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Title: My New Home
Author: Molesworth, Mrs., 1839-1921
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My New Home" ***

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               +------------------------------------------+
               |            Transcriber's Note            |
               |Spelling, punctuation and inconsistencies |
               |in the original book have been retained.  |
               +------------------------------------------+



[Illustration: Book Cover]



  MY NEW HOME

[Illustration: 'I'd like to know your sisters that are as little as me's
names.'--p. 39.] _Front._



[Illustration: Title Page]


  MY NEW HOME

  by Mrs Molesworth

  Illustrated by
  L Leslie Brooke

  Macmillan and Co
  London: 1894



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER I                                                         PAGE

    WINDY GAP                                                          1

  CHAPTER II

    AT THE FOOT OF THE LADDER                                         15

  CHAPTER III

    ONE AND SEVEN                                                     28

  CHAPTER IV

    NEW FRIENDS AND A PLAN                                            43

  CHAPTER V

    A HAPPY DAY                                                       58

  CHAPTER VI

    'WAVING VIEW'                                                     71

  CHAPTER VII

    THE BEGINNING OF TROUBLES                                         83

  CHAPTER VIII

    TWO LETTERS                                                       96

  CHAPTER IX

    A GREAT CHANGE                                                   111

  CHAPTER X

    NO. 29 CHICHESTER SQUARE                                         125

  CHAPTER XI

    AN ARRIVAL                                                       139

  CHAPTER XII

    A CATASTROPHE                                                    153

  CHAPTER XIII

    HARRY                                                            168

  CHAPTER XIV

    KEZIA'S COUNSEL                                                  183

  CHAPTER XV

    'HAPPY EVER SINCE'                                               195



ILLUSTRATIONS


  'I'd like to know your sisters that are as little as me's
  names.'                                                  _Frontispiece_

  Grandmamma's chair was still waiting to be decorated,
  so the next hour was spent very happily.                            67

  'I do wonder why they are so late'.                                 82

  A nice-looking oldish man came forward and bowed
  respectfully to grandmamma.                                        126

  It was the portrait of a young girl.                               139

  Up rushed two or three ... men, Cousin Cosmo the
  first.                                                             160

  It was all uphill too.                                             173



CHAPTER I

WINDY GAP


My name is Helena, and I am fourteen past. I have two other Christian
names; one of them is rather queer. It is 'Naomi.' I don't mind having
it, as I am never called by it, but I don't sign it often because it is
such an odd name. My third name is not uncommon. It is just 'Charlotte.'
So my whole name is 'Helena Charlotte Naomi Wingfield.'

I have never been called by any short name, like 'Lena,' or 'Nellie.' I
think the reason must be that I am an only child. I have never had any
big brother to shout out 'Nell' all over the house, or dear baby sisters
who couldn't say 'Helena' properly. And what seems still sadder than
having no brothers or sisters, I have never had a mother that I could
remember. For mamma died when I was not much more than a year old, and
papa six months before that.

But my history has not been as sad as you might think from this. I was
very happy indeed when I was quite a little child. Till I was nine years
old I really did not know what troubles were, for I lived with
grandmamma, and she made up to me for everything I had not got: we loved
each other so very dearly.

I will tell you about our life.

Grandmamma was not at all the sort of person most children think of when
they hear of a grandmother in a story. She was not old, with white hair
and spectacles and always a shawl on, even in the house, and very
old-fashioned in her ways. She did wear caps, at least I _think_ she
always did, for, of course, she was not _young_. But her hair was very
nicely done under them, and they were pretty fluffy things. She made
them herself, and she made a great many other things herself--for me
too. For, you will perhaps wonder more than ever at my saying what a
happy child I was, when I tell you that we were really _very_ poor.

I cannot tell you exactly how much or how little we had to live upon,
and _most_ children would not understand any the better if I did. For a
hundred pounds a year even, sounds a great deal to a child, and yet it
is very little indeed for one lady by herself to live upon, and of
course still less for two people. And I don't think we had much more
than that. Grandmamma told me when I grew old enough to understand
better, that when I first came to live with her, after both papa and
mamma were dead, and she found that there was no money for me--that was
not poor papa's fault; he had done all that could be done, but the money
was lost by other people's wrong-doing--well, as I was saying, when
grandmamma found how it was, she thought over about doing something to
make more. She was very clever in many ways; she could speak several
languages, and she knew a lot about music, though she had given up
playing, and she might have begun a school as far as her cleverness
went. But she had no savings to furnish a large enough house with, and
she did not know of any pupils. She could not bear the thought of
parting with me, otherwise she might perhaps have gone to be some grand
sort of housekeeper, which even quite, _quite_ ladies are sometimes, or
she might have joined somebody in having a shop. But after a lot of
thinking, she settled she would rather try to live on what she had, in
some quiet, healthy, country place, though I believe she did earn some
money by doing beautiful embroidery work, for I remember seeing her make
lovely things which were never used in our house. This could not have
gone on for long, however, as granny's eyes grew weak, and then I think
she did no sewing except making our own clothes.

Now I must tell you about our home. It was quite a strange place to
grandmamma when we first came there, but _I_ can never feel as if it had
been so. For it was the first place I can remember, as I was only a year
old, or a little more--and children very seldom remember anything before
they are three--when we settled down at Windy Gap.

That was the name of our cottage. It is a nice breezy name, isn't it?
though it does sound rather cold. And in some ways it _was_ cold, at
least it was windy, and quite suited its name, though at some seasons of
the year it was very calm and sheltered. Sheltered on two sides it
always was, for it stood in a sort of nest a little way up the
Middlemoor Hills, with high ground on the north and on the east, so that
the only winds really to be feared could never do us much harm. It was
more a nest than a 'gap,' for inside, it was so cosy, so very cosy,
even in winter. The walls were nice and thick, built of rather
gloomy-looking, rough gray stone, and the windows were deep--deep enough
to have window-seats in them, where granny and I used often to sit with
our books or work, as the inner part of the rooms, owing to the shape of
the windows, was rather dark, and the rooms of course were small.

We had a little drawing-room, which we always sat in, and a still
smaller dining-room, which was very nice, though in reality it was more
a kitchen than a dining-room. It had a neat kitchen range and an oven,
and some things had to be cooked there, though there was another little
kitchen across the passage where our servant Kezia did all the messy
work--peeling potatoes, and washing up, and all those sorts of things,
you know. The dining-room-kitchen was used as little as possible for
cooking, and grandmamma was so very, very neat and particular that it
was almost as pretty and cosy as the drawing-room.

Upstairs there were three bedrooms--a good-sized one for grandmamma, a
smaller one beside it for me, and a still smaller one with a rather
sloping roof for Kezia. The house is very easy to understand, you see,
for it was just three and three, three upstairs rooms over three
downstairs ones. But there was rather a nice little entrance hall, or
closed-in porch, and the passages were pretty wide. So it did not seem
at all a poky or stuffy house though it was so small. Indeed, one could
scarcely fancy a 'Windy Gap Cottage' anything but fresh and airy, could
one?

I was never tired of hearing the story of the day that grandmamma first
came to Middlemead to look for a house. She told it me so often that I
seem to know all about it just as if I had been with her, instead of
being a stupid, helpless little baby left behind with my nurse--Kezia
was my nurse then--while poor granny had to go travelling all about,
house-hunting by herself!

What made her first think of Middlemead she has never been able to
remember. She did not know any one there, and she had never been there
in her life. She fancies it was that she had read in some book or
advertisement perhaps, that it was so very healthy, and dear
grandmamma's one idea was to make me as strong as she could; for I was
rather a delicate child. But for me, indeed, I don't think she would
have cared where she lived, or to live at all, except that she was so
very good.

'As long as any one is left alive,' she has often said to me, 'it shows
that there is something for them to be or to do in the world, and they
must try to find out what it is.'

But there was not much difficulty for grandmamma to find out what _her_
principal use in the world was to be! It was all ready indeed--it was
poor, little, puny, delicate, helpless _me_!

So very likely it was as she thought--just the hearing how splendidly
healthy the place was--that made her travel down to Middlemead in those
early spring days, that first sad year after mamma's death, to look for
a nest for her little fledgling. She arrived there in pretty good
spirits; she had written to a house-agent and had got the names of two
or three 'to let' houses, which she at once tramped off from the station
to look at, for she was very anxious not to spend a penny more than she
could help. But, oh dear, how her spirits went down! The houses were
dreadful; one was a miserable sort of genteel cottage in a row of others
all exactly the same, with lots of messy-looking children playing about
in the untidy strips of garden in front. _That_ would certainly not do,
for even if the house itself had been the least nice, grandmamma felt
sure I would catch measles and scarlet-fever and hooping-cough every
two or three days! The next one was a still more genteel 'semi-detached'
villa, but it was very badly built, the walls were like paper, and it
faced north and east, and had been standing empty, no doubt, for these
reasons, for years. _It_ would not do. Then poor granny plodded back to
the house agent's again. He isn't only a house agent, he has a
stationer's and bookseller's shop, and his name is Timbs. I know him
quite well. He is rather a nice man, and though she was a stranger of
course, he seemed sorry for grandmamma's disappointment.

'There are several very good little houses that I am sure you would
like,' he said to her, 'and one or two of them are very small--but it is
the rent. For though Middlemead is scarcely more than a village it is
much in repute for its healthiness, and the rents are rising.'

'What are the rents of the smallest of the houses you speak of?'
grandmamma asked.

'Forty pounds is the cheapest,' Mr. Timbs answered, 'and the situation
of that is not so good. Rather low and chilly in winter, and somewhat
lonely.'

'I don't mind about the loneliness,' said grandmamma, 'but a low or
damp situation would never do.'

Mr. Timbs was looking over his lists as she spoke. Her words seemed to
strike him, and he suddenly peered up through his spectacles.

'You don't mind about loneliness,' he repeated. 'Then I wonder----' and
he turned over the leaves of his book quickly. 'There _is_ another house
to let,' he said; 'to tell the truth I had forgotten about it, for it
has never been to let unfurnished before; and it would be considered too
lonely for all the year round by most people.'

'Are there no houses near?' asked grandmamma. 'I don't fancy Middlemead
is the sort of place where one need fear burglars, and besides,' she
went on with a little smile, 'we should not have much of value to steal.
The silver plate that I have I shall leave for the most part in London.
But in case of sudden illness or any alarm of that kind, I should not
like to be out of reach of everybody.'

'There are two or three small cottages close to the little house I am
thinking of,' said Mr. Timbs, 'and the people in them are very
respectable. I leave the key with one of them.'

Then he went on to tell grandmamma exactly where it was, how to get
there, and all about it, and with every word, dear granny said her
heart grew lighter and lighter. She really began to hope she had found
a nest for her poor little homeless bird--that was _me_, you
understand--especially when Mr. Timbs finished up by saying that the
rent was only twelve pounds a year, one pound a month. And she _had_
made up her mind to give as much as twenty pounds if she could find
nothing nice and healthy for less.

She looked at her watch; yes, there was still time to go to see Windy
Gap Cottage and yet get back to the station in time for the train she
had fixed to go back by--that is to say, if she took a fly. She has
often told me how she stood and considered about that fly. Was it worth
while to go to the expense? Yes, she decided it was, for after all if
she found nothing to suit us at Middlemead she would have to set off on
her travels again to house-hunt somewhere else. It would be penny wise
and pound foolish to save that fly.

Mr. Timbs seemed pleased when she said she would go at once--I suppose
so many people go to house agents asking about houses which they never
take, that when anybody comes who is quite in earnest they feel like a
fisherman when he has really hooked a fish. He grew quite eager and
excited and said he would go with the lady himself, if she would allow
him to take a seat beside the driver to save time. And of course granny
was very glad for him to come.

It was getting towards evening when she saw Windy Gap for the first
time, and it happened to be a very still evening--the name hardly seemed
suitable, and she said so to Mr. Timbs. He smiled and shook his head and
answered that he only hoped if she did come there to live that she would
not find the name _too_ suitable. Still, though there was a good deal of
wind to be _heard_, he went on to explain that the cottage was, as I
have already said, well sheltered on the cold sides, and also well and
strongly built.

'None of your "paper-mashy," one brick thick, run-up-to-tumble-down
houses,' said Mr. Timbs with satisfaction, which was certainly quite
true.

The end of it was, as of course you know already, that grandmamma fixed
to take it. She talked it all over with Mr. Timbs, who 'made notes,' and
promised to write to her about one or two things that could not be
settled at once, and then 'with a very thankful heart,' as she always
says when she talks of that day, she drove away again off to the
station.

The sun was just beginning to think about setting when she walked down
the little steep garden path and a short way over the rough, hill
cart-track--for nothing on wheels can come quite close up to the gate of
Windy Gap--and already she could see what a beautiful show there was
going to be over there in the west. She stood still for a minute to look
at it.

'Yes, madam,' said old Timbs, though she had not spoken, 'yes, that is a
sight worth adding a five pound note on to the rent of the cottage for,
in my opinion. The sunsets here are something wonderful, and there's no
house better placed for seeing them than Windy Gap. "Sunset View" it
might have been called, I have often thought.'

'I can quite believe what you say,' grandmamma replied, 'and I am very
glad to have had a glimpse of it on this first visit.'

Many and many a time since then have we sat or stood together there,
granny and I, watching the sun's good-night. I think she must have begun
to teach me to look at it while I was still almost a baby. For these
wonderful sunsets seem mixed up in my mind with the very first things I
can remember. And still more with the most solemn and beautiful thoughts
I have ever had. I always fancied when I was _very_ tiny that if only we
could have pushed away the long low stretch of hills which prevented
our seeing the very last of the dear sun, we should have had an actual
peep into heaven, or at least that we should have seen the golden gates
leading there. And I never watched the sun set without sending a message
by him to papa and mamma. Only in my own mind, of course. I never told
grandmamma about it for years and years. But I did feel sure he went
there every night and that the beautiful colours had to do with that
somehow.

Grandmamma felt as if the lovely glow in the sky was a sort of good omen
for our life at Windy Gap, and she felt happier on her journey back in
the railway that evening than she had done since papa and mamma died.

She told Kezia and me all about it--you will be amused at my saying she
told _me_, for of course I was only a baby and couldn't understand. But
she used to fancy I _did_ understand a little, and she got into the way
of talking to me when we were alone together especially, almost as if
she was thinking aloud. I cannot remember the time when she didn't talk
to me 'sensibly,' and perhaps that made me a little old for my age.
Granny says I used to grow quite grave when she talked seriously, and
that I would laugh and crow with pleasure when she seemed bright and
happy. And this made her try more than anything else to _be_ bright and
happy.

Dear, dear grandmamma--how very, exceedingly unselfish she was! For I
now see what a really sad life most people would have thought hers. All
her dearest ones gone; her husband, her son and her son's wife--mamma, I
mean--whom she had loved nearly, if not quite as much, as if she had
been her own daughter; and she left behind when she was getting old, to
take care of one tiny little baby girl--and to be so poor, too. I don't
think even now I quite understand her goodness, but every day I am
getting to see it more and more, even though at one time I was both
ungrateful and very silly, as you will hear before you come to the end
of this little history.

And now that I have explained as well as I can about grandmamma and
myself, and how and why we came to live in the funny little gray stone
cottage perched up among the Middlemoor Hills, I will go on with what I
can remember myself; for up till now, you see, all I have written has
been what was told to me by other people, especially of course by
granny.



CHAPTER II

AT THE FOOT OF THE LADDER


No, perhaps I was rather hasty in saying I could now go straight on
about what I remember myself. There are still a few things belonging to
the time before I can remember, which I had better explain now, to keep
it all in order.

I have spoken of grandmamma as being alone in the world, and so she
was--as far as having no one _very_ near her--no other children, and not
any brothers or sisters of her own. And on my mother's side I had no
relations worth counting. Mamma was an only child, and her father had
married again after _her_ mother died, and then, some years after, he
died himself, and mamma's half-brothers and sisters had never even seen
her, as they were out in India. So none of her relations have anything
to do with my story or with _me_.

But grandmamma had one nephew whom she had been very fond of when he
was a boy, and whom she had seen a good deal of, as he and papa were at
school together. His name was not the same as ours, for he was the son
of a sister of grandpapa's, not of a brother. It was Vandeleur, Mr.
Cosmo Vandeleur.

He was abroad when our great troubles came--I forget where, for though
he was not a soldier, he moved about the world a good deal to all sorts
of out-of-the-way places, and very often for months and months together,
grandmamma never heard anything about him. And one of the things that
made her still lonelier and sadder when we first came to Windy Gap was
that he had never answered her letters, or written to her for a very
long time.

She thought it was impossible that he had not got her letters, and
almost more impossible that he had not seen poor papa's death in some of
the newspapers.

And as it happened he had seen it and he had written to her once,
anyway, though she never got the letter. He had troubles of his own that
he did not say very much about, for he had married a good while ago, and
though his wife was very nice, she was very, _very_ delicate.

Still, his name was familiar to me. I can always remember hearing
grandmamma talk of 'Cosmo,' and when she told me little anecdotes of
papa as a boy, his cousin was pretty sure to come into the story.

And Kezia used to speak of him too--'Master Cosmo,' she always called
him. For she had been a young under-servant of grandmamma's long ago,
when grandpapa was alive and before the money was lost.

That is one thing I want to say--that though Kezia was our only servant,
she was not at all common or rough. She turned herself into what is
called 'a maid-of-all-work,' from being my nurse, just out of love for
granny and me. And she was very good and very kind. Since I have grown
older and have seen more of other children and how they live, I often
think how much better off I was than most, even though my home was only
a cottage and we lived so simply, and even poorly, in some ways.
Everything was so open and happy about my life. I was not afraid of
anybody or anything. And I have known children who, though their parents
were very rich and they lived very grandly, had really a great deal to
bear from cross or unkind nurses or maids, whom they were frightened to
complain of. For children, unless they are _very_ spoilt, are not so
ready to complain as big people think. I had nothing to complain of, but
if I had had anything, it would have been easy to tell grandmamma all
about it at once; it would never have entered my head not to tell her.
She knew everything about me, and I knew everything about her that it
was good for me to know while I was still so young--more, perhaps, than
some people would think a child should know--about our not having much
money and needing to be careful, and things like that. But it did not do
me any harm. Children don't take _that_ kind of trouble to heart. I was
proud of being treated sensibly, and of feeling that in many little ways
I could help her as I could not have done if she had not explained.

And if ever there was anything she did not tell me about, even the
keeping it back was done in an open sort of way. Granny made no
mysteries. She would just say simply--

'I cannot tell you, my dear,' or 'You could not understand about it at
present.'

So that I trusted her--'always,' I was going to say, but, alas, there
came a time when I did not trust her enough, and from that great fault
of mine came all the troubles I ever had.

_Now_ I will go straight on.

Have you ever looked back and tried to find out what is really the very
first thing you can remember? It is rather interesting--now and then the
b--no, I don't mean to speak of them till they come properly into my
story--now and then I try to look back like that, and I get a strange
feeling that it is all there, if only I could keep hold of the thread,
as it were. But I cannot; it melts into a mist, and the very first thing
I _can_ clearly remember stands out the same again.

This is it.

I see myself--those looking backs always are like pictures; you seem to
be watching yourself, even while you feel it is yourself--I see myself,
a little trot of a girl, in a pale gray merino frock, with a muslin
pinafore covering me nearly all over, and a broad sash of Roman colours,
with a good deal of pale blue in it (I have the sash still, so it isn't
much praise to my memory to know all about _it_), tied round my waist,
running fast down the short steep garden path to where granny is
standing at the gate. I go faster and faster, beginning to get a little
frightened as I feel I can't stop myself. Then granny calls out--

'Take care, take care, my darling,' and all in a minute I feel
safe--caught in her arms, and held close. It is a lovely feeling. And
then I hear her say--

'My little girlie must not try to run so fast alone. She might have
fallen and hurt herself badly if granny had not been there.'

There is to me a sort of parable, or allegory, in that first thing I can
remember, and I think it will seem to go on and fit into all my life,
even if I live to be as old as grandmamma is now. It is like feeling
that there are always arms ready to keep us safe, through all the
foolish and even wrong things we do--if only we will trust them and run
into them. I hope the children who _may_ some day read this won't say I
am preaching, or make fun of it. I must tell what I really have felt and
thought, or else it would be a pretence of a story altogether. And this
first remembrance has always stayed with me.

Then come the sunsets. I have told you a little about them, already. I
must often have looked at them before I can remember, but one specially
beautiful has kept in my mind because it was on one of my birthdays.

I think it must have been my third birthday, though granny is half
inclined to think it was my fourth. _I_ don't, because if it had been my
fourth I should remember _some_ things between it and my third
birthday, and I don't--nothing at all, between the running into granny's
arms, which she too remembers, and which was before I was three, there
is nothing I can get hold of, till that lovely sunset.

I was sitting at the window when it began. I was rather tired--I suppose
I had been excited by its being my birthday, for dear granny always
contrived to give me some extra pleasures on that day--and I remember I
had a new doll in my lap, whom I had been undressing to be ready to be
put to bed with me. I almost think I had fallen asleep for a minute or
two, for it seems as if all of a sudden I had caught sight of the sky.
It must have been particularly beautiful, for I called out--

'Oh, look, look, they're lighting all the beauty candles in heaven.
Look, Dollysweet, it's for my birfday.'

Grandmamma was in the room and she heard me. But for a minute or two she
did not say anything, and I went on talking to Dolly and pretending or
fancying that Dolly talked back to me.

Then granny came softly behind me and stood looking out too. I did not
know she was there till I heard her saying some words to herself. Of
course I did not understand them, yet the sound of them must have stayed
in my ears. Since then I have learnt the verses for myself, and they
always come back to me when I see anything very beautiful--like the
trees and the flowers in summer, or the stars at night, and above all,
lovely sunsets.

But all I heard then was just--

          'Good beyond compare,
  If thus Thy meaner works are fair'--

and all I _remembered_ was--

  '... beyond compare,
              ... are fair.'

I said them over and over to myself, and a funny fancy grew out of them,
when I got to understand what 'beyond' meant. I took it into my head
that 'compare' was the name of the hills, which, as I have said, came
between us and the horizon on the west, and prevented our seeing the
last of the sunset.

And I used to make wonderful fairy stories to myself about the country
beyond or behind those hills--the country I called 'Compare,' where
something, or everything--for I had lost the words just before, was
'fair' in some marvellous way I could not even picture to myself. For I
soon learnt to know that 'fair' meant beautiful--I think I learnt it
first from some of the old fairy stories grandmamma used to tell me when
we sat at work.

That evening she took me up in her arms and kissed me.

'The sun is going to bed,' she said to me, 'and so must my little
Helena, even though it is her birthday.'

'And so must Dollysweet,' I said. I always called that doll
'Dollysweet,' and I ran the words together as if it was one name.

'Yes, certainly,' said granny.

Then she took my hand and I trotted upstairs beside her, carrying
Dollysweet, of course. And there, up in my little room--I had already
begun to sleep alone in my little room, though the door was always left
open between it and grandmamma's--there, at the ending of my birthday
was another lovely surprise. For, standing in a chair beside my cot was
a bed for my doll--_so_ pretty and cosy-looking.

Wasn't it nice of granny? I never knew any one like her for having _new_
sort of ideas. It made me go to bed so very, very happily, and that is
not always the case the night of a birthday. I have known children who,
even when they are pretty big, cry themselves to sleep because the
long-looked-for day is over.

It did not matter to me that my dolly's bed had cost nothing--except,
indeed, what was far more really precious than money--granny's loving
thought and work. It was made out of a strong cardboard box--the lid
fastened to the box, standing up at one end like the head part of a
French bed. And it was all beautifully covered with pink calico, which
grandmamma had had 'by her.' Granny was rather old-fashioned in some
ways, and fond of keeping a few odds and ends 'by her.' And over that
again, white muslin, all fruzzled on, that had once been pinafores of
mine, but had got too worn to use any more in that way.

