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Title: A City Schoolgirl - And Her Friends
Author: Baldwin, May
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A City Schoolgirl - And Her Friends" ***

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                         A CITY SCHOOLGIRL
                          AND HER FRIENDS

                          BY MAY BALDWIN

Author of 'Corah's School Chums,' 'Two Schoolgirls of Florence,'
'Sarah's School Friend,' 'The Girls' Eton,' &c.

WITH SIX COLOURED ILLUSTRATIONS
By T. J. Overnell

LONDON: 38 Soho Square, W.
W. & R. CHAMBERS, LIMITED
EDINBURGH: 339 High Street
1912

Edinburgh:
Printed by W. & R. Chambers, Limited.



[Illustration: She ran off, turning round to wave her hand to her
sister.]



CONTENTS.


       I. HARD FACTS

      II. THE NEW LAIRD OF LOMORE

     III. FRIENDS IN NEED

      IV. UPS AND DOWNS

       V. THE NEW LIFE

      VI. IN LONELY LODGINGS

     VII. KIND-HEARTED LONDONERS

    VIII. GOOD MANNERS

      IX. THE ENTERPRISE CLUB

       X. BLEAK HOUSE HOSTEL

      XI. 'THE RANK IS BUT THE GUINEA'S STAMP'

     XII. 'SAVE'

    XIII. YOUNG HOUSE-HUNTERS

     XIV. OFF TO A HOME AGAIN

      XV. EVA'S PRESENTIMENT

     XVI. VAVA'S BUSINESS LETTER

    XVII. A SUNDAY AT HEATHER ROAD

   XVIII. STELLA'S SURPRISING REQUEST

     XIX. THE JUNIOR PARTNER

      XX. VAVA ON FRIENDS

     XXI. EVA'S CONDUCT AND ITS SAD EFFECTS

    XXII. DANTE'S IDYLL

   XXIII. STELLA'S PRIDE

    XXIV. BADLY BEGUN AND MADLY ENDED

     XXV. UNDER A CLOUD

    XXVI. MORE CLOUDS

   XXVII. THE VALUE OF A GOOD CHARACTER

  XXVIII. VAVA GETS A SHOCK

    XXIX. THINGS STRAIGHTEN OUT



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


She ran off, turning round to wave her hand to her sister

'Vava,' said Stella, 'do not say such dreadful things'

'I'm quite well, thank you, Mr. Jones; but my algebra isn't.'

'My lamb, you should not answer your sister as you do'

'Where have you been, Vava Wharton?' demanded Miss Briggs

Stella goes to the prize distribution



A CITY SCHOOLGIRL AND HER FRIENDS.



CHAPTER I.

HARD FACTS.


'These are the facts, Miss Wharton; hard facts no doubt, but you wished
for the truth, and indeed I could not have hidden it from you even if I
had wished to do so.' So said a keen but kindly faced old gentleman, as
he sat in an office surrounded by despatch and deed boxes which
proclaimed his profession to be that of a lawyer.

The young lady to whom these remarks were addressed, and who was a
pretty girl of twenty-one, dressed in deep and obviously recent
mourning, now replied, with a sad smile, 'But I did not want you to hide
anything from me; I wanted to hear the truth, Mr. Stacey, and I thank
you very much for telling it to me. Then I may understand that we have
just fifty pounds a year to live upon between the two of us?'

'That is all, I am sorry to say; at least all that you can count upon
with any certainty for the present, for the shares, of which I have been
trying to tell you, at present bring in nothing, and may never do so. Of
course there is the furniture, which might fetch a hundred or two, for
there are two or three valuable pieces; and, besides that, your father
had some nice china and some fine old silver,' observed Mr. Stacey.

'Oh I could not sell that!' said the girl hastily, and her colour rose.

The old lawyer shook his head. 'It is not a case of _could_; it is a
case of _must_, my dear young lady,' he said not unkindly.

'But why? You say there are no debts to pay. Why, then, should we part
with all that is left to us of home?' argued the girl, the tears coming
into her eyes.

'Why? Because you must live, you and Vava, and I don't quite see how you
are to do that on fifty pounds a year--twenty-five pounds apiece--even
if we get your sister into a school where they would take her on
half-terms as a kind of pupil-teacher,' explained the lawyer patiently.

'Send Vava to a school as a pupil-teacher, to be looked down upon and
despised by the other girls who were richer than she, to waste half her
time in teaching, and let her go away from me? I could not do it!' cried
the girl impulsively. Then, as she saw the old man, who had been a
lifelong friend of her father's as well as his lawyer, shrug his
shoulders, as much as to say she was hopeless, she added more quietly,
'We have never been parted in our lives, Mr. Stacey, and we are sad
enough as it is,' and her lips quivered. 'She would be so lonely without
me, and I without her; and surely it is as cheap for two to live
together as one? Besides, I am going to earn money; I was my father's
secretary for three years, and he always said I was a very good one. I
can typewrite quite quickly; I have typewritten all his letters for him
for the last three years and copied all his manuscripts, and I scarcely
ever made a mistake.'

Her listener looked doubtful for a moment; but now that she had some
practical suggestion to make, the interview began to take a more
business-like appearance, and the old man was ready to listen to her.

'Yes,' he said, 'your father often told me that you were better than any
trained secretary he ever had, and I have no doubt your three years'
experience has been useful to you; but unfortunately there is no one
here who happens to want a secretary'----

Before he could get any further, Stella Wharton interrupted eagerly,
'But we do not think of staying here, and I have thought the whole
matter over. I knew I should have to earn my own living, and of course
the proper place to do that is in London.'

Mr. Stacey's look of consternation would have been amusing if he had not
been so serious. 'You and Vava go and live in London alone! The thing is
impossible!'

'Why impossible?' asked Stella quietly. 'Hundreds and thousands of girls
do it who are not even as old as I am.'

'Yes, but not girls like you,' said the lawyer. He stopped from sheer
inability to express what he meant and felt, which was that such an
exceptionally pretty girl as Stella Wharton ought not to start life
alone in London and be thrown on her own resources, even though she was
a thoroughly trustworthy girl and had a younger sister to live with her.
'You do not know anything about London, or even what a town is like; you
have lived in this little Scotch village (for it is not much more), as
far as I know, all your life, and the thing would never do. It's--it's
impossible!' he wound up; 'you could not possibly do it!'

'It is not a case of _could_; it is a case of _must_,' quoted Stella,
with the ghost of a smile, as she repeated the old man's words of a few
minutes ago.

'Yes, yes,' he said; 'you must live, I know that; but even supposing
that it would be possible for you to earn your living, and even to earn
it as a secretary, you would not be able to earn enough at first to keep
yourself, let alone keep your sister as well.'

'We could live on very little,' pleaded Stella; and here she brought out
from her purse a slip from a newspaper. 'I thought of answering this.'
So saying, she handed it to the old lawyer, who read an advertisement
for a secretary in a City office who could typewrite quickly and
correctly, and transcribe difficult manuscripts in French and English.

'You might be able to do this,' said the lawyer, 'for, to be sure, you
are both excellent French scholars; but a City office'----He looked
most disapproving. 'Well,' he said, 'there is no harm in answering it;
or suppose you let me answer it for you?'

'I was going to ask you whether you would give me a testimonial; but if
you would write for me it would be very, very kind of you,' replied
Stella.

'Very well,' said Mr. Stacey with a sigh, 'I shall write to this man;
but no doubt he will have hundreds of other applications. The pay is
good, and girls who can typewrite are to be found by the thousand
nowadays.'

'Yes,' said Stella eagerly; 'but he says "an educated person," and I
read in the papers the other day that three-quarters of the girls who go
in for typewriting cannot even write their own language, so they
probably would not be able to write French.'

'But thirty-five shillings a week! How are you going to live upon
thirty-five shillings a week?' inquired the lawyer.

'It will be forty-five shillings a week,' corrected Stella.

'Well, forty-five shillings a week between two of you; that is not a
hundred and fifty pounds a year. It would take that for you alone to
live in London.'

'I have calculated it all out, Mr. Stacey; and if you would not mind
looking at this sheet of paper I think you will see that we could do
it;' and Stella handed the lawyer a second piece of paper, upon which,
in a very neat and legible hand, the girl had written out her idea of
the probable cost of living for two people in London in lodgings.

'Rent ten pounds a year!' ejaculated the lawyer, reading the first item
on the list in a tone of mingled surprise and amusement. 'That shows how
much you know of London and its prices. Where do you suppose you would
get lodgings for two people at eight shillings per week? Why, a couple
of rooms would cost a guinea at least.'

Stella Wharton's expressive face fell as she said, 'I didn't know that.
The Misses Burns have a very nice little house here for twenty pounds a
year, and I thought lodgings could not possibly be as much, for we would
be content with two rooms at first.'

The lawyer read the items through with as grave an air and as
attentively as if he were reading an important document dealing with
thousands of pounds; and when he had finished he handed it back to her,
saying, 'I see, you have thought the matter out carefully, and, at all
events, there is no need to settle anything just yet, for you have
another month before everything can be settled up here. I shall write
to-night in answer to this advertisement.' And then shaking hands very
kindly with the girl, the lawyer showed her out.

Stella made her way back to the old Manor House, in which she had lived
with her father, mother (who had died some years ago), and her younger
sister Vava, ever since she was born, and where a week ago her father
had suddenly died, leaving his two daughters, as will have been seen,
very inadequately provided for. At the gate, or, more correctly
speaking, upon the gate, was Vava, who swung lightly over and into the
road to meet her sister.

'Well,' she said, 'what had Mr. Stacey to say?'

'A great deal,' said Stella gravely, as Vava took her arm and hung on to
her elder sister.

There were seven years between the two girls, the gap between having
been filled by three brothers, who had all died.

'Stella,' said Vava in a coaxing tone, as they turned in at the gate and
walked up the long drive, 'you need not be afraid of telling me about
it, because I know it all--everything.'

'What do you know?' inquired Stella, smiling in spite of her sadness.

'I know everything that Mr. Stacey said to you,' announced the younger
girl confidently.

'How can you possibly know that, Vava, seeing that I have not told you a
single word and that you were not at the interview?' Stella was always
very matter-of-fact, and Vava would say that she was slow.

'I knew what he was going to say before he ever opened his mouth. He was
going to tell you that we had lost all our money, and that this Manor
House is not ours any longer, that I must go to a cheap school, and that
you must go and be a governess, or something horrid like that,'
announced Vava.

'Vava, who told you?' cried Stella, surprised out of her caution, for
she had not meant to tell her younger sister the real facts of the case.

'Mrs. Stacey has been here, and she told me that there were some other
people coming to the Manor House. When I said we didn't want them, she
said the Manor House was not ours, and that we should not be able to
keep them out. When I asked her why, she said because we had no money.'

'Mrs. Stacey was quite wrong, and she had no business to speak to you
like that. I am sure Mr. Stacey would be very angry if he knew,' said
Stella, who looked rather angry herself. 'Besides which,' she added in a
calmer tone, 'we have not lost all our money; we have more than a
thousand pounds. And you were not quite right about Mr. Stacey either,
for he did not suggest that I should go out as a governess, and he is at
this minute answering an advertisement for a secretaryship for me.'

Vava was silent for a minute; then she said in a queer little voice,
very unlike her usual cheerful one, 'But he did say I was to go to a
school, didn't he?'

'Would you dislike that very much?' said Stella, more to try her sister
than because she had much doubt of the answer.

'I should hate it, Stella; I would rather scrub floors than be a
charity-girl with a red cloak and a round hat and short hair, with
perhaps people giving me pennies as I walked along the street.'

'There is no chance of your going to a charity school,' replied Stella,
'there will be enough money to send you to a proper boarding-school, if
that is necessary, for there are lots of schools where you do not pay
much more than fifty pounds a year; but I should like you to live with
me in London, and go to day-school there.'

'Oh Stella, how lovely! and we could go to the Zoo and Madame Tussaud's
and the Tower every day for a walk!' cried Vava with delight.

'I am afraid we could not go daily expeditions, Vava, because I should
be in an office all day and you will be at school; but we should have
Saturdays and Sundays together, and anything would be better than being
parted--wouldn't it?--even if we are poor.'

Vava did not answer, but the squeeze that she gave to Stella's arm was
quite answer enough. They had arrived at the door of the Manor House,
and the old housekeeper came forward to meet them.

'My dears, come into my little room and have some tea; you must be
perished with cold, and I have got some lovely scones that cook has made
on purpose for you. Come straight in, won't you, Miss Stella?'

'Thank you, nursie,' said Stella with a pleasant smile, as she followed
the housekeeper to her room; while Vava danced along in front of the old
woman, calling her all sorts of affectionate names for her
thoughtfulness in getting hot scones for them on this cold day.

It was not a usual thing for the girls to have tea with the housekeeper,
though they did sometimes do it. But Stella, though surprised at the way
the housekeeper asked them, thought it was to save them from having a
lonely tea in the dining-room without their father; and to the
housekeeper's relief she went straight to the latter's room, and partook
very cheerfully of the homely meal set before them. Twice during the
meal Stella thought that she heard voices in the passage which she did
not recognise as belonging to the servants, who, indeed, were not in the
habit of speaking in such loud tones about the house; but she paid no
attention to it.

The housekeeper, who had formerly been the girls' nurse, and was still
called 'nursie' by them, talked more than usual.

At last Vava observed, 'Nursie, I believe you are feverish.'

'Miss Vava!' exclaimed the old woman, 'what can you be thinking about?
What makes you think I am feverish? I am not a bit hot, unless this big
fire is making my face a bit red.'

'I am not talking about your face; it is your voice that is feverish,
and your eyes are glittering dreadfully,' said Vava.

'Vava,' said Stella, 'do not say such dreadful things.' She also looked
at the housekeeper, who did look nervous, if not feverish, as Vava had
suggested, and whose face certainly got very flushed as a knock came to
the door.

The butler, throwing it open, said to a gentleman and a lady who
accompanied him, 'This is the housekeeper's room, sir, and this'----Here
he caught sight of Stella and Vava, and with a muttered, 'I beg your
pardon, young ladies, I am sure,' he shut the door, and his footsteps
were heard hurrying down the passage.



CHAPTER II.

THE NEW LAIRD OF LOMORE.


The three occupants of the housekeeper's room took the unexpected
visitors in very different and characteristic ways. The housekeeper
became what Vava called more 'feverish' than ever; Stella stared in
grave surprise at this liberty on the part of the butler; while Vava
grew red with anger, and, guessing at once what it meant, cried
indignantly, 'How dare they come walking over our house before we are
out of it? Stella, why don't you go and tell David he ought to be
ashamed of himself letting them in? What is he thinking of to take such
a liberty?'

Stella turned her eyes, which justified her name, and looked at her
excited younger sister. She had not understood the meaning of the
intrusion until her quicker-witted sister told her, and she was not too
pleased herself at old David's behaviour, which even she, quiet and
attached to the old servant as she was, felt was taking too much upon
himself.

But, before she could speak, the old housekeeper broke in, rather
nervously, 'Miss Stella, dearie, you must not be angry with David; it's
my fault as well as his; we only wanted to save you both worry and
annoyance; and so it would, for you would never have known aught about
it but for David bringing them in here. He must be daft, after my
telling him he was to be sure and keep them out of your sight.'

'But I don't understand. I suppose these are the people who want to take
the house, and, if so, of course they wish to see it? Still, I think
they should have written just to ask my leave; and, at any rate, David
should have done so before he showed them over our house,' Stella
answered with dignity.

'That's just it; you don't understand, my bairn; and I don't rightly
understand it myself. It's their house--something about a mortgage--now
the poor Laird's gone, and they only waited until he was under the
ground to come tearing up from London in their motor to look at their
property, and it was more than David could do to put them off, and so,
sooner than have you troubled by their impudence'----said the
housekeeper.

'It is not very considerate, perhaps, but they have a right to ask to
see their own house without being called impudent; and though you mean
it kindly, nursie, you and David, I think I should know what is going on
in this house,' interrupted Stella.

'We'd just better get out of it as soon as we can. Mrs. Stacey came to
ask us to go and stay with them; she told me to give you the invitation.
But I'd rather go to the manse; Mrs. Monro would be sure to take us!'
cried Vava.

However, before Vava had uttered the last word, another knock came at
the door, and in answer to Stella's 'Come in!' David M'Taggart entered,
looking rather shamefaced. In broad Scotch, which it will perhaps be
best to spare English readers, he said, 'I'm sorry to trouble you, Miss
Stella, but the leddy will not take no for an answer; she wants to see
you.'

Stella unconsciously put on her most dignified air, and said, 'I do not
understand why she should wish to see me. It is the house they have
bought, not us; and if she wishes to know when it will be at her
disposal, you may tell her we will be out of it'--she hesitated a
moment, and her voice trembled as she added, 'as soon as we can move the
furniture; in a week, if possible.'

Still David lingered. 'It's just that--the furniture, I mean--that
she'll be after, I'm thinking. I know it's hard on you, missie. But you
must just be brave and the Laird's daughter; and, if you could make up
your mind to it, just see the leddy and her husband; they're no' bad,
though they're no' the quality.'

