly. Her hand shook;
she would have leaped out of the carriage had not Basil held her
back.

"Sit quiet, Ermengarde," said her governess authoritatively. "Now,
Collins, please explain why it is necessary that Miss Wilton should
see your daughter at this inconvenient moment, when we are just on our
way to Salter's Point; you are aware that Mr. Wilton has forbidden any
intimacy."

"Oh, let me go; I won't keep you two minutes," said Ermie.

"Quiet, Ermengarde. Now, Collins, what does Susan want with Miss
Wilton?"

Collins had a strongly-marked face, and it flushed now rather angrily.

"I can't say, I'm sure, miss," he said. "The poor child is all in a
fluster, and as to Miss Ermengarde, poor Susy worships the very ground
she walks on. You haven't, maybe, heard of the accident that has
happened to her, miss?"

Miss Nelson's manner became gentle at once. Ermengarde was about to
burst forth with another exclamation; the governess laid her hand on
the little girl's arm with a not unkind pressure. "One moment, Ermie.
No, Collins, we have not heard of any accident. I sincerely trust your
daughter has come to no harm."

"Well, miss, for the matter of that, Susy's life ain't in danger, but
she has broke her leg; a bad fracture, too, midway between the knee
and the ankle. Poor child, she's for all like a boy in some of her
ways, and she was climbing a tree to get a glimpse of me, she said,
the rogue; and a rotten bough broke under her, and she came down right
on her leg. The poor thing was insensible when I took her up, miss,
but she's better now, of course, and the leg was set by Doctor Reeves
last night."

"Oh, do let me go to her," said Ermengarde; "what does a stupid picnic
matter? Basil, won't you speak up for me. _Do_ get Miss Nelson to let
me go at once."

"Poor Susy, she's feverish a bit," said Collins, favoring Ermengarde
with a quick grateful glance, "and she has been crying out all the
morning and half the night for missie. It was that made the wife think
of me standing here to watch, in case Miss Ermengarde might spare a
minute or two from the day's pleasure to give to the poor child."

"I am sorry for you, Collins," said Miss Nelson; "and the story of the
accident certainly alters matters a good deal. I do not think Mr.
Wilton will object to Ermengarde's going to Susan for a moment."

"Thank you," said Ermie, with a great breath of relief.

"My dear child, you need not tremble so. Steady, you will fall on your
face. Basil, help your sister out of the carriage. We will give you
five minutes, Ermengarde. Collins, be sure you send for anything
necessary for Susan to the Chase."

Collins touched his hat and withdrew. Ermengarde had already flown
down a little path which led directly to the keeper's little cottage.

"Poor child, I did not know she was so sensitive," said Miss Nelson to
Basil. He was standing by the side of the carriage, and she thought he
had not heard her remark, for he turned his head away.

Meanwhile Ermengarde, having reached the cottage, was promptly taken
upstairs to Susy's little attic-room by her mother.

The poor little girl had gone through a night of dreadful suffering,
and at another time her flushed face and feverishly bright blue eyes
would have excited Ermengarde's pity, and she would have been as
gentle and sympathetic in her manner as heart could wish. The
influence of fear, however, and the consciousness of wrong-doing, have
a wonderfully hardening effect upon the best of us, and Ermie only
waited until Mrs. Collins's back was turned to say crossly: "What did
you mean by sending for me in that fashion, Susy? and after what I
said to you yesterday. I do think you have no consideration! I got a
horrible fright when your father came up, and asked point-blank for
me, and before Miss Nelson, too!"

The harsh words made Susy cry.

"I'm dreadful bad," she said, her pretty lips quivering. "Oh, Miss
Ermie, don't look at me like that. I did think you'd have been sorry
for me, and when I always set such store by you, miss."

"Of course I'm sorry for you, Susy, but I really can't stay now, or
they'll remark it. If you want me very badly, I'll try and slip up
here one evening. There, if you like, and it really quiets you, I'll
come to-night. I'll promise that I'll manage it somehow, but I must go
now."

"Oh, miss, please take the picture with you! Put it in your pocket,
miss. Oh, _do_ take it away, Miss Ermengarde; I had such awful, awful
dreams about it all night long, and I fancied as the little lady
herself come and told me I was to put the picture back. I saw her come
in at the door heaps of times, and she always told me to put the
picture back, and to be quick about it. _Please_ put the picture into
your pocket, Miss Ermengarde."

Ermengarde laughed harshly.

"You must be mad, Susan," she said. "How could I put a miniature in a
glass frame into the pocket of this thin dress? Why, everyone would
see it, and then where should I be? It's all your own fault, Susy; you
would not give up the picture yesterday when I coaxed you to, and now
you must keep it until it is convenient for me to fetch it. If I can,
I'll come for it to-night."

"Mother will find it out, miss. I can't move hand nor foot, and mother
has only to open my drawer at the top there, and she'll see it.
Mother'll know at once that I took it, for the servants at the Chase
are talking about it. I do wish you'd get it out of the house somehow,
Miss Ermengarde."

"I can't, I tell you. It wouldn't get into my pocket. Oh, dear, dear,
there's your mother's step on the stairs, and I must fly. What a
horrid troublesome girl you are, Susy. I wish I had never made friends
with you!"

Poor Susan began to cry feebly.

"Oh, Miss Ermie, you are cruel," she said. "And mother is sure to open
that top drawer, for I keep all my handkerchiefs in it. I pretended
the key was lost, but she found it herself this morning, and she was
just going to open the drawer when you came in, and I thought I was
saved. _Please_, Miss Ermie, if you won't take the picture away, put
it somewhere else."

Mrs. Collins's step was now really heard on the creaking stairs.
Ermengarde flew to the drawer, unlocked it, seized the little
miniature and looked round her wildly. The next moment she had pushed
it between the paillasse and mattress of Susy's bed.

"I'll come and fetch it to-night, whatever happens," she said.



CHAPTER XI.

AFTER THE FUN.


There was wild fun at Salter's Point. A cove was found with yellow
sand as smooth as glass; here the picnic dinner was spread, and here
the boys and girls laughed heartily and enjoyed themselves well. There
seemed no hitch anywhere, and if Basil kept a little aloof from
Ermengarde, and if Ermengarde was a trifle more subdued and had less
of a superior air than was her wont, no one noticed these small
circumstances. Marjorie laughed until she cried; Eric stood on his
head and turned somersaults, and performed conjuring tricks, and was
really the most witty, fascinating little fellow. Even Miss Nelson
laughed at Eric, and Mr. Wilton openly regretted that the old
established position of the family at Wilton Chase prevented his
making his son a clown at the pantomime.

But the brightest days come to an end, and when the picnic dinner was
eaten, the dishes washed and replaced in their baskets, when each
child, aided by patient Marjorie, had secured a liberal supply of
shells, and each little chubby face had gazed with ecstasy into the
pools which contained the wonderful gardens of sea-weeds and
sea-anemones, it was time to pack the wagonette once more, to fill the
pony-carriage, and to start for home.

Ermengarde once more seated herself in the pony-carriage. Basil was
standing near.

"Come," she said to him. "Miss Nelson can go home in the wagonette,
and then you and I can have these comfortable seats facing the horses.
Come! what are you standing dreaming there for?"

"I beg your pardon," said Basil starting. "No. I promised Maggie to go
back in the wagonette, and here comes Miss Nelson. Oh, Miss Nelson,
you do look fagged out. Here's a jolly seat for you next to
Ermengarde, in the pony-trap, and these three young 'uns can be packed
together at the other side. Now then, babies, pop in. Look out, Lucy;
don't tread on Polly's toes--off you go."

The ponies started forward at a round pace; a deep flush mounted to
Ermengarde's brow. What was the matter with Basil? He was always
good-natured, certainly, but at another time he would have jumped at
her offer, for Miss Nelson would really have been just as happy in the
wagonette. Ermengarde now remembered that Basil had been a little
queer to her all day, a tiny bit distant, not quite his cordial self.
Could he suspect anything? But no, that was absolutely impossible.

Miss Nelson thought her eldest pupil rather sulky during the drive
back. She sighed once or twice as she glanced at the girl's
irresponsive face. Ermengarde was certainly difficult to manage.
Should she continue to take charge of her? Would it not be best to own
at once that over this girl she had no influence, and to ask Mr.
Wilton to remove Ermengarde from her care?

The party reached home, and supper and fireworks, according to
Marjorie's programme, were all crowded into the happy day. But at last
tired eyes could keep open no longer, the small children were tucked
into their nests, and the elder ones were by no means sorry to follow
their example.

"Oh, I am tired out," said Marjorie to Ermengarde. "It _is_ nice to
think of getting into one's bed, and going off into a long, long
sleep. And hadn't we a happy day, Ermie?"

"Yes," said Ermengarde, in an abstracted voice. She was standing by
the window. She had not attempted to undress.

Hudson generally helped the little girls to prepare for the night, but
as she was particularly busy reducing Chaos to order downstairs,
Marjorie had said they could get on quite well alone for this one
evening. She now came to Ermengarde, to ask her to unfasten a knot in
her dress.

"And why don't you take off your own things, Ermie?" she said.

"There's no particular hurry," said Ermengarde.

"But aren't you dreadfully tired?"

"No. I did not get up at four o'clock this morning."

"Oh, what fun we had waking father!" began Marjorie, "If you had only
seen Eric; and father's face when first he opened his eyes. I do
believe--why, what's the matter, Ermie, have you a headache?"

"No; how you do worry one, Maggie! Go to bed, and try to stop talking;
I want to think, and to be let alone. I'll come to bed when I feel
inclined."

A torrent of words came to the tip of Marjorie's tongue, but she
restrained them. It was Ermie's custom sometimes to be very snappy and
uncommunicative. She concluded the wisest policy was to let her sister
alone, and to go to sleep herself as fast as possible.

Accordingly she knelt for a few moments by her bedside in her little
white nightdress, and then tumbled into it, and with a happy sigh
went into the land of dreams.

A moment or two later Ermengarde softly opened the door of the
sleeping-room and went out. It was ten o'clock, and the household,
tired from the day's pleasuring, were all preparing to go to bed.
Ermengarde ran along the corridor, flew downstairs the back way, and
found herself in the schoolroom part of the house. She took her
waterproof cloak and an old garden-hat from a peg on the wall, and let
herself out by a side-door. If she ran very fast she would probably be
back before George, the old butler, had drawn the bolts and put the
chain on for the night. If not, she knew that it would not be
difficult to open one of the schoolroom windows, which were low, and
as often as not unhasped. Ermengarde had herself noticed that the bolt
of one was not fastened that evening. If the worst came, she could
return to her little bed that way, but she fully expected to be in
time to come back by the door.

The moment she got out, she slipped on her waterproof and hat, and
then, with the speed and lightness of a little fawn, flew down the
narrow pathway which led first to the park, and then across it to the
keeper's cottage.

The moonlight lay in silver bars over the grass, and when Ermengarde
got under the trees their great shadows looked black and portentous.
At another time she might have felt some sensations of fear at finding
herself at so late an hour alone in the woods, but she was too intent
now on the object of her mission to have any room for nervousness. She
was out of breath when she reached the cottage, but to her relief saw
that its inmates were not yet in bed, for light shone from the kitchen
and also from Susy's bedroom.

Ermengarde's knock at the kitchen door was answered by Mrs. Collins
herself.

"Oh, Miss Wilton, I am pleased to see you," she said. "Susy was
fretting ever so for fear you wouldn't be able to keep your word. Come
in, miss, please; and has Master Basil come with you? or maybe it's
Hudson? I hope whoever it is will be pleased to walk in and wait in
the kitchen."

"No, I've come alone," said Ermengarde shortly. "You know I am not
allowed to be with Susy, so how could I possibly ask anyone to come
with me?"

"Oh, my dear young lady, as if my poor child could harm any one! You
are good and brave, Miss Ermengarde; as brave as you're beautiful, and
I'm sure we'll none of us ever forget it to you. No, that we won't."

Ermengarde was never proof against flattery. A satisfied smile stole
now over her face.

"I was not at all afraid," she said. "I had given my word that I would
come, and of course a lady's word must always be kept. How _is_ Susy,
Mrs. Collins?"

"Oh, my dear, but poorly. Very fractious and feverish, and her pain is
considerable. But she'll be better after she has seen you, my sweet
young lady, for no one knows better than Susy how to appreciate
condescension."

"Well, I can't wait more than a minute, Mrs. Collins. I'll just run up
and say good-night to Susy, and then I must be off."

"Shall I light you up, miss?"

"No, thank you, I can see my way perfectly."

Ermengarde ran up the little wooden ladder-like stairs, and bounded
somewhat noisily into Susy's bedroom.

"Here I am, Susy; now give me the miniature at once. I'll hide it
under my waterproof cloak."

"I can't reach to it, miss," said Susy. "It's where you put it this
morning, atween the mattress and the paillasse, and I had the greatest
work keeping mother's hands off it, for she was bent on making the bed
all over again."

"Well, I'll take it now. Yes, here it is."

Ermengarde pulled the little case from under the bed.

"O Susy!" she said, uttering an exclamation of dismay, "what shall we
do? The ivory on which the picture is painted is cracked right across!
Oh, what a queer expression it gives to the little girl's face, and
what will Miss Nelson say?"

"Now, miss, you're not going to betray me about it, and me so bad and
ill?"

"No, you little coward, you shan't get into any scrape. How _did_ this
happen? The picture was right enough this morning."

"I expect it was the way you pushed it under the bed, miss. It got
knocked most likely, and father was sitting just over it for an hour
and more this afternoon, and he's a goodish weight."

"Well, I shall take the miniature away now, so good-night, Susy. I'm
very sorry I ever made such a little thief as you are my friend. A
nice scrape you've got me into!"

Ermengarde thrust the miniature under her waterproof, and rushed
downstairs.

"Good-night, Mrs. Collins," she said.

"Stay a minute, miss. Collins is just coming in, and he'll see you
home."

"No, I can't possibly wait. I think Susy is better--good-night."

"But ain't you afeared to go right across the park by yourself at this
hour, miss?"

"No--no--no; good-night, good-night!"

Ermengarde's voice already sounded far away. Her feet seemed to have
wings, she ran so fast. As she ran she heard the stable-clock strike
eleven.

"Oh, I do trust they have not locked up the house!" she exclaimed.
"Suppose they have, and suppose George has put the bolt on the
schoolroom window? He's as careless as possible about fastening the
bolts of the windows as a rule, but it would be like him to do it
to-night of all nights. Oh, what shall I do, if that has happened?"

Ermengarde's heart beat so fast at the bare idea that she could
scarcely run. She stumbled, too, over a piece of twig which lay across
her path, and falling somewhat heavily scraped her forehead. She had
no time to think of the pain then. Rising as quickly as possible, she
passed along the familiar road. How weary it was! How tedious! Would
it never, never end?

At last she came under the shadows caused by the rambling old house.
She flew down a side-walk which led through a shrubbery; now she was
passing under the window of Miss Nelson's private room, now she saw
the three long low windows of the dear cozy old schoolroom. The blinds
were drawn down, and there was light within--a faint light, it is
true, but still light. Ermengarde felt a sense both of relief and
fear.

The side-entrance door was reached at last. She turned the handle. Her
fingers were cold and trembling. The handle turned, but the door did
not move. Had she turned the handle of the door quite round--were her
fingers too weak for the task? She tried again in vain. Then she
uttered a sound something between a sob and a cry--she was really
locked out!

"What _shall_ I do?" murmured the unhappy child.

She looked around her wildly. She did not dare try the schoolroom
window while that light remained within. She leant up against the
locked door, trembling, incapable of action; a very little would have
made her lose her self-control.

At this moment her sharp ear heard a sound; the sound was made by a
movement in the schoolroom. Ermengarde started away a step or two from
the hall-door; she saw some one go up to one of the windows and,
without drawing up the blind, put a hand underneath to feel if the
fastening was to. It was not, but was immediately bolted. The steps
then went across the room.

At this moment Ermengarde felt desperate. Old George was faithful
to-night, of all nights. Dreadful, terrible old George!

Suddenly in her despair she seized upon the last chance of succor. She
would call to George to let her in, and afterward trust to her wits to
bribe the old servant to silence.

No sooner did this idea come to her than she acted on it, and in a
frenzy of terror began to call George's name through the keyhole.

A step came into the passage, there was a surprised pause, then a rush
to the door, which was quickly opened. Basil, not George, stood before
Ermengarde.

"Ermie!" he exclaimed. His face got crimson, then it turned white. His
first exclamation had been full of astonished affection and concern,
but in a flash his manner altered; he caught Ermengarde roughly by the
shoulder, and dragged her into the house.

"Come into the schoolroom," he said.

"O Basil, don't--don't look at me like that."

"I'm not looking at you in any way. I must lock this door, I suppose.
Did you know it was past eleven o'clock?"

"Yes, yes, I heard the stable-clock strike. Oh, I was so terrified.
Basil, why are you looking like that?"

"I'm not looking any way. Don't be a goose. Here, come into the
schoolroom."

"No, I am tired. I want to go to bed. I'll--I'll explain every thing
to you to-morrow."

"Look here, Ermengarde." Basil held a lamp in his hand, and its light
fell on Ermengarde's face. "You have got to come into the schoolroom
and make no words about it, or I'll--I'll take you, just as you are,
straight away to father, to his study."

"You are very cruel," sobbed Ermengarde. But she went into the
schoolroom without another word.

Basil followed her, and shut the door behind him.

"Now look here," he said. "I don't want to hector you, nor any
nonsense of that sort, but you have got to tell me the truth without
making any bones about it. What's up with you, Ermengarde--what's
wrong?"

He had set the lamp on the mantelpiece, and stood himself facing its
full light. His olive-tinted face looked stern and dark; there was no
tenderness in his manner.

Ermengarde drew up her slight little figure proudly. "You are not my
father," she said. "I won't answer you when you speak to me in that
tone."

"All right! you shall come to the one who has a right to order you.
Come along."

"No, Basil, no; how _can_ you be so unkind?"

She wrenched her hand from his clasp. Her words came out in a sob,
tears rushed to her eyes.

"O Basil, I have always loved you."

