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´╗┐Title: Pixie O'Shaughnessy
Author: Vaizey, George de Horne, Mrs., 1857-1917
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Pixie O'Shaughnessy" ***

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Pixie O'Shaughnessy

by Mrs George de Horne Vaizey
________________________________________________________________
This is an absolutely delightful book. Pixie is a totally unique
character!  Her mother had died and had left what money she had for
Pixie's education.  The family live in a tumble-down old castle in
Ireland, and are all and each totally eccentric, in an Irish kind of
way.  Pixies and her father travel to London, for she is to go to a
school for girls in the London suburbs.  Suddenly her father realises
what a shabby little thing she is.  Furthermore she has a very strong
Irish brogue.  So how does she get on with the other girls.  Famously,
in the end, but there were a few set-backs.

There is a very strongly written episode in the second half of the book,
where Pixie takes the blame for the loss of a perfume-bottle that had
been given to one of the mistresses by an old and beloved friend.
Everything points to Pixie being the culprit.  She actually knows who
did it, but somehow had given her word that she wouldn't give the other
girl away.  Pixie is punished severely, not only for having done the
deed, as generally assumed, but also for refusing to talk about it.
Could any of us show such strength of character?  There are several
sequels to this book, but though good, they are mere sequels. The
inspiration that went into this book is unsurpassable.  N.H.
________________________________________________________________
PIXIE O'SHAUGHNESSY

BY MRS GEORGE DE HORNE VAIZEY



CHAPTER ONE.

THE UGLY DUCKLING.

Pixie O'Shaughnessy was at once the joy and terror of the school.  It
had been a quiet, well-conducted seminary before her time, or it seemed
so, at least, looking back after the arrival of the wild Irish tornado,
before whose pranks the mild mischief of the Englishers was as water
unto wine.  Pixie was entered in the school-lists as "Patricia Monica de
Vere O'Shaughnessy," but no one ever addressed her by such a title, not
even her home-people, by whom the name was considered at once as a
tragedy and a joke of the purest water.

Mrs O'Shaughnessy had held stern ideas about fanciful names for her
children, on which subject she had often waxed eloquent to her friends.

"What," she would ask, "could be more trying to a large and bouncing
young woman than to find herself saddled for life with the title of
`Ivy,' or for a poor anaemic creature to pose as `Ruby' before a
derisive world?"  She christened her own first daughter Bridget, and the
second Joan, and the three boys respectively Jack, Miles, and Patrick,
resolutely waving aside suggestions of more poetic names even when they
touched her fancy, or appealed to her imagination.  Better err on the
safe side, and safeguard oneself from the risk of having a brood of
plain, awkward children masquerading through life under names which made
them a laughing-stock to their companions.

So she argued; but as the years passed by, it became apparent that her
children had too much respect for the traditions of the race to appear
an any such unattractive guise.  "The O'Shaughnessys were always
beautiful," quoth the Major, tossing his own handsome head with the air
of supreme self-satisfaction which was his leading characteristic, "and
it's not my children that are going to break the rule," and certain it
is that one might have travelled far and wide before finding another
family to equal the one at Knock Castle in point of appearance.  The
boys were fine upstanding fellows with dark eyes and aquiline features;
Bridgie was a dainty, fair-haired little lady; while Joan, (Esmeralda
for short, as her brothers had it), had reached such a climax of beauty
that strangers gasped with delight, and the hardest heart softened
before her baby smile.  Well might Mrs O'Shaughnessy waver in her
decision; well might she suppose that she was safe in relaxing her
principles sufficiently to bestow upon baby number six a name more
appropriate to prospective beauty and charm.  The most sensible people
have the most serious relapses, and once having given rein to her
imagination nothing less than three names would satisfy her--and those
three the high-sounding Patricia Monica de Vere.

She was an ugly baby.  Well, but babies often were ugly.  That counted
for nothing.  It was really a bad sign if an infant were conspicuously
pretty.  She had no nose to speak of, and a mouth of enormous
proportions.  What of that?  Babies' noses always were small, and the
mouth would not grow in proportion to the rest of the features.  In a
few months she would no doubt be as charming as her sisters had been
before her; but, alas!  Pixie disappointed that expectation, as she was
fated to disappoint most expectations during her life.  Her nose refused
to grow bigger, her mouth to grow smaller, her small twinkling eyes
disdained the lashes which were so marked a feature in the faces of her
sisters, and her hair was thin and straight, and refused to grow beyond
her neck, whereas Bridgie and Esmeralda had curling manes so long that,
as their nurse proudly pointed out to other nurses, they could sit on
them, the darlints! and that to spare.

There was no disguising the fact that she was an extraordinarily plain
child, and as the years passed by she grew ever plainer and plainer, and
showed less possibility of improvement.  The same contrariety of fate
which made Bridget look like Patricia, made Patricia look like Bridget,
and Mrs O'Shaughnessy often thought regretfully of her broken
principle.  "Indeed it's a judgment on me!" she would cry; but always as
she said the words she hugged her baby to her breast, and showered
kisses on the dear, ugly little face, wondering in her heart if she had
ever loved a child so much before, or if any of Pixie's beautiful
sisters and brothers had had such strange, fascinating little ways.  At
the age when most infants are content to blink, she smiled accurately
and with intent; when three months old she would look up from her pillow
with a twinkling glance, as who would say, "Such an adventure as I've
had with these cot curtains!  You wait a few months until I can speak,
and I'll astonish you about it!"  And when she could sit up she
virtually governed the nursery.  The shrewdness of the glance which she
cast upon her sisters quite disturbed the enjoyment of those young
ladies in the pursuance of such innocent tricks as making lakes of ink
in the laps of their clean pinafores, or scratching their initials on
newly painted doors, and she waved her rattle at them with such an
imperious air that they meekly bowed their heads, and allowed her to tug
at their curls without reproach.

The whole family vied with each other in adoring the ugly duckling, and
in happy Irish fashion regarded her shortcomings as a joke rather than a
misfortune.  "Seen that youngster of mine?" the Major would cry genially
to his friends.  "She's worth a visit, I tell you!  Ugliest child in
Galway, though I say it that shouldn't."  And Pixie's company tricks
were all based on the subject of personal shortcomings.

"Show the lady where your nose ought to be, darling," her mother would
say fondly, and the baby fingers would point solemnly to the flat space
between the eyes.

"And where's the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky, sweetheart?" would be the
next question, when the whole of Pixie's fat fist would disappear bodily
inside the capacious mouth.

"The Major takes more notice of her than he did of any of the others,"
Mrs O'Shaughnessy would tell her visitor.  "He is always buying her
presents!"

And then she would sigh, for, alas! the Major was one of those careless,
extravagant creatures, who are never restrained from buying a luxury by
the uninteresting fact that the bread bill is owing, and the butcher
growing pressing in his demands.  When his wife pleaded for money with
which to defray household bills, he grew irritable and impatient, as
though he himself were the injured party.  "The impudence of the
fellows!" he would cry.  "They are nothing but ignorant upstarts, while
the O'Shaughnessys have been living on this ground for the last three
centuries.  They ought to be proud to serve me!  This is what comes of
educating people beyond their station.  Any upstart of a tradesman
thinks himself good enough to trouble an O'Shaughnessy about a trumpery
twenty or thirty pounds.  I'll show them their mistake!  You can tell
them that I'll not be bullied, and indeed they might as well save their
trouble, for, between you and me, there's not a five-pound note in my
pocket between now and the beginning of the year."  After delivering
himself of which statement he would take the train to the nearest town,
order a new coat, buy an armful of toys for Pixie, and enjoy a good
dinner at the best hotel, leaving his poor wife to face the irate
tradesmen as best she might.

Poor Mrs O'Shaughnessy!  She hid an aching heart under a bright
exterior many times over, as the pressure for money grew ever tighter
and tighter, and she saw her children running wild over the countryside,
with little or no education to fit them for the battle of life.  The
Major declared that he could not afford school fees, so a daily
governess was engaged to teach boys and girls alike--a staid, old-
fashioned maiden lady, who tried to teach the young O'Shaughnessys on
the principles of fifty years ago, to her own confusion and their
patronising disdain.  The three boys were sharp as needles to discover
the weak points in her armour, and maliciously prepared questions by
which she could be put to confusion, while the girls tittered and idled,
finding endless excuses for neglecting their unwelcome tasks.  Half a
dozen times over had Miss Minnitt threatened to resign her hopeless
task, and half a dozen times had she been persuaded by Mrs
O'Shaughnessy to withdraw her resignation.  The poor mother knew full
well that it would be a difficulty to find anyone to take the place of
the hard-worked, ill-paid governess, and the governess loved her wild
charges, as indeed did everyone who knew them, and sorrowed over them in
her heart, because she saw what their blind young eyes never noticed--
the coming shadow on the house, the gradual fading away of the weary,
overtaxed mother.  Mrs O'Shaughnessy had fought for years against
chronic weariness and ill-health, but the time was coming when she could
fight no longer, and, almost before her family had recognised that she
was ill, the end drew near, and her husband and children were summoned
to bid the last farewell.

The eyes of the dying woman roamed from one to the other of her six
children--twenty-two-year-old Jack, handsome and manly, so like--oh, so
like that other Jack who had come wooing her nearly thirty years ago!
Bridgie, slim and delicate--so unfit, poor child, to take the burden of
a mother's place; Miles, with his proud, overbearing look, a boy who had
had especial claims on her care and guidance; Joan, beautiful and
daring, ignorant of nothing so much as of her own ignorance; Pat, of the
pensive face and reckless spirit; and last but not least, Pixie, her
baby--dear, naughty, loyal little Pixie, whom she must leave to the
tender mercies of children little older than herself!  The dim eyes
brightened, the thin hand stretched out and gripped her husband by the
arm.

"Jack!" she cried shrilly--"Pixie!  Give Pixie a chance!  Take care of
her--she is so young--and I can't stay.  For my sake, Jack, give Pixie a
chance!"

The Major promised with sobs and tears.  In his own selfish way he had
adored his wife, and her last words could not easily be put aside.  As
the months passed by, he was the more inclined to follow her wishes, as
the few thousands which fell to him at her death enabled him to pay off
his more pressing debts and enjoy a temporary feeling of affluence.
Jack went back to his office in London, where he had betaken himself
three years before, to the disgust of the father, who considered it more
respectable for an O'Shaughnessy to be in debt than to work for his
living in the City among City men.  Pat and Miles remained at home,
ostensibly to help on the estate, and in reality to shoot rabbits and
get into mischief with the farm hands.  Miss Minnitt was discharged,
since Bridgie must now be occupied with household duties, and Joan was
satisfied that her education was finished.  And the verdict went forth
that Pixie was to go to school.

"Your mother was always grieving that she could not educate your sisters
like other girls, and it was her wish that you should have a chance.
I'll send you to London to the best school that can be found, if I have
to sell the coat off my back to do it," said the Major fervently; for
there was no sacrifice which he was not ready to make--in anticipation,
and he hoped to discover a school which did not demand payments in
advance.  He patted the child on the shoulder in congratulation; but
Pixie was horrified, and, opening her mouth, burst into howls and yells
of indignation.

"I won't!  I shan't!  I hate school!  I won't go a step!  I'll stay at
home and have Miss Minnitt to teach me!  I won't!  I won't!  I won't!"

The Major smiled and stroked his moustache.  He was used to Pixie's
outbursts, and quite unperturbed thereby, although a stranger would have
quailed at the sound, and would certainly have imagined that some
horrible form of torture was being employed.  Pixie checked herself
sufficiently to peep at his face, realised that violence was useless,
and promptly changed her tactics.  She whimpered dismally, and essayed
cajolery.

"It will break me heart to leave you.  Father darlin', let me stay!
What will you do without your little girl at all?"

"I'll miss you badly, but it's for your own good.  That brogue of yours
is getting worse and worse.  And such a fine school, too!  Think of all
you will be able to learn!"

"Me education's finished," said Pixie haughtily.  "I know me tables and
can read me books, and write a letter when I want, and that's all that's
required of a young gentlewoman living at home with her parents.  I've
heard you say so meself--a hundred times, if once."

It was too true.  The Major recognised the argument with which he had
been wont to answer his wife's pleas for higher education, and was
incensed, as we all are when our own words are brought up against us.

"You are a very silly child," he said severely, "and don't understand
what you are talking about.  I am giving you an opportunity which none
of your brothers and sisters have had, and you have not the decency to
say as much as `Thank you.'  I am ashamed of you.  I am bitterly
ashamed!"

Such a statement would have been blighting indeed to an ordinary child,
but Pixie looked relieved rather than otherwise, for her quick wits had
recognised another form of appeal, and she was instantly transformed
into an image of penitence and humiliation.

"I am a bad, ungrateful choild, and don't deserve your kindness.  I
ought to be punished, and kept at home, and then when I grew older and
had more sense I'd regret it, and it would be a warning to me.
Esmeralda's cleverer than me.  It would serve me right if she went
instead."

It was of no avail.  The Major only laughed and repeated his decision,
when Pixie realised that it was useless fighting against fate, and
resigned herself to the inevitable with characteristic philosophy.

Her outbursts of rebellion, though violent for the time being, were of
remarkably short duration, for she was of too sunny a nature to remain
long depressed, and moreover it was more congenial to her pride to pose
as an object of envy than pity.  On the present occasion she no sooner
realised that go to school she must, than she began to plume herself on
her importance, and prepare to queen it over her sisters.

"You had better make the most of me, my dears," she announced in the
morning-room five minutes later, "for it's not long you'll be having me
with you.  I'm off to a grand London school to correct me brogue and
learn accomplishments.  It will cost a mint of money, and father can't
afford to send you too; but I'll tell you all about it when I come back,
and correct your accent and show you me fine new clothes!"

"Thank you, darling!" said Bridgie meekly, while Esmeralda stifled a
laugh and turned her lovely eyes on the ugly duckling with a glance of
fondest admiration.  Both sisters had overheard the shrieks of ten
minutes before and could still see tell-tale tear-marks, but nothing in
the world would have induced them to say as much or check their darling
in her newly found complacency.

After all it was not until some months had elapsed that the dilatory
Major discovered a school to his liking, and even then he allowed his
own engagements to interfere with the date of her arrival, for he
insisted upon accompanying Pixie himself, and could not see that it made
the least difference whether she arrived at the beginning of the term or
a few weeks later on.  Miss Minnitt protested faintly, but soon relapsed
into silence, and consoled herself by turning seamstress and helping
Bridgie and Joan with the school outfit.  It was a case of making new
lamps out of old, for little money was forthcoming to buy fresh
material, and, with the best will in the world, the workers were still
unskilled in their efforts.

Bridgie's tender heart was pierced with sorrow as she looked at the
dismal little outfit spread out on the bed preparatory to packing--so
poor it seemed, so shabby, oh, so black, black, black and sorrowful!
Poor little Pixie going forth alone into the unknown world--little,
wild, ignorant Irish girl, bound for a strange land among strange
people!  Would those fine English girls laugh among themselves and jeer
at her untamed ways?  Would they imitate her brogue in their thin
mincing voices, and if so, how, oh, how would Pixie conduct herself in
return?  Bridgie was barely twenty years old, but since her mother's
death she had grown into a woman in thoughtfulness and love for others,
and now it weighed on her mind that it was her duty to speak seriously
to Pixie before she left home, and prepare her in some sort for the
trials which might lie before her.  If she did not, no one would, and it
was cruel to let the child leave without a word of counsel.  She lay
awake wondering what to say and how to say it.

"It's no use telling Pixie not to get into mischief, for she can't help
it, the darling!  It's the nature of her, but she has such a loving
little heart that she will never go far wrong."

The next day she watched her opportunity, and took advantage of a quiet
moment to speak her words of counsel.

"You won't be disappointed if school isn't all you expect, will you,
dear?" she began nervously.  "I have heard girls say that they felt
dreadfully lonely and homesick at first, and when the pupils are all
strange to you, and chums with one another, you may think they are not
as friendly as you could wish.  And the teachers may seem stern.  Miss
Minnitt has spoiled us by being too mild and easy, and you will feel the
difference.  Then you have run wild all your life, and it will seem
strange to be allowed out for walks only; but, Pixie, I want you to
remember that you are our pet and baby, and that our happiness depends
on you.  If you get a good report and bring home prizes, the pride we
shall feel, the airs we shall be giving ourselves, going into Galway and
telling everyone we meet on the street; but if you are disobedient and
we hear complaints, it's covered with disgrace we shall be in the eyes
of the county.  Now, there will be good girls in that school, and bad
girls, and lazy girls, and industrious ones, and girls who would tell
the truth if they were to be shot for it the next moment; and girls who
would trick and deceive to get a mean advantage over another.  Patricia
O'Shaughnessy, which are you going to choose for your companions?"

Pixie fairly jumped upon her seat with surprise, the use of that seldom-
heard name impressing her more than anything else could possibly have
done with the importance of the occasion.  A murmur of protest did duty
as a reply, and Bridgie continued impressively--

"Yes, I am sure you will choose the right sort of friend, for the honour
of your name and the family to which you belong; but you must be
industrious with your work as well.  Now that I have left off lessons I
wish I had worked twice as hard, for I feel so ignorant and stupid
beside other girls; and you are clever, Pixie, and can do well if you
choose.  Don't be troublesome to the teachers, dearie; it must be
maddening to have to teach day after day, and they have to be cross now
and then--the creatures!--to relieve their feelings.  And if you feel
tempted to be rude and naughty, just remember that you are mother's
little baby, and that the last thing she asked was that you should have
your chance!  Perhaps she sees you still, Pixie!  Perhaps God lets her
be a white angel to watch over her boys and girls.  If you thought
mother was watching, you never could do anything to grieve her!"

The ready tears poured down Pixie's face.  She sobbed and moaned, and
with clasped hands repeated her vow to be good, good, good; never to be
naughty again so long as she lived!  And Bridgie wept too, smiling
through her tears at the impracticability of the promise, the while she
clasped the dear little sister to her breast.



CHAPTER TWO.

FOND FAREWELLS.

The morning rose clear and fair, and the sun shone as cheerfully as if
no tragedy were about to be enacted, and Pixie O'Shaughnessy would
presently run out of doors to sit swinging on a gate, clad in
Esmeralda's dyed skirt, Pat's shooting jacket, and the first cap that
came to hand, instead of starting on the journey to school in a new
dress, a hat with bows and two whole quills at the side, and her hair
tied back with a ribbon that had not once been washed!  It was almost
too stylish to be believed!

Pixie entered the breakfast-room with much the same stride as that with
which the big drum-major heads the Lord Mayor's procession, and spread
out her dress ostentatiously as she seated herself by the table.  The
armholes stuck into her arms, the collar was an inch too high, and the
chest painfully contracted, but she was intensely proud of herself all
the same, and privately thought the London girls would have little
spirit left in them when confronted with so much elegance.  Bridgie was
wiping her eyes behind the urn, Esmeralda was pressing the mustard upon
her, the Major was stroking his moustache and smiling as he murmured to
himself--

"Uglier than ever in that black frock!  Eh--what!  Bless the child, it
is the mischief to let her go!  The house will be lost without her!"

Pat and Miles were conversing together in tones of laboured mystery, a
device certain to arrest Pixie's vivid attention.

"On Sundays--yes!  Occasionally on Wednesdays also.  It _does_ seem
rather mean, but I suppose puddings are not good for growing girls.  Two
a week is ample if you think of it!"

"Good wholesome puddings too!" said Pat, nodding assent.  "Suet and
rice, and perhaps tapioca for a change!  Very sensible, I call it.
Porridge for breakfast, I think they said, but no butter, of course?"

"Certainly not!  Too bad for the complexion, but cod-liver oil regularly
after every meal.  Especially large doses to those suffering from change
of climate!"

The Major was chuckling with amusement; Bridgie was shaking her head,
and murmuring, "Boys, don't!  It's cruel!"  Pixie was turning from one
to the other with eager eyes, and mouth agape with excitement.  She knew
perfectly well that the conversation was planned for her benefit, and
more than guessed its imaginary nature, but it was impossible to resist
a thrill--a fear--a doubt!  The bread-and-butter was arrested in her
hand in the keenness of listening.

"Did I understand you to say _no_ talking allowed?" queried Pat
earnestly.  "I had an impression that on holiday afternoons a little
more liberty might be given?"

"My dear fellow, there are no holidays!  They are abolished in modern
schools as being unsettling, and disturbing to study.  `In work, in
work, in work always let my young days be spent!'  Pass the marmalade,
please!  The girls are occasionally allowed to speak to each other in
French, or, if they prefer it, in German, or any other Continental
language.  The constant use of one language is supposed to be bad for
the throat.  I hope, by the way, father, that you mentioned distinctly
that Pixie's throat requires care?"

Pixie cast an agonised glance round the table, caught Bridgie's eye, and
sighed with relief, as a shake of the head and an encouraging smile
testified to the absurdity of the boys' statements.

"There's not a word of truth in it, darling.  Don't listen to them.
They are only trying to tease you."

"I'd scorn to listen!  Ignorant creatures, brought up at home by a lady
governess!  What do they know about schooling?" cried Pixie cruelly; for
this was a sore point, on which it was not safe to jest on ordinary
occasions.  Miles rolled his eyes at her in threatening fashion, and Pat
stamped on her foot; but she smiled on unabashed, knowing full well that
her coming departure would protect her from the ordinary retribution.

After breakfast it seemed a natural thing to go a farewell round of the
house and grounds, escorted by the entire family circle, and a
melancholy review it would have been to anyone unblessed with Irish
spirits, and the Irish capability of shutting one's eyes to unpleasant
truths.  Knock Castle sounded grandly enough, and a fine old place it
had been some centuries before; but for want of repairs it had now
fallen into a semi-ruinous condition pathetic to witness.  Slates in
hundreds had fallen off the roof and been left unreplaced; a large
staircase window, blown in by a storm, was still boarded up, waiting to
be mended "some time," though more than a year had elapsed since the
accident had taken place; the walls in the great drawing-room were
mouldy with damp, for it had been deserted for many a day, because its
owner could not afford the two big fires necessary to keep it aired.
Pixie sniffed with delight when she entered the gloomy apartment, for
the room represented the family glory to her childish imagination, so
that the smell of mildew was irresistibly associated with luxury.  The
dining-room carpet was worn into holes, and there was one especially big
one near the window, where Esmeralda, who was nothing if not artistic,
had painted so accurate a repetition of the pattern on the boards
beneath that one could scarcely see where one ended, and the other
began!

The original intention had been to disguise the hole, but so proud was
the family of the success of the imitation, that it became one of the
show places of the establishment.  When the hounds met at Bally William,
and the Major brought old Lord Atrim into the house for lunch, he called
the old gentleman's attention to it with a chuckle of enjoyment.  "My
daughter's work!  The second, Joan here--Esmeralda, we call her.  She'll
be an artist yet!  A real genius with the brush."  And the old lord had
laughed till he cried, and stared at Esmeralda the whole time of lunch,
and when Christmas-time came round, did he not send her the most
beautiful box of the best possible paints, the very thing of all others
for which she had been longing, so that it seemed after all that it had
been a good thing when the terriers Tramp and Scamp had scratched the
thin web into a hole!  The ceilings were black with the smoke of fire
and lamps, but the silver on the oak dresser would have delighted the
heart of a connoisseur, and the china in daily use would have been laid
out for view in glassed-in cabinets in most households, instead of being
given over to the care of an Irish biddy who tried to hang cups upon
hooks with her head turned in an opposite direction, and had a weakness
for sitting on the corner of the table to rest herself in the midst of
washing the plates.

Outside the garden was an overgrown wilderness of vegetation, for the
one gardener, realising the impossibility of doing the work of the six
who would have been required to keep the place in order, resigned
himself to doing nothing at all, or as little as was compatible with the
weekly drawing of wages.  The stables were empty, save for the two fine
hunters which were necessary for the Major's enjoyment of his favourite
sport, and the rough little pony which did duty for all the rest of the
family in turns.  The row of glass-houses looked imposing enough from a
distance, but almost squalid at a nearer view, for, as the Major could
not afford to keep them in working order, broken panes greeted the eye
in every direction, and plants were replaced by broken pieces of
furniture and the hutches and cages of such live-stock as white mice,
guinea-pigs, and ferrets.  Pixie had many farewells to bid in this
quarter, and elaborate instructions to give as to the care to be
lavished on her favourites during her absence.  The ferret was boarded
out to Pat, who had no idea of doing anything for nothing, but was
willing to keep the creature supplied with the unsavoury morsels, in
which its soul delighted, for the fee of a halfpenny a week, to be paid
"some time," an happy O'Shaughnessy fashion.  The white mice looked on
coldly with their little pink eyes, while their mistress's own grew red
with the misery of parting from them, and the rabbit seized the
opportunity to gnaw Bridgie's skirt with its sharp teeth; but for Pixie
the keenest pang of parting was over when she saw no more the floor with
its scattered cabbage-leaves, and the door closed behind her, shutting
out the dear mousy, rabbity smell associated with so many happy hours.

Outside on the gravel path old Dennis was sitting on a wheelbarrow
enjoying a pipe in the sunshine.  He made no attempt to rise as "the
family" approached, but took the pipe out of his mouth and shook his
head lugubriously.

"This is the black day for us, for all the sun's shining in the skies.
Good luck to ye, Miss Pixie, and don't forget to spake a good word for
Ould Ireland when the opportunity is yours.  The ould place won't seem
like itself with you and Mr Jack both going off within the same month;
but there's one comfort--one frettin' will do for the pair of you!"  And
with this philosophic reflection he stuck the pipe back in the corner of
his mouth and resigned himself to the inevitable.

"Pixie darling," said Bridgie nervously, "I think we must go back to the
house.  It's time--very nearly time that you were getting ready.  Father
is going to drive you over in the cart, and he won't like to be kept
waiting."

"Aren't you coming too?" queried Pixie eagerly.  There was a look on
Bridgie's face this morning which reminded her of the dear dead mother,
and she had a sudden feeling of dread and longing.  "I want you,
Bridgie!  Come too!  Come too!"

"I can't, my dearie.  Your box must go, you know, and there's not room
for both.  But you won't cry, Pixie.  It's only babies who cry, not
girls like you--big girls, almost in their teens, going away to see the
world like any grand lady.  You may see the queen some day!  Think of
that, now!  If you ever do, bow to her twice--once for yourself, and
once for me--and tell her Bridget O'Shaughnessy is hers to the death.
_I_ wouldn't cry, Pixie, if I were going to see the queen!"

"Is it cry?" asked Pixie airily, with the tears pouring down her face
and splashing on to her collar, which had been manufactured out of the
strings of an old bonnet, with only three joins at the back to betray
the fact that it had not been cut out of "the piece."

"It's not likely I'll cry, when I'm going on a real train and steamer,
and meals on the way right up to to-morrow night!  _You_ never had lunch
on a train, Bridgie, and you are eight years older than me!"

"'Deed I didn't, then.  No such luck!" sighed Bridgie regretfully,
making the most of her own privation for the encouragement of the young
traveller.  "That will be a treat for you, Pixie, and there are
sandwiches and cakes in the dining-room for you to eat before you go.
Come straight in, for I brought down your coat before going out.  You
must write often, dear, and tell us every single thing.  What Miss
Phipps is like, and the other teachers, and the girls in your class, and
who sleeps in your bedroom, and every single thing that happens to you."

"And remember to write every second letter to your brothers, for if you
don't, they won't write to you.  Girls get all the letters, and it isn't
fair.  Tell us if you play any games, and what sort of food they give
you, and what you think of the English," said Miles, helping himself to
sandwiches, and turning over the cakes to select the most tempting for
his own refreshment, despite the young housekeeper's frowns of
disapproval.  "Stick up for your country, and stand no cheek.  You
understand, of course, that you are to be the Champion of Ireland in the
school."

"I do!" said little Pixie, and her back straightened, and her head
reared itself in proud determination.

"And if any English upstarts dare to try bullying you, just let them
know that your name is O'Shaughnessy, and that your ancestors were Kings
of Ireland when theirs were begging bread on the streets!  Talk to them
straight, and let them know who they are dealing with!"

"I will so!" said Pixie.  She chuckled gleefully at the anticipation;
but, alas! her joy was short-lived, for at that moment the shabby
dogcart passed the window, and the Major's voice was heard calling
impatiently from the hall.

"Ten minutes late already.  We shall need all our time.  Tumble in, now,
tumble in!  You have had the whole morning for saying good-bye.  Surely
you have finished by now!"

The children thought they had hardly begun; but perhaps it was just as
well to be spared the last trying moments.  Bridgie and Esmeralda
wrapped their arms round the little sister and almost carried her to the
door; Pat and Miles followed with their hands in their pockets, putting
on a great affectation of jollity in their anxiety to disguise a natural
regret; the two women-servants wailed loudly from the staircase.  Pixie
scrambled to her seat and looked down at them, her poor little chin
quivering with emotion.

"Bridgie, write!  Esmeralda, write!" she cried brokenly.  "Oh, write
often!  Write every day.  Pat, Pat, be kind to my ferret.  Don't starve
it.  Don't let it die.  Take care of it for me till I come back."

"I'll be a mother to it," said Pat solemnly.

And so Pixie O'Shaughnessy went off to school.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE NEW SCHOLAR.

Major O'Shaughnessy and his little daughter reached London on the
following afternoon, after a comfortable and unadventurous journey.
Pixie had howled dismally all the way to the station, but had dried her
eyes at the sight of the train, and even brightened into hilarious
spirits on boarding the steamer.  She ate an enormous dinner of the
richest and most indigestible dishes on the menu, slept peacefully
through a stormy passage, and was up on deck conversing affably with the
men who were washing down, long before her father had nerved himself to
think of dressing.  The journey to London was a more or less
disappointing experience, for, if she had not known to the contrary, she
was not at all sure that she would have recognised that she was in a
strange land.  What she had expected, it was impossible to say; but that
England should bear so close a resemblance to her beloved land seemed
another "insult to Ireland," as Pat would have had it, and that it
should in some respects look better, more prosperous and orderly, this
was indeed a bitter pill to swallow.

As the train neared London, and other passengers came in and out of the
carriage, Major O'Shaughnessy became conscious for the first time what a
dusty, dishevelled little mortal he was about to introduce to an English
school.  He was not noticing where his children were concerned, and
moreover, his eye had grown accustomed to the home surroundings, but the
contrast between these trim strangers and his own daughter was too
striking to be overlooked.  Pixie had wriggled about until her frock was
a mass of creases, her hat was grey with dust, and she had apparently
forgotten to brush her hair before leaving her cabin.  The Major was too
easy-going to feel any distress at this reflection.  He merely remarked
to himself whimsically that, "the piccaninny would astonish them!"
meaning the companions to whom she was about to be introduced, and
decided then and there to take her straight to her destination.  This
had been the only point upon which he and his young daughter had been at
variance; for from the start Pixie had laid down, as her idea of what
was right and proper, that her father should take her for the night to a
grand hotel, introduce her next morning to the Tower, the Zoological
Gardens, and Madame Tussaud's, and deposit her at Surbiton in the
afternoon.  The Major's ideas on the subject were, however, that an
exacting little daughter was a drawback to a man's enjoyment of a visit
to London, and that there were other forms of amusement which he would
prefer to a visit to the before-mentioned historic resorts.  With
accustomed fluency, he found a dozen reasons for carrying out his own
wishes, and propitiated Pixie by promising that Jack should take her
sight-seeing before many weeks were over.

"I'll tell Miss Phipps that I wish you to go out with your brother on
Saturday afternoons, and you'll have a fine time together seeing all
that is to be seen.  Far greater fun than if we tried to hurry about
with not a minute to spare."

"I like to do things _now_," sighed Pixie pensively; but as usual she
resigned herself to the inevitable, and a box of chocolates, bought at
Waterloo, sufficed to bring back the smiles to her face and restore her
equanimity.

The arrival at Surbiton Station was a breathless experience, though it
was a distinct blow to her vanity to find that no deputation from Holly
House was in waiting to receive Patricia O'Shaughnessy with the honours
she deserved.  No one took any notice of her at all.  When the cabman,
when directed to drive to Holly House, preserved an unmoved stolidity of
feature, and had no remark whatever to offer on the subject.  How
different from dear, friendly, outspoken Bally William, where each man
was keenly interested in the affairs of his neighbour, and the poorest
peasant upon the road felt himself competent to offer advice on the most
intimate family matters!  Pixie felt a chill of foreboding as she drove
through the trim Surbiton streets and noticed girls like herself walking
demurely beside mother or governess, with laced-in boots, gloved bands,
and silky manes flowing down their backs in straight, uninterrupted
flow.  She looked down at her own new, stout, little boots.  Sixteen
buttons in all, and only one missing!  Such a pitch of propriety made
her feel quite in keeping with her surroundings, and she had kid gloves
too--dyed ones--which looked every bit as good as new, and left no mark
at all except round the fastenings, and the lobes of the fingers.  She
gave a wriggle of contentment, and at that moment the cab turned in at
the gate of Holly House.

The name of the house seemed to have more appropriateness than is
usually the case, for the garden was surrounded by a thick holly hedge,
and the beds were planted with holly trees so dark that they appeared to
be almost black in hue.  To the eyes of the new pupil there was
something awe-inspiring in the sight of the grim flowerless beds and the
foliage which looked so stern and prickly, almost as bad as the pieces
of broken glass which are laid on the top of high walls to prevent
escape or intrusion.  The house itself was big and square, with a door
in the centre, and at the top two quaint dormer windows, standing out
from the roof like big surprised-looking eyes.  "Dear, dear!" they
seemed to say.  "If this isn't Pixie O'Shaughnessy driving up to the
door!  Wonders will never cease!"

The hall was wide and cold, and, oh, so clean--"fearful clean," thought
the new pupil with a sigh, as she stepped gingerly over the polished
oilcloth and gazed awesomely at spotless wood and burnished brass.  The
drawing-room had none of the splendour of that disused apartment at
Knock Castle, but it was bright and home-like, with an abundance of
pretty cushions and tablecloths, a scent of spring flowers in the air,
and a fire dancing cheerily in the grate.  Pixie's prejudices received a
shock at the sight of so much frivolity in a drawing-room, and she could
not echo her father's admiration.  She seated herself on the edge of the
sofa and began to paint imaginary pictures of the mistress of this fine
house.  "She will be tall, with yellow hair.  She will have cold fingers
and a nose that looks thin and has a hump in the middle.  No, I don't
believe she will, after all.  I believe she'll be fussy, and then they
are small and dark--dark, with eyeglasses, and those funny red cheeks
that are made up of little lines, and never get lighter or darker.  And
she'll have a chain hanging from her waist with a lot of things that
jingle, like the lady in the train.  Oh, me dear, suppose she was old!
I never thought of that.  Suppose she was old, in a cap and a black
satin dress, and chilblains on her hands!"  And when the door opened--it
was really a most exciting occasion!--and Miss Phipps came into the
room.

She was not in the least like any of the three pictures which Pixie had
imagined, she was far, far nicer and prettier.  She was tall, and so
graceful and elegantly dressed as to be quite dazzling to the eyes of
the country-bred stranger.  She had waving brown hair, which formed a
sort of halo round her face, a pale complexion, and grey eyes which
looked at you with a straight long glance, and then lightened as if they
liked what they saw.  She was quite young, too, not a bit old and
proper; the only thing that looked old were the little lines about the
eyes, and even those disappeared when her face was in repose.  She came
forward to where the major was standing, and held out her hand with a
smile of welcome.

"Major O'Shaughnessy!  I am very pleased to see you.  I hope you have
had a good journey and a comfortable crossing."  Then she turned and
looked at the crumpled little figure on the sofa, and her eyes softened
tenderly.  "Is this my new pupil?  How do you do, dear?  I hope we shall
be very good friends!"

"Oi trust we may!" returned Pixie fervently, and with a broadening of
the already broad brogue which arose from the emotion of the moment and
made her father frown with embarrassment.

"Ha--hum--ha--I am afraid I have brought you rather a rough specimen,"
he said apologetically.  "Pixie is the baby of the family, and has been
allowed to run wild, and play with all the children about the place.  I
hope you will not find her very backward in her lessons.  She has had a
governess at home, but--"

"But she wasn't much good, either!" interrupted Pixie, entering into the
conversation with the ease and geniality of one whose remarks are in the
habit of being received with applause.  "I didn't pay much attention to
her.  I expect there's a good deal I don't know yet, but I'm very quick
and clever, and can be even with anyone if I choose to try."

"Then please try, Pixie!  I shall be disappointed if you don't!" said
Miss Phipps promptly.  Her cheeks had grown quite red with surprise, and
she pulled in her upper lip, and bit at it hard as she looked down at
her new pupil, and noted the flat nose, the wide mouth, and the elf-like
thinness of the shabby figure.  "Pixie! that's a very charming little
name, but a fancy one, surely.  What is your Christian name?"

Father and daughter gazed at each other appealingly.  It was a moment
which they had both dreaded, and the Major had fondly hoped that he
might escape before the question was asked.  He remained obstinately
silent, and Pixie nerved herself to reply.

"Me name's not suited to me appearance," she said sadly.  "I'd rather,
if you please, that ye didn't tell it to the girls.  I am always called
Pixie at home.  Me name's Patricia!"

Miss Phipps bit her lip harder than ever, but did managed to control her
features, and Pixie was relieved to see that she did not even smile at
the mention of the fatal name.

"It's rather a long name for such a small person, isn't it?" she said
seriously.  "I think we will keep to Pixie.  It will make school more
home-like for you, than if we changed to one to which you are not
accustomed."  Then turning to the Major, "I am sorry my head mistress,
Miss Bruce, is not at home to-day, as I should have liked you to see
her.  She is very bright and original, and has a happy knack of bringing
out the best that is in her pupils.  She directs the teaching, and I am
the housekeeper and sick-nurse of the establishment.  Would you like to
come upstairs, and see the room in which Pixie will sleep, or shall we
wait perhaps until after tea?"

The Major declared that he could not wait for tea.  He had kept the cab
waiting at the door, and was all anxiety to get the parting over as
quickly as possible and return to the fascinations of town, so he
discussed a few business matters with Miss Phipps, and then took Pixie's
hand and accompanied her up the staircase to the third-floor bedroom
which she was to share with three other pupils.

Two windows looked out on to the garden in front of the house, and an
arrangement of curtains hung on rods made each little cubicle private
from the rest.  Pixie's handbag had already been laid by her bed, and
she felt quite a swelling of importance as she surveyed her new domain,
wherein everything was to be her very own, and not shared with someone
else, as had always been the case at home.  The Major gushed over all he
saw, and professed himself as more than satisfied, but he was plainly
ill at ease, and after walking twice round the room was all eagerness to
make his escape.

"I'll say good-bye to you now, Pixie," he said, "for your bag is there,
I see, and you would be much the better for a wash and brush.  It's no
use coming downstairs again.  Be a good girl, now, and Jack shall come
often to see you!  I'm happy to leave you in such good hands, and it's a
lucky child you are to have such a school to come to!  It will be your
own fault if you are not happy."

"I've no doubt I'll be very comfortable, thank you," Pixie said
pleasantly, lifting her cheek to receive her father's kiss, with little
sign of the emotion dreaded by the two onlookers, for her mind was too
full of the new excitements to allow her to realise his departure.  He
hurried out of the room, followed by Miss Phipps, and Pixie withdrew
into her cubicle, pulled the curtains closely around her, and felt
monarch of all she surveyed.  A dear little white bed, so narrow that if
you turned, you turned at your peril and in instant dread of landing on
the floor; a wonderful piece of furniture which did duty as dressing-
table, washstand, and chest of drawers combined; a single chair and a
hanging cupboard.  Everything fresh, spotlessly clean, and in perfect
order; absolutely, if you can believe it, not a single broken thing to
be seen!  Pixie drew a quick breath of admiration, and wondered how long
it could possibly be before she succeeded in cracking that lovely blue
and white china, and exactly what would happen if she spilt the water
over the floor!  She was so much occupied in building castles in the air
that ten minutes passed by and she had not moved from her seat, when
suddenly there came the sound of footsteps running up the stairs, the
door was pushed open, and tramp, tramp, in came her future companions,
hidden from sight, but talking volubly to each other as they took off
hats and jackets after the afternoon walk.

"The new girl has arrived!" cried number one, in a tone of breathless
excitement.  "I saw her box as I came through the hall.  I peeped at the
label, but hadn't time to read it properly."

"I did, though!" cried another.  "A funny name--O something or other.
`Shog-nessie,' or something like that.  Such a shabby old trunk!  Looked
as if it came out of the Ark."

"It will be rather fun having an Irish girl, don't you think?" number
two suggested.  "They are untidy and quarrelsome, of course, but it is
funny to hear them talk, and they make such droll mistakes.  I shouldn't
like to be Irish myself, but it will be a pleasant change to have a
Paddy among us!"

"Well, I hope she isn't quarrelsome in this room, that's all!" said a
third speaker, who had hitherto been silent, "because if she is, I shall
feel it my duty to give her a taste of Home Rule that she may not
appreciate.  And if she snores I shall squeeze my sponge over her, so
you may tell her what she has to expect.  There's nothing like training
these youngsters properly from the beginning!"

"Twelve years old!  I call it mean to put a child like that in this
room!  You are fourteen, I'm fourteen, Ethel is fifteen; we ought to
have one of the older ones with us.  We will make her fag for her
living.  She shall get the hot water, and fold up our nightgowns, and
pick up the pins.  All the same, I shall be kind to her, for the credit
of the country, for Irish people are always imagining themselves ill-
used by England.  If I had thought of it I would have drawn a picture
for her cubicle, as a delicate little mark of attention.  An Irishman
with his--what do you call it?--shi-lee-lah!"

The speaker stopped suddenly as she pronounced this difficult word, for
a curious muffled sound reached her ears.  "What's that?" she asked
quickly; but her companions had heard nothing, so she retired into the
cubicle next Pixie's own to brush her hair, slightly raising her voice,
so as to be heard more easily by her companions.

"She lives in a castle!  I heard Miss Phipps telling Miss Bruce when she
was sending the labels.  `Knock-kneed Castle,' or something like that.
Every second house in Ireland is called a castle, my father says.  It's
no more than a villa in England, and all the people are as poor as Job,
and have hens in their parlours and pigs on the lawn.  They don't know
what it is to keep order.  What are you grunting for, Ethel?  It's quite
true, I tell you!"

"Dear me, I'm not grunting, I'm only washing my hands," cried Ethel,
aggrieved.  "What's the matter with your ears this afternoon?  I don't
care where she lives, so long as she behaves herself, and knows how to
respect her elders.  I wonder what she is like!"

"Irish girls are mostly pretty."

"Who told you that?"

"Never mind, I know it.  It's always raining over there, and that is
supposed to be good for the hair, or the complexion, or something.  And
they are so bright and vivacious.  If an author wants to make a
specially lively heroine in a book, the father is Irish, and the mother
is French.  Perhaps she'll be the beauty of the school, and then won't
someone we could mention tear her hair with rage?"

"Well, I don't know about being pretty," said Pixie's neighbour
reflectively.  "We have had lots of Irish servants, and they were plain
enough.  But the name sounds interesting--`Miss Shog-nessie--the
Castle--Ireland.'  It certainly sounds interesting.  I'd give something
to know what she is like."

"If ye'll step inside the curtain, ye may judge for yerself," said a
deep rich voice suddenly from behind the curtain which was farthest from
the door.

There was silence in the bedroom--a silence which might be felt!



CHAPTER FOUR.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS.

Pixie's first week at school was a period of delirious excitement.
Above all things in the world she loved to be of importance, and occupy
a foremost place with those around her, and she was proudly conscious
that her name was on every lip, her doings the subject of universal
attention.  New girls were wont to be subdued and bashful in their
demeanour, and poor unfortunates who arrived after the beginning of the
term to find other pupils settled down into regular work, were apt to
feel doubly alone.  By this time those arrangements are determined which
are of such amazing importance to the schoolgirl's heart--Clara has
sworn deathless friendship with Ethel; Mary, Winifred, and Elsie have
formed a "triple alliance," each solemnly vowing to tell the other her
inmost secrets, and consult her in all matters of difficulty.  Rosalind
and Bertha have agreed to form a pair in the daily crocodile, and Grace
has sent Florence to Coventry because she has dared to sharpen pencils
for Lottie, the school pet, when she knew perfectly well that it was
Grace's special privilege, and she is a nasty, interfering thing,
anyhow, and ought to be snubbed!  What chance has a poor late-comer
against such syndicates as these?  There is nothing for her but to take
a back place, and wait patiently for a chance at the beginning of
another term.

Pixie O'Shaughnessy, however, has never taken a back place in her life,
and has no intention of beginning now.  On her very first evening the
two head girls entered the school parlour to find a small, ugly girl
seated in the middle of the hearth rug on the most comfortable chair
which the room afforded, and were invited in the most genial manner to,
"Shtep forward and take a seat!"

"It's rhemarkably cold for the time of year!" remarked the small person,
making no sign of giving up her seat, but waving blandly towards the
cane chairs by the wall.  "I'm the new girl, I come from Ireland.  Me
father brought me.  I'm the youngest of six, and I've come to school to
correct me brogue, and be polished up.  As soon as I've finished I shall
go back to me home!"

The head girl came over to the fireplace, and stared downwards with wide
grey eyes.  She looked almost grown-up, for her hair was twisted round
and round like a lady's, and her dress reached to her ankles.

"That's very interesting!" she said slowly.  "I am glad you have made
yourself comfortable, for from what you say I expect we shall have you
with us for quite a long time.  Can't you tell us some more family
details while you are about it?"

"I can so!" said Pixie with emphasis, and sitting erect in her seat she
folded her hands in her lap, and began to talk.  The room was filling by
this time, for the quarter of an hour before tea was a cosy holiday-
time, when the girls could talk without restraint, and compare notes on
the work of the day.  One by one they approached the fireside, until
Pixie's chair was surrounded by a compact wall of laughing young faces,
and thirty pairs of eyes stared at her from head to foot, back again
from foot to head.  Her black skirt was so short that it was like a
flounce, and nothing more; from chest to back there was no more width
than could be covered by the scraggy little arm, the feet dangled half-
way to the floor, and the hands waved about, emphasising every sentence
with impassioned gestures.

At the end of ten minutes what the pupils of Holly House did not know
about the O'Shaughnessy family may be safely described as not worth
knowing!  They had been treated to graphic descriptions of all its
members, with illustrative anecdotes setting them forth in their best
and worst lights; they had heard of the ancient splendours of the
Castle, and the past glories of the family, and--for Pixie was gifted
with a most engaging honesty--they had also heard of the present
straitness of means, the ingenious contrivances by which the family
needs were supplied, and even of one tragic episode when the butcher
refused to supply any more meat, just when one of the county magnates
was expected to dinner!  It had been a ghastly occasion, but Bridgie
went and "spoke soft to him," and he was a decent man, and he said it
wasn't for "all the mutton in the world," he said, that he would see her
shamed before the quality, so all ended as happily as could be desired!

"I wouldn't tell stories like that if I were you, Pixie," said the head
girl gravely, at the end of this recital.  She had not laughed as the
others had done, but looked at the little chatterbox with a grave,
steady glance.  Margaret had gained for herself the title of "School-
Mother", by thinking of something better than the amusement of the
moment, and being brave enough to speak a word of warning when she saw a
girl setting out on a path which was likely to bring her into trouble.
"I wouldn't tell stories like that!" she repeated, and when the swift
"Why not?" came back, she was ready with her reply.  "Because I am sure
your people would not like it.  It is all right for you to tell us about
your brothers and sisters, and it was very interesting.  I wish Bridgie
and Esmeralda had come to school with you; but we don't tell stories of
our home doings of which we are,"--she was about to say "ashamed," but
the child's innocent eyes restrained her--"about which we are sorry!  We
keep those to ourselves."

"But--but we got the mutton!  He gave us the mutton!" cried Pixie, agape
with wonder.  It seemed to her an interesting and highly creditable
history, seeing that Bridgie had had the better of the butcher, and
maintained the family credit in the eyes of the neighbourhood.  She
could not understand Margaret's gravity, and the half-amused, half-
pitiful glances of the older pupils.

The girl standing nearest to her put an arm round her neck, and said,
"Poor little girlie!" in such a soft, tender voice that her tears
overflowed at the moment, and she returned the embrace with startling
fervour.  Pixie's emotions were all on the surface, and she could cry at
one moment and laugh at the next, with more ease than an ordinary person
could smile or sigh.  When the gong sounded for tea, she went downstairs
with her arms twined fondly round the waists of two new friends, and
there was quite a quarrel among the girls, as to who should sit beside
her.

Miss Phipps was at one end of the table, and Mademoiselle, the resident
French teacher, at the other, and between them stretched a long white
space flanked by plates of bread-and-butter, and in the centre some
currant scones, and dishes of jam.  These latter dainties were intended
to supply a second course when appetite had been appeased by plainer
fare, but the moment that grace was said the new-comer helped herself to
the largest scone she could find, half covered her plate with jam, and
fell to work with unrestrained relish, while thirty pairs of eyes
watched with fascinated horror.  She thought that everyone seemed
uncommonly quiet and solemn, and was casting about in her mind for a
pleasant means of opening the conversation, when a sound broke on her
ears which recalled one of Pat's prophecies with unpleasant
distinctness.  Mademoiselle was talking in her native tongue, and it was
not in the least like the French which she had been accustomed to hear
in the schoolroom at Bally William.  The agonising presentiment that her
ignorance was about to be discovered before her schoolmates reduced
Pixie at one blow to a condition of abject despair.  She hung her head
over her plate, and strove to avoid attention by keeping as quiet as
possible.

"They speak too quick.  It's rude to gabble!" she told herself
resentfully.  "And I know some French meself.  `_J'ai, tu as, il a, nous
sommes, vous etes, ils sont_.'  Listen at that, now!"  She felt a
momentary thrill of triumph in her achievement, but it quickly faded
away, as further efforts showed how scanty was the knowledge upon which
she could draw.  "_Je suis faim_" was the only phrase which occurred at
the moment, and appropriately enough too!  She stretched out her hand to
take a second scone, but was immediately called to order by Miss
Phipps's soft voice.