There were little blankets, too, worked round with pink wool, and little
sheets, and everything--all made out of nothing but love and
contrivance!

It was so delightful to wake the next morning and see Dollysweet in her
nest beside me. She slept there every night for several years, and I am
afraid after some time she slept there a good deal in the day also. For
I gave up playing with dolls rather young--playing with _a_ doll, I
should say. I found it more interesting to have lots of little ones, or
of things that did instead of dolls--dressed-up chessmen did very well
at one time--that I could make move about and act and be anything I
wanted them to be, more easily than one or two big dolls.

Still I always took care of Dollysweet. I never neglected her or let her
get dirty and untidy, though in time, of course, her pink-and-white
complexion faded into pallid yellow, and her bright hair grew dull, and,
worst of all--after that I never could bear to look at her--one of her
sky-blue eyes dropped, not out, but _into_ her hollow head.

Poor old Dollysweet!

The day after my third birthday grandmamma began to teach me to read.
_I_ couldn't have remembered that it was that very day, but she has told
me so. I had very short lessons, only a quarter of an hour, I think, but
though she was very kind, she was very strict about my giving my
attention while I was at them. She says that is the part that really
matters with a very little child--the learning to give attention. Not
that it would signify if the actual things learnt up to six or seven
came to be forgotten--so long as a child knows how to learn.

At first I liked my lessons very much, though I must have been a rather
tiresome child to teach. For I would keep finding out likenesses in the
letters, which I called 'little black things,' and I wouldn't try to
learn their names. Grandmamma let me do this for a few days, as she
thought it would help me to distinguish them, but when she found that
every day I invented a new set of likenesses, she told me that wouldn't
do.

'You may have one likeness for each,' she said, 'but only if you really
try to remember its name too.'

And I knew, by the sound of her voice, that she meant what she said.

So I set to work to fix which of the 'likes,' as I called them, I would
keep.

'A' had been already a house with a pointed roof, and a book standing
open on its two sides, and a window with curtains drawn at the top, and
the wood of the sash running across half-way, and a good many other
things which you couldn't see any likeness to it in, I am sure. But just
as I was staring at it again, I saw old Tanner, who lived in one of the
cottages below our house, settling his double ladder against a wall.

I screamed out with pleasure--

'I'll have Tan's ladder,' I said, and so I did. 'A' was always Tan's
ladder after that. And a year or two later, when I heard some one speak
of the 'ladder of learning,' I felt quite sure it had something to do
with the opened-out ladder with the bar across the middle.

After all, I have had to get grandmamma's help for some of these baby
memories. Still, as I _can_ remember the little events I have now
written down, I suppose it is all right.



CHAPTER III

ONE AND SEVEN


I will go on now to the time I was about seven years old. 'Baby' stories
are interesting to people who know the baby, or the person that once was
the baby, but I scarcely think they are very interesting to people who
have never seen you or never will, or, if they do, would not know it was
you!

All these years we had gone on quietly living at Windy Gap, without ever
going away. Going away never came into my head, and if dear grandmamma
sometimes wished for a little change--and, indeed, I am sure she must
have done--she never spoke of it to me. Now and then I used to hear
other children, for there were a few families living near us, whose
little boys and girls I very occasionally played with, speak of going to
the sea-side in the summer, or to stay with uncles and aunts or other
relations in London in the winter, to see the pantomimes and the shops.
But it never struck me that anything of that sort could come in my way,
not more than it ever entered my imagination that I could become a
princess or a gipsy or anything equally impossible.

Happy children are made like that, I think, and a very good thing it is
for them. And I was a very happy child.

We had our troubles, troubles that even had she wished, grandmamma could
not have kept from me. And I do not think she did wish it. She knew that
though the _background_ of a child's life should be contented and happy,
it would not be true teaching or true living to let it believe any life
can be without troubles.

One trouble was a bad illness I had when I was six--though this was
really more of a trouble to granny and Kezia than to me. For I did not
suffer much pain. Sometimes the illnesses that frighten children's
friends the most do not hurt the little people themselves as much as
less serious things.

This illness came from a bad cold, and it _might_ have left me delicate
for always, though happily it didn't. But it made granny anxious, and
after I got better it was a long time before she could feel easy-minded
about letting me go out without being tremendously wrapped up, and
making sure which way the wind was, and a lot of things like that, which
are rather teasing.

I might not have given in as well as I did had it not happened that the
winter which came after my illness was a terribly severe one, and my own
sense--for even between six and seven children _can_ have some common
sense--told me that nothing would be easier than to get a cough again if
I didn't take care. So on the whole I was pretty good.

But those months of anxiety and the great cold were very trying for
grandmamma. Her hair got quite, _quite_ white during them.

These severe winters do not come often at Middlemoor; not very often, at
least. We had two of them during the time we lived there, 'year in and
year out,' as Kezia called it. But between them we had much milder ones,
one or two quite wonderfully mild, and others middling--nothing really
to complain of. Still, a very tiny cottage house standing by itself is
pretty cold during the best of winters, even though the walls were
thick. And in wet or stormy days one does get tired of very small rooms
and few of them.

But the year that followed that bitter winter brought a pleasant little
change into my life--the first variety of the kind that had come to me.
I made real acquaintance at last with some other children.

This was how it began.

I was seven, a little past seven, at the time.

One morning I had just finished my lessons, which of course took more
than a quarter of an hour now, and was collecting my books together, to
put them away, when I heard a knock at the front door.

I was in the drawing-room--_generally_, especially in winter, I did my
lessons in the dining-room. For we never had two fires at once, and for
that reason we sat in the dining-room in the morning if it was cold,
though granny was most particular always to have a fire in the
drawing-room in the afternoon. I think now it was quite wonderful how
she managed about things like that, never to fall into irregular or
untidy ways, for as people grow old they find it difficult to be as
active and energetic as is easy for younger ones. It was all for my
sake, and every day I feel more and more grateful to her for it.

Never once in my life do I remember going into the dining-room to dinner
without first meeting grandmamma in the drawing-room, when a glance
would show her if my face and hands had been freshly washed and my hair
brushed and my dress tidy, and upstairs again would I be sent in a
twinkling if any of these matters were amiss.

But this morning I had had my lessons in the drawing-room; to begin
with, it was not winter now, but spring, and not a cold spring either;
and in the second place, Kezia had been having a baking of pastry and
cakes in the dining-room oven, and granny knew my lessons would have
fared badly if my attention had been disturbed every time the cakes had
to be seen to.

I was collecting my books, I said, to carry them into the other room,
where there was a little shelf with a curtain in front on purpose for
them, as we only kept our nicest books in the drawing-room, when this
rat-a-tat knock came to the door.

I was very surprised. It was so seldom any one came to the front door in
the morning, and, indeed, not often in the afternoon either, and this
knock sounded sharp and important somehow. Though I was still quite a
little girl I knew it would vex grandmamma if I tried to peep out to see
who it was--it was one of the things she would have said 'no lady should
ever do'--and I could not bear her to think I ever forgot how even a
very small lady should behave.

The only thing I could do was to look out of the side window, not that I
could see the door from there, but I had a good view of the road where
it passed the short track, too rough to call a road, leading to our own
little gate.

No cart or carriage could come nearer than that point; the tradesmen
from Middlemoor always stopped there and carried up our meat or bread or
whatever it was--not very heavy basketfuls, I suspect--to the kitchen
door, and I used to be very fond of standing at this window, watching
the unpacking from the carts.

There was no cart there to-day, but what _was_ there nearly took my
breath away.

'Oh, grandmamma,' I called out, quite forgetting that by this time Kezia
must have opened the door; 'oh, grandmamma, do look at the lovely
carriage and ponies.'

Granny did not answer. She had not heard me, for she was in the
dining-room, as I might have known. But I had got into the habit of
calling to her whenever I was pleased or excited, and generally, somehow
or other, she managed to hear. And I could not leave the window, I was
so engrossed by what I saw.

There was a girl in the carriage, to me she seemed a grown-up lady. She
was sitting still, holding the reins. But I did not see the figure of
another lady which by this time had got hidden by the house, as she
followed the little groom whom she had sent on to ask if Mrs. Wingfield
was at home, meaning at first, to wait till he came back. I heard her
afterwards explaining to grandmamma that the boy was rather deaf and she
was afraid he had not heard her distinctly, so she had come herself.

And while I was still gazing at the carriage and the ponies, the
drawing-room door, already a little ajar, was pushed wide open and I
heard Kezia saying she would tell Mrs. Wingfield at once.

'Mrs. Nestor; you heard my name?' said some one in a pleasant voice.

I turned round.

There stood a tall lady in a long dark green cloak, she had a hat on,
not a bonnet, and I just thought of her as another lady, not troubling
myself as to whether she was younger or older than the one in the
carriage, though actually she was her mother.

I was not shy. It sounds contradictory to say so, but still there is
truth in it. I had seen too few people in my life to know anything about
shyness. And all I ever had had to do with were kind and friendly. And I
remembered 'my manners,' as old-fashioned folk say.

I clambered down from the window-seat, and stroked my pinafore, which
had got ruffled up, and came forward towards the lady, holding out my
hand. I had no need to go far, for she had come straight in my
direction.

'Well, dear?' she said, and again I liked her voice, though I did not
exactly think about it, 'and are you Mrs. Wingfield's little girl?'

'My name is Helena Charlotte Naomi Wingfield,' I said, very gravely and
distinctly, 'and grandmamma is Mrs. Wingfield.'

Mrs. Nestor was smiling still more by this time, but she smiled in a
nice way that did not at all give me any feeling that she was making fun
of what I said.

'And how old are you, my dear?--let me see, you have so many names!
which are you called by, or have you any short name?'

I shook my head.

'No, only "girlie," and that is just for grandmamma to say. I am always
called "Helena."'

'It is a very pretty name,' said my new friend. 'And how old are you,
Helena?'

'I am past seven,' I said. 'My birthday comes in the spring, in March.
Have you any little girls, and are any of them seven? I would like to
know some little girls as big as me.'

'I have lots,' said Mrs. Nestor. 'One of them is in the pony-carriage
outside. I daresay you can see her from the window.'

I think my face must have fallen.

'Oh,' I said, disappointedly. 'She's a lady.'

'No, indeed,' said Mrs. Nestor, now laughing outright; 'if you knew her,
or when you know her, as I hope you will soon, I'm afraid you will think
her much more of a tomboy than a lady. Sharley is only eleven, though
she is tall. Her name is Charlotte, like one of yours, but we call her
Sharley; we spell it with an "S" to prevent people calling her
"Charley," for she is boyish enough already, I am afraid. Then I have
three girls younger--nine, six, and three, and two boys of----'

I was _so_ interested--my eyes were very wide open, and I shouldn't
wonder if my mouth was too--that for once in my life I was almost sorry
to see grandmamma, who at that moment opened the door and came in.

'I hope Helena has been a good hostess?' she said, after she had shaken
hands with Mrs. Nestor, whom she had met before once or twice. 'We have
been having a cake baking this morning, and I was just giving some
directions about a special kind of gingerbread we want to try.'

'I should apologise for coming in the morning,' said Mrs. Nestor, but
grandmamma assured her it was quite right to have chosen the morning.
'Helena and I go out in the afternoon whenever the weather is fine
enough, and I should have been sorry to miss you. Now, my little girl,
you may run off to Kezia. Say good-bye to Mrs. Nestor.'

I felt very disappointed, but I was accustomed to obey at once. But Mrs.
Nestor read the disappointment in my eyes: that was one of the nice
things about her. She was so 'understanding.'

She turned to grandmamma.

'One of my daughters is in the pony-carriage,' she said. 'Would you
allow Helena to go out to her? She would be pleased to see your garden,
I am sure.'

'Certainly,' said grandmamma. 'Put on your hat and jacket, Helena, and
ask Miss'--she had caught sight of the girl from the window and saw that
she was pretty big--'Miss Nestor to walk about with you a little.'

I flew off--too excited to feel at all timid about making friends by
myself.

'Call her Sharley,' said Mrs. Nestor, as I left the room. 'She would not
know herself by any other name.'

In a minute or two I was running down the garden-path. When I found
myself fairly out at the gate, and within a few steps of the girl, I
think a feeling of shyness _did_ come over me, though I did not myself
understand what it was. I hung back a little and began to wonder what I
should say. I had so seldom spoken to a child belonging to my own rank
in life. And I had not often spoken to any of the poorer children about,
as there happened to be none in the cottages near us, and grandmamma was
perhaps a little _too_ anxious about me, too afraid of my catching any
childish illness. She says herself that she thinks she was. But of
course I am now so strong and big that it makes it rather different.

I had not much time left in which to grow shy, however. As soon as the
girl saw that I was plainly coming towards her she sprang out of the
carriage.

'Has mother sent you to fetch me?' she said.

I looked at her. Now that she was out of the carriage and standing, I
could see that she was not as tall as grandmamma, or as her own mother,
and that her frock was a good way off the ground. And her hair was
hanging down her back. Still she seemed to me almost a grown-up lady.

I am afraid her first impression of _me_ must have been that I was
extremely stupid. For I went on staring at her for a moment or two
before I answered. She was indeed opening her lips to repeat the
question when I at last found my voice.

'I don't know,' I said. And if she did not think me stupid before I
spoke, she certainly must have done so when I did.

'I don't know,' I repeated, considering over what her question exactly
meant. 'No, I don't think it was fetching you. I was to ask you--would
you like to walk round our garden? And p'raps--your mamma was going to
tell me all your names, but grandmamma told me to run away. I'd like to
know your sisters that are as little as me's names.'

I remember exactly what I said, for Sharley has often told me since how
difficult it was for her not to burst out laughing at the funny way I
spoke. But tomboy though she was in some respects, she had a very tender
heart, and like her mother she was quick at understanding. So she
answered quite soberly--

'Thank you. I should like very much to walk round your garden--though
running would be even nicer. I'm not very fond of walking if I can run,
and you have got such jolly steep paths and banks.'

I eyed the steep paths doubtfully.

'You hurt yourself a good deal if you run too fast down the paths,' I
said. 'The stones are so sharp.'

Sharley laughed.

'You speak from experience,' she said. 'That grass bank would be lovely
for tobogganing.'

'I don't know what that is,' I replied.

'We'll show you if you come to see us at home,' she said. 'But I suppose
I'd better not try anything like that to-day. You want to know my
sisters' names? They are Anna and Valetta and Baby----'

'Never mind about Baby,' I interrupted, rather abruptly, I fear. 'How
big is Anna, and--the other one?'

Sharley stood still and looked me well over.

'Do you really mean "big"?' she said, 'or "old"? Anna is nine and Val is
six; but as for bigness--Anna is nearly as tall as I am, and Val is a
good bit bigger than you.'

I felt and looked nearly ready to cry.

'And I'm past seven,' I said, 'I wish I wasn't so little. It's like
being a baby, and I don't care for babies.'

'Never mind,' replied Sharley consolingly, 'you needn't be at all
babyish because you're little. One of our boys is very little, but he's
not a bit of a baby. I'm sure Val will like to play with you, and so
will Anna--and all of us, for that matter.'

I began to think Sharley a very nice girl. I put my hand in hers
confidingly.

'I'd like to come,' I said, 'and I'd like to play that funny name down
the grass-bank here, if you'll show me how.'

'All right,' she said. 'We'll have to ask leave, I suppose. But you
haven't told me your name yet. The children are sure to ask me.'

I repeated it--or them--solemnly.

'"Charlotte"--that's my name,' Sharley remarked.

'I'm never called it,' I said. 'I'm always called Helena.'

Sharley looked rather surprised.

'Fancy!' she said. '_We_ all call each other by short names and
nicknames and all kinds of absurd names. Anna is generally Nan, and the
boys are Pert and Quick--at least those are the names that have lasted
longest. I daresay it's partly because they are just a little like their
real names--Percival and Quintin.'

'What a great many of you there are!' I said, but Sharley took my remark
in perfectly good part, even though I went on to add--'It's like the
baker's children--I counted them once, but I couldn't get them right;
sometimes they came to nine and sometimes to eleven.'

'Do you mean the baker's on the way to High Middlemoor?' said Sharley.
'Oh yes, it must be them--papa calls them the baker's dozen always. No,
we're not as many as that. We are only seven--us four girls, and Pert
and Quick, and Jerry, our big brother, who's at school. Dear me, it must
be dull to be only one!'

Just then we heard the voices of grandmamma and Sharley's mother coming
towards us. And a minute or two later the pony-carriage drove away
again, Sharley nodding back friendly farewells.



CHAPTER IV

NEW FRIENDS AND A PLAN


I stood looking after it as long as it was in sight. I felt quite
strange, almost a little dazed, as if I had more than I could manage to
think over in my head. Grandmamma, who was standing behind me, put her
hand on my shoulder.

I looked up at her, and I saw that her face seemed pleased.

'Is that a nice lady, grandmamma?' I said.

I do not quite know why I asked about Sharley's mother in that way, for
I felt sure she was nice. I think I wanted grandmamma to help me to
arrange my ideas a little.

'Very nice, dear,' she said. 'Did you not think she spoke very kindly?'

'Yes, I did, grandmamma,' I replied. I had a rather 'old-fashioned' way
of speaking sometimes, I think.

'And her little girl--well, she is not a little girl, exactly, is
she?--seems very bright and kind too,' grandmamma went on.

'Yes,' I replied, but then I hesitated. Grandmamma wanted to find out
what I was thinking.

'You don't seem quite sure about it?' she said.

'Yes, grandmamma. She is a very kind girl, but she made me feel funny.
She has such a lot of brothers and sisters, and she says it must be so
dull to be only one. Grandmamma, is it dull to be only one?'

Grandmamma did not smile at my odd way of asking her what I could have
told myself, better than any one else. A little sad look came over her
face.

'I hope not, dear,' she answered. 'My little girl does not find her life
dull?'

I shook my head.

'I love you, grandmamma, and I love Kezia, but I don't know about "dull"
and things like that. I think Sharley thinks I'm a very stupid little
girl, grandmamma.'

And all of a sudden, greatly to dear granny's surprise and still more to
her distress, I burst into tears.

She led me back into the house, and was very kind to me. But she did not
say very much. She only told me that she was sure Sharley did not think
anything but what was nice and friendly about me, and that I must not be
a fanciful little woman. And then she sent me to Kezia, who had kept an
odd corner of her pastry for me to make into stars and hearts and other
shapes with her cutters, as I was very fond of doing. So that very soon
I was quite bright and happy again.

But in her heart granny was saying that it would be a very good thing
for me to have some companions of my own age, to prevent my getting
fanciful and unchildlike, and, worst of all, too much taken up with
myself.

A few days after that, grandmamma told me that the three Nestor girls
were coming twice a week to read French with her. I think I have said
already that grandmamma was very clever, very clever indeed, and that
she knew several foreign languages. She had been a great deal in other
countries when grandpapa was alive, and she could speak French
beautifully. So I wasn't surprised, and only very pleased when she told
me about Sharley and her sisters. For I was too little to understand
what any one else would have known in a moment, that dear granny was
going to do this to make a little more money. My illness and all the
things she had got for me--even the having more fires--had cost a good
deal that last winter, and she had asked the vicar of our village to let
her know if he heard of any family wanting French or German lessons for
their children.

This was the reason of Mrs. Nestor's call, and it was because they were
going to settle about the French lessons that grandmamma had sent me out
of the room. It was not till long afterwards that I understood all about
it.

Just now I was very pleased.

'Oh, how nice!' I said, 'and may I play with them after the lessons are
done, do you think, grandmamma? And will they ask me to go to their
house to tea sometimes? Sharley said they would--at least she nearly
said it.'

'I daresay you will go to their house some day. I think Mrs. Nestor is
very kind, and I am sure she would ask you if she thought it would
please you,' said grandmamma. But then she stopped a little. 'I want you
to understand, Helena dear, that these children are coming here really
to learn French. So you must not think about playing with them just at
first, that must be as their mother likes.'

Grandmamma did not say what she felt in her own mind--that she would not
wish to seem to try to make acquaintance with the Nestors, who were very
rich and important people, through giving lessons to their children. For
she was proud in a right way--no, I won't call it proud--I think
dignified is a better word.

But Mrs. Nestor was too nice herself not to see at once the sort of
person grandmamma was. She was almost _too_ delicate in her feelings,
for she was so afraid of seeming to be in the least condescending or
patronising to us, that she kept back from showing us as much kindness
as she would have liked to do. So it never came about that we grew very
intimate with the family at Moor Court--that was the name of their
home--I really saw more of the three girls at our own little cottage
than in their own grand house.

But as I go on with my story you will see that there was a reason for my
telling about them, and about how we came to know them, rather
particularly.

The French lessons began the next week. Sharley and her sisters used to
come together, sometimes walking with a maid, sometimes driving over in
a little pony-cart--not the beautiful carriage with the two ponies;
that was their mother's--but what is called a governess-cart, in which
they drove a fat old fellow called Bunch, too fat and lazy to be up to
much mischief. When they drove over they brought a young groom with
them, but their governess very seldom came. I think Mrs. Nestor thought
it would be pleasanter for granny to give the lessons without a grown-up
person being there, and Sharley said their governess used that time to
give the two boys Latin lessons. Mrs. Nestor would have been very glad
if grandmamma would have agreed to teach Pert and Quick French too, but
granny did not think she could spare time for it, though a year or two
later when Percival had gone to school she did let Quick join what we
called the second class.

I should have explained that though I could not read or write French at
all well, I could speak it rather nicely, as grandmamma had taken great
pains to accustom me to do so since I was quite little.

I think she had a feeling that I might have to be a governess or
something of the kind when I was grown-up, and that made her very
anxious about my lessons from the beginning of them. And though things
have turned out quite differently from that, I have always been _very_
glad that I was well taught from the first. It is such a comfort to me
now that I am really growing big to be able to show grandmamma that I am
not far back for my age compared with other girls.

Sharley was the first class all by herself, and Nan and Vallie were the
second. I did not do any lessons with them, but after each class had had
half an hour's teaching we had conversation for another half hour, and
when the conversation time began I was always sent for. Grandmamma had
asked Mrs. Nestor if she would like that, and Mrs. Nestor was very
pleased.

We had great fun at the 'conversation.' You can scarcely believe what
comical things the little girls said when they first began to try to
talk. Grandmamma sometimes laughed till the tears came into her eyes--I
do love to see her laugh--and I laughed too, partly, I think, because
she did, for the funny things they said did not seem quite so funny to
me, of course, as to a big person.

But altogether the French lessons were very nice and brought some
variety into our lives. I think granny and I looked forward to them as
much as the Nestor children did.

Grandmamma's birthday happened to come about a fortnight after they
began. I told Sharley about it one day when she was out in the garden
with me, while her sisters were at their lesson. We used to do that way
sometimes, only we had to promise to speak French all the time, so that
I really had a little to do with teaching them as well as grandmamma,
and to tease me, on these occasions Sharley would call me
'mademoiselle,' and make Nan and Vallie do the same. They used in turn,
you see, to be with me while Sharley was with granny.

It was rather difficult to make her understand about grandmamma's
birthday, I remember, for she could scarcely speak French at all then,
and at last she burst out into English, for she got very interested
about it.

'I'll tell Mrs. Wingfield we have been talking English,' she said, 'and
I'll tell her it was all my fault. But I must understand what you are
saying.'

'It's about grandmamma's birthday,' I said. 'I do so want to make a plan
for it.'

Sharley's eyes sparkled. She loved making plans, and so did Vallie, who
was very quick and bright about everything, while Nan was rather a
sleepy little girl, though exceedingly good-natured. I don't think I
_ever_ knew her speak crossly.