"Stuff, this is no minute for sentiment. _I_ love honorable and
truthful girls; I loved a sister who was that. Now tell me the truth,
and be quick about it, for if you don't, I'll take you to father; he's
not in bed, but he will be soon, so you had better make up your mind
at once."

"What am I to say to you, Basil?"

"That's for you to decide. _You_ know what's up; I don't. You know why
you turned so queer this morning when Collins stopped the pony-trap,
and why you are out all by yourself close on midnight."

"I went to see Susy Collins. I don't know why you should speak to me
in that tone."

"_Do_ stop bothering about my tone, Ermie. Can't you see that you have
done frightfully wrong? I--I----" He gulped down something in his
throat. "There; I can't speak of it, I think I'm stunned. I simply
can't make out what has come to you, having secrets with a girl my
father has forbidden you to know!"

"I haven't secrets with her."

"You have. For goodness' sake, don't add lying to all the rest of it.
Would you have turned so white this morning if you hadn't a secret,
and would you have crept out of the house in this disgraceful way if
you hadn't a secret? Come, Ermie, I'm older than you--and--and--our
mother isn't here. Tell me all about it, Ermie."

This was Ermengarde's chance. For the moment the severe young judge
before her was softened; a memory of his mother had done it; that, and
the knowledge that Ermengarde was younger and frailer than himself.
Had she told him the whole truth then, she might have saved herself
with Basil. Like many another, however, she let the golden moment
pass.

For half a minute she was absolutely silent. Then she said in her most
stubborn voice: "I don't tell lies--I have no secret with Susy. I went to
her to-night because I was sorry for her, and because I--I--I was afraid
to stay long enough this morning. Everyone is so horridly hard on me
because I befriend a poor little girl like Susy, and now when she is ill
and all. That's why I went to her secretly, because--because people make
me afraid."

"When you say people, you mean our father?"

"Well, yes; I think it is horrid of father to make such a fuss about
my knowing Susy. Mother wouldn't have done it."

"Hush, don't bring mother into this conversation, Ermengarde," Basil
knit his brows in pain.

"I suppose I may go to bed now," said Ermengarde, after a long pause.
"I have nothing more to say. I went to see Susy because I was sorry
for her, and I--I was afraid--that's all. If I were to stay here till
morning I could not say anything more."

Whatever effect these words of Ermengarde might have had upon
Basil--whether he would have believed her, and only attributed to her
the sin of disobedience in seeking another interview with Susy--can
never be known; for, as the little girl, interpreting his silence for
consent, was about to leave the room, she stumbled against a
footstool, and the precious miniature fell from its place of
concealment to the floor.

Ermengarde uttered a cry, but before she could even stoop to pick up
the picture, Basil had seized it; he gave it one look, his lips
twitched curiously, then he slipped it into the inner pocket of his
Eton jacket.

"Basil, Basil, oh give it to me! Basil, Basil, _please_ give me that
picture back!"

"No--it isn't yours--I know your secret. You can go to bed now. I
don't want to say anything more to you to-night."

"Basil!"

In her terror and anguish Ermengarde went on her knees.

"O Basil, be merciful! I'll tell you everything. I will, really and
truly."

"Get up, Ermengarde. For goodness' sake, don't make an exhibition of
yourself. I don't want to hear anything more you have got to say. Go
to bed, and leave me in peace."

"Give me back the miniature."

"Certainly not. It is not yours."

"What will you do with it?"

"Give it back to Miss Nelson, of course."

"Then I am lost." Ermengarde gave a bitter cry, and rushed to the
door. Before she could reach it, Basil stepped before her.

"Don't go into hysterics," he said. "Go up to your room and keep
quiet. You have done mischief enough, and caused suffering enough.
Don't add to it all by making a fuss and waking the house. I _have_
got some feeling, and I can _not_ speak to you to-night. This has
somehow taken the--the courage out of me. I'll think it over to-night,
and I'll see you again in the morning."

"O Basil! And you won't tell anyone till you have seen me again?"

Basil put his hand up to his forehead. He considered for a moment. "I
think I may promise that," he said then slowly.

"And where am I to meet you, Basil?"

"Meet me in the shrubbery after morning school. Now go to bed."

He took up the lamp and left the schoolroom. Ermengarde watched him as
he slowly ascended the stairs and turned down the corridor which led
to the boys' bedrooms. He took the light away with him in more senses
than one, but Ermengarde little recked of darkness just then. She
threw herself on the floor in the old schoolroom, and gave vent to a
passion of weeping, shedding tears which not even her mother's death
had wrung from her.



CHAPTER XII.

AFTER THE BIRTHDAY.


The usual effects of a holiday were visible the next morning. The
children were all a little tired and out of sorts. It was difficult
for the schoolroom party to get into harness again, and even Eric and
the nursery children were somewhat captious and discontented.

"Father's birthday is the farthest off of all now," said little Molly,
the five-year-old darling. "There's no birthday like father's, and
it's the farthest off of all. I'm dreadful sorry."

"Oh, shut up," said Eric. "Who wants to hear that dismal dirge."

"Molly says that about the birthdays always the next morning,"
volunteered Dick, who was a year older, and who wanted to curry favor
with Eric by agreeing with him. "Molly _is_ a silly, isn't she?" he
added, fixing his big blue eyes admiringly on his brother.

"You're a greater," snapped Eric. "Who cried yesterday when the ant
stung him, and who would eat too much plumcake?"

Dick looked inclined to cry again, and Molly laughed maliciously.
Altogether the atmosphere was charged with electricity, and the
entrance of Ermengarde, her face considerably disfigured with the scar
she had received when she fell the night before, was hailed with
naughty delight by the children.

A torrent of questions assailed her. Had she fought with Marjorie in
the night, and had Marjorie come off victorious? Oh, brave Marjorie,
to dare to assail the acknowledged beauty of the family! What _had_
happened to Ermie? Surely she had not inflicted the wound on herself?

Basil was seated in his usual place near the head of the table. He had
scarcely heard the little scrimmage of words which was going on on all
sides. Basil was in a brown study, and, as Eric expressed it, as cross
as a bear with a sore head.

When Ermengarde entered the room, he glanced at her for a second; but
contrary to his wont, he took no notice when the children began to
laugh and gibe.

Ermengarde's place beside Basil was empty. She seated herself, and as
the children continued to make remarks and to laugh, turned her head
impatiently away. Their quips affected her in reality only as
pin-pricks, but she was very much afraid that Miss Nelson would
notice the disfiguring cut on her brow.

"Do be quiet, children," said Marjorie. "Eric, can't you see that
Ermie has a headache? Can't you keep them from making so much noise,
Eric?"

"Quiet then, young 'uns," said Eric. "Can't you see that the Prime
Minister of her Royal Highness has uttered a mandate?"

The children laughed noisily, and at that moment Miss Nelson, who had
been absorbed over the contents of a particularly interesting letter,
raised her head with a start.

"Gently, little ones! What is all this noise about?" she said. "Molly
and Dick, you must have breakfast with nurse, if you can't behave
better in the schoolroom. Good-morning, Ermengarde, my dear. I am
sorry I shall be obliged to give you a bad mark for being late at
breakfast. Why, my dear child," changing her note to one of concern,
"what has happened to you? You have got quite an ugly scar your
forehead. How did you get it?"

"I fell," said Ermengarde, in a low voice.

"You fell--where?"

Ermengarde felt that Basil had ceased to use his knife and fork, while
he listened for her reply. She seized a cup of scalding tea, and
choked over its contents.

"Where did you fall my dear?" asked the governess kindly.

"Please, ma'am, Ermengarde and Maggie had a stand-up fight in the
middle of the night," interrupted Eric. "Oh, my stars!" he added,
_sotto voce_, "if fight and night ain't a rhyme made unbeknown. Now I
can wish."

"Shut up!" growled Basil.

"Eric, be quiet," said the governess.

She turned again to Ermengarde. Her manner was very gentle.

"Where did you fall, dear?" she said, "You have given yourself a very
nasty cut, and should have come to me for some dressing for it. But
where did it happen, my love?"

"In the park," said Ermengarde, in a low voice. "I fell over a bramble
and cut myself."

"I never saw you fall, Ermie," said Marjorie. "Was it when we all had
that race, just when the fireworks were over? How brave of you not to
make a fuss! it must have been then."

"You don't look well, dear," continued the governess. "Your eyes have
red rings round them, and you are paler than such a healthy little
girl ought to be. Have you a headache?"

"Yes," confessed Ermengarde. She could at least be truthful here, for
her head ached considerably.

"You shall have some of my eau de Cologne to use if you like,
darling," whispered Marjorie.

"Now, children," said Miss Nelson, rising from the breakfast-table,
and making one of those prim little speeches which Ermengarde
detested, "having had our day of pleasure, we will return with greater
zest to our usual employments. Little ones, go quietly up to nurse. No
noise, please. Leave the breakfast-room hand in hand. Boys, I must
request of you not to disturb your sisters with any hammering or noisy
carpentering this morning."

"Please, are the ferrets far enough away for me to have a quiet little
game with them?" asked Eric meekly. He pulled his forelock as he
spoke, and put on the air of a charity-schoolboy.

Miss Nelson favored him with the shadow of a smile, and continued;

"Ermengarde, Marjorie, and Lucy, we will meet in the schoolroom for
our usual morning work in half an hour. Ah, what is the matter,
George?"

The old butler had entered unobserved.

"If you please, ma'am," he said in his most respectful tones, "my
master's compliments, and he would be obliged if you and Miss Wilton
would come to him for a few minutes to the study before you begins the
morning work."

"Certainly, George. Tell Mr. Wilton we will be with him in a minute or
two."

The governess flushed up a little at this unexpected summons, but the
color which came into her faded cheeks was nothing at all to the
brilliant red which suffused Ermengarde's face. She darted an angry
inquiring look at Basil, who for the first time met her glance with a
proud cold gaze. He turned on his heel, and leisurely left the room,
the other children following his example.

"Come, Ermie, we may as well see what your father wants with us," said
Miss Nelson cheerfully. "My love, I am sorry you have a headache, and
that you fell that time without letting anyone know."

"Please, I would much rather not go to father to the study," said
Ermengarde, backing a pace or two. She looked really frightened.

"You think your father will be vexed about that cut on your brow,
dear? But I can explain that. You have really been brave, not to make
a fuss, nor to spoil the pleasure of the other children. Come, my
dear, we must not keep your father waiting."

Miss Nelson took Ermengarde's hand; it lay cold and irresponsive in
her clasp. They left the breakfast-room together, and a moment later
were in Mr. Wilton's presence.

The father who was the heart and soul of the birthday, who was
everybody's playmate, and hail-fellow-well-met even with the youngest
of his children, was a totally different person from Mr. Wilton, owner
of Wilton Chase, and the master, not only of his extensive property,
but of poor timid Miss Nelson and of wondering Ermengarde. Mr. Wilton
could be the jolliest of companions if he pleased, but he also could
be stern, with a severity which Basil inherited. At such times his
face was scarcely prepossessing. He came of a proud race, and pride,
mixed with an almost overbearing haughtiness of manner, made him a
person to be dreaded at such moments.

As soon as Miss Nelson and Ermengarde entered the study, they saw that
Mr. Wilton had put on the manner which made him to be feared. Miss
Nelson, who had thawed under the genial sunshine of the day before,
now froze, and her speech instantly became broken, nervous, and ill at
ease. Ermengarde frowned, turned her head away, and got that blank
look over her face which always made her such a difficult child to
deal with.

"Good-morning, Miss Nelson," said Mr. Wilton, "I have sent for you and
Ermengarde together, in order that I may ask for an explanation. I did
not moot the question yesterday, although the circumstance which
aroused my displeasure occurred the day before. Pray take this chair,
Miss Nelson."

Mr. Wilton did not offer Ermengarde any seat. Beyond a brief glance,
he did not look at her. The little girl stood silent by her
governess's side. Whatever was coming she owned now to a sense of
relief. Her father was alluding to something which had occurred the
day before yesterday. Basil had therefore not betrayed her--the worst
was not known. She roused herself from a brief revery to hear her
father speaking.

"Some time ago, Miss Nelson, I made a request to you, and I gave
Ermengarde a very strict command. I find that my command has been
defied by Ermengarde, and I wish to know if there has been any
negligence on your part."

"My dear sir, to what do you allude?" asked Miss Nelson.

"To something which you cannot have forgotten, for I spoke seriously
to you on the subject. I said that Ermengarde was to hold no
intercourse with a little girl called Susan Collins. I had my reasons
for this, quite independent of the fact that the child belongs to a
lower class of life. I know that she is the daughter of a vain and
silly mother, and, even if she were her equal by birth, would be the
worst possible companion for Ermengarde. Did I not make my wishes on
this point very plain to you. Miss Nelson?"

Miss Nelson rose from her seat.

"Certainly, my dear sir; most certainly," she said; "and I--I agree
with you. I more than agree with you. Susan is not a companion for
Ermengarde. I have been careful about your wishes, Mr. Wilton; I
respect them, and my own fully coincide with them. I only--I only gave
Ermengarde permission to go to Susan for five minutes yesterday
because the child was feverish and badly hurt after her accident."

"Her accident! Yes, poor little girl, I have heard of that; but I was
not alluding to yesterday, nor to anything that occurred then. Please
sit down again, Miss Nelson; I see you are not to blame. Ermengarde,
come here. Who were you walking with the day before yesterday, between
eleven and twelve o'clock, in the Nightingale Grove?"

Ermengarde's face turned first white and then crimson. Her eyes sought
the ground. She bit her lips and clasped her hands nervously.

"Answer me at once," said Mr. Wilton, in his sternest voice.

The little girl made an effort to speak. Suddenly she did a thing
which astonished both her father and the governess. She flew to Miss
Nelson's side, and clasped her arms round her neck.

"Do tell him not to be angry with me! I'm so awfully miserable," she
sobbed.

"Tell your kind father the truth, my dear. Speak up; be brave,"
whispered the governess back, touched in spite of herself by any token
of softness from Ermie.

Ermengarde gulped down her sobs. She raised her head, and spoke with a
violent effort.

"I was with Susan Collins in the Nightingale Grove," she said.

"Contrary to my express command?" queried Mr. Wilton.

"Yes, father."

"Is this the only time you have held forbidden intercourse with this
little girl, Ermengarde?"

"No, father. I saw her once or twice before."

"Since I told you not?"

"Yes."

"Did Miss Nelson ever know of this?"

"No, she never knew."

"Don't you think you are very naughty and disobedient; that you have
acted disgracefully?"

The sulky look came over Ermengarde's face.

"There is no harm in Susy," she said.

Mr. Wilton stamped his foot.

"That is not the point," he said. "Is there no harm in you? can you
disobey me with impunity, and cast your father's sternest commands to
nought? Ermengarde, I am stung by this. You have hurt me deeply."

Again Ermengarde saw Basil in her father's face. She was frightened
and tired, and burst out sobbing afresh.

"I won't go with Susy any more," she said. "And I--I'm sorry--I'm
really sorry."

Miss Nelson put her hand affectionately on her pupil's shoulder.

"I need not say, sir," she said, turning to Mr. Wilton, "how shocked I
am at all this, and at--at Ermengarde's willful disobedience; but,"
here she paused, and pressed her hand a little firmer upon the weeping
girl's shoulder, "if it is any use, and because I was their mother's
friend, I, too, would like to add my promise to Ermengarde's, and
assure you that this shall never occur again."

Mr. Wilton glanced round impatiently at the clock.

"Thank you, Miss Nelson," he said. "I believe you, of course; and I am
sure that you will now have your eyes opened, and will probably take
steps to insure my desires being carried into effect. As to
Ermengarde, I will believe her promises when she has proved them to be
worth anything. She is the first Wilton I ever heard of who stooped to
deceit. In the meantime I feel it is my duty to punish you,
Ermengarde. This morning I had a letter from the Russells--Lily
Russell's father and mother. They have asked me to come to them for a
week, and to bring two of you with me. I intended to take you and
Basil. Now I shall take Marjorie and Basil. Perhaps, when you are
having a dull time at home, you will reflect that it is not always
worth while to disobey your father. You can go back to your lessons
now."



CHAPTER XIII.

BASIL'S OPINION.


At half-past eleven that day, Ermengarde found Basil waiting for her
in the shrubbery. He was walking up and down, whistling to himself,
and now and then turning round to say a pleasant word to a small white
kitten who sat on his shoulder and purred. Basil was devoted to
animals, and this kitten was a special favorite.

As Ermengarde advanced slowly through the trees to meet her brother,
she saw this little scene, and a very bitter feeling came over her.

"He can be kind to everyone but me," she thought. "Even a stupid
tiresome little cat can win kind glances from him. But I'm not going
to let him see that I care. If he expects perfection in me, the sooner
he is undeceived the better. And as for me, I suppose I can do without
his affection, if he won't give it."

Busy with these thoughts, Ermie's face wore its most stubborn
expression as she approached her brother. The moment Basil saw her,
he whisked the kitten off his shoulder, and came up to her side.

"I have thought it all out, Ermengarde," he said, "and I have made up
my mind what to do."

Ermengarde did not speak. She raised her eyes to Basil's face. There
was entreaty in them, but he would not fully meet her glance.

"There is no use in my going over the thing with you," continued
Basil. "If you could do it, no words of mine could make you see your
conduct in its true light. Besides, I am not the one to preach to you.
I am only a year older, and, as you reminded me last night, I have no
sort of authority over you."

"Forget what I said last night!" pleaded Ermengarde.

"No, that is just the point. I can't forget--I shall never forget. The
old relations between us are over, and as far as I am concerned it is
impossible to restore them."

"Oh, Basil, you kill me when you speak so unkindly."

Ermengarde covered her face; her slight form was shaken by sobs.

"I am sorry," he said; "I cannot imagine why you value my regard, for
we have quite different codes of honor; we look at things from totally
different standpoints. I don't want to hold myself up, but I couldn't
act as you have done, Ermengarde."

"Oh, Basil, if you only would be merciful."

Basil felt a growing sense of irritation.

"Will you stop crying, and listen to me?" he said.

Ermengarde managed, with a great effort, to raise her tear-stained
face.