"Bread-and-butter this time, Pixie!  You are not supposed to take scones
until you have had at least three pieces of bread.  You must do as the
other girls do, you know, dear!"

"Oi like a relish to my tay!" sighed Pixie sadly, and five separate
girls who happened to have their cups to their mouths at the moment,
choked immediately, and had to be patted on the backs by their
companions.  All the girls were laughing; even the victims smiled amidst
their struggles, and Mademoiselle's brown eyes were sparkling with
amusement.  There was not one of them half so beautiful as Esmeralda,
nor so sweet as Bridgie, but they were good to look at all the same,
reflected the new pupil critically.  Right opposite sat her three room-
mates--Flora, plump and beaming; Kate, sallow and spectacled; Ethel, the
curious, with a mane of reddish brown hair, which she kept tossing from
side to side with a self-conscious, consequential air.  Margaret sat by
Miss Phipps's side, and helped her by putting sugar and milk into the
cups.  Glance where she would, she met bright, kindly smiles, and her
friend on either side looked after her wants in the kindest of manners.
Pixie did not know their names, so she addressed them indiscriminately
as "darlin'," and was prepared to vow eternal friendship without waiting
to be introduced.

"Do you always speak French at meals?" she asked under cover of the
general conversation a few minutes later, and the reply was even worse
than her fears.

"We are supposed to speak it always, except in the quarter of an hour
before tea, and on Sundays, and holidays.  But of course, if you do not
know a word you can ask Mademoiselle, or look it up in a dictionary, and
the new girls get into it gradually.  Miss Phipps is a darling; she
can't bear to see a girl unhappy, and of course it is difficult to get
into school ways when you have been taught at home.  I have been here
for two years, and am as happy as possible, though I cried myself sick
the first week.  If you do what you are told and work hard, you will
have a very good time at Holly House."

Pixie looked dubious.

"But aren't you ever naughty?" she asked anxiously.  "Not really bad,
you know, but just mischeevious!  Don't you ever play tricks, or have
pillow fights, or secret suppers up in your room, or dress up as bogeys
to frighten the others?"

"Certainly not!"  Eleanor Hopton was a proper and dignified young lady,
and the straightness of her back was quite alarming as she frowned
dissent at the new-comer.  "Frighten people, indeed!  Do you not call
that naughty?  It's a wicked and dangerous thing to do, and you would be
punished severely if you attempted it.  I have read of people who died
of fright.  How would you feel if you played bogey, as you call it, to
startle one of the girls, and she had a weak heart and died before your
eyes?  You would feel pretty miserable then, I should say."

"I would so!  I'd get the fright myself that time.  But suppers, now,--
suppers don't hurt anyone!" urged Pixie, pushing aside one objectionable
proposition and bringing forward the next with unconscious generalship.
"Don't you ever smuggle things upstairs--sausages and cakes, and
sardines and cream--and wake up early in the morning--early--early,
before it is light--and eat them together, and pretend you are ladies
and gentlemen, or shipwrecked mariners on desert islands, or wild
Indians, or anything like that, and talk like they talk, and dance about
the room?"

"Cer-tain-ly not!  The very idea!" cried Eleanor once more.  "I never
heard of anything so silly.  Why on earth should one sit up shivering to
eat things in the middle of the night, when one can have them
comfortably downstairs at the right hour?  I should not think of doing
anything so foolish."

Pixie sighed heavily.  This was England indeed!  For the first time
since entering the house she realised that she was a stranger in a
strange land.  Eleanor's calm commonsense was so entirely foreign to her
nature that she felt a distinct chilling of the new affection.  The
companion on her right looked more sympathetic, and she addressed her
next remark in that direction.

"We were for ever playing tricks on one another at home.  Bridgie and
Esmeralda sleep in the same bed, and one day Pat--that's the second
boy--the next but one to me--he went to Bridgie and he says, `I've
played a fine joke on Esmeralda!  Ask no questions, but just wait up
until she gets into bed to-night, and you'll have the best laugh you've
had this side Christmas.'  Then off he goes to Esmeralda, and `Keep a
secret!' says he.  `Let Bridget be the first to get into bed to-night.
Make an excuse and sit up yourself to see the fun, for she'll have a
fine surprise when she lies down.'  The girls guessed that they had been
taking the laths off the bed, as they had done once or twice before, to
let a visitor fall through on to the floor, and it was a very cold
night, and they were tired, for they had been working hard mending the
staircase carpet; and says Bridgie to Esmeralda, `Just hurry up, can't
you!  I never did see such a girl for dawdling.  Get into bed,' she
says, `and don't sit up all night.'  `Oh,' says Esmeralda, smiling,
`I've a fancy to brush out me hair.  Take no notice of me, but just lie
down and turn your face to the wall, and I'll be as quiet as a mouse.'
`I never can sleep with a light in the room,' says Bridgie, quite
testy...  I was in my own bed in the dressing-room, so I heard what they
said, and was stuffing the bedclothes into my mouth not to laugh out,
and spoil the fun.  `If you are going to make a night of it, I'll sit
down and read, and you can let me know when you are ready.'  `You will
catch cold sitting in that draught!'  Esmeralda says, her own teeth
chattering, for it was mortal cold, and there was a hole in the window
above her head, where Pat had thrown up a stone when he wanted to wake
her one morning, and couldn't spare time to walk upstairs.  `And you
know, Bridget, you are always delicate on the chest.'  `It'll be on your
head, then,' says Bridgie, `if I _am_ made ill, keeping me up when I'm
longing for my bed!  Come, dear,' wheedling her to see if she could get
round that way, `leave it alone now, and I'll brush it for you in the
morning.  It is beautiful hair, and Mrs Gallagher the laundress was
saying to me this morning there wasn't its match in the country.'  And
Esmeralda said afterwards that she was too cold for compliments, so she
up and said it was her own hair, and she'd brush it when she liked, and
how she liked, without interference from anyone; and at that they grew
mad, and began quarrelling with each other, and throwing up everything
that ever they did since they were short-coated, and meself lying
trembling on me bed, to think what would happen next.  Joan--that's
Esmeralda--she would have sat up all night, she's that obstinate, but
Bridgie grew tired, and says she, `I'm not going to catch me death
shivering here for all the jokes on earth, so here goes, and I don't
care what happens!' and with that she throws herself down on the bed;
and--would ye believe it?--nothing happened at all.  The bed was as
right as it had been all its life, and the boys had had their joke
without any trouble."

Pixie finished in the midst of a dead silence, for one by one the
speakers round the table had paused to listen to the soft Irish voice,
and the story once begun had riveted attention.  Some of the girls
laughed outright, some held down their heads to conceal their smiles,
some nudged their companions and looked demurely at Miss Phipps to take
their cue from her face.  She was undoubtedly smiling, but she looked
worried all the same, and gave the signal for rising in a hurried
manner, as if anxious to allow no time for comment.  The girls rose and
filed slowly past, Pixie skipping complacently in front, with her arm
round another new friend, whom she was prepared to adore even more
fondly than the last.  Only Margaret remained behind to assist in
putting the room in order, and when the door shut Miss Phipps looked at
her under raised appealing brows.

"I am afraid we have rather a difficult subject there, Margaret!  Poor
little thing!  Her father says she has been allowed to run wild, and it
will be difficult for her to get into school ways.  She doesn't mean to
be forward, but of course we can't allow her to go on like this.  She
must be taught wholesome respect and reticence, but I don't want to be
too hard upon her at first.  She's a lovable little creature, and I've
no doubt will be a favourite with the girls.  They like to be amused,
and I fear they may encourage her for the sake of their own amusement.
You must help me, dear, by setting a good example and checking her
gently when she gets excited."

"I'll try!" said Margaret, but she looked by no means hopeful of
success.  "I did try before tea.  She was telling the most extraordinary
tales about home, and I said it was not right to repeat such things, but
she seemed quite puzzled.  She doesn't seem to have the same ideas that
we have, or the same feelings about things."

Miss Phipps sighed, and shook her head.

"She is a difficult subject," she repeated anxiously; then her face
lighted up suddenly and she began to laugh.  "But you can't help liking
her!" she cried.  "Funny little mite!  I am growing quite fond of her
already."



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE ALICE PRIZE.

To the surprise of all concerned, Pixie took a very fair place in the
school.  The sorely tried Miss Minnitt was by no means an accomplished
woman, but what she did know she taught well, and she felt rewarded for
her efforts when she heard that Miss Bruce, the English teacher, had
remarked that Pixie had been well grounded, and knew more than many
girls of her age.  The mixture of knowledge and ignorance which the
child displayed was indeed incomprehensible to those who did not
understand the conditions under which she had lived.  She was quite a
botanist in a small way, could discourse like any farmer on crops and
tillages, was most sporting in her descriptions of shooting and hunting,
and had an exhaustive understanding of, and sympathy with, the animal
world, which seemed quite uncanny to town-bred girls.  Here, however,
her knowledge stopped, and of the ways of the world, the hundred and one
restrictions and obligations of society which come as second nature to
most girls, she knew no more than a South Sea Islander dancing gaily
upon the sands, and stringing shells in her dusky locks.  "I wish I was
born a savage!" was indeed her daily reflection, as she buttoned her
tight little frock, and wriggled to and fro in a vain search for
comfort.

"Now listen to me!" said Miss Bruce, at the end of the examination which
was conducted after breakfast the day following Pixie's arrival.  "I am
undecided which of two classes you shall join, so I am going to give you
the choice.  The under-fourth would be comparatively easy, the upper-
fourth would mean real hard work.  I think you could manage it, if you
worked hard and determined to do your very, very best; but I tell you
frankly it will not be easy.  If you would rather have a term in the
lower class and work up gradually, I am willing to let it be so; but you
must realise that it will be less good for yourself.  You seem to have a
good memory and to learn quickly; but we don't like to force girls
beyond their strength.  You would be the youngest girl in the upper-
fourth."

That decided the matter!  Pixie's heart had sunk at the mention of work;
but the ecstatic prospect of being the baby of a class, of writing home
to boast of her position, and of reminding her elders at frequent
intervals of her own precocious cleverness, was too tempting to be
resisted.  She pleaded eagerly for the upper-fourth, and came through
the first morning's ordeal with gratifying success.  But, alas!
afternoon brought a change of scene, for the girls retired to the
schoolroom for "prep," and the new class-member stared in dismay at the
work before her.

"Is it for next week we are to learn it?" she asked, and when the answer
came, "For to-morrow," she shrieked aloud in dismay.  "What!  The lot of
it?  Grammar, and arithmetic, and geography?  All those pages, an'
pages, and pages!  I couldn't finish to-day if I sat up all night!
You're joking with me!  It isn't really and truly for to-morrow
morning?"

"It is indeed, my dear, worse luck!  Miss Bruce gives a terrible amount
of prep, and you are bound to get through somehow.  Sometimes it is
worse than this, and you feel simply frantic.  You are not allowed to go
on after seven o'clock either, so there is no hope for you if you are
not finished by that time."

"Don't frighten her, Dora," said Kate kindly.  She looked through her
spectacles at Pixie's woe-begone face, and smiled encouragement.  "It
seems hopeless at first, but you will get accustomed to it in time.  I
used to be in despair, but you get into the way of learning quickly, and
picking out the things that are most important.  There's no time for
talking, though.  Open your grammar and begin at once."

"Hate grammar!" grumbled Pixie crossly.  "What's the use of it?  I can
talk as well as I want to without bothering about grammar, and I don't
understand it either!  Silly gibberish!"

She wished with all her heart at that moment that she had been content
with the seclusion of the lower-fourth; but she was not allowed to talk
any more, for Clara called out an impatient "Hush!" and Florence stuck
her fingers in her ears and looked so savage that it was impossible to
disregard the warning.  Pixie read over the tiresome grammar, and then
lay back in her seat studying the furniture of the room, and deciding on
the improvements which she would make if Miss Phipps asked her advice on
the subject of redecoration.  It was an engrossing subject, and would
have kept her happily occupied for quite a long time, had not Kate
jerked her elbow as a reminder, and pointed significantly to the
history.  She had mentally constituted herself as friend-in-need to the
new classmate, and was determined to do her duty by her, however little
thanks she might receive; so she nudged, and nudged again, until Pixie
resentfully opened the history book in its turn.

History was interesting--it was just like a story!  When the prescribed
portion had been read, she was anxious to learn what happened next, and
read on and on until the watchful Kate suspected something wrong, and
forcibly confiscated the book.

"What are you reading the next chapter for?  A minute ago you were
groaning because you had too much to do.  Finish the work that is given
you before trying to do more!"

"But there was an execution coming on.  I love executions!" sighed Pixie
miserably.  "This is the best bit of the whole history, for there's no
more fun when you get to the Georges.  They never have any murders, nor
plots, nor blowings up."

"You will get blown up if you interrupt like this!  How do you suppose I
can learn with you chattering away all the time?" cried Clara, the
irascible.  She glared at Pixie, and Pixie glared at her, and went on
glaring long after the other had settled to work, with an intentness
which seemed mysteriously connected with the movement of a stubbly lead
pencil.  Presently she touched Kate softly, and there on the margin of
the clean new book was exhibited the drawing of a dismembered head,
glaring horribly over rule-of-three problems, and labelled "Clara" in
largest round hand.  It was a very juvenile effort, but drawing was a
family talent among the O'Shaughnessys, and the artist had been sharp to
note the weak points of her subject, as well as to exaggerate them with
cruel honesty.  The high forehead was doubled in height, the long upper
lip stretched to abnormal length, the blots which did duty for eyes were
really marvellously, astonishingly like Clara's in expression!  Kate
pressed her handkerchief against her mouth, but the sound of her
splutters was distinctly audible, and her companions looked up in
amazement.  Kate laughing during prep was a sight which had never been
witnessed before, and they stared at her in mingled surprise and envy.

"What's the joke?" asked Marjorie wistfully.  "You might share it, I
think, for I feel as if I should never smile again until the holidays.
If there is anything amusing in these lessons to-night, I should like to
have it pointed out, that's all!"

"It's n-n-thing!" returned Kate, spluttering still.  Pixie had flipped
over a page with a deft movement, and sat with hands folded on her lap,
a picture of lamblike innocence.

For the rest of the time allowed for preparation she worked really well,
inspired by the remembrance that she had made Kate laugh, and drawn a
caricature which even Esmeralda herself must have approved.

About half-past seven came supper, and after supper prayers, and after
prayers bed, and an interesting conversation with the three room-mates.

"Which is the nicest girl in the school?"  Pixie asked, going at once to
the most important point, and fondly hoping that she might listen to her
own name by way of answer.  She was doomed to disappointment, however,
for though there was a difference of opinion, her name was not even
mentioned.

"Margaret!" said Kate.

"Lottie!" cried Flora.

"Clara!" cried Ethel; and they proceeded to argue the question between
themselves.

"Margaret is an angel.  She is sweet to everyone.  She never says an
unkind word."

"Lottie is so bright and clever.  She is first in almost every single
class."

"Clara is so sensible.  She doesn't make a fuss, and gush over
everything, as Lottie does; but if she says she will be your friend, she
keeps her word, and always tries to do you a good turn."

"That's the way with meself," said Pixie modestly.  "I'm the soft-
heartedest creature!  You three girls are me best friends because ye
share me room, and I'll stick to you, whatever trouble ye're in.  Ye
need never be afraid to come to me, for the worse ye are, the better
I'll like ye!"

"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed Kate shrilly.  Flora chuckled to herself in fat,
good-natured fashion, and Ethel tossed her mane and said--

"I can quite believe it, but if you will excuse my saying so, I think
the trouble is more likely to come to you than to us!  If you go on
behaving as you have done the last two days, you will be in need of
friends yourself, my dear, so don't say I haven't warned you."

"Behaving as I have done!  Get into trouble meself!" echoed Pixie
blankly.  "And what for, please?  What have I done?  I promised Bridgie
before I left that I would behave meself, and not disgrace the family,
and I've kept me word.  I've not been naughty once the whole time
through."

"Don't say `naughty,' child, as if you were a baby two years old!  You
may not have done anything wrong from your point of view, but you have
broken half a dozen rules all the same.  You planted yourself in front
of the fire when the fifth-form girls were in the room, and never
offered to give up your place even when Margaret herself came in.  Not
one of the old girls would think of doing such a thing.  And you
answered back when Miss Phipps spoke to you at tea--and told a story so
loud that everyone could hear!"

"And small blame to me if I did!  It _was_ the dullest meal I ever sat
through, and I thought I would do you a kindness by waking you up!"
returned Pixie defiantly.  She did not at all approve of Clara's
attitude of fault-finding, and was up in arms at once in her own
defence.  "I have been brought up to make meself agreeable, and when
Miss Phipps spoke to me, wasn't I obliged to give a civil answer?  And I
was cold when I sat before the fire.  Are fifth-form girls colder than
anyone else, that they must have all the heat?"

"You know perfectly well what I mean, or if you don't, you are a stupid
child, and you needn't fly into a temper when I tell you your mistakes.
You want to get on, I suppose, and take a good place in the school, so
you ought to be grateful to anyone who tries to keep you out of
trouble."

In the seclusion of her cubicle Pixie made a grimace, the reverse of
appreciative, but she stifled her feelings in her desire for
information, and asked the next question on her list.

"How often in the year do you get prizes?"

"Once.  At the end of the summer term.  There's a chance for you now!
Work hard for six months, and win the class prize!"

Flora chuckled with amusement at the idea, but Pixie considered the
subject seriously for a good two minutes, and found it altogether
agreeable.  She saw a vision of herself walking forward to receive her
honours while the elder girls sat in a row, subdued and envious, and
tasted in advance the ecstasy of the moment.

"What sort of prizes do they give you--books?"

"Books, of course.  Improving books.  Poets, with nice soft backs, and
Dutch Republics in calf, and things like that.  The sort of book you are
awfully proud of, but hardly ever read.  You put it carefully in a
bookcase, and admire the binding.  You can always tell a prize a yard
off, it looks so smart and gilt, and unopened.  I've seen rows of them
in some houses, all ranged together with their little silk markers
hanging out at the bottom, as smooth and uncrumpled as if they had never
been moved; and the owners take them down and show you the inscription
on the first page, to prove how good and clever they were when they were
at school!"

"Ah!"  Pixie drew a rapturous sigh, seeing herself be-capped and
shawled, in the act of exhibiting her own spoils to a bevy of admiring
grandchildren.  The great point seemed to be to have the inscription as
striking as possible, so she inquired anxiously if the class prize was
the highest that could be obtained.

"She's ambitious, girls, isn't she?  The class prize isn't enough for
her, you notice!" cried Ethel, splashing her face with cold water, and
interposing her remarks with audible shudderings.  "Yes, there's one
thing higher--the `Alice Prize,' we call it, because it is given by the
father of a certain Alice who used to be at school here, and who died at
the end of her last term.  She was Lottie's sister; but Lottie is not in
the least like her, for she was very shy and nervous, and the girls
teased her a great deal, and she took it to heart and made herself
miserable.  After her death it was found that she had kept a diary, and
written down all her troubles; and her parents read it, and tried to
think what they could do to prevent any other girl suffering as she had
done.  At last they thought of offering this prize--it is given every
year--five pounds' worth of books, which you can choose for yourself.
You can get a lot of books for five pounds, and it is given to the girl
who is kindest and most considerate to others.  She has to be nice to
new girls, and answer their questions, and be patient with them, as I am
being with you, my dear, at the present moment, and dry their little
eyes when they weep, and cheer them up when they are low in their minds.
And she has to be careful not to hurt other people's feelings, and to
use her influence to stop a joke when it is going too far.  Oh, and a
dozen other things which you can imagine for yourself!  The girls know
best who deserves the prize, and they vote at the end of the year, and
whoever gets most votes gets the prize."

"Who got it last year?"

"Margaret, of course.  So she would every time, but the same person is
not allowed to have it two years running.  A good thing, too, for we
should all feel that it was no use competing with her, and so give up
trying."

"And who do you think will get it this year?"

"Oh dear me!  How many more questions?  Myself, of course, for answering
you so kindly.  If you don't vote for me, young woman, there'll be a
coldness between us, and so I tell you.  Flora thinks she will get it,
but it won't be fair if she does, for she is so fat that she couldn't be
anything else than good-natured if she tried.  Now I have really a
violent temper, but I keep it in check.  I can't answer any more
questions, though.  Time's up.  I give you all two minutes more, and
then I must put out the light."

"Let me do it!  I'll put it out!  You get into your bed and keep warm,
and I'll wait upon you!" cried Pixie eagerly; and, to her dismay, there
came a simultaneous burst of laughter from all three listeners.

"She's Alicing," they cried--"she's Alicing!  Nothing like beginning in
time, and making the most of your opportunities.  So you want that prize
too, do you, as well as the class one?  It's a bad lookout for the rest
of the girls.  There won't be anything left for us to try for."

Pixie stood transfixed within her cubicle, staring before her with
bewildered eyes.  As it had been her delight to wait upon her beloved
sisters, it had come naturally to wish to help these girls who, for the
time, had taken their place in her life.  She had made her offer in all
good faith, and her heart swelled with bitterness at the injustice of
the accusation.  A rush of honest Irish pride forbade an answer; but the
tears came to her eyes as she lay down in bed, and the loneliness of
exile fell upon her.  Bally William, oh, dear Bally William, how are you
looking to-night?  Is everything going on as usual, though Pixie
O'Shaughnessy is far away in a cold, cruel land where no one knows her,
and her best motives are misjudged and derided?  Beautiful old castle,
standing among your luxuriant green, are the lamps lit in your rooms,
and twinkling like so many stars into the night?  And there, where the
red curtains are drawn so snugly, are the boys and girls gathered round
the fire, the flames lighting up Bridgie's sweet face and Esmeralda's
stormy beauty?  Oh, boys and girls, are you thinking of Pixie--your own
little Pixie?

"How that child does snort!" muttered Ethel impatiently.  "It seems to
be our luck to have all the snorers in this room."



CHAPTER SIX.

A NOVEL AMUSEMENT.

During the weeks which followed, "Pixie's Prep" became a by-word among
her companions, for no amount of goading seemed sufficient to keep her
attention from roaming from her books during the hours when it was most
necessary that she should give them her undivided attention.  However
sturdily she might begin, in ten minutes' time her eyes were wandering
about the room, she was scribbling on the margin of her book, or
twisting her handkerchief into a new variety of rag doll.  The well-
meaning Kate, finding frowns and nudges losing their effect, resorted to
more drastic measures, such as the prick of a pin, or a tug of the elf-
like locks; but the victim's howls and protestations not only disturbed
her companions, but took so long to pacify that the experiment had to be
abandoned.

How Pixie managed to sustain even her very low place in the class was a
wonder to her companions; but in truth she had an unusually quick brain,
so that when she chose to apply herself she learnt as much as slower
girls would do in twice the time, while her Irish wit enabled her to
place her scraps of knowledge in the most advantageous light, and
rescued her from awkward questionings.  Nowhere was this faculty more
marked than in French, of which she knew least, yet in which subject she
made the most rapid progress.  It was clear to a pair of uncommonly
sharp eyes that Miss Phipps's leniency would some day come to an end,
and that she would then find herself in the position of being obliged
either to speak French or not to speak at all.  To a born chatterbox the
latter alternative seemed the acme of misery, so it behoved her to
prepare for speech before the dread verdict was given, which she did in
a manner astonishing to her companions.  Of French grammar she had the
poorest opinion, but she was sharp as a magpie to pick up the phrases of
others and store them for her own use.  The morning after Mademoiselle
had suffered from a headache, Pixie's handkerchief was soaked with
offerings of eau-de-Cologne, from the various girls to whom she had
repeated ejaculations of distress; she discoursed exhaustively upon the
weather to every one who could be induced to listen, and recited
exercise phrases to the school cat until her tongue grew quite nimble
over the words.

Mademoiselle was an object of intense interest and curiosity to her new
pupil.  She was the first foreigner whom Pixie had known, and there was
something in her dark, eager face which arrested the child's attention.
Mademoiselle was quick and nervous, subject to fits of unreasonable
irritation; but at other times there was a sad, far-away look in her
eyes, and then her voice would take a softer cadence, so that when she
said "Cherie," one pupil at least forgot all the scoldings which had
gone before.  Pixie felt irresistibly drawn to Mademoiselle in her hours
of depression.  She could not have explained the attraction, but in her
heart she felt that they were both exiles, and that Mademoiselle pined
for her own sunny land, even as she pined for the dear green isle which
seemed so far away.  She longed for Mademoiselle to notice her, to show
her some special mark of favour, but longed in vain, until at last a day
dawned which brought her into notice in a manner which was scarcely to
her liking.

It was a wet Saturday afternoon, and wet Saturday afternoons are
abominations to every boarding-school girl, and the cause of endless
grumblings and repinings.  Ethel and Kate had gone out to tea with an
old maiden lady who lived in the neighbourhood, and had still further
deepened their friend's depression before departing by drawing a most
roseate picture of the joys before them.

"She is awfully kind," they had explained of their hostess; "she gives
you the most galumptious teas, and the best part of it is, she has an e-
normous appetite herself, so you can eat as much as you like, without
fear of looking greedy!"

No wonder the poor stay-at-homes looked glum after this; no wonder they
sighed with envy as they thought of the thick bread-and-butter in store
for themselves.  The elder girls provided themselves with books, and sat
in rows before the fire, while artistic spirits set themselves copies,
and filled up page after page of their sketching-books.  Flora stitched
on a table-centre destined to be a birthday present for her mother, and
the younger girls clustered round Pixie, and besought her to think of
some new means of amusement.

"Think of something, Pixie-doo!  It's so dull, and we are sick of the
stupid old games.  What did you do at home when it rained and you
couldn't go out?"

"I've never seen it rain hard enough to keep me indoors if I wanted to
be out," returned Pixie, with a toss of the head; "but I've had fine fun
indoors sometimes when I didn't feel disposed for exertion.  Ratting in
the barn is good sport, or grooming the pony, or feeding the animals,
and pretending it is the Zoo; but you can't do those things here.  It's
hard to think of anything amusing when you are shut up in one room."

"We can go out on the landing, if we like; I vote we do, and be by
ourselves.  The fifth forms are sure to tell us not to, the moment we
have thought of something nice.  Come along now, before they notice us!"

No sooner said than done.  The little band of conspirators slipped from
the room, and stood without on the square landing, five short-frocked
girls all gazing eagerly, confidently, into the face of their leader.

"Pixie, what shall we do?"

Pixie racked her brains in despair, for not a single idea would come to
her aid, and yet to acknowledge such a want of invention would have been
to forfeit her position, and therefore not to be thought of for a
second.  Her eyes roamed from side to side, and lit upon a table on
which some working materials happened to be lying.  A basket, a folded
length of cloth, and a roll of wide green binding such as was used to
edge old-fashioned window-curtains.  Pixie looked at it thoughtfully,
fingered it to ascertain its weight, shook it out to discover its
length, and cried eagerly--

"Just the thing!  Might have been made for it.  Would you like to see me
lasso the next person who comes upstairs?"

"Lasso!"  The girls were not quite sure of the meaning of the word, but
Pixie explained it, suiting the action to the word.

A lasso was a rope with a noose at one end--so! and it was used to catch
wild horses, or anything else you happened to chase.  You stood with the
rope gathered up in your hand--so! and then took aim and sent it flying
out suddenly--so!  Pat could do it beautifully, and he had taught her
too, but she could not always manage very well.  If you caught a girl
from above, she would be startled out of her wits, and squeal like
anything.  It would be splendid fun.  The next one, then, who came
upstairs!

The girls were divided between horror and delight.  Dared she?  Really!
Would it hurt?  What would Miss Phipps say?  Did she really think she
ought?  But their agitation acted as fuel to Pixie's determination, and
she would only laugh and lean over the banisters, experimenting with the
long green rope, and altering the length until it met with her approval.

Five minutes passed, and nobody appeared; ten minutes, and the
conspirators were beginning to grow impatient, when from below came the
unmistakable sound of an ascending footstep.  The orders of the chief
had been that when this happened her attendants were to withdraw to a
safe distance, so that no movement nor sound of muffled laughter should
warn the victim of her peril; so the girls retreated obediently, leaving
Pixie to crouch on the floor until the eventful moment when a head
appeared on the landing six steps below.  It came--the top of a smooth,
brown head, and on the moment out flew the rope, whirled into space with
a skilful jerk which sent the noose flying wide, and with an accuracy of
aim which brought it right round the neck of the new-comer.  She
squealed indeed, but horror of horrors! she squealed in French, with
such staccato "Oh's" and "Ah's" of astonishment as could only have come
from one person in the house.  It was Mademoiselle herself! and lifting
her glance she beheld six horrified faces peering at her over the
banisters, six pairs of startled eyes, six mouths agape with dismay.
She looked, and then, as it seemed with one stride, was in their midst,
with her hands gripping Pixie by the shoulders.

Now it happened that Mademoiselle was in her most irritable mood this
afternoon, for all day long she had been struggling against what, for
convenience' sake, she called a headache, but which might more honestly
have been described as a heartache instead.  A teacher cannot explain to
thirty pupils that she has received a letter from home which has seemed
to drop a veil before the sky, but such letters come all the same, and
make it difficult to bear the hundred and one little annoyances and
trials of temper which fall to her lot.  Mademoiselle's letter had told
of the illness of a beloved father, and as she dared not sit down and
have a good cry to relieve her feelings, she was an a pent-up state of
nerves which made her the worst possible subject for a practical joke.
The rope in Pixie's hand marked her out as the principal offender, and
she was called to order in a breathless stream of French which left her
dumb and bewildered.

"I--I can't understand!" she stammered, and Mademoiselle struggled to
express herself in sufficiently expressive English.  "You bad girl!  You
rude, bad girl!  What 'ave you done?  What you mean playing your treecks
on me?  I will not 'ave it.  I will complain to Miss Phipps.  How dare
you throw your strings about to catch me as I come upstairs!
Impertinent!  Disobedient!"

"P-please, Mademoiselle, it was a lasso!  I didn't know it was you.  I
said I would do it to the first person who came, and I didn't see your
face.  It was only a joke."

"A joke!  You catch me by the throat, you 'ang me by the neck, and you
call it a joke!  You wicked, impertinent girl, you shall be punished for
this!"

Pixie heaved a sigh so sepulchral that it might almost have been called
a groan instead.

"It's just my luck!" she said dismally.  "When I tried to show off
before Pat and the girls, I couldn't do it one time in a hundred, and
just now, when I'd have no credit, but only get into trouble, I caught
you the very first try!"

Did she mean to be impertinent?  Mademoiselle looked down with sharp
suspicion, but even in her excited condition she could not mistake that
downcast look, and troubled, disconsolate frown.  Her voice grew a
trifle less sharp, but she was very angry still.

"You ought to be ashamed playing such treecks!  It is always the same
thing--there is no peace since you 'ave come.  These girls were quite
good and mild, but you make them as wild as yourself.  I will teach you
to be'ave better.  You will come with me to the schoolroom and write out
a verrrb!"

"I will, Mademoiselle," said Pixie meekly, so meekly that her companions
fondly hoped that such exemplary submission would win forgiveness; but
no, Mademoiselle flounced downstairs, and Pixie followed at her heels,
to seat herself in solitary state at one end of the deserted schoolroom,
while Mademoiselle took possession of the desk and began to correct a
pile of exercise books.

To write out a verb is not, as a rule, a very lengthy matter, but
Mademoiselle's punishment verbs had invariably a phrase attached which
gave to them an added appropriateness, but very much lengthened the
task.  "I am sorry that I was rude to Mademoiselle" was the verb which
poor Pixie was to-day condemned to conjugate, and the big straggling
sentences amplified the statement until it seemed impossible to express
it in any other way.  "I am sorry that I was rude to Mademoiselle--I was
sorry that I was rude to Mademoiselle--I shall or will be sorry that I
was rude to Mademoiselle."

At intervals of every two or three minutes Mademoiselle glanced from her
work to the little figure at the other end of the room, but each time
Pixie's head was bent over her task, and the wandering eyes were glued
to their task.  Such industry seemed so unnatural that the onlooker
became first puzzled and then uneasy, and at last resorted to coughing
and moving about in her chair in order to satisfy curiosity.  In vain!
Pixie's head went down lower than ever, and the pen scratched away
without a moment's cessation, for she was enduring that unreasoning
panic of fear which sensitive children suffer when they are in disgrace
with their elders.  She had been brought up in an atmosphere of tender
indulgence, had been the adored baby of the household, who had never
heard the sound of an angry voice, so that now, to sit alone in a room
with a person whom she had displeased, reduced her to a condition of
trembling fear.  Her eyelids felt weighed down, a lump rose in her
throat, and she trembled as with cold, and then presently the dreaded
voice spoke again, and Mademoiselle said--

"Pixie, come here.  Bring your verrrb!"

The wretched scribe had not yet finished her conjugation, being about
imperatively to command herself to be sorry that she had been rude to
Mademoiselle, but she was too nervous to explain, and stood twisting her
hands together and staring at the carpet, while Mademoiselle turned over
the pages.  She bit her lips once or twice as she read, and her eyes
twinkled, but Pixie did not see that, and the voice which spoke sounded
alarmingly stern.

"It is ver' badly written.  You make your letters too big; and such
blots!  I cannot 'ave such blots.  What 'ave you been doing to make such
blots as these?"

"They are not blots, please, Mademoiselle; they are only--"

"Only what then?"

"Spots!"

"Spots!" echoed Mademoiselle blankly.  "Spots--blots!  Blots--spots!  I
do not understand.  What is then the difference between blots and
spots?"

"Blots is made with ink,"--when Pixie was agitated, as at the present
moment, grammar was by no means her strong point--"and spots is made
with--with--"

"_Eh bien_!  And with what, then?"

"T-tears!" came the answer in the softest echo of a voice, and
Mademoiselle looked down at the woe-begone face with startled eyes.

"Tears!  Your tears!  But why should you cry?  It is not so dreadful to
write a verrrb.  I might have given you worse punishment than that.
Perhaps it was because you had missed the afternoon with your friends.
I cannot think a girl of your age should cry over a simple verrrb."

"I thought it was a very elaborate verb!" said Pixie faintly.  "But it
wasn't that that made me cry; it was hurting your feelings,
Mademoiselle!"

Mademoiselle leant back in her seat and looked intently at the shrinking
figure.

"Look up, _cherie_!" she said softly, and Pixie's fear fell from her
like a mantle.  She saw a hand outstretched, and clasped it eagerly.

"I never meant to hang you, Mademoiselle!  It was only a joke.  The
girls asked me to amuse them, and we think it fine sport to lasso one
another at home.  How was I to know it would be you, when I gave my word
I would catch the first one that came upstairs?  I didn't mean to be
impertinent."

"But, _ma petite_, you should not play such treecks at all!"
Mademoiselle shook her head, but she was smiling as she spoke, for she
was beginning to realise that no disrespect had been meant to herself,
and that she had been unduly stern in her denunciations.  "It is not the
thing for a young lady at school; it is only for wild--how do you call
them--`cowboys,' out on the prairie.  If you do it at 'ome, it is not my
affair, but if your father should see you some day, he must be shocked
like me!"

"I'm the youngest of six, and me father won't have me thwarted!" sighed
Pixie, lapsing into her brogue, as she usually did when agitated.
"Nobody's ever angry with me at Bally William; I get into mischief the
day long, and it's all quite happy and comfortable.  If I'm quiet and
well-behaved, Bridgie is after giving me a mixture, for, says she, `The
choild's ill; there's not been a sound out of her this day!'  I wish I
was back in me own country, Mademoiselle, and then I shouldn't trouble
you any more!"

"I vish I was back in my countree, too," sighed the other softly, and
two big tears started in the brown eyes, and trickled slowly down the
cheeks.  "My father is ill, and needs me, and I cannot be with him.  I
feel as if I could have wings and fly, I long so much to go; but I must
stay here and work.  My 'eart is very sad, and sometimes I get cross--
too cross, perhaps, because I cannot bear any more.  Then you girls talk
among yourselves and say, `How she is bad-tempered, that Mademoiselle!
How she is cross and strict!'  That is what you say very often, _n'est-
ce pas_?"

"We do!" replied Pixie frankly.  It was one of the Irishisms which
amused her companions that she never by any chance gave a simple "Yes"
or "No" in reply to a question.  It was always "I am!"  "I will!"  "I
do!" as the case might be.

"We do!" she replied now, and then hastened to soften the admission by a
coaxing, "But I wouldn't be troubling meself about that, if I were you,
for they don't mind it a bit.  I drew a picture of you the other day
with a bubble coming out of your mouth, and `Bow-wow-wow' written on it
like a dog, because you are always barking; but there isn't a bite in
ye, and all the girls say you aren't half as bad as the Mademoiselle who
was here before!"

Well!  There are some conditions of mind when we are thankful for the
smallest grain of comfort, and Mademoiselle smiled and flicked the tears
from her eyes.

"They are too kind!  I am much obliged; but another time, when I `bark'
as you call it, you will perhaps remember that your teachers are like
yourselves, and 'ave the same feelings.  When you come first to school
you have to be comforted because you are 'ome-sick, but we are 'ome-sick
too; and when you get bad news you cry, and are excused your work, but
we must go on the same as before; and if it is difficult to learn your
lessons, it is also difficult to teach!  Well, now you may go!  You will
remember not to be rude to Mademoiselle again, eh?"

She held out her hand, smiling more brightly this time, and Pixie seized
it eagerly.

"I will!  And I hope your father will get well soon.  You will see him
at Christmas, and that isn't very long now; only forty-eight days to-
morrow.  I mark them off on my calendar."

"No, that is so sad, I shall not see him until summer!  He is going to
my brother in Italy, where it is warm and sunny, and it is too far for
me to go there with him.  It costs too much money, and the little house
in Paris will be shut up till he returns, so I must stay in England all
through the dark, long winter, when the sun never shines, and I shiver,
shiver, shiver all day and all night!  I shall forget what it is like to
be warm before the spring arrives!"

Pixie rubbed the cold hands with a sympathetic touch, but she made no
remark, and presently went from the schoolroom to rejoin her companions
and make the most of the hours which still remained, while Mademoiselle
went wearily on with the task of correction.  She forgot all about her
own complaints of cold, but when she retired to bed that night a
delightful surprise was in store, for the sheets were warm instead of
cold, and her chilled feet came in contact with something soft and hot,
which proved upon examination to be an indiarubber water-bottle encased
in a flannel bag.  Mademoiselle drew a long gasp of rapture, and nestled
down again with a feeling of comfort to which she had long been a
stranger.  A day or two earlier, Miss Phipps had spoken of the necessity
of putting more coverings on the beds, as the frost had set in unusually
early, and Mademoiselle sleepily attributed this new comfort as another
instance of the Principal's consideration for her assistants.  She felt
certain that it must be so, as night after night the welcome warmth was
in waiting, and more than once determined to express her appreciation;
but life was busy, and there was such an accumulation of work as the
period of examination approached, that there seemed no time to speak of
anything but school affairs.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

TERM-HOLIDAY.

Flora and Kate and Ethel were sitting with their classmates discussing
the day's work, and Pixie O'Shaughnessy had drawn her stool beside them,
and was putting in a remark at every possible opportunity.  It made her
feel grown-up and important to join in the conferences of the older
girls, and though in words they might say, "Run away, Pixie!" it
generally happened that someone moved to the side of her chair to make
an extra place, or that an arm stretched out to encircle the tiny waist.
Even sixth-form girls like to be amused occasionally as if they were
ordinary mortals, and Pixie was welcomed because she made them laugh and
forget their trials and troubles, in the shape of Latin and Euclid and
German idioms which refused to be unravelled.  Two or three of the older
pupils were going in for the Cambridge Examination at Christmas, and all
were looking forward to the school exams at the end of the term, so that
anxiety was heavy upon them.

"My brain feels like jelly!  It _won't_ work.  I shall be getting
softening of the brain at this rate!" sighed Flora, rubbing her cheeks
up and down between her bands until she looked like a fat indiarubber
doll.  "I keep mixing things up until I don't seem to have a clear idea
left, and my mother has set her heart on my taking a good place.  She
will look sad if I come out bottom, and I do hate and detest people
looking sad!  I would far rather they scolded, and had done with it!"

"My people don't worry their heads about lessons.  They sent me to
school because they think it polishes a girl, and rubs off the angles,
don't you know!" said Lottie, with an air.  She was the richest girl in
the school, who took all the extras, and put her name down for every
concert and entertainment, without thinking of the expense.  Her parents
had a house in town to which they came regularly every spring, during
which season Lottie's friends received many delightful invitations.  She
had unlimited pocket-money also, and was lavish in gifts to those who
happened to be in her favour, a fact which a certain number of girls
found it impossible to banish from their minds; and thus Lottie held a
little court over which she reigned as queen, while the more earnest-
minded of the pupils adored Margaret, and would hear no one compared to
the sweet "school-mother."  Clara was a Margaret-worshipper, so she felt
in duty bound to snub Lottie on this as on every possible occasion.

"I don't see much polish about _you_!" she retorted brutally.  "And it's
ridiculous to come to school at all, if you don't mean to work.  If it's
only `pruins and prism' you want, why didn't you go to board with a
dancing-mistress, and practise how to come in and out of a room, and bow
to your friends, and cut your old schoolfellows when you meet them in
the road?  You'd find it useful, my dear!"

The last sentence was a deliberate hit, for a former pupil had reported
that, during a visit to a well-known watering-place, when she herself
was returning unkempt and sandy from a cockling expedition, she had
encountered Lottie walking on the parade with a number of fashionable
visitors, and that, after one hasty glance in her direction, Miss Lottie
had become so wonderfully interested in what was going on at the other
side of the road that she altogether forgot to return her bow.  Needless
to say, Lottie had been reminded more than once of this incident, so
that even Pixie, the newest comer, was familiar with its incidents,
though she could not bring herself to believe in such deliberate
snobbery.  To-day, as Lottie flushed, and Margaret looked a pained
reproach, it was Pixie who rushed to the rescue, wriggling about in her
seat, and clasping and unclasping her hands in the earnestness of her
defence.

"Clara Montagu, you've no business accusing Lottie!  You weren't there,
so you can't tell!  Perhaps the sun was in her eyes.  You can't see a
man from a woman when it's shining full in your face, though they may
see you clear enough, and believe you're shamming.  Or perhaps the dust
was blowing.  I've been blind meself with dust before now, and come into
the house looking as though I'd been crying for weeks.  Why should she
pretend not to know a friend--least of all when she'd been cockling?
'Deed, I'd have been more affectionate than ever, in the hope she'd say,
`Help yourself, me dear!  Lend me your handkerchief, and I'll give ye a
nice little bundle to take home for your tea!'"

The Margaret-girls gave a simultaneous shriek of laughter at the idea of
Miss Lottie carrying a handkerchief full of cockles, and even the
Lottie-girls smiled approvingly at the little speaker, for was she not
advocating the position of their chief?  Flora nodded encouragingly
across the hearth and cried, "Good for you, Pixie!  Never listen to
second-hand stories against your friends!"  And Kate added meaningly,
"Go on believing in human nature as long as you can, my dear.  You're
young yet.  When you are as old as I am it will be time to open your
eyes.  But to go back to the last subject but one, don't you give way to
nerves, girls, and begin worrying about the exams already.  I've noticed
that just about the middle of the term there always comes a
`discouragement stage' to anyone who is anxious to do well.  The first
energy with which one begins work has worn off, and as it is too soon
for the final spurt, there comes a dull, flat time, when one worries and
frets and gets down in the lowest depths of dumps.  I spoke about it at
home, and my father says every worker feels the same--artists when they
are painting pictures, and authors when they are writing books.  They
have an idea, and set to work, all delight and excitement, believing
that they are going to do the best thing they have ever done.  For a
little time all goes well, and then they begin to grow discouraged and
worried, and think they might as well give it up at once, for it is
going to be a dismal failure.  They know _something_ is wrong, but they
can't see what it is, and they mope about, and don't know what to try
next.  Father told me a story about Millais, the man who painted
`Bubbles,' you know, and heaps of other beautiful things.  He was so
miserable about a picture once that he grew quite ill worrying about it.
His wife tried to persuade him to leave it alone for a few days, and
then take a rest; but no, he would not hear of it, so one fine day, when
he was out, she just took the law into her own hands and had it carried
down and hidden in the cellar.  When he came home he went straight to
the studio, and--my dears!  I am glad I didn't happen to be in the
house, that's all.  I know what my father is like when he can't find a
clothes-brush, or someone has moved the matches out of the dressing-
room.  Millais raged about like a wild animal, but his wife was quite
firm and determined, and wouldn't tell him where it was for several
days.  He was obliged to go out and interest himself in other ways, and
when he was quite well again she had the picture brought up, and he
simply looked at it and laughed.  He knew at once what was wrong, and
how to put it right."

"I say," cried Flora eagerly, "do tell that story to Miss Phipps!  She
might give us a week's holiday and send us to see the sights of London!
Do, Kate!  Get it up in French and tell it to-night at tea.  You don't
know how much good it might do!"

"It's a very good story, but I fail to see where the moral comes in.  It
hardly applies to us, I think," said Clara, in her superior manner, and
Kate breathlessly vindicated her position.

"Yes, it does--of course it does.  It shows that this anxious stage is a
natural thing which all workers have to live through, and even if we
can't leave off lessons altogether, we can help ourselves by not giving
way to nerves, but going steadily on, knowing that we shall feel all
right again in a few days.  Besides, there's the Exeat coming,--that
will make a nice break."

"I never worry about lessons, do I?" cried Pixie, pluming herself
complacently.  The part of Kate's lecture which had dealt with over-
anxiety about work had appealed with special force to one listener at
least, and Pixie was delighted to find that she was free from failing in
one direction at least.  "I never did.  Miss Minnitt--that's the one who
used to teach us--she said I never paid any attention at all.  There was
one day she was questioning me about grammar.  `Pixie O'Shaughnessy,'
she says, `you've been over this one page until it's worn transparent.
For pity's sake,' she says, `be done with it, and get on to something
fresh.  Let me see if you can remember to-day what I taught you
yesterday afternoon.  How many kinds of verbs are there?'  `There are
two,' I said, and with that she was all smiles and noddings.  `So there
are, now.  You're quite right.  And what will be their names?'  `Verb
and adverb,' says I, quite haughty; and the howl that went out of her
you might have heard from Cork to Galway!  That was all the grammar
she'd managed to teach _me_!"

"You don't know very much more now, do you, chicken?" said Margaret,
bending her head so that her cheek rested upon the rough, dark head.
"Just bring your books to me any time you get puzzled, and I'll try to
make it clear.  Talking of the term-holiday, girls, it is time we began
to make our plans.  How many of you are going out?  Lottie, are you?
Clara?  Kate?  Pixie?  We had better find out first how many will be
here."

Clara had had hopes that the maiden lady with the appetite would rise to
the occasion, but, alas! she had betaken herself to stay with a
relative, Pixie was sure that Jack could not spare time to have her for
a whole day, and besides, she was going to have tea with him the
Saturday before.  All the girls seemed fated to spend the holiday at
school save only the two sisters, Mabel and Violet, who were to be
entertained by a kind aunt, and to choose their own entertainment for
the afternoon, and Lottie, who was fortunate as usual.

"I am doubly engaged for the evening!" she announced with a flourish.
"I wrote home to my people about the holiday, and mother asked some
friends to have me for part of the day.  They live in a regular
mansion--as big as two or three houses like this rolled into one, and
they know all sorts of grand people!  I am going to dinner, and it's
most exciting, for I don't know whom I may meet!"

"The Prince and Princess of Wales are at Sandringham!  What a pity!"
sighed Kate, the sarcastic.  "It's so awfully trying to come down to
Lords and Ladies, don't you know!  You will hardly trouble to put on
your best dress, I should think.  The pea-green satin with the pink
flounces will be good enough for them!"

The Margaret-girls laughed hysterically at this exhibition of wit, but
Lottie's followers shot indignant glances across the room, and Pixie
asked innocently--"Have you got a pea-green satin, Lottie?  And pink
flounces to it?  You _will_ be fine!  I have a little pink fan out of a
cracker last year, when there was company at the Chase.  I'll lend it to
you if you like, and then you'll be all complete!"

"Thank you, Pixie O'Shaughnessy; you are a kind little girl.  I shan't
want it this time, but I'll be sure to remind you when I do," replied
Lottie, with unusual warmth of manner, for the child's sincerity had
touched a soft spot in her vain heart, and she had an increasing desire
to include her in the number of her admirers.  Later on, when they were
left alone together at the end of the schoolroom, she put her arm round
the tiny waist, and said caressingly--

"Talking of party dresses, what are you going to wear yourself on
Tuesday evening?  You have to put on your best things, you know, just as
if you were going out?"

"_Will_ I?"  Pixie looked surprised, but absolutely unperturbed.  "But I
haven't a rag to my back but the black you see every night!  Bridgie
said, `It's not likely you'll be visiting at Court until ye're
education's finished, so this old grenadine will see you through until
the ship comes home from its next voyage.  It's gone a long way this
time,' says she, `and between you and me, I expect the storms will swamp
it, but I've taken the best pieces out of my old dress and Esmeralda's,
and, barring the darn on the back seam, I defy ye to tell it from new!'
So that's all I've got, as I told you before, and, party or no party, it
will have to do."

Lottie looked at her in horrified sympathy, but not a sigh of regret
clouded the beaming face; the head was tilting to and fro in its usual
complacent fashion, the shabby little flounce of a skirt was whisking to
and fro.  Such a depth of poverty seemed incomprehensible to the child
of wealthy parents, and she was moved to an unusual desire to help.
Never before had she been known to lend one of her possessions to
another girl, but now she said quite eagerly--

"I have a lace collar, Pixie--a very pretty collar--I'll lend it to you,
and a white ribbon for your hair!  It would lighten your dress
wonderfully; and there is a brooch too, and a little gold bangle."

