Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: More about Pixie
Author: Vaizey, George de Horne, Mrs., 1857-1917
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 "More about Pixie" ***

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



More About Pixie, by Mrs G. de Horne Vaizey

___________________________________________

This is another excellent book by Mrs de Horne Vaizey,
dating from the end of the nineteenth century.  While of
course it is dated in its references to the world around
its actors, yet nevertheless their emotions are
well-described, and no doubt are timeless.

In some ways the world around the people in the book is
recognisable today, in a way which a book written thirty or
forty years before would not have been.  They have
electricity, telephones, trains, buses, and many other
things that we still use regularly today.  Of course one
major difference is that few people today have servants,
while middle-class and upper-class families of the eighteen
nineties would certainly have had them.  It was a passing
joke in the book that it was surprising that the butler, on
discovering a young couple kissing, did not say, "Allow me,
madam."

Today we travel by aeroplane, while in those days, and
indeed for much of my own life, we travelled by ship and
train.  It was normal when travelling back to England from
India to disembark at Marseilles, and come on to the
Channel Ports by train, perhaps even spending a week or two
in Italy, en route.  I have done it myself.

So it is not so very dated after all.  But I do think there
is a real value in reading the book.  Oddly enough, I think
that a boy would benefit from reading any of the
author's books, more than a girl would, because it would
give him an insight into the girlish mind which he could
not so easily otherwise obtain.  N.H.
_________________________________________________________

MORE ABOUT PIXIE

BY MRS. GEORGE DE HORNE VAIZEY



CHAPTER ONE.

A NEW NEIGHBOUR.

The night nurse was dusting the room preparatory to going off duty for
the day, and Sylvia was lying on her water-bed watching her movements
with gloomy, disapproving eyes.  For four long weeks--ever since the
crisis had passed and she had come back to consciousness of her
surroundings--she had watched the same proceeding morning after morning,
until its details had become almost unbearably wearisome to her weak
nerves.

First of all came Mary to sweep the floor--she went down on her knees,
and swept up the dust with a small hand-brush, and however carefully she
might begin, it was quite, quite certain that she would end by knocking
up against the legs of the bed, and giving a jar and shock to the
quivering inmate.  Then she would depart, and nurse would take the
ornaments off the mantelpiece, flick the duster over them, and put them
back in the wrong places.

It did not seem of the least importance to her whether the blue vase
stood in the centre or at the side, but Sylvia had a dozen reasons for
wishing to have it in exactly one position and no other.  She liked to
see its graceful shape and rich colouring reflected in the mirror which
hung immediately beneath the gas-bracket; if it were moved to the left
it spoiled her view of a tiny water-colour painting which was one of her
greatest treasures, while if it stood on the right it ousted the
greatest treasure of all--the silver-framed portrait of the dear,
darling, most beloved of fathers, who was afar off at the other side of
the world, tea-planting in Ceylon.

Sylvia was too weak to protest, but she burrowed down among the clothes,
and moped to herself in good old typhoid fashion.  "Wish she would leave
it alone!  Wish people wouldn't bother about the room.  Don't care if it
is dusty!  Wish I could be left in peace.  Don't believe I shall ever be
better.  Don't believe my temperature ever _will_ go down.  Don't care
if it doesn't!  Wish father were home to come and talk, and cheer me up.
Boo-hoo-hoo!"

The tears trickled down and splashed saltly against her lips, but she
kept her sobs under control, for crying was a luxury which was forbidden
by the authorities, and could only be indulged in by stealth.

The night nurse thought that the patient had fallen asleep, but when she
went off duty, and her successor arrived, she cast a suspicious glance
at the humped-up bedclothes, and turned them down with a gentle but
determined hand.

"Crying again?" she cried.  "Oh, come now, I can't allow that!  What are
you crying about on such a lovely, bright morning, when you have had
such a good night's rest?"

"I had a horrid night.  I couldn't sleep a bit.  I feel so mum-mum-
miserable!" wailed the patient dolefully.  "I'm so tired of being in
bed."

"You won't have very much longer of it now.  Your temperature is lower
than it has ever been this morning.  You ought to be in good spirits
instead of crying in this silly way.  Come now, cheer up!  I am not
going to allow such a doleful face."

"I'm very cheerful when I'm well.  Ask Aunt Margaret if I'm not.  I've a
most lively disposition.  Everyone says so," whined Sylvia dismally.
"I'm tired of everything and everybody.  So would you be if you'd been
in bed for two months."

"Tired of me as well as the rest?"

"Yes, I am.  You are a nasty, horrid, strict, cross thing."  But a smile
struggled through the tears, and a thin hand stole out from beneath the
clothes and pressed the white-sleeved arms in eloquent contradiction.
Whatever Sylvia was tired of, it was certainly not this gentle, sweet-
faced little woman who--humanly speaking--had brought her back from the
verge of the grave.  She snoodled her head along the pillow so as to
lean it against the nurse's shoulder, and said in weak, disconnected
snatches, "I'm sorry--I'm so horrid.  I feel so cross and low-spirited.
I want--a change.  Can't you think--of something nice?"

"You are going to have some beautiful chicken-soup for your lunch.  It
is in a perfect jelly."

"Hate chicken-soup!  Hate the sight of soup!  Want to have salmon and
cucumber, and ice creams, and nice rich puddings."

Nurse laughed complacently.

"So you shall--some day!  Glad you feel well enough to want them now.
Would you like to be carried to the sofa by the window for an hour this
afternoon, while your bed is being aired and made comfortable?  I think
it would do you good to lie in the sunshine, and the doctor could help
me to carry you.  It would be quite exciting to see a glimpse of the
outer world, wouldn't it?"

"Rather!  I can't believe that everything is going on just the same.
Are all the neighbours alive still?  Is the old man at the corner alive?
Has the little girl at Number Five grown-up and put on long frocks?  I
feel as if I had been lying here for years and years.  I believe I have
grown grey myself.  Give me a hand-glass, Whitey, and let me see how I
look."

Whitey walked obediently across the room, and brought back the silver-
backed glass from the dressing-table.  She was accustomed to her
nickname by this time, and was indeed rather proud of it than otherwise.
She had been known successively as "Spirit of the Day," and "The White
Nurse," during the hours of delirium, and the abbreviation had a natural
girlish ring about it, which was a herald of returning health.

"There, look at yourself, Miss Conceit!" she cried laughingly, and
Sylvia held the glass erect in both hands and stared curiously at her
own reflection.  She saw a thin, clear-cut little face, with arched
eyebrows, large brown eyes, an aquiline nose, and full, pouting lips.
The cheeks showed delicate hollows beneath the cheek bones, and the eyes
looked tired and heavy, otherwise there was no startling change to
record.

"I don't look as much older as I expected, but I've got a different
expression, Whitey--a sort of starved-wolf, haggard, tired-out look,
just exactly like I feel.  Aren't I beautifully thin?  It's always been
my ambition to be slim and willowy, like the people in fashion plates.
I shall be quite a vision of elegance, shan't I, Whitey?"

"Um!  Well," said Whitey vaguely, "you must expect to look very slight
after lying in bed for so long, but it doesn't matter about that.  You
won't trouble about appearances, so long as you feel well and strong
again."

"Yes, I shall!" said the invalid stubbornly.  She turned her head on one
side and stared intently at the long plaits of hair which trailed over
the pillow--her "Kenwigs" as she had dubbed them, after Charles
Dickens's immortal "Miss Kenwigses," who are pictorially represented in
short frocks, pantaloons, and tight plaits of hair, secured at the ends
by bows of ribbon.

"My Kenwigs look very thin," she said anxiously.  "I used to have three
thick coils.  People's hair doesn't come out after typhoid fever, does
it, Whitey?  I shall be furious if mine does."

"Oh, hair generally comes out a little in autumn," replied Whitey
easily.  "Now you have looked at yourself quite long enough.  I will put
back the glass and prepare some food while your aunt comes to see you,
but I shall tell her not to talk too much, for the doctor won't let you
be moved if you are looking tired and exhausted."

Sylvia sighed to herself, for interviews with Aunt Margaret were a
decided trial in these days of convalescence, when every nerve seemed on
edge and ready to be jarred.  She was nearly twenty-two, and for the
first year after leaving school the dear old dad had been in England,
and she had had the most delightful time travelling about with him.  He
always declared that he was a poor man, that tea was doing so
disgracefully badly, that he expected to retire into the workhouse in
the course of the next year, but, all the same, he never appeared to be
short of money, and the travelling was done in the most comfortable and
luxurious of fashions.  Sylvia was his only child, and in his eyes was
the most beautiful and accomplished creature in the world, so that it
was a trying experience to be domiciled with an elderly maiden aunt,
whose ideas were as early Victorian as her furniture, who had forgotten
what it felt like to be young, and was continually aggrieved because her
niece had not learned to be old.

During the long year of idleness Sylvia had cherished the idea that her
father would take her back to Ceylon, when she would reign as Queen of
the Bungalow, charm the hearts of the coolies by her beauty and dignity,
pay frequent visits to Kandy, and become one of the favourites of
society; but when it came to the point it appeared that he had no
intention of the sort.  In two or three years he hoped to be able to
settle in England, and meantime his ambition for his daughter demanded
that she should remain at home and devote her time to music, for which
she showed an unusual talent.  If he had other reasons he kept them to
himself, but as a matter of fact he dreaded a possible marriage abroad,
which would condemn the girl to a life of separation from so much that
is good and pleasant, and if any qualms arose as to the cheerfulness of
the home in which he was leaving her, he consoled himself by the
reflection that he would be able to make up for temporary deprivations
in the years to come.

Mr Trevor sailed off to the East, and Sylvia took up her abode at
Number 6 Rutland Road, in an unfashionable suburb in the north of
London, and settled down to being a "good industrious girl" with what
grace she might.  She did not understand Aunt Margaret, and Aunt
Margaret felt it a decided trial to have her sleepy home invaded by a
restless young creature, who was never so happy as when she was singing
at the pitch of her voice, rushing up and down stairs, and playing silly
schoolboy tricks; but fate had ordained that they were to live together,
and they had jogged along more or less peacefully until that unlucky day
when the girl had sickened for her dangerous illness.  Then, indeed,
Aunt Margaret realised that she had grown to love her wayward charge,
and all the manifold demands and inconveniences of illness were
swallowed up in anxiety during the first anxious weeks.  She allowed not
only one, but two of "those dreadful nurses" to take possession of her
spare rooms, submitted meekly to their orders, and saw her domestic
rules and regulations put aside without a murmur of protest; but when
the crisis was safely passed, and recovery became only a matter of time,
the old fussy nature reasserted itself, and her eyes were open to behold
the dire results of a long illness.

This bright October morning she came stooping into Sylvia's bedroom, a
slight woman with a narrow bent back, brown hair smoothed neatly down on
each side of a withered, dried-up face, with a patch of red on the cheek
bones, and sunken brown eyes roving restlessly to right and left.  She
wore a black stuff dress, a satin apron with pockets and an edging of
jet, and knitted mittens over her wrists--a typical old lady of the
ancient type.  Yet as she stood beside the bed there was a curious
likeness to be observed between her face and the one on the pillow; and
Sylvia recognised as much, and felt a thrill of dismay at the thought
that some day she, too, would be frail and bent, and wear a cap and
mittens, and have rheumatic joints, and attacks of bronchitis if by
chance she was so imprudent as to go out without putting on goloshes, a
woollen "crossover," and a big silk muffler beneath her mantle.  To one-
and-twenty it seemed an appalling prospect, and one to be shunted into
the background with all possible speed.

"Well, my love, and how are you this morning?  Much better, I hear.  A
good drop in temperature," said Aunt Margaret, pecking her niece's cheek
with her lips, and answering her own question without waiting for a
reply, as her custom was.  "Nurse tells me that you will soon be up
again, and I'm sure it is time.  This room needs a regular spring
cleaning, and as for the new drugget on the landing--three new spots of
milk this morning, to say nothing of what has gone before!  If I had
known you were going to be ill I would have made the old one last
another year, for it is sheer waste of money buying new things to have
them ruined in six months.  The last one was down thirteen years, and
looked very little worse than this does now!"

"Father will buy you another.  You must put it down as one of the
expenses.  He won't mind so long as I get better," said the invalid
wearily; whereupon Aunt Margaret drew herself up with an air of wounded
pride.

"Indeed, my dear, your poor father will have enough to do to pay all the
doctors and nurses without being called upon for extras.  I am willing
to bear my own share, though I will say my stair-carpets have had as
much wear and tear in the last two months as in half a dozen years
before, and that Nurse Ellen is a most careless creature, she leaves
everything in a muddle!  If you get up, my dear, you must wear my wadded
jacket.  I had a young friend--she was the cousin of Sarah Wedderburn,
who lived in Stanhope Terrace, and married young Johnson of
Sunderland.--You have heard me speak of the Johnsons, who were at school
with your Aunt Emma?"

Sylvia blinked her eyelids in a non-committal manner which might be
taken either for assent or denial.  She was afraid to confess ignorance
of the Johnson family, lest Aunt Margaret's love of biography should
take a further flight in order to recall Sarah Wedderburn's cousin to
her remembrance.

"And what did she do?" she queried weakly.  "Don't tell me anything
gruesome, please, aunt, because I feel so low-spirited this morning that
I can't bear anything depressing!"

"I should be very sorry to depress you, my dear.  Nothing is farther
from my wishes, and if she had been careful nothing need have happened.
Her sister told me it was all her own fault for not being sufficiently
wrapped up.  I'll tell you the whole story another day when there is
more time, for now I must go out to do my housekeeping.  These meals
will be the death of me!  The cloth is never off the table.  I quite
expect Mary will give notice at the end of the month, and goodness knows
what we shall do then, for it seems impossible to get hold of
respectable girls.  The milk-bill has just come in for the month.
Ruinous!  Ruinous!  Now, my love, you must really cheer up and try to
look more like yourself.  Perhaps I shall find you on the sofa when I
come back.  Tell nurse not to use my best cushions; your own pillows
will do perfectly well."

She bustled out of the room, and Sylvia stared into space with a doleful
face.

"It's all very well to ask me to be cheerful, when she tells me in the
same breath that I am ruining her, and her beloved furniture.  I'm sure
I didn't want to be ill!  If dad were at home he would never reproach
me."  The tears were very near falling once more, but just at that
moment there came the sound of a manly footstep, and in walked the
doctor, large, stout, beaming, a very incarnation of health and good
spirits.

"Well, and so nurse tells me you think of going to the seaside to-day!
You are getting tired of yourself, and want a change--eh?  I don't
wonder at that.  You think you would enjoy having a little peep at the
world again?  Let me feel your pulse and see if I can allow it."

The pulse was quite satisfactory, so nurse and doctor promptly set to
work to spread blankets on the couch, draw forward screens to prevent
possibility of draught, and bank up pillows to allow a glimpse of the
road beneath.  Then Sylvia clasped her arms tightly round the nurse's
neck, the doctor raised her feet, there was a moment's dizzy confusion,
while her eyes swam and her ears hummed, and there she lay on the sofa,
as at the end of a long and arduous journey, while her attendants
wrapped her up in blankets and eiderdowns, and looked anxiously to see
how she had borne the exertion.  The little face was very white, but
bright with pleasure and excitement, and the offer of smelling salts and
cordials was laughed aside with good-natured contempt.

"No, no--I'm all right--just a little breathless after that whirl
through space.  How funny the room looks!  I've looked at it broadways
so long that I can't recognise it from this point of view.  Is that the
water-bed?  What a strange-looking thing! just like a lot of hot bottles
joined together.  It _is_ comfortable over here!  I'd like to stay all
day.  Oh, oh, oh! here's the butcher's cart!  How lovely it is to see
the world again!"

The jovial-looking doctor shrugged his shoulders as he took his
departure.  The poor child must have been in sad straits indeed if she
found the sight of a butcher's cart so exciting!  He would have enjoyed
sitting beside her and listening to her rhapsodies, but was obliged to
hurry off to other patients, while Whitey seated herself beside the
couch, and began hemming strips of muslin to be made into those starched
cap-strings which were tied so jauntily beneath her chin.

"Oh, Whitey," cried Sylvia, "I feel better already!  It all looks so
bright, and cheerful, and alive!  I'm simply dying to go out for a
drive, and to see the people walking about.  I used to think this such a
dull little road, but now it seems quite gay and fashionable.  I've seen
three perambulators already, to say nothing of the butcher's cart!  I
wish the Number Seven lady would go out for a walk, and let me see her
autumn clothes.  She wears all the colours of the rainbow, and looks
like a walking kaleidoscope...  Whitey!  Oh, Whitey!"

The weak voice rose to a squeal of excitement, and the nurse bent
forward curiously to discover the reason of so much agitation.  To the
ordinary eye, however, there was nothing to be seen, for Sylvia's
outstretched hand pointed to a semi-detached villa in no way
distinguished from the rest of the row.

"It's taken!" she cried--"Number Three is taken!  It has been empty for
a year, and I have simply longed for someone to come, for it is the most
convenient house to watch, and I take such interest in the neighbours.
It's pretty lonely for me here, for I haven't a single girl-friend.
Father kept me at school in Brussels for the sake of learning the
language, but almost all the girls were French or American, and none of
them live in London.  Aunt Margaret introduced me to some `young
friends' when I first arrived, but I thought they were horrid prigs, and
I suppose they thought I was mad, so the friendship didn't progress.  I
amuse myself with my music and in dreaming of the time when father comes
home, but every time a house changes hands I have a wild hope that there
will be a girl in the family, who would be lively and jolly like myself.
I'm very nice when I'm well, Whitey--I am really!  You needn't laugh
like that.  I daresay you would be fractious yourself if you had to lie
in bed for months and months, and had an old griffin to mount guard over
you, who made you eat against your will, and bullied you from morning
till night...  What was I talking about last?  Oh yes, I wanted to ask
if you had seen anything of these new people, and what they were like."

"I haven't had much time for looking out of the window, but I have seen
a young lady and gentleman going out and in.  I think they are a newly-
married couple, for they look very juvenile and affectionate.  He is
dark and handsome, and she is fair, and I should say very pretty."

Sylvia's face clouded with disappointment.

"Bother the husband!  She won't want me or anyone else to interrupt the
duet.  I do wish it could have been a family with a daughter.  The
curtains don't look newly-married, Whitey!"

"No, they don't.  I thought that myself.  The house doesn't look as
smart and fresh as one expects under the circumstances, but perhaps they
are not well off, and had to be content with what they could get.  You
should not leap to the conclusion that she won't want you.  Brides often
feel very lonely through the day when their husbands are in the city,
and I should think she would be delighted to have a friend of her own
age so near at hand.  We will watch and see if we can get a glimpse of
her.  She is almost sure to have gone out for a walk this fine morning,
and if so she will come home in time for lunch."

From that moment Sylvia's eyes were glued to the window, and every woman
between the ages of sixteen and sixty was in turn heralded as the bride,
and scornfully laughed aside by the nurse.

"I told you that she was young and pretty!" she repeated laughingly.  "I
didn't mean that she was a schoolgirl, or a middle-aged woman.  If she
is coming at all she will be here within the next half-hour, so lie
still and rest, and I'll play Sister Anne for you."

Ten minutes passed, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, and Whitey was
beginning to hint at a return to bed, when at last the longed-for figure
hove in sight.  Sylvia raised herself on her pillows and peered eagerly
forward, her scarlet dressing-jacket making a brilliant patch of colour
against the background of white.  She saw a slight, graceful figure clad
in a tightly fitting black cloth costume, and a mass of flaxen hair
beneath a sailor hat, and even as she looked the girl raised her head
and stared upward with eager interest.  She had a delicate, oval face
and grey-blue eyes beneath thoughtful brows, but at the sight of the
invalid the whole face flashed into sunshine, and the lips curled into a
smile of such irrepressible rejoicing which was more eloquent than
words.  The next moment her head was lowered, and she walked demurely up
the path dividing the little gardens, while Sylvia lay back on her
pillows a-quiver with excitement.

"Oh, oh, the d-arling!  What a perfect duck of a darling!  Did you see
her smile?  Didn't she look glad to see me?  Whitey, why did she look so
pleased?  What can she know about me?"

"My dear, she has seen the doctor's carriage drive up at all hours of
the day, and two nurses going in and out, to say nothing of the bark
which was laid down on the road.  She must have known that someone was
seriously ill, and no doubt the servants have told her that it was a
young girl like herself.  Yes, it was delightful to see her.  You won't
have any better congratulation on your recovery than that smile!"

"Whitey, she is in black!  Brides don't wear black."

"They are obliged to wear it sometimes, dear.  You can't lay down a rule
about such things."

"She looks too young to be married.  She ought to play about with me for
a year or two first.  I hate that man for taking her from me!  That's
the girl I should marry myself if I had a chance.  Do find out what her
name is, Whitey.  Mary is sure to know, for she gossips with the other
servants while she is cleaning the steps.  Yes, I'll go back to bed now.
I'm tired, and I don't care to see anyone else.  I'll go to sleep and
dream about that smile!"



CHAPTER TWO.

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR.

"Aunt Margaret, can you tell me anything about the people who have come
to Number Three?  I saw the lady coming in just now while I was sitting
up, and I do so want to know her.  Have you been to call while I was
ill?"

Miss Munns crossed her hands on her lap, and looked the image of
dignified reproach.

"My dear, do you suppose I have had leisure for social engagements?  I
know nothing about the people, except that their blinds are invariably
crooked, and every one drawn up to a different length.  Most untidy the
house looks!  A dear friend of mine used to say--Mary Appleford, whose
father was the clergyman in my old home in Leicestershire--charming old
man who married Lady Evelyn Bruce--most aristocratic family!--Mary
always declared that she could judge a woman's character by the
appearance of her windows.  Judged from that standpoint, I should not
feel disposed to call on the mistress of Number Three."

"But you haven't seen her, aunt; if you did, you could not help loving
her.  She looked so delighted to see me sitting up, and gave me such a
delicious smile!"

"Smiled at you, do you say?  A most unladylike thing to do!  The first
advances should come from our side, as she would know if she had any
experience of society.  I hope, my dear, that you were not so foolish as
to respond.  One cannot be too careful about strangers in this big
wicked city.  I shall never forget my poor dear cousin telling me how
she called on a most superior-looking lady who came to live in the same
terrace, and two months later the police raided the house, and it turned
out that the husband made false coins in the back kitchen, and the wife
circulated them among the tradesfolk.  So awkward for Maria!"

Sylvia brought her eyebrows together in a frown, and tossed about on her
pillow.  She felt irritated and disappointed, and that made her head
ache, and the headache sent down her spirits again, and eclipsed the
brightness of the morning.  If Aunt Margaret refused to call, she could
not make the acquaintance of the fair unknown, and it would be a
tantalising experience to see her every day, and, yet be as far removed
from friendship as if they lived a dozen miles apart!

During the weeks which followed, nurse and patient kept a close watch on
the little house over the road, and were rewarded by witnessing several
interesting domestic scenes.

On Saturday afternoon, for instance, Edwin came home early to show
himself in his turn.  He was tall, dark, and handsome; dressed in the
height of the fashion, and bore himself with such an air of complacency
and benign patronage towards his fellows, that he looked far more like a
prince of the blood than an ordinary city man.  He carried a little
bunch of flowers in his hand, and whistled as he drew near the gate in
orthodox, newly-married fashion, and the pretty girl flew to the door,
and nodded her head at him in happy welcome.  He bent down to kiss her,
and she took the flowers and sniffed at them lovingly; then they walked
together down the little path to examine the growth of some sooty
chrysanthemums and three struggling creepers placed against the house.

Edwin shook his head after the inspection, as though it had been far
from promising, and then, instead of looking disappointed, they both
laughed, turned round and round to look over their twelve-yard domain,
and laughed again as if it were the best joke in the world.  Then
Angelina said something in a low aside, whereupon Edwin strolled to the
gate, and in the most casual manner looked up the road and down the
road, and then straight across at the window where the invalid lay!

"She told him to look!" cried Sylvia breathlessly, and her pale cheeks
flushed until they were almost as red as the dressing-jacket itself.
"He is very handsome, Whitey.  I don't dislike him as much as I
expected.  Oh dear, they look disgustingly happy!  I am sure they don't
want me a bit, and I want them dreadfully.  He doesn't seem the sort of
man to coin false money, does he?  Do please casually remark to Aunt
Margaret how very nice and distinguished they look!  It's my one object
in life at present to make her call upon them."

The next day the situation developed still further, for a form was seen
seated at a window, who must, of course, be Edwin; yet he looked
strangely younger and fairer in colouring.  Nurse and patient debated
the point hotly, until presently the door opened and out came one, two,
three masculine creatures, all as like as peas in a pod, except for the
difference in years which divided Edwin from the handsome striplings on
either side.  They stood together in the tiny garden, obviously waiting
for the mistress of the house, and when she did not appear, the youngest
of the three picked up pieces of gravel and threw them up at a bedroom
window, while the others whistled and beat upon the gate with their
sticks.

Angelina strolled to the window in response to these demonstrations, and
stood smiling at them while she fastened on her hat, but she did not
appear to hurry herself in the least, nor did the brothers show any
signs of annoyance at their long waiting.  When at long last she made
her appearance, there was great manoeuvring to get a place by her side,
and away they trotted, four abreast, pushing everyone else off the
pavement, but apparently blissfully unconscious of anything unusual in
the proceeding.

Sylvia and Whitey watched until the last flutter of the black dress
disappeared from sight, then fell to work to settle the identity of the
new actors in the drama.

"They are brothers--there is no doubt about that; but they can't live
there, Whitey!  That wouldn't be at all newly-married.  Do you suppose
they are here for the day?  Perhaps they are in rooms in town, and
Angelina lets them come down over Sundays sometimes as a treat.  They
seem very fond of her, and quite at home.  I think that is the most
likely explanation, don't you?"

"I really think it is.  Or they might live in the country and have come
up to pay a visit and see the sights," said Whitey thoughtfully.

She was thankful to find a subject of interest in these long days of
convalescence to keep her patient's mind from dwelling on depressing
topics.  Truth to tell, Sylvia was not getting well so quickly as had
been expected, and besides more serious drawbacks there were minor
troubles, trying enough to the girlish mind.  She had to learn to walk
again, like a baby, her back ached so badly that if she tried to stoop
she screamed aloud with pain, and, worse than all, the plaits of hair
grew small and beautifully less, until there was hardly anything left to
plait.  Sylvia had been proud of her hair, so she grew alarmed, and
finally sent off in haste for her special barber to give advice and
consolation in the difficulty.  Consolation was not forthcoming,
however, and the advice offered was by no means acceptable.

"You can't do nothing--there's nothing will be a bit of good," the man
said dolefully.  "Whatever you do, it's bound to come.  The wisest thing
would be to be shaved at once, and give it a start."

Sylvia fairly screamed with horror and consternation.

"Shaved!" she cried.  "I?  I go about with a bald head--a horrible,
bare, shiny scalp!  I'd rather die!  I'd rather--I'd rather--I'd rather
anything in the world!  It's no use talking to me, Whitey; I will--not--
be shaved!"

"Very well, dear," assented Whitey easily.  "Then you shan't.  We will
just have a few inches cut off, and get a lotion to rub in to help the
growth.  I daresay the old hair will keep on until the new appears, and
then you need never have the horrible experience of seeing a bald head."

"I never should see it in any case.  I'd buy a wig and wear it night and
day.  Nothing would induce me to look in the glass when it was off.  I
should never respect myself again.  And oh, Whitey, even at the best the
new hair will be ages growing, and it will be impossible to do anything
with it!"

"Not at all.  You can wear it short and curly.  It would look very
pretty, and suit you so well."

Whitey was aggressively cheerful, but Sylvia refused to be comforted.

"It would be hateful.  I don't know anything more dejected-looking than
to see the back of a shorn head under a pretty hat.  I won't _allow_ my
hair to fall out, and that's the end of it!"

"Well, p'r'aps it won't, after all, miss!  We must 'ope for the best,"
said the barber cheerfully.

He and Whitey talked incessantly all the time the hair-cutting was
proceeding, with the fond hope of distracting the girl's attention; but
in naughty mood she refused to listen, insisted on sitting directly in
front of her glass, and was rewarded for her pains by catching a glimpse
of a bald spot on the crown of her head, which put the finishing touch
of depression.

When the doctor arrived for his morning visit, he found a most
melancholy patient, and held a serious consultation with nurse on the
staircase before departing.

"She seems very low and listless this morning.  Can't you do something
to cheer her up?  I am afraid we are going to have trouble with that
foot, and if she has to lie up again it will never do for her to get in
a melancholy condition.  You do your best, I know, but she needs a
change.  There is no reason why she should not see visitors.  Has she no
young friends who could come to have tea with her, and make her laugh?"

Whitey sighed, and leant against the banisters with a dejected air.  It
is exhausting work being cheerful for two, and no one would have
welcomed a laughing stranger more heartily than herself.  The question
was,--where was she to be found?

"She was lamenting to me the other day that she had no girl-friends.
She went abroad to school, and has had little opportunity of making
acquaintances since she came home.  Miss Munns is very--conservative.
She does not care to associate with her neighbours.  There is a charming
girl who has come to live opposite.  We watch her from the window, and
Sylvia has been trying to persuade her aunt to call for the last three
weeks; but it is useless.  I'm sorry, for she looks just the very person
we want."

"Won't call, won't she?  We'll see about that.  I'm not going to have my
patient thrown back, after all the trouble I've had with her, for fifty
old ladies and their prejudices.  You leave it to me!" cried the jovial
doctor, and tramped downstairs into the parlour to give his orders
forthwith.

A little diplomacy, a little coaxing, a few words of warning to revive
affectionate anxiety, a good big dose of flattery, and the thing was
done; and, what was better still, Aunt Margaret was left under the happy
delusion that the projected visit was the outcome of her own
inspiration.  She said nothing to the invalid, but at half-past three
that afternoon she put on her woollen crossover, and a black silk
muffler, and her best silk dolman, and dear Aunt Sarah's sable pelerine,
and her Sunday bonnet, and new black kid gloves, two sizes too big,
carried her tortoiseshell card-case in one hand, and her umbrella in the
other, and sailed across the road to call at Number Three.

Sylvia had gone back to bed after lunch by her own request.  The hair-
cutting ordeal had tired her out, and there was, besides, a deep-seated
wearing pain in one foot and ankle which made her long to lie still and
rest.  She tried to sleep, and after long waiting had just arrived at
that happy stage when thoughts grow misty, and a gentle prickling
feeling creeps up from the toes to the brain, when a patriotic barrel-
organ began to rattle out the strains of "Rule, Britannia" from the end
of the road, and the chance was gone.  Then Whitey read aloud for an
hour, but the book had come to a dull, uneventful stage, and the
chapters dragged heavily.

Sylvia longed for tea as an oasis in this desert of a day, and
despatched nurse to bid Mary bring it up half an hour before the usual
time.  And then came a charming surprise!  Back came Whitey all smiles
and dimples, the tired lines wiped out of her face as by a miracle.  She
stood in the doorway, looking at her patient with dancing eyes.

"I've brought you something better than tea!" she cried.  "Just look
what I have brought you!"  As she spoke she moved to the side, as if to
make room for another visitor, and--was it a dream, or could it really
be true?--there stood the bride of Number Three, the sweet-faced
Angelina, in her black dress, her grey eyes soft with welcome.

"Oh!" cried Sylvia shrilly.  "Oh--oh!"  She sat up in bed and stretched
out two thin little hands, all a-tremble with excitement.  "It's _you_!
Oh, how did you come?  What made you come?  How did you know I wanted
you so badly?"

"I wanted you too!" said the girl quickly.  She had a delightful voice;
soft, and deep, and musical in tone, and she was prettier than ever,
seen close at hand.  Best of all, she was not a bit shy, but as frank
and outspoken as if they had been friends of years' standing.  "Your
aunt called on me this afternoon," she went on, coming nearer the bed,
and sitting down on the chair which nurse placed for her.  "She invited
me to come to see you some day, but I've a dislike to waiting, if
there's a good thing in prospect, so I asked if I might come at once,
and here I am!  I'm so glad you wanted to see me.  I have watched you
from my window, ever since you first sat up in your pretty red jacket."

"And you looked up and smiled at me!  I have watched you too, and wanted
to know you so badly.  I've been ill for months, it seems like years,
and was so surprised to see that your house was taken.  You can't think
how strange it is to creep back to life, and see how everything has gone
on while you have lain still.  It's conceited, of course, to expect a
revolution of nature, just because you are out of things yourself, but I
didn't seem able to help it."

"I'm like that myself!" said the pretty girl pleasantly.  There was a
soft gurgle in her voice as of laughter barely repressed, and she
pronounced her i's with a faint broadening of accent, which was
altogether quaint and delightful.

Sylvia mentally repeated the phrase as it sounded in her ears, "Oi'm
like that meself!" and came to an instant conclusion.  "Irish!  She's
Irish.  I'm glad of that.  I like Irish people."  She smiled for pure
pleasure, and the visitor stretched out a hand impulsively, and grasped
the thin fingers lying on the counterpane.

"You poor creature, I'm grieved for you!  Tell me, is your name
Beatrice?  I'm dying to know, for we had a discussion about it at home,
and I said I was sure it was Beatrice.  I always imagine a Beatrice dark
like you, with brown eyes and arched eyebrows."

"I don't!  The only Beatrice I know is quite fair and fluffy.  No, I am
not Beatrice!"

"But you are not Helen!  I do hope you are not Helen.  The boys guessed
that, and they would be so triumphant if they were right."

"No, I'm not Helen either.  I'm Sylvia Trevor."

"'Deed, you are, then!  It's an elegant name.  I never knew anyone
living by it before, and it suits you, too.  I like it immensely.  Did
you,"--the grey eyes twinkled merrily--"did you find a nickname for me?"

Sylvia glanced at Whitey and smiled demurely.

"We called you Angelina.  Oh, we didn't think that was really your name,
but we called you by it because you looked so happy and er--er
affectionate, and pleased with everything.  And we called your husband
Edwin, to match.  Those are the proper names for newly-married couples,
you know."

The girl stared back with wide grey eyes, her chin dropped, and she sat
suddenly bolt upright in her chair.

"My _what_?" she gasped.  "My h--" She put her hands against her cheeks,
which had grown quite pink, and gurgled into the merriest, most
infectious laughter.  "But I'm not married at all!  It's my brother.  He
is not Edwin, he is Jack, and I'm Bridgie--Bridget O'Shaughnessy, just a
bit of a girl like yourself, and not even engaged."

Sylvia sank back in the bed with a great sigh of thanksgiving.

"What a relief!  I was so jealous of that husband, for I wanted you for
myself, and if you had been married you would have been too settled-down
and domestic to care for me.  I do hope we shall be friends.  I'm an
only child, and my father is abroad, and I pine to know someone of my
own age."

"I know; your aunt told me.  We talked about you all the time, for I had
been so interested and sorry about your illness, that I had no end of
questions to ask.  What a dear old lady she is!  I envy you having her
to live with.  I always think one misses so much if there is no old
person in the house to help with advice and example!"

The invalid moved restlessly on her pillows, and cast a curious glance
at her companion.  The grey eyes were clear and honest, the sweet lips
showed not the shadow of a smile; it was transparently apparent that she
was in earnest.

Sylvia felt a pang of apprehension lest her new friend was about to turn
out "proper," that acme of undesirable qualities to the girlish mind.
If that were so, the future would be robbed of much of its charm; but
the discussion of Aunt Margaret and her qualities must be deferred until
a greater degree of intimacy had shown Bridgie the difficulties, as well
as the advantages, of the situation.  In the meantime she was longing to
hear a little family history, and judiciously led the conversation in
the desired direction.

"You are four young people living alone, then? for I suppose the two
younger boys are brothers also.  How fond they seem of you!"

"Why, of course.  They dote upon me," said Miss O'Shaughnessy, with an
air of calm taking-for-granted which spoke volumes for the character of
the family.  Then she began to smile, and the corners of her lips
twisted with humorous enjoyment.  "I wouldn't be saying that we don't
have a breeze now and again, just to vary the monotony; but we admire
one another the more for the spirit in us.  And it's pleasant having an
even number, for we can fight two against two, and no unfairness.  Maybe
they are a bit more attentive than usual just now, for they have been
without me most of the winter, poor creatures!  We have had a troublous
time of it these last two years.  My dear father died the spring before
last, and we had to leave our home in Ireland.  Then one sister was
married, and another went to Paris for her education, so there were two
_trousseaux_ to prepare, and when all the fuss and excitement was over I
was worn-out, and the doctor said I must do nothing but rest for some
months to come.  The boys went into lodgings, while I junketed about
visiting friends, and they are so pleased to get into a place of their
own again, that they don't know how to knock about the furniture enough,
or make the most upset!"

It seemed to Sylvia an extraordinary manner of appreciating the delights
of housekeeping, and she attempted to condole with the young mistress,
only to be interrupted with laughing complacency.

"'Deed, I don't mind.  Let them enjoy themselves, poor dears.  It's
depressing to boy creatures to have to think about carpets and cushions,
and have no ease at their writing for fear of a spot of ink.  I care far
more about seeing them happy, than having the furniture spick and span.
What was it made for, if it wasn't to be used?"

Sylvia groaned heavily.

"Wait until you have been in our drawing-room!" she said.  "The chairs
were originally covered in cherry-coloured repp,--over that is a cover
of flowered chintz,--over that is a cover of brown holland,--over that
is a capacious antimacassar,--over that, each night of the week, is
carefully draped a linen dust sheet.  The carpet is covered with a
drugget, the ornaments are covered with glass shades, the fire-screen is
covered with crackly oilskin.  Even the footstools have little hoods to
draw on over the beadwork.  I have lived here for two years, and on one
occasion we got down as far as the chintz stratum, when Cousin Mary
Robinson and dear Mrs MacDugal from Aberdeen came to stay for the
night, but my eyes have never yet been dazzled by the glory of the
cherry-coloured repp."

Bridgie lengthened her chin, and shook her head from side to side, with
a comical air of humiliation.

"Ah, well, tidiness is a gift.  It runs in the family like wooden legs.
Some have got it, and others haven't, so they must just be resigned to
their fate.  I'm going to see these repp covers, though!  I'll wheedle
and wheedle until one cover comes off after another, and never feel that
I have done credit to Old Ireland until I get down to the foundation."
She rose from her chair, and held out a hand in farewell.  "Nurse said I
was to stay only a few minutes, as you were tired already, but I may
come to tea another day if you would like to have me."

"Oh, do, please!  Come often!  You can't think how I should love it.
Will you come for a drive with me some day, when it is bright and
sunny?"

"I will.  We could have a nice chat as we went along.  I have not told
you about my sisters yet.  I have the dearest sisters in the world!"
said Bridgie O'Shaughnessy.



CHAPTER THREE.

FAMILY PORTRAITS.

Bright and sunny days are not common in November, but the invalid
managed to go out driving in such fine blinks as came along, and in each
instance "Angelina" was seated by her side.  The friendship was
progressing with giant strides, and doctor and nurse looked upon Bridgie
O'Shaughnessy as their greatest assistant in a period of great anxiety.

Sylvia was now able to sit up and work and read; head and eyes had come
back to their normal condition, but the treacherous disease had left its
poison in foot and ankle, and the pain on movement became more and more
acute.  It required all the cheer that the new friend could give to
hearten the invalid when once more she was sent back to counterpane
land, with a big cage over the affected part to protect it from the
bedclothes, and all manner of painful and exhausting dressings to be
undergone.

Sylvia fumed, and grumbled, and whined; she grew sulky and refused to
speak; she waxed angry and snapped at the nurse.  Worst of all, she lost
hope, and shed slow, bitter tears, which scalded the thin cheeks.

"I shall never get better, Whitey," she sobbed miserably.  "I shan't
try; it's too much trouble.  You might as well leave me alone to die in
peace."

"It's not a question of dying, my dear.  It's a question of healing your
foot.  If I leave you in peace, you may be lame for life.  How would you
like that?" said Whitey bluntly.  She knew her patient by this time, and
understood that while the idea of fading away in her youth might appear
sufficiently romantic, Miss Sylvia would find nothing attractive in the
prospect of limping ungracefully through life.  The dressings and
bandagings were endured meekly enough after that, but the girl's heart
was full of dread, and the long dark days were hard to bear.

It became a rule that, instead of taking the meal alone, Bridgie
O'Shaughnessy should come across the road to tea, and sit an hour in the
sick-room while Whitey wrote letters or went out for a constitutional.
She came with hands full of photographs and letters and family trophies,
to give point to her conversation, and make her dear ones live in
Sylvia's imagination.

One day there was a picture of the old home--such a venerable and
imposing building that Aunt Margaret, beholding it, felt her last
suspicions of counterfeit coining die a natural death, and gave
instructions to Mary that the second-best tea-things were to be taken
upstairs whenever Miss O'Shaughnessy was present.  Sylvia was impressed
too, but thought it very sad that anyone who had lived in a castle
should come down to Number Three, Rutland Road.  She delicately hinted
as much, and Bridgie said--

"Yes, it would be hard if we took it seriously, but we don't.  It's just
like being in seaside lodgings, when the smallnesses and inconveniences
make part of the fun.  We are going home some day, when Jack has made
his fortune, and until then my brother-in-law rents the Castle from us,
and we go over and stay with him once or twice in the year.  Esmeralda
is mistress of Knock, and is having it put in such terrible order that
we can hardly recognise the dear old tumbledown place.  There is not a
single broken pane in the glass-houses!"  Bridgie spoke in a tone of
almost incredulous admiration, the while she drew a large promenade
photograph from its envelope.  "There, that's Esmeralda!  Taken in the
dress in which she was presented."

Sylvia looked, and gasped with surprise.  Such a vision of beauty and
elegance, such billows of satin, such lace, such jewels and nodding
plumes, were seldom seen in this modest suburban neighbourhood.  She had
never before had any connection with a girl who had been presented at
Court, and the face which looked out of the photograph was as young as
her own--startlingly, dazzlingly young.

"Your sister?  Really!  How per-fectly lovely and beautiful!  Is she
really as pretty as that?  How old is she?  What is her husband like?
Is she very happy?  She must be very rich to have all those beautiful
things."

"She has more money than she can spend.  Can you imagine that?  I
can't!" said Bridgie solemnly.  "I asked Esmeralda what it felt like to
be able to get whatever she liked without asking the price, and she said
it was very soothing to the feelings, but not nearly so exciting as when
she used to make up new hats out of nothing at all and a piece of dyed
ribbon.  She is only twenty--younger than I, and as beautiful as a
picture.  Geoffrey adores her.  She has a dear little baby boy to play
with, and wherever she goes people turn round to look after her, so that
she walks about from morning till night in a kind of triumphal
procession."

"How nice!" sighed Sylvia enviously.  "Just what I should like.  No one
turns round to look after me, and I feel a worm every time I walk down
Bond Street among all the horrible creatures who look nicer than I do
myself.  People say--sensible old people, I mean--that it is bad for the
character to have everything that one wants.  Do you think it is so in
your sister's case?  Is she spoiled by prosperity?"

Esmeralda's sister hesitated, loyally unwilling to breathe a word
against a member of her family.

"She is just as loving and generous as she can be; thinks of every
single thing that father would have liked, and makes a perfect mistress
of the old place.  The people adore her, and are in wholesome awe of
her, too--far more so than they ever were of me.  The boys get cross
sometimes because she expects us to do exactly what she wishes, and that
immediately, if not sooner, but it doesn't worry me.  I agree with all
she says, and then quietly go my own way, and the next time we meet she
has forgotten all about it.  She is just the least in the world inclined
to be overbearing, but we all have our faults, and can't afford to judge
each other.  She has been a dear sweet sister to me!"

Bridgie smoothed the tissue paper carefully over the portrait and put it
back in its envelope.  Then she picked up a smaller photograph from the
table, and her face glowed with tenderness and pride.  "Now!" she cried,
and her voice was as a herald's trumpet announcing the advent of the
principal character upon the stage.  "Now, here she comes!  Here's
Pixie!  Here's our Baby!"

Sylvia sat up eagerly and held the photograph up to the light.  She
looked at it, and blinked her eyes to be sure she had seen aright.  She
cast a swift look at Bridgie's face to assure herself that she was not
the victim of a practical joke.  She pressed her lips together to
repress an exclamation of dismay.  She had expected to behold a vision
of loveliness--the superlative in the scale in which the two elder
sisters made positive and comparative, but what she saw was an elf-like
figure sitting huddled in the depths of an arm-chair, with tiny hands
clasped together, and large dilapidated boots occupying the place of
honour in the foreground.  Lank tails of hair fell to the shoulders, and
while the nose was of the smallest possible dimensions, the mouth seemed
to stretch right across the face.  It seemed impossible that this
comical little creature could belong to such a handsome and
distinguished-looking family, still more so that her belongings should
be proud of her rather than ashamed, yet there sat Bridgie all beams and
expectancy, her sweet lips a-tremble with tenderness.

"That's little Pixie!  Esmeralda gave her two shillings for unpicking
some old dresses, and she went into the village and got photographed for
my birthday present.  There was a travelling photographer down for a
week, and it's wonderfully like her for eighteenpence.  The other
sixpence she spent on a frame--green plush, with shells at the corners.
Esmeralda had remarks to make when I put it on the drawing-room
mantelpiece, and offered to give me a silver one instead."  Bridgie
smiled and shook her head with an expression which showed that the price
of the green plush frame was above rubies.  "No, indeed!  It's not
likely I will give up Pixie's present."

"She is not very like any of you!"  Sylvia said lamely.  She wanted to
be pleasant and appreciative, but could not think what on earth to say
next.  "It must be--er--very nice to have a little sister.  She is in
Paris, you say.  Will she be away long?"

"She is coming home for good in January.  Geoffrey and Esmeralda are
going over to bring her back, and she will go on with finishing lessons
at home.  We can't do without each other any longer.  I feel quite sore
with wanting her sometimes, and she is home-sick too.  I had a letter
from her this morning.  Would you like me to read it to you to show you
what she is like?"

"Please do!" said Sylvia politely, but in reality she was rather bored
by the prospect.

It was one of Aunt Margaret's peculiarities that she insisted upon
reading aloud the letters which she received from old-lady friends, and
the incredible dulness of the epistles made them a trial to the patience
of her lively young niece.  She stifled a yawn as Bridgie straightened
the sheets of foreign note-paper, and cleared her throat with
prospective enjoyment.

  "`Dearest, Darling People, especially Bridgie,--I was gladder than
  ever to get your letters this week, because it's been raining and
  dull, and the mud looked so home-like that it depressed my spirits.
  Therese has gone out for the day, so Pere and I are alone.  He wears
  white socks and a velvet jacket, and sleeps all the time.  He told me
  one day that he used to be very active when he was young, and that was
  why he liked to rest now.  "All the week I do nozzing, and on Sundays
  I repose me!"  I teach him English, but he doesn't like to talk it
  much, because it's so difficult to be clever in a foreign language.

  "`My dear, I never suffered more than when I first came here, and
  Therese telling everyone how amusing I was, and myself sitting as dumb
  as a mummy!  I can talk quite beautifully now, and wriggle about like
  a native.  I'll teach you how to shrug your shoulders, and you hold up
  your dress quite differently in France, and it's fashionable to be
  fat.  Last night Therese let me have two girls for _souper_.  They are
  called Marie and Julie, and wear plaid dresses, and combs in their
  hair.  I like them frightfully, but they are very rude sometimes,
  saying France is better than England, and that we have big teeth and
  ugly boots.  Then they got angry because I laughed, and said England
  always thought she was right, but that everyone else knew she was a
  cheat and a bully, and that she was the most disliked nation on earth!
  "And you are the politest," says I, quite composed, and at that they
  got red in the face, for I was all alone, and there were two of them
  in their own country.

  "`When they went away they kissed me, and said they were sorry, and
  that my teeth weren't big a bit, and I said France was an elegant
  country, but you couldn't wear high heels in Ireland, or you'd never
  be free of the bog.  It's a pity French people don't like us, and I
  don't think they always mean exactly what they say, but they make
  beautiful things to eat.

  "`Therese gives me cooking lessons out of school hours, and I've lost
  my taste for coffee with grounds in it, like we had at Knock.
  Everything is as clean as if it were quite new, and there is such a
  different smell in the houses--a lonely smell!  It makes me long for
  home and you, and a peat fire, and all the people in the streets
  speaking English, and never as much as thinking of the tenses of
  verbs.

  "`You are quite sure I may come home in January, aren't you, Bridgie?
  You are not saying it just to pacify me?  I'll tell you a secret!
  Once I thought of running away and coming back to you in London,
  because I couldn't bear myself any longer.  I said to Therese, just in
  a careless kind of way, as if I had only thought of it that moment:
  "Supposing now that a young girl was in Paris, and wanting to run away
  to her friends in England, how would she set about getting there?"

  "`And she never suspected a bit, for she said:--

  "`"Supposing that she lived in this suburb, it would be quite easy to
  manage.  She should rest tranquil until the family were in bed, and no
  one in the streets but thieves and robbers, and then slip out of the
  house and walk to the station.  There would be no _voiture_, but
  perhaps the thieves may not see her, and all of them do not care about
  kidnapping children.  When she reaches the station, she will take her
  ticket for England--it costs but a few sovereigns--and she has only to
  change twice, and get through the custom-house.  If all went well, she
  would be in London next morning, while the poor friends in Paris might
  cry as much as they liked--they could not bring her back."

  "`She seemed to think it quite easy, but I was afraid of the thieves,
  and had only three francs in my purse; and that afternoon they were
  both awfully kind to me, and Pere called me _cherie_, and Therese took
  me to the circus.  The clown is called August, but the principal one
  is English, because they are the best.  He made English jokes, and I
  laughed as loudly as I could, to show that I understood.  The other
  people smiled with their lips, don't you know--the way people do when
  they don't understand, but think it is grand to pretend.  I feel so
  stylish being English in France.  When I come home to London, I'll be
  French!

  "`Esmeralda sent me a book and some money for Christmas presents.
  Tell Jack to write me a funny letter with illustrations.  How is the
  poor girl with the bark on the road?  We haven't a single animal in
  the house, not even a cat.  I miss them frightfully.  Do you remember
  when my ferret died, and I filled up to cry, and the Major bought me a
  white rat for consolation?  Health, and tons of love, darling, from
  your own Pixie.'"

Sylvia chuckled softly from the bed.