David M'Taggart had nursed Stella in his arms as a baby, and had been
the old Laird's right hand. In fact, when Mr. Wharton was deep in his
literary labours, David had kept things about the place straighter than
they would otherwise have been; and if his education had been better,
and he had been allowed, he would probably have managed the money
matters of his late master, and prevented the Laird allowing them to get
into the disastrous state they were found to be in after his death, of
which state the late Laird was, happily for him, though unfortunately
for his daughters, quite ignorant.

Stella listened to David's advice, and replied, 'Very well, David, I
will see this lady. What is her name?'

'It's a fine name--Mrs. Montague Jones she calls herself; but it's with
him I'd do business, if I may be so bold as to say so, for he's a fair
man, and not so keen on a bargain as she.'

To this piece of advice the girl made no reply, but followed the old
butler out of the room and down the wide staircase to the drawing-room.
At the door she paused involuntarily, as David threw it open for her and
announced, 'This is Miss Wharton, mem.'

The short, thick-set business man, who was standing looking out of one
of the windows, turned sharply round at the words; and, as he told his
wife afterwards, was 'fairly taken aback to see that beautiful young
lady standing there like a princess in the doorway and looking down upon
us.'

And his wife--a handsome woman herself, who was sitting at a table
examining some old silver, of which the Laird had a fine
collection--though she answered him rather sharply to the effect that
the 'looking down' ought to be on their side rather than the Whartons',
was conscious somehow of a feeling of inferiority. However, she rose,
and, coming forward, said civilly and kindly enough, 'I must apologise,
Miss Wharton, for this intrusion, and it's only because I think we may
be able to be of use to you'----Here Mrs. Montague Jones stopped
abruptly, for Stella's pride had risen, and she stiffened visibly.

'My wife doesn't mean that, Miss Wharton. What we wished to ask was a
favour to us, for which we would willingly make a return. I'm a business
man, and you are a young lady who knows nothing about business,' Mr.
Montague Jones now put in.

But Stella did not look any better pleased as she answered civilly but
distantly, 'In that case would it not be better to address yourself to
our lawyer, who is a man of business?' Stella had been her father's
secretary for so long that she spoke in a slightly stilted English with
a Scotch accent.

'Quite right, and so we did, but he told us he could do nothing without
you'--Mr. Stacey had said that he could do nothing _with_ her on this
particular matter--'and we have taken the liberty of coming straight to
the fountain-head, so to speak. It's about this furniture now.'

But Stella interrupted hastily, 'I am afraid you have given yourself
unnecessary trouble'--and her looks said 'and me too'--'for I have no
intention of parting with it.'

A gleam came into the man's eye, whether of anger at her haughtiness or
admiration at the spirit which could refuse a possibly advantageous
business offer was not clear, with poverty staring her in the face; but
he laid a hand on his wife's arm to prevent her speaking, and continued
quietly, and in a kind and friendly tone, 'No one has asked you to do
that, Miss Wharton. I feel with you that however valuable furniture or
silver or that kind of thing may be, it is doubly valuable to the owner,
especially when, as in your case, it has been in the family for a long
time, and I should be the last to counsel you to part with it.'

Miss Wharton looked surprised, and so did Mrs. Jones, who stared at her
husband in amazement.

'In that case, I fail to see'----began the girl, and then hesitated.

'You fail to see what proposal I have to make about the furniture? If
you'll have a little patience I'll tell you. I've just seen your lawyer,
and a very nice man he is, and has your interests at heart, for which
you may be thankful, as they are not all so. I hear you are thinking of
going to London. Now, you can't take all this fine furniture with you;
it would get knocked to pieces on the way there, besides costing no end
of money, and you'd want a mansion to put it in when you got there,
which you won't have just yet, though you will have again one day, I
hope. Now what, may I ask, do you mean to do with it?'

'I don't know. I shall warehouse it here, I suppose,' said Stella, who
had no clear ideas on the subject.

'That's just what I was going to suggest. Why not leave it all here,
with the exception of any little things or specially valuable belongings
that you 'd like to put away, and let us pay a fair sum for the use of
them. They'll not spoil, for they are old and well-made, and there'll
only be the wife and me and Jamie, that's our son and heir--ahem! a
quiet, well-behaved young fellow--and none of us will knock it about;
besides, your man M'Taggart has agreed--condescended I might say--to
stay on with us for the present, and he'll be free to write and tell you
if it's being badly used; and we'll put a clause in the agreement that
if M'Taggart thinks it is in bad hands you have the right to order its
removal in twenty-four hours,' announced Mr. Jones.

'Really, Monty'----cried his wife; but her husband pressed her arm, and
patiently waited for Stella's reply.

The girl puckered her brows; it would be a way out of the difficulty.
But she did not feel equal to settling the matter herself, and answered
doubtfully, 'If Mr. Stacey approves, I should have no objection--that is
to say, I would agree; but I should like some of my mother's things put
away.'

'Oh of course, we quite understand that, Miss Wharton, and we will have
everything put down in black and white by your lawyer,' said Mr.
Montague Jones.

Stella, who had taken the seat offered her by her undesired visitor, now
rose to put an end to the interview; and then a sudden thought struck
her. These people had motored from the south, and perhaps had come far
that day--at any rate from the nearest town, a good many miles off--and
she had not even offered them a cup of tea, and her Scotch hospitality
forbade her to let them depart without doing so much. She accordingly
offered it, and Mrs. Jones accepted the offer so gladly that her young
hostess felt ashamed of herself; and, ringing the bell, she ordered in
tea.

The interval of waiting might have been rather awkward; but not long
after David had answered the summons the door opened, and in walked
Vava.

Mr. and Mrs. Jones had an idea that Scotch girls in general were plain
and hard-featured, hence their surprise at Stella's appearance; and
Vava, though she was at an awkward age, and had not Stella's beauty, was
a bright, fresh-looking girl, with merry, laughing eyes which no trouble
could dim for long, and she too fitted in with her surroundings.

'How do you do? David will bring the tea in a minute, and there are
still some scones left,' she announced, without waiting to be
introduced.

Mr. Jones shook her hand heartily. 'That's good hearing; we lunched
early, and I've been with lawyers ever since, and worried with business,
about which you luckily know nothing; and scones--which we poor ignorant
Londoners call "scoones"--sounds very inviting.'

'So they are, deliciously inviting; but as for your business, I just do
know something about it,' Vava observed.

'Vava!' cried Stella horrified.

Mr. Jones laughed, not in the least embarrassed, though he had not meant
to be taken up so. 'Ah well, business is business and pleasure is
pleasure, and I don't believe in mixing them, though some people do.
Business is over for this afternoon, and now I am having the pleasure of
making your acquaintance.'

'Do you go to school, Miss Wharton?' inquired his wife, putting the
first question ladies seem invariably to put to girls in their teens.

'No, but I am going to a day-school when we get to London. Do you know
any nice ones there, not too dear?' inquired Vava.

Stella coloured hotly, and looked despairingly at Vava, who was
evidently in a mood to say dreadful things, as Stella considered them.

But Mr. Jones stepped into the breach. 'If you take my advice you'll go
to my school; it's one of the best in London.'

'Do you keep a school? I didn't know rich people did that,' said Vava.

'I don't keep it exactly, but I am chairman of the governors, and on
speech-days I go there, dressed in my chain and brass breastplate and
things, and listen to how all the girls have been getting on, and I
frown at the idle ones, and praise the good ones, and if you were to
come there I should praise and clap you. It's a first-class school
though the fees are very low,' he wound up, as if this were an important
detail.

'Nothing is decided yet,' said Stella, rather shortly, and frowning at
the too candid Vava.

'No, and of course there is no hurry; and, if you will excuse my talking
of business, I should like just to say that if you wished to stay here a
month or more we should be delighted. As for that school, it is a famous
City foundation, and I will send you the prospectus when I return home,
if you will allow me,' said Mrs. Jones, whom tea and scones had made
quite friendly.

'A City school!' said Vava. 'Is that a charity school?'

'Oh dear no!' cried Mrs. Jones hastily. 'My niece used to go there.'

Stella gave a ghost of a smile, but said nothing; and soon her visitors
left, with profuse thanks and promises to see the lawyer and let him
arrange matters.

It was consequently with lightened hearts that the two orphans stood
looking after their visitors in the darkening day.



CHAPTER III.

FRIENDS IN NEED.


'They are not quite ladies and gentlemen--I mean, a lady and
gentleman--but they are rather kind, and I think they will take care of
our furniture, Stella; so I should let them have it till we are rich
again and can buy this place back from them,' said Vava, as she stood on
the steps watching the tail-light of the Montague Joneses'
well-appointed car disappear down the drive.

'How do you know anything about that?' inquired her sister in surprise;
for unless her sister had been listening at the door, a meanness of
which she knew her to be incapable, she could not imagine how she could
guess what the new owners of Lomore had been proposing.

'Ah, ha! a little bird told me. But I quite approve; it will save us the
trouble of moving it about, and you'll see we shall be back here again
before long; that's another thing a little bird told me,' cried Vava,
loosing her sister's arm to hop on one foot down the stone steps, and
then try to perform the same feat up them.

'Vava! do be sensible at your age, and tell me what you mean by your
nonsense about a little bird telling you a private conversation which no
one could honourably know anything about,' said her sister severely.

Vava was sobered for the minute; and, giving a last hop on to the top
step, she stood on her two feet before her sister and retorted, 'What do
you mean by your insinuations, pray? Do you imagine I have been
listening through the keyhole? because, if so, I decline to parley with
you further. And as for my age, why shouldn't I do gymnastics? When I go
to an English school I shall have to do far sillier things than that.
And, oh Stella! do you think I shall go to that City school? I don't
think I should like to be taught by Mr. Montague Jones, though he is a
kind old man.'

'Mr. Montague Jones does not teach there; he told you that, and I don't
know at all where you will go to school. Perhaps it will be a
boarding-school after all, for we cannot live in London unless I get
this post as secretary, or some other like it; and you would perhaps be
best away from me, for you do not obey me,' replied her elder sister.

'If you mean that you want to know how I knew about the Joneses and
their offering to take care of our furniture, David told me; and if you
want to know how he knew--which I can see you do, because you have
screwed your eyebrows into a question-mark--Mr. Jones told him himself,
when David said he knew we would never sell it--for it is half mine,
isn't it, although you are my guardian?--and it's to look after it and
the place for us till we get it back that David is staying with them,
though "they are not the quality," as he says.'

This explanation satisfied Miss Wharton, and she only said, in answer to
Vava's last remark, 'Yes, the furniture is half yours, of course, and I
should have told you about this offer, as I am legally responsible for
it and all your property. And talking of property, Vava, it is very hard
I know, but this place is no longer ours, nor can it ever be again, for
we have no rich relations to leave us enough money to buy it back; nor
shall we ever have enough ourselves even if the Joneses wanted to sell
it, which I don't fancy they will, for they have bought it for their son
and heir, as they called him to me.'

'How hateful! a Londoner Laird of Lomore! Oh but he sha'n't be that
long, for I am going to earn a fortune and turn him out!' cried Vava,
her eyes flashing.

Stella laughed at her younger sister's vehemence, and inquired, 'In what
way are you going to earn money, pray?'

'I'm going to invent something. I read the other day in that ladies'
magazine of a man who invented a very simple little thing to save
candles, and he made thousands and thousands of pounds by it; and I've
got an idea too--it's a thing to save matches,' announced Vava.

'Matches! Why should one save matches? They are cheap enough without
saving them,' exclaimed Stella.

'Not in every country. Don't you remember Mrs. M'Ewan saying that when
they were abroad last year they paid a penny a box, and for such bad
ones too? Well, my idea is to make them light at both ends; you always
throw away half the match, and now it will do for twice,' explained
Vava.

Stella did not laugh for fear of hurting Vava's feelings and arousing
her wrath, but only said, 'You do think of odd things, Vava; but I wish
you would not say all you think. I am often quite nervous of what you
may say or do next.'

'You needn't be nervous now, because I am going to be quite grown-up and
proper, and not give you any more trouble,' announced Vava, who meant
what she said, though she did not always act up to her excellent
resolutions, as will be seen.

In fact, only two days later she made her sister nervous, besides
annoying her; for, as the elder girl was walking towards the village to
Mr. Stacey's office, in answer to a message from him requesting her to
call, she saw her sister, whom she had missed for the last hour, sitting
beside Mr. Montague Jones in his motor, being whirled past her at a
terrible speed, or at least so it seemed to her. Whether Vava saw her or
not Stella could not be sure; but she took no notice of her, neither did
Mr. Jones, whom she supposed did not recognise her. Rather ruffled at
the occurrence, Miss Wharton continued her way to the lawyer's, her
pretty head held still more erect, and a slightly scornful smile on her
face at the way her sister's indignation against the London Laird had
evaporated.

'Well, Miss Wharton, my dear, I have good news for you--at least, I
suppose I must call it good news, though it means that we shall lose
you, for the people whose advertisement I answered have written offering
you the post of secretary to the junior partner of a very good firm in
the City of London--Baines, Jones & Co. Your hours will be ten till
four, short hours for London clerks--er, secretaries I mean; and your
work will be to translate French letters for him and write French
answers, which he will dictate in English. You see it is a position of
trust, because they don't know much French and have to trust to your
translating their letters faithfully, and that I was able to assure them
you would do. In fact, after what I said they were quite ready to take
you, and it is the best I can do for you--not what I should like for
your father's daughter, but it might be worse. You will have a nice
little room to yourself with your typewriter, and need have nothing to
do with any one, and I may tell you that if you give satisfaction your
salary will be raised.'

'Thank you very much, Mr. Stacey,' replied Stella briefly. She was
grateful, and the old man knew it; but the vision his words brought up
of her future life in a stuffy, dingy City office, sitting at a
typewriter writing dull business letters--a very different thing from
the literary work she had helped her father with--depressed her for a
moment. Then she roused herself, and went on to speak of the arrangement
which had been agreed upon between the lawyer and Mr. Montague Jones
about the furniture, and which only needed her signature to be settled.

'Ah, yes, they have been most generous,' began the lawyer; but he
hastened to correct himself when he saw Stella's face stiffen--'fair, I
should say, and anxious to meet your wishes. I think we are fortunate in
falling into their hands, and may safely trust them.' How fortunate, Mr.
Stacey did not dare to say.

'Yes, I think they will take care of our furniture, and they evidently
wish to be friendly, which is more than I do, though Vava seems to have
taken to them,' replied Stella.

'And they to her. Here is the prospectus of that school Mr. Montague
Jones is governor of. He is evidently a little afraid of you and your
stately airs'--here the lawyer's eyes twinkled--'not that he thinks the
less of you for them, quite the contrary. However, to resume, it seems
an excellent school; the teaching staff is first-rate, the building
palatial, and the fees most moderate--two guineas a term. Moreover, as
it is in the City, not far from your own office, you could go there and
back together, which would be a great thing,' explained the lawyer.

He was a busy man, for not only every one in the sleepy little town, but
all round, great and small, came to him for advice, and Stella, knowing
this, was grateful for his interest in her affairs; and on his advice
agreed, if it proved to come up to the prospectus, to send Vava to the
City school. This business being settled, she turned homeward with a
feeling that now she had no more to do with Lomore, and that the sooner
they left it and began their new life in London the better. In fact,
this was practically what Mr. Stacey said: Messrs Baines, Jones & Co.
would like her to begin at her earliest convenience, and the new term
began next Tuesday, and this was Wednesday.

Vava was on the gate when her sister arrived. 'Where have you been? I've
been such a lovely drive with the Montagues--well, never mind their
other name; it's horribly common anyway. I met them up the road, and
they asked if we would come for a run, and we came back to fetch you;
but you had gone to Mr. Stacey's, so I was sure you would not mind;
and--what do you think?--they are going to drive us up to London in
their car!' the girl cried, pouring out the words so fast that her
sister could hardly follow her.

'Drive us to London? Indeed, they are going to do no such thing! I do
not care to accept favours from strangers; and really, Vava, I don't
know what you mean by knowing my affairs before I know them myself. I
don't know when we are going to London yet. Perhaps not for a week or
two, and at any rate not with those people, who may be very kind, but
are not educated; he can't even speak the King's English. No, if we
can't make friends in our own class we will go without.'

Vava looked down at her sister, who stood with one hand on the gate,
looking so stiff and proud that her face, which was really a sweet one,
was almost forbidding. 'All right,' she said, swinging her feet to and
fro in a way that made Stella quite nervous--'all right, then; we'll go
in a stuffy railway-carriage, and have to sit up all night, and I shall
be sick, as I was when we went to Edinburgh; but you won't care as long
as you can stick your head up and look down on people who try to be
friendly and nice to you, just because he says "dy" instead of "day;"
and what does it matter? We pronounce some words quite wrong, according
to the English, and I dare say they'll laugh at us when we go south.
Mrs. M'Ewan said the waiter at the hotel couldn't understand her when
she asked for water.'

Mrs. M'Ewan was a neighbouring laird's wife, and spoke very broad
Scotch.

Stella made no answer to this tirade of her younger sister's, who swung
herself off the gate and walked back to the house with Stella in no
good-humour.

There they found a note from Mrs. Jones, which, to Stella's surprise,
was quite grammatically written, asking whether they would honour them
by occupying two seats in their car when they went back to town. 'My
husband is so taken by your sister, and hearing that the train made her
sick, he ventured to suggest your coming with us. He begs me to say that
he feels under such obligations to you for lending us your beautiful old
furniture and plate--which no money could repay or replace--that he
would be glad if you would accept this attention as a mark of our
gratitude.'