'I heard something about "fête,"' said Sharley, 'about fête and
grandmamma. Why do you call her birthday her "fête"?'

'I didn't,' I replied. '"Fête" doesn't generally mean birthday--it means
something else, something about a saint's day. I said I wanted to
"fêter" dear granny on her birthday, and I wondered what I could do.
Last year I worked a little case in that stiff stuff with holes in, to
keep stamps in, and Kezia made tea-cakes. But I can't think of anything
I can work for her this year, and tea-cakes are only tea-cakes,' and I
sighed.

'Don't look so unhappy,' said Sharley, '_we'll_ plan. We're rather short
of plans just now, and we always like to have some on hand for first
thing in the morning--Val and I do at least. Nan never wakes up
properly. Leave it to us, Helena, and the next time we come I'll tell
you what we've thought of.'

I had a good deal of faith in Sharley's cleverness in some things,
already, though I can't say that it shone out in speaking French. So I
promised to wait to see what she and Vallie thought of.

When we went in we told grandmamma that we had been speaking English. I
made it up into very good French, and Sharley said it, which pleased
granny.

'And what was it you were so eager about that you couldn't wait to say
it, or hear it in French?' she asked Sharley.

We had not expected this, and Sharley got rather red.

'It's a secret,' she blurted out.

Grandmamma looked just a little grave.

'I am not very fond of secrets,' she said. 'And Helena has never had
any.'

'Oh yes, I have, grandmamma,' I said. I did not mean to contradict
rudely, and I don't think it sounded like that, though it looks rather
rude written down. 'I had one this time last year--don't you
remember?--about your little stamp case.'

Granny's face brightened up. It did not take very quick wits to put two
and two together, and to guess from what I said that the secret had to
do with her birthday. And Sharley was too anxious for grandmamma not to
be vexed, to think about her having partly guessed the secret.

'Ah, well!' said granny, 'I think I can trust you both.'

'Yes, indeed, you may,' said Sharley. 'There's nothing about mischief
in it, and the only secrets mother's ever been vexed with me about had
to do with mischief.'

'Sharley dressed up a pillow to tumble on Pert's head from the top of
his door, once,' said Nan in her slow solemn voice, 'and he screamed and
screamed.'

'It was because he was such a boasty boy, about never being frightened,'
said Sharley, getting rather red. 'But I never did it again. And this
secret is quite, quite a different kind.'

I felt very eager for the next French day, as we called them, to come,
to hear what Sharley had thought of. I told Kezia about it, and then I
almost wished I had not, for she said she did not know that grandmamma
would be pleased at my talking about her birthday and 'such like' to
strangers.

I think Kezia forgot sometimes how very little a girl I still was. I did
not understand what she meant, and all I could say was that the three
girls were not strangers to me. Afterwards I saw what Kezia was thinking
of, she was afraid of the Nestors sending some present to grandmamma,
and that, she would not have liked.

But Mrs. Nestor was too good and sensible for anything of that kind.

When Sharley and Nan and Vallie came the next time, I ran to meet them,
full of anxiety to know if they had made any 'plans.' They all looked
very important, but rather to my disappointment the first thing Sharley
said to me was--

'Don't ask us yet, Helena. We've promised mother not to tell. She's
going to come to fetch us to-day, and she's made a lovely plan, but
first she has to speak about it to your grandmamma.'

'Then it won't be a surprise,' I began, but Vallie answered before I had
time to say any more.

'Oh yes, it will. There's to be a surprise mixed up with it, and we're
to settle that part of it all ourselves--you and us.'

I found it very difficult to keep to speaking French that day, I can
tell you. And it seemed as if the hour and a half of lessons spread out
to twice as much before Mrs. Nestor at last came.

We all ran out into the garden while she went in to talk to grandmamma.
They were very kind and did not keep us long waiting, and soon we heard
granny calling us from the window. Her face was quite pleased and
smiling. I saw in a moment that she was not going to say I should not
have spoken of her birthday to the little girls.

'Mrs. Nestor is thinking of a great treat for you--and for me, Helena,'
she said. 'And she and I want you to know about it at once, so that you
may all talk about it together and enjoy it beforehand as well. Some
little bird, it seems, has flown over to Moor Court and told that next
Tuesday week will be your old granny's birthday, and Mrs. Nestor has
invited us to spend the afternoon of it there. You will like that, will
you not?'

I looked up at grandmamma, feeling quite strange. You will hardly
believe that I had never in my life paid even a visit of this simple
kind.

'Yes,' I whispered, feeling myself getting pink all over, as I knew that
Mrs. Nestor was looking at me, 'yes, thank you.'

Then dear little Vallie came close up to me, and said in a low voice--

'Now we can settle about the surprise. Come quick, Helena--the surprise
will be the fun.'

And when I found myself alone with the others again, all three of them,
even Nan, chattering at once, I soon found my own tongue again, and the
strange, unreal sort of feeling went off. They were very simple unspoilt
children, though their parents were rich and what I used to call
'grand.' It is quite a mistake to think that the children who live in
very large houses and have ponies and lots of servants and everything
they can want are sure to be spoilt. Very often it is quite the
opposite. For, if their parents are good and wise, they are _extra_
careful not to spoil them, knowing that the sort of trials that cannot
be kept away from poorer children, and which are a training in
themselves in some ways, are not likely to come to _their_ children. I
even think now, looking back, that there was really more risk of being
spoilt, for me myself, than for Sharley and her brothers and sisters.

Being allowed to be selfish is the real beginning and end of being
spoilt, I am quite sure.

The 'surprise' they had thought of was a very simple one, and one that I
knew grandmamma would like. It was that we should have tea out-of-doors,
in an arbour where there was a table and seats all round. And we were to
decorate it with flowers, and a wicker arm-chair was to be brought out
for granny, and wreathed with greenery and flowers, to show that she was
queen of the feast.

'So it will be a "fête," after all, Helena,' said Sharley.

They were nearly as eager and pleased about it as I was myself, for
they had already learnt to love my grandmamma very dearly.

'There's only one thing,' we kept saying to each other every time we met
before the great day, 'it _mustn't_ rain. Oh, do let us _hope_ it will
be fine,--beautifully fine.'



CHAPTER V

A HAPPY DAY


And it _was_ a fine day! Things after all do not always go wrong in this
world, though some people are fond of talking as if they did.

That day, that happy birthday, stands out in my mind so clearly that I
think I must write a good deal about it, even though to most children
there would not seem anything very remarkable to tell. But to me it was
like a peep into fairyland. To begin with, it was the very first time in
my life that I had ever paid a visit of any kind except once or twice
when I had had tea in rather a dull fashion at the vicarage, where there
were no children and no one who understood much about them. Miss Linden,
the vicar's sister, a very old-maid sort of lady, though she meant to be
kind, had my tea put out in a corner of the room by myself, while she
and grandmamma had theirs in a regular drawing-room way. They had
muffins, I remember, and Miss Linden thought muffins not good for little
girls, and my bread-and-butter was cut thicker than I ever had it at the
cottage, and the slice of currant-bread was not nearly as good as
Kezia's home-made cake--even the plainest kind.

No, my remembrances of going out to tea at the vicarage were not very
enlivening.

How different the visit to Moor Court was!

It began--the pleasure of it at least to me--the first thing when I
awoke that morning, and saw without getting out of bed--for my room was
so little that I could not help seeing straight out of the window, and I
never had the blinds drawn down--that it was a perfectly lovely morning.
It was the sort of morning that gives almost certain promise of a
beautiful day.

In our country, because of the hills, you see, it isn't always easy to
tell beforehand what the weather is going to be, unless you really study
it. But even while I was quite a child I had learnt to know the signs of
it very well. I knew about the lights and shadows coming over the hills,
the gray look at a certain side, the way the sun set, and lots of things
of that kind which told me a good deal that a stranger would never have
thought of. I knew there were some kinds of bright mornings which were
really less hopeful than the dull and gloomy ones, but there was nothing
of that sort to-day, so I curled myself round in bed again with a
delightful feeling that there was nothing to be feared from the weather.

I did not dare to get up till I heard Kezia's knock at the door--for
that was one of grandmamma's rules, and though she had not many rules,
those there _were_ had to be obeyed, I can assure you.

I must have fallen asleep again, for the next thing I remember was
hearing grandmamma's voice, and there she was, standing beside my bed.

'Oh, granny!' I called out, 'what a shame for you to be the one to wake
me on _your_ birthday.'

'No, dear,' said grandmamma, 'it is quite right. Kezia hasn't been yet,
it is just about her time.'

I sprang up and ran to the table, where I had put my little present for
grandmamma the night before, for of course I had got a present for her
all of my own, besides having planned the treat with the Nestors.

I remember what my present was that year. It was a little box for
holding buttons, which I had bought at the village shop, and it had a
picture of the old, old Abbey Church at Middlemoor on its lid.
Grandmamma has that button-box still, I saw it in her work-basket only
yesterday. I was very proud of it, for it was the first year I had saved
pennies enough to be able to _buy_ something instead of working a
present for grandmamma.

She did seem so pleased with it. I remember now the look in her eyes as
she stooped to kiss me. Then she turned and lifted something which I had
not noticed from a chair standing near.

'This is my present for my little girl,' she said, and though I was
inclined to say that it was not fair for her to give me presents on her
birthday, I was so delighted with what she held out for me to see that I
really could scarcely speak.

What do you think it was?

A new frock--the prettiest by far I had ever had. The stuff was white,
embroidered by grandmamma herself in sky-blue, in such a pretty pattern.
She had sat up at night to do it after I was in bed.

'Oh, grandmamma,' I said, 'how beautiful it is! Oh, may I--' but then I
stopped short--'may I wear it to-day?' was what I was going to say. But,
'oh no,' I went on, 'it might get dirtied.'

'You are to wear it to-day, dear,' said grandmamma, 'if that is what you
were going to say, so you needn't spoil your pleasure by being afraid of
its getting dirtied; it will wash perfectly well, for I steeped the silk
I worked it in, in salt and water before using it, to make the colour
quite fast. I will leave it here on the back of the chair, and when the
time comes for you to get ready I will dress you myself, to be sure that
it is all quite right.'

I kept peeping at my pretty frock all the time I was dressing; the sight
of it seemed the one thing wanting to complete my happiness. For though
Sharley and Nan and Vallie were never too grandly dressed, their things
were always fresh and pretty, and I _had_ been thinking to myself that
none of my summer frocks were quite as nice or new-looking as theirs.

And to-day, though only May, was really summer.

Grandmamma wouldn't let me do very much that morning, as she did not
want me to be tired for the afternoon.

'Is it a very long walk to Moor Court?' I asked her.

Grandmamma smiled, a little funnily, I thought afterwards.

'Yes,' she said, 'it is between two and three miles.'

'Then we must set off early,' I said, 'so as not to have to go too fast
and be tired when we get there. I don't mind for coming back about being
tired; there'll be nothing to do then but go to bed, it'll all be over!'
and I gave a little sigh, 'but I don't want to think about its being
over yet.'

'We must start at half-past two,' said grandmamma. 'That will be time
enough.'

Long before half-past two, as you can fancy, I was quite ready. My frock
fitted perfectly, and even Kezia, who was rather afraid of praising my
appearance for fear of making me conceited, said with a smile that I did
look very nice.

I quite thought so myself, but I really think all my pride was for
grandmamma's frock.

I settled myself in the window-seat looking towards the road, as I have
explained.

'Stay there quietly,' grandmamma said to me, 'till I call you.'

And again I noticed a sort of little twinkle in her eyes, of which
before long I understood the reason. I must have been sitting there a
quarter of an hour at least when I thought I heard wheels coming. It
wasn't the usual time for the butcher or baker, or any of the
cart-people, as I called them, and wheels of any other kind seldom came
our way. So I looked out with great curiosity to see what it could be.

To my astonishment, there came trotting along the short bit of level
road leading to our own steep path the two ponies and the pretty
pony-carriage that had so delighted me the first time I saw them.

Sharley was driving, the little groom behind her. But this time my first
feeling was certainly not one of pleasure. On the contrary I started in
dismay.

'Oh dear,' I thought, 'there's something the matter, and Sharley has
come herself to say we can't go.'

I rushed upstairs, the tears already very near my eyes.

'Granny, granny,' I exclaimed, 'the pony-carriage has come and Sharley's
there! I'm sure she's come to tell us we can't go.'

My voice broke down before I could say anything more. Grandmamma was
coming out of her room quite ready, and even in the middle of my fright
I could not help thinking how nice she looked in her pretty dark gray
dress and black lace cloak, which, though she had had it a great, great
many years, always seemed to me rich and grand enough for the Queen
herself to wear.

'My dear little girl,' she said, 'you really must not get into the way
of fancying misfortunes before they come. It is a very bad habit. Why
shouldn't Sharley have come to fetch us? Don't you think it would be
nicer to drive to Moor Court than to walk all that way along the dusty
road?'

'Oh, granny,' I cried, and my tears, if they were there, vanished away
like magic. 'Oh, granny, that would be too lovely. But are you quite
sure?'

'Quite,' said grandmamma, 'I promised to keep it a secret to please
Sharley, as she is so fond of surprises. Run down now to meet her and
tell her we are quite ready.'

How perfectly delightful that drive was! I sat with my back to the
ponies, on the low seat opposite grandmamma and Sharley.

'Vallie wanted to come too,' said Sharley, 'but that seat isn't very
comfortable for two.'

It was very comfortable for one, at least I found it so. I had hardly
ever been in a carriage before, and Sharley drove so nice and fast; she
was very proud of being allowed to drive the two ponies. But they were
so good, they seemed, like every one and everything else, determined to
make that day a perfectly happy one.

When we got to the lodge of Moor Court Sharley began to drive more
slowly, and looked about as if expecting some one.

'The others said they would come to meet us,' she explained, 'and
sometimes Pert is rather naughty about startling the ponies, even though
he can't bear being startled himself. Oh, there they are!'

As she spoke the four figures appeared at a turn in the drive. Nan and
Vallie in the pretty pink frocks, which no longer made me feel
discontented with my own, as nothing could be prettier, I was quite
firmly convinced, than grandmamma's beautiful work, which Sharley had
already admired in her own pleasant and hearty way.

We two got out of the pony-carriage, leaving grandmamma to be driven up
to the house by the groom, the little girls saying that their mother was
waiting for her on the lawn in front.

I had never seen the boys before. Percival seemed to me quite big,
though he was one year younger than Sharley and smaller for his age.
Quintin was more like Nan, slow and solemn and rather fat, so his
nickname of Quick certainly didn't suit him very well. But they were
both very nice and kind to me. I am quite sure Sharley had talked to
them well about it before I came, though it was easy to see that when
Pert was not on his best behaviour he was very fond of playing tricks.

I felt very happy, and not at all strange or frightened as I walked
along between Sharley and Val, each holding one of my hands and
chattering away about all we were going to do, though I had a queer,
rather nice feeling as if I must be in a dream, it all seemed so pretty
and wonderful.

And indeed many people, far better able to judge of such things than I,
think that Moor Court is one of the loveliest places in England. I did
not see much of the inside of the house that day, though I learnt to
know it well afterwards. It was very old and very large, and everything
about it seemed to me quite perfect. But on this day we amused ourselves
almost altogether out of doors.

[Illustration: Grandmamma's chair was still waiting to be decorated, so
the next hour was spent very happily.--p. 67.]

The children had already done a good deal to the arbour where we were to
have tea; but grandmamma's chair was still waiting to be decorated, so
the next hour was spent very happily in gathering branches of ivy and
other pretty green things to twine about it, with here and there a bunch
of flowers, which Mrs. Nestor had told the gardener we were to have.

Vallie was very anxious to make a wreath for grandmamma, but though I
thought it a very nice idea, I was afraid it would look rather funny,
and when Sharley reminded us that wreaths couldn't be worn very well
above a bonnet, we quite gave it up.

But we did make the table look very pretty, and at last everything was
ready, except the tea itself and the hot cakes, which of course the
servants would bring at the very end.

By the time we had finished it was nearly four o'clock, and we were not
to have tea till half-past, so there was time for a nice game of
hide-and-seek among the trees. I don't think I ever ran so fast or
laughed so much in my life. They were all such good-natured children,
even if they did have little quarrels they were soon over, and then I
think they were all especially kind to me. I suppose they were sorry for
me in some ways that did not come into my own mind at all.

Then we all went to the house to be made tidy for tea, and in spite of
what grandmamma had said about not minding if my frock was dirtied I was
very pleased to find that it was perfectly clean.

Grandmamma and Mrs. Nestor were waiting for us in the drawing-room; and
we all went back to the arbour together, Sharley walking first with
grandmamma, which was quite right, as the plan about tea had been all
her own.

Grandmamma _was_ pleased. I think she liked to see how fond these
children had already got to be of her, though perhaps it would have been
as well if Quick had not informed us in the middle of tea that he liked
her a great, great deal better than his real grandmamma, whose nose was
very big and her hair quite black.

'But she's very kind to us too,' said Sharley, 'only I don't think she
cares much for little boys.'

'Nor for tomboys either,' said Pert, who did love teasing Sharley
whenever he had a chance.

'Jerry's her favourite,' said Nan.

'And I think he deserves to be,' said her mother.

'I wish he was here to-day, I know that,' said Sharley. 'It's such a
long time to the holidays, and it won't be so nice this year when they
do come, as most likely a boy's coming with Jerry.'

'Two boys,' corrected Pert, 'their name's Vandeleur, and they're his
greatest friends.'

'Vandeleur?' said grandmamma. 'I wonder if----' and then she stopped. 'I
have relations of that name,' she said, 'but I don't suppose they belong
to the same family.'

'It is not a common name,' said Mrs. Nestor. 'But these boys are, I
believe, orphans. Both their father and mother are dead, are they not,
Sharley? Sharley knows the most about them,' she went on, 'for Gerard
and she write long letters to each other always, and she hears all about
his school friends and everything he is interested in.'

'Yes,' said Sharley, 'they are orphans. They have an old aunt or some
relation who takes care of them. But I think they are rather lonely.
They often spend all their holidays at school--that was why Jerry
thought it would be nice to invite them here. I daresay it will be very
nice for _them_, but _I_ think it will quite spoil the holidays for
_us_.'

'Come, Sharley,' said her mother, 'you must not be selfish.'

'What are the boys' Christian names?' asked grandmamma.

'Harry and Lindsay,' Sharley replied.

Grandmamma shook her head.

'No,' she said, as if thinking aloud, 'I never heard those names in the
branch of the Vandeleurs I am connected with.'



CHAPTER VI

'WAVING VIEW'


I was only eight years old at the time we made the acquaintance of the
family at Moor Court. It may seem strange and unlikely that I should
remember so clearly all that happened when we first got to know them,
but even though I was so young at the time I _do_ recollect all about it
very well.

For it was so new to me that it made a great impression.

Till then I had never had any real companions; as I have said already, I
had scarcely ever had a meal out of our own house. It was like the
opening of a new world to me.

But I have asked grandmamma about a few things which she remembers more
exactly than I do. Especially about the Vandeleur boys, I mean about
what was said of them. But for things that happened afterwards I daresay
I should never have thought of this again, though grandmamma did not
forget about it. She told me over quite lately everything that had
passed at that birthday tea.

The months, and indeed the years that followed that first happy day at
Moor Court seem to me now, on looking back upon them, a good deal mixed
up together--till, that is to say, a change, a melancholy one for me,
came over my happy friendship with the Nestor children.

This change, however, did not come for fully three years, and these
three years were very bright and sunny ones. Sharley and her sisters
continued all that time to be my grandmamma's pupils--winter and summer,
all the year round, except for some weeks of holiday at Christmas, and a
rather longer time in the autumn, when the Nestors generally went to the
sea-side for a change; unless the weather was terribly bad or stormy,
twice a week they either walked over with a maid, or the governess-cart
drawn by the fat pony made its appearance at the end of our path.
Sometimes the little groom went on into the village if there were any
messages, sometimes if it was cold he drove as far as the farm at the
foot of the hill, where it was arranged that he could 'put up' for an
hour or two, sometimes in warm summer days the pony-cart just waited
where it was.

Often, once a fortnight or so at least, in the fine season, I made one
of the party on the little girls' return home. How we all managed to
squeeze into the cart, or how old Bunch managed to take us all home
without coming to grief on the way, I am sure I can't say.

I only know we _did_ manage it, and so did he. For he is still alive and
well, and no doubt 'ready to tell the story,' if he could speak.

We never seemed to be ill in those days. The Nestor children were no
doubt very strong, and I grew much stronger. Then Middlemoor is such a
splendidly healthy place.

I have some misty recollections of Nan and Vallie having the measles,
and a doubt arising as to whether I had not got it too. But if it was
measles it did not seem worse than a cold, and we were soon all out and
about again, as merry as ever.

And grandmamma seemed to grow younger during those years. Her mind was
more at rest for the time, for the steady payment she received for the
girls' French lessons made all the difference in our little income,
between being comfortable, with a small extra in case of need, and
being only _just_ able to make both ends meet with a great deal of
tugging. And grandmamma was happy about taking the money, for it was
well earned; Sharley and the others made such good progress in French
and after a little while in German also, even though Nan was by nature
rather slow and Vallie dreadfully flighty, and not at all good at giving
her attention.

But she _was_ so sweet! I never saw any one so sweet as Vallie, when she
had been found fault with and was sorry; the tears used to come up into
her big brown eyes very slowly and stay there, making them look like
velvety pansies with dewdrops in them.

Somehow Sharley always seemed the _most_ my friend, though she was a
good deal older. Perhaps it was through having known her the first, and
partly, I daresay, because in _some_ ways I was old for my age.

The big brother Gerard came home for his holidays three times a year. He
was a very nice boy, I am sure, but I did not get to know him well, and
I had rather a grudge at him. For when he was at Moor Court I seemed to
see so much less of Sharley. It wasn't her fault. She was not a
changeable girl at all, but Jerry had always been accustomed to having
her a great deal with him in his holidays, as she took pains to explain
to me. So of course if she had given him up for me she _would_ have been
changeable.

She did her best, I will say that for her. She told Gerard all about me,
and he was very nice to me. But it was in rather a big boy way, which I
did not understand. I thought he was treating me like a baby when _he_
only meant to be kind and brotherly. I remember one day being so
offended at his lifting me over a stile, that it was all I could do not
to burst into tears!

So it came to be the way among us, without anything being actually said
about it, that during Jerry's holidays I was mostly with the four
others--Nan and Vallie and the two younger boys.

And I daresay it was a good thing for me. For none of them were at all
old for their age; they were just hearty, healthy, regular _children_,
living in the present and very happy in it. And if I had been altogether
with the older ones I might have grown more and more 'old-fashioned.'
For Gerard was a very serious and thoughtful boy, and Sharley, though in
outside ways she seemed rather wild and hoydenish, was really very
clever and very wise, to be only the age she was. I never quite took in
that side of her character till I saw her with Jerry--she seemed quite
transformed.

One thing came to pass, however, which was a great pleasure to the two
people it chiefly concerned and to Sharley. As for me, I don't think I
gave much attention to it, and I am not sure that if it had at all
interfered with my own life I should not have been rather jealous!

This was a close friendship between Gerard Nestor and grandmamma.

And it is necessary to speak about it because it was the beginning of
things which brought about great changes.

Grandmamma loved boys and she was one of those women that are well
fitted to manage them. She used to say that till she got _me_, she had
never had anything to do with _girls_. For her own children were both
boys--papa was the elder, and the other was a dear boy who died when he
was only sixteen, and whom of course I had never seen, though grandmamma
liked me to speak of him as 'Uncle Guy.' Then, too, she had had some
charge of her nephew, Mr. Cosmo Vandeleur.