"It's not a scrap like a letter," she said.  "It is just like somebody
talking.  What a jolly little soul!  She seems very young, doesn't she?
Some girls of sixteen are quite young ladies."

"Pixie will always be a child," said Pixie's sister fondly.  "There is
something simple and trustful about her which will keep her young all
her life.  She is so transparently honest, that it never occurs to her
that anyone else can be different; and she is the kindest, most loving
little creature that was ever created.  Don't you think she looks a
darling in the photograph?"

It had come at last, the dreaded question, and Sylvia tried her best to
combine truthfulness with politeness.

"She has very sweet eyes.  It is difficult to judge when you have never
seen a person.  She--she isn't exactly pretty, is she?"

"_Pretty_--Pixie pretty!  I should think not, indeed!" cried Bridgie,
with a heat of denial which seemed singularly out of keeping with the
occasion.  From the manner of her reply it was evident that she
considered Pixie's plainness a hundred times more _distingue_ than
Esmeralda's beauty.  "She's the quaintest-looking little creature that
ever you set eyes on, with the dearest, funniest face!  Father used to
call her the ugliest child in Galway.  He was so proud of her, bless
him!"

Bridgie sighed pensively, and Sylvia stared at her with curious eyes.
So far she had made the acquaintance of but one member of the
O'Shaughnessy family, but it seemed as though they took the various
trials and vicissitudes of life in a very different spirit from the
people with whom she herself had associated.  Instead of moaning over
the inevitable, they discerned the humour of the situation, and in happy
fashion turned the trial into a joke.

"I wonder," sighed Sylvia to herself, "I wonder where the joke comes in
in losing your hair.  I suppose she would say it was so cool to be
bald!"  Not even to herself would she put into words the deeper,
crueller dread which lay hauntingly in the background of her mind!



CHAPTER FOUR.

DREAD.

The foot refused to heal, and one morning a well-known surgeon followed
Dr Horton into the sick-room.  The very sound of his name was as a
death-knell to the girl in the bed, but she controlled herself by a
mighty effort, and strained every nerve to watch the faces of her
attendants during the examination which followed.  She knew that they
would keep up appearances in her presence, and so long as possible hide
the worst from her knowledge; but if she appeared unsuspicious they
would perhaps be less careful, and a stray word, an interchange of
glances, might show the direction of their thoughts.  She lay perfectly
still, not even flinching with pain when the diseased bone was touched,
for the tension of mind was so great as to eclipse bodily suffering; but
the cool, business-like manner of the great surgeon gave no hint of his
decision, while Dr Horton was as cheerful, Whitey as serenely composed,
as on ordinary occasions.

The cage was replaced over the foot, the bedclothes put in order, a few
pleasant commonplaces exchanged, and the trio adjourned for
consultation.  Trained to their work of self-repression, not one of them
had given the slightest hint of what was feared, but their precautions
were undone by the thoughtless haste of the watcher outside.

Miss Munns was hovering about the landing awaiting the verdict, and
trembling at the thought of the news which she might have to send to her
brother, when the door opened and the surgeon came towards her.  Dr
Horton and the nurse followed, and before the door was closed behind
them an eager whisper burst from her lips--

"Can you save it?  Must you ampu--"

Before the word was completed the surgeon's hand was over her lips,
Whitey brought to the door with a bang, and three pale faces stared at
each other in consternation.  Had Sylvia heard?  Could she have
overheard?  That was the question which was agitating every mind.  They
strained their ears for a cry from the sick-room, but no cry came.
Whitey looked at the doctor and made a movement towards the door, and he
bent his head in assent.

"Yes!  Go in as if you had forgotten something.  She may have fainted.
Poor child, it was enough to make her!"

Tears of remorse were standing in Aunt Margaret's eyes, but she waited
silently enough now while Whitey re-entered the room and strolled across
to the window to pick up the book in which she wrote the daily report.
She smiled at Sylvia as she passed, and Sylvia looked at her quietly,
quite quietly, and the dark eyes showed no signs of tears.  Whitey went
back to the doctors with lightened face, and eased their minds by a
definite assurance.

"She heard nothing.  She is lying quite still and composed.  She cannot
possibly have heard."

They turned and went downstairs to the dining-room.  Sylvia heard their
footsteps die away in the distance, the opening and shutting of the
door.  The brown eyes shone with unnatural brilliancy, the hot hands
were clasped tightly together beneath the sheet.

"God," she was crying deep down in her soul, "do You really mean it?
I've been very wicked often, I've forgotten You and taken my own way,
but I'm so young--only twenty-one--don't make me lame!  I'll be good,
I'll think of other people, I'll be grateful all my life.  Don't make me
lame!  Think what it means to a girl like me to lose her foot!  I have
no mother, nor brothers, nor sisters, and father is far-away.  It would
be so dreadful to be shut up here and never, never run about any more.
Have pity on me.  _Don't make me lame_!"

It was a cry from the depths of her heart, very different from the
formal prayers which she was accustomed to offer morning and evening--a
plea for help such as she would have addressed to her dear earthly
father in any of the minor difficulties of life, but in this great
crisis of her fate she must needs go straight to the fountain of
comfort--the Great Physician who was able to save the soul as well as
the body.

All the rest of the day, as she lay so quietly on her pillows, she was
talking to Him, pleading for deliverance, setting forth pathetic girlish
arguments why she should be spared the coming trial.  When the thought
arose of many others younger than herself who were leading maimed lives,
she thrust the memory aside as something which could not be faced, and
her lips refused to utter the words which she had been taught to affix
to her petitions.  "`Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done.'  I
can't say it, Lord.  I can't mean it!" she cried tremblingly.  "Not yet!
Forgive me, and be patient with me.  I'm so frightened!" and even as
the prayer went up, the assurance came into her soul that the Heavenly
Father would understand, and show towards her the divinest of sympathy
and patience.

For some reason which she would have found difficult to explain to
herself Sylvia felt an intense disinclination to let her attendants know
what she had overheard.  She perceived that they were more than usually
tender towards herself, and they on their part were puzzled by the quiet
of the once restless patient.  She grumbled no more about small
unpleasantnesses--oh, how small they seemed!  She was content to lie
still and think her own thoughts, and seemed to have lost all interest
in the ordinary events of the day.

Only once in the twenty-four hours did a smile light up the set face,
and that was when Bridgie O'Shaughnessy appeared for her afternoon
visit, and seated herself by the bedside.  On one of these occasions, a
week after the surgeon's first visit, Whitey went out for, her daily
walk, and Sylvia watched her go and peered anxiously round the screen to
make sure that the door was really shut.  Then she stretched out her
hand, and gripped Bridgie by the wrist.  It was a very thin, feeble-
looking hand, but the grip had nothing feeble about it--it was almost
painful in its strength, and the brown eyes had a glazed misery of
expression which made Bridgie tremble at the thought of what was to
come.

"Bridget O'Shaughnessy, you call yourself my friend.  Will you tell me
the truth?"

"I'll not promise that, me dear.  I'll not deceive you about anything if
I can help it, but you are an invalid, and there are some questions
which you should not ask me.  Only the doctor should answer them."

But Sylvia went on with her story as if she had not heard the protest.

"The other morning Sir Alfred Heap came to see my foot.  He said very
little about it to me, and after examining it, went out of the room to
consult with Dr Horton.  Aunt Margaret was waiting for them on the
landing, and they were not quick enough in shutting the door.  I heard
what she said.  To-morrow morning Sir Alfred is coming again.
Bridgie,--_is he going to cut off my foot_?"

"He is not, darling.  He is going to give you chloroform and do
something to the bone to try to make it sound and healthy again."

"And if that fails, will he cut it off then?"

"He will operate again, and go on trying as long as he dare."

"And if everything else fails, then--"

"Yes, Sylvia," said Bridgie gently.

Downstairs in the dining-room Miss Munns had been consulting with Whitey
as to how the patient was to be prepared for the ordeal of to-morrow,
and by whom the news should be broken.  Whitey had taken the task upon
herself with the unselfish heroism of her profession, but her pretty
face was worn with the strain of this long anxious case, and Bridgie's
heart had ached for her in her painful task.  Now, in the midst of her
own agitation, she felt a thrill of unselfish joy that she had been able
to take one burden at least from those heavily-laden shoulders.

Sylvia knew not only of the ordeal of the morrow, but also of that
nightmare dread of what might have to follow.  She had known it for a
week past, and had lain quietly on her bed with all the horror and
misery of it locked up in her own heart.  Such restraint seemed almost
incredible to the outspoken Irish nature, but Bridgie's words of
admiration brought an added shade over the invalid's face.

"No, it was not bravery, it was cowardice!  I was like an ostrich hiding
my head in the ground for fear of what I might see.  I literally dare
not ask until it came to the last moment.  Oh, Bridgie, what a week it
has been!  Going to sleep with the weight on my heart; waking up and
thinking, `What is it?  What is it?' and the shock of remembering
afresh!  I lay and thought it all out; never to be able to run, nor
bicycle, nor skate, nor dance, nor even walk without crutches, to dread
going upstairs, to be cut off from girls of my own age because I could
not take part in their amusements, to hear people say `Poor thing!' and
look pitifully at me as I hobbled by.  I've tried to be resigned and
take it like invalids in books, but--I can't!  I feel desperate.
Bridgie, suppose it was you!  How would you feel?"

"I should cry myself ill for two or three days, and then brisk up and be
thankful that if it was one foot, it wasn't two!" said Bridgie quaintly.
"That is, if I were quite certain about it, but I never believe in
disagreeable things until they have really happened.  Hope for the best
as long as you can.  You have clever doctors and nurses, and you will
have a better chance if you keep up your spirits."

Sylvia shook her head hopelessly.

"It's easy to be philosophic for someone else.  I could preach
beautifully to you, Bridgie, if you were lying here instead of me, but
the suspense is so hard to bear!  I feel as if I could not live through
another week like the last.  Have you ever known what it was to drag
through the days with a nightmare of dread growing bigger and bigger,
nearer and nearer, to look ahead and see your life robbed of the things
you care for most, to hope against hope, while all the time your heart
is sinking down--down--"

"Down--until it is just one great big ache clouding out the whole world?
Yes, I know!" said Bridgie quietly.  "I have never had a bad illness,
but my trouble came to me in a different way, Sylvia, and my time of
suspense was not days, but weeks and months, I might almost say years,
except that even my hopes died out before that time arrived!"

The two girls looked at each other intently, and the blank depression on
the invalid's face gave place to one of anxious sympathy.

"You mean, of course, that it was a mental trouble.  Could you tell me
about it, Bridgie, do you think?  I don't want to force your confidence,
but I am so interested in you, and it would do me good to be sorry for
someone beside myself.  Was it a--love affair?"

"I cared for him, but I am afraid he could not have liked me very much,"
said Bridgie sadly.  "I have never spoken of him except to Esmeralda and
one other person, but I don't mind telling you, dear, if it will be the
least bit of help to you now.  We seem to know each other so well that
it seems absurd to think we had not met, two months ago.

"It was just someone I met one time when I was visiting, and when he was
ordered abroad he asked if he might write while he was away.  I was very
happy about it, for I had never seen anyone I liked so much, and we
wrote to each other regularly for over a year.  They were not love-
letters; just quite ordinary, sensible, telling-the-news, but there was
always one little sentence in his which seemed to say more than the
words, and to tell me that he cared a great deal.  If a stranger had
read it, he would not have understood, but I knew what he meant, and I
used to skim over the pages until I came to those few words, and they
were the whole letter to me.

"Looking back now I can see how I lived in expectation of mail day, but
suddenly his letters stopped.  When father was pronounced hopelessly
ill, I sent him a hurried note, saying that we should have to leave the
Castle, for all the money was gone, and from that day to this I have
heard no more.  It was very hard coming just then, Sylvia!

"For the first few months I was not really uneasy, though very
disappointed.  I knew that a soldier's life is not always his own, and
that he might have been ordered to a part of the country where it was
impossible to send off letters, but then I read his name as taking part
in some function in Bombay, and I knew that could be the case no longer.
I would not tell Esmeralda to depress her in the midst of her
happiness, so I just sat tight and waited, and the time was very long.

"When it came near mail day my hopes would go up, for it's my nature to
be cheerful.  The postman would knock at the door, and my heart would go
head over heels with excitement, and it would be a circular, or a bill
wanting payment.  Another time he would not come at all, and that was
worse, for one went on drearily hoping and hoping, and pretending that
the clock was fast.  Now I forget mail days on purpose, for it is nearly
eighteen months since he wrote last, and I have given up all hope of
hearing."

Sylvia drew a deep sigh, and knitted her forehead.

"I can't believe that anyone could forget you when he had once cared.
You are so different from other girls.  It is most strange and
mysterious.  Do you think that perhaps--you won't mind my suggesting
it--the money had some influence with him?  Perhaps he thought you were
an heiress--at any rate, that your people were rich and influential, and
when he heard that you were poor he may have changed."

"No!" said Bridgie decisively.  "No, I won't think it!  I won't let
myself think so badly of anyone for whom I have cared so much.  I don't
know what his reasons were, and perhaps I never shall, but I would
rather believe the best.  Some people don't find it easy to remember
when they are far-away, and he might have a delicacy in writing to say
that he had forgotten!

"If I had still been Miss O'Shaughnessy of Knock, I should have sent
just one more letter to ask if anything was wrong, but I had too much
pride to obtrude myself as Bridgie of nowhere.  I have no reason to
believe that my letter went astray, and even if it had, he would have
written again if he had wished to hear.  He is alive and well, I know so
much, and I'm well too, and very happy with my boys.  I had a bad time
of it, and the suspense had more to do with making me ill than the hard
work of that summer; but now I have faced the worst, and have far too
much to do to be able to mope.  Boys are such cheering creatures!  They
give you so much work.  The very darning of their socks is a
distraction!"

"It would distract me in a very different way!" said Sylvia, with a
smile.



CHAPTER FIVE.

AN INVITATION.

The operation was successful and unsuccessful--that is to say, the fear
of amputation was removed; but it became abundantly evident that it
would be a very long time before Sylvia recovered the power of walking
about with ease.

A few weeks earlier she would have been heartbroken at the prospect of a
spell of crippledom, but the greater troubles eclipse the less, and
compared with that other paralysing dread, it was a passing
inconvenience at which she could afford to smile.

Poor child! her first impulse on recovering from the chloroform had been
to dive to the bottom of the bed to feel if the foot were still there,
and her elastic spirits went up with a bound as she listened to the
surgeon's reassuring report.  She was perfectly willing to lie on the
sofa and give up all idea of Christmas festivities, willing, in fact, in
the relief and joy of the moment, to promise anything and everything if
only she might look forward to unimpaired strength in the future.

As for Miss Munns, she rejoiced with grumbling, as her custom was,
mingling thankful speeches with plaints for her own deprivations, to the
mingled distress and amusement of her hearers.  Christmas was drawing
near, and there had been no time to prepare for the proper keeping of
the festival, for cook had been too much occupied with jellies and beef-
teas to have any time to spare.  There were no mince-pies in the larder,
no plum-puddings in their fat cloth wrappings, no jars of lemon cheese,
no cakes, no shortbread, not so much as a common bun-loaf, and Aunt
Margaret hung her head, and felt that a blot had fallen upon her
escutcheon.

"I can't fancy Christmas with bought mince-pies!" she said sadly.  "I've
kept house for forty years and never failed to make four plum-puddings--
one for Christmas Day, one for New Year, one for company, and one for
Easter.  Some people make them without eggs nowadays, but I keep to the
old recipe.  My mother's plum-puddings were quite famous among her
friends.  Of course, my dear, we have great cause for thankfulness, and
I should have had no appetite if you had lost your foot; but it really
upsets me to look at that larder!  How many pounds of mincemeat have
_you_ made, Miss O'Shaughnessy, may I ask?"

Sylvia was lying on the sofa in the drawing-room, to which she had been
carried in time for tea, and Bridgie was sitting beside her, looking
with wondering eyes at the muffled splendours which she now beheld for
the first time.  She blushed as she heard the question, and adroitly
evaded an answer, for, to tell the truth, she bought her pies from the
pastry-cook, and congratulated herself on the saving of trouble.

"Oh, indeed, we get through a great deal, for the boys think nothing of
three pies at a sitting.  I'd be obliged to you, Miss Munns, if you
would lend me your recipe for the pudding, for my cook is not the
cleverest in the world, and, as Jack says, there is no monotony about
her results.  If she does a thing well three times, there's all the more
chance that it will be wrong the fourth, when you are encouraged to ask
a friend to dinner."

Aunt Margaret sawed the air with her mittened hands, and shook her cap
in solemn denunciation.

"Method, my dear--method!  They won't take the trouble to measure the
ingredients, but just trust to chance, so what can you expect?  You
shall have the recipe with pleasure, but if you take my advice you will
look after the weighing yourself.  Are you expecting any friends for the
day, or perhaps one of your sisters?"

"No--we shall be quite alone.  My married sister wanted us all to go to
Ireland, but the boys cannot spare the time, and I will not leave them."
Bridgie sighed, and a shadow passed over her face.  "It won't seem like
Christmas to have no coming nor going, and Esmeralda and Pixie so far-
away.  I have been trying to think of a diversion for the boys, but I
might spare myself the trouble, for I've no money to pay for it if I had
the idea."

"Straitness of means is a great curtailer of pleasure," said Miss Munns,
gazing solemnly into space over the edge of her spectacles.  "In my own
family we have had sad experiences of the kind.  My great-uncle was in
most comfortable circumstances, and kept his own brougham and peach-
houses before the failure of the Glasgow Bank.  They removed to Syringa
Villas after that, and did the washing at home.  I shall never forget
calling upon Emma the first Tuesday that the clothes were hanging out to
dry in the back garden, and finding her in tears, with the blinds drawn
down.  She had a great deal of family pride, had poor Emma, for her
mother belonged to the leading circles in Wolverhampton, and the steam
of clothes in the boiler is most depressing unless you have been brought
up to it from a child.  George died soon after.  He never held up his
head again, and Emmeline, the daughter, had a very good offer from a
corn-broker.  She was a fine-looking girl, with black eyes and her poor
father's nose.  She looked very well in the evening, when she was
dressed, and had a colour."

"And did she marry the corn-broker?" queried Bridgie eagerly.

Sylvia was flushed and frowning, more than half ashamed of the old
lady's disclosures, fearful lest they might affect her own importance in
the estimation of a friend who had lived in a Castle, and owned a sister
who went to Court, and profoundly uninterested in Emmeline and her
destiny; but Bridgie was all animation and curiosity, her grey eyes wide
with anxiety as to the success of the corn-broker and his suit.  Here,
indeed, was a listener worth having, and Miss Munns warmed to her task
with even more than the usual enjoyment.

"My dear, you would hardly believe the time poor Emma had with that
girl!  She took a fancy to a bank clerk on two hundred a year, and
nothing would suit but she must be engaged to him.  He gave her a
turquoise ring, I remember--a shabby thing that could not have cost more
than a sovereign, and Emma was quite mortified when people asked to see
it.  They were engaged for five years, and she lost all her looks, and
he had a bicycling accident, and hurt his right arm so badly that he
could not write.

"Emma insisted that the engagement should be broken off, but the stupid
girl would not listen to reason.  She had a little legacy from her
godmother about that time, and his father allowed him something, so they
were married, and went abroad to try a cure for his arm.  He is back at
work again, and they seem happy enough; but it was a poor match for her,
and they can only afford one servant.  The corn-broker said he could
never look at a girl again, but he married one of the Miss Twemlows
within the year.  Perhaps you know the Twemlows?  They are a very well-
known family in their suburb."

No, Bridgie did not know them, but her expression seemed to denote that
she was quite ready to listen to their family history, in addition to
those which she had already heard.  But this was more than Sylvia could
bear, and she hastened to interrupt the flow of her aunt's
reminiscences.

"You have not heard from Aunt Emma lately--at least, you have not told
me of her letters.  I suppose you have not seen her while I have been
ill?"

Miss Munns pursed up her lips in a manner which seemed to imply that she
was in possession of some weighty secret, but from motives of prudence
was resolved to conceal it from the world.

"I have heard from her, my dear.  I have not seen her.  As I said in my
reply, everything must give way to illness, though I am very sorry
indeed to think of her alone in the house.  Emmeline can't leave the
baby, so it is only natural that her mother should want some
companionship over Christmas.  I would have had her here instead, but
the house is so upset that I am not prepared for visitors.  It is very
pleasant meeting from time to time, being contemporaries as we are, and
having gone through so many troubles together.  There is nothing I enjoy
more than talking them over with your Aunt Emma, and I am grieved to
disappoint her.  Of course I made up my mind from the first to say
nothing about it to you."

Now it was Bridgie's turn to look blank, and Sylvia's to question
anxiously.

"Do you mean that she invited you for Christmas, and that you refused
because of me?  Oh, Aunt Margaret, you must not do that!  You need a
change, and it would be a relief to have all arrangements taken off your
hands.  Whitey and I could manage quite well by ourselves.  Do please
change your mind and write to say that you will go!"

"My love, I assure you that I considered the matter very carefully
before I decided, and it is impossible for me to leave home.  I have
promised nurse that she shall spend two days with her sister, coming
round each morning to attend to your foot, and I should not like to
disappoint her.  It is only natural that she should wish to be with her
own friends.  I sympathise with her, but I don't complain.  It is not
your fault that your illness has upset my plans, and it is my duty to be
resigned and cheerful."

Aunt Margaret testified to her sense of duty by heaving a sigh of
funereal proportions, the while Sylvia's brow became fretted with lines,
and she turned a glance of despair upon her friend.

To be condemned to spend Christmas alone with Aunt Margaret in this mood
of melancholy resignation; to realise that she had deprived her of the
happiness of talking over past troubles with poor dear Emma; to listen
from morning to night to her transparently-veiled repinings--this was
indeed a cheerful prospect for an invalid, who might naturally have
expected to receive the sympathy herself.

"Aren't you sorry for me?" the brown eyes asked Bridgie mutely.  But,
lo!  Bridgie was radiant, her face one sparkle of animation, her hands
uplifted to hail the advent of a happy thought.

"The Diversion," she cried rapturously--"the Diversion!  I see it all,
and it is perfectly charming!  Sylvia shall be the diversion!  She shall
stay over the New Year with us; Miss Munns shall go to her friend and
talk over old times; nurse shall visit her sister and have a rest after
her hard work; I will look after Sylvia, and Sylvia shall flirt with the
boys, and keep them happy.  It's a perfectly charming arrangement all
round!"

"My dear!" cried Aunt Margaret in horrified protest against the last
item on the programme.  But Sylvia gave a chuckle of cheerful
complacency, and, so far from being overcome, looked so much revived by
the prospect that there could be no doubt as to the expediency of the
proposed visit, so far as health at least was concerned.

Miss Munns went through the form of protesting, but her objections were
easily waved aside, for to tell the truth she was only too ready to be
persuaded, and her objections had no deeper root than the belief that it
was not polite to seize too eagerly on an invitation.

"I could not think of it, my dear!  Such an upset for you.  You don't
know how much work an invalid makes in the house!  She has to be carried
up and down stairs, and waited on hand and foot!"

"I have three big strong boys, and you have only women in the house.
Pat could put her in his pocket, and not know there was anything there!"

"My dear--how can you!  It would take up your spare room, too, and make
so much ringing at the bell with nurse coming in the morning and the
doctor in the afternoon."

"But what a lesson it would be to me to see them attending to her!  So
useful for the next time the boys break their legs!  I love Whitey, and
feel better for it every time I see her sweet, kind face."

"If you had had to prepare meals at all hours of the night and day, you
would be sick of the sight of a nurse, however sweet she might look!  I
don't see why you should be upset, my dear, for the sake of my friend."

"Dear Miss Munns, I am thinking even more of my own friend.  It is
selfishness which makes me want to have Sylvia with me.  We would enjoy
being together and talking over our troubles just as you do.  Please let
her come!"

"Troubles, my dear--troubles?  Has your cook given notice?" cried Miss
Munns, her mind flying at once to domestic matters, and dwelling thereon
with accustomed enjoyment.  She had so many stories to tell of cooks who
had left their places immediately before Christmas, and of the tragic
consequences which followed, that the original subject of discussion
took a secondary position in her thoughts, and when Bridgie began
placidly to discuss arrangements, she fell into the trap with innocent
alacrity.  Sylvia could hardly believe her ears.  It seemed quite too
good to be true.  The week's holiday held out glorious possibilities of
enjoyment, and she began at once to count the hours which must elapse
before her departure.



CHAPTER SIX.

BRIDGIE'S PUDDING.

It was two days before Christmas, and Bridgie O'Shaughnessy enveloped
herself in a white apron, and pensively regarded the contents of the
larder.  In a couple of hours Sylvia was expected to arrive, and
meanwhile Mary the cook had been seized with an irresistible craving to
visit an invalid mother, and had taken herself off for the afternoon,
leaving the arrangements for dinner in the care of the young mistress,
and a still younger parlourmaid.

Mary's excuse for requesting leave of absence at so inconvenient a time
was somewhat contradictory and involved.  Her mother was failing fast,
and as it was a custom in the family to die in December, it was a
daughter's duty to visit her as often as possible; the shops were all
dressed-up for Christmas, and it was hard that a body should not get a
bit of pleasure sometimes, and the steak was stewed, and could be
"hotted up" at a moment's notice.  The invalid mother sat up for a
couple of hours in the afternoon only, so Mary must get to the house by
three o'clock at the latest, and would it matter if she were after
eleven in returning, as Christmas came but once a year?

Sweet Bridgie assented warmly to each proposition as it was put before
her, urged a speedy departure, and was rather inclined to think it would
be wise to stay at home for the night.  She could never find it in her
heart to deny a pleasure which it was in her power to grant, and was
gaily confident of managing "somehow" to prepare a palatable meal for
her guest, indeed, in the ardour of hospitality was rather pleased than
otherwise to have a hand in the preparations.

On the principle of "first catch your hare, then cook it," she looked
critically over the contents of the cupboards to find some ingredients
which commended themselves to her limited knowledge of the culinary art.
Gelatine had endless possibilities, but time was against her, and she
had the dimmest notions as to the quantity required; pastry was always
attainable, but on the one occasion when she had experimented in this
direction, Jack had taken the nutcrackers to divide his tartlet amidst
the cheers of an admiring audience, so that there was plainly no fame to
be won in this direction.

Milk puddings were too painfully ordinary, but a bag of macaroni seemed
to offer at once an easy and a tasty alternative.  Bridgie felt herself
quite capable of boiling the sticks into tenderness, and scraping down
cheese to add to the milky concoction, and a further search discovered a
dark yellow lump stowed away in the corner of a cupboard evidently
destined for such an end.  It was wonderfully hard; Bridgie's fingers
ached with the strain of cutting it, and she shook her pretty head
solemnly over the wastefulness of servants in not using up materials
before their freshness was lost.  She had intended to use the whole of
the piece, but it took so long to prepare that she stopped half-way, and
to judge by the mellow brownness of the pudding when she peeped at it in
the oven, quality had more than made up for quantity.

Sylvia sniffed delicately as she limped over the threshold, for the
pudding had a strangely powerful smell, not exactly savoury perhaps, but
distinctly fresh and wholesome.  Bridgie bridled in proud consciousness
of success the while she tucked up her guest on the drawing-room sofa.

"I've been making a pudding for you, dear.  Mind you enjoy it!  Mary is
out, so you are to excuse everything that goes wrong.  There's a pretty
pink cushion to match your dress.  I never saw that dress before!  You
are wonderfully smart, Miss Sylvia Trevor!"

"It's for the boys," said Sylvia, laughing.  "I want to make a good
impression, for I am dreadfully afraid they mayn't like me.  I know
nothing about young men.  They never penetrate into Number Six, and Aunt
Margaret thinks it is proper to ignore their existence between the ages
of six and sixty.  I thought if I put on the bright dress and my pet
chiffon fichu, they might not notice how thin my hair is at the top!"

"I'll tell them not to notice," said Bridgie gravely.  She crossed the
room and poked the fire with the best brass poker, a real, live coal
fire and no wretched asbestos imitation, and knelt on the rug holding
out her hands to the blaze and scorching her cheeks with undisturbed
complacency.

The room was mathematically the same in size and shape as the one across
the road, but oh, how different in appearance!  The one was a museum for
the preservation of household gods, the other a haven for rest and
amusement, where comfort was the first consideration and appearance the
last.  Bridgie's mending-basket stood on the floor, Jack's pipe peered
from behind a chimney-piece ornament, and a bulky blotter and well-
filled ink-bottle showed that the writing-table was really and seriously
meant for use.

There was a writing-table in Miss Munns's drawing-room also, on which
were set out, in formal order, a _papier-mache_ blotter embellished with
a view of York Minster by moonlight, a brass ink-stand, which would have
been insulted by the touch of ink, and a penholder with a cornelian
handle which had never known a nib.  Not the most daring of visitors had
ever been known to desecrate that shrine.  When the mistress of the
house wished to write a letter, she spread a newspaper over the dining-
room table, and a sheet of blotting-paper over that, and carefully
unlocked the desk which had been a present from Cousin Mary Evans on her
sixteenth birthday!

It is extraordinary what a complete change of air may be obtained
sometimes by merely crossing a road, or going into the house at the
other side of a dividing wall!  Sylvia felt that she might have
travelled a hundred miles, so entirely different were the conditions by
which she found herself surrounded.

By and by the three brothers arrived in a body, letting themselves into
the house with a latch-key, and talking together in eager undertones in
the hall.  Bridgie sat still with a mischievous smile on her lips, and
presently the drawing-room door was noiselessly opened for half a dozen
inches, and round the corner appeared a brown head, a white forehead,
and a pair of curious brown eyes.  Sylvia's cheeks were as pink as her
dress by the time that those eyes met hers, but she was the only person
to show signs of embarrassment.

"Pat" came forward to shake hands with swift cordiality, followed in
succession by Jack and Miles, and the three big brothers stood beside
the sofa, looking down on their guest with kindly scrutiny.  Pat's
twinkling smile was an augury for future friendship; Miles's air of
angelic sympathy was as good as a tonic; while the rapt gaze of Jack's
fine eyes seemed to imply that never, no never, had he beheld a girl who
so absolutely fulfilled his ideal of womanhood!  It was nothing that the
conversation was most ordinary and impersonal, concerning itself mostly
with such matters as the weather, the trains from the city, and the
Christmas traffic.

The atmosphere was full of subtle flattery, and Sylvia purred with
satisfaction like a sleek little kitten that stretches up its neck to
meet an unaccustomed caress.  Nothing is so inspiring as appreciation,
and she was quite startled by the aptness and brilliancy of her own
remarks during the meal which followed.

Jack helped his guest in to dinner, and once again the pungent odour
from the kitchen attracted notice and remark, whereat Bridgie bridled
complacently, and when the macaroni was brought to table it did indeed
look a most attractive dish to be the work of an amateur.  So brown was
it, so mellow of tint, with such promise of richness, that the general
choice settled on it in preference to its more modest neighbour.

Sylvia was naturally helped in advance, and the moment of swallowing the
first spoonful was momentous, and never to be forgotten.  What had
happened she could not tell; the room swam round her, the tears poured
from her eyes.  She recovered from a paralysing shock of surprise just
in time to see Pat's mouth open wide to receive a heaped-up spoonful, to
hear him roar like a wounded bull, and make a dash from the room.

"What is the matter?" cried Bridgie in amaze, and Jack smoothed out the
smoking macaroni on his plate and replied cheerfully--

"Scalded himself as usual!  He is so impetuous with his food.  Do him
good to have a lesson."  Then he in his turn partook of the dainty, and
his eyes grew bigger and bigger, rounder and rounder, the Adam's apple
worked violently in his throat.  For one moment it seemed as though he
too would fly from the room, but presently the struggle was over, and he
leaned back in his chair, pale and dejected, his glance meeting Sylvia's
with melancholy sympathy.

"What _is_ the matter?" queried Bridgie once more, and this time there
was a touch of testiness in her voice, for it was trying to have her
efforts treated with such want of appreciation, and even if the dish
were not all that could be desired, consideration for her feelings might
have kept her brothers silent before a stranger.  "Miles, _you_ taste
it!" she cried, and Miles smacked his lips for a thoughtful moment, and
pronounced sturdily--

"It's very good!"

Sylvia groaned involuntarily; she could not help it, and Jack gasped
with incredulous dismay, staring at his brother as if he could not
believe his senses.

"Well, I always did say that there was nothing in this wide world which
would quell your appetite, but this beats everything!  Take another
spoonful--I _dare_ you to do it!"

"All right, here goes!  It's a very good mixture," said Miles
complacently, swallowing spoonful after spoonful, while his _vis-a-vis_
looked on with distended eyes, and Pat stood transfixed upon the
threshold.  As for Bridgie, her face brightened with relief, and she
smiled upon her younger brother with grateful affection.

"That's right, Miles; never mind what they say!  You are the greatest
comfort I have.  Some people are so saucy there is no pleasing them.
You and I will enjoy it, if no one else will."

So far she had prudently refrained from experimenting on her own
account, but now she took up her spoon, and there was a breathless
silence in the room while she lifted it to her lips.  It fell back on
the plate with a rattle and clang, and an agonised glance roamed round
the table from one face to another.

"Oh--oh--oh!  How p-p-p-perfectly awful!  What can have happened?  It
was so nice when I left it!  Has anyone"--the voice took a tone of
indignation--"have any of you boys been playing tricks on me?"

"How could we, now, if you think of it?  We have been upstairs or in the
drawing-room ever since we came back.  It's not the will that's wanting,
but the opportunity!" cried the boys in chorus; but it was not a time
for joking, and Bridgie smote upon the table-gong with a determined
hand.

"Then it must be Sarah's fault.  She has done something to it.  It is
too bad--I took such pains!"  She looked pathetically at the red marks
which still lingered on her fingers from that painful cutting and
scraping, and there was a distinct air of resentment in the voice in
which she questioned her assistant a moment later.

Sarah was a round-faced, vacant-looking damsel of sixteen summers, who
had come straight from an industrial home to serve in the O'Shaughnessy
family.  She was scrupulously clean, admirably willing, and so blindly
obedient that in the bosom of the family she was known by the title of
"Casabianca."  She understood to a nicety how to dust and sweep, make
beds and turn out a room, but the manners and customs of gentlefolk had
been an unknown science to her before entering her present situation,
and anything that Bridgie chose to do was, in her eyes, a demonstration
of what was right and proper.  She adored her young mistress, and
trembled at the new tone of severity in which she was addressed.

"Please, ma'am, I did nothing at it!"

"But something has happened to it, Sarah--that's quite certain.  Think
now--think carefully what you have done since I left the kitchen.  I am
not angry, only anxious to find out what has gone wrong."

It was really most embarrassing.  The three young gentlemen were
watching her with laughing eyes, the pretty young lady in the pink dress
was staring at her plate and twisting her lips to keep from smiling, the
Missis sat up straight in her chair and looked so grave and masterful.
Like Topsy of old, Sarah tried hard to find something to confess, but
failed to recall any delinquencies.

"I took it out of the oven when you said, and put it on a plate.  I
brought it into the room--"

"You are quite sure you didn't let anything fall into it by mistake?"

"Please, ma'am, there was nothing to fall.  I had tidied the things away
before I touched it.  I put the macaroni sticks back in the bag and the
beeswax along of the turpentine for to-morrow's cleaning--all that you
didn't use for the pudding."

"The--the--what?" gasped Bridgie breathlessly.

But the next moment a great burst of laughter all round the table
greeted the solution of the mystery.  Pat capered about the floor, Jack
put his elbows on the table and peered at Sylvia with dancing eyes,
Miles undauntedly helped himself to another spoonful, and wagged his
head as who should say that, beeswax or no beeswax, he stuck to his
favourable verdict on the "mixture."  Bridgie's soft, gurgling laugh was
full of unaffected enjoyment.

"Did ever I hear the like of that?  It was a lump of beeswax, and I
mistook it for cheese!  It looked just like it--so smooth, and yellow,
and hard--too hard, maybe--but I was blaming Mary for that, not the
cheese, and thinking myself so good and economical to use it up!
Beeswax and macaroni!  Oh--oh--I'll never forget it while I live!"

"It's a very pretty nose you've got, dear, but it's not much use to you,
I'm afraid," said Jack teasingly.  "Did it never occur to you one moment
that it was rather highly scented, and the scent a little different from
the ordinary common or garden cheese?" and Bridgie shook her head in
solemn denial.

"Never the ghost of a suspicion!  It shows how easily our senses are
deceived when we get a fixed idea in our heads; but indeed you were not
much cleverer yourselves.  Every man of you had something to say about
the smell, but not a hint of what it was!"

"I thought it was rather spring-cleaningey," Sylvia said mischievously.
"Never mind, Bridgie dear--it has been a great success.  I do feel so
much at home--more so than I should have done after a dozen formal
dinners where everything went right.  I shall always remember it too,
and how Mr Miles declared it was nice!"

"Don't call him `Mr,' please!  He is only seventeen, though he _is_ the
champion eater of the world.  I wonder what exactly is the effect of
beeswax taken internally!  You must tell us all about it, Miles, if you
live to the morning!"

"How pleased Pixie will be!" murmured Bridgie reflectively, leaving her
hearers to decide whether she referred to Miles's problematical disease
or the latest culinary disaster, and once again Sylvia admired the happy
faculty of seizing on the humorous side of a misfortune which seemed to
be possessed so universally by the O'Shaughnessy family.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

A HAPPY INSPIRATION.

Mrs Geoffrey Hilliard stood in the long gallery of Knock Castle and
drummed wearily on the window-pane with a white, heavily-ringed hand.
It had rained for a whole week without stopping, and for the happiest
girl in the world, as she proclaimed herself to be at least three times
a day, she came perilously near feeling shedding tears of depression.

Geoffrey was out shooting, and the old Castle seemed full of ghosts--
ghosts of the living, not of the dead--of those dear, gay, loving,
teasing, happy-go-lucky brothers and sisters who had filled the rooms
with echoes of song and laughter.  Geoffrey was the dearest of husbands,
but he had one great, insuperable failing--he was not Irish, and one
phase of his wife's character was even yet an inexplicable riddle in his
eyes.  Why should she consider it monotonous to have her meals served
regularly at a stated hour; why should she find infinite enjoyment in
arranging a festivity in a rush and scramble, instead of making her
plans with due leisure and decorum; why should she wear the latest Paris
fashions on a day when the thermometer pointed to rain, and walk about
in the sunshine in an ulster and deerstalker?--these, and many similar
questions, were as puzzling to him as the fact that she found it
absolutely impossible to do a thing twice over in the same way, or to
master the very rudiments of method.

Geoffrey inherited the business instincts which had made his fathers
successful above their competitors, and when he had become temporary
owner of Knock, he had striven hard to introduce order and punctuality
into the establishment, with more success in the servants' hall than in
those regions where the mistress reigned supreme.

Esmeralda was a devoted wife, who would have gone through fire and water
to ensure his happiness; she would have shared his poverty with a
smiling face, and have worked her fingers to the bone on his behalf, but
she seemed quite incapable of replacing the match-box on his dressing-
room mantelpiece when she had borrowed it for her own use, or of
refraining from taking his nail-scissors downstairs and then forgetting
where she had put them.

Geoffrey on his part adored his beautiful wife, and would have fought a
dozen dragons on her behalf, but when he groped in the dark for his
matches, and knocked his pet ornaments off the chimney-piece, and barked
his knee against a chair, and tried vainly to get out of the room
through a blank wall--well, he was only a man after all, and he was not
precisely lamb-like in temper.

Some such incident had happened this afternoon when the husband had made
a complaining remark, and the wife had poured oil on the troubled waters
by murmured allusions to people who were not really men, but "finnicky
old maids."  Geoffrey had stalked majestically from the room, leaving
Esmeralda to reflect sadly how very unsatisfactory it was to quarrel
when your adversary was dignified and English.  With either of her three
brothers such an introduction would have meant an enjoyable and lengthy
wrangle; even "Saint Bridget" could snap on occasion, while Pixie was
capable of screaming, "It is not--it is not!" until her breath failed,
for pure love of contradiction.

Esmeralda yawned, and wondered what in the world she could do to while
away the long afternoon.  As the wife of a millionaire, with a
professional cook in the kitchen who tolerated her mistress's incursions
at stated hours only; with a wardrobe full of new clothes, and a French
maid to sew up every hole almost before it made an appearance; with a
gardener who did not like interference, and a patriarchal butler who
said, "Allow me, madam!" if she dared to lift a hand for herself, life
was not really half so amusing as in the dear old days, when she could
make potato cakes for tea, re-trim old dresses, with Bridgie as model,
and sit perched on one of the empty stages in the conservatory, while
Dennis confided his latest love experiences and the gossip of the
countryside.

Esmeralda had longed for riches all her life, and for the most part
found the experience to her taste, but there were occasions when she
felt fettered by the golden chains.  When Bridgie wrote of her
experiences in that funny, cramped little house, of her various devices
for making sixpence do duty for a shilling, of excursions about London,
when she rode with the boys on the tops of omnibuses and dined
luxuriously at an ABC, it was not pity, but envy, which filled
Esmeralda's bosom as she drove in state behind coachman and footman to
pay dull, proper calls on the county magnates.

It was cold and dark in the gallery this December afternoon, so she went
downstairs into the room which had been dedicated to lessons, when Miss
Minnitt the governess tried to instil knowledge into half a dozen
ignorant heads.  It was now metamorphosed into a luxuriant little
boudoir, with pots of hothouse plants banked on the table, a couch piled
with silken cushions taking the place of the old horsehair sofa, a
charming grate, all glowing copper and soft green tiles, and beside it a
deep arm-chair and a pile of books to while away an idle hour.
Esmeralda yawned and flicked over the pages of the topmost of the pile,
looked at the beginning to see if it promised excitement, peeped at the
last sentence of all to make sure there was no heart-breaking
separation, finally sank down into the chair, and settled herself to
read.

There was something wanting for perfect enjoyment, however, for in the
old days she and Bridgie had agreed that the charms of an interesting
book could only be thoroughly appreciated to an accompaniment of crisp
sweet apples.  Esmeralda O'Shaughnessy had been wont to climb up into
the loft and bring down as many rosy baldwins as she could carry in the
crown of her cap; but Mrs Geoffrey Hilliard crept down her own passages
like a thief, listened breathlessly at the pantry door to make sure that
Montgomery was absent, then abstracted an apple from each of the two
pyramids of fruit already prepared for dinner, and flew back to her
room, aghast at her own temerity.

The presence of the apples seemed to bring back other schoolgirl
impulses, for instead of seating herself in dignified, grown-up fashion,
she stretched herself on the rug before the fire, her back supported
against the chair, her head drooping ever nearer and nearer the
cushions, as warmth and quiet wrought their usual work.  She slept and
dreamt, and awoke with a start to hear a voice observing, "Tea is
served, madam!" and to see Montgomery the immaculate standing over her
with an unmoved expression, as if, in the many noble families in which
he had served, it was an invariable custom to find his mistress fast
asleep on the floor, with a half-gnawed apple in her hand!

Esmeralda crawled to her feet, trying vainly to look dignified, but she
had no appetite for muffins.  She felt like a child who has been found
out, and blushed at the thoughts of her embarrassment that evening when
the fruit pyramid was handed for her selection.  Tea did not taste half
so nice out of the Queen Anne silver as when it had been poured from the
old brown pot, which had to be refilled so many times to satisfy
clamorous appetites, and the longing for companionship made her hurry
through the meal, and run upstairs to a wide room overlooking the park.

With the opening of the door came that sweet, flannely, soapy, violet-
powdery smell which is associated with a well-kept nursery, and there on
the rocking-chair sat Mistress Nurse with a bundle of embroidery on her
knee, which purported to be O'Shaughnessy Geoffrey, the heir of the
Hilliards.

"Oh, I'm so glad you have come, ma'am!  I did so want you to see him.
He has been so pert this afternoon.  I don't know what to do with him,
he is so pert!  I never saw such a forward child for his age!"

Esmeralda's face softened to a beautiful tenderness as she turned down
the Shetland shawl and looked at her little son.  The pert child had a
fat white face, with vacant eyes, a button of a nose, and an expression
of preternatural solemnity.  His head waggled helplessly from side to
side as his nurse held him out at arm's length, and stared fixedly into
space, regardless of his mother's blandishments.

"There now, _isn't_ he pert?" repeated the triumphant nurse.  "You know
your mammie, my precious--yes, you do!  The cleverest little sing that
was ever seen!  He will begin to talk, ma'am, before he is many months
old, I'm sure he will!  I was speaking to him just now, and he tried so
hard to copy me.  I said `Goo-oo!' and he said `Coo-oo!'  Oh, you would
have loved to hear him!  He is a prince of babies, he is!  A beautiful
darling pet!"

Esmeralda beamed with maternal pride.

"He _is_ clever!" she cried.  "Fancy talking at three months old!  I
must write and tell Bridgie.  And he looks so intelligent, too--doesn't
he, nurse?  So wise and serious!  He stares at the fire as if he knew
all about it.  I believe his hair has grown since yesterday!  I do,
indeed!"

"He has beautiful hair--so fine!  It's going to curl, too," declared the
optimistic nurse, holding the child's head against the light, when the
faintest of downs could be dimly discerned across the line of the
horizon.  "He will smile in a moment if you go on talking to him, ma'am.
Perhaps you would like to sit down and take him for a bit?"

Yes, Esmeralda was only too willing, for it was only by act of grace and
when Mistress Nurse felt inclined for a gossip in the servants' hall
that she was allowed to nurse her own baby.  She took the dear little
soft bundle in her arms and rocked gently to and fro, studying the
little face and dreaming mother dreams of the days to come.

If God spared him, the tiny form would grow strong, the vacant face
would become bright and alert with life, the mite of a hand would be
bigger than her own--a man's hand with a man's work as its inheritance.
There was something awful in the thought, and in her own responsibility
towards his future.  Esmeralda never felt so serious, so prayerful, so
little satisfied with herself, as when she sat alone with her baby in
her arms.  She knew nothing about children--very little, poor girl, of
the wise training of father and mother, but the very consciousness of
her own defects added earnestness to the resolve to bring up this child
to be wise, and strong, and noble--a power for good in the world.

That was her resolve, renewed afresh from day to day, and after the
resolve followed the relentless conviction that the change must be
wrought in herself before she would have power to teach another.  It
would need a noble mother to train a noble son, a mother who was
mistress over her own tongue to teach the lessons of self-control; a
mother who had fought her own giants of vanity and self-seeking before
she could hand on the sword.  Esmeralda trembled and shrank weakly from
the conflict, but the baby turned its wondering eyes upon her and
straightway she was strong again.

"My son!" she murmured tenderly.  "My little son!  We shall love one
another.  Oh, how we shall love one another--you and I!"

The beautiful dark head bent low over the shapeless little bundle, and
the croon of a cradle song accompanied the regular rocking of the chair.
It was the most peaceful and charming of pictures, and the husband and
father stood noiselessly on the threshold, almost unwilling to speak and
destroy the effect.

All the afternoon he had been regretting his hasty words, and
reproaching himself for want of forbearance towards his impetuous girl-
wife.  It was unreasonable to expect the habit of a lifetime to be
outlived in a few short months, and at this season there were especial
reasons for judging her tenderly.  Poor darling!  She had suffered a
bitter disappointment!

Bridgie and the boys had found it impossible to spend Christmas at
Knock, and although Joan had not confessed as much in words, the
slackness of her preparations showed that she had lost all zest in the
season.  She had had a dull time of it since the birth of the boy, and
it was only natural that she should long for her own people, especially
those two dear sisters whose names were so constantly on her lips.  If
it were only possible to indulge her--to hit upon some plan by which
Christmas could be made all she could desire!

Geoffrey knitted his brows in thought, then suddenly came the
inspiration, and with it an exclamation of satisfaction which brought
Esmeralda's eyes upon him.  She smiled softly, and held up her face to
receive his kiss--such a different face from the one which he had seen
two hours before, with its curling lips and flushed, contemptuous smile!
In its sweetness and subdued tenderness it was a type of the youthful
Madonna, and Geoffrey's own expression softened in sympathy.

"Well, my dearie!  Nursing your boy?"

Esmeralda turned back the shawl once more and held up the child for his
father's inspection.

"There!  Isn't he splendid?  Nurse is quite excited about him this
afternoon.  She says it is wonderful how he gets on.  He has been so
`pert,' as she calls it, that she hardly knew how to manage him."

"H'm!"  The young father regarded the little face with amused,
speculative eyes.  "`Pert' does not commend itself to me as precisely
the best word which could be found.  Solemn little beggar, I call him!
He seems quite oppressed by the wickedness of the world.  I say, that's
rather a peculiar mouth, isn't it?  Something funny about the upper
lip!"

"It's exactly like yours--the image of it!" said Esmeralda firmly.  "You
can't judge because naturally you can't see yourself.  But it really is.
Look at that old picture when you were two years old."

Geoffrey stroked his moustache to one side, and regarded himself
critically in the mirror.

"Oh, well, there's hope for him yet!" he pronounced complacently.  "I
suppose babies are all ugly in the beginning, but considering his
parentage he ought to come out all right by and by.  How long do you
suppose it will be before he gets his hair, and begins to be
intelligible?"

"He has hair now, and he is beginning to speak.  He said `Coo-oo!' this
afternoon quite distinctly.  It's horrid of you, Geoff, to call him
ugly!  Everyone says he is a beautiful boy and the image of you!"

"Much more chance of being beautiful if he were like you, darling!
Spoke, did he?  Well, I take your word for it, but it's rather a stretch
of imagination.  He is a jolly little chap, anyway, and I'm very proud
of him.  Here is nurse coming to take possession.  Hand him over and
come along with me.  I have something to tell you."

"Something nice, I hope!  I want a distraction," said Esmeralda
wistfully.  She slid her hand through her husband's arm as they walked
down the corridor and peered up in his face.  "Somebody was rather
vicious this afternoon!  I'm sorry you put me in a temper.  It's stupid
to quarrel when we are so fond of one another.  You'll never do it
again, will you?"

"Never, never!  It was all my fault, and I apologise abjectly to your
temper for taking liberties with it.  I ought to know by this time that
it's in delicate health.  Never mind, I've planned a delightful
programme for you!  What would you like best for a Christmas present if
you had the choice?"

He was all radiant with smiles, but Esmeralda sighed, and a far-away
expression came into her beautiful grey eyes.