'That will fetch the proud hussy, if anything will. Poor girls, I am
very sorry for them, especially the elder, for she'll have a lot of
humble pie to eat before she's done,' Mr. Montague Jones had said to his
wife; but this remark, needless to say, she did not mention in the
letter. She only added that they were not particular which day they
returned to town, but would go any day that suited Miss Wharton.

Mr. Jones may not have been an educated man--in fact, he would have been
the first to acknowledge it; but he certainly was a tactful man, and
understood managing people, as indeed he well might, for he had managed
a large place of business for many years, and done so successfully, as
his wealth testified.

So, after reading the letter over slowly, Stella turned to her sister
with a half-ashamed smile and said, 'If you like we will go with the
Montague Joneses; but only on one condition, and that is that you
promise not to get too intimate, or to ask me to be friendly with them
in town. They may not want to know us, for we shall be very poor; but I
won't be patronised by any one, and I don't want them to call.'

Vava looked as if she were going to say something, but thought better of
it, and gave the desired promise.



CHAPTER IV.

UPS AND DOWNS.


There was nothing now to keep them at Lomore. Mr. Stacey's clerks had
made an inventory of the contents of the house; David M'Taggart and Mrs.
Morrison had packed their 'young leddies'' personal belongings, part in
boxes to be taken to London, and part locked away in a room in the old
home, of which David M'Taggart had the key, and into which, he solemnly
assured his late young mistresses, no one should enter but himself.

So all that remained for the two orphans to do was to say good-bye to
their friends, which they hurried over as much as possible, for partings
are painful in any case, and it was especially so in this one, and the
most painful was the parting from 'nursie,' as they called Mrs.
Morrison.

'And remember, my bairns, if you are ill or want me at any time, I'm
here and ready to come to you. I've a good bit laid by for a rainy day,
and I've no need to work any more, thank the Lord, and don't mean to
work for any but a Wharton, if he was as rich as Dives; so if ever you
should want a maid who needs no wages I'll be waiting for the call, and
will be with you as fast as the train will take me, for you're like my
own bairns,' said the loyal old servant, who had spent forty of her
fifty-five years of life in the service of the Laird of Lomore, as had
her father and grandfather before her, and was still as hale and hearty
as a woman of thirty.

The two girls clung to her, but could not say a word, and Mr. Montague
Jones, who had brought the car to the house to fetch them, turned his
head away and cleared his throat suspiciously, feeling, as he told his
wife afterwards, like a veritable robber who had stolen their home, and
turned these two helpless and innocent girls adrift in the wide world,
of which they knew nothing.

Mrs. Montague Jones did her best to be pleasant to her companion, who
was Stella, for Vava was sitting beside Mr. Jones and the chauffeur; but
though the girl was perfectly civil, and expressed her gratitude for
their kindness, Stella was so reserved and unresponsive that it is to be
feared that Mrs. Jones did not enjoy her return trip as much as she had
done the one northward to take possession of the coveted property, which
foolish speculations had caused the late Laird to mortgage up to its
full value.

Poor proud Stella, in her innocence it had not occurred to her that she
would be entertained at the best hotels on the way south; nor did she
know that the journey was being made very leisurely, and, to tell the
truth, by rather indirect routes, so that their thoughts might be
distracted, and that they might be shown pretty scenery and interesting
cathedrals and old towns. But there was no getting out of it now.

'Though if I had had any idea of the obligation we were putting
ourselves under I would never have come, not even to prevent your being
train-sick, Vava,' she declared to her sister.

'Then it's a very good thing you did not know; we're having a glorious
time, and what is a few pounds to them? Nothing, as Mr. Montague Jones
says; he is enjoying these sights twice as much for seeing us enjoy
them; though, for that matter, you don't look much as if you were
enjoying yourself, except when we are going over cathedrals, or looking
at some extra-special view, and then, though I say it as shouldn't, your
face is worth looking at,' affirmed Vava.

Stella laughed at the candid flattery, and took a hint from the equally
candid criticism, and tried to be more agreeable to her kind hostess,
with the result that Mrs. Montague Jones was emboldened to ask her if
she would not stay a few days with them in Belgrave Square until they
had found rooms.

But Stella withdrew into her shell at once. 'Oh no, thank you; you are
very kind, but we have the address of some lodgings which Mrs. Monro,
our minister's wife, knows, and they are expecting us.'

They were now at their last stage, and Stella handed Mrs. Monro's card
to Mr. Jones, and on it was written the address. He took it and read it,
and said, 'Vincent Street, Westminster; that's not far from us. We shall
hope to see you sometimes; it's a poky little street, and you'll be glad
to get out of it, though even Belgrave Square will seem sooty and
confined after Lomore.'

It was not as tactful a speech as it might have been, and was received
in such freezing silence by Stella that his wife did not dare to second
the invitation, and the two girls were deposited at their new abode
without any promise of meeting again, as far as Stella was concerned. As
for Vava, she shook hands with Mr. Jones very warmly, and kissed Mrs.
Jones; but neither did she say anything but good-bye, which, truth to
say, she said in such a cheerful tone as to surprise her sister.

But the cheeriness soon subsided at sight of their rooms, for which the
landlady, impressed by the grandeur of their arrival, hastened to
apologise. 'And where all that luggage that arrived yesterday is to go I
don't know; I've no place for it here, miss; so I just told the
railway-man to keep all but these two port-manteaus at their
storerooms,' she added.

'Perhaps that was best,' said Stella quietly. And then, the woman having
taken her departure, she sat down on the bed, a large double one, which
filled up half the dingy room, and looked round the apartment and into
the tiny sitting-room with distaste.

'It's horrid, and--one thing's certain, I won't have that man staring at
me!' cried Vava impulsively, jumping up, and mounting on a chair in
order to take down a large portrait of a stolid-faced policeman.

'Vava, come down and leave it alone! What can you be thinking of? That
is the landlady's husband, no doubt. Mrs. Monro said he was a policeman,
and so we should be safe with him. You will hurt her feelings!' cried
Stella.

'Then let her have him in her own bedroom. How can I sleep with him
looking as if he were going to take me to prison all the time?' said
Vava. However, she did not take 'him' down, but came down herself; and
as the Joneses had thoughtfully had a substantial tea before they
deposited their passengers, the girls decided that they would want
nothing that night but a glass of milk, and went out in the dusk to see
what they could of London, and get out of their close and confined
lodgings.

'It went to my heart, Monty, to leave those two poor girls in that
dreadful place. This world's very unfair somehow,' said Mrs. Jones, as
she and her husband entered their own handsome house.

'And yet you were not too pleased at my offer about the furniture, and
wanted to make me force them to sell it outright,' her husband reminded
her.

'Oh well, business is business; but now that I know those two Misses
Wharton I feel glad the furniture is still theirs, though what good
it'll do them now or ever--unless some duke comes along and marries Miss
Stella for her pretty face--I don't know.'

'The money I pay for hire will do them good'--Mr. Jones was paying fifty
pounds a year--'and it needn't be a duke. I'd not mind her for a
daughter myself.'

'Pray don't put such ideas into Jamie's head; not that she would not be
a good wife, for she's a good girl, but she'd never look at a Jones. And
if that's your plan, I'm sorry she ever came to town, for it will only
upset Jamie. I do hope he won't fall in love with her!' cried Jamie's
mother in alarm.

'Who spoke of Jamie? The girl's up here to earn her living, and has no
idea of love-making, thank goodness! As for Jamie, he's all right, and
can look after himself at his age, I should hope. I only meant that I'd
like as ornamental a wife for him when he reigns up there as I've got to
face me,' said Mr. Montague Jones gallantly. Then in the bustle of
home-coming and the joy of meeting the aforementioned Jamie, the
Whartons were banished as subjects of conversation, although a little
later their name cropped up in connection with their property and other
matters.

The Whartons themselves never mentioned their late hosts. London in the
dusk, with its brilliant lights, its roar of traffic, and its hurrying
crowds, claimed their attention.

'Oh Stella, it's awful--just awful!' cried Vava, clinging to her
sister's arm in alarm.

'See, there is a park in front of us; let us go in there; it will be
quieter,' replied Stella, as she pressed Vava's arm and hurried her over
the crossing into Hyde Park, in which direction they had fortunately
strayed.

Vava drew a great breath of relief as they began to cross the park
diagonally. 'Thank goodness! I can breathe here, and needn't be looking
all the time to see where those horrid, screechy motors are coming to,
tearing along as they do,' she said, quite forgetful of the fact that
she herself had not many hours before been tearing along in one of these
same 'horrid motors.'

It was January, and the air was cold, but the Highland girls did not
mind that, and took such a long walk, turning and twisting in the park,
so as to avoid the streets, that they were tired out when they reached
their lodgings. They slept soundly, and the next morning awoke with more
courage to face their new life. The first thing was to visit the City
school, and this they did together.

'I have heard of you, Miss Wharton,' said Miss Upjohn, the
head-mistress, 'and I hope I shall be able to persuade you to entrust
your sister to us.' She then proceeded to give her visitor a detailed
account of the school, its staff, and its aims. 'Our term begins
to-morrow, and that,' she continued, pointing to a large card on the
table, 'is our motto for the week. We have a new one each week, and this
week, as it is the beginning of the new year, we have taken "Truth and
honour." The school motto is "Love as brethren," and I shall make a
little speech upon it to-morrow morning after prayers.'

Stella listened in her dignified, reserved way, and it was only when she
smiled that the head-mistress understood Mr. Montague Jones's
enthusiastic way of speaking of her.

Vava was more responsive. 'Oh Stella, this is a lovely school! Do let me
come here. And for our gymnastics we wear a red drill-dress--what fun!
And what nice big rooms! I can breathe here!' she cried.

Stella smiled again. 'I don't know what to say; it seems so funny to
take the first school one sees without looking about; but we have no
time to spare. The only thing I am afraid of is, if you will excuse my
saying so, the companions she will find here; it is not a very
aristocratic part of London, and I should not like Vava to mix with the
children I see in this street.'

Miss Upjohn smiled too. 'I understand your feelings; but I can assure
you that though there is a mixture here, as in all big schools--even the
best--our girls do not come from the streets; they come from very good
neighbourhoods. I do not think your sister will come to any harm by
mixing with them, and I will myself take special care of her and let her
sit at lunch with one of our teachers, who dine here in the middle of
the day.'

Miss Wharton did not know that she owed this concession to Mr. Jones's
representations; she did not even know that it was a concession, for she
had been used to a good deal of attention both from her position and her
beauty; but she knew that Miss Upjohn was being very kind and friendly,
and she felt sure her sister would be safe with such a high-principled
woman. So before they left the big, ugly red-brick building, which Mr.
Jones had truly called palatial, it was decided that Vava should go
there the next day and be duly enrolled as a day-scholar at the City
School for Girls.

'And now that all that is comfortably settled, let us go and see the
Tower; it is in the City, so it must be near,' observed Vava.

But she was mistaken; it was not near. However, as they were walking
along--for they were too unused to cities to think it necessary to go
everywhere in buses and trams--Stella gave a little exclamation of
surprise.

'What is it, Stella? What frightened you?' inquired Vava, looking up at
her sister.

'I am not frightened, only surprised. There is the office that I shall
go to every day, quite close to your school, so that I can see you to
your door before I go there. I am so glad,' explained Stella.

'So am I glad, Stella. Now I sha'n't feel lonely, for I don't mind
telling you that I felt just a wee bit frightened at the thought of
being away from you among strangers, and no one I knew anywhere near;
and here you will be quite near me, so that I can run in and see you
whenever I want!' exclaimed the girl.

'Oh but you must not do that; you must not run about the streets alone!
London is not Lomore, you know; besides, you will have no time to pay
visits in school-hours, nor shall I have time to receive them. You must
remember I am only a paid servant to these people,' said Stella, with
proud humility. She then continued, 'I cannot receive visitors as if it
were my own house, though, of course, if anything were really the matter
Miss Upjohn could send for me. It is nice for us both to know we are
only a few minutes' walk from each other.'

Not for many a day did Stella and Vava Wharton know to whose kind
interest they owed this fact, nor to whom they were indebted for many a
privilege, both in the former's office and the latter's school; though
it was to one and the same person. At any rate, this knowledge of their
nearness to each other made their first day in London a happier one than
it would otherwise have been.

The Tower proved as fascinating as it always does to girls who love
history when they see the fortress for the first time, and the sisters
spent a long time in it and its surroundings, and went back to Vincent
Street resigned to, if not content with, their lot, the worst part of
which was their lodgings. Stella felt that the house could never be in
the least a home to them, and was not situated in a nice part for them
to live in, though she did not see what she could do better, with their
limited means and knowledge of London.



CHAPTER V.

THE NEW LIFE.


'But, Stella, you have not to be at your office till ten o'clock! What
will you do with yourself for this half-hour?' asked Vava next morning
as her sister left her at the gates of the City School for Girls five
minutes before school opened, which was half-past nine.

The two sisters had walked together to the City along the Embankment. To
girls used to tramping miles over the moors, the walk was nothing,
though they found that the pavements tired their feet.

'I shall take a walk, or go into a shop and have a bun,' replied Stella,
for on second thoughts she shunned a walk alone through these streets
crowded with men, who looked curiously, though not disrespectfully, at
the tall, slight, beautiful girl, who walked with a leisurely,
unbusiness-like air through the City.

'Yes, go and have a bun, and I will come to the office at half-past
three and wait for you in the sitting-room,' said Vava, who felt for her
sister being stared at so.

'I don't think there will be much of a sitting-room to wait in, Vava;
but when you come to fetch me, just take one of your lesson-books and
read quietly until I come down; and, remember, don't talk to any one,'
Stella admonished her sister.

Vava looked astonished and as if she were going to argue the question;
but the school-bell rang at that moment, and she ran off, turning round
to wave her hand to her sister, who stood watching her until she joined
a group of girls, with whom she seemed to be conversing in a most
friendly way, and not in the least as if it were the first time in her
life that she had ever seen them.

With a sigh, Stella turned away; she could not be like that, she could
not help being stiff and reserved. Vava was quite different, and her
elder sister found herself hoping fearfully that she would not get too
intimate with these 'City girls.' However, she consoled herself with the
thought that it could only be in school-hours, and that even in the
dinner interval she would be with the young teacher who was to take
special care of her, and who, at all events, would be an educated woman.

And then, as she felt somehow that her sauntering walk attracted too
much attention, she turned into a baker's shop, and, addressing the
pleasant-faced woman behind the counter, said, 'May I have a bun,
please, and rest here for half-an-hour until my office opens?'

'Indeed you may, miss, and if you like to step into my parlour you'll
find a fire there; it's no weather to be walking about the streets, and
none too pleasant for a young lady like you, not but what I say if you
show respect to yourself others will show it to you; still, my parlour's
the best place on a day like this,' said the baker's wife; for it was a
cold, frosty January day.

Stella thanked her kindly Samaritan, who little knew how nervous and
miserable her self-contained and dignified visitor felt as she sat
there, nor how reluctantly she rose to go to Baines, Jones & Co.'s
office.

The junior partner of the firm was not often so punctual at his office
as he was on this morning, on which ten o'clock found him sitting in his
private room, much to the perturbation of the clerks, who hurried in at
or just after the hour of ten.

'There's a lady to see you, sir,' said a young clerk, handing him a
card.

'Oh--er, yes; show her into this room,' said the junior partner, with an
embarrassment which amazed the clerk, who forthwith went and informed
his fellow-clerks that the young boss's best girl had called upon him,
and 'he doesn't seem too pleased, though she's handsome enough in all
conscience--a regular beauty, and no mistake, and a cut above him too;
though what she means by running after him to the City goodness knows!'

'There's no knowing what girls will do nowadays,' said a wise youth of
sixteen, who was promptly told to shut up.

But Stella, quite unconscious of these criticisms on her conduct, walked
quietly into the junior partner's room, and, bowing gravely, said, 'I am
Miss Wharton;' and waited for him to speak.

The junior partner rose from his seat and put a chair for her. 'I am
very glad to see you, Miss Wharton. I hope you had a pleasant
run--journey south?'

Stella might almost have been carved in stone as she answered, 'Yes,
thank you. Will you kindly tell me my duties?'

If her employer felt snubbed he did not show it, but told her what he
wanted her to do, and then showed her the room in which she was to work,
which was through the clerks' room. Suddenly a thought seemed to strike
him. 'There is another door to this room, and by it you could come along
the corridor to me when necessary without coming through the clerks'
office; and that is the housekeeper's room opposite. She will make you
tea, and give you hot water or anything you want,' he said, opening a
door on to the corridor.

Stella gravely bowed her thanks. She was grateful for the thought, and
she found her new employer very quiet and civil. When the morning was
over, and she took him his letters, which he was thankful to find
correctly done, he showed his kindness further by saying, 'There is a
ladies' club near here where lady-clerks can go and lunch very
reasonably and comfortably; the housekeeper will show you the way, if
you like. You will find it convenient to stay there till two o'clock;
the City is a dull place for young ladies.'