She paused, looking inquiringly to see the result of her offer, for one
could never tell how it would be received.  Some girls might be pleased,
others might consider it almost an insult, and she would be sorry to
offend the funny little thing.  But Pixie was not offended.  She had too
much of the O'Shaughnessy blood in her veins to object to have things
made easy for her at the expense of another, and she felt no
embarrassment in taking the good things that came in her way.

"Oh, ye darlin'!" she cried rapturously.  "Will ye lend them to me,
really?  Think of me now with a bracelet on me arm, and a brooch at me
neck!  They wouldn't be knowing me at home.  I wish to-day was Tuesday;
and what shall we do with ourselves all the hours before it's time to
dress up?"

Lottie referred the question to Margaret, who, as head girl, had been
busy thinking out plans for the enjoyment of her friends.

"I thought of asking if we might go to see the Cinematograph at the
Polytechnic," she replied.  "Miss Phipps promised to take us some day,
and if we could do some shopping first, and have tea afterwards, it
would be a delightful way of spending the afternoon.  There is one thing
that we must buy while we have the chance, and that's a present for
Fraulein.  Her birthday is next week, and she is such a kind old dear
that she deserves something nice.  I want at least a shilling from
everyone, and as much more as they can afford.  I wonder what we had
better get?"

"I know what she would love!  A scent-bottle for her dressing-table like
the one Mademoiselle has.  We could not afford one quite so good, but we
could get a very nice size for about two pounds.  One day when I was in
Mademoiselle's room, Fraulein came in and took up the bottle, and began
admiring it, and saying how nice it was to get presents which were good
to look at, as well as to use.  She has not many pretty things--poor
Fraulein!--and I think she would really enjoy a taste of luxury.
Mademoiselle has her initials engraven on the glass, but that would be
too expensive for us.  We can have them on the stopper instead."

"And who gave Mademoiselle her bottle?  Was it someone here?" asked
Pixie curiously, whereupon Kate tossed her head with an air of
exaggerated dismay.

"My dear, how can you?  Don't say that to Mademoiselle, I implore you!
She would have a fit.  _We_ are all commoners, and English commoners at
that, and the lady who gave her that precious bottle was Madame la
Marquise de Something or Other, the mother of her beloved pupil Isoult
Andree Adele Marie Therese--the most perfect, and beautiful, and clever,
and amiable _jeune fille_ that was ever created!"  Kate paused, hitched
one shoulder to her ear, spread out her hands, and elevated her eyebrows
in ridiculous mimicry of Mademoiselle's mannerisms.  "Did she evare
neglect her work?  _Jamais_, nevare!  Did she evare forget that she was
a _jeune fille_, and be'ave like a vild, rough boy?  _Jamais_, _jamais_!
Was she evare like these Engleesh--rude, impairtinent, disobedient?
_Mais non_!  Always the same--_cette ange_, the most wise, the most
amiable!  And when she has finished her education and made her _debut_,
to be the most beautiful and admired wherever she has gone, she has
vept--_vept_, I tell you, to say _adieu_ to her beloved Mademoiselle!
And she has given her a chain for her neck, and Madame la Marquise that
beautiful 'ansome botelle.  Really, Pixie, you are behind the times if
you don't know about Isoult.  Just turn Mademoiselle on to her next time
you are with her on the walk, and you won't have to exert yourself any
more.  She will sing her praises until you come in."

"I will," said Pixie sturdily.  "And I'll see that bottle, too.  I must
see that bottle.  I'll go into Mademoiselle's room next time I have a
chance, and have a good look at it all to myself!"

The girls smiled, but took little note of a determination which seemed
natural enough under the circumstances.  A week afterwards they
remembered it with very different feelings, and Pixie's own words were
brought up in judgment against her.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

PIXIE IN TROUBLE.

It was already dark when the crocodile passed in at the gates of Holly
House on its return from the expedition to town, and Miss Phipps gave
instructions that the girls were to go straight to their rooms to dress
for the evening.  Full dress was the rule for the evenings of term-
holiday, for even if nothing particular was going on, and no extra
guests expected, it gave one a gala feeling to don a light frock, and
gaze down upon one's very best shoes and stockings.  Before leaving for
town in the morning, visits had been paid to the box-room to take the
rarely-used splendours from their wrappings, and now they lay stretched
out in all their glory on the narrow beds, white, blue, and pink, a very
wealth of colour and luxury.

Pixie O'Shaughnessy, having no adornment to do for herself, acted as
lady's-maid to her bedroom, with much satisfaction to her mistresses,
and credit to herself.  She brushed Kate's hair until it was so smooth
and flat as to be almost invisible from a front view; she tied Ethel's
sash, and the ribbon to match which confined the ends of her curls; and
she fastened Flora's dress, which was a matter of difficulty and time,
for though it was let out regularly each holiday-time, it invariably
grew too tight before it was needed again.

"I can't help it," the poor thing protested miserably.  "I don't eat
half as much as Ethel, and she's as thin as a stick.  It's my fate!  I
was born fat, and I go on growing fatter and fatter all the time.  I
shall be a fat woman in a show, before I am done with it.  It's hard
lines, for I should so love to be slim and willowy.  That's what the
heroines are in books, and it makes me quite ill every time I read it.
Nothing exciting ever happens to fat people!  The thin ones get all the
fun and excitement, and marry the nice man, while the poor fatty stays
at home, and waits upon her hand and foot.  Then she grows into an aunt,
and takes charge of the nephews and nieces when they have fever or
measles, or when the parents go abroad for a holiday.  Everyone imposes
upon her, just because she is fat!"

"No, indeed, then, it is because she's good-natured.  Look at yourself
now; you are always laughing!" declared Pixie soothingly.  "Hold yer
breath a single moment while I get the better of this hook.  Ye'll not
need to curtsey too low, I'm thinking, or you'll go off like a cracker!
And the elegant dress that it is, too!  I remember the night Bridgie
went to her first ball, the Hunt Ball it was, over at Roskillie.  It was
me mother's wedding-dress that she wore, and she looked like a picture
in it, the darlin'!  Me mother was for having it altered to be in the
fashion, but me father says, `Leave it alone; you'll spoil it if ye
alter a stitch!  It's better than fashionable,' he says, `it's artistic,
and fits the child like her own skin.'  So away it was put in Bridgie's
cupboard, and Esmeralda comes peeping at it, and, thinks she, `What
yellow lace!  It would be a disgrace to us all to have the girl dancing
about with that dirty stuff round her neck,' so not a word did she
speak, but off with the lace and washed it herself, with a good hard
rub, and plenty of blue bag.  Then she ironed it, with a morsel of
starch to make it stand out and show itself off, and stitched it on
again as proud as could be.  It was to be a surprise for Bridgie, and,
me dears, it _was_ a surprise!  Mother and Bridgie screeching at the top
of their voices, and looking as if the plague was upon us.  Would ye
believe it, it was just what they liked, to have the lace that colour,
and it was the bad turn Esmeralda had done them, starching it up like
new!  Off it all came, and mother found an old lace scarf, yellower than
the first, and pinned it round Bridgie's shoulders, and she had pearls
round her neck, and a star in her hair, and Lord Atrim danced the first
dance with her, and told me mother she was the prettiest thing he had
seen for a twelvemonth.  But Esmeralda sulked all the evening, and it
was very lively for me alone at home with her tantrums!"

Flora chuckled softly, and Ethel give a shrill "He! he!" from her
cubicle at the other end of the room.

"I do think you must be the funniest family!  You seem always to be
doing the most extraordinary things.  We never have such experiences at
home.  We used to go along quietly and steadily, and there is never any
hubbub nor excitement.  You seem to have a constant succession of alarms
and adventures."

"We do so!" said Pixie with relish.  "Scarcely the day that we're not
all rushing about in distraction about something.  Either it's the boys
tumbling out of the barn and cutting themselves open, or father bringing
home accidents from the meet, or the ferret getting loose in the
drawing-room when there's visitors present, or not a pound of fresh meat
in the house, and the Bishop taking it into his head to drive over ten
miles to lunch!  And Bridgie was for going out and killing a chicken,
and engaging him in conversation while it was cooked, but mother says,
`No, the man's hungry!  Bring lunch in the same as if we were alone, and
leave the rest to me.'  And when he had asked the blessing she says,
smiling, `It's nothing but ham and eggs I've got to offer ye, Bishop,
but there's enough welcome for ten courses,' and the smile of him would
have done you good to behold.  Three eggs he ate, and half a pig
besides, and `It's the best lunch I've had since I said good-bye to
short jackets,' he said when he was finished."

"Now, now, Pixie, not so much talking!  Get on with your own dressing,
you little chatterbox!" cried Kate, putting her head round the corner of
the curtain and giving a tug to the end of the short black skirt.
"Flora can manage now, and you have not too much time, if you are to
catch Lottie before she goes out.  Hurry up!  Hurry up!"

Pixie retired obediently, for Kate was head girl of the dormitory, and
must needs be obeyed; so one black frock came off and another went on,
the stout boots were exchanged for slippers, and then--the others having
already departed--she turned down the gas, and skipped along to the room
where Lottie stood waiting for her, a vision of spotless white.

"That's right!  I was just wondering what had become of you.  Sit down
here, and I'll put on the collar, and just call out if I stick a pin in
you by mistake.  I'm going to fasten it with this little brooch.  There!
Isn't it sweet?  I think I will give it to you to keep.  I never wear
it, and you might just as well have it.  Yes, I will!  You shall have it
for a term-holiday present, because you were a kind little girl and
didn't join the other girls when they were nasty to me last week.  Are
you pleased with it now?"

"Oh-h, Lottie!  You darlin'!  Is it really me very own?"  Pixie was
fairly breathless with pleasure and excitement, and could only exclaim
rapturously and gaze at the reflection of the new treasure, while Lottie
smiled, well pleased to have given so much pleasure.  Yes! she told
herself she was really devoted to Pixie O'Shaughnessy!  There was
something so sweet and taking about the child that it made one feel nice
to give her pleasure, and she pinned, and arranged, and tied ribbons
with as much zest as if she were arranging her own toilette.

"There!  Now you are done.  I think you look very nice.  The collar goes
so well with that black dress."

"My worrd!  Aren't I stylish!  I just look beautiful!" cried Pixie,
poking her ugly little face close to the glass, and twisting round and
round to examine herself in all aspects.  She kissed Lottie effusively,
expressed a hundred thanks, and danced downstairs into the schoolroom,
where the girls were standing about in twos and threes, looking so grand
that it was quite difficult to recognise them.  They all stared at her
as the latest arrival, and Pixie, being conscious of their scrutiny,
held out her arms stiffly on either side, and revolved slowly round and
round on one heel.  The girls laughed uproariously at first, then
suddenly the laughs subsided into titters, and Pixie, stopping to see
what was wrong, espied Miss Phipps and the three governesses standing
just inside the doorway, watching with the rest, and applauding with
their hands.  It was an embarrassing moment, and the performer made a
quick dash behind a sofa to screen herself from publicity, but she had
not been there five minutes before she was called upon to answer a
question.

"Pixie, Kate tells me you were in Lottie's room before you came down.
Was she nearly ready?"

"She was, Miss Phipps, quite ready!  Only waiting for me.  She's on a
white dress, and--"

"Never mind that.  I want you to run upstairs, please, and tell her that
the cab is here.  She must put on her wraps and come down at once."

"I will, Miss Phipps."  There was a whisk of short black skirts and off
she went, running lightly upstairs, and raising her voice in rich,
musical cry, "Lottie!  Lottie!"

"The real Irish voice!  She ought to be able to sing charmingly when she
is older," said Miss Phipps to Mademoiselle, and Mademoiselle nodded her
head in assent.

"I 'ope so!  It is a great charm for a young girl to sing well, and she
is not pretty.  _La pauvre petite_!"

"No; yet the father is fine-looking, and my friends tell me that the two
sisters are quite beauties, and all the family wonderfully handsome with
this one exception.  But Pixie is better than pretty, she is charming.
Would you be kind enough to go to the dining-room to see if everything
is ready, Mademoiselle?  It is time we began tea."

Mademoiselle departed, and came back to give the required signal, when
the girls filed slowly across the hall, casting curious glances at
Lottie as she came downstairs.  She was wrapped up in a long white
cloak, and had a fleecy shawl thrown over her head, almost covering her
face from view.  She looked very dainty, and when the door opened and
they beheld her step into the cab, they felt a rising of envy which
could not be entirely removed, even by the sight of the luxurious tea
spread out on the dining-room table.

"Lottie is a lucky creature!" sighed Clara discontentedly.  "She is
always going out.  I wish my people lived near, instead of at the other
end of England.  I am glad I am North Country, though; I don't like
Southerners!  I agree with Tennyson--

  "`True, and firm, and tender is the North;
  False, and fair, and smiling is the South.'"

"It isn't false; it's sweet!"

"It _is_ false, I tell you!  False, and fair, and--"

"Sweet, and fair, and--"

"Ask Miss Phipps, then, if you won't believe me.  Oh, I say, look at the
icing on the cake!  We didn't have icing last time.  Doesn't the table
look nice?  I do think it is sweet of Miss Phipps to take so much
trouble.  Sit by me, and we will get hold of Pixie, and make her tell us
stories.  It makes me laugh just to hear that child talk.  Her brogue
doesn't get a bit better."

"I hope it never may.  Pixie, here!  Sit by us.  We've kept a place!"

But Pixie shook her head, for she had been engaged to Flora ever since
breakfast, and was already seating herself at the other end of the
table.  She did not speak much, however, during the meal, for experience
had taught what it had been difficult to express in words--that it was
not respectful to her teachers to chatter in their presence, as she
would do with her companions.  She applied herself instead to the good
things that had been provided, and ate away steadily until she had
sampled the contents of every plate upon the table, and could
superintend the choice of her companions with the wisdom of experience.

Miss Phipps had drawn out a programme of games for the evening's
amusement, and later on the older pupils took it in turns to play
waltzes and polkas, while the others danced.  The teachers joined in
with the rest, and it was a proud girl who had Miss Phipps for a
partner, while Mademoiselle was so light and agile that it was like
dancing with a feather, and Fraulein felt like a heavy log lying against
one's arm.  Then everyone sat down and puffed and panted, while Jeanie,
the Scotch girl, danced a Highland Fling, and when Pixie called out an
appropriate "Hoch!  Hoch!" the teachers laughed as heartily as the
girls; for be it well understood there are things which are allowed on
term-holiday which the rashest spirit dare not attempt on working days!
Then two pretty sisters went through the stately figures of a minuet,
and Margaret sang a song in her sweet voice, pronouncing the words so
distinctly that you really knew what she was singing about, which
nowadays is a very rare and wonderful accomplishment.  Altogether it was
a most festive evening, and Flora was in the act of remarking
complacently, "We really are a most accomplished school!" when suddenly
the scene changed, and an expression of horrified anxiety appeared on
every face, for Mademoiselle came rushing into the room, which she had
left but a few minutes before, and the tears stood in her eyes, and her
face was scarlet with mingled grief and anger.  She held in one hand the
gold stopper of her precious scent-bottle, and in the other a number of
pieces of broken glass, at sight of which a groan of dismay sounded on
every hand.

"_Voila!  Regardez_ See what I 'ave found!  I go to my room, and the air
is full of scent, and I turn up the gas, and there it is--on the
dressing-table before my eyes--in pieces!  My bottle--that I have kept
all these years--that was given to me by my friend--my dear, good
friend!"

Her voice broke off in a sob, and Miss Phipps came forward to examine
the pieces with an expression of real distress.

"But, Mademoiselle, how has it happened?  You found it on the table, you
say,--not on the floor.  If it had been on the floor, you might perhaps
have swept it off in leaving the room, and not heard the sound against
the mat.  But on the table!  How could it be broken on the table?"

"Someone has been touching it and let it drop."

"I be so careless as to break my bottle?  It is impossible to think of!
I never come away without a look to see that it is safe.  I dust my
dressing-table myself every morning, so that no one shall interfere with
my things.  The servants know that it is so.  When I came downstairs
this evening it was all right.  I have not been upstairs since."

"I think very few of us have.  We have been too busy.  Ellen would go
in, of course, to prepare the bed.  Did she--"

"Yes!  It was Ellen who told me.  I was in the hall, and she came out of
the kitchen and said, `Oh, Mademoiselle, do you know?  Your beautiful
bottle is broken!'"  Mademoiselle's voice broke; she held out the pieces
and exclaimed in broken tones, "And I ran--and I saw--this!"

"I am sorry!  I am grieved!  But we must get to the bottom of this
mystery.  Things do not fall over and break by themselves.  Girls, do
any of you know anything about this?  If so, please speak out at once,
and don't be afraid to tell the truth.  If by any chance one of you has
unintentionally broken Mademoiselle's bottle, I know you will be as
deeply grieved as she can be herself; but the only thing you can do now
is to explain, and beg her forgiveness.  Carelessness it must have been,
and you cannot hope to escape altogether without punishment, but
remember deception is fifty times worse.  I have no mercy on a girl who
knows she is guilty, and lets her companions rest under the shadow of
suspicion.  Now, I ask you again, do you know anything at all of the
cause of this accident?"

There was a unanimous burst of denial from all parts of the room; but
different girls took the question in different ways, as was natural to
the different characters.  Some looked grieved, some indignant, a few
showed suspicions of tears, and Pixie looked so thoroughly scared and
miserable that more than one eye rested curiously upon her.

Miss Phipps glanced around with her keen, scrutinising glance, then
pressed her lips together, and said sharply--

"This becomes serious!  You all deny it?  Very well, I must find out the
truth for myself.  Call Ellen, please, Mademoiselle.  I am sorry to have
such a painful ending to our happy holiday, but we cannot go to bed with
this cloud hanging over us.  Ellen, Mademoiselle tells me that you found
the scent-bottle broken when you went into her room just now to turn
down the bed!"

Ellen straightened herself and fumbled miserably with the corner of her
apron.  She loved all the girls, and had known many of them for years;
for though other maids might come and go, Ellen, like the brook, went on
for ever.  She had been a servant in the Phipps family, and had
accompanied "her young lady" when Holly House was bought and the school
first founded.  Matron, nurse, general factotum, and refuge in time of
trouble, it would have been as easy to suspect her of duplicity as Miss
Phipps herself.  She was wretched now because she feared that her
"children" might be in trouble, and her "children" knew it, and loved
her for her fear.

"I did, Miss Emily.  It was lying just where it usually stands, with the
glass piled up in a little heap."

"It looked, then, as if someone had arranged it so?  Not as if it had
been, say, blown over by any chance?"

"It couldn't have blown over, Miss Emily!  It was too heavy.  And it
wasn't near the window, either."

"And the pieces, you say, were gathered together, as if someone had
placed them so?  Very well, I understand!  Now, Ellen, have any of the
other maids been upstairs to your knowledge since Mademoiselle left her
room at seven o'clock?"

"They say they have not, miss, for I asked them, and I've been in the
kitchen all the time.  We were busy clearing away after tea, and getting
the refreshments ready for supper, and then we came and watched the
young ladies dance."

"You would have noticed if anyone had gone upstairs?"

"I think I should, being together all the time.  They have no work
upstairs at this hour--"

"I know that, but I must speak to them myself later on.  There is one
thing more, Ellen.  Your work upstairs takes you a good time.  In
passing to and fro, you didn't happen to see anyone in or near
Mademoiselle's room, I suppose?  Speak up, please!  Remember I rely upon
you to do all in your power to help me to get to the bottom of this
mystery!"

The last words were added in a warning voice, for Ellen's start of
dismay and drawn, miserable brows too plainly betrayed the truth of her
mistress's surmise.

"I saw--when I went up first in the middle of the dancing, I was at the
end of the passage, and I saw little Miss O'Shaughnessy coming out of a
room.  I couldn't be sure, but I _thought_ it was Mademoiselle's!"

She had said it, and in an instant every eye in the room was riveted
upon Pixie, and every heart sank woefully at the sight of her crimson,
agitated face.  It said much for the hold which she had gained on her
companions' affections that at this moment the feeling in every girl's
breast was that she would prefer to find the culprit in almost any other
girl in the school than in dear, loving, kind-hearted Irish Pixie.
Perhaps Miss Phipps felt the same, but it did not become her to show
favouritism, and her voice was very stern and cold.

"Come here, Pixie, please!  Stand before me!  You have heard what Ellen
says!  Was it Mademoiselle's room out of which you were coming?"

"It--was, Miss Phipps!" said Pixie, with a gulp; and a groan of dismay
sounded through the room, at which Miss Phipps's eyes sent out a
flashing glance.

"Silence, please!  Leave this to me!  Was it you who let the bottle fall
and broke it, then, though you would not acknowledge it when I asked
just now?"

Pixie's lips moved, but she seemed so paralysed with fear that she had
to repeat her words twice over before they could be heard.

"No, I--I didn't break it, Miss Phipps!  I didn't break it!"

"Do you mean to say you know nothing about it?  Did you not notice it
when you were in the room?  May I ask what you were doing in that room
at all?  You had no business in there."

"I--I--please, Miss Phipps, the gas was down; I didn't see anything!"

"I asked you, Pixie, what you were doing in that room?"

To the dismay of her companions, Pixie hung her head and refused to
answer, and, when the question was repeated, had no reason to offer but
a stammering, "It was nothing!  I was doing nothing!"

"That is nonsense, Pixie; you would not go upstairs and into a strange
room, to-night of all nights, without a very definite reason.  I insist
upon your telling me what you were doing.  If it is nothing of which you
are ashamed, you need surely not hesitate to speak."

"I wasn't doing anything!  I never touched it!" said Pixie once more,
and an expression came over her face which was well known to the
inhabitants of Bally William, though so far it was unfamiliar to her
companions--a dumb, obstinate look which promised little satisfaction to
the questioner.

"If you refuse to answer me, Pixie, it is your own fault if I suspect
you.  You have been with us only a short time, but I have always
believed you to be truthful and straightforward.  I should be sorry to
change my opinion, but you will have yourself to blame!"  She paused and
looked down at the little black figure, and her face softened
regretfully.  "You need not look so terrified, child.  Mademoiselle is
naturally very grieved and distressed, but you know her well enough to
be sure that she would forgive you if you have unintentionally broken
her pretty bottle.  She would be sorry to drive you into telling a
falsehood--wouldn't you, Mademoiselle?"

"I shall say nothing to her.  My bottle is gone, and it can do no good
now.  But she had no right to touch my things.  My room is my own, and
she had no business there at all.  I thought you were a good girl,
Pixie, and remembered what I had said to you.  I did not think you would
grieve me like this.  I have not so many treasures!"

Mademoiselle's tears trickled down afresh, and the girls began to look
askance at Pixie, and to feel the first incredulity give place to a
horrible doubt.  Why wouldn't she speak?  Why did she look so guilty?
Why need she have been so alarmed at the first mention of the accident
if she had no part in bringing it about?  Margaret held out her hand
with an involuntary gesture of appeal, and Pixie, seeing it, shut her
lips more tightly than ever.

"You may go to your room, Pixie," said Miss Phipps coldly.  "I am very
much disappointed in you!"



CHAPTER NINE.

DARK DAYS.

The three girls who shared Pixie's room were not forbidden to speak to
her when they went upstairs to bed, and their first impulse was to pull
aside the curtains of her cubicle, where she was discovered lying on the
top of the bed, still fully dressed, with features swollen and
disfigured with crying.  She was shivering, too, and the hand which Kate
touched was so icy cold that she exclaimed in horrified reproach--

"Pixie, you are freezing!  What do you mean by not getting into bed?
You will catch a chill, and then goodness knows what may happen!  You
may go into consumption and die."

Pixie gave a dismal little sniff, and her teeth chattered together.

"That's what I thought.  A girl at Bally William died of a chill, and
consumption's in our family.  Me mother's cousin suffered from it every
winter.  I want to die!"

"Here, sit up!  I am going to unhook you.  Dear me, what a mess you have
made of your fine collar!  I don't know what Lottie will say when she
sees it.  Lucky girl to be out to-night and escape all this fuss!  She
always gets the best of things.  I never wish to spend such an evening
again, I know that!"

"Pixie, why wouldn't you tell?  Why wouldn't you answer Miss Phipps?"
cried Flora, unable to contain herself a moment longer; and Pixie drew
herself up, and tried to look dignified, a difficult achievement when
one is being forcibly undressed, and can hardly see out of red, swollen
eyelids.

"I told her I had not broken the bottle.  I gave her a straight answer,
and that ought to be enough for any lady!"

"Don't talk such rubbish!  This house is not yours, and if you go
wandering about into strange rooms, it is only right that you should be
made to explain.  And it looks so bad when you refuse to answer.  You
don't realise how bad it looks.  After you left the room, Miss Phipps
asked if we had heard you say anything which would explain your going
into that room, and we all remembered--we didn't want to tell, but we
were obliged--we remembered that you said you intended to have a good
look at the scent-bottle."

"So I did, and I don't mind who you tell.  I looked at it the very next
day, but I never lifted it once.  I was too afraid I'd be hurting it,
and it was all right long after that--Mademoiselle said so herself!"

The three girls looked at each other quickly, and as quickly averted
their eyes.  Ethel gave a toss to her curls, and walked off to her
cubicle.  Kate went on unhooking with relentless haste, and Flora sat
down heavily on the edge of the bed, and melted into tears.

"I wish scent-bottles had never been invented!  I wish that old marquise
had had more sense than to spend her money on a thing that would break
if you looked at it!  I know how easy it would be.  I've broken lots of
things myself.  Mother always said to us when we were children, `Don't
be afraid to tell me if you've had an accident.  I will never scold you
if you tell the truth, but if I find out that you have hidden anything
from me I shall be extremely angry.'  Lots of girls tell stories just
because they are frightened, especially little ones, and when they are
strange, too, and don't know people well.  But we all love you, Pixie,
really and truly we do!  We won't turn against you.  Oh, do tell!  Do
tell!  Tell Kate and me now before we go to bed, and we will help you
to-morrow."

"Will Miss Phipps talk to me again to-morrow?  Will she be cross again?
Will Mademoiselle be cross?" cried Pixie fearfully.  "Oh, what will I
do?  What will I do?  No one was ever cross with me at home.  I'll run
away in the night and swim over to Ireland.  They'd welcome me there if
I'd smashed all the scent-bottles in the world.  I never meant to do any
harm.  I didn't know it was wrong to go into Mademoiselle's room.  No
one ever said I mustn't.  Molly, our maid, broke something every day of
her life at Bally William, and no one disturbed themselves about it.
What's a scent-bottle?  Suppose I _had_ broken it, why should they make
such a storm, I should like to know?"

Her sentences were broken by sobs and tears, and her companions had
learnt by now that Pixie's outbursts of grief were not to be trifled
with, for while other girls shed tears in a quiet and ladylike manner,
Pixie grew hysterical on the slightest pretext, and sobbed, and wailed,
and shivered, and shook, and drowned herself in tears until she was in a
condition of real physical collapse.  To-night Kate signalled
imperiously to Flora to depart to her own cubicle, and herself bundled
the shaking, quivering little creature into bed, where she left her with
a "good-night" sufficiently sympathetic, but--oh, agonies to a sensitive
heart!--without attempting the kiss which had become a nightly
institution!

Next morning Pixie's face was still swollen and puffy, but her elastic
spirits had sufficiently recovered to enable her to make repeated
attempts to converse with her taciturn companions, and to run in and out
of their cubicles to play lady's-maid as usual, in such useful,
unostentatious ways as carrying water, folding nightgowns, and tying
hair ribbons.  This morning she was even more assiduous than usual in
her attentions, for there was an edge of coldness and reserve in the
manner even of Flora herself which cut deeply into the sensitive heart.
Then when she had fully dressed, she gathered together Lottie's fineries
and betook herself to the room which that luxurious young lady occupied
in solitary splendour.

Early as she had been in leaving her cubicle, breakfast had already
begun when Pixie made her appearance downstairs, and the furtive manner
in which she entered the room, was not calculated to dispel the
suspicions, with which she was regarded.  Her "good-morning" to the
teachers was a mere mumble, and oh, how formidable they looked!  Miss
Phipps with tight lips and a back like a poker; Mademoiselle, a vision
of misery, and Fraulein and Miss Bruce staring at the tablecloth as if
afraid to raise their eyes.  As for the girls, they munched away in
silence, no one daring to make a remark, and it was significant of the
solemnity of the occasion that not a single girl helped herself to
marmalade or jam.  By the unwritten laws of the school it would have
been considered unfeeling to indulge in such luxuries while the
reputation of a companion was at stake.  It was a ghastly occasion, and
Pixie seemed literally to shrink in stature as she cowered in her chair,
glancing to right and left with quick, terrified glances.  The
hopefulness of the earlier morning had departed, and among all the
dejected faces round the table hers was conspicuously the worst.

There seemed a special meaning in the Bible reading that morning, and
when Miss Phipps laid aside the book she added a few words of her own
before kneeling in prayer.  The sternness had left her face, but it was
very grave and sad.

"Before we kneel down together this morning, girls, there are some
thoughts which I would like to impress upon you all.  We are in trouble,
and it behoves each one of us to ask in all earnestness that the cloud
may be lifted, and that courage and truthfulness may be given where it
is most needed.  An accident, however regrettable, is not a serious
offence, but in this instance it has been turned into one by the refusal
of the culprit to acknowledge her offence.  I have made every inquiry,
and it seems morally certain that one of you must know how it happened,
and be able to give a satisfactory explanation; and until she does so,
the shadow of her deceit must fall on all.  I ask those of you who know
that they are blameless to pray for her who is guilty, that she may
acknowledge her fault, and for yourselves that you be preserved from
temptation; and I ask the guilty one to remember that God reads all
hearts, and although she may deceive her companions, she can hide
nothing from His eyes.  And now we will kneel and pray, and let the
words which you say be no vain repetition, but the earnest cry of your
hearts that God will help us!"

Many of the girls had tears in their eyes as they rose from their knees,
and no one was surprised when, as they filed slowly towards the door,
Miss Phipps spoke again, to request Pixie O'Shaughnessy to follow her to
her private sanctum.  Flora thrust her hand through Lottie's arm as they
went upstairs and heaved a sigh of funereal proportions.

"Poor little Pixie!  Don't you pity her?  Oh, Lottie, you are lucky to
have been out last night and escape all this bother!  I wish I had had
an invitation too, and then, even if Pixie doesn't confess, no one could
possibly think that I had done it.  Poor little thing!  She is so scared
that she hardly knows what she is doing.  Did you notice her face at
breakfast?  Did you hear about the accident when you came in last night,
or who told you first?"

"I only saw the teachers last night, but Mademoiselle was crying, and I
knew something was wrong.  Then Pixie came to my room this morning to
bring me back my collar, and she told me.  It seems that she is
suspected because she won't tell why she was in Mademoiselle's room.
It's very stupid of her!  There can't be any great mystery about it, one
would think, though she wouldn't tell even me; but if she says she
didn't break the bottle, I think she ought to be believed.  She has
always been truthful, so far as we know."

"Yes, but then we haven't known her long, and she has never been in a
corner before.  It is easy to tell the truth when all is going smoothly,
but it's rather dreadful when you know quite well you are going to be
punished; and if you let the first moment pass it's fifty times worse,
because then you have been deceitful as well.  What I'm afraid of is
that she was too frightened to own up last night--you know what a scarey
little thing she is--and that now she is determined to be obstinate and
brave it out!"

Lottie hitched her shoulder with an impatient movement which drew her
arm free from her companion.

"Well, I'm fond of Pixie O'Shaughnessy, and I am going to stick to her,
whatever happens!  It's mean of Mademoiselle to make such a fuss about
an accident which nobody could help.  I'll buy her another scent-bottle
myself, if that will satisfy her.  I have lots of money, and can get as
much more as I want.  It's absurd making thirty people miserable for the
sake of a few pounds.  I'll ask Miss Phipps if I may go into town and
buy one this very day."

"She wouldn't let you spend so much without your mother's consent, and
it's my belief Mademoiselle wouldn't take it if she did.  It was the
association she liked, and you could not give her that.  I'm fond of
Pixie too, but I shan't like her a bit if she gets us all into trouble,
and that's what it will mean if she is obstinate.  We shall have all our
treats and holidays knocked off until the truth comes out.  It is bound
to be discovered sooner or later, don't you think?"

"No, I don't!  Lots of things are never discovered, and the holidays
will be here in a month, thank goodness!  It will have to drop after
that, for it wouldn't be fair to drag the troubles of one term into the
next.  I don't know what Margaret is going to do, but I shall be kind to
Pixie and try to help her!"

The girls had reached the schoolroom by this time and joined the group
by the fire, so that Margaret herself was able to reply.

"I shall certainly help her if I can," she said gently; but her
followers noticed that she avoided giving any opinion as to guilt or
innocence, and the reticence depressed them still further, for it was
unlike Margaret to refrain from speaking a good word if it was possible
to do so.

She was soon to have an opportunity of trying to help, however, for half
an hour later Miss Phipps called her out of class, and said sadly--

"I can make nothing of Pixie, Margaret.  Will you try what you can do?
She seems afraid of me, though I have tried to be as forbearing as
possible, and perhaps she may speak more freely to a girl like herself.
So long as she refuses to say what she was doing in Mademoiselle's room
we cannot help believing her to be guilty.  I am dreadfully upset about
it all, and should be so thankful to get at the truth.  I have heard of
this kind of thing going on in other schools, but this is my first
experience, and I earnestly hope it will be the last.  She is in my
snuggery.  Go to her there, and see what your influence will do!"

Margaret went, and, at the first opening of the door, Pixie rushed into
her arms with a cry of joyous welcome.

"Oh, Margaret, I hoped you would come!  I wanted you to come.  I'm so
dreadfully miserable."

"So are we all, Pixie, but you can end the misery if you will only tell
us truthfully all you know about this accident.  You do know something,
I feel certain, or why should you be so afraid to speak?  It's no use
being afraid, dear.  We all have to do difficult things sometimes,
whether we like them or not, and it will only get worse as time goes on.
The truth is bound to come out, and then how ashamed you will feel, if
you have not taken the opportunity while it was yours!"

"Do you think it will be found out, really?"  Pixie shivered, and
twisted her fingers together in nervous fashion.  "But how can it if I
don't tell, and if--if there is no one else?"

"I don't know, Pixie, but I believe it will, sooner or later.  It may be
later, for God is very patient, and waits to give us our chance before
He takes things into His own hands.  In the days when Jesus was on earth
He used to work miracles, but He doesn't do that any longer.  I used to
be sorry for that, but I am not now, for it is so wonderful that He lets
us help Him by putting it into our hearts to do His will.  He won't show
us in any miraculous way who is deceiving us now, but if she will listen
He will speak to her, and make it seem impossible to go on doing wrong."

"That's what Bridgie said!" agreed Pixie eagerly.  "It was the night
before I came to school, and she was speaking to me for my good.
`You'll be far away from home,' she said, `but you never need be far
from Him, and He is your best friend.  When you are happy and everything
is bright, thank Him for it, for it's a shame to be always asking,
asking, and never saying a "Thank you" for what you receive.  And when
you are undecided between two ways, take the one that's hardest, for
that was what He meant by bearing the cross; and when you are in
trouble, keep still,' she says, `keep still, and you'll hear His voice
in your heart.'  And I was thinking of that last night, and I could hear
Bridgie saying it all over again, as plain as if she were by my side!"

"And the other voice, Pixie--did you hear that too?"

"I tried to, but,"--the small troubled face was pitiful to behold--"it
seemed always to say the things I wanted, and I was afraid I was
imagining.  Then I remembered about doing the hardest thing, and every
time I awoke I thought of it again, and this morning I decided that I
would!"

"Pixie!" cried Margaret, in a tone of almost incredulous relief.  "Oh,
Pixie, you will really!  I am so glad, so glad!  You will come with me
to Miss Phipps now, and tell all you know!"

But Pixie shook her head firmly, and her lips closed in determined
lines.

"I will never tell," she said.  "I'll be silent for ever!"



CHAPTER TEN.

AN ARMISTICE.

A week passed by, and the mystery was no nearer being unravelled than on
the first evening, though every possible means had been taken to
discover the offender.  At the beginning of the time the general feeling
had been in favour of Pixie, but girls are very human creatures, and as
the days passed by and they suffered for her silence, a feeling of
resentment began to grow against her.  Why should all the school be
suspected because one girl refused to tell what she knew?  What was the
use of pretending to be so kind and helpful, if you would not sacrifice
your pride for your friends' comfort?  If Pixie were innocent, why
should she be afraid to answer questions?  But, really--and then the
heads would draw close together, and the voices drop to a whisper--
really she looked so wretched and ashamed, that one began to wonder if
she could be innocent after all!  A whole week, and she had not once
been in mischief.  Didn't that look as if something was on her mind?
While as for funny stories, she was as dull as Clara herself; and it was
impossible to say anything more scathing than that!

After Margaret's failure no more personal efforts had been made to
induce Pixie to confess; but at the end of a week the anticipated blow
fell, for Miss Phipps addressed the assembled school and announced her
intention of confiscating holidays until the end of the term.

"I am sorry to punish the innocent with the guilty," she said, "but I
hope that the consciousness that she is depriving her companions of
their enjoyment may have more influence with the culprit, whoever she
may be, than any words of mine.  I don't think it is right to deprive
your teachers of their much-needed rest, so on Wednesdays and Saturdays
you will have extra preparation during the hours which would otherwise
have been your own.  Of course no invitations can be accepted.  I have
written to your brother, Pixie, to say that you will not be able to go
out with him on Saturday, as arranged."

Pixie's cry of dismay was drowned by the general groan, which swelled
ever louder and louder as Miss Phipps left the room.  The younger girls
looked inclined to cry, one or two stamped on the floor with
irrepressible anger, and there was a very babel of indignation.

"I told you so!  What did I say?  As if we hadn't enough to do without
slaving six hours more!  I know what it will be now--I shall get so worn
out that I shall fail in my examination."

"Preparation!  More prep!  I call that adding insult to injury.  If it
had been a class, I wouldn't have minded half so much.  I'm sick and
tired of school.  I'll ask my mother if I may leave the day I am
seventeen."

"And I was going out on Wednesday!  I had an invitation this morning,
and was going to tell Miss Phipps after tea.  I may as well write and
say I can't go, and it would have been so nice too.  I should have had
such fun!"

"Jack was going to take me to the s-s-circus!  I've never seen a clown
in all me days!  I was c-counting the hours!" stammered Pixie tearfully;
and at the sound of her voice, as at a signal, all the girls stopped
talking and fixed their eyes upon her.  She looked pitiful enough with
the tears streaming down her cheeks, but there was not much sympathy in
the watching faces, and for the first time the growing resentment forced
itself into words.

"You have only yourself to blame," Kate said coldly.  "If you had spoken
up and told all you knew about that horrible night, it would have been
forgotten by this time.  I believe Mademoiselle is sorry already that
she made such a fuss, but Miss Phipps won't rest until she has found out
what she wants.  If you _will_ be obstinate, you must expect to be
punished, but it's hard lines on the rest of us who have done nothing
wrong."

"And we were all so kind to you, Pixie O'Shaughnessy, and made a regular
pet of you--you know we did!  We helped you like angels when you
couldn't do your lessons.  I've been in this school five years, and I've
never seen a new girl made such a fuss of before.  I call you an
ungrateful serpent to turn and rend us like this."

"Clowns indeed!  I should think you have something else to think of than
clowns!  Do you realise that thirty girls are losing their fun for three
whole weeks because you won't speak?  If you had any nice feeling, you
would be too miserable for clowns."

"Oh, Pixie, I've such a smashing headache!  You might tell!  I was so
looking forward to a rest this afternoon.  It makes the week so
dreadfully, dreadfully long when there are no holidays!"

Flora's voice was full of tears, and Pixie's miserable glance, roving
from one speaker to another, grew suddenly eager as it rested upon her,
for she was skilled in the treatment of headaches, and was never more
happy than when officiating as nurse.

"I'll lend ye my smelling-bottle.  It's awful strong!  Ye said yourself
the last time you smelt it ye forgot all about the pain.  Will I run up
this minute, and bring it for you?"

"No, thank you!"  Flora's tone was almost as cold as Kate's.  "I don't
want your loans.  Smelling-bottles are no good to me if I have to rack
my brains all the afternoon.  You needn't pretend to be sorry, for if
you were you could soon cure me.  Come along, girls, let's go upstairs!
It is no use talking to her any longer."

The girls linked arms and filed to the door, only Lottie lingering
behind to thrust her hand encouragingly through Pixie's arm.  Kate,
standing near, caught the whispered words of consolation.  "You shall go
to the circus in the holidays.  I'll ask you to stay with me, and we
will go somewhere nice every afternoon!"--and told herself reproachfully
that Lottie was more forgiving than herself.

"I don't feel in the least inclined to offer her treats, though I'm
sorry for her all the same.  She does look such a woe-begone little
wretch!  It's my belief she thought it was a good opportunity to examine
the scent-bottle when we were all upstairs, and that she put it down too
roughly or let it slip from her hands and hadn't the nerve to own up at
once.  I don't wonder she is afraid to confess now; I should be myself.
You don't know what might happen--you might even be expelled!  I don't
believe Miss Phipps would keep a girl who was so mean as to make all the
school suffer rather than face a scolding.  There's one thing certain,
I'm not going to have Pixie O'Shaughnessy fagging for me until this
business is cleared up!  I have tied my own hair bows before and can do
them again, and I shall tell Flora and Ethel not to allow her in their
cubicles either.  If she is untruthful, how are we to know that she
might not be dishonest next!"

There is no truer proverb than that which says, "Give a dog a bad name
and hang him!" for it is certain that when once we begin to harbour
suspicion, a dozen little actions and coincidences arise to strengthen
us in our convictions.

It is also true that no judges are so unflinching as very young people,
who set a hard line between right and wrong, and are unwilling to
acknowledge the existence of extenuating circumstances.  During the next
few weeks Pixie was sent to Coventry by her companions, to her own
unutterable grief and confusion.  No one offered to help her with
difficult lessons; no one invited her to be a companion in the daily
crocodile; no one made room for her when she entered a room; on the
contrary, she was avoided as if her very presence were infectious, and
when she spoke a silence fell over the room, and several moments elapsed
before a cold, stern voice would vouchsafe a monosyllabic answer.  She
was at the bottom of her classes too, being unable to learn in this
atmosphere of displeasure, and the governess's strictures had in them a
touch of unusual severity.

Curiously enough, it was Mademoiselle herself who showed most sympathy
with Pixie during those dark days.  Like most people of impulsive
temperament, she had quick reactions of feeling, and after having
stormed and bewailed for a couple of days, she began to regret the gloom
into which she had plunged the school.  She had been fond of the droll
little Irish girl, and, though convinced of her guilt, feared lest her
own unbridled anger had frightened a sensitive child into a denial
difficult to retract.

It happened one day that governess and pupil were alike suffering from
cold and unable to go out for the usual walk, and the impressionable
French heart went out in a wave of pity, as its owner entered the
deserted schoolroom and found Pixie seated alone by the fire, her hands
folded listlessly on her lap, a very Cinderella of misery and dejection.
When the door opened she looked up with that shrinking expression of
dread which is so pitiful to see on a young face, for to be left _tete-
a-tete_ with Mademoiselle seemed under the circumstances the most
terrible thing that could happen.  Her head drooped forward over her
chest, and she stared fixedly at the floor while Mademoiselle seated
herself on a chair close by and stared at her with curious eyes.

Surely the ugly little face was smaller, the figure more absurdly minute
than of yore!  The black dress with its folds of rusty crape added to
the pathos of the picture, and awoke remembrances of the dead mother who
would never comfort her baby again, nor point out the right way with
wise, tender words.  Mademoiselle's thoughts went back to her own past,
when, if the truth must be told, she had been an exceedingly naughty
child; and she realised that it was not coldness and severity which had
wrought the most good, but the tender patience and affection of the
kindest of parents.  What if they had been trying the wrong course with
Pixie O'Shaughnessy?  What if suspicion and avoidance were but hardening
the child's heart and hastening her path downwards?  Mademoiselle
cleared her throat and said in the softest tone which she could
command--

"_Eh bien_, Pixie!  What are you doing sitting here all by yourself?"

"I'm thinking, Mademoiselle."

"And what are you thinking about then?  Tell me your thoughts for a
penny, as you girls say to each other!"

"I'm thinking of Foxe's martyrs!" was Pixie's somewhat startling reply.
Her face had lightened with immeasurable relief at the sound of the
friendly voice, and the talkative tongue once loosened could not resist
the temptation to enlarge on the reply.  "We have the book at home.  Did
ye ever see it, Mademoiselle?  It's got lovely pictures!  There's one
man lying down and they are pinching him with hot tongs, and another
being stoned, and another being boiled in oil.  They were so brave that
they never screeched out, but only sang hymns, and prayed beautiful
prayers.  I used to long to be a martyr too, but I don't any more now,
for I know I couldn't bear it, but it cheers me up to think about them.
Bridgie says there's nothing so bad but it might be worse, and I was
thinking that they were worse off than me.  I'd rather even that the
girls wouldn't speak to me than boiling oil--wouldn't you,
Mademoiselle?"

"I would indeed!" replied Mademoiselle fervently.  "But what a subject
to think about on a dull grey day!  No wonder you look miserable!  You
need not think about boiling oil just now at all events, for I have to
stay in too, and I have come to sit here and talk to you.  Will that
make you feel a little bit less miserable?"

"Now that depends upon what ye talk about, Mademoiselle," said Pixie,
with that air of quaint candour which her companions had been wont to
find so amusing; and Mademoiselle first smiled, and then looked grave
enough.

"I am not going to question you about your trouble, if you mean that,
Pixie.  It is Miss Phipps's affair now, not mine.  I wish you had been
more outspoken, but I am not going to scold you again.  You are being
punished already, and I feel sorry to see you so grave and to hear no
more laughs and jokes.  Shall we 'ave what they call an armistice, and
talk together as we used to do when we were very good friends?"

She held out her hand as she spoke, and Pixie's thin fingers grasped
hers with a force that was almost painful.  She looked overcome with
gratitude, nevertheless, now that it had been agreed to talk, both felt
a decided difficulty in deciding what to talk about, for even a
temporary coldness between friends heaps up many barriers, and in this
particular case it was difficult to feel once more at ease and
unconstrained.  It was Pixie who spoke first, and her voice was full of
shy eagerness.

"How's your father, Mademoiselle?  Is he having his health any better
than it was?"

"A little--yes, a little better.  He is in the South with my brother
until the cold winds are over in Paris.  He is like me--he hates to be
cold, so he is very happy down there in the sunshine.  I told you about
him then, did I?  I had forgotten that."

"Yes, you told me that day when I--when I lassoed you on the stairs, and
I wrote the verb not to be rude to you any more.  You said I would
remember that, and I do; but perhaps you think I have done something
worse than being rude, Mademoiselle!  I want to know--please tell me!--
can your bottle be stuck together so that you can use it again?"

Mademoiselle's face clouded over.  She had recovered from her first
violent anger about the accident, but it was still too sore a subject to
be lightly touched.

"No," she said shortly, "it cannot mend.  I tried.  I thought I might
use it still as an ornament, but the pieces will not _fit_.  There is
perhaps something missing.  I have just to make up my mind that it is
gone for ever.  It seems as if I should never know what happened to it."

An expression of undoubted relief and satisfaction passed over Pixie's
face as she heard these last words, but Mademoiselle was gazing
disconsolately in the fire, and it had passed before she looked up.
Perhaps she had hoped that her words would draw forth some sort of
confession, but, if so, she was fated to be disappointed, for when Pixie
spoke again it was to broach another subject.

"Mademoiselle, I've a favour to ask you!  I've been afraid to do it
before, but you are so kind to-day that I'm not frightened any longer.
It's about the party at the end of the term.  The girls say they always
have one, and they will be broken-hearted if they miss that as well as
all the holidays.  It is no use my asking, because it's me that's in
trouble, but, Mademoiselle, it was your bottle that was broken.  If you
asked Miss Phipps, she couldn't find the heart in her to say no!
Please, Mademoiselle, will you ask if the girls can have their party the
same as ever?"

Mademoiselle looked, as she felt, completely taken aback by this
unexpected request.  It sounded strange indeed coming from Pixie's lips,
and it was difficult to explain to the girl that she herself would be
the greatest hindrance to the granting of such a request.  She looked
down, fingered her dress in embarrassment, and said slowly--

"For my part I should be glad for the girls to have their party.  It is
hard that they should all suffer, and it _is_ dull for them.  I have
been here three years, but it was never so dull as this.  Yes, I would
ask, but what would Miss Phipps say?  That is a different thing!  It
seems odd to stop the holidays and give the party all the same, and--do
you not see?--the bad girl--the girl who will not say what she has
done--she would have her pleasure with the rest, and that would not be
right.  It is to punish her we have to punish many."

"But if I stayed upstairs--" cried Pixie eagerly, and then stopped
short, with crimson cheeks, as if startled by the sound of her own
words.  "I mean I am the one they are vexed with; they want to punish me
most.  If I stayed upstairs in my own room, or was sent to bed, why
shouldn't the others have their party?  It would be an extra punishment
to me to hear them dancing, wouldn't it now?"

Mademoiselle threw up her bands in an expressive silence.  In all her
experience of school life never before had she met a girl who pleaded in
such coaxing terms for her own humiliation, and she was at sea as to
what it might mean.  Either Pixie was guilty, in which case she was one
of the most arrant little hypocrites that could be imagined, or she was
innocent, and a marvel of sweetness and charity.  Which could it be?  A
moment before she had felt sure that the former was the case, now she
was equally convinced of the latter.  In any case she was gratified by
the idea that she herself should plead for the breaking-up party, and
was ready to promise that she would interview Miss Phipps without delay.