"I'd like--Oh, what's the use of speaking of it, Geoff?  They can't
come, and that's all about it!  I haven't thought of any present.  I
don't seem to care about anything else."

"Whisper!" cried Geoffrey triumphantly.  "Whisper!"  He bent his head,
and Esmeralda put her ear to his lips, her face alight with expectation.

"Oh!" she cried rapturously, and again, "Oh!" and "_Oh_" in ever-
ascending tones of delight.  "Do you mean it, Geoff--really--really?
It's like a fairy-tale--so perfectly lovely and charming!  I shan't
sleep a wink--I know I shan't!  Geoffrey, you darling, I do love you for
thinking of it!" and in an ecstasy of delight she threw her arms round
his neck and kissed him rapturously.

"Any letters for the post, madam?" asked an even voice from the end of
the corridor, and the husband wrenched himself free, while the wife
stared after the departing figure with gloomy eyes.

"He saw me kiss you!  The only marvel is he didn't offer to do it for
me.  The strain of behaving properly before that man will be the death
of me, Geoffrey Hilliard!"



CHAPTER EIGHT.

A SURPRISE VISIT.

The next two days Jack came home early from the city, where a remarkable
cessation of work had happened simultaneously with the arrival of Miss
Sylvia Trevor at Number Three, Rutland Road.  Bridgie trotted about the
house preparing for the festival on Thursday, and Sylvia lay idly upon
the couch, with nothing better to do than to listen, sympathise, and
admire.

It was easy to listen, for in truth Jack gave her no opportunity to do
anything else; it was impossible to resist admiring, for he made a
handsome figure, with his broad, muscular shoulders, graceful carriage,
and clean-shaven face; it had seemed at first sight as if sympathy were
not required, but Master Jack invented a fresh crop of imaginary woes
every time that he met a pretty girl, for the express purpose of
receiving consolation.  Sylvia beheld in him an exile from home and
country, toiling at an uncongenial task, for the maintenance of his
orphaned brothers and sisters, and was vaguely given to understand that
since meeting her, his poverty had become an even more painful barrier
to his hopes.  He confided in her details of business, which she
understood as well as a buried language, and asked her advice on knotty
points in such a flattering manner that she forgot to notice that he
never paused for a reply, and when at last he reluctantly rose to leave
the room he sighed profoundly, and in a voice touched with emotion
declared that she had helped him as he had never before been helped!

"I cannot thank you enough for your sympathy and counsel, but I shall
never forget what you have said to me to-day.  It will help me through
many a dark hour!" he declared, and Sylvia blushed and gasped, and lay
back on her cushions, all tremulous with excitement.  It was her first
experience of the art of flirtation, and she was pleased and flattered
as it was natural for a girl to be, but she was a sensible little woman,
despite her hasty speeches, and her vanity was not big enough to cloud
either her judgment or a remarkably accurate memory.  She carefully
recalled to mind the late conversation, and found that her own share
therein had been limited to monosyllabic assents and denials; an
occasional, "Really!" and three or four exclamations of, "How sad!"

These, then, were the vaunted sympathy and counsel, these the eloquent
words which Mr Jack had vowed to treasure in deathless remembrance, and
which were to strengthen him in hours of trial!  Sylvia blushed once
more, from mortification this time, and registered a vow to adopt a new
tone with this disciple of the Blarney stone, and put an end forthwith
to sentimental confidences.  She was still looking hot and flurried when
Bridgie came into the room to prepare for tea, and to rest after the
day's labours.

"You look tired, dear!" she said anxiously.  "I hope Jack has not been
talking too much.  He just dotes upon romancing when he can get a
listener, and I didn't like to interrupt when I knew he had come home
especially to see you.  Jack falls in love with every fresh girl he
meets, and they mostly fall in love with him too.  He has such lovely
humbugging eyes!"

"Do they, indeed!  He shan't humbug _me_, that's one thing certain!" was
Sylvia's mental comment.  Aloud she assented cordially.  "Most handsome
eyes!  I call him unusually good-looking for a man, and he has amused me
very much, but I am more than ready for tea, and a little of your
society.  There's the clatter of the cups.  Welcome sound, it's music in
my ears!  How I used to long for it when I was ill!"

"I'll draw the curtains and make the room look cosy.  That is one good
thing about a tiny house--you can keep it warm.  We were frozen in the
great draughty barns of rooms at Knock, and Pixie used to look so quaint
with her feet in snow-boots, and her hands in a muff, and her little
nose as red as a cherry.  It was so cold that it kept her awake at
nights, until the Major bought an elegant little egg-cosy at a bazaar in
Dublin, and she slept in it regularly through the frost.  We used to go
to kiss her last thing every night, every man Jack of us, for the
pleasure of seeing her lying there, so peaceful, with the cosy perched
over her nose!  Muffins, dear?  I didn't make them, so you may eat them
with an easy mind."

Jack came downstairs at the summons of the tea-bell, looking in
languishing fashion at his comforter as he entered the room, when, to
his surprise, back came an answering glance, as it were parodying his
own, the sentimental attitude belied by twinkling eyes and mischievous
lips.  The blush and tremor of an hour ago were conspicuous by their
absence, and the change was by no means appreciated by the startled
onlooker.  In vain he tried to return to the old footing, accompanying
the simplest remark with a hint of secret understanding, and waiting
upon her with a deference which seemed humbly to inquire the reason of
the change.

Sylvia bluntly inquired, "What is it?" in reply to his appealing looks,
kept him trotting to and from the tea-table, and said, "How clumsy you
are!" when his fingers touched her own over the cake-basket.  Even Jack
O'Shaughnessy found it impossible to continue flirting under these
conditions, and devoted himself to the consumption of muffins with a
crestfallen air, while Bridgie regarded him with fond commiseration from
behind the tea-tray.

It was at this opportune moment that the clatter of wheels stopped at
the door and the peal of the bell rang through the house.  Sarah went to
the door, and there was a movement and bustle in the hall, at the sound
of which Bridgie nodded complacently.

"The Parcels Delivery van!  I thought something must be coming.  Have
you any change, Jack?  I've nothing smaller than sixpence, and the man
will want a Christmas-box--a few coppers, perhaps."

"Oh, give the poor beggar half a crown.  Don't insult him with coppers,"
said Jack in his lordly way, pulling a handful of silver from his pocket
and selecting the largest coin of the number.  "I'll take it to him
myself.  You might give him some tea if there is any left.  It is
perishingly cold outside!"

He stepped towards the door, but before he reached it, it was opened
from without, a tall figure precipitated itself into the room, and with
two separate cries of rapture the sisters flew to meet each other, and
stood with locked arms, kissing, laughing, and questioning, with
incredulous delight.

"Esmeralda darling!  Is it really you?  You are not a dream, dear, are
you?  I can't believe it's true!"

"It was Geoff's doing!  He saw I was fretting for you, and suggested
that we should come to town and stay over the New Year at an hotel.
There was not time to get the house ready.  A whole week, Bridgie!
Won't we talk!  There are such oceans of things to tell you.  Baby is
beginning to speak!"

"The precious mite!"  Bridgie disentangled one hand and held it towards
her brother-in-law in beaming welcome.  "I always did say you were a
broth of a boy, Geoffrey, but you have eclipsed yourself this time.  I
am so happy I don't know how to bear it.  Now Christmas will be
something like Christmas, and--" she smiled encouragingly into Sylvia's
embarrassed face,--"we have a visitor staying with us to make things
still more festive.  My new friend, Miss Sylvia Trevor, who is
recovering from a long illness."

Esmeralda wheeled round to face the sofa and stared at the stranger with
haughty scrutiny.  Her flowing skirts seemed to fill the little room;
her cloak was thrown back, showing a glimpse of costly sable lining; her
imperious beauty made her appear older than the gentle Bridgie, a
hundred times more formidable.  The formal bend of the head brought with
it an acute sense of discomfiture to the recipient.  For the first time
since crossing that hospitable threshold she realised that she was a
solitary unit, a stranger set down in the midst of an affectionate
family party, and if it had not been for the crippling foot, she would
have rushed away to the haven of the room upstairs.  As it was, however,
she was condemned to lie still and return Esmeralda's commonplaces with
what grace she might.

"I am pleased to see you," said Esmeralda's tongue.  "What a nuisance
you are!" said the flash of the cold grey eyes.  "Such a pleasure for
Bridgie to have a friend."  "But now that I have arrived, you are not
wanted any longer, and are terribly in my way!"  One set of phrases were
as intelligible as the other to the sensitive invalid, and if
Esmeralda's anticipations were dashed by her presence, she herself
abandoned all prospect of enjoyment, and only longed to be able to
return home forthwith.

Bridgie would not need her companionship any longer; she could be but a
restraint and kill-joy in the conferences of newly-united sisters.  She
stared dismally at the floor, then looked up to see Jack carrying the
tea-table bodily across the room and setting it down by her couch.
Sarah had brought in fresh tea and cakes for the refreshment of the
travellers, and he motioned slightly towards his sisters, saying in an
undertone,--"Bridgie will be incoherent for an hour.  Will you come to
the rescue?  If we don't look after the tea, no one else will."

He smiled at her as he spoke, not sentimentally this time, but with a
straightforward kindliness which showed that he had understood and
sympathised with her embarrassment.  Occupation for hand and mind was
the most tactful comfort which he could have administered, and Bridgie's
eager, "Oh, thank you, dear!  How good of you!" showed that she was
indeed thankful to be relieved of every duty but that of talking to her
sister and watching her with adoring eyes.

Sylvia's post was no sinecure, for everyone started tea-drinking afresh
to encourage the travellers, and amidst the babble of voices Jack's
_sotto voce_ explanations made the conversation intelligible, and took
away the feeling of being left out in the cold.  At a touch of real
sympathy the false sentiment had disappeared, and her heart warmed
towards the young fellow for his kindly concern for her comfort.  It was
a bond of union also to remember that he himself was apt to resent the
incursions of this domineering young matron, and she noted with delight
that, while Bridgie was apparently delighted to be trampled underfoot,
he was ready and able to hold his own.

"We came over in a rush, and arrived only two hours ago.  I'm a
disreputable object!" said Esmeralda, glancing complacently over her
sweeping skirts, and arranging the immaculate frills at her throat.
"Geoffrey was in such a hurry to get off that he gave me no time to make
myself decent."

"She had only an hour, poor thing, not a moment longer!  She sent me
flying off to look for trains and whistle for a hansom, and then kept me
kicking my heels while she prinked before the glass, putting on her best
dress and the newest hat to impress you with her magnificence.  She is
disappointed that you have not noticed them yet, that's why she pretends
to be humble!" explained Geoffrey in self-defence, whereat his wife
grimaced at him in a manner singularly undignified and eloquent.  Then
she glanced hastily across the room at Sylvia, looking so girlish, so
abashed at having been discovered in her schemes, that Sylvia laughed
involuntarily, and forgot the old offence.

"Husbands are such blighting creatures; they are always telling the
truth upon you!" sighed Esmeralda sadly.  "I intend to bring up Bunting
to agree with all I say, and then there will be some chance of making an
impression.  He is left at home, for he is too young to miss us, and it
was bad weather for moving a nursery.

"Now about to-morrow!  We have arranged for you to spend the day with
us, and have lunch and dinner in our private room.  The servants can eat
up your turkey, or it can wait until the next day.  You must come to us
directly after church.  What train will you be able to catch?"

Bridgie knitted her brows and looked embarrassed and distressed.  The
invitation could not, of course, be accepted, and it was thoughtless of
Esmeralda to have given it under existing circumstances.  Had not Sylvia
been introduced as a convalescent, and did not her position on the couch
prove that she was unable for a journey to town?  It would make the poor
dear so uncomfortable if she were cited as the obstacle; yet what other
excuse could be made?

Esmeralda had travelled all the way from Knock for the pleasure of
entertaining her brothers and sisters, and would not be lightly turned
from her plans.  Bridgie looked across the room, and met Jack's eyes
turned upon her with a flash of indignation in their clear depths.

"Well, Bridgie, you can do as you like, but I give you full notice that
I stay at home!" he said firmly.  "I have never yet eaten my Christmas
dinner in an hotel, and I never shall so long as I have a roof of my own
to cover me.  Choose between Esmeralda and me; I am the head of the
family, and it is my privilege to play host on such occasions, but if
the house is too small--if we are not grand enough for Mrs Hilliard--"

"Jack!" cried Esmeralda sharply.  She pushed her cup on one side, and,
springing across the room to her brother's side, laid her hands on his
shoulders and shook him vigorously to and fro.  "Come down this minute
from that high horse!  I won't be snubbed, when I've come all the way
over from Ireland to see you.  I thought you would like it, dear,
because you enjoyed dining with us so much before, and we should have
been quite private in our own room; but I don't mind where we are, so
long as we are together.  We will come and dine with you if you will ask
us.  I would far rather have stayed here altogether if you could have
put us up!"

"We could stow you away, but we can't manage the retinue.  Miss Trevor
occupies the north-west Tudor corridor, and there is only Pixie's little
den at liberty," said Jack, laughing, and recovering his complacency
with wonderful quickness.  "The servants' hall accommodation is also
limited, and your maid and valet might not appreciate our _menage_.  We
had a very stylish pudding the other night.  You might give Esmeralda
the recipe, Bridgie."

Esmeralda listened to the history of the beeswax and macaroni with a joy
tempered by regret.

"We never have anything so nice as that!" she sighed.  "Never a bit of
excitement as to how things will turn out.  D'you remember the day when
old Sukey mixed the lettuce with furniture cream instead of salad-
dressing, and Major Denny was so polite, with a crust of bread under one
end of his plate to let it drain down to the bottom, while he ate his
meat high and dry at the top!  'Twas bad luck that none of us fancied
lettuce that day, but kept pressing him to a second helping."

"Well, we will come here to-morrow morning, then.  Don't stay away from
church, for, truthfully, I would rather you were out when we arrived.  I
have some rather--large--Christmas presents which must be smuggled in
unobserved.  I have some--er--preparations to make to-night, so we can't
stay very long."

Half an hour later husband and wife took their departure, and after
seeing them off, Jack came back into the drawing-room and stood by
Sylvia's couch.

"Esmeralda invariably speaks before she thinks!" he said apologetically.
"There's a lot of pretence about her, but you will be astonished to
find out what a good sort she is when you know her better."

Sylvia smiled with a whimsical twist of the lips.  She thought that that
prediction might apply to more than one member of the O'Shaughnessy
family, and cherished a pleasant conviction that Jack's outburst of
indignation had been more on her account than his own.  He was not the
type of man to stand on his dignity, and his quick glance into her face
as Esmeralda gave her invitation had been eloquent of understanding.
His protest had saved her from a most distasteful position, and once
again she felt a debt of gratitude towards him.



CHAPTER NINE.

CHRISTMAS PRESENTS.

Christmas morning was heralded by the luxury of a late breakfast, when
no one need hurry off to town, and even Miles could satisfy the demands
of appetite without casting a thought to the time-table.  Porridge,
bacon, eggs and sausages laid the foundation of his meal, before he
tackled marmalade, strawberry jam, fresh oranges and honey, accompanied
by numerous draughts of tea and coffee, and finally by a cup filled with
the united drainings of both pots, which he drank with obvious relish.

If it had been merry Pat who was so difficult to appease, there would
have been no cause for astonishment, but Miles's rapt eyes and ethereal
expression seemed to bespeak no stronger diet than moonbeams and
mountain dew, and to hear him accompany his last mouthful with an eager,
"When's lunch?" was a distinct shock to the visitor.  Jack, too, had
sustained a relapse into sentiment, and was only awaiting opportunity to
wax melancholy and confidential.  With a word of encouragement he would
have stayed away from church to bear her company, but Sylvia was
provokingly obtuse, and he went off looking unutterable reproaches with
his "humbugging eyes."

Left to herself, Sylvia hobbled to the piano and sang Christmas hymns in
a weak little voice, which wavered suspiciously towards the close.
Christmas is the day of all others when families are united, and it
seemed hard that when she possessed just one beloved relation, he should
be away off at the other end of the world.  The strange house, the
unusual silence, and her own inability to move about, added to the
feeling of depression, and her thoughts turned towards Aunt Margaret
with unusual yearning.  The old lady was at times a sore trial to her
niece's patience, but at least they had a claim on each other's
affection; she was the dear father's sister, and her own legal guardian
during his absence!

Sylvia wondered how the two ladies would pass their day--church in the
morning as a matter of course; early dinner and reminiscences of the
brougham and peach-houses; arrival of the postman with cards; renewed
reminiscences and family histories of the various senders; one arm-chair
at each side of the fire; two white caps nodding sleepily forward; two
pairs of cashmere boots reposing on footstools.  Arrival of tea and
exchange of recipes and household experiences.  Letters of thanks to
valued friends for seasonable gifts.  Supper of cold turkey and cocoa,
with anecdotal references to Christmases of long ago.  Mutual exchange
of compliments, bed, nightcaps, and sleeping-socks.

Oh dear me!  It all seemed very flat to one-and-twenty, and why should
one girl have health and beauty, and brothers and sisters, and an
adoring young husband into the bargain, and another be a solitary unit,
with no one to cosset her and help her to bear her manifold infirmities?

Sylvia's tears were still rather near the surface, and she mopped her
eyes with her handkerchief, and mopped them again, and then carefully
dried them on a dry place, and craned forward to look in the glass and
see if they looked very red and tell-tale.  The bleared reflection had a
wonderfully calming effect, and she limped to her couch and read
persistently to distract her thoughts, until the peal of the bell
announced the Hilliards' arrival.  From her corner she could not see the
doorway, but judging from the sounds of coming and going, of dragging
heavy weights, of scurrying along the passage, of whispered colloquies,
and sudden explosions of laughter, it was evident that some great
mystery was in the air.

Then the cab drove away, the dining-room door closed with a bang, she
heard the furniture being dragged to and fro, and wondered how long it
would be before the drawing-room was raided in its turn.  For a quarter
of an hour the conspirators remained shut up together, then Esmeralda
came sailing into the room, all smiles and amiability.

"A happy Christmas to you, Miss Trevor!  Excuse me for not coming in
before, but I am so anxious to arrange my presents before the others
come home from church.  I want the easel from that corner, and I want
you to promise faithfully that you won't come into the dining-room
before you are allowed!"

"I can't walk so far without help.  You are quite safe so far as I am
concerned," said Sylvia regretfully, and Esmeralda looked at her with
quick scrutiny.

"So bad as that!  I didn't know.  Is that why you have been crying?"

"No--oh no!  I am used to that now.  I felt a little lonely, that's all.
I wanted my father."

The beautiful face changed suddenly, the lips tightened, the eyes grew
large and strained.  There was a ring of pain in the clear voice.

"Is he dead?"

"No, no, only so far-away.  At the other end of the world, in Ceylon!"

"You will see him again!" said Esmeralda shortly.  She looked at the
portrait of a handsome, reckless face which hung on the wall above the
sofa, and drew a fluttering sigh.  "That was my father.  It is nearly
two years since he had his accident, and I thought I could never be
happy again.  If I could write to him, if I could get his letters, and
think that some day, it might be in twenty years to come, he would be
back among us again, I should feel as if there was nothing else to wish
for."

She sat down suddenly by the couch with an air of having forgotten all
about the errand which had brought her into the room, clasped her hands
round her knee, and began a series of disconnected childish memories,
while Sylvia gazed spellbound at the beautiful, dreamy face, and
wondered how she could ever have thought it cold and unfeeling.

"We were always such chums, from the time that I was a mite in
pinafores.  I remember his first explaining to me what happened when
people died--how their bodies were put into the grave, while their souls
went straight to heaven; but I didn't understand what a soul was, and I
was frightened and cried out, `Well, I won't go one step without my
body!'  I used to play tricks on him, and he would catch me up and carry
me into his room, and say, `Will you rather be poisoned, or buried
alive?' and I would prefer the poisoning because it was chocolates out
of the corner cupboard.

"He used to wake me in the mornings coming battering at my door, and
singing, `Come awake thee, awake thee, my merry Swiss lass!' and when we
were learning French fables from Miss Minnitt, we used to take arms,
Bridgie and I, and walk up and down before him reciting, `Deux
compagnons presse d'argent!'  It didn't make any difference whether he
had the money or not--he always gave it to us.

"One day we were going for a picnic, and he walked on with the men,
leaving me to drive after them in the cart with the provisions.  There
was only one thing he told me to remember, and that was just what I
forgot--his camera, to take a special view which he'd wanted for an age.
Four miles from home it jumped into my mind, and I sat in misery the
rest of the way.  The Major laughed when I told him, and sympathised
with me for my upset.  `You'll forget your own head next, and it will be
a pity,' he said, `for it's a very pretty one.'

"I hated to vex him just because he was so sweet about it.  No one ever
understood me as well as the Major, and when I was in a tantrum he would
say, `Think it over till to-morrow, my girl.  If you are of the same
mind then, we will discuss it together,' and, of course, I never did
think the same two days running.

"When he was ill he used to lie looking at me, and his face was quite
different from that in the picture--so sad and wistful.  `I've not done
much in the way of training you, my girl,' he would say, `but I've loved
you a great deal.  Maybe that will do as well.  You are not one to stand
a bridle.'  He loved to have me with him; to the last he would stretch
out his hand--"

Her voice quivered and stopped, and Sylvia sat with lowered eyes,
murmuring incoherent condolences.  Esmeralda's love for her dead father
was very sweet and touching, but to the more reserved nature it seemed
an extraordinary thing that she could speak so openly to a stranger, and
in the twinkling of an eye change her mood from gay to grave.

The hands of the clock were approaching the hour when the rest of the
family might be expected to return from church, yet there she sat
dreaming over the past, and apparently absolutely forgetful of the
demands of the present.  Sylvia dare not risk a reminder which would
seem in the last degree unfeeling, but presently the door opened, and
Geoffrey Hilliard appeared on the threshold, looking round with anxious
inquiry.

"Good morning, Miss Trevor.  The compliments of the season."  Then he
looked at his wife, all incredulous and aghast.  "My dear girl, what are
you about?  Do you know that at any moment Bridgie may be here?  I
thought you had come for the easel."

Esmeralda leaped to her feet with a cry of dismay.  "Hurry! hurry!" she
cried.  "Oh, what are you waiting for?  Carry it for me.  Be quick! be
quick!" and off she rushed with a swirl of flounces, a rustle of silk, a
wild waving of arms, while her husband chuckled with amusement, and
confided in Sylvia--

"That's the usual programme!  First keeps me waiting for hours, and then
upbraids me for being slow.  Keep Bridgie occupied if she comes in too
soon, please, Miss Trevor.  This little surprise needs a good deal of
preparation."

What could it be?  Sylvia grew quite excited as once more peals of
laughter echoed from the dining-room.  Esmeralda was evidently sparing
no pains to display her presents to the best advantage, and, lucky girl,
no want of money had hampered her choice of what would be appropriate
and welcome.

"I'm glad I gave Bridgie my minute offering this morning, so that it
won't be shamed by contrast.  I shall be out of this distribution, so it
doesn't matter, but I do hope they will ask me to go in," said Sylvia to
herself.  "I hated Esmeralda last night, but I rather love her this
morning.  She is like the little girl in the rhyme--when she is nice she
is very, very nice; but when she is bad she is--horrid!"

After all, the mysterious preparations were completed before the return
of the church party, for the service had been unusually lengthy, and
Esmeralda was champing with impatience before the latch-key clicked in
the lock.  There was great kissing and hugging beneath the mistletoe,
and Bridgie was sent flying upstairs to take off her wraps, in
preparation for the great exhibition.

"I have laid out our presents in the dining-room, and they take up all
the table, so there will be no dinner until they are distributed.  I've
lighted the lamp, dear, to make it look more festive.  Hope you don't
mind?  It was just the least thought in the world gloomy in that back
room this morning."

"Anything you like, dear! anything you like!" cried Bridgie the docile;
then she looked at Sylvia, and beamed with satisfaction as Geoffrey
offered his arm to support the invalid's halting footsteps.

They led the way together, and she seated herself in state in an arm-
chair, while the brothers and sisters crowded in at the doorway,
exclaiming volubly at the sight which met their eyes.

The table had been pushed lengthways against the window, the crimson
curtains making an effective background to its heaped-up treasures.  The
lamp stood at the farther end of the room, casting a subdued rosy light
on the eager faces.  It was not exactly a "cheery" illumination, but it
was certainly becoming, and lent an air of mystery to the everyday
surroundings.

"A new lamp-shade!  How lovely!  Pink silk and roses.  Wouldn't it make
a sweet garden hat?" exclaimed Bridgie rapturously.  "Is that my
present, Joan?  How did you know I wanted a shade?"

"That's a present for the house; yours is over there in that round box;
Geoffrey will hand it to you.  There's a present for everybody, and one
for you all together.  You'll see that last!"

At that every eye turned curiously at the curtained picture-frame which
stood artfully supported by boxes at the place of honour at the farther
end of the table.  Evidently this was the grand climax of the
entertainment, but meantime there were half a dozen excitements in
store, all calling for rapturous acknowledgments.

Bridgie's round box was found to contain a muff of real Russian sable,
on receiving which, to use her own expressive phrase, she "nearly
swooned with delight."  She sat purring over it, and rubbing it fondly
against her cheeks, while dandy Jack was presented with a dressing-case,
fitted with silver and ivory, Pat with a handsome camera, and Miles with
a bicycle deftly wheeled from behind the curtains.

Even the servants had been remembered, for there was a bulky parcel
addressed to each name, and Sylvia grew red with mingled pleasure and
embarrassment as a casket of French bon-bons was deposited on her knee.
It was a delightful scene, and not the least delightful part of it was
the enjoyment of the young couple themselves, and their whole-hearted
participation in the pleasure of the recipients.

It is the custom of most donors to depreciate their gifts, but that was
not Esmeralda's way.  Not a bit of it!  She was a capital show-woman,
and if by chance any detail of perfection passed unnoticed, she pointed
it out forthwith, and dilated at length upon its virtues.  Jack turned
over the silver-topped bottles, and peeped at his reflection in the
mirror; Miles tingled his bicycle-bell, and balanced himself on the
saddle; Sylvia handed round bon-bons and surreptitiously fumbled to
discover how many rows the box contained; and Pat demanded immediate
orders for family groups.  It took some little time to restore order,
but Geoffrey stood patiently waiting until he could make himself heard,
his hand stretched out to uncover the curtained frame.

"Now for the general present!  With best wishes to the family circle,
from Joan and myself.  Are you ready?  Very well, then, here you are!
One, two, three!"

With the last word he whisked off the cloth, and a gasp sounded through
the room, followed by a silence more eloquent than words.

Sylvia stared with widened eyes at the picture of a girl's head,
strangely like and yet unlike that precious photograph which Bridgie had
exhibited with so much pride.  It was Pixie--that was quite evident--but
an older, bigger, wonderfully smartened edition of the elf-like child.
The dark locks were rolled back in pompadour fashion over a high
cushion, the plait turned up in a queue, fastened at the nape of the
neck by an enormous outstanding bow; the cheeks were fuller in outline,
and the disproportion between nose and mouth less marked.  She was by no
means pretty, yet there was a charm about the quaint little face which
made the onlooker smile involuntarily and feel a sudden outgoing of
affection.

"P-pixie!" gasped Bridgie in a breathless whisper.  She rested her cheek
against the muff, and stared before her with rapt grey eyes.  "Pixie's
portrait!  Oh, Esmeralda--what a lovely thought!  You had it taken for
us?  You sent to Paris for it?"

"Yes--yes!" cried Esmeralda gleefully.  "I knew it would please you more
than anything else to have her with us.  Do you like it?  Do you think
it is good?  Is it quite like her?"

"It's like--yes, but not quite lifelike.  Does she really do her hair
like that?  I can't imagine Pixie looking so neat.  She looks grave,
too--graver than she ever looked, except when she was up to mischief.  I
hope she is not fretting, poor child!  Oh, it makes me long for her more
than ever!  I could look at it all day long!"

Jack stroked his chin, and smiled contentedly.

"That's what I call something like a present!  It's a rattling good
portrait of the Piccaninny, judiciously flattered as portraits ought to
be.  We can't see it, though, in this light.  Let me put the lamp a
little nearer, or take off the shade."

Esmeralda, however, was standing next the lamp, and refused to move
aside.

"We arranged it to give the best light, so it's no use trying to improve
it.  The best view is from over there by the door," she said in her
masterful fashion which would brook no contradiction.  "One can never
see a picture to the best advantage by lamp-light, but you must make
allowances for that.  Do you think it is well done?  It is by a very
good master!"

"Rather starry about the eyes!" said Pat critically.

"Laid on the red rather too thickly about the cheeks!" objected Miles.

Bridgie put down her muff, and went stooping across the room to get a
nearer view.

"Is it oil or water-colour?  I seem to know the frame.  Oh, it _is_ like
her, Esmeralda--oh, so like!  Pixie, Pixie, my little Pixie!"

"_Bridgie_!" cried an answering voice.  The picture swayed, rocked
forward, and fell on its face on the table; a little figure stood
squeezed in between the table and the window.  It was no picture, but a
reality.  Pixie herself stood among them in warm, living flesh and
blood!



CHAPTER TEN.

PIXIE'S REMINISCENCES.

It is wonderful what money can do--in conjunction with generous impulse
and ingenious brain.  Esmeralda hung on to Bridgie's arm relating in
breathless accents how, being herself unable to go abroad until after
the New Year, the happy inspiration had occurred to Geoffrey of
despatching the French maid to her native city to bring back the dear
living Christmas present which now stood before them; how the travellers
had arrived on the previous evening, afire with delight at their own
share in the conspiracy; how she herself had conceived the idea of
presenting Pixie in the form of a portrait, and had brought the frame
from home, and tacked across it a piece of black gauze to heighten the
picture-like effect.

"And I put the lamp as far-away from it as possible, and covered it over
so that she might not have to keep still too long.  Oh, if you could
only have seen yourselves staring at her, and taking it all in grim
earnest!  I never, never enjoyed anything so much in my days!"

"Is it oil colours I am, or water?  I'm flattered, ain't I, as a
portrait ought to be?  Ye couldn't imagine I could be so neat!" cried
Pixie tauntingly, as she pirouetted to and fro on the top of the table,
to which she had lightly sprung at the first moment of discovery.  She
looked like a big French doll, as she swung from side to side, her hands
outheld, her shoulders raised, her tiny feet twinkling to and fro.  Her
pink frock was marvellously smart, the flounces stood out in jaunty
fashion around the ankles, the sash encircled a tiny waist, and the
brothers and sisters stood looking on, joy, incredulity, amaze written
upon their faces.

Bridgie's arms kept stretching out and falling back to her side with
automatic regularity, and still the little figure pranced, and
gesticulated, and blew kisses to right and left, at one moment a merry
Irish vagabond, at the next a French marionette--all smirks and bows and
shrugging shoulders.

"We got the better of you that time, I'm thinking!  Oh, la-la! how it
was droll to hear you all making your pleasantries upon me while I kept
still--so still!  I have never been so still but when I am up to
mischief.  If ye could have seen under the table, I was shaking like a
jelly, but Esmeralda said, `I'll pack ye back as quick as ye came if you
spoil it on me, after all me trouble!'"

"Figure it to yourselves; I was sitting so _triste_ by myself in the
_salon_, thinking of you all at home, and the fun ye'd have without me,
and the slices of plum-pudding fried up the next day the way I like them
best, and never a bite to come my way, when behold I the door opened,
and there enters to me Marie, all smiles and complaisance.  Everything
is altered, she bears a letter from Madame Hilliard--I must pack my box,
and say my farewells, and be ready to start by the train next day.
Fortunately all is ready.  Therese has already prepared for my return.
There was nothing to do but lay the things in the box and drive away."

"And what did Therese say to it all?  How did she and Pere like parting
from you in such a hurry?"

"They wept!" said Pixie tragically.  Her shoulders approached her ears
in eloquent gesture.  "But how they wept!  I also wept to see them weep,
and Marie wept to leave her dear Paris."  She paused, and the solemn
expression gave place to a broad smile of enjoyment.

"There wasn't a dry rag between the four of us, and Pere took snuff to
console himself, and that started him crying harder than ever.  I was so
flurried I couldn't tell which was the topmost, joy or sorrow, until we
had ham and eggs for breakfast this morning, and I felt I was at home.
It's an awful thing to live in a country where there's never a bite of
solid food to cheer your spirits in the morning!  Many's the time me
heart would bleed, thinking of Miles if he'd been there.  Are ye glad to
see me, boys, now you know that I'm real?"

There was no doubt about that.  When at last the little sister
condescended to step down from her perch, she was passed from one to
another in a series of bear-like hugs, from which she emerged flushed
and complacent, to step briskly towards Sylvia and kiss her effusively
upon the cheek.

"How d'ye do, me dear, and how's your illness?  I've heard so much about
it that I expected to see you worse.  You look too pretty to be an
invalid!"

"Hear, hear!" muttered Jack softly.

Sylvia blushed and gripped the little hand which lay so confidingly in
her own.

"Thank you very much.  I am getting better, but I don't feel at all
pretty.  I'm lame, and have to limp about wherever I go, and my hair is
tumbling out.  I have the greatest difficulty to make it look
respectable.  I shall be bald soon!"

Pixie craned forward and examined her head with sorrowful candour.

"It _is_ thin!  Ye can see the scalp shining through like shot silk.
You'll look like an old man with a bald head; but never mind!  Think of
the saving in the morning!  It will be so easy to do your hair!"

There was a burst of laughter from brothers and sisters, while Sylvia
covered her face with her hands and rocked to and fro in mock despair.

"You need never be unduly elated by a compliment from Pixie, Miss
Trevor," said Geoffrey Hilliard meaningly.  "She is the most
transparently truthful person I ever encountered, and favoured me with
several character sketches of my wife before we were engaged, which
might have warned me of my fate if I'd been a sensible fellow.  I have
remembered them, Pixie, many a time since then, and I'm glad to find
your foreign experiences have not affected your candour.  There's
another thing that is not much altered, so far as I can hear--and that's
your brogue, my dear!  It sounds to me almost as pronounced as in the
old days when you were running wild at Knock."

"But it's got a French accent to it now--that's better than English!"
cried Pixie eagerly.  "I was learning to speak quite elegantly in
Surbiton, but Therese wouldn't listen to a word of English out of my
mouth, and if you'll believe me, me dears, my very dreams are in French
the last few months.  There was a _jeune fille_ in Paris who used to
promenade with us sometimes for the benefit of hearing me talk English.
She said the words didn't sound the same way as when they taught them to
her at school.  _Helas le miserable_!  The brogue of her put shame on me
own before I came away."

The shoulders went up again, and a roguish smile lit up the little face.
Bridgie watched it with rapt, adoring eyes; her Pixie, her baby, was
now a big girl, almost grown-up, transformed from the forlorn-looking
elf to a natty little personage, more like the pictures of _jeunes
filles_ on the back of French pattern plates than she could have
believed possible for Irish flesh and blood.  Imitative Pixie had caught
"the air," and the good Therese had evidently taken immense pains with
the costume in which her pupil should make her reappearance in the
family circle.

Bridgie gazed at the buckled, high-heeled shoes peeping from beneath the
flounces, and wondered if it could really be that they held the same
little feet which used to patter about, buttonless, and down at heel;
she looked at the jaunty, outstanding bow which tied back the hair, and
contrasted it with the wisp of ribbon twisted to the proportions of a
tape, and knotted like a cat-o'-nine-tails, which used to bind together
the straggly locks, and as she looked, she felt--shall it be
confessed?--a pang of longing and regret for the days that were no more.
It passed in a moment, for whatever her external appearance might be,
Pixie was transparently the same at heart, and quick to note the
faintest shadow on the face of the dear mother-sister.  She swung round
to face Bridgie, the grey eyes bent upon her in earnest scrutiny.

They saw something written there that had not been visible two years
before--the outward marks of an inward, and very bitter struggle, and
Bridgie flushed beneath the scrutiny of that clear-seeing, childlike
gaze, and trembled at the thought of what was to come.

"Has anyone been unkind to ye, Bridgie?" asked Pixie in deep, full-
throated tones.  She put up her hand and stroked the soft cheek with a
tenderness of pitying love which was more eloquent than words.  "There
are dips in your cheeks, like Miss Minnitt's when she was getting over
the fever, and your eyes look tired.  What has happened to worry ye, me
dear, and take the colour out of your face?"

"She has enough colour to satisfy you at the moment, hasn't she?"  Jack
said, laughing, and Pixie nodded with ruthless candour.

"Because she is blushing.  What are you blushing for, you silly girl?
It isn't as if I had asked about a heart affair.  The girls in France
were always talking of heart affairs, and asking if you were _fiancee_.
They thought you were very old, and must be going to _coif_ Saint
Catherine.  That means that you are going to be an old maid.  I said
yes, of course you were, because you were needed at home.  Esmeralda was
no use, but we could not get on without Bridgie!"

"You miserable, ungrateful child!  This is my reward for all I have done
for you!" declaimed Esmeralda with dramatic emphasis, but Bridgie's face
lit up with a smile of whole-hearted satisfaction.

Thank God!  Whatever her personal disappointment might be, she could
never feel that she was alone in the world--that among all its teeming
millions there was no human being whose happiness depended upon her
presence; she had been spared that worst trial to a woman's heart, and
Pixie's calm taking-for-granted that she was indispensable to the family
circle was the greatest comfort which she could have given.

"No, I shan't leave you, darling.  I have too much to do looking after
you and those three big boys, and when you fly away to nests of your
own, Sylvia and I have all sorts of plans for enjoying ourselves
together.  I have promised faithfully to wheel her about in her Bath-
chair."

"And I will make your caps.  I'm clever at millinery," said Sylvia,
pretending not to hear Jack's murmurs of protest, and looking very
pretty and animated as she sat erect in her chair and gesticulated with
her thin little hands.  "You shall have one with pearl dangles for high
days and holidays, and nice, stiff little black bows for ordinary wear.
We will knit socks and mittens, and play cribbage in the evening, and
talk over the days of our youth.  It's almost a pity we know each other
now, for we shan't be able to romance as much as we would like!"

"Perhaps the romance will come in in some other way!  Perhaps a husband
may interfere with the claims of Saint Catherine!" said Geoffrey,
putting into words the language of Jack's eyes, and everybody stared at
Sylvia's face with embarrassing curiosity.

"I shall never marry!" she said obstinately.  Not that she meant it in
the least, for she did not, but she was one of the girls who foolishly
think it the right thing to protest in public, and who are mistaken
enough to feel a trifle ashamed of the natural womanly longing for
someone to love and to protect them, which God Himself has put in their
hearts.  A few girls there may be who honestly mean such a decision, but
they are very few indeed, while their hearers are invariably sceptical.

Not one of the O'Shaughnessys seemed in the least impressed by Sylvia's
disclaimer, and it was disconcerting to hear Pixie's sympathetic, "Did
no one ever ask ye?  Never mind!  They may still.  You are not so very
old!"

Sylvia made up her mind there and then that it was better to say exactly
what one meant in the presence of Miss Pixie O'Shaughnessy!



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

ESMERALDA CHECKMATED.

Three days after Christmas, Esmeralda and her husband returned to
Ireland, scattering invitations, severally and in bulk, to all the
inhabitants of Number Three, Rutland Road.  Even Sylvia found herself
invited for a long visit, and was the more surprised at this mark of
favour because Mrs Hilliard's demeanour towards her was tinged with
jealousy and uneasy suspicion.  She was willing enough to play Lady
Bountiful, present offerings of fruit and flowers, and be gushingly
sympathetic, but she liked to monopolise the whole attention of her
sisters, and was not well pleased when they in their turn hung about the
invalid's couch.  She had not been an hour in the same room, moreover,
before she had intercepted one of Jack's most melting glances, and the
stare of the great grey eyes left no doubt as to the disapproval with
which she viewed the flirtation.

Sylvia's annoyance converted her into a very hedgehog of dignity, and
the prickly quills kept the young fellow at such a distance that he lost
faith in his own fascinations for the first and only time in his career.
He bade Esmeralda an affectionate farewell, but was in truth well
resigned to her departure--a fact which she was quite sharp enough to
discover.

"Jack is pleased that I am going away!" she said to Bridgie as the two
sisters sat together for the last confidential chat.  "He knows that I
watch him flirting with Sylvia Trevor, and thinks he will get on better
without me.  You really ought to be careful, Bridgie, and not let them
be too much together!"

"Does he flirt with her?  Not more than he does with every other girl,"
said Bridgie leniently.  "I don't see why I should worry myself about
it.  Sylvia is a sensible girl, who is not given to fancying that every
man is in love with her, and Jack is just a dear, soft-hearted boy, who
can't help making pretty speeches, but he would never make serious love
if he did not mean it, and if he did--well, why not Sylvia as well as
anyone else?"

But Mrs Geoffrey Hilliard was not to be so easily appeased.  She threw
back her haughty head, lowered languid eyelids, and drawled out--

"My dear Bridgie, remember whom you are speaking about!  Jack is the
head of the family--he's O'Shaughnessy of Knock!  Eventually, as we hope
and believe, he will go back to take up his own position, and, thanks to
Geoff, the property will be in a very different condition from what it
was when he left.  He must make a marriage which will be a help, not a
hindrance.  And who is she?  Answer me that!  What do you know about
her?"

"She is a dear girl!  She is very attractive!  Her father is abroad.
She lives with an old aunt."

"Exactly!  A pleasant girl in a London suburb!"  Esmeralda's voice was
full of ineffable condescension.  "There are thousands of them, and no
doubt they are charming in their way, but not for Jack.  He owes a duty
to the family as well as himself, and you ought to tell him as much.
You really ought, Bridgie!  Speak to him at once, before it goes too
far!"

"Suppose you speak to him yourself!  When you are so hot upon it, it's a
pity to leave it to me."

"No, I'd rather not.  Jack is so stupid about taking advice.  He would
snap my nose off if I said anything."

"I really don't see why my nose is not as valuable as yours!  Why should
I do your disagreeable work for you?" retorted Bridgie with spirit.
"You did not know that Geoffrey was a rich man when you promised to
marry him, and it's the last thing I would think of myself, so why
should we expect any more of Jack?  I am not going to interfere,
whatever happens, and if you take my advice you won't mention Sylvia's
name to him!"

"I don't intend to, but--"

Esmeralda shut her lips tightly over an unspoken determination.  There
are more ways than one of nipping in the bud an incipient love affair,
but she did not care about confiding her latest inspiration to any
hearer, least of all to Bridgie, who would have given up her most
cherished plans rather than hurt the feelings of a fellow-creature.  She
changed the subject, and talked lightly on impersonal topics until the
moment of parting drew near, when there came a sudden softening over the
beautiful face, and she said in gentle, diffident tones--

"I didn't like to ask before, but I can't leave without knowing,
darling.  Have you heard?"

Bridgie shook her head mutely, and the lines which Pixie had noticed
deepened round her eyes and mouth, but the eyes smiled still--a brave,
steady smile.

"I never shall hear now, Joan.  I've made up my mind to that."

"I don't know how you bear it!  I can't think how you manage to be so
composed and cheerful!  If Geoff had treated me like that, it would have
soured me for life.  You were never sour from the first, and now you
seem quite happy.  Yet, as Pixie says, you have a pathetic look which
shows that you have not really forgotten.  You still care, Bridgie
dear?"

"I shall always care," said Bridgie quietly.  "There's an ache at the
back of my heart, but there are so many things at the front that it gets
crowded out.  Besides, you know, Esmeralda darling, I don't want to seem
to praise myself, but it's a trouble which God has sent me, and I ask
Him every night to help me to bear it in the right way.  It wouldn't be
the right way to let the shadow of it darken other lives besides my own.
If I moped and grizzled, everyone in the house would be uncomfortable,
and they have their own worries, poor creatures, without suffering for
mine!  I made an excellent rule for my own benefit--to laugh downstairs
and cry in my own room, and it answers beautifully, for I'm so tired
when I get to bed that I've no sooner begun repining than I wake up and
find it's morning.  You try it, dear, when you've got a worry.  You'll
find it splendid!"

Esmeralda shook her head.

"Not for me!  What I feel I must show, and sooner than I feel it, if
that is possible.  If I tried to bottle up my feelings it would make me
ill, and the explosion would be all the greater when it did come.  My
only chance is to get it over as soon as possible, but in your case it
is a long slow suspense, which is worse than any definite trouble.  You
are an angel, dear, to bear it as you do!  It's mysterious that it
should have come to you and not me, for you didn't need discipline, and
I, who was always the naughty one, have got all that I want--Geoffrey,
and home, and the dear little boy.  You must come soon, Bridgie, to see
the boy.  He will be getting teeth and all sorts of luxuries, and his
godmother ought to be there to look after him."

Esmeralda rose and strolled over to the glass to arrange her hat and pin
on a filmy veil.  "I must go downstairs now, and say good-bye to Miss
Trevor.  Don't hurry, dear, if you have anything to do.  We don't leave
for a quarter of an hour still."

Unsuspecting Bridgie trotted away to the kitchen to give some orders,
while Esmeralda sailed into the drawing-room, all smiles and amiability.
A peal of laughter greeted her ears as she entered, and there sat Pixie
perched on the end of the sofa, with her hands clasped round her knees,
and her chin poked forward, enjoying to the full the discovery of a new
audience, who was apparently as much interested in the sayings and
doings of the O'Shaughnessy family as she was herself.

Both girls looked up as the rustle of silks heralded Mrs Hilliard's
approach, but while the younger remained serenely composed, Sylvia's
lips tightened, and her eyes gave out an ominous flash.  It was as if
she felt an antagonistic spirit in the air, and braced herself for the
conflict.  Yet nothing could have been more friendly than Esmeralda's
smile--more cordial than her voice.

"I told Bridgie I must really have ten minutes for a farewell chat with
you before I go.  It has been so pleasant to have you here, and I hope
we shall soon meet again.  Has Pixie been amusing you while we were
upstairs?  Come down from that couch, child!  You must be quite cramped.
I am here, so you need not mount guard any longer."

"I'm very comfortable where I am," said Pixie easily.  She laid her head
on one side, and stared at her sister with large, innocent eyes, which
seemed strangely disconcerting to that young lady's composure.  She
frowned, and snapped a bracelet together with quite a vicious snap.

"But you are too old for such inelegant positions.  You are almost
grown-up now, and must learn how to behave.  For goodness' sake get up
before Geoff sees you!  He is so very particular about nice behaviour in
girls."

"'Twas a bad relapse for him when he married you!" muttered Pixie
beneath her breath.  She straightened herself slowly and let her feet
slip to the ground, but Esmeralda realised that nothing but a direct
request would convince her of the extraordinary fact that her absence
was for once more desired than her presence.  For obvious reasons such a
request could not be made, and as the time was quickly passing nothing
remained but to clothe her hints even more circumspectly than she had
intended.

"I am so glad that your foot is really getting better," she said
graciously to Sylvia.  "Bridgie says the nurse is so pleased with its
progress the last few days.  You will be able to walk about soon, and
then if you feel inclined for a change we shall be so pleased if you
will come over to visit us.  It is quiet at Knock, but I would drive you
about, and the air is so delightful that I am sure it would do you good.
You will hear all about the place from Pixie, so that it would not feel
strange to you when you arrived, and we have a few nice friends within
driving distance.

"She would like Mollie Burrell, wouldn't she, Pixie?  That's a young
girl who lives seven miles from us at Knock, but we think nothing of
that distance in the country.  She was always over at the Castle before
Jack went away, and we used to say she felt like another sister.  You
remember how he used to drive over in the cart, and bring her back to
surprise us?"

"I do so!  And the afternoon when she went shopping into the post-office
as they drove through the village, and Tim Hegan came up and began
bidding for the old grey mare, and with that Jack took him into the cart
and drove over to the farm, and never a thought of poor Mollie until the
evening, when she cut him dead limping home through the mud.  'Twas a
cruel thing to do, and the poor creature putting on new boots for the
occasion to do him honour, and says Jack, `I've done for myself this
time!  It would take a cleverer man than myself to twist _that_ into a
compliment!'"

"Oh, that's an old-world story!" cried Esmeralda, with her head in the
air.  Her cheeks had flushed despite her efforts for composure, and she
was uncomfortably conscious that Sylvia was trying to restrain a smile
at this most open contradiction of the implied attachment between Jack
and his Irish neighbour.  Her irritation urged her to stronger measures,
and she said testily--

"It proves how little dependence can be placed upon Jack's promises.  If
he could forget Mollie, it is no wonder that he changes his mind every
other day.  But they made up that quarrel ages ago, and he was over
there shooting in September and squiring her all over the county.  You
should not tell tales out of school, Pixie!"

"Was it me?  I thought it was yourself.  You began saying that they were
such friends, and I thought maybe it would amuse Sylvia to hear--"

"So it does, Pixie.  It amuses me extremely," assented Sylvia with an
intentional emphasis, which made Esmeralda wince once more, for, however
innocent the little sister might be, she felt convinced that Sylvia
Trevor thoroughly understood her implied warning, and was by no means
docile in her manner of receiving it.  She sat up stiff and erect,
smiling into space with an expression of scornful superiority which
filled the beholder with unwilling admiration.  In just such a spirit
would she herself have accepted interference from the lips of a
stranger.  She recognised a kindred spirit, and realised that, putting
Jack out of the question, Miss Sylvia Trevor would be a friend after her
own heart.

The repeated invitation had in it a note of sincerity which had been
wanting in the earlier rendering, but Sylvia only murmured, "Thank you!"
in a politely non-committal manner, and shrank back so decidedly from
the proffered kiss that there was no choice but to substitute a formal
handshake in its stead.

The sisters drove off together to the station, and Sylvia was left alone
to relieve pent-up irritation by making one impetuous resolve after
another, to replace each the following moment by one diametrically
different.

"Thank goodness, she has gone at last!  I can't think how I ever could
have liked her!  I think I dislike her more than anyone I ever met.  How
dare she interfere with me!  How dare she imply that I want to
monopolise her precious brother!  I shall never speak to him again as
long as I live!  I shall go home to-morrow, and take good care that I
never come across when he is likely to be at home.  Perhaps she has
warned him too, as if he were not conceited enough already!  He is worth
a dozen of her all the same, and is far nicer than I thought at first.
It's perfectly absurd to think a man and a girl cannot be in the same
house for a week without falling in love with each other.  I won't
condescend to take the faintest notice of her insinuations.  I shall be
as nice as I like, and give up snubbing him from this minute.  He can be
engaged to fifty Mollie Burrells if he likes; that's no reason why I
should not treat him civilly!"