Stella thanked him again, and took his advice; but when she had left the
room the junior partner got up, stretched his long limbs, for he was a
tall, athletic man, who looked more as if he should have been on a yacht
than in a City office. 'Whew! what an iceberg! And to think that that
imperial beauty is my clerk, and that I have to give her orders from ten
to four, and be repressed and snubbed by her! As if I wanted to take a
liberty! Why, I dare not even mention the weather! Well, so be it; she's
a good typist, and has a good business head for all it's so
pretty.--Well, Mrs. Ryan, what is it? Come in. Did you take Miss Wharton
to the Enterprise Club--isn't that its name?'

'Yes, sir, I did, and right glad she was to be in such a place, so
bright and comfortable, poor, sweet young lady. But I came to ask you,
sir, couldn't she begin at half-past nine and stop at half-past three?'
inquired the kind-hearted Irishwoman, explaining about Vava and her
hours.

'H'm, it would suit her better, no doubt; but I don't know about me. Oh
yes, I could leave her work to do. By all means. Thanks for telling me;
I'll arrange it,' said the junior partner kindly, and added, 'And take
the little sister into your room if we have not quite finished, Mrs.
Ryan; the waiting-room is no place for her, if she is anything like her
sister.'

'The City's no place for either of them, Mr. James; but they could not
have found a better master than you, go where they might,' said the good
woman.

Mr. James laughed; but he did not like to hear himself spoken of as
Stella's master, and thought with a grim smile how angry she would have
been if she had heard the expression.

The clerks meanwhile had a subject for conversation which kept their
tongues wagging in an undertone, to the neglect of their work.

'The new lady-clerk! Who would have believed it? And she gave me her
card for all the world like a duchess.' Here there was a snigger, and
one of his fellow-clerks asked how duchesses gave their cards. And then
the buzz went on, and all were on the _qui vive_ for the door to open;
but, as is known, Stella did not pass through the room again, and the
next time they met her she was with the housekeeper, to whom she was
talking quite pleasantly. So that she could condescend when she liked,
they discovered.

All the same, Stella might have been set down as proud and stuck-up, and
been more unpopular than she was, though that probably would have
troubled her little but for what occurred that afternoon, which, much as
it annoyed her, was a very good thing.

The junior partner, it will be remembered, had had to wait for his
typist while she packed up and took leave of her Highland home, and then
motored leisurely to town, and certain foreign letters had got in
arrears, and the junior partner was anxious to get through them.

Consequently, when Vava called for her sister the latter was very busy.
The girl knew where the office was, but she did not know which door she
ought to knock at; then she saw 'Baines, Jones & Co.--Clerks' Room.' One
of the girls at school had called Stella a 'clerk,' when Vava had said
'secretary,' which sounded better. So at this door the girl knocked, and
in answer to a loud 'Come in!' she entered.

Twenty heads were lifted and looked at her; but Vava was not
self-conscious. She went forward, and with a friendly smile said, 'I
have called for my sister. May I sit here till she is ready?'

'Certainly--that is, yes. Take a seat, miss, till I tell the boss,' said
a youth, stammering rather, for it was awkward to refuse a young lady;
but that was not the place for her to wait.

'No, don't tell any one. Stella said I was not to interrupt her, as
she's only a paid servant like you; so just you go on with your work,
and don't waste your time like the idle apprentice in the tale.'

Vava had not spoken loud, and did not know that her words were overheard
by the whole room; still less was she aware that the young man of about
thirty who had come in while she was speaking was the young boss and her
sister's employer.

The boy to whom she had spoken had his back to him, and answered in
rather an aggrieved tone, 'I'm not wasting my time; I had to answer you,
and I must tell Mr. Jones, for I don't know that he'd like you to wait
here; this isn't the lady's waiting-room, you know!'

'Mr. Jones won't mind,' said that gentleman, coming forward, and adding,
'So you are Miss Wharton's sister?'

'Yes, but I don't want to be in the way; you all seem very busy. Can I
help you? I can write an awfully good hand, just like Stella's; she
taught me, you know,' said Vava.

A smile went round the room; but Mr. Jones said quite gravely, 'That is
very kind of you, and perhaps when we are hard pressed I shall take
advantage of that offer; but your sister has done so much to-day that I
think she will soon be ready for you.'

'Oh are you Mr. Jones?' said Vava, holding out her hand. 'I know some
more Joneses, only they are'----

'Yes, it's a very common name, almost the commonest in England and
Wales--rather a nuisance. But come along with me, and I will take you to
your sister,' he said.

'Good-bye,' said Vava, nodding to the boy she had called the 'idle
apprentice.'

'So the beauty's name is Stella!' observed one of the young men.

But he got no further. 'Shut up, Jim, and don't be such a cad as to take
advantage of that youngster's friendly ways. If ever I hear any of you
making free with Miss Wharton's name he'll regret it,' said the clerk in
charge of the room, and his feelings on the subject were evidently
shared by the rest of his fellow-clerks, for one or two of them said, by
way of agreement, 'Yes, she's a nice little girl; evidently just up from
the country, and not used to this kind of life, and in mourning too.'

So Stella was allowed to come and go, with no more attention or notice
than the raising of their hats as they passed her, and it is to be
doubted whether she could at the end of six months have recognised one
of them if she had been required for any reason to do so.

Mr. Jones meanwhile took Vava into his own room, and sitting down began
to talk to her of her new school and schoolfellows.

'They're all right, and the school is all right, and I like the
mistresses, especially the one that takes my class--she looks so
honest,' announced Vava.

'Don't the others look honest?' inquired Mr. Jones, looking amused. He
had noticed that Vava spoke a little evasively of the school and its
pupils as being 'all right,' which sounded qualified praise, and he was,
or appeared to be, very much interested in her conversation.

'Oh I don't know; I didn't mean anything. I just liked Miss Courteney's
face best, and I shall get to like the girls when I can understand
them.' Here Vava laughed. 'They say some words so funnily;' and she
tried to imitate them.

Mr. James Jones laughed heartily, and Vava, encouraged by him, was
taking off some of her schoolfellows when Stella came to the door. Her
face was a study, and both Mr. Jones and Vava jumped up with the air of
culprits, as if they had been discovered doing wrong.

'I have brought the letters.--Vava, go into the housekeeper's room,
please; you are interrupting Mr. Jones,' said the elder sister, holding
open the door 'like an avenging angel,' as the junior partner afterwards
said.



CHAPTER VI.

IN LONELY LODGINGS.


When the two girls stood outside the door they turned and looked at each
other for a moment, and then without a word Stella led the way down the
corridor to her own little room.

Nothing could have had a greater effect upon Vava, who would far rather
have had a good scolding than this silent disapproval. 'Is this your
sitting-room, Stella? What a nice one, and you have a fire; it has been
rather cold at school,' said the girl in a repressed voice as she spread
out her hands to the blaze.

Then Stella's heart melted. To be sure, Vava had been very disobedient;
she had been told to speak to no one, but to learn her lessons quietly
while she was waiting. Instead of which, Stella--remembering the voices
she had heard in the next room--felt sure she had been talking in her
free way with every one. Still, it was their first day alone in London,
and Vava looked so unlike herself with the joy and brightness gone out
of her face, so she said kindly, if gravely, 'Yes, this is my room, and
another time, please, come straight here, unless I come and call for
you, which would be better, I think, if you do not obey me. But let me
hear about school. I hope they have fires there?'

'Oh yes, but I was sitting near a window, and my feet and hands got cold
with having to sit still so long, I suppose; the girls say they get
chilblains as soon as they come back to school,' replied Vava.

'You must wear mittens and warm house-shoes. But about the school,
Vava--do you like it? Are you glad to go to school?'

'Not much; but, Stella, don't send me away from you. I will do what you
tell me, really; I promise I will, unless I forget. I forgot to-day, or
I would not have talked to any one. I know you're awfully angry with me;
but I think I was a little flustered by all the crowds in the streets,
and I just went into the first room where I saw Baines, Jones & Co.
written!' cried Vava eagerly.

'I understand that you were bewildered; but you must try and remember
that you are not at Lomore, and that you must not make friends without
my leave, or else I shall feel that I cannot take care of you, and that
it's not right to keep you with me,' said Stella.

'Then I shall die in this dreadful place without you,' declared Vava in
tragic tones.

'Vava, something has happened. What is it? What has made you take such a
dislike to London? You liked it well enough yesterday,' exclaimed Stella
anxiously. She had been putting on her hat and coat as she spoke, and
had just said this, when Mrs. Ryan, the housekeeper, came in with a
tray, on which there were two cups of tea and delicious thin bread and
butter and cakes.

'I have brought you a warm cup of tea to keep the cold out on your way
home, and one for this young lady, who is your sister, as is plain to
see. Dear, dear! and to think of you two poor lambs all alone! My dear,
don't be offended with me; but if, as you say, you have no relations or
friends in London, I hope you'll count me as one, and come to me if you
are in any trouble, just as if I were'--a fine tact made the old
Irishwoman say, 'your old housekeeper,' instead of 'your mother.'

Stella held out her hand and smiled. 'Thank you, Mrs. Ryan; indeed you
are a friend, and I will come to you for advice,' she said.

'And, do you know, you remind me a little of nursie, our housekeeper at
Lomore, only she is Scotch; but I can understand your way of speaking,
and that's more than I can the people at school,' Vava remarked, with
such a tone of disgust that the other two laughed.

But Stella looked relieved. 'So that's it, is it? I suppose they laughed
at you for talking with a Scotch accent? I have often told you, Vava,
that you should not copy old Duncan as you did,' protested Stella; for
Vava talked much broader Scotch than Stella, and used words which are
not in use or understood south of the Border.

'They're stupid things, and I don't want to talk like them. Anyway, they
don't pronounce lots of their words right; they say "wat" and "ware" for
"what" and "where;" so of course I got a lot of mistakes in my English
dictation. But I beat them in my French,' she wound up triumphantly.

'You'll soon get used to that, miss, and there isn't a better school in
London than the one you're at; there's no money spared on it, for it's a
rich company that has it, though I don't know exactly why they have it,'
said Mrs. Ryan.

'I do; a rich merchant's wife founded it!' cried Vava, and poured forth
the history of the foundation of the school to her two listeners, till
Stella stopped her.

'Now, Vava, we must not keep Mrs. Ryan.--My sister does not understand
that the City is the place for business, not for paying visits or
amusing one's self; and you might tell her that she must not make
acquaintance with strangers,' said Stella, turning to Mrs. Ryan.

Mrs. Ryan raised her hands in amazement at such imprudence. 'Indeed no.
There was a young girl I knew up from the country, and one day she was
taking her ticket at one of the London stations, and there was rather a
crowd, so, being timid, she stepped back and waited; then who should
come up to her but a gentleman, as she called him, and, taking off his
hat as polite as could be, says, "Can I take your ticket for you, miss?
It's not fit for you to be pushing into a rough crowd like that;" and
she, like the silly she was, thanks him and hands him her purse with all
her week's money in it; and off he goes.' Here Mrs. Ryan ended, and
nodded her head at Vava.

But Vava in her innocence did not understand the moral of the story, and
said simply, 'That was very kind of him?'

'Yes, very kind! But he never got the ticket, and the poor girl never
saw her purse nor the kind gentleman again,' explained Mrs. Ryan.

Vava's eyes were wide with horror. 'What a wicked, cruel man! But
everybody can't be wicked like that!' she cried.

'No, indeed; thank God, there are many good people here; but there are
rogues as well, and as you are too young to know the one from the other
you must not talk to any of them,' Mrs. Ryan said.

The story made Vava very thoughtful. 'I wonder whether Mr. Jones is a
rogue?' she said musingly.

But Mrs. Ryan was scandalised. 'Sakes alive, miss, don't say such a
thing in his own office! He is one of the best and most respected
gentlemen in the City of London, as I well know, having worked for him
and his father this thirty years!' she exclaimed.

'Vava lets her tongue run away with her.--Come, Vava, we really must be
going,' said Stella hastily, and she took her younger sister off with
her.

It was dusk now, but the two enjoyed their walk back along the
Embankment, for it did not occur to them to take a bus or train; three
miles was nothing to them. Moreover, they had had tea, and were in no
hurry to get back to their cramped lodgings. It was well that Vava could
not see her sister's amused smile, which broke out several times on the
way home at the remembrance of the younger girl's suggestion that the
junior partner might be a rogue; and it is to be feared that Stella
would not have been sorry if her employer--whom she suspected unjustly
of thinking a good deal of himself and of wishing to patronise her and
pity her for having 'come down in the world'--had heard Vava's remark.

It might have gratified her if she had known that Mrs. Ryan went
straight to her master and told him the whole story.

Mr. James, as she called him, laughed heartily. 'I'm sure that's what
her elder sister thinks me. Well, it does not much matter, as long as
she does her work as well as she did to-day, so business-like and
correctly--first accurate young woman I have ever met with; and the poor
thing will have a better time here than she would with many firms. You
will be sure to look after her well, Mrs. Ryan? My father is most
particular that she should be comfortable--as comfortable as possible,
that is to say; so be sure and give her tea before she goes, or anything
she wants.'

From which conversation it will be seen that Mr. Stacey had found a good
berth for his young client, and had evidently given her a high
testimonial.

It was six o'clock by the time the girls reached Vincent Street, and
they seated themselves on uncomfortable arm-chairs in front of the smoky
fire, which they lit as soon as they got in. Vava had her lessons to do;
but after their tea-supper, for which the landlady declined to cook
anything but eggs--'London eggs,' as Vava said--Stella looked round for
something to do. There was no piano, she had no books, nor was she fond
of fancy-work, and of useful work she had none, for 'nursie' had always
done most of the mending for her young ladies, though she had taught
them both to work. Before they left home she had set their wardrobes in
thorough order. 'So that you'll not have to trouble about them for a
long while yet; and perhaps, who knows, the Lord may have made a way for
me to come to you before they need looking to again,' the old woman had
said, with some kind of idea that her beautiful young mistress would not
somehow be left by Providence in a position for which she was so
unfitted, in the old housekeeper's opinion.

So now Stella looked round for something to do, and finding nothing,
passed a dreary evening, till Vava had finished preparing her lessons,
and said with a yawn, 'Let's go to bed, Stella. What's the good of
sitting up, staring at this horrid wall-paper with those hideous flowers
that aren't like any flowers that ever grew in a garden?'

Stella gave a sigh, which, in spite of all her resolutions to be brave,
she could not suppress. 'It is not very comfortable here, to be sure;
but I don't know where else to go. There is a large kind of ladies'
residential club near here, but I do not know if we should like it, and
we should have no private sitting-room; so you would have to prepare
your lessons in your bedroom, which I dislike,' she replied.

'Oh that would be horrid; the room would get so hot and stuffy, and we
should not sleep. I wish we could have a little house of our own. I am
sure there must be little houses to let that we could afford, like the
one Dr M'Farlane's sisters lived in at Lomore.'

'We will go and have a look to-morrow on our way home,' said Stella,
smiling. She was glad of something to look forward to besides going to
the City. She had only had one day of it; but she disliked it intensely,
and asked herself how she was to bear her life with nothing but this to
look forward to through the long years. Yet, if she had but known it,
she was extremely fortunate, and her lot was a far better one than it
might have been but for the influence of kind friends.

And so the two tired heads were laid down to rest, intending, in their
ignorance, to look for a small house which they could rent, and which
would be more comfortable and no more expensive than their present
abode. Next day, however, was wet, and they had quite enough walking to
the City and back, and came in at five o'clock, with another long
evening before them, lightened in Stella's case by a book from the
library of her City Club for Lady-Clerks; so that it was not until
Friday that the two girls looked about on their way home for a small
house to let.

Vava, who seemed singularly uncommunicative about her life at school,
was quite eager in the search for this ideal small house, and looked up
each street they passed by to see if there were any prospect of its
being found there.

'I think, Vava, it will be no use looking so near the City. Mrs. Ryan
tells me that rents are very high here; Westminster is a cheaper part,'
said Stella.

'Still, there's no harm in looking, I'm sure. I have seen quite small
houses that can't cost much,' said Vava; and at last she cried out with
delight at sight of quite a small-looking house, jammed between two
large buildings, which bore the words, 'To Let.' It was situated in one
of the narrow streets leading from the Strand to the river.

Stella looked doubtfully at it. 'I think it is larger than it looks,
Vava, and we really only need five or six rooms; and you know we must
not give too much rent, for I do not want to spend all our income,' she
said gravely.

'I'm sure this will be quite cheap. Do let's ask,' said Vava
impatiently.

So urged, Stella rang the bell marked 'Caretaker;' and after a long
wait, a grim and unfriendly-looking man appeared.

'Would you please tell me the rent of this house?' inquired Stella.

'Do you want an office in it?' inquired the caretaker.

'No-o. I wanted to know the rent of the whole house,' said the girl.

The man looked at her curiously; but she looked so grave and dignified
that he concluded that she was sent by some one else. 'Well, the rent's
three hundred pounds on a long lease, you may tell them,' he informed
her.

'Thank you,' said Stella quietly, and turned away.

'Three hundred pounds for that dirty little house! Oh London is a horrid
place, Stella! Let's go back to Lomore!' cried Vava.

Stella wished they could; but her sense of duty came to her aid, and she
said, 'That is quite impossible, Vava; we must stay in London. So the
best thing we can do is to try and be as happy as we can here, and do
our duty. We will live upon as little as we can, and save money, so that
we can go away for our holidays.'