"And ye'll not say that ever I mentioned it," urged Pixie anxiously,
"for maybe that would put her off altogether.  Just ask as if it was a
favour to yourself, and if she asks, `What about Pixie?'  `Oh, Pixie,'
says you, `never trouble about her!  Send her to bed!  It will be good
for her health.  She can lie still and listen to the music, and amuse
herself thinking of all she has lost.'"

The beaming smile with which this suggestion was offered was too much
for Mademoiselle's composure, and, do what she would, she could not
restrain a peal of laughter.

"You are a ridiculous child, but I will do as you say, and hope for
success.  I like parties too, but it will not be half so nice if you are
not there, _petite_!  See, I was angry at first, and when I am angry I
say many sharp things, but I am not angry any more.  If it had happened
to anyone to break my bottle by mistake, she need no more be frightened
to tell me.  I would not be angry now!"

"Wouldn't you?" queried Pixie eagerly, but instantly her face fell, and
she shivered as with dread.  "But, oh, Miss Phipps would!  She would be
angrier than ever!  The girls say so, and it is only a fortnight longer
before the holidays, and then we shall all go home.  If it is not found
out before the holidays, it will be all over then, won't it?  No one
will say anything about it next term."

"I do not know, Pixie.  I can't tell what Miss Phipps will do," returned
Mademoiselle sadly.  She felt no doubt at this moment that Pixie was
guilty; but that only strengthened her in her decision to plead for the
party, for it did indeed seem hard that twenty-nine girls should be
deprived of their pleasure for the sake of one obstinate wrong-doer.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

DIVIDED OPINIONS.

"Girls," announced Miss Phipps after tea, two evenings later, "I have
something to tell you which I am sure you will be delighted, and also
much touched to hear.  You have, I suppose, taken for granted that no
breaking-up party would be held this term, as I have unfortunately had
to deprive you of all holidays and excursions.  For myself, I had put
the matter entirely aside, as out of keeping with our present position,
but you have had an advocate whom I have found it impossible to refuse.
Someone has pleaded your cause so eloquently that she has gained the
day, and I have now to announce that your party will be held as usual on
Wednesday next, a few days before we break up.  Don't thank me, please!
It is someone else who deserves your thanks.  Can you guess who it is?"

The girls were jumping about in their seats, all excitement and delight.
Ethel was tossing her curls, Flora beaming from ear to ear, Kate's eyes
were dancing behind her spectacles, Margaret was looking across the
table at Pixie with an anxious, scrutinising glance.  Who could it be--
this unknown champion?  There were whispering and consulting on every
side, but the first suggestions fell wide of the mark.

"Mrs Vane!" said one, mentioning the name of the giver of the "Alice
Prize," which was held in such importance in the school.  But no, it was
not Mrs Vane.  "Miss Ewing!" cried another, naming a friend of Miss
Phipps, who on one memorable occasion had begged a holiday for the
entire school; but it was not Miss Ewing.  "Nearer home, nearer home!
She is in this room now!" cried Miss Phipps, laughing; and then it was
impossible to look at Mademoiselle's red cheeks and remain in doubt any
longer.

The gasp of surprise, of gratitude, of admiration that went round the
room was the most eloquent acknowledgment of the generosity which had
prompted the request, and Mademoiselle grew redder than ever, as she
reflected that she would not have deserved any thanks had it not been
for the suggestion of another.  She looked instinctively at Pixie, and
met a smile which reached from ear to ear, and was fairly beaming over
with exultation.  No one in the room looked so beamingly happy, but the
next moment the smile gave way to a startled expression, as Miss Phipps
continued slowly--

"There is one girl whom I am unfortunately obliged to except in giving
my invitation, and that is Pixie O'Shaughnessy.  Whether she is guilty
of really breaking Mademoiselle's scent-bottle or not, it is impossible
for me to say, but a suspicion has rested upon her which she has
persistently refused to remove.  I cannot allow a girl who defies my
authority to be among us on such an occasion, and though the fact that
she is in disgrace will cast a shadow over our evening, I consider that
I have no choice in the matter.  On Wednesday night, then, Pixie, you
will have tea by yourself in the schoolroom, and go up to bed at seven
o'clock."

"I will, Miss Phipps," said Pixie faintly.  She had blushed until her
face was crimson from the roots of her hair to the tip of her chin, and
her face stood out like a vivid peony among those of her companions.
Everyone looked at her, and the glances were more kindly than they had
been for many a day; for it is easy to be sympathetic when we get our
own way, and have shifted the burden off our own shoulders on to those
of another.  When the Principal left the room, attention was almost
equally divided between Mademoiselle and Pixie, who were each surrounded
by a group of excited talkers.

"Oh, Maddie, I do call you an angel!  It was simply sweet of you to
plead for us when you have been the one to suffer.  I'll love you for
ever for this!"

"So shall I, Maddie, and you'll see how well I'll do my verbs!  I'll
never worry you any more, but be so good and industrious.  Dance with
me, do, the first waltz, and I'll be gentleman, and not let you bump
into anybody!"

"Pixie dear, I'm so sorry, but you would rather the girls had their
party even if you couldn't go, wouldn't you, dear?"--this from Margaret,
while Lottie tossed her head and said--

"She needn't distress herself!  There is nothing to make a fuss about.
Party, indeed!  A fine sort of party!  No one comes, and it is just like
any other night, except that you dance and wear your best things!"

"And have programmes, and trifles, and jellies, and crackers, and all
sorts of good things, and sit up until ten o'clock!  But I'm awfully
sorry you can't come, Pixie.  If I get a chance I'll bring you something
upstairs from the supper-table.  You can't put lumps of jelly in your
pocket, but if there is anything dry, I'll bring it to you when I go to
bed!"

"So will I, Pixie.  My party frock has a baggy front, so I can carry a
lot.  I could get a whole cheese-cake in when no one was looking.  Or
would you rather have a mince pie?"

"I think I'd rather have--both," said Pixie sadly.  "I shall be so
hungry, lying alone repining!  I have never been to a party except once,
at Bally William, and that wasn't a party either, for there was only me
and two other boys, and the girls of the house, but we had crackers all
the same, and I got an elegant little fan.  The same I offered to you,
Lottie, when you went out last time!"

"I remember, but it didn't go with my dress.  That's another thing,
Pixie--you haven't a dress to wear, so it's just as well you aren't
asked, after all!  I managed to make you presentable for a half-term
evening, but that old frock of yours would never do for a breaking-up
party."

Well, Lottie evidently intended to be comforting, but she had an
extraordinary tactless way of going about it, Kate reflected angrily.
She herself had a much happier inspiration, when she said with an
elaborate affectation of relief--

"And it's an ill wind that blows nobody good!  What we should have done
without you to help us to dress, I really don't know!  Mind you come to
me first now.  Ethel doesn't need you half so much, for her hair curls
naturally, and mine always takes an unruly turn when it sees my best
dress, and refuses to lie as I want it."

The listeners opened their eyes significantly, for no one had ever seen
Kate's hair untidy, and it was impossible to imagine the lank locks
exhibiting roving propensities; but Pixie smiled, and that was all that
had been desired.  Pixie flicked the tears away and cried eagerly--

"I'll plait it in four, like I used to do Bridgie's when she went
visiting.  You wouldn't believe the style there is to ut.  Esmeralda
said no one would believe that it was really her own.  It was for all
the world as if she had bought a plait and stuck it on.  I'll make yours
look like that too, if you'll give me time!"

"Oh, I'll give you time!" laughed Kate pleasantly.  Her conscience
misgave her when she thought of her behaviour during the last days, and
saw how ready the child was to forgive the cold contempt, with which she
had been treated.  It was pleasant, too, to hear again of Bridgie and
Esmeralda, who had been so long unmentioned, and who must really be the
funniest creatures!  And now that the poor little scrap was to be
punished in such drastic fashion, one might venture to show pity without
being accused of encouraging wickedness.  After all, she had so far been
convicted of no worse crime than obstinacy.

Unfortunately for Pixie, some of her companions took a different view of
Miss Phipps's decision, seeing in it a proof that the Principal at least
was convinced of her guilt, and so felt themselves bound to follow her
example by ostracising the offender.  Some of Lottie's followers were
among the number, and that young lady found herself in the difficult
position of being drawn two ways at once, for she had vowed to befriend
Pixie, yet was loth to risk her popularity by acting in opposition to
the general feeling.  She took refuge in an easy neutrality, remaining
silent when gibing words were passed from mouth to mouth, and avoiding
every opportunity of coming into contact with Pixie herself.  With so
many girls about and the rush of examination work on hand, this was easy
enough to accomplish, for Lottie was ambitious, and made special effort
to come out in a good position on the list.  Every evening she pored
over books to "stew" up the subject of the next day's exam, and every
morning seated herself before her desk, and became immediately immersed
in the paper before her.  Oh, those papers, what agony and confusion of
spirit they brought to one poor scholar at least!  Pixie had been
informed that the secret of examination work was to carefully read over
the list of questions, and then set to work at once on the one she could
answer best, be it number one or six; but what was a poor girl to do
when she was convinced that she could not answer one at all?  No one had
even imagined such a position, and yet it was the one in which she found
herself over and over again during those last miserable days.  She was
so unused to examination work that the formal wording of the questions
frequently disguised their meaning, and made her imagine ignorance when
in reality she could have answered correctly enough; and oh, what misery
to look around the room and see every other girl scribbling for her
life, and looking as if the only difficulty was lack of time to write
all she knew!

Pixie's mode of proceeding was to print an elaborate heading to her
paper, and while away a quarter of an hour in adding ornamental
flourishes to the double lines, and in elaborately darkening the down-
strokes of her capitals.  Then she would scribble on her blotting-paper,
dropping intentional blots upon a clean page, and weaving them into a
connected picture with no little skill and ingenuity.  At this point a
sharp reminder from teacher or scholar would bring her back to another
melancholy perusal of the paper, and she would read and read the
questions, in the melancholy hope of finding them grown more easy for
the time of waiting.

Sometimes a query was put in so straightforward a form that it was
possible to answer it in a single word, and then with glee Pixie would
print "Question two" in ornamental characters, and write "Yes!"
underneath it with a glow of exhilaration.  At other times, as in the
grammar paper, a question would make no calls on the memory, but would,
so to speak, supply its own material, when she attacked it with more
haste than discretion in her delight at finding something which she
could really accomplish.

To give an example--Miss Bruce, the English teacher, quoted the
sentence, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth is an ungrateful child!"
and asked to have it paraphrased so as to show the two predicates which
made it into a complex sentence.  Pixie licked her lips over this
opportunity, and squeak, squeak, squeak, went her pen along the paper,
making the other girls look up and raise their eyebrows at one another
in surprised comment.  Writing at last, and so eagerly too!  Pixie must
surely have an inspiration at last; and so she had, for the big straggly
writing set forth an extraordinary sentence: "How sharper it is to have
an ungrateful child, than it is to have a serpent's tooth!"

"Humph!" mused Pixie, gnawing her pen, "there's a queer sound to it too.
If I didn't know for sure it was right, I'd be just as certain it was
wrong!" and so the paraphrase remained, to astonish the eyes of Miss
Bruce, and give her a hearty laugh in the midst of the dreary work of
reading examination papers that evening.

"Well, who comes out first in the exams it is impossible to say, but
there is no doubt who will be last!  I don't think Pixie O'Shaughnessy
will get more than a dozen marks for a single paper she has written,"
was the remark of a certain Evelyn, one of the leaders of the anti-Pixie
faction, on the day before the breaking-up party.  "We used to think her
clever, but it was only a bubble, which has collapsed utterly the last
few weeks.  A guilty conscience--that's my explanation!  I call her a
hardened little wretch, for she doesn't seem to mind a bit not being
allowed to come down to-morrow.  You might have thought that she would
be perfectly miserable, but instead of that she really seems in better
spirits than before."

"She does, and she likes to hear about the party, too!  Just watch her
when we are talking about it, and she is all eyes and ears.  We saw some
of the refreshments coming in to-day, and she positively beamed!  I
said, `Those are for supper to-morrow!' and she said, `Are they as nice
as usual?  Do you think it will be as grand as last year?  Will you have
every single thing just the same as if Miss Phipps hadn't been angry?'
I said that if Miss Phipps did a thing at all, she would do it properly,
and that I was quite sure it would be quite as `grand,' and she chuckled
with delight, just as if she were going herself.  I can't make her out."

"Perhaps she thinks that Miss Phipps will relax at the last moment, but
if she does, she is very much mistaken.  There will be no pardon for her
until she speaks the truth.  As I said before, I believe she is just a
hardened little wretch who doesn't care what happens to her, and that is
why she doesn't show any sign of feeling."

"She has looked miserable enough until now.  Why not give her the
benefit of the doubt, and believe that, whether she is guilty or not,
she is generous enough to be glad that the whole school is not to be
punished?" asked Margaret gently.  "Whatever Pixie has done, she is too
warm-hearted to be called `hardened,' and I think some of you girls make
a great mistake in treating her as you do.  You will never do any good
by bullying, for she is so terrified at anything like unkindness that it
makes it still more difficult to speak.  You would have more influence
if you were kinder to her."

"Oh, Margaret, you are so absurdly good-natured!  It's always the same
cry with you.  You would forgive everybody, if you had your way!" cried
Evelyn impatiently, and promptly flounced across the room, leaving
Margaret and Lottie alone by the fire.  They looked at each other in
silence, and then Margaret summoned up courage to make an appeal which
she had been meditating for some days past.

"They won't listen to me, Lottie, but they would if you asked them.  It
is really cruel to be always gibing and jeering as they are, and the
older girls ought to set a better example.  You are fond of Pixie too,
and want to do the best for her.  Can't you persuade your friends to
treat her better for the rest of the term?"

Lottie shrugged her shoulders impatiently, and frowned in worried,
discontented fashion.

"It is only three days longer.  What is the use of making a fuss?  It is
idiotic of Pixie not to tell what she was doing in Mademoiselle's room,
and I can't go about lecturing the whole school because she chooses to
be obstinate!  I am going to invite her to stay with me in the holidays,
and will give her a good time to make up for all this.  What's the good
of worrying?  The girls will be too busy packing and preparing for the
party to think of her any more now."

This was true enough, so true that Margaret could say no more, though
she could not suppress the reflection that Lottie might have given the
clue weeks before, if she had been so disposed.  "But, as she says, the
worst is over.  Nothing much can happen in three days," she told herself
consolingly; wherein she was for something very exciting indeed was
fated to happen before half that time had elapsed!



CHAPTER TWELVE.

THE DISCOVERY.

The next afternoon all was bustle and confusion in Holly House, servants
setting the tables in the dining-room, and clearing the large classroom,
in preparation for the party, and governesses and pupils dressing
themselves with as much care as though they expected to meet a hundred
strangers, instead of the everyday school set, without a single
addition.  Dresses which had not seen the light since the half-term-
holiday were brought forth once more, with such additions in the shape
of sashes, flowers, and gloves as befitted the greater importance of the
occasion, and in her own bedroom Pixie O'Shaughnessy was whisking to and
fro, attending to the wants of three exacting mistresses, who all seemed
to require her at one and the same moment.

"Hi, Pixie, come here!  This place is getting knee-deep in clothes.
Just put them away."

"Now then, Pixie.  I'm waiting for this hair-dressing!  You make it look
like an artificial plait, or there'll be trouble in this camp."

"Oh-h, bother!  The more hurry the less speed.  Now I've broken this
tape.  Has anyone got a bodkin?  No, of course not!  There never is a
bodkin when I want one.  You'll have to manage with a hairpin, Pixie,
and be sharp about it.  I shall be late for tea at this rate!"  So on,
and so on, and at each summons in rushed an eager little worker, so
deft, so willing, so incredibly quick in her movements, that her
mistresses were overcome with admiration.

"Your hands do you more credit than your brains, young woman!"
pronounced Kate judicially.  "You will never be a mistress of a High
School; but you are a born lady's-maid, and you can come to me for a
reference when you need it."

"That's what Esmeralda says.  I am going to be her maid when she marries
the duke.  He comes down to hunt near Bally William, but he really lives
in England, in the most beautiful palace, with peacocks on the lawn.
Esmeralda's going to have the drawing-room papered in yellow, to suit
her complexion, and to set the fashion of having little sisters to wait
upon you, like pages in old story-books," returned Pixie, with her mouth
full of hairpins, and there was a rustle of excitement in the different
cubicles.

"Esmeralda engaged!  You never told us!  To a duke.  Which duke?  How
lovely for her!  When are they going to get married?"

"Now indeed I can't tell you!" returned Pixie regretfully.  She was
proudly conscious of having made a sensation, and it did seem hard to be
obliged to dispel it as soon as it was made!  "There's nothing settled,
for, to tell you the truth, he has never so much as seen her yet, but
she was visiting old Biddy Gallagher when he drove past to the meet, and
at lunch says she, `He's the elegant creature, that duke!  I'm thinking
of marrying him myself!' and took Bridgie's advice on the trousseau that
very afternoon.  She says she won't be engaged until she is twenty-one,
and that it's a pity to unsettle him about it yet awhile, as there's
over two years to wait.  He wouldn't want to wait if he saw her, for
she's more beautiful than anyone you ever saw out of a picture, though
it's himself I pity when the tantrums is on her.  We often talk about
it, and plan how we will spend his money, and if you want to put her in
a good temper you've nothing to do but call her `Your Grace!'"

"I never heard anything so silly!" cried Ethel scornfully.  Kate gave a
mild "He, he!" as she watched the process of hair-dressing in the
mirror, and reflected pensively that spectacles seemed strangely out of
keeping with evening dress.  There was no doubt about it, she was
astonishingly plain, and oh, how nice it must be to be beautiful like
Esmeralda--so beautiful that even your own brothers and sisters admired
you!  It was a natural longing, for every girl wishes to be attractive
to others, and feels a pang if obliged to realise that the tribute of
admiration can never be hers; but Kate was too sensible to grieve long
over impossibilities.  "I shall have to be extra amiable to make up for
it, that's all!" she told herself philosophically, as she lifted the
hand-glass, and wriggled about before the glass to view the effect of
the new coiffure.  It was most elaborate and hairdresser-windowish in
effect, and if it were not exactly becoming, that was perhaps more her
own misfortune than the fault of the operator, who had bestowed such
pains upon the erection.  So she declared truthfully enough that she had
never felt so fine in her life, and threatened to sit at the piano the
whole of the evening, so that all beholders might have an opportunity of
admiring her "back hair."

Her toilet was now finished, but Ethel's bows were waiting to be tied
and smoothed out, and Flora had to be laced into her dress, and to be
consoled when again visited with the dread of finishing her career as
the fat woman in a show.  Finally, the first bell for tea was heard
pealing downstairs, and away ran the three girls, leaving poor
Cinderella to tidy the cubicles, and almost forgetting to thank her for
her services; for in truth they had been so cheerfully rendered as to
appear a favour given, rather than received.

Left to herself, Pixie stole into the corridor and flattened herself
into a doorway to watch the gay figures descending the staircase.  The
tidying away could wait for a few moments, but it was not often that one
had the opportunity of watching so festive a scene.  Doors opened on
every side, and out they came, one girl after another, so smart and fine
that one could hardly recognise them for the blue-serged damsels of
ordinary school life.  Down the stairs they tripped, with rustlings of
silk and crinklings of muslin, dainty white shoes, looking daintier than
ever against the well-worn carpet.  Such a crowd of girls, and each one
looking brighter and happier than the one before.  Lottie in white,
Margaret in blue, with her brown hair coiled round her head in a shining
chestnut coronet, one after another, until at last there was no one
left, and silence reigned in the corridor, broken only by a little sniff
and sigh from the shadow of a doorway.  "And one little p-ig stayed at
h-ome," sighed Pixie, trying hard to laugh, and assiduously licking the
tears from her cheeks, as she hung school skirts in the cupboards, and
folded everyday garments on bedroom chairs, in readiness for use on the
following day.

"Now they are all sitting down and beginning to eat!  There'll be
nothing but jam and cakes and elegant bread-and-butter--so thin you
might eat a plateful, and starve upon it!  I wonder what they'll be
sending me upstairs.  I couldn't look at a bit of plain food, but plum
cake would be medicine to me.  Me digestion was always delicate.
Bridgie said so.  `The child needs tempting!'  I've heard her say, over
and over again, when the milk pudding came in at the door, and my
appetite went out.  I must go to the schoolroom now, I suppose, for Miss
Phipps said I must be in my bed by seven.  Ellen has the soft heart--I
wouldn't wonder if she brought me something nice to cheer me spirits!"

Buoyed up by this hope, she ran off to the classroom, and there was
Ellen herself at the door, looking at her with such kind, sorry-looking
eyes, as if there was nothing she would like better than to carry her
bodily downstairs.

"Your tea is ready, Miss Pixie.  Miss Emily's orders were that I was not
to bring you any cake, but I have brought something else that you will
like better."

What could that be?  Pixie rushed to the table, and oh, joy of joys,
there lay a big fat letter with the Bally William postmark in the
corner, and Bridgie's dear, well-known writing straggling over its
surface.  No one in the world wrote such sweet letters as Bridgie, and
how dear of her to time this one to arrive at the moment of all others
when it was most desired!  Pixie gloated over it with sparkling eyes,
kissed it, hugged it, poked at it with her fingers to discover exactly
how many sheets it might contain, and finally devoured it and the bread-
and-butter together in one long beam of delight.

"Littlest and dearest, do you want to see us all, and know what we are
doing?  It is eight o'clock, and we have had three dinners in
succession, each lordly male waiting until the other had finished his
meal before he could resign himself to come indoors, and at the third
coming Molly sent for me to the kitchen to give warning for this day
month, which same I took smiling, for it's never a bribe she would take
to leave Knock Castle while an O'Shaughnessy was within its walls.  It's
Pat that's sitting at the table now, eating apples and cracking nuts as
languid as if the day was his own, and Esmeralda frowning thunder at him
because she wants the table to draw a sketch for the newest picture,
which is to make all our fortunes yet.  The Major is reading the
newspaper, and groaning aloud at every comma, because the Government has
no sense at all, and the only man who could put things straight is tied
by the heel by half a dozen children.  The dogs are sitting in a circle
round Pat, watching every bite with such big, longing eyes, and myself
writing on my knee by the fire, with the ink on the fender,--looking
threatening at the rug!  Says Esmeralda, `Five days more, and we shall
see her again,' meaning yourself, to whom I write.  `Will she be grown,
I'm wondering!  She's too small altogether, and yet we don't want our
Pixie changed.  And the mimic she is!  Wait till we hear the fine
English talk, and have her correcting us all, on account of our brogue!'
Then Pat must up and say there was no room for him and an English
accent in the Castle at the same time, and the Major rebuked him, and
asked was it for pleasure he paid as much for schooling as could be
spent sensibly on as fine a hunter as a man could wish, and besought us
all to put ourselves at your feet, and learn what you could teach us.
Then Esmeralda sighed and clasped her hands, and says she, `It's tired
to death I am of my own family, and longing to meet somebody who has
seen more of the world than Bally William.  Couldn't we tell the Pixie
to bring home one of her friends with her, to divert us during the
Christmas holidays?' and at that we all called out together, for we have
been dull without you, little one, and looking forward to a frolic on
Christmas.  Last year we were all too sad thinking of the dear mother,
but this year she will want to see us happy.  I am sure she sees us, and
often and often when I sit alone sewing as she used to do, I think about
her, and feel she is near still, and it's only because my eyes are dim
that I can't see her.  Well then, dearie, think over your friends, and
decide which it shall be!  There's room at Castle Knock for anyone who
has been kind to its baby, and it won't be our fault if she hasn't a
happy memory of Old Ireland."

The letter went on for another sheet, but Pixie's mind was so full of
this new idea that she was hardly able to take in the words, on which
her eye rested.  To take home a friend to Bally William!  To give an
invitation on her own account, and be able to show the glories of the
dear old Castle!  This was indeed a dazzling prospect, and the problem
of deciding which friend it should be kept her occupied even when tea
was over, and she was undergoing the humiliation of putting herself to
bed in the chilly little cubicle.  Should it be Margaret?  No; for
Margaret, with all her sweetness, had little sense of humour, and though
Pixie could not reason out the matter for herself, she yet realised
instinctively that she would be uncomfortable and out of place in the
haphazard atmosphere of the Irish household.  Should it be Kate?  No,
that would not do either, for at first sight Kate was not prepossessing,
and the Major and the boys would certainly take a dislike to her
straightway.  Should it be Flora--dear, fat, good-tempered Flora?  But
what fun Esmeralda would make of her, to be sure, and how helpless she
would be when attacked by the boys' badinage!  Pixie grew quite tired
and sleepy puzzling out the question; her eyelids drooped down and down
until the lashes rested upon her cheeks, and her thoughts passed
unconsciously into dreams.

Meantime, in the large classroom downstairs the other thirty pupils were
enjoying themselves with a zest all the greater for the dullness of the
weeks which had gone before.  The floor had been sponged with milk until
it was quite smooth and slippery, a table supplied with such
refreshments as lemonade, ginger-beer, and sweet biscuits, was placed
outside the door, and the violin pupils took it in turns to accompany
the piano, so that nothing was lacking to enhance the grandeur of the
occasion.  Pretty little programmes were distributed around the room;
blue for the ladies, pink for the "gentlemen," and after each dance the
couples marched round and round the room, conversing together as if they
were at "a real party," and tabooing the affairs of ordinary school
life.  Then the gentlemen deposited their partners on chairs, and
inquired, "May I bring you a little refreshment?" until the last drop of
lemonade was drained, and only crumbs remained in the cake-baskets.
They were all flushed and panting with the vigour with which they had
joined in the dance, and at last Miss Phipps thought it wise to call a
halt.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, you must really sit down for ten minutes!"
she cried laughingly.  "If you get so overheated, you will be catching
chills next, and I am sure you don't want to be invalided just before
the holidays.  Come and take your places round the room, and we will ask
Lottie to dance her pretty scarf-dance for us, as she looks the only
cool member of the party.  There's your scarf, dear, in that drawer, and
Miss Bruce will play for you.  You dance so nicely that it is a pleasure
to see it."

Lottie blushed with pleasure at such words of praise, and took her place
in the centre of the room with smiling alacrity, and the watchers
whispered admiringly to each other as they looked at the dainty, satin-
clad figure.  Lottie was not really pretty, but she was always so
charmingly dressed that she gave the effect of beauty, and to-night in
her gala frock she certainly looked her best.  She danced gracefully and
modestly, waving her chiffon scarf in the air, and moving it to and fro
in a manner which looked easy enough, but which was in reality extremely
difficult, and required no little effort of strength, so that by the
time the dance was finished she was as flushed as her friends, and her
breath came in quick, short pants.  Poof--how hot she felt, and how
tired!  It was a relief to give the scarf into Mademoiselle's
outstretched hands, and be free to feel for a handkerchief with which to
wipe the moisture from her brow.  There was a little difficulty in
finding her pocket, and the girls watched her fumbles with amused
attention.  It was a little pause in the evening's entertainment, and
for want of something better to do all eyes were fixed upon the figure
which stood so prominently in the middle of the room.  "Try again!" they
cried encouragingly, and Lottie made yet another dive downwards.  This
time she was successful, for her hand disappeared into her pocket, and
presently jerked upwards, bringing with it a small lace handkerchief
rolled up into a ball, as if it had lain forgotten since the last time
that the dress was worn.  She flicked it in the air, and at that
something flew out and clattered on the floor near her feet.
Mademoiselle stooped to pick it up, and threw up her hands with a cry of
dismay.  It was a piece of glass, about half an inch in size, and in one
corner was clearly discernible the end of an engraved letter--the letter
"T!"



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

EXPLANATIONS.

"Pixie, awake! awake!  Oh, Pixie, open your eyes!  Get up, dear, get up!
We want you downstairs!"

Margaret bent over Pixie's bedside, tears shining in her eyes, and
lifting the slight figure in her arms, shook it to and fro, until the
grey eyes opened in astonishment, and a sleepy voice murmured--

"Is't morning?  Time get up?"

"Morning, no!  It is not nine o'clock, and Miss Phipps thought you would
certainly be awake, with so much music going on; but it's no use, I must
wake you, whatever happens!  Here's your dressing-gown.  Here are your
bedroom slippers.  You have to come downstairs with me this minute!"

"Am I the queen?" asked Pixie, waking up all in a moment, and peering
mischievously into Margaret's face.  "When you are wakened up in the
middle of the night, and taken downstairs in your dressing-gown and
slippers, it's either a fire, or you are the queen, and the courtiers
are waiting to kiss your hand.  You know it is, Margaret!  You have seen
it in the pictures!"

"Yes, I've seen it? and perhaps there may be courtiers waiting for you,
Pixie; and kisses too, and a dear little crown to put on that shaggy
head!  Great excitements have happened since you went to bed, and we
know now that it was not you who broke Mademoiselle's scent-bottle.  We
are almost certain that it was Lottie herself, and Miss Phipps has sent
for you to help us!"

Pixie gave a start of dismay, and the laughter died out of her face,
leaving it scared and white.  Her fingers tightened round Margaret's
arm, and she hung back trembling as they neared the schoolroom door.
Another moment and they stood within the threshold, looking round on
what seemed suddenly to have taken upon itself the aspect of a court of
justice.  The girls were as before ranged round the walls, and at the
end of the room stood a row of teachers; Fraulein and Miss Bruce flushed
and excited, Mademoiselle with tears in her eyes, Miss Phipps with an
awful sternness of expression, which gave place to a momentary softness
as she looked at the new-comers.  Pixie glanced at them all, one after
the other, and from them to the figure standing in the centre of the
room, like a prisoner at the bar, her face white as her dress, her eyes
full of terror and despair.  She gave a sharp cry of distress, and
rushed forward with outstretched arms.

"Lottie, Lottie, I didn't tell!  I never told--Lottie, Lottie, I kept my
word!"

A deep murmur sounded through the room as each hearer drew her breath in
a sob of mingled conviction and regret, and of all the number Lottie
seemed the most affected.  She burst into a paroxysm of tears, clasped
Pixie in an hysterical embrace, then, thrusting her aside, turned
eagerly towards Miss Phipps.

"Oh, I will tell--I will!  It was all my fault--Pixie had nothing to do
with it--I will tell you all about it."

"It is more than time, Lottie.  Begin at once, and pray calm yourself
until you have finished!" returned Miss Phipps coldly; and Lottie wiped
away her tears, and struggled to keep back the rising sobs.

"It was the night of the term-holiday--I was going out--I was dressed
and going along the passage, and Mademoiselle's door stood open, and I
saw the light shining upon the gold of the scent-bottle.  I had no scent
of my own, and I thought I would go in and take a little of
Mademoiselle's.  I knew she would give it to me if I asked, and if I
told her next day there wouldn't be any harm.  But I was in a hurry, and
I heard Pixie calling, and I put the bottle down too quickly, and the
glass struck the corner of the table and fell into pieces in my hand.  I
was so frightened--and there was no time to think, for Pixie was running
along the passage, so I just mopped up the scent with my handkerchief,
and flew to the door.  I suppose the piece of glass must have got in
then, for the handkerchief has never been out of my pocket until to-
night.  Pixie said, `Oh, what a smell of scent!' and I said something--I
forget what--about its being rude to make remarks, and ran downstairs as
quickly as I could go.  I was so wretched all the evening I didn't know
what to do.  I thought when it was found out Pixie would be sure to
tell; but when I came home the girls all said how lucky I was to have
been out, for no one could suspect me, and I said nothing.  And I saw
Mademoiselle crying, and I said nothing, and then I was afraid to speak,
for it was too late!  Pixie came to me next morning and said, `Lottie,
they think I broke the bottle because I was the only girl in
Mademoiselle's room last night; but I know that you were there too, and
that you had been taking some scent!' and I begged and prayed her not to
tell anyone else.  I was so confused that I let her see I had broken it,
but I said if she told I should get into trouble with my father, and she
promised at once.  She was so willing, that I didn't feel as
uncomfortable as I expected, but I was miserable when everyone blamed
her, and she was punished.  I comforted myself by thinking that I would
ask her to stay with me in the holidays, and make it up to her then.
She never told me what she was doing in Mademoiselle's room--I tried to
believe that she was really to blame.  She might have cracked the
bottle, and that was why it broke so easily!"

"And so the best reward you could give to the friend who shielded you at
her own expense was to suspect her of deceit!  That will do, Lottie!
You can go to your own room now.  I will deal with you to-morrow.  Now
we will hear what Pixie has to say!"

Miss Phipps paused impressively for a moment, and then spoke again in
tones so sweet and gentle that it was difficult to recognise them as
coming from the same voice which had spoken but a moment before.

"Pixie, you have heard Lottie's explanation.  I will speak about that
later on, but now I have a favour to ask you.  For my sake, dear--for
all our sakes--to help us to get at the whole truth of this unhappy
affair, I ask you to tell me frankly what you were doing in
Mademoiselle's room when Ellen saw you there?"

Pixie hung her head, and her cheeks grew am scarlet as the scarlet
dressing-gown itself.  She lifted one little slippered foot and stood
perched on the other like a funny little ruffled stork in the midst of
the shining floor, and the watching faces of the girls were pretty to
see with their expressions of tender amusement and sympathy.

"Please, Miss Phipps," said Pixie hoarsely, "I was doing nothing.  I was
only after putting in the hot bottle!"

Miss Phipps stared, Mademoiselle gave a sharp exclamation of surprise,
and turned impetuously to her Principal.

"The 'ot bottle!  It is true.  I 'ave one every night, but I thought
that Ellen--that one of the maids--"

"We have put no hot bottle in your bed, Mademoiselle.  It is Miss
Emily's rule that any of the young ladies may have bottles of their own,
if they take the trouble to fill them in the bathroom as they go to bed,
and to put them back there in the morning.  We never put one in a bed
unless in the case of illness," said Ellen, who stood in a corner of the
room, one of the most anxious and interested of the spectators; and at
that Miss Phipps turned once more to Pixie.

"Then are we to understand that it was your own bottle of which you are
talking?  And what made you think of lending it to Mademoiselle?"

"She told me that she was always cold," said Pixie faintly.  "I didn't
like to think of her lying there shivering.  Bridgie gave me the bottle
when I came away in a little red flannel cover.  `You're such a frog!'
says she, `maybe this will warm you,' but I just roll my feet in my
nightgown and hug them in my hands until they are warm.  I thought
perhaps Mademoiselle couldn't do that.  Ye can't bend so easy when
you're old, so she needed the bottle most."

"_Ma petite_!" cried Mademoiselle.  "_Ma cherie_!"--and she would have
rushed forward and taken Pixie into her arms straight away, had not Miss
Phipps held her back with a restraining touch.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

PIXIE INTERCEDES.

"One more question, Pixie, and remember I place absolute reliance on
what you say, for you have given proof that you are to be trusted.  You
heard Lottie's insinuation that you might have had some share in the
accident!  Had you touched the scent-bottle at all that night?"

"I had not, Miss Phipps!"  The grey eyes looked into the face of the
questioner with a steady light.  "I never noticed it at all until the
girls began talking about it, and then said I, `I must have a look at
that bottle before I'm much older,' and so I did that very same evening,
but never a finger did I lay upon it.  I put me hands behind me back and
just doubled meself over the table--like this!--looking at it all I
knew, but not daring as much as to breathe upon it, and from that hour I
was never within yards of its presence."

"I understand!  But why, dear, have you refused to give us this simple
explanation all these weeks?  It was surely only to your credit that you
had thought of Mademoiselle's comfort before your own, so there was no
reason for being so secret about it.  Did you not see that it would have
helped your cause to have given this explanation?"

"I--didn't--like!" said Pixie, twisting her finger in and out in
embarrassed fashion.  "It was this way--that first night you were all so
cross and so certain that it was me, because I had been in the room,
that I was shy about telling.  You see Mademoiselle would have been
obliged to be pleased with me, and she wasn't feeling disposed to be
pleased just then, and it would seem as if I were trying to get off
blame, by boasting of what I'd done.  I can't explain my feelings, but I
couldn't tell!  The next day it would have been different, but Lottie
begged me not to say what I knew, and we never told tales of each other
at home.  The boys would have been cut in pieces before they had rounded
on each other, so of course I had to give my word.  It was very
miserable, because no one loved me, and in my home we have very
affectionate ways, the one with the other; but Lottie said it was only a
little time to the holidays, and after that all would be forgotten.  She
did say she would ask me to visit her, and I wouldn't hurt her feelings
by saying No, so I just wrote and told Bridgie to say I couldn't be
spared, for I can't go anywhere but my own home.  And she said her
father would be so angry with her if he knew, that never another happy
moment would she have, and I knew my people wouldn't mind!"

"And did you tell your people how unhappy you were?  Did you tell them
what trouble you were in?" queried Miss Phipps softly, and at that Pixie
shook her head with great emphasis.

"I did not, Miss Phipps--I wouldn't dare!  They would be so terribly
angry!"

"But you said a moment ago that they `wouldn't mind'!  Then how could
they be angry with you, dear?" asked Miss Phipps, smiling, and Pixie
bent her head with a quick propitiatory bow.

"'Deed, it was yourself they would be angry with,--not me!  If the two
Houses of Parliament were walking up to Knock Castle and telling them
that Pixie had told a lie and stuck to it for a month on end, they would
only be calling shame upon them, to have nothing better to do than take
away a lady's character, and the Major would say, `Twelve years have I
known her, and never the day that she wasn't up to her neck in mischief,
but no child of mine ever looked in my face and gave me the lie, and
Pixie's not the one to begin.'  So never a word did I say, but just that
the examinations were coming on, and we were not allowed to go out."

"Pixie, come here!" cried Miss Phipps; and when the girl approached she
received her with outstretched arms and framed the thin little face with
her hands.  "Little Pixie," she said softly, "never say again that no
one loves you in this house.  I have loved you from the first, and have
felt it a real trouble to be obliged to doubt you, and now I love you a
hundred times more for your loyalty and unselfish consideration for your
friend.  You would have been wiser to be more candid about your own
doings, but I appreciate your scruples, and the school code of honour
has so many good points that I cannot bring myself to say that it should
have been broken.  As for the conduct of a girl who would let another
suffer as you have done rather than bear the consequences of her own
misdoing, I have no words to express my horror and indignation,
especially when she is a senior and you one of the youngest in the
school.  It shows a want of principle which makes me despair of her
future.  A sudden slip or disobedience I could pardon, but not
deliberate deceit, and I am too fond of my girls, and too anxious about
their welfare, to allow such an influence to remain in their midst."

Like the shiver of wind among the trees, the word "Expelled!" came from
a dozen quivering lips, and Pixie O'Shaughnessy clasped her hands in
horrified appeal.

"Oh, ye wouldn't--ye wouldn't send her away!  Ye wouldn't give her over
to her father, and him so stern and cruel with her!  If she's been bad
now, she was good before.  The girls were fond of her, and she was kind
to meself, lending me her lace collar and all the fixings for the party.
If it's for making me miserable you are after punishing her, I'll be
more miserable than ever, and the girls will be miserable too--ask them
if they won't!  Lots of them think there isn't another to touch her in
the school, and they couldn't do that if she was all bad.  Punish her
some other way, but oh, don't, don't send her away!  What's the use of
me taking all the trouble if it's to be no good after all?"

A smile came to Miss Phipps's lips at the innocent directness of the
question, but she grew grave enough the next moment, and her voice
sounded both sad and troubled as she replied--

"You certainly give us a lesson in the way to forgive our enemies,
Pixie, and I should be sorry to do anything that would make you
`miserable'; but I must think of Lottie's good before our own
preferences.  Mr Vane is too good and just a man to treat her unkindly,
and is only stern because he has realised the weakness of her character.
He is too anxious about her welfare to make it right for me to conceal
anything from him, especially so flagrant a breach of honour; but
perhaps--I don't know--if the feeling of the girls themselves is in her
favour, I may consent to give her another chance.  I am glad to hear
that she has been kind--"

"Lottie is very good-natured, Miss Phipps.  She is a favourite with the
girls.  They would be sorry to lose her.  I think it would be a
punishment to her to feel that she had fallen so much in their opinion,
and we would all like to give her another chance," said Margaret
timidly, and Miss Phipps nodded kindly in reply.

"Ah, well, we can decide nothing to-night.  It will need careful
thinking over, and meanwhile we will banish the subject and make the
most of the time that is left.  I am very sorry for the interruption,
although in one sense we are glad of it too, for it has brought Pixie
back amongst us.  She must go upstairs and dress quickly, and then we
will have supper and put away unpleasant thoughts, and Mademoiselle must
really dry her eyes, for I cannot have any more crying to-night."

"If Peexie will forgeeve me!" cried Mademoiselle, stretching out her
arms and clasping Pixie in so tight an embrace that when her little snub
nose came again in sight, it bore the pattern of a steel button plainly
stamped upon it.  "I won't forgeeve myself that I was so 'arsh and
cross.  It was a poor thanks, _cherie_, for your kindness to me all
these weeks when I have been so warm and comfortable.  I am ashamed to
remember what I have done."

"Small blame to you if you were mad when you believed I was telling a
lie to your face!  But ye weren't half so nasty as ye think ye were,"
said Pixie, beaming upon her in sweetest condescension.  "Sometimes ye
were quite agreeable.  There was one day I was in with a cold, and ye
came and cheered up me spirits until I hardly knew meself for the same
creature."

Mademoiselle lifted her hands with an eloquent gesture, as a sudden
remembrance darted into her mind.

"Ah, yes!  It is true.  And now I have something else to tell you, you
girls!  It is Pixie whom you have to thank for this party, not me.  It
was she who begged me to supplicate Miss Phipps for you.  She said, `She
will say Yes if it is you who ask, but not to me, therefore you must not
say my name at all; but if she will not give the party because I am to
be punished, tell her to send me to bed and let the rest be 'appy.'  The
dear child has thought of you when you were all so cross with her!"

There was an outburst of cheering from all corners of the room, in the
midst of which Evelyn fell back in her chair and tugged with both hands
at her long dark locks.

"And I called her a hardened little sinner!  I abused her like a
pickpocket, and called her an ungrateful serpent!  Bring some sackcloth
and ashes, somebody, quickly!  I shall go in mourning for the rest of my
life!"



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

AN UNEXPECTED INVITATION.

"That child Pixie is more wonderful than ever.  What do you think she
asks me next?" said Mademoiselle to Miss Phipps early the next morning.
"The dear Breedgie has told her to invite a friend to return 'ome with
her for the holidays, and she gives me the letter to read, and asks that
it shall be me!  I have laughed, but it is no use; she is still in
earnest.  I have said, `I am not a schoolgirl, and too old for you, my
dear.'  She stares in my face, and asks, `'Ow old are you then?  Not
more than forty, are you?'  Ah, dear!  If someone else had said that, I
had been furious, for one does not like to be made ten years too old,
but one cannot be angry with that child.  Then I said, `Your sister will
expect a girl like yourself, and will be disappointed to see me, and
that would be uncomfortable for both.'  But she would not listen to that
either, but declared it would be still better for them, for they had
wished for someone who had seen the world.  Nothing that I can say will
convince her, but you know it is impossible that I should go!"

"Well, really, Therese, I wish you would!" returned Miss Phipps,
laughing.  "It has been a weight on my mind to think of your remaining
here alone during the holidays; and I cannot stay with you, for I am
bound to go to my old aunt.  As for Pixie taking one of the girls home
with her, that is out of the question at this hour of the day.  If Miss
O'Shaughnessy had sent an invitation even a fortnight ago, it might have
been arranged, but now there is no time to write, and get permission,
and make the necessary plans.  It is only in a case like yours, when
there is no one else to consult, that such a very Irish invitation could
be accepted; so either you go with Pixie, or she returns alone.  And
that reminds me of another thing.  It would be a comfort to me if you
could look after the child on the journey, for I have had a letter from
the brother to say that he cannot decide definitely on what day he will
cross.  How would it be if you accepted the invitation for one week,
took the child safely home, and just left it to circumstances to decide
what to do after that?"

"You think I might venture--really?" asked Mademoiselle eagerly.  Her
eyes brightened, and a flush of colour came into her cheek.  "If it
would not be too absurd, I should like it ver' much!  We have heard so
much of those dear sisters that we seem to know them already, and I
should be glad of the change.  If, for example, you would write and say
you would be more comfortable if I accompanied the child, and that I
would stay a few days--that would perhaps make it easier!"

"Certainly, with pleasure; and I shall be so glad if it ends in a nice
holiday for you, dear!  The last part of the term has been so trying
that we all need cheering up; and, from all we hear, I should think the
household at Knock Castle must be a delightful study.  Young Mr
O'Shaughnessy has promised to call this afternoon, so you had better
come down and talk to him yourself.  I am sure you will find that he is
as cordial as Pixie herself."

This, indeed, proved to be the case, and greatly charmed was
Mademoiselle with the handsome youth, who beamed upon her with Pixie's
own smile, and who was so much warmer and more enthusiastic in his
manner than his English brothers.  Jack, indeed, was an apt disciple of
the Blarney Stone, and could pay compliments with any man in Ireland.
He gazed at Mademoiselle with an expression in his eyes which seemed to
say that never, no, never, had he met so charming a woman; his voice
gurgled with emotion as he seconded his sister's invitation, and he bade
her welcome to Knock Castle with the graciousness of a prince of the
blood.  So handsome he looked, too, that Pixie's heart swelled with
pride, as she beheld him seated on the sofa, in his frock coat and
freshly creased trousers, looking, as she mentally expressed it, as if
he never "gave a thought to money," which in good truth was the case,
though in another sense to that in which she meant it.  The West End
tailor would have a weary time to wait before Mr Jack troubled himself
to pay for all his fine new clothes!

Jack declared that it would be of all things the most helpful if
Mademoiselle would escort Pixie home, for he himself would have to leave
his journey until the very last moment before Christmas, when travelling
would be both difficult and unpleasant.  He offered to telegraph to his
sisters, prophesied that Mademoiselle would receive an immediate
response, so that before he left the house the matter was virtually
settled, and the extraordinary news spread through the school that
Mademoiselle was going home with Pixie O'Shaughnessy to pay a visit to
her relatives.  Surprise was the first feeling, envy the next, and the
elder pupils were urgent in their demands for letters.

"Write to us, Maddie, do!  Promise you will!  We are all dying to hear
what they are like.  Tell us if Esmeralda is really as beautiful as
Pixie says, and what Bridgie is like, and the boys, and `the Major,' and
the Castle itself.  And tell us all you do, and exactly what happens
when you arrive.  Write one really long, detaily letter, and we will
send it the round of the class, so that we will all get the benefit.
You will, Maddie, won't you?  We do want so badly to know about Pixie's
home!"

Mademoiselle laughed merrily.  It was astonishing how bright and young
she looked in the prospect of the unexpected holiday.  She was in such a
good temper that it seemed really impossible for her to say No.

"I will tell you what I can, but you know it is not _comme il faut_ to
criticise the house, in which you stay.  I will write all the pleasant
things, but for the jokes--the _contretemps_, no!  Pixie shall do that
if she will, I must keep them to myself.  If they are all as nice as the
son whom I have seen, they must be charming.  I have never met a more
pleasant youth."

The girls wagged their heads in meaning fashion.

"We saw him!" they said meaningly--"we saw him!  Pixie said he was
coming about four, so we kept a lookout, and were obliged to go to the
window to read some small print, just as he happened to walk up the
steps.  Ethel heard the bell, and stopped practising five minutes before
the time, and strolled casually downstairs to meet him.  He stood aside
to let her pass, and she says he smiles with his eyes, just like Pixie!
Oh, of course, we don't expect you to tell tales, but just to ease our
curiosity.  We do take such an extraordinary interest in that family!"

"There is another family in which I take an even greater interest just
now, and that's the Vanes!" remarked Kate meaningly.  "Miss Phipps wrote
to Mr Vane, and I met poor Lottie just now with eyes all magenta with
crying over a letter she had just received from him.  She saw I was
sorry for her, and I think she was thankful to have someone to talk to,
for she asked me to read it."  She threw up her hands with a gesture of
dismay.  "Well, I don't know what I should do if my father wrote me a
letter like that!"

"Ow-w-ow!"  Ethel shivered dramatically.  "How horrible!  What did he
say?  Was it terribly furious?"

"It wasn't furious at all, not even angry; but oh, so sad and solemn
that it made you turn cold to read it!  `It had tears in it,' as
Fraulein said of Margaret's singing, and you could tell he was so
bitterly, bitterly disappointed!  Lottie felt that more than if he had
been cross, for she does so love to be loved and fussed over; and if
ever there was a poor thing scared out of her wits at the thought of to-
morrow, it is herself at this moment.  He comes to take her away, you
know, and instead of the holidays being a relief, as she expected, she
is longing for them to be over.  She says now that she would rather not
come back here, but go to some fresh school where no one knows about
this trouble; but her father thinks it would be good for her to suffer
the humiliation of losing her position among us, and says if Miss Phipps
will have her, she must try to regain our esteem.  Ah, well, I was as
disgusted with her as anyone could be, and felt inclined never to speak
to her again when I thought how she had treated the Pixie; but I am
dreadfully sorry for her now, when I compare her home-going with my own.
I do have such a time!  The family is one beam of delight when I
arrive; the children quarrel who shall sit by me at table, and I have
all my favourite puddings.  My room looks so sweet with flowers on the
dressing-table, and I sit up till ten o'clock, and mother comes to see
me in bed and gives me a lovely hug.  Fifty-two more hours!  I'm so
happy I couldn't be angry with my deadliest enemy!"

"I saw Mr Vane once, and he looks a regular grey man," said Ethel in
reply.  "Clothes, and hair, and eyes, and skin--all the same washed-out
grey.  I don't wonder Lottie is in awe of him, and I'm thankful I am not
mixed up in the business, so that he can't ask to interview me.  I
believe he will want to see Pixie, though.  It would seem only natural.
I wouldn't say so to her for the world, but don't you think Miss Phipps
will send for her when he comes?"