In the hours which elapsed before the return of the sisters she had had
time to change her mind a dozen times over, to write letters to Aunt
Margaret and burn them in the fire, to invent scathing sarcasms by which
poor Jack was to be reduced to a condition of hopeless subjection, and
rehearse melting scenes when her womanly sympathy would soothe ruffled
spirits and restore him to calm.

All uncertainty as to her conduct was, however, removed by the first
glance at Jack's face when he returned home in the evening, for it bore
the unmistakable marks of real anxiety, and the weary sigh with which he
sank into his chair was something new to his vigorous manhood.

Bridgie bustled in with the tea which always awaited his coming, kissed
him lightly, and hurried away to finish some letters.  Pixie sat hunched
up before the fire devouring a book, and Jack pushed his chair nearer
Sylvia's couch, staring at her in a dumb, melancholy fashion which had
in it something singularly beguiling.  Despite his great height and
muscular form, he looked so helpless and appealing, like a nice child
who has lost a toy, or a big collie dog which turns pathetic eyes
towards his master's face.

Sylvia smiled involuntarily, but it was a very friendly smile, and her
voice had lost its mocking tone as she inquired--

"Well--what's the trouble?"

Jack put his cup on the table and leant towards her, his elbows resting
on his knees, his chin supported on clasped hands.  Pixie read on
undisturbed, soft gurgles of laughter marking her enjoyment of
sensational passages.

"I've had a blow," said Jack, "a ghastly disappointment!  This is the
day when the firm announces the various arrangements for the year,
increases in salary and so on.  I quite understood that I should come in
for a substantial rise, if not a junior partnership.  It was talked
about when I joined four years back, and as nothing was done last
January I made a certainty of it coming off now.  Instead of that, I get
nothing--nothing!  No advance at all upon the payment of the last two
years.  I had it out with the partners this afternoon, and they seemed
to think I had done unusually well.  They implied that it was a piece of
pure imagination on my part to have expected to be taken into the firm."

"But--I know nothing about business except what I have read--but is it
not usual to have something written--a definite agreement which settles
things without the possibility of argument?  If you joined this firm
with the idea of being made a partner, was not an agreement written down
in black and white?"

Jack waved his hand in airy dissent.

"No, there was nothing definite, but we talked it over.--The old fellow
certainly held out hopes for the future!  I made so sure of a
partnership that we took this house in the prospect of being able to pay
for it out of my increased earnings.  It's too expensive as it is for
people brought up as we have been.  I'm the most practical of the
bundle, and with care and attention can make half a crown go almost as
far as an Englishman's shilling; but Bridgie, bless her! wears herself
out saving pennies, and throws away pounds with the best.  In my
father's time there was never any money to trouble about, so she got
into the way of ordering things without thinking what they would cost,
and it's a difficult plan to forsake.  She's done her best, poor
creature!  I wouldn't blame her for the world."

"And--and will you have to leave the house?"  Sylvia's heart sank
drearily at the prospect.  What if the O'Shaughnessys flitted away to a
suburb at the opposite end of the city, and Number Three, Rutland Road
was deserted once more, or tenanted by an ordinary, commonplace family,
such as inhabited every other villa in the neighbourhood!  After the
sweet friendship of Bridgie, the fascinations of Jack, the audacities of
the two boys, the witcheries of Pixie, and last but not least, the
incursions of Esmeralda, exasperating, but to the last degree romantic
and beautiful, Sylvia felt a shudder of distaste at the thought of a
stout mamma and papa, one baby in a perambulator, another in a mail-
cart, and a graduated line of school-boys and girls sallying forth daily
to their appointed tasks.  "Oh, I'm so sorry you will have to leave!"
she sighed, and Jack smiled at her in grateful acknowledgment of her
regret.

"I'm glad you are sorry, but I don't intend to leave.  We have been here
only four months, and I can't face another removal for--many reasons!
We will have to squeeze along somehow until things look up.  A crop of
bills have come in during the last few days to make matters worse, and I
will have to talk things over with Bridgie to-night.  I hate to worry
her, but there must be some system, or we shall find ourselves in the
workhouse some fine day.  And now there is the child to think of.  She
will be an extra expense!"

Sylvia glanced quickly across the room at the figure in the depths of
the arm-chair.  She sat motionless, her head bent over her book, but
Pixie was one of those intensely alive little creatures who seem to
infect their very surroundings with vitality.  It seemed to Sylvia that
the pages fluttered in agitated fashion, the bow of ribbon holding back
her hair seemed of a sudden to stand out at attention, the knotted ends
looked like two alert, curious ears at the back of her head.

How much had Pixie heard?



CHAPTER TWELVE.

A FAMILY COUNCIL.

That night after dinner Jack broke the news of his disappointment to the
assembled family, who bore the shock with surprising resignation.  Pat
whistled, and said, "Just our luck!  Ah, well, if it's no better, let's
be thankful it's no worse!"  Miles suggested cheerfully, "Why don't you
chuck it and keep a shop?  Then we should get all our food for nothing."
And Bridgie's sigh turned into a smile as she cried, "What a blessing
we took this house when we did!  Now we should not have been able to
afford it, and we should never have known you, Sylvia dear!  It's funny,
isn't it, to think that this little crib is too big for us?"

"Oh, awfully funny!" said Jack drily.  He had opened the topmost drawer
in the writing-table and taken out half a dozen red-backed books and a
bundle of bills.  "The fact remains that we shall have to spend at least
a hundred a year less than we calculated if we want to keep out of the
Bankruptcy Court.  I don't know how it is, but I seem to have given the
money for half these bills, and yet here they are again!  I was
perfectly horrified to see them.  This coal bill, for instance,--I
remember distinctly giving you two sovereigns one morning just as I was
starting for town--"

Sylvia sat up hastily and fumbled for the stick by which she supported
herself about the house.  It seemed to her impossible that such intimate
family affairs could be discussed before a stranger, but at the first
movement Jack inquired eagerly where she was going, and both he and
Bridgie laughed to scorn the idea of privacy.  The presence of a
stranger seemed indeed to whet their interest in the forthcoming
discussion, which was conducted throughout with a cheerfulness and
composure which contrasted strangely with Miss Munns's weekly
lamentations over her tradesmen's accounts.

"'Deed, I remember quite well!" said Bridgie, referring to the money
which had been given to her in settlement of the coal bill.  "It was the
morning the cat got lost in the oven, and all of us searching the house
over because of the piteous mews of it.  It crept in, Sylvia, when the
door was open, after the bacon came out, and Sarah pushed it to as she
passed, so the poor creature had a fine Turkish bath of it before we
found her.  Did I not pay the bill, after all?  I suppose I was short of
money for something else.  It's wonderful the way it slips away when you
are keeping house!"

Jack sighed and took up another paper from the table.

"There's another here.  I know I gave you ten shillings to settle this
ironmonger fellow.  Eight and threepence!  It's ridiculous running on
bills for little sums like this."

"I paid it!  I paid it!" cried Bridgie triumphantly.  "I distinctly
remember, because there is such a funny little man in the shop who says,
`What is your next pleasure, madam?' when you buy a box of tacks.  I
remember distinctly going in and paying something."

"Very well, then, you must have the receipt.  Where have you put the
receipt?"

Bridgie looked vaguely round the room, turned out the contents of her
writing-pad, peeped into a drawer under the table, searched the bottom
of the stocking-basket, the pocket of her dress, then stroked her chin
meditatively, and said--

"Perhaps I was paying for something else!  I remember now that I _did_
buy a saucepan."

Jack sighed again, and paced up and down the floor, but he showed no
signs of anger or even surprise, and his voice was quite apologetic as
he said--

"I'm afraid you will have to be more methodical, dear, if we stay on in
this house.  We shall never know how we stand if bills keep coming in
when we think they are settled.  We had better hold a cabinet council
and decide how much we can afford to spend in housekeeping and other
departments, and cut our coat according to our cloth.  It will be
difficult after the way things went on at Knock, but it's our only
chance.  I tried to put down my private expenses this afternoon, and was
horrified to find how heavy they were."

Bridgie cast an admiring glance upon him, and turned to Sylvia with an
air of pride.

"Isn't he splendid, now, at his age, talking like an old man for wisdom
and prudence!  You may well say things are different from what they were
at home, for there, if the worst came to the worst, you could always
fall back on the pigs and the vegetables that grew for nothing at your
door.  The idea of paying fourpence for a cauliflower takes me heart out
of me every time I go marketing, and the bacon is no sooner bought, than
it is eaten.  Well, I'm willing enough to learn method, but who's to
teach me?  Saving your presence, Jack, you're just a beginner yourself!"

Sylvia chuckled mischievously, and her eyes danced with amusement.

"There is a mistress in the art at your very door!  Aunt Margaret would
be enchanted to instruct you, and her housekeeping is a marvel of
accuracy.  She could tell you exactly how much she spent last year on
soft soap, and the reason why it was more in ninety-six than in ninety-
seven.  She could walk about the house in the dark and put her hand on
the blue-bag and the list of last week's washing.  She makes lists of
everything she possesses, from household linen to the Christmas cards
which she sends out and receives.  Her dresses last for best for four
years before they are turned for afternoon wear, and two years later
they are re-dipped for mornings.  They have histories, like her
relations, and make valuable Christmas presents to the charwoman on
their eighth birthday.  She thinks I am recklessly extravagant because
my dresses are worn-out in a year!"

"I'll ask her to teach me at once!  I'll begin making lists this very
afternoon!  I'll practise shutting my eyes and searching for the blue-
bag," cried Bridgie ardently.  "Jack dear, I'll be a model housekeeper,
and save so much money that we shall be quite rich."

She was all smiles and complaisance, and sat down for the cabinet
council with an unruffled brow, but, as we all know, it is more
difficult to face one or two definite difficulties than an army of
shadowy deprivations, and when the division of the family income made it
necessary to subtract considerably from her housekeeping allowance, and
to saddle her in addition with several outside expenses, Mistress
Bridget sighed and showed signs of rebellion.

"Such a lot of trouble for such a trifling saving!  'Twill destroy me
altogether to be fussing over every halfpenny.  What would it matter if
we were a trifle in debt at the end of the year?  Geoffrey would pay a
hundred pounds without knowing it, and be proud to do it into the
bargain!"

"But I won't accept it.  He has done quite enough as it is.  He has paid
for Pat's training, and will give him the agency as soon as he is ready
to take it, and he paid for Pixie's lessons in Paris.  I could not
refuse what was good for them, but I'll keep my own house, or give it up
altogether!" said Jack proudly, and Sylvia nodded her head in emphatic
approval from her place of vantage on the sofa.

Pat and Miles also applauded the declaration of independence, and
accepted their own share in the contemplated economies with unperturbed
serenity, while Pixie sat solemnly in a corner, turning her eyes on the
face of each speaker in turns, her shoulders heaving with suppressed
emotion.  Of all the members of the family it was evident that she took
the present difficulty most seriously, and Sylvia was strengthened in
the conviction that she had heard and taken to heart the reference to
herself which had been made in the afternoon.

She made no reference to the subject, but three times over the next day
Sylvia entered a room in time to hear a hurried rustle and scramble, and
behold Pixie gazing into the fire with an air of elaborate
unconsciousness--the newspaper rolled into a ball beneath her chair.  It
was always open at the advertisement sheet, moreover, so that the
onlooker had not much difficulty in guessing the character of the
letters which were inscribed with such deep-breathed earnestness in the
afternoon.

They were posted in the pillar-box at the corner of the road, and Pixie
marched back to the house and sat herself down with an air of mysterious
importance.  Her head was held proudly erect, her lips pressed tightly
together as if nothing, no nothing, would induce her to put her secret
into words, and Sylvia smiled to herself, and from the experiences of a
week's acquaintance, gave her exactly five minutes in which to divulge
the whole story.

"If you were threatened with a danger--a hidjus danger--what should you
think would be the best way to avoid it?" asked Pixie earnestly, at the
expiration of two minutes and a half.

Sarah had that moment brought in the lamp and brushed up the fire, and
the little room looked wonderfully cheerful and cosy.  It was just the
time and opportunity for a confidential chat, and Sylvia sat herself
down in the arm-chair with a pleasant sense of expectancy.  She was
allowed to sit up for an hour or two in the day, and that in itself was
a cheering circumstance.

"If I were threatened with a danger, how should I try to avoid it?  I
really don't know, Pixie.  What do you advise yourself?" she asked
smilingly, and Pixie smote her fists together, and stamped on the floor
with dramatic emphasis.

"Ye ought to march straight out and meet it!  That's what Therese has
been teaching me all these years, for, says she, `Bridgie, the dear, is
so soft-hearted that she'll never believe but that everything will come
right if ye sit still and look pleasant.'  The last thing but one that
she said to me before parting was that I must look after the family and
keep them out of trouble; so I've been reading over the papers to see
how I can make some money, and it's wonderful the choice you can have!
I thought at first about taking a situation, but it's better that I
should stay at home to look after Bridgie, and teach her how to use up
the scraps as they do in France.  Me dear, the most elegant soup made
out of nothing at all but the scraps ye would throw to the hens!
There's one advertisement which says a lady like meself can earn a
handsome income in her own home, without interfering with present
duties.  It sounds so light and pleasant that it quite struck my fancy;
and only two shillings for samples and directions!"

"Oh, Pixie, did you really send it?  I'm so sorry you did that without
telling me first.  I'm afraid it's a hoax, dear!  It sounds too good to
be true!"

"But it says so plainly in those very words.  I'll show it to you if you
like.  It's printed!" cried Pixie in a tone of shocked reproof which
silenced the protests on Sylvia's lips.  If her suspicions were correct,
time would teach the lesson that even printed advertisements were not
always accurately truthful, but she had not the heart to dilate on the
perfidiousness of mankind in the presence of such innocent trustfulness.
She murmured apologetic phrases, and Pixie beamed once more and
continued her story.

"There's another gentleman wants you to go round and sell books.  I've
written to him, but I'd rather do things at home.  Did you ever hear of
anyone making a fortune by addressing envelopes?  They want someone to
do that too, but I write so slowly meself, and it's only a shilling a
thousand.  A literery lady is wanted to correct proofs.  That would be
nice, because they might be stories.  How do you spell `literery',
Sylvia?"

"L-i-t-e-r-a-r-y!"

"Not `e-r-y?'  You are quite sure?"

"Absolutely sure!"

"I put `literery'!" said Pixie, with a sigh.  Perhaps it will prejudice
him against me!  Spelling was never my strong point, but that was worse
than ignorance--with the paper lying beside me for reference!  The best
of all is a shop that wants you to colour photographs.  I love painting
pictures, and the scrap-books I've done for hospitals would fill a
museum.  Of course, these would have to be done carefully, but I've seen
Therese sketching at Versailles, and artists painting in the Louvre, and
I'm quick at imitating.  They wanted three shillings to sell you the
paints and brushes, and it will be cheap if it brings in pounds a week.
"Twas a good thing Esmeralda gave me a sovereign before she left, and I
could get the stamps without anyone being the wiser.  I thought, you
see, it would be so nice to keep it a secret until I could go to Bridgie
with my earnings in my hand.  You will promise truly and faithfully not
to tell?"

"If you will promise not to send any more money without asking my
advice.  I think you ought to do that, Pixie!"

"I shan't need to, me dear.  I'll earn enough as it is.  Will I get the
replies to-morrow, do you think?  The letters ought to be delivered to-
night!"

Sylvia felt doubtful whether answers would ever be received, but as
events proved, she was wrong, and Pixie was right, for her inquiries
were answered by return of post, and on the first opportunity handed
over for inspection.  The philanthropist who provided remunerative work
for gentlewomen at their own homes without interfering with present
duties, forwarded samples as promised, the which Pixie spread out on the
table with an air of depression.  They consisted of a two-inch length of
a simple stamping-off pattern, a fragment of black net, and a few dozen
common jet beads, wrapped in a paper.

"You iron off the pattern on the net, and then you sew round it with the
beads, and then ye cut off the scallops, and then it's jetted lace!" she
explained anxiously.  "And when it's jetted lace, ye go out and sell it
to the shops."  She sighed deeply, and turned over the patterns with her
fingers.  "How much a yard is jetted lace, Sylvia?"

"I don't know exactly, but I should think a narrow width like this could
not be over a couple of shillings at the most."

"And it would take me months to do, and be puckered at that!  It's such
wobbly stuff to sew.  Even if I did a lot, I'm afraid the shops would
never buy it."

"I'm afraid not, Pixie.  I wouldn't waste your time trying, dear!"

Pixie sighed again and carefully replaced the fragments in their
envelopes.

"It was very kind of them to send them so soon, and if I was clever with
my fingers, it would be a fine idea, but I know quite well it would be
puckered.  Will I send back the patterns, do you think?  They might be
useful for someone else."

"I think whoever sent them can very well afford to send another
selection to the next inquirer.  I should not dream of wasting a stamp
on them," replied Sylvia drily, and as she spoke she pulled Pixie nearer
to her, and kissed her with a fervour which was somewhat startling to
the recipient.

"Are ye sorry for me?" she queried.  "Ye needn't be, because I shall
have so much to do with the photographs that I am not disappointed a
bit.  They have sent me one to paint, and if I do it to their
satisfaction they can keep me in constant work.  They don't say anything
about paying, but I expect that will be settled next week.  Here's the
paints, and here's the lady!"

Sylvia looked, and beheld half a dozen cheap paints such as are found in
a child's sixpenny box, a thick and a thin brush, equally common, and a
photograph of a buxom lady with a mop of tousled hair, swinging in a
hammock-chair under some trees, while a flight of marble steps led up to
a palatial mansion in the background.  She read the letter, and found
that Pixie had accurately described its contents.  It appeared that the
firm was in pressing need of outside help, and had practically unlimited
work to bestow upon ladies "with artistic tendencies."

Judging from the note-paper, the handwriting, and the style of the
photograph itself, the critics could not be very severe, and for a
moment Sylvia found herself wondering if by chance Pixie had indeed
found some work within her scope.  She herself knew little about
painting, but after a long discussion of the different features of the
photograph, she succeeded in dissuading the youthful artist from a
somewhat violent scheme of colour, and in extracting a promise that the
completed picture should be brought across the road for her inspection
before it was despatched, for by this time Miss Munns was once more
settled at home, and the last evening of the happy visit had arrived.

Sylvia tried not to allow herself to think how quiet and dull the days
would seem with only Aunt Margaret as a companion; how hard it would be
to sit contentedly playing cribbage in the evenings, while across the
road, within a stone's-throw from the window, was this dear, bright,
homey room, full of young creatures like herself.  She told herself that
she had had a happy holiday, and ought to go home refreshed and cheered.
She made noble resolutions to be more patient and considerate, and
pretended that she was really quite relieved to be leaving Jack
O'Shaughnessy, for it was far more difficult to withstand the humbugging
eyes now that she knew what a dear kind fellow he was at heart, and he
on his part seemed quite embarrassingly sorry to say good-bye!

"You have not been half so nice to me lately as you were the first few
days," he said plaintively in the privacy afforded by the strains of a
comb orchestra vigorously conducted at the end of the room.  "I must
have offended you without meaning it; clumsy fellow that I am!"

"Oh dear no, not at all.  It is only that I am getting better, and my
natural bad temper is asserting itself.  Most people are mild when they
are ill," she replied lightly, but Jack was not so easily silenced.

"That's not the reason.  Saving your presence, you are better tempered,
not worse, but there's a difference all the same.  I suppose you don't
like me so well now that you know me better?"

"On the contrary, I like you infinitely more."  Sylvia hesitated a
moment, then added with sudden resolution, "I thought you were a very
agreeable flirt; you amused me, and I enjoyed being flattered; but now I
think you are a real good friend, and I treat you in a different way.
One gets tired of compliments, but friendship grows better and better
all the time."

Jack coloured, and was silent.  Sylvia wondered if he were offended by
the plainness of her words, but when he turned to her again, there was
the frank, manly expression in his eyes which she liked most to see.

"May I come and call upon you sometimes in the evening?  I shall have no
chance of seeing you in the daytime."

"I should like it very much, but it is not my house, remember, and Aunt
Margaret is not fond of young men."

"But I am terribly partial to old ladies, and I never met the one yet
that wasn't wrapped up in me before we parted.  I've got a way with old
ladies!" said Jack complacently.  "There was an old dear in Ireland who
managed everyone for miles around, but she was as soft as putty in my
hands.  The poor girl, her daughter, was not allowed to join in any of
the fun that was on hand, and when there was anything special coming on,
she'd write pitiful letters and ask me to lunch.  I always went--she had
very good eyes of her own!--and she'd meet me in the drive, and put me
up to what she wanted.  By the time the old lady had told me all about
her hens, and her servants, and her latest quarrel with her neighbours,
and I'd flattered her by saying her rheumatism was the pick of any in
the county, she'd be ready to eat out of my hand.  And I'd fix up to
call for Mollie, and see her safely home after the show was over."

"Mollie?  A pretty name!  Is it common in Ireland?"

"It is so.  We knew a stack of them at Knock, but Mollie Burrell was the
best of the bundle."

Sylvia smiled, but her lips felt stiff, and the effort was not a
success.  A little weight of depression settled over her spirits.  She
felt anything but sympathetic for the deprivations of Miss Mollie
Burrell.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

BARGAIN-HUNTING.

Two days after Sylvia's return home, Pixie took the tinted photograph
across the road for inspection.  She had toiled at it with conscientious
effort, but, alas! the result was pathetically bad, the paint being laid
on in uncertain daubs, while carmine cheeks and scarlet lips laid the
buxom lady under suspicion of sickening for fever or some other deadly
complaint.  Pixie herself was vaguely disquieted by the general effect,
but, as she earnestly explained, you "got used to it after a bit, and it
didn't look so bad.  And even if it was only half price this time, it
would be encouraging to the family!"

Sylvia refrained from criticism, but helped to pack the work of art
between two sheets of cardboard in readiness for the post, and after
that was done, took her visitor downstairs to be introduced to Miss
Munns.

The old lady was sitting darning stockings, with a newspaper spread over
one half of the table and a little bowl standing ready to receive the
snippings of worsted.  On the baize cloth at the other end stood an
indiarubber plant and four little artificial ferns.  A gas fire
flickered in the grate, a wire blind shut out the view, the chairs stood
ranged in mathematical order against the walls, the very newspaper was
folded into an accurate square and put away in the rack, and Pixie
looked round with awed eyes the while she was introduced.

"This is Bridgie's youngest sister, Aunt Margaret--Pixie O'Shaughnessy."

"I hope you are quite well, my dear," said Miss Munns.

"Good morning, madame!" said Pixie in her most Parisian manner, not
attempting to shake hands, but bowing with an air of gracious effusion
from half-way across the room.

Aunt Margaret let the stocking drop in her lap and stared over her
spectacles, shaking her head solemnly as Sylvia related how the new-
comer had just returned from Paris, where she had been living under the
charge of an old governess.

"That accounts for it!" she said darkly, when the explanations were
finished.  "I never can understand why people want to go abroad when
there are so many good schools at their door.  When I was a girl I went
to Miss Banks at Peckham, and it was most select.  Every girl over
fifteen wore a bonnet; mine was white Dunstable, with check ribbons,
blue and white.  I wore it with a dress with silk pipings, and it was
very much admired.  My cousin Gertrude went to Paris, because her father
had business on the Continent, and she never got over it for years.
They gave her dreadful food, and when she could not eat it, it was put
aside and brought up meal after meal.  She told me as a solemn fact that
they used to put fruit in the soup, and there was something dreadful
made of cabbages.  Did they give you cabbages, my dear?"

"Mais oui, madame!" returned Pixie, involuntarily returning to the
language of the place of which they were speaking.  "But they were
delicious, those cabbage!  Mademoiselle has without doubt had an unhappy
experience.  The cabbage of France is a most excellent cabbage.  He
resembles himself absolutely to an English cabbage, but he is more well
prepared."

"Speak English, my dear, for pity's sake!  I never could understand that
gibberish.  My poor father paid extra for me to learn under a native,
but it seemed as if I always turned against it.  Well, I don't
understand about the cabbages; Gertrude certainly said they were quite
sour, and mixed with all manner of horrible things!"

"Perhaps you mean sauerkraut, Aunt Margaret.  She would hardly have that
in Paris.  Are you quite sure it was not Germany where she was at
school?"

"Berlin, was it?  Berlin!" said Miss Munns, meditating with her finger
to her lip.  "Yes, I think it was, because I remember I always
associated it with the wool.  All these foreign schools are alike.
Nothing comes of them but bowing and scraping.  Give me a good sound
English education!"

Miss Munns threaded her needle through the heel of the black stocking
with an expression which seemed to imply that the last word was spoken
on that subject, and Pixie put on her most engaging manner as she
replied, as if anxious to prove that she was not altogether ruined by
her Continental experiences--

"Madame is without doubt so clever that she does not need to be taught.
Sylvia has told us that you could teach Bridgie better than anyone else.
She is the best meaner in the world, is Bridgie, but it comes natural
to her to forget.  Sylvia said it was wonderful the way you managed the
house.  You could find the blue-bag in the dark!"

"Find--the blue-bag--in the--dark!  Why should I find the blue-bag in
the dark?  What do I want with it in the dark?  The blue-bag!  Why
should I look for the blue-bag?" cried Miss Munns, all anxiety to fathom
the meaning of this perplexing statement.

The most elaborate explanations on Sylvia's part failed to solve the
mystery, and she kept on reiterating, "Why blue-bag?" in tones of
baffled curiosity, while Sylvia lay back in her chair and sighed, and
raised her eyebrows and stared hopelessly at the corner of the ceiling.
It was a trying moment, but Pixie entered gallantly into the breach, and
succeeded in diverting attention into another channel.

"It was just to shame us beside you, because we couldn't find it in the
light.  The sugar-basin would have done just as well.  My family had
gone on spending money when there was none to spend, until now at last
it's all gone, and Jack says we must begin to be careful.  Bridgie
thought maybe if you would give her a hint it would be useful, as she
has no one to teach her."

"I never earned a sovereign in my life, but I should be afraid to say
how many I have saved!" said Miss Munns complacently.  "There is nothing
wasted in my house, my dear, and I should be only too thankful to tell
your sister the way your servants behave when her back is turned.  The
light is flaring in their bedroom until after eleven at night, and I've
seen them myself running after the grocer's lad to give him extra
orders.  Does your sister allowance them in butter and sugar?  Depend
upon it, if she doesn't, they eat twice as much as they should.

"If she brings her books over to me, I will tell her exactly what
quantities she ought to order.  It's hard on a young man like your
brother to have to provide for such a long family.  I suppose you will
be doing something for yourself in a couple of years when you are old
enough to go about alone.  You will be able to turn your education to
account, and give lessons in the French language.  You look more French
than English, as it is, and have just their way of twisting yourself
about as you talk."

"Aunt Margaret!" cried Sylvia reproachfully, but Pixie's eyes brightened
as at a sudden suggestion, and she cried eagerly--

"Do I?  Do I really?  Oh, I'm so glad!  If you saw me in the street,
would you think I was a Parisian?  Oh, thank you so much for saying so!"

"Humph!  You're easily pleased.  I should not take it as a compliment if
anyone said that to me.  I'm an Englishwoman, and a good subject of
Queen Victoria, and I'm thankful to say I look it.  No one would mistake
me for a French madam!"

"No, they wouldn't.  You are a different shape," said Pixie truthfully,
whereupon Miss Munns sent a sharp inquiry over the edge of her
spectacles, but the glance which met hers was so guileless that no
suspicions could live in its presence.  So she said, "Humph!" once more,
and that ended the discussion.

Pixie renewed her study of the newspapers with fresh interest after this
conversation, and made marks against quite a number of advertisements,
which, however, she took no active steps to answer, pending the verdict
from the photographic company.  It came at last, and proved to be a
judicious mingling of praise and blame.

The painting of the photograph, said the critic, displayed great taste
and artistic promise, though unfortunately the execution did not quite
come up to the high standard of excellence required by the firm.  No
doubt this deficiency was largely caused by a lack of proper materials,
and he would strongly recommend further expenditure of five shillings,
for a complete artist's outfit, given which, and a little more practice,
he had no doubt whatever of being able to send a constant supply of
work, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Sylvia was shown this missive in due course, and tossed it from her with
impatient hand.

"You must not send it, Pixie!  You must not dream of sending it.  Don't
you see, dear, they only want to get money from you instead of giving it
themselves?  You have already sent three shillings, and now they want
five more, and probably next time there would be another excuse for
getting some more.  You can't afford to throw away money like that,
especially without Bridgie's knowledge or consent.  Give it up, dear,
and have no more to do with them."

"I will!" said Pixie sadly; "but you mustn't blame them, poor creatures,
for it's my own fault.  It's the truth that I was short of paints, for
the ones they sent were so dry I could hardly get them to mark, and the
colours wouldn't seem to come right.  It's very kind of them to promise
me work, but I must give it up, for I can't do better without taking
lessons, and where would be the profit in that?  I took hours, and
hours, and hours painting that lady, and ye saw yourself she looked more
like a beetroot than a human creature.  Don't you say a word to Bridgie,
and I'll promise you faithfully I won't send another penny.  I've a new
idea in my head, which maybe will turn out best of all."

She refused to say anything more explicit on the subject, but hinted
that definite information might be forthcoming on the following evening,
and Sylvia wondered what new web for the unwary had caught this most
innocent little fly in its meshes.  She concluded that Pixie must be
expecting another prospectus, but next day the two sisters came across
the road for a few minutes' chat _en route_ for a shopping expedition,
and all the time that the elder was speaking, the younger stood in the
background, rolling her eyes and mouthing unintelligible messages,
evidently intended to convey the information that some great issue was
at stake.

"Don't you envy me, me dear?  I am going to buy new clothes!" announced
Bridgie, beaming.  "Esmeralda gave me a five-pound note before she left,
and, `For pity's sake,' she said, `buy yourself a decent gown!  You're a
disgrace to be walking about the streets, and with Pixie so smart as she
is, too.  Now's your chance to get something cheap at the sales!' and
with that you should have heard her groan to think she'd lost all the
pleasure of hunting for bargains through marrying a rich man!  I want a
dress, and a jacket, and a hat, and a blouse or two for the house, and
gloves, and--"

"Don't you wish you may get them!" cried Sylvia mockingly.  She watched
the two girls walk down the road, and noted that Pixie was arrayed in
her very best clothes to do honour to the mysterious errand, whatever it
might be.  Her felt hat was tilted at an extraordinary angle; the smart
little jacket looked quite different from the ordinary bulky winter
garments which one was accustomed to see; her boots were of patent
leather, and her muff was decorated with a huge rosette, and ends of
ribbon.

Miss Munns might have truthfully declared that she looked French this
morning, and there was a suggestion of a strut in her walk which seemed
to speak of personal satisfaction in her appearance.  Bridgie did indeed
look shabby beside her, but then no clothes, however poor, could ever
make the sweet thing look anything but a lady, and she too held up her
head in triumphant fashion, for was she not going shopping with five
bright golden sovereigns in her purse?

When Oxford Street was reached, the novices eagerly examined the windows
of a famous drapery establishment, in which the most thrilling bargains
were displayed to decoy the passers-by, and on the happy Irish principle
of placing the pleasantest duty first on the list, elbowed their way
upstairs to the millinery department.  The room was blocked with a
throng of excited females all engaged in lifting hats from their pegs
and trying them on before the various mirrors.  Sometimes two of the
number would set their affections on the same treasure, and then the one
who had been unsuccessful in obtaining possession would stand gloomily
by ready to pounce upon it the moment her adversary laid it down.  Two
or three assistants stood at bay trying to answer a dozen questioners at
once, and experienced bargain-hunters were turning over the contents of
the drawers with one hand, and grasping four or five bonnets in the
other.

For a few moments the new-comers were too much bewildered to know what
to do first, but the spirit of plunder soon laid hold of them in their
turn, and they began to pounce upon the most fascinating of the spoils
and to try them on in breathless excitement.

Bridgie looked charming in all, her small head and cloud-like hair
making her an easy person to suit, but, alas! the prices still seemed
ruinous to her innocent mind, and she sadly turned her attention to the
more simple of the models.  These were by no means so becoming as their
predecessors, and Pixie's criticisms were as usual strictly truthful as
she regarded them.

"Ye look a fright.  Ye look old enough to be your own mother.  It takes
all the colour out of your face.  You look quite yellow!"

Bridgie tore the hat from her head, and seized upon a modest brown toque
which lay close at hand.

"Is that better, then?  Is that dowdy enough to suit you?"

"It's hidjus!" cried Pixie with emphasis.  "It's uglier than the other.
I wouldn't have it given to me as a present.  You look an object from
the side!"

"But it's useful--it is useful!" sighed Bridgie dejectedly.  Buying hats
was not so exciting as she had imagined if she were obliged to abjure
the pretty ones, and buy the useful in which she appeared to such
painful disadvantage.  "And I expect it is cheap, Pixie.  Very cheap!  I
have, to think of that, remember!"

She tilted the hand-glass to the side to study the effect which had been
condemned, and as she did so, a sepulchral voice said grimly in her ear,
"When you have quite finished with my hat!" and she turned to behold a
severe-looking, elderly lady staring fixedly at her headgear, and
holding out her hand to claim it as her own.  Poor Bridgie! her cheeks
flamed for the next hour.  She was so hot, and breathless, and agitated
that she would have rushed straightway from the department, but Pixie
stood her ground and remained serenely unperturbed.

"'Twas true!" she cried.  "'Twas only the truth she heard. _'Twas_
hidjus, and no words of yours would make it pretty.  And as for cheap,
she ought to take that for a compliment, seeing the pains she's taking
to get another like it!  Somebody must be trying on your own hat, I'm
thinking.  It was lying over the rail of that chair where the fat lady
is resting.  You'd better be asking her what she's done with it."

Bridgie walked forward and put an anxious Inquiry, whereupon the fat
lady leapt up in alarm, and there against the back of the chair lay a
poor flattened object, with battered crown and crestfallen bows--all
that was left of Bridgie's very best hat!  She was horrified at the
sight, but the fat lady was more horrified still, and so lavish in her
apologies that it was impossible to cherish anger against her.  She
insisted upon herself smoothing out the ribbons and moulding the crown
into something like the original shape, and in doing so bestowed the
information that there was another millinery department downstairs,
where there might possibly be less crowd and more chance of attention.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

"A FRENCH LADY."

The sisters agreed to adjourn forthwith, but just at the moment of
departing a hat was discovered which was in every way what was required,
so they proceeded straight to the remnant counter where a mountain of
material was being tossed about hither and thither by a crowd of
purchasers three rows deep.

"First catch your hare, then cook it," so runs the old proverb, and in
this case the adventure was by no means concluded when the selection was
made.  It was necessary to pay for what you had bought, and that
necessitated a wait of a long half-hour before anyone could be induced
to receive the money.  The glove department was, if possible, still more
crowded, and it was a relief to see through a doorway a vista of a great
hall filled with cases of beautiful ready-made dresses, where, despite
the presence of a goodly number of customers, there was still enough
room to move about, without pushing a way with your elbows.

"Let us come in here and breathe again!" cried Bridgie.  "I don't think
I was ever so tired during my life, but I'm enjoying myself terribly.
It's so exciting, isn't it, Pixie?--and those blouse lengths are quite
elegant.  They will take a lot of making, though.  Wouldn't it be nice
if I could buy a dress all ready, and be spared the work?"

"It would!" agreed Pixie.  "Tell one of the ladies what you're wanting,
and maybe she'll have the very thing.  Here is one coming this way.
Speak to her."

Bridgie cleared her throat nervously as she made her request, for the
show-woman was a most impressive figure, tall, incredibly slight, with
elaborately arranged hair, satin skirts sweeping the ground, and a
manner that was quite painfully superior.  She swept a scrutinising
glance over the sisters as she listened to the request for a simple
house dress, volunteered the information that, "Our cheapest costumes
are in this stand!" in a blighting tone, and began pulling out the
skirts and exhibiting them in professional manner.

"That is a very nice little dress, madam, very neatly made--quite in the
latest style!  Too light?  We are selling a great many light shades this
season.--Do you care for this colour?  This is a very well-cut gown.
Too dark?  I am afraid I have not many medium shades.--Here is a pretty
gown, very much reduced.  Quite a simple little gown, but it looks very
well on.  This embroidery is all hand-done.  The bodice is prettily
made."

Bridgie privately thought the simple little gown a most elaborate
creation, but her hopes went up as she heard that "very cheap," and she
asked the price with trembling hope, whereupon the show-woman referred
to the little ticket sewn on the belt, and said airily,--"Eight and a
half guineas, madam.  Reduced from twelve.  It really is quite a
bargain."

"Ye might as well say a thousand pounds!" said Bridgie hopelessly,
relapsing into a deep, musical brogue in the emotion of the moment, and,
wonder of wonders, the bored superiority of the great lady's manner gave
place to a smile of sympathetic amusement.

She was accustomed to customers who asked the prices of a dozen dresses
in succession, and then floated away declaring that they would "think it
over," never, as she knew well, to return again; but not one in a
thousand was honest enough to make a confession of poverty!  She lived
in an atmosphere of vanity and affectation, and put on her haughty
manners every morning with her black satin dress; but at night she was
only a poor, tired, working woman, going home to a dingy lodging, and
dividing her earnings with an invalid mother and a family of struggling
brothers and sisters.  Her heart went out to this other girl who was so
evidently a lady despite her poverty, and when Bridgie mentioned a
ludicrously small sum as the limit to which she was prepared to go, she
showed neither surprise nor the thinly-veiled contempt which is usual
under the circumstances, but volunteered some really useful information
in its place.

"You will not be able to buy any ready-made costume for that price,
madam, but there will be a special sale of dress materials on Tuesday
next.  If you could be here quite early in the morning, and go straight
to the counter under the clock, you would find some wonderful bargains.
I should advise you to leave it until then, but perhaps there is some
other department to which I could direct you."

"Thank you, I'm dreadfully tired.  Could we go somewhere, and have a cup
of tea?"

The way was pointed out, and the sisters mounted the stairs once more,
took possession of a little table in a corner, and leant back wearily in
their chairs.  The room was crowded like the others, but it was
comparatively quiet, for the ladies were resting after the fray,
stifling surreptitious yawns, and sipping tea with languid enjoyment.

It was a long time before Bridgie could find anyone to attend to her
wants, and meantime the temptation of the parcels lying before her was
too great to be resisted.  "I really must look at those gloves and the
lace ties that are wrapped up with them!  I never had so many new pairs
in my life, but they were so cheap that I hadn't the heart to leave
them.  'Twill be a refreshment to gloat over them until the tea comes!"
She untied the string and complacently folded back the paper, but, alas!
what was then revealed was the reverse of refreshing, for, in some
mysterious manner, the gloves and laces had disappeared, and in their
place lay a fragment of dull, prosaic flannel, at which the poor
bargain-hunter stared with dilated eyes.

"F-flannel!" she gasped.  "Flannel!  It was gloves when it was made up.
What's the matter with it--is it witchcraft?"

"I'd call it stupidity, if you asked my opinion," said Pixie calmly.
"You've stolen a poor creature's parcel, and perhaps she wanted to make
a poultice with it.  It will be awful for her when she goes home, and
her husband groaning in agony, and nothing to relieve him but two lace
ties!  I pity her when she finds it out."

"She has stolen my gloves.  I'm not sorry for her at all, and if she is
an honest woman she will bring them back at once and hand them in to the
office.  I shall take the wretched flannel there the moment we go
downstairs, but I've a conviction that I'll never see my parcel again.
I suppose they got changed at one of those crowded counters.  I don't
think I care for sales very much, Pixie; they are too expensive.  We
will go straight home after we have had tea."

"We will so, and make haste about it.  I wanted specially to be back by
four o'clock."

To Bridgie's surprise, however, ten minutes before the omnibus reached
the corner at which they were wont to alight, Pixie beckoned to the
conductor to stop, and announced her intention of walking the rest of
the way.  There was no time to discuss the point, and as she herself was
too tired to walk a step farther than she was obliged, she sat still and
watched the little figure affectionately until the omnibus rounded a
corner and it was hidden from sight.

She would have been astonished if she had seen the sudden energy with
which Pixie immediately turned right about face and walked away in the
opposite direction, taking a crumpled square of newspaper from her
pocket, and reading over a certain advertisement with eager attention.

"`Wanted a French lady.'--I'm not whole French, but I'm half.  Haven't I
been in their country nearly two years?  `To amuse two children.'--I'd
amuse a dozen, and never know I was doing it!  `And perfect them in the
language for a couple of hours every morning.'  Look at that, now, it's
better than the jetted lace!  Two hours wouldn't interfere with me one
bit, for I've all the day to do nothing.  `Apply personally between four
and six at Seven, Fitzjames Crescent.'  Only ten minutes' walk from me
own door, as if it had been made on purpose to suit me!  And quite a
good-looking house it is, with real silk curtains in the windows."

She tripped undauntedly up the steps and pressed the electric bell, and,
all unseen to her eyes, the little god of fate peered at her from behind
the fat white pillars of the portico, and clapped his little hands in
triumph.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

PIXIE SCORES A SUCCESS.

A butler came to the door, a solemn-looking butler, with a white tie and
immaculate black clothes, but he seemed rather stupid for his age, for
he asked twice over before he could grasp the fact that Pixie had called
in answer to the advertisement, and then stared fixedly at her all the
time he was escorting her to the room where the other lady applicants
were waiting their turns.

Pixie gasped as she looked round and saw ladies, ladies everywhere, on
the row of leather chairs ranged along by the wall, on the sofa, on the
two easy-lounges by the fireside,--old ladies, young ladies, middle-aged
ladies, elderly ladies, shabby and dressy, fat and thin, but all
distinctly past their first youth, and all most obviously French.  They
gaped at the new-comer, even as the butler had done, and she bowed
graciously from side to side, and said, "Bon jour, mesdames!" in her
most Parisian manner, then squeezed herself into a little corner by the
window and listened entranced to the never-ending stream of
conversation.

A room full of Englishwomen would under the circumstances have preserved
a depressed and solemn silence, but these good ladies chattered like
magpies, with such shruggings of shoulders, such waving of hands, such
shrillness of emphasis, that Pixie felt as if she were once more
domiciled in the Avenue Gustave.

The lady in the plaid dress, who occupied the next chair, asked her with
frank curiosity to recount then how she found herself in such a
position, and, being assured that she was indeed applying for the
situation, prophesied that it would never march!  She turned and
whispered loudly to her companion, "Behold her, the poor pigeon!  One
sees well that she has the white heart!"  But the companion was less
amiable, and enraged herself because there were already applicants
enough, and with each new-comer her own chance of success became less
assured.

At intervals of five or ten minutes the butler returned and marshalled
the next in order to the presence of the lady of the house, but, short
as were the interviews, it was a weary wait before it came to Pixie's
turn, and she wondered fearfully whether Bridgie had taken fright at her
absence, and was even now searching the streets in a panic of alarm.
The hands of the clock pointed to ten minutes to six before the butler
gave the longed-for signal, and she smiled at him in her most friendly
manner as she crossed the room towards him.  Without any exchange of
words she divined that he took more interest in herself than in any of
the other applicants, and also that for some mysterious reason he was
sorry for her, and imagined that she was making a mistake, and the smile
was meant at once as thanks and reassurement.

They walked together down the slippery floor, such a slippery, shiny
floor, that one felt as if skates would be almost more in keeping than
boots, and finally arrived at a cosy little room at the back of the
house, where a tired-looking gentleman and a bored-looking lady stood
ready to receive her.  They looked at each other, they looked at the
butler, they looked again at the little pig-tailed figure, with short
skirts and beaming, childlike face, and their faces became blank with
astonishment.

"Bon jour, mademoiselle!" began the lady uncertainly.

"Good day to ye!" said Pixie in response, and at that the bewilderment
became more marked than ever.  The lady sat down and drew a long, weary
sigh.  She was handsome and young, but very, very thin, and looked as if
she had hardly enough energy to go through any more interviews.

"Then--then you are not French after all?"

"I forgot!" sighed Pixie sadly.  She sat down and hitched her chair
nearer the fire in sociable fashion.  "It's just like me to make up me
mind, and then forget at the right moment!  I intended to let you hear
me speak French, before I broke it to you that I'm Irish and all my
people before me."

"I almost think I should have discovered it for myself!" said the lady,
looking as if she were not quite sure whether to be amused or irritated.
"But if that is so, what is your business here?  I advertised for a
French lady."

"You did.  I read the advertisement, but if I'm not French I'm just as
good, for I've just last month returned from Paris, and the lady where I
was staying was most particular about my accent.  Over in Ireland I was
so quick in picking up the brogue that I had to be sent to England to
get rid of it, and I was just as handy with another language.  If I'd
remembered to answer you in French, you would never have known the
difference between me and those old ladies who came in first."

"Old ladies, indeed!  I'll never advertise again if this is what it
means!" sighed the lady _sotto voce_.  She looked across the room, met a
gleam of amusement in her husband's eyes, and said in a tolerant voice,
"Well, then, let me hear you now!  I am a pretty good French scholar
myself, so you won't find me easy to deceive!"

"Perfectly, madam, perfectly!" cried Pixie, gesticulating assent.  She
found none of the difficulty in settling what to talk about which
handicaps most people under similar circumstances, but poured forth a
stream of commonplaces in such fluent, rapid French as showed that she
had good reason for boasting of proficiency.  When she finished, the
lady looked at her husband with a triumphant air, and cried--

"There!  It shows how important it is for children to learn a language
while they are still young.  It can never be mastered so well if it is
left until they are grown-up."

Then turning to Pixie--

"Yes, indeed, you speak French charmingly.  I congratulate you, and hope
you may find it very useful.  You are so young that you cannot have
finished your own education.  Perhaps you are going to school in
England?"

"'Deed I am not.  I want to teach instead.  My brother is a very grand
gentleman, but he's in difficulties.  He has a fine estate in Ireland,
but it is let, and he's over in London trying to make enough money to
get back again, and that's none too easy, as you may know yourself, and
if I can earn some money it will keep me from being a burden on me
friends.  I've answered quite a lot of advertisements, but there was
nothing really to suit me until I saw your own yesterday morning."

"I see!  May I ask if your mother knows what you are doing--if you are
here with her consent?"

Pixie sighed at that, and shook her head in melancholy fashion.

"I've no mother.  She died when I was young, and the Major's horse threw
him two years ago, and I've been an orphan ever since.  There's only
Bridgie now!"

"Poor child!"  The lady looked at the quaint figure with a kindly
glance, thinking of the two little girls upstairs, and picturing them
starting out to fight the world when they should still have been safe
within the shelter of the schoolroom.  "I'm sorry to hear that.
Bridgie, I suppose, is your sister?  Does she know what you are doing?
Would she be willing for you to apply for a situation in this manner?"

"Maybe not at first, but I'd beguile her.  I'm the youngest, and I
always get my own way.  I told Sylvia Trevor, who was staying with us,
and she was very kind, giving me good advice not to do it, but it is to
be a surprise for Bridgie to help her to pay the bills.  If ye want
money, what else can you do than try to earn it?"

"But not at your age, dear!  You are too young yet awhile!"  Mrs
Wallace crossed the room and seating herself in a chair by Pixie's side,
laid a hand on her shoulder with quite affectionate pressure.  "I
appreciate your kindly intention, but I am afraid it will be a good many
years before you are ready to take a governess's place.  You saw
yourself what a difference there was between yourself and the other
ladies who came to see me to-day!"

"I'm more amusing!  Ye wouldn't believe how amusing I can be when I try!
At school there was a prize which was given to the girl who was nicest
to the other girls, and they all voted for me, and I've got it now and
could bring it to show you if you liked.  I'm not exactly clever, and
there was no chance for anyone else at the bottom of the class, but you
didn't say a word about teaching, except French, and I could talk that
all day long!"

"Yes!  I should be quite satisfied if my girlies spoke as well as you
do.  Your accent is charming, and you have just the air, but--but you
are so young--so ridiculously young!"

"So are the children.  They'd like me best!" maintained Pixie sturdily,
and at that Mr Wallace burst into a laugh.  His eyes had been twinkling
for some time past, and he had been stroking his moustache as if to
conceal his amusement, but now he made no more disguise, but laughed and
laughed again, as if he were thoroughly enjoying himself.

"Upon my word, Edith, I believe she is right!  If you consider the
children's feelings, there is no doubt how they would decide.  If you
want them kept happy and bright, now's your chance!  After our earlier
experiences this is really quite refreshing, and I am beginning to think
your advertisement has been of some use after all.  How would it be if
you interviewed Miss Bridgie--I didn't catch the second name--and if she
is agreeable, you might perhaps make some temporary arrangement!"

"O'Shaughnessy.  It's Irish!  I'm sure Bridgie would say yes, for it
would be occupation for me in the mornings, and so near that I could
come by myself.  We live in Rutland Road, but the house is so small ye
would hardly notice it if you passed by.  Jack says if he could get
London rents in Ireland, he'd never do another honest day's work while
he lived.  You could put the whole place down in the hall at Knock
Castle, and never know it was there, and Bridgie says she knows every
blade of grass in the garden.  We had the loveliest grounds at Knock,
all the flowers coming up anyway, and volunteers drilling in the park,
and the glass-houses full of ferrets and white mice, and tomatoes, and
everything you can think of.  If I could make some money we should be
able to go back sooner than we thought, and Bridgie would be so pleased.
When shall I say you are coming to see her?"

"I have not promised to come at all.  You must not leap at conclusions.
It is a most ridiculous scheme, but really--"

Mrs Wallace laughed in her turn, and going up to where her husband
stood, exchanged a few whispered confidences, some scattered words of
which reached the listener's ear.  "Typically Irish!  Preposterous!  No
harm trying.  What about Viva?  So difficult to manage."

The discussion was still progressing when from above sounded a sudden
piercing cry, mounting ever higher and higher, the note sustained in
evident but determined effort.  Footsteps raced across the floor,
followed by a bang as of some heavy wooden structure, a murmured
protest, and two distinct sets of shrieks, each warring against the
other.

Mr Wallace pressed his hands to his head, Mrs Wallace sighed, "Oh
dear, dear, dear!" in tones of hopeless distress, but Pixie cried
eagerly--

"Will I run upstairs and try what I can do?  Will I make them stop, and
laugh instead?"