"You imagine that I have no feeling for you," continued Basil. "You
are mistaken; I have, I used to put you on a pedestal. Of course you
have come down from that, but still I don't forget that you are my
sister, and as far as possible I intend to shield you. The discovery
that I made last night shall not pass my lips. Miss Nelson must
certainly get back the broken miniature of her little sister, but I am
not going to tell her how it came into my possession. That's all--I'll
shield you. You can go now."

Ermengarde would have pleaded still further, but Basil at that moment
heard some one calling him, and ran off, uttering boyish shouts as he
did so.

"He doesn't care a bit," muttered Ermie. She turned and walked back to
the house.

For a time she felt stunned and sore; life scarcely seemed worth
living out of the sunshine of Basil's favor. But after a time less
worthy thoughts took possession of her, and she felt a sense of
relief that the adventure of last night would never be known.

Marjorie came dancing down from the house to meet her sister.

"What _do_ you think, Ermie? I'm to go away to-morrow for a whole
delicious week with father and Basil! We are going to the
Russells'--Basil has just told me. Isn't it perfectly, perfectly
splendid!"

"I wish you wouldn't bother, Maggie. You are so rough," answered
Ermengarde. "I came out here just to have quiet, and to get rid of my
headache, and of course you come shouting to me."

"Oh, I'm ever so sorry--I forgot about your headache," answered
Marjorie. "It's dreadful of me, I know."

She walked on gravely by Ermengarde's side, the joy on her face a
little damped. But presently, being a most irrepressible child, it
bubbled over again.

"I wouldn't be so awfully, awfully glad, only you _have_ been at the
Russells', Ermie. You spent a fortnight with them after Christmas, and
Lily always promised that she'd have me asked next. I can't help being
delighted about it," continued Marjorie, "for I do so love Lily."

"You little minx! And I suppose you imagine that a big girl like
Lilias Russell cares for you! Why, she's fifteen, and ever so tall."

"But she said she was very fond of me," answered Marjorie.

"Oh, she _said_ it! And you believed it, of course! Have you no
observation of character? Can't you see, unless you're as blind as a
bat, that Lilias Russell is one of those polite sort of people who
always must say pleasant things just for the sake of making themselves
agreeable? Well, my dear, go and worship her, you have got a chance
now for a week; only for goodness' sake don't worry me any more about
it."

Marjorie ran off in her stolid little way. Ermengarde watched her as
her sturdy figure disappeared from view.

"Ridiculous child!" she said to herself, "and so plain. I can't make
out why people make such a fuss about her. She's always held up to me
as a sort of model. How I detest models, particularly the Maggie kind!
Now I know exactly what will happen. She'll go to Glendower with
father and Basil, and won't she gush just! I know how she'll pet
Lilias Russell, and how she'll paw her. And Lilias is just that weak
sort of girl with all her grace and prettiness, to be taken in by that
sort of thing. Lilias fancies that she has taken quite a liking for
Maggie--as if she could make a friend of her! Why, Maggie's a baby,
and a very conceited, troublesome one too."

It was now time for Ermengarde to go in. She pleaded a headache, and
so escaped doing any more lessons that day, and in the afternoon she
managed to make the hours pass agreeably over the "Heir of Redclyffe,"
which she was reading for the first time, and so did not miss Basil's
attention and companionship as much as she would otherwise have done.

All the rest of the children and Miss Nelson were busy and interested
in preparing Marjorie for her visit to Glendower. Basil had gone out
fishing with his father; Eric had coaxed to be allowed to go with the
under-gamekeeper to see the young pheasants. The house was very still,
and Ermie had the pleasant old schoolroom to herself. She read
eagerly; in spite of herself--perhaps unknown to herself--she was
anxious to drown reflection.

It was late in the evening of that same day that Miss Nelson answered
a knock which came to her sitting-room door, and was surprised to see
Basil pop in his dark head.

"Oh, you're alone; that's right," he said. "May I come in for a
minute?"

His manner was a little nervous and hurried, in perfect contrast to
his usual open, frank sort of way.

"I've brought you this back," he said, going up to Miss Nelson. "I'm
awfully sorry about it, and the worst of it is I can't give any
explanation. It's disgracefully broken and injured, but I thought you
would rather have it back as it is, than never to see it again."

Miss Nelson turned very white while Basil was speaking. An eager,
longing, hopeful look grew and grew in her eyes. She stretched out her
hands; they trembled.

"My miniature!" she exclaimed. "My picture once again. Oh, Basil,
thank God! Oh, I have missed it!"

"Here it is," said Basil. He had wrapped the poor little injured
picture up in some white tissue-paper, and tied the parcel together
with a bit of ribbon. He hoped Miss Nelson would say something before
she opened it.

"Here it is--it isn't a bit the same," he said.

She scarcely heard him. She began feverishly to pull the ribbon away.

"I wouldn't look at it just for a minute," began Basil. He had
scarcely spoken, before there came a knock at the door. A firm voice
said, "May I come in?" and Miss Wilton, who had returned from London
about an hour before, entered the room. She came in just in time to
see Miss Nelson remove the tissue-paper from the broken face of the
miniature. The poor governess uttered a piercing cry, sank down on her
knees by the center table, and covered her thin face with her hands.

"What is it, Basil? What is the matter?" asked Miss Wilton in
astonishment. "I come in to find high heroics going on. What is the
matter?"

Basil did not say a word. Miss Nelson suddenly raised her pale face.
She rose to her feet. "Not high heroics," she said, "but deep grief; I
had a memento of the past--a young and happy past. I treasured it. It
was stolen from me about ten days ago. I don't know by whom. I don't
know why it was stolen. Now it has been returned--like this."

Miss Wilton took the broken ivory in her hand.

"Dear, dear," she said. "How disgracefully this miniature has been
cracked and distorted. A child's face, I see, painted in a weak,
washed-out style, and glass and ivory are both broken, and frame bent.
This miniature must have been subjected to very rough usage. The
miniature is yours, Miss Nelson?"

"Yes. It is a likeness of my--my sister. Give it back to me, please,
Miss Wilton."

"And you say it was stolen from you?"

"Yes. It always hung over that mantelpiece. It was taken away the day
after the boys came home from school."

Miss Wilton stood quite still for a moment; she was a very downright,
practical sort of person. "Extraordinary as my question must seem,
Basil," she said, turning suddenly to her nephew, "I am forced to ask
it, as you appear to be mixed up in the affair. Did you take the
miniature?"

"I? Certainly not," said Basil, coloring high.

"But you know something about it?"

"Yes; I know something about it."

"Who took it away?"

"I am not at liberty to tell you, Aunt Elizabeth."

Miss Nelson gazed anxiously into Basil's face. She had put the broken
bits of ivory on the table. Now she tenderly laid the soft
tissue-paper over them.

"You have brought me back the miniature, Basil," she said.

"I have," said Basil bluntly, "and that's about all. I don't know how
it was broken, and what else I know I am not going to tell. I'm
awfully sorry about the whole thing, but I thought you would rather
have the miniature back as it is, than not get it at all, Miss
Nelson."

"That is true," said Miss Nelson.

Basil was turning to leave the room, but Miss Wilton suddenly stepped
before him to the door, and shut it.

"You shan't leave, sir, until you tell everything!" she said. "_I_
know what mischievous creatures boys are. You took that miniature away
out of wanton mischief; you fiddled with it, and broke it, and now you
are afraid to confess. But I'll have no funking the truth. Tell what
you have done, this minute, you bad boy!"

"I found the miniature, and I've returned it to Miss Nelson," replied
Basil, in a quiet, still voice, which kept under all the anger which
made his dark eyes glow.

"Yes, and you stole it in the first instance, and then broke it. Out
with the truth; no half-measures with me," retorted Miss Wilton.

Basil laughed harshly.

"You're mistaken, Aunt Elizabeth; I neither stole the miniature nor
broke it."

"I am sure Basil is speaking the truth," said Miss Nelson.

"And I am sure of the reverse," retorted Miss Wilton. "There is guilt
in his face, in his manner. Naughty, defiant boy, you shall tell me
what you know!"

"I am not naughty or defiant, Aunt Elizabeth, and I don't wish to be
rude to you or anyone. I have told all I can about the miniature. May
I go now please, Miss Nelson?"

"Highty-tighty!" exclaimed Miss Wilton; "this is insubordination with
a vengeance. I shall call my brother here. Basil, I insist upon your
remaining where you are until your father arrives."

Miss Wilton immediately left the room. Basil went and stood by the
window. The blinds were up, and there was moonlight outside. He could
see the path across which Ermengarde had hurried the night before.

Miss Nelson came suddenly up, and touched the boy's arm.

"Basil," she said, "I wish to tell you that I fully believe in you."

"Oh, thank you very much," he answered, glancing at her for an
instant, and then gazing once more out of the window.

"But," continued the governess, "I wish you would trust me with the
whole truth."

He shook his head. At this moment Mr. Wilton and his sister came in
together.

"These are the circumstances, Roderick," began Miss Wilton at once.
"Pray, Miss Nelson, allow me to speak. Here is the miniature, broken
in two, disgracefully injured. Here, look at it--a deceased relative,
I believe, of Miss Nelson's--stolen out of her room ten days ago.
Basil, returns it this evening broken, says he does not know how it
was broken and declines to tell how it got into his possession."

Mr. Wilton took the pieces of ivory into his hand, looked at the poor
little distorted face, put the pieces back on the table, and turned to
his son.

"Is your Aunt Elizabeth's version of this affair correct, Basil?" he
inquired.

"Yes, father," replied Basil. "It is perfectly correct. I found the
broken miniature, and I have just returned it."

"How did you find it?"

"I can't say, sir."

"You mean you won't say?"

"Very well, father; I won't say."

Mr. Wilton colored. Miss Wilton gave a triumphant "Humph!" and a
muttered "I told you so." Miss Nelson nervously clasped and unclasped
her thin hands.

"Basil," said his father after a pause, "you are a very good lad, and
I have every trust in you. You have a reason for boldly defying your
father's wishes. But when I, who am your father, and know a great deal
better than you do what is right and wrong in this matter, desire you
once again to tell me all you know, you will, of course, instantly
obey me."

"I am deeply and truly sorry, father, but I can't obey you."

"T'ch! no more of this! go to my study this moment, and wait there
till I come to you."



CHAPTER XIV.

I SERVE.


"Maggie," said her governess, early the next morning, "Maggie, dear,
wake up at once."

Marjorie opened her sleepy gray eyes with a start, sprang up in bed,
and began to rub them violently.

"Oh, Miss Nelson, is that you? What is the matter?"

"I want you to get up, and not to wake Ermengarde. Dress as quickly as
possible, and then come to me to my room."

"What can be the matter? Isn't it awfully early? Aren't we going to
Glendower to-day?"

"It is half-past six. Yes, you are going to Glendower by and by. Now
dress, and come to me at once."

Miss Nelson left the room. Marjorie tumbled into her clothes in a most
untidy manner, and joined her governess, looking what she was, very
unkempt and tumbled.

"I have been quick, haven't I, Miss Nelson?"

"Yes, dear. Come over, my love, and sit by me on the sofa. Maggie, my
dear, do you know that Basil is in trouble?"

"Basil!" exclaimed Marjorie. "How? Has he hurt himself?"

"He brought me back my miniature last night, Maggie, broken--injured;
don't start so, my dear, dear child. He would not tell how it was
broken, nor how it got into his possession, and your Aunt Elizabeth
happened most unfortunately to come into the room at the moment, and
she made a great fuss, and fetched your father; and the end of it is
that they both believe Basil to have done something very wrong--in
short, that he had something to say to the disappearance of the
miniature, and he--he is in disgrace."

"Oh, Miss Nelson, how can father and Aunt Elizabeth be so cruel and
unjust?"

"Hush, dear! whatever your father does, you must not speak of him so."

"But don't they both _know_ him better? Did he ever in all his life do
anything dishonorable or mean?"

"Maggie, _I_ fully believe in him."

"Of course you do, dear darling Miss Nelson."

"I wish," continued Miss Nelson, "that we could really find out who
took the miniature."

Miss Nelson was looking at Marjorie while she spoke, and now she was
surprised to see a wave of crimson slowly dye the child's cheeks, and
cover her brow.

"Why do you look like that, Maggie?" asked the governess. "Do you
suspect anything?"

Maggie was silent for a moment. Then she looked up in her frank way.

"I don't really know anything," she said.

"But you have a suspicion."

"I'm not even sure that I have."

"Maggie dear, I would far rather never recover the miniature than get
Basil into trouble. My conviction is that he is concealing some
knowledge which has come to him for the sake of another. He is making
a mistake, of course, but his motives are good. If you can help him,
Maggie, if you have any clew by which we can get at the real truth,
use it, and quickly, dear child."

Marjorie put on that little important air which sometimes made her
brothers and sisters call her goody-goody.

"It seems a pity that I should be going away to-day," she said.

"Oh, you must not be disappointed, Maggie," said her governess. "You
don't often get a treat, and you have been so looking forward to
spending a few days with Lilias Russell."

"I do love Lily," replied Marjorie. "Only Ermengarde said----" then
she stopped.

"What is it, dear?"

"I don't think I'll tell, Miss Nelson, please. I'm afraid, when Ermie
said it, she was feeling awfully disappointed. I'll try to forget it.
Now, Miss Nelson, what shall I do?"

"Put your wise little brains to work. Try to think how you can clear
Basil from suspicion without doing anything shabby or underhand. I
know your father is fearfully hurt with him. Much more hurt with him
than with Ermengarde, for he has always had such a very high opinion
of Basil. Now run away, Maggie, dear, and do your best; but remember I
do not wish you to give up your visit. I called you early on purpose
that you should have time to think matters over."

Miss Nelson kissed Marjorie, who went solemnly back to her own room.

The sun was now streaming in through the closed blinds, and some of
his rays fell across the white bed where Ermengarde lay. The little
girl was still fast asleep; all her long hair was tossed over her
pillow, and one hand shaded her cheek. Ermengarde was a very pretty
girl, and she looked lovely now in the innocent sweet sleep which
visits even naughty children.

Marjorie went and stood at the foot of the bed.

"Poor Ermie," she said to herself, "I don't want to think that she
could be mean, and yet--and yet--she was in Miss Nelson's room the day
the miniature was stolen, and she did seem in a desperate state of
trouble that time when she asked me to make an excuse for her to go
back to the house. And then what funny words Susy did use that day in
the cottage, although she explained them all away afterward. Dear,
dear, dear, it's horrid to think that Ermie could do anything wrong.
And she looks so _sweet_ in her sleep. I wish Miss Nelson hadn't woke
me, and told me to be a sort of spy. But oh, poor Basil! I'd do
anything in all the world--I'd even be _mean_, to help Basil."

Marjorie sat down on her own little bed, which was opposite to
Ermengarde's. The motto which her mother had given her long ago, the
old sacred and time-honored motto, "I serve," floated back to her
mind.

"It will be horrid if I have to give up going to Glendower," she
whispered under her breath. "I _am_ unlucky about treats, and I do
love Lily. Still, I remember what mother said, 'When you are a servant
to others, you are God's servant, Marjorie.' Mother died a week
afterward. Oh dear, oh dear, I can't forget her words; but I should
dearly like to go to Glendower all the same."

As Marjorie sat on her little bed, she was kicking her feet backward
and forward, and not being a particularly gentle little mortal, she
knocked over a box, which effectually wakened Ermengarde.

"What _are_ you doing there?" asked the elder sister. "What in the
world are you dressed for, Maggie? It surely is not seven o'clock
yet?"

"Yes, it is; it's a quarter-past seven," replied Marjorie.

"Oh, I suppose you are so excited about your stupid old Glendower."

"I'm thinking about it but I'm not excited," answered Marjorie a
little sadly.

"Well, for goodness' sake don't put on that resigned, pious, martyr
sort of air. You are going to have your treat, and take it cheerfully.
You know you are dying to go, and your heart is going pit-a-pat like
anything."

"I wish you wouldn't be so cross with me, Ermie."

"Oh, of course, I'm always cross; no one ever has a good word for me.
Now, Maggie, don't begin to argue the point. I wish to goodness you
would stay in bed until it is your proper time to rise, and not wake
me up before it is necessary. I might have had a quarter of an hour's
more sleep if it had not been for you."

"I could not help myself this morning," answered Marjorie. "Miss
Nelson came and woke me soon after six o'clock."

"Miss Nelson?" Ermengarde was suddenly aroused to interest. "Whatever
for?"

"Oh, Ermie, you must hear about it--poor Basil."

Ermengarde half sat up in bed.

"I wish you'd speak right out, Maggie. Has Basil hurt himself? Is he
ill? What is wrong?"

"Basil isn't ill in body, Ermie, only--oh, it's so dreadful. He found
the miniature."

Ermengarde flung herself back again on her bed.

"How sick I am of that stupid miniature!" she muttered.

"Well, Ermie, you want to hear the story about it, don't you? Basil
found it, and it had got cracked across, and the poor little sister,
she does squint so fearfully now, and she----"

"Oh, never mind about that," retorted Ermengarde. With all her care
there was a sort of breathless earnestness in her voice. "What did
Basil do?"

"He gave the miniature back to Miss Nelson, and of course Miss Nelson
was awfully cut up about it being broken, and just at the minute who
should come in but Aunt Elizabeth! and she got into a rage, and she
asked Basil how he had got the miniature, and how it was broken, and
Basil refused to tell, and there was such a fuss, and father was sent
for, and father asked Basil to tell, and Basil refused even to tell
father, and father took Basil away to his study, and Miss Nelson
doesn't know what happened there, only that dear darling Basil is in
disgrace."

"Of course he didn't do it," murmured Ermengarde.

"Do it, Ermie! Basil wouldn't hurt a fly, let alone do such a shabby,
shabby, cruel, mean thing as to take away Miss Nelson's dear picture.
O Ermie, I thought you at least loved Basil more than anybody, more
even than I love him."

"Yes, I do," said Ermengarde; "I love him more than anybody else in
the world. Now Maggie, if you don't mind leaving the room, as you
happen to be dressed, I'll get up."

"Yes," answered Marjorie, "I'll go away at once." She trotted out of
the room.