These same holidays, if she had but known it, were a most unusual thing;
for Stella was to have a month in the summer, and ten days at Easter.
And the two began to plan a delightful Easter at the seaside somewhere,
and by the time they got home to their lodgings Vava was quite cheerful
again.



CHAPTER VII.

KIND-HEARTED LONDONERS.


'Oh Stella, it's a mist, a blacky-yellow mist--I mean a fog! How horrid!
What shall I do here all by myself while you are in the City? And how
will you get there? I shall be so frightened all the morning, thinking
you are lost. Can't I come with you? I will sit quite quietly in your
room while you are writing, and perhaps I could help you!' cried Vava on
the second Saturday morning, when she woke up to find London quite dark
and enveloped in a yellow fog.

'I can't take you with me, Vava; it would never do. That is not my room;
it is Messrs Baines & Jones's room. If I brought you there to help me it
would look as if I had too much to do, which is not true,' replied
Stella.

'Then let me stop with Mrs. Ryan. I will do my lessons, and sew that
horrid piece of needlework I have to get done by next sewing-lesson.
Don't leave me in this poky little place by myself,' pleaded Vava.

As a matter of fact, Stella hated these Saturdays, when she had to go to
the City alone, because Vava had no school that day, and to-day she was
really nervous of the fog. So she said doubtfully, 'If you promise to
stop quietly in Mrs. Ryan's room, and not go out of it on any excuse
until I come to fetch you, I will take you, though it is rather
extravagant, for we shall have to go by omnibus.'

'Never mind, it will be my Saturday's treat,' said Vava; and the two set
out for the City.

Mrs. Ryan held up her hands at sight of them. 'There's brave young
ladies! Not one of the young ladies of Philips's downstairs have come
yet, and three of them that live some way off have sent telephone
messages to say it's too thick their way, and they want to be excused.'

'I want to be excused for bringing Vava. She would not be left alone,
and was sure you would not mind her sitting quietly in your room doing
her lessons. I hope you will not mind?' said Stella.

'Mind! Why, I'm only too glad of a bit of company, and Miss Vava's as
welcome as the sunshine would be, for it's what she reminds me of!'
cried Mrs. Ryan heartily.

Mr. James looked up in surprise at sight of Stella. 'Miss Wharton! I did
not expect you to-day; it is one of the worst fogs we have had for
years. I wonder you found your way, as you are not used to London!' he
exclaimed.

'The omnibus took me all the way,' said Stella gravely, and opened her
note-book to take down her instructions; and Mr. James, who very seldom
ventured to make even a remark like that, turned to business; but when
his secretary had gone, and the darkness became thicker still, he looked
uneasily out of the window, and then rang for the housekeeper.

'Mrs. Ryan, the fog is getting worse; I don't think that Miss Wharton
ought to go home alone,' he began, looking disturbed.

'She's not alone, sir, begging your pardon; her little sister is here in
my room,' observed the housekeeper.

The young man looked relieved. 'That's a good thing; she has really got
more sense than the elder one in some ways. But how on earth are they to
get back? I'd offer to take them in my car, only she'd fly down my
throat,' he said with an aggrieved air.

'And begging your pardon again, sir, I think the more of Miss Wharton
for her proper pride; but if I might make so bold as to suggest it, you
might send the motor back for them,' suggested Mrs. Ryan.

'By all means; they're welcome to it as much as they like. I'll tell you
what, Mrs. Ryan, they'll have to stop till it comes back. Suppose you
give them lunch? I'll have it sent in, and you will tell them it's the
custom of the firm. I'd like to give that little girl some pleasure; I'm
sure her life's dull enough. I hear her sister won't let her make
friends with the girls at school, and they don't know a soul else in
London, for she told Miss Upjohn so,' said Mr. James, who talked to Mrs.
Ryan very freely, as she was an old servant of the family.

Mrs. Ryan was only too pleased to do anything for the Misses Wharton, to
whom she had taken a great fancy, and promised to see to the lunch.

Vava sat and learnt her lessons very conscientiously while Mrs. Ryan
went about her duties. After a while Mr. James, who had a message to
give the housekeeper, and probably found time hang heavy on his hands
this morning--for it was not a day for callers--came to the
housekeeper's room.

'Well, and what have you got to say about our English climate?' was his
greeting.

Vava put down her English grammar with relief. 'Nothing good,' she said,
laughing and shaking her head.

'It's like swallowing nasty-tasting flannel, isn't it?' he agreed.

'Yes, and it's getting worse; it was bad enough getting here, and how on
earth we are going to get back nobody knows,' said Vava, as she looked
out of the window at the fog, which got thicker and thicker, and was
enough to frighten any country-bred girl, though Vava would not own it.

'Then I must be "nobody," because I know,' he said.

Vava looked up in surprise, and then guessing that he meant to take them
home, a kindness she knew Stella would not accept, she said, 'We shall
go in a bus, thank you, and I'm not as afraid as you think, for I've
often been out in a mist at home, and they are more dangerous than this,
for they come on suddenly, and you can't see a thing.'

'Mrs. Ryan does not approve of the bus; besides, they do not seem to be
running. So she suggests your going in my car, which will come back for
you after it has taken me home. Will you tell your sister it's the only
thing to do?' asked Mr. James.

It did not strike Vava that the junior partner might have given his own
message to his secretary, and agreed to deliver it; and, as Mrs. Ryan
backed her up, Stella gave way.

'Baines & Jones are a very good firm to work for, and they look after
their people well. After all, why shouldn't they? They're rich enough,
and it's good policy, for they get well served; so you may eat this
lunch quite comfortably, for they say you are the best lady they've had
for a long time; you know French so well, and you write first-rate
business letters. So you've earned your lunch for that, if you hadn't
earned it by coming through such an awful fog to-day,' explained Mrs.
Ryan, as she served lunch for the two sisters.

Mrs. Ryan would not exactly say, as her master told her, that it was the
custom to give lunch; in fact, at sight of the menu she was told to get
she was half-afraid Miss Wharton would refuse it, for chicken and
cherry-tart with cream, followed by coffee and dessert, was rather a
grand lunch to send in for a City clerk.

But Stella in her ignorance supposed it was usual; City dinners always
were rich, like the givers, she knew.

'Isn't this lovely? I wish it would often be a fog; this is better than
going to a stuffy restaurant,' announced Vava; and Mrs. Ryan determined
to tell the kind-hearted giver of the pleasure his lunch had given.

But there was more pleasure to come. In about an hour the motor came
back for them, and they started off very slowly. After a quarter of an
hour they came to a stop, owing to a block at one of the bridges over
the Thames.

'It's funny it should be so thick here; it's lovely a few miles out,'
said the chauffeur, turning to address his passengers.

'How I wish we were a few miles out too, then!' cried Vava impulsively.

The two girls did not see a half-amused look that came into the staid
and respectable man's eyes as he replied, 'Well, miss, I have to take a
run down to Brighton, and if you would let me turn off south over this
bridge I could take you there almost as soon as I could take you home at
the rate we're going, and perhaps by the time we got back it would be
fine again?'

Put like this, it sounded almost a favour to the chauffeur to let him
get his business over first; though, perhaps, if they had had time to
think, Stella at least would have bethought her that Brighton was
slightly out of the way from the City to Westminster!

But Vava's cry of 'Oh do, Stella, do! I should so like to see the sea
again,' settled it.

'There's plenty of rugs there, miss,' said the man, as he turned over
the bridge with the same amused smile, and, as he had said, soon brought
them into a better atmosphere, and finally to Brighton, where the sun
was shining.

'If you'll let me know what time you wish to go back, miss, I'll meet
you wherever you like,' said the chauffeur, touching his hat.

'As soon as your business is done, of course,' said Stella.

'Oh well'--here the man coughed--'yes, of course. Well, my business
won't take long; but I haven't to get back for anything to-day, and my
master said I could stop a bit. But, of course, if you are in a
hurry'----he replied.

Stella looked doubtful, and consulted her watch. It was half-past three;
they had another hour and a half of daylight, and it was very nice by
the sea.

'There's no hurry at all, Stella; there's lots to see and do
here.--You'll want to have some dinner, won't you?' Vava added, turning
to the man.

'I'd be glad to see some friends I've got down here, and they'll look
after me. Would seven o'clock suit you, young ladies?'

Again Stella agreed; but a feeling, which she could not define, that she
was being managed somehow came over her. But she forgot it in the
pleasure of the brisk walk by the sea, the visit to the aquarium, and,
finally, listening to the band on the pier.

'Stella, I've come to the conclusion that we are wrong about London
people,' announced Vava, as they sat in a sheltered corner listening to
the music.

'How, Vava?' asked her sister.

'Nursie always used to say they were hard and selfish and suspicious,
and I find that they are very kind. First there were the Montague
Joneses, and now there's Mrs. Ryan and your Mr. Jones and this
chauffeur, all being as kind as can be,' explained Vava.

'He's not my Mr. Jones,' said Stella sharply, taking up the offensive
words. Then she continued, 'Yes, they are kind; but I do not much like
accepting kindnesses we cannot return.'

'But we do return it by enjoying ourselves and thanking them, and you
heard Mrs. Ryan say that the firm wanted to reward your good work, or,
at least, that was what she meant, and you do work hard, and do overtime
too sometimes; and I am going to knit a Shetland shawl for Mrs. Ryan, so
that will be doing her a kindness in return,' declared Vava.

Stella sighed. 'I wish I were like you, able to enjoy everything, Vava,'
she said half-sadly. To the proud, reserved girl, her present life was
intolerable.

'Oh don't, Stella! Fancy, if you were like me, really! We should get
into all sorts of muddles; besides, people would not be so kind to us!'
she added shrewdly.

Stella refrained from asking her what she meant; for she knew too, and,
funnily enough, resented the attention which her beauty brought her.
However, Vava's words did good; and Stella, whatever she might say, did
enjoy the trip. And she thanked the chauffeur so prettily that the man
was quite captivated.

'I am sure, miss, it's been a pleasure, and I only hope I shall have the
same pleasure again;' and he would have said more, but on the whole he
thought it wiser not to do so.

'This has been the nicest day we have spent since we came to London,'
Vava assured the man, smiling and nodding at him as he respectfully took
his leave.

Stella looked very grave as she put her latch-key into the front-door of
their lodgings. 'I am not sure that it is a wise thing to take these
treats; it only seems to make you dissatisfied with the outings that I
can afford.'

'Indeed it does not, only I liked seeing the sea, and I do love rushing
through the country in a motor; but I enjoyed the Tower very much, and I
shall enjoy the Houses of Parliament next Saturday all the more for
having had a change in between. Besides, it was delightful to get out of
that awful fog; we could not have done anything to-day if we had stayed
in London except sit in this little room with the gas lit. It was kind
of Mr. James.'

'Yes,' agreed Stella; but she did not think it necessary to tell Vava
that she was not going to accept such kindnesses in future, however much
Mrs. Ryan might say it was 'the custom of the firm.'



CHAPTER VIII.

GOOD MANNERS.


'Do you think you can walk to school by yourself this morning, Vava?'
inquired Stella a little doubtfully as they stood at the parting of
their ways one week-day morning in the City. Stella had always walked to
the school-gates with her younger sister; but to-day she had work
waiting her at the office, and she was anxious to get there early.

'Of course I can; I'm the only girl in the whole school who is taken to
school like a kindergarten child, and some of them even come quite alone
without their nurses or any grown-up person!' cried Vava, airing what
was rather a grievance with her.

Stella put on her most dignified air. 'Very possibly; but I do not wish
to be taught manners by your schoolfellows or their parents. That class
of person does not go in for chaperons,' she said in her clear voice.

'Oh Stella!' cried Vava, flushing crimson and looking very vexed.

'What is the matter, Vava?' exclaimed Stella in astonishment.

'That was one of the girls in my form, and she heard you!' protested
Vava.

Stella looked as vexed as Vava; she would not for worlds hurt any one's
feelings willingly, and she knew too that she ought not to have said
what she did; but pride was Stella's besetting sin, and she hated having
to mix with people whom she considered her inferiors, and her present
life and surroundings only made her prouder.

'I am sorry; I forgot we were so near the school. Perhaps she did not
understand me. You say the girls find your Scotch accent difficult to
follow?' suggested the girl.

'Well, good-bye,' said Vava; and went off one way, while Stella turned
down the street leading to her office without further comment.

When she had left her sister, Stella thought no more of her unfortunate
speech. It had been unwise; but, after all, it was quite true. And if
the girl had overheard it all, the worst she could think was that Vava's
sister was proud, and that she thought herself superior to the pupils of
the City School for Girls, which last, Stella privately thought, they
could see for themselves.

But Vava did not forget it, and looked very gloomy as she walked along,
her eyes looking straight in front of her, not seeing any one.

'Hallo, Vava Wharton! Where are you--in the moon, wool-gathering?'
inquired a hearty voice beside her, and a rather stout, common-looking
girl, who, however, was nicely dressed and had a pleasant face, patted
her on the back.

'Oh Doreen! you startled me. I was thinking!' ejaculated Vava.

'Not very pleasant thoughts, by the look of you,' said Doreen, with a
sharp look at Vava's grave face.

'No, they were not,' admitted Vava.

'What's the row? Not any trouble at home, I hope?' asked the girl
kindly, and her rough, boisterous voice grew quite gentle.

'I have no home,' said Vava.

'I'm sorry; but you have a sister, and, I say, isn't she a beauty?
You're lucky to have her; I have no sister. If it's anything I can help
about you may as well tell me; come, out with it. You'll be in the dumps
all day if you've got it on your mind. Is it the lessons?'

'No, it's nothing to do with school; at least--well, it's something my
sister said about school just now that is bothering me.'

'Doesn't she think you are getting on well, or working hard enough?
Because, if that is all, you just introduce me to her to-morrow morning,
and let me talk to her, and I'll soon teach her different,' said the
girl cheerfully.

Vava thought to herself that Doreen would not have made this suggestion
if she had overheard Stella's opinion of her schoolfellows, and she felt
that, kind though she was, Doreen was the last girl she would like to
introduce to her sister. 'It was just a stupid remark my sister made
about the manners at school,' explained Vava.

'The manners at school? Why, we're supposed to have very good manners!
I'm sure we're always being drilled in good manners by Miss Upjohn, and
the inspectors and visitors always say there's such a good tone among
the girls!' exclaimed Doreen, and she looked at Vava as if she suspected
her of having taken some tales to her sister, or made some complaint
about them. Then as Vava did not answer, for she could not very well
explain the true facts of the case, Doreen went on, 'I suppose you think
we are not too civil to you about your Scotch accent; but, if we
laughed, we didn't mean it unkindly. It's no use being too thin-skinned
in this world. I should think your sister was rather too delicate for
roughing it in London; she looks as if she ought to be a duchess, not a
City clerk.'

'That's just it!' burst forth Vava impulsively.

'Is that what's bothering you? Well, I shouldn't worry about that. Some
rich man will come along and marry her before long, you'll see; she's
far too pretty to remain single. But,' she added, as a thought struck
her, 'why did you first say it was our bad manners that upset you, and
then that it was your sister being a clerk?'

Then Vava told the whole story, adding, 'I hope you are not offended?
Stella only meant'----

'She only meant that you are a cut above the rest of us, and it's quite
true, and of course we know that. Why, the first day you came in with
her we thought it was some grand visitor coming. I'm sorry Rosie Brown
overheard it; she can be nasty when she likes, and she considers herself
some one too, for her father is an alderman. Anyway, I'm glad you've
told me, and I'll tackle her if she says anything,' declared Doreen, not
letting Vava finish her apology.

'Oh I hope she won't; the girls will be so annoyed!' cried Vava in a
fright.

'It's not your fault; they won't blame you; I'm sure you're pleasant and
friendly enough with them all. Anyhow, as I said before, I'll give them
a piece of my mind if they say anything, and I'll be your friend if
you'll let me. Of course, I know you are a lady and I'm not, and I don't
talk good grammar and you do, though you roll your "r's" and say
"w_h_at" in a funny way; but I'd like to talk better if you'll learn me.
You see, I am to be a teacher one day, and it'll stand in my way, and
father says a good education is a fortune,' answered Doreen.

'I'll teach you, not "learn" you, if I can; for our governess did teach
us grammar, and our father was very particular how we spoke, so I
suppose we do speak better than a great many girls,' said Vava, laughing
and looking quite bright again.

'And we'll be chums?' demanded the girl.

'Yes, if you like,' agreed Vava, not seeing very well how she was to get
out of it, but wondering what Stella would say to her choice of a
friend. As they entered the playground she saw Rosie Brown the centre of
a little group of girls, who looked up as she came in, and then looked
away again, without nodding good-morning as usual.

Vava's heart sank; but Doreen said in her loud cheery voice, 'Hallo, you
there! What are you all confabbing about so mysteriously? Nice manners
that!' she wound up purposely.

'Oh we can't all have the manners of your friend Lady Clara Vere de
Vere! I wonder she condescends to talk to you or come to our school at
all with the people of our class,' said one of the girls.

Vava's colour rose, but she walked on without taking the least notice of
what was said.