"You'd deserve the Victoria Cross!" the father declared, while the
mother hurried to the door, and led the way with rapid footsteps.

"They have been brought up by an Indian ayah, and this English nurse
doesn't understand them a bit.  They _have_ trying tempers, there is no
use denying it, but they are dear little creatures _if_ rightly managed.
Oh dear, dear, dear! these dreadful shrieks!  They go through my head."

"Let me go in alone.  They will listen better if they don't see you,"
said Pixie, and walked undauntedly on to the field of battle.  In this
instance it was represented by a remarkably handsome and well-filled
nursery, and the belligerents took the form of two little girls of four
and five, who were seated on the floor, dry-eyed, but crimson-faced from
the effort to sustain their shrieks.  A box of bricks lay scattered by
the window, and an anaemic nurse leant against the wall in an attitude
of despair.

Pixie walked forward, seated herself on the floor immediately in front
of the children, and gazed at them with benign curiosity.  There was no
anger in her face, no warning of punishment to come, her expression was
in such striking contrast with that which they were accustomed to behold
on such occasions, that from pure amazement they stopped crying to stare
at her in their turn.  The moment was hers, and she lost no time in
using it.

"The fat one," she said, pointing gravely to the younger of the sisters,
"the fat one shouts higher, but the thin one,"--the eloquent finger was
turned towards the maid with the golden locks,--"the thin one keeps on
longer.  You have both won!  The prize is that I tell you a story about
the Spoopjacks, when they went to fight the Bobityshooties in the
Christmas holidays!"

Silence.  Viva laid her head on one side and considered the project.
Inda pouted her lower lip, and burst into the story of her woes.

"An' I was jest finishin' ze house, and ze chimbleys was getting ready,
and she comed against me, an' I pinched her leg, and she throwed it
down, an' it was all spoiled, an' the dolls was going to live in it,
an'--"

"The Spoopjacks live in the lamp-posts.  There are seven of them, and
they have tin whiskers, and they went to war with the Bobityshooties
because they ate all the muffins, and there were none left for tea.  So
Nicholas Spoopjack bought six rolling-pins and a watering-cart, and
melted down his whiskers for guns, and they put on red gaiters and clean
pinafores, and marched across the park.  The Bobityshooties were resting
under the trees, and all the little birds were eating up the muffin
crumbs.  The Bobityshooties really live in the pantry cupboard, so that
was how they found the muffins, but they were spending the day in the
country, and Selina Bobityshooty said to her mother--"

"Is that in a book?" queried the elder Miss Wallace suddenly.  She was
an exceedingly precocious young lady, and quick to note the unusual
style of the narrative.  Sometimes the stories in books were about good
little girls with whom she had no sympathy, and even if the heroine were
naughty to begin with, she invariably improved at the end, and never,
never knocked down her sister's bricks.  The Spoopjacks and
Bobityshooties were new acquaintances and promised well, but she wished
to be reassured as regards the moral.  "Is that written in a book?"

"No, it's out of my head.  There are billions and billions of little
girls in the world, and not one of them has ever heard what Selina said
to her mother.  If you will kiss your sister and say you're sorry, I'll
tell you as a secret.  It's awful exciting!"

"All right, I'm sorry, only you pinched me too--go on about Selina!"
cried Viva in a breath.  She kissed her sister on the cheek, and fat
little Inda smiled complacently, and repeated, "Go on 'bout S'lina!"

Outside in the passage father and mother looked at each other with
sparkling eyes.

"My dear, she is worth a fortune to us!" cried Mr Wallace rapturously.
"She understands children, and they understand her; the girlies will be
as good as gold under her care.  I'll tell Spencer to bring round the
carriage and send her home in state, and to-morrow afternoon without
fail you must strike a bargain with Mistress Bridgie!"



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

VIVA'S STORY.

Pixie drove home in state, so puffed up with her own importance that it
was a distinct blow to find the curtains comfortably drawn, and hear the
echo of laughter from the drawing-room.  In all the books which she had
ever read, candles were left burning in the windows to guide the
footsteps of wanderers from the fold, to say nothing of bellmen parading
the streets, and anxious relatives rushing from one police station to
another.  Here, however, all was peace and contentment, and, incredible
as it appeared, no one seemed to have been the least agitated about her
prolonged absence.

Bridgie was perched on a stool in the centre of the fire rug, relating
the history of the day's shopping to the three brothers, and she nodded
cheerily at the little sister as she entered, and saluted her with
unconcerned composure.

"Well, dear, here you are!  Tired after your long day?"

Pixie sank down on the corner of the sofa, and yawned with a nonchalant
air.  If there was one thing which she loved above everything else in
the world, it was to make an impression and be the centre of attraction,
and it was not likely that she was going to let slip such an opportunity
as the present.

"'Deed I'm not tired," she said genially.  "Carriage exercise was always
more to my fancy than walking about the streets.  If we'd been meant to
walk, wouldn't we have had four legs the same as the horses, and if we
haven't, doesn't it show that they were meant to do it for us?  So when
he said the butler should get me the carriage, it wasn't likely I was
going to refuse, and up I drove to the very door!"

Jack stopped short in the middle of crossing the room, Pat peered round
the corner of his chair and twinkled with mischievous enjoyment,
Bridgie's eyes opened as wide as saucers.

"Which door?  What carriage?  What romance are ye telling me?  Haven't
you been with Sylvia since I left you?"

"'Deed I have not.  What made you fancy I had?"

"There was nowhere else to go, and you had not come home.  I made
certain you were with Sylvia!"

"It's a bad thing to be certain about what you don't know.  If any
mischief had happened to me, it would be annoying to you to remember how
you were laughing with your back to the fire, while I was run over in
the street, and having my legs sawed off at the hospital."

Jack frowned at that, and put a quick question.

"Have you been walking about by yourself?  I won't have it at this hour
of the night.  You can find your own way about the neighbourhood in the
daytime, but I won't have you going into town by yourself, or even
across the road in the dark.  London is not Knock, remember, and it
would be the easiest thing in the world to get lost.  Don't let her roam
about without you, Bridgie!"

"'Twas only a step, and barely four o'clock!"  Bridgie's forehead was
fretted with anxious lines, but Pixie nodded back cheery reassurement.

"Don't you repine about me, for I got on famously, and Mrs Wallace is
coming herself to see you in the afternoon.  I've engaged myself as a
French lady to amuse the children, and you shall have the money to pay
the bills.  It was an advertisement in the paper, and you had to call
between four and six, so I didn't want you to know before everything was
settled.  I don't know how much it will be, but Mr Wallace said I was
worth a fortune, because I made them stop howling.  There are only two,
but outside the door you would think they were a dozen, and I made them
laugh, and they sent me home in a carriage."

"What _is_ she talking about?"  Bridgie and Jack exchanged bewildered
glances, and stared in incredulous silence at the little figure on the
sofa.  She had pulled off her hat, and with it the bow of ribbon, and
the loosened hair hung down her back; her hands were crossed on her lap,
there were dark shadows under her eyes.  She looked so small and frail
and childlike that Bridgie felt a lump rising in her throat at the
thought of help coming from this strange and most unexpected quarter.
She rose, and, going over to the sofa, took Pixie's hand between her
own.

"Is it the truth that you are telling us?"

"It is, then!  The solemn truth!  Every word of it."

"What made you think there was any need for you to disturb yourself?
What put it in your head to answer an advertisement at all?"

"Because I didn't want to be a burden to ye, my dear, after all the
money you've spent on me education!"

"A little midget like you to speak of being a burden!  No one would
guess you were there if you weren't so upsetting!  It's no use fifty
Mrs Wallaces coming to see me.  Some other French lady will have to
amuse her children.  This one is wanted at home!"

Pixie smiled composedly, and squeezed the clinging hands.

"I knew you'd say `No' at the start.  So did she.  She was first cross,
and then she laughed, and said it would be a long, long time before I
was ready to teach.  But she didn't really want teaching, only someone
to be funny in French, and when she heard me telling tales, and the
little girls both laughing, she began to think she would love to have
me.  You remember the stories you used to tell me, Jack, about the
Spoopjacks and the Bobityshooties?  I made up a new bit, and they simply
loved it.  It's two hours every morning, and only ten minutes' walk, and
Therese says it's no use beginning to be proud till you've paid your
bills.  You would like me to help you, wouldn't you, Jack?"

"Shades of Mrs Hilliard!" muttered Jack, and shrugged his shoulders
recklessly.  "She will have a few volumes to write to me if I say `Yes!'
You are bound to help me, Piccaninny, whatever you are about, but I
can't bind myself to allow you to go out governessing before you are out
of short frocks.  It is Saturday to-morrow, so I shall be home in the
afternoon, and see this Mrs Wallace for myself.  It's a bad scheme on
the face of it, but it's just possible it may be more feasible than it
sounds."

That was all the length which he would go for the moment, and Pixie was
content to drop the subject, secure in her conviction that time and Mrs
Wallace would win the victory.  She was petted and fussed over to her
heart's content for the rest of the evening, and the story of her
various efforts to retrieve the family fortunes was heard with
breathless attention.  She wondered why the listening faces wore such
tender, pitiful expressions, why lazy Pat flushed, and Bridgie went over
to her desk and spent a whole half-hour sorting out her bills.  It never
occurred to her that her earnest effort to take her own share of
responsibility was a more eloquent stimulus than twenty lectures!

Next afternoon at three o'clock the two sisters and Sylvia Trevor
stationed themselves in positions of vantage behind the curtains, and
looked out eagerly for the advent of Mrs Wallace.  Bridgie could not
divest herself of a suspicion that the promise might have been given as
the easiest way out of a difficulty, but before the half-hour struck a
well-appointed carriage turned the corner of the road, the coachman
glanced at the number on the door, and drew up his horses, when a fluffy
head peered out of the window, and Pixie cried excitedly--

"That's the thin one!  That's Viva!  I expect she howled, and they could
not keep her away.  That's Mrs Wallace!  Isn't it an elegant hat?"

Bridgie peeped and grew quite pink with excitement, for, truth to tell,
mother and daughter made a charming picture as they came up the little
path.  Mrs Wallace looked almost like a girl herself in her becoming
hat and veil, while the golden-haired child wore a white coat and cap
edged with fluffy swan's-down.  Sylvia retreated to the dining-room.

Pixie ran to meet the visitors at the door, and the voice that
exclaimed, "Bon jour, Mamzelle Paddy!" was in itself an augury of
friendship.  The next moment they were in the drawing-room, and Mrs
Wallace was smilingly explaining the title.

"I am sure you must have been very much surprised to hear of yesterday's
interview, Miss O'Shaughnessy! `mamzelle Paddy,' as my husband has named
your small sister, has made quite a conquest of my little girls, and
Viva refused to be left behind when she heard where I was going.  I hope
you were not very anxious about her absence yesterday?"

"Indeed I was not, for I took it for granted she was with some friends
near by.  Please sit down, and get warm.  'Twas a ridiculous idea of the
child's to suppose for one moment that she could fulfil your
requirements; but she's the baby of the family, and has never been
thwarted, and such a kind little creature that she must try to help if
there is any difficulty.  It is good of you to take the trouble to come
and explain, but indeed we have decided already that it is quite, quite
impossible!"

Mrs Wallace gave a start of consternation, and the smile faded from her
lips.  She looked first at Bridgie, then across the room to where Viva
stood on tiptoe dragging at Pixie's sleeve, and reiterating, "Mamzelle!
Mamzelle Paddy, will you come again to my nursery?  Will you tell me
more stories about those peoples in the lamp-posts?"

"Oh, don't say it is impossible!" she said softly.  "I want her to help
me too, and I am so troubled about my children.  Could she--could they
both go into another room for a few minutes, while we talk it over
together?"

"Certainly they could!"  Bridgie raised her voice a tone higher.  "Pixie
dear, go to Sylvia in the dining-room and take the little girl with you.
Show her some of your treasures!"

"I like cake!" remarked Viva pointedly.  She skipped to the door, and
stared round the hall with curious eyes.  "You do live in a poky little
house, don't you?  My mamma's house is much bigger than your house.
Where does the dining-room live?  Is there a cupboard in it that you
keep cake in?  Is Sylvia your 'nother sister?  Who is the man?"

The man was none other than handsome Jack himself, who was enjoying the
rare luxury of a _tete-a-tete_ with Sylvia Trevor, and was not too well
pleased by this speedy interruption.  He frowned when he heard the
opening of the door, but when he turned round and saw the vision of pink
and white and gold, he smiled in spite of himself, as most people did
smile at the sight of Viva Wallace, and held out his hand invitingly.

"Hallo, whom have we here?"

"Quite well, thank you.  How are you?" replied Viva fluently.  She paid
no attention to Sylvia at the other side of the fireplace, but leant
confidingly against Jack's chair, staring at him with rapt attention.
His eyes looked as if they liked you very, very much; his moustache had
sharp little ends which stood out stiff and straight, there was a lump
in his throat which moved up and down as he spoke--altogether he was a
most fascinating person, and quite deserving of attention.  "Are you the
papa?" she asked enviously.  "My papa has got a brown face with lines in
it.  He is very old.  My muzzer is old too.  She is talking to the lady
in the 'nother room, and she said I was to be amused.  You are to amuse
me!"

"No, no, quite a mistake.  You must amuse me!" said Jack solemnly.  "I
have been out all day, and am tired and sleepy, so you must do something
to cheer me up.  What can you suggest, now, that would be really lively
and entertaining?"

Viva reflected deeply.

"I'm learning the `Pied Piper of Hamelin'!"

"You don't say so!"

"Yes, I am.  I'll say it to you now, from the beginning right to the
very miggle!"

"Thanks awfully.  I should be delighted--another time.  Not to-day, I
think, if you don't mind.  I have rather a sore throat."

Viva opened her eyes and stared at the Adam's apple which showed above
the white necktie.  She was trying to puzzle out the connection between
Mr O'Shaughnessy's throat and the Pied Piper, but the difficulty was
too great.  She heaved a sigh, and hazarded another suggestion.

"You tell _me_ a story!"

"That would never do.  I should be entertaining you, and it ought to be
the other way about."

"I'll tell you a story!"

"That's better.  Go ahead, then.  What is it to be about?  Fairies?"

"No, it's not going to be about fairies,--fairies is silly.  Giants are
more sensibler than fairies, because there was a giant once.  There was
Golosher!"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Golosher!"

"Don't know the gentleman."

"Oh, you naughty!  And David killed him in the Bible.  I'll tell you a
story about giants."

"I don't think I am interested in giants."

"Princesses, then, beautiful princesses, and cruel people trying to be
unkind to them, and princes running away and marrying them, and living
happily ever afterwards."

"That's the style for my money!  Fire away, and let us have plenty of
adventure.  I'll lean back in this chair and listen to you."

Viva moistened her lips, swallowed rapidly once or twice, and began her
story in a shrill, high-pitched voice.

"Once upon a long, long time ago, there was a princess, and she was the
most beautiful princess that was ever born.  Everyone said so, and her
face was as white as snow, and her hair as yellow as--"

"Excuse me--brown!"

"No, it wasn't brown.  Bright, curly, golden, down to her--"

"Then she couldn't have been the most beautiful princess in the world,
because I've seen the lady and her hair is brown."

Jack stroked his moustache with a look of lamb-like innocence, and
Sylvia could have shaken herself with annoyance because she could not
help blushing and looking stupid and self-conscious.  Pixie's melodious
gurgle sounded from the background, and Viva cried severely--

"You couldn't have seen her, because she lived hundreds and hundreds of
years ago, when you were a teeny baby.  Golden hair down to her feet,
and her teef were like pearls, and all the godfathers and godmuzzers
came to the christening and gave her nice presinks, only one wicked old
mugian who--"

"Pardon me!  One wicked old--?"

"Mugian!  He's a man what does things.  They always have them in
stories--that the mamma had forgotten to ask, so he was angry and said
she should tumble downstairs when she was grown-up and be lame ever
after till a beautiful prince made her better.  Oh, but I shouldn't have
told you that jest now.  You must pitend that you forget I have told
you.  So then the beautiful princess--her true name was Mabel, but only
I call her Norah because her hair was gold--"

Now it was Jack's turn to gasp and search in vain for the connection
between Norah and golden hair!  It proved as impossible to discover as
that between a sore throat and the Piper of Hamelin, but there was
another allusion in the story which was too fortunate to be allowed to
pass unnoticed.

"The princess was lame, was she? and no one could make her better but
the prince?  That's very interesting.  Could you tell me, now, how he
managed the cure?  It might be useful to me someday."

"Was your princess a lame princess?"

"I think you had better go on with your story, Viva!"  Jack said
hurriedly.  "Your mother may call you away before it is finished, and I
should be disappointed.  When did the prince arrive on the scene?"

"It doesn't get to that yet.  So the princess lived in a house where
there were no stairs.  Only one day when she was walking through the
wood, there was a little house and she went in, and she said, `Oh, what
funny things!' and she went up them, and she tumbled down, and her foot
was underneaf, so she was lame.  An' she lay on the sofa, and the queen-
mamma cried, and the godfathers and the godmuzzers came flying up, only
they could do nothing, and the king said anyone should have the land who
made her better, an' thousands an' thousands tried, an' at last the
prince came riding along on a white horse, an' he looked froo the
window--"

"Jack dear, will you please come to the drawing-room?  We want to
consult you!"  Bridgie's head peered round the corner of the door, her
cheeks quite pink, her eyes shining with excitement.  She gripped her
brother's arm as he came to meet her, and whispered, "It's the most
extraordinary thing--she really means it!  She is charming, Jack,
charming; I can't say `No' to her.  Come and try what you can do!"

But Jack was not a good hand at saying "No," least of all to charming
ladies, and Mrs Wallace took his measure at once, and felt that she had
gained a friend.

"I am trying to persuade Miss O'Shaughnessy to lend your little sister
to me for a short time every day, to help me with my children," she
said, smiling at him under lifted brows.  "I understand that you knew
nothing about her application, and when I first saw her I felt, as you
must have done, that the idea was preposterous, but Viva and Inda fell
desperately in love with her, and have talked of nothing else since she
left.  I think I followed their example, and I am quite sure my husband
did.  He thinks Mamzelle Paddy would be the solution of all our nursery
troubles, if you could be induced to spare her to us.  I would be very
careful of her; I promise you that!"

Jack looked at Bridgie; Bridgie looked at Jack.

"I'd be delighted that she should help you, and it would be an amusement
to her to play with the dear little girls.  If she might come as a
friend--"

"Oh, Miss O'Shaughnessy, how cruel of you, when her great idea was to
help you!  She would be a most welcome friend, but I could not consent
to using her time without paying for it."

Mrs Wallace had approached this question before, and had discovered
that Bridgie was no more embarrassed by a reference to her poverty than
had been Mamzelle Paddy herself.  "We should think any sum cheap which
ensured our little girls being happy and occupied, instead of crying and
quarrelling, as I am sorry to say they do now for the greater part of
the day.  They are too young for regular lessons, but they already know
French fairly well, and would soon be able to speak fluently."

"I can't judge of Pixie's French, but her English is so Irish that it
was a stroke of genius to offer herself in the character of a
foreigner!" said Jack, stroking his moustache, and smiling to himself in
whimsical fashion.  "Of course, she is quite confident that she could do
all you require, but you must not listen to her own account of herself.
If you offered Pixie the command of the Channel Fleet, she'd accept
without a qualm!  If you want the kindest-hearted, most mischievous
little ignoramus in the world, Mrs Wallace, it would be waste of time
to search any farther, for you have found her already!  She will keep
your children happy, and never say a word that they wouldn't be the
better for hearing, but it won't be the orthodox training!  I fancy
Pixie was a big surprise to the English boarding-school when she first
arrived."

"But she left with the prize for being the most popular and unselfish of
the girls!  Your sister has just shown me the books with the touching
inscription.  If she can teach my girlies to be as sweet and helpful, I
shall not mind a few eccentricities.  Two hours in the morning would not
take her away too much from home, and she would have plenty of time left
for her own music.  Her ambition seemed to be to pay for her own
lessons, so if I gave her thirty pounds, she could go to a really good
master without feeling that she was overtaxing you.  It would be such a
pleasure to me too, Miss O'Shaughnessy.  I feel sure your brother will
agree, if you consent.  Please say `Yes'!"

So it was left to Bridgie to make the final decision, and in after years
she used to wonder what would have happened if she had refused her
consent!  It was a difficult problem, for to her old-fashioned notions
it was a trifle _infra dig_ for a girl to work for herself, and it hurt
her tender heart that the Piccaninny of all others should be the one to
go out into the world.

What would the dear dead mother have said to such a project?  What would
the Major have said?  What would Esmeralda think now, and, thinking,
say, with all the impassioned eloquence of which she was mistress?
Bridgie reflected earnestly on the questions, while Mrs Wallace watched
her face with anxious eyes.

The dear mother had never been able to resign herself to the happy-go-
lucky Irish customs, and had died before her time, worn-out with the
strain of trying to make both ends meet.  When she looked down from
heaven with those clear angel eyes, would it seem more noble to her that
her baby should preserve a puny social distinction at the cost of a
purposeless life, or that she should use the talents which had been
given to her for her own good and the good of others?

There could be little doubt how the mother would have decided, and as
for the Major, Bridgie smiled with indulgent tenderness as she pictured,
one after the other, the swift stages of his behaviour if he had been
present to-day.  Horror and indignation at the possibility that the
Piccaninny should be in subjection to anyone but himself; irritated
impatience that the O'Shaughnessys should be expected to pay for what
they desired, like any ordinary, commonplace family; chuckling delight
over the smartness of the child; and finally an even greater inability
than his sons to say "No" to a charming woman!  Storm he never so
wildly, the Major would undoubtedly have ended by consenting to Mrs
Wallace's plea, while Esmeralda's wrath would be kept within bounds by
Geoffrey's strong common sense.

Bridgie sighed and looked across the room to where Jack sat.

"If it is left to me," she said slowly, "if I am to decide, I think I
will say `Yes'!  She shall come to you for a month on trial, Mrs
Wallace, and we can see how it works."

Mrs Wallace beamed with relief and satisfaction.

"That's very kind!" she said.  "I am truly grateful.  I realise that
your decision is unselfish, but believe me, you shall never regret it!"

And Bridgie remembered that prophecy, and smiled over it many times in
the happy years to come.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

JACK'S DISCOVERY.

Pixie received the intelligence that she was to begin her new duties on
the following Monday with the unruffled composure of one who has
expected no other decision.  She asked eagerly what salary she was to
receive, and was a trifle depressed to find that it did not run to three
figures.  Thirty pounds sounded very little, though she had only the
vaguest notion of its purchasing value, but her ambition had been to
supply the whole additional sum which was needed for the support of the
household.

Innocent Bridgie had no idea as to what might be expected under the
circumstances, but Miss Munns, who knew everything, declared that the
offer was a handsome one, and ten pounds in excess of the ordinary rate
of payment.  Still, as she sagely remarked, one could never tell!
People sometimes seemed very generous and pleasant-spoken at first, and
then turned out everything that was exacting and unreasonable.  Several
young friends of her own had gone out as governesses, and met with
tragic adventures.  Marianne Summers, the cousin of Summers' Celebrated
Snowflake Soap, was with a family at Rochester, and nursed a little boy
all through scarlatina, and when she had toothache herself the lady said
it was most inconvenient because a dinner-party was coming.  No
consideration whatever, and the food very poor.  She was never so much
as asked to have a second helping!

"Maybe the lady had so many to help that she forgot to ask her.
Couldn't she ask herself?  It would have been more friendly than
grumbling behind her back," said Pixie severely.  "When I go out to
meals with people I make myself at home.  I went to _dejeuner_ with some
friends in Paris, and I was so much at home that when they had cabbage,
I remarked that I wished it had been cauliflower.  They smiled, and
looked quite pleasant!"

Miss Munns looked over her spectacles, and grunted to herself.  She
considered Pixie O'Shaughnessy a most uncomfortable girl, and was never
at ease in her society.  She asked embarrassing questions, stared with
unconcealed curiosity, while her innocence had a trick of developing
into quite remarkable shrewdness at sudden and inappropriate moments.
Miss Munns recalled several incidents when the gaze of the childlike
eyes had filled her with a most unpleasant embarrassment, and declared
that not for fifty thousand pounds would she have that child living in
her house!

Bridgie was different.  She was invariably anxious to hear further
anecdotes concerning relations and friends, and was such a docile pupil
in domestic matters, that the old lady had the felicity of practically
ruling two households instead of one.  In the fervour of her resolve to
turn over a new leaf, Bridgie had made no reservations, but had placed
herself and her accounts in Miss Munns's hands, and from that moment
there was no drawing back.  The weekly orders were supervised and cut
down, the accounts carefully checked and paid to the hour, the receipts
were endorsed and filed, so that they could be produced at a moment's
notice; extras were faithfully entered into the housekeeping ledger at
the end of each day, and the whole account balanced to a laborious
penny.  When the penny was very difficult to find, Bridgie pleaded hard
to be allowed to supply it from her private purse, and could never be
quite brought to see that the result would not be the same, but it was a
proud moment when Jack surveyed the ledger on Saturday evenings and
wrote, "Examined, and found correct!" with a big flourish underneath the
final addition.  Then he would stroke his moustache and twinkle at her
with amused eyes, as he said--

"Bravo, Bridgie, right to a fraction!  I'll ask Miss Munns to take me in
hand next--since she has scored such a triumph out of you.  Evening
classes two or three times a week, with Sylvia to sit by me and sharpen
my pencils--that would be a happy way of combining instruction and
amusement for the winter evenings, wouldn't it?" and--shades of
Esmeralda!--Bridgie smiled, and ejaculated, "You naughty boy!" in a tone
as far removed from fault-finding as it is possible to imagine.

Sylvia Trevor, however, being a young woman of spirit, was by no means
disposed to provide amusement for Master Jack or any other masculine
flirt.  If any man wished to win her, she was worth wooing seriously, so
she told herself with a tilt of the pretty dark head, but when Jack said
one thing with his lips, beseeching Miss Munns to take pity on his
ignorance, and put him on the path whereon he should walk, and another
with his eyes, mutely inviting her to stay and flirt with him the while
he pretended to listen--then her pride was roused, and she determined to
teach him a wholesome lesson.  She waited until Miss Munns had produced
half a dozen ledgers to demonstrate the elaborate system of book-keeping
by which she conducted her miniature establishment--until Jack had
seated himself by her side and was irrevocably victimised for the
evening; then she rose from her chair and said amiably--

"I mustn't disturb you.  You will like to be quiet, so I'll run across
and chat to Bridgie for an hour, while you are away!"

The "running" was a polite fiction, for in spite of massage and the most
careful doctoring it would be many months before Sylvia could run again.
By walking very deliberately she could just conceal her limp, and now
as she turned towards the door she had a good view of Jack's petrified
glare of disgust.

The picture of him sitting by the old lady's side, while she prepared to
teach him what he himself knew a dozen times better than herself, was
too much for Sylvia's composure, and around the corner of the door,
where her aunt could not see her, she doubled up with silent laughter
and cast on him a glance of such mocking triumph, such sparkling,
dimpling, deliciously girl-like derision, as was more eloquent than a
thousand gibes.

Jack leapt to his feet; at that moment he would have given half he
possessed to have rushed after the tantalising creature, to have stood
over her, and watched her self-confidence give place gradually to
embarrassment, and the pink flush rise to the pale cheeks as it had a
trick of doing under his scrutiny, but, alas! the door was shut, and
Miss Munns's voice inquired soberly--

"Do you want the lamp?  Put it on the mat, please.  You can't be too
careful of lamps.  If the oil gets on the cloth, nothing will take it
out!"

"'Twill be a lesson to me while I live!" sighed Jack sorrowfully to
himself.  He was smarting with annoyance and impatience, but he managed,
as not one man in a hundred could have done, to keep his irritation to
himself, and be absolutely amiable and courteous to his instructress.
Miss Munns thought him a most well-disposed young man, and did not
discover one of the anxious glances at the clock, nor the yawns so
dexterously hidden beneath strokings of the moustache.

When three-quarters of an hour had passed by, Jack felt as if the
interview had lasted a fortnight, but fate was kinder to him than he
deserved, and sent relief in the person of the widow occupant of Number
Ten, who arrived to pay an evening call, cribbage-board in hand.  Then
Mr Jack departed, and paced up and down the road smoking cigarettes,
and meditating on revenge.  He caught the echo of girlish laughter from
within his own threshold, and could easily picture the scene within--the
two sisters huddling over the fire, Sylvia seated in state in the
grandfather chair, Pat, her devoted admirer, perched on the end of a
table, and placidly maintaining his position in spite of repeated
injunctions to run away.

He pictured Sylvia's face also as he had often seen it--the sharply-cut
little features, the suspicion of pride and self-will in aquiline nose
and firmly-moulded chin, the short, roughened hair, which was such a
cross to its owner, but which gave her a gallant, boyish air, which one
spectator at least found irresistibly piquant.  He saw the firelight
play upon the pretty pink dress and the rings on the restless hands, saw
the brown eyes sparkle with laughter, and grow suddenly soft and
wistful.  It seemed to him that they were turned towards himself, that
her thoughts were meeting his half-way, that she was already repenting,
and dreading the result of her hasty flight.

Jack O'Shaughnessy stopped short in his pacings up and down, and stood
staring before him with a strange, rapt expression.  Out there in the
prosaic street the greatest discovery of his life had come to him, and
the wonder of it took away his breath.  Young men often imagine
themselves in love with half a dozen pretty faces before they have
reached five-and-twenty, but to most of them there comes at last, in the
providence of God, the one woman who is as far removed from the passing
fancies of an hour as the moon from her attendant stars.  She has
appeared, and for him thenceforth there is no more doubt or change; his
life is, humanly speaking, in her hands, and her influence over him is
the greatest of all the talents which has been entrusted to her care.
Too often he is careless about religious matters, if not actively
antagonistic, and her light words may confirm him in a life of
indifference; but, on the other hand, his heart is never so tender and
ready to be influenced as at the moment when she has given her life into
his charge, and this golden opportunity is hers to seize and turn to
lasting good.  In the best sense of the word she is his Queen and he is
her knight, who will perform noble and gallant deeds at her behest.

Jack of the humbugging eyes, handsome, happy-go-lucky Jack
O'Shaughnessy, had been what he called "in love" since the days when he
wore pinafores and little round collars with frills at the edge, but he
had never known what love meant until this winter evening, when at the
vision of Sylvia's face his heart leapt with painful violence, and he
stood still appalled by the strength of his own emotions.

He had known Sylvia Trevor for one month, four short weeks in all, yet
now here she was occupying the foremost position in his thoughts, making
the past years seem blank and empty, blocking the gate of the future
with her girlish figure.  Jack felt dazed and bewildered, a trifle
alarmed, too, at the extent of the journey which he had travelled so
unthinkingly, but he never attempted to deny its reality.  He loved
Sylvia--that was an established truth; the only question which remained
concerned the next step in the drama.

When a man loved a girl, when a girl blushed when he appeared, and,
despite all her little airs of superiority, could not hide her pleasure
in his society, it was generally easy enough to prophesy a speedy
engagement and marriage, but what if Providence had made other ties for
the man before the Queen's appearance?  What if, though unmarried, he
was still master of a household, a bread-winner to whom brothers and
sisters looked for support?

Jack's thoughts drifted longingly towards a little home of his own,
where Sylvia reigned as mistress, and cast pretty, saucy glances at him
from the other side of the table, but he knew all the time that it was
the veriest castle of dreams.  He could not keep a wife who was hard
pressed to fulfil his present obligations; marriage was out of the
question until the boys were self-supporting, and the girls either
settled in homes of their own, or comfortably portioned off.  That being
so, it was plainly the duty of an honourable man to keep out of the
girl's way, to make no attempt to win her affections, but to hide his
love both from her and those at home, who would otherwise be made to
feel themselves in the way.

Jack turned and renewed his pacings up and down.  There was a heavy
weight of depression on his spirits, but he never flinched from the
right path, nor did it occur to him that there was anything heroic in
this simple accepting of a hard duty.  Family affection was very strong
among the O'Shaughnessys, and not even the glamour of first love could
make him grudge anything to Bridgie and Pixie, or the two big boys who
looked up to him with such touching confidence.  His first duty was to
them, and it would be "caddish" to let them suspect any sacrifice in its
fulfilment.  A poor, commonplace word, which it is safe to say would
have a nobler translation in the Great White Book, wherein are written
the records of men's lives!

Sylvia blushed as she heard the key turn in the latch, and cast an
apprehensive glance at the door.  Would Jack be angry?  How would he
look?  What would he say?  The first glance showed him graver than
usual, but with no shadow of offence in look or bearing, and for some
unaccountable reason her spirits sank as she met his unclouded smile.
He sat down and held out his hand to Pixie, who promptly seated herself
on the arm of his chair, and amused herself by trying the effects of
various arrangements of the curling brown hair.  Parted in the middle,
it gave a ridiculously dandified expression to the handsome face; pulled
forward in shaggy locks over the forehead, the dandy died a sudden
death, and Pat of the cabin and clay pipe appeared in his stead; combed
upward by ten little fingers until it stood erect above the forehead,
nationality underwent an even more startling change.

"_Voila_, Adolph!" cried Pixie triumphantly.  "Me I have seen a hundred
men, but a hundred, all the same as thou every day I promenade me in
Paris!"  And Jack smiled and, to Bridgie's surprise, allowed himself to
be disfigured without a protest--a surprising thing when a pretty girl
was among the spectators.

When the hairdressing operations were concluded, he held Pixie's hand in
his own, as if unwilling to let her go, and turned towards Sylvia with a
smile.

"I think your aunt quite enjoyed giving me a lesson, and I was very much
interested in her original system of book-keeping.  What a wonderful old
dear she is, so energetic and full of interest in her fellow-creatures!
I must go to see her again, and have a game of cribbage, which appears
to be her pet dissipation.  I'm fond of old people, but I daresay they
get a little trying if you have no variety.  If I relieve guard
sometimes, it will set you free to have a chat with the girls!"

Was he sarcastic?  Was he paying her back in her own coin?  Sylvia
stared dumbly, but could see no hidden meaning in the glance which met
hers so frankly.  "Thanks awfully.  You are kind!" she cried with
enthusiasm, but in her heart she thought the kindness the most cruel
treatment she had ever experienced.  As soon as she could leave
naturally she rose to say good-bye, and then came a fresh blow, for,
instead of escorting her across the road as he had insisted on doing
hitherto, Jack kept his arm round Pixie's shoulder, and deputed Pat to
take his place.

"Now, then, you lazy fellow, get your hat, and see Miss Trevor home!"

Pat was delighted, and after all it was natural enough that Jack should
not care to turn out in the cold so soon after coming in, and yet--and
yet--Sylvia stood at her bedroom window looking at the lights across the
road, and as she looked they grew strangely dull and faint.  Triumphs
are dearly won sometimes, and her mood to-night was the reverse of
victorious.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

AT THE CIRCUS.

Mamzelle Paddy began and continued her work in the Wallace nursery with
complete satisfaction to all concerned.  Esmeralda, it is true, had
surpassed herself in violence of diction in the letter which came in
answer to the one breaking the news; but while Bridgie shed tears of
distress, and Jack frowned impatience, the person against whom the
hurricane of invective was hurled, received it with unruffled and even
sympathetic composure.

As Pixie read over the crowded sheets her eye flashed approval of
dramatic points, she set her lips, and wagged her head, entering so
thoroughly into the spirit of the writer that she unconsciously adopted
her manner when aroused, and when the concluding words were read, heaved
a deep sigh of satisfaction.  "She'll feel a lot better after that!" she
remarked tersely, and the prophecy could not fail to be comforting to
those who knew Mrs Hilliard's temperament.

After such an outburst, repentance might be expected to set in even more
speedily than usual, and a peace-offering in the shape of a hamper
crowded with good things could be confidently looked for in the course
of the next few days.  Esmeralda disliked formal apologies, and from the
boys' point of view, at least, turkeys and game made a more eloquent
_amende_.

Viva and Inda Wallace were loving and lovable children, but possessed
with a nervous restlessness, an insatiable curiosity, and with such
easily-roused tempers as would have reduced an ordinary adult governess
to despair within a very short period.  Their delicate mother was
occupied with many social duties, and the father, though devoted to his
pretty daughters, had little patience with their vagaries, while the
frequent screaming attacks which sounded through the house had a trying
effect on nerves already strained by long residence abroad.

Parents and servants alike breathed sighs of relief when each morning
punctually as the clock struck ten, Mamzelle Paddy came running upstairs
primed with half a dozen thrilling devices for amusement and occupation.
Viva, as ringleader and rebel-in-chief, had flatly refused to speak, or
listen to, a word of French, but when it was presently revealed to her
that the Spoopjacks understood no other language, there was no course
left but to withdraw her opposition.  The Bobityshooties were English,
and stupid at that, but by the time that Nicholas Spoopjack had
succeeded in teaching them how to address him with propriety, the two
unsuspicious listeners to the conversation had themselves mastered the
lesson without once suspecting what they were about.

The adventures which those two enterprising and admirable families went
through, were as varied as they were endless, and each day brought a
thrilling development of the situation.  Nicholas Spoopjack thought
nothing of going out in a diving-bell in the morning, and a balloon in
the afternoon, while the Bobityshooties entertained royalty to dinner in
the kitchen cupboard, and feasted luxuriously on the cruets, and the
pinked-out paper which covered the shelves.

"She don't teach us nuffin': we only plays!" was little Inda's summing
up of the situation; but a moment later she would repeat a dialogue
which had taken place between the rival factions during the morning,
reproducing, with the wonderful imitative faculty of children, the very
accent and gesture with which it had been delivered, and her parents
would look at each other with delighted appreciation.

Mamzelle Paddy was a grand institution, and being generously disposed
people, Mr and Mrs Wallace endeavoured to show their gratitude by
including her in the many amusements which were arranged for the
children's benefit.  She accompanied them on sight-seeing expeditions,
organised games at evening parties, and on one memorable occasion paid a
visit to the circus.  Pixie had always cherished a passion for clowns,
and when in Paris had appreciated nothing more than an evening at the
"Nouveau Cirque," where Auguste the Frenchman played a secondary part to
his English brother, and the performance concluded with a play in which
the British tourist played a large part, conspicuous in plaid suits,
sailor hats, and thick-soled shoes.  She was all eagerness to see the
London circus, and nearly as much excited as her pupils, as they drove
up to the door, and took their seats on the red velvet chairs.

Inda sat by her mother and stared solemnly around, but Viva insisted
upon being next her dear Mamzelle, and pranced up and down in a manner
which augured ill for future comfort.  Once she began to fidget, adieu
to all hope of peace for her companions.  Once she began to ask
questions, it was safe to predict that she would go on until despair
seized those who were obliged to answer.  Pixie recognised signs of the
coming attack, and managed an adroit change of places which would leave
Mrs Wallace free to enjoy the afternoon, and punctually at three
o'clock the performance began.

The ring-master walked in and cracked his whip; the clown tumbled head
over heels into the arena, and cried, "Here we are again!" the lady
rider jumped through paper hoops, and blew kisses to the audience.
Viva's cheeks grew a vivid pink, and at each change in the performance
she adopted a change of position.  When the hook of her jacket had been
extricated from the hair of the lady in front, she perched herself on
the arm of her own chair; when she had applauded herself backward into
Pixie's arms, she leant against the supercilious-looking gentleman in
the next seat, and tickled his cheeks with her fluffy hair.  Then the
first wonder wore away, and she found her tongue.

"Why does the clown look like that?"

"It's a way they have in the family.  They always have those funny eyes,
and red and white faces."

"Did he always look like that?"

"He did--all the time he has been a clown."

"Is it the same clown that was here before?"

"It says on the paper it's a new one for the occasion."

"Then why does he say he is here again?"

"I'll ask him next time we meet!  Hush now, and listen to what he is
saying.  See how they are all laughing!"

"Does the clown sleep in the circus?"

"'Deed he does not, poor creature!  There are no beds, and the seats are
too hard."

"Where does he sleep, then?  What is his true home?"

"Number Seven, Poplar Gardens, corner of Phillamore Park--the corner
house with the red curtains!"

Pixie understood her pupil's love of detail by this time, and Viva put
her head on one side and stared at her with gratified admiration.  If
she had asked her mother, she would have looked tired and sighed, and
said, "My dear child! how should _I_ know?  Don't ask ridiculous
questions," but Mamzelle Paddy knew better than that.

Her face assumed an expression of radiant satisfaction as she pondered
on that house in Poplar Gardens.  Big and grey, with flower boxes in the
windows and little clowns looking out of the nursery windows.
Delightful!  She was silent for several minutes, and the supercilious
gentleman took advantage of the pause to examine the party with curious
eyes.  The elegant-looking woman was plainly the mother of the little
girls, but who was this, who was scarcely more than a child herself, who
was addressed as "Mamzelle" and spoke with a strong Irish accent?  He
stared at her, and Viva discovering his glance turned round with her
back to the ring, and stared back with leisurely enjoyment.

At first her face expressed nothing but curiosity, but gradually her
features became twisted, the lips down drawn, the eyebrows elevated to
an unnatural height, until the beholder realised with horror that she
was experimenting on his own expression, and endeavouring to copy it on
her own small visage.  Many a long year had passed since he had known
what it meant to blush, but he blushed then, and hitched round in his
seat to hide his scarlet face from view, while Viva once more turned her
attention to the ring.

The white-skirted lady had disappeared and another was cantering round,
clad in a riding habit and gentleman's hat.  The horse was black, and
shone like satin; he pawed the ground with dainty, cat-like tread; the
ring-master followed him as he went, and cracked his whip in encouraging
fashion.  Viva planted one foot on Pixie's toe, and jumped up and down
to attract attention.

"Is the gentleman really angry, that he cracks his whip?  Does he pitend
to be angry?  If he pitends to be angry, why do all the others pitend
that they think he doesn't pitend, but only,--Why does the gentleman
crack his whip?"

"Maybe he hears you talking!  I saw him cast his eye upon you," replied
Pixie sagely, and the supercilious gentleman pointed the sentence with a
sigh, and privately resolved to remove his seat at the first
opportunity.

The threat of the whip, however, had the effect of quietening Miss Viva
for a good two minutes, and in the meantime Fate sent an unexpected
deliverance.  Certain portions of the auditorium were portioned off into
squares, which did duty for private boxes, and into the nearest of these
there now entered a party of ladies and children, in whom he recognised
some intimate friends.  To advance towards them and beg the use of a
vacant chair was the work of a moment, when he proceeded to pour the
story of his woes into the ear of the young lady by his side.  She was
fair and pretty, charmingly dressed, and almost as supercilious in
expression as he was himself.

"Little wretch!  How impossible of her!" she ejaculated, and bent
forward to examine the wretch forthwith.

Viva had climbed on the empty seat, and was craning her little face to
right and left to discover where the deserter had fled.  With her great
blue eyes and rose-leaf complexion set in a frame of golden hair, she
looked like an angel from heaven, or one of the sweet-faced cherubs who
float in space at the top of Christmas cards and valentines.

But it was not on Viva that the young lady's attention was riveted, but
upon the figure by her side--Mamzelle Paddy in all the glory of a French
hat, wearing the very biggest hair-ribbon in her possession, in honour
of the occasion.  At sight of the profile the young lady started and
cried, "It is!  It must be!"  Then she dodged backwards, saw the hat,
and became filled with doubt.  "No, it can't be!  It's much too smart!"

Finally Pixie turned round to apostrophise Miss Viva, who was in the act
of striding the back of her chair, and immediately a flash of
recognition leapt from eye to eye.  The French hat nodded until the
feathers fairly quivered with the strain, and the face beneath became a
beam of delight, in which eyes disappeared and the parted lips stretched
back to a surprising distance.  The fair-haired young lady had more
respect to appearance in her recognition, but all the same she grew
quite pink with pleasure, and cried eagerly--

"It's my dearest friend!  We were at school together, but she has been
in Paris finishing her education, and I have not heard from her since
her return.  I must speak to her in the interval--I really must!  You
can't think what a fascinating little creature she is when you get to
know her."

"Ah, really!  She looks distinctly--er--out of the common," drawled the
supercilious man lazily.  "Rather interesting-looking woman, the
children's mother.  Some relation of your friend, I suppose?"

"Oh, I suppose so!  The O'Shaughnessys are a very good family.  Very
well connected.  Beautiful old place in Ireland," drawled the young lady
in her turn, and in the intervals of the performance she proceeded to
expatiate on the grandeur of the O'Shaughnessy family, the beauty of
Esmeralda, and the riches of her husband, until her companion looked
forward with increased interest to the coming introduction.

At the first interval Pixie came forward in response to eager
beckonings, and stood leaning against the side of the box talking to her
friend, with superb disregard of the more extended audience.

"Fancy, now, the two of us meeting without knowing that we were here!
You look quite old, Lottie, with your hair done up.  Turn your head and
let me see the back!  D'you still curl it with slate-pencils, like you
did at school?  I came home at Christmas, and I've thought of writing
ever since, but I've been too busy.  I suppose you're busy too, now you
are grown-up and living at home.  Have you come out, and gone to dances
in low necks?  We had an old servant at Knock, and one day a friend came
to lunch and she says to Bridgie, `That's a fine, handsome young lady!'
`She is,' says Bridgie.  `She's just come out!'  `Out of w'ere?' says
Molly, staring."

Pixie darted a quick glance round the box to enjoy the general
appreciation of her joke, then gave a low chuckle of satisfaction.
"Ye'll never guess what I'm doing!"

"No," said Lottie Vane complacently.  She too had noticed the smiles of
the audience, and was anxious to encourage her friend in her
reminiscences.  In society people were always grateful for being amused,
and if in her recital Pixie let fall further references to the standing
and importance of her family, why, so much the better for all concerned.

"What mischief are you up to now, you funny little thing?"

"I'm in service!" said Pixie proudly.

The shocked amaze of Lottie's expression, the involuntary rustle of
surprise which went round the box, were as so many tributes to the
thrilling nature of the intelligence, and she waited a moment to enjoy
it before pointing unabashed in the direction of the two children, and
condescending to further explanations.

"Me pupils!  I've been with them now for over a month."

"What do you mean?  How absurd you are, Pixie!" cried Lottie irritably.
"In service--you!  I never heard such nonsense.  As if you were a
servant!  I don't know what you are talking about!"

"I get wages, anyhow, and that's all I care about.  They are my pupils,
I tell you, and I've brought them here with their mother for a little
diversion.  I've the training of them every morning for a couple of
hours, and thirty pounds a year paid every month.  Jack and I make
enough between us to support the family."

"You don't really mean it?" gasped Lottie, horrified.  Her cheeks were
scarlet, and it was evident that she was profoundly uncomfortable, but
as she met the triumphant eyes her face softened, and she made a valiant
effort to retain composure.  "You mean to say you have turned into a
governess at sixteen--you who were always at the bottom of the class,
and couldn't get a sum right to save your life!  Poor little girls, I
pity their education!  How did you ever persuade the mother to take
you?"

Mamzelle Paddy tossed her head with complacent pride.

"'Deed, me dear, the room was packed with them, and natives at that, and
she chose me before the whole bunch.  I'm not supposed to teach them
anything but French, and I don't teach that except by playing games.
But I keep them from crying and quarrelling, and ye don't need to be
head of your class for that!  'Twasn't cleverness she took me for, as
she told me plainly the first day I went; 'twas m'influence!"

A smothered laugh went round the box at the sound of this curious
compound word, uttered in tones of complacent pride; but Lottie Vane did
not laugh, and her hand stretched out involuntarily and clasped the
little fingers which lay on the side of the box.  Her face lost its
supercilious expression, and grew sweet and womanly.

"Dear little Pixie," she said softly, "I don't pity the pupils after
all.  I think they are very well off.  May I come over and be introduced
to them and their mother?  She must be a very wise woman."

The two girls walked forward together towards the spot where Mrs
Wallace was sitting, and the supercilious man looked after them with
thoughtful eyes.  He had always admired Miss Lottie Vane, though he had
privately sneered at her snobbish tendencies, but it occurred to him to-
day that he had been over-hasty in judgment.  How sweet she had looked
as she answered her little friend, how kindly had been the tones of her
voice!  He felt his heart thrill with the beginning of a new and deeper
interest.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

A TEA-PARTY.

Jack kept his resolve of avoiding dangerous _tete-a-tetes_ with Sylvia
Trevor, and kept it in so pleasant and friendly a manner that no one
suspected his motives save the person most concerned.  She knew only too
well that a wall of division had suddenly risen between them, but though
her heart ached she carried her proud little head more erect than ever,
and was so very, very lively and pleasant that Jack in his turn was
deceived, and believed that she was relieved by his absence.  When they
met, as meet they did from time to time, they laughed and joked, and
teased each other about little family jokes, and Bridgie listened
delightedly, and told herself that it did Jack all the good in the world
to meet Sylvia, for he was growing so much quieter, and seemed so
worried over that horrid old business.  Miss Munns, however, had the
same complaint to make about her niece, and delivered herself of many
homilies on the subject.

"Extremes," she said, "extremes, my dear, ought always to be avoided.
To be constantly running from one extreme to another shows an unbalanced
character.  A medium path is the wisest which one can choose, and one
should show neither undue elation nor foundless depression at the events
of life.  I remember a proverb which we used to quote as children:
`Laugh in the morning, cry before night!'--and there is a great deal of
truth in it, too.  High spirits are bound to be brought low before very
long."

"Well, I think it's a horrid proverb and a very wicked one into the
bargain!" cried Sylvia hotly.  "It sounds as if God disliked seeing one
happy, and I believe He loves it and means it, and tries to teach us
that it is a duty!  He made the world as bright as He could for us to
live in, with the sunshine and the flowers, and He made all the little
animals skip and bound, and play games among themselves, so it stands to
reason that He expects men and women to be happy too, especially young
ones."

"Exactly!  Precisely!  Just what I say!  I was just pointing out to you,
my love, that it is over an hour since you made a remark, and that such
depression of spirits was very trying to me as your companion," cried
Miss Munns, with an air of triumph.  "After the long period of anxiety
through which I have passed, I think I am entitled to expect some
cheering society."