"I must make up my mind to do it," she said to herself when she
reached the landing. "Perhaps Ermie will believe then that I love her
a little bit. There's no help for it at all. It's just a plain case of
horrid duty, and there's no getting out of it."

Marjorie ran off in the direction of her father's room. She had to
push aside the oak doors, and she had to go softly, for Aunt Elizabeth
was now at home, and the part of the house behind the oak doors was no
longer the children's property. Marjorie ran softly down the long
corridor, and when she reached her father's door, she put her ear
against the keyhole.

"I mustn't go in until he is up," she said to herself. "I must wait
until I hear a little noise. Perhaps when he's shaving he'll have time
to listen to me."

Marjorie's little heart was now beating fast enough, for she was
dreadfully afraid that Aunt Elizabeth would come out of the bedroom at
the other side of the passage, and order her back to the schoolroom
regions.

"Oh, I do hope father won't be dreadfully lazy this morning," she
murmured. At last welcome sounds from within reached her ears. Mr.
Wilton had evidently retired into his bath-room. Presently steps were
distinctly audible in the dressing-room; now Marjorie could venture
softly to turn the handle of the great bedroom door, it yielded to her
pressure, and she somewhat timidly entered. Mr. Wilton was in his
dressing-room, the door of which was ajar, and Marjorie had come some
distance into the outer room before he heard her.

"Who is there?" he asked suddenly.

"Please, father, it's me; it's Maggie."

"Come along in, and say good-morning, Maggie. I hope you are getting
all your possessions together for our visit to Glendower. I shall take
the twelve o'clock train. We'll arrive at four."

"Yes, father." Marjorie was now standing by her father's
dressing-table. He was shaving, and in consequence his sentences were
a little jerky.

"What a quiet Maggie," he said suddenly, looking down at her. "You're
delighted to come, aren't you, little one?"

"I was--I _loved_ it. Please, father, I don't want to go now."

"You don't want to go?" Mr. Wilton laid down his razor and looked
almost severely into Marjorie's honest but now clouded face. "You
don't want to go? Tut!" he repeated. "Don't talk nonsense--you know
you are all agog to be off!"

"So I was, but I'm not now. I've changed my mind. That's why I've come
in here, and why I'm bothering you while you are shaving."

"You don't bother me, Maggie; you're a good little tot. But about
going to Glendower, it's all settled. You're to come, so run away and
get Hudson to put up your finery."

"Father, I want you to let Ermie go instead of me."

"No, that I won't; she has been a very disobedient girl. Run away,
now, Maggie; it's all settled that you are to go."

"But Ermie was asked in the first instance?"

"Yes, child, yes; but I've explained matters to Lady Russell."

"And Lilias _is_ Ermie's friend."

"What a little pleader you are, Maggie. Ermie should be a good girl,
and then she'd have the treats."

"Father, couldn't you punish me instead of her? That is sometimes
done, isn't it?"

"Sometimes, Maggie, But I think Ermengarde would be all the better for
going through the punishment she richly merits."

"Truly, father, I don't think so, and I know Ermie so well. I know,
father, she's awfully unhappy, and she's getting so cross and hard,
and perhaps this would soften her. I can't make out what's up with
her, but I think this might soften her. _Do_ try it, father; do,
please, father."

"Come and sit by me for a moment on this sofa, Maggie. I see you're
frightfully in earnest, and you're a dear good child. Everyone speaks
well of you, Maggie, so I'm bound in honor to hear you out. You'll
tell me the whole truth, whatever it is, won't you, Maggie?"

"Oh, won't I just! What a dear, darling father you are! Nearly as nice
as the birthday father!"

"_Nearly_, puss? Not quite, eh? Well, you suit me uncommonly well, and
it is a comfort to have an honest outspoken child. What with
Ermengarde's disobedience, and Basil's disgraceful want of openness, I
scarcely know what to do at times."

"Father, Basil has done nothing wrong."

"Oh, you take his part, eh? You wouldn't, if you had seen that
obstinate young dog last night. I see you know all about it, and I may
as well tell you, Maggie, that I am deeply displeased with Basil. I am
much more angry with him than I am with Ermengarde, for somehow or
other I measured him by his mother's standard, and she often said that
Basil couldn't be underhand."

"Mother was right," said Marjorie; "he couldn't."

"My dear Maggie, events have proved the reverse. But now we won't
discuss this matter. Here, pop under my arm; let's have a cozy five
minutes while I listen to all your wonderful reasons for not going to
Glendower."



CHAPTER XV.

LILIAS.


Ermengarde had just finished her morning toilet when the bedroom door
was banged violently open. It shut with a loud report and Marjorie,
breathless and triumphant, appeared before her.

"What will you give for some good news?" she said, dancing excitedly
up and down. "There, you shall give three guesses. Something so good,
_so_ jolly. You _will_ be delighted. Now guess! What's going to
happen?"

Ermengarde was in one of her worst humors. Everything had gone wrong
with her. There was a load of oppression and care on her heart, and
now she was seriously uneasy about Basil. She was not brave enough to
exonerate him by confessing her own sins, but it was torture to her to
think that he should be unjustly suspected of anything mean and
dishonorable.

"_Do_ guess! It's something so delightful. You _will_ be pleased,"
repeated Marjorie, continuing to dance wildly up and down.

"I do wish, Maggie, you'd understand that other people are not in the
frantic state of bliss you are in. Your manners lately are _too_
intolerable. I shall ask father if I cannot have a separate bedroom,
for I will not have you banging in and out of the room in the horrid
tomboy way you have. I don't want to hear your good news. It's nothing
that can concern me, that I am sure."

"Oh, indeed, truly it concerns you."

"I don't want to hear it. I know you and your raptures. It will be a
perfect comfort when you are at Glendower, and I can have a little
peace!"

"That's just it! I'm not going to Glendower."

"Oh! You have got into a scrape too? Well, I must say I think it's
time your righteous pride should have a fall. I have no patience with
little girls who are always in everyone's good books, and who are set
up as patterns. But what's the matter? You seem uncommonly delighted
at losing your fine treat."

"I would be, if you'd speak ever so little kindly to me, Ermie, I
really am not the horrid girl you think."

"I don't think anything about you, child."

"Well, you shouldn't say things about me. You shouldn't say what you
don't think."

"Oh, for goodness' sake, don't begin to moralize! Was that the
breakfast gong?"

"Yes. And you'd better be quick eating up your breakfast, Ermie, for
you won't have too much time."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you'll have to tell Hudson about your dresses and things. _You_
are going to Glendower!"

The dull look left Ermengarde's eyes. They began to sparkle. She stood
quite still for a moment. Then she turned slowly round and faced her
little sister. All Marjorie's soul was shining out of her face at this
moment.

"Do you mean this, Maggie?" asked Ermengarde.

"Of course I mean it. Aren't you glad? Aren't you delighted?"

"But how has it been managed? Father said he'd punish me for talking
to Susan Collins, and he said you were to go in my stead."

"Well, now, you are to go instead of me. It's just turned round.
Aren't you very glad?"

"Well, I did want to see Lilias. She's more the sort of friend for me
than for you; isn't she, Maggie?"

"I suppose so," said Marjorie, suppressing a quick sigh.

"And of course Lady Russell wanted me, not you."

"Yes, I told father I was sure she'd like you best."

"Oh, you spoke to father about it?"

"Why, of course, Ermie."

"Then you haven't got into disgrace yourself?"

"No, it wasn't that--it wasn't because I was in----" Marjorie turned
her head away, and tears welled up slowly into her big wide-open gray
eyes.

"You did it for me, then?" said Ermengarde. "You gave up your own
pleasure for me? I didn't see it until this moment; I didn't really!
or I wouldn't have been so cross. Kiss me, Maggie. I'm awfully
obliged. But how did you come round father?"

"Oh, never mind now; it's done, and father's quite satisfied. He
expects you to go with him, and he told me to tell you to be sure to
be ready in good time, as he cannot miss the midday train."

"No fear. I'll be ready, I'm only too glad to get away from the Chase
just now. Is that Hudson I see in the passage? Run to her, Maggie, I
must speak to her about my white _chiffon_ dinner dress."

Marjorie darted away; her face was looking perfectly contented again.
She had not expected any more thanks from Ermengarde, and it was her
nature when she did give, to give lavishly. Now she was all eagerness
to assist in the necessary preparations for Ermie's sudden visit, and
was much more inclined to make large proffers of help than was the
somewhat offended Hudson.

"I had your clothes all ready, Miss Marjorie, and I have not got
everything Miss Ermengarde requires at a moment's notice."

"Oh, but you will do your very best for Ermie, Hudson, and she can
have all my clean handkerchiefs and sashes, and my Maltese gold cross,
with the little chain. You _will_ help to send her off nice, won't
you, Hudson?"

"I'll do anything for your sake, my dear little lady," said the maid.

And Marjorie, well satisfied, trotted down to breakfast in
Ermengarde's wake.

The usual party were assembled in the schoolroom, and Ermengarde once
more found herself by Basil's side. He just nodded to her when she
came in, and then bent his head over "Westward Ho!" which he was
reading as he ate his breakfast.

"I wonder if he's coming with me, and if I'm to be treated to these
sort of manners all the time," thought Ermengarde. "What _will_ Lilias
think?"

But just then Marjorie's voice arrested attention. "Don't poke me so,
Eric; it isn't me--it's Ermie; she's going."

"Oh, galopshious! And you'll stay at the Chase! I was looking forward
to a black time. You and Basil away, and Miss Sulky-face for my sole
companion."

"_Do_ hush, Eric; you say such horrid unkind things. I won't talk to
you or be a bit nice."

Eric continued to chatter in a loud, aggravating whisper. His buzzing
words were distinctly audible at the other end of the long table.
Ermengarde heard herself spoken of as Miss Sulky-face, but she was far
too contented with the present state of affairs to mind what such a
very unimportant person as Eric said about her. Basil raised his head
for a moment from his book.

"Are you going to Glendower instead of Maggie?" he asked, darting a
quick glance at his sister.

Her heart swelled with sudden pain at his tone.

"Yes," she said. Her voice was humble and almost deprecating.

"Maggie has given up her wishes then?"

"I am going instead of Maggie," said Ermengarde, her manner once more
proud and defiant.

Basil resumed his reading of "Westward Ho!" Miss Nelson called to him
to say that his breakfast was getting cold. The moment she spoke, he
shut up his book.

"I don't wish to eat anything more, Miss Nelson," he said. "And I want
to know if you will excuse me, and let me leave the table now. I wish
to say a word to father before he leaves the study."

"You can certainly go, Basil," replied the governess.

He went away at once. A moment later, Basil was standing in his
father's presence.

"Do you expect me to go with you to-day to Glendower, father?" he
asked.

Mr. Wilton was reading an important letter. He looked up impatiently.

"Yes," he said. "You and Marjorie--I mean you and Ermengarde are to
come."

"But I have displeased you, and this is a--a pleasure trip."

Mr. Wilton threw down his letter.

"Look here, Basil," he said, "you are too old to be punished in the
sort of way I punish Ermengarde, or Marjorie, or Eric."

"I am only a year older than Ermengarde,"

"Don't contradict me, sir. I repeat, you are too old, and you are
different. I have regarded you hitherto as a manly sort of fellow, and
even after last night I cannot treat you as a child. Come to
Glendower; only understand that, until you explain yourself fully, you
suffer from my displeasure."

"If that is so, father"--Basil's lips quivered, his dark eyes glowed
with pain--"if that is so, I would rather stay at Wilton Chase."

"Then stay. Until you are once more the frank fellow I have always
regarded you, your movements do not interest me."

"I will stay at home then, father."

"Very well."

Mr. Wilton opened another letter, and began to read it. Basil lingered
for a moment, as if he hoped for another softer word; then he turned
on his heel and left the room.

In due time Ermengarde and her father started on their journey.
Ermengarde carried away with her every conceivable bit of finery which
Marjorie could stow into her trunk, and Hudson, finding herself
helpless to stem the tide of events, at last rose to the occasion, and
did her best to send off her young lady suitably prepared for her
visit.

Ermengarde looked very pretty and graceful as she seated herself
beside her father in the carriage, and although the children were
conspicuous by their absence, and there were no sorrowful looks to
witness her exit, she did not concern herself very much over such
trivial matters.

Marjorie's farewell was all that was warm and affectionate, and as it
was Mr. Wilton's fashion to forgive absolutely when he did forgive,
Ermengarde had a very comfortable journey.

The travelers arrived in good time at Glendower, and Ermengarde really
forgot all the worries, the miseries, the sins of the last few days,
when Lilias Russell threw her arms round her neck, and warmly bade her
welcome.

Lilias was a very beautiful girl. She had that radiant sort of almost
spiritual loveliness which is generally accompanied by a very sweet,
noble, and upright nature. Her complexion was very fair, her eyes
large, soft, and brown; her hair was the finest, palest gold. She was
a slightly made girl, but she had no look of ill-health about her. On
the contrary, her elastic young figure was full of strength and vigor.
She was a great favorite with all her friends, for she was unselfish,
loving, and straightforward. She was slow to think evil of people, and
was generally affectionately rapturous over the girls and boys who
came to visit her at Glendower. Although the only child of very
wealthy parents, she was too simple-minded to be spoiled. She received
lots of flatteries, but they did her no harm, because she failed to
see them. Her beautiful face was praised to her many times, but no one
yet had seen a conscious or conceited expression cross it.

"I'm delighted you have come, Ermie," she said, "but I scarcely
expected you, for mother had a letter from your father, who said he
was obliged to bring Maggie instead."

Ermengarde colored. There is no saying what reply she would have made,
but at that moment Mr. Wilton stepped forward and answered Lilias's
look of inquiry himself.

"Maggie gave up her pleasure to Ermie," he said. "She is an unselfish
child, and she saw how very much Ermie wished to spend a few days with
you, Lilias."

"How sweet of Maggie!" replied Lilias. "I do think she is one of the
very dearest little girls in the world. Of course I'm delighted to
have you with me, Ermengarde; but I only wish your father had brought
Maggie, too."

"And where is my special favorite, Basil?" asked Lady Russell, who had
been listening with an amused smile to the above conversation.

"Basil is not in my good graces at present," replied Mr. Wilton.
"Pardon me. I make no complaints. He was free to come, but he elected
to stay at home; under the circumstances, I think his choice was
wise."

Lady Russell and Mr. Wilton walked slowly away together, and Lilias
linked her hand affectionately through Ermengarde's arm.

"If there is a mystery, you will tell me about it presently," she
said, "and I am not going to worry you now. I am so pleased to have
you with me, Ermie, and there are a whole lot of things I am going to
consult you about. But first of all, just come to my grotto. I want
you to see in what a pretty pattern I have arranged the shells. Here
we are; enter, fair and welcome guest! Oh, you must stoop your tall
head a little, Ermie. Pride must bend when it enters a humble grotto
like mine. Now then, look around you."

Ermengarde was feeling tired, hot, and thirsty. She had hoped to have
been treated to nice grown-up tea in one of the drawing-rooms, and she
felt just a little annoyed at being carried off at once to look at
Lilias's stupid shells, or to behold the most charming grotto that was
ever built. Ermengarde had no love for natural history, and fond as
she was of Lilias, she felt just a wee bit cross.

But the moment she entered the grotto, the clouds fled like magic from
her face. There were shells, of course, and sea-weeds, and a deep
pool which contained sea-anemones; and into which a fountain
continually dripped. But there was also tea on a charming little
rustic table, and two rustic easy-chairs, and two egg-shell china cups
and saucers, and a wee silver jug full of cream, and a dish of hot
muffins, and a little basket full of grapes and peaches.

Lilias watched her friend's face.

"She wants her tea, poor Ermie does," she whispered to herself; "I
know Maggie would have rushed at the shells first of all, and she'd
have asked me a thousand questions about my sea-anemones and my
fountain. Still, it's perfectly natural that Ermie should be thirsty
and want her tea."

So the two little friends sat down, and had a very cozy and merry time
together.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE BEAUTIFUL DRESS.


That evening, as Ermengarde was standing in her room, surveying with
critical eyes the heaps of finery she had brought with her, Lilias
knocked at her door.

"Come in," said Ermengarde.

Lilias had on a blue flannel dressing-jacket, and her long, bright,
golden hair was streaming down her back.

"I've rushed in to tell you," she exclaimed excitedly, "we are both to
come down to dinner to-night. Two guests have disappointed mother. She
has just had a telegram; Colonel Vavasour is ill, and of course his
wife can't leave him, so you and I are to fill the vacant places at
table. I do hope you won't mind, Ermie."

"I?" said Ermengarde, her eyes sparkling. "Oh, no; I shan't mind; I
like dining with grown people. I think it will be rather fun."

"It's sweet of you to take it in that way," said Lilias. "I had
planned a lovely walk by the lake, and we might have got into the
boat, and brought in some water-lilies. Late dinner takes a long,
long time, and it will be much too dark to go to the lake when it is
over."

"I don't mind, really," repeated Ermengarde. She did not want to tell
her friend that her worldly little soul infinitely preferred late
dinner and a talk with some of the grown-up guests to a ramble with
Lilias by the side of the lake.

"We can go to the lake another time, Lilias," she said, "and it seems
only right to oblige your mother now."

"Thank you for putting it in that way to me," said Lilias. She went up
to Ermengarde and kissed her. "What have you got to wear?" she asked.
"I know mother would like such young girls as we are to be dressed
very simply. I shall just put on a white muslin, a white silk sash
round my waist."

"Oh, I have a white dress, too," said Ermengarde, in a careless tone.
"I am sure I shall manage very well."

Her dark eyes grew brighter and brighter as she spoke.

"I must not stay to chat with you, Ermie," said Lilias, looking at her
friend with admiration. "Mother is so afraid you will miss your maid,
you shall have as much of Petite's time as ever I can possibly spare."

"Who is Petite?" asked Ermengarde.

"Oh, she's my dear little maid. We brought her over from France last
year. She was never out anywhere before, and I'm so fond of her. Her
name is Lucile Marat, but I call her Petite, because she is on a small
scale, and so neat in every way. It was she who unpacked your things.
I'll send her to you in a minute."