Her friendship with Jerry came about by his reading French and German
with her in the holidays. He had never been out of England and he was
anxious to improve his 'foreign languages,' as he was backward in them,
besides having a very bad accent indeed.

Granny has often said she never had so attentive a pupil, and it was in
talking with him--for 'conversation' was a very important part of her
teaching--that she got to know so much of Gerard, and he so much of her.

She used to tell him stories of her own boys, Paul--Paul was papa--and
Guy, in French, and he had to answer questions about the stories to show
that he had understood her. And in these stories the name of Cosmo
Vandeleur came to be mentioned.

The first time or so he heard it I don't think Jerry noticed it. But one
day it struck him just as it had struck grandmamma that first day--the
birthday-tea day--at Moor Court.

'Vandeleur,' said Jerry--it was one day when he had come over for his
lesson, and as it was raining and I could not go out, I was sitting in
the window making a cloak or something for my doll. 'Vandeleur,' he
repeated. 'I wonder, Mrs. Wingfield, if your nephew is any relation to
some boys at my school. They are great chums of mine--they were to have
come home with me for the summer holidays'--it was the Christmas
holidays now,--'but their relations had settled something else for them
and wouldn't let them come. I think their relations must be rather
horrid.'

'I remember Sharley--I think it was Sharley--speaking of them,' said
grandmamma. 'They are orphans, are they not?'

'Yes,' said Gerard. 'They've got guardians--one of them is quite an old
woman. Her name is Lady Bridget Woodstone. They don't care very much for
her. I think she must be very crabbed.'

'I do not think they can be related to my nephew,' said grandmamma. 'I
never heard of any orphan boys in his family, and I never heard of Lady
Bridget Woodstone. But Mr. Cosmo Vandeleur is only my nephew, because
his mother was my husband's sister--so of course he _may_ have relations
I know nothing of. He always seemed to me very near when he was a boy,
because he was so often with us.'

She sighed a little as she finished speaking. Thinking of Mr. Vandeleur
made her sad. It did seem so strange that he had never written all these
years.

And Jerry was very quick as well as thoughtful. He saw that for some
reason the mention of the name made her sad, so he said no more about
the Vandeleur boys. Long afterwards he told us that when he went back to
school he did ask Harry and Lindsay Vandeleur if they had any relation
called Mr. Cosmo Vandeleur, but at that time they told him they did not
know. They were quite under the care of old Lady Bridget, and she was
not a bit like granny. She was the sort of old lady who treats children
as if they had no sense at all; she never told the boys anything about
themselves or their family, and when they spent the holidays with her,
she always had a tutor for them--the strictest she could find, so that
they almost liked better to stay on at school.

The three years I have been writing about must have passed quickly to
grandmamma. They were so peaceful, and after we got to know the Nestors,
much less lonely. And grandmamma says that it is quite wonderful how
fast time goes once one begins to grow old. She does not seem to mind
it. She is so very good--I cannot help saying this, for my own story
would not be true if I did not keep saying _how_ good she is.
But I must take care not to let her see the places where I say it.
She loves me as dearly as she can, I know--and others beside me.
But still I try not to be selfish and to remember that when the
dreadful--dreadful-for-_me_--day comes that she must leave me, it will
only for _her_ be the going where she must often, often have longed to
be--the country 'across the river,' where her very dearest have been
watching for her for so long.

To me those three years seem like one bright summer. Of course we had
winters in them too, but there is a feeling of sunshine all over them.
And, actually speaking, those winters were very mild ones--nothing like
the occasional severe ones, of another of which I shall soon have to
tell.

I was so well too--growing so strong--stronger by far than grandmamma
had ever hoped to see me. And as I grew strong I seemed to take in the
delightfulness of it, though as a very little girl I had not often
_complained_ of feeling weak and tired, for I did not understand the
difference.

Now I must tell about the change that came to the Nestors--a sad change
for me, for though at first it seemed worse for them, in the end I
really think it brought more trouble to granny and me than to our dear
friends themselves.

It was one day in the autumn, early in October I think, that the first
beginning of the cloud came. Gerard had not long been back at school and
we were just settling down into our regular ways again.

'The girls are late this morning,' said grandmamma. 'You see nothing of
them from your watch-tower, do you, Helena?'

Granny always called the window-seat in our tiny drawing-room my
'watch-tower.' I had very long sight and I had found out that there was
a bit of the road from Moor Court where I could see the pony-cart
passing, like a little dark speck, before it got hidden again among the
trees. After that open bit I could not see it again at all till it was
quite close to our own road, as we called it--I mean the steep bit of
rough cart-track leading to our little garden-gate.

I was already crouched up in my pet place, when grandmamma called out to
me. She was in the dining-room, but the doors were open.

'No, grandmamma,' I replied. 'I don't see them at all. And I am sure
they haven't passed Waving View in the last quarter-of-an-hour, for I
have been here all that time.'

'Waving View,' I must explain, was the name we had given to the short
stretch of road I have just spoken of, because we used to wave
handkerchiefs to each other--I at my watch-tower and Sharley from the
pony-cart, at that point.

Grandmamma came into the drawing-room a moment or two after that and
stood behind me, looking out at the window.

[Illustration: 'I do wonder why they are so late.'--P. 82.]

'Not that I could see them coming,' she said, 'till they are up the hill
and close to us. But I do wonder why they are so late--half an hour
late,' and she glanced at the little clock on the mantelpiece. 'I hope
there is nothing the matter.'

I looked at her as she said that, for I felt rather surprised. It was
never granny's way to expect trouble before it comes. I saw that her
face was rather anxious. But just as I was going to speak, to say some
little word about its not being likely that anything was wrong, I gave
one other glance towards Waving View. This time I was not disappointed.

'Oh, granny,' I exclaimed, 'there they are! I am sure it is them--I know
the way they jog along so well--only, grandmamma, they are not waving?'

And I think the anxious look must have come into my own face, for I
remember saying, almost in a whisper, 'I do hope there is nothing the
matter'--granny's very words.



CHAPTER VII

THE BEGINNING OF TROUBLES


Grandmamma was the one to reassure me.

'I scarcely think there can be anything wrong, as they are coming,' she
said. 'You did not wave to them, either?'

'No,' I said, 'I _did_ wave, but I got tired of it. And it's always they
who do it first. You see there's no use doing it except at that place.'

'Well, they will be here directly, and then I must give them a little
scolding for being so unpunctual,' said grandmamma, cheerfully.

But that little scolding was never given.

When the governess-cart stopped at our path there were only two figures
in it--no, three, I should say, for there was the groom, and the two
others were Nan and Vallie--Sharley was not there.

I ran out to meet them.

'Is Sharley ill?' I called out before I got to them.

Nan shook her head.

'No,' she was beginning, but Vallie, who was much quicker, took the
words out of her mouth--that was a way of Vallie's, and sometimes it
used to make Nan rather vexed. But this morning she did not seem to
notice it; she just shut up her lips again and stood silent with a very
grave expression, while Vallie hurried on--

'Sharley's not ill, but mother kept her at home, and we're late because
we went first to the telegraph office at Yukes'--Yukes is a _very_ tiny
village half a mile on the other side of Moor Court, where there is a
telegraph office. 'Father's ill, Helena, and I'm afraid he's very ill,
for as soon as Dr. Cobbe saw him this morning he said he must telegraph
for another doctor to London.'

'Oh, dear,' I exclaimed, 'I am so sorry,' and turning round at the sound
of footsteps behind me I saw grandmamma, who had followed me out of the
house. 'Granny,' I said, 'there _is_ something the matter. Their father
is very ill,' and I repeated what Vallie had just said.

'I am very grieved to hear it,' said grandmamma. Afterwards she told me
she had had a sort of presentiment that something was the matter. 'I am
so sorry for your mother,' she went on. 'I wonder if I can be of use to
her in any way.'

Then Nan spoke, in her slow but very exact way.

'Mother said,' she began, 'would you come to be with her this afternoon
late, when the London doctor comes? She will send the brougham and it
will bring you back again, if you would be so very kind. Mother is so
afraid what the London doctor will say,' and poor Nan looked as if it
was very difficult for her not to cry.

'Certainly, I will come,' said grandmamma at once. 'Ask Mrs. Nestor to
send for me as soon as you get home if she would like to have me. I
suppose--' she went on, hesitating a little, 'you don't know what is the
matter with your father?'

'It is a sort of a cold that's got very bad,' said Vallie, 'it hurts him
to breathe, and in the night he was nearly choking.'

Granny looked grave at this. She knew that Mr. Nestor had not been
strong for some time, and he was a very active man, who looked after
everything on his property himself, and hunted a good deal, and thought
nothing about taking care of himself. He was a nice kind man, and all
his people were very fond of him.

But she tried to cheer up the little girls and gave them their lesson as
usual. It was much better to do so than to let them feel too unhappy.
And I tried to be very kind and bright too--I saw that grandmamma wanted
me to be the same way to them that she was.

But after they were gone she spoke to me pretty openly about her fears
for Mr. Nestor.

'Dr. Cobbe would not have sent for a London doctor without good cause,'
she said. 'All will depend on his opinion. It is possible that I may
have to stay all night, Helena dear. You will not mind if I do?'

I _did_ mind, very much. But I tried to say I wouldn't. Still, I felt
pretty miserable when the Moor Court carriage came to fetch grandmamma,
and she drove away, leaving me for the first time in my life, or rather
the first time I could remember, alone with Kezia.

Kezia was very kind. She offered me to come into the kitchen and make
cakes. But I was past eleven now--that is very different from being only
eight. I did not care much for making cakes--I never have cared about
cooking as some girls do, though I know it is a very good thing to
understand about it, and grandmamma says I am to go through a regular
course of it when I get to be seventeen or eighteen. But I knew Kezia's
cakes were much better than any I could make, so I thanked her, but said
no--I would rather read or sew.

I had my tea all alone in the dining-room. Kezia was always so
respectful about that sort of thing. Though she had been a nurse when I
was only a tiny baby, she never forgot, as some old servants do, to
treat me quite like a young lady, now I was growing older. She brought
in my tea and set it all out just as carefully as when grandmamma was
there, even more carefully in some ways, for she had made some little
scones that I was very fond of, and she had got out some strawberry jam.

But I could not help feeling melancholy. I know it is wrong to believe
in presentiments, or at least to think much about them, though
_sometimes_ even very wise people like grandmamma cannot help believing
in them a little. But I really do think that there are times in one's
life when a sort of sadness about the future does seem _meant_.

And I had been so happy for so long. And troubles must come.

I said that over to myself as I sat alone after tea, and then all of a
sudden it struck me that I was very selfish. This trouble was far, far
worse for the Nestors than for me. Possibly by this time the London
doctor had had to tell them that their father would never get better,
and here was I thinking more, I am afraid, of the dulness of being one
night without dear granny than of the sorrow that was perhaps coming
over Sharley and the others of being without their father for always.

For I scarcely think my 'presentiments' would have troubled me much
except for the being alone and missing granny so.

I made up my mind to be sensible and not fanciful. I got out what I
called my 'secret work,' which was at that time a footstool I was
embroidering for grandmamma's next birthday, and I did a good bit of it.
That made me feel rather better, and when my bedtime came it was nice to
think I had nothing to do but to go to sleep and stay asleep to make
to-morrow morning come quickly.

I fell asleep almost at once. But when I woke rather with a start--and I
could not tell what had awakened me--it was still quite, quite dark,
certainly not to-morrow morning.

'Oh, dear!' I thought, 'what a bother! Here I am as wide awake as
anything, and I so seldom wake at all. Just this night when I wanted to
sleep straight through.'

I lay still. Suddenly I heard some faint sounds. Some one was moving
about downstairs. Could it be Kezia up still? It must be very
late--quite the middle of the night, I fancied.

The sounds went on--doors shutting softly, then a slight creak on the
stairs, as if some one were coming up slowly. I was not exactly
frightened. I never thought of burglars--I don't think there has been a
burglary at Middlemoor within the memory of man--but my heart did beat
rather faster than usual and I listened, straining my ears and scarcely
daring to breathe.

Then at last the steps stopped at my door, and some one began to turn
the handle. I _almost_ screamed. But--in one instant came the dear
voice--

'Is my darling awake?' so gently, it was scarcely above a whisper.

'Oh, granny, dear, dear granny, is it you?' I said, and every bit of me,
heart and ears and everything, seemed to give one throb of delight. I
shall never forget it. It was like the day I ran into her arms down the
steep garden-path.

'Did I startle you?' she went on. 'Generally you sleep so soundly that I
hoped I would not awake you.'

'I was awake, dear grandmamma,' I said, 'and oh, I am so glad you have
come home.'

I clung to her as if I would never let her go, and then she told me the
news from Moor Court. The London doctor had spoken gravely, but still
hopefully. With great care, the greatest care, he trusted Mr. Nestor
would quite recover.

'So I came home to my little girl,' said grandmamma, 'though I have
promised poor Mrs. Nestor to go to her again to-morrow.'

'I don't mind anything if you are here at night,' I said, with a sigh of
comfort.

And then she kissed me again and I turned round and was asleep in five
minutes, and when I woke the next time it _was_ morning; the sunshine
was streaming in at the window.

There were some weeks after that of a good deal of anxiety about Mr.
Nestor, though he went on pretty well. Grandmamma went over every two or
three days, just to cheer Mrs. Nestor a little--not that there was
really anything to do, for they had trained nurses, and everything money
could get. The girls went on with their lessons as usual, which was of
course much better for them. But in those few weeks Sharley almost
seemed to grow into a woman.

I felt rather 'left behind' by her, for I was only eleven, and as soon
as the first great anxiety about Mr. Nestor was over I did not think
very much more about it. Nor did Nan and Vallie. We were quite satisfied
that he would soon be well again, and that everything would go on as
usual. Only Sharley looked grave.

At last the blow fell. It was a very bad blow to me, and in one
way--which, however, I did not understand till some time later--even
worse to grandmamma, though she said nothing to hint at such a thing in
the least.

And it was a blow to the Nestor children, for they loved their home and
their life dearly, and had no wish for any change.

This was it. They were all to go abroad almost immediately, for the
whole winter at any rate. The doctors were perfectly certain that it was
necessary for Mr. Nestor, and he would not hear of going alone, and Mrs.
Nestor could not bear the idea of a separation from her children.
Besides--they were very rich, there were no difficulties in the way of
their travelling most comfortably, and having everything they could want
wherever they went to.

To me it was the greatest trouble I had ever known--and I really do
think the little girls--Sharley too--minded it more on my account than
on any other.

But it had to be.

Almost before we had quite taken in that it was really going to be, they
were off--everything packed up, a courier engaged--rooms secured at the
best hotel in the place they were going to--for all these things can be
done in no time when people have lots of money, grandmamma said--and
they were gone! Moor Court shut up and deserted, except for the few
servants left in charge, to keep it clean and in good order.

I only went there once all that winter, and I never went again. I could
not bear it. For in among the trees where we played I came upon the
traces of our last paper-chase, and passing the side of the house it was
even worse. For the schoolrooms and play-room were in that wing, and
above them the nurseries, where Vallie used to rub her little nose
against the panes when she was shut up with one of her bad colds. Some
cleaning was going on, for it was like Longfellow's poem exactly--

  'I saw the nursery windows
    Wide open to the air,
  But the faces of the children,
    They were no longer there.'

I just squeezed grandmamma's hand without speaking, and we turned away.

It _is_ true that troubles do not often come alone. That winter was one
of the very severe ones I have spoken of, that come now and then in that
part of Middleshire.

For the Nestors' sake it made us all the more glad that they were safely
away from weather which, in his delicate state, would very probably have
killed their father. I think this was our very first thought when the
snow began to fall, only two or three weeks after they left, and went on
falling till the roads were almost impassable, and remained lying for I
am afraid to say how long, so intense was the frost that set in.

I thought it rather good fun just at the beginning, and wished I could
learn to skate. Grandmamma did not seem to care about my doing so, which
I was rather surprised at, as she had often told me stories of how fond
she was of skating when she was young, and how clever papa and Uncle Guy
were at it.

She said I had no one to teach me, and when I told her that I was sure
Tom Linden, a nephew of the vicar's who was staying with his uncle and
aunt just then, would help me, she found some other objection. Tom was a
very stupid, very good-natured boy. I had got to know him a little at
the Nestors. He was slow and heavy and rather fat. I tried to make
granny laugh by saying he would be a good buffer to fall upon. I saw she
was looking grave, and I felt a little cross at her not wanting me to
skate, and I persisted about it.

'Do let me, grandmamma,' I said. 'I can order a pair of skates at
Barridge's. They don't keep the best kind in stock, but I know they can
get them.'

'No, my dear,' said grandmamma at last, very decidedly. 'I am not at all
sure that it would be nice for you--it would have been different if the
Nestors had been here. And besides, there are several things you need to
have bought for you much more than skates. You must have extra warm
clothing this winter.'

She did not say right out that she did not know where the money was to
come from for my wants--as for her own, when did the darling ever think
of _them_?--but she gave a little sigh, and the thought did come into my
head for a moment--was grandmamma troubled about money? But it did not
stay there. We had been so comfortable the last few years that I had
really thought less about being poor than when I was quite little.

And other things made me forget about it. For a very few days after
that, most unfortunately, I got ill.



CHAPTER VIII

TWO LETTERS


It was only a bad cold. Except for having to stay in the house, I would
not have minded it very much, for after the first few days, when I was
feverish and miserable, I did not feel very bad. And like a child, I
thought every day that I should be all right the next.

I daresay I should have got over it much quicker if the weather had not
been so severe. But it was really awfully cold. Even my own sense told
me it would be mad to think of going out. So I got fidgety and
discontented, and made myself look worse than I really was.

And for the very first time in my life there seemed to come a little
cloud, a little coldness, between dear grandmamma and me. Speaking about
it since then, _she_ says it was not all my fault, but _I_ think it was.
I was selfish and thoughtless. She was dull and low-spirited, and I had
never seen her like that before. And I did not know all the reasons
there were for her being so, and I felt a kind of irritation at it. Even
when she tried, as she often and often did, to throw it off and cheer me
up in some little way by telling me stories, or proposing some new game,
or new fancy-work, I would not meet her half-way, but would answer
pettishly that I was tired of all those things. And I was vexed at
several little changes in our way of living. All that winter we sat in
the dining-room, and never had a fire in the drawing-room, and our food
was plainer than I ever remembered it. Granny used to have special
things for me--beef-tea and beaten-up eggs and port-wine--but I hated
having them all alone and seeing her eating scarcely anything.

'I don't want these messy things as if I was really ill,' I said. 'Why
don't we have nice little dinners and teas as we used?'

Grandmamma never answered these questions plainly; she would make some
little excuse about not feeling hungry in frosty weather, or that the
tradespeople did not like sending often. But once or twice I caught her
looking at me when she did not know I saw her, and then there was
something in her eyes which made me think I was a horridly selfish
child. And yet I did not _mean_ to be. I really did not understand, and
it was rather trying to be cooped up for so long, in a room scarcely
bigger than a cupboard, after my free open life of the last three years
or so.

Dr. Cobbe came once or twice at the beginning of my cold and looked
rather grave. Then he did not come again for two or three weeks--I think
he had told grandmamma to let him know if I got worse.

And one day when I had really made myself feverish by my fidgety
grumbling, and then being sorry and crying, which brought on a fit of
coughing, grandmamma got so unhappy that she tucked me up on the sofa by
the fire, and went off herself, though it was late in the afternoon, to
fetch him herself. She would not let Kezia go because she wanted to
speak to him alone; I did not know it at the time, but I remember waking
up and hearing voices near me, and there were the doctor and grandmamma.
She was in her indoors dress just as usual, for me not to guess she had
been out.

I sat up, feeling much the better for my sleep. Dr. Cobbe laughed and
joked--that was his way--he listened to my breathing and pommelled me
and told me I was a little humbug. Then he went off into Kezia's
kitchen, where there _had_ to be a tiny fire, with grandmamma, and a few
minutes later I heard him saying good-bye.

Grandmamma came back to me looking happier than for some time past. The
doctor, she has told me since, really did assure her that there was
nothing serious the matter with me, that I was a growing child and must
be well fed and kept cheerful, as I was inclined to be nervous and was
not exactly robust.

And the relief to grandmamma was great. That evening she was more like
her old self than she had been for long, even though I daresay she was
awake half the night thinking over the doctor's advice, and wondering
what more she _could_ do to get enough money to give me all I needed.

For some of her money-matters had gone wrong. That I did not know till
long afterwards. It was just about the time of Mr. Nestor's illness, and
it was not till the Moor Court family had left that she found out the
worst of it--that for two or three years _at least_ we should be thirty
or forty pounds a year poorer than we had been.

It _was_ hard on her--coming at the very same time as the extra money
for the lessons left off! And the severe winter and my cold all added to
it. It even made it more difficult for her to hear of other pupils, or
to get any orders for her beautiful fancy-work. No visitors would come
to Middlemoor _this_ winter, though when it was mild they sometimes did.

Still, from the day of Dr. Cobbe's visit things improved a little--for
the time at least. And in the end it was a good thing that grandmamma
was not tempted to try her eyes with any embroidery again, as she really
might have made herself blind. It had been such a blessing that she did
not need to do it during the years she gave lessons to Sharley and her
sisters.

I went on getting better pretty steadily, especially once I was allowed
to go out a little, though, as it was a very cold spring, it was only
for some time _very_ little, just an hour or so in the best part of the
day. And grandmamma followed Dr. Cobbe's advice, though I never shall
understand how she managed to do so. She was so determined to be
cheerful that when I look back upon it now it almost makes me cry. I had
all the nourishing things to eat that it was possible to get, and how
thoughtless and ungrateful I was! My appetite was not very good, and I
remember actually grumbling at having to take beef-tea, and beaten-up
eggs, and things like that at odd times. I scarcely like to say it, but
in my heart I do not believe grandmamma had enough to eat that winter.

About Easter--or rather at the time for the big school Easter holidays,
which does not always match real Easter--we had a pleasant surprise. At
least it was a pleasant surprise for grandmamma--I don't know that I
cared about it particularly, and I certainly little thought what would
come of it!

One afternoon Gerard Nestor walked in.

Granny's face quite lighted up, and for a moment or two I felt very
excited.

'Have you all come home?' I exclaimed. 'I haven't had a letter from
Sharley for ever so long--perhaps--perhaps she meant to surprise me,' I
had been going to say, but something in Jerry's face stopped me. He
looked rather grave; not that he was ever anything but quiet.

'No,' he said, 'I only wish they _were_ all back, or likely to come. I'm
afraid there's no chance of it. The doctors out there won't hear of it
this year at all. Just when father was hoping to arrange for coming back
soon, they found out something or other unsatisfactory about him, and
now it is settled that he must stay out of England another whole year at
least. They are speaking of Algeria or Egypt for next winter.'

My face fell. I was on the point of crying. Gerard looked very
sympathising.

'I did not myself mind it so much till I came down here,' he said. 'But
it is so lonely and dull at Moor Court. I hope you will let me come here
a great deal, Mrs. Wingfield. I mean to work hard at my foreign
languages these holidays--it will give me something to do. You see it
wasn't worth while my going out to Hyères for only three weeks, and I
hoped even they might be coming back. So I asked to come down here. I
didn't think it could be so dull.'

'You are all alone at home?' said grandmamma. 'Yes, it must be very
lonely. I shall be delighted to read with you as much as you like. I am
not very busy.'

'Thank you,' said Gerard. 'Well, I only hope you won't have too much of
me. May I stay to tea to-day?'

'Certainly,' said grandmamma. But I noticed--I don't think Gerard
did--that her face had grown rather anxious-looking as he spoke. 'If
you like,' she went on, 'we can glance over your books, some of them are
still here, and settle on a little work at once.'