Not so, Doreen. She stopped in front of them, and demanded loudly, 'What
do you mean by that? I have no titled friend, because I'm only a
tradesman's daughter, and very proud of the fact, for he earned every
penny he's got honestly, which is more than you can say of some grand
people.'

'We don't mean anything to do with you, Doreen; you don't give yourself
airs or despise us; but if you knew what Vava Wharton thinks of you, you
wouldn't walk with her!' said Rosie Brown.

'Wouldn't I? Well, I just should, then, for she's my chum, and any one
who speaks against her speaks against me. And, pray, how do you know
what she thinks of me? Has she been telling you?' inquired Doreen,
standing square and uncompromising before the angry group.

'She thinks you're no class, as she does the rest of us,' said Rosie
Brown.

Doreen turned on her. 'Does she? She's never shown any signs of it. No
one could be nicer and more friendly than Vava Wharton has been ever
since she has been here, and I shouldn't have thought she was one to go
behind my back and say I was no class, especially to you, Rosie. Anyway,
I've a right to know what she said about me,' demanded Doreen, who knew
very well what Rosie meant, and that she was putting her in an awkward
position.

'If she didn't, that stuck-up sister of hers did,' said Rosie sulkily.

'Well, I shouldn't call her stuck-up after she has been talking to you,'
observed Doreen sarcastically.

'_She_ talk to me! She wouldn't demean herself by addressing a word to
any one under a duke. I happened to overhear a remark she made,' said
Rosie, falling into the trap.

'And you repeated a private remark that you listened to? That's nice and
honourable, anyway. I wonder what Miss Upjohn would say if she heard of
it? But you mind one thing, all of you--if you choose to take any notice
of anything heard by eavesdropping, you can. I call it playing it low
down; but you're not going to annoy Vava Wharton, who is not to blame
one bit, and if you do I'll just go straight to the head-mistress and
tell her, and we'll see what she says about honour,' announced Doreen.
Having said so, she turned on her heel and followed Vava into the
cloak-room, leaving the little group of girls--to whom she had given 'a
piece of her mind,' as she called it--looking rather crestfallen.

'All the same, she does consider herself better than us, or why does she
say good-bye so quickly if she sees her sister, and sit next a mistress
at lunch?' inquired Rosie.

'It's a free country, I suppose she can do as she likes. I believe she
told me she had come from a lonely part of Scotland, and wasn't used to
living in a great city, and that crowds rather frightened her,' observed
a girl who looked rather ashamed of having listened to this
tittle-tattle.

'It's all right. I've shut her up, mean eavesdropper, and made them all
feel ashamed of themselves; so don't you worry about it any more,'
Doreen whispered to Vava, as she took off her boots and put on
school-shoes.

'Oh thank you,' was all Vava said, and she felt very grateful and
friendly toward Doreen; but during the day she found herself wondering
what Stella would say to this new friend, for she was sure Doreen would
expect to be introduced to Stella if they met on the way to school,
which they were pretty sure to do. And, grateful as she was to Doreen
for her championship, she found herself wishing that the girl was a
little more refined. However, Vava was no snob, and she determined to
face facts and tell Stella she must be friends with Doreen, and so she
did.

Stella heard her without making any remark, until Vava said, 'And, of
course, you need not speak to her if she comes up to us in the street;
she's sure to do that, because she has not very good manners.'

'She has very good principles and a good heart, which are more
important, and I shall certainly stop and thank her for being so kind to
you this morning,' remarked Stella.

Vava was so surprised that she stared at Stella. 'But--but she's not a
lady, Stella, and she talks dreadful grammar sometimes; but she asked me
to correct her, so she is trying to improve,' Vava observed.

'I don't suppose you will learn bad grammar from her, and as you only
see her in school you will not be too much in her company.'

All the same, Vava was glad the next morning that they did not meet
Doreen, and sorry the morning after when they did. To her surprise,
Doreen only nodded when she caught sight of them, and walked on the
other side of the street.

'Who is that, Vava?' inquired Stella, seeing her nod to some one.

'That is Doreen,' replied Vava.

'Tell her to come and speak to me; I should like to know her,' announced
Stella.

Vava ran across to Doreen, and gave Stella's message.

'Does she really? May I really?' stammered Doreen, quite flustered.

'Yes, of course; she's not a bit stiff when you know her,' Vava assured
her, for she guessed that Doreen was a little afraid of the stately lady
in black.

But Stella gave her lovely smile, and Doreen forgot her fears as she
gazed in frank admiration at Miss Wharton, who said, 'Thank you for
being so nice to Vava yesterday. I ought not to have said what I did,
for, after all, you showed better manners than I.'

'Oh but I didn't. I'd love to have manners like you; and father said,
when I told him last night, that it was only a natural remark, and that
people would always be divided into classes as long as the world lasted,
and that it was very hard on you having to come down from your class and
mix with us; but that you'd find we'd a lot of good in us, though we had
no manners,' cried Doreen eagerly.

'I am sure of it,' said Stella, who did not seem to mind the girl's
plain speaking.

Doreen looked at Stella suddenly, and gave a great sigh. She was quite
at ease with her, Vava noticed with surprise, and with still greater
surprise that Stella seemed to like her and not to notice her rough
speech. 'Well, what was that sigh for?' Stella asked, smiling.

'You are so beautiful,' said Doreen bluntly.

Stella coloured a little, and laughed as she said, 'I am glad you think
so; I don't think I am very different from other girls.' And then they
said good-bye to each other.

'She is as different as chalk from cheese!' cried Doreen
enthusiastically to Vava.

'I don't think she's proud of being pretty; she never seems to notice
that,' said Vava; and she went into school much happier than she had
felt the day before, and relieved to think that she might make friends
with Doreen, whose fine character made her rather popular at school.



CHAPTER IX.

THE ENTERPRISE CLUB.


In one of the City of London's busiest thoroughfares, among the numerous
plates bearing the names and callings of the occupants of the different
chambers or offices in a certain big building, is a small plate with the
words 'Enterprise Club.' That is all the outward sign of the fact that
the only ladies' club in the City, a veritable haven of refuge for
lady-clerks and secretaries, has its quarters here.

It was here that Stella sat one lunch-time, looking so worried that a
ladylike-looking girl, to whom she had spoken once or twice, asked her
if she had a headache.

'No, no, thank you; I am quite well,' replied Stella, her brows still
knitted.

The girls at the Enterprise contented themselves with a nod of the head,
or a 'Good-morning,' to Stella, whom they put down as proud and
stuck-up. But this girl had gone a little farther, and had even elicited
the fact that she had a younger sister; and to-day, seeing Miss Wharton
look so grave, it occurred to her that it might be something connected
with this younger sister that was troubling her, and she asked, 'Is your
sister quite well? I have never seen her here. Doesn't she ever come?'

'My sister? No, she is not a member; she is only a schoolgirl. I did not
think it would be allowed,' said Stella.

'She could come as a visitor, and I am sure if you asked the secretary
she would make an exception and allow her to join. It would be so nice
if she could stay and play cards or dominoes after office hours on these
cold winter afternoons,' suggested the girl.

Stella's face brightened up so wonderfully that her companion guessed
that this was the difficulty. 'If she could, I should be so glad; she is
very good, but she feels the dullness of life in lodgings, and I am
beginning to be quite anxious about her. She would like to come here
sometimes, I am sure.'

'Then let us ask the secretary at once, and she can come this evening,'
suggested the good-natured girl.

The secretary gave a ready consent, and that afternoon, instead of going
straight home, Vava was brought into the Enterprise Club, and sank with
a little exclamation of pleasure into one of the comfortable
easy-chairs, and looked round the tastefully furnished room. She was
soon invited to play a game of draughts by one of the younger girls, for
Vava did not inspire awe as Stella did.

'If next Saturday is wet or horrid like last Saturday, I shall ask
Stella to bring me here,' Vava announced, as she moved one of her 'men.'

'On Saturday! I should have thought you would want to get away from the
City as soon as possible! I should, I know,' said the other.

'But you are staying this evening,' Vava pointed out.

'That is because my chum Amy is working late; I always wait for her
rather than go home alone; but on Saturdays we generally go for a long
bicycle ride or something, to get some fresh air and fresh ideas,'
announced the girl, hopping over two of Vava's 'men.'

'I wish I rode a bicycle; but we always rode horses in Scotland--at
least Stella did; I had a pony,' explained Vava.

'This must be a change for you!' cried the other; but said no more, for
the game absorbed her attention.

But the result of this conversation was that, the next Saturday being
wet, Vava's opponent suddenly said to her chum, 'Amy, we can't cycle
to-day; suppose we lunch at the Enterprise, and have some games with
those two new girls in mourning?'

'Oh the Misses Wharton? Have you fallen in love with the beautiful Miss
Wharton too?' replied the girl called Amy.

'Is that their name? But it isn't Miss Wharton I am thinking of; it's
her younger sister. Fancy, they have been used to riding their own
horses, and now they walk to the City and back! She wants to stay at the
Enterprise on Saturday, so they can't have very nice "diggings,"'
replied her companion.

'It's not a bad place to spend a wet afternoon in; so, if you like, we
will lunch there; it's just as comfortable as Bleak House,' replied Amy.

'Yes, but one gets tired of living in a crowd. Oh how I wish we could
afford a cottage in the country!' said the younger girl.

'But we cannot, Eva; so let us try to be contented with our lot,'
replied Amy.

By way of showing her content, Eva grumbled loudly at it to Vava. The
four were sitting at the same table, having lunch, and she found only
too willing a listener in Vava Wharton to sympathise with her.

'Cheer up, Eva; things might be worse. Here we are sitting on a wet and
bitterly cold afternoon in a pleasant, warm room, in comfortable chairs,
surrounded by newspapers, magazines, and fashion papers! What more could
you have if you were a fashionable young lady?' inquired her chum Amy.

'I could have this room as my own, and money to spend on the fashions I
look at, and somewhere to show them off better than a stuffy office or
Bleak House,' retorted Eva.

'Bleak House! That is the name of one of Dickens's books!' exclaimed
Vava.

'It is the name of a large hostel or boarding-house for ladies who earn
their own living, where Eva and I live, and it is really quite
comfortable, only that it is not home,' said Amy, and she looked
sympathetically at Eva, who was only sixteen, and had begun early to
work for her daily bread.

There was silence for a moment, and the four young faces looked as grave
as if they had the cares of the world upon their shoulders.

Suddenly Eva broke out, 'I wouldn't mind if I had something different to
look forward to; but to think of going on for years the same dull grind
and back to the same crowd of girls, who can talk of nothing but their
office or else roller-skating; and Amy does not approve of going out to
amusements every evening.'

'We wanted to take a house, but it is too expensive, and the one we
looked at was dreadfully dear, although it had no garden. Oh how I would
love a house with a garden! Some of the girls at school have gardens,
and even greenhouses, for they bring leaves and flowers to school for
our painting and botany lessons, and yet they are not rich,' observed
Vava.

'All houses are not dear. Girls! I have an idea; let's take a house
between us--the four of us!' cried Eva suddenly.

Stella looked up, startled at this abrupt suggestion; but Eva's chum
Amy, who was used to her ways, only smiled, and said jestingly, 'Where
do you mean to take a house, and how would you furnish it?'

'In the suburbs; and as for furnishing, we could do that on the
hire-system. It shall have a garden and a lawn and a tree--I must have a
tree; it's so ideal to sit and have tea in the garden under a tree, or
read a book in a canvas-chair on a summer's day,' replied Eva.

'I don't care for the hire-system, and houses with gardens and lawns and
trees are not to be found in London. I am afraid we must wait until we
are old ladies, and can retire on our savings and live in some little
country village,' said Amy, laying her hand upon Eva's and smiling at
her.

Possibly the conversation would have ended here but for Vava, and
something that she said. 'But couldn't we have a little house in an
unfashionable part? All the girls at school have houses or flats of
their own; it would be so nice to have a home.'

'So we will have a home. Why shouldn't we? Lots of families live on two
hundred pounds a year, and that would be a pound a week each. Why, the
Smiths are a family of five, and they have only about two hundred, and
they have a garden and an arbour covered with ivy and creepers and
things!' cried Eva.

'Oh where is that?' asked Vava eagerly, her eyes shining.

'My dear Eva!' protested Amy, looking apologetically at Stella, who was
very grave and silent.

'Well, what is the matter?' demanded Eva.

'You do talk such nonsense. How can four people, who are strangers to
each other, suddenly take a house and live together? Why, we do not even
know each other's names!' said Amy, laughing.

'My name is Eva Barnes, and this is my greatest and best friend, Amy
Overall,' said Eva promptly; and then, turning to Vava, she added,
'Let's talk it over by ourselves; old people are always cautious,' and
she and Vava began to talk in low tones. Presently Eva took out a pencil
and note-book, and began making elaborate calculations.

The two 'elders' smiled at them. They were not more than twenty-one and
twenty-four respectively; but they let the younger ones whisper nonsense
together, while they talked of books; and Stella found that Amy Overall
had read the same sort of books that she had, which surprised her, for
hers had been chosen for her by her literary father.

'My father was a professor at Cambridge, and that is why I have read
these books,' explained Amy, delighted to find some one whose tastes
were congenial; in fact, it is to be doubted which of the two was most
pleased.

They were so interested in discussing a certain author that they took
little notice of the other two. Every now and then a low laugh told them
that the two younger girls were enjoying themselves as much as the 'old
people,' as they called their elders.

'Now,' cried Eva, 'let us lay a statement of accounts before them!'

The elders stopped in their conversation, and looked at Eva and Vava,
whose faces were flushed with excitement, and whose eyes were dancing as
Stella had not seen Vava's dance since she left Lomore, not even on
their motor drive.

Amy took the sheet of paper Eva handed her, saying, 'Eva is a great
mathematician; she takes after her father.'

'Barnes! Did he write an arithmetic?' inquired Vava; and when Eva
nodded, she added, 'Why, I use it at school!'

'What accounts have you been making out?' asked Stella in a friendly
tone, for this last fact seemed a link between them as the daughters of
literary men.

'Our new house and its expenses,' announced Vava.

Amy looked half-fearfully at Stella, for she thought she would be
annoyed at the girl's persistence; but, to her surprise, Stella read the
paper through with apparent interest.

'Rent, £34; taxes, £12; food, £90; firing and gas, £20; servant, £12;
washing, £12, extras, £20--total, £200,' she read out.

'That's only the summary of it; here are the details. We have made out a
menu for a week and washing for four people and household linen,'
explained Eva.

'It is a step which requires consideration; we might not care for each
other's company on closer acquaintance,' said Stella.

But Vava interrupted impulsively, 'We have arranged for that; we would
have two sitting-rooms, and only come together when we liked; and,
anyway, they couldn't be as disagreeable as our landlady. Fancy, she
won't cook in the evenings, and she always wants to know if we are not
going out to friends on Sunday, and it makes us feel as if we ought to
go somewhere out of her way.'

Stella did not quite like Vava's frankness. Seeing which, Amy hastened
to say, 'That was our experience in lodgings, and one of the reasons we
gave them up. It is very difficult to know what to do; but at Bleak
House we have not that difficulty. I should like you to see it. Would
you'--here she hesitated and coloured--'would you and your sister give
us the pleasure of your company to-morrow? We are so many that a few
more make no difference, and we are encouraged to bring our friends.'

It would have been difficult to refuse an invitation so diffidently
given; besides, Stella liked Amy Overall, and Vava's eyes were begging
her to say 'Yes,' and she did so, and was rewarded by the evident
pleasure which she had given every one.

'Stella, couldn't we do it, don't you think?' pleaded Vava on the way
home.

'Take a house, do you mean? I don't know, Vava; we may some day--who
knows?--but not yet awhile,' replied Stella, who was anxious not to damp
her sister's delight in these castles in the air.

'If you only knew how horrid it is to hear the other girls talking of
going home; they have all got homes but me,' said Vava wistfully.

Stella tried to comfort her, and began to talk of their visit next day,
and of how they could get there after church, and Vava cheered up at the
thought of a day with Eva, who was so little older than she that they
got on very well together.

Amy meanwhile was taking Eva to task. 'You surely were not serious; and,
if not, do you think it was kind to raise hopes and put ideas which can
never be realised into that child's head?' she demanded severely.

'I was quite serious; it was a sudden inspiration, and, mark my words,
it will be realised!' declared Eva.

'Not by me; I am not going to run into all sorts of expenses which a
house always entails,' said Amy.

'Now, isn't that funny? It is always the unexpected that happens; one
would have expected the cautious Scotch Miss Wharton to be the one to
make objections, whereas she is inclined to risk it--I could see that in
the corner of her eye--and you are the timid one,' declared Eva.

'On the contrary, Miss Wharton was only too polite to crush you. When
she says she's ready to take a house with us I shall certainly be ready
to agree,' replied Amy Overall, feeling certain that she would not be
asked to do so.

'All right; that's a promise of which I shall remind you before long,
you will see,' said Eva; and then talked of the morrow and what they
should do with their visitors.



CHAPTER X.

BLEAK HOUSE HOSTEL.


'What are we going to do with those two girls to-day, Amy?' demanded Eva
at breakfast, which, being Sunday, they were having late.

'Entertain them,' responded Amy.