"But then, you see, I might cry before evening!" retorted Sylvia pertly,
and had the satisfaction of feeling that she had been rude to her
elders, and put herself hopelessly in the wrong, as Miss Munns took up
her stocking-bag and began to darn, drooping her eyelids with an air of
stony displeasure.

Sylvia glanced at her from time to time during the next half-hour, and
felt ashamed of herself, and wished she were sweet-tempered like
Bridgie, and thought how nice it would be if she could learn to think
before she spoke, and be cautious and prudent, and never say what she
was sorry for afterwards.  She also wished that Aunt Margaret would not
look so particularly old and frail this morning of all others.  How thin
she was!  What great big hollows she had in her cheeks!  It was rather
dreadful to be old like that, and have no one to love and care for one
best of all, no one but a thoughtless girl, who was never so grateful as
she ought to be, and sometimes even really impertinent.  The wave of
penitence could not be repressed, and she jumped from her seat with her
characteristic impetuosity, and threw her arms round her aunt's
shoulders.

"I'm sorry I answered you back, auntie; it was horrid of me.  I've been
a great trouble to you this winter, but I really am awfully grateful for
all your goodness.  Do give me a kiss, and say you forgive me!"

"Well, well, well, my dear child, don't be so impetuous!  You have
nearly pulled the cap off my head.  Extremes, as I said before, always
extremes!  Do please try to exercise some self-control.  I quite
understand that you are troubled about your foot, but as the doctor says
it is only a question of time, and if you are patient for a month or two
more, you will be able to go about as well as ever.  There is no
necessity to brood about it as you do, no necessity at all!"

Sylvia was not brooding about her foot, but she did not choose to say so
to Miss Munns, and her silence being accepted as a sign of submission,
the old lady became so mollified as to suggest that the two Miss
O'Shaughnessys should be invited to tea forthwith.

Afternoon tea under Miss Munns's _regime_ was a more formal meal than is
usually the case, and also a trifle more solid, for it was followed by
no dinner, but a supper of cocoa and potted meat served at nine o'clock.
This arrangement was one of Sylvia's minor trials in life, but Pixie
O'Shaughnessy saw great compensations in a tea where you really sat up
to the table, and had jam in a pot, and a loaf, and scones, and eggs.
It fascinated her to see how the table was laid, with a white cloth
spread diamond-wise under the tea-tray, and the different viands dotted
about on the green baize.

Miss Munns boiled her own water, and ladled the tea out of a little
silver caddy, and dipped the bottom of each cup in water before it was
filled to prevent slippings on the saucer.  She had a kettle-holder
worked in cross-stitch--red wool roses on a black wool background--and a
cosy ornamented with a wreath of bead flowers.  The eggs were boiled to
order, hard or soft, just as you liked, in a silver pot filled with
methylated spirits out of a fascinating, thimble-like measure.  Pixie
watched the various preparations with rapt attention, while the two
elder girls chatted together at the end of the table.

"I want you to give me Whitey's address," Bridgie said, "so that I can
send her some flowers.  Esmeralda sent me a hamper this morning, so I am
rather rich and would like to share my goad things.  You said she was
nursing a case in the city, so she probably has no flowers, and it's
cheery to have boxes coming in as a surprise.  It's so hard for nurses
to live in a constant atmosphere of depression and sickness.  When one
is ill for a long time, as you were, one gets so bored and wearied by
the monotony of the sick-room, and it's such bliss to be free again, and
speak at the pitch of your voice, and be done with medicines, and
pulses, and temperatures, and tiresome rules and regulations, but the
nurse never gets free.  Just when things are beginning to get cheerful,
she goes away to another darkened room and another anxious household,
and the whole programme begins over again.  They love their work, of
course, but it must be very hard sometimes.  Don't you think so?"

"I--I--" Sylvia pursed up her lips and elevated her eyebrows in
deprecatory fashion.  "I never thought of it!  It does sound horrid when
you put it like that, but I'm afraid I just took it for granted that it
was their work.  Whitey never grumbled.  She left that to me, and was
always cheerful, though I found out afterwards that she had been awfully
anxious about her sister.  I wish I had thought of sending her flowers!"

"Send these--do!" cried Bridgie eagerly.  "She will like them better
from you, and I don't mind a bit so long as she gets them.  I'll send
over the box, and you shall address it and put in a little note.  Yes,
you must, because I felt rather mean about not bringing some for
yourself, but there were not very many, and as I was going into town I
couldn't resist taking some to the woman in the waiting-room."

"The woman in the-- What do you mean?"

Bridgie laughed easily.

"At London, of course.  There are several waiting-rooms at our station,
but I go to the dullest of all, where there is hardly a gleam of light,
and one day I saw the woman staring so longingly at some flowers which a
lady was carrying.  Since then I have generally taken her a little bunch
when I go up to town, and it is quite pathetic the way she grabs them.
She knows me now, and looks so pleased to see me!"

That was an easy thing to imagine.  Sylvia pictured to herself the long,
monotonous day in that dreary little room, the constant hope which
reached its fulfilment when the door swung open and Bridgie's face
smiled a greeting, leaving behind her the fragrant blossoms to sweeten
the hours with their own perfume, and the remembrance of another's care.
Such a simple thing to do!  Such an easy thing!  Why had she never
thought of it herself?  She would have done it gladly enough if it had
occurred to her mind: it was not heart that was wanted, but thought!
Oh, what a number of lives might be brightened, what an army of good
deeds would be accomplished if people would only "think!"

"Well, my dear, I only hope she was a decent woman, and worthy of your
kindness," said Miss Munns primly.  "A lazy life, I call it.  I've no
opinion of people who make their living by sitting still all day.  I had
occasion to wait at a station some little time ago, and entered into
conversation with the woman in charge.  She said she was a widow, and I
advised her to use my furniture-polish, for the woodwork was in a
disgraceful condition, and she answered me back in a most unbecoming
manner.  I have done a great deal of charitable work in my day, and am
on three committees at the present moment, so I am not easily taken in.

"I have been investigating cases for relief this very afternoon, and if
you'll believe me in one house where they asked for help there was a
musical-box upon the table!  The woman said it was given to her by an
old mistress, and that it amused the children while she did her work.  I
told her we did not undertake to relieve cases who could afford to keep
musical instruments.  I don't know what the poor are coming to in these
days.  She must dispose of it before I can have anything to do with
her."

"But 'twas a present to her!  It's not polite to give away presents.
Who do you want her to give it to?" queried Pixie, with the wide-eyed
stare which always made Miss Munns feel so hot and discomposed.  She
frowned and fidgeted with the kettle, while Pixie continued to discuss
the situation.  "I know what it is to have children about when there's
something to do.  Mrs Wallace gave me a book the other day, and the
schemes I made to get time to look at the pictures!  I was supposed to
have gone out for a walk, and they were to prepare a surprise for me
when I got back.  And 'twas a surprise!  They'd pretended to be savages,
and pulled all the feathers out of my hat to stick in their hair!"

"Very ill-mannered and impertinent I call it!  I hope you gave them a
good scolding?"

"I did not," said Pixie calmly.  "I don't like scolding meself, and it
makes me worse.  I merely remarked that it was a pity, as I'd have to
sew them back again instead of playing games.  'Twas dull work watching
me sew, and I didn't disturb myself with hurrying.  Ye couldn't bribe
them within yards of me hat this last week!"

"Humph!  When I was a child I was whipped when I did wrong, and that was
the end of it.  But things have changed since then, and time will prove
which was the best system.  Another cup of tea, Miss Bridgie?  I hope
you have good news of your sister and the little boy?"

"Yes, thank you, Miss Munns.  They are both well, and we are hoping to
see them quite soon.  They come up to their town house at the beginning
of May, and we expect to have quite a gay time.  Esmeralda is bringing a
house-party of old Irish friends with her, and it will be delightful to
meet again.  She always loved entertaining, and was clever in devising
novelties, and now that she has plenty of money she can do as she likes
without thinking of the cost.  You must get your fineries ready, Sylvia.
There will be lots of invitations for you next month."

Sylvia's smile was less whole-hearted than it would have been if one
sentence had been omitted from Bridgie's announcement.  "Old friends
from Ireland" would of a surety include Miss Mollie Burrell, and
Esmeralda would see that Jack made the most of his opportunity.  It
would not be exactly pleasure to accept invitations for the sake of
seeing other people flirting together, while she herself sat alone in a
corner.

"I shan't go!" she told herself.  "If she asks me I shall refuse.  I
don't care to be patronised at Park Lane or anywhere else.  I'd rather
stay at home and play cribbage in Rutland Road."  But all the same in
the depths of her heart she knew well that when the time came she would
not have enough resolution to say no.  The temptation to obtain a
glimpse of the fashionable world of which she had read so much and seen
too little would be too great to be resisted; she would go even if it
were to have her heart stabbed with a fresh pain, and to come home to
weep herself to sleep!

"My dear, your sister will have plenty of friends to ask without
thinking of Sylvia.  She won't find it plain sailing looking after a big
house like that.  I should advise her to engage a housekeeper if she
doesn't want to be cheated right and left.  I know what servants are
when the mistress is never in the kitchen to look after the scraps.  I
daresay I might be able to help her to find a suitable woman in
connection with our different agencies.  I'll inquire for you if you
think she would like it."

"Dear Miss Munns, how kind of you!  I'll write to Esmeralda at once, and
I daresay she would be most grateful.  You make me quite ashamed of
myself when I think of all the work you do, and how lazy and useless I
am in comparison!" cried Bridgie earnestly.  Her grey eyes were fixed on
Miss Munns's face with the sweetest, most unaffected admiration, and
Sylvia looked at them both and thought many thoughts.

Miss Munns did indeed give both time and strength to charitable work,
and withal a generous share of her small income, but her interest was of
the head, not of the heart, and she was sublimely ignorant of her
failure to help or comfort.  Bridgie thought she was not helping at all,
and was ashamed of herself because she was on no committees, and knew
nothing of authorised agencies.  Her ignorance was so sweet that it
would be a sin to enlighten it, but there was something in Sylvia's
expression which aroused her friend's curiosity.

"What are you thinking of, Sylvia?" she asked.  "Something nice?"

"Very nice!" said Sylvia, smiling.  She had just recalled a quotation
which seemed as though it might have been written to describe Bridgie
O'Shaughnessy--

  "Sweet souls without reproach or blot,
  Who do God's will and know it not!"



CHAPTER TWENTY.

A LUNCHEON BASKET.

Esmeralda announced her arrival in town on the first of May, a week in
advance of her house-party, so that she might have leisure to visit her
brothers and sisters, and put the final touches to her own preparations.
She did not mention the hour of her arrival, but this was easily
calculated, and at home in Rutland Road, Bridgie and Pixie held eager
committee meetings as to the best method of welcome.  It was decided not
to go to the station, as Esmeralda did not appreciate being taken
unawares, and would of a certainty be annoyed if her son and heir were
beheld at a disadvantage.

"Babies are bound to be cross at the end of a journey, and his little
frock would be soiled and crumpled, and she will want him to look his
very, very best.  No! we will go straight to Park Lane," Bridgie
decided, "and arrive an hour after they are due, so that they will have
had time to get tidy.  The house will be upset, of course, for it has
been closed for so long, and we may be able to help.  I shall never
forget the day we came here--all the furniture piled in the middle of
the rooms, and nowhere to sit down, and nothing to eat, and my poor back
aching as if 'twere broken.  That's another thing I was thinking about.
We'll take lunch with us all ready prepared--a cold chicken, I think,
and some fruit for dessert, and enjoy it together, we three girls, if we
have to sit on the floor to eat it.  How lovely it will be to meet
again!  It seems too good to be true."

Pixie was delighted at the idea of the luncheon basket, and when the
eventful day arrived one little extra after another was added to the
original list, until the weight became quite formidable, but Bridgie
declared that an omnibus ran to within but a short distance of their
destination, and the two girls set off in high spirits, each holding a
handle of the basket, and swinging it gaily to and fro.  Curious glances
were cast towards it _en route_, whereat Pixie beamed with pride.  It
looked so like a picnic basket, with the top bulging from the sides,
allowing glimpses to be seen of the fruit bags, and the white linen
serviette enfolding the chicken; she was convinced that the beholders
were consumed with envy and curiosity!

Arrived at Park Lane, Pixie was much concerned to realise that
Esmeralda's much vaunted town residence was situated in this dull and
narrow street!  In vain Bridgie represented that the site was famous the
world over; the little sister smiled quietly, and retained her own
opinion.  Bridgie as usual was making the best of the situation, but it
was evident that Geoffrey's riches had been much exaggerated, since this
was the best he could do for his wife.

Poor Esmeralda! how disappointed she would be!  What a good thing it was
that they had brought the cold chicken to take off the first edge of
disappointment!  The house itself looked dark and gloomy, but there were
a great many windows, and looking upwards Pixie espied a glimpse of a
graceful head inside the line of one of the curtains.  The travellers
had indeed arrived, and in another moment the three sisters would be
reunited, after four months' separation.

"Ring again, darling!  I can't.  This basket weighs me down!" said
Bridgie, straining at the heavy handle, and then came surprise number
one, for even as she spoke the door was flung back, and there appeared
on the threshold one immaculate-looking man-servant, while farther down
the hall stood two more in attitudes of attention.  Three whole men to
open one door!  This was indeed a height of luxury to which the simple
Irish mind had never soared; and where was the upset and confusion which
had been expected, where the signs of recent arrival, where the
smallest, most trifling evidence of confusion?  The stately hall looked
as if it had been undisturbed from immemorial ages, and the butler
stared at the two girls and their basket with lofty disdain.

"Not at home, madam!"

Bridgie gasped, and looked blank dismay, but Pixie's shrill protest
could not be restrained.

"Not at home, when I saw her meself not a second ago looking out of the
window?"

What would have happened it is difficult to say, but at that moment a
voice sounded from afar, an eager voice repeating two names over and
over again in tones of rapturous welcome.  The man stepped aside, and
Bridgie pressed the basket into his hands and raced along the hall, past
the staring footmen to the bend of the stairs, where Esmeralda stood
with arms stretched wide.  Pixie was only a step aside, and Esmeralda
escorted the two girls upstairs to her own room, talking breathlessly
the while.

"Of course he said I was not at home!  We arrived only an hour ago, so I
can hardly be ready for visitors yet, but I saw the top of your hats
from the nursery windows.  You must come this very minute and see the
boy.  He is sweeter than ever.  Everyone says he is a perfect beauty.
Oh, me dears, how glad I am to see you!  How sweet of you to come!"

"Of course we came; we thought perhaps we might be able to--help!"
Bridgie said, looking around the gorgeous staircase with pensive regret.
"We imagined you in such an upset, dear, with the carpets up, and the
furniture covered with dust-sheets, and we thought we could dust, and
put things straight as we used to do at Knock.  You told us you were
coming to open the house!"

"You didn't expect I was going to work myself?" drawled Esmeralda, her
impetuous manner changing suddenly to one of drawling affectation.  "The
servants have been here for a week, getting ready for our arrival.  I
have nothing to look after but a few frocks, and preparations for the
fray next week!  Did you expect to see me in an apron, with a duster
over my head?"

"It makes no difference to me what you wear!" said Bridgie quietly, and
at that Esmeralda laughed, and became herself once more.

"It does to me, though.  The best of everything is good enough for me,
nothing less!  You dear old thing, it's like old times to have you
looking at me with that solemn face.  No one keeps me in order now.
Geoff tries occasionally, but it's such an evident effort that it
doesn't have much effect.  It will be quite good for me to have some
family snubbings once more.  This is the way to the nursery--this door!
Now, my beauty, come to mother.  She's brought two new aunties to see
you!"

The beauty regarded his relations in stolid silence for a moment, then
hung his lower lip and began to howl.  His mother walked him up and down
the room, striving by various blandishments to win him back to smiles,
but he kept turning his head over his shoulder to gaze at his new
relatives with an expression of agonised incredulity, as though loath to
believe that such monsters could really exist on the earth.  He was very
fat and very bald, and, if the truth were told, not a beauty at all, but
Esmeralda made a fascinating mother, and was so happily deluded about
his charms that it would have been cruel to undeceive her.

Even Pixie managed for once to preserve a discreet silence, while
Bridgie's ejaculations of astonishment at size and weight passed muster
as admiration with the complacent mother and nurse.

"You shall see him again later on," Esmeralda announced, as though
anxious to soften the pain of separation, as she led her sisters from
the room.  "I must show you over the house before lunch.  Geoffrey had
the drawing-rooms redecorated before we were married, but this is the
first time I have been able to entertain.  I wish you could come and
stay here, Bridgie, but I suppose nothing would make you desert the
boys.  Never mind, you will be here every time that there is anything
going on, and it is not much fun preparing when one has a houseful of
servants.  Do you remember how we used to be making jellies and creams
all the day before, and running about arranging the house until a few
minutes before the time when the people arrived?  That's all over now,
and I do nothing but give orders and grumble.  This way!  There!  What
do you think of that for an imposing vista?"

It was indeed very imposing, for one long yellow room opened into
another decorated in palest blue, which in its turn showed a glimpse of
a conservatory gay with flowers.

The rooms were so huge, so lofty in stature, that Pixie was puzzled to
understand how the unimposing exterior could contain such surprises,
while Esmeralda strutted about displaying one treasure after another,
giving detailed descriptions of exactly how the rooms were to be
arranged for the contemplated entertainments, and glancing complacently
at her own reflection in the long mirrors.  She looked ridiculously
young to be the mistress of this fine establishment, and despite
occasional affectations, there was more of the schoolgirl than of the
woman of the world, in her happy voice and eager gestures.

From the reception-rooms the sisters adjourned to the dining-room, a
big, somewhat gloomy apartment facing the street, very handsome, very
severe, and evidently dedicated to one purpose only, and never by any
chance entered from the time one meal ended until another began.  The
butler was arranging dishes on the sideboard, the table was spread with
a glittering profusion of glass and silver, and an array of cold
dainties, at sight of which Bridgie blushed, and stared at the floor.
She waited, trembling, to hear Pixie's exclamation, but none came, and
as they adjourned towards the library she slipped her hand through
Esmeralda's arm, and said, half laughing, half nervous--

"I don't understand the ways of grand ladies yet, Joan dear!  I shall
have to get into them by degrees.  You wrote that you were coming to
open the house, and I imagined you in the same sort of confusion which
we were in at Rutland Road, only of course ten times worse, as your
house is so big.  We thought you would be tired and hungry, and perhaps
have nothing to eat but sandwiches or biscuits, and we--we brought some
lunch for you and ourselves!"

Esmeralda threw back her head and laughed with much enjoyment.

"You funny dear, I never heard of anything so quaint!  It was sweet of
you all the same, and I'm ever so grateful.  But, oh dear! what would
the servants say if they knew!  They would think my relations had come
out of the Ark.  And where in the world have you put the provisions?"

"I--I--" Bridgie looked round for Pixie, but she had lingered behind,
and there was no one to help her out of her plight.  "I had the basket
in my hand, and we were standing at the door, and I heard you calling
and I rushed in.  I gave it to someone.  I was in such a hurry I hardly
noticed who it was.  I think it was the man in the dining-room now!"

"Montgomery!" echoed Esmeralda blankly.  She stood staring at Bridgie
with horrified eyes.  "Bridgie, how _could_ you?  What do you mean by
it?  What did you bring, and how was it made up?"

"A chicken, and pies, and apples, and a tin of toffee.  Everything you
liked--and some little rolls and a pot of butter.  They were in a
basket--a big basket with a serviette over the top!" cried Bridgie, with
desperate candour, determined to tell the worst at once and get it over.

At home at Rutland Road it had seemed such a simple and natural thing to
do, but ten minutes' experience of Park Lane had shown clearly enough
how unnecessary had been her anxiety, how ridiculous it must seem in the
estimation of the household!  She looked at Esmeralda with troubled
eyes, and Esmeralda flushed, and cried testily--

"A basket of provisions, and you handed it to Montgomery!  He would
think, of course, that it was his duty to open it, and-- Oh, Bridgie,
how could you?  He will tell the story in the servants' hall, and they
will all laugh and make fun.  It's too tiresome!  I can't think how you
can have made such a mistake!"

"I thought of you, you see, and not of the servants.  It never occurred
to my mind that you could be ashamed of me, whatever I did!" said
Bridgie quietly.

"I'm not in the least ashamed of you, I'm ashamed of the basket!  You
ask Jack when you go home, and he'll tell you 'twas a foolish thing to
do, and you walking, too, and not driving to the door.  We won't talk
about it any more, or we shall both get angry, and it's done now and
can't be helped.  What do you think of this room?  Geoffrey is quite
proud of his books, and we mean to make this our private little den, and
retire here when we are tired of living in public.  Here's the electric
light, you see, switched on to these movable lamps, so that one can read
comfortably in any position!"

"Very nice!  So convenient!  It looks most comfortable!"

Bridgie's voice sounded formal and ill-at-ease, and both sisters felt
the position a trifle strained, and were unaffectedly relieved to see
Pixie strolling towards them at this critical minute.

She was smiling to herself as at a pleasant remembrance, and lost no
time in entering into conversation.

"I don't know how it is about butlers--they all love me!" she announced
thoughtfully.  "The Wallace one turns his back to the sideboard when I
talk, and the vegetable-dishes wobble when he hands them round.  He
tries hard not to laugh, because it's rude for servants to see a joke,
but he really appreciates them frightfully much.  Your one has whiskers,
too, and isn't he pleasant to talk to?  Not half as proud as he looks.
We have just been talking about the basket, because he'd got chickens
already, and he asked what he should do with ours.  I said we'd take it
back, of course, because it would be a treat to us to-night.  That was
quite right, wasn't it, Bridgie?"

"Yes, darling, perfectly right!" said Bridgie.

Esmeralda frowned, bit her lip, and finally succumbed, even as the
butler had done before her, and laughed with a good grace.  She hugged
Pixie, and Pixie hugged her back, and chattered away so freely and
naturally that it was impossible for restraint to live in her presence.

Esmeralda as usual avoided a formal apology, but when Geoffrey arrived
and the little party were seated round the luncheon-table, she made the
_amende honorable_ by telling him of the basket incident in the presence
of three men-servants with as much unction as if it had given her the
most unmitigated delight.

"Thank you, Bridgie, you _are_ a brick!  How jolly of you to have taken
so much trouble!  If I'd known of that chicken before I began lunch,
nothing would have induced me to eat anything else!" cried Geoffrey
heartily.

There was no snobbishness about him at any rate, and to judge from the
glance which his wife cast upon him it was evident that she was quite
able to appreciate a quality that was lacking in her own composition.

They seemed very happy together, this young husband and wife, and as
Bridgie saw them smile at one another across the table, for no other
reason than pure happiness and content in each other's presence; when
Esmeralda announced "Geoffrey says," as the definite conclusion of any
argument, and Geoffrey said quietly, "Esmeralda likes it!" as though the
fact debarred all further discussion--when she heard and saw all this,
the pain which was so bravely buried in Bridgie's heart seemed to take a
fresh lease of life, and stab her with the memory of dead hopes.

It was not that she envied Esmeralda her happiness--Bridgie had none of
the dog in the manger in her composition--but she felt suddenly
oppressed by loneliness and a sense of want, which the quiet home-life
failed to satisfy.  Once she had imagined that this happiness would be
hers in the future, but that hope was dead, and it did not seem possible
that it could ever come to life again.  Even if by chance she met Dick
Victor in the future, what explanation could he have to offer which
would wipe away the reproach of that long silence?  Bridgie hoped they
might never meet; it would be too painful to see her idol dethroned from
his pedestal.

"Are they worth a penny, dear?  I've asked you the same question twice
over!" cried Esmeralda mischievously, and Bridgie came back to the
present with a shock of remembrance.

"I was wool-gathering again.  So sorry!  What did you want to know?"

"I was talking about our invitations.  Do you want any cards for
friends?  Is there anyone whom you would like me to ask?"

"Lottie Vane, please, and Mr and Mrs Wallace," cried Pixie eagerly,
and Esmeralda smiled at the first name, and frowned at the second.  She
remembered having seen the Vanes at a school festival, and being
favourably impressed by their appearance, but the name of Wallace was
still repugnant to her ears, and could not be heard unmoved.

She did not care, however, to appear ungracious in Geoffrey's presence,
and reflected that it might be judicious to impress Pixie's employers
with the grandeur of the O'Shaughnessy family, and thus nip in the bud
any ideas of patronage.  A moment later she was thankful that she had
made no objections, as Sylvia Trevor's name from Bridgie's lips
convinced her that here at least a stand must be made.

"Oh, my dear, it is no use asking Miss Trevor.  She is lame, and I shall
have enough to do without looking after invalids."

"She would come with us, and we would take care of her.  The boys are so
fond of Sylvia.  They'd think it a pleasure!" pleaded innocent Bridgie,
all unconscious of the fatal nature of her argument, and Esmeralda
frowned again and said impatiently--

"She'd much better stay at home.  Crowded rooms are no place for people
who need such care."

"No, but that is all the more reason why she should get what enjoyment
she can.  She would love one of the receptions you spoke of, when you
will have music and other entertainments, and her limp can scarcely be
noticed now.  She would be no trouble to you.  You asked her to visit
you in Ireland, Esmeralda!"

"'Deed I did, and she snubbed me for my pains.  I don't like Miss
Trevor, and I don't mean to give her the chance of refusing any more
invitations."

Bridgie looked aghast, as well she might, and made no attempt to hide
her discomfiture.

"But--but I told her you would!  I made quite sure of it, and told her
she would have such a good time.  The poor girl is counting upon it."

"And she is Bridgie's friend.  Bridgie wants to bring her.  That settles
the question surely!" said Geoffrey quietly.  He looked across the table
with uplifted brows, and, wonder of wonders, Esmeralda blushed, and
murmured vaguely about being "much pleased."

"What a mercy it was that Geoffrey was at home!  But oh, if you love me,
Pixie, never, never let Sylvia guess that we had to plead for her
invitations!" pleaded Bridgie earnestly, as the two sisters made their
way home an hour later on.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

AN "AT HOME."

Fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be, there is no hall mark
of sincerity to distinguish one invitation from another, and the printed
cards which were in due time received by Sylvia Trevor differed in no
respect from those sent to the most favoured of Esmeralda's guests.
Fortunately also the remarks with which invitations are received are not
overheard by the prospective hostess, else might she often feel her
trouble wasted, and repent when it was too late.

Mrs Hilliard's fashionable acquaintances yawned when they received her
cards, and exclaimed, "Another engagement for Thursday!  We shall have
to accept, I suppose, but it's a dreadful nuisance!  We can just look in
for a quarter of an hour on our way to Lady Joan's dance;" and
unfashionable Sylvia pursed up her lips and remarked to herself, "Humph!
I suppose she wants to dazzle me with the sight of her splendours.
Much `pleasure' my company will give her!  I shall go, of course.  I
don't think I _could_ stay quietly at home and play cribbage, and know
that Bridgie and the boys were driving away, and that I might have been
with them.  Yes, I'll go, and I will get a new dress for the occasion--a
beauty!  Dad said I might be extravagant once in a way, without emptying
the exchequer; and he would like me to look nice.  Perhaps Bridgie will
go to town with me and help me to choose.  It is nice to have some
excitement to look forward to.  What with typhoid and--Jack,--this has
been the dullest winter I ever knew."

The advent of the Hilliards did indeed make a great difference to the
two quiet households in Rutland Road.  Esmeralda was too much occupied
with her guests to pay many visits in person, but she appeared at
intervals, leaning back against the cushions of the carriage, and
looking like some wonderful princess out of a fairy-tale, and as far
removed as possible from the good ladies of the neighbourhood.

The coachman would draw up before the door of Number Three, the footman
would throw open the door, and Mistress Esmeralda would saunter up the
little garden, dragging yards of chiffon and lace in her train, and
acutely, delightfully conscious of the heads peering from behind the
curtains on either side of the road.  Acknowledged beauty as she was,
her advent caused a greater sensation in this suburban district than
among her own associates, and though she affected to despise its
demonstrations, they were yet very dear to her vain little heart.

Sometimes the two sisters were spirited away to lunch or a drive in the
Park, and on their return would adjourn into Number Six, and entertain
Miss Munns and her niece with the story of their adventures.  There was
a party every single day at Park Lane--titled creatures, and "men who
did things," as Pixie eloquently explained, and Miss Munns recognised
every name as it was repeated, and inquired anxiously concerning
clothes, if the celebrity were of the female sex, concerning manner and
choice of eatables, if he were a man.

Once, too, before the date of the formal invitation, Sylvia herself was
invited to accompany her friend to an afternoon reception, when she
beheld the fabled glories with her own eyes.  Never before had she
entered such a house, or met so distinguished a company, but not for
worlds would she have allowed her surprise to be visible to Esmeralda's
eyes.  The fashionable expression, she noticed, was one of bored
superiority, so she looked bored and superior too, refused offers of
refreshments which she was really longing to accept, and lounged from
one room to another with an abstracted air, as if unconscious of her
surroundings.  All the same she felt very lonely and out of her depth,
for Bridgie was helping her sister to receive her guests, and Pixie as
usual roaming about in search of adventure.

It is very difficult to sit alone in a crowd and keep up an appearance
of dignity, and Sylvia was grateful when a girl of her own age took
possession of the chair by her side, and began to talk without waiting
for the formality of an introduction.  She was a pleasant-looking, much-
freckled damsel, with a wholesome, out-of-door atmosphere, which
distinguished her from the other ladies present, and she seemed for some
reason quite interested in Sylvia Trevor.

All the time that they talked the honest blue eyes--studied the little
clear-cut face of her companion, and though Sylvia was puzzled to
account for the scrutiny, she was quite conscious of its presence, and
anxious that the decision should be in her favour.  She dropped her
artificial airs and graces, and talked simply and naturally, asking
questions about the different people present, and listening to the
biographical sketches which were given in return, with much greater
interest than was vouchsafed to her aunt's more humble reminiscences.

It was so interesting to meet a celebrated author in flesh and blood,
and find that she talked about the weather like any ordinary stupid
person; a statesman in whose hands lay the destiny of a nation, yet
could discuss with seriousness whether he should choose pink cakes or
white.  So extraordinary to discover that this gorgeously-attired lady
was plain Mrs Somebody, while the funny, shabby-looking old woman in
black was a celebrated Duchess, whose name was a household word.

Sylvia understood now why Esmeralda had been so anxious to place this
guest in the most comfortable chair, and had waited on her with such
assiduous care; she understood, too, why the Duchess herself wore an
expression of patient resignation, and cast surreptitious glances at the
clock.  Poor creature, these so-called amusements were the business of
her life, and one was so much like another that it was impossible to get
up any feeling of interest, much less amusement.  She yawned behind her
glove, and vouchsafed the briefest of answers to her companions; it was
abundantly evident, in short, that the Duchess was bored, and as this
was the first time that she had honoured his house by a visit, Geoffrey
was naturally anxious that this state of things should not continue.
Esmeralda had done her utmost, but her airs and graces had failed to
make any impression on one who had been acquainted with the beauties of
the last fifty years, and there seemed no one present who possessed the
requisite qualities to help him out of his difficulty.  The Duchess was
already acquainted with every visitor of note, and would not care to be
introduced to insignificant nonentities.

Stay, though!  What of the most insignificant of his guests?  What of
Pixie O'Shaughnessy, of the ready tongue, and the audacious self-
confidence, which would flourish unchecked in the presence of kings and
emperors?  "Pixie for ever!  Pixie to the rescue!" cried Geoffrey to
himself, and promptly stole across to the room set apart for
refreshments, where his small sister-in-law sat eating her fourth ice,
waited upon with assiduous care by her friend Montgomery.

"Pixie," he said, "there's an old lady in black sitting under the big
palm in the yellow drawing-room and looking dreadfully bored!  Just go
and talk to her like a good girl, and see if you can amuse her a little
bit before she goes."

"I will so!" responded Pixie heartily.  "It's a very dull party when
there's nothing to do but be pleasant.  I was bored myself, before I
began to eat.  I'll leave the ice now, but maybe I'll venture on another
by and by.--In black, you said, under the palm?"

She flicked a lapful of crumbs on to the floor, and pranced away with
her light, dancing step.  Geoffrey watched her from the doorway, saw her
squeeze herself into the corner of the lounge on which the Duchess was
seated, and gaze into her face with the broadest of broad beaming
smiles, while the great lady, in her turn, put up a lorgnon and stared
back in amazed curiosity.

"Well, little girl," said the Duchess, smiling, "and what have you got
to say?"

"Plenty, thank you!  I always have.  Me difficulty is to find someone to
listen!" replied Miss Pixie, with a confidential nod.

The old lady looked extraordinarily thin; the lines on her face crossed
and re-crossed like the most intricate puzzle, her lips were sunken, and
the tips of nose and chin were at perilously close quarters, but her
eyes were young still, such sharp, bright little eyes, and they twinkled
just as Pat's did when he was pleased.

"Talk to me, then.  I'll stop you when I'm bored!" she said, and at that
Pixie nodded once again.

"Of course.  We always do.  Jack stamps on me foot, and Pat snores, the
same as if he were asleep.  He says he is strong enough to hear a tale
six times over, but he won't listen to it a seventh, to please man nor
woman.  Bridgie says jokes are one of the trials of family life, because
by the time you've improved the points so that no one would recognise
them for the same, your relations won't give you a hearing.  It's a
curious thing, when you think of it, that you get so exhausted with
other people's stories, while you go on laughing at your own.  Bridgie
says you'll find fifty people to cry with you, for one who will
sympathise about jokes.  Have you found it that way in your experience?"

"Upon my word," cried the Duchess with unction, "this Bridgie appears to
be a remarkably sensible young woman!  My experience has been that I
rarely meet a joke that is not my own exclusive property, to judge by
the faces of my companions.  Do you happen to possess a name, my
youthful philosopher?  I should like to know to whom I am talking."

"I'm Pixie O'Shaughnessy, and Geoffrey married my sister Esmeralda.  He
came over to Ireland and fell in love with her in spite of me telling
him about her bad temper, thinking of course that he was a perfect
stranger.  I apologised to him after it was settled and said there was
nothing really wrong with her, for she'd always rather be pleasant than
not, only at times it's easier to be nasty, and she's been lazy from her
youth.  The night they met they mistook each other for ghosts, and
Esmeralda clung to his arm and screeched for help.

"There was never a thing that girl was frightened at, all her life,
until now, and, would you believe it?--it's her own servants!  Of course
in Ireland they were like friends, as free and easy as we were
ourselves, and entering into the conversation at table; but Geoffrey's
Englishmen are so solemn and proper that she lives in terror of shocking
their feelings.  One day the butler found her kissing Geoffrey,
believing they were alone, and she waited for him to say, `Allow me,
madam!' as he always does if she ventures to do a hand's turn for
herself.  She's says it's dispiriting to think you can't even quarrel in
peace for fear of interruption, and it takes a good deal to interrupt
Esmeralda when once she's started."

The Duchess screwed up her bright little eyes, and her shoulders shook
beneath her black lace cape.  Sylvia and her companion, watching the
strangely assorted pair from across the room, saw Pixie move nearer and
nearer, and whisper a long dramatic history; saw the Duchess nod her
head in appreciation of the various points, and heard the burst of
laughter which greeted the _denouement_.  Everyone stopped talking and
stared with inquiring eyes.  Esmeralda turned towards the lounge,
anxiety thinly disguised by smiles, and, seeing her, the Duchess rose
from her seat with a sigh of regret.

"Your sister is a born story-teller, Mrs Hilliard.  I wish I had more
time to listen.  Please ask me to meet her again!  It is a long time
since I have been so amused."

Here was praise indeed!  Esmeralda beamed with satisfaction, and seized
Pixie's hand with an unusual outburst of affection.

"How noble of you, dear!  She was looking as bored as bored, and I was
at my wits' end.  What did you tell her that made her laugh like that?"

"Oh, nothing much.  Just things about ourselves, and the adventures at
home.  'Twas the beeswax pudding that pleased her most," said Pixie
easily, and wondered at Esmeralda's sudden extinction of interest.

"Now what disclosures has that child been making next!" cried the
freckled girl, looking on at this little scene with curious eyes.  "I
doubt whether Esmeralda appreciates them as much as the Duchess.  We
used to say at home that if there was one thing which should not be
revealed, Pixie was bound to choose it as the subject of conversation on
the first possible occasion!  And she was so sweet and innocent about
it, too, that it was impossible to be angry.  I expect you have found
out that for yourself?"

"Yes--No!" said Sylvia absently, for she was thinking less of what she
was saying than of certain phrases which her companion had just uttered.
"We used to say at home."  Who was this, then, who had known Pixie
O'Shaughnessy in bygone days--could it by any chance be the dreaded
rival towards whom she was prepared to cherish so ardent a dislike?  She
stared at the honest, kindly face, and felt that it would be difficult
to harbour a prejudice against its owner, even if--if-- "Are you Miss
Burrell?" she asked, and Mollie smiled assent.

"I am that, and you are Sylvia Trevor.  I've heard about you from--"

"Bridgie--yes!  We have been great friends all winter."

"Not Bridgie--no!  We had so much to discuss about the old place and its
people, that I'm afraid we have never mentioned your name.  It was not
Bridgie."

"Oh!" said Sylvia, and stared across the room.  It might, of course,
have been Esmeralda herself who had enlightened Miss Burrell's
ignorance, but there was a mysterious something in the girl's manner
which gave a different impression.  She was too proud to ask questions,
and Miss Burrell volunteered no information, but smiled to herself as at
an interesting reminiscence.  It seemed as though what she had heard had
been of a distinctly pleasant character!

Sylvia returned home feeling mysteriously happy and elated, and the
sight of a letter addressed to herself in her father's handwriting put
the finishing touch on her satisfaction.  She took it upstairs to her
own room, and sat herself down on the one comfortable chair which she
possessed, to read its contents with undisturbed enjoyment.  She was in
no hurry to break the seal, however, for it was so pleasant just to hold
the letter in her hand, and lean back comfortably against the cushions,
and dream.

The dreams, it is true, were mostly concerned with the events of the
afternoon, and Mollie Burrell's intent and kindly scrutiny; but it was
like the old times when she had thought her own thoughts with her hand
clasped in that of the dear old dad, and the touch of the sheet on which
his fingers had rested brought back the old feeling of strength and
security.  She had told him much about her new friends, and he seemed
always to wish to hear more, asking carefully veiled questions, the
meaning of which were perfectly understood by his shrewd little
daughter.

Dad was anxious about this friendship with a family which included a
handsome grown-up son among its members; a trifle afraid lest she should
be spirited away to another home before he had enjoyed his own innings.

"Poor old darling!" murmured Sylvia remorsefully, for at the bottom of
her heart she knew well which home she would choose if the choice were
given, and it did seem hard--horribly hard--that a parent should love
and guard and work for his child from the hour of her birth, and that
when she had grown old and sensible enough to be a companion instead of
a care, she should immediately desert him for another!  "But I could
never love dad any less, never, never!  I'd give anything in the world
to see him again!"  Sylvia cried mentally as she opened the envelope and
straightened the thin, foreign sheets.

It was a long letter, and took a long time to read, and in the process
Sylvia's expression changed once and again, and finally settled into one
of incredulous dismay.  It was not that the news was bad; on the
contrary, it was good--very good indeed--the thing above all others
which she would have wished to hear, but it threatened a complete
uprooting of her life just as it was growing most interesting, and full
of possibilities.  Dad was coming home, was even now on his way, and had
desired her to meet him on his arrival at Marseilles.  It was
incredible, quite incredible in its startling unexpectedness.  She
turned again to the wonderful paragraph, and read it over once more
slowly and carefully.

  "And now, my darling, I have a piece of news, which I hope and believe
  will be welcome to you.  Certain business changes have taken place of
  late, which you would not understand even if I tried to explain them,
  but such as they are they set me free to return home at my own
  convenience.  I have been impatiently waiting this settlement of
  affairs for some time back, as I have been most anxious to see you
  after your long illness, and to satisfy myself that the best means are
  being used to restore the full use of your foot.

  "I have made inquiries here, and believe that a course of baths of the
  German Spa B--- would probably put the final touch to what has already
  been done.  I propose, therefore, that you engage in good time a
  trustworthy lady courier from an office in London, and travel in her
  company to Marseilles, where I will meet you in the first week of
  June, having previously spent a week or ten days in Italy with my old
  friends the Nisbets, who return in the same boat.

  "Come prepared for a summer abroad, and we can fit you up with any
  extras that are needed before we start on our travels.  After you have
  finished your course of treatment and are, I trust, thoroughly
  convalescent, we will have a tour through Switzerland, and settle down
  at some mountain hotel, where the air will brace us up after our
  sufferings, climatic and otherwise.

  "For the future, I have as yet no definite plans, except that, of
  course, you will not return to your present quarters.  Perhaps we may
  eventually find a house that suits us in the south of England, but I
  can't face English winters after my long residence in this sunny land,
  and you must make up your mind to humour a restless old Anglo-Indian
  for the next few years to come.  Perhaps by that time I may have
  regained my old strength and nerve, which have sadly failed of late.
  I will wire from Brindisi as to definite arrangements."

Sylvia let the letter drop on her lap, and stared before her with blank
eyes.  Through the curtains could be seen a glimpse of the house
opposite, the blind at Bridgie's window drawn up at its usual rakish
angle.

In three weeks, in less than three weeks, she would say good-bye for
ever to Rutland Road and its inhabitants; good-bye to England itself, it
appeared, for at least a year to come, and at two-and-twenty a year is
as long as a lifetime, if it divides us from those we love.  She would
drift away out of sight, and the last six months would become but an
episode in her own life and those of her friends.

"D'ye remember Sylvia,--the girl with the bark on the road?"  In
imagination she could hear Pixie putting the question in the years to
come, and Bridgie would remember quite well, because she had not the
faculty of forgetting, but other people--other people were reputedly
fickle, and tempted to forget old friends in favour of new!  Other
people would probably be in love with a fair-haired beauty by that time,
and have forgotten all about Sylvia Trevor!

The pain which shot through the girl's heart at these reflections was so
sharp that it startled her into a realisation of her own position.  Dad
was coming home, she was going to live with him once more, and instead
of being happy and elated she was miserable--miserable!  She was going
to leave her aunt's home, with the restrictions and lack of sympathy
which had made it so trying, and was once more to live with the fondest
and most indulgent of parents, and instead of filling her with delight
the news seemed like a sentence of banishment from all that made life
worth living!

To do Sylvia justice she was shocked at her own thoughts, and made a
valiant effort to look at the prospect in a more dutiful spirit.  At
least, she determined, no one should suspect a want of loyalty to that
best and kindest of men!  Aunt Margaret would take for granted that she
felt nothing but delight, and she would postpone breaking the news to
Bridgie until she had grown accustomed to the idea of separation, and
could discuss it with composure.

It would be easier than usual to keep this resolve, for since
Esmeralda's arrival the neighbours necessarily saw less of each other
than in the long winter days when there had been no rival claims on
their time and attention.  Aunt Margaret would be pleased to find that
she was chosen as counsellor and adviser-in-chief, and during the short
time which was left she must do her utmost to gratify the old lady, who
had been on the whole very kind and forbearing during the two years
which they had spent together.

"I wish I had been nicer to her!" sighed Sylvia regretfully.  "I was
always meaning to be, but now it's too late.  That's the worst of
putting off things in this world; the chance may never come again!"



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

A whole week passed by before Sylvia had an opportunity of telling her
great news to her friend.  To begin with, Bridgie was absent from home
for three days and nights, attending a ball and a water-party given by
Esmeralda for the entertainment of her house-party, and to neither of
which Sylvia had received an invitation.  To be sure, it was no use
going to a dance when dancing was an impossibility, and the getting in
and out of boats would have been painful and difficult, but all the same
Sylvia felt slighted and out in the cold, and, though absent in the
flesh, mentally followed every stage in the two entertainments, and
tortured herself by imagining Jack's light-hearted enjoyment and
absorption in other company than her own.

When Bridgie returned home, Miss Munns insisted on several expeditions
to town, and also to surrounding suburbs, where lived those family
connections to whom it was clearly the girl's duty to say good-bye.  The
old lady was quite inclined to enjoy the little stir of preparation
involved by the trip abroad, and would allow no one but herself to
interview the lady in whose charge her niece was to travel.  That she
was entirely satisfied was the best possible guarantee for Sylvia's
safety, and Mistress Courier Rickman promised to be ready to start the
moment the expected wire was received.

Miss Munns laid in a store of patent medicines, stocked her niece's
workbox with every imaginable useful, and waxed quite affectionate in
her manner, but all the same it was easy to see that she would be
relieved to get rid of her charge, and settle down once more in the old
groove.  It requires a great deal of forbearance and unselfish
imagination to enable a young person and an old to live together
happily, and the lack of these qualities is the explanation of many
miserable homes.

Old people should remember that the peaceful monotony which has become
their own idea of happiness, must by the laws of nature spell a very
different word to buoyant, restless youth, and also that there comes a
stage when the children are not children any longer, when they are
entitled to their own opinions, and may even--most reverently be it
said--understand what is best for themselves, better than those of a
different generation; and the young people in their turn should remember
the long years of tender care and devotion which they have received, and
be infinitely patient in their turn.  They, who are so impatient of
passing ailments, should try to imagine how it would feel to be always
feeble, and to see in the future the certainty of growing more and more
suffering and incapable.  They should realise that it is in their power
to make the sunshine of declining days, and thereby to store up for
themselves a lasting joy, instead of a reproach.

In looking back upon those two years spent in Rutland Road, Sylvia
forgot her aunt's lack of sympathy, her prosy talk, and repeated fault-
finding; they were lost in remembering the true kindness of heart which
lay beneath all mannerism.  What she was never able to forget was her
own impatience and neglect of opportunity.

Once or twice as the days passed by, Bridgie O'Shaughnessy ran to the
gate to intercept her friend as she passed, and exchange a hurried
greeting, but Sylvia would not trust her great news to such occasions as
these.  She waited until an opportunity arose for an uninterrupted talk,
and as she waited a desire awoke and grew in intensity, to herself tell
Jack of the coming separation.  Bridgie must, of course, be informed of
the journey to France and Germany, but she would wait until the evening
of Esmeralda's reception before disclosing the full extent of her
travels.

When she and Jack were sitting together in one of the charming little
niches in which the rooms abounded, he would naturally begin to talk of
her journey, and she would smile and look unconcerned, and, in the most
cheerful and natural of tones, announce that she was not coming back to
Rutland Road, that it would probably be a year at least before she saw
England again.

Surely when he heard this for the first time, when it was burst upon him
as an utter surprise, she would read in his face whether she had been
right in imagining that he really "cared," or if it had been a delusion
born of girlish vanity.  She would be quite calm and serene, would not
in any way pose as a martyr or seem to expect any expression of
distress, but she could not--could not bring herself to go away without
making this one innocent little effort to solve the mystery which meant
so much to her happiness and peace of mind.

So Sylvia purposely kept out of Bridgie's way during the ten days after
the receipt of her letter, and when they met it was easy to tell just
what she chose, and keep silent about the rest, for Bridgie was not one
of the curious among womenkind, and never dreamt of questioning and
cross-questioning as to the plans of another.  She simply took for
granted that Sylvia would return to her old quarters, after a pleasant
summer holiday, just as she was happily assured that her friend felt
nothing but purest joy and satisfaction in the prospect before her.

"Oh, me darling," she cried rapturously, "I am delighted for you!  Isn't
that the very best news that could happen?  So soon, too, and a lovely
jaunt together in the beautiful summer weather.  'Twill make you strong
again in no time, and you will write me long letters telling me all your
adventures, and 'twill be almost as good as having them myself.  I
couldn't tell you when I've been so pleased!"

"Humph!" said Sylvia disconsolately.  Would Jack be delighted also, and
hail her departure with rapturous congratulations?  "Won't you miss me?
Won't you feel lonely when I'm not here?" she questioned earnestly, and
Bridgie smiled a cheery reassurement.

"I'll have Esmeralda, you see!  She will be here until the end of the
season, and then we are going up to Scotland with her.  We shall be so
busy and taken up with one thing and another that I shan't have time to
miss you, darling."

"Humph!" said Sylvia once more.  This was intended for comfort, she was
aware, but it was not the kind of comfort that was required.  Bridgie
O'Shaughnessy might be so unselfish as to rejoice because a friend did
not suffer by her absence, but Sylvia longed to hear that she was
indispensable, and that nothing and no one could fill her place.  It was
another bitter drop in her cup to realise that the O'Shaughnessy girls
were so closely united that any friend must needs be at a discount in
comparison with a sister.

"Ye don't seem as excited as I should have expected.  Is anything
worrying you, dear?"  Bridgie inquired, and Sylvia hurriedly searched
for a plausible excuse and found it in her father's health.

In reality she was not disquieted by his reference to his own weakness,
for he had been complaining for months back without apparently growing
worse, and she was convinced that the coming rest would speedily restore
him to health.  It made an excuse, however, and Bridgie sympathised and
offered a dozen kindly, unpractical suggestions as her custom was.

Then the conversation drifted to the all-important reception which was
so close at hand, and to which both girls were looking forward with such
expectation.  Bridgie related the latest arrangements for the
entertainment of some three hundred guests, while her friend listened
with eager attention.  Esmeralda was sparing neither money nor pains to
make the evening one of the events of the season.  Singers and musicians
whose names were known throughout Europe were to perform at intervals in
the great drawing-room; the hall and staircase were to be transformed
into a bower of roses, pink La France roses here, there, and everywhere,
wreathed round the banisters, massed on the window-sills and
mantelpieces, hanging in great golden baskets from the ceiling.  Rose-
coloured shades were to soften the glare of the electric lights; the air
was to be kept cool by great blocks of ice, and scented fountains rising
from banks of moss and ferns; the conservatory was to be illuminated by
jewelled lanterns.

It sounded like a fairy-tale to the girl in the unfashionable suburb,
and she would have been less than human if she had not counted the hours
which must elapse before the evening arrived.  Bridgie thought it a pity
that the guests could not be labelled for the edification of the
unsophisticated, but Sylvia's greatest interest was centred on figures
which were too familiar to be mistaken.  The whole entertainment was, in
truth, but a gorgeous setting to that conversation with Jack, which
might be their last _tete-a-tete_ for so long to come.