Lilias ran out of the room, and Ermengarde, closing the door, opened a
long drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe, and taking out her white
_chiffon_ dress, viewed it with great complacency. This dress had been
given to Ermengarde by Aunt Elizabeth; she had brought it from Paris,
intending to wear it at a county ball herself, but finding it too
juvenile, she had handed it on to her niece. The local dressmaker had
cut it down to fit Ermengarde, and ever since she possessed it, Ermie
had sighed and longed for the occasion when she might don the lovely
robe.

The dress was in truth an exquisite one; it was delicately spangled
with what looked like dewdrops, and had a great deal of rich soft silk
introduced here and there, but if it was too young for Aunt Elizabeth,
it was a great deal too old for Ermie. It's voluminous and graceful
pillows of white were not suited to her slim little figure. It was a
grown girl's dress, and Ermie was only a child.

Still the occasion, the longed-for, the sighed-for occasion, when she
might dress herself in Aunt Elizabeth's white _chiffon_, had arrived.

Ermie pulled the dress out of the drawer, shook out its folds, and
regarded it with rapture.

There came a modest knock at the room door, and Petite, got up in
truly French fashion, entered. She was a rosy-cheeked, round-faced
girl, with sparkling black eyes, and rolls of black hair,
picturesquely arranged on the top of her head.

"I hope she understands English," thought Ermengarde. "French is not
my strong point, and I really must get her to dress my hair in some
grown-up fashion to-night."

Petite soon, however, relieved Ermengarde's fear.

"I have come to help you, ma'mselle," she said in her cheerful tones.
"Will you let me brush out your hair?"

"Thank you," said Ermie. "I want you to dress it on the top of my
head, please--_high_--something like an old picture--you understand?"

Petite's eyes sparkled.

"I know what you mean," she said. "Pouffed, ever so--like the pictures
of the ancient ladies in the picture-gallery."

"Yes," said Ermengarde. "I want my hair to be arranged like a young
grown-up lady. You understand?"

"Perfectly, ma'mselle. I will go and fetch hair-pins. But we haven't
too much time; Ma'mselle Lilias is dressed. She wears her hair
straight down her back."

Ermengarde said nothing. The mysteries of the toilet proceeded, and at
the end of half an hour Lilias knocked at her friend's door.

Ermengarde was now arrayed in the white _chiffon_ dress; it touched
the ground, and swept away in a short train at the back. It was cut a
little open at the neck, and the round childish arms were bare to the
elbow. Round her throat Ermengarde had hung Marjorie's Maltese cross,
and among the masses of her high piled-up hair reposed a lovely pearl
butterfly. The dress was most unsuitable, but the childish face,
colored high now with excitement and gratified vanity, looked quite
radiant in its loveliness.

Petite was in ecstasies.

"Ma'mselle looks as if she had stepped out of one of the old
picture-frames," she said. "Look how beautiful I have contrived her
hair to sit."

Lilias did not say much. She was an intensely polite girl, and she
crushed back the exclamation of dismay which rose to her lips. Her
own appearance was the extreme of simplicity. Her muslin frock was
short; her little white shoes and silk stockings were visible. Round
her waist she wore a plain white sash, and her golden hair fell in
masses down her back.

While Petite was dressing her, Ermengarde's silly heart was mounting
on higher and higher wings of gratified delight. But when she looked
at Lilias, an uneasy sensation came over her for the first time.

"Come," said Lilias in her gentle voice, "we'll go down to the
drawing-room, and stay together near one of the windows. I don't
suppose anyone will take us in to dinner; but that does not
matter--we'll take one another in."

"Do you like my dress?" suddenly asked Ermengarde.

"Well, Ermie, isn't it just a little old?"

"Nonsense, Aunt Elizabeth gave it to me. She ought to know, I
suppose."

Ermengarde did not care to mention then that the dress was a cast-off
garment of her Aunt Elizabeth's.

The two girls went downstairs hand in hand. Ermie's long dress and
train made her feel awkward. She began to be more and more sure that
her evening attire, notwithstanding its great beauty, was unsuitable.
She hoped no one would specially notice her. She felt uncomfortable as
she saw several pairs of eyes fixed upon her, as she and Lilias walked
across the drawing-room.

The two girls got behind the shelter of a curtain, and Ermengarde
rejoiced in the fact that her father had not yet come downstairs.

A few more minutes went by; the guests arrived in twos and
threes--then dinner was announced. As Lilias had foretold, she and
Ermengarde were to take each other in to dinner. They were the last to
enter the dining-room. Lady Russell had arranged that the two little
girls were to sit together, but at the very last moment some change
was made, and Ermie to her horror found herself between her father and
a stout old gentleman, who was inclined to regard her as an
overdressed, but pretty little doll.

Mr. Wilton never fussed about dress, but he had a keen eye for the
proprieties. He saw at a glance that Lilias looked exactly as she
ought, and that Ermengarde did not, but he could not tell where the
difference lay. Ermie as a rule was one of the neatest of little
maids. To-night she was not untidy, and yet--he could not tell
why--she looked all wrong.

Mr. Wilton sighed, thought of his dead wife, wondered how he could
ever manage his fast growing-up family, and then slightly turning his
back on Ermie, tried to forget his cares in conversation with his
neighbor on his other side.

The fat old gentleman began to talk to Ermengarde.

"Home for the holidays, eh, my dear?" he began, half-winking at her.

"I don't go to school," answered Ermengarde. She flushed angrily, and
her reply was in her primmest voice.

The fat old gentleman finished his soup calmly. Ermie's prim
indignation amused him. He glanced from her childish face to her grown
up head, and then said in a semi-confiding whisper: "Tell me, do you
consider a classical education essential to the development of women's
brains?"

"Oh, I don't know," stammered poor Ermie.

"Then you're not a Girton girl?"

"No; why do you ask?" answered Ermengarde. She began to feel a little
flattered. The old gentleman must certainly consider her quite
grown-up.

"Well," he replied, with another comical twinkle in his eyes, "I
thought you seemed so intelligent, and although you have a young
face, you have somehow or other an old way about you. You'll forgive
my speaking frankly, my dear, but I notice that most old-young girls
attend some of the colleges."

Ermengarde felt delighted. She changed her mind about the fat old
gentleman, and began to regard him as a most agreeable person. He
considered her face remarkable for intelligence, and although she was
quite grown up, she looked sweetly youthful. She leant back in her
chair, and toyed with her food.

"I'm not very old," she began.

"Not more than eighteen, I should think," replied the old gentleman.

Ermengarde gave vent to a silvery laugh.

"Eh? You're not more than that, are you?" asked her companion.

"No, sir," she answered. "I am not more than eighteen."

Although he was talking very earnestly to his neighbor, Mr. Wilton
heard his daughter's laugh. It sounded to him a little forced and
strained. His undefined sensation of discomfort increased. He turned
and looked at Ermengarde. There certainly was something quite unusual
about her. Now he raised his eyes to her hair.

"Ermie!" he exclaimed, "what _have_ you done to your head? My dear
child, what a show you have made of yourself!"

His voice was quite clear enough for the old gentleman to hear him.

Ermengarde blushed painfully. She muttered something inaudible, and
looked down.

"What possessed you to make such a guy of yourself?" continued her
father, in a vexed tone, which was very low now. "A little girl like
you aping young ladyhood! I am very much annoyed, Ermengarde; I did
not think you could be so silly."

Then he turned his back once more, and addressed his neighbor on the
other side.

Poor Ermie felt her eyes swimming in tears. The mortification to which
her father had subjected her just at her moment of triumph was very
bitter. She could not eat a delicious _entrée_ which was being offered
to her at that moment, and it is possible that, notwithstanding her
pride, she might have given way completely to her outraged feelings
had not the old gentleman come to her rescue. He was sorry for the
poor little maid who had aped the ways of the grown-up. He dropped his
quizzical manner, and entered into a pleasant conversation. He drew
Ermengarde on to speak of her home, and in especial of her brother
Basil, and he thought the little girlish face very charming indeed
when Ermie spoke eagerly of her favorite brother.

The rest of the dinner passed off fairly well, and Ermengarde hoped
she might be able to retire into a corner when she got into the
drawing-room, and so escape any more of her father's censure.

This, however, was difficult, for Lady Russell called both the girls
forward, and in especial introduced Ermengarde to several friends of
her own. Some of these ladies knew her mother, and they looked kindly
at Ermie, and only whispered together behind her back about the
extraordinary costume the poor little girl was got up in.

These ladies evidently blamed Ermengarde's father, and spoke of her as
a sadly neglected child.

Ermie felt that the ladies were whispering about her, and she began to
hate the beautiful _chiffon_ dress, and to long to tear it off her
back.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE MORE BEAUTIFUL FACE.


Two tall girls were standing near the piano; one had just sung a song
in a very brilliant style, the other was complimenting her; the
gentlemen had not yet come in.

"Flora, do look at that queer little personage over there!" exclaimed
the singer, glancing in Ermengarde's direction. "Did you ever see such
a little comicality? Why, she can't be more than twelve years old, and
she is dressed in much older style than you or I."

"Stop, Kate, I'm sure she hears you," said Flora.

"I don't care if she does, conceited little monkey. Who in the world
is she?"

"Her name is Ermengarde Wilton. Yes, of course, the dress is
unsuitable, but small piece of gorgeousness that she is, I'd give a
good deal to possess her handsome face; and so would you, for the
matter of that, Kate."

Ermengarde was standing near a window. Now she pushed a muslin
curtain aside, and hid herself behind its folds.

"There! She did hear you this time, Flora," said Kate.

"I meant her to," replied the other. "You were humiliating her so
horribly, Kate."

The two girls whispered a little longer, then they parted company.
Ermengarde stood behind the shelter of the window curtain. Her heart
was beating fast, her cheeks were flushed, her eyes had a triumphant
light in them.

Yes, she had heard what those horrid girls were saying. She had heard
every word. They had abused her dress, but they had praised her face.
This praise made up for all. What mattered the dress which could be so
easily removed, compared with the face which would remain.

Ermengarde's heart thrilled within her at the delicious words of
flattery. These grown-up girls envied _her!_ Oh, she could bear
anything after that.

She was standing thus, thinking her own thoughts, when the light swish
of silken drapery near caused her to look round, and to her
astonishment the girl who was called Flora stood in the shelter of the
window by her side.

"I hope I am not crowding you," she said in a gracious voice to
Ermengarde. "It is so hot in the drawing-room; I have just come here
to get cool before the gentlemen come in."

"You don't disturb me at all," said Ermengarde.

"Thank you. Are you Miss Wilton? I think you must be. My mother knows
your father very well."

"And your name is Flora something?" answered Ermengarde, looking up
with proud defiance in her face. "And you were speaking about me to a
girl called Kate, and you abused my dress, and said that I was a
little piece of gorgeousness, and that I was only twelve years old. I
am not twelve--I am fourteen and three months."

"Oh, my dear child, you should not have been eavesdropping."

"I wasn't. You spoke out very loud. I thought you knew I must hear
you."

"Dear, dear, I am sorry. I did not mean to hurt your feelings, really,
Miss Wilton. Of course the dress is _lovely_. Catch Kate or me
aspiring to anything half so fine. But then, you _did_ look very young
in it. Are you really fourteen! You don't look it."

"Yes, I am fourteen and three months."

"Of course that makes a great difference. Come, now, let's be friends.
My name is Flora St. Leger, and mother and I are going to stay at
Glendower for a couple of days. Are you staying here?"

"Yes, with my father. We came to-day."

"Oh, I suppose you are Lilias Russell's friend. Isn't she a prim
little piece?"

"I don't know," answered Ermengarde angrily. "I only consider that she
is the dearest and most beautiful girl in the world."

"Oh, folly! she can't hold a candle to you. I'd like to see you when
you're dressed for your first drawing-room. You know, Ermengarde--I
may call you Ermengarde, may I not--I _did_ say something very nice
about your face, even when I abused your dress. You heard that part
too, didn't you, sly monkey?"

"Yes," said Ermie, in a low voice. Then she added, "But it is not true
about my being more beautiful than Lilias, and I don't like you even
to say it."

"Well, puss, you can't help facts: Lilias is very well in her way; you
are twice as striking. Oh, there comes George Martineau. I promised to
play his accompaniments for him; he will sing some German songs in a
minute. You listen when he does. He has a remarkably fine tenor voice
for an amateur."

Flora St. Leger glided away from the recess of the window, and
Ermengarde was left alone. She did not mind this in the least, her
meditations were so pleasant; and Flora had given her such agreeable
food for thought that she was quite delighted to be able to have a
quiet few minutes to think over everything. She had quite forgiven
Flora's _unkind_ words for the sake of her _flattering_ words. Flora
had said the sort of things that Susy had often regaled her with
before, but how much more important were the honeyed speeches coming
from the lips of this grown-up and beautiful young lady. Ermengarde
felt herself quite in love with Flora. Poor Lilias was nothing,
compared to the friend she had just made. She was glad to know that
Flora was going to spend a couple of days at Glendower. She earnestly
hoped that she might see a good deal of her during these few days.

The evening passed somehow, and Ermie managed to escape to her room
without again meeting her father.

Petite was helping her to undress, when to her surprise Lady Russell
herself came in.

"My dear little Ermengarde," she said. She went up to the young girl
and kissed her affectionately. "You can leave us, Petite," said Lady
Russell to the maid. When they were alone, she turned to Ermie.

"My love, I am sorry to appear interfering, but you are a motherless
little girl. Your dress to-night was very unsuitable."

"Aunt Elizabeth gave it to me," said Ermengarde, pouting.

"Yes, my dear; but, pardon me, we won't go into the question of how
you came by the dress. You are at least ten years too young to be
dressed in a fanciful costume of that kind. Your father does not wish
you to wear that dress again, Ermie, nor to arrange your hair as you
did to-night. Have you got a simple white dress with you, my child?"

"No," said Ermie, still pouting and frowning; "I thought the white
_chiffon_ was exactly what I needed."

"Poor child, you sadly miss your mother. Well, my love, don't do it
again; that's all. I will get Petite to alter one of Lilias's frocks
for you to wear to-morrow evening. Now, good-night, dear; sleep sound.
I am glad you have come to keep our Lilias company for a few days."

Lady Russell kissed Ermengarde and left her. She took no notice of the
little girl's sullen face, nor of her rude manner. She went away
looking what she was, a gracious motherly woman.

"I am deeply sorry, both for Ermengarde and her father," she said to
herself. "Anyone can see that the poor man does not know how to manage
all those children. Marjorie takes after her sweet mother, but
Ermengarde! she is not an easy child to influence, and yet what a
beautiful face she has!"



CHAPTER XVIII.

IN THE TOILS.


The summer at Glendower was always a gay time. The house was usually
full of guests, and as there were horses and carriages, and a yacht
and a sailboat, as well as two or three rowboats, the guests had
certainly all possible advantages of locomotion.

The next morning was a glorious one, and Lilias and Ermie, after
breakfasting together in Lilias's own special boudoir, put on their
shady hats, and went out to walk about the grounds. The air was so
delicious, and Lilias was so sweet and bright and unselfish, that it
was impossible for Ermie not to feel in the best of spirits.

She ceased to desire to be grown up, and was satisfied to run races
with Lilias in the simple pink cambric frock, which suited her
infinitely better than the gorgeous _chiffon_.

Ermengarde's life was not without care just then, but at this moment
she forgot her anxieties about Susy and Basil, and the broken
miniature. She forgot her mortification of the night before, and
looked what she was, a happy child.

Lilias was talking eagerly about the plans for the day's
entertainment. The whole party were to drive to a certain point about
eight miles from Glendower. There they were to picnic, and afterward,
with the tide in their favor, would return home by water.

"And mother says I may drive my own ponies," said Lilias. "You haven't
seen my Shetlands yet, have you, Ermie? Oh, they are such lovely pets,
and father has given me real silver bells for their harness."

Ermengarde was about to make a reply, when a voice was heard calling
Lilias.

"I'll be back in a minute, Ermie," said Lilias. "I suppose mother
wants me to arrange about something. Don't go far away; I'll be with
you directly."

She ran off, and Ermengarde, finding a rustic bench under a tree, sat
down and looked around her. She had scarcely done so, when she was
joined by Flora St. Leger.

"I saw you alone, and I rushed out to you, my love," said the young
lady. "I want to speak to you so badly. Where can we go to be by
ourselves?"

"But I am waiting here for Lilias," said Ermengarde.

"Oh, never mind. What does it matter whether Lilias finds you here
when she comes back or not? She doesn't really want you, and I do."

Now this was all immensely flattering, for Flora was quite grown up,
and Ermengarde had already lost her silly little heart to her.

"I should like to oblige you," she said.

"Well, _do_ oblige me! Let us fly down this side-walk. There's a
shrubbery at the farther end, where we shall be quite alone. Come,
give me your hand."

Ermengarde could not resist. A moment later she and Flora were pacing
up and down in the shrubbery.

"Ermengarde," said Miss St. Leger eagerly, "_are_ you going to that
stupid, stupid picnic to-day?"

"Why, of course," said Ermengarde, looking up in astonishment.

"You may call me Flora if you like, my dear love. What a sweet, pretty
pet you are! Now that I look at you by daylight, I think it's a
perfect sin that, with a face like yours, you should have to wear
short frocks."

Ermie sighed. Miss St. Leger's tone was full of delicious sympathy,
and when the next moment she slipped her arm round the little girl's
waist, Ermie experienced quite a thrill of delight.

"I have fallen in love with you, that's a fact," said Miss St. Leger;
"but now, about that picnic; you don't really want to go?"

"Oh, yes, Flora. Lilias is going to drive me in her pony-carriage."

"Lilias! Let her take a child like herself. You ought to be with the
grown-ups."

"Everyone treats me exactly as if I were a child," said Ermengarde. "I
do think it's a great shame, for I don't feel in the least like one."

"Of course you don't, pet. Now listen to me. _I'm_ not going to this
stupid, horrid picnic."

"Aren't you, Flora?"

"No, I'm going to stay at home, and I want you to stay with me. You
won't be dull, I promise you."

"But what excuse can I give?"

"Oh, say you're tired, or have a headache, or something of that sort."

"But I'm not tired, and I haven't got a headache."

Flora pouted.

"After all, you are only a baby," she said. "I made a mistake; I
thought you were different."