'Don't be tiresome; you know quite well what I mean. What are we to do
to entertain them? They will get here at half-past twelve, after they
have been to church. We can't go to church in the afternoon; besides, we
don't know what kind of church they go to, and dinner can't last longer
than a quarter to two, because the servants like to have the tables all
cleared by two o'clock, and I suppose they won't go away till after tea
at four o'clock,' argued Eva.

'I hope they won't go away until after supper. I want them to have a
nice day; they are very lonely, Eva. You know what we felt like when we
first came to town, and how we determined we would always be friendly to
other lonely girls from the country, and I thought you liked the Misses
Wharton so much that you wanted to live with them!' cried Amy Overall in
surprise at this change of front.

'That's just it, I do want to live with them; at least I want to have a
house to myself again.'

'A house to yourself! Is that your latest? That is more ridiculous than
your last idea, and still less likely to come about,' said Amy.

'It is the same idea. I call it "to myself," with only three others in
it, especially when I am part-owner; and the reason I don't want the
Whartons to stay too long to-day is for fear that they should be bored,
and find that we are not their sort, and not want to take a house with
us after all,' explained Eva.

'Well, really, Eva, your way of looking at things does surprise me
sometimes; and I hope you won't be angry, but it does not always seem to
me to be quite straight.'

'What isn't quite straight?' demanded Eva, flushing up.

Amy was a little slow in expressing herself; but she said hesitatingly,
'I mean that it would be honest, in my opinion, to face facts, and if we
were likely to bore each other to find it out before we entered upon a
plan which would throw us together for a great many Sundays as well as
other days.'

'That is quite a different thing. We shall not have to entertain each
other for a whole day; we shall go our own ways, and read books, or
write letters; but we can't ask the Misses Wharton to read books to-day,
and one can't talk for hours together--at least I can't; perhaps you
can, as you are so very righteous,' retorted Eva, who was annoyed.

'I thought we might go to a picture-gallery after dinner, and then come
back for tea and a talk, and there is always some nice music here in the
evening,' suggested Amy, taking no notice of Eva's last remark.

Eva recovered her temper as quickly as she lost it. 'That will be a good
plan; but--they are Scotch, and I don't believe they allow music on
Sundays,' she suddenly bethought herself.

'You are thinking of that story we read the other day. Those were strict
people; I don't believe the Whartons are like that.' But she looked
rather doubtful.

Eva smiled wickedly. 'So perhaps, after all, we shall have to talk all
the time.'

'I don't think Miss Wharton and I will get tired of each other, even if
such a dreadful thing happened as our being obliged to entertain each
other for a few hours,' said Amy calmly.

But when the Whartons came it turned out that they had no objection to
music nor to a picture-gallery, provided they had been to church first.

Vava and Eva paired off, and the latter began at once, 'Tell me, are you
as sick of lodgings as ever?'

'Yes, of course; I should never like them. But why do you ask?' demanded
Vava, who looked so pretty in her prettily made Sunday-frock that Eva
was more than ever attracted to her.

'Because Amy and I have decided that we are quite ready if you two are,'
said Eva.

Vava flushed with pleasure. 'Really? Then Miss Overall doesn't think it
a mad idea? Stella did not believe you were serious, or that Miss
Overall would like it; but if she does I shouldn't wonder if Stella
would agree to doing it. She said it might be possible some day; but not
yet, of course.'

'Some day may mean years hence, when we are all dead, or too old to
enjoy a garden of our own. Just fancy sowing flower-seeds and watching
them growing every day, and having our own vegetables! We could have
salad every evening in the summer, and lettuces freshly picked from a
dear little bed!' urged Eva.

Vava listened with growing enthusiasm. 'It would be almost like home
again. I have grown radishes in my little garden, because nursie liked
them for tea. If only nursie were with us I should be quite happy, I
think!' she exclaimed.

The two younger girls were in Eva's little bedroom, taking off Vava's
outdoor things, a process which they had prolonged so as to talk
confidentially together. Stella Wharton and Amy Overall, on the
contrary, had long since gone down to the big drawing-room, where about
thirty girls of various ages were sitting about, reading or talking.

It seemed to Stella, who was not used to crowds, that the babel was
terrific, and Amy, seeing this, rose, saying, 'If you don't mind staying
here alone for a few minutes I will ask the housekeeper to let us have a
private sitting-room for an hour or so? We can talk better there.'

Amy had arranged for the private sitting-room, and was just going to
tell Vava and Eva that there was no need for them to sit in a cold
bedroom, when Eva appeared in the passage.

'I was just coming to you, Amy. I want to speak to you alone for a
moment,' said Eva hurriedly, taking her friend's arm; and, turning back
with her to the latter's room, she added, 'What do you think, Amy, the
Whartons are quite ready to start housekeeping if only you will, and as
they are cautious Scotch people it's sure to be all right!'

'Who told you that, Eva? You mean that Vava is quite ready, don't you? I
can scarcely believe that Miss Wharton, who really seems a very
thoughtful, serious person, has said she is ready to start a house with
strangers. It seems incredible!' objected Amy, and she looked rather
curiously at Eva.

'There's nothing so incredible in wanting to live in a house instead of
horrid lodgings. They are miserable where they are, and jump at the
thought of making other arrangements, which they can only do if you chum
with them. And, after all, what's all the fuss and caution about? What
is there so very serious in taking a little house for a year? Of course
we may get tired of it and each other, though I don't think that likely;
but twelve months is not so long to put up with what we don't like, and,
anyway, it will be great fun at first. What is your objection now?'
demanded Eva, who poured out all this eloquence so rapidly and
energetically as to overwhelm the slow-thinking Amy.

'It's--it's not such a light or easy matter, Eva. There are the weekly
bills to be thought of, and the furnishing, and the rent, and a servant,
and--oh! a hundred things,' wound up the elder girl, with knitted brows.

'The weekly bills won't come to more than we can pay weekly, and as for
a servant--what do we want with one? We will each do our own room before
we start, and we are out all day, and only sleep there, except on
Saturday and Sunday; and then, among the four of us, surely we can
manage a little house. We will lead the simple life; every one is
talking about the simple life, and how one goes in for too many luxuries
and is over-civilised, and we will just go back to primitive ways. Now,
Amy, be a Christian and say "Yes." You are always telling me that one
must be self-sacrificing in this world; sacrifice yourself, and make
those two lonely girls happy, to say nothing of me, who am stifled in
this crowded barracks of a place,' declared Eva.

Eva did not look very stifled, and in justice to the ladies' hostel it
should be stated that it was not in the least crowded or stifling; this
was a mere figure of speech on Eva's part, who, as will have been seen,
was apt to turn things round to suit herself. She was only sixteen; very
young to be thrown upon the world and her own resources. With the
exception of Amy, she was unfortunately not under very good influences,
and when she wanted to believe a thing was true she generally managed to
do so, and though she would have scorned to tell a lie she made things
appear to be what she wished them to be. At any rate, she managed to
deceive both Vava and Amy, and make each of them believe that consent
had been given on both sides; and, as unfortunately often happened, she
succeeded in getting her own way.

However, for the moment there was no talk about future plans; it would
not have been possible in the public dining-room, and almost immediately
after early dinner the four went off to the Tate Gallery, and the talk
turned upon pictures, and Eva noticed with satisfaction that the elders
were getting on famously.

'Do you know what I have been thinking?' inquired Eva of Vava.

They were standing before a picture by Burne-Jones as she said this.
Vava replied promptly, 'I don't know, unless it is that the ladies in
this picture have all got the same mouths.'

'Oh the picture! I wasn't thinking about it at all; I don't care very
much for art. Amy does, and she is always dragging me here with her, so
that I know them all by heart, and am quite sick of them. No, what I was
thinking was that those two are getting on A1, and that it's all
providential!' announced Eva.

Vava looked puzzled for a minute, and then laughed as she said, 'You
mean that it is providential that they like one another? Then, I
suppose, it's providential that we get on together, or that any one ever
likes any one else?'

'I mean that, as we want to live together, it's a good thing we suit
each other,' replied Eva.

'Oh but that may not be for a long time; still, we can be friends, can't
we?' asked Vava.

'Yes, but why need it be a long time? Your sister is quite ready; so is
Amy'----she began.

But Vava interrupted her in surprise. 'Stella quite ready! To take a
house with you, do you mean? Oh is she really?'

'Why, of course she is! Didn't you tell me so?' cried Eva.

'I?' replied Vava, in such tones of astonishment that Eva coloured up.

'You certainly said that if Amy would agree your sister would, and that
she thought it a good idea. And as Amy does agree--why, your sister will
too,' she affirmed.

Eva had quite persuaded herself that the two elder girls were ready, and
that it only needed some keeping up to the mark on her part to bring the
new plan about.

Vava was quite silent for a time; she was very impulsive and outspoken,
but she was also very straightforward, and somehow it struck her that
Eva's speech was not so. In spite of her impulsiveness, she could on
occasion hold her peace, and she did so now.

'Of course, if you've changed your mind, and don't care so much for me,
now that you know me better, that ends the matter; we must go on living
in our barracks, and you in your dirty lodgings!' Eva cried, vexed at
Vava's silence.

Vava was half-inclined to be angry at Eva's plain speaking; but, after
all, the lodgings were dirty, and it was she herself who had told Eva
so, and, besides, it was rather flattering to be wanted as a house-mate.
So she forgot her suspicion as to Eva's truthfulness, and answered
heartily enough, 'I do want to live with you, and I am just as tired of
our dirty lodgings as you can be of your hostel, which is ever so much
nicer than where we live, if only there wasn't such a noise all the time
with people talking all at the one time. And as for Stella, I'm sorry if
I gave you the wrong idea. She is not one to make up her mind in a
hurry--we Scotch never are, I think; but I will try and persuade her.'

Eva said no more; privately she thought her own persuasion would be more
powerful. They were now called by the other two to come with them, as
the gallery was just closing.

'And I haven't seen half the pictures!' exclaimed Vava.

'Never mind; I will bring you again another day,' said Stella, smiling;
and Vava thought she had not seen her look so bright and happy since
they had left Lomore.

'We might make it our next Saturday treat,' agreed Vava.

'We had another plan for Saturday,' replied Stella, smiling again in a
half-ashamed manner.

'Another treat? Are we going anywhere all together?' Vava inquired,
looking from Stella to Amy.

'We are going house-hunting,' announced Amy, who looked pleased at the
demonstration of delight the announcement called forth.

'House-hunting?' echoed Vava, while Eva gave a little cry of delight;
then, having got over their surprise, the two younger girls began asking
eager questions.

'We have not made our calculations yet; but we are going to have a
council of war, or rather of peace, at the Enterprise Club next week to
talk things over. At any rate, we can just go and look at some little
houses in a suburb which Miss Overall thinks possible,' Stella observed.

There was little else talked of till they parted; and Amy said after
they were gone, 'I hope I have done right. Miss Wharton did not seem
quite so ready when I spoke to her. I suppose upon reflection her Scotch
caution came to the fore, and indeed I am half-frightened myself; but
their gratitude at our being so friendly was reward enough for running a
little risk, and we are not pledged to anything even now,' she wound up.

'Oh but you mustn't draw back; you are really doing a kind deed, and it
will turn out splendidly, you will see!' cried Eva quickly.

Vava meanwhile walked home with her sister in the gayest of spirits, and
yet a doubt would keep coming into her mind. Hadn't Eva rather managed
them all, and hadn't she rather twisted what she (Vava) had said? Then
the remembrance of Eva's affectionate parting made her ashamed of her
doubts, and she banished them from her mind.

'Anyway, we sha'n't get tired of them, for we have spent a whole day
doing nothing but talk to each other, and if you can do that you can
spend your whole life with any one nearly; at any rate, you can live in
the same house, especially when you are all out in separate parts all
the day,' opined Vava.

'We can but try; and, at any rate, it is not settled, and I shall do
nothing without consulting Mr. Stacey,' declared Stella as they said
good-night to each other.



CHAPTER XI.

'THE RANK IS BUT THE GUINEA'S STAMP.'


'Hallo, Vava!' said a voice behind her, as Vava Wharton was on her way
to school a few days after the Sunday she and her sister had spent at
the ladies' hostel.

There was no doubt as to the speaker, for this was Doreen Hackney's
invariable greeting, and, as usual, Vava turned and said pleasantly,
'Good-morning, Doreen.'

'What's the row--matter, I mean? You look down in the dumps. I say, are
you moping for the country? You don't seem to be half the girl you were
when you first came; you don't make any jokes, and when I meet you in
the morning you have a face as long as a fiddle,' remarked Doreen in her
loud, cheerful tones.

'I was only thinking. I didn't know my face was long. We are thinking of
moving--into a house, my sister and I--and I was thinking about that,
and I suppose it made me look grave,' explained Vava.

'What on earth is there to be grave about in that? You haven't got
anything to do with the moving, have you? We moved last year, and it
didn't make me grave till mother said I'd got to burn some of what she
called my "rubbish." I think it's rather fun moving; you have all new
wall-papers and a new garden, and it makes a change. Where are you going
to move to?' inquired Doreen.

'Oh I don't know; we haven't got a house yet. I believe we are going to
look at one in Blackstead,' said Vava.

'Blackstead! That's where we live. There are some nice houses there;
cheap too, because it is not a fashionable suburb. I hope you will come
there, because then you and I can come to school together--that is, if
your sister would not mind. Mother says I am not to push myself into
your society, because you are a lady; and I'm very rough, I know.
Mother's always telling me about my manners; she says I talk so loud and
laugh so loud. I wish you would tell me about it when I do; you talk so
soft and ladylike,' observed Doreen.

Vava laughed. 'I! Why, the girls couldn't understand me when I first
came,' she protested.

'Oh well, there were some words you used that we'd never heard before,
but I like it now. I say, if you do move our way I wish you'd let me
help,' Doreen said very earnestly, for she concluded that it was the
moving which was causing Vava to look so worried.

'Thank you,' said Vava, and laughed.

'It won't be so bad, you know; the men move so cleverly now, mother
says; you start in the morning, and in the evening you are all to
rights. I dare say when you get back from school you'll find it quite
shipshape, and even if you're not you can sleep the night at our place;
so don't you worry about that,' said Doreen.

'It's not that at all; I don't care if we are not shipshape for a week;
it's the girls we are going to take a house with that are worrying
me--if I am worrying, as you say,' replied Vava.

Then Vava told her the story of their plan, and finished up by saying,
'I don't quite like Eva--at least I can't help liking her, because she
is so lively and such fun to talk to, and she has been awfully nice to
us; but I feel as if I can't quite believe in her somehow. And if we are
going to live together we shall have to be friends.'

Doreen whistled, and then seeing that Vava looked a little put out at
her schoolfellow's manners, and the attention they attracted in the
street, she apologised, saying in a lower tone, 'Beg your pardon, but
I'm sorry for what you tell me, because there's nothing so horrid as to
have to do with any one that is not quite straight. Why don't you
believe in her? Doesn't she tell the truth?'

'I--I don't know; I don't like to say anything against her, because she
is very nice to me, and seems to like me, and she has never told me a
real story. But it's the things she says, they make me feel
uncomfortable. And yet I do so want to live in a house again, and we can
only do it if we chum with them!'

'Well, you needn't see much of her even if you live in the same house;
you'll be out all day, and so will she, and you will have your lessons
and practising in the evenings. After all, they're only new friends;
they can't expect you to live as if you were one family, and--and you
know I'm straight--if you do come to Blackstead we might do our lessons
together?' suggested Doreen, by way of comforting Vava.

But, as it happened, it had not quite the desired effect; for, much
though Vava liked Doreen, she remembered her sister's resolution that if
they could not have friends of their own class they would have none; and
as she declined to know the Montague Joneses she would certainly not
have anything to do with the Hackneys. However, that was not a thing she
could say to Doreen; and, as she did not want to throw cold water on her
kindness, she said, 'Thank you, you are kind, and of course you are
straight, and I am very glad you are my chum, especially in school; out
of school Stella is my chum.'

'Yes, of course, and a jolly good one too,' said Doreen heartily; and if
she guessed that Vava meant that they would _not_ see much of each other
out of school, she did not show it, but observed, 'And you know, even if
that Eva is not always quite square in her way of looking at things, you
can do her good.'

'Miss Briggs said the other day that "evil communications corrupt good
manners," and that if a girl's conversation made us feel uncomfortable,
or feel that we should not like our parents to hear it, we were to shun
her as we should the plague,' observed Vava.

'I know she did, but I don't agree with her,' remarked Doreen calmly.

Vava looked at Doreen in astonishment. She often questioned her sister's
authority, but not Miss Briggs's, who was a very clever young mistress.
'Do you mean that if a girl isn't nice you don't care?' she asked.

'No, I mean that you ought to make her shut up. Sometimes a girl talks
rot because she is silly; but you can soon stop her, and if one were to
avoid every one who did or said anything wrong, why one might as well
live in a desert island. Look at Belle Reed! You couldn't believe a word
that girl said when she first came to our school; but she soon dropped
it when she found we couldn't stand liars.'

Doreen had got interested in what she was saying, and unconsciously
raised her voice, and one of the mistresses who happened to pass at the
moment turned and looked with disapproval at her. She then glanced at
her companion, and looked still more displeased.

'That is not very nice language for the street, Doreen,' she said
severely.

'Bother! That was Miss Briggs! Why need she have passed at that
particular minute?' observed the girl.