The dressmaker who was preparing Miss Trevor's dress for the great
occasion had seldom had more difficulty in satisfying an employer, and
the sum total expended on fineries would have horrified Miss Munns if
she had been allowed to see the bills.  Even Sylvia winced when she
added up the figures, but she repeated sturdily the old phrase, "Dad
won't mind!" and felt secure that she would meet with no worse reprimand
than a little good-natured banter.  On the whole she had been very
economical during her stay in England, and her conscience did not
upbraid her concerning this one extravagance.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

A TELEGRAM.

As soon as her room was in order on the day of the reception, Sylvia
began the delightful task of opening boxes and parcels, and laying their
contents on the bed.  The satin skirt was spread out with careful
fingers, and over it a foam of frills and flounces which must surely
have grown, since it was inconceivable that they could have been
fashioned by mortal hands.  Fan, and gloves, and little lacy
handkerchief lay side by side on the pillows; little satin shoes stood
at a jaunty angle, the crystal buckles shining in the sun.  The pearl
necklace, which had been a present from dad on her twenty-first
birthday, lay on the toilet-table ready to be snapped on, and a spray of
white roses and maiden-hair floated in a basin of water.

All was ready, and Sylvia beamed with delight at the result of her
preparations.  She had come upstairs ostensibly to rest, but in reality
she was far too excited to settle down even to read, and could only
wander about the room inventing one little duty after another, and
weaving endless day-dreams.  In a corner of the room stood her
travelling-box, a convenient receptacle into which to put the new
purchases as they arrived from the shops.

The travelling dress, the piles of cool garments for summer wear lay
neatly packed away, looking fresh and dainty enough to have charmed any
girl's heart, but this afternoon Sylvia had no thought for the future;
every hope and ambition was centred on the events of the next few hours.

Three o'clock!  How slowly the time passed!  Four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine--six hours still to while away before she would drive from
the door with Pixie by her side, and Jack _vis-a-vis_, leaning forward
to look her over, and exclaim in admiration at her fine feathers.

Sylvia could almost imagine that she heard him speak, and saw the sudden
softening of the handsome eyes, and for once in her life she was
inclined to rejoice that Bridgie was again staying at Park Lane, since
Pixie and Pat would be so much engrossed in their own discussions as to
ensure a virtual _tete-a-tete_ for their companions.  She rose
restlessly from her seat and walked to the window.  Was Pixie occupied
even as she had been herself in laying out her dress for the evening?
She peered curiously through the opposite windows, but no sign of the
inhabitants was to be seen; she yawned, drummed her fingers against the
pane, and stared idly down the road.

It was not a lively neighbourhood at the best of times, and to-day it
seemed even duller than usual.  A nurse was wheeling a perambulator
along the pavement, a milkman's cart was making slow progress from door
to door, a telegraph-boy was sauntering down the middle of the road
whistling a popular air.  Sylvia wondered where he was going, and what
was the nature of the message which he bore.  Some people were so
nervous about telegrams--Aunt Margaret, for instance!  It was so rarely
that her quiet life was disturbed by a message of sufficient importance
to make it worth while for the sender to expend sixpence on its
delivery.

Sylvia's heart gave a leap of apprehension as the thought arose that
perhaps the message was for the O'Shaughnessy household to tell of some
dire accident which had interfered with the festivity of the evening.
She had hardly time to breathe a sigh of relief as the boy passed the
gate of Number Three before apprehension re-awoke as he approached her
own doorway.

A telegram for Aunt Margaret!  What could it be?  Ought she to go
downstairs to lend the support of her presence, or stay in her room
where she was supposed to be enjoying a refreshing nap?  She heard the
opening of the door and the sound of voices in the hall, then to her
surprise footsteps ascended the stairs, and someone whispered a gentle
summons--

"Sylvia!  Are you awake?  A telegram has arrived for you, my dear.  You
had better see it at once."

Miss Munns looked flurried and anxious, but her niece smiled a placid
reassurement.

"I expect it is from father, fixing the date of my journey.  He said he
would wire."  She tore open the envelope and glanced hurriedly at the
address.  "Yes, it is!  He is at Marseilles.  `Come at--'" Her voice
died away, and she stood staring at the words in horrified incredulity,
while Miss Munns stepped forward hurriedly, and peered over her
shoulder.

"Come at once.  Father dangerously ill.  Remain in charge till you
come.--Nisbet."

"Nisbet!  Nisbet!  That was the name of the friends with whom he was to
travel.  `Dangerously ill!'  `At once!'  What can it mean?"

Sylvia laid the paper on the bed and pressed her hands against her head.
She was deathly pale, but perfectly composed and quiet, and the
expression of her eyes showed that so far from being stunned, she was
thinking in quick, capable fashion.

"There is a train from Charing Cross at four o'clock," she said
presently.  "I should arrive in Paris at midnight, and at Marseilles
some time to-morrow.  It is three now.  My box is more than half packed.
I shall have time.  Mary must go out and order a cab!"

"My dear, it is impossible!  You cannot possibly leave to-day.  I will
go with you myself, and I cannot get ready at an hour's notice.  Wait
until to-morrow, and--"

Sylvia turned round with a flash of anger in her eyes, but suddenly
softened and took both the old lady's hands in her own, holding them in
a tender pressure.

"Listen," she said, and her voice, gentle though it was, had in it a new
quality which awed and impressed the hearer.  "Listen!--there is not one
single minute to spare.  If there was a train at half-past three, I
should catch that, box or no box, for father is dying, Aunt Margaret--he
would not have let me be summoned like this for any passing ailment.
Nothing in all the world would make me wait here until to-morrow, so
please, dear, do not hinder me now.  I know it is impossible for you to
come with me, but I will telegraph the moment I arrive, and if--if there
is still time, you can follow then."

"But you can't travel alone!  Edward would not like it.  He is so
particular.  How can you manage about the trains?"

"Listen!  I have thought of that too.  Put on your bonnet and go to the
telephone office at the corner.  Ask the people at the agency if they
can possibly send a lady courier to meet me at the train at Charing
Cross.  If they can, very well!  If they can't, I am twenty-two, and can
speak French easily, and am not afraid of travelling by myself.  I will
telegraph to Cook's agent to meet me in Paris, if it will make you any
happier, but I am going, auntie dear, and I have not a moment to spare.
I will get dressed now, and the cab must be here in half an hour."

Miss Munns turned without a word, and left the room.  She had the sense
to know when she was beaten, and, having once faced the situation, set
to work in her usual business-like fashion, and proved the most capable
of helpers.  Having been successful in arranging for a lady courier
through the convenient medium of the telephone, she returned home to
write labels, fasten together cloaks and umbrellas, and order a hasty
but tempting little meal for the refreshment of the traveller.  This
accomplished, she returned once more to the bedroom, where Sylvia was
putting the last touches to her packing.

"Nearly finished?  That's right, my dear.  You have eight minutes still,
and tea is waiting for you downstairs.  Don't trouble to tidy the room,
I'll attend to that after you have gone.  All these things on the bed--
they had better be packed away in the attics, I suppose.  It's a pity
they were ever bought, as things have turned out.  You may never need
them now."

"No, I may never need them now!" said Sylvia steadily.  "In one minute,
aunt, just one minute.  You go down and pour out my tea, and I'll follow
immediately.  I've just one thing more I want to do."

"Don't dawdle, then--don't dawdle!  Mary will fasten the straps--don't
wait for that."

Miss Munns departed, unwillingly enough, and Sylvia shut the door after
her, and gave a swift step back towards the bed.  The satin dress, and
the fan, and the gloves, and the jaunty little shoes lay there looking
precisely the same as they had done an hour ago--the only difference was
in the eyes which beheld them.

Sylvia had read of a bride who was buried in her wedding dress, and she
felt at this moment as if she were leaving her own girlhood behind, with
that mass of dainty white finery.  What lay in the future she could not
tell; only one thing seemed certain, that those few words on the slip of
brown paper had made a great chasm of separation between it and the
past.  The opportunity for which she had longed was not to be hers; she
must leave England without so much as a word of farewell to the friends
who of late had filled such a large part of her life.

If her plans had been frustrated by one of the annoying little
_contretemps_ of daily life, Sylvia would have exhausted herself in
lamentations and repinings, but she was dumb before this great
catastrophe, which came so obviously from a higher Hand.  When her
father lay dying, there was no regret in her heart for a lost amusement,
but this hurried departure might mean more--much more than the
forfeiture of Esmeralda's hospitality.  She stretched out her hand, and
smoothed the satin folds with a very tender touch.

"Good-bye!" she whispered softly, in the silence of the room.  "Good-
bye, Jack!"



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

TOO LATE.

Sylvia's journey was quiet and uneventful, and her companion was
tactfully silent, leaving her at peace to think her own thoughts.  As
time passed by, the natural hopefulness of youth reasserted itself, and
she began to think that she had been too hasty in taking it for granted
that her father was hopelessly ill.

After all he had not despatched the telegram; it had been signed by his
friends, the Nisbets, who, no doubt, were unwilling to accept a position
of responsibility.  When she arrived she would nurse him so devotedly,
would surround him with such an atmosphere of love and care, that he
could not help recovering and growing strong once more.  He would be
longing to see her, poor dear old dad, working himself into an invalid's
nervous dread lest they might never meet again, as she herself had done
a few months earlier, and the sight of his child would be his best
medicine.

They left the train and took their places in the boat.  It was a
cloudless summer afternoon, and the white cliffs stood out in striking
contrast to the blue sky and sea.  What a change from the big grey city
which even now was beginning to grow close and dusty, what a glorious
open prospect for one who had been shut up for months in the confines of
a narrow street, and yet Rutland Road had been far more beautiful to one
voyager at least, for at that moment, exactly at that moment, as timed
by the little watch at her wrist, Jack O'Shaughnessy would have turned
the corner of the main road to saunter towards his own home.

Jack always sauntered, with the air of a gentleman at large who had
never known the necessity of hurry.  Sylvia had watched him many times
from the shelter of her window curtains, and knew exactly how he would
carry his head, and twirl his stick, and glance rapidly across the road
as he unlatched the gate.  Pixie would open the door and breathlessly
unfold the news with which she had by this time been made acquainted,
and how would Jack look then?  Would the smile fade away, would he feel
as if all zest and interest had departed from the evening entertainment,
or would he make the best of things in happy O'Shaughnessy fashion and
console himself in Mollie's smiles?

The breeze grew fresher and more chill, and the stars began to peep; the
travellers had reached the shores of France; and far-away in London
Esmeralda's guests were beginning to arrive, the carriages were jostling
one another in the narrow street.  Then came Paris, and a space for rest
and refreshment before starting on the next stage of the journey.

Sylvia had hoped that a telegram might be waiting for her at this point,
but none was forthcoming, and its absence was a bitter disappointment
despite the old adage that no news is good news.  She sat in the big
deserted buffet, drinking bouillon and eating poulet and salad; and
catching sight of her own pallid reflection in one of the mirrors,
smiled feebly at the contrast between the present and the "might have
been"!  This white-faced, weary-looking girl was surely not the Sylvia
Trevor whose day-dreams had woven such golden things about this very
hour.

The lady courier engaged a sleeping compartment for the first stage of
the long journey to Marseilles, but though it was a comfort to lie down
and stretch her weary limbs, there was little sleep for Sylvia that
night.  She was up and gazing out of the window by six o'clock in the
morning, and the day seemed endless despite the interest of the scenes
through which she passed.  "Through thy cornfields green, and sunny
vines, O pleasant land of France."

The lines which she had read in her youth came back to memory as the
train crossed the broad waters of the Loire and sped through valleys of
grapes and olives, surrounded by hills of smiling green.  The sun was
hot in these southern plains, and the dust blew in clouds through the
windows; it was a relief when evening fell again, and brought the end of
the long journey.

Sylvia stepped on to the platform and looked around with eager gaze.
Although she had never met her father's friends, she knew their
appearance sufficiently well from photographs and descriptions to be
able to distinguish them from strangers, but nowhere could she see
either husband or wife.  It was unkind to leave her unwelcomed and with
no word to allay her anxiety, and she had hard work to keep back her
tears as her companion ran about collecting the scattered pieces of
luggage.

She was so tired mentally and physically that this last disappointment
was too much for her endurance, and she thanked God that in a few
minutes the strain would be over, and she would be seated by her
father's side.  They drove along the quaint, foreign streets, and
presently arrived at the hotel itself, a large building set back in a
courtyard in which visitors sat before little tables, smoking and
drinking their after-dinner coffee.

They looked up curiously as Sylvia passed, but no one came forward to
meet her, and the waiter gesticulated dumbly in answer to her
questionings, and led the way upstairs without vouchsafing a word in
reply.  It was humiliating to think that her accent had so degenerated
as to be unrecognisable in his ears, but there was no other explanation,
and it was at least evident that she was expected, since he seemed in no
doubt as to where to conduct her first.  He turned down a corridor to
the right, stopped at the second door, and threw it open, and Sylvia saw
with surprise that it was not a bedroom, but a sitting-room, in which a
lady and a gentleman were already seated.

The gentleman leapt to his feet, wheeled round and stood with his face
to the window; the lady shrank back into her chair, then suddenly jumped
up and ran forward with outstretched hands.  It was Mrs Nisbet, though
looking older and more worn than Sylvia had expected to see her, and
nothing could have been kinder or more affectionate than her greeting.

"My dear child--my poor dear child, how tired you must be!  You have had
an awful journey.  Come in, dear, and rest a few minutes while I will
make some tea for you.  English people always like tea, don't they?  And
I will make it myself, so that it shall be good.  Come, dear, sit down!
Let me take off your hat."

She stroked the girl's cheek with her hand--such a hot, trembling hand--
and there was an odd, excited thrill in her voice which filled Sylvia
with a vague alarm.  She stepped back a step, and drew herself up
straight and determined.

"Thank you very much, but I don't want any tea.  I want to go at once to
father.  It has been such a long, long journey.  I mustn't waste any
more time!"

"No, no, but you are not ready just this moment.  You must have
something to strengthen you first.  If you won't wait for tea, here is
some wine.  Drink a glass, dear, do.  To please me!"

Sylvia stared at her fixedly, and from her to that other figure which
stood motionless by the window without so much as a glance for his
friend's child.  A cold fear seized her in its grip, the room swam
before her eyes, and out of the confusion she heard a weak voice saying
brokenly, "Tell me quickly, please!  It won't help me to drink wine.
Father--"

Mrs Nisbet burst into a passion of tears, and clasped the girl tightly
in her arms.

"You are too late, dear.  An hour too late!  We did everything we could.
He left you his last love and blessing."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was all over.  The two long days of waiting, the last glimpse of
dad's still face, the funeral in the foreign cemetery, and Sylvia sat
alone in the hotel sitting-room, striving to recover sufficiently from
the shock to decide on the next step which lay before her.

In the crushing weight of the new sorrow it seemed as if it were
impossible to go on living at all, yet it was absolutely necessary to
make her plans, for she could not be an indefinite burden on her
father's friends.  They had come home to enjoy a hard-earned rest, and
as the holiday had begun so sadly there was all the more reason why the
remainder should be passed under cheerful conditions.  Mr and Mrs
Nisbet had pressed the girl to spend the next few months travelling in
their company, but Sylvia was resolute in her refusal.

"I should be a constant care to you, and a constant kill-joy, and that
would be a poor return for all you have done for me," she said sadly.
"It will comfort me all my life to remember that you were with dad
during those last dreadful days, and some day I should like very much to
visit you when I can be a pleasure instead of a burden.  It does not
seem now as if I could ever be happy again, but I suppose it will come
in time."

"It will, if you trust in God and ask Him to help you.  He sends
troubles to teach us lessons, dear, and to draw our thoughts to Him, but
never, never to make us miserable," said Mrs Nisbet softly.  "You did
not feel that you had lost your father when he was far-off in India, and
he is a great deal nearer to you now in the spirit world.  Never think
of him as in the grave, think of him in heaven, and it will grow dear
and home-like to you just because he is there.  It would have grieved
him to the heart to see your young life clouded, so you must try to be
happy for his sake.  I don't mean by that that you can be lively, or
care for the old amusements; that can only come with time; but
unhappiness comes from rebellion against God's will, and if you submit
to that and leave your life in His hands, you will find that all the
sting has gone out of your trouble."

The slow tears rose and stood in Sylvia's eyes.

"Thank you!" she said meekly.  "I will try, but it's hard to be resigned
when one is young, and all one's life seems shattered.  I don't know
what to do next.  Every arrangement so far has been made, `till dad
comes home,' and now that hope has gone, and what am I to do?  I have no
home, and no work, and nobody needs me.  Aunt Margaret would take me in,
of course, but she would not like it as a permanency any more than I
should myself.  She has her own way, and I have mine, and we did not
agree very well.  She was very kind when she thought I was going away,
but at the bottom of her heart she was glad.  She doesn't need me, you
see!  I don't help her at all."

"But you could _make_ her need you!  You could help her if you went back
determined to make it your work in life!"

Mrs Nisbet took the girl's hand in hers and pressed it gently, and
Sylvia looked into her face with miserable, honest eyes.

"Yes--I could!  I could shut my lips up tight and never answer back, and
look interested when I was bored, and go little walks up and down the
terrace, and play cribbage when I wanted to read, and read aloud dull
books when I wanted to read lively ones to myself, and pretend to like
what I really hate and detest."

"Poor lassie!  It does sound dull.  I'll tell you a secret, though.  It
would not be pretence very long, for it is one of the blessed
recompenses in life that if we conquer self, and perform a duty whole-
heartedly and cheerfully, it is distasteful no longer, but becomes more
interesting than we could have believed possible in the old rebellious
days."

"Does it?  But I don't think I quite want to be satisfied with that kind
of life," Sylvia said slowly.  "I don't wish to seem disrespectful, but
really and truly Aunt Margaret's ideas are terribly narrow and old-
fashioned, and I shouldn't like it a bit if I were like her when I was
old.  I have managed pretty well so far, for I had nice friends, and was
always looking forward to the time when I should have my own home, but
don't you understand how different it is now, and how dreary it seems to
settle down to it as a permanency?"  She looked up wistfully in Mrs
Nisbet's face, and met a smile of kindest understanding.

"But there is no necessity to grieve over the future, child!  At your
age arrangements are rarely `permanent,' and you are concerned only with
the next step.  It seems for the moment as if it were the right course
to return to London, so try to look upon the situation from a new
standpoint, and face it bravely.  Forget your aunt's shortcomings, and
remember only that she is your father's only remaining relative, the
playmate and companion of his youth, and that you are connected by a
common sorrow and a common loss.  Set yourself to brighten her life, and
to fill it with wider interests; forget yourself, in short, and think
about other people.  When you have learned that lesson, dear, you will
have solved the great secret of life, and found the key to happiness and
peace of mind."

"Yes," sighed Sylvia faintly.  It sounded very sweet and very beautiful,
but, oh, so terribly difficult to accomplish!  If it had been a big
thing, on great, heroic sacrifice which she was called upon to make, she
could have braced herself to the effort, and have borne it with courage,
but the little daily pin-pricks, the chafings of temper, the weariness
of uncongenial companionship--these were the hardest test, the most
cruel tax upon endurance.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, the same uneventful,
monotonous existence--and suppose for one moment that Jack married
Mollie Burrell, and Bridgie returned to her Irish home!  Sylvia shivered
and shut her eyes as at an unbearable prospect, and Mrs Nisbet's voice
said softly in her ear--

"`I do not ask to see the distant scene.  One step enough for me!'  Take
each day as it comes, dear, and try to live it bravely without thinking
of to-morrow.  We will travel with you as far as Paris, and have a few
days together before you go on to London.  I wish you would have stayed
with us longer, but perhaps it will be better for us all to be apart for
a time, and meet again later on.  We shall be in London in autumn, and
one of my first visits will be to you.  Your father has been like a
brother to my husband for years past, and we shall always feel a very
close interest in your welfare.

"By the way, dear, how are you off for money?  Would it be a convenience
if I lent you some to pay for mourning and the return journey?  You came
away expecting to be responsible for a few days only, and, as you know,
when a man dies it is not possible to touch his money until certain
legal formalities have been observed.  We should be only too delighted
to act as your bankers until matters are settled."

"Thank you very much, but I think I shall have enough.  I drew out what
money was in the bank before leaving home, and I would rather not get
into debt until I know exactly how I am placed.  There may be very
little left.  Father always spoke as if he were poor."

"He told you nothing about his affairs, then?  You know nothing about
them?"

Mrs Nisbet looked at her curiously as she spoke, and Sylvia's heart
gave a throb of fear.  She knew something; there was evidently some
secret with which she herself was unacquainted, and in her present
depressed condition of mind and body it was only natural that she should
leap to the conclusion that the news must be bad, and, ostrich-like,
tried to hide her head in the sand.

"He told me there had been some changes lately, which I should not
understand.  His lawyers will write to me some time, I suppose, but I
don't want to think about money yet.  I have sufficient for the next few
months, for I shall go nowhere, and need no more clothes."

"Yes, yes, dear!  It's all right.  You will get along nicely, I'm sure,"
said the other soothingly, and Sylvia felt another thrill of foreboding.

"Get along nicely!"  Did that mean that she would have to earn her own
living?  She dared not inquire further, shrinking from the possibility
of another blow, but it was impossible to keep from wondering what she
should do if indeed there was no provision for her support.

Pixie's adventures in search of employment had proved how difficult it
was for an inexperienced girl to escape becoming the prey of fraudulent
advertisements, and it was humiliating to reflect on her own incapacity.
What could she do that a thousand other girls could not accomplish
equally well?  She could play fairly well, sing fairly well, paint
fairly well, trim a hat so that it did not look obviously home-made,
make a trifle or creams, though she was densely ignorant about boiling a
potato.  She possessed, in fact, a smattering of many things, but had
not really mastered one which, if needs be, would be a staff through
life.

A hundred poor girls find themselves in this position every year, yet
their short-sighted sisters continue to fritter away their time,
oblivious of the fact that to them also may come the rainy day when they
must face the world alone.  Learn to do one thing _well_, compare your
productions, whatever they may be, not with those of other amateurs, but
with perfected professional specimens, and do not be content until your
own reach the same standard.  This is a golden rule, which every girl
ought to take to heart.

During the ten days which elapsed before Sylvia's return to London, she
was haunted by the fear of monetary troubles which would make her either
dependent on her own efforts, or a burden upon her aunt's narrow income,
but neither Mrs Nisbet nor her husband referred again to the subject,
and some time must still elapse before she could hear from her father's
lawyer in Colombo.

The week in Paris passed away quietly, but more pleasantly than she
could have believed possible under the circumstances; for nothing could
have been kinder or more considerate than the way in which she was
treated by her father's friends, while the brilliant sunshine acted as a
tonic to the spirits.  Every day they went long drives in the Bois, or
took the train to Versailles, and spent long quiet hours in the woods,
and Sylvia even found herself able to enjoy a visit to one of the huge
Magasins, where Mrs Nisbet invested in quite a collection of presents
to send home to English friends.  Sylvia was tempted to buy some on her
own account, and it was a new and depressing experience to feel that she
must not spend an unnecessary penny.  Her little hoard was diminishing
rapidly, and she was growing more and more anxious to be safest home,
and free from at least immediate anxiety.

There was no lady courier to accompany her on this journey, for the days
of independence had begun, and she preferred to be alone to wrestle with
her forebodings, and try to bring herself into a fitting frame of mind
for that trying return to the old scenes.

The parting from the Nisbets was like saying good-bye once more to the
dear dad, and she felt hopelessly adrift without their wise and tender
counsels, and the feeling of loneliness grew ever deeper and deeper as
she approached the English shores.

The great shock through which she had passed had loosened all the ties
in life, and made the friends of a few weeks ago seem but the merest of
acquaintances.  Bridgie had written the sweetest of sympathetic letters,
but sorry though she might be, the force of circumstances kept the two
girls so far apart, that what had been the saddest time in her friend's
life had seen the climax of her own gaiety.  She had been dancing, and
singing, and pleasure making while Sylvia shed the bitter tears of
bereavement, and in a few weeks more she would be spirited off in
Esmeralda's train to another scene of gaiety.  The O'Shaughnessys were
by nature so light of heart that they might not care to welcome among
them a black-robed figure of grief!

Sylvia felt as though the whole wide world yawned between her and the
old interests, and did not yet realise that this feeling of aloofness
from the world and its interests is one of the invariable accompaniments
of grief.  She was young and not given to serious reflection, and she
knew only that she was tired and miserable, that the white cliffs about
which she had been accustomed to speak with patriotic fervour, looked
bleak and cheerless in the light of a wet and chilly evening.

June though it was, she was glad to wrap herself in her cloak, and pull
her umbrella over her head as she passed down the gangway on to the
stage.  In Paris it had been a glorious summer day, and the change to
wet and gloom seemed typical of the home-coming before her.  The cloaked
and mackintoshed figures on the stage seemed all black, all the same.
She would not look at them lest their presence should make her realise
more keenly her own loneliness; but someone came up beside her as she
struggled through the crowd, and forcibly lifted the bag from her hand.
She turned in alarm and saw a man's tall figure, lifted her eyes, and
felt her troubles and anxieties drop from her like a cloak.

It was Jack O'Shaughnessy himself!



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

A COMFORTER.

Think of it!  Think of it!  The grey, inhospitable skies, the rain-swept
stage, the feeling of hopeless loneliness, as one traveller after
another was greeted with loving exclamations, and borne away by friendly
watchers; and then suddenly to feel your hand grasped, and laid tenderly
on a protecting arm, and to see, looking into your own, the face of all
others which you would have wished for, had the choice been given!  To
feel no longer a helpless unit, belonging to no one, and having no
corner of the earth to call your own, but to know that someone had
watched for your arrival, and to read how you had been missed, in the
flash of eloquent eyes.

"Oh, Jack!" cried Sylvia involuntarily; "oh, Jack!" and clung to his arm
with a sob of pure joy and thanksgiving.  "Oh, I'm so glad!  I was so
lonely.  How did you--whatever made you come?"

"A great many reasons, but principally because I couldn't stay away!"
replied Jack, not smiling as was his wont, but looking down upon her
with an intent scrutiny, which aroused Sylvia's curiosity.  She did not
realise how changed she was by the experience of the last few weeks, or
what a pathetic little face it was which looked up at him between the
dead black of hat and cape.

The brown eyes looked bigger than ever, the delicate aquiline of the
features showed all the more distinctly for their sharpened pallor, and
Jack looked down at her through the mist, and thanked God for the health
and strength which made him a fitting protector for her weakness.  The
sound of that involuntary "Oh, Jack!" rang sweetly in his ears, and gave
a greater confidence to his manner, as he steered her through the crowd.

"Miss Munns told us when you were expected, and we talked of meeting you
at the station, but I decided that I had better stay away; then I wrote
a letter to welcome you, and tore it up; then for no purpose at all I
began looking at Bradshaw, and it seemed there was a train which I could
catch.  And it rained!  It's dismal arriving in the rain.  Next thing I
knew I was in the station, and the train started when I was sitting
inside, and--here I am!"

Sylvia laughed softly, it was such an age since she had laughed, and it
was such a happy, contented little sound that she was quite startled
thereat.  The custom-house officials were going through the farce of
examining the luggage, and while the rest of the passengers groaned and
lamented at the delay, Jack and his companion stood together in the
background, blissfully unconscious of time and damp.

"Are you glad to see me, Sylvia?" he asked, for the joy of hearing her
say in words what voice and eyes had already proclaimed; and she waved
her hand round the bleak landscape, and said tersely--

"Look!  It felt like that; black and empty, and heart-breaking, and all
the others seemed to have friends--everyone but me.  I think I was never
so glad before.  I shall bless you for coming all my life!"

Jack laughed softly, and pressed her hand against his arm.  "Poor little
girl!  I knew just how you would be feeling; that's why I came.
Wouldn't you have come to meet me, if you had been the man and I the
girl?"

"Yes, to the ends of the earth!"  Sylvia replied, but not with her lips,
for there are some things which a self-respecting girl may not say,
however much she may feel them.  Instead she murmured a few non-
committal phrases, and gave the conversation a less personal tone, by
inquiring after the various friends at home--Miss Munns, Bridgie, Pixie
and the boys, and Jack answered in his usual breezy fashion, relating
little incidents which made Sylvia smile with the old happy sense of
friendship, repeating loving speeches, which brought the grateful tears
to her eyes.  The world was not empty after all, while she possessed
such faithful, loving friends.

When the luggage had passed the inspection of the custom-house and
received the magic mark in chalk, Jack led the way down the platform,
before which the train was already drawn up, and passed by one carriage
after another, until at last an empty compartment was discovered, of
which he immediately took possession.

"Now we can talk!" he said, and sat himself down opposite Sylvia,
looking at her with compassionate eyes.

"I have gone through it myself," he said.  "Tell me all you can."

And as the train steamed onward, Sylvia told the story of the past
weeks, told it quietly, and without breakdown, though the dark eyes grew
moist, and tears trembled on the lashes which looked so long and black
against the white cheeks.  It was a comfort to tell it all to one who
understood, and was full of sympathy and kindness, and strange though it
might seem, separation, instead of widening the distance between Jack
and herself, had only drawn them more closely together.

The old formalities of intercourse had dropped like a cloak at the first
moment of meeting; they were no longer Miss and Mr, but "Jack" and
"Sylvia"; no longer acquaintances, but dear and intimate friends.

"Miss Munns has been terribly distressed," Jack said, when at last the
sad recital came to an end.  "She loved your father more than anyone in
the world, and you come next as his child.  Poor old lady! it was quite
pathetic to see her efforts to make your home-coming as cheerful as
possible.  Bridgie says she has put up clean curtains all over the
house, and discussed the menu for supper for the last week.  It's her
way of showing sympathy, the creature! and you understand better than
myself all that it means.  Different people have different ways, haven't
they, Sylvia?  _I_ came to Dover!"

"Yes!" assented Sylvia, with a flickering smile.  "You came to Dover,
and Aunt Margaret put up clean curtains, and ordered a roast fowl for
supper--I know it will be a roast fowl!--and if you had not warned me in
time, I should probably have said I could not eat anything, and gone to
bed supperless, without even noticing the curtains.  I am afraid I have
been horrid to the poor old soul in that sort of way many times in the
last two years.  It is good of her to take such trouble, because,
honestly speaking, she won't be any more pleased to have me back as a
permanency than I am to come.  We have mutually comforted ourselves with
the reflection that it was `only for a time,' but now it is different.
I want to be good--I have made, oh! such a crowd of good resolutions,
but I don't know how long they will last!"

Jack looked down at his boots, and drew his brows together thoughtfully.

"You--er--it's too early, I suppose, to have made any plans for the
future.  You hardly know what you will do?"

"No: my natural home is, of course, with Aunt Margaret as father's
sister, but there are other considerations."  Sylvia hesitated a moment,
then added impetuously--it seemed so natural to confide in Jack!--"About
money, I mean.  I don't know what I have, or if I have anything at all.
Father always said he was poor, though he seemed to have enough for what
he wanted, and to give me all I asked.  Perhaps he made enough to keep
us, but had nothing to leave behind.  Mrs Nisbet just referred to the
subject one evening, and I could see from her manner that there was
something I did not know, so I turned the conversation at once.  I had
had so much trouble that I felt as if I simply could not bear any more
bad news just then, and would rather remain in ignorance as long as
possible.  It was weak, perhaps, but--can't you understand the feeling?"

"Me name's O'Shaughnessy!" said Jack simply.  "We never face a
disagreeable fact until it comes so close that we hit ourselves against
it.  I'm sorry; but don't worry more than you can help.  I've been short
of money all my life, but I don't know anyone who has had a better time.
So long as you have youth and health, what does it matter whether you
are rich or poor?  It's all in the way you look at things.  For useful
purposes, most people can make their money go farther than mine, but for
sheer fun and enjoyment I'll back my half-crown against another fellow's
sovereign!"

"Ah, but you're Irish!  You have the happy temperament which can throw
off troubles and forget all about them for the time being.  They sit
right down upon my shoulders--little black imps of care, and anxiety,
and quaking fears, and press so heavily that I can remember nothing
else.  Perhaps I could be philosophical too, if I were one of a big,
happy family--but when one is all alone--"

"All alone--when I'm here!  How can you be all alone, when there are two
of ye!" cried Jack impulsively.

He had resolved, not once, but a hundred times over, that he would speak
no words but those of friendship; that no temptation, however strong,
should make him break his vow of silence; but some impulses seem
independent of thought.  He did not know what he was going to do, he was
conscious of no mental prompting, but one moment he was quietly sitting
in his corner opposite Sylvia, and the next he was seated beside her,
with both arms wrapped tightly round her trembling figure, and she was
shedding tears of mingled sorrow and happiness upon his shoulder.

"I've been in love with you ever since the first evening you came to our
house.  Before that!  Ever since I saw you sitting up at your window in
your little red jacket.  You knew it, didn't you?  You found that out
for yourself?"

"No--Yes!  Sometimes.  Only I thought--I was afraid it couldn't be true,
and there was--Mollie!" faltered Sylvia incoherently, hardly knowing
what she was saying, conscious of nothing but an overwhelming sense of
content and well-being, as the strong arm supported her tired back, and
the big, tender finger wiped away her tears.

Jack laughed at the suggestion, but did not indulge in the depreciatory
remarks concerning Miss Burrell which many men would have used under the
circumstances.

"Good old Mollie!" he said.  "She's a broth of a girl, but I would as
soon think of marrying Bridgie herself.  She was my confidante, bless
her, and cheered me up when I was down on my luck.  You might have
noticed how interested she was in you that night at Esmeralda's crush!"

At that Sylvia opened her eyes wide, with a sudden unpleasant
recollection.

"What will Esmeralda think?  Oh, Jack, what will she say?"

"Plenty, my dear!  You may be sure of that," replied Jack, laughing;
then he, too, gave a little start of surprise, and, straightening
himself, held Sylvia from him at the length of his strong young arms.
"I say--what's this?  You little witch, what have you done to me?  I had
made a solemn vow not to speak a word of love-making, and it seems to me
I have broken it pretty successfully.  Have I been making love to you,
Sylvia--have I?"

It was a very charming little face that laughed back at him, pale no
longer, but flushed to a delicate pink, the dark eyes a-sparkle with
happiness, and a tinge of the old mischievous spirit.

"Yes, you have!  Do you want to draw back?"

Jack's answer was wordless but convincing, but the next moment he
sobered, and said in that charming way of his, which was at once so
manly and so boyish, "But I didn't want to bind you, I spoke only for
myself.  I am your property, darling, and your slave to command, but I
can't ask you to marry me yet awhile, for I've the children on my hands,
and until they are settled I can't think of myself.  I am the head of
the house, and must do what I can for them, poor creatures.

"Pat will be off to the Agricultural College next term, and then back to
Ireland to do agent's work; Miles is doing well in the city, but can't
keep himself for several years to come; and then there are the girls.  I
had no right to speak as I did; it wasn't fair to you.  I won't bind you
down to a long, uncertain engagement.  You must feel yourself free,
perfectly free."

"I don't want to be free!  I like to be bound--to you, Jack!"  Sylvia
said firmly.  "I'm so thankful that you did speak, for it makes just all
the difference in my life.  I am young, and can wait quite happily and
contentedly, so long as I know that you care, and can look forward--"

Sylvia stopped short, awed at the prospect of happiness which had
suddenly opened before her, and Jack was silent too, holding her hand in
a close pressure.  His face was very tender, but troubled through all
its tenderness, and when he spoke again, it was in very anxious accents.

"But are you contented to leave it a secret, darling, a secret between
you and me?  You see, if Bridgie knew we were waiting, she'd know no
peace, feeling that she was in our way, and the young ones would get the
same fancy, and be wanting to turn out before they were ready.  They
have no one but me, and I couldn't have them feeling upset in their own
home.  That was why I determined to keep silent, and it's bad of me to
have broken my vow, but it's your own fault, darling!  I couldn't be
with you again, and keep quiet.  Do you care for me enough to wait
perhaps for years before we can even be publicly engaged?"

Sylvia smiled at him bravely, but her heart sank a little, poor girl, as
it was only natural it should do.  A girl is by nature much quicker than
a man projecting herself into the future, and in realising all that is
involved.

Jack was conscious only of a general regret that he could not claim his
bride before the world, but Sylvia saw in a flash the impossibility of
frequent meetings, the minute chance of _tete-a-tetes_, the quicksands
in the shape of misunderstandings, which must needs attend so unnatural
a position.  On the other hand, she honoured Jack the more for his
loyalty to his home duties, and agreed with the wisdom of his decision.

"Yes, Jack, I do.  I'd like to wait.  I love Bridgie with all my heart,
and could not bear her to suffer through me.  It shall be exactly as you
think best for them in every way."

Jack bent and kissed her, even more tenderly than before.

"My little helpmeet!" he said, and Sylvia found her best reward in the
sound of that word, and the knowledge that she was strengthening him in
the right path.  Surely it was the best guarantee for the happiness of
their new relationship, that it was inaugurated in a spirit of self-
sacrifice and care for others.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

REMINISCENCES.

Bridgie was not waiting at the station.  "She heard me saying that I
might be here myself, and maybe remembered that two are company," said
Jack, with a laugh.

But when Rutland Road was reached someone stood waiting to open the door
of the cab and welcome the wanderer in the sweetest tones of a sweet
contralto voice.  She said only a few words, but with true Irish tact
chose just the ones which were most comforting under the circumstances.

"Welcome back, dear.  I've missed you badly.  So have we all."  Then she
looked at Jack, and smiled as if his presence were the most natural
thing in the world.  "You have brought her home safely.  That's right,"
she said.  It was one of Bridgie's most lovable qualities that she never
asked awkward questions, nor showed undue curiosity about the affairs of
others.

Brother and sister said good-bye at the door, leaving aunt and niece
alone, and, as the door closed behind them, Sylvia felt a spasm of
loneliness and regret.  It was hard to part from Jack with that formal
shake of the hand, to feel that days might elapse before they met again,
and, as she looked round the ugly little dining-room, she felt like a
prisoned bird which longs to break loose the bars and fly to its mate.

It seemed impossible to settle down to the old monotonous life, and
yet--and yet--how much, much worse it might have been!  How thankful she
ought to be!  If one hope had been taken away, another had been granted
in its stead.  The path ahead was still bright with promise, and a
sudden pity seized her for the woman whose youth was gone, and who had
lost the last tie to the past.  She returned her aunt's kisses with
unusual affection, and roused herself to notice and show appreciation of
the efforts which had been made on her behalf.

The table was laid with the best china, the red satin tea-cosy had been
brought from its hiding-place upstairs and divested of its muslin bag
and holland wrappings; the centre mat presented by Cousin Mary Ferguson
two Christmases ago was displayed for the first time; the serviettes
were folded into rakish imitations of cocked hats.

It was half touching, half gruesome, to find the occasion turned into a
_fete_, but Sylvia was determined to be amiable, and said gratefully--

"How kind of you to have supper ready for me, Aunt Margaret!  I could
not eat anything on the boat, but now I believe I am hungry.  It all
looks very good.  The chickens one gets in France are not the least like
the ones at home."

"They don't know how to feed them, my dear.  I am glad you have an
appetite.  I always find that when I am in trouble nothing tempts me so
much as a cup of tea and a slice off the breast.  Just take off your
hat, and sit down as you are.  Everything is ready."

Miss Munns was evidently gratified to receive an acknowledgment of her
efforts, and insisted upon waiting upon her niece and loading her plate
with one good thing after another; but after the meal was over there
followed a painful half-hour, when Sylvia had to submit to a searching
cross-questioning on the events of the past weeks.

Unlike Bridgie, Miss Munns insisted upon detail--had a ghoulish
curiosity to know in exactly what words Mrs Nisbet had broken the sad
news, in exactly what words Sylvia had replied, in exactly what manner
the first black days had been spent.  Her spectacles were dimmed with
tears as she listened to what the girl had to tell, and her thin lips
quivered with genuine grief; but she was still acutely interested to
hear of the number of carriages at the funeral, of the meals in the
hotel, and the purchase of Sylvia's mourning garments.

"You must show them to me to-morrow.  I expect they are very smart--
coming from France.  I always wear black, so there was not much to be
done.  I had the black satin taken off my cashmere dress, and folds of
crape put in its place, and some dull trimming, instead of jet, on my
cape.  I haven't decided about my bonnet.  You must give me your advice.
Of course, I wish to do everything that is proper, but it's been an
expensive year."

"Yes," assented Sylvia absently.  She rose from her seat and, walking
across the room, leant her elbow on the mantelpiece.  There was
something she wanted to say, and it was easier to say it with averted
face.  "Aunt Margaret, I want to ask you a question.  Please tell me the
truth.  Shall I have any money?  Was father able to provide for me?  I
know you are not well off, and I could not bear to be a burden to you.
If I have no money of my own, I must try to earn some."

"I should be telling you the truth, my dear, if I said that I knew less
about it than you do yourself.  Your father was very close about
business matters--very close indeed.  He was supposed to have a good
business a few years ago, and was always very handsome in his ways, but
he has grumbled a good deal of late, and I don't know how things will be
now he is gone.  He had a lawsuit with an old partner in Ceylon, which
hung on a long time.  I don't know if it is settled yet; and, if not, we
shall have to let it drop.  You can always have a home with me; but
there will be nothing to spare for lawyers' expenses.  Give me a bird in
the hand, as I said to your father the last time he was home.

"If the worst comes to the worst, you can give some music lessons in the
neighbourhood.  Mrs Burton was telling me on Monday that her little boy
has quite a taste--picks out all the barrel-organ tunes on the piano
with one finger.  You might get him as a beginning."

"Yes," assented Sylvia faintly; and to herself she cried, "Oh, Jack
dear--how good of you to love me!  How good of you to give me something
to live for!  How dreadful, dreadful, dreadful I should be feeling now
if you had not met me, and made the whole world different!"

Miss Munns was watching her anxiously, fearing a burst of tears, and was
greatly relieved when she turned round and showed a composed and even
smiling face.  "I'll find some work if it is necessary, auntie; and I'll
try to help you too.  You have been very good to me, and I'm afraid I
have been rather horrid sometimes.  I thought of it when I was away, and
determined to make a fresh start if you would forgive me this time.  We
are the only two left, and we ought to love each other."

"I am sure I am very much attached to you, my dear.  I was saying so to
Miss O'Shaughnessy only to-day.  I don't deny that your manner is rather
sharp at times, but there's nothing like trouble for taming the spirits.
I shouldn't wonder if we got along much more happily after this.  Miss
Bridgie brought a little parcel for you--I mustn't forget that.  It is
on that little table.  She told me to give it to you at once."

"What can it be, I wonder?--something I left over there by mistake, I
suppose," Sylvia said listlessly, as she unfolded the paper; but her
expression altered the next moment as she beheld a flat leather case,
inside which reposed a miniature painting of the same face which used to
smile upon her from her own chimney-piece.

Surprise held her speechless, while a quick rush of tears testified more
eloquently than words to the faithfulness of the portrait.  The painting
was exquisitely fine and soft, the setting the perfection of good taste
in its handsome severity.  It seemed at the moment just the greatest
treasure which the world could offer.  Who could have sent it?

Sylvia reluctantly handed the case for Miss Munns's curious scrutiny,
the while she opened the note which had fallen from the paper.
Bridgie's handwriting confronted her; but she had hardly time to marvel
how so costly a gift could come from such an impecunious donor, before
surprise number two confronted her in the opening words.

"Esmeralda told me to give you this miniature from myself, but I want
you to know that it is entirely her idea and present from the beginning.
As soon as she heard your sad news, she asked me to borrow the best
photograph of your father, to be copied by the same artist who painted
the Major for her.  She has been to see how he was getting on almost
every day, till the poor man was thankful to finish it, just to be rid
of her, and here it is to welcome you, dear, and, we hope, to be a
comfort to you, all your life."

"Esmeralda!" echoed Sylvia blankly.  It seemed for a moment as if
Bridgie must be romancing, for the staid English mind refused to believe
that one who had at one time appeared actively antagonistic, and at the
best had shown nothing warmer than a lofty tolerance, should suddenly
become the most thoughtful and generous of friends.  Yet there it was,
specified in black and white.  Esmeralda had originated the kindly plan;
she had engaged no second-rate artist, but one to whom her own work had
been entrusted, and had given freely of what was even more value to her
than money, her time, in order that the gift should arrive at the right
moment.

Sylvia flushed with a gratification which was twofold in its nature, for
here at last seemed an opening of drawing near in heart to that
beautiful, baffling personality, who was Jack's sister, and might some
day--oh, wonderful thought!--be her own also.  It would be a triumph,
indeed, if in these days of waiting she could overcome the last
lingering prejudice, and feel that there would be no dissentient note
when at last the great secret was revealed.

Aunt and niece hung together over the case with its precious contents,
the one exhausting herself in expressions of gratitude and appreciation,
the other equally delighted, but quite unable to resist looking the gift
horse in the mouth, and speculating in awed tones concerning the
enormous cost of ivory miniatures.  That jarred, but on the whole the
evening passed more pleasantly than Sylvia could have believed possible,
the unexpected excitement breaking the thread of that painful cross-
examination, and carrying the old lady's thoughts back to the far-off
days when she and her brother had been sworn friends and playmates.

"Tell me what you used to do, auntie!  It must be so nice to have
someone to play with.  Do tell me some of your escapades!" she pleaded
wistfully, and Miss Munns shook her head, and assumed a great air of
disapproval, though it was easy to see that she cherished a secret pride
in the remembrance of her own audacities.

"I am afraid we were very naughty, thankless children.  One day, I
remember, Teddy, as we used to call him, had been very rightly punished
for disobedience, and he confided in me that he intended to run away,
and go to sea, as a cabin-boy.  We always did everything together in
those days, so of course nothing must suit me but I must go too.  We got
up early the next morning, and ran out into the garden, where we were
allowed to play before breakfast, and then slipped out of the side door,
to walk to Portsmouth.

"Portsmouth was eighteen miles away, and I was only six, and before we
had walked two miles, I was crying with fatigue and hunger.  Teddy had
brought some bread-and-butter, so we sat under a hedge to eat it, and he
told me we must be very nearly there.  Just then up came a tramp, and
stopped to ask why we were crying, and what we were doing out there in
the road at that hour in the morning.  `We are going to Portsmouth to be
cabin-boys,' we told him, and I can remember to this day how he laughed.
`If you are going to be cabin-boys, you won't want those clothes,' he
said.  `You had better take them off, and give them to me, to change for
proper sailor things.'

"We thought that a splendid idea, so he took Teddy's suit, and my frock
and hat, and left us shivering under the hedge waiting his return.  Of
course he never came, and an hour or two later, my father came driving
along to look for us, and we were taken home, and punished as we
deserved.  That is to say, Teddy was whipped, and I was only put to bed,
for he insisted that the idea was his, and that he alone was to blame."

"Nice little Teddy!" murmured Sylvia fondly, looking down at the
pictured face, which, despite grey hair and wrinkles, had still the
gallant air of the little boy who shielded his sister from blame.

Having once started, Miss Munns told one story after another of her
childhood's days; of the lessons which brother and sister used to learn
together--a whole page of Mangnall's Questions at a time, and of the
dire and terrible conspiracy, by which they learnt alternate answers,
easily persuading the docile governess to take the right "turns."  Thus
Teddy, when asked "What is starch?" could reply with prompt accuracy,
while remaining in dense ignorance of the date when printing was
introduced into England, concerning which his small sister was so well
informed.

Sylvia was told of the books which were read and re-read, until the
pages came loose from their bindings; of the thrilling adventures of one
Masterman Ready, whose stockade, being besieged by savages, it became an
immediate necessity to guard the gate at the head of the nursery stairs,
and to hurl a succession of broken toys at the innocent nurse, as she
forced an entry; of a misguided and stubborn "Rosamond" who expended her
savings on a large purple vase from a chemist's window, and found to her
chagrin that when the water was poured away, it was only a plain glass
bottle; and of a certain "Leila," who sojourned on a desert island in
the utmost comfort and luxury, being possessed of a clever father who
found all that he needed on the trees in the forest.

An hour later, when Sylvia went up to her room, it was impossible to
resist drawing aside the blind to look across the road, and in an
instant, another blind was pulled back, and a tall dark figure stood
clearly outlined against the lighted background.

Sylvia understood that Jack had been watching for her advent, and felt
comforted by his presence, and all that was meant by that waving hand.
She wondered whether she had better write to Esmeralda, or try to see
her in person, but the question was decided by Pixie, who came over
early the next morning to announce Mrs Hilliard's arrival in the
afternoon.

"She wants to see you, and say she's sorry," she explained, and when
Sylvia exhausted herself in expressions of gratitude and delight, "Oh,
Esmeralda would give you her skin if it would fit ye!" she said coolly.
"She's the kindest of us all when she isn't cross.  Give her her way,
and you may have all the rest.  I've known her raise the roof on us, and
appealing to every relation we owned, to get what she wanted, and then
wrap it up in brown paper that very day, and post it back where it came.
I'm glad ye like it so much.  Now if I'd been clever, and bought some
more paints when those people wanted me, maybe I could have done it for
you meself."  Her face grew suddenly grave and wistful.

"When I got my telegram at school, the girls all brought me home
presents from the walk--pencil-boxes, and jujubes, and a little toy
rabbit that wagged its head.  I don't know how it was, but they soothed
my feelings!  I should have liked to buy you something, Sylvia, but I
don't get my wages till the end of the month, and then they are spent.
You'll excuse me, won't you, me dear, for you know I am sorry!"

"My darling girl, I don't want presents!  Come to see me as often as you
can, and go on being fond of me--that's all I want," cried Sylvia
warmly, and Pixie brightened once more.

"There's no credit in that.  It isn't as if you were nasty.  I'll not be
able to call on ye as often as I'd like, for I'm off to the seaside.
Mrs Wallace has taken a house on the Thames, and her cousin is coming
home from the wars and a friend with him, and lots of ladies and
gentlemen all staying in the house to be entertained, so they want me to
go too.  Of course!"

"Of course," repeated Sylvia gravely.  There was something so charming
in Pixie's simple assumption that everyone desired her company, that she
would not for the world have tried to destroy it.  "I hope you will
enjoy yourself very much, dear, and come back with some colour in your
cheeks, though I am afraid that particular part of the `seaside' is not
very bracing.  Tell Mrs Hilliard with my love that I shall be charmed
to see her this afternoon!"



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

ESMERALDA'S VISIT.

Miss Munns was greatly excited to hear of the expected visit, and busied
herself taking the holland covers off the drawing-room chairs, and
displaying the best antimacassars in the most advantageous position.