Some of the girls thought no, others thought yes, and events proved that
the latter were in the right; for the next afternoon Pixie was summoned
to the drawing-room in the middle of her packing, and entered to find
Miss Phipps in earnest conversation with a tall, grave-looking man,
while Lottie stood miserably by the window.  She looked tall and womanly
in her travelling-cloak, and the pained glance which Mr Vane turned
from her to the new-comer showed that he felt all an Englishman's horror
at the idea of cruelty to the weak.

"Is this--this surely can't be _Pixie_?" he asked anxiously.  "I did not
expect to see anyone so--small.  She is surely very young!"

He was really speaking to Miss Phipps, but as he held Pixie's hand in
his, she felt it her duty to answer for herself.

"No--I'm really quite old, but I'm stunted.  I'm twelve!" she said,
smiling up at him, with the confiding look which was her best
introduction to a stranger.  She was about to enlighten him still
further as to the respective heights of the different members of her
family, but a curious quiver passed over the grey face, and scared her
into silence.

"Twelve, are you, and Lottie is sixteen!  I sent for you, Pixie, to tell
you how bitterly grieved Mrs Vane and I are to think of all you have
suffered through our daughter's cowardice.  I wish it were in our power
to do something for you in return, but I hope at least that Lottie has
expressed her regret before leaving, and begged your forgiveness!"

"No, she didn't beg anything.  She just cried, and hugged me, and I
cried, and hugged her back.  I knew she was sorry from the beginning;
and it was worse for her, because she knew all the time that she was
wrong, and I was quite comfortable inside.  And she was very kind to me
before that.  I liked her very much.  She gave me an elegant little
brooch that she didn't want any longer."

Mr Vane turned aside, and looked into Miss Phipps's face, and Miss
Phipps looked back at him with a glance half smiling, half tearful, and
withal wholly proud, as though justified in something about which she
had previously been inclined to boast.

"Pixie finds no difficulty in forgiving, Mr Vane, and I think the best
thanks you could give her would be an opportunity of befriending Lottie
still further, and helping her to regain her position in the school.  I
think it is an encouraging omen for the future that it is the girls
themselves who have persuaded me to take her back."

"They are very good!  You are all very good," he said sadly.  "I need
hardly say how much I appreciate your kindness.  Good-bye, then, little
Pixie O'Shaughnessy, and I hope we may meet again under happier
circumstances.  May you have happy holidays!"

"I'm going home," said Pixie eloquently.  Her radiant face made such a
striking contrast to that other bleached, frightened-looking visage that
the father's heart softened as he looked from one to the other.  He took
Lottie's hand and drew it tenderly through his arm.

"And so is Lottie, and if her parents seem stern with her, it is only
because they are anxious for her good.  She perhaps hardly realises the
bitter pain it gives them to see her unhappy."

"Father!" cried Lottie eagerly, and now for the first time she clung to
him instead of shrinking out of sight, and seemed to find comfort in the
touch of his hand.  The fifth-form girls, peeping cautiously out of the
window a few minutes later, were amazed to see her descend the steps
holding tightly to his arm, but they were too much engrossed with their
own exciting preparations to have time to ponder over the phenomenon.
Only Miss Phipps and Pixie knew that the "grey man" had a tender heart
despite his sternness, and that Lottie had fallen into wise and loving
care.

The next morning all was excitement and bustle, cabs and omnibuses
driving up to the door of Holly House to convey parties of pupils to the
station, gushing farewells and promises to write taking place on the
staircase, mysterious bundles, "not to be opened until Christmas
morning," slipped into trunks at the last moment, and such racings up
and down stairs in search of things forgotten as can be better imagined
than described when thirty girls half-mad with excitement are on the
point of starting for home.

Mademoiselle and Pixie were among the first to leave, and, despite the
very early hour of their departure, came in for such a magnificent "send
off" that they felt quite like royal personages as they drove away from
the door.  Meals would be supplied on train and boat, but they were
laden with other comforts for the long journey in the shape of sweets,
scent, books to read, and, alas! specifics against sea-sickness.
Mademoiselle looked pensive whenever she thought of the hours on board
the boat, but for the rest she was as gay as one of the girls
themselves, and much interested in the country through which they flew.
One great town after another appeared, and was left behind as they
roared through the stations, seeing nothing but a blur of white faces
and undecipherable letters upon a board.  Hour after hour and never a
stop, morning changing into afternoon, and still no slackening of that
wonderful onward rush.  Two o'clock, and then, just as Pixie was
beginning to nod after her lunch, a sudden cry of admiration came from
Mademoiselle by her side, and there, close at hand, so near that but a
step would have taken them upon the beach, lay the beautiful, mysterious
sea, its waters shining in the winter sunshine, the breakers making a
ridge of white along the yellow shore.  The bathing vans were drawn up
on the shingle, and there were no active little figures running to and
fro digging castles on the sands, no nigger minstrels and gingerbread
stalls and swarms of donkey-boys.  All was still and bare and lifeless,
and as the short day closed in there was an eeriness about the scene
which made the travellers glad to draw the curtains over the windows,
and which gave an added cheeriness to the prospect of tea.  When
Holyhead was reached, Mademoiselle lifted her bag and walked on board
the steamer with the air of a martyr marching to the stake, and, to
Pixie's dismay, laid herself down at once with an utter disregard of the
tables spread out in the saloon.  She waited in what patience she could
command until they were well on their way and the preparations for the
evening meal grew more advanced, and then it was impossible to remain
silent any longer.

"Would ye not be taking something to warm ye, Mademoiselle?" she
inquired anxiously.  "There's a lovely smell of cooking--two smells.
One of them is cabbage, and the other smells like gravy spilt in the
oven.  Doesn't it make you hungry, that nice greasy smell?"

But Mademoiselle only groaned and bade her eat a biscuit and be silent;
so for mere occupation's sake the wisest thing seemed to be to go to
sleep, which she proceeded to do with extraordinary quickness.  Such an
amount of groanings and clanking of chains mingled with her dreams that
they naturally took the shape of confinement within prison walls, where
she suffered many and wonderful adventures, and from which she was on
the point of escaping under the most romantic circumstances when she was
seized in the grasp of the jailer, as she at first supposed, but it
turned out to be Mademoiselle herself--such a haggard, dishevelled
Mademoiselle!--who bade her get up and put on her hat, for the sea was
crossed at last, and they were anchored at the quay at Dublin.  Pixie
felt as if roused in the middle of the night, and altogether it was a
most dejected-looking couple who went shivering across the gangway in
the pouring rain and made their way to the train for the third and last
stage of the journey.  Neither spoke, but just lay prone against the
cushions of the railway carriage, so much asleep as to be uncomfortably
aware that they were awake, so much awake as to long hopelessly for
sleep.  Mademoiselle determined drearily to send for her aged father,
and spend the rest of her life in enforced exile on this grey, rain-
swept island, since never, never again could she summon up courage to
cross that dreadful sea, and the night seemed half over when Bally
William was reached at last.

The station clock was pointing to eleven, and a broken-down fly was
waiting to convey the travellers to their destination.  In the dim light
the surroundings looked both poor and squalid, but porter and flyman
vied with one another in a welcome so warm that it went far to dissipate
the cheerlessness of the scene.

Pixie discoursed with them in animated fashion the while the trunks were
being hoisted to their places.

"Has anyone been here from the Castle to-day, Dennis?  They are all
quite well, I suppose?"

"They are so, Miss Pixie, and Miss Joan down upon us this morning,
hinting of what would happen if Jock was forgetting the fly.  You mind
the night the lady was arriving, and having to find her way in the dark
while he was snoring in his bed?  It's a fine flow of language Miss Joan
has of her own.  It's as good as a sermon to listen to her when she's
roused, and Jock was getting the benefit of it this day!"

"There's a fine tale he's spinning!" exclaimed the defaulting Jock,
grinning in unabashed complacency.  "Don't you be after believing a word
of it, Miss Pixie dear.  It would be a cold bed that would keep Jock
Magee from driving ye home this night.  And the size of ye too.  You've
grown out of knowledge!  It's a fine strapping lass you will be one of
these days."  And Jock gazed with simulated amazement at the elf-like
figure as it stepped forward into the lamplight.  "My Molly was biddin'
me give you her duty, and say her eyes are longing for the sight of you
again."

"I'll come to-morrow, as soon as I can get away.  Give Molly my love,
Jock, and say I was often thinking of her.  He is a decent fellow, Jock
Magee!" she explained to her companion, as the ramshackle vehicle
trundled away in the darkness.  "A decent fellow, but he has been
terrible unlucky with his wives.  They fall ill on him as soon as
they're married, and cost him pounds in doctors and funerals.  This one
has asthma, and he expects she will die too before very long.  He says
it doesn't give a man a chance; but he's the wonderful knack for keeping
up his spirits!"

He had indeed.  Mademoiselle found it difficult to think of the jovial,
round-faced Jehu as the victim of domestic afflictions, and for the
hundredth time she reflected that this Ireland to which she had come was
a most extraordinary place.  Nothing could be seen from the windows of
the fly save an occasional tree against the sky, but ever up and up they
climbed, while the wind blew round them in furious blasts.  Then
suddenly came a bend in the road, and a vision of twinkling windows, row
upon row, stretching from one wing to the other of a fine old building,
and each window glowing with its own cheery welcome.

"It's illumined!" cried Pixie wildly, pinching Mademoiselle's arm in her
excitement.  "It's illumined!  Oh, Bridgie, Bridgie, did I ever see!
Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle, did ye ever have a castle illumined for you
before?  Did they ever give you such a welcome in your own country?"

"Never, never!" cried Mademoiselle.  She was almost as excited as Pixie
herself, craning forward to peer out of the windows, counting
breathlessly the long line of lights, and reflecting that she had not
sufficiently realised the grandeur of the household, to which she was
coming.  Another moment and a still brighter light shone through an
opened doorway, and a chorus of voices sang out welcome.  Then the fly
stopped, someone helped her to alight, a hand clasped hers
affectionately, and a rich, soft voice spoke in her ears.

"Are you destroyed?  The journey you've been having, poor creatures, in
the wind and the rain!  Are you destroyed altogether?"

This was Castle Knock indeed, and Bridgie O'Shaughnessy's fair face
beamed a welcome upon her.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

KNOCK CASTLE ONCE MORE.

Mademoiselle was so exhausted that she begged to retire at once, and was
forthwith escorted to a huge cavern of a room, which boasted tapestried
walls, an oaken ceiling, and a four-poster bed large enough to have
accommodated the whole fifth-form at a pinch.  It looked cheery enough,
however, in the light of a great peat fire, and the visitor was feeling
so unwell after her stormy crossing that her one overpowering desire was
to lay her head upon the pillows, and revel in the consciousness that
her journeyings were at an end.  Her tact suggested also that this
affectionate family would be glad to have their baby to themselves for
the first meeting; but when she woke up refreshed and vigorous the
following morning, she was full of eagerness to get downstairs, and make
the acquaintance of the O'Shaughnessys in their own home.  The night
before she had been so faint and dazed that she had gone automatically
through the various introductions, and as the lights inside the rooms
were by no means as bright as those at the windows, even the very faces
seemed seen through a mist.  But Bridget had mentioned eight o'clock as
the breakfast-hour, so Mademoiselle leaped out of bed, and, wondering a
little why no one appeared to bring tea, hot water, or a bath, made the
best work of her toilet which was possible under the circumstances.

Truth to tell, the room did not appear so attractive in the light of a
dark December morning, aided by one flickering candle upon the dressing-
table.  The tapestry was worn into holes, the carpet was threadbare, and
the silk curtains had faded to a dull grey hue.  The general aspect was
so grim and dull, both within the room and outside in the wind-swept
park, that the sun-loving Mademoiselle made all speed she could to get
downstairs to the cheering influences of breakfast and fire.  The sound
of voices guided her when she reached the ground floor, and she entered
a room on the right of the hall, hoping to see the family already
assembled to meet her.

What a disappointment!  Not one welcoming face did she see, not a sign
of breakfast upon the table, and but a flicker of light on the huge
grate, before which knelt one untidy maid, while another stopped short
in her dusting operations to stare at the new-comer with unconcealed
amazement.

"Was this perhaps not the room where breakfast was held?"  Mademoiselle
inquired politely, but it appeared that this was the room.  And she had
understood Miss O'Shaughnessy to say that the hour was eight o'clock.
Had she been mistaken in her impression?

Molly laughed, and shook her duster in the air, so that the atoms which
she had swept together were instantly dispersed afresh.

"'Deed, you were right enough.  The hour is eight, but you'll be in fine
time if you're down by nine," she replied encouragingly; and poor
Mademoiselle felt her heart sink at the thought of the weary hour which
stretched between her and the longed-for meal.  Nothing solid to eat
since one o'clock yesterday, and now to have to sit shivering and
watching the provisions slowly taking their place on the table, deterred
by politeness from helping herself to as much as a slice of bread.  She
felt intensely sorry for herself, but, after all, the prospect was the
worst part of the business, for the kindness of the Irish heart came to
her rescue, and while Molly blew at the fire with a pair of huge leather
bellows, her companion scuttled upstairs into the room where Bridgie lay
sweetly sleeping, to bring her out of bed with a bound with the
information that the "foreign lady was in her clothes, and after
inquiring for her breakfast."

In an incredibly short space of time Bridgie appeared downstairs, and as
she broke into vehement apologies, Mademoiselle had an opportunity of
studying her face, and came to the conclusion that the little sister
had, if anything, understated its charms.  Surely never did sweeter grey
eyes shelter behind curling black lashes, and look out of a broader,
fairer brow.  The waving hair was of purest flaxen, and the careless
coiffure was as becoming as if arranged by the most skilful of
hairdressers.  What if the mouth were large, and the nose of no
classical outline, no one who looked into Bridget O'Shaughnessy's eyes
had either time or inclination to look further.

"I'm ashamed to think of you sitting here all by yourself!" she cried,
holding both Mademoiselle's hands in hers, and smiling into her face
with a beguiling sweetness.  "We always call the breakfast-hour eight;
because, if we said nine, it would be ten, and ye must be punctual in
arranging for a family.  But it's all for the best, for I've told Molly
to bring something in at once, and you and I will have a cosy meal
before the rest appear.  And you are looking quite fresh and bright this
morning--that's good!  My heart was broken for you last night, when you
came in all perished with cold.  And it was so good of you to take the
long journey to give us this pleasure.  You don't know the excitement
there was in this house when Jack's telegram arrived!  If we were
pleased to think of having a child for the holidays, imagine our delight
when it was a girl like ourselves--a companion for Esmeralda and me!"

"A girl like ourselves!"  Oh, Bridgie, Bridgie, you must have had a
taste of the Blarney Stone too, to have ignored so completely the ten
years which separated you from your visitor; but, needless to say,
Mademoiselle bore you no grudge for your short-sightedness, and was only
too happy to be classed as a girl once more.

They sat down to breakfast together, and presently one member after
another of the family strolled in, and took their share in entertaining
the stranger.  The Major put on his most fascinating air, and revived
recollections of an old visit to "Paree," and Pat and Miles stared
unblinkingly at every morsel she put between her lips.  They were both
handsome lads, but Pat in especial had such languishing eyes, such an
air of pensive melancholy, that he seemed almost too good for this
wicked world, and as far as possible removed from the ordinary
mischievous schoolboy.  Mademoiselle wondered what beautiful poetic
fancies were passing through his brain as he lay back in his chair and
pushed the curls from his forehead.  Then his eyes met hers, and he
smiled angelic questioning.

"Do you have frogs for breakfast in your home in France, Mademoiselle?"

"Pat, be quiet!  That's very rude."

"It is not, Bridgie; it's thirst for information.  Or snails,
Mademoiselle?  Have you often eaten snails?"

"Never once, nor frogs neither.  We have a breakfast much as you have
here.  Rolls of bread, and honey, and butter, and coffee--ver' good
coffee!" and there was a regretful tone in Mademoiselle's voice, as she
struggled womanfully to swallow the grounds of chicory which seemed to
constitute the leading feature of coffee as served at Knock Castle.  She
did not intend to show her distaste, but the Major exclaimed in eager
agreement with the unspoken criticism.

"And this stuff is not fit to drink!  If you will teach my girls to make
coffee as you have it in France, Mademoiselle, you will be doing me a
lifelong favour.  I suppose you can cook by instinct, like most of your
countrywomen?"

"I think I can--pretty well, but I do not often get the chance.  If Miss
Breegie will let me teach her some of our favourite dishes, it will be a
pleasure to me too!  I used to be very happy cooking tempting things for
my father to eat!"

"Hark to that now, Bridgie!  There's no better ambition for a young girl
than to wait upon her father and see to his comfort!" cried the Major
solemnly; and a merry laugh rang out from the doorway as Esmeralda came
forward, and standing behind his chair, clasped her arms round his neck,
the while she sent her bright, inquiring glances round the table.

"The whole duty of woman is to wait upon man! and a good long time she
has to wait too, if the man is anything like yourself, me dear!  We will
make him an omelette for his lunch this very day, Mademoiselle, if he'll
promise to eat it when he returns an hour past the proper time!  I hope
you're well, and had a good sleep after your travels."

Mademoiselle murmured something in reply, but what, she scarcely knew,
so absorbed was she in studying the charming picture made by father and
daughter, the Major with his hair scarcely touched with grey, his
charming smile and stalwart figure, and above him Esmeralda, in all her
wonderful, gipsy-like beauty.  Her hair was as dark as Bridgie's was
fair, and stood out from her head in a mass of curls and waves, her
features were perfect in their haughty, aquiline curves, and the bloom
of youth was on her cheeks.  With such hair and colouring it would have
been natural to expect brown eyes, but what gave to her face its note of
distinction was the fact that they were grey, and not brown--wonderful
clear grey eyes, which gave the beholder a thrill of mingled surprise
and admiration every time she lifted her curled black lashes and turned
them upon him.  Mademoiselle stared in speechless admiration, and
Esmeralda's brothers and sisters stared at her in their turn, well
pleased at the effect produced; for what was the use of groaning beneath
the whims and tyrannies of "the beautiful Miss O'Shaughnessy," if one
could not also enjoy a little honour and glory once in a while?



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

ESMERALDA'S WILES.

It was easy to see that if Pixie were the pet, Esmeralda was the pride
of her father's heart, and exercised a unique influence over him.  She
seated herself by his side at the table, and they teased and joked
together more like a couple of mischievous children than a staid, grown-
up father and his daughter.  The girl was quick and apt in her replies,
and Mademoiselle was conscious that the Major kept turning surreptitious
glances towards herself, to see if she were duly impressed by the
exhibition.  He evidently delighted in showing off Esmeralda's beauty
and cleverness, and that in a wider circle than home, for presently he
said meaningly--

"The hounds meet at Balligarry on Monday, Joan.  It will be the best run
we have had yet, and the whole county will be there.  You'll arrange to
come with me, of course."

"I'd love to, but--" Esmeralda raised her brows, and looked across the
table with a glance half appealing, half apologetic--"it's Bridgie's
turn!  I went with you the last time."

"And the time before that!" muttered Miles into his cup; but the Major
waved aside the suggestion with his accustomed carelessness.  "Oh,
Bridgie would rather stay at home.  She'll be too much taken up with
Mademoiselle to have any time to spare."

Mademoiselle looked, as she felt, decidedly uncomfortable, but the first
glance at Bridgie's face sufficed to restore her complacency, for the
smile was without a shadow of offence, and the voice in which she
replied was cheerfulness itself.

"Indeed that's true!  We can get hunting for half of the year, but it's
not every day we have a visitor in the house.  You go with father,
Esmeralda, and don't think of me!  We will have a fine little spree on
our own account, Mademoiselle and I!  Maybe we'll drive into Roskillie
and have a look at the shops!"

Mademoiselle remembered the Rue de la Paix, and smiled to herself at the
thought of the shops in the Irish village, but she said honestly enough
that she would enjoy the expedition; for would not Bridgie O'Shaughnessy
be her companion, and did she not appear sweeter and more attractive
with every moment that passed?  Nearly an hour had elapsed since
breakfast began, and still she sat behind the urn, smiling brilliantly
at each fresh laggard, and looking as unruffled as if she had nothing to
do but attend to his demands!  It was the quaintest meal Mademoiselle
had ever known, and seemed as if it would never come to an end, for just
as she was expecting a general rise the Major would cry, "What about a
fresh brew of tea?  I could drink another cup if I were pressed," and
presto! it took on a new lease of life.  Last of all Pixie made her
appearance, to be invited to a seat on each knee, and embraced with a
fervour which made Mademoiselle realise more fully than ever what the
child must have suffered during those weeks of suspicion and coldness.

"How's my ferret?" she inquired, with her mouth full of toast, selected
from her father's plate; and Pat seized the occasion to deliver his
outstanding account.

"Grown out of knowledge!  Eightpence halfpenny you owe me now.  I had to
put on another farthing a week because his appetite grew so big.  I knew
you would rather pay more than see him suffer.  And the guinea-pig died.
There's twopence extra for funeral expenses.  We put him in the orchard
beside the dogs, and made a headstone out of your old slate.  It's a
rattling good idea, because, don't you see, you can write your own
inscription!"

"If it was my own slate, and I am to make up the inscription, I don't
see why I should pay!" reasoned Pixie, with a business sharpness which
sent her father into fits of delighted laughter, though it left Pat
obstinately firm.

"Man's time!" he said stolidly.  "That's what costs nowadays.  You look
at any bill, and you'll find the labour comes to ten times as much as
the material.  You needn't grudge the poor thing its last resting-place.
He was a good guinea-pig to you."

"I don't care how much I owe, for I have no money to pay with," returned
Pixie, unconsciously echoing her father's financial principles.  "Give
Pat a shilling, please, Major, for taking care of my animals while I was
away."  And that gentleman promptly threw a coin across the table.

"I wish my animals were as cheap to keep!  Well, who is coming out with
me this morning?  I have an appointment in Roskillie at 10:30, but I
can't be there now until 11, so there's no use hurrying.  Put on your
cap, piccaninny, and come to the stables with me.  The girls will look
after you, Mademoiselle, and find some means of amusing you for the
day."

"Oh yes, we'll take care of her!" said Esmeralda lightly; then, as the
boys withdrew after their father, she planted her elbows on the table
and looked across under questioning eyebrows.  "Please, have we to call
you `Mademoiselle' all the time?  Haven't you a nice, pretty French name
that we could call you instead?"

"Therese!  Yes, please do!  I should feel so much more happy!" cried
Mademoiselle eagerly, and Bridgie nodded in approval.

"Therese is charming, and it's so much more friendly to use Christian
names at Christmas-time.  I shall begin at once.  We want you to help us
with the decoration of the rooms, Therese!  We shall be just a family
party, but Jack will be at home, and we will have games and charades to
make it lively.  We might rehearse something this morning, mightn't we,
Joan dear?"

"_I_ mightn't!" replied "Joan dear" promptly, "because why?--I've got
something better to do.  There is plenty of time still, and you will
agree with me later that my business is important.  If you put on a
cloak, Therese, I will come back for you in ten minutes, and take you to
the stables to join father and Pixie.  It will amuse you, I'm sure."

She left the room without waiting for a reply, and Bridgie heaved a sigh
of disappointment.

"She's just mad after horses, that girl.  Now she will be off with
father, and not a sight of her shall we have until afternoon.  It's easy
to say there is time to spare, but to-morrow we must decorate, and look
after all the arrangements for Jack's return, and I do hate a scramble.
However, when Esmeralda says she won't, she won't, and there's an end of
it.  You had better go with her, dear, while I interview the servants."

"I suppose I had," said Mademoiselle slowly.  She thought Esmeralda
selfish and autocratic, but she was fascinated, despite herself, by her
beauty and brightness, and anxious to know her better; so she obediently
went up to her room to heap on the wraps, for the morning was cold,
though by this time the sun was struggling from behind the clouds.  On
the way down she was joined by Esmeralda in riding costume--a most
peculiar riding costume, and, extraordinary to relate, most unbecoming
into the bargain.  Mademoiselle's critical glance roamed from head to
foot, back again from foot to head, while Esmeralda stood watching her
with tightened lips and curious twinkling eyes.  Then Bridgie appeared
upon the scene, and stopped short, uttering shrill cries of
astonishment, as she looked at the slovenly tie, the twisted skirt, the
general air of dishevelment and shabbiness.

"Esmeralda, you're an _Object_!  Look at the dust on your skirt.  You've
not half brushed it, and everything is hanging the wrong way.  It's a
perfect disgrace you look, to ride out with any man!"

"I'm delighted to hear it!  That's just my intention," replied the young
lady, tugging the disreputable skirt still further awry, and nodding her
beautiful head, with an air of mysterious amusement.  The blue serge had
a smudge of white all down one side, which looked suspiciously as if the
powder-box had been spilt over it.  A seam gaped open and showed little
fragments of thread still sticking to the cloth.

If Esmeralda's intention was to look disreputable, she had certainly
accomplished her object; and when the stables were reached she took care
to place herself conspicuously, so that her father's eyes must of
necessity rest upon her.

"I'm going to ride to Roskillie with you, dad!  It's a fine morning, and
I thought you would be the better of my company."

"That's a good girl!" cried the Major cheerily; then his brow puckered,
and he stared uneasily at the untidy figure.  He was so unnoticing about
clothes that it required a good deal to attract his attention, but
surely there was something wrong about the girl's get-up to-day?  He
kept throwing uneasy glances towards her while the horses were brought
out, and Esmeralda strolled about in a patch of sunshine, and picked her
steps gingerly over the muddles, like a model of fastidious care.  She
sprang to the saddle, light as thistledown, and curved her graceful
throat with a complacent toss, as the groom smoothed her skirt, bringing
the white stain into full prominence.

"You want dusting!" said the Major curtly, and a brush was brought from
the stable, and scrubbed vigorously up and down, with the result that
the surface of the cloth was frayed and roughened, though there was no
appreciable removal of the stain.

"It doesn't seem as if it would come out, does it? but there are plenty
more further on," said Esmeralda innocently.  "Have a try at another,
Dennis!"--but the Major motioned the man away with a hasty gesture.

"Leave the rag alone--it's past dusting!  Is that the best habit you
have to your back?" he cried testily, and the dark eyes looked into his
with angelic resignation.

"It was a very good habit--six years ago!  That's as good as twelve, for
we've worn it in turns ever since.  The bodice is the least thing in the
world crinkly, for I'm broader than Bridgie, and stretch it out, and
then it goes into creases on her figure.  We might try washing the skirt
to take out the stains, and then it would be clean, if the colour _did_
run a bit!  Ride round by the back roads, dear, and I'll keep behind,
and not disgrace you!"

"Humph," said the Major again, and led the way out of the yard without
another word, Esmeralda following, looking over her shoulder at the
little group of watchers with a smile of such triumphant enjoyment as
took away Mademoiselle's breath to behold.  She looked inquiringly at
Pixie, but Pixie and Dennis were in silent convulsions of enjoyment, and
only waited until the riders were out of hearing before exploding into
peals of laughter.

"That bates all for the cleverness of her!  Miss Bridgie has been
fretting over that old habit for a couple of years, and trying to
wheedle a new one out of the Major, but it's Miss Joan that can twist
him round her little finger when she takes the work in hand!  That was a
funny stain, that got the worse the more you brushed it!  She never got
that on the hunting-field.  Go back to the house, Miss Pixie, dearie,
and tell the mistress the new habit is as good as paid for.  The Major's
not the man I take him for, if he passes the tailor's door this morning
without stepping inside!"



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

CHRISTMAS PREPARATIONS.

Esmeralda strolled into the house in time for afternoon tea, and smiled
complacently around as she warmed herself at the fire.

"Blue cloth!" she announced triumphantly.  "No more serge, thank you,
but good, solid cloth with a fine surface to it, and a smart little coat
instead of a bodice, which was pure unselfishness on my part, for I
should have been fitted well enough, and the man pressed it on me, but I
thought of you, me darling, and the agony it would be to you to have
your waist misjudged by a couple of inches, so I stuck to the coat, and
I hope you are grateful!"

"I am," said Bridgie frankly; but there was a pained expression mingling
with her satisfaction, and presently she added slowly, "So Dennis was
right, and you got your way again.  I have been trying for ages to
persuade father that we needed a new habit, but he paid no attention to
me."

"You didn't go about it the right way, me dear.  You are fifty times
cleverer than I, but there is one thing you don't understand, and that
is how to manage men!  They hate and detest being told what to do, and
the secret of getting round them is to make them believe that what you
want is their own suggestion.  You have to be very cunning, and that's
just what you can never manage to be!"

"Yes, she can!" came a shrill cry from the doorway, as Pixie burst into
the room and made a bee-line for the tea-table.  "Indeed she can now,
Esmeralda, so it's no use denying it.  She can, perfectly well!"

The three listeners looked at each other with questioning glances, for
such vehemence was somewhat bewildering on the part of one who could not
possibly have heard the first part of the conversation.

"What can she do?" queried Esmeralda sternly.

"Whatever you say she can't," replied the champion, unabashed; and at
that the cloud rolled off Bridgie's brow, like mist before the sun.

"Oh, you precious goose!  Bridgie can do everything, can't she?  She
always could in your eyes.  It's very silly of you, dear, but it's very
nice.  I'm not at all vexed with you about it."

"You would be, though, if you were her true friend, but you always spoil
one another, you two!" cried Esmeralda lightly.  Then she stared round
the room with a surprised expression, and added disapprovingly, "You
seem to have been fairly lazy while I've been out.  I thought you would
have been getting on with the decorations.  Whatever have you been
doing?"

"Roaming about, and actually daring to enjoy ourselves like other
people," retorted Bridgie, with what Mademoiselle was glad to recognise
as a decided nip of severity; "but from this minute there must be no
more playing until the work is finished.  Dennis has cut the evergreens,
and we must begin making wreaths at once, so as to be in order when Jack
arrives to-morrow evening.  We could have two hours' work before
dinner."

"I loathe making wreaths; they are so dirty and prickly, and I take a
pride in me hands; they are the only ones I have, and what's the use of
sleeping in white kid gloves, the same as if I were dressed for a party,
if they are to be scratched all over with that hateful holly?"
Esmeralda stretched out two well-shaped, if somewhat large, hands, and
gazed at them with pensive admiration; but Bridgie was firm, and,
scratches or no scratches, insisted that she should take her own share
of the work.  As soon as tea was over, then, the family descended to the
servants' hall, a whitewashed apartment about as cheerful as a vault,
and but little warmer despite the big peat fire, where they set to work
to reduce a stack of evergreens into wreaths and borderings for cotton
wool "Merrie Christmases" and "Happy Newe Yeares" reserved from former
occasions.

Pat and Miles cut the branches into smaller and more workable
proportions.  Pixie unravelled string and wire, and the three elders
worked steadily at their separate wreaths.  At the end of an hour they
had progressed so well that it was suggested that the three fragments
should be tied together, and the wreath hung in the hall, to clear the
room for further operations.

The suggestion being universally approved, a stormy half-hour followed,
when each of the five O'Shaughnessys harangued the others concerning the
superiority of his or her own plan of decoration, and precious lives
were imperilled on the oldest and shakiest of step-ladders.  The boys
could naturally mount to the highest step without a fear, but, when
mounted, were so clumsy and inartistic in their arrangements that they
were called down with derisive cries, and retired to sulk in a corner.
Then Bridgie lifted her skirt and gallantly ascended five steps, felt
the boards sway beneath her, and scuttled down to make way for her
sister.  The daring rider across country possessed stronger nerves, but
also a heavier body, and the ladder creaked so ominously beneath her
that she insisted upon the whole company acting as props, in one breath
sending them running for hammer and rope, and in the next shrieking to
them to return to their posts.

By the time that the wreath was really hung, the friction had reached
such a pitch that Mademoiselle expected a state of civil war for the
rest of the evening, and even wondered if the atmosphere would have time
to clear before Christmas itself.  She could hardly believe the evidence
of her senses when the boys affably volunteered to clear away the
rubbish, and Bridgie and Esmeralda went upstairs with wreathed arms,
calling one another "Darling" and "Love," with the echo of sharp taunt
and sharper reply still ringing in the air!  Certainly, if the Irish
tongue were quick, the heart seemed even quicker to forgive an enemy, or
pardon an offence.

By the time that Mademoiselle retired to bed that night the last remnant
of strangeness had vanished, and she felt like a lifelong friend and
confidante.  She had seen the menu for the Christmas dinner, and had
helped to manufacture jellies and creams, while Pixie perched upon the
dresser, industriously scraping basins of their sweet, lemony, creamy
leavings, with the aid of a teaspoon and an occasional surreptitious
finger when her sisters were looking in an opposite direction.  She
suggested and achieved such marvels in the way of garnishing that Molly
was greatly impressed, being a very plain cook in more ways than one,
and solemnly asked for advice upon the killing of turkeys, when
Mademoiselle had to acknowledge ignorance, and lost caste forthwith.
Then Esmeralda invited her to a display of evening dresses in her
bedroom, and wished to know which she should wear--the black silk with
the net top, or the net top over a white skirt, or the black silk with
no top at all, and Bridgie plaintively appealed to her for the casting
vote on the great question of crackers or no crackers!

It was certainly a curious mingling of grandeur and poverty, this life
in the half-ruined Castle, with its magnificent tapestries and carvings,
its evidences of bygone splendour, and, alas! present-day parsimony.
The little house at Passy could have been put down inside the great
entrance hall, but it was a trim little habitation, where on a minute
scale all the refinements and niceties of life were observed, and income
and expenditure were so well balanced that there was always a margin to
the good; but the Misses O'Shaughnessy, who bore themselves as queens in
the neighbourhood, and were treated with truly loyal deference, owned
hardly a decent gown between them, and were seriously exercised about
spending an extra half-crown on a Christmas dinner!

"It's the trifles that mount up!  I am a miser about pennies, but I can
spend pounds with the best!"  Bridgie explained; and Mademoiselle smiled
meaningly, for had not the order just gone forth that the Castle was to
be "illumined" once more for the arrival of the son and heir?

On Christmas Eve the rain fell in torrents, and, after a morning spent
in preparations of one sort and another, the workers felt the need of a
little amusing recreation.  This did not seem easy to achieve, in this
lonely habitation set in the midst of a rain-swept plain, but Bridgie's
fertile brain came to the rescue, and proposed a scheme which kept the
young people busy for the rest of the afternoon.

"I vote we have a fancy-dress dinner to-night!" she cried, at the
conclusion of lunch.  "Not an ordinary affair, but like the one the
Pegrams enjoyed so much when they were spending the winter in
Grindelwald.  `A sheet and pillow-case party,' they called it, for that
is all you have out of which to make your dress.  I will open the linen-
box and give you each a pair of sheets, and a pillow-case for head-gear,
and you must arrange them in your own rooms, and not let anyone see you
until the gong rings.  It really will be quite pretty--all the white
figures against the flags and holly, and we shall feel more festive than
in our ordinary clothes.  I think it will be great fun, don't you?"

Great fun indeed!  The O'Shaughnessy family was always ready for any
excitement, and particularly so at Christmas-time, a season when we all
feel that we _ought_ to be festive, and are injured in our minds if
there is nothing to make us so.

Esmeralda fell at once to pleating her table-napkin into one shape after
another, Mademoiselle smiled over a happy inspiration, whereupon wily
Pat put on his most angelic look and asked--

"Will you dress me, Mademoiselle?  A man's no good at this sort of
thing.  You can't fasten sheets with screws, and I'm no hand at fancy
stitching.  I've an idea I'd look rather well as--" He whispered a few
words in her ear, and Mademoiselle threw up her hands, and laughed, and
nodded in emphatic assent.

Pixie and Miles fell to Bridgie's share, while the Major declared that
he would have nothing to do with such foolishness, but with a ruminating
expression on his face which belied the words.

Bridgie went upstairs immediately after lunch, and, opening her linen-
chest, apportioned its contents among the different members of the
family.  Some wanted large sheets, some wanted small; some begged for
frills to their pillow-cases, some preferred plain; but at last all were
satisfied, and were further supplied with tape from the various work-
baskets, while Pixie was sent a round of the bedrooms to pick up the
pins, with which the floors were liberally scattered, as the demand in
this direction was so large as to be practically unlimited.

Esmeralda flew off at once, with the boys in her train; but Mademoiselle
lingered to help Bridgie to fold away the linen that was not needed, and
to enjoy the luxury of a quiet chat, which was not an easy thing to
accomplish in this noisy household.  Bridgie in company was always
laughing and gay, but the visitor had already noticed that Bridgie alone
was apt to grow grave and to wear a wistful pucker on her brow.  It was
there now as she locked the chest and sat down on the lid, stretching
out her arms with a sigh of weariness.  The wintry light left the
gallery full of shadows, and the only bright thing to be seen was the
girl's own golden head outlined against the oak walls.  Mademoiselle
thought that if she had been an artist she could have wished for no
fairer picture than this old-world corridor, with the fair face of the
young mistress shining out like a lily in the darkness; but the lily
toiled more than she liked to see, and she could not restrain a protest
against the custom which gave one sister all the work, and another all
the play.

"You are tired already before the day is half over, and now you have
those children's dresses to look after as well as your own!  Why do you
not make Esmeralda help, instead of doing everything yourself?"

"Esmeralda, is it?"  Bridgie's face lit up with a smile as she repeated
the name.  "Indeed now, Mademoiselle, I'm never worked so hard in my
life as when Esmeralda has been trying to help, and I have to tidy away
after her!  She has the best will in the world, poor thing; but work
doesn't come naturally to her.  You mustn't be hard on her.  She shows
her worst side to a stranger, for, though her first impulse may be
selfish, when she takes time to think, she is all generosity and
kindness.  That habit, now!  She was longing to have a fitted bodice,
but she chose a coat, out of consideration for me.  She is a darling,
and so young yet that I don't like to worry her.  Let her have a good
time as long as she may.  It will be hard enough soon."

Mademoiselle started and looked alarmed questionings, and Bridgie smiled
in response, saying in cool, conversational tones--

"We are ruined, you know!  We can't go on living here much longer.
Father has spent all his money, and we should have had to leave before
now, but that he came into a little more at mother's death.  It was not
much, and it is going very fast.  It can't be more than a year or two at
most before the crash comes, so you can't wonder I let the boys and
girls enjoy themselves, can you?"

"_Mais oui_!  I wonder very much!" cried Mademoiselle, dismayed at what
seemed to her prudent mind such a fatal way of preparing for a
difficulty.  "The kind thing surely would be to prepare them for what
will come.  It will make it more hard if they have never known work.  In
three years one can do much to prepare for a struggle.  Why do you not
speak to your sister, and say it is time to stop play?  Why do you not
send her away to work, and then perhaps the bad day need never come
after all?"

Bridgie looked surprised, almost shocked at the suggestion.  The easy-
going Irish nature saw things in a different light from that taken by
the thrifty Frenchwoman; moreover, the idea of girls working for
themselves was still viewed as decidedly _infra dig_ by the old-
fashioned inhabitants of Bally William.  She gasped at the thought of
her father's wrath at such a suggestion, then laughed at the idea of
Esmeralda's earnings being large enough to stave off the coming ruin.

"I'm afraid it would be taking more than that to prevent it, Therese!
You don't know the state our landlords are in over here.  There's no
money to be got at all, and things go from bad to worse.  Until mother
died I didn't know how poor we were, and at first I wore myself to
pieces saving pennies here and halfpennies there; but there's not much
fun in saving twopence when nothing less than thousands of pounds would
do any good.  I grew tired of it, and says I to myself, `A short life,
and a merry one!'  If I can't help, I'll just put the thought from my
mind, and give the young ones a good time to remember.  No use troubling
the creatures before it's necessary!"

Mademoiselle grunted in eloquent disapproval, and wished to know whether
the master of the house had been equally philosophical.

"Is it the Major?" cried Bridgie, laughing.  "He never troubles himself
about anything, and he has it all fitted up like a puzzle.  Esmeralda is
to marry a duke, Jack a countess in her own right, and meself a
millionaire manufacturer, who will be so flattered at marrying an
O'Shaughnessy that he will be proud to house Pixie into the bargain.
Pat and Miles are to go to London to seek their fortunes, and the Castle
is to be let--to Jack and his wife by preference, but, failing them, to
anyone who offers, when the Major can keep himself and his hunters on
the rental without a `Thank you' to anyone.  It works out so beautifully
when you hear him talk, that it seems folly to trouble oneself
beforehand."

"And suppose you don't marry?  Your country is full of old maids.  And
suppose the Castle does not let?  It is very far from--anywhere!" said
Mademoiselle, who had lived in the gayest city in the world, and felt
the solitude of Bally William only a degree less absolute than that of
the backwoods themselves.  "Suppose none of these things of which you
speak were to 'appen, what then?"

"Indeed, I can't tell you!" returned Bridgie, truthfully enough.  "And--
excuse me, me love, it's not a very diverting suggestion for the time of
year!  Let me keep my millionaire, if it's only for the day, for by the
same token I'm quite attached to him in prospect!  Will you come and
visit me, Therese, when I'm comfortably established in my soap bubble?"

She was laughing again, full of mischief and wilful impracticability,
and Mademoiselle was tactful enough to realise that the time was not apt
for pressing her lesson further.  Later on she would return to the
charge, but to-day at least might be safely given over to enjoyment.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

PAT'S TAUNT.

When the gong sounded that night two white-robed figures stole out of
Mademoiselle's room, and crept quietly along the gallery.  Pat was
arrayed as a knight of old, wearing a pair of Esmeralda's old white
stockings, surmounted by loose linen trunks, the rest of the sheet being
ingeniously swathed round his body, and kept in place by such an
elaborate cris-crossing of tape as gave the effect of a slashed doublet.
A thickly pleated cloak, (made out of sheet number two), hung over his
shoulders, and the pillow-case was drawn into a cap, which was placed
jauntily on the side of his head.  As handsome a young knight as one
could wish to see was Mr Patrick O'Shaughnessy, and the manner in which
he held Mademoiselle's hand, and led her down the great staircase,
evoked thunders of applause from the watchers beneath.

Mademoiselle herself looked worthy of her squire, for her dark, animated
face stood the test of the unrelieved whiteness so successfully, that
she was all ablush with delight at the discovery that she was not an old
woman after all, but on occasion could still look as girlish as she
felt.  She was attired as a Normandy peasant, with turned-back skirt and
loose white bodice; but the feature of the costume was undoubtedly the
cap, which looked so extraordinarily like the real article that the
sceptical refused to believe in its pillow-case origin, until the
buttonholes were exhibited in evidence.

"It is wonderful--wonderful!  But how have you made it so stiff and
crinkly?" the Major inquired curiously; and Mademoiselle laughed in
gleeful triumph.

"I 'ave curled it with the curling tongs--not perhaps curl, but what the
washerwoman would say--`goffer,' and for the rest, can you not see the
wire?  It is a piece I have taken upstairs after the decorations, and it
is stitched in to keep the folds in place; but I must keep my 'ead
still, for it is not too strong.  You are very fine too, sir.  You are,
I suppose, some old patrician?"

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!" declaimed the Major,
throwing his arms about with impassioned gestures.  His white toga fell
in graceful folds round his tall figure; his arms were bared to the
elbows; he wore a twisted turban, which was impressive, if not exactly
appropriate; and it was really an imposing spectacle to behold him
strutting up and down the hall, with a great display of sandalled feet,
of which he was evidently immensely proud.

Bridgie sat demurely on a high-backed chair, a sweet-faced nun, with her
golden hair hidden from sight, and her dark-lashed eyes looking lovelier
than ever when contrasted with the white bands across her forehead.  She
had been so busy dressing others that she had had no time to plan
anything more elaborate for herself; but if she had worked for days she
could not have hit on a costume more becoming to her style of beauty.
It was scarcely in character, however, to shriek aloud with laughter, as
she did a moment later, as Mark Antony was suddenly arrested on his
march by an apparition which leapt forward from behind a screen, and
advanced upon him to an accompaniment of unearthly groanings.

Miles as a ghost was certainly an eerie figure; for by means of a stick
strapped to his back the sheet was raised to an abnormal altitude, while
a couple of tennis rackets held in either hand, made extended wings,
with which to swoop about, and raise warning signals to the onlookers.
He chased Mark Antony until that classic gentleman threatened fight with
a poker; when he amused himself by groaning vigorously at Pixie, who had
been attired as a "Lady in Waiting"--not, it must be confessed, with any
striking success; and who was somewhat ruffled in her temper through
constant trippings over her train.

"Ye stupid thing!" she cried crossly.  "Be over hooting at me!  If you
are a bogie, you can go and haunt by yourself, and not molest your
betters!  It's the worst dress of the lot.  Nothing but three sticks and
the sheets in knots.  You had better rest yourself a bit, and groan
while we are at dinner, for your head is covered up that tight that
you'll never be able to eat!"

"Trust me!" cried Miles, and somewhere about the middle of the ghost the
white folds parted, and out peered a crimson face with twinkling eyes,
and a mat of damp curls falling over the forehead.  "You don't catch me
taking any part which interfered with eating!  Contrariwise--I'm best
off of you all, for I have just to drop my sticks, and--there I am!  The
sheet falls down, and I eat my dinner in comfort, instead of being
stewed alive, as you will be before it's half over."

"That's true for you!  I feel as if I had mumps already!" sighed the nun
sadly; but the next moment she gave a cry of delight, and pointed
eagerly across the hall.

"Esmeralda!  Oh, look! look!"

There had been so much to see and admire that the absence of the second
daughter of the house had not been noticed; but even as Bridgie spoke
each one realised that her late arrival was just what might have been
expected.  The beautiful Miss O'Shaughnessy had preferred to be sure of
her audience before appearing upon the stage; for, to judge by the
continuous rumble of the sewing-machine which had sounded from her room,
she had bestowed no little pains upon her costume.

Great expectations are apt to be disappointed; but in this instance it
is safe to say that the reality exceeded the wildest dreams, for it was
almost impossible to believe that this charming figure owed her attire
to no more promising materials than ordinary bed-linen!  Esmeralda had
aimed at nothing less ambitious than a Watteau costume, and the rumbling
of the machine was accounted for by one glance at the elaborately
quilted petticoat.  She had folded a blanket between the double sheet,
so as to give the effect of wadding, and an ancient crinoline held out
the folds with old-world effect.  For the rest she wore the orthodox
panniers on the hips, and a bodice swathed as artistically as might be,
round the beautiful bare neck and arms.  Her hair was dressed high and
powdered, and the pillow-case was drawn into the shape of a hood which
dangled lightly over her arm.  Half-way down the staircase she came to a
stand, and stood sunning herself in the applause of the beholders, then
came slowly forward, and, standing in the middle of the floor, revolved
slowly round and round, so as to display every feature of her costume.
It was certainly a marvel of ingenuity, and amidst the general chorus of
praise, Mademoiselle could not refrain from improving the occasion by
remarking that such a good needlewoman should have no difficulty in
turning dressmaker for her own and her sisters' benefit.  The reply to
this insinuation was a threatening grimace, and Esmeralda made haste to
draw her father's attention to another topic.

"Aren't you proud of me now, father dear, and cut to the heart to think
that no one will see me but yourself?  Sure it's a crime to waste all
this splendour on the desert air!"--and she rolled her eyes at him with
a languishing glance, and smiled so bewitchingly, that the Major rubbed
his hands in delight, and fell unhesitatingly into the snare.

"Faith, and you're right!  It's a perfect crime.  We should have asked
some of the neighbours to see you.  Bridgie, why did you not think of
that, now?  We might have had a pleasant little party to amuse your
friend, instead of taking all this trouble for nothing!"

"Not on two days' invitation, father, and besides, Jack is not here yet.
While he is at home, perhaps--"

"Yes, father, on New Year's Eve!  Give us leave to ask some people on
New Year's Eve, and we will plan such a wonderful programme as will be
the talk for miles around.  I'm brimful of ideas, and we have not had
any sort of entertainment for two years now.  Say we may ask them, won't
you, dear?"

But at this the Major began to look uneasy, for it was one thing to find
fault with Bridgie for not having given an invitation in the past, and
quite another to be asked to sanction a fresh one in the future.

"Who will you be wanting to ask?" he queried anxiously.  "Never did I
meet such an exacting child!  My mouth's no sooner opened than you are
ready to jump inside!  `A wonderful programme,' says she.  And who's to
pay for it, may I ask?  You would ruin me between you, you children, if
I hadn't saved you the trouble long ago.  How much will this
entertainment be costing me now?"

"Oh, twopence halfpenny!  Not more than that.  We will kill the old
turkey, that is so tough that he is fairly pleading to be killed, and
use up the dessert from Christmas, and Mademoiselle shall make us some
of her fine French dishes, and there will be so much going on that there
will be very little time to eat.  Make your mind easy, and trust to me."

"I'll see you through!" cried Esmeralda grandly; whereupon the Major
shrugged his shoulders, and reflected cheerfully that a few pounds more
or less made little difference.  Let the girl have her way! she had been
kept too long in seclusion as it was, and what was the use of possessing
the most beautiful daughter in the county if you could not show her off
to your friends once in a while?

Silence was rightly interpreted as consent, and having gained her point,
Esmeralda was wreathed in smiles and amiability for the rest of the
evening.

The Major dispensed with his toga at an early hour, and Nun and Ghost
alike shed their wrappings and appeared in ordinary evening dress; but
Esmeralda was too complacently conscious of looking her best to make any
change in her attire.  Dinner passed hilariously enough, and then, the
rain having ceased, the Major put on his coat and went out for a walk in
the grounds, while the ladies retired to their snuggery upstairs and
made themselves comfortable round the fire.  To them entered presently
Master Pat, white knight no longer, but an ordinary shabby stripling
with pensive eyes and an innocent expression.  He sat himself down in
leisurely fashion, and gazed at his second sister with melancholy
interest, as one far removed from youthful follies and grieved to behold
them in those he held dear.