Ermengarde colored all over her face.

"Do you really, really want me, Flora?" she asked timidly.

"Of course I do, sweet pet; now you will oblige me, won't you?"

"I'd certainly like to, Flora."

"That's a darling. Go back to the house, and lie down on your bed and,
when Lilias calls you at the last moment, say you're tired, and you'd
like to stay quiet. Of course you _are_ tired, you know; you look it."

"I suppose I am a little bit," said Ermengarde. Her heart felt like
lead. Her gayety had deserted her, but she was in the toils of a much
older and cleverer girl than herself.

She stole softly back to the house, and when Lilias found her lying on
her bed, she certainly told no untruth when she said that her head
ached, for both head and heart ached, and she hated herself for
deceiving her sweet little friend.

The picnic people departed, quietness settled down over the house, and
Ermie, who had cried with vexation at the thought of losing that
delightful drive and day of pleasure, had dropped into a dull kind of
dose, when a knock came to her room door, and Miss St. Leger entered.

"Now, little martyr," she said, in a cheerful voice, "jump up, make
yourself smart, put on your best toggery, forget your headache, and
come downstairs with me. We are going to have some fun on our own
account, now, sweet."

"O Flora, what are you going to do?"

"First of all, we'll have some lunch, and afterward we'll stroll
through some woods at the back of the house, and I'll tell you some of
my adventures in London last season. Oh, my dear, I did have a time of
it! Four entertainments often in one evening! That's what you'll be
going through, Ermie, in a year or two."

"Is it?" said Ermengarde. Her eyes did not sparkle any more. Somehow
Flora did not seem as fascinating to her as she had done an hour ago.
Lilias's disappointed face would come back again and again to her
memory. She rose, however, and under Flora's supervision put on the
smartest of her morning frocks, and went downstairs to lunch.

When the meal had come to an end, and the servants had withdrawn,
Ermie asked Flora another question.

"Are we _only_ going to walk in the woods?" she said. "Is that _all_
you asked me to stay at home for!"

"_All_, you silly puss? Well, no, it isn't quite all. We are going to
have tea with some friends of mine. We are to meet them in the
woods--very nice people--you'll be charmed with them. We're all going
to have a gypsy tea together in the woods."

"But, Flora, I thought you hated picnics?"

"Oh, what a little innocent goose! I hate some kinds. Not the kind I'm
going to take you to. Now run upstairs, and put on your hat. It is
time for us to be strolling out."

"But, Flora----"

"No more of your 'buts'--go and get ready. Ah, my sweet child, frowns
don't become that charming little face of yours. Now, off with you;
put on your most becoming hat, and let us set forth."

Ermengarde walked upstairs as if her feet were weighted with lead. The
uneasy feeling, which had begun to arise in her heart when Flora
proposed that she should tell a lie in order to remain at home,
deepened and deepened. Ermengarde had lots of faults, but she was a
little lady by birth and breeding, and it suddenly occurred to her
that Flora's flatteries were fulsome, and that Flora herself was not
in what her father would call good style. She was not at all brave
enough, however, now, to withstand her companion. She put on her white
shady hat, drew gauntlet gloves over her hands, caught up her parasol,
and ran downstairs.

Flora was waiting for her. Flora's eyes were bright, and her cheeks
flushed.

"Now come," she said. "You'll enjoy yourself so much, Ermie, and we
must be quick, for we must be back again in the house before our
friends return from their picnic."

"O Flora, are you doing anything wrong?"

Flora's face got crimson all over.

"I was mistaken in you, Ermengarde," she said. "I thought you were
quite a different sort of girl. I thought you were the kind of girl I
could make a friend of. I said so to Kate last night. I offended poor
Kate. I made her cry when I said, 'If Ermengarde Wilton was only a
year or two older, she'd sympathize with me. I never saw such
sympathetic eyes in anyone's face.' Kate was mad with jealousy, but I
only wish I had her here now, poor Kate!"

"O Flora, you know I don't mean to be unkind."

"Of course you don't, love; you were only a silly little goose. Now,
come along, we have no time to lose."

Flora took Ermengarde's hand and the two girls soon found themselves
in the magnificent woods at the back of Glendower. These woods covered
many acres of land, and were the great pride of the beautiful old
place. There were woods at Wilton Chase, but not like these, and
Ermengarde stopped several times to exclaim and admire.

Oh, how Basil would have enjoyed this walk! How easily he would have
climbed those trees! how merrily he would have laughed! how gay his
stories would have been! And Basil might have been here to-day, but
for Ermengarde; he might have been here, driving and riding with
Lilias; enjoying the woods, and the sea, and the picnic fun.

Basil, who was the best of all boys, the best, and the most honorable,
was at home in disgrace because of her. Ermie's heart beat heavily.
Her footsteps slackened. She scarcely heard Flora's gay chatter.

After walking a mile or so, the girls found themselves in the midst of
a clearing in the woods. Here some carriages and horses were drawn up,
and a gay party of girls, one or two round-faced and stout matrons,
and a few young men were standing together.

The girls and the young men raised a noisy shout when they saw Flora,
and rushed to meet her.

"How good of you to come, Florrie! We were half afraid you couldn't
manage it."

"Oh, I promised last night," said Flora hastily. "I thought George
told you. How do you do, George? Maisie, let me introduce to you my
great friend, Miss Wilton. Miss Wilton, Miss Burroughs." Then Flora
tripped on in front by the side of the clumsy-looking George, and
Ermie found herself standing face to face with Miss Burroughs. She was
a loud-voiced, vulgar-looking girl.

"Come along," she said almost roughly to her little companion. "I
wonder what Flora meant by walking off in that fashion. Well, I don't
suppose you want me to chaperon you, Miss--I forget your name."

"Wilton," said Ermengarde, in a haughty voice.

"Miss Wilton! I don't know why Flora left you on my hands in that
style. She just introduced us and rushed off--just like Florrie, so
independent and selfish. I never knew anyone so selfish. But I have my
own fun to see after. Oh, there's Florrie in the distance, I'll shout
after her. Flora! Florrie! Flora St. Leger!"

Flora turned.

"What is it, Maisie?" she screamed back.

"What am I to do with Miss Wilton? I'm going for a long walk with the
Slater girls. She can't possibly go so far, and besides, we don't want
children."

"Isn't Fanny here?" screamed back Flora.

"Yes, and Tootsie."

"Well, let her stay with Fanny and Tootsie for a bit."

Flora turned and walked down the hill rapidly with her companion.
Maisie caught hold of Ermengarde's hand, and began to run with her
under the trees.

Presently she came across a stout little girl of about eleven,
accompanied by a stouter little boy who might be a year older.

"Fanny," said Maisie, "this child's name is Wilton. She'll stay and
play with you and Tootsie for a bit. Now be good children, all of you.
Ta-ta! I'll be back in time for tea."

Maisie vanished round a corner, and Ermengarde found herself alone
with Fanny and Tootsie.



CHAPTER XIX.

SOME PEOPLE WHO DID NOT FLATTER.


They were not an agreeable-looking pair; they had evidently been
dining, and their faces were sticky. They had also been quarreling,
for they cast scowling glances at each other, and were in far too bad
a temper to be civil to the newcomer.

"I don't want her to play with us," said Tootsie, and he half turned
his back.

"I'm sure then she shan't play with me," said Fanny. "I don't wish to
play with anyone, I'm sick of play. It's just like that horrid
Maisie."

"She isn't a bit more horrid than you and Tootsie!" suddenly remarked
Ermengarde, finding her voice, and speaking with what seemed to the
two children slow and biting emphasis. "You're all horrid together; I
never met such horrid people. You are none of you ladies and
gentlemen. I wouldn't play with you for the world! Good-by; I'm going
home."

Ermengarde turned her back, and began to walk rapidly away from the
picnic party. Whether she would have succeeded in finding her way back
to Glendower remains a mystery, for she had not gone a dozen yards
before she encountered a stout old lady, who spread out her arms as
she approached, and made herself look like a great fan.

"Whither away, now, little maid of the woods?" she said. "Oh, I
suppose you are the little girl called Wilton, whom Florrie brought
over from Glendower with her. Maisie told me of you."

"I'm going home; please let me pass," said Ermengarde.

"Oh, highty-tighty! not a bit of you, dearie. You'll stay here till
Florrie wants to go back. You'd get her into no end of a scrape if you
were to leave her now. You must stick to her, my love. It would be
unkind to desert poor Florrie in that fashion. I thought Maisie had
left you with Fanny and Tootsie."

"Yes, but they are horrid rude children. I could not possibly play
with them."

"Well, they are handfuls," said the stout lady. "I'm their mother, so
I ought to know. You don't mind staying with me, then, love, do you?"

"I'd much rather go home," repeated Ermengarde.

"But you can't do that, my dear child, so there's no use thinking
about it. Come, let us walk about and be cozy, and you tell me all
about Glendower."

The old lady now drew Ermengarde's slim hand through her arm, and she
found herself forced to walk up and down the greensward in her
company.

Mrs. Burroughs was a downright sort of person. After her fashion she
was kind to Ermie, but it never entered into her head to flatter her.
She was a gossiping sort of body, and she wanted the child to recount
to her all the tittle-tattle she knew about Glendower. Ermengarde had
neither the power nor the inclination to describe the goings on at
Glendower graphically. The stout lady soon got tired of her short
answers, and began to survey her from head to foot in a critical and
not too kindly spirit.

"Dear, dear!" she said, "what an overgrown poor young thing you are!
But we must all go through the gawky age; we must each of us take our
turn. Maisie is just through her bad time, but when she was fourteen,
wasn't she a show just! You're fourteen, ain't you, my love?"

"Yes," said Ermengarde.

"Ah, I thought as much! I said so the moment I set eyes on you. I knew
it by your walk. Neither fish, flesh nor good red herring is a maid
of fourteen; she's all right once she passes seventeen, so you take
heart, my love. I dare say you'll be a fine girl then."

"Mrs. Burroughs," interrupted Ermengarde, "I really must look for
Flora. It is time for us to be going back. I must find her, and if she
won't come, I'll go alone."

She wrenched her hand away from the stout lady's arm, and before she
could prevent her, began running through the woods to look for Flora.

Miss St. Leger was nowhere in sight, so Ermie, feeling her present
position past enduring, determined that, whatever happened, she would
go back to Glendower. She was fortunate enough to meet one of the
gamekeepers, and guided by his instructions presently found herself
back in the house. Weary and stiff, her head aching, she crept up to
her room, and threw herself on her bed. Oh, what horrid people Flora
knew! Oh, what a horrid girl Flora really was!

Ermengarde wondered how she could ever have liked or admired Flora, or
made a friend of such a girl. She lay on the bed and listened
intently, wondering what would happen if the picnic party returned
before Flora chose to put in an appearance. In that case, would she,
Ermengarde, be blamed? Would suspicion attach to her? Would her father
discover how deceitfully she had behaved?

"He would send me straight home if he knew it," thought Ermie. "Oh,
what a lot of scrapes I've been getting into lately! What with Susy
and the miniature, and Miss Nelson and Basil, and now this horrid mean
Flora? Oh dear, oh dear? I'm sure I'm not a bit happy. I wish I could
get straight somehow, only it's hopeless. I seem to get deeper and
deeper into a dark wood every day. Oh dear! there is nothing whatever
for me but to hope that things won't be found out."

There came a gentle knock at Ermengarde's door.

"Come in," she said, in a shaking voice. Her fears made her tremble at
every sound.

Petite appeared, bringing in a tempting little tray, with tea, and
bread-and-butter, and cake. She inquired if Ermengarde knew where Miss
St. Leger was. Ermie murmured something which the French maid tried to
interpret in vain.

"I'll look for ma'mselle in her room," she said.

She arranged the tea-tray comfortably for Ermie, and withdrew.

The little girl drank her tea; it soothed and comforted her, and she
was just falling into a doze, when her room door was opened without
any preliminary knock, and Flora, flushed, panting, and frightened,
ran in.

"Ermengarde, they are all returning. They are in the avenue already.
Oh, how cruel of you to come home without me! You might have got me
into an awful scrape."

"I could not help it, Flora. You should not have left me with such
people. They are not at all in our set. Father would not wish me to
know them."

"Oh, nonsense! They are as good as anybody."

"They are not; they are not good at all. They are vulgar and horrid. I
am surprised you should have taken me to see such people."

"Well, well, child, it's all over now. You'll never tell about to-day,
will you, Ermengarde?"

"Oh, I suppose not, Flora."

"You _suppose_ not? But you must promise faithfully. You don't know
what mischief you'll make, if you tell. Promise now, Ermengarde;
promise that you won't tell."

"Very well, I promise," replied Ermie, in a tired-out voice.

"That's a darling. I knew you were a pretty, sweet little pet. If ever
I can do anything for you, Ermie, I will. Kiss me now, love. I hear
their voices in the hall, and I must fly."

Flora rushed noisily out of the room, and Ermie breathed a sigh of
relief.

That evening at dinner the stout old gentleman was very kind to the
little girl who, with her hair down her back, and in a very simple
muslin frock, sat by his side. In fact he took a great deal more
notice of her than he did of the richly-attired young lady of the
previous evening. In the course of the meal he imparted one piece of
information to Ermengarde, which put her into extremely good spirits.
He told her that Miss St. Leger and her mamma were leaving by a very
early train on the following morning. Ermengarde quite laughed when
she heard this, and the old gentleman gave her a quick pleased wink,
as much as to say, "I thought you were too sensible to be long
influenced by the flattery of that young person."

Flora herself avoided Ermengarde all through the evening. She left her
entirely to the society of her child friend Lilias, and finally went
to bed without even bidding her good-by.



CHAPTER XX.

WHAT DID BASIL MEAN?


It was rather late on the evening of the second day after Ermengarde
and her father had gone to Glendower, that Marjorie, who had been
playing with the nursery children, and dragging the big baby about,
and otherwise disporting herself after the fashion which usually
induces great fatigue, crept slowly upstairs to her room.

She was really awfully tired, for the day had been a hot one, and
nurse had a headache, and Clara, the nursery-maid, was away on a
holiday. So Marjorie had scarcely breathing time all day long. Now she
was going to bed, and the poor little girl looked rather limp and
abject as she crept along the passage to her room.

"I do hope Ermie is having a jolly time," she murmured to herself. "I
can just fancy how delicious it is at Glendower now. It is such a
beautiful, perfect place, just hanging over the sea. And there's going
to be a moon. And the moon will shine on the sea, and make it
silver."

Marjorie reached her room. She climbed up on the window-ledge and
gazed out.

"Yes, the moon is getting up," she said, speaking her thoughts aloud,
which was one of her old-fashioned ways. "Oh, how beautiful the moon
must look on the sea. I wonder if Ermie is looking at it. Not that
poor Ermie cares for moons, or things of that sort; but Lilias does.
Who's that? O Basil, is it you? Have you come to talk to me? How
awfully jolly! There's lots of room for both of us on the
window-ledge. Squeeze in, Basil; there, aren't we snug? Please, may I
put my arm round your neck to keep myself tight?"

"All right, Mag. Only don't quite throttle me if you can help it. I
thought you had some one with you. I heard you chattering."

"Only to myself. It's a way I have."

"Well, go on, never mind me; I'm nobody."

"Oh, aren't you, just! Why, you are Basil, you're the eldest of us all
and the wisest, and the best."

"Hush, Maggie."

Basil's brow was actually contracted with pain.

"Yes, you are," repeated Marjorie, who saw the look, and began to feel
her little heart waxing very hot. "O Basil, I meant to spend all
to-day and yesterday clearing you; yes, I did, darling, I did! And I
never thought, when it was made to be my plain duty to stay at home,
that I was only to help in the nursery all day long. O Basil, I _am_
so sorry."

"I don't know what you mean, Maggie, by clearing me," said Basil.
"Clearing me of what?"

"Why, of course, you have been unjustly accused by father."

"Stop, Maggie. I have not been unjustly accused by anyone."

"Basil, you know you didn't break the little sister's miniature, nor
steal it from Miss Nelson. You know you never did!"

Basil put his arm round Marjorie's waist.

"You think not?" he said with a slow, rather glad sort of smile.

"_Think_ not? I know you didn't do it! _You_ do anything mean and
horrid and wicked and shabby like that! _You?_ Look here, Basil, even
if you told me you did it, I wouldn't believe you."

"All right, Mag; then I needn't say anything."

"Only you might just tell me----"

"What?"

"That you didn't do it. That you are shamefully and falsely
suspected."

"No, I could not tell you that, Maggie. My father has every right to
be annoyed with me."

"Basil!"

"I can't explain, my dear little Mag. You must just take it on trust
with me. I am not falsely accused of anything."

Marjorie unlinked her hand from Basil's clasp. She sprang off the
window-ledge on to the floor.

"Look here," she said, "I can't stand this! There's a mystery, and I'm
going to clear you. Oh, yes, I will; I am determined!"

"No, Maggie, you are not to clear me. I don't wish to be cleared."

"Basil, what do you mean?"

"What I say. I don't wish to be cleared."

"Then father is to go on being angry with you?"

Basil suppressed a quick sigh.

"I'm afraid he will, for a bit, Maggie," he answered. "He'll get over
it; I'm not the first fellow who has had to live a thing down."

"But when you never did the thing?"

"We won't go into that. I've got to live it down. Boys often have
rough kinds of things to get through, and this is one. It doesn't
matter a bit. Don't fret, Mag. I assure you, I don't feel at all bad
about it."

"Oh, look at the moon!" suddenly exclaimed Marjorie. "Isn't she a
lady? isn't she graceful? I wish those trees wouldn't hide her; she'd
be so lovely, if we could have a good look at her."

"We can't half see her here," said Basil. "Let's come into father's
room. We'll have a splendid view from one of his windows."

Marjorie had forgotten all about her fatigue now. She took Basil's
hand, and in a silent ecstasy which was part of her emotional little
nature, went with him into the big bedroom where Mr. Wilton slept.
They could see splendidly all over the park from here, and as they
looked, Marjorie poured out a good lot of her fervent little soul to
her favorite brother.

Basil was never a boy to say much about his feelings. Once he stooped
down and kissed Marjorie.