'All right,' said he. But then he added, rather abruptly, 'You are not
looking well, Mrs. Wingfield? I think you have got thinner. And Helena
looks rather white, though she has not grown much.'

I felt vexed at his saying I had not grown much.

'It's no wonder I am white,' I said in a surly tone. 'I have been mewed
up in the house almost ever since Sharley and all of them went away.'

And then grandmamma explained about my having been ill.

'I'm very sorry,' said Jerry, 'but you look worse than Helena, Mrs.
Wingfield.'

I felt crosser and crosser. I fancied he meant to reproach me with
grandmamma's looking ill, even though it made me uneasy too. I glanced
at her--a faint pink flush had come over her face at his words.

'_I_ don't think granny looks ill at all,' I said.

'No, indeed, I am very well,' she said, with a smile.

Gerard said no more, but I know he thought me a selfish spoilt child.
And from that moment he set himself to watch grandmamma and to find out
if anything was really the matter.

He _did_ find out, and that pretty quickly, I fancy, that we were much
poorer. But it was very difficult for him to do anything to help
grandmamma. She was so dignified, and in some ways reserved. She got a
letter from Mrs. Nestor a few days later, thanking her for reading with
Jerry again, and saying that of course the lessons must be arranged
about as before. And it vexed her a very little. (She has told me about
it since.) Perhaps she was feeling unusually sensitive and depressed
just then. But however that may have been, she wrote a letter to Mrs.
Nestor, which made her really _afraid_ of offering to pay. It was not as
if there was time for a good many lessons, granny wrote--would not Mrs.
Nestor let her render this very small service as a friend?

And Jerry did not know what he _could_ do. It was not the season for
game, except rabbits--and he did send rabbits two or three times--and I
know now that he scarcely dared to stay to tea, or _not_ to stay, for if
he refused granny seemed hurt.

On the whole, nice as he was, it was almost a relief when he went away
back to school.

Still things were not so bad as in winter. I was really all right
again, and a little money come in to grandmamma about May or June that
she had not dared to hope for. We got on pretty well that summer.

None of the Nestors came to Moor Court at all. Gerard joined them for
the long holidays in Switzerland. Mrs. Nestor wrote now and then to
granny, and Sharley to me, but of course there was not the least hint of
what Gerard had told them. I think they believed and hoped he had
exaggerated it--he was the sort of boy to fancy things worse than they
were if he cared about people, I think.

And so it got on to be the early autumn again. I think it was about the
middle of September when the first beginning of the great change in our
lives came.

It was cold already, and the weather prophets were talking of another
severe winter. Grandmamma watched the signs of it anxiously. She kept
comparing it with the same time last year till I got quite tired of the
subject.

'Really, grandmamma,' I said one morning, 'what does it matter? If it is
very cold we must have big fires and keep ourselves warm. And one thing
I know--I am not going to be shut up again like last winter. I am going
to get skates and have some fun as soon as ever the frost comes.'

I said it half jokingly, but still I was ready to be cross too. I had
not improved in some ways since I was ill. I was less thoughtful for
grandmamma and quite annoyed if she did not do exactly what I wanted, or
if she seemed interested in anything but me. In short, I was very
spoilt.

She did not answer me about the skates, for at that moment Kezia brought
in the letters. It was not by any means every morning that we got any,
and it was always rather an excitement when we saw the postman turning
up our path.

That morning there were two letters. One was for me from Sharley. I knew
at once it was from her by the foreign stamp and the thin paper
envelope, even before I looked at the writing. I was so pleased that I
rushed off with it to my favourite window-seat, without noticing
grandmamma, who had quietly taken her own letter from the little tray
Kezia handed it to her on and was examining it in a half-puzzled way. I
remembered afterwards catching a glimpse of the expression on her face,
but at the moment I gave no thought to it.

There was nothing _very_ particular in Sharley's letter. It was very
affectionate--full of longings to be coming home again, even though she
allowed that their present life was very bright and interesting. I was
just laughing at a description of Pert and Quick going to market on
their own account, and how they bargained with the old peasant women,
when a slight sound--_was_ it a sound or only a sort of feeling in the
air?--made me look up from the open sheet before me, and glance over at
grandmamma.

For a moment I felt quite frightened. She was leaning back in her chair,
looking very white, and I could almost have thought she was fainting,
except that her lips were moving as if she were speaking softly to
herself.

I flew across the room to her.

'Granny,' I said, '_dear_ granny, what is it? Are you ill--is anything
the matter?'

Just at first, I think, I forgot about the letter lying on her lap--but
before she spoke she touched it with her fingers.

'I am only a little startled, dear child,' she said, 'startled and----'
I could not catch the other word she said, she spoke it so softly, but I
think it was 'thankful.' 'No, there is nothing wrong, but you will
understand my feeling rather upset when I tell you that this letter is
from Cosmo--you know whom I mean, Helena, Cosmo Vandeleur, my nephew,
who has not written to me all these years.'

At once I was full of interest, not unmixed--and I think it was
natural--with some indignation.

'So he is alive and well, I suppose?' I said, rather bitterly. 'Well,
granny, I hope you will not trouble about him any more. He must be a
horrid man, after all your kindness to him when he was a boy, never to
have written or seemed to care if you were alive or dead.'

'No, dear,' said grandmamma, whose colour was returning, though her
voice still sounded weak and tremulous--'no, dear. You must not think of
him in that way. Careless he has certainly been, but he has not lost his
affection for me. I will explain it all to you soon, but I must think it
over first. I feel still so upset, I can scarcely take it in.'

She stopped, and her breath seemed to come in gasps. I was not a stupid
child, and I had plenty of common sense.

'Granny, dear,' I said, 'don't try to talk any more just now. I will
call Kezia, and she must give you some water, or tea, or something. And
I won't call Mr. Vandeleur horrid if it vexes you.'

Kezia knew how to take care of grandmamma, though it was very, very
seldom she was ever faint or nervous or anything of that kind.

And something told me that the best _I_ could do was to leave dear
granny alone for a little with the faithful servant who had shared her
joys and sorrows for so long.

So I took my own letter--Sharley's letter I mean, and ran upstairs to
fetch my hat and jacket.

'I'm going out for a little, grandmamma,' I said, putting my head in
again for half a second at the drawing-room door as I passed. 'It isn't
cold this morning, and I've got a long letter from Sharley to read over
and over again.'

'Take care of yourself, darling,' said granny, and as I shut the door I
heard her say to Kezia, 'dear child--she has such tact and
thoughtfulness for her age. It is for her I am so thankful, Kezia.'

I was pleased to be praised. I have always loved praise--too much, I am
afraid. But my conscience told me I had _not_ been thoughtful for
grandmamma lately, not as thoughtful as I might have been certainly.
This feeling troubled me on one side, and on the other I was dying with
curiosity to know what it was granny was thankful about. The mere fact
of a letter having come from that 'horrid, selfish, ungrateful man,' as
I still called him to myself, though I would not speak of him so to
grandmamma, could not be anything to be so thankful about--at least not
to be thankful for _me_. What could it be? What had he written to say?

I am afraid that Sharley's letter scarcely had justice done to it the
second time I read it through--between every line would come up the
thought of what grandmamma had said, and the wondering what she could
mean. And besides that, the uncomfortable feeling that I was not as good
as she thought me--that I did not deserve all the love and anxiety she
lavished on me.



CHAPTER IX

A GREAT CHANGE


Perhaps here it will be best for me to tell straight off what the
contents of Mr. Vandeleur's letter were. Not, I mean, to go into all as
to when and how grandmamma told me about it, with 'she said's' and 'I
said's.' Besides, it would not be quite correct to tell it that way, for
as a matter of fact I did not understand everything _then_ as I do now
that I am several years older, and it would be difficult not to mix up
what I have since come to know with the ideas I then had--ideas which
were in some ways mistaken and childish.

First of all, how do you think Cousin Cosmo, as I was told to call him,
had come to write again after all those years of silence? What had put
it into his head?

The explanation is rather curious. It all came from Gerard Nestor's
being at Moor Court that Easter, and feeling so sorry for grandmamma
and so sure that she was in trouble.

I have told, as we knew afterwards, that he had written to his people,
but that grandmamma's way of answering made them think, and hope, that
he had fancied more than was really the matter, and besides it was
difficult for the Nestors, who were not _relations_, to do anything to
help grandmamma, unless she had in some way given them her confidence.
At that time they were hoping to come home the following spring, and
then, probably, Mrs. Nestor would have found out more.

But when Gerard first went back to school his head was full of it. He
had not been _told_ anything, it was only his own suspicions, so there
was no harm in his speaking of it, as he did, though quite privately, to
his great friend, Harry Vandeleur.

And Harry gave him some confidences in return. Lady Bridget Woodstone,
the old lady who was guardian to him and his brother, had lately
died--the boys had spent their last holidays at school, but a new
guardian had now appeared on the scene. This was a cousin of theirs
whom, till then, they had never heard of, and this cousin was no other
than grandmamma's nephew, Mr. Cosmo Vandeleur.

Gerard quite started when he heard the name, which he remembered quite
well. Harry said that Mr. Cosmo Vandeleur was grave and quiet, he and
Lindsay felt rather afraid of him, but they would know better what sort
of person he was when they had spent the holidays with him.

'We are to go to his house, or at least to a house he has got in Devon,
near the sea-side, next August,' he told Gerard, and he promised that he
would ask his guardian if he had any relation called Mrs. Wingfield, and
if he found it was the same, he would tell him what Gerard had said, and
how all these years she had been hoping to hear from him. For granny had
told Gerard almost as much as she had told me of how strange it was that
'Cosmo' never wrote.

Well now you--by 'you' of course I mean whoever reads this story, if
ever any one does--you begin to see how it came about. Harry Vandeleur
_did_ tell his guardian about us, or about grandmamma, and found out
that she _was_ his aunt. Mr. Vandeleur was very much startled, Harry
said, to hear about how very differently she was living now, and he
wrote down the address and told Harry he would make further enquiries.

That was all Harry knew, for Mr. Vandeleur was very reserved, and Harry
and Lindsay did not feel as if they knew him any better after the
holidays than before. Mrs. Vandeleur was very ill, though they thought
she would have liked to be kind; they were always being told not to make
a noise, and so they stayed out-of-doors as much as they could. It was
rather dull (_very_ dull, I should think), and they hoped they would not
spend their next holidays there; they would almost rather stay at
school.

It was August or September when Mr. Vandeleur heard about grandmamma. He
did not at once write to her; he made enquiries of the lawyer who had
for many years managed, grandpapa's and papa's affairs, and he found it
was only too true, that granny was _very_ badly off. But even then he
did not write immediately, for Mrs. Vandeleur got worse and for a little
while they were afraid she was going to die.

He told granny this in his letter, but went on to say that Mrs.
Vandeleur was better, and the doctors hoped she might be moved home to
their house in London after the new year. In the meantime he was in
great difficulty what to do, he had to be in London a good deal, and it
was a pity to shut up the house, as they had made it all very nice, and
they had good servants. And even when Mrs. Vandeleur was much better
she must not be troubled about housekeeping or anything for a long time,
and besides this, there was a new responsibility upon him, which he
would tell granny about afterwards. He meant the care of the two boys,
but he did not speak of them then.

Some part of this, grandmamma told me that very evening; she also told
me how sorry her nephew was about his long silence, though, as I think I
said before, he _had_ written and got no answer,--a letter which she had
never received.

Here I find I must change my plan a little after all, and go into
conversation again. For as I am writing there comes back to me one part
of our talk that evening so clearly, that I think I can remember almost
every word.

We had got as far as grandmamma telling me most of what I have now
written down, but still I did not see why the letter had so upset her or
why she had whispered something to herself about being 'thankful.'

'Well,' I said, 'I am glad he has written if it pleases you, grandmamma.
But I don't think I want ever to see him.'

'You must not be prejudiced, Helena dear,' she answered. 'I think it
very likely you will see him, and before very long. I have not yet told
you what he proposes. He wants us to go to--to pay him a long visit in
London. He says I should be a very great help to him and Agnes--Agnes is
his wife--as I could take charge of things for her.'

'Of course you would be a great help,' I said. 'But I think it is rather
cool of him to expect you to give up your own home and go off there just
to be of use to them.'

Grandmamma sighed. She did not want to tell me too much of her
increasing anxiety about money, and yet without doing so it was
difficult for her to make me understand how really kind Mr. Vandeleur's
proposal was, and how it had not come a day too soon.

'There are more reasons than that for my accepting his invitation,' she
said. 'It will be of advantage to us in many ways not to spend the
coming winter here, but in a warm, large house. If we had weather like
last year I should dread it very much. London is on the whole very
healthy in winter, in spite of the fogs. And you are growing old enough
to take in new ideas, Helena, and to benefit by seeing something more of
life.'

I felt very strange, almost giddy, with the thought of such a change.

'Do you really mean, grandmamma,' I said, 'that--that you are thinking
of going there _soon_?'

'Very soon,' she answered, 'almost at once. It may get cold and wintry
here any day, and besides that, my nephew is very anxious to settle his
own plans as quickly as possible.'

I said nothing for a minute or two. In my heart I was not at all sorry
at the prospect of a winter in London, even though I naturally shrank
from leaving dear old Windy Gap, the only home I had ever known. But the
sort of spoilt way I had got into kept me from expressing the pleasure I
felt--that one side of me felt, anyway.

'I don't believe he cares about us,' I said at last rather grumpily. 'I
am sure he is a very selfish man.'

Grandmamma looked distressed, but she was wise, too. She saw I was
really inclined to be 'naughty' about it.

'Helena, my dearest child,' she said, and though she spoke most kindly I
heard by her voice that she would be firm, 'you must not yield to
prejudice, and you must trust me. This invitation is the very best thing
that could have come to us at present, and I am deeply grateful for it.
It is rather startling, I know, but there should be a good deal of
pleasure for you in our new prospects. And I am sure you will see this
in a day or two. Now go to bed, my darling. To-morrow we shall have a
great deal to talk over, and you must keep well and strong so as to be
able to help me.'

She kissed me tenderly, and I whispered 'Good-night, dear grandmamma,'
gently and affectionately.

But as soon as I got upstairs and was alone in my own little room, I
burst into tears. I daresay it was only natural. Still, I see now that
my feelings were not altogether what they should have been. There was a
great deal of selfishness and spoiltness mixed up with them.

       *       *       *       *       *

After that evening I have rather a confused remembrance of the next two
or three weeks. Things seemed to hurry on in a bewildering way, and of
course it was all the more bewildering to me, as I had never known any
change or uprooting of the kind in my life.

Grandmamma was exceedingly busy. She had to write very often to Mr.
Vandeleur, and he replied in a most business-like way, generally, I
think, by return. It was no longer a great event for the postman to be
seen turning up our path, and as well as letters he sometimes now
brought parcels.

For grandmamma was determined that we should both look nice when we
first went to London to live in her nephew's big house, where there were
so many servants.

'We must do him credit,' she said to me, with a smile. I understood what
she meant, and I had a feeling of pride about it, too, and I was very
pleased to have some new dresses and hats and other things. But with me
there was no good feeling to my cousin mixed up in all this. I now know
that there was reason for grandmamma's wish to gratify him; he behaved
most generously and thoughtfully about everything, sending her more than
sufficient money for all we needed, and doing it in such a nice
way--just as a son who had grown rich might take pleasure in helping a
mother to whom he owed more than mere money could ever repay.

But though grandmamma read out to me bits of his letters in which he was
always repeating how grateful he was to her for coming to his aid in his
difficulties, she did not tell me the whole particulars of her
arrangements with him. He would not have liked it, and I was really too
young to have been told all these money-matters.

I did notice that there was never any mention of me in what she read to
me. And now I know that Mr. Vandeleur did _not_ particularly rejoice at
the prospect of my living with them too. He had proposed that I should
be sent to some very good school, for he knew nothing of children,
especially of little girls. I think he believed they were even more
tiresome and mischievous and bothering in every way than boys.

Grandmamma would not listen for an instant to this proposal. Her first
and greatest duty in life was her granddaughter, 'Paul's little girl,'
and she would do _anything_ rather than be separated from me, especially
as I was delicate and required care. In reality I was not nearly as
delicate as she thought. But I daresay it did not add to my cousin's
wish to have me in his house to hear that I was considered so.

Among the other things that grandmamma had to arrange about was what to
do with Windy Gap. In her heart I believe she thought it very unlikely
that it would ever be our home again, but she did not say anything of
this kind to me. She went off one day to Mr. Timbs to ask him to try to
let it as it was, with our furniture in. He promised to do his best, but
did not think it likely it would let in the winter.

'And by the spring we shall be coming back again,' I said, when granny
told me this. I had not gone with her to Mr. Timbs; she had made some
little excuse for not taking me.

To this she did not reply, and I thought no more about it, but I was
glad to hear that Kezia was to stay on in the cottage to keep it all
aired and in nice order. And I said to her secretly that if granny and I
were not happy in Chichester Square--that was the name of the gloomy,
rather old-fashioned square, filled with handsome gloomy houses, where
Mr. Vandeleur lived--it was nice to feel that we had only to drive to
the station and get into the train and be 'home' again in four or five
hours.

Kezia smiled, though I think in her heart she was much more inclined to
cry, and said she hoped to hear of our being very happy indeed in
London, though of course she would look forward to seeing us again.

I shall never forget the day we left our dear little cottage. It had
begun to be wintry, a sprinkling of snow was on the ground and the air
was quite frosty, though the morning was bright. I did feel so
strange--sorrowful yet excited, and as if I really did not know who I
was. And though the tears were running down poor Kezia's face when she
bade us good-bye at the window of the railway carriage, I could not have
cried if I had wished. We had a three miles' drive to the station. It
was only the third or fourth time in my life I had ever been there, and
I had never travelled for longer than half an hour or so, when granny
had taken me, and once or twice Sharley and the others, to one of the
neighbouring towns famed for their beautiful cathedrals.

We travelled second class. I thought it very comfortable, and it was
very nice to have foot-warmers, which I had never seen before. My
spirits rose steadily and even grandmamma's face had a pinky colour,
which made her look quite young.

'I should like to travel like this for a week without stopping,' I said.

Granny smiled.

'I don't think you would,' she said. 'You will feel you have had quite
enough of it by the time we get to London.'

And after an hour or two, especially when the short winter afternoon
grew misty and dull, so that I could scarcely distinguish the landscape
as we flew past, I began to agree with her.

'It will be quite dark when we get to Chichester Square,' said
grandmamma. 'You must wait for your first real sight of London till
to-morrow. I hope the weather will not be foggy.'

'Will there be flys at the station?' I asked, 'or did you write to order
one?'

Grandmamma smiled.

'No, dear, that would not be necessary. There are always lots of
four-wheelers and hansoms. But Mr. Vandeleur is sending a footman to
meet us and he will find us a cab.'

'Hasn't he got a carriage then?' said I.

Grandmamma shook her head.

'Not in London. Their carriages and horses are in the country still for
Mrs. Vandeleur. They will not be sent back to London till she comes.'

'I hope that won't be for a good long while,' I said to myself, rather
unfeelingly, for I might have remembered that as soon as my cousin's
wife was well enough she was to return. So her staying away long would
mean her not getting well.

Their being away--for Mr. Vandeleur was not in London himself just
then--was the part that pleased me the most of the whole plan. I thought
it would be great fun to be alone in London with grandmamma, and I had
been making lists of the things I wanted her to do and the places we
should go to see. It never struck me that she could have any one or
anything to think of but me myself!



CHAPTER X

NO. 29 CHICHESTER SQUARE


It was quite dark when we arrived at Paddington Station, and long before
then, as grandmamma had prophesied, I had had much more than enough of
the railway journey at first so pleasant.

I was tired and sleepy. It all seemed very, very strange and confusing
to me--the huge railway station, the dimly burning gas-lamps, the
bustle, the lots of people. For, as I have to keep reminding you, there
is scarcely ever nowadays a child who leads so quiet and unchangeful a
life as mine had been. I felt in a dream. If I had been less tired in my
body I daresay my mind and fancy would have been amused and excited by
it all. As it was, I just clung to grandmamma stupidly, wondering how
she kept her head, wondering still more, when I heard her suddenly
talking to some one--who turned out to be Mr. Vandeleur's footman--how
in the world she or he, or both of them, had managed to find each other
out in the crowd!

I did not speak. After a while I remember finding myself, and granny of
course, safe in a four-wheeler, which seemed narrow and stuffy compared
to the Middlemoor flys, and jolted along with a terrible rattle and
noise, so that I could scarcely distinguish the words grandmamma said
when once or twice she spoke to me. I daresay a good deal of the noise
was outside the cab, and some of it perhaps inside my own head, for it
did not altogether stop even when _we_ did--that is to say when we drew
up at 29 Chichester Square.

The house was very large--the hall looked to me almost as large as the
hall at Moor Court. It was not really so, but I could scarcely judge of
anything correctly that night. I was so very tired.

[Illustration: A nice-looking oldish man came forward and bowed
respectfully to grandmamma.--P. 126.]

A nice-looking oldish man came forward and bowed respectfully to
grandmamma. He was the butler. He handed us over, so to say, to a
nice-looking oldish woman, who was the head housemaid, and she took us
at once upstairs to our rooms, the butler asking grandmamma to leave the
luggage and the cab-paying to him--he would see that it was all right.
She thanked him nicely, but rather 'grandly'--not at all as if she
was not accustomed to lots of servants and attention, which I was
pleased at. It was a good thing for me that I had been so much with the
Nestors; it prevented my seeming awkward or shy with so many servants
about, which otherwise I might have been. Grandmamma of course _had_
been used to being rich, but _I_ never had.

There came a disappointment the very first thing. Hales, the housemaid,
threw open the door of a large, rather gloomy-looking bedroom, where a
fire was burning and candles already lighted.

'Your room, ma'am,' she said. 'Missie's----' she hesitated. 'Miss
Wingfield's,' said granny. 'Miss Wingfield's,' Hales repeated, 'is on
the next floor but one.'

Grandmamma looked uneasy.

'Is it far from this room?' she said.

'Oh no, ma'am, just the staircase--it is over this. Mr. Vandeleur
thought it was the best. It was Mrs. Vandeleur's when she was a little
girl.' For the house in Chichester Square had been left to Cousin Agnes
by her parents a few years ago; that was why it seemed rather
old-fashioned. 'All the rooms on this floor besides this one,' Hales
went on, 'are Mrs. Vandeleur's; and master's study, and the next floor
are spare rooms, except to the back, and we thought it was fresher and
pleasanter to the front for the young lady.'

Grandmamma looked pleased at the kind way Hales spoke, but still she
hesitated. I gave her a little tug.

'I don't mind,' I said, for I was not at all a frightened child about
sleeping alone and things like that. She smiled back at me. 'That's
right,' she said, and I felt rewarded.

My room was a nice one when I got there, but it did seem a tremendous
way up, and it looked rather bare and felt rather chilly, even though
there was a fire burning, which, however, had not been lighted very
long. The housemaid went towards it and gave it a poke, murmuring
something about 'Belinda being so careless.' Belinda, as I soon found
out, was the second housemaid, and it was she who was to wait upon me
and take care of my room.

'You must ring for anything you want, miss,' said Hales, 'and if Belinda
isn't attentive perhaps you will mention it.'

And so saying she left me. I felt rather lonely, even though grandmamma
was in the same house. There was a deserted feeling about the room as if
it had not been used for a very long time, and my two boxes looked very
small indeed. I felt no interest in unpacking my things, even though I
had brought my books and some of my little ornaments.

'They will look nothing in this great bare place,' I thought. 'I won't
take them out, and then I shall have the feeling that we are not going
to be here for long.'

A queer sort of home-sickness for Windy Gap and for my life there came
over me.