"You are the only one who has kept on her dress!  I suppose you don't
mind what you suffer, so long as you make an appearance!  It's a pity,
as you said, that there is no one to admire you, but if you would like
to meet a stranger, why don't you go for a walk down the left wing and
back by the hall?  The moonlight is shining in at the windows, and you
know the old saying that if you walk by yourself in the moonlight to-
night you will see the spirit of your future husband waiting for you!
You might have a peep at him now, and come back and tell us what he is
like!"

Esmeralda turned her head on the cushion, and looked at him with a lazy
smile.

"What nonsense are you talking?  You are thinking of Hallowe'en, stupid!
That has nothing to do with to-day!"

"It has, then!  It's just as good as Christmas Eve.  We been told so by
those that know, but you want to get out of it because you haven't the
pluck.  All girls are afraid of the dark."

"You said yourself it was moonlight!  I shouldn't be afraid to walk the
whole round of the Castle if it came to that, but I don't see why I
should.  I'm snug and comfortable here, and it's not worth disturbing
myself to convince a boy like you!"

"So you say."  Pat wagged his head in undisguised scepticism.  "It's
easy to talk, my dear, but I should prefer actions to words.  You made a
poor show on that ladder yesterday, and I don't like to own a coward for
my sister.  Look here now, you were worrying me to give you that racket,
and I said I would do nothing of the kind, but I'll change my mind and
hand it over to you to-night, if you will walk that round and come back
here without letting a single howl out of you the whole time!"

Bridgie drew her brows together and looked suspicious at this unwonted
generosity, but Esmeralda sprang to her feet, all eagerness and
excitement.

"You will now?  Honour bright?  If I walk down the left wing, go down
the circular staircase, and round by the hall, you will hand the racket
over when I come back?"

"I will so!"

"You hear that, you girls?  You are witnesses, remember!  I'm off this
minute, and if I meet my spouse I'll bring him back for a warm by the
fire, so stoke up and get a good blaze.  I hope he will think I am
becomingly arrayed."

He was sure to do that, was Mademoiselle's reflection as she smiled back
into the sparkling face, and watched the tall figure flit down the
corridor.  Quite ghost-like it looked in the cold blue rays which came
in through the windows, the dead white of the dress standing out sharply
against the darkness of the background.  It was almost as if the spirit
of one of those old ancestors whose portraits lined the walls had come
back to revisit her old home, and Bridgie shivered as she looked, and
turned on Pat with unusual sharpness.

"What nonsense are you up to now?  She'll not catch anything but her
death of cold, wandering about those galleries with her bare arms and
neck.  Spirits indeed!  You ought to know better than to believe in such
nonsense; but there's some mischief afoot, or you wouldn't be so
generous all of a sudden.  What's the meaning of it now?  Tell me this
minute!"

Pat's grin of delight extended from ear to ear; he stood in obstinate
silence until the last flicker of whiteness disappeared in the distance,
then shut the door, and deliberately barred it with his back.

"Sit down, then, and I'll give the history; but don't attempt to get
out, for you'll not pass this door except over my dead body.  You say
she won't meet anybody, do you?  That's where you are wrong, for he's
waiting for her at this very minute.  He came ringing at the door five
minutes ago, the young Englishman that's with the Trelawneys, and that
father was after offering a mount to the other day.  `Is Mr
O'Shaughnessy at home?' says he.  `He is, sir,' says Molly, knowing no
better, for she never had a sight of the Major after dinner.  `Can I see
him for a moment?  I'll not come farther than the hall, for the cart's
waiting, and I am not fit to enter a room.'  So with that he comes in,
six foot two, if he's an inch, and covered from head to foot in a shiny
white mackintosh, with his head peeping out on top, and I've seen uglier
men than him before this.  I was coming down the stairs after shedding
me sheets, and Molly was asking me where the Major might be, so I told
her to send Dennis in search, and I was all smiles and apologies for the
darkness of the place, with only the one lamp and the fire dying out on
the hearth.  `I'll fetch more light,' says I, and, `Pray do nothing of
the kind.  It's charming to see this fine old place lit up by the
moonlight; I could study it for an hour on end.  A perfect setting for a
ghost story, isn't it?' says he, smiling, and with that he crosses over
to the window, and by the same token it was a regular ghost he looked
himself, all tall, and straight, and shiny white.  Then it walked into
my head what a jest it would be to send Esmeralda to meet him, and the
two of them each thinking the other was a ghost, and frightened out of
their seven senses.  So I excused myself, polite like, saying I would
speak to my sister, and the rest of the tale you know for yourselves.  I
taunted her with cowardice to make her rise to the occasion, but that
wouldn't work, and time was passing, so I turned to bribery, but by good
fortune I'll keep my racket yet.  At this very moment she will be
feeling her way cautiously down that stair, and he'll be hearing the
creak, and coming forward to see the cause.  All bluey white they'll be,
and each one so scared by the sight of the other that they'll hardly
dare to breathe.  Listen now while I open the door, and you may hear her
squeal."

"Patrick O'Shaughnessy, ye graceless boy, how dare you take such a
liberty with your sister!  A strange man,--an Englishman,--and Esmeralda
knowing nothing about him, and believing there is no one near!  Let me
pass now!  Stand aside this moment!  Patrick O'Shaughnessy, will you let
me pass, or will you not?"

"I will not!" returned Pat sturdily.  "It's my joke, and I'm not going
to have it spoiled.  You leave them to fight it out between themselves,
and if they come out alive you'll hear the tale first hand.  `What do my
eyes behold?' says he.  `What fairy form is this I see before me?'
`Pity me!' says she.  `What's that white pillar over there by the
window?  It's a dust sheet that Molly has been hanging over the
curtains, and maybe the draught is making it move.  Oh, oh, oh, there's
a head to it!  It's alive!  It comes towards me!  What will I do?  What
will I do?'"

Pat clasped his hands in affected terror, and shrieked in clever
imitation of his sister's manner.  The door was still ajar, and as he
stopped a sound from below rose faintly to the ears of his companions, a
second shriek so alike in tone and expression that it might have been
the echo of his own.  "Pixie," cried Bridgie wildly, "at him, Pixie!  At
him!"  And like a flash of lightning Pixie lay prone on the floor with
her arms wound tightly round Pat's legs.  He swayed and staggered,
clutched at the wall, and felt Mademoiselle's arms nip him from behind,
as the door flew open, and Bridgie sped like a lapwing along the
gallery.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE WHITE LADY.

Esmeralda set out on her expedition in the highest spirits, for a girl
who is brought up on a regime of outdoor sport is not troubled with
nerves, and she laughed at the suggestion of ghosts with the scorn which
it deserved.  What she did not laugh at, however, was the promise of
Pat's racket, a gift to him from an absent godfather, and coveted by all
his brothers and sisters, but by none so much as Esmeralda, who played a
very pretty game of her own, and felt a conviction that she could
distinguish herself still more if she possessed a good racket instead of
the old one which had done duty for years, and was now badly sprung.

Pat had promised in the presence of witnesses to hand over his treasure
if she returned to the schoolroom without--oh, elegant
expression!--"letting a howl out of her," and Esmeralda smiled to
herself at the unlikeliness of such a proceeding.  Why, except for the
cold air, it was really a treat to walk along the disused old gallery
which traversed the left wing of the Castle, where the moonbeams shone
in through the long row of windows with such picturesque effect.  She
sauntered along, enjoying the scene with artistic appreciation, even
feeling a sense of satisfaction in her own appropriate attire.  Powdered
hair and hooped skirt seemed more in keeping with the surroundings than
the bicycling dress of everyday life, and it was an agreeable variety to
pose as one's own great-grandmother once in a way.

Esmeralda reached the end of the gallery, and stretched a hand on either
side, to feel her way down the circular stone staircase which would lead
her into the entrance hall below.  This means of descent was rarely
used, and was now in a semi-ruinous condition, the stone steps being so
much worn with the action of time that it required some little care to
descend safely in the darkness.  She stood poised on each step,
extending a pretty foot to find a secure resting-place on the one below;
round the curve where the darkness was almost complete, then coming into
sight of the hall, with the moonlight making long streaks of light
across the floor, and in the distance a yellow gleam from the solitary
lamp.

Only three more steps remained to be descended, when suddenly she
stopped short, drawing her breath sharply, for there by the second
window stood a man's tall form, all straight and still, and of a curious
shining whiteness.  The face was turned aside, but at the sound of that
gasping sob it turned slowly round, and a pair of keen, steel-like eyes
stared into hers.

Geoffrey Hilliard had been thoroughly enjoying this opportunity of
studying the features of the fine old hall, and making a note of them
for future use.  "What a magnificent old place!" he said to himself.
"Trelawney says the man is at his last gasp, and will positively have to
turn out before long.  Poor beggar!  I pity him.  It must be
heartbreaking to leave an old place like this, where one's ancestors
have lived for generations, where every stone has its history, and the
spirits of the departed seem still hovering in the air.  Halloa, what's
that?"

He turned his head, and peering round the corner of that quaintest of
stone staircases beheld a vision at sight of which he stood transfixed
and astounded.  Spirits of ancestors, indeed!  Here was one before his
very eyes, a picture out of its frame, a dream of grace and beauty such
as is not vouchsafed to mortal eyes in this commonplace, matter-of-fact
twentieth century!  The first glance was admiration alone, the second
brought a thrill of something uncomfortably like fear, for to the most
unsuperstitious of minds there was still something unpleasantly eerie in
this unexpected apparition.  Motionless as a figure of stone stood the
White Lady, her body craned forward, one hand resting against the wall,
the other drawing aside the quilted skirt; the moonlight fell full on
the face, and showed it stiff and rigid as a sculptor's block.

For one moment Geoffrey felt incapable of movement, but the next
commonsense returned, and a dozen matter-of-fact explanations darted
into his head.  What he saw was no figure, but simply a statue, a
reflection, a curious effect of light.  He must examine the phenomenon
at close quarters, and find a solution with which to confound the
superstitious in the future.  No sooner said than done, and he stepped
forward, momentarily averting his eyes, to make his sight the more
searching.  When he opened them again the figure still confronted him;
but now the position seemed slightly altered, for instead of bending
forward she had drawn back, as if to avoid his approach.

A dread seized him lest the phenomenon might vanish altogether before he
had had time to discover its character; he gave a sudden leap forward,
and to his dismay beheld the figure stagger forward, and collapse in a
heap on the lowest stair.  In an instant his arms were round her, and
two warm living hands came together with a shock of surprise.  Masculine
ghost lifted, and feminine ghost struggled and pinched in a manner
unmistakably human.  But if Geoffrey Hilliard's matter-of-fact mind
leapt to a quick understanding of the real situation, Esmeralda was much
more sensational in her explanation.  He remembered that it was
Christmas Eve, a time when some family festivity, of which fancy-dress
was a feature, might well be in progress; she leapt to the dramatic
conclusion that this was a thief masquerading in ghost's attire, the
better to make his escape in the event of discovery.

Cowardly ruffian!  He should not find it so easy as he expected!  If it
was only a girl whom he had encountered, he should find that she was not
so easily shaken off as he expected.  To Hilliard's intense amazement he
felt the hands fasten suddenly round his arm, the white fingers grip his
flesh with no uncertain grasp.  The premeditated apologies died upon his
lips, as the White Lady became rosy red, and her lips parted to show
teeth set in threatening anger.  He stepped back, or tried to do so, but
she clung only the closer; he laughingly tried to move her hand from his
arm, at which she shrieked aloud, and struggled valiantly.

"No, no, you shall not go!  You shall stay here until my father comes!"

"That is just what I want to do!  Pardon me, there is really no
necessity to hold me so fast.  I am not going to run away!" returned the
young fellow, laughing, but in a somewhat impatient fashion.  He had no
ambition to be discovered in this melodramatic attitude, and once more
made an effort to escape.  The grasp on her wrist was gentle, but withal
wonderfully strong, and to Esmeralda's horror she found it impossible to
struggle against it.  The thought that the thief was escaping after all
was too humiliating to be borne, and as one hand after the other was
forced back she grew desperate, and raised her voice in a shrill cry for
help.

"Help!  Help!  Murder!  Thieves!  He-l-p!"

"My dear, good girl!" exclaimed the Murderer blankly, overcome with
amazement, and allowing himself to be once more seized in a detaining
grasp, while Esmeralda poured the vials of her wrath upon him.

"How dare you call me names!  It's a horsewhip you'll be feeling on your
back for this, once my father is here.  I'll hold you tight till he
comes!"

The stranger looked at her, tried to speak, choked hopelessly, and was
just attempting a stammering, "You are really most--complimentary!" when
the sound of flying footsteps came from above, and Bridgie rushed
headlong down the staircase.  Poor Bridgie, what a sight was that which
met her eye!  In the middle of the hall stood the figure of the tall
Englishman, his face all sparkling with fun, his arms hanging slack by
his sides, while Esmeralda clasped him in close embrace, reiterating
shrilly--

"I'll hold you tight!  I'll hold you tight!"

"For pity's sake, Esmeralda, let go of him this minute!" she cried,
rushing to the rescue, and laying soothing hands upon her sister's
shoulder.  "There's nothing to be frightened at, dear; it's just that
wicked Pat, who ought to be destroyed for his pains.  It's no ghost,
darling.  See, now, he's laughing at you.  Ghosts don't laugh!  He's
nothing but a man after all!"

"He's a thief!  He was trying to get the things out of the cabinet.  I
am holding him until father comes, so that he may give him in charge!"
gasped Esmeralda wildly; and Hilliard looked from one sister to the
other with eyes dancing with amusement.

"I'm neither ghost nor thief, as Major O'Shaughnessy will testify when
he arrives.  I'm really exceedingly sorry to have made such an
unfortunate impression, but I came on the most innocent errand.  I am
staying with Mr Trelawney, and your father was kind enough to offer to
lend me a mount for to-morrow.  We thought of going for a long ride in
the morning, so--"

Esmeralda's hands fell to her sides.  The commonplace explanation did
more than a hundred protestations, and a remembrance of the Major's
rhapsodies over the handsome young Englishman whom he had met but a week
before was still fresh in her mind.  She stepped back, but the light in
her eyes gleamed more threateningly than before, as with tragic attitude
she turned towards the staircase.  On the lowest step crouched Pixie,
all eyes and gaping mouth; on the third Mademoiselle clasped her hands,
and wagged her head from side to side, as if calling someone to witness
that she at least was innocent of offence; from between the banisters
peered a red, questioning face, audacious, yet vaguely alarmed.

"Patrick O'Shaughnessy," said Esmeralda in an awful voice, "you shall
pay for this evening's work!" and at that, audacity triumphed, and Pat
retorted sharply--

"But not with the racket, me dear, for ye did howl after all.  We heard
you right up in the schoolroom.  You're not the hero you thought
yourself, to mistake an innocent gentleman for a midnight assassin."

"Pat, be quiet!" interrupted Bridgie sharply, then turned to the
stranger with that winsome smile which was her greatest charm.  "You've
been a schoolboy yourself, and know the ways of them.  My brother never
rests out of mischief, and he dared my sister Joan to walk the round of
the Castle in the dark.  She was dressed up as you see, and he had seen
you down here in your white coat, and thought maybe you would each be
startled by the sight of the other."

"And at first she wouldn't go at all, and was only laughing at him for
his pains, but Pat said Christmas Eve and Hallowe'en were all the same,
and that if a girl went alone by herself in the moonlight she would see
the spirit of her future h---" cried Pixie in one breathless sentence.
In her opinion Bridgie's explanation had been singularly inadequate, and
she was filled with indignation at the babel of sounds which drowned her
conclusion.  Bridgie was seized with a paroxysm of coughing,
Mademoiselle with admirable promptitude knocked an old metal cup from a
bracket, and sent it clanging to the floor, and Pat cried shrilly--

"See a spook!  She was dressed all in white, and you said yourself it
was a good setting for a ghost story!  It was yourself that put it in my
head!"

"I believe you are right.  I certainly did make that remark," said the
stranger obligingly.  For some reason or other his colour had decidedly
heightened during the last few moments, and he looked at Esmeralda with
a quick, embarrassed glance, as if afraid to meet her eyes.  She was
flushed like himself, a beautiful young fury, with eyes ablaze, and lips
set in a hard, straight line.  Propitiation was plainly hopeless at the
moment, and he was not so foolish as to attempt the impossible.  This
was evidently "Beauty O'Shaughnessy," of whom he had heard so much, and,
to judge by his own experience, his friends' accounts of the
eccentricities of the family were no whit exaggerated.  The dear little
girl with the sweet eyes was plainly the eldest sister, since she took
upon herself to perform the honours of the house, and he was thankful to
follow her towards the fireplace, leaving the belligerents at the end of
the hall.

"I'm exceedingly sorry to have caused such an alarm!  Please make my
peace with your sister.  I am afraid, if she was not prepared to see me,
my actions must have seemed sadly suspicious," he began apologetically;
but Bridgie stopped him with uplifted hand, and a queenliness of manner
which sat charmingly upon her slight figure.

"Indeed you were not to blame at all, and there is no need to give it
another thought.  You have had bad weather for your visit, but I hope
there is a change to-night.  The Major will be delighted that you took
him at his word, and Dandy will carry you like a feather.  Here he is at
last, to welcome you himself."

The Major came forward as she spoke, calling out welcomes from afar, and
holding out his hand in hospitable Irish greeting.  He was all smiles
and superlatives, charmed that Mr Hilliard had called, overjoyed to
give him a mount, delighted that he had already made the acquaintance of
"me children," beamingly unconscious that there was trouble in the air,
and persistent in summoning Esmeralda to his side.

"What do you think of that for an impromptu costume?  All made out of a
couple of sheets, me dear fellow, and at a moment's notice.  Quite a
display we had this night, with the whole lot of them got up to match;
but this child is the only one that kept it on.  Me daughter Joan!
Esmeralda, for short.  Mr Geoffrey Hilliard!"

Hilliard bowed deeply.  Esmeralda drooped her eyelids, and the Major
chuckled afresh at "the spirit of the girl!"

"A shame to waste such sweetness on the desert air, isn't it, Hilliard?
That's what she says herself, and there's nothing for it but to give my
consent to a party on New Year's Eve.  A man's not master of himself
when he has three daughters, but you must give us the pleasure of
welcoming you with the rest of our guests.  The Trelawneys will be here
to a man, and you must come over with them.  Esmeralda says she is
fatigued with meeting the same people over and over again, so she'll be
delighted to see you.  Won't you now, Esmeralda?  Give your own
invitation to Mr Hilliard."

"Indeed, father, we have scarcely got the length of invitations.  It was
just an idea we were thinking over, and at the best it will be a poor
country affair.  If Mr Hilliard is accustomed to London, 'twould be but
a bore to him to join us."

It was evident that Esmeralda was by no means anxious to count the
stranger among her guests.  Having shown herself to him in a ridiculous
and unbecoming light, she had no wish to pursue the acquaintance, and
the glance which accompanied the words was even more eloquent than
themselves.

"Don't dare to come here again!" said the haughty eyes.  "Don't imagine
you will get the laugh over me," said the haughty head, and Geoffrey
Hilliard read the signals, and smiled unperturbed--a happy, self-
confident smile.

"I assure Miss O'Shaughnessy that I should be honoured by an
invitation," he said blandly, "if I may accept in advance.  Nothing will
give me greater pleasure than to join your gathering."



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

BRIDGIE'S CONFESSION.

After Mr Hilliard's departure, Mademoiselle was treated to an
exhibition of what was known in the family as "Esmeralda's tantrums."
Hardly had her father turned from the door than she had rushed towards
him, and begun pouring out the story of her wrongs.  Eyes flashed, head
tossed, arms waving about in emphatic declamation, little foot tapped
the floor all a-quiver with excitement, while Pixie stood in the
background faithfully imitating each gesture, and Pat gazed at the
ceiling with an expression of heart-broken innocence.  Esmeralda called
upon all present to witness that she was despised and ridiculed by the
members of her own family; that by this evening's work she had been made
the laughing-stock of the county; and announced her intention of leaving
home by the first train that steamed out of the station.  She would earn
her own living, and if necessary, wander barefoot through the world,
rather than submit any longer to insults from her own kith and kin, and
when she died a beggar's death, and lay stretched in a pauper's grave,
they might remember her words, and forgive themselves if they could!

The invective was originally directed against Pat alone, but as she
warmed to her work it grew ever more comprehensive, until at last it
seemed as though the whole household were in conspiracy against her.
Then suddenly the climax was touched and passed; the last stage of all
was announced by a tempest of tears, and the Major tugged miserably at
his moustache, nerving himself to the task most difficult in the world
to his easy-going nature,--that of finding fault!

"Pat, ye rascal, what's this I hear about you?  Mark my words, now.
I'll not have your sisters made the subject for practical jokes!  If you
can't keep yourself out of mischief, I'll find a way to occupy you with
something you'd like worse.  Can I have no peace in me own home for the
complaints of you and your doings?  If ye can't carry yourself as a
gentleman, I'll apprentice ye to a trade, and wash me hands of you once
for all.  Mind what I'm telling ye, for there's truth in it!  Will I be
giving him a punishment now, Esmeralda?  Is it your wish I should punish
him?"

"It is so!  And the harder the better!" sobbed Esmeralda; and the Major
heaved a sigh of ponderous dimensions.

"Ye hear that, Patrick?  Listen to that, now, and see your sister in
tears, and think shame to yourself on a good Christmas Eve.  And now
I've the trouble of punishing you into the bargain.  What will I do with
him, Esmeralda?  Will I send him off to his bed before Jack comes home?"

And then a pretty thing happened, for among the chorus of groans which
greeted this suggestion, Esmeralda's "No, no!" sounded shrillest of all,
and off she rushed to Pat's side in a whirlwind of repentance.

"No, no!  Not that!  He would be so disappointed.  He must see Jack.  I
won't have him punished after all, father.  It's Christmas-time, and
he's sorry already.  Tell the Major you are sorry, Pat, and I'll shake
hands and say no more."

"I'm sorry, sir, there's been such a stupid row," said Pat truthfully
enough; but when his father turned away with a sigh of relief, he put
his arm round his sister and gave her a bear-like hug.

"What did you howl about, silly?" he asked affectionately.  "When you've
had time to cool down you will think it the finest joke of the year.
And you so well plucked, too, holding on like grim death, for all his
struggles.  You ought to be proud instead of sorry.  Look here, now, you
shall have the racket after all!  I won't have you the loser for your
dealings with me.  I'll give it to you at once, if you'll be troubled to
come to my room!"

Then Esmeralda cried, "Oh, Pat, me darlin'!" and Pat hung on to her
arms, crying, "Hold me tight!  Hold me tight!" at which she blushed and
tugged his curly locks, and off they went together, laughing,
squabbling, protesting; sworn enemies, dearest of friends!

Jack arrived in due course, and a happier Christmas party than that
assembled round the breakfast-table at Knock Castle next morning it
would have been hard to find.  Each one had provided presents for the
others, and if they were of infinitesimal value, they were apparently
none the less valued by the recipients.  Mademoiselle thought she had
never seen anything more charming, than the manner in which Pixie
presented, and the Major received, a solitary bone stud for his collar,
amidst the acclamations of an admiring family.

"A happy Christmas to ye, father darlin', and many happy returns!" said
Pixie in deep sweet accents, as she pressed the tiny packet into his
hand, and blinked at it with an air of elaborate indifference.  "It's
just a little present I was buying you, thinking maybe you would like to
wear something I'd chosen meself."

"And now what can this be next?" soliloquised the Major, untwisting the
paper with tenderest fingers and an air of absorption seldom seen on his
merry features.  When wrapping number two was undone, and the stud was
disclosed in all its glory, he appeared almost dizzy with rapture,
holding it out on an outstretched palm, and gazing at it with
incredulous joy.  "Did ever anything fall out so lucky as that?  The
very thing I was breaking my heart over not an hour ago.  Somebody eats
my studs--I'm sure they do--and what are left Esmeralda steals for her
cuffs.  But I'll be even with anybody who dares to take this one from my
drawer.  Thank you, my piccaninny.  It's a broth of a stud, and you
could not have given me anything I liked better."

"I hope it may never break on you when you are in a hurry," said Pixie
politely, and with sundry memories of past occasions when the Major had
dressed for a function, while the sounds of his groans and lamentations
had been heard without the portals of his dressing-room.

Esmeralda presented Bridgie with a card of hat-pins; Bridgie had knitted
woollen gloves for the boys, and the most exciting presentations were
those which Mademoiselle had thoughtfully brought with her--dainty lace
ties for the sisters, which were received with a rapture almost too
great for words, and the grey Suede gloves which were Jack's happy
inspiration.  Dark and threatening as the day appeared, on went gloves
and tie, when it was time to start for church, and Esmeralda at least
was proudly conscious of her stylish appearance, when half-way along the
muddy lane the Trelawneys' carriage bowled past, and the laughing eyes
of the stranger met hers once more.  The mud flew from the carriage-
wheels, and she held up her skirts with a great display of grey-gloved
hands, and backed up against the hedge, frowning and petulant--my Lady
Disdain in every gesture and expression.

Mademoiselle had never before attended a Christmas service in an English
church, and though it was impossible to resist some pangs of
homesickness, she was still interested and impressed.  The little
building was tastefully decorated, and the beautiful hymns were sung
with delightful heartiness and feeling.  The O'Shaughnessys themselves
would have constituted a creditable choir, for Pat's still unbroken
voice was a joy to hear as he joined in the air with Bridgie and Pixie,
the Major rolled out a sonorous bass, Jack sang tenor, while Esmeralda's
alto was rich and full as an organ stop.  They sang with heart as well
as voice, as indeed who can help singing those wonderful words?  First,
the heralds' call to Christendom to greet the great festival of the
year, the birthday of its Lord: "Christians, awake!  Salute the happy
morn."--It must be a cold heart indeed which does not thrill a response
to that summons; then the description of the angelic joy at His coming,
"Hark, the herald angels sing"; and last, and perhaps most beautiful of
all, the summons to the saints on earth to join in that praise, "Oh,
come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!"

The service passed in a glow of exaltation, and the softening influence
continued throughout the long walk home, when the younger members of the
family walked on ahead, and the two older girls followed sedately in the
rear.  Bridgie's eyes glowed as she looked after her "children", Pat and
Miles, tall and graceful even in this their hobbledehoy stage, Esmeralda
queening it in their midst, and Pixie dancing blissfully through every
puddle that came in her way.

"Doesn't it make you rejoice to see them all so well and happy?" she
cried fervently.  "Last Christmas we were so sad that it seemed as if
the sun would never shine again; but mother said she wanted us to be
happy, and it would do her heart good to see them to-day.  I was
thinking about her in church, and asked myself if I had done all I could
to keep my charge.  She left them in my care, you know, for I had to
take her place, and on days like this I feel as if I had to answer to
her for all that is wrong.  Pixie is happy at school, and it's lovely to
know you, and feel that you will be good to the darling; Jack is getting
on with his work, and the boys and Esmeralda quarrel less than they used
to do.  She's the one I am most anxious about, for she is not satisfied
with this quiet life, and her head will be turned with flattery before
many years are over.  Did you notice that young Englishman last night,
and the way he fixed his eyes upon her?  If he comes over here flirting
with her, what will I do, Therese?  He is here for a week or two only,
and after he has gone she will feel duller than ever, poor creature.  I
wonder what I had better do?"

"Mees Esmeralda seems to me exceedingly able to take care of herself,"
remarked Mademoiselle quietly.  "I don't think you need distress
yourself about her in this instance.  Monsieur 'Illiard has had the
misfortune to make a bad impression, by placing her in an uncomfortable
position, and have you not observed the air with which she has bowed to
him to-day as he passed?  It was not, to say the least of it,
encouraging."

Bridgie laughed,--a little, tender, indulgent laugh.

"But it was very pretty all the same, and sort of encouraging
discouraging, don't you think?  If I were in his place I don't think I
should be exactly depressed.  It was like a challenge thrown down before
him, and from his look I believe he means to accept it too!  Ah dear,
it's a great responsibility to have a beauty for a sister!  I am in
terror every time a young man comes to the house, in case he should fall
in love with her."

"There is more than one girl in the house, however, and I know vich of
the two would be my choice, if I were, as you say, a young man myself,"
returned Mademoiselle sturdily.  Bridgie's utter unconsciousness of her
own claims to attention filled her at once with admiration and
impatience, and she could not resist putting her feelings into words.
"Does it never give you any fear in case one should fall in love with
you instead?"

"No, never; how could they when she was near?" cried Bridgie fervently,
and then suddenly flushed all over her delicate face and began a
stammering explanation.  "At least, that's not quite true.  There was
one man--I never told anyone about it before, and indeed there's not
much to tell.  Joan and I went to stay ten days with some friends at the
other side of the county, nearly a year ago last autumn, and he was
staying there too.  He was not like other men I had met, or I thought he
was different.  He was graver than most young men, though he liked fun
all the same, and when we talked it seemed as if we shared the same
thoughts.  It was not long after mother's death, and I was feeling very
lonely, but I didn't feel lonely when I was with him.  On the third day
we went a picnic, and I drove in a wagonette with the ladies, and he
walked with the men.  Just as we overtook them the horses took fright,
and began to gallop down a hill.  We thought for a few minutes that we
should certainly be thrown out at the bottom, but the driver managed to
pull up in time, and we were none the worse except for the fright.  The
men came racing along to see what had happened, and his face was as
white as death.  When he came up he looked straight at me, and at no one
else, though his sister was there and several old friends, and he said,
`_Thank God_!'  Only that, but his voice shook as he said it, and he
turned away, as if he could not bear any more.  And I felt so strange
and glad, so happy and proud; all that day I felt as if I were walking
on air, but when I went to bed at night I could not sleep, for I
realised suddenly what it meant.  He was growing fond of me, and I of
him; if we were together another week, perhaps he would ask me to marry
him and go away to the other end of the world, for he was a soldier--did
I tell you that?  And I had promised mother to look after the children
until they were old enough to manage for themselves.  I couldn't break
my word, and yet if I stayed on and was nice to him, he might think it
was wrong of me to say No.  And I was afraid I couldn't help being
nice."

The sweet voice broke off suddenly, and Mademoiselle looked into the
grey eyes, and thought that the young soldier was to be congratulated
both on his own good taste, and on the feelings which he had been
fortunate enough to awaken in this best and sweetest of girls.

"_Eh bien_, and what have you done then?" she inquired eagerly.  "It was
a difficult position.  What have you done?"

"Oh, I did nothing.  I came away!" said Bridgie, as simply as if that
were not just the most difficult thing she could have done under the
circumstances.  "The next morning he went out shooting, and the post
came in at ten o'clock with a letter from father saying that Pat had
fallen from the barn and twisted his ankle.  It was very few weeks he
did not fall from the barn, as a matter of fact, but it was an excuse,
so I said I must go home and nurse him, and they drove me to the station
that very afternoon before the men came home."

Mademoiselle drew in her breath, in a gasp of amazement.  She looked at
Bridgie, and her eyes flashed with eloquent comment.  It was so
wonderful to think of the courage with which this young thing, with the
bright, pleasure-loving nature which had come to her as an inheritance,
had yet had the courage to deliberately put from her the greatest
happiness which she could have known, in order to devote herself to the
care of others.  The simple, unpretentious manner in which the tale was
told, made so light of the incident that it might have involved little
or no suffering; but Mademoiselle knew better, and her voice trembled
with sympathy as she put the low-toned question--

"And afterwards--did it hurt--did it hurt very much, _cherie_?"

"I think it did.  I cried a great deal for several nights when I thought
of the good times they were all having together; but I knew it would
have been worse later on, and I comforted myself with that.  Besides,
what is the use of giving up a thing at all if one can't do it
cheerfully?  It would have been better for me to have married and left
home, than to stay, and make them all miserable by moping and looking
sad.  And they are all such darlings, and so loving and kind.  I don't
think any other girl ever had such a family as mine!"

"The Major ignores you; the boys worry you to death; my lady Joan orders
you about as if she were a queen, and you her servant; only the little
Pixie worships you as you deserve to be worshipped," reflected
Mademoiselle mentally; but she kept her reflections to herself, and
asked another question, the answer to which she was longing to hear with
truly feminine curiosity.  "And was that all,--the end of everything?
What happened next?  Have you not heard or seen him since that time?"

The red flew over Bridgie's face, and she smiled--a soft, contented
smile.

"I have never seen him--no!  Only a month after that he was ordered to
India, and sailed almost at once, but he wrote to me before he left.  A
letter arrived one day in a strange handwriting, but I guessed almost at
once that it was from him.  He said he had intended to come to Ireland
in the spring, and to call at Knock Castle, but that now it would be
impossible for some years to come.  He said he had enjoyed so much
meeting me for those few days, and he hoped I should not altogether
forget him while he was away.  Would I allow him to write to me now and
again, and would I send a photograph for a poor exile to take away to
comfort his loneliness?  I had a very nice photograph that a friend of
father had taken the summer before, and I thought there was no harm in
sending him that, and writing a polite little note.  It was very short,
and I tried not to make it too nice, and I said nothing at all about
writing, only just remarked that it would be interesting to receive
letters from India," said Bridgie, with a naivete which made
Mademoiselle throw up her hands in delight.  "He has written to me four
times since then, and,"--her eyes began to dance, and a dimple danced
mischievously in her cheek--"I enjoy writing to him so much that I
answer them the very next day; but it would not be proper to send them
so soon, you know, so I put no date, but just lock them away in my desk,
and wait for six weeks, or two months before I send them off.  Once I
waited for three, and then he sent a newspaper.  There was nothing in it
that could interest me in the least, but it was just a gentle hurry up.
I did laugh over that newspaper!"

"Bridgie, Bridgie! this is more serious than I thought.  No wonder you
look upon new-comers with indifference.  I hope they are very
interesting, those letters.  They must be, I suppose, since you are so
eager to reply."  But at this Bridgie shook her head, and shrugged her
shoulders deprecatingly.

"You are a teacher; perhaps you would call them interesting.  For me
they are just a trifle instructive!  I want to hear about himself, and
he describes the country, and the expeditions they make.  Don't please
think they are love-letters, Therese.  They are very, very proper, not
in the least affectionate, and my replies are terribly dull.  You see
I'm in an awkward position, for everything that would be interesting it
would not be proper to say, and everything I can say must be
uninteresting, for he knows almost nothing of us or of our people."

"And yet you are compelled to answer these `instructive epistles' the
moment they arrive, and he cannot wait patiently to receive your so dull
replies.  That has only one meaning, my dear, and it will come when he
returns home in a few years, and your children are grown up and able to
be left.  It will come.  I am sure it will come!"

"If it is the right thing for me--if it is God's will--yes! it will
come, and meanwhile I am very happy.  It is good of Him to have given me
such a hope in my life," said Bridgie simply; and Mademoiselle's eyes
dimmed with sudden tears.  Her own nervous, restless spirit was for ever
kicking against the pricks, but she was at least honest enough to
acknowledge her shortcomings, and the example of this young girl filled
her with shame and a humble desire to follow in her footsteps.

"And I am thankful that He has let me know you.  You do me good,
_cherie_.  I wish to be more like you," she said humbly; and Bridgie
opened her great eyes in bewilderment.

"Like me!" she echoed incredulously.  "My dear!"  The dimple dipped
again, and she slipped her hand through Mademoiselle's arm and shook her
in playful remonstrance.  "Don't you make fun of your hostess, or she'll
starve you for your pains.  The very idea of clever, accomplished You
wanting to be like blundering Irish Me!"



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

"TO SEE THE RUINS!"

"This begins to grow exciting.  The plot develops!" said Mademoiselle
gaily to herself, when the fifth day of the last week in the year was
reached, and Mr Geoffrey Hilliard made his fifth appearance on the
scene in transparently accidental-on-purpose manner.  On the first day
he had been discovered assiduously pumping up the tyres of a bicycle
immediately outside the Castle gates; on the second, he was lounging
about the village street with an air of boredom which showed that he had
exhausted all the objects of interest long before the O'Shaughnessy
party passed by on their morning walk; on the third, he paid a formal
call in the afternoon and stayed a good two hours by the clock, for
which breach of etiquette he was so much concerned that he was compelled
to come again the next day to apologise, and hope the ladies were not
fatigued.  Bridgie smiled polite reassurements, but Esmeralda lay back
in her seat and naughtily yawned, as though in protest against her
sister's words.  She affected to conceal her weariness, but it was a
transparent pretence, and the young fellow's eyes twinkled with
amusement.  Since the moment of their first meeting there had been this
pretence of antagonism, this playing at fighting on the girl's part;
but, as Bridgie had foretold, the man seemed to find it rather an
encouragement than otherwise, and his smile was never more bright and
self-confident than after an exhibition like the present.

"Miss Joan seems to have suffered," he said boldly.  "I feel truly
guilty; but won't you allow me to remedy the mischief?  If I might make
a suggestion, it's a perfect winter afternoon, and you promised to show
me the remains of that old ruin in your grounds.  Don't you think that
half an hour's walk before tea would freshen you up?"

"I detest ruins; they are so dull," said Esmeralda ungraciously; but Mr
Hilliard still continued to smile and to look at her in expectant
fashion, and presently, almost against her will, as it seemed, she rose
from her chair and moved across the room.  "Of course, if you really
want to see them!  It will only take a few minutes.  Come then, Pixie!
You were asking me to come out.  It will do you good to come too."

Bridgie and Mademoiselle exchanged a quick glance of amusement at the
look of disgust which passed over the visitor's face, and which all his
politeness was not able to conceal; but Pixie pranced after her sister
with willing step, for it had never entered into her heart to believe it
possible that there could exist a living creature unto whom her society
could be otherwise than rapturously welcome.  In the cloak-room off the
hall she put on two odd shoes, the two which came first to hand, and a
piebald sealskin jacket, which, according to tradition, had descended
from a great-aunt, and which was known in the household as "The jacket,"
and worn indiscriminately by whosoever might happen to need a warm wrap.

The effect of this costume, finished off by an old bowler hat, was so
weird and grotesque that at the first moment of beholding it Hilliard
thought it must surely be a joke designed for his benefit; but the air
of unconsciousness worn by both girls saved him from making a false
move, and he speedily forgot all about Pixie in admiration of her
sister.  Whatever Esmeralda wore, it seemed as if this were the dress of
all others to show off her beauty to the best advantage; and the grey
golf-cape and knitted cap, set carelessly over her smoke-like locks,
appeared at once the ideal garments for a winter promenade.  Pixie
slipped her arm underneath the cloak to hang on to her sister's arm, and
the three set off together across the snow-bound park.

"I suppose you know a great deal about ruins, since you are so much
interested in ours," said Esmeralda, as an opening to the conversation.
"People are always interested in things they understand.  That's the
only reason why I should like to be clever and learned--it would make
life so much more satisfying.  It doesn't amuse me in the least to see
old walls, and bits of pillars sticking out of the earth.  I'd pull them
all down and build something new in their place if I had the chance, but
people who understand are quite different.  Some people came here once
on a picnic from Dublin, and father gave them permission to see over the
grounds.  Of course it rained, but they all stood round on the damp,
soaking grass while an old gentleman gave a lecture about that miserable
little ruin.  He said something about the shape of the windows, and they
all took notes and sketches and snapshots, as if they had never seen
anything so wonderful in their lives.  There is a bit of a pillar two
yards high.  He prosed away about that until I had to yawn, but they
seemed to like it.  Some of them were quite young too.  There was a girl
rather like Bridgie, with such a pretty hat!"  Esmeralda heaved a sigh
of melancholy recollection.  "She stood there and let the rain soak
through the ribbons while she sketched the stupid old things.  I envied
her so!  I thought, `Why can't I be interested in ruins too, and then I
should have something to think about, and to amuse myself with when the
time feels so long?'"

"Does the time seem long to you, then?  Do you find it dull over here?"
asked Hilliard, in a tone that was almost tender in its anxious
solicitude; and Esmeralda heaved a sigh of funereal proportions,
delighted to find herself supplied with a listener ready to sympathise
with her woes.  A home audience is proverbially stoical, and after the
jeers and smiles of brothers and sisters, it was a refreshing change to
wake a note of distress at the very beginning of a conversation.  She
became suddenly conscious of a feeling of acute enjoyment, but
endeavoured to look pensive, as befitted the occasion, and rolled her
grey eyes upward with eloquent sadness.

"Oh, dull!  Dull does not express my feelings!  We are so shut in here,
and so little happens, and I know nothing.  I have had no chance of
learning and finding interests in that way."

"Why didn't ye study, then, when ye had the chance?  Ye drove Miss
Minnitt crazy with your idleness!" interposed Pixie brutally; and
Esmeralda flushed and hesitated, momentarily discomfited, then,
recovering herself, cast a melancholy glance in Hilliard's face.

"Our old governess," she explained resignedly, in the tone of one who
might speak volumes, but is restrained from feelings of loyalty and
decorum.  "A kind old creature, so good to us!  She has lived in this
village all her life."

"I understand," said the model listener.  It seemed to him quite natural
that this beautiful creature possessed an intellect to match her person,
and felt her eagle wings pinioned in the atmosphere of an Irish village.
He wished he were only more intellectual himself, so that he might be a
fitter companion, and devoutly hoped that he might make no bad slip to
betray his ignorance, and so alienate her sweet confidence.  "As you
say, the more one knows, the less possible it should be to be dull or
idle.  Amusement can never make up for good solid occupation."

"Oh, never, never!" cried Miss Esmeralda, with a fervour which brought
Pixie's eyes upon her in a flash of righteous indignation.  Esmeralda to
talk like this!  Esmeralda, who sat at ease while others worked, who
groaned aloud if asked to sew on a button, and was at once so dilatory
and so inefficient that Bridgie declared it was easier to do a task at
once than to unravel it after her vain attempts.  Pixie gasped and
pranced on ahead, her back towards the direction in which she was going,
her face turned upon the culprit in kindling reproach.

"Joan O'Shaughnessy, what's happened to you to talk in such a fashion
this day?  You, that doesn't know the meaning of work, to be sighing and
groaning that you haven't enough to do!  You, to be saying that it would
cheer you to be busy, when ye sigh like a furnace and grumble the day
long if you have to work for an hour on end!  I've heard ye say with my
own ears that if you had your own way, you would never do another hand's
turn, and of all the lazy, idle girls--"

"Wouldn't it perhaps be wise if you looked which way you were going?
The ground is rough, and I'm afraid you will have a fall," interposed
Hilliard mildly; not that he was in truth the least bit anxious about
this strange child's safety, or could not have witnessed her downfall
with equanimity, but in pity for Esmeralda's embarrassment she could not
be allowed to continue her tirade indefinitely.  He was rewarded by a
melting glance, as the beauty sighed once more, and said, in a tone of
sweet forbearance--

"She does not understand!  She has been away, and that's not the sort of
work I meant; and besides--"

She stopped short, for she could not think how to finish the sentence,
and the fear of Pixie was ever before her eyes.  It was in a different
and much more natural voice that she again took up her explanation.
"Perhaps I was mistaken in saying it was work I wanted, but it is
certainly interest.  I have never been farther away than Dublin, and I
get so tired and weary of it all, and have such a longing for something
fresh.  The others don't feel it, for they are so fond of the place; but
I'm restless.  I feel pent in, knowing the world is moving on and on,
all the time, and I am shut up here, and sometimes the longing comes
over me so strongly that it's more than I can bear, and I fall into--"

"A rage!" said Pixie calmly.  Esmeralda had paused just long enough to
draw that short eloquent breath which adds so largely to the eloquence
of a peroration, and was preparing to roll out a tragic "despair," when
that tiresome child must needs interfere and spoil everything by her
suggestion.  Esmeralda's anger was quickly roused, but fortunately even
quicker still was her sense of humour.  For a moment clouds and sunshine
struggled together upon her face, then the sunshine prevailed, she
looked at Hilliard, beheld him biting his lips in a vain effort to
preserve composure, and went off into peal after peal of rich, melodious
laughter.

"Next time I wish to talk at my ease, it's not bringing you out with me
I'll be, Pixie O'Shaughnessy!" she cried between her gasps; and
Hilliard's merry "Ho! ho! ho!" rang out in echo.

"She is indeed a most painfully honest accompanist.  I am thankful that
I have no small brothers to give me away in return.  You give your
sister a very bad character, Miss Pixie; but you seem very little in awe
of her, I notice.  She must possess some redeeming qualities to make up
for the bad ones you have quoted."

Pixie bent her head in benignant assent, as one bound by honesty to see
both sides of a question and to deal out praise with blame.

"She's idle," she said judicially, "and she's hasty, but she's sorry
afterwards.  The more awful her temper, the quicker she's sorry.  The
night after you left--"

"Thank you, Pixie, you can spare us further domestic revelations!" cried
Esmeralda, flushing in lovely confusion, and keeping her face turned
away from the merry blue eyes so persistently bent upon her.  "There's
one comfort, Mr Hilliard.  You know the worst of me now, and there is
nothing more to dread.  Pixie has spoiled my chance of posing as a
blighted genius, and shown me as just a bad-tempered, discontented girl
who has not the sense to be satisfied with her position.  I'm sorry, for
it would have been interesting to hear you talk like the clever,
intellectual people in books, and perhaps, if I had kept very quiet and
agreed with all you said, you wouldn't have discovered my ignorance for
quite a long time to come."

"But, dear me, you would have discovered mine!  I couldn't have kept it
up for an hour.  You surely don't expect me to lecture on improving
topics!" cried Hilliard, in such transparent amaze that Esmeralda could
not but be convinced of his sincerity.

"Then you are not clever either!" she exclaimed.  "What a relief!  Now
we can just talk comfortably, and not pretend any more.  But at any rate
you have seen more than we have.  Have you travelled much?  What have
you seen?  What countries have you been in?"

"I can hardly say straight off.  Let me count.  France, Belgium,
Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey--"

The "Ohs!" and "Ahs!" of astonishment had been steadily gaining in
volume, but at the sound of this last name they reached a perfect shriek
of delight.  There was something so very strange and mysterious about
Turkey that even to see a man who had visited its borders gave one a
thrill of excitement.  Pixie's premeditated boast that she had been in
Surbiton died upon her lips, and Esmeralda's eyes grew soft with wonder.

"Turkey!  Oh, you are a traveller!  What on earth made you go to
Turkey?"

"It was part of a tour on which my uncle took me after leaving the
University, and I went even farther afield than that,--to Palestine and
Egypt.  You would like Egypt even better than Turkey, Miss Joan, for
there, thanks to our rule, you have picturesqueness without squalor,
whereas Turkey does not stand a close inspection.  We were thankful to
leave Constantinople after a very few days, but were sad indeed to turn
our backs on fascinating Cairo.  If I had the seven-leagued boots, I
should be a frequent visitor over there."

The two sisters linked arms, and gazed at him with awe-stricken eyes.

"And you have seen veiled women," sighed Esmeralda softly, "and Mont
Blanc, and the Pyramids, and the desert, and the Red Sea, and Saint
Peter's at Rome, and all the things I have dreamt about ever since I was
a child!  Oh, you are lucky!  I think I should die with joy if anyone
offered to take me a trip like that.  Did you have any adventures?  What
did you like best?  Begin at the beginning, and tell us all about it!"

Well, as our American cousins would say, this was rather a large order;
but Hilliard could refuse nothing to such an audience, and, if the truth
must be told, had his full share of the traveller's love of relating his
experiences.  He passed lightly over days spent in countries near home,
but grew even more and more animated as he went farther afield, and
reached the Eastern surroundings in which he delighted.

"Shall I tell you about Palestine?  I never knew anything stranger than
arriving at that railway station and seeing `Jerusalem' written up on
the hoardings.  It seemed extraordinary to have a station there at all,
and such a station!  It was in autumn, and everything was white with
dust.  Outside in the road were a number of the most extraordinary-
looking vehicles you can possibly imagine, white as if they had been
kept in a flour mill, and as decrepit as if a hundred years had passed
since they were last used.  How they kept together at all was a marvel
to me, and as for the harness, there was more string than leather to be
seen.  The drive from the station to the hotel was one of the most
exciting things I ever experienced.  I am not nervous, and have had as
much driving as most fellows, but that was a bit too much even for me.
The road is very hilly, turns sharply at many corners, and is, of
course, badly made to the last degree, so that it would have seemed
difficult enough to manage suck crazy vehicles even at a foot-pace; but
our fellow drove as if the Furies were at his back, as if it were a
question of life and death to get to the hotel before any of his
companions.  He stood up on the box and shouted to his horses; he lashed
at them with his whip; he yelled imprecations to the rivals who were
galloping in pursuit.  When an especially dangerous corner came in view,
two drivers made for it in a reckless stampede, which made it seem
certain that one or other must be hurled to the bottom of the hill.  A
lady inside our carriage burst into a flood of tears, and I believe her
companions were all clinging to one another in terror.  As for me, I was
on the box, and I never passed a more exciting ten minutes.  We were
told afterwards that we had had the best driver in Jerusalem, but I
never engaged his services again.

"That same night in the hotel I was introduced to a dragoman, whom we
engaged to take us about.  I am sure you will like to hear about Salim,
for, apart from himself, he had a great claim to attention, for he had
been Gordon's dragoman years ago when he was in Egypt.  Yes!  I knew
that would interest you, and you would have loved Salim for his own sake
too.  He had a gentle, sad face, with the beautiful dark eyes of the
Eastern, and he spoke English remarkably well.  He was unmarried, and
lived with his mother and a married brother.  Sixteen years he and his
sister-in-law had lived in the same house, but he had never seen her
face.  He had been unlucky in money matters, but accepted his poverty
with the placid acquiescence of the Oriental.  I remember one day when
he told me of a piece of good fortune which had befallen a fellow-
dragoman, and I said that I hoped he might be similarly fortunate.  He
bowed his head with quiet dignity, and waved a brown hand in the air.
`That is with God, sahib--that is with God!'  I used to question him
about Gordon, and he loved to talk of him.  `He was a good man, sahib,
better than any bishop.  When we were camping in the desert he was up
every morning before it was light, kneeling to pray before his tent, and
his heart was so great that he could not bear to see anyone in trouble.
I must always keep with me a bag with small moneys, and he would not
wait to be asked.  Everyone who needed must be helped.  When he went
away he gave me his two best horses, but my heart was sore.  He was a
great chief--a great chief; but I heard afterwards that when he came to
die he was quite poor--the same as Christ!'"