Sylvia longed to introduce a little disorder into the painful severity
of the room, but it would have distressed her aunt if she had moved a
chair out of the straight, or confiscated one of the books which were
ranged at equal distances round the rosewood table, and, as it was one
of her resolves not to interfere with domestic arrangements, she
shrugged her shoulders resignedly, and hoped that Esmeralda might be as
unnoticing of her surroundings as were her brothers and sisters.

At four o'clock a carriage drove up to the door, and Esmeralda alighted,
clad from head to foot in black, as Sylvia noticed at the first quick
glance.  She was waiting in the little drawing-room, and scarcely was
the door opened when the tall figure was at her side, and her hands were
crushed with affectionate fervour.  She looked up, and was startled by
the beauty of the face above her, startled as even Esmeralda's brothers
and sisters were at times, when as now the grey eyes were misty with
tears, and the lips all sweet and tremulous.

"If I'd known--if I'd had the slightest idea he was ill, I would rather
have killed myself than have behaved as I did!  Oh, don't pretend you
didn't notice!  I was hateful to you when you were ill, too, poor
creature, and my sister's guest.  I told Geoff all about it.  I hate
telling him when I do wrong, so I did it just as a penance, and he was
so vexed with me.  Do you know why I spoke as I did?  Did you guess the
reason?"

Sylvia shrank into herself with an uneasy foreboding, for Esmeralda was
an impetuous creature, who might be expected to be as undisguised in her
penitence as in offence.

"Oh, please don't say anything more about it!" she cried hurriedly.  "It
was very trying for you finding me there when you came over for a visit.
I have forgotten all about it, if there is anything to forget; and now
there's this lovely miniature.  How can I thank you?"

"Oh, that is nothing--that's nothing!" cried Esmeralda, waving aside the
subject, and insisting upon a full confession of her fault.  "I was
jealous of you--that is what it was--jealous because they all seemed so
fond of you, and I wanted their attention for myself.  It was horribly
mean, because I have Geoff and the boy, and it is only natural that they
should want their own interests.

"I daresay Pixie has told you how father spoiled me all my life, and
Bridgie gave way to me until it seemed natural to think first of myself.
But I don't now.  I think of Geoffrey and the boy, and I'm trying to be
better for their sake.  Geoff says he got me only just in time.  He is
rather stern with me sometimes, do you know.  He doesn't say much--
perhaps I don't give him the chance--but his face sets, and his eyes are
so large and grave.  I can't bear it when he looks at me like that,
because, as a rule, you know,"--she gave a soft, happy little laugh--"he
loves me so frightfully much, and we are so happy together.  I ought to
want every girl to be as happy as I am, and I do--really I do.

"In a month or two, when we are home at Knock, will you come and stay
with me, Sylvia, and learn to be fond of me too?  I'm rather lonely over
there now that all the others have left, and I have not many girl-
friends.  The one I cared for most will be engaged soon, I think, and
the man lives abroad, so she may be leaving the neighbourhood.  It is
not settled yet, but I think Mrs Burrell will give in."

She stared ostentatiously through the window, and Sylvia blushed, and
had some ado not to smile at this very transparent intimation of
hostility withdrawn.

"Thank you so much!  I'd love to come," she said simply; and then the
two girls talked quietly together for a few minutes before Miss Munns
came in and dispensed tea and reminiscences of all the grand people whom
she had ever met, with a view of impressing her visitor, who, of course,
was not impressed at all, but secretly amused, as listeners invariably
are under such circumstances.

Esmeralda was just rising to leave when a loud rat-tat at the knocker
made Sylvia's heart leap in expectation; and the next moment Jack came
into the room in his most easy and assured manner.

"I thought I would come across for my sister, and inquire how Miss
Trevor was after her journey," he announced; and once more Sylvia smiled
to herself as she noted how Esmeralda immediately plunged into animated
conversation with Miss Munns, to keep her attention engrossed at the
opposite end of the room.

Jack O'Shaughnessy stood by the window, and looked down upon his little
love with tender, dissatisfied eyes.

"I say," he said softly, "I can't stand this sort of thing!  Two
minutes' talk, with two other people in the room.  How much longer do
you suppose I can stand this?"

"You have had only one day yet.  It's too soon to complain.  You may
have seven years!" retorted Sylvia saucily; but at the bottom of her
heart she was glad that he found it difficult to be patient.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

BY THE RIVER.

Pixie went off in great spirits to join the Wallaces at the riverside
cottage which they had rented for the remainder of the summer.  The heat
in town was already growing oppressive, and it was delightful to think
of being in the country again and running free over the dear green
fields.  Esmeralda had presented her with quite a trousseau of summer
dresses, with a selection of hair-ribbons to match, at least an inch
wider than any which she had previously possessed, and she piled up her
pompadour higher than ever, and pulled out the bows to their farthest
extent in her anxiety to do justice to the occasion, and the importance
of her own position as the instructor of youth.

A pony-cart was at the station to meet her, with Viva and Inda clinging
together on the front seat, ready to pour breathless confidences into
her ear the moment she appeared.  They spoke with a curious mingling of
tongues, but had apparently no difficulty in understanding her when she
replied in rapid, colloquial French, so that it was evident that the
hours of play had not been wasted, but had the effect of successful
study.

"Mamzelle!  Mamzelle Paddy, we have boats in our house!" cried Viva
eagerly.  "Three boats with cushions, and a punt, and one with a funnel
in the miggle.  And Cousin Jim takes us out with the 'nother gentleman,
and we splash with our hands, and the lady was cross because of her
sash, and she dried it in the sun.  And there's tea in the garden, and a
big steamer that makes waves, and muzzer says if we are very good you
will play with us at being gipsies under the wheel-barrow."

"An' we got in a box, and the water went up, an' up, an' up, an' then it
went down, an' down, an' down, an' then we came home," contributed fat
little Inda in her deep, gurgling voice, and Pixie turned from one to
the other and cried, "Vraiment!"  "Sans doute!"  "Bravo!" and beamed in
delighted expectation.

The house-party were assembled on the lawn drinking tea when the pony-
carriage turned in at the gate, and Pixie looked round with sparkling
eyes, quite dazzled by the beauty of the scene.  The narrow road,
running at the back of the houses, had been dull and uninteresting, but
before many yards of the drive had been traversed, there came a view
over the wide sunlit river, and beyond it green meadows stretching away
as far as the eye could reach.

The house was not a cottage after all, but quite a large, imposing-
looking house, and the lawn sloping to the river bank was smooth and
soft as velvet.  Baskets of flowers hung from the verandah; picturesque
stumps of trees were hollowed out to receive pots of geraniums; a red
and white awning shaded the tea-table; and the wicker chairs were
plentifully supplied with scarlet cushions.  It was Pixie's first peep
at the summer glories of the river, and she felt as if she had stepped
into fairyland itself.

The little girls seized her hands and dragged her in triumph across the
lawn, and Mrs Wallace looked round, and said smilingly to her friends--

"Here's my French governess--the latest addition to the household.  What
do you think of my choice?"

"Governess!  That girl!  She looks a child herself.  Edith, what
nonsense are you talking?"

"Sense, my dear, I assure you.  The wisest thing I ever did, as you will
see before many hours are past.  We shall have some peace now that she
has arrived.  Bon jour, Mamzelle.  How I am happy to see thee again!
Thou are not fatigued--no?  Seat thyself in this chair, and I will make
known to thee my friends."

She spoke in French, and evidently wished her governess to appear as
French on this occasion at least; and Pixie rose to the occasion,
sweeping elaborate bows from side to side, unconsciously elevating her
shoulders, and waving expressive hands.  She discoursed volubly about
her long and adventurous journey of three-quarters of an hour's
duration, and Mrs Wallace's guests looked on with smiling faces,
putting an occasional laborious question as she appeared to be reaching
the end of her story.

There were several ladies, all young and pretty and beautifully dressed,
and three strange men, including Cousin Jim and his soldier friend from
India.  Cousin Jim had bright, twinkling eyes, and looked full of life
and spirit; but his friend's brown face was lined and haggard, and his
smile was half-hearted, as if his thoughts were not in the present.

Pixie noticed, however, that it was to his side that little Inda crept
for support, and that his disengaged hand softly stroked the child's
head from time to time, as if he found comfort in her presence.  Such
good friends did they appear that after the meal was finished she
refused to be separated from him, and implored his company in the gipsy
tent in the paddock.  Mrs Wallace protested, but the young fellow
declared that he enjoyed being victimised, and walked off with the
schoolroom party with the utmost good humour.

"But I can't speak French, Viva," he explained--"not well enough to be
able to converse with Mademoiselle, at least!  You must explain to her
that I am only a stupid Englishman, and ask her to excuse me.  You can
translate that for me, I suppose?"

"She's not French either; she's only pitending.  She's only English the
same as me," protested Viva sturdily; and Pixie nodded at him with
complacent smiles.

"But I've lived abroad; so I speak it to them for their good.  You've
been away too, haven't you?  I hope you enjoyed yourself?"

He smiled, but it was rather a sad little smile, despite its amusement.
"I went for work, you know, not pleasure.  We accomplished what there
was to do, which was satisfactory; but I can't honestly say I enjoyed
it."

"I hate work!" agreed Pixie sympathetically.  "We all do; it's in the
family.  `Never do to-day what you can put off till to-morrow,' my
brother used to tell me, for you never know what may happen, and you may
get out of it altogether if you wait.  But if we are obliged to do it,
we pretend we like it, for it's so dull to be unhappy.  And if it was
horrid abroad, it makes it all the nicer to come back, doesn't it?"

"Sometimes," he said shortly.

They had reached the gipsy encampment by this time, and were
peremptorily commanded to sit down on a bench pending certain important
preparations under the wheel-barrow; so he took possession of one
corner, and Pixie took the other and stared at him with unabashed
scrutiny.  He was unhappy, she decided, and that was enough to enlist
her whole-hearted sympathy; but besides being unhappy, he was very good
to look upon, with his bronzed skin, well-cut features, and soldierly
bearing.  She admired him immensely; and the admiration was mutual,
though of a different nature.

She was a quaint-looking little soul, the young fellow decided--plain-
looking, he had thought on first sight, but there was something oddly
attractive about the wide eyes and large curving lips; you wanted to
look at them once and yet again, and each time you looked the attraction
increased.  What was it?  Not beauty, not intellect, not wit--nothing,
it appeared, but a crystalline sincerity and sweetness of heart, which
exercised an irresistible claim on the affections.  His face softened,
and he bent towards her with a kindly questioning.

"How do you come to be governessing these children?  You are so young
still--sixteen--seventeen, is it?  You ought to be in the schoolroom
yourself!"

"There was nothing else I could do, and I wanted to earn some money,
because we're poor.  I'm small, but I've known a lot of trouble,"
replied Pixie, with a complacent air which was distinctly trying to her
companion's composure.  He stroked his moustache to hide the twitching
lips, and said solemnly--

"I'm sorry--very sorry to hear that!  I hope, however, it is all in the
past.  You look remarkably cheerful now."

"That's because I'm helping; and we are such a nice family at home.  If
you are with the people you like best, that makes you happy, doesn't it,
without thinking of anything else?"

"Yes," he said shortly, and rose from his seat to walk across to where
the children were scrambling on the grass.  They leapt on him, and hung
on his arms; and he played with them for five or ten minutes, then
produced a packet of chocolate from a pocket, and giving it to Pixie to
distribute, made his escape to the house.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

A CONFIDENCE.

During the next few days the "Capting," as Viva called him, was
constantly deserting his companions to join himself to the schoolroom
party in their walks and games.

As Pixie had suspected, his heart was sore, and the innocent affection
which the children lavished upon him made their society more congenial
than that of his own companions, who were enjoying their stay in the
country in merry, uproarious fashion.

Viva and Inda were interesting and original children, while "Mamzelle
Paddy" was a house-party in herself--a delicious combination of
shrewdness and innocence.  He had little chance of private conversation
with her, for the children were exacting in their demands; but their
intimacy rapidly increased, as was only natural under the circumstances.

It was impossible to remain on formal terms with one who was united with
yourself to withstand an assault of wild savages, as portrayed by two
little girls with branches of bracken waving above their heads, and
geranium petals stuck in ferocious patterns about their cheeks;
impossible not to feel an affection for the tallest member of the
battalion which marched regularly every morning to the corner of the
paddock to be drilled by their commander, scarlet sashes crossed
sideways over holland dresses, and Panama hats fastened by immaculate
black chin-straps.

In the afternoon, when the grown-up members of the household drove off
in state to attend garden parties at neighbouring mansions, the Captain
found it infinitely more enjoyable to punt slowly down the stream,
dreaming his own dreams, or listening with a smile while the older child
amused her juniors by quaint and adventurous stories.

She was always happy, this little Mamzelle Paddy.  Another girl of her
age might have felt lonely and diffident in this large, bustling
household, but she was sunshine personified--content to work, content to
play, content to go on an expedition, content to be left behind, having
no desires of her own, it would appear, excepting only this one--to
love, and be loved by those around.

"Some day, Mamzelle," the Captain said, "I will take you and the
children a little jaunt on our own account.  We will take a boat and go
up the river to a dear little spot which I know very well, and there we
will have tea and pretend to be Robinson Crusoes on a desert island.  It
is an island, you know; and we will take a basket of provisions with us,
and boil our own kettle, and spread the tablecloth under the trees.
Robinson didn't have tablecloths, I believe; but we will improve on the
story, and go shopping in the village to see what we can buy."

"Wants to go now!"  Inda insisted; while Viva executed a war-dance of
triumph, and Pixie murmured deeply--

"I love picnics!  We had a beauty once when I was young.  'Twas some
friends near by, and they asked me and Miles; and ye could smell the
cooking coming up the drive--all sorts of things cooked for days before,
and packed in hampers.  We went there by train--to the place we were
going to, I mean--but by bad luck the hampers went somewhere else,
through leaving them on the platform without seeing them put in.  Ye get
very hungry when you are enjoying yourself, and there was nothing to be
bought in the village but bread and spring-onions and herrings in
barrels.  'Twas a lucky accident, all the same, for we had the picnic,
and a party next day to eat up the food."

"Well, we'll look after the hamper this time.  We should not find even
the onions on our island," said the Captain, laughing.  "We will ask
Mrs Wallace's permission when she comes home, and begin preparations
to-morrow morning if it is fine."

Mrs Wallace protested that the children were being spoiled by so much
kindness, but was delighted to give her consent, and the next morning
was happily employed in packing the tea-basket, and purchasing
strawberries, cakes, and chocolates from the shops in the village.

Several of the visitors pleaded to be allowed to join the party, and
tried to wheedle invitations from the children during the luncheon-hour,
to their own humiliation and defeat.

"You would like to have me with you, wouldn't you, darling?  You would
like to sit next to me in the boat?" pleaded one pretty young lady of
the chubby baby; but Inda wriggled away, and replied sturdily--

"Don't want you in the boat!  Don't want nobody only the Capting and
Mamzelle.  You go anuzzer picnic by yourself!"

"You must forgive us, Miss Rose, but this is strictly a limited
expedition.  We children want to be as mischievous as we like without
the controlling influence of grown-up people.  No best frocks, please,
Mrs Wallace!  Just holland pinafores that we can soil as much as we
like!" pleaded the Captain, feeling more than rewarded for his firmness
as he met the adoring glances of three pairs of innocent eyes.

There was quite a little assembly by the boat-house to speed the
expedition on its way, and it is safe to say that no boat on the river
that afternoon carried a happier, more excited party.  The Captain
rowed; Pixie sat in the stern and pulled the rudder-lines according to
instructions, with occasional lapses of memory when she mistook her
right hand for her left, and was surprised to find the boat going in an
opposite direction from what had been intended; the little girls sat on
either side, as yet too mindful of their promises of good behaviour even
to splash the water.  They snored with excitement at the mystery of the
first lock, and wrapped their hands in their pinafores to keep them
safely out of the way, since the Captain said that it was impossible to
be too careful in such places.

Along the banks were dotted beautiful houses set back in luxuriant
gardens; round the bend of the river stood a house-boat known by the
fascinating name of The Yellow Butterfly.  The paint was white, but
everything else was a rich, glowing yellow--yellow plants and flowers in
baskets; yellow curtains to the windows; yellow cushions on the chairs;
actually--if you can believe it--a yellow parakeet in a golden cage on
the top deck.

"I should like to live and _die_ in that house-boat!" cried Viva
rapturously.

Presently came the sound of music from afar and a thud, thud, thud,
which foretold the advent of a steamer.  Now there would be waves--real,
true, up-and-down waves, and you could pitend you were going to be
drowned, and the boat go upside down.  What fun!  What fun!  The gurgles
of excitement, the clutchings of Mamzelle's skirts, the shrieks of
exultation as the happy moment drew near, were as charming to the
beholder as to the children themselves.

In the sunny reaches of the river the boats carried Japanese umbrellas
which made charming touches of colour against the green.  Under the
great trees more boats were moored in the shade, while their occupants
brought out the tea-baskets from beneath the seats.

Viva and Inda regarded all such proceedings as deliberate offences
against their exclusive rights, and angrily pointed out the fact that
"other people" were having picnics too; but the Captain soothed them by
a promise that the island should be their private property, and that he
would fight to the death to keep off foreign invasions.  Already this
land of promise was looming in the distance, and presently they were
rowing slowly round and round looking for a convenient place of landing,
tying the rope to the trunk of a willow whose branches dipped in the
stream, and stepping cautiously ashore.

The children were wild with excitement, but the Captain claimed for
himself a quarter of an hour's rest and smoke before proceeding to the
difficult business of boiling the kettle; and the two little girls
scampered off to explore the island, promising faithfully to keep clear
of the banks.

"Mamzelle shall stay and talk to me!  It's my turn to be amused," he
said; but for once Pixie did not seem in a talkative mood, but leant
silently against the stump of a tree, staring around her with dreamy
eyes.

The young fellow watched her curiously as he pulled his pipe out of his
pocket and prepared for the longed-for smoke.  "What are you thinking
of, Mamzelle?" he asked; and Pixie looked round with a little start of
remembrance.

"I don't know.  Everything.  Nothing in particular, only that it's so
warm and sunny and pretty; and you are so kind.  I wasn't thinking
anything, only being happy."

"`_Only_ being happy,' were you?" he repeated softly.  "Does it seem so
easy, little Mamzelle?  Some of the richest men in the world would give
all their money if you could teach them that little secret.  `Only being
happy' is a very difficult thing to some of us as we grow older in this
world."

Pixie looked at him with an anxious scrutiny.

"But you were happy once, weren't you," she asked, "before you were
miserable?  People have been kind to you too, and made you happy before
you began to be worried?"

"I worried!  I miserable!  Mamzelle, what can you mean?  I am out for a
picnic, with three charming ladies for my guests.  How can I be anything
but proud and delighted?"

He spoke with affected hilarity; but Pixie was not so easily convinced,
and shook her head incredulously as she replied--

"No--you are not happy, really--not through and through!  Ye sigh in the
middle of laughing, and think of something else when you pretend to
listen.  I've been in trouble meself.  Once there was an awful time when
the girls sent me to Coventry for weeks on end, and there was a horrid
dull pain inside me, as if I'd swallowed up a lump of lead.  Was someone
unkind to you too?"

He laughed--a short, mirthless laugh--and pushed his hair from his brow.
It was a strange thing that he should dream of confiding his story to
this bit of a girl, yet never before had he known such an impulse to
speak.

"No, Mademoiselle," he said,--"not unkind; it was not in her nature to
be that.  The mistake was all on my side.  I was a conceited coxcomb to
think that she could ever care for me; but I did think it, and went on
dreaming my foolish castle in the air, until one day it fell to the
ground, and left me sitting among the ruins."

"It was a heart affair, then!  I thought it was," cried Pixie shrewdly.
"I heard a lot about heart affairs in Paris, and I had a sister once who
was married.  Her husband used to look just like you do when she was
cross to him; but really and truly she wanted to be kind, and now they
are married and living happily ever after.  It will come all right for
you too, some day!"

"No, never!  There's no hope of that.  She married someone else.  That
was the news which came to me one day and wrecked my castle!"

"Oh, oh!--how could she!  The misguided creature!  And when she might
have had you instead!  I'd marry you myself if I were big enough!" cried
Pixie in a fervour of indignation which was more soothing than any
expressions of sympathy; and the Captain stretched out his hand and
patted her tenderly on the shoulder.

"Would you really?  That's very sweet of you.  Thank you, dear, for the
compliment.  We will be real good friends in any case, won't we? and you
will keep my confidence, for no one in this place knows anything about
it.  And we won't talk of it any more, I think; it's rather a sore
subject, don't you know.  We might begin unpacking those baskets.  The
children will want their tea."



CHAPTER THIRTY.

IN THE LOCK.

The tea-making was attended with the usual excitements, and the kettle-
boiling with the inevitable misadventures.  A scouting party was
organised to discover a sheltered spot in which to lay the fire, but
although until this minute the day had appeared absolutely calm and
tranquil, all the winds of heaven seemed to unite in blowing upon that
unfortunate fire from the moment that the match was applied!

When at long last a feeble flame was established, the sticks promptly
collapsed and precipitated the kettle to the ground; when rebuilt more
solidly, it died out for want of a draught; and when at last, and at
last, and at very long last, the smoke was seen issuing from the kettle-
spout, lo, the water was smoked, and unfit to drink!  So decided the
Captain, at least, but while he drank milk with the little girls, Pixie
emptied the tea-pot with undiminished enjoyment.

"It gives it a flavour," she said.  "I like to taste what I'm drinking."

It was not a trifle like smoked tea which would mar Mamzelle Paddy's
enjoyment when on pleasure bent!

The Captain's preparations had been on so lavish a scale that there was
quite a supply of good things left when the meal was finished, and by a
kindly thought these were packed together to give to the children of the
lock-keeper on the way up stream.

When every odd piece of paper had been religiously collected and packed
in the hamper with the cups and saucers, the little girls were lifted
into the boat, Pixie pulled the rudder-ropes over her shoulders, and the
Captain pushed the boat from the shore and jumped lightly into his seat.

They were off again, rowing homewards and passing once more all the
fascinating landmarks which they had noticed on the way down.  The
picnickers on the banks were fastening hampers and preparing to depart;
on the green lawns by the waterside servants were flitting to and fro
carrying trays into the house.  Inda was beginning to yawn and long for
bed.  She leant against Pixie, the weight of the small head becoming
ever heavier and heavier, but roused up again as the boat entered the
"box," as she persisted in calling a lock.  She wanted to hand out the
parcel of good things without a moment's delay, but the Captain told her
to wait until the water had lifted the boat nearer to the bank.

It seemed an extraordinary thing that, whereas, in passing through the
lock before they had gone down, down, down, they should now rise higher
with every moment that passed.  The children had a hundred questions to
ask, while the Captain stood up and kept the boat in position with a
boat-hook.  He explained the mystery as simply as possible, and also why
he was at such pains to keep at a safe distance from the walls.

"You see those things sticking out from the side of the boat into which
I put my oars?  They are called `rollocks,' and when you are coming up
stream through a lock you have to be careful indeed not to let them
catch under any of the beams.  It would be almost impossible to get them
loose again, you see, because every moment more water would pour in, and
press them tighter and tighter!"

"And what would it do to us if it did press them?"  Viva inquired
curiously, whereat the Captain smiled and shook his head.

"Something very disagreeable, I'm afraid--give us all a good wetting in
the water!  You needn't be afraid of that, though, when you are with me,
for I shall take good care of my little crew.  You see how far I keep
away with this oar."

"Yes, I see.  But why does one end of the boat stick out into the
middle, and the other into the side?"

"It's the current that sweeps it round, the force of the water that is
coming in under the gates.  That doesn't matter so long as we are not
caught."

"But the end _is_ caught, isn't it?  That little bit of iron that sticks
up at the pointed end!" cried Pixie suddenly.  She was densely ignorant
of all that concerns boats, and invariably alluded to the bow and the
stern as the "blunt" and "pointed" ends, to the Captain's intense
amusement.

This time, however, he did not smile.  Pixie saw his face set suddenly
as he turned his head to look in the direction of her outstretched
finger, but his voice sounded reassuringly confident.

"Oh, I see!  Yes.  Let me pass you, dear, for a moment.  Sit quite
still!"

He stepped past her into the space occupied by the hampers, and stamped
vigorously first with one foot, then with two, jumped with all his
weight, then stepped quickly back to the centre of the boat and called
to the man at the sluices--

"Hi, there!  _Stop_!  My boat is caught!  Turn off that water!  Quick,
man, do you hear me!"

But the man's head was turned in the opposite direction, and he was so
much engrossed with his work that it was some moments before he heard,
and meantime it was terrifying to see how swiftly the water arose, how
dangerously near to its edge grew the side of the boat!  The children
began to shriek and stand on their seats, and the Captain seized Inda in
his arms and held her up, calling loudly for help.

The lock-keeper was hurriedly dropping the sluices, but at the sound of
the continued cries his wife ran out of the house and across the
bridgeway.  In another moment she would be able to lift Inda ashore; but
Viva, frantic with terror, was clamouring to be taken too, and Pixie
impetuously lifted her towards the bank.

What happened next it is difficult to describe, so swiftly did it
happen, so like a nightmare did it appear for ever after in the memories
of those concerned.  The woman came rushing forward, followed by her
husband; they seized the children and dragged them on the bank.

The boat, relieved suddenly of a weight, gave an unexpected lurch, and
the next moment Pixie and the Captain were in the water.  The children
screamed aloud in terror, but the Captain had hardly disappeared before
he was up again, capless, and shaking the water from his head, but
looking none the worse for his ducking.  But it was a long, agonising
minute before there came a swirling and bubbling at the end of the lock,
and Pixie's white, unconscious little face floated on the surface.  The
Captain's arm was round her in an instant, the lock-keeper threw a rope
to help him to the iron ladder fixed in the walls of the lock, and
between them the two men carried the dripping figure along the bank and
into the house.

There was a sofa in an inner room, and there they laid her, while the
woman, assisted by her eldest daughter, took off the wringing garments
and wrapped her round with warm blankets and coverings.  The Captain ran
out into the village, sent a messenger flying for a doctor, and rushed
back again in terror lest the two little girls should have taken
advantage of his absence to get into fresh mischief.

This was a pretty ending to their expedition!  What would Mrs Wallace
say to him when he got home, and what should he say to himself if
through any fault or carelessness a serious injury had happened to sweet
little Mamzelle!

"Why on earth do they want to put these irons at the end of a boat?
Wretched, dangerous things!" cried the distracted man to himself.  "To
think that I have been through a thousand locks in safety, and that this
should have happened just when I had made myself responsible for a party
of children!  Never again!  Never again, if I get safely out of this!  I
wonder how long that doctor fellow will take to come along?"

Viva and Inda were sitting in the front kitchen, glancing askance at
several rosy, curly-headed children who were shyly huddled together by
the door.  The fascination of new surroundings and possible new
playmates had diverted their minds from their misfortunes, and the
Captain heaved a sigh of relief as he passed into the inner room.

The lock-keeper's wife had filled two bottles with hot water, and put
one to Pixie's feet, and another between her cold hands; a towel was
wrapped round the wet locks with somewhat ghastly effect, and the young
man shivered as he looked down at the still, white face.

"She is not--she can't be--" he faltered, not having the courage to
pronounce the dread word; and to his inexpressible relief the woman
smiled at the thought.

"Not she!  Stunned a bit, that's all.  Perhaps hit her head in falling.
I've often had them like this before, and they are pretty well all right
in a few hours.  We have a lot of people up here in summertime who know
nothing about managing a boat--no offence to you, sir--I daresay you are
well accustomed to them, but accidents will happen!"

"I thought I was!" sighed the Captain dismally.  He knelt down by the
couch, and touched the cold cheek with his fingers.  "Feels a little
warmer, doesn't she?  For goodness' sake, take that thing off her head,
I can't bear to see it."

The woman lifted the head from the pillow to unloosen the tight folds,
and at the movement Pixie sighed, and opened wide, bewildered eyes.  For
the first moment they held nothing but blankest surprise at finding
herself in so extraordinary a position, but, even as the Captain held
his breath in suspense, a spark of remembrance came into the clear
depths, and the face lit up with a flickering merriment.

"Were we drowned?" she whispered hoarsely.  "The two of us?--Viva
jumped, and the boat slipped, and my feet went down.  Who saved me?  Was
it you?"

"I suppose it was, but it was not a very heroic rescue--only a few yards
to the bank.  You are sure you feel all right?  Quite warm and
comfortable?  Your head doesn't ache?"

Pixie shook her dishevelled head from side to side, frowning the while
in speculative fashion.

"I think it does--a little bit, but I'm not quite sure.  It feels
muzzy!" she declared, with a gesture and accent which lent some
enlightenment to the enigmatical expression.  Then she stretched out a
hand, and touched him anxiously on the shoulder.  "You're drenched!
You'll catch all sorts of diseases in those wet clothes.  Can't you have
some blankets too?  I'm so lovely and warm."

"My husband is putting out some clothes for you upstairs, sir.  You had
better go and change.  The young lady is all right now, and I will tell
you when the doctor comes."

"Doctor!  Is a doctor coming?  To see me?"  Pixie asked, rapturously
incredulous.

To find herself the heroine of an adventure, a genuine thrilling
adventure, to lie stretched upon a sofa, wrapped in blankets, with two
attendants anxiously inquiring her symptoms; to know that a doctor was
hurrying to her side--this was indeed a glorious ending to the day's
enjoyment!  She lay back on the cushions wreathed in smiles, and the
doctor, coming in hurriedly, was somewhat taken aback to behold so
radiant a patient.

"I fainted!" cried Pixie proudly.  "I never fainted before in all my
life.  I don't remember a single thing after I slipped, until I woke up
on this sofa."

"Indeed!--and a very sensible arrangement.  Just as well to know nothing
about these disagreeable experiences."

The doctor smiled, and fingered her head with a careful touch.  "Does
that hurt you?  No?  Does that?  Do you feel any tenderness there?  A
little bit, eh?  You don't like me to press it?  You probably grazed
yourself slightly as you fell, and that caused the `faint.'  Nothing
serious, though.  You need not be frightened."

"I like it!" said Pixie stoutly, and the burst of laughter with which
the two hearers greeted this statement, sounded pleasantly in the
Captain's ears as he dressed himself in the lock-keeper's Sunday
garments in the room overhead.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

LOVERS' MEETINGS.

The doctor saw no reason why Pixie should not be driven home, and
offered to order a closed carriage in the village, and pending its
arrival, the adventurers enjoyed another cup of tea, not smoked this
time, and made merry over the change in their appearance, wrought by the
borrowed clothing.

Pixie's red merino dress was the pride of little Miss Lock-keeper's
heart, but about two sizes too big for its present occupant.  The bodice
hung in folds about her tiny figure, the sleeves came down to her
finger-tips; the Captain's shiny black suit made him appear quite clumsy
and awkward, but that was all part of the fun, in the estimation of
three members of the party, at least.

Mrs Wallace was undecided whether to laugh or to cry as she welcomed
her truants and listened to the story of their adventures.  Nothing
would satisfy her but to despatch Pixie to bed forthwith, to that young
lady's intense mortification, and to order the Captain upstairs to have
a hot bath and a dose of quinine.  When he came downstairs, she was
putting a letter in the post-box in the hall, and, motioning towards it,
explained its purport.

"I've been writing to Mamzelle's sister in London.  These lock accidents
get into the papers sometimes, and are generally exaggerated into
something really so thrilling and terrible.  It's best to tell the true
story ourselves."

"And I have brought this trouble upon you!  I could kick myself for my
stupidity.  You will never trust me again, but please make me the
scapegoat to the sister, and let her wreak her wrath on me.  It's not
fair that you should be blamed."

"Oh, I am not afraid of any wrath, I assure you.  She's a charming girl,
and as sweet as Mamzelle herself.  I have asked her to come down to-
morrow and see for herself that there is no harm done.  I thought that
was the best way out of the difficulty; and please don't blame yourself
too much.  It was an accident, and we must just be very, very thankful
that you were all preserved from harm."

The next morning the Captain took himself off for a long walk,
ostensibly to call on some friends, in reality to avoid meeting the
visitor from town; for though a man may boldly acknowledge his
responsibility and offer to bear the blame, he has an instinctive
shrinking from the society of females in distress, and will walk a very
long distance in order to avoid anything like a scene.

It seemed the height of bad fortune that this particular visitor should
arrive in the afternoon, instead of the morning, and that he should
stumble into the library almost immediately after she had arrived.  She
was seated on an ottoman with her back towards him, but Mrs Wallace's
quick exclamation took away any chance of retreating unseen.

"Why, here he is!" she cried.  "This is the culprit, or the hero,
whichever you choose to call him.  Come and tell your own story, Dick.
This is Mademoiselle's sister, Miss O'Shaughnessy."

But he had recognised her already.  She had turned her head as Mrs
Wallace spoke, and beneath the curving brim of the hat he had seen the
face which had been enshrined in his heart for three long years, the
sweet face which had brought to him at once the greatest joy and the
bitterest sorrow of his life!  He stood still in the middle of the room,
staring at her as if suddenly turned to stone, and Bridgie rose to her
feet, the pretty colour fading out of her cheeks, her lips a-tremble
with emotion.

Mrs Wallace looked from one to the other, and with a woman's intuition
divined something very nearly approaching the truth.  Dick was quite
changed from his old happy self--everyone had noticed it, and speculated
as to the cause.  In his last furlough he had stayed some time in
Ireland.  Could it be--could it possibly be--

"You have met before?" she said quickly.  "That is very nice.  You know
each other, and can talk over yesterday's adventure without my help.
Will you excuse me if I leave you for a few moments, while I give some
orders to the maids?"

No one answered, but she lost no time in hurrying from the room, and as
the door closed behind her, the Captain came slowly across the room,
staring at Bridgie's white face.

"_Miss O'Shaughnessy_!  She called you `_Miss O'Shaughnessy_'!"

She shrank before him, scared by his strange, excited manner.

"Yes, it is my name.  I am Bridgie O'Shaughnessy.  Don't you remember
me?"

"Remember you!" he repeated with an emphasis which was more eloquent
than a hundred protestations.  He seized her hands in a painful
pressure.  "You are not married, then?  It was not true!  You did not
marry him as they told me?"

"I?  You thought I was married!  Oh, what put such an idea into your
head?"

"I heard it eighteen months ago--shortly after your last letter arrived,
telling me about your father, and hinting at other changes which might
follow.  My friend wrote that Miss O'Shaughnessy was engaged to a fellow
with a lot of money--Hilliard--that they were going to be married almost
at once.  Was it all an invention?  Was there no truth in it at all?"

"It was quite true--quite, but it was Esmeralda, not me!  She married
him over a year ago."

"Esmeralda! your sister--but he said the eldest daughter, and you are
the eldest.  I knew I was not mistaken about that, for I remember every
word you had told me."

Bridgie smiled faintly; the colour was coming back into her cheeks, and
the grey eyes met his with shy, incredulous happiness.

"But most people give her the credit for it, all the same.  There's so
much more of her, you see.  You never wrote to--to ask if it were true?"

"I was too proud and hurt, badly hurt, Bridgie--mortally badly!  And you
never wrote to ask why I was silent.  Were you proud too, or
contemptuous--which was it?  Did you think I was nothing but a flirt,
and a heartless one at that?"

"I never thought unkindly of you, but I suppose I was proud, for I
couldn't write when all the money was gone, and I was so poor.  I
thought you had forgotten, or met someone else!  I hoped you were very
happy, only I--wasn't!" faltered Bridgie, with a little break in her
voice as she spoke that last word, which brought the tears to the
Captain's eyes.  He bent his head over the clasped hands, and kissed
them a dozen times over.

"Bridgie, Bridgie!" he cried brokenly.  "Is it true?  Have I found you
again after all these years?  Can you forgive me for this wretched
blunder which has brought such unhappiness upon us both?  I am thankful
to know you were unhappy too, for I had nothing to go on, Bridgie, no
claim whatever upon you, only you must have guessed how I felt.  I could
not believe that you had really given yourself to me in that short
time."

"I couldn't myself!" said Bridgie naively.  "I tried to pretend that it
was all a mistake, and that I was quite happy without you."  She looked
up at him shyly, and shook her head in the most beguiling denial.
"'Twas not a mite of use.  I remember all the same!  And are you sure--
quite sure--that you thought of me all the time?  Was there never anyone
else all these long, long years?"

The Captain smiled and stroked his moustache in amused, contemplative
fashion.

"There was never anyone, except one girl!  I met one girl who quite
stole my heart, and I think I stole hers into the bargain."

"Oh! oh!  How dreadful!  Why did you tell me?  But you didn't--you never
thought of marrying her, did you, Dick?"

"I'm not so sure.  She did!"  He laughed, and seized her hands once
more.  "No, it is too bad!  I won't tease you.  It was Mamzelle Paddy,
darling, to whom I confided my story, and who comforted me in her own
sweet fashion.  And she is your sister, and it is she who has brought us
together!  Bridgie, if I didn't love you with all my heart, I believe I
should still have to marry you, for nothing else than to be Mamzelle's
brother."

But Bridgie did not affect to be jealous.  She threw back her head, and
smiled happily as she answered, "I'm thankful to hear you say it, for
whoever marries me must love Pixie too.  I can never leave her behind
me!"



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

CONCLUSION.

The news of Captain Victor's engagement and long attachment to the
charming Miss O'Shaughnessy caused the greatest interest and excitement
among the guests at the cottage, while his old friends rejoiced to see
the happy brightness on his face.

"Welcome home, Dick!"  Mr Wallace cried, shaking him warmly by the
hand.  "Thankful to see you back again, instead of that other fellow who
has been moping about in your clothes!" and Pixie commented on the
announcement with her usual outspoken honesty.

"I told ye it would come all right!  I suppose it was you Bridgie was
fretting about, when I thought it was the bills!  She's got dips in her
cheeks, only you can't see them now, because she's blushing.  I'm glad
you are coming into the family, but I don't see how you can ever be
married!  She can't be spared!"

The Captain laughed at that statement, and vowed that she would have to
be spared, and that at an early date; but a shadow fell across Bridgie's
face, and as they sat alone in the garden she said anxiously--

"I am afraid I have been selfish, Dick!  I can think of nothing but you,
but, after all, Pixie was quite right--I can't possibly be spared for a
long time to come.  She won't be old enough to take charge of a house
for three years at the soonest, and Jack has been so good and unselfish
that I couldn't possibly leave him in the lurch.  You have waited so
long that you won't mind waiting a few years longer, will you?"

"It doesn't seem to me a particularly logical conclusion, sweetheart!"
the Captain said, smiling.  "Personally I feel that I ought to be
rewarded at once, but I won't make any promises one way or another until
I have met your brother and heard his views.  Don't worry yourself, you
shan't do anything that you feel to be wrong, but I don't despair of
finding a solution of the difficulty.  When it is an alternative between
that and waiting for you for three years, Bridgie, I shall be very, very
resourceful!"

"I don't know what you can do.  It's no use suggesting a housekeeper--
the boys would not hear of it, and she'd be destroyed in a week with the
life they would lead her!"  So argued Bridgie, but she was willing to be
convinced, and too happy in the present to feel much concern for the
future.

The weight of depression which had lain on her heart despite her brave
cheeriness of manner was lifted once and for ever now that she was
convinced of Dick's faithful love, and it seemed impossible that she
could ever be more content than at this moment.  Until now almost all
the joys of her life had come from an unselfish pleasure in the good
fortune of others, but this wonderful new happiness was her very own,
hers and Dick's, and she could hardly believe that it was true, and not
a wonderful dream.

Mrs Wallace's letter had conveyed an invitation to stay for the night,
so the lovers had two days to sit and talk together in the lovely summer
garden before returning to give an account of themselves in Rutland
Road.

Jack was not prepared to see a stranger accompanying his sister, but he
welcomed him with Irish heartiness, and guessed how the land lay at the
first glance at Bridgie's face.  So did Pat; so did Miles; but they
concealed their suspicions with admirable tact, and talked persistently
through the evening meal with intent to relieve the embarrassment which
was so evidently experienced by the hostess.

Poor Bridgie was painfully conscious of the enormity of her conduct as
she looked from one to the other of her three big brothers.  Jack's
manner was nervous and excited.  Poor fellow! he was evidently dreading
the explanations which were in store.  Pat was looking pale; he grew so
fast that he needed constant care.  Miles kept handing her the mustard
with sympathetic effusion; he had a heart of gold and could be led with
a word, but it must be the right word, and woe to the housekeeper of the
future if she tried to rule by force!  She smiled at him with wistful
apology, and Miles patted her hand affectionately under the tablecloth.

It was a pity when a sensible girl like Bridgie made an idiot of herself
by falling in love, but they all seemed to do it sooner or later, and
there was no use making a fuss, Master Miles told himself resignedly.
She seemed to have met this Captain Victor years ago, and to have
corresponded with him in India, but she had never mentioned his name at
home.  How strange to know that Bridgie had had an interest beyond her
own brothers and sisters!  Miles felt mildly aggrieved, but consoled
himself by the reflection that the Captain seemed a decent sort of
fellow with plenty to say for himself.  He had been on active service
twice already, and though he refused details of manslaughter, gave such
a graphic account of tiger-shooting expeditions as made Miles's lips
water, and aroused rebellious repinings at his own hard lot in living in
a miserable suburb where the only sport to be obtained was the tracking
of a few superfluous cats!

When dinner was over, the two boys discreetly lingered behind while
their elders retired to the drawing-room, and Bridgie grew rosy red with
embarrassment as the door closed behind them.

"We wanted to tell you, Jack--" she began nervously.  "I would have told
you before, only there was nothing to tell.  There isn't now!  At least,
I mean, it won't be for a long, long time, dear.  Not until you don't
want me any more."

"Better let me try, Bridgie!" cried the Captain, laughing.  He put his
hand on her shoulder in a proudly possessive fashion, and looked Jack
full in the face.  "She is dreadfully afraid of what you will say, and
ashamed of herself for daring to think of anything but her home duties.
It doesn't seem to strike her that she has a duty to me too, when I have
been thinking of her for the last three years.  I must explain to you,
O'Shaughnessy, that a friend wrote to tell me that your eldest sister
was about to be married to a man called Hilliard, and by an unfortunate
coincidence Bridgie herself had vaguely referred to coming changes in
her last letter, so I believed the report, and we have mutually been
eating our hearts, and believing the other to be faithless.  There was
no engagement, you must understand, but I made up my mind about her the
first day we met, and she now acknowledges that she ran away because she
was afraid I might interfere with her home claims.  You see, I have
already spared her to you for three good years, so I think it is my turn
now!  My friends will tell you that I have been miserably dull and
surly, and for their sakes alone I feel I ought to make a stand."

"And Bridgie has been always sweet and cheerful.  We have each expected
her to be sorry for us in turns, and never once suspected that she
needed us to be sorry for her too.  Thank you, Bridgie!" said Jack,
looking across at her with a loving look which was the sweetest reward
which she could possibly have received for the struggles which had been
so gallantly concealed.

"It was my greatest comfort to have you all to work and care for when I
thought he had--forgotten!" she cried hastily.  "And I have loved
helping you, Jack!  Please speak honestly, dear, let us all speak out
honestly.  Of course I want to be with Dick, but I want most of all to
do what is right--we all do--and the children must come first.  You
can't be left alone, Jack, and there is no one else to take my place."

"Unless--" began Jack slowly.  Bridgie looked at him in surprise, and
saw the red flush come creeping up from beneath his collar, touch his
cheeks, and mount up and up to the roots of his curling hair.  "Unless I
married myself!" he said breathlessly, and at that Bridgie darted
forward and caught him by both hands.

"What?  What?  What?  Jack, what do you mean?  Is it Sylvia?  Of course
it is Sylvia!  And does she--Jack, what does it mean?  Are you engaged
too?  Have you been keeping it from me because you thought--"

"We wouldn't let you think you were in our way; we loved you too much,
old girl, so we were quietly waiting until--"

"I came along!" concluded Dick Victor tersely.

The three young people stood staring at each other for a moment, and the
tears brimmed over in Bridgie's eyes, but presently she began to laugh,
and the young men joined in with a sense of the happiest relief.  Each
one had been thinking of the other, and putting personal hopes in the
background, and lo, in the simplest, most delightful of fashions, the
knot was cut, and each was left free to be happy after his heart's
desire.

"Oh, it's perfectly, perfectly perfect!"  Bridgie cried rapturously.
"The boys adore Sylvia, and will be her devoted slaves; she is twice the
housekeeper that I am, and she has been so lonely, poor darling, without
her parents.  Oh, Jack, how nice of you to care for her, and give her a
home!"

"That's what she says!" replied Jack naively.  "Shall we send for her to
join the council?  She ought to have her say.  I'll run across--"

"No, no!  Send Mary.  I want to see her first--I want to see exactly how
she looks when she knows she is found out," Bridgie insisted; so Mary
was promptly despatched on her errand, and back came Sylvia, wondering
and excited, and not a little mystified by the presence of the tall
stranger.

"Master Jack has good taste!" said the Captain to himself as he looked
at the dainty figure and erect little head with its crop of curls.
"Rather an embarrassing position for the poor girl!  Hope they break it
to her gently!"

But it was not the O'Shaughnessy custom to break news gently, or in a
circuitous fashion, and the moment Sylvia entered the doorway, Bridgie
flew at her with outstretched arms, crying incoherently, and with
sublime disregard of grammar--

"Oh, Sylvia, Sylvia, I'm engaged!  That's him!  It's been a mistake all
the time, and we are going to be married at once.  We are all going to
be married!  Dick and me, and you and Jack, and you are coming here to
look after the house!  I thought I couldn't be married because of Jack,
and he thought he couldn't be married because of me, and now it's all
right, and we can all be happy.  I congratulate you, Sylvia!
Congratulate me!  I made Jack let me tell you, for I knew you would be
so surprised.  Don't you feel too bewildered to take it in?"

"I do!" replied Sylvia, with much truth.  Red as a rose was she, at this
sudden and public announcement of her engagement, not knowing where to
look, or what to say, yet with a consciousness of immense happiness to
come, and unfeigned delight at the happy ending to Bridgie's love-story.

Dick Victor came forward and introduced himself, and presently they all
seated themselves, and tried to discuss the future in staid, responsible
fashion.  The Captain expected to be quartered in England for the
immediate future, but could not of course be certain of his ultimate
movements.  He proposed that he and Bridgie should look out for a
furnished house, so as to have a home of their own and yet be ready for
such changes as might arise.

Jack anxiously questioned Sylvia as to the responsibility which would be
hers, and she professed herself only too ready to sister the two dear
boys.

"And Pixie--I should love to have Pixie!" she cried, whereat Bridgie
frowned, and fidgeted restlessly on the sofa.

"We will make definite arrangements later on," she said.  "Everything
cannot be decided at once.  The boys will be quite enough trouble for
you, me dear!  They are as good as gold, but they will grow, and their
clothes wear out so fast, and since we came to town they've taken a
distaste to patches, and they want money in their own pockets, the same
as the other boys they meet.  `If I give you some shillings just to
jingle, and show they are there, will that satisfy you?'  I asked Pat
only last week, and he laughed in my face!  It's hard to say `No' when
they smile at you, Sylvia, but you'll have to do it."

"I--don't--know!" said Sylvia slowly.  The others looked at her
questioningly, and she turned to Jack with a sparkling face.  "I was
waiting for a chance of telling you.  Mr Nisbet telegraphed to Ceylon
about father's death, and I've had a letter from his lawyers.  It came
last night, and I'm rich, Jack!  Isn't it lovely?--really quite rich!
The lawsuit was settled in his favour, and he was coming home to settle,
and now everything comes to me.  I can help with the boys, and some day,
when you are ready, we can go back to Knock, and live in the old home
again!  I've been so happy since I heard, thinking that at last I could
do something for you too.  You are pleased about it, aren't you, Jack?
Do say you are pleased!"

Jack's beaming smile was the best answer to that question.

"'Deed, I'm delighted!" he declared.  "I'll spend money with any man
alive, and the more there is, the better I'm pleased.  We will stay
where we are and see the boys settled, and let Geoffrey enjoy his lease,
and then we'll go home, and I shall probably have some savings of my own
to add to yours by that time, and not feel I am living on my wife.  I'm
thankful you have the money, and I'm thankful that I knew nothing of it
before we were engaged."

"And so am I!" said Sylvia softly.

A week later there was a second conference, at which every member of the
family put in an appearance, and the question of the hour was, "Who
shall have Pixie?  Where shall Pixie have her home?"

"I am the head of the family.  It is the right thing that she should be
with me.  Sylvia and I would both like to have her, so it is unnecessary
to discuss the point any further," said Mr Jack, with an air.

"I don't wish to say anything in the least unkind to Sylvia--you know
that, don't you, dear?" cried Esmeralda the magnificent, sitting amidst
billows of chiffon and lace, and smiling sweetly across the room.  "But
the fact remains that I am Pixie's real sister, and she is not; and I
think a sister's claim comes before a brother's.  Bridgie will have no
settled home, and I am at Knock.  Anyone might see at a glance that her
home ought to be with me, under the circumstances."

"I want Pixie!" said Bridgie softly.  "I want Pixie!"

And Pixie sat on the edge of the sofa, and looked from one to the other
with bright, bird-like glances.  Everyone wanted her, everyone had an
argument to prove a prior claim; they were all arguing and struggling
for the supreme happiness of welcoming her into their households.  It
was the happiest moment of her life.

"It's like Solomon and the babies!" she cried exultantly.  "Ye'll have
to cut me in threes, and divide the pieces.  Esmeralda shall have my
head, for the times when she loses her own; Sylvia shall have my feet,
because she limps herself; and,"--she looked across the room deep into
Bridgie's eyes--"Bridgie shall have my heart!  It would be with her,
anyway, wherever she went."

The tears brimmed over in Bridgie's eyes; Esmeralda frowned quickly,
then glanced at Geoffrey, as he stood by her side, and softened into a
smile.

Jack stifled a sigh, and said gravely--

"Pixie has settled the question for herself.  After that confession
there can be no more to say.  Take her, Bridgie, but be generous and
spare her to us for part of the year.  We all need you, Pixie--wise
little head, willing little feet, loving little heart--every single bit
of you.  Come and help us as often as you can."

THE END.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "More about Pixie" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home