'I do wish we had not come here; I'm sure I'm going to hate it. I think
grandmamma might have come up with me to see my room,' and I stood there
beside the flickering little fire, feeling far from happy or even
amiable.

Suddenly, the sound of a gong startled me. I had not even begun to take
off my hat and jacket. I did so now in a hurry, and then turned to wash
my hands and face, somewhat cheered to find a can of nice hot water
standing ready. Then I smoothed my hair with a little pocket-comb I had,
as I dared not wait to take out any of my things. But I am afraid I did
not look as neat as usual or as I might have done if I hadn't wasted my
time.

I hurried downstairs; a door stood open, and looking in, I was sure
that it was the dining-room, and grandmamma there waiting for me. A
table, which to me seemed very large, though it was really an
ordinary-sized round one, was nicely arranged for tea. How glad I was
that it was not dinner!

'Come, dear,' said grandmamma, 'you must be very hungry.'

'I couldn't change my dress, grandmamma,' I said, not quite sure if she
would not be displeased with me.

'Of course not,' she replied, cheerfully, 'I never expected it this
first evening.'

My spirits rose when I had had a nice cup of tea and something to
eat--it is funny how our bodies rule our minds sometimes--and I began to
talk more in my usual way, especially as, to my great relief, the
servants had by this time left the room.

'Shall we have tea like this every evening, grandmamma?' I asked; 'it is
so much nicer than dinner.'

Grandmamma hesitated.

'Yes,' she said, 'while we are alone I think it will be the best plan,
as you are too young for late dinner. When your cousins come home, of
course things will be regularly arranged.'

'That means,' I thought to myself, 'that I shall have all my meals
alone, I suppose,' and again an unreasonably cross feeling came over me.

Grandmamma noticed it, I think, but she said nothing, and very soon
after we had finished tea she proposed that I should go to bed. She took
me upstairs herself to my room, and waited till I was in bed; then she
kissed me as lovingly and tenderly as ever, but, all the same, no sooner
had she left me alone than I buried my face in the pillow and burst into
tears. I had an under feeling that grandmamma was not quite pleased with
me. I know now that she was only anxious, and perhaps a little
disappointed, at my not seeming brighter. For, after all, everything she
had done and was doing was for my sake, and I should have trusted her
and known this by instinct, instead of allowing myself from the very
first beginning of our coming to London to think I was a sort of martyr.

'I can see how it's going to be,' I thought, 'as soon as ever Mr. and
Mrs. Vandeleur come back I shall be nowhere at all and nobody at all in
this horrid, gloomy London. Cousin Agnes will be grandmamma's first
thought, and I shall be expected to spend most of my life up in my room
by myself. It is too bad, it isn't my fault that I am an orphan with no
other home of my own. I would rather have stayed at Windy Gap, however
poor we were, than feel as I know I am going to do.'

But in the middle of all these miserable ideas I fell asleep, and slept
very soundly--I don't think I dreamt at all--till the next morning.

When I opened my eyes I thought it was still the night. There seemed no
light, but by degrees, as I got accustomed to the darkness, I made out
the shapes of the two windows. Then a clock outside struck seven, and
gradually everything came back to me--the journey and our arrival and
the unhappy thoughts amidst which I had fallen asleep.

Somehow, even though as yet there was nothing to cheer me--for what can
be gloomier than to watch the cold dawn of a winter's morning creeping
over the gray sky of London?--somehow, things seemed less dismal
already. The fact was I had had a very good night, and was feeling
rested and refreshed, so much so that I soon began to fidget and to wish
that some one would come with my hot water and say it was time to get
up.

This did not happen till half-past seven, when a knock at the door was
followed by the appearance of Belinda--at least I guessed it was
Belinda, for I had not seen her before. She was a pleasant enough
looking girl, but with rather a pert manner, and she spoke to me as if I
were about six.

'You'd better get up at once, miss, as breakfast's to be so early, and
I'm to help you to dress if you need me.'

'No, thank you,' I said with great dignity, 'I don't want any help. But
where's my bath?'

'I've had no orders about a bath,' she replied, 'but, to be sure, you
can't go to the bathroom, as it's next master's dressing-room. You'll
have to speak to Hales about it,' and she went away murmuring something
indistinctly as to new ways and new rules.

In a few minutes, however, she came back again, lumbering a bath after
her and looking rather cross.

'How different she is from Kezia,' I thought to myself. 'I would not
have minded anything as much if she had come with us.'

Still, I was sensible enough to know that it was no use making the worst
of things, and I think I must have looked rather pleasanter and more
cheerful than the evening before, when I tapped at grandmamma's door and
went downstairs to breakfast holding her hand.

_She_ had much more to think of and trouble about than I, and if I had
not been so selfish I was quite sensible enough to have understood this.
A great many things required rearranging and overlooking in the
household, for, though the servants were good on the whole, it was long
since they had had a mistress's eye over them, and without that, even
the best servants are pretty sure to get into careless ways. And
grandmamma was so very conscientious that she felt even more anxious
about all these things for Mr. and Mrs. Vandeleur's sake, than if it had
been her own house and her own servants. Besides, though she was so
clever and experienced, it was a good many years since she had had a
large house to look after, as our little home at Middlemoor had been so
very, very simple. Yes, I see now it must have been very hard upon her,
for, instead of doing all I could to help her, I was quite taken up with
my own part of it, and ready to grumble at and exaggerate every little
difficulty or disagreeableness.

I think grandmamma tried for some time not to see the sort of humour I
was in, and how selfish and spoilt I had become. She excused me to
herself by saying I was tired, and that such a complete change of life
was trying for a child, and by kind little reasons of that sort.

'I shall be rather busy this morning,' she said to me that first day at
breakfast, 'but if it keeps fine we can go out a little in the
afternoon, and let you have your first peep of London. Let me see, what
can you do with yourself this morning? You have your things to unpack
still, and I daresay you would like to put out your ornaments and books
in your own room.'

'I don't mean to put them out,' I said, 'it's not worth while. I will
keep my books in one of the boxes and just get one out when I want it,
and as for the ornaments, they wouldn't look anything in that big, bare
room.'

But as I said this I caught sight of grandmamma's face, and I felt
ashamed of being so grumbling when I was really feeling more cheerful
and interested in everything than the night before. So I changed my tone
a little.

'I will unpack all my things,' I said, 'and see how they look, anyway.
Perhaps I'd better hang up my new frocks, I wouldn't like them to get
crushed.'

'I should think Belinda would have unpacked your clothes by this time,'
said grandmamma, 'but no doubt you'll find something to do. But, by the
bye, they may not have lighted a fire in your room, don't stay upstairs
long if you feel chilly, but bring your work down to the library.' I
went upstairs. In the full daylight, though it was a dull morning, I
liked my room even less than the night before. There was nothing in it
bright or fresh, though I daresay it had looked much nicer, years
before, when Cousin Agnes was a little girl, for the cretonne curtains
must once have been very pretty, with bunches of pink roses, which now,
however, were faded, as well as the carpet on the floor, and the paper
on the walls, to an over-all dinginess such as you never see in a
country room even when everything in it is old.

I sat down on a chair and looked about me disconsolately. Belinda had
unpacked my clothes and arranged them after her fashion. My other
possessions were still untouched, but I did not feel as if I cared to do
anything with them.

'I shall never be at home here,' I said to myself, 'but I suppose I must
just try to bear it for the time, for grandmamma's sake.'

Silly child that I was, as if grandmamma ever thought of herself, or her
own likes and dislikes, before what she considered right and good for
me. But the idea of being something of a martyr pleased me. I got out
my work, not my fancy-work--I was in a mood for doing disagreeable
things--but some plain sewing that I had not touched for some time, and
took it downstairs to the library. I heard voices as I opened the door,
grandmamma was sitting at the writing-table speaking to the cook, who
stood beside her, a rather fat, pleasant-looking woman, who made a
little curtsey when she saw me. But grandmamma looked up, for her,
rather sharply--

'Why, have you finished upstairs already, Helena?' she said. 'You had
better go into the dining-room for a few minutes, I am busy just now.'

I went away immediately, but I was very much offended, it just seemed
the beginning of what I was fancying to myself. The dining-room door was
ajar, and I caught sight of the footman looking over some spoons and
forks.

'I won't go in there,' I said to myself, and upstairs I mounted again.

On the first landing, where grandmamma's room was, there were several
other doors. All was perfectly quiet--there seemed no servants about, so
I thought I would amuse myself by a little exploring. The first room I
peeped into was large--larger than grandmamma's, but all the furniture
was covered up. The only thing that interested me was a picture in
pastelles hanging up over the mantelpiece. It caught my attention at
once, and I stood looking up at it for some moments.



CHAPTER XI

AN ARRIVAL


It was the portrait of a young girl,--a very sweet face with soft,
half-timid looking eyes.

[Illustration: It was the portrait of a young girl.--P. 139.]

'I wonder who it is,' I thought to myself, 'I wonder if it is Mrs.
Vandeleur. If it is, she must be nice. I almost think I should like her
very much.'

A door in this room led into a dressing-room, which next caught my
attention. Here, too, the only thing that struck me was a portrait. This
time, a photograph only, of a boy. Such a nice, open face! For a moment
or two I thought it must be Cousin Cosmo, but looking more closely I saw
written in one corner the name 'Paul' and the date 'July 1865.' I caught
my breath, as I said to myself--

'It must be papa! I wonder if granny knows--she has none of him as young
as that, I am sure. Oh, dear, how I do wish he was alive!'

But it was with a softened feeling towards both of my unknown cousins
that I stepped out on to the landing again.

It did seem as if Mr. Vandeleur must have been very fond of my father
for him to have kept this photograph all these years, hanging up where
he must see it every time he came into his room.

Unluckily, just as I was thinking this, Belinda made her appearance
through a door leading on to the backstairs.

'What are you doing here, miss?' she said. 'I don't think Hales would be
best pleased to find you wandering about through these rooms.'

'I don't know what you mean,' I said, frightened, yet indignant too. 'I
was only looking at the pictures. In grandmamma's house at home I go
into any room I like.'

She gave a little laugh.

'Oh, but you see, miss, you are not at your own home now,' she said,
'that makes all the difference,' and she passed on, closing the door I
had left open, as if to say, 'you can't go in there again!'

I made my way up to my own room, all the doleful feelings coming back.

'Really,' I said, as I curled myself up at the foot of the bed, 'there
seems no place for me in the world, it's "move on--move on," like the
poor boy in the play grandmamma once told me about.'

And I sat there in the cold, nursing my bitter and discontented
thoughts, as if I had nothing to be grateful or thankful for in life.

Grandmamma did not come up to look for me, as in my secret heart I think
I hoped she would. She was very, very busy, busier than I could have
understood if she had told me about it, for though he did not at all
mean to put too much upon her, Mr. Vandeleur had such faith in her good
sense and judgment, that he had left everything to be settled by her
when we came.

I do not know if I fell asleep; I think I must have dozed a little, for
the next thing I remember is rousing up, and feeling myself stiff and
cramped, and not long after that the gong sounded again. I got down from
my bed and looked at myself in the glass; my face seemed very pinched
and miserable. I made my hair neat and washed my hands, for I would not
have dared to go downstairs untidy to the dining-room. But I was not at
all sorry when grandmamma looked at me anxiously, exclaiming--

'My dear child, how white you are! Where have you been, and what have
you been doing with yourself?'

'I've been up in my own room,' I said, and just then grandmamma said
nothing more, but when we were alone again she spoke to me seriously
about the foolishness of risking making myself ill for no reason.

'There _is_ reason,' I said crossly, 'at least there's no reason why I
shouldn't be ill; nobody cares how I am.'

For all answer grandmamma drew me to her and kissed me.

'My poor, silly, little Helena,' she said.

I was touched and ashamed, but irritated also; grandmamma understood me
better than I understood myself.

'We are going out now,' she said, 'put on your things as quickly as you
can. I have several shops to go to, and the afternoons close in very
early in London just now.'

That walk with grandmamma--at least it was only partly a walk, for she
took a hansom to the first shop she had to go to,--and I had never been
in a hansom before, so you can fancy how I enjoyed it--yes, that first
afternoon in London stands out very happily. Once I had grandmamma quite
to myself everything seemed to come right, and I could almost have
skipped along the street in my pleasure and excitement. The shops were
already beginning to look gay in anticipation of Christmas, to
me--country child that I was, they were bewilderingly magnificent.
Grandmamma was careful not to let me get too tired, we drove home again
in another hansom, carrying some of our purchases with us. These were
mostly things for the house, and a few for ourselves, and shopping was
so new to me, that I took the greatest interest even in ordering brushes
for the housemaid, or choosing a new afternoon tea-service for Cousin
Agnes.

That evening, too, passed much better than the morning. Grandmamma spoke
to me about how things were likely to be and what I myself should try to
do.

'I cannot fix anything about lessons for you,' she said, 'till after
Cosmo and Agnes return, for I do not know how much time I shall have
free for you. But you are well on for your age, and I don't think a few
weeks without regular lessons will do you any harm, especially here in
London, where there is so much new and interesting. But I think you had
better make a plan for yourself--I will help you with it--for doing
something every morning while I am busy.'

'But I may be with you in the afternoons, mayn't I?' I said.

'Of course, at least generally,' said grandmamma, 'whenever the weather
is fine enough I will take you out. It would never do to shut you up
when you have been so accustomed to the open air. Some days, perhaps, we
may go out in the mornings. All I want you to understand now, is that
plans cannot possibly be settled all at once. You must be patient and
cheerful, and if there are things that you don't like just now, in a
little while they will probably disappear.'

I felt pleased at grandmamma talking to me more in her old consulting
way, and for the time it seemed as if I could do as she wished without
difficulty.

And for some days and even weeks things went on pretty well. I used to
get cross now and then when grandmamma could not be with me as much as I
wanted, but so far, there was no _person_ to come between her and me, it
was only her having so much to do; and whenever we were together she was
so sweet and understanding in every way, that it made up for the lonely
hours I sometimes had to spend.

But in myself I am afraid there was not really any improvement, it was
only on the surface. There was still the selfishness underneath, the
readiness to take offence and be jealous of anything that seemed to put
me out of my place as first with grandmamma. All the unhappy feelings
were there, smouldering, ready to burst out into fire the moment
anything stirred them up.

Christmas came and went. It was very unlike any of the Christmases I had
ever known, and of course it could not but seem rather lonely.
Grandmamma still had some old friends in London, but she had not tried
to see them, as she had been so busy, and not knowing as yet when Cousin
Agnes would be returning. It seemed a sort of waiting time altogether.
Now and then grandmamma would allude cheerfully to Cousin Cosmo and his
wife coming home, hoping that it would be soon, as every letter brought
better accounts of Mrs. Vandeleur's health. I certainly did not share in
these hopes, I would rather have gone on living for ever as we were if
only I could have had grandmamma to myself.

I think it was about the 8th of January that there came one morning a
letter which made grandmamma look very grave, and when she had finished
reading it she sat for a moment or two without speaking. Then she said,
as if thinking aloud--

'Dear me, this is very disappointing.'

'Is anything the matter?' I asked. 'Can't you tell me what it is,
grandmamma?'

'Oh yes, dear,' she said, 'it is only what I have been looking forward
to so much--but it has come in such a different way. Your cousins are
returning almost immediately, but only, I am sorry to say, because poor
Agnes is so ill that the London doctor says she must be near him. They
are bringing her up in an invalid carriage the first mild day, so I must
have everything ready for them. It will probably be many weeks before
she can leave her room,' and poor grandmamma sighed.

This news was far from welcome to me, but I am afraid what I cared for
had only to do with myself. I didn't feel very sorry for poor Cousin
Agnes. Partly, perhaps, because I was too young to understand how
seriously ill she was, but chiefly, I am afraid, because I immediately
began to think how much of grandmamma's time would be taken up by her,
and how dull it would be for me in consequence. And when grandmamma
turned to me and said--

'I'm sure I shall find you a help and comfort, Helena,' it almost
startled me.

I murmured something about wishing there was anything I could do, and I
did feel ashamed.

'I'm afraid there will not be much for you actually to do,' said
grandmamma, 'and I don't think you need warning to be very quiet in a
house with an invalid. You are never noisy,' and she smiled a little;
'but you must try to be bright and not to mind if for a little while you
have to be left a good deal to yourself. I must speak to Hales about
going out with you sometimes, for you must have a walk every day.'

And within a week of receiving this bad news there came one morning a
telegram to say that Mr. and Mrs. Vandeleur would be arriving that
afternoon.

'Oh, dear, dear,' I thought to myself when I heard it. 'I wish I
were--oh, anywhere except here!'

I spent the hours till luncheon--which was of course my dinner--as
usual, doing some lessons and needlework. Hitherto, grandmamma had
corrected my lessons in the evening.

'I don't believe she'll have time to look over my exercises now,' I
thought to myself, 'but I suppose I must go on doing them all the
same.'

I have forgotten to say that I did my lessons at a side table in the
dining-room, where there was always a large fire burning. It did not
seem worth while to have another room given up to me while grandmamma
and I were alone in the house.

I did not see grandmamma till luncheon, and then she told me that she
was obliged to go out immediately to some distance, as Mrs. Vandeleur's
invalid couch or table, I forget which, was not the kind ordered.

'But mayn't I come with you?' I asked.

Grandmamma shook her head. No, she was in a great hurry, and the place
she was going to was in the city, it would do me no good, and it was a
damp, foggy day. I might go into the Square garden for a little if I
would promise to come in at once if it rained.

There was nothing very inviting in this prospect. I liked the Square
gardens well enough to walk up and down in with grandmamma, but alone
was a very different matter. Still, it was better than staying in all
the afternoon. And I spent an hour or more in pacing along the paths
enjoying my self-pity to the full.

There were a few other children playing together; how I envied them!

'If I had even a little dog,' I said to myself, 'it would be something.
But of course there's no chance of that--he would disturb Cousin Agnes.'

I went back to the house an hour or so before the expected arrival.
Grandmamma had already returned. She was in her own room, I peeped in on
my way upstairs.

'What do you want me to do, grandmamma?' I said.

She glanced at me.

'Change your frock, dear, and come down to the library with your work.
Of course Cosmo will want to see you, once Cousin Agnes is settled in
her room. Dear me, I do hope she will have stood the journey pretty
well!'

I came downstairs again with mixed feelings. I should rather have
enjoyed making a martyr of myself by staying up in my own room. But, on
the other hand, I had a good deal of curiosity on the subject of my
unknown cousins.

'I wonder if Cousin Agnes will be able to walk,' I thought to myself,
'or if they will carry her in. I should like to see what an invalid
carriage is like!'

I think I pictured to myself a sort of palanquin, and eager to be on the
spot at the moment of the arrival I changed my frock very quickly and
hastened downstairs with my knitting in my hand--a model of propriety.

'Do I look nice, grandmamma?' I asked. 'It is the first time I have had
this frock on, you know.'

For besides the new clothes grandmamma had ordered from Windy Gap, she
had got me some very nice ones since we came to London. And this new one
I thought the prettiest of all. It was brown velveteen with a falling
collar of lace, with which I was especially pleased, for though my
clothes had been always very neatly made, they had been very plain, the
last two or three years more especially. So I stood there pleasantly
expecting grandmamma's approval. But she scarcely glanced at me, I doubt
if she heard what I said, for she was busy writing a note about
something or other which had been forgotten, and almost as I spoke the
footman came into the room to take it.

'What were you saying, my dear?' she said quickly. 'Oh yes, very
nice---- Be sure, William, that this is sent at once.'

I crossed the room and sat down in the farthest corner, my heart
swelling. It was not _all_ spoilt temper, I was really terribly afraid
that grandmamma was beginning to care less for me. But before there had
been time for her to notice my disappointment, there came the sound of
wheels stopping at the door, and then the bell rang loudly. Grandmamma
started up. If I had been less taken up with myself, I could easily have
entered into her feelings. It was the first time for more than twelve
years that she had seen her nephew, and think of all that had happened
to her since then! But none of these thoughts came into my mind just
then, it was quite filled with myself and my own troubles, and but for
my curiosity I think I would have hidden myself behind the
window-curtains.

Grandmamma went out into the hall and I followed her. The door was
already opened, as the servants had been on the look-out.

The first thing I saw was a tall, slight figure coming very slowly up
the steps on the arm of a dark, grave-looking man. Behind them came a
maid laden with shawls and cushions. They came quietly into the hall,
grandmamma moving forward a little to meet them, though without
speaking.

A smile came over Cousin Agnes's pale face as she caught sight of her,
but Mr. Vandeleur looked up almost sharply.

'Wait till we get her into the library,' he said.

Evidently coming up those few steps had almost been too much for his
wife, for I saw her face grow still paler. I was watching with such
interest that I quite forgot that where I stood I was partially blocking
up the doorway. Without noticing who I was, so completely absorbed was
he with Cousin Agnes, Mr. Vandeleur stretched out his hand and half put
me aside.

'Take care,' he said quickly, and before there was time for
more--'Helena, do get out of the way,' said grandmamma.

That was the last straw for me. I did get out of the way. I turned and
rushed across the hall, and upstairs to my own room without a word.



CHAPTER XII

A CATASTROPHE


No one came up to look for me; I don't know that I expected it, but
still I was disappointed and made a fresh grievance of this neglect, as
I considered it. The truth was, nobody was thinking of me at all, for
Cousin Agnes had fainted when she got into the library and everybody was
engrossed in attending to her.

Afternoon tea time came and passed, and still I was alone. It was quite
dark when at last Belinda came up to draw down the blinds, and was
startled by finding me in my usual place when much upset--curled up at
the foot of the bed.

'Whatever are you doing here, miss?' she said, sharply. 'There's your
tea been waiting in the dining-room for ever so long.'

The fact was, she had been told to call me but had forgotten it.

'I don't want any,' I said, shortly.

'Nonsense, miss,' said the girl, 'you can't go without eating. And when
there's any one ill in the house you must just make the best of things.'

'Mrs. Vandeleur didn't seem so very ill,' I said, 'she was able to
walk.'

'Ah, but she's been worse since then--they had to fetch the doctor, and
now she's in bed and better, and your grandmamma's sitting beside her.'

I did feel sorry for Cousin Agnes when I heard this, though the sore
feeling still remained that I wasn't wanted, and was of no use to any
one. I was almost glad to escape seeing grandmamma, so I went downstairs
quietly to the dining-room and had my tea, for I was very hungry. Just
as I had finished, and was crossing the hall to go upstairs again, a
tall figure came out of the library. I knew in a moment who it was, but
Cousin Cosmo stared at me as if he couldn't imagine what child it could
be, apparently at home in his house.

'Who--what?' he began, but then corrected himself. 'Oh, to be sure,' he
added, holding out his hand, 'you're Helena of course. I wasn't sure if
you were at school or not.'

'At school,' I repeated, 'grandmamma would never send me to school.'

He smiled a little, or meant to do so, but I thought him very grim and
forbidding.

'I don't wonder at those boys not liking him for their guardian,' I said
to myself as I looked up at him.

'Ah, well,' he replied, 'so long as you remember to be a very quiet
little girl, especially when you pass the first landing, I daresay it
will be all right.'

I didn't condescend to answer, but walked off with my most dignified
air, which no doubt was lost upon my cousin, who, I fancy, had almost
forgotten my existence before he had closed the hall door behind him,
for he was just going out.

I did not see grandmamma that evening, and I did not know that she saw
me, for when she at last was free to come up to my room, I was in bed
and fast asleep, and she was careful not to wake me. She told me this
the next morning, and also that Belinda had said I had had my tea and
supper comfortably. But--partly from pride, and partly from better
motives--I did not tell her that I had cried myself to sleep.