Hilliard told a story well, and now, as he repeated the words, his voice
softened into the deep cadence of the Eastern tones, in which they had
first been said; his hand waved and his eye kindled with emotion.

Esmeralda looked at him, and her heart gave a throb of admiration.  The
manner in which he had spoken was unmistakably reverent, and if young
men only knew it, there is nothing which a girl loves more than a
mingling of manliness and reverence in the man who singles her out for
attention.

"He is a good man; I like him," was the mental comment.  Aloud she said
dreamily, "Gordon is my hero.  I love to hear about him.  He was too
generous to others to heap up money for himself.  I suppose he didn't
care about it.  I wish I didn't, but I do.  It's so very distressing to
be always short of money.  All the good people in books are poor, but
for myself I think it's bad for the temper.  They talk about the peril
of riches, but I should like to try it for myself, wouldn't you, Mr
Hilliard?"

Hilliard smiled--a quiet, amused smile.

"Well, I don't know.  Everything is comparative.  If some people would
think us poor, others would most certainly consider us very rich indeed.
We have all that we need, and for myself I'm quite content.  I manage
to have a very good time."

"And you get away for holidays like this.  That must make it easier.
Have you to work very hard?  What is your work?  In what way do you make
your living?"

Once more Hilliard smiled in amusement, and in truth there was a
directness about Esmeralda's questionings which was as unusual as it was
unconscious.  He put up his hand and stroked one end of his curly
moustache.

"Glue!"

"Glue!" echoed Esmeralda shrilly.

"Glue!" shrieked Pixie in even shriller echo.

The two pairs of eyes were fixed upon him in horrified incredulity.  The
pity, the commiseration of their expressions was touching to behold.

"Oh, poor fellow!" sighed Esmeralda softly.  "You _must_ be poor!  How
can anyone manage to make a living out of--glue?"

"But you know, Esmeralda darling, it is useful!  We break such heaps of
things ourselves.  We often use it," urged Pixie anxiously; and at this
her sister brightened visibly.

"We do.  That's true for you, Pixie.  Perhaps it's your glue we use, Mr
Hilliard.  Dear me, it will be quite cheering when we break anything
after this!  We shall feel we are helping a friend by our misfortune."

"That's very kind of you.  I'll remember that you said that, and it will
cheer me too," replied Hilliard gallantly, and at that very moment a
sound came to the ears of all.  "The gong!  It must be tea-time.  They
are sounding it to let us hear.  I hope I have not kept you out too
long."

Ten minutes later they were all seated in the hall enjoying tea and
scones, while Bridgie smiled sweetly on their flushed, animated faces.

"You look well after your walk," she said.  "And what did Mr Hilliard
think of our tame ruins?"

Pixie looked at Esmeralda; Esmeralda looked at Mr Hilliard; Mr
Hilliard looked at his boots.  One and all they had forgotten all about
the ruins!



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

THE UNWRITTEN PAGE.

The New Year gathering was a great success, and justified Esmeralda's
boast that she would organise an entertainment which should be both
original and striking.  Mademoiselle was not admitted to the secret
conferences, for she was to be surprised with the other guests; but she
could not shut her ears, and would not have done so if she could, for
the sound of the music which rose to her ears was too melodious to lose.
One and all the O'Shaughnessys possessed beautiful singing voices, and
though the carols which they rehearsed were simple in themselves, they
were practised with a care which made them a joy to hear.  Over and over
again the Major made his choir repeat a certain phrase, until the
_diminuendo_ or _crescendo_ was rendered to his satisfaction, until
opening and closing notes sounded together to the instant, and due
expression was given to every mark.  Music he loved, and over music
would spend time and trouble which he would have grudged in almost every
other way; but he rubbed his hands with satisfaction when the last
rehearsal was over, and boasted gleefully that for carol-singing not
many choirs could be found to beat his own.

By eight o'clock the girls were dressed and strutting up and down the
hall to exhibit themselves to the gaze of their companions.  Bridgie
wore her coming-out dress--not so white as it had once been, but
carefully chalked at the worst places, and swathed in lovely old lace
round the shoulders.  Esmeralda sported a pink moire dress which had
once belonged to her mother, with a voluminous sash of white muslin,
since nothing more elaborate was to hand, a wreath of roses out of last
summer's hat pinned over one shoulder, with all the crunched-up leaves
ironed out smooth and flat, and white gloves cleaned with benzoline
until you could hardly tell them from new.  She was a vision of
elegance, or looked so at least to the ordinary observer; for when a
girl is eighteen, and a beauty at that, she is bound to look charming,
whatever be her clothes.

At nine o'clock the guests were asked, and the hour had barely struck
before they began to arrive.  The sound of horses' feet was heard from
without, wheels drew up before the door, and in they came, one party
after another, having driven across country in the cold and the dark for
five, for six, and in one instance for ten long miles, but arriving
fresh and radiant for all that, and brimming over with good humour.
Mademoiselle thought that she had not seen such a merry assembly since
leaving her own dear land, or heard such a babel of tongues.  Everyone
seemed to know everyone else, and to be on terms of closest intimacy and
affection; everyone talked at once and exclaimed with rapture and
admiration at the preparations for the entertainment.  It was easy to
amuse such a company, and dancing and games were carried on with gusto
in the long drawing-room, which had been prepared for the occasion, and
looked comparatively festive with great fires burning in the fireplaces
at either end.

Soon after eleven o'clock the different members of the O'Shaughnessy
family began to slip out of the room, but almost before their absence
was noted, the Major was ringing a bell to attract attention and
marshalling the company to the far end of the room.  At the same signal
two servants entered the room, turned out the lamps, and drew aside the
curtains from the mullioned windows, through which the grounds could be
seen, lying white and still in the moonlight.  There was a rustle of
expectation among the guests, for evidently something was about to
happen, something appropriate to the day and the hour, yet what it could
be no one had the ghost of an idea.  That was the best of those dear
O'Shaughnessys, a smiling lady confided to Geoffrey Hilliard--no one
could tell what they would be up to next!  They were different from
everybody else, and their ways were so much more amusing and charming
than the ordinary stereotyped usages of society.

Hilliard agreed with fervour, and found an additional proof of the
assertion as, one by one, a picturesque band of carollers entered the
room by the farthest door and took up their position in a semicircle
facing the audience.  They were uniformly robed in black, with cowl-like
hoods hanging loosely round the face, and each bore a stick, on the end
of which waved a brilliant Japanese lantern.  The lights lit up the
features of the singers, and seldom indeed had "the beautiful
O'Shaughnessys" appeared to greater advantage than at this moment.
Jack's handsome features and commanding stature made him appear a type
of young manhood, Miles for once forgot to grimace, and Pat's misleading
air of innocence was even more guileless and touching than usual.  As
for the girls, Esmeralda looked like a picture by Rossetti, and
Bridgie's halo of golden hair was more bewitching than ever in its
sombre setting.  No one looked at Pixie until the signal was given and
the choristers burst into song, when she came in for even more than her
own share of admiration, for the treble solos were without exception
given to her to sing, and the piercing sweetness of the young voice
moved some of the more emotional of the audience to surreptitious tears.

Several carols were sung, interspersed with part-songs suitable to the
occasion, and then the singers formed up in rank two and two, and at the
Major's request the guests followed their example, making a long
procession in the rear.  Another song was started, something slow and
plaintive in tone, its subject being the dying year, with regret for all
that it had brought of joy and gladness, and to its strains the
procession started on a strange and charming expedition.  Down one long
corridor, unlit save by the cold light from without and the warm flicker
of lantern ahead along a deserted wing, where dust lay thick on the
walls and the faces of departed ancestors looked down sadly from their
tarnished frames, finally down the circular staircase, from which
Esmeralda had had her first glimpse of Geoffrey Hilliard, and so into
the great hall beneath.  At the end farthest from the door the Major
halted, raised one hand, and called aloud in slow, solemn tones.

"Prithee, silence!" he said.  That was all--"Prithee, silence!" and at
the sound there was another flutter of excitement among the guests.  The
hands of the clock pointed to four minutes to twelve, and it was evident
that the last item in the charming programme was about to take place.
Ladies moved about on tiptoe, mounting the first steps of the staircase,
or standing on stools to ensure a better view.  Men moved politely to
the rear.  There was a minute's preoccupation, and when the general gaze
was once more turned to the doorway, it was seen that a significant
change had taken place in the scene.

Against a background of screens stood the figure of an old man--a very
old man, it would appear, since his back was bowed and his head and
beard white as the snow on the ground outside.  His brown cloak hung in
tatters, and he leant heavily upon his staff.  A deep-toned "Ah-h!"
sounded through the assembly, and showed that the onlookers were at no
loss to understand the character which he was intended to represent.
"The Old Year," murmured one voice after another.

Then a solemn hush fell over all as the clock ticked out the last
minutes, and through the opened door came a blast of icy air and a few
flakes of snow, blown inwards by the wind.  Only another minute, and
then there it came--the slow, solemn chiming of the clock on the tower.
One, two, three.  Good-bye, Old Year!  What if you have brought troubles
in your wake, you have brought blessings too, and sunny summer hours!
Four, five, six--Dear old friend, we are sorrier to part with thee than
we knew!  We have not appreciated thee enough, made enough of thy
opportunities.  If we have ever reproached thee, thou hast cause to
reproach us now.  Seven, eight, nine.  Going so soon?  We were used to
thee, and had been long companions, and of the new and untried there is
always a dread.  Good-bye, Old Year!  Take with thee our blessings and
our thanks, our sorrowful regrets for all wherein we have been amiss.
Ten, eleven, _twelve_.

It is here!  The New Year has come, and to greet its arrival such a
clashing of bells, such an outburst of strange and jangling sounds as
fairly deafened the listening ears.  Molly, grinning from ear to ear,
was running the broom-handle up and down the row of bells outside the
servants' hall.  Mike was belabouring the gong as if his life depended
on his exertions.  The stable-boy was blowing shrilly through a tin
whistle, and the fat old cook was dashing trays of empty mustard-tins on
the stone floor, and going off into peals of laughter between each
movement.

Perhaps it was owing to the stunning effect of this sudden noise that
what had happened at the doorway seemed to have something of the
quickness of magic to the astonished onlookers, but a good deal of the
credit was still due to the castors, on which the screens had been
mounted, to an ingenious arrangement of strings, and to many and careful
rehearsals.  Certain it is that, whereas at one moment the figure of the
Old Year was visible to all, at the next he had disappeared, and the
sound of that last long chime had hardly died away before another figure
stood in his place.  No need to ask the name of the visitor.  It was
once more patent to the most obtuse beholder.  A small, girlish figure
with dark locks falling loosely over the shoulders, with a straight
white gown reaching midway between the knees and the ankles, and showing
little bare feet encased in sandals.  A few white blossoms were held
loosely in one hand, and in the other a long white scroll--the page on
which was to be inscribed the history of an untried path.

Pixie's face was white and awed, for the solemnity of the occasion and
the poetry of the impersonation alike appealed to her emotional nature,
and there was an expression upon the plain little face which was more
impressive than any mere pink and white prettiness, as more than one of
the onlookers remarked with astonishment.

"Who could have believed that that child could look like that?" cried
Geoffrey Hilliard to Mademoiselle, and that young lady tossed her head
with an impatient movement.

"Why not, pray?  If Pixie is not pretty, she is something better--she is
_spirituelle_!" for it had come to this, that Mademoiselle could not
endure to hear Pixie adversely criticised, and resented a depreciating
remark as hotly as if it had had reference to herself.

At this point the formal programme came to an end, and the guests
hurried forward to shake hands with their hosts and thank them over and
over again for the entertainment which they had provided, while the
choristers shed their monk-like robes, (nothing after all but mackintosh
cloaks with hoods cut out of black calico!) and appeared once more in
evening dress.  The way was led to the dining-room, where refreshments
were spread out on the long table, and there was much drinking of
healths and exchanging of good wishes for the New Year.  Everyone was
hungry and happy, and Mademoiselle's cakes and jellies were much
appreciated; but Esmeralda sighed as she looked around, and ate
sandwiches with such a pensive air that Hilliard demanded the reason of
her depression.

"This!" she sighed, holding out the half-eaten fragment, on which was
plainly circled the mark of small white teeth.  "It hurts my sense of
fitness.  We should have had boar's head and venison, and a sheep
roasted whole.  We have some lovely old silver dishes which would have
held them, but--" the "but" was significant, and she raised her
beautiful shoulders with a shrug--"those days have departed.  We have to
be content with sandwiches now."

"There's no limit to one, surely," Hilliard replied gravely.  "We will
keep this plate to ourselves, for I am prepared to eat a very good half,
and you must be hungry after your exertions.  I can't tell how much I
have enjoyed this evening.  It will stand out in my memory as unlike any
other I have ever spent.  I shall often recall it when I am back in
town."

"When--when are you going back?" asked Esmeralda, with an anxiety which
she made no effort to conceal.  "Not very soon, I hope.  Jack goes to-
morrow, and that is quite enough at one time.  Oh, I do hate the end of
the Christmas season!  Everyone seems to go away.  In a fortnight or so
Pixie will be off, and Mademoiselle with her.  It has been so delightful
having a visitor in the house, and she has been so kind and useful.  She
made most of the things on the table to-night,--all those pretty iced
cakes."

"Ah, yes!  Very clever, I'm sure," said Hilliard absently.  It was easy
to see that he had no attention to spare for Mademoiselle or her
confectionery, and presently he added in a lower tone, "There is no
immediate hurry for my return.  I can just as well stay another three or
four days, but I must be back in town before this day week.  I fear
there is no getting out of that."

"Glue?" queried Esmeralda saucily.  They were sitting together at a
little table behind most of the other guests, and she lay back in her
chair looking up at him with a roguish smile.  "Glue?"

"Glue principally.  It is a very--er--engrossing occupation," returned
Hilliard, nobly resisting the inclination to pun; "but I think it could
manage without me for a few days longer, and perhaps we could have
another ride together.  There is a meet somewhere near the day after to-
morrow.  Shall you be there?"

Esmeralda hesitated, seized with a sudden mysterious disinclination to
say "No," a desperate longing to say "Yes," and yet--and yet,--how could
it decently be done?

"I--don't know!  It's Bridgie's turn.  We have only one horse between
us, and I have been the last three times.  I don't like to ask her
again.  It seems so mean."

"But if you did ask, she would let you go.  She would not mind taking
her turn later on?"

"Oh no, or not at all, for the matter of that.  There's nothing Bridgie
wouldn't give away if anyone else wanted it.  She's an angel.  It's just
because she's so sweet that I'm ashamed to be selfish."

"I can understand that, but--just for once!  If you were to ask her very
nicely to change places with you this time, because--because--er--"--
Hilliard hesitated and pulled his moustache in embarrassment--"because
you--"

"Yes, that's just it.  What can I say?  Because what?" laughed Esmeralda
gaily, then suddenly met the gaze of a pair of deep blue eyes, twinkling
no longer, but fixed upon her in intent, earnest scrutiny, and flushed
in mysterious embarrassment.

"Because it was my last chance, and I had asked you especially to be
there.  Because I had stayed on purpose to have another ride with you!
That's the true reason, so far as I am concerned.  I am sure, if you
told Miss Bridgie the truth, she wouldn't have the heart to say No."

Esmeralda looked down at the table and crumbled bread thoughtfully.  She
was by no means so sure.  Bridgie was enough of a mother to take fright
at such an open declaration of interest.  She would not be so rash as to
repeat the conversation _verbatim_, but go to that meet she would, let
Bridgie refuse ten times over, let every horse disappear from the
stable.  Go she would, if she had to borrow the pedlar's pony and ride
barebacked all the way.  Such was the mental decision; aloud she said
languidly--

"Don't know, I'm sure!  Perhaps I may be too tired.  I'll see when the
time comes," and stretched out her hand to beckon Pixie to her side.

Hilliard smiled quietly.  He had an extraordinary way of seeing through
Esmeralda's pretences, and he welcomed Pixie as genially as if the
_tete-a-tete_ were of no consequence in his eyes.

"Well, little white New Year, are you coming to sit down beside us?
Have you had no supper yet?  I am sure you must be hungry after all your
exertions.  Let me wait upon you now, in return for all the pleasure you
have given me by your charming singing."

But no, Pixie refused to sit down or to eat any of the good things
pressed upon her.  For once in her life jellies and creams, even
meringues themselves, failed to tempt her appetite, for she was feasting
on an even sweeter diet--that of unlimited flattery and praise.  As she
strolled to and fro among the guests she was greeted on every side with
words of commendation for her singing, her charming impersonation of the
character assigned to her, and by the more facetious members of the
party implored to smile kindly upon them, to promise them her favour,
and to remember their especial desires.  It was not likely that she was
going to sit down in a corner of the room with no one but her sister and
that stupid Mr Hilliard, who did nothing but stare at Esmeralda, as if
he had never seen a girl before.  She shook her head as he pointed to a
chair, but lingered a moment to allow him to examine her costume and pay
the proper tribute of praise.

"It's charming--quite charming--so simple, and yet so effective.  Those
few loose flowers are much better than a formal bouquet, and the
scroll--who made the scroll?  It is most professional, and I see you
have a pencil hanging by the side,--white,--to match the rest."  He
lifted it as he spoke, and made as though about to write, but at that
Pixie drew back in dismay.

"No, you mustn't!  Be careful,--you must be careful.  It won't rub out."

She walked hastily away, and the two who were left looked at each other,
half sad, half smiling, for the words went home with a meaning deeper
than any which the speaker had intended to convey.

"Be careful.  It won't rub out," repeated Hilliard slowly.  "That's a
good motto for the New Year.  I don't know that one could have a better.
I shall remember that, and the scroll all white and unmarked.  I wonder
what will be written there before the year is done?"

"A great deal, I hope--a great many happenings.  I am tired of jogging
along in the same old way.  I would like a sensational headline in big
print, and that as soon as possible!" cried Esmeralda recklessly.

Poor Esmeralda!  The day was near at hand when she recalled her words,
and winced at the remembrance in sorrow and misery.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

THE LAST RUN.

"Me dear," said Bridgie to Mademoiselle, the next morning, showing all
her dimples at once in the most mischievous of smiles, "what do you
think Mr Hilliard said to me last night before he left?  He has made
arrangements to stay a few days later to have another ride with the
hounds.  He believed it would be a very good meet on Thursday, and how
wonderfully my sister did ride, to be sure.  It's my belief he started
with the intention of asking me to let Esmeralda go in my place, but I
looked so innocent at him that he hadn't the heart.  `Indeed,' I said,
`she did so, and I feared he would think I made but a poor show in
comparison.'  Wasn't it cruel of me now, and the poor thing looking at
me speechless, with those lovely, humbugging eyes!  I had to turn away
and laugh in a corner, but I wouldn't relent, for, says I to myself, if
I have to give up my run, I'll get some fun another way--and it is
amusing, isn't it now, when a man shows you so plainly that he doesn't
want you?"

"Indeed that is a form of humour I do not understand!" returned
Mademoiselle, with her nose in the air.  "But you will give way, of
course--that goes without saying--and let Esmeralda go once again.  You
will not stand out to the end!"

"How could I?  Suppose it was myself, and--someone I told you about.
How should I feel if I had the chance of seeing him, and she would not
allow me?  I believe they are really beginning to care for each other,
and he is a nice man.  I should like him well enough."

"A week ago you were alarmed at the thought!  I confess he makes on me a
pleasant impression, but surely you know very little about him, and it
is rather rash to accept him at once as a possible suitor.  What do you
know beyond that he is handsome, and appears amiable and kind?"

"His uncle was one of the Hilliards of Nanabeg.  My father knew him
well, and he was a fine, old-fashioned gentleman.  That was what made
this Mr Geoffrey come here for the hunting.  He had heard his uncle
speak of Bally William, and the Trelawneys take paying guests for the
hunting season, so he arranged to come to them.  He is not very well
off, I'm afraid, for Joan tells me that he has to make his money out of
glue, poor creature!  But he must be nice, if he is the old squire's
nephew."

Mademoiselle's eyes rolled upward with an eloquent glance.  It was a new
article of faith that a nephew must needs be exemplary because his uncle
had been a popular country squire, but she held her peace and amused
herself by watching the play which went on between the two sisters
during the next twenty-four hours.  Esmeralda was plainly anxious and
ill at ease, and made tentative allusions to the coming meet, which
Bridgie received with bland obtuseness.  She had not the courage to make
her request in so many words, but instead brought forward a succession
of gloomy prophecies calculated to dampen expectation in the mind of any
but the most enthusiastic rider.

"It will be a heavy run to-morrow," she said, shaking her head dismally
as she glanced out of the window on the quickly melting snow.  "I
wouldn't wonder if it poured with rain!  It's a fine draggled set the
women will look before they get home."

"I prefer the ground soft, and as for sunshine, it's a thing I detest,--
dazzling your eyes, and the poor mare's into the bargain.  Dull weather
and a cloudy sky is what I hope to see, and for once it looks as if I
should get my wish."

"Well, it's good weather you need, to get safely over that country.  Mr
O'Brien was saying only last season that it was the worst we had.  There
are some nasty bits of water this side of Roskillie, and they will be
swollen with all this snow.  Now next week over at Aughrin it really
will be pleasant and comfortable."

"I'm so glad, darling!  I hope you will enjoy it!"  Bridgie put her head
on one side, with a smile of angelic sweetness.  Then, as Esmeralda
flounced from the room in disgust, turned back to Mademoiselle,
laughingly penitent.

"Isn't it wicked of me now, but I do enjoy it!  She must care very much
to be so shy about asking, for in an ordinary way she would have blurted
it out long ago.  Well, I shall just wait until to-morrow, and then I'll
say I am--" she paused to laugh over the word--"indisposed!"

There is many a true word spoken in jest, and Bridgie was reminded of
the proverb when the next morning arrived, and her inclination for
hunting or any other amusement died a sudden death through an incident
which happened at the breakfast-table.  The Major was the only one of
the party who received a letter, and when he had perused it he gave an
exclamation of dismay, and leant back in his chair with an expression of
bewilderment.  "It can't be!  It isn't possible!" he muttered to
himself, and when Bridgie inquired the reason of his distress, he threw
the letter across the table with an impatient movement.

"That wretched bank!  They say I have overdrawn.  It's impossible,--
there was a decent balance only a few months back!  They have made some
mistake.  I am positive it is a mistake."

He left the room as he spoke, for breakfast had come to an end at last,
after the usual long-drawn-out proceedings, and he had waited until he
had finished his meal before opening the uninteresting looking envelope,
and only Bridgie was left, sitting patiently behind the urn, with
Mademoiselle to keep her company.  She also rose as if to go, feeling
that she might be _de trop_ under the circumstances, but Bridgie raised
a pale face, and said flatly--

"Don't run away, Therese, I'd rather you stayed!  I knew it must come
some day.  It's only a little sooner than I expected."

"But, _ma cherie_--don't look like that, Bridgie dear!  Your father says
there is a mistake.  He seemed surprised like yourself.  If, as he says,
the bank is mistaken--"

But at this Bridgie shook her head with doleful conviction.

"The bank is never wrong!  Oh, I've been through this before, and every
time father declares it's a mistake, but it never is!  I've been
disappointed so often that I can't hope any more.  Poor dear father
seems to have no idea how quickly money goes, and he is so extravagant
with his horses.  He bought a new hunter this autumn, and made
alterations in the stables.  I have tried to be careful, but, as I said
before, it is so little I can do!  Well, this is the last stage but one.
There are a few more shares that can be sold to keep us going for a
little longer, and then out we go.  Poor father, he won't be able to
carry out his programme at this rate.  Esmeralda's duke has not come
forward, and neither has my millionaire.  When we leave the Castle we
shall have to squeeze into a cottage, and live on potatoes and
buttermilk.  I am glad I am not going to the meet.  I should have been
wretched all the time, but Joan need not know until she comes back."

Bridgie's pale cheeks seemed sufficient explanation of her determination
to stay at home, and Esmeralda was sweetly sympathetic and concerned,
but quite decided that exertion must at all costs be avoided.

"Me dear, you must not think of going!  It would be madness.  I'll keep
father company, so don't you worry a bit, but just lie down and take it
easy the whole day long," she cried gushingly; and Bridgie smiled,
despite her heartache, and felt comforted by the reflection that two
people would owe their happiness to her absence.

The Major looked very handsome in his "pink" coat, but his brow was
clouded, and he sighed profoundly as he came into the dining-room to
light his cigar, and saw his eldest daughter standing disconsolately by
the window.

"So you are not coming after all, Bride?  Letting Joan take your place?
Well, everyone to his taste.  I feel as if it would do me good to have a
hard run and let off steam that way.  I'll show them some riding to-day,
if they have never seen it before.  There won't be much that will stand
in my way, but you prefer to stay at home and eat your heart out in
quiet.  Your mother was the same; she couldn't throw it off.  It's a
pity for your own sake you don't take after me instead."  Then suddenly,
as he looked at her, his face altered, and he put his arms round her
with a rare tenderness.  "Poor little woman!  Poor little anxious
Martha, this is rough on you!  I've brought about this ill day by my
thoughtlessness.  If I'd been as careful as you, we might have lasted
out until the children were grown up, but I was like Micawber--always
expecting something to `turn up.'  You must try to forgive me, Bride.
You must not be hard on your old father!"

Ah, and it was a lovely sight to see Bridget O'Shaughnessy's face at
that moment--the sweetness of it, and the pity and tenderness, and the
deep, unselfish love!  Her father was touched by the sight, and lingered
by her side, stroking her soft hair and murmuring fond, regretful words.

"I haven't treated you well.  That minx Joan has twisted me round her
finger, and you have suffered for it.  You have had a hard time these
last two years.  Never mind, we'll make a fresh start.  I'll turn over a
new leaf from this day, and you shall take me in hand.  Who knows but we
may pull through yet?"

He went off waving his hand in adieu, and Bridgie stood watching the two
riders until they disappeared from sight, and repeating his loving words
with fond appreciation.  Hard time!  Who had had a hard time?  She was a
fortunate girl to have had so much love and kindness, to possess such a
dear, gallant, handsome father.  What if they had to leave the Castle?
Happiness did not depend upon the walls by which they were surrounded.
So long as they were all together, they might laugh at poverty!

Meanwhile Esmeralda and her father were gently trotting along towards
the park at Roskillie, from whence, in hunting parlance, they were to
proceed to "draw Long Gorse," and on their way were enjoying the
picturesque surroundings of a meet in the country.  Along every high
road, footpath, and byroad came horses and riders of various sorts and
sizes, walking or jogging along towards the central point.  Schoolboys
were coming on ponies to see the start, farmers on clever nags; neatly
dressed grooms riding, or leading horses conspicuous for shape and
beauty.  Down the cross-road approached the hounds themselves, headed by
their whipper-in and surrounding the picturesque figure of the huntsman.
They took up their position in the park, and presently from every point
of the compass the scarlet coats came trotting forward, followed by a
string of drags, dogcarts, and gigs.  The Major and his daughter came in
for greetings on every side, for they were among old friends, and the
girl's beauty and daring had made her popular with all.  There were
other ladies present, but they looked colourless and insignificant
beside the glowing young Amazon, and she was quite conscious of the
fact, and of the becoming correctness of the new habit.  While yet
twenty yards distant her quick eye had distinguished Geoffrey Hilliard,
but she affected not to see him until he rode up to her side, his face
aglow with pleasure.

"You managed it, then?  You managed to get here?"

"My sister is not feeling very well.  She begged to be excused," replied
Esmeralda demurely, and Hilliard laughed and muttered something about
"blessed Saint Bridget," which on the whole she thought it wiser not to
hear.  When the signal was given to move on, he kept beside her as the
horsemen proceeded to cross several grassy fields; and, contrary to his
usual custom, her father lagged behind, as though relieved to leave her
to the care of another.  Esmeralda turned lightly in her saddle, saw him
riding at the farther end of the long line, and looked wonderingly at
her companion.

"Something's wrong with the Major.  He was so glum all the way here, and
look at him now with his head hanging forward!  It's not like him to be
down-hearted at a meet."

"Perhaps he is tired.  He'll waken up presently when we get to business.
It would only worry him if we took any notice."

"That's true.  Perhaps the mare fidgets him.  It's the one he bought a
short time since, and she has an awkward temper.  Sometimes she is a
paragon and does everything that she ought, but at others she is fidgety
and uncertain.  Father thinks she has been badly ridden at the start,
but that she is good enough to take trouble with still."

"She looks a beauty, and she has not had any time to annoy him to-day.
I think it can hardly be that.  Did not your brother return to town
yesterday?  I stayed away on purpose, because I feared that on his last
day you would not care to be disturbed; but isn't it very likely that
Major O'Shaughnessy is depressed at being without him?"

Esmeralda looked up with a brightening glance.  "Why, of course, I never
thought of that!  Father hates saying good-bye to Jack, hates him being
in town at all, for he is the first O'Shaughnessy who has ever gone into
business.  There was a great scene when Jack was twenty, because he
insisted on doing something for himself.  `Have you no pride?' cries my
father.  `Faith I have!' cries Jack.  `Too much of it to spend all my
life starving in a ruin.'  `You will be the first of your race to soil
your hands with trade.'  `Honest work,' says Jack, `will soil no man's
hands, and please God, I'll touch nothing that isn't honest.'  `You'll
be falling into English ways and selling the old place as not fit for
you to live in.  I know the ways of your purse-proud English.'  Then
Jack went white all over his face, and he says, `It's never a stone of
Knock I'd sell if I could keep it with my own heart's blood, but it's
time it had a master who could spend money on it instead of seeing it
fall to pieces before his eyes.'  Then it was the Major's turn to go
white, and mother said softly, `Jack dear--Jack!'  You never knew my
mother.  Bridgie is like her, she always made peace--and after that
father made no more objections.  I think, in a curious sort of way, he
was proud of Jack because he would have his will, and he is doing well.
He will retrieve our fortunes some fine day.  There! there go the
hounds!  They are over into the covert, and see! see! there's that old
shepherd holding up his hat.  The fox is off!  Now for it!"

Now for it indeed!  From that time forth there was little chance of
connected conversation, but all his life long Geoffrey Hilliard looked
back upon that morning with the fond, yearning tenderness with which we
recall the sunshine which precedes a storm.  It was so delightful to be
mounted upon a fine horse galloping lightly across country with that
beautiful figure by his side, the dark eyes meeting his with a flash of
understanding at every fresh incident of the run.  As time wore on and
the ground became more difficult, the other ladies dropped behind one by
one, but Esmeralda never wearied, never flinched before any obstacle.
It was the prettiest thing in the world to see her trot slowly but
straightly towards gate or fence, loosen the reins, and soar like a bird
over the apparently formidable obstacle, and Hilliard privately admitted
that it took him all his time to keep level with her.  The Major still
rode apart, and seemed to take pleasure in choosing the most difficult
jumps that came in his way; but his mare behaved well, and no one felt
any anxiety about the safety of one of the cleverest riders present.
Danger was close at hand, however, in one of those nasty "bits of water"
of which Esmeralda had spoken to her sister.  The hounds doubled
suddenly, and the huntsmen, wheeling their horses to follow, saw before
them at a distance of some quarter of a mile a line of those well-known
willows which to the practised eye so plainly bespeak the presence of a
brook.  Esmeralda pointed towards them and spoke a few warning words.

"A bad bit, swollen, I expect, after the snow.  A fence this side.
There's the Master taking a view.  He will tell us if it's safe, if not,
we must try the meadow.  Ride over here towards him."

She swerved to the side as she spoke, and a moment later was within
short enough distance to hear the warning cry.  The Master pointed with
his whip in the direction of the meadow, of which Esmeralda had spoken,
and the next moment the whole hunt was galloping after him.  The whole
hunt, we have said, but there was one exception, for one rider refused
to take warning or to turn aside from the direct line across country.
The sudden change of course had left him in the rear, and so it happened
that his absence was not noted by his companions, and it was only when
several moments had passed that Esmeralda, looking from side to side,
began to draw her delicate brows into a frown as she asked Hilliard--

"Where's father?  I can't see him.  He is not here."

"I don't see him either, but he was with us five minutes ago before we
turned back.  I saw him in the last field."

"So did I, but where is he now?  He can't--" Esmeralda reined in
suddenly and turned startled eyes upon her companion--"he can't have
tried that brook?"

"No, no!  Certainly not."  But even as he spoke Hilliard had a prevision
of the truth.  Although he would not admit as much as Esmeralda, there
had been something in the Major's bearing which had struck him
unpleasantly since the moment of meeting, and his reckless riding had
deepened the impression.  "You go on," he said earnestly, "and I will
ride back and see.  Perhaps he took a look at the brook and then had to
come round after all, which would make him late.  Please go on, Miss
Joan."

But Esmeralda looked him full in the eyes and turned her horse back
towards the brook.

"I am going back myself.  If there has been an accident, it is I who
should be there.  Don't hinder me, Mr Hilliard.  I must go to my
father."



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

TROUBLE AT KNOCK.

The Major was lying on the bank of the stream, white and motionless,
while Black Bess was pawing the air in agony a few yards away.
Esmeralda slipped from her saddle and ran to his side, and he opened his
eyes and smiled at her feebly.

"Joan, my girl!  That's right.  My--own--fault!  I had no business to
try it, but I was--mad, I think.  That poor beast!" and he turned away
his head, unable to look upon the animal's struggles.  "I can't move.
Get a cart--O'Brien's farm."

"I'll go!  I can see the chimneys.  I'll bring help at once.  I'll bring
back men with me, and we'll lift him with less pain."

Hilliard dashed off in the direction of the farm, and Joan knelt down
and lifted her father's head on to her knee.  He tried to smile
encouragement into the ashen face.

"It might have been worse, dear!  She threw me clear of the water, and
I've no pain.  I shall be all right when I get home, and have a rest."

"Yes, darling, yes.  Of course you will," answered Esmeralda bravely.
Accidents in the hunting-field were unfortunately no new thing to her,
and her heart died within her as she looked at the helpless limbs, and
heard her father's words.  Over and over again had she heard old
huntsmen marvel at the unconsciousness of those who were most mortally
injured.  Absence of pain, combined with loss of power in the limbs,
meant serious injury to the spine, yet it seemed as if, with the
comparative comfort of the body, there must be a dulling of the mental
powers, since the victim frequently congratulated himself on his escape,
and seemed to forget the experiences of others!

As Esmeralda sat holding her father's head on her knee, the future
stretched before her, transformed by the accident of a moment.  The
Major would never again ride by her side, never again mount his horse
and gallop over the wide green land; while he lived he must lie even as
he lay now, still and straight, a child in the hands of his nurses!
Poor father! oh, poor, poor father! what a death in life, to one of his
restless nature! what grief, what agony to see his sufferings!  The
spring would come, and the summer, and the autumn, but there would be no
sunshine at Knock Castle, nothing but clouds and darkness, and dull,
settled gloom.  Esmeralda had been her father's darling, and had
returned his love with all the fervour of a passionate Irish heart, so
that the sight of him in his helplessness hurt like a physical pain, and
the moments seemed endless until Hilliard returned accompanied by the
farmer and three of his men.

An hour later the Major was carried upstairs to his own room in the
Castle, and laid gently upon the old four-poster bed.  Hilliard had
ridden on in advance to prepare the young mistress, and there she stood
at the doorway, white to the lips, but smiling still, a smile of almost
motherly tenderness as she bent over the prostrate form.

"More trouble to ye, Bridgie!" murmured the Major faintly.  "A little
rest--that's all I need; but that poor beast!  Tell Dennis to go and put
her out of her misery."  He shut his eyes and remained silent until the
doctor arrived, galloping up to the door on Hilliard's horse, which he
had lent to save time, and tearing up the staircase to the sick-room
with the unprofessional speed of an old and devoted friend.

The examination was soon over, and fortunately the patient asked no
questions; he was tired and inclined for sleep, unperturbed on his own
account, but greatly distressed for the noble animal for whose agony he
held himself responsible.  He was soothed by the assurance that
everything possible should be done to cure, or, if that were impossible,
to end its sufferings, and was then left to rest, while the doctor
returned to the morning-room, to face the sisters with what courage he
might.  Bridgie lay back in a deep, old-fashioned chair, a slight,
almost childlike figure, her hands clasped in her lap, her shoulders
bowed as by too heavy a burden--the burden of all those five
motherless,--it might soon be fatherless?--children.  Esmeralda,
straight and defiant by the fireplace, her stormy eyes challenging his
face.

"I--I--there is very little to say!"  The doctor passed his hands
helplessly through his grey locks and wished himself at the other end of
the county.  "I didn't want to fatigue him to-day, but to-morrow we can
have a better examination.  Perhaps Trevor would come over in
consultation.  He seems quite easy--quite easy and comfortable.  I think
he will sleep.  You must keep up your hearts, and not let him think you
are anxious.  A great thing to keep up the spirits!"

"Why do you talk like that?  Why do you try to deceive us?  My father
will never get better.  You know perfectly well that it is hopeless!"
Esmeralda's voice sounded clear and cold as falling water; her lips did
not tremble, she looked the doctor full in the face with hard, defiant
eyes.  "I have seen other accidents before this, and know what it means.
It is useless to pretend.  He has no pain because his spine is too much
injured.  If he suffered, there might be some hope; as it is, there is
none.  He will lie there days, weeks, months, whichever it may be, but
he will never move out of that room.  He is dead already, my father, the
father I love, and it will be cruel and wicked of you if you try to keep
him alive!"

"Joan, Joan!  Oh, darling, don't!  Think what you are saying!"

Tender-hearted Bridgie burst into tears, but Esmeralda would not be
restrained.  She turned to her sister ablaze with righteous anger.

"What!  You too?  Would you keep him here, existing--merely existing--
not able to do anything--he who has been so active all his life!  It's
cruel, I tell you--cruel and selfish!  You ought not even to wish such a
thing!"

"My child, the issues of life and death are not in our hands!"  The
voice of the old man sounded solemn and deep after the girl's heated
accents, and she caught her breath as she listened.  "It is not for you
to decide what is best.  If your father lingers in helplessness, it will
be for some wise purpose, and you will see that it will be less trying
than you expect.  Nature herself will work in his favour, for, when
paralysis comes, on the brain is mercifully deadened against the worst.
He will not suffer, and in all probability he will be patient and
resigned.  Is not that something for which to be thankful?"

Bridgie covered her face with a low, heart-broken cry, for the doctor's
silent assent to Esmeralda's verdict--the undisguised conviction that
the case was hopeless--came to her with a shock of surprise before which
her courage wavered.

"Mother dead--father dead!  All those children alone in the world, and
no money for them, and only me--only me--" Her heart swelled with a
great wave of protecting love; she held out her arms and cried brokenly,
"Esmeralda, come--come to me.  Darling, if we are to be alone, we must
help each other, we must love each other more!  Oh, Esmeralda, be brave,
for I am frightened--I can't do everything alone!"  And at that
Esmeralda gave a great cry and rushed across the room, and the old
doctor groped his way downstairs, leaving the sisters sobbing in each
other's arms.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

THE SENTENCE.

That afternoon and the next day passed away like a nightmare, and still
the Major lay in the same helpless calm.  Mr Hilliard had gone over to
Dublin on his own responsibility, and had come back late at night,
bringing with him a trained nurse, at the sight of whom Bridgie shed
tears of thankfulness; but during the daytime the sisters took it in
turns to watch by the bedside, while Mademoiselle seemed to act the part
of guardian angel to the whole household in turns.  She soothed the
excited servants and roused them to a sense of their duty.  She cooked
dainty little dishes for the nurses, and ministered to them when they
were off duty.  She interviewed callers, and, last and best of all, took
Pixie in hand, and kept her interested and content.  It was the strong
wish of her brothers and sisters that Pixie should not suspect the
dangerous nature of her father's illness, for they knew her excitable
nature, and trembled for the effect on the invalid of one of her
passionate bursts of lamentation.

"Besides, what's the use?  Let her be happy as long as she can!  I want
her to be happy!" cried Bridgie pathetically; and Mademoiselle assented,
knowing full well that the very effort of keeping up before the child
would be good for the rest of the household.  There was no preventing
one interview, however, for the Major was as much set on seeing his
piccaninny as she was determined to see him; so on the evening of the
second day Bridgie led her cautiously into the room, and the sick man
moved his eyes--the only part of him that seemed able to move--and
looked wistfully into the eager face.

"Well, my Pixie, I've been getting into trouble, you see!"

"Does it hurt ye, father?  Have you got a pain?"

"Never a bit, Pixie.  I'm just numb.  I feel as if I can't move!"

"I've felt the same meself.  Many times!  I feel it every morning at
school when the gong rings and I'm made to get up.  It's the same as
being lazy."

The Major smiled for the first time since his return home.  He never
could resist Pixie's quaint speeches, and Bridgie watched with delight
his brightening glance.

"Is it, piccaninny?  That doesn't sound very serious.  You'll have to
tell the doctor to be stern with me.  What have you been doing with
yourself all day?"

"Fretting for you, but Mademoiselle's going to play games with me, and
I'll enjoy them now that you're comfortable.  You've got on the very
best pillow-cases, father.  You do look smart!  Are you tired now?  Do
you want to go to sleep?  Will I sing to you awhile, the hymn you liked
so much at church last Sunday?"

Bridgie looked dismayed at the suggestion, but it appeared that Pixie
knew best what would please her father, for once more his face
brightened, and the eyes flashed an assent.  On Sunday evenings in
winter, when the long dark walk made it difficult to get to church, the
O'Shaughnessys had been accustomed to sing hymns together, not in the
drawling, slipshod method in which such singing is too often done, but
with at least as much care and finish as they would have bestowed on
secular music, the different parts being accurately represented, and due
attention given to time and expression.  In this way delightful hours
had been spent, and many beautiful hymns imprinted on the memory, so
that in this instance Pixie had no need to consult a book.  She merely
leant against the bed-post, clasped her hands together, and, opening her
lips, began at once to sing, with clear, full-throated sweetness--

  "`Come unto Me, ye weary,
  And I will give you rest!'"

The beautiful old words seemed to take upon themselves an added
significance in the shaded room, with the motionless figure lying upon
the bed.  The Major shut his eyes, and Bridgie turned aside with
quivering face, but the flute-like voice went on without a tremor--

  "`Come unto Me, ye fainting,
  And I will give you life!'
  O cheering voice of Jesus,
  Which comes to end our strife.
  The foe is stern and eager,
  The fight is fierce and long,
  But He has made us mighty,
  And stronger than the strong."

There was a slight quickening of time in the last two lines, a clearer,
stronger tone, as the singer's emotional nature caught the triumph in
the words, but the last verse was soft as an echo.

  "`And whosoever cometh
  I will not cast him out.'
  O welcome voice of Jesus,
  Which drives away our doubt;
  Which calls us very sinners,
  Unworthy though we be
  Of love so free and boundless,
  To come, dear Lord, to Thee!"

The Major's face was in shadow, but Bridgie saw the big tears rolling
down his cheeks, and hurried the little sister from the room.

"You sang beautifully, darling.  It was sweet of you to think of it, but
now we must let him be quiet.  I think perhaps he will go to sleep."

"Yes, he says he feels lazy!  The Major was always fond of his bed!"
cried Pixie, skipping blithely down the staircase; but when Bridgie went
back to the sick-room her father's eyes were fixed eagerly on the
doorway, and he said in urgent tones--

"Bride, I'm wanting to see O'Brien!  Send down for him at once, and when
he arrives, let him come up alone.  I want to have a talk!"

Bridgie obeyed, in fear and trembling.  Had something in the sweet
though solemn words of the hymn arrested the sick man's attention and
given him a conviction of his own danger?  She sent the faithful Dennis
in search of the doctor, and in less than an hour's time the two old
friends were once more face to face.

"O'Brien," said the Major clearly, "I want you to answer me a question
before I sleep.  Shall I ever hunt again?"  And at this the doctor
heaved a sigh of relief, for he had feared a more direct inquiry, and
consequently one more difficult to answer.

"Not this season, my boy; you must make up your mind to that.  A spill
like yours takes a little time to recover.  You must be easy, and make
yourself happy at home."

"O'Brien, shall I ever hunt again?"

The doctor put his hand to his head in miserable embarrassment.  He had
known handsome Jack O'Shaughnessy since he was a boy in knickerbockers.
It was more than he could stand to look him in the face and give him his
death-warrant.

"Now--now--now," he cried impatiently, "it isn't like you, Major, to be
worrying your head about what is going to happen next year!  Keep still,
and be thankful you've a comfortable bed to lie on and two of the
prettiest daughters in Ireland to wait upon you!  When next season comes
it will answer for itself, but I'm not a prophet--I can't foretell the
future."

The Major looked in his face with bright, steady eyes.

"You foolish fellow!" he cried.  "You foolish fellow!  You were always a
bad hand at deception, and you are no cleverer than usual this evening.
What are you afraid of, man?  I'm not a coward!  If my time's come, I
can face it calmly.  Back injured, eh?  That's why I felt no pain, but
it's difficult to realise that an injury is hopeless, when one is so
comparatively comfortable.  How long will it be?"

He was perfectly calm, but the doctor was trembling with emotion, and
his voice was rough with tears.

"I can't say.  You are very ill, old man--I won't deceive you--but while
there is life there is hope.  We are going to have a man from Dublin; we
will try every means, and you must help us by keeping up your heart.
One never knows what changes may take place."  But the Major only looked
at him the more steadily and repeated his question.

"How long will it be?  I ought to know, so that I may do what I can for
the children.  I haven't been the best of fathers to them, and the
estate is in a rare muddle.  And Jack!  What about Jack?  I'd like to
see him again, but if it's not imminent, I won't bring him back just
yet.  The boy is doing well, but he is not his own master, and has just
had a holiday.  I must be unselfish in my last days, but you must
promise, doctor, not to let me go without seeing Jack!"

"My dear fellow, it's not a question of days!  At the worst it will be
weeks, possibly months.  My own opinion is two or three months, but we
shall know better after Barrett has been down.  I wish you had not asked
me.  It's the hardest work I've ever had to do, to tell you this; but
for the children's sake--If there is anything to be done, you ought not
to waste time!"

"I understand!" said the Major quietly, then suddenly a light flashed
across his face, and his eyes sparkled as with joy.  "I shall die at
Knock!" he cried.  "I shall not have to turn out after all!  It was that
that drove me mad, O'Brien--the thought of leaving the old place where I
was born, and all my people before me!  I had bad news from the bank,
and it seemed as if the end had come at last, and all the time I was
riding I was feeling desperate--driven into a corner.  The poor beast
tried to save me, she knew the jump was too much for her, but I was too
reckless to care.  I felt that I could face death sooner than leave the
old place, and now it has come to that after all.  I shall die at Knock!
Thank God for that!  Go downstairs, O'Brien, and tell the girls that I
know the truth, and am quite happy.  You needn't mind leaving me.  I
shall sleep now!"



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

ESMERALDA'S SOLACE.

The Dublin specialist came down in due course, and entirely agreed with
Dr O'Brien's diagnosis.  There was no chance of the Major's recovery,
and though there was no immediate danger, it was not likely that life
would be prolonged for more than two or three months at most.  He would
not suffer physically nor mentally, for the brain power would become
more and more dulled, so that he would hardly realise his condition.

The thought of watching him die by inches, as it were, was an even
harder trial to Esmeralda's impetuous nature than the shock of a sudden
death, but Bridgie was thankful for every day as it came, for every
opportunity of ministering to his needs.  And he was so sweet, so
gentle; all his former indifference and selfishness had fallen from him
like a cloak, and his one thought was for his children, his one anxiety
on their behalf.  When Bridgie saw how devoted he was to his piccaninny,
and how she could always succeed in raising a smile, she proposed that
the child should not return to school for the next term at least; but
the Major would not listen to the suggestion.

"No, no!  I promised Molly that she should have her chance, and I won't
have her distressed.  If she stayed on she would find out--and she would
cry, and I never could endure to see her cry.  It would be delightful to
have her, but it will count for one real unselfish thing I've done in my
life if I do without her for these last weeks."

So it was arranged that Pixie should return at the proper date, and
Mademoiselle sat in the morning-room stitching away at the pile of
shabby little garments, mending, and darning, putting in "elegant"
little patches at the elbows, and turning and pressing the frayed silk
cuffs.  Neither of the sisters had time to help, and indeed seemed to
think It unnecessary to spend so much trouble on a child's outfit, but
Mademoiselle set her lips and went steadily on with her task.  She knew,
if they did not, that it is not too pleasant for a girl to be noticeably
shabby at a fashionable school, and many a dainty piece of ribbon and
lace found its way from her box to refresh hat or dress, and give an
appearance of freshness to the well-worn background.  When the last
night came, and Bridgie tried to thank her for her help, she shook her
head and refused to listen.

"I was a stranger to you, and you welcomed me among you as if I had been
your own.  You were more than kind, you seemed to love me, and never let
me feel for one moment that I was one apart.  That means a great deal to
a woman who is alone in a strange land, and I could not be more happy
than to find something to do for you in return.  What is a little
sewing?  Bah!  I tell you, my friend, it is much more than that I intend
to do for your Pixie.  You say that you will not long be able to send
her to school, but I can do better for her than school.  At the end of
this year I must go 'ome, for my sister is _fiancee_, and when she is
married I must be there to look after the old father.  Lend Pixie to me,
and she shall learn to speak French, the proper French, not that
dreadful language of Holly House, and I will take her myself to the
Conservatoire--there is no better place in the world to learn music than
the Conservatoire in Paris--and she shall learn to sing and make use of
that lovely voice.  _Voila, ma chere_, at the end of a few years she
comes back to you, and you will not know her!  A young woman, with
grace, with charm, with--what shall I say?--an air such as your English
girls do not know how to possess, and everyone shall say, `How she is
accomplished, that Pixie!  How she is clever and _chic_!'"