"What a romantic little puss you are," he said. Then he told her she
must be sleepy, and sent her away to bed.

"But you won't stay in this great lonely room by yourself, Basil."

"This room lonely?" said Basil with a smile. "I used to sit here with
mother. And her picture hangs there. I'm glad of the chance of having
a good look at it in the moonlight."

"Basil, do let me stay and look at it with you."

"No, Maggie. I don't want to be unkind. You are a dear little thing,
but it would help me best to be alone with mother's picture. You don't
misunderstand me, Mag?"

"Of course I don't. Good-night, _dear_ Basil; good-night, darling.
This talk with you has been as good as two or three days at
Glendower."

Marjorie ran off, and Basil was alone. He went and knelt down under
the girlish picture of his dead mother. The moonbeams were shining
full into the room, and they touched his dark head, and lit up his
young mother's fair face. Basil said no words aloud. He knelt quietly
for a moment; then he rose, and with tears in his eyes gave another
long look at the picture as he turned to leave the room.



CHAPTER XXI.

SUSY'S FEVERISH DESIRE.


Hudson was waiting for Marjorie when she came back to her bedroom.

"I don't know what to do, miss," she said to the little girl. "I'm
aware it's Mr. Wilton's orders, but still, what am I to do with the
poor woman? She's crying fit to break her heart, and it do seem cruel
not to sympathize with her. It's a shame to worry you, Miss Maggie,
but you're a very understanding little lady for your years."

"Well, Hudson, I'll help if I can," said Marjorie. "Who's the poor
woman? and what is she crying about?"

"It's Mrs. Collins, my dear. It seems that Susy isn't going on at all
satisfactory. The doctor says she has a kind of low fever, no way
catching, but very bad for the poor little girl. Susy cries quite
piteous to see Miss Ermengarde, and it does seem cruel that under the
circumstances there should be distinctions in rank."

"But Ermie is away," said Marjorie. "Susy can't see her, however much
she wishes to. Did you tell Mrs. Collins that?"

"I did, dear, and she said she daren't go back to the poor child with
a message of that sort; that she was so fretted, and contrary, and
feverish as it was, that she quite feared what would happen."

"But what's to be done, Hudson? Ermie really is far away, and nothing,
nothing that we can do can bring her back to-night."

"I know, Miss Maggie, but poor women with only children are apt to be
unreasonable, and Mrs. Collins does go on most bitter. She says she
knows there's a secret on Susy's mind, and she feels certain sure that
the child will never take a turn for the better until she can let out
what's preying on her. Mrs. Collins is certain that Miss Ermengarde
knows something about Susy, and that they have had some words between
them, and she says there'll be no rest for the poor little creature
until she and Miss Ermie have made whatever is wrong straight."

Marjorie stood looking very thoughtful.

"It's late, my dear, and you're tired," said the servant. "It seems a
shame to worry you. Hadn't you better go to bed?"

"Oh, don't, Hudson," said Marjorie. "What does it matter about my
going to bed, or even if I am a bit tired? I'm thinking about poor
Susy, and about Ermie. I've got a thought--I wonder--Hudson, I wish
father hadn't said so firmly that Ermengarde was not to see Susy
Collins."

"Well, missy, my master is in the right. Little ladies do themselves
no good when they make friends and equals of children like Susy. They
do themselves no good, and they do still more harm to the poor
children, whose heads get filled up with vain thoughts. But that's
neither here nor there, Miss Maggie, in the present case. Illness
alters everything, and levels all ranks, and if Miss Ermengarde was at
home, she ought to go and see Susy, and that without a minute's delay,
and your good father would be the very first to tell her so, Miss
Maggie."

"Then I know what I'll do," said Marjorie. "I'll go straight away this
minute to Miss Nelson, and ask her if _I_ may go and see Susy. I dare
say she'll let me--I'll try what I can do, anyhow. You run down and
tell Mrs. Collins, Hudson. I'm not Ermie, but I dare say Susy would
rather see me than no one."

Miss Nelson was writing letters in her own room, when Marjorie with a
flushed eager face burst in upon her. She made her request with great
earnestness. Miss Nelson listened anxiously.

"I will see Mrs. Collins," she said at last. The poor woman was
brought up to the governess's room, and at sight of her evident grief
Miss Nelson at once saw that she must act on her own independent
judgment, and explain matters by and by to Mr. Wilton.

"Ermengarde is away," she said to Mrs. Collins, "but if the case is
really serious, she can be sent for, and in the meantime I will take
Marjorie myself to the cottage, and if your little girl wishes to see
her, she can do so. Fetch your hat, Marjorie, dear, and a warm wrap,
for the dews are heavy to-night."

Marjorie was not long in getting herself ready, and twenty minutes
later the poor anxious mother and her two visitors found themselves in
the cottage.

"Look here, Mrs. Collins," said Marjorie, the moment they entered the
house. "I want you not to tell Susy I have come. I'd like to slip
upstairs very gently, and just see if I can do anything for her. I'll
promise to be awfully quiet, and not to do her a scrap of harm."

Mrs. Collins hesitated for a moment. Marjorie was not the Miss Wilton
Susy was asking for, and she feared exciting the poor refractory
little girl by not carrying out her wishes exactly. But as Susy's
tired feverish voice was distinctly heard in the upper room, and as
Miss Nelson said, "I think you can fully trust Marjorie; she is a most
tender little nurse," Mrs. Collins yielded.

"You must do as you think best, miss," she said.

Marjorie did not wait for another word. She ran lightly up the narrow
stairs, and entered the room where the sick child was sitting up in
bed.

"Is that you, Miss Ermie?" said Susy. "I thought you were never
coming--never. I thought you had forsook me, just when I am so bad,
and like to die."

"It's me, Susy," said Marjorie, coming forward. "Ermengarde's away, so
I came."

"Oh, I don't want you, Miss Marjorie," said Susan.

She flung herself back on the bed, and taking up the sheet threw it
over her face. Marjorie went up to the bedside.

"There ain't a bit of use in your staying, Miss Marjorie," continued
Susy, in a high-pitched, excited voice. "You don't know nothing 'bout
me and the picture. You ain't no good at all."

Marjorie's heart gave a great bound. The picture! That must surely
mean the broken miniature. "Basil, dear Basil," whispered the little
girl, "you may not have to live down all the horrid, wicked, cruel
suspicion after all."

"I wish you'd go away, Miss Marjorie," said Susy from under the
bedclothes. "I tell you miss, you can't do me one bit of good. You
don't know nothing about me and the picture."

"But I can hold your hand, Susy," said Marjorie; "and if your hand is
hot, mine is lovely and cool. If you're restless, let me hold your
hand. I often do so to baby if he can't sleep, and it quiets him ever
so."

Susy did not respond for a minute or two, but presently her poor
little hot hand was pushed out from under the bedclothes. Marjorie
grasped it firmly. Then she took the other hand, and softly rubbed the
hot, dry fingers. Susy opened her burning eyes, flung aside the sheet,
and looked at her quiet little visitor.

"You comfort me a bit, miss," she said. "I don't feel so mad with
restlessness as I did when you came in."

"That's because I have got soothing hands," said Marjorie. "Some
people have, and I suppose I'm one. The children at home always go to
sleep when I hold their hands. Don't you think you could shut your
eyes and try to go to sleep now, Susy?"

"Oh, miss, there's a weight on my mind. You can't sleep when you're
ill and like to die, and there's a weight pressing down on you."

"I don't believe you'll die, Susy; and if you've a weight on your
mind, you can tell God about it, you know."

"No, miss, God's awful angry with me."

"He's never angry with us, if we are sorry about things," answered
Marjorie. "He's our Father, and fathers always forgive their children
when they are sorry. If you are sorry, Susy, you can tell God, your
Father, and he'll be sure to forgive you at once."

"I'm sorry enough, miss, but I think Miss Ermie is as bad as me. I'd
never have done it, never, but for Miss Ermie. I think it's mean of
her to keep away from me when I'm ill."

"Ermengarde is not at home, Susy; but if you want her very badly, if
you really want her for anything important, I will write to her, and
she shall come home--I know she will."

"Thank you, Miss Marjorie; I didn't think nothing at all about what I
did when I was well, but now it seems to stay with me day and night,
and I'm sorry I was so spiteful and mean to Miss Nelson. But it wasn't
_my_ fault, miss--no, that it wasn't--that the picture was broke. What
is it, Miss Marjorie? How you start."

"Nothing," said Marjorie; "only perhaps, Susy, you'd rather tell Ermie
the rest; and she _shall_ come back; I promise you that that she
shall come back."

"Thank you, Miss Marjorie; you are real good, and you comfort me
wonderfully when you hold my hands."

"Well, I wish you'd let me put your sheets a little straight; there,
that's better. Now I'm going to turn your pillow. And Susy, do let me
push all that tangled hair out of your eyes. Now I'm going to kneel
here, and you must shut your eyes. I promise you shall see Ermie.
Good-night, Susy; go to sleep."

Miss Nelson waited quietly in the little kitchen downstairs. The
voices in Susy's sickroom ceased to murmur; presently Mrs. Collins
stole softly upstairs. She returned in a few minutes accompanied by
Marjorie. There were tears in the poor woman's eyes.

"My Susy's in a blessed, beautiful sleep!" she exclaimed. "And it's
all owing to this dear little lady; may Heaven reward her! I don't
know how to thank you, Miss Marjorie. Susy hasn't been in a blessed
healthful sleep like that since she broke her leg. It puts heart into
me to see the child looking quiet and peaceful once again. And now
I'll go upstairs and sit with her."

Miss Nelson and Marjorie walked quickly home together. When they
reached the house, the little girl made one request of her governess.

"I want to write to Ermie. May I do it to-night?"

"No, my love, I must forbid that. You are much too tired."

"But it _is_ so important--far more important than I can tell you, and
I promised Susy."

"Maggie, do you want Ermengarde to come home?"

"Oh, yes; she must come home."

"Then you shall send her a telegram in the morning."

"But that seems cruel. My letter will be far, far better. I could
explain things a little in a letter."

Miss Nelson considered for a moment.

"I have great trust in you, Maggie," she said. "I won't question you,
for I daresay you have heard something from Susan Collins in
confidence. I am sure you would not wish to recall Ermengarde unless
there was great need."

"There is; oh, really, there is."

"Then you shall go to bed now, and I will send you to Glendower with
Hudson by the first train in the morning."



CHAPTER XXII.

QUITE IN A NEW CHARACTER.


The day was lovely, and Ermengarde woke once more in the best of
spirits. Notwithstanding her unhappy day, she had enjoyed herself much
the night before. She had worn Lilias's simple white dress, and
Marjorie's Maltese cross with its narrow gold chain had given to her
appearance just that finish which best suited her youth.

Ermengarde had looked remarkably pretty, and many people had noticed
the fact, and one or two of Mr. Wilton's gentlemen friends had
congratulated him in quite audible tones on having such a charming and
lovely little daughter. Ermengarde had herself heard these words, and
had seen a glow, half of sadness half of pleasure, light up her
father's dark eyes, and her own heart had swelled within her. She
began to know the difference between real praise and flattery. She
thought how fascinating it would all be when she was really grown up,
and dull lessons were over, and Miss Nelson was no longer of the
slightest consequence, when she could dress as she pleased, and do as
she liked.

In the agreeable feelings which these thoughts gave her, she forgot
about Basil's displeasure. She ceased to remember that the dearest
friendship of her life was in danger of being broken, was so
jeopardized that it was scarcely likely that the severed threads could
ever be reunited with their old strength. Ermengarde was away from all
unpleasant things, her fears about Flora were completely removed, and
it was in her selfish and pleasure-loving nature to shut herself away
from the memory of what worried her, and to enter fully into the
delights of her present life. She rose gayly, and no one could have
been merrier than she when she joined Lilias at the breakfast-table.
The two girls had this meal again alone in Lilias Russell's pretty
boudoir.

"Shall we ride, or go out in the yacht?" said Lilias to her companion.
"I heard father making all arrangements for a sail last night, and I
know he'll take us if we ask him. Which would you like best, Ermie? If
you are a sailor, I can promise you a good jolly time on board the
_Albatross_. I was so sorry you were not with us yesterday."

"Oh, I am a capital sailor," said Ermengarde. "We were at the Isle of
Wight last year, and Basil and I sailed nearly every day. Maggie used
to get sick, but we never did."

"There's just a lovely breeze getting up to-day," said Lilias. "I'm so
glad you like sailing, Ermie, for I know we shall just have a perfect
time. If you'll stay here for a few minutes, I'll run and ask father
if he will take us with them."

Lilias stepped out through the open window, and Ermengarde leant
against a trellised pillar in the veranda, and looked out over the
peaceful summer scene, her pretty eyes full of a dreamy content. She
was so happy at the thought that Flora was really gone that she felt
very good and amiable; she liked herself all the better for having
such nice, comfortable, kindly thoughts about everyone. Even Eric
could scarcely have extracted a sharp retort from her at this moment.

Lilias came flying back. "It's all right!" she exclaimed. "The
_Albatross_ sails in an hour, and we are to meet father and Mr.
Wilton, and the other gentlemen who are going to sail, on the quay at
half-past eleven. I shall wear my white serge boating-costume. Have
you anything pretty to put on, Ermie?"

"Nothing as nice as that," said Ermengarde with a jealous look.
"There's my dark blue serge, but it will look dowdy beside your
white."

"I have two white serge boating-dresses," said Lilias. "I will lend
you one if you will let me. Our figures are almost exactly alike, and
we are the same height. My dress had scarcely to be altered at all for
you last night. Come, Ermie, don't look so solemn. You shall look
charming, I promise, and I will make you up such a posy to wear in
your button-hole. Now, shall we stroll about, or just sit here and be
lazy?"

"Do let us sit here," said Ermengarde. "You don't know what a comfort
the stillness is, Lily. At this hour at home all the little ones are
about, and they make such a fuss and noise. I think it's the worst
management to allow children to keep bothering one at all hours of the
day."

"Well, I'm not tried in that way," said Lilias, with a quick
half-suppressed sigh, "and as I adore children, I am afraid I can't
quite sympathize--O Ermie, what a queer old shandrydan is coming up
the avenue! Who can be in it? Who can be coming here at this hour?
Why, I do declare it's the one-horse fly from the station! Noah's Ark,
we call that fly, it's so rusty and fusty, and so little in demand;
for you know, when people come to Glendower, we always send for them,
and I don't think the station is any use except for shunting purposes,
and to land our visitors. Who _can_ be coming in Noah's Ark?"

Just then a very rough little head, surmounted by a brown straw hat,
was pushed out of one of the windows of the old fly; a lot of wild,
long, disordered hair began to wave in the breeze; and a hand was
waved frantically to the two girls, as they sat in the cool veranda.

"Why, it's Maggie!" exclaimed Lilias. "It's Maggie, the duck, the
sweet! How delicious! _What_ has brought her?"

She took a flying leap down the veranda steps, and across the lawn, to
meet the old fly.

"It's Maggie!" echoed Ermengarde, who did not rush to meet her little
sister. "What has happened? what _has_ gone wrong now?"

She rose from the luxurious chair in which she was lounging and,
throwing back her head, gazed watchfully at the fervent meeting which
was taking place between Lilias and Marjorie.

"Detestable of Maggie to follow me like this!" muttered Ermengarde. "I
wonder Miss Nelson allows it. Really our governess is worse than
useless, not a bit the sort of person to teach girls in our position.
Now, what _can_ be up? Oh, and there's Hudson! Poor, prim, proper old
Hudson. She has come to take care of the darling cherub who never does
wrong. Well I think it's taking a great liberty with Lady Russell's
establishment, and I only trust and hope father will give it hotly to
Miss Nelson."

"Well, Maggie." Ermengarde advanced a step or two in a very languid
manner. "Oh, don't throttle me, please. How very hot and messy you
look! and what has brought _you_ to Glendower?"

"The dear kind train, and the dear kind Noah's Ark," interrupted
Lilias. "Don't I bless them both! Mag, I want to show you my grotto; I
arranged the shells in the pattern you spoke of last year. They look
awfully well, only I'm not quite sure that I like such a broad row of
yellow shells round the edge."

Lilias spoke with some rapidity. She was standing opposite the two
sisters; she was not at all an obtuse girl, and she felt annoyed at
Ermengarde's coldness to Marjorie, and wanted to make up to her by
extra enthusiasm on her own part. Lilias had never seen the home side
of Ermie's character, and was amazed at the change in her expression.

"O Lily, I should love to look at the grotto!" exclaimed Marjorie,
"and perhaps I'll have time for just one peep. But I'm going back
again by the next train, and it's awfully important that I should
speak to Ermie--awfully important."

Marjorie was never a pretty child, and she certainly did not look her
best at that moment. Fatigue had deprived her of what slight color she
ever possessed; her hair was dreadfully tossed, her holland frock
rumpled and not too clean, and her really beautiful gray eyes looked
over-anxious. Marjorie's whole little face at that moment had a
curious careworn look, out of keeping with its round and somewhat
babyish form.

"If you want to talk to Ermie, I'll run away," said Lilias. "I'll find
mother, and tell her that you've come, Maggie; and we must discover
some expedient for keeping you, now that you have arrived."

When Lilias finished speaking she left the room, and Ermengarde
instantly turned to Marjorie.

"This is really too silly!" she said. "I felt obliged to you two days
ago, but I'd rather never have come than see you here now making such
an exhibition of yourself. Do you know that you have taken a very
great liberty, forcing yourself into the house this way?"

"I'm going back again by the next train, Ermie, and I _did_ think
that you'd rather have me than a telegram."

"_You_ than a telegram? I want neither you nor a telegram. Maggie, I
think you are the most exasperating child in the world!"

"Well, Ermie, you won't let me speak. I've come about Susy; she let
out all about the miniature to me last night."

"About the miniature!" echoed Ermengarde rather faintly. Her defiant
manner left her; her face turned pale. "The miniature!" she said. Then
her eyes blazed with anger. "Why have _you_ interfered with Susy
Collins, Maggie?" she said. "Have you disobeyed my father, too?"