I need not go into the daily history of the next few weeks, indeed I
don't wish to do so. They were the most miserable time of my whole life.
Now that all is happy I don't want to dwell upon them. Dear grandmamma
says, whenever we do speak about that time, that she really does not
think it was _all_ my fault, and that comforts me. It was certainly not
her fault, nor anybody's in one way, except of course mine. Things
happened in a trying way, as they must do in life sometimes, and I don't
think it was wrong of me to feel unhappy. We _have_ to be unhappy
sometimes; but it was wrong of me not to bear it patiently, and to let
myself grow bitter, and worst of all, to do what I did--what I am now
going to tell about.

Those dreary weeks went on till it was nearly Easter, which came very
early that year. After my cousins' return home the weather got very bad
and added to the gloom of everything.

It was not so very cold, but it was _so_ dull! Fog more or less, every
day, and if not fog, sleety rain, which generally began by trying to be
snow, and for my part I wished it had been--it would have made the
streets look clean for a few hours.

There were lots of days on which I couldn't go out at all, and when I
did go out, with Belinda as my companion, I did not enjoy it. She was a
silly, selfish girl, though rather good-natured once she felt I was in
some way dependent on her, but her ideas of amusing talk were not the
same as mine. The only shop-windows she cared to look at were milliners'
and drapers', and she couldn't understand my longing to read the names
of the tempting volumes in the booksellers, and feeling so pleased if I
saw any of my old friends among them.

Indoors, my life was really principally spent in my own room, where,
however, I always had a good big fire, which was a comfort. There were
many days on which I scarcely saw grandmamma, a few on which I actually
did not see her at all. For all this time Cousin Agnes was really
terribly ill--much worse than I knew--and Mr. Vandeleur was nearly out
of his mind with grief and anxiety, and self-reproach for having brought
her up to London, which he had done rather against the advice of her
doctor in the country, who, he now thought, understood her better than
the great doctor in London. And grandmamma, I believe, had nearly as
much to do in comforting him and keeping him from growing quite morbid,
as in taking care of Cousin Agnes. All the improvement in her health
which they had been so pleased at during the first part of the winter
had gone, and I now know that for a great part of those weeks there was
very little hope of her living. I saw Cousin Cosmo sometimes at
breakfast but never at any other hour of the day, unless I happened to
pass him on the staircase, which I avoided as much as possible, you may
be sure, for if he did speak to me it was as if I were about three years
old, and he was sure to say something about being very quiet. I don't
think I could have been expected to like him, but I'm afraid I almost
hated him then. It would have been better--that is one of the things
grandmamma now says--to have told me more of their great anxiety, and it
certainly would have been better to send me to school, to some
day-school even, for the time.

As it was, day by day I grew more miserable, for you see I had nothing
to look forward to, no actual reason for hoping that my life would ever
be happier again, for, not knowing but that poor Cousin Agnes might die
any day, grandmamma did not like to speak of the future at all.

I never saw her--Cousin Agnes I mean--never except once, but I have not
come to that yet. At last, things came to a crisis with me. One day, one
morning, Belinda told me that I must not stay in my room as it was to be
what she called 'turned out,' by which she meant that it was to undergo
an extra thorough cleaning. She had forgotten to tell me this the night
before, so that when I came up from breakfast, which I had had alone,
intending to settle down comfortably with my books before the fire, I
found there was no fire and everything in confusion.

'What am I to do?' I said.

'You must go down to the dining-room and do your lessons there,' said
Belinda. 'There will be no one to disturb you, once the breakfast things
are taken away.'

'Has Mr. Vandeleur had his breakfast?' I asked.

'I don't know,' said Belinda, shortly, for she had been told not to tell
me that Cousin Agnes had been so ill in the night that the great doctor
had been sent for, and they were now having a consultation about her in
the library.

'I'll help you to get your things together,' she went on, 'and you must
go downstairs as quietly as possible.'

We collected my books. It made me melancholy to see them, there were
such piles of exercises grandmamma had never had time to look over!
Belinda heaped them all on to the top of my atlas, the glass ink-bottle
among them.

'Are they quite steady?' I said. 'Hadn't I better come up again and only
take half now?'

'Oh, dear, no,' said Belinda,'they are right enough if you walk
carefully,' for in her heart she knew that she should have helped me to
carry them down, herself.

But I had got used to her careless ways, and I didn't seem to mind
anything much now, so I set off with my burden. It was all right till I
got to the first floor--the floor where grandmamma's and Cousin Agnes's
rooms were. Then, as ill luck would have it--just from taking extra
care, I suppose--somehow or other I lost my footing and down I went, a
regular good bumping roll from top to bottom of one flight of stairs,
books, and slate, and glass ink-bottle all clattering after me! I'm
quite sure that in all my life before or since I never made such a
noise!

[Illustration: Up rushed two or three ... men, Cousin Cosmo the
first.--P. 160.]

I hurt myself a good deal, though not seriously; but before I had time
to do more than sit up and feel my arms and legs to be sure that none of
them were broken, the library door below was thrown open, and up rushed
two or three--at first sight I thought them still more--men! Cousin
Cosmo the first.

'In heaven's name,' he exclaimed, though even then he did not speak
loudly, 'what is the matter? This is really inexcusable!'

He meant, I think, that there should have been some one looking after
me! But I took the harsh word to myself.

'I--I've fallen downstairs,' I said, which of course was easy to be
seen. There was a dark pool on the step beside me, and in spite of his
irritation Cousin Cosmo was alarmed.

'Have you cut yourself?' he said, 'are you bleeding?' and he took out
his handkerchief, hardly knowing why, but as he stooped towards me it
touched the stain.

'Ink!' he said, in a tone of disgust. 'Really, even a child might have
more sense!'

Then the older of the two men who were with him came forward. He had a
very grave but kind face.

'It is very unfortunate,' he said,'I hope the noise has not startled
Mrs. Vandeleur. You must really,' he went on, turning to Cousin Cosmo,
but then stopping--'I must have a word or two with you about this before
I go. In the meantime we had better pick up this little person.'

I got up of myself, though something in the doctor's face prevented my
feeling vexed at his words, as I might otherwise have been. But just as
I was stooping to pick up my books and to hide the giddy, shaky feeling
which came over me, a voice from the landing above made me start. It was
grandmamma herself; she hastened down the flight of stairs, looking
extremely upset.

'Helena!' she exclaimed, and I think her face cleared a little when she
saw me standing there,'you have not hurt yourself then? But what in the
world were you doing to make such a terrific clatter? I never knew her
do such a thing before,' she went on.

'Did Agnes hear it?' said Cousin Cosmo, sharply.

'I'm afraid it did startle her,' grandmamma replied, 'but fortunately
she thought it was something in the basement. I must go back to her at
once,' and without another word to me she turned upstairs again.

I can't tell what I felt like; even now I hate to remember it. My own
grandmamma to speak to me in that voice and not to care whether I was
hurt or not! I think some servant was called to wipe up the ink, and I
made my way, stiff and bruised and giddy, to the dining-room--I had not
even the refuge of my own room to cry in at peace--while Cousin Cosmo
and the doctors went back to the library. And not long after, I heard
the front door close and a carriage drive away.

I thought my cup was full, but it was not, as you shall hear. I didn't
try to do any lessons. My head was aching and I didn't feel as if it
mattered what I did or didn't do.

'If only my room was ready,' I thought, half stupidly, 'I wouldn't mind
so much.'

I think I must have cried a good deal almost without knowing it, for
after a while, when the footman came into the room, I started up with a
conscious feeling of not wanting to be seen, and turned towards the
window, where I stood pretending to look out. Not that there was
anything to be seen; the fog was getting so thick that I could scarcely
distinguish the railings a few feet off.

The footman left the room again, but I felt sure he was coming back, so
I crept behind the shelter of the heavy curtains and curled myself up on
the floor, drawing them round me. And then, how soon I can't tell, I
fell asleep. It has always been my way to do so when I've been very
unhappy, and the unhappier I am the more heavily I sleep, though not in
a nice refreshing way.

I awoke with a start, not knowing where I was. I could not have been
asleep more than an hour, but to me it seemed like a whole night, and as
I was beginning to collect my thoughts I heard voices talking in the
room behind me. It must have been these voices which had awakened me.

The first I heard was Mr. Vandeleur's.

'I am very sorry about it,' he was saying, 'but I see no help for it. I
would not for worlds distress you if I could avoid doing so, for all my
old debts to you, my dear aunt, are doubled now by your devotion to
Agnes. She will in great measure owe her life to you, I feel.'

'You exaggerate it,' said grandmamma, 'though I do believe I am a
comfort to her. But never mind about that just now--the present question
is Helena.'

'Yes,' he replied, 'I can't tell you how strongly I feel that it would
be for the child's good too, though I can quite understand it would be
difficult for you to see it in that light.'

'No,' said grandmamma, 'I have been thinking about it myself, for of
course I have not been feeling satisfied about her. Perhaps in the past
I have thought of her too exclusively, and it is very difficult for a
child not to be spoilt by this. And now on the other hand----'

'It is too much for you yourself,' interrupted my cousin, 'she should be
quite off your mind. I have the greatest confidence in Dr. Pierce's
judgment in such matters. He would recommend no school hastily. If you
will come into the library I will give you the addresses of the two he
mentioned. No doubt you will prefer to write for particulars yourself;
though when it is settled I daresay I could manage to take her there.
For even with these fresh hopes they have given us, now this crisis is
passed, I doubt your being able to leave Agnes for more than an hour or
two at a time.'

'I should not think of doing so,' said grandmamma, decidedly. 'Yes--if
you will give me the addresses I will write.'

To me her voice sounded cold and hard; _now_ I know of course that it
was only the force she was putting upon herself to crush down her own
feelings about parting with me.

It was not till they had left the room that I began to understand what a
dishonourable thing I had been doing in listening to this conversation,
and for a moment there came over me the impulse to rush after them and
tell what I had heard. But only for a moment; the dull heavy feeling,
which had been hanging over me for so long of not being cared for, of
having no place of my own and being in everybody's way, seemed suddenly
to have increased to an actual certainty. Hitherto, it now seemed to me,
I had only been playing with the idea, and now as a sort of punishment
had come upon me the reality of the cruel truth--grandmamma did _not_
care for me any longer. She had got back the nephew who had been like a
son to her, and he and his wife had stolen away from me all her love.
Then came the mortification of remembering that I was living in Cousin
Cosmo's house--a most unwelcome guest.

'He never has liked me,' I thought to myself; 'even at the very
beginning, grandmamma never gave me any kind messages from him. And
those poor boys Gerard told me of couldn't care for him--he must be
horrid.'

Then a new thought struck me. 'I _have_ a home still,' I thought; 'Windy
Gap is ours, I could live there with Kezia and trouble nobody and hardly
cost anything. I won't stay here to be sent to school; I don't think I
am bound to bear it.'

I crept out of my corner.

'Surely my room will be ready by now,' I thought, and walking very
slowly still, for falling asleep in the cold had made me even stiffer,
I made my way upstairs.

Yes, my room was ready, and there was a good fire. There was a little
comfort in that: I sat down on the floor in front of it and began to
think out my plans.



CHAPTER XIII

HARRY


In spite of all that was on my mind I slept soundly, waking the next
morning a little after my usual hour. Very quickly, so much was it
impressed on my brain, I suppose, I recollected the determination with
which I had gone to bed the night before.

I hurried to the window and drew up the blind, for I had made one
condition with myself--I would not attempt to carry out my plan if the
fog was still there! But it had gone. Whether I was glad or sorry I
really can't say. I dressed quickly, thinking or planning all the time.
When I got downstairs to the dining-room it was empty, but on the table
were the traces of some one having breakfasted there.

Just then the footman came in--

'I was to tell you, miss,' he said, 'that Mrs. Wingfield won't be down
to breakfast; it's to be taken upstairs to her.'

'And Mr. Vandeleur has had his, I suppose?' I said.

'Yes, miss,' he replied, clearing the table of some of the plates and
dishes.

I went on with my breakfast, eating as much as I could, for being what
is called an 'old-fashioned' child, I thought to myself it might be some
time before I got a regular meal again. Then I went upstairs, where,
thanks to Belinda's turn-out of the day before, my room was already in
order and the fire lighted. I locked the door and set to work.

About an hour later, having listened till everything seemed quiet about
the house, I made my way cautiously and carefully downstairs, carrying
my own travelling-bag stuffed as full as it would hold and a brown paper
parcel. When I got to the first bedroom floor, where grandmamma's room
was, a sudden strange feeling came over me. I felt as if I _must_ see
her, even if she didn't see me. Her door was ajar.

'Very likely,' I thought, 'she will be writing in there.'

For, lately, I knew she had been there almost entirely, when not
actually in Cousin Agnes's room, so as to be near her.

'I will peep in,' I said to myself.

I put down what I was carrying and crept round the door noiselessly. At
first I thought there was no one in the room, then to my surprise I saw
that the position of the bed had been changed. It now stood with its
back to the window, but the light of a brightly burning fire fell
clearly upon it. There was some one in bed! Could it be grandmamma? If
so, she must be really ill, it was so unlike her ever to stay in bed. I
stepped forward a little--no, the pale face with the pretty bright hair
showing against the pillows was not grandmamma, it was some one much
younger, and with a sort of awe I said to myself it must be Cousin
Agnes.

So it was, she had been moved into grandmamma's room a day or two before
for a little change.

It could not have been the sound I made, for I really made none, that
roused her; it must just have been the _feeling_ that some one had
entered the room. For all at once she opened her eyes, such very sweet
blue eyes they were, and looked at me, at first in a half-startled way,
but then with a little smile.

'I thought I was dreaming,' she whispered. 'I have had such a nice
sleep. Is that you, little Helena? I'm so glad to see you; I wanted you
to come before, often.'

I stood there trembling.

What would grandmamma or Mr. Vandeleur think if they came in and found
me there? But yet Cousin Agnes was so very sweet, her voice so gentle
and almost loving, that I felt I could not run out of the room without
answering her.

'Thank you,' I said, 'I do hope you are better.'

'I am going to be better very soon, I feel almost sure,' she said, but
her voice was already growing weaker. 'Are you going out, dear?' she
went on. 'Good-bye, I hope you will have a nice walk. Come again to see
me soon.'

'Thank you,' I whispered again, something in her voice almost making the
tears come into my eyes, and I crept off as quietly as possible, with a
curious feeling that if I delayed I should not go at all.

By this time you will have guessed what my plan was. I think I will not
go into all the particulars of how I made my way to Paddington in a
hansom, which I picked up just outside the square, and how I managed to
take my ticket, a third class one this time, for though I had brought
all my money--a few shillings of my own and a sovereign which Cousin
Cosmo had sent me for a Christmas box--I saw that care would be needed
to make it take me to my journey's end. Nor, how at last, late in the
afternoon, I found myself on the platform at Middlemoor Station.

I was very tired, now that the first excitement had gone off.

'How glad I shall be to get to Windy Gap,' I thought, 'and to be with
Kezia.'

I opened my purse and looked at my money. There were three shillings and
some coppers, not enough for a fly, which I knew cost five shillings.

'I can't walk all the way,' I said to myself. 'It's getting so late
too,' for I had had to wait more than an hour at Paddington for a train.

Then a bright idea struck me. There was an omnibus that went rather more
than half-way, if only I could get it I should be able to manage. I went
out of the station and there, to my delight, it stood; by good luck I
had come by a train which it always met. There were two other passengers
in it already, but of course there was plenty of room for me and my bag
and my parcel, so I settled myself in a corner, not sorry to see that my
companions were perfect strangers to me. It was now about seven in
the evening, the sky was fast darkening. Off we jogged, going at a
pretty good pace at first, but soon falling back to a very slow one as
the road began to mount. I fancy I dozed a little, for the next thing I
remember was the stopping of the omnibus at the little roadside inn,
which was the end of its journey.

I got out and paid my fare, and then set off on what was really the
worst part of the whole, for I was now very tired and my luggage, small
as it was, seemed to weigh like lead. I might have looked out for a boy
to carry it for me, but that idea didn't enter my head, and I was very
anxious not to be noticed by any one who might have known me.

[Illustration: It was all uphill too.--P. 173.]

I seemed to have no feeling now except the longing to be 'at home' and
with Kezia. I almost forgot why I had come and all about my unhappiness
in London; but, oh dear! how that mile stretched itself out! It was all
uphill too; every now and then I was forced to stop for a minute and to
put down my packages on the ground so as to rest my aching arms, so my
progress was very slow. It was quite dark when at last I found myself
stumbling up the bit of steep path which lay between the end of the road
where Sharley's pony-cart used to wait and our own little garden-gate.
If I hadn't known my way so well I could scarcely have found it, but at
last my goal was reached. I stood at the door for a moment or two
without knocking, to recover my breath, and indeed my wits, a little. It
all seemed so strange, I felt as if I were dreaming. But soon the fresh
sweet air, which was almost like native air to me, made me feel more
like myself--made me realise that here I was again at dear old Windy
Gap. More than that, I would not let my mind dwell upon, except to think
over what should be my first words to Kezia.

I knocked at last, and then for the first time I noticed that there was
a light in the drawing-room shining through the blinds.

'Dear me,' I thought, 'how strange,' and then a terror came over
me--supposing the house was let to strangers! I had quite forgotten that
this was possible.

But before I had time to think of what I could in that case do, the door
was opened.

'Kezia,' I gasped, but looking up, my new fears took shape.

It was not Kezia who stood there, it was a boy; a boy about two or three
years older than I, not as tall as Gerard Nestor, though strong and
sturdy looking, and with--even at that moment I thought so to
myself--the very nicest face I had ever seen. He was sunburnt and ruddy,
with short dark hair and bright kind-looking eyes, which when he smiled
seemed to smile too. I daresay I did not see all that just then, but it
is difficult now to separate my earliest remembrance of him from what I
noticed afterwards, and there never was, there never has been, anything
to contradict or confuse the first feeling, or instinct, that he was as
good and true as he looked, my dear old Harry!

Just now, of course, his face had a very surprised expression.

'Kezia?' he repeated. 'I am sorry she is not in just now.'

It was an immense relief to gather from his words that she was not away.

'Will she be in soon?' I said, eagerly; 'I didn't know there was any one
else in the house. May I--do you mind--if I come in and wait till Kezia
returns?'

'Certainly,' said the boy, and as he spoke he stooped to pick up the bag
and parcel which his quick eyes had caught sight of. 'My brother and I
are staying here,' he said, as he crossed the little hall to the
drawing-room door. 'We are alone here except for Kezia; we came here a
fortnight ago from school, it was broken up because of illness.'

I think he went on speaking out of a sort of friendly wish to set me at
my ease, and I listened half stupidly, I don't think I quite took in
what he said. A younger boy was sitting in my own old corner, by the
window, and a little table with a lamp on it was drawn up beside him.

'Lindsay,' said my guide, and the younger boy, who was evidently very
well drilled by his brother, started up at once. 'This--this young
lady,' for by this time he had found out I was a lady in spite of my
brown paper parcel, 'has come to see Kezia. Put some coal on the fire,
it's getting very low.'

Lindsay obeyed, eyeing me as he did so. He was smaller and slighter than
his brother, with fair hair and a rather girlish face.

'Won't you sit down?' said Harry, pushing a chair forward to me.

I was dreadfully tired and very glad to sit down, and now my brain began
to work a little more quickly. The name 'Lindsay' had started some
recollection.

'Are you--' I began, 'is your name Vandeleur; are you the boys at school
with Gerard Nestor?'

'Yes,' said Harry, opening his eyes very wide, 'and--would you mind
telling me who you are?' he added bluntly.

'I'm Helena Wingfield,' I said. 'This is my home. I have come back
alone, all the way from London, because----' and I stopped short.

'Because?' repeated Harry, looking at me with his kind, though searching
eyes. Something in his manner made me feel that I must answer him. He
was only a boy, not nearly as 'grown-up' in manners or appearance as
Gerard Nestor; there was something even a little rough about him, but
still he seemed at once to take the upper hand with me; I felt that I
must respect him.

'Because--' I faltered, feeling it very difficult to keep from
crying--'because I was so miserable in London in your--in Cousin Cosmo's
house. He is my cousin, you know,' I went on, 'though his name is
different.'

'I know,' said Harry, quietly, 'he's our cousin too, and our guardian.
But you're better off than we are--you've got your grandmother. I know
all about you, you see. But how on earth did she let you come away like
this alone? Or is she--no, she can't be with you, surely?'

'No,' I replied, 'I'm alone, I thought I told you so; and grandmamma
doesn't know I've come away, of course she wouldn't have let me. Nobody
does know.'

Harry's face grew very grave indeed, and Lindsay raised himself from
stooping over the fire, and stood staring at me as if I was something
very extraordinary.

'Your grandmother doesn't know?' repeated Harry, 'nobody knows? How
could you come away like that? Why, your grandmother will be nearly out
of her mind about you!'

'No, she won't,' I replied, 'she doesn't care for me now, it's all quite
different from what it used to be. Nobody cares for me, they'll only be
very glad to be rid of the trouble of me.'

The tears had got up into my eyes by this time, and as I spoke they
began slowly to drop on to my cheeks. Harry saw them, I knew, but I
didn't feel as if I cared, though I think I wanted him to be sorry for
me, his kind face looked as if he would be. So I was rather surprised
when, instead of saying something sympathising and gentle, he answered
rather abruptly--

'Helena, I don't mean to be rude, for of course it's no business of
mine, but I think you must know that you are talking nonsense. I don't
mean about Mr. Vandeleur, or any one but your grandmother; but as for
saying that she has left off caring for you, that's all--perfectly
impossible. _I_ know enough for that; you've been with her all your
life, and she's been most awfully good to you----'

'I know she has,' I interrupted, 'that makes it all the worse to bear.'

'We'll talk about that afterwards,' said Harry, 'it's your grandmother
you should think of now--what do you mean to do?'

I stared at him, not quite understanding.

'I meant to stay here,' I said, 'with Kezia. If I can't--if you count it
your house and won't let me stay, I must go somewhere else. But you
can't stop my staying here till I've seen Kezia.'

Harry gave an impatient exclamation.

'Can't you understand,' he said, 'that I meant what are you going to do
about letting your grandmother know where you are?'

'I hadn't thought about it,' I said; 'perhaps they won't find out till
to-morrow morning.'

And then in my indignation I went on to tell him about the lonely life I
had had lately, ending up with an account of my fall down the stairs
and what I had overheard about being sent away to school.

'Poor Helena,' said Lindsay.

Harry, too, was sorry for me, I know, but just then he did not say much.

'All the same,' he replied, after listening to me, 'it wouldn't be right
to risk your grandmother's being frightened, any longer. I'll send a
telegram at once.'

The village post and telegraph office was only a quarter of a mile from
our house. Harry turned to leave the room as he spoke.

'Lindsay, you'll look after Helena till I come back,' he said. 'I
daresay Kezia won't be in for an hour or so.'

I stopped him.

'You mustn't send a telegram without telling me what you are going to
say,' I said.

He looked at me.

'I shall just put--"Helena is here, safe and well,"' he replied, and to
this I could not make any reasonable objection.

'I may be safe, but I don't think I am well,' I said grumblingly when he
had gone. 'I'm starving, to begin with. I've had nothing to eat all day
except two buns I bought at Paddington Station, and my head's aching
dreadfully.'

'Oh, dear,' said Lindsay, who was a soft-hearted little fellow, and most
ready to sympathise, especially in those troubles which he best
understood, 'you must be awfully hungry. We had our tea some time ago,
but Kezia always gives us supper. Come into the kitchen and let's see
what we can find--or no, you're too tired--you stay here and I'll forage
for you.'

He went off, returning in a few minutes with a jug of milk and a big
slice of one of Kezia's own gingerbread cakes. I thought nothing had
ever tasted so good, and my headache seemed to get better after eating
it and drinking the milk.