The tears had risen in Bridgie's eyes, but now she was obliged to laugh
at the same time, for it was so droll to think of Pixie as a young lady
"with an air!"  She laid her hand on Mademoiselle's arm, with one of her
pretty caressing gestures.

"You are a dear, kind Therese, and it all sounds too charming, but I am
afraid it cannot be done.  We shall be very poor, dear father's pension
will die with him, and if we cannot afford school, we could not pay you
properly for all your trouble.  You are a darling for thinking of it,
but--"

She stopped short in dismay, for Mademoiselle had straightened her back
until it was as stiff as a poker, and was glaring at her with the air of
an offended Fury.

"Did you ask me for money when I came here?  Did you expect me to pay
when you asked me to your house?  Am I a pauper, then, that you insult
me with such an idea?  It is the first time, I must say, that I have
invited a guest, and been offered a payment."

"Oh! oh! oh!  What will I do?  Don't glare at me like that, Therese, or
I'll expire with fright!  I never offered you a payment, my dear; I said
I couldn't pay.  I don't know what I said, but I never meant to make you
angry!  If you don't forgive me this instant, I'll cry, and if I once
start crying, I shall go on till to-morrow, and so I warn you!
_Please_, Therese!"

She held out her hand appealingly, but Mademoiselle still tilted her
head, and kept up an air of offence.

"My feelings are 'urt," she said with dignity, "and they can only be
appeased if you withdraw your remarks, and promise that Pixie shall
come.  You can pay for the lessons she takes, and the Paris
Conservatoire will not ruin you, my dear, I can tell you that; but for
the rest, do you suppose Pixie will do nothing for me in return for her
board?  It is not too lively, a house with an invalid and an old maid,
and they may perhaps be glad to have a young thing about; to be made to
laugh sometimes and have some interest in life beyond rheumatism and
asthma!  Do not disturb yourself; if you are too proud to accept help
from me, be assured that I shall make the child useful.  She shall work
for her living!"

"You are pretending to be cross, to make me say `Yes,' but you needn't
keep it up any longer, dear.  I'll say it with thankfulness this minute,
if it is indeed a pleasure to you too.  I don't feel at all too proud to
accept a favour from you, and besides, it seems as if Providence meant
it to be so, and just the most wonderful and beautiful reason for your
coming here, which seemed at first so extraordinary.  If you will really
let us pay for her lessons and make her as useful as if she were your
own little sister, why, then, thank you a thousand times, and a thousand
times more for lifting a weight off my mind.  I was worrying myself
about her future, and now I shall worry no more, and father will be so
relieved, so happy!  Are you sufficiently appeased to let me kiss you,
you haughty Mademoiselle?"

"With pleasure; yes! but my feelings are still sensitive.  With the
slightest irritation I should have a relapse!" said Mademoiselle
stiffly; for it would not do to indulge in sentiment to-day, and
Bridgie's tears were dangerously near the surface.

The time for parting came at last, and the Major nerved himself to bid
adieu to his piccaninny with a composure which should leave her
unsuspicious of its final nature.  He was very white, but Pixie had
grown accustomed to his pallor, and mingling with her grief at leaving
home was a keen pleasure at the thought of returning to her school
companions, of seeing Margaret and Ethel, of hearing Flora's fat,
contented chuckle, and seeing poor Lottie, and hearing how she had fared
at home.  It was all very interesting and exciting, and somehow or other
home had been unusually dull during the last fortnight.  Even Esmeralda
had turned quiet and mild, and Pat abandoned practical joking, and for
once been as good as he looked.  The longing for some of the old
mischievous days made Pixie listen to her father's precepts with a
decided lack of enthusiasm.

"You will be a good child now, piccaninny, and work hard at your tasks.
Remember what I say to you, that you couldn't please me more than by
being good and industrious, and obedient to your teachers.  I let you
run wild too long, and that's made you behind other girls of your age,
but you'll promise me that you will settle down, and make the most of
your opportunities?"

"I don't feel as if I wanted to `settle down.'  It sounds so dull!  Ye
can work without being so awfully proper, can't you, father?  I can be a
little mischievous sometimes, can't I--especially on half-holidays?
I'll work all the better for it afterwards.  And the girls would be so
disappointed if I were proper.  You wouldn't believe how I liven them
up.  Ye wouldn't like it yourself, now, Major, if ye never saw any more
of my pranks!"

He winced at that, but smiled bravely, his eye resting longingly upon
the thin little figure wriggling to and fro in the earnestness of its
appeal.  With the remembrance of all that her brightness had been to
him, he could not bring himself to forbid it to others.

"Be as happy as you can, darling, and make other people happy too.  So
long as you consider their feelings, and are careful not to go too far,
you will do no harm.  Good-bye, my piccaninny!  God bless you!  Never
mind if you are not clever.  Go on loving and making sunshine, and you
will do a great work in the world.  Remember your old father when you
get back among your new friends!"

"I'll think of you for ever!" said Pixie solemnly.  "Haste and get well,
Major, and come and take me out.  You must be getting tired of your bed,
poor creature, but I'm glad you have no pain!  You won't be here long
now."

"No, not long," said the Major quietly.  Then he held up his lips to be
kissed, murmuring the last, the very last words of farewell, "Good-bye,
dearest.  Thank you for being such a good, loving little daughter!"

"Thank you, me dear, for the father you have been to me!" returned
Pixie, in a tone of gracious condescension which made the listener smile
through his tears.  That was a sweet characteristic little speech to
cherish as the last!  He shut his eyes in token of dismissal, and Pixie
stole away, somewhat sobered and impressed, for the Major had not been
given to improving an occasion, but free from the vaguest suspicion that
she had bidden him her last farewell.

Downstairs Esmeralda was waiting to drive the cart to the station, and
at the station itself Mr Hilliard was standing ready to receive the
travellers and make every preparation for their comfort.  No one seemed
in the least surprised to see him, for in Jack's absence he had quietly
taken upon himself the part of an elder son, and in every emergency had
stepped forward and filled the gap so efficiently and with such tact
that he seemed more like a friend of years' standing than an
acquaintance of a few weeks.  His business in London had apparently been
accomplished in a flying visit of forty-eight hours, during which time
he had seen Jack, and eased anxiety by a personal report of the invalid,
and here he was back again, declaring that there was no reason to keep
him in town, and that if he could be of the slightest use at Bally
William, there was no place in the world where he would sooner remain.
Bridgie smiled to herself with quiet understanding, and Esmeralda grew
thoughtful, and her white cheeks hung out a flag of welcome every time
he made his appearance.

To-day she made no objections to his proposal that they should walk back
from the station, leaving a boy to drive the cart home during the
afternoon, and they struck across the fields together, disregarding damp
and mud with the callousness of true lovers of the country.  The girl's
face was worn and downcast, for the Castle would seem sadder and emptier
than ever, now that the little sister had gone and that dear, helpful
Mademoiselle; and at nineteen it is hard to look forward and know for a
certainty that the shadows must deepen.  There were still sadder times
ahead, and a loneliness such as she dared not even imagine; for
Esmeralda had not Bridgie's sweet faith and trust, and hers was a
stormy, rebellious nature, which made trouble harder to bear by useless
fightings against the inevitable.  Bridgie found a dozen reasons for
thankfulness among all her distresses--the kindness of friends, the
ceaseless attentions of the good old doctor, her father's freedom from
pain, and the fact that he would be spared the dread of his lifetime--a
separation from the old home.  Joan saw nothing but clouds and darkness,
and tortured herself with useless questionings.  Why--why--why--why
should all this trouble fall upon her?  Why should other girls have
father and mother and money and opportunity, and she be deprived of all?
Why should the accident have been allowed to happen when her father's
life was of such value--such inestimable value to his young family?  Why
should her life be darkened just at the time when she was most able to
appreciate joy and gladness?

Hilliard watched the clouds flit over the beautiful face, and was at no
loss to understand their meaning.  During the last fortnight he had more
than once been a witness to a storm of misery and rebellion, and apart
from that fact he had an instinctive understanding of the girl's moods,
which seemed all the more curious, as his own nature of happy optimism
was as great a contrast to hers as could possibly be imagined.

A smile flickered over his face as he reflected on the strangeness of
his present position.  A month ago, if anyone had described to him the
O'Shaughnessy sisters, he would have declared without a moment's
hesitation that Bridgie would be his favourite--that in every way her
character would be more attractive to him than that of Esmeralda.  Even
now--even now, yes!--if the question were put plainly before him, he
must still confess that "Saint Bridget" was sweeter, simpler, less
wayward, more unselfish; yet in spite of all there remained the
extraordinary fact that he liked Bridgie and loved Esmeralda with the
whole strength of a warm and loving heart!  He saw her faults clearly
enough with those keen, quizzical eyes; but what the sight roused in him
was not so much disapproval as pity, and an immense longing to help and
comfort.  He loved her; he understood her; he honestly believed he could
help her to rise above the weaknesses of girlhood, and become the fine
large-hearted woman which Providence had intended her to be; and the
time had come when he intended to speak his mind and ask her to be his
wife.  The silence had lasted so long that at last Joan herself became
conscious of it, and roused herself to apologise for her rudeness.

"But I'm miserable," she said simply.  "I can't remember to be polite.
I was miserable last time when the Pixie left us, but now it is a
hundred times worse.  I can't bear to think of going back to that big
empty place, with that dreadful shadow coming nearer and nearer every
day.  I am a coward, and can't face it!"

"You are a very brave girl--one of the bravest I have known.  If anyone
but yourself dared to call you cowardly, you would never forgive him!"

"I know.  It's quite true.  I am brave physically, but I've never been
tried in this way before, so I didn't know how weak I was.  It arises
from selfishness, I suppose.  It's so hard to suffer like this."

"No one can be selfish who loves another person more than himself.  I
have never seen two sisters so devoted to each other as you and Miss
Bridgie.  You will think of her before yourself, and try to help her,
simply because you will not be able to help it!"

"Darling Bridgie--yes, I do love her.  Who could help it?  She takes
this trouble like the saint she is, and believes that it is God's will,
and must be for the best.  I can't feel that--I can't!  It's against
reason.  It's no use pretending that I do, for I should only be a
hypocrite."

"You have a different nature from your sister's.  It is more difficult
for you to be resigned, and therefore all the more praiseworthy if you
fight against your rebellious thoughts, and learn submission."

The tears rose slowly to Joan's eyes, and she looked at him with a
flickering smile.

"It's no use talking to you.  You won't believe how wicked I am.  You
make excuses for me all the time."

"Because I love you, Joan, that's why!  Have you found that out for
yourself?  I began to love you the first night I saw you, and I've been
progressing rapidly ever since.  We have not known each other for long,
as time goes, but so much has happened, and we have been thrown so much
together, that we know each other as well as many acquaintances of
years' standing.  My mind is made up, at any rate; there is no other
girl in the world for me!  Do you think if you tried very hard, and I
waited very patiently, you could possibly bring yourself to love me in
return?"

Esmeralda gazed at him with her wonderful grey eyes, not shyly, not
self-consciously, but with slow, solemn deliberation.

"I don't know," she said simply.  "I can't tell.  I like you very much;
you have been very kind to us, and it does me good to talk to you, but
that isn't enough, is it?  I don't know if I love you, but I love you to
love me!  It comforts my heart, and makes me feel braver and less
lonely.  Sometimes this last week--just once or twice when we have been
alone--I have thought perhaps you did, and I hoped I was right.  I hoped
I was not mistaken."

"You darling!  Oh, you darling!" cried Hilliard rapturously.  "You do
make me happy by telling me that.  That's all I want--the very best
proof you could give me that you care for me too.  Don't you see, my
beauty, that you must care, or you would not want my love?  Don't you
see that you have been drawn to me, just as I have been drawn to you,
and have felt the need of me, just as I have longed and wearied for you
ever since we met?"

He tried to take hold of her hand as he spoke, but Esmeralda drew back,
refusing to be caressed.  She was trembling now, and her cheeks were
flushed with the loveliest rosy blush, but there was an almost piteous
appeal in her voice.

"No, no!  I don't see, and I don't want to see.  My father is dying--he
has only a little time to live, and I don't want to think of anything
but him.  If it is as you say, there will be all my life after that, but
I can't think of love-making and being happy just the very last weeks we
shall have him with us.  You mustn't be vexed; you mustn't think me
ungrateful.  Indeed, indeed I can't help it!"

"Vexed!" echoed Hilliard.  "Ungrateful!"  His glance was eloquent enough
to show how far such words were from expressing his real feelings; and
indeed, if it had been possible to love Esmeralda more dearly than he
did, he would have done so at this moment, when she had shown him the
reality of the generous nature which lay beneath her girlish
extravagances, "You are absolutely and perfectly right, dearest," he
said warmly, "and I promise you faithfully that I will not try in any
way to absorb your attention so long as your father lives.  But after
that, Esmeralda, (I may call you Esmeralda, mayn't I?  Dear, charming,
ridiculous name--I love it, it is so deliciously characteristic!) after
that you must let me take my right place as your chief helper and
comforter.  I won't be put off any longer, and I think I shall be able
to do more for you than anyone else."

"I believe you would, but--" Esmeralda looked at him beneath a troubled,
puckered brow--"please understand exactly what you are doing!  We are
dreadfully poor--we shall be poorer than ever after father's death.  If
I marry I shall not have a penny; for what little there is will be
needed, and more than needed, for Bridgie and the children.  It would be
rather hard on you, for, as you are not rich yourself, you ought to
marry a rich wife."

"The same argument would apply to you, wouldn't it?  Are you quite sure
that you would not mind marrying a poor man, and that you would be
willing to give up luxuries for my sake?"

"If I cared enough in other ways, it would not be money that would
prevent me, but I should not like to be _very_ poor!" returned Esmeralda
honestly.  "I've had a taste of it, you see, and it is so dull to be
always worried about butchers' bills, and not be able to have nice
puddings because of the eggs, and to have to turn your dresses over and
over again.  I've never once in my life bought a thing because I liked
it best.  I've always had to think that it was cheaper than the others,
and I must make it do.  I suppose men can't realise how hard that is,
for they need so much less, and their things are so much alike; but it's
hard to know for certain that you could look just twice as nice, and
have to put up with the frumpy things, because you have no money to pay
for the pretty ones!"

"Could you look twice as nice as you do now--really?"  Hilliard laughed
with happy incredulity.  "Esmeralda, I don't believe it; but if you
marry me you shall try!  I am not so poor that I cannot afford to be a
little extravagant for my wife, and I promise you faithfully that you
shall never be worried about the bills.  I'll protect you from that, and
every other trouble, I hope, my darling!"

"It--it seems to me we are getting on very fast.  I thought I said that
nothing was decided.  Oh, please talk of something else!" cried
Esmeralda urgently; and Hilliard laughed once more, and obediently
discussed the weather until the Castle gates were reached.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

A TELEGRAM.

It was six weeks later that the girls in Holly House heard a sharp,
wailing cry from within the portals of Miss Phipps's private room, and
looked at each other with eyes of sympathetic understanding.  The
knowledge that Pixie's father was seriously ill had leaked out among the
elder pupils, and this afternoon, as they returned from their walk, a
telegraph boy had met them in the drive, and Mademoiselle had turned
pale and muttered below her breath.  Miss Phipps called her aside on
entering, and at tea-time there were unmistakable tear-marks round her
eyes, and she was even more affectionate than usual in her manner to
Pixie,--poor, unconscious Pixie, who was in radiant spirits, and quite
puffed up with pride because she had suddenly remembered a favourite
exploit as practised at Knock Castle, and had issued invitations to the
fifth-form to come to the classroom before tea and play the part of
spectators, while she made a circuit of the room without touching the
ground.

"Without--touching--the--ground!  Pixie O'Shaughnessy, are you
demented?" demanded Flora incredulously.  "You can't fly, I suppose?
Then how on earth could you get round a room without touching the
floor?"

"Come with me, me dear, and you shall see," returned Pixie graciously,
and forthwith led the way into the big, bare room.  There was no class
being held at the time, so that the performer and her friends were the
only persons present; the chairs were neatly ranged beside the desks,
the matches and vases of spills which usually graced the mantelpiece
were placed together on a corner bracket, otherwise no article had been
moved from its place.  Pixie sprang lightly on to a chair near the door,
kissed her hand after the manner of the lady riders at the circus, and
started off on her mad career.

From one chair to another, from chair number two to the shelf of the old
bookcase which filled the middle space of the wall; from the bookcase,
with a leap and a bound, on to the oak chest in which were stored
drawing-books and copies; from the chest to another chair, and thence
with a whoop and wildly waving hands to the end of an ordinary wooden
form.  Why that form did not collapse at once, and land the invader on
the floor, no one of the spectators could understand!  Flora gave a
hollow groan and leant against the wall in palpitating nervousness; Kate
shut her eyes, and Ethel pinched Margaret's arm with unconscious
severity; but, after all, nothing happened!  With instantaneous
quickness Pixie had fallen forward on her knees, and so restored the
bench to its normal position; and now she was off again with another
kiss, another flourish, another whisk of those absurd short petticoats.
Providentially there was a table close at hand which she could mount
without difficulty, and so bring herself to the completion of the first
half of her task, but the harder part was still to come.

It was easy enough to run along the blackboard, but what about that
space between it and the shelves at the other side of the fireplace?
"She can't do it!" cried Ethel confidently; but Pixie had not made her
boast without counting the cost.  What if there was no article of
furniture within reach, there was a shelf overhead to which one could
cling and work slowly along hand over hand until the coal-box offered a
friendly footing!  Then, when one had been accustomed to climb trees all
one's life, what could be easier than to rest the elbows on the
mantelpiece, and with the aid of one foot pressed lightly on that fat,
substantial bell, (horrors! suppose it rang!) to wriggle upward until
knees joined elbows, and a perpendicular position was once more
possible!  The gasps and groans from the doorway were even more
encouraging than applause, and under their influence it was impossible
to resist indulging in a few extravagances, such as standing poised on
one leg, blowing more kisses, and bowing from side to side after the
manner of that fascinating circus lady.  Another bound sent her lightly
on to the one substantial chair which the room possessed--Miss Phipps's
seat when she came to take a class.  It rocked, of course, but to
balance it was child's play, compared with the really difficult feat
with the form, and for the rest of the course the way was easy.  Anyone
could have run along the substantial dumb waiter, stepped down to the
chair by its side, and so, with a leap, to the one from which the start
had been made.  Pixie stopped, panting, gasping, and smirking at her
companions, expectant of adulation, but there was more reproach than
praise in store.

"You are mad!" cried Ethel shortly.  "Stark, staring mad!  No thanks to
you that every bone in your body isn't broken.  I wonder what Miss
Phipps would have said if she had come in, while you were pirouetting on
the mantelpiece!  It would have been your turn to be surprised then, my
young friend."

"I n-n-never did see such a sight in all my born days," stuttered Flora
blankly.  "You've made me feel quite ill.  My heart is pumping like an
engine.  I thought every moment you would be killed.  I call it mean and
unkind to ask us to look on, while you play such tricks, for you know
very well we should be blamed if anything went wrong!  I'll never come
again, so you needn't trouble to ask me!"

"Pixie dear, it really is most dangerous!  You might have sprained your
ankle a dozen times over.  Promise me, promise me faithfully, that you
will never do it again!" pleaded Margaret gently; but Pixie shook her
head in obstinate fashion.

"Me dear, don't ask me!  I'll tell you no stories.  I've done it a dozen
times at home, and so have Bridgie and Esmeralda.  It was a fine
handicap we had one night, boys against girls, and Bridgie the winner,
being so light on her feet.  You wouldn't wish to forbid what my own
family approves."  She drew herself up with an air of dignity as she
pronounced the last words, and skipped out of the room, as the quickest
way of closing the argument; but when tea-time arrived she was still
abeam with complacency, and pleasantly conscious of being the object of
an unusual amount of attention.  The girls all looked at her and smiled
so kindly when they met her eye; jam and scones were pressed upon her
from half a dozen different quarters; Mademoiselle called her
"_cherie_," and even Miss Phipps said "dear."  "Are you having a good
tea, dear?"  "Won't you have another cup of tea, dear?"  It was all very
pleasant and gratifying, and she felt convinced that the fame of her
exploit had spread over the school, and that even the teachers had been
unable to resist it.

She was strutting out of the dining-room at the conclusion of the meal,
when Miss Phipps laid a hand on her shoulder and said, "Come into my
room, Pixie," and a moment later she stood within the boudoir, staring
around with wide, astonished eyes.  Mademoiselle had followed, and was
twisting her hands together, trying vainly not to cry.  Miss Phipps
looked at her and made a little signal, but Mademoiselle only shook her
head, and held out her hands with a helpless gesture, and then Miss
Phipps began to speak herself, in such a gentle voice--a voice quite
different from her usual brisk, decided accents.

"Pixie dear, I have something to tell you.  God has been very kind to
the dear father whom you love so much.  He saw that he could never be
well again--never able to move about, nor walk, nor ride, as he had done
before, and instead of leaving him to lie helpless upon his bed for long
weary years, as so many poor sufferers have had to do, He took him home
at once, and made him well and strong again.  You must not think of your
father as dead, Pixie.  He is alive and happy in heaven!"

But it was too early for the dead man's child to realise that beautiful
truth, and Pixie burst into a passion of grief, and the girls without
heard the long pitiful wails and nestled close to each other and sobbed
in sympathy.

Miss Phipps talked on and on, saying comforting words in that new sweet
voice, and Mademoiselle put her arms fondly round the little figure and
said--

"You will be brave, _cherie_.  You are always brave!  All the
O'Shaughnessys are brave--your Bridgie told me so, and said it was the
pride of the family!  You will not be the first to act like a coward.
No!"  But the shock was too sudden to be borne with resignation.

"We haven't got any family now!  How can you have a family without a
father?  He wouldn't have died if I had been at home.  He was always
cheerful when I was with him, and he said himself I was better than a
doctor.  Oh, Major, Major!  Oh, Bridgie, Bridgie!  Me heart's broken!
Me heart's broken!"

Pixie wept and wailed, and presently Miss Phipps stopped trying to
console, and let her weep her fill, knowing well that the noisy grief is
never the most lasting, and that when the first passion was exhausted
she would be more ready for comfort.  She had purposely delayed telling
the sad news until tea was over, and presently it would be time for bed,
when the sleep of childhood would drop its soothing curtain over grief.
Pixie lay on the sofa, and cried until her face was swollen and she was
too exhausted to cry any longer, and Miss Phipps was just about to
propose a move to bed when, to her amazement, the child suddenly put her
feet to the ground, sat up, and said faintly--

"I want to see the girls!"

Well, after all, it was a natural request, for the bent of a lifetime
does not change in moments of grief, and Pixie was a sociable little
creature, who must needs have someone in whom to confide on every
occasion.  Miss Phipps realised as much, and also that companions of her
own age would be better comforters than the teachers, between whom and
the pupils there was naturally a great gulf fixed; so she assented at
once, saying only--

"I will come for you in ten minutes.  You must not stay downstairs
longer than that," and Pixie feebly tottered across the hall to the room
where the elder girls were sitting.  She chose to join them rather than
the pupils of her own age, for, as she had previously explained, she had
been accustomed to "grown-ups" at home, and felt more interest in their
society.  The girls raised their heads with starts of surprise as she
entered, and came slowly forward to seat herself in a chair.  They
stared at her with melancholy eyes, but there was a dead silence, for no
one knew what to say or how to say it, so they sat in a row facing her,
and Pixie blinked and trembled, and screwed her fingers together in a
tight little knot.

"I'm an orphan!" she said faintly, and five separate sobs of sympathy
sounded as replies.

"Poor little kid!" said Kate gruffly.

"D-arling!" sobbed Flora.

"But we all love you, Pixie!  Everyone loves you!  You can't be lonely,
dear, when you have so many friends," said Margaret's soft voice; and a
hand stretched out and clutched hers in convulsive energy.  It was
Lottie's hand, and Lottie's face was trembling as if she were going to
cry, and a pulse on her temple was beating up and down, Pixie looked at
her curiously, and realised that, sorry as the others were, she was
somehow sorriest of all, and most anxious to comfort.  Lottie had been
much subdued and silent since the beginning of the term, and had seemed,
if anything, to avoid the society of the girl whom she had treated so
badly, but with her fine intuition Pixie had understood quite well that
the avoidance arose from no lack of affection.  She held Lottie's hand
in a tight pressure while she continued her broken sentences.

"And I didn't know he was going to die.  They never told me.  Miss
Phipps says they didn't want me to be unhappy, but I'd rather have
known.  He wasn't like other people's fathers.  They are old, with grey
hair; he was young--like a boy, and so handsome and gay.  He always
laughed, even if things went wrong, and I was the youngest, and he
wouldn't have me thwarted.  No one ever appreciated me like the Major.
The very last words he spoke were praising me and saying what a daughter
I'd been!"

"When you said `Good-bye,' you mean.  That's good to think of, isn't it,
Pixie?  He knew he would never see you again, and that afterwards you
would remember all he said, and treasure it in your heart, and the
sweetest thing of all is to know that you were a joy and pleasure to
him.  It is a comfort to think that he is well again, isn't it?  Quite
well and happy in heaven!"

"I want him on earth!" said Pixie, and the tears flowed down her cheeks.
"We all want him.  What is to become of us without our father?  I feel
as if I could never be happy again, but he said I must be.  `Be as happy
as you can,' he said, `and make other people happy too.  Never trouble a
bit about your lessons, but go on loving and making sunshine, and you'll
do a great work in the world.'  Those were the very last words I heard
him speak."

It was a somewhat free translation, so far as lessons were concerned,
and the girls realised as much, being accustomed to Pixie and her ways,
but they allowed that part of the story to pass without comment, and
referred only to what was obviously a literal repetition.

"Well, then, of course, you must obey his last words!  It would not be
like a good daughter if you didn't.  You must go on loving us, and
making us happy, and we shall all be wretched if we see you fretting.
You do make us happy, you know, Pixie!  We have been ever so much
livelier since you came.  I think it ought to cheer anyone to know that
she can make thirty-three people happy, don't you, now?"

"Can I--can I really?"  Pixie inquired wistfully.  "I'm glad of that,
and I will try, but I can't help fretting a little first!  I don't think
the Major would like it if I didn't fret for him."  And at this moment
Miss Phipps came into the room and put an end to the conference.

"I can't let you sit up a moment longer, you weary little girl!  Say
`Good-night' at once, and one of the girls shall go upstairs with you,
and help you to undress.  Which will you have?"

Pixie looked from one to the other of her companions with uncertain
gaze.  Where everyone was so kind it was hard to choose.  Ethel had not
tossed her head once since she entered the room; Kate kept taking off
her spectacles, and polishing them on her handkerchief; Flora looked so
kind and comfortable; the "Bridgie's expression" was stronger than ever
in Margaret's eyes; but there was a something in Lottie's face--a
humble, wistful longing which was to be found nowhere else.

"Lottie, please!" she cried quickly; and the other girls realised at
once that the cure had begun, for Pixie was already forgetting herself,
and considering how she could make other people happy!



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

THE SISTERS' VISIT.

Pixie did not go home for the Easter holidays, for everything at the
Castle was so sad and unsettled that Bridgie felt it advisable that she
should stay away a little longer, and an invitation from Mr and Mrs
Vane came as a happy alternative.

On the whole she spent a happy three weeks, thoroughly enjoying the
luxury of her surroundings and the attention lavished upon her by every
member of the household.  Mr Vane still remained grey and serious, but
he was unfailingly kind; while his wife belonged to the type designated
by schoolgirls as "simple darlings," and seemed to find no greater
pleasure in life than in making young people happy.  It was evident that
they were both devoted to their only remaining child, though there was a
reserve in their manner which seemed to Irish Pixie perilously allied to
coldness.  She was all unconscious that her own fearless intimacy of
manner made a precedent for little demonstrations of affection which had
hitherto been unknown in the household; but so it was, and her host and
hostess felt that they owed her a second debt of gratitude, whenever
Lottie volunteered a caress, or added a second kiss to the morning
greeting.  Perhaps, in their determination to overcome their daughter's
faults, they had erred on the side of firmness, and so brought about
another temptation in the girl's terror of discovery; and if this were
so, what better instrument could have been found to draw them together
than fearless, loving, audacious Pixie?

When the time came to return to school, she received many pressing
invitations to return to a home where she would always be welcome, and
was able truthfully to assure the girls at Holly House that Lottie had
been "an angel" to her throughout the holidays.

After that the ordinary routine went on for a few weeks, broken by
nothing more exciting than the weekly letters from home; then came an
episode of thrilling interest, when Geoffrey Hilliard was shown into the
drawing-room, and Miss O'Shaughnessy summoned from her class and sent
upstairs to brush her hair, before going to interview him.  He was
leaning against the mantelpiece as she entered, looking very tall and
handsome in his long frock coat, and he was smiling to himself with a
curious shiny look in his eyes, which at once arrested Pixie's
attention.

"How are you, Pixie?  How are you, dear little girl?" he cried
gushingly.

Pixie remarked that she was in excellent health, privately not a little
taken aback by his fervour.  "He seems mighty fond of me, all of a
sudden.  Over at Bally William he didn't care half so much.  I suppose
he missed me, after I'd gone!"  She smiled at him encouragingly.  "And
you are looking very well yourself.  I'm pleased to see you!"

"I am very well, Pixie.  Happiness agrees with me.  I'm very happy--the
happiest man in the world!  Do you know why?  I am going to be married.
I came on purpose to tell you.  Can you guess who `She' is?"

"How could I guess?  I don't know your friends.  There's no one at all
that it could be, unless, perhaps--"

Pixie stopped short suddenly, as certain memories darted into her mind.
The extraordinary manner in which Mr Hilliard was always appearing at
Knock Castle during the Christmas holidays; his interest in everything
Esmeralda did and said; the fixity of his gaze upon the beautiful face.
She gasped and blinked with surprise.  "Not--_not_ Esmeralda?"

"Yes, yes, yes!  Esmeralda, of course!  Clever girl to guess so well!
It was settled only last Wednesday, and she sent me across to tell you
first thing, and ask your consent, as she couldn't be properly engaged
without it.  You see this is an important matter for me, so you really
must be kind, for I can't give up Esmeralda, after waiting for her so
long.  Will you have me for another brother, and let me do all I can to
make you happy?"

"I'm glad it isn't Bridgie," sighed Pixie irrelevantly; then, fearing
that she had failed in politeness, "But Esmeralda is nice too," she
added quickly.  "She can't help having a temper, but she won't show it
to you, like she did to her brothers and sisters.  And she _is_
beautiful!  I've seen photographs of people they call beautiful here,
and they are frights compared with her.  I suppose I can have her room
after she's married!  It's got one of the turret windows, and I always
wanted it because of the view.  I hope you will be happy, Mr Hilliard.
It was very kind of you to come and tell me.  I'll write and ask
Esmeralda if I may be a bridesmaid."

Hilliard laughed, and muttered something about "sisterly candour."  He
did not seem in the least alarmed at the thought of Esmeralda's temper,
and settled the bridesmaid question there and then with the utmost
confidence.

"Of course you shall be bridesmaid.  The wedding will be in the summer
holidays, but you will see your sisters before then.  You knew, of
course, that they were trying to let the Castle for a few years, until
Jack makes his fortune, and goes back to live there himself.  Well, I am
glad to say a tenant has been found through a lawyer, and that
everything is satisfactorily arranged.  He takes possession on the first
of September, and Bridgie is coming to live in London with Jack and the
boys, in a nice little flat, where you can spend your holidays.  She
said I was to tell you that, and to say that you were not to fret for
the Castle, for you would see much more of each other than if she had
remained over there.  She is coming to town in summer to look for the
flat, and Esmeralda is coming too, to buy fineries for the wedding, and
then we will all return to Ireland and have a quiet little wedding, and
you shall keep Bridgie company when I carry Esmeralda away.  That's the
summer programme.  I hope you approve!"

"I hate the man who's coming to Knock," said Pixie sadly; "but I am glad
Bridgie will be near, and it will be lovely on holidays.  It must feel
strange to live in a flat; like being in a cage.  I am sorry for the
people beneath, when the boys get romping round.  If I were Bridgie, I'd
take a house, and then we could make as much noise as we liked.  It's no
use pretending that we are a quiet family, because we're not.  You might
think it was an army, to hear us tramp downstairs!"

"I--I think myself that a house would be more suitable!" said Hilliard,
smiling his humorous twisted smile; then he asked to see Mademoiselle,
and when he said to her in her turn that he had a piece of news to
impart, she nodded her head gaily, and cried, "So, so!  I 'ope you will
be very 'appy!" and could not be induced to say that she was in the
least surprised.  Pixie hoped that none of the girls would ask about the
new brother's business; for, after boasting of possible dukes, it was
really rather humiliating to come down to glue!  What a comfort that
Lottie had turned over a new leaf, and abandoned her snobbish,
inquisitive questionings!

After that it was a case of counting the days until the arrival of the
sisters, and Pixie's companions were almost as excited as herself at the
prospect of seeing the much-talked-of Bridgie and Esmeralda in the
flesh.  Miss Joan announced her intention of taking advantage of the
July sales to buy her trousseau--a delightful arrangement, for by the
time that dressmakers had done their work the holidays would begin, so
that the girls could be present at the great breaking-up festival, and
afterwards act as companions on the journey home.  Pixie's elastic
spirits went up with a bound, and every week they grew higher and
higher, until at last it became a question of days, and Bridgie's letter
must needs be addressed to Jack's lodgings instead of Knock Castle, for
by the time it was delivered the dear visitors would have arrived in
town.

"Please come to see me soon," ran the letter, "and be sure to look your
nicest, because of the girls!  They all want to see you, and I've told
them such lots about you.  Please ask Miss Phipps to let me come out
often.  Wednesday is the best day, because it's half-holiday, only I
should like other days better, because I should get off prep.  Please
wear your best clothes!"

The two sisters laughed heartily over this missive, but Pixie's word was
law, and as usual they obeyed her instructions to the letter.  A
telegram was sent off next morning to announce the hour in the afternoon
at which they hoped to call, and the morning was spent to such good
purpose that two most elegant and fashionable-looking young ladies drove
up to Holly House shortly before four o'clock.  The third-form girls
were, to a man, peeping through the curtains of their classroom; Ethel
had left her music in the drawing-room, and rushed downstairs to reclaim
it the moment the door-bell rang; Kate suddenly felt it impossible to
live without a clean handkerchief, and on her way upstairs waited round
the corner of the hall until she could meet the visitors face to face;
Flora peeped through the banisters, and snored so loudly in her
excitement that she was in instant danger of discovery; and Pixie rushed
like a whirlwind from the top of the house, and flung herself into
Bridgie's arms.

They hugged and kissed, and kissed and hugged again, and fell apart to
gaze with eyes that suddenly brimmed with tears.  No need to ask the
cause!  The remembrance of the Major was in each heart, but Bridgie
dried her eyes, and said, as if answering the unspoken lament--

"But we have so much to be thankful for!  Such a splendid let for the
Castle, and Jack so good, trying to find work for the boys, and Geoffrey
like another brother, and Esmeralda so happy."

No question about that!  Esmeralda was radiant, more beautiful than
ever, and astonishingly grand.  So was Bridgie!  The little sister gazed
from one to the other with kindling eyes.  Black dresses with tails to
them; fluffy gauze boas with ends floating to the knees; hats that were
not hats, but crinkled, brimless things like the Surbiton ladies wore in
the afternoons, and so light and gauzy that they might have been blown
away with a breath.

"You _are_ fine!" she gasped, and the girls laughed and cried merrily.

"We had our instructions, you see!  We dared not come down until we had
bought new hats and gloves; and we put on our very best clothes for the
girls' benefit."

"And jewellery!" added Esmeralda; and Pixie looked at her with an even
more critical scrutiny.  There was a little diamond brooch sparkling
among the laces at her throat.  "Geoffrey gave me that!"  There was a
gold bangle round her wrist, with a heart-shaped locket dangling from
the clasp.  "Geoffrey gave me that!"  There was a dainty little watch
pinned on to her dress.  "Geoffrey gave me that!"

"Deary me," quoth Pixie at last, "it must be rather nice being engaged."

"It is, my dear.  Quite nice!  And he gave us these boas too,--insisted
upon buying them when he came shopping with us this morning.  He said
boas were the fashionable thing, and he really dared not allow us to
face `the girls' without them.  He is very extravagant, but he says he
will only be engaged once, and after we are married he will be as
careful as I like.  It was through his lawyer that we found our tenant.
Geoffrey told him about the place, and it seemed that it was just
exactly what a client had been wanting.  We have not seen him yet, but
he is tremendously interested in old places, and is going to spend a lot
of money putting things into repair, which, of course, is a very good
thing for us.  He has taken it for ten years, and by the end of the
lease Jack hopes he may be able to go back himself, for part of the
year, at any rate.  It is hard to leave Knock, but not so hard as we
expected, for I am to be married, and the rest of you will be together,
and able to enjoy seeing the sights, and all the fun and bustle of town
life."

"And it will be so good for the boys!  They were idling away their time,
but now they will have to set to work in earnest to make their way in
the world.  It will be the making of them, so even if we do feel
homesick at times it will be a light price to pay for their good," said
Bridgie hastily, for the tears were beginning to rise again in Pixie's
eyes at the thought of leaving the dear old home.  "Dear me, I am
longing to see `the girls'!  Aren't we going to see `the girls'?  What
is the use of our dressing up like this if we are not to see `the
girls'?"

"Come along!  Come along!  Miss Phipps said I was to take you round
before she came in to give you tea.  Come along, and see them now,"
cried Pixie, prancing to the door with eager steps, and forgetting
everything else in the excitement of the coming introduction, as it had
been intended that she should do.  Bridgie and Joan followed close
behind, smiling in anticipation; but it was rather an embarrassing
occasion, when the door of the big classroom was thrown open, and
fifteen girls rose to their feet and stood staring with unblinking eyes,
while Fraulein smiled and bowed from the end of the long table.  Bridgie
wanted to say something graceful and appropriate, but could only blush,
and smile, and stammer feebly.  "Oh-h!  How do you do?  Is there anyone
here that I know by name?  Flora--Margaret--Kate?  Are any of your
special friends here, Pixie?  Please introduce me."

"That's Flora!" said Pixie, pointing barefacedly across the room.  "The
fat one.  Kate is next to Fraulein--with specs.  Margaret is having her
music lesson.  That's Ethel in the middle, with the frizzy hair.  This
is my sister Bridgie that I've told you about."

The faces of the girls thus singled out for special notice were wooden
in stolidity.  Not a flicker of animation lit up their features; they
stood like pokers staring blankly before them, as if they had heard no
word of what was passing, and poor Bridgie murmured more disconnected
nothings, while Esmeralda looked from one to the other with her haughty,
patronising smile.  It was quite a relief when the door was shut, and
the presence of Mademoiselle in classroom number two insured one
listener at least who would speak in reply.  The greeting was a warm one
on both sides, but conversation was deferred until tea-time, when
Mademoiselle had been asked to join the party in the drawing-room, and
after just a minute's wait a move was made upstairs to the room where
Pixie slept.  Here there were photographs to exhibit, and a number of
tiny ornaments which had been gifts from other girls.

"Ethel gave me that the day that I was ill.--Fanny bought me that when
she went out for the day.  It cost threepence.  Wasn't it dear?  Dora
Ellis and Vera Knowles clubbed together and bought me that at the
bazaar.  It's supposed to be for matches.  I am going to give it to Jack
at Christmas.  That's Ethel's mother!  She is really awfully nice,
though you wouldn't think so.  That's Flora's little brother.  Isn't he
like Mellin's Food?  Ethel has silver brushes.  I wish I might have
silver things.  She is awfully proud of her dressing-table.  If I stand
on my pillow I can just see over the curtain between our beds.  I
painted eyes on my forehead one night, and tied my hair round it.  It
looked lovely,--just like a monkey! and then I crept up quietly, and put
it over for Ethel to see.  She did howl!  Shall we go downstairs now?
You'll have a scrumptious tea.  Visitors always do.  That's one reason
why it's so nice having them coming to see you."

Miss Phipps and Mademoiselle were waiting in the drawing-room, and, to
the amusement of her sisters, Pixie became a model of decorum the moment
she entered their presence, and handed about cake and tea in the most
staid and deliberate fashion.  To see her stand with her heels drawn
neatly together in the first position; to hear her demure, "Yes, Miss
Phipps!"  "No, Miss Phipps!" was almost too much for Esmeralda's
composure, and she was glad to leave the house with the promise of
having Pixie to spend a long day in town at the beginning of the
following week, while that young lady herself was so eager to return to
her companions and hear their criticisms on her visitors that she bore
the parting with wonderful resignation.

Fortunately for all, approval was unanimous, and the girls declared in a
breath that never, no never, had they seen anyone so "simply sweet" as
Bridgie, so "frightfully pretty" as Esmeralda.  Bridgie was a darling;
her eyes were so kind and loving and sorry for you, and didn't she look
an angel when she smiled?  Esmeralda was like a queen; they could quite
imagine that she had a temper, but when she laughed she had the sweetest
dimples!  Did her hair curl naturally?  Fancy!  She was really and truly
like a picture, and not a bit like a person who was alive.  Didn't they
look ducks together--one so fair, and one so dark?  So on, and so on,
until Pixie was one big beam of joy and contentment.

During the next fortnight Pixie spent no less than three days with her
sisters, and had the felicity of helping to choose the little house, in
which they were to begin the new life.  After an inspection of various
flats Bridgie was quite of one mind with her youngest sister in
believing that either they themselves or every other tenant in the
building would have to give notice within a week of their arrival.  It
was so preposterous to think of creeping on tiptoe in consideration for
your neighbours below, and speaking in hushed tones because of your
neighbours above, while, in spite of high rents, the passages seemed so
cramped, oh, so painfully cramped and narrow!  Even a little house was a
castle, comparatively speaking; and in due time one was found which
promised to be healthy and convenient, and was put in the hands of
painters and paper-hangers to be ready for the removal in autumn.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

THE PRIZE IS WON.

When the breaking-up gathering was held, Pixie was proud indeed, for if
other girls had fathers and mothers present, she had two sisters and
Jack and Geoffrey Hilliard into the bargain, and there was no doubt that
they were the handsomest and most attractive of all the guests.  There
was only one drawback to her happiness, and that was that there was no
chance of being called forward to receive a prize, and so cover herself
with glory.  She devoutly hoped that the class lists might not be read
aloud, to betray how very, very near the bottom she was to be found, and
heaved a deep sigh of relief when little Beatrice Ferrars marched up to
receive her certificate, and so end the list of honours.  But it
appeared that it was not quite finished, for Miss Phipps rose to her
feet and began to speak amid a general murmur of excitement.

"We now come to perhaps the most interesting item on our programme--the
bestowal of a prize by the girls themselves, instead of by the teachers.
For the benefit of those who have not been present at one of these
gatherings before, I must briefly explain that this prize consists of
five pounds to be expended in books, and is the gift of the father of
one of the pupils.  Its object is to encourage among the girls a spirit
of kindliness and consideration, a readiness to hold out a helping hand,
to assist another to overcome a weakness, and, in short, to _befriend_,
in the best sense of the word.  The prize is given once a year at the
end of the summer term, and, as I have said, is awarded by the vote of
the girls themselves.  As they have the best opportunity of judging, it
is only right that the decision should come from them, and it is
pleasant to know that this year at least there is absolute unanimity
among them.  I have gone over your voting papers, girls, and have
pleasure in telling you that, with the natural exception of the winner
herself, the same name was given by all.  There is one girl who,
whatever may be her faults and shortcomings, has never failed to show
the most generous and unselfish friendship, one girl who has put her own
interests aside and been content to suffer for the sake of others, one
girl who has ever been on the watch to do a kindly act or speak a loving
word, a girl whom everyone loves, who counts every member of the
household among her admirers, and that girl's name is--"

She paused and looked smilingly at her pupils, and on the instant came
the loud answering cry.  The girls waved their hands in the air, they
drummed on the ground with their feet.  "Pixie!" they cried, "Pixie
O'Shaughnessy!" and "Pixie!" once again, "Bravo, Pixie!"  "Three cheers
for Pixie!" until they were hoarse with shouting, and Miss Phipps held
up her hand for silence.

It was really a most exciting scene.  Every eye was riveted on Pixie
herself, who had applauded as violently as her companions when Miss
Phipps first asked her question, and whose shrill cry of "Margaret!
Margaret!" had been frozen on her lips by the sound of her own name.
There she sat with her mouth agape, too much overcome by surprise to
have any thought for appearances, and there sat Bridgie looking on and
crying copiously with happiness, and Esmeralda blinking the tears away
and laughing furtively at Jack, who was grunting to himself, "Silly
fuss!  Silly fuss!" and putting on a great appearance of boredom to
distract attention from the tears on his eyelashes.  There sat Mr and
Mrs Vane, too, beaming with pleasure that their prize should have gone
to Pixie of all people, and Lottie rubbing her hands and growing
hysterical in delight.  Then Pixie was marched up to the desk to be
presented with the envelope containing the crisp new note, and when she
had taken it she must needs turn round and face the audience, instead of
scuttling back to her seat in abashed, self-conscious fashion like other
girls, and even address a word of acknowledgment for the applause
bestowed upon her.  "I'm very much obliged to ye!" she said in the
broadest of Irish accents, and all the fathers and mothers lay back in
their chairs and laughed until they were tired, and clapped so
enthusiastically that it was a marvel that their beautiful light kid
gloves did not split an halves.

In the drawing-room afterwards Pixie was quite the heroine of the
occasion, and was greeted on all sides, and warmly congratulated on her
success.  Mr and Mrs Vane asked especially to be introduced to Bridgie
and her party, and eventually sat down an the same corner to partake of
tea.  Pixie could not hear all that they said, but they looked at her as
they spoke, and their faces were very kindly, so that she was pleasantly
conscious of being the subject of conversation.  Then Mrs Vane began to
speak of the contemplated removal to town, and made many kind offers of
help and hospitality, while her husband put in a word about the dear old
Castle.

"Your sister showed me some photographs when she was with us, and I was
much impressed by them.  It is a fine old place, and I can understand
your attachment to it.  You are fortunate to have secured such a good
tenant.  Curiously enough, I was mentioning your name to my lawyer, who
was dining with me the other night, and he told me he had negotiated the
lease for your new tenant.  The young fellow is able to pay for his
hobbies, and is evidently keen on putting the place in repair.  It is
not every day that a millionaire comes to the rescue just when he is
wanted, but this Mr Hilliard certainly seems the right man in the right
place.  Wonderful what glue can accomplish, isn't it, Miss
O'Shaughnessy? it makes one almost wish to be in trade oneself!"

Jack was wont to say in later years that he had never admired Bridgie
more than at this moment of surprise and shock.  She turned white, it
was true, but her voice was as calm as usual, and the manner in which
she replied so full of quiet dignity, that neither then nor at any other
time had Mr Vane the slightest idea of the sensation which he had
created.

As for Esmeralda, she did not know the meaning of control; what she felt
she was obliged to show, and that forthwith, so within two minutes of
Mr Vane's disclosure she became suddenly overcome with heat, and
demanded Geoffrey's escort to the ball without.  There they stood and
faced each other, he all downcast and abashed, as who should say,
"Please forgive me for not being poor!" she, flashing with indignation,
which said as plainly, "How dare you be a millionaire!"  There was
silence for a minute, then she asked imperiously, "Is this true?" and he
made a gesture of impatience.

"I wish that chattering old fellow was at the bottom of the sea.  Yes,
it's true, darling.  I'm your tenant.  I have more money than I know
what to do with, and we are going to live at Knock half the year, you
and I, and amuse ourselves by putting it in repair, and have Bridgie and
the rest over to stay with us whenever you like.  Don't be angry with
me, please.  I meant it all so well!"

Esmeralda drew a quick breath, and pressed her hands tightly together.
Oh, dear old home! oh, dear old Castle! was it possible that it need not
be left after all? need never pass into the hands of strangers?  Was it
really, really possible that she herself was to reign as Lady Bountiful,
and see order replace disorder, beauty restored where ruin had walked
barefaced?  It was an effort to preserve an appearance of severity, but
she would not give in so soon, so held her head erect, and demanded
haughtily--

"Why was this kept from me?  Why was I never told?"

"Jack knew," said Hilliard humbly.  "Your father knew.  I told him
before his death.  But, Esmeralda darling, I have been run after for my
money all my life, and it was so sweet to me to think that you believed
me poor, and would still marry me for my own sake, that I could not bear
to put an end to the delusion.  Then I thought I would wait until we
were married, and give you the lease of the Castle as a wedding-present.
I meant it to be such a happy surprise, and that grey man has spoiled
it all!  What a comfort it would be if people would mind their own
business!  Do you remember pitying me for being dependent on glue, and
taking for granted I must be poor?  How I did enjoy that walk, and our
talk together!  But you see, darling, it is a more valuable commodity
than you thought.  My old uncle made a fortune by it, and I make a fresh
fortune every year.  You said once that you would like to be rich, but I
haven't found it altogether a bed of roses.  I need your help at least
as much as if I were a poor man, and we will try together to use our
money so as to make other people happier and better.  First of all come
your own brothers.  I can help them on, and Bridgie and Pixie will be
like my own sisters.  You are pleased, Esmeralda; I can see it in your
face.  You are not angry with me any more?  What are you thinking of,
darling, with that far-away gaze?"

"I am thinking of father," said Esmeralda softly.  "How happy he would
be!  There will still be an O'Shaughnessy at dear Knock Castle."

THE END.





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