"No, Ermie. I'll tell you about it--you have got to listen. I'll tell
you in as few words as I can. You know, Ermie, that Basil has got into
trouble with father. He gave Miss Nelson back the miniature, and
father thought that Basil had first stolen it, and then broken it; and
father was very, very angry with Basil, so Basil wouldn't come to
Glendower, although he wanted to. And last night Basil came to sit
with me in my room, and I told him I meant to clear him, for I knew as
well as anything that he had never stolen the picture or broken it, or
done anything shabby. And Basil said that I was _not_ to clear him,
that he didn't wish to be cleared, and that he'd live it down. Basil
and I went away to father's room to look at the moon, and Basil asked
me to leave him there, for he wanted to be alone with mother's
picture. Then I went away, and it was late, and I was going to bed,
when Hudson came and told me that Mrs. Collins had come, and that she
wanted you; and Mrs. Collins was crying awfully, and she said Susy was
very bad, and she was always calling out for you, and if you didn't go
to see her, perhaps Susy would die.

"So then I went to see Susy, and she really was awfully ill; she had
fever, and was half delirious; and she talked about the picture, and
about its being broken, and she wanted you so dreadfully. Then I
promised I'd bring you to her to-day, and that quieted her a little,
and no one else heard what she said about the miniature. Miss Nelson
went with me to the Collinses' cottage last night, and I told her how
important it was that you should see Susy, but she does not know the
reason. No one knows the reason but me."

"And you----" said Ermengarde.

"Yes, Ermie, I know. I couldn't help guessing, but I haven't told. I
have left that for you."

Ermengarde turned her head away.

"I thought I'd be better than a telegram," began Marjorie again.

"O Maggie, do stop talking for a moment, and let me think."

Ermengarde pressed her hand to her forehead. She felt utterly
bewildered, and a cold fear, the dread of exposure and discovery, gave
a furtive miserable expression to her face.

Just then Lilias came into the room.

"I hope your great confab is over?" she exclaimed. "Mother is so
pleased you have arrived, Maggie, and of course she insists on your
remaining, now that you have come. Hudson can go home and pack your
things, and send them to you, and you shall come out in the yacht with
us; we'll have twice as jolly a day as we would have had without you,
Maggie."

"But I must go home, really," said Marjorie, "and--so must Ermie, too,
I'm afraid."

"Yes," said Ermengarde, rousing herself with an effort, and coming
forward. "Maggie has brought me bad news. There's a poor little girl
at home, the daughter of our head gamekeeper. She broke her leg a week
ago, and she's very ill now with fever or something, and she's always
calling for me. I--I--used to be kind to her, and I think I must go.
Maggie says she never rests calling for me."

"It's very noble of you to go," said Lilias. "This quite alters the
case. Let me run and tell mother. Oh, how grieved I am! but dear
Ermie, of course you do right. That poor little girl--I can quite
understand her looking up to you and loving you, Ermie. Let me fly to
mother and tell her. She'll be so concerned!"

In a very few moments Lady Russell and Mr. Wilton had both joined the
conference. Mr. Wilton looked grave, and asked a few rather searching
questions, but Marjorie's downright little narrative of Susy's
sufferings softened everyone, and Ermengarde presently left the house,
with the chastened halo of a saint round her young head.

Her saint-like conduct, and the romantic devotion of the poor
retainer's daughter, made really quite a pretty story, and was firmly
believed in by Lady Russell and Lilias. Mr. Wilton, however, had his
doubts. "Ermie in the rôle of the self-denying martyr is too new and
foreign for me," he muttered. "There's something at the back of this.
Basil in disgrace (which he well deserves, the impudent young
scoundrel), and Ermengarde the friend and support of the suffering
poor! these things are too new to be altogether consistent. There's
something at the back of this mystery, and I shall go home and see
what it means to-morrow."



CHAPTER XXIII.

BLESSED AND HAPPY.


Ermengarde was sitting in her own room, and Marjorie was standing by
her side. It was the day after Ermie's unexpected return home. She had
spent a couple of hours with Susy, and Miss Nelson had given her a
grave but kind welcome. Now the first day was over, the first night
had gone by, and Ermengarde was sitting, resting her cheek upon her
hand, by the open window of her pretty bedroom.

Marjorie was lolling against the window-ledge; her anxious eyes were
fixed on Ermengarde, who was looking away from her, and whose pretty
face wore a particularly sullen expression.

"Well, Ermie, what will you do?" asked Marjorie, in a gentle voice.

"Oh, I don't know--don't worry me."

"But you must make up your mind. Miss Nelson is waiting."

"Let her wait; what do I care?"

"Ermie, what's the good of talking like that? Miss Nelson is our
governess, and mother used to be fond of her. You know it was mother
asked her to come and take care of us when she knew that God was going
to take her away. So, Ermie, there's no use in being disrespectful to
her, for, even if it wasn't very wrong, father wouldn't allow it for a
minute. Ermie, do you know that father has come back?"

"_No!_ What can he have come back for?" Ermengarde raised her brows in
some alarm. "I can't make out why he should have shortened his visit
to Glendower," she added anxiously.

"I can't tell you, Ermie. He's talking to Basil now; they are walking
up and down in the shrubbery."

"Oh, well, Basil--Basil is all right."

Marjorie felt a flood of indignant color filling her face.

"Basil won't tell," she said, in her sturdy voice. "That's quite true.
Basil has promised, and he'd _never_ break his word. But Miss Nelson
is different, and she--she has determined to find out the truth."

Ermengarde sprang from her chair.

"What do you mean, Maggie?"

"I'm awfully sorry, Ermie, but I really mean what I say. Miss Nelson
says she is determined to find out everything. She has sent for you
to speak to you. You had much better come to her. Oh, now, I knew
you'd be too late! That's her knock at the door."

The rather determined knock was immediately followed by the lady in
question. Miss Nelson was a very gentle woman, but her eyes now quite
blazed with anger.

"Ermengarde, it is quite a quarter of an hour since I sent for you."

Ermie lowered her eyes--she did not speak. Miss Nelson seated herself.

"Why did you not come to me, Ermengarde, when I sent Maggie for you?"

"I--I didn't want to."

Miss Nelson was silent for a minute.

"I anticipated your saying something of this kind," she remarked
presently. "So, as it is necessary we should meet, I took the trouble
to come to you. Ermengarde, look at me."

With a great effort Ermie raised her eyes.

"What did Susy Collins say to you, yesterday?"

"I--I don't want to tell you."

"I desire you to tell me."

"I--I can't."

"You mean you won't."

"I can't tell you, Miss Nelson."

Ermengarde clasped and unclasped her hands. Her expression was
piteous.

Miss Nelson was again silent for a few minutes.

"Ermengarde," she said then, "this is not the time for me to say I am
sorry for you. I have a duty to perform, and there are moments when
duties must come first of all. Susan Collins's excitement, her almost
unnatural desire to see you, have got to be accounted for. There is a
cloud over Basil that must be explained away. There is a mystery about
a little old miniature of mine: it was stolen by some one, and broken
by some one. The story of that miniature somebody must tell. At the
risk of your father's displeasure I took Maggie to visit Susy Collins
the other night. You were away on a visit with your father, and I
allowed Maggie to fetch you home. There is undoubtedly an adequate
reason for this, but I must know it, for I have to explain matters to
Mr. Wilton; therefore, Ermengarde, if you will not tell me fully and
frankly and at once all that occurred between you and Susy yesterday,
I will go myself and see the Collinses, and will learn the whole story
from Susy's own lips."

"Oh, you will not," said Ermengarde, "You never could be so cruel!"

All her self-possession had deserted her. Her face was white, her
voice trembled.

"I must go, Ermie. Wretched child, why don't you save yourself by
telling me all you know at once?"

"I cannot, I cannot!"

Ermengarde turned her head away. Miss Nelson rose to leave the room.

"I am going to my room," she said; "I will wait there for half an
hour. If at the end of half an hour you do not come to me, I must go
to see the Collinses."

Ermengarde covered her face with her hands. Miss Nelson left the room.

"Ermie," said Marjorie in her gentlest voice.

"I wish you'd leave me," said Ermengarde. "There would never have been
all this mischief but for you; I do wish you'd go away!"

"If you only would be brave enough to tell the truth," whispered
Marjorie.

"Do, do go away! Leave me to myself."

With great reluctance the little girl left the room. As she sidled
along the wall, she looked back several times. A word, a glance would
have brought her back. But the proud, still little figure by the
window did not move a muscle. The angry eyes looked steadily outward;
the lips were firmly closed. Marjorie banged the door after her; she
did not mean to, but the open window had caused a draught, and
Ermengarde with a long shiver realized that she was alone.

"Now, that's a comfort," she murmured; "now I can think. Have I time
to rush up to Susy, and tell her that she is not to let out a single
word? Half an hour--Miss Nelson gives me half an hour. I could reach
the Collinses' cottage in about ten minutes, if I flew over the grass;
five minutes with Susy, and then ten minutes back again. I can do
it--I will!"

She seized her hat, rushed to the door, ran along the corridor, and
down the stairs. In a moment she was out. Her fleet young steps
carried her lightly as a fawn over the grass, and down the path which
led to Susy's cottage. How fast her heart beat! Surely she would be in
time!

A short cut to the Collinses' cottage lay through a small paddock
which cut off an angle of the park. Ermie remembered this, and made
for it now. There was a stile to climb, but this was no obstacle to
the country-bred girl. She reached the paddock, vaulted lightly over
the stile, and was about to rush along the beaten path when she was
suddenly brought face to face with the two people whom in all the
world she wished least to see just then--her father and Basil. They,
too, were walking in the paddock, and met Ermengarde close to the
stile.

Ermie had never seen her father's face wear a sterner, or more
displeased expression, but it was not his glance which frightened her
most just then; it was a certain proud, resigned, yet strong look
which flashed at her for an instant out of Basil's beautiful eyes.
This, joined to an expression of suffering round his lips, gave
Ermengarde for the first time a glimpse of the abyss of deceit and
wrong-doing into which she was plunging.

A great longing for Basil's love and approbation rushed over her. The
desire for this was stronger in that first brief moment than her fear
of meeting her father. She stood perfectly still, her hands dropped to
her sides; she had not a word to say.

"You can go home," said Mr. Wilton, turning to his son; "I have
expressed my opinion; I don't mean to repeat it--there is nothing
further to say."

Basil did not make any reply to this speech, nor did he again look at
Ermengarde. He went to the stile, vaulted over it, and disappeared.

"And now, Ermie, where are you going to?" said her father.

"Home," she answered confusedly. "I am going home."

"My dear, I never knew that this way through the paddock led home.
Come, Ermengarde, I am tired of prevarication. What does all this
mean?"

"Don't ask me, father. I mean I'll tell you presently. I want to see
Miss Nelson."

"Is Miss Nelson at the other side of this paddock? Ermengarde, I
insist upon it, I will be answered."

"Give me half an hour, father, a quarter of an hour--ten minutes--just
to see Miss Nelson, and--and--Basil."

"Then you are in league with Basil, too! A nice state I find my family
in! I give a distinct and simple order to you, which you disobey.
Basil, whom I always supposed to be the soul of honor, has behaved
with wanton cruelty toward a lady who was your mother's friend, whom I
respect, and who has been placed more or less in authority over you
all. Not a word, Ermengarde. Basil has as good as confessed his guilt,
and I can only say that my old opinion of him can never be restored.
Then, I take you away on a visit, and Maggie comes to fetch you home,
because, forsooth, the gamekeeper's daughter with whom I have
forbidden you to have any intercourse is feverish, and wants to have a
conversation with you. Nonsense, Ermie! you posed very well at the
Russells' yesterday as a little philanthropist, but that rôle, my
dear, is not yours. Susan Collins had a far stronger reason for
recalling you from Glendower than the simple desire for your company.
Come, Ermie, this mystery has got to be cleared up. This is _not_ the
road home, nor am I aware that Miss Nelson resides at the other end of
the paddock. But this narrow path leads directly to Collins's cottage.
I presume you are going there. If you have no objection, we will go
together, my dear."

"Yes, father, I have every objection. You need not go to Collins's.
I--I won't keep it in any longer."

"I thought I should bring you to your senses. Now, what have you got
to say?"

"It's on account of Basil."

"Leave Basil's name out, please. I am not going to be cajoled into
restoring him to my favor again."

Ermengarde's face, which had been growing whiter and whiter during
this interview, now became convulsed with a spasm of great agony. She
put up her trembling hands to cover it. This was not a moment for
tears. Her hot eyes were dry.

"Father, you don't know Basil. _He_ has done nothing wrong, nothing.
It's all me. It's all me, father."

And then the miserable story, bit by bit, was revealed to Mr. Wilton;
it was told reluctantly, for even now Ermengarde would have shielded
herself if she could. Without a single word or comment, the narrative
was listened to. Then Mr. Wilton, taking Ermie's hand, walked silently
back to the house with her. Miss Wilton came down the steps of the
front entrance to meet them.

"Good-morning, Ermengarde," she said. "How queer and dragged you look?
Roderick, I want to speak to you."

"I will come to you presently, Elizabeth. I am particularly engaged
just now."

"But you are not going to take that child in through the front
entrance?"

"Will you allow me to pass, please?"

Mr. Wilton's voice was so firm that his sister made no further
comment, but with a shrug of her shoulders turned aside.

"If only Elizabeth were a different woman, I might not have scenes
like this," murmured the poor man.

He went to his study, and there, to his great astonishment, found
Marjorie and Basil both waiting for him.

"We saw you coming up the field" said Marjorie at once. "And I knew
Ermie had told. I knew it by her face, and the way she walked. I told
Basil so, and I said we would come in here, for I guessed you'd bring
Ermie here. Dear Ermie, you are brave now! Dear Ermie!"

Marjorie ran up to her sister.

"It's all going to be quite right now," she said. And she raised her
flushed eager face, and looked at her father.

Mr. Wilton went straight to Basil's side.

"I misunderstood you, my boy; forgive me," he said.

Ermengarde stood erect and stiff. She had not shed a tear, nor made
any response to Marjorie's words. Her whole soul was in her face,
however. She was watching her father's greeting of Basil. She waited
for its effect.

The few words uttered by Mr. Wilton were magical. Something seemed to
flash out of Basil's eyes. They looked straight up into his father's,
then dropped to the ground.

"Father," he murmured. His father grasped his hand.

"O Basil," suddenly sobbed Ermie. Her fortitude gave way; she rushed
to her brother and almost groveled at his feet.

"Now, what's to be done?" said Mr. Wilton, turning in a perplexed kind
of way to his younger daughter. "I confess it, I never felt more
confused and put out in all my life. I brought Ermengarde here to
punish her most severely."

"Oh, please, father, don't! Let it be a full, complete, jolly kind of
forgiveness all round. Look at Basil, father."

Mr. Wilton turned his head. Basil was on his knees, and his arms were
round Ermie, her head rested on his shoulder.

"Oh, father, do let us come out and leave them together for a little!"

"Really, Maggie, you don't treat me with a bit of respect," said Mr.
Wilton. But his voice was low, the frown had cleared from his brow,
and he pinched Marjorie's firm round cheek.

"I suppose I must humor you, little woman," he said, "for after all
you are the only member of my family who never gets into scrapes."

"Oh, father, I'm so happy!" They were out side the study door now, and
Marjorie, still clinging to her father's hand, was skipping up and
down. "Everything will be as right as possible now, and no one, no one
in all the world can help Ermie as Basil can."

"I believe you are right there, Maggie," said Mr. Wilton. "My poor
lad, he certainly has done a noble, Quixotic sort of thing. I can't
forgive myself for being so harsh with him."

"Oh, father, Basil quite understood. He didn't wish to be cleared, you
know."

"Yes, yes, I see daylight at last."

"Father, what do you mean by Basil being Quixotic?"

"I'll tell you another time, puss. And so _you_ knew of this all the
time?"

"Only since the night before last. I wanted Ermie to tell you herself.
Basil wouldn't tell, and he wouldn't let me. Now it's all right. Oh,
how happy I am! Now it's all right."

"And you really mean me to let Ermengarde off her punishment, Mag?"

"Well, father?"

Marjorie put her head a little on one side, and adopted her most
sagacious and goody-goody manner.

"Wouldn't it be well to see if Ermie hasn't learnt something by this
lesson, you know? I expect Ermie has suffered a lot."

"Not she--not she."

"Oh, but, father, I think she has. Couldn't you wait until the next
time to punish Ermie, father?"

"Well, you're a dear child," said Mr. Wilton, "and perhaps, for your
sake----"

"Oh, no, father, for Basil's sake."

"Well then, for Basil's sake."

Marjorie kissed her father about a dozen times.

"You'll let Ermie just learn by her experience to be better another
time, and that will be her only punishment," said Marjorie, in her
wisest manner.

"Well, Maggie, I suppose I must yield to you. And now, as this is to
be, and I am not to assume the rôle of the severe father--between
ourselves, Maggie, I hate rôles--do let us drop the subject. I feel
inclined for a game with the young ones. What do you say?"

"I say that the sun has come out, and I am as happy as the day is
long," replied Marjorie. "Give me another kiss, please, father. Lucy,
is that you? Father is coming to have a romp with us all. Just one
minute, please, father. I must go and tell Miss Nelson the good news."

"What a blessed, happy, dear little thing Maggie is!" thought Mr.
Wilton as, holding Lucy's hand, he walked slowly to the nursery
playground. "She's more like her mother than any of them. Yes, this
may be a lesson to Ermengarde. Poor child, I hope so."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was late that evening when Ermengarde and Basil, standing side by
side under their mother's picture, solemnly kissed each other.

"Basil, you will never love me in the old way again."

"I love you better than anyone else in all the world, Ermie. Look up
into mother's eyes; they are smiling at you."

"I know what they are saying," answered Ermengarde. She clasped her
hands; there was a stronger, better look than Basil had ever noticed
before on her pretty face. "Mother's eyes are saying, 'You have been
very selfish, Ermie, and very----' What is it, Basil?"

"Yes," interrupted Basil. "I think selfishness was at the root of all
this trouble. I never knew any one so _unselfish_ as Maggie."

"And mother's eyes say," continued Ermengarde, "'Take
courage--and--and----'"

"I think mother is telling you to try to copy our dear little Maggie,"
said Basil.


THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *



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that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
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can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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