I was just finishing when Harry came in again.

'That's right,' he said, 'I forgot that you must be hungry.'

Then we all three sat and looked at each other without speaking.

'Lindsay,' said Harry at last, 'you'd better finish that exercise you
were doing when Helena came in,' and Lindsay obediently went back to the
table.

I wanted Harry to speak to me. After all I had told him I thought he
should have been sorry for me, and should have allowed that I had right
on my side, instead of letting me sit there in silence. At last I could
bear it no longer.

'I don't think,' I said, 'that you should treat me as if I were too
naughty to speak to. I know quite well that you are not at all fond of
Mr. Vandeleur yourself, and that should make you sorry for me.'

'I suppose you're thinking of what Gerard Nestor said,' Harry replied.
'It's true I know very little of Mr. Vandeleur, though I daresay he has
meant to be kind to us. But what I can't make out is how you could treat
your grandmother so. Lindsay and I have never had any one like what
she's been to you.'

His words startled me.

'If I had thought,' I began, 'that she would really care--or be
frightened about me--perhaps I--' but I had no time to say more, there
came a knock at the front door and Lindsay started up.

'It's Kezia,' he said, 'she locks the back-door when she goes out in the
evening and we let her in. She's been to church,' so off he flew, eager
to be the one to give her the news of my unexpected arrival.

But I did not rush out to meet her, as I would have done at first.
Harry's words had begun to make me a little less sure than I had been as
to how even Kezia would look upon my conduct.



CHAPTER XIV

KEZIA'S COUNSEL


The sound of low voices--Lindsay's and Kezia's, followed by an
exclamation, Kezia's of course--reached Harry and me as we stood there
in silence looking at each other.

Then the door was pushed open and in hurried my old friend.

'Miss Helena!' she said breathlessly. 'Miss Helena, I could scarce
believe Master Lindsay! Dear, dear, how frightened your grandmother will
be!'

I could see that it went against her kindly feelings to receive me by
blame at the very first, and yet her words showed plainly enough what
she was thinking.

'Grandmamma will not be frightened,' I said, rather coldly. 'Harry has
sent her a telegram, and besides--I don't think she would have been
frightened any way. It's all quite different now, Kezia, you don't
understand. She's got other people to care for instead of me.'

Kezia took no notice of this.

'Dear, dear!' she said again. 'To think of you coming here alone! I'm
sure when Master Lindsay met me at the door saying: "Guess who's here,
Kezia," I never could have--' but here I interrupted her.

'If that's all you've got to say to me I really don't care to hear it,'
I said, 'but it's a queer sort of welcome. I can't go away to-night, I
suppose, but I will the very first thing to-morrow morning. I daresay
they'll take me in at the vicarage, but really--' I broke off
again--'considering that this is my own home, and--and--that I had no
one else to go to in all the world except you, Kezia, I do think--' but
here my voice failed, I burst into tears.

Kezia put her arms round me very kindly.

'Poor dear,' she said, 'whatever mistakes you've made, you must be tired
to death. Come with me into the dining-room, Miss Helena, there's a
better fire there, and I'll get you a cup of tea or something, and then
you must go to bed. Your own room's quite ready, just as you left it.
Master Lindsay has the little chair-bed in Mr. Harry's room--your
grandmamma's room, I mean.'

She led me into the dining-room, talking as she went, in this
matter-of-fact way, to help me to recover myself.

Harry and Lindsay remained behind.

'I have had--some--milk, and a piece of--gingerbread,' I said, between
my sobs, as Kezia established me in front of the fire in the other room.
'I don't think I could eat anything else, but I'd like some tea very
much.'

I shivered in spite of the beautiful big fire close to me.

'You shall have it at once,' said Kezia, hurrying off, 'though it
mustn't be strong, and I'll make you a bit of toast, too.'

Then I overheard a little bustle in the kitchen, and by the sounds, I
made out that Harry or Lindsay, or both of them perhaps, were helping
Kezia in her preparations.

'What nice boys they are,' I thought to myself, and a feeling of shame
began to come over me that I should have first got to know them when
acting in a way that they, Harry at least, so evidently thought wrong
and foolish.

But now that, in spite of her disapproval, I felt myself safe in Kezia's
care, the restraint I had put upon myself gave way more and more. I sat
there crying quietly, and when the little tray with tea and a tempting
piece of hot toast (which Harry's red face showed he had had to do with)
made its appearance I ate and drank obediently, almost without speaking.

Half an hour later I was in bed in my own little room, Kezia tucking me
in as she had done so very, very often in my life.

'Now go to sleep, dearie,' she said, 'and think of nothing till
to-morrow morning, except that when things come to the worst they begin
to get better.'

And sleep I did, soundly and long. Harry and Lindsay had had their
breakfast two hours before at least, when I woke, and other things had
happened. A telegram had come in reply to Harry's, thanking him for it,
announcing Mr. Vandeleur's arrival that very afternoon, and desiring
Harry to meet him at Middlemoor Station.

They did not tell me of this; perhaps they were afraid it would have
made me run off again somewhere else. But when my old nurse brought up
my breakfast we had a long, long talk together. I told her all that I
had told Harry the night before, and of course in some ways it was
easier for her to understand than it had been for him. I could not have
had a better counsellor. She just put aside all I said about
grandmamma's not caring for me any longer as simple nonsense; she didn't
attempt to explain all the causes of my having been left so much to
myself. She didn't pretend to understand it altogether.

'Your grandmamma will put it all right to you, herself, when she sees
well to do so,' she said. 'She has just made one mistake, Miss Helena,
it seems to me--she has credited you with more sense than perhaps should
be expected of a child.'

I didn't like this, and I felt my cheeks grow red.

'More sense,' repeated Kezia, 'and she has trusted you too much. It
should have pleased you to be looked on like that, and if you'd been a
little older it would have done so. The idea that you could think she
had left off caring for you would have seemed to her simply impossible.
She has trusted you too much, and you, Miss Helena, have not trusted her
at all.'

'But you're forgetting, Kezia, what I heard myself, with my own ears,
about sending me away to school, and how little she seemed to care.'

Kezia smiled, rather sadly.

'My dearie,' she said, 'I have not served Mrs. Wingfield all the years I
have, not to know her better than that. I daresay you'll never know,
unless you live to be a mother and grandmother yourself, what the
thought of parting with you was costing her, at the very time she spoke
so quietly.'

'But when I fell downstairs,' I persisted, 'she seemed so vexed with me,
and then--oh! for days and days before that, I had hardly seen her.'

Kezia looked pained.

'Yes, my dear, it must have been hard for you, but harder for your
grandmamma. There are times in life when all does seem to be going the
wrong way. And very likely being so very troubled and anxious herself,
about you as well as about other things, made your grandmamma appear
less kind than usual.'

Kezia stopped and hesitated a little.

'I think as things are,' she said, 'I can't be doing wrong in telling
you a little more than you know. I am sure my dear lady will forgive me
if I make a mistake in doing so, seeing she has not told you more
herself, no doubt for the best of reasons.'

She stopped again. I felt rather frightened.

'What do you mean, Kezia?' I said.

'It is about Mrs. Vandeleur. Do you know, my dear Miss Helena, that it
has just been touch and go these last days, if she was to live or die?'

'Oh, Kezia!' I exclaimed; 'no, I didn't know it was as bad as that,' and
the tears--unselfish, unbitter tears this time--rushed into my eyes as I
remembered the sweet white face that I had seen in grandmamma's room,
and the gentle voice that had tried to say something kind and loving to
me. 'Oh, Kezia, I wish I had known. Do you think it will have hurt her,
my peeping into the room yesterday?' for I had told my old nurse
_everything_.

She shook her head.

'No, my dear, I don't think so. She is going to get really better now,
they feel sure--as sure as it is ever _right_ to feel about such things,
I mean. Only yesterday morning I had a letter from your grandmamma,
saying so. She meant to tell you soon, all about the great anxiety there
had been--once it was over--she had been afraid of grieving and alarming
you. So, dear Miss Helena, if you had just been patient a _little_
longer----'

My tears were dropping fast now, but still I was not quite softened.

'All the same, Kezia,' I said, 'they meant to send me to school.'

'Well, my dear, if they had, it might have been really for your
happiness. You would have been sent nowhere that was not as good and
nice a school as could be. And, of course, though Mrs. Vandeleur has
turned the corner in a wonderful way, she will be delicate for
long--perhaps never quite strong, and the life is lonely for you.'

'I wouldn't mind,' I said, for the sight of sweet Cousin Agnes had made
me feel as if I would do anything for her. 'I wouldn't mind, if
grandmamma trusted me, and if I could feel she loved me as much as she
used. I would do my lessons alone, or go to a day-school or anything, if
only I felt happy again with grandmamma.'

'My dearie, there is no need for you to feel anything else.'

'Oh yes--there is _now_, even if there wasn't before,' I said,
miserably. 'Think of what I have done. Even if grandmamma forgave me for
coming away here, Cousin Cosmo would not--he is _so_ stern, Kezia. He
really is--you know Harry and Lindsay thought so--Gerard Nestor told us,
and though Harry won't speak against him, I can see he doesn't care for
him.'

'Perhaps they have not got to know each other,' suggested Kezia. 'Master
Harry is a dear boy; but so was Mr. Cosmo long ago--I can't believe his
whole nature has changed.'

Then another thought struck me.

'Kezia,' I said, 'I think grandmamma might have told me about the boys
being here. She used to tell me far littler things than that. And in a
sort of a way I think I had a right to know. Windy Gap is my home.'

'It was all settled in a hurry,' said Kezia. 'The school broke up
suddenly through some cases of fever, and poor Mr. Vandeleur was much
put about to know where to send the young gentlemen. He couldn't have
them in London, with Mrs. Vandeleur so ill, and your grandmamma was very
glad to have the cottage free, and me here to do for them. No doubt she
would have told you about it. I'm glad for your sake they are here.
They'll be nice company for you.'

Her words brought home to me the actual state of things.

'Do you think grandmamma will let me stay here a little?' I said. 'I'm
afraid she will not--and even if _she_ would, Cousin Cosmo will be so
angry, _he_'ll prevent it. I am quite sure they will send me to
school.'

'But what was the use of you coming here then, Miss Helena,' said Kezia,
sensibly, 'if you knew you would be sent to school after all?'

'Oh,' I said,'I didn't think very much about anything except getting
away. I--I thought grandmamma would just be glad to be rid of the
trouble of me, and that they'd leave me here till Mrs. Vandeleur was
better and grandmamma could come home again.'

Kezia did not answer at once. Then she said--

'Do you dislike London so very much, then, Miss Helena?'

'Oh no,' I replied. 'I was very happy alone with grandmamma, except for
always thinking they were coming, and fancying she didn't--that she was
beginning not to care for me. But--I _am_ sorry now, Kezia, for not
having trusted her.'

'That's right, my dear; and you'll show it by giving in cheerfully to
whatever your dear grandmamma thinks best for you?'

I was still crying--but quite quietly.

'I'll--I'll try,' I whispered.

When I was dressed I went downstairs, not sorry to feel I should find
the boys there. And in spite of the fears as to the future that were
hanging over me I managed to spend a happy day with them. They did
everything they could to cheer me up, and the more I saw of Harry the
more I began to realise how very, very much brighter a life mine had
been than his--how ungrateful I had been and how selfish. It was worse
for him than for Lindsay, who was quite a child, and who looked to Harry
for everything. And yet Harry made no complaints--he only said once or
twice, when we were talking about grandmamma, that he did wish she was
_their_ grandmother, too.

'Wasn't that old lady you lived with before like a grandmother?' I
asked.

Harry shook his head.

'We scarcely ever saw her,' he said. 'She was very old and ill, and even
when we did go to her for the holidays we only saw her to say
good-morning and good-night. On the whole we were glad to stay on at
school.'

Poor fellows--they had indeed been orphans.

We wandered about the little garden, and all my old haunts. But for my
terrible anxiety, I should have enjoyed it thoroughly.

'Harry,' I said, when we had had our dinner--a very nice dinner, by the
bye. I began to think grandmamma must have got rich, for there was a
feeling of prosperity about the cottage--fires in several rooms, and
everything so comfortable. 'Harry, what do you think I should do? Should
I write to grandmamma and tell her--that I am very sorry, and that--that
I'll be good about going to school, if she fixes to send me?'

The tears came back again, but still I said it firmly.

'I think,' said Harry, 'you had better wait till to-morrow.'

He did not tell me of Mr. Vandeleur's telegram--for he had been desired
not to do so. I should have been still more uneasy and nervous if I had
known my formidable cousin was actually on his way to Middlemoor!



CHAPTER XV

'HAPPY EVER SINCE'


Later in the afternoon--about three o'clock or so--Harry looked at his
watch and started up. We were sitting in the drawing-room talking
quietly--Harry had been asking me about my lessons and finding out how
far on I was, for I was a little tired still, and we had been running
about a good deal in the morning.

'Oh,' I said, in a disappointed tone, 'where are you going? If you would
wait a little while, I could come out with you again, I am sure.' For I
felt as if I did not want to lose any of the time we were together, and
of course I did not know how soon grandmamma might not send some one to
take me away to school.

And never since Sharley and the others had gone away had I had the
pleasure of companions of my own age. There was something about Harry
which reminded me of Sharley, though he was a boy--something so strong
and straightforward and _big_, no other word seems to say it so well.

Harry looked at me with a little smile. Dear Harry, I know now that he
was feeling even more anxious about me than I was for myself, and that
brave as he was, it took all his courage to do as he had determined--I
mean to plead my cause with his stern guardian. For Mr. Vandeleur was
almost as much a stranger to him as to me.

'I'm afraid I must,' he said, 'I have to go to Middlemoor, but I shall
not be away more than an hour and a half. Lindsay--you'll look after
Helena, and Helena will look after you and prevent you getting into
mischief while I'm away.'

For though Lindsay was a very good little boy, and not wild or rough, he
was rather unlucky. I never saw any one like him for tumbling and
bumping himself and tearing his clothes.

After Harry had gone, Lindsay got out their stamp album and we amused
ourselves with it very well for more than an hour, as there were a good
many new stamps to put into their proper places. Then Kezia came in--

'Miss Helena,' she said, 'would you and Master Lindsay mind going into
the other room? I want to tidy this one up a little, I was so long
talking with you this morning that I dusted it rather hurriedly.'

We had made a litter, certainly, with the gum-pot and scraps of paper,
and cold water for loosening the stamps, but we soon cleared it up.

'Isn't it nearly tea-time?' I said.

'Yes, you shall have it as soon as Master Harry comes in,' said Kezia,
'it is all laid in the dining-room.'

'Oh, well,' said Lindsay, 'we won't do any more stamps this afternoon;
come along then, Helena, we'll tell each other stories for a change.'

'You may tell me stories,' I said--'and I'll try to listen,' I added to
myself, 'though I don't feel as if I could,' for as the day went on I
felt myself growing more and more frightened and uneasy. 'I wish Harry
would come in,' I said aloud, 'I think I should write to grandmamma
to-day.'

'He won't be long,' said Lindsay, 'Harry always keeps to his time,' and
then he began his stories. I'm afraid I don't remember what they were.
There were a great many 'you see's' and 'and so's,' but at another time
I daresay I would have found them interesting.

He was just in the middle of one, about a trick some of the boys had
played an undermaster at their school, when I heard the front door open
quietly and steps cross the hall. The steps were of more than one
person, though no one was speaking.

'Stop, Lindsay,' I said, and I sat bolt up in my chair and listened.

Whoever it was had gone into the drawing-room. Then some one came out
again and crossed to the kitchen.

'Can it be Harry?' I said.

'There's some one with him if it is,' said Lindsay.

I felt myself growing white, and Lindsay grew red with sympathy. He _is_
a very feeling boy. But we both sat quite still. Then the door opened
gently, and some one looked in, but it wasn't Harry, it was Kezia.

'Miss Helena, my love,' she said, 'there's some one in the drawing-room
who wants to see you.'

'Who is it?' I asked, breathlessly, but my old nurse shook her head.

'You'll see,' she said.

My heart began to beat with the hope--a silly, wild hope it was, for of
course I might have known she could not yet have left Cousin Agnes--that
it might be grandmamma. And, luckily perhaps, for without it I should
not have had courage to enter the drawing-room, this idea lasted till I
had opened the door, and it was too late to run away.

How I did wish I could do so you will easily understand, when I tell you
that the tall figure standing looking out of the window, which turned as
I came in, was that of my stern Cousin Cosmo himself!

I must have got very white, I think, though it seemed to me as if all
the blood in my body had rushed up into my head and was buzzing away
there like lots and lots of bees, but I only remember saying 'Oh!' in a
sort of agony of fear and shame. And the next thing I recollect was
finding myself on a chair and Cousin Cosmo beside me on another, and,
wonderful to say, he was holding my hand, which had grown dreadfully
cold, in one of his. His grasp felt firm and protecting. I shut my eyes
just for a moment and fancied to myself that it seemed as if papa were
there.

'But it can't last,' I thought, 'he's going to be awfully angry with me
in a minute.'

I did not speak. I sat there like a miserable little criminal, only
judges don't generally hold prisoners' hands when they are going to
sentence them to something very dreadful, do they? I might have thought
of that, but I didn't. I just squeezed myself together to bear whatever
was coming.

This was what came.

I heard a sort of sigh or a deep breath, and then a voice, which it
almost seemed to me I had never heard before, said, very, very gently--

'My poor little girl--poor little Helena. Have I been such an ogre to
you?'

I could _scarcely_ believe my ears--to think that it was Cousin Cosmo
speaking to me in that way! I looked up into his face; I had really
never seen it very well before. And now I found out that the dark,
deep-set eyes were soft and not stern--what I had taken for hardness and
severity had, after all, been mostly sadness and anxiety, I think.

'Cousin Cosmo,' I said, 'are you going to forgive me, then? And
grandmamma, too? _I am_ sorry for running away, but I didn't understand
properly. I will go to school whenever you like, and not grumble.'

My tears were dropping fast, but still I felt strangely soothed.

'Tell me more about it all,' said Mr. Vandeleur. 'I want to understand
from yourself all about the fancies and mistakes there have been in your
head.'

'Would you first tell me,' I said, 'how Cousin Agnes is? It was a good
deal about her I didn't understand?'

'Much, much better,' he replied, 'thank God. She is going to be almost
well again, I hope.'

And then, before I knew what I was about, I found myself in the middle
of it all--telling him everything--the whole story of my unhappiness,
more fully even than I had told it to Harry and Kezia, for though he did
not say much, the few words he put in now and then showed me how
wonderfully he understood. (Cousin Cosmo _is_ a very clever man.)

And when at last I left off speaking, _he_ began and talked to me for a
long time. I could never tell if I tried, _how_ he talked--so kindly,
and nicely, and rightly--putting things in the right way, I mean, not
making out it was _all_ my fault, which made me far sorrier than if he
had laid the whole of the blame on me.

I always do feel like that when people, especially big people, are
generous in that sort of way. One thing Cousin Cosmo said at the end
which I must tell.

'We have a good deal to thank Harry for,' it was, 'both you and I,
Helena. But for his manly, sensible way of judging the whole, we might
never have got to understand each other, as I trust we now always shall.
And more good has come out of it, too. I have never known Harry for what
_he_ is, before to-day.'

'I am so very glad,' I said.

'Now,' said Mr. Vandeleur, looking at his watch, 'it is past five
o'clock. I shall spend the night at the hotel at Middlemoor, but I
should like to stay with you three here, as late as possible. Do you
think your good Kezia can give me something to eat?'

'Of course she can,' I said, all my hospitable feelings awakened--for I
can never feel but that Windy Gap is my particular home--'Shall I go and
ask her? Our tea must be ready now in the dining-room.'

'That will do capitally,' said Cousin Cosmo. 'I'll have a cup of tea now
with you three, in the first place, and then as long as the daylight
lasts you must show me the lions of Windy Gap, Helena. It _is_ a quaint
little place,' he added, looking round, 'and I am sure it must have a
great charm of its own, but I am afraid my aunt and you must have found
it very cold and exposed in bad weather?'

'Sometimes,' I said; 'the last winter here was pretty bad.'

'Yes,' he answered, 'it is not a place for the middle of winter,' but
that was all he said.

I was turning to leave the room when another thought struck me.

'Cousin Cosmo,' I asked timidly, 'will grandmamma want me to go to
school very soon?'

He smiled, rather a funny smile.

'Put it out of your mind till I go back to London, and talk things
over,' he replied. 'I want all of us to be as happy as possible this
evening. Send Harry in here for a moment.'

I met Harry outside in the hall.

'Is it all right?' he said, anxiously.

'Oh, Harry,' I said, 'I can scarcely believe he's the same! He's been so
awfully kind.'

That evening _was_ a very happy one. Cousin Cosmo was interested about
everything at Windy Gap, and after supper he talked to Harry and me of
all sorts of things, and promised to send us down some books, which
pleased me, as it did seem as if he must mean me to stay where I was
for a few days at any rate.

Still, I did not feel, of course, quite at rest till I had written a
long, long letter to grandmamma and heard from her in return. I need not
repeat all she said about what had passed--it just made me feel more
than ever ashamed of having doubted her and of having been so selfish.

But what she said at the end of her letter about the plans she and
Cousin Cosmo had been making was almost too delightful. I could scarcely
help jumping with joy when I read it.

'Harry,' I called out, 'I'm not to go to school at all, just fancy! I'm
to stay here with you and Lindsay till you go back to school--till a few
days before, I mean, and we're to travel to London together and be all
at Chichester Square. Cousin Agnes and grandmamma are going away to the
sea-side now immediately, but they'll be back before we come. Cousin
Agnes is so much better!'

Harry did not look quite as pleased as I was--about the London part of
it.

'I'm awfully glad you're going to stay here,' he answered; 'and I do
want to see your grandmother. I suppose it'll be all right,' he went
on, 'and that they won't find Lindsay and me a nuisance in London.'

I was almost vexed with him.

'Harry,' I said, 'don't _you_ begin to be fanciful. You don't _know_ how
Cousin Cosmo spoke of you the other day.'

And after all it did come all right. My story finishes up like a
fairy-tale--'They lived happy ever after!'

Well no, not quite that, for it is not yet four years since all this
happened, and four years would be a very short 'ever after.'

But I may certainly say we have lived most happily ever since that time
till now.

Cousin Agnes is much, much better. She never will be quite strong--never
a very strong person, I mean. But she is _so_ sweet, our boys and I
often think we should scarcely like her to be any different in any way
from what she is, though of course not really ill or suffering.

And 'our boys'--yes, that is what they are--dear brothers to me, just
like real ones, and just like grandsons to dear, dear grandmamma. They
come to Chichester Square regularly for their holidays--it is their
'new home,' as it is mine. But we have another home--and it is not much
of the holidays except the Christmas ones that we--grandmamma and we
three--spend in London.

For Windy Gap is still ours--and Kezia lives there and is always ready
to have us--and Cousin Cosmo has built on two or three more rooms, and
our summers there are just _perfect_!

The Nestors came back to Moor Court long ago, and I see almost as much
of them as in the old days, as they now come to their London house every
year for some months, and we go to several classes together, though I
have a daily governess as well.

Next year Sharley is to 'come out.' Just fancy! I am sure every one will
think her very pretty. But not many can know as well as I do that her
face only tells a very small part of her beauty. She is so very, very
good.

I daresay you will wonder how Cousin Cosmo--grave, stern Cousin
Cosmo--likes it all. His quiet solemn house the home of three adopted
children, who are certainly not solemn, and not always 'quiet' by any
means.

I can only tell you that he said to grandmamma not very long ago, and
she told me, and I told Harry--that he had 'never been so happy since he
was a boy himself,' all but a son to her and a brother to 'Paul'--that
was my father, you know.


THE END





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