'Why need you talk so loudly?' remarked Vava. Then they both passed into
school, and thought no more about it.

But next morning at breakfast Stella received a letter which seemed to
annoy her a good deal, and she said to Vava, 'I hear you have made
friends with an undesirable girl at school.'

'I suppose you mean Doreen; but why should you say you "hear" it?
There's no need for you to go to other people to hear what I do, or what
friends I have; I always tell you what happens at school, and I thought
you liked Doreen Hackney. Of course I know she is not very ladylike
outwardly, but she is agreeable,' said Vava, championing her friend
rather hotly.

'Doreen Hackney? Is that the girl I spoke to the other day?' asked
Stella, referring to the letter and looking puzzled.

'Yes, that is her name. Who has been writing against her to you? Why
can't people mind their own business?' cried Vava.

'Vava, do not speak so rudely, or I shall think what I am told is true.
It is Miss Briggs, who says she is not an improving companion for you,
and that her language is very vulgar. But I can't believe you could
learn harm from that girl; she has such a nice, open face,' said Stella.

'So she has. All she said was that she couldn't stand liars, and I
suppose that shocked Miss Briggs; but I believe in calling a spade a
spade,' announced Vava.

'You are not to call people liars, and you had better tell Doreen that I
object to such strong language; there is no need for it. It is quite
enough to say "an untruth." I hope Doreen was not calling any one
names?' inquired Stella.

'No, only people in general,' said Vava.

Stella laughed. 'Well, tell her not to do so in future.' But she did not
say anything about her being an undesirable friend for Vava, to the
latter's relief. Stella opened her next letter, which happened to be
from the house-agent at Blackstead, and this interested her so much that
she forgot about Doreen and her strong language.

'There is a house at Blackstead which sounds ideal, Vava. Listen: "Four
bedrooms, three reception-rooms, kitchen, bath (h. and c.), and garden
with fruit-trees--forty pounds, but perhaps less to a good tenant, as
the landlord lives next door and is very particular about his
neighbours, and has refused good 'lets' already,"' Stella read out.

She was the least busy of the four, and the only one with capital, so it
had been decided that she should do the correspondence, and by Mr.
Stacey's advice she was to take the house in her own name, as 'you can
then get rid of your new acquaintances if you wish, and you will be
responsible for the rent, or rather I will, which your landlord will
prefer, as I hold your securities.'

'Do you know, Stella, I have come to the conclusion that people never do
what you expect them to do; anyway, you and Mr. Stacey don't,' announced
Vava when she heard Mr. Stacey's advice.

'I don't? What have I done or not done that you expected?' said Stella,
amused at Vava's moralising, though she understood and agreed with her
surprise at Mr. Stacey's ready approval of their taking a small house,
instead of remaining in lodgings; it did not seem like his usual caution
nor the advice he gave them before they left Lomore.

'You don't disapprove of Doreen, though she is not a lady and a little
rough sometimes and loud in her way of speaking in the street, so that I
feel ashamed at the attention she attracts, though I like her most
awfully; and yet you don't like the Montague Joneses, who behave quite
like a lady and gentleman; and now Mr. Stacey, who was so horrid,
telling us we must go into poky lodgings and be saving, quite approves
of our taking a house with some people we don't know very well! It's
rather funny of him, but I believe I know the reason,' announced Vava,
nodding her head.

Stella thought she knew too, but her guess was a different one to
Vava's. She imagined that her remarks about her younger sister's
flagging health and spirits influenced the old lawyer, as well as the
fact at which he hinted that their income would be a little larger than
he anticipated, thanks to the sum paid for the hire of their furniture
and a rise in some shares. Whereas Vava had an idea that the Montague
Joneses were somehow at the bottom of his change of front; but neither
imparted her opinion to the other, and Stella did not ask Vava for hers,
because she was occupied with thoughts of the new scheme.

The Montague Joneses had called on a wet Saturday afternoon, having
chosen that time as very likely to find them at home; but the Misses
Wharton were at the Enterprise Club, and came home to find their
visitors' cards.

'Such a nice lady and gentleman and such a splendid car; they are grand
friends for you to have,' the landlady said.

Stella made no reply, but passed on to her own little sitting-room.

Vava looked wistfully at Stella, but the latter did not catch the look,
or she might have spoken otherwise. 'We must leave cards in return; but
I shall not go on their "At Home" day,' she said.

Vava did not argue. She had known they were going to call; but if Stella
had made up her mind it was no use arguing, and the thought of the ideal
house, with a garden and fruit-trees, was consoling her for many things.
Besides, old Mr. Montague Jones had told her on one of their expeditions
while coming south that he meant to be their friend by hook or by crook,
sooner or later. 'And what Monty Jones means comes to pass, as most
people have found, and as you will find,' he had said as he patted
Vava's arm kindly; and Vava had faith in the old man's word.

However, there was no chance of their being friends at present, as she
saw, for she and Stella duly called on the wrong day, and Mrs. Jones
was, according to the gorgeous footman who opened the door, 'not at
home,' at which news Stella smiled in a satisfied way, and remarked, 'We
have done our duty, and that ends the matter!'

It did not end the matter, as will be seen; but it was some time, and
after other events had taken place, before the Whartons met their kind
friends again.



CHAPTER XII.

'SAVE.'


'I have made such a wonderful discovery,' observed Eva to Stella
Wharton, as she sat with the Wharton sisters and Amy Overall at the
little table which was now left by common consent for these four friends
at the Enterprise Club.

Miss Wharton rather liked Eva, who was bright and amusing, and her frank
liking for the sisters flattered the lonely Scotch girl. Moreover,
Stella was not so good a judge of character as her younger sister, and
did not notice a want of candour in the girl. So she smiled and said
pleasantly, 'Well, what is this wonderful discovery?'

'It is a motto. Vava says they have a special motto each term at her
school, and I found a motto for our new house, and it is formed by our
four names,' explained Eva.

The other three all looked interested, and Vava asked, 'How do you mean?
By jumbling all the letters up? Because "Wharton, Overall, Barnes" does
not make much sense.'

'No, but we might get something out of those names, such as "Union over
all ills," or something of that kind. Let's try and work it out!'
exclaimed Eva, whose mind turned easily from one subject to another. In
a moment she had her note-book open, and was setting down all the
letters of Wharton and Barnes to try and make suitable words out of
them.

But the other stopped her, and Amy said, 'Let us hear your motto first,
Eva; we have not too much time to waste, and, after all, a motto is not
a very important thing.'

'Oh my motto--I forgot; _it_ is a very important thing--it is "Save,"'
she answered.

This remark was received with silence, and then the elder Miss Wharton
said, with hesitation, 'I don't quite understand. Save whom or what?'

'Save money,' replied Eva.

'That's all very well as a precept; but what has that to do with our
names, and how did you make that out of them?' demanded Amy.

'It's a very good motto; but never mind about it. I have got a better
one; it is "Live and let live,"' put in Vava hastily.

Stella looked reprovingly at her sister, and said with grave politeness,
'I don't know that it is better; but Miss Barnes was going to explain to
us how she got our names down to make "Save." That is a result of a
mathematical mind; perhaps she can reduce even names to their lowest
common denominator.' Stella's strong point was not mathematics, nor
indeed was she very quick at any subject; though her knowledge was solid
and reliable on the subjects she had studied.

'It's easy enough--S A V E, the initials of Stella, Amy, Vava, Eva,'
said Eva airily.

Stella coloured, but said nothing. Amy, after looking at her, said, 'How
absurd you are, Eva! Besides, you should not take liberties with other
people's names.'

Then, seeing that Eva looked very crestfallen, Stella repented her of
the proud reserve which had made her resent this same liberty, and said,
'It may be a good omen; and, after all, it is my motto for the present.'

Vava looked relieved, and remarked, 'It's funny that you are the first
to "save" or in "Save."'

'I wish you would all begin to save time,' remonstrated Amy. 'We have so
much to talk over and arrange, and we have only these meetings at the
club for the purpose.'

So the four young heads drew closer together as they talked over ways
and means, and argued and calculated, till a hasty movement by Eva, who
was the most enthusiastic of the four, was followed by a loud clatter on
the floor, which made them all start.

'I'm sorry; it's only my frying-pan,' she said, as she dived under the
table and brought out a parcel, off which the brown paper had fallen,
disclosing to view a large iron frying-pan.

Stella opened her beautiful eyes wide as she looked at it in wonder. Amy
only smiled; but Vava, impulsive as usual, exclaimed, 'What are you
doing with that old frying-pan? Do you have to cook your own dinner in
your office?'

'I should think not, indeed! I should like to see our boss's face if we
started making smells like that; besides, we don't need to; we get very
good lunches at this club,' cried Eva, trying to pack the despised
frying-pan up again in the paper; a futile attempt, as the wrapping was
all torn.

'Then what on earth are you carrying such a thing about with you for?'
demanded Amy, looking half-annoyed and half-amused.

'I brought it to show you all; it is for the new house!' she exclaimed
triumphantly.

'Which we have not got yet,' put in Amy.

'But it's old--old and dirty,' objected Vava, who had been looking at it
with disgust.

'That's only rust; it will clean off. I got it for threepence at an
East-End market; it is a tremendous bargain, and is the beginning of our
"save"--pots and pans are a most expensive item in house-furnishing; and
I am going to undertake that part of it myself, and get one article each
day. There was a splendid big iron kettle, with a hole in it, for
sixpence'----she said.

But a chorus of laughter stopped her in her list of bargains.

'I don't think I care about eating things fried in a pan coming from an
East-End market,' remarked Vava.

'And I don't see much good in a kettle with a hole in it,' said Stella;
but instead of being shocked, as Vava evidently was, she seemed rather
amused.

'It can easily be mended with solder, and sixpence is dirt-cheap for a
large iron kettle,' observed Eva.

'I should call it "cheap dirt," if you will excuse the bad joke; and,
seriously, Eva, it is very foolish spending your money on such rubbish;
shillings soon run away in that manner, and we want all our spare
shillings just now,' protested Amy Overall.

'You are an ungrateful set,' said Eva; but she put the frying-pan out of
sight, and listened seriously while the two elder girls talked over the
different houses proposed, and Miss Wharton said finally, 'The only one
that really suits is this one at Heather Road, Blackstead.'

'Then let us go there first,' agreed Amy.

'I expect the name attracted you, Miss Wharton,' said Eva, with a
twinkle in her eye.

Stella laughed. 'It is an attractive name to us; but I am not so foolish
as that, I hope; and it has fruit-trees in the garden, which do attract
me, and I thought would attract you,' she replied.

'So they do, and it sounds too good to be true. Forty pounds, and the
man would come down to thirty-eight. Let's go there on Saturday,' agreed
Eva.

'There is one thing that I wanted to say,' observed Stella, looking a
little uncomfortable, 'and that is, that I--I mean we--would rather have
a very little furniture at first, and get it by degrees. We only need a
bed and a washstand in our bedroom, and we have only enough money to
furnish a sitting-room and half what is necessary for the kitchen and
hall.'

'Oh but you need not worry about that. We can furnish on the
hire-system; they will let you have any amount!' cried Eva.

'I would rather not,' persisted Stella.

Amy looked grave. 'I don't see how we are to manage without hiring, and
I don't think our landlord would feel satisfied if we had no furniture
to speak of, and I have only ten pounds to spend, and Eva has less, I
believe.'

'I should think that the landlord would be better satisfied if we did
not run into debt,' said Stella.

'I'd sooner go to a workhouse than live in a room with only a bed and a
washstand! Where would you hang your clothes or keep your linen? Why, it
would not be a home at all,' protested Eva.

'Of course I did not mean to dictate to you,' said Stella hastily; 'but
Vava and I will be quite satisfied with a comfortable sitting-room, and
we shall receive the landlord there, not in our bedroom,' she added with
a smile.

'That is true, and as long as we have pretty curtains and blinds there
is no need to furnish completely at once; besides, we have nearly two
months to quarter-day, and we can save a few pounds if we are very
economical,' agreed Amy.

'We will save in advance,' agreed Eva; but on the way home she observed
to her friend Amy, 'Those two Wharton girls are as narrow-minded as
possible, and I am going to have a proper suite in my room, whatever
they say; I should never feel comfortable unless I had looked at myself
in a long glass before I went out.'

'I think they are right, and I shall not get anything I cannot pay for,'
announced Amy.

'Well! you are easily led; but you won't lead me, for I am not going to
be the talk of the neighbours because we have no decent furniture. I
shall get a handsome satinwood bedroom suite, and that will give a tone
to the place at any rate,' said Eva.

Amy laughed, but did not try to turn the girl, who, in spite of being
only sixteen years old, was very determined in her opinions; and as
unfortunately she was an orphan and independent of every one, it was not
easy to control her, and her friend had always found it better to leave
her alone until she had cooled down a little in her enthusiasm for
anything, and then reason with her, and this she hoped to do now. So no
more was said about buying furniture, about which it would be folly to
think until the house had been taken and they knew the size of the rooms
and other details.

The next day, when Vava left her sister at the usual point in the City,
she saw Doreen Hackney coming up out of the Metropolitan Station. She
came up by the train arriving at 9.20, and as the Whartons were very
punctual, and arrived at this time, they almost invariably met her; but
this morning, although she was almost certain Doreen had seen her, the
latter walked on without turning her head.

But Vava knew Doreen too well to believe she did not wish to see her,
and ran after her. 'Doreen! Doreen! wait a minute!' she panted. At the
sound of her voice, Doreen stopped and apologised for having made her
run. 'Are you blind? Didn't you see me when you came out of the
station?' cried Vava.

Doreen gave her a very funny look. 'Yes-s,' she said hesitatingly; and
then, seeing Vava's look of astonishment, she added lamely, 'I was in a
hurry to get to school.'

'How absurd; we have plenty of time, and I want to tell you something.
We are perhaps going to live at Blackstead, for we have heard of a
lovely little house there with a garden and fruit-trees--at least, so
the agent says, though Stella says it may only be a tiny apple-tree,
with no apples on it, because they always exaggerate in advertisements,'
observed Vava.

'Oh but there are fruit-trees--apples and pears and plums!' exclaimed
Doreen, and then stopped abruptly.

'Are there such gardens in London suburbs? But there may not be in this
one. Do you know the part--it is Heather Road, Blackstead?'

'Oh yes, I know it,' said Doreen in rather a reserved tone.

Vava had been so full of her news that she had not noticed Doreen's
manner, or rather had put it down to discomfort at having been rude in
not stopping for her; but it struck her at last that her friend was not
like herself, and she asked suddenly, 'What is the matter, Doreen?'

'Nothing--nothing,' said Doreen hastily.

'Then what do you know about the house? Isn't it in a nice part?'
inquired Vava, as a thought struck her.

'Oh yes, the part is all right; it's very open; you will like it very
much if you come, and I do hope you will,' said Doreen so cordially that
Vava was relieved.

'I hope we shall, then. Is it very far from you?' inquired Vava.

No; it's--it's quite near. But, you know, in London one need not know
one's next-door neighbour unless one likes. We never said anything more
than "Good-morning!" to the people we lived next door to for three
years. Mother is not one of those who is always talking over the wall to
her neighbour; so you need not be afraid of that,' observed Doreen.

'But we don't mind knowing our next-door neighbour; in fact, we shall
know him, because he is our landlord, and a very honest, nice man, the
agent says; not educated'----

'Vava, was that the bell?' interrupted Doreen abruptly.

Doreen's manners were certainly very bad, and Vava said severely, 'You
are rude, Doreen, and if I did not know you I should think you took no
interest in our new house.'

'I do, and I hope very much you will come to Heather Road; I know you
will like it and be happy there.'

'Where do you live? We may pass your house to-morrow, because we are
going to Heather Road to look at this house, and I will look out for you
in case you are at the window,' said Vava.

To Vava's astonishment, Doreen did not answer her, but appeared not to
have heard, and called out in her loud way to two girls who were on the
other side of the road. It took a good deal to offend Vava, but this
morning she felt decidedly ruffled; and as she did not particularly care
for the new-comers, she walked on alone in a slightly aggrieved mood.

But Doreen seemed quite unconscious of having given offence in the
morning, and was more attentive and friendly than usual to Vava as they
walked down the road after school. When she said good-bye to her at the
Metropolitan Station she called after her, 'I say, I do hope you'll come
to Heather Road; you'll like it awfully, I know.'

But when Vava turned round to reply, no Doreen was to be seen; she had
disappeared into the station. Vava, recounting the tale to her sister,
observed, 'She has such bad manners, but she doesn't mean it.'

'Perhaps she had to run to catch her train?' suggested Stella.

'Oh no, she hadn't; she always has ten minutes to wait. She generally
waits and tries to make me loiter and talk to her; but to-day she
didn't, and she never told me where she lives, though she knew that I
wanted to look out for her house to-morrow. I was just going to ask her
how far it was from Heather Road when off she went. I almost think she
must be ashamed of her home, and doesn't want me to know where it is,'
declared Vava.

'Then you had better not ask her again,' said Stella.

Whether this was true or not will be seen in the next chapter, when the
four young house-hunters went to look at No. 2 Heather Road.



CHAPTER XIII.

YOUNG HOUSE-HUNTERS.


It had become a custom that Vava should accompany her sister to the City
on Saturdays and sit in the housekeeper's room, and on these occasions
Mr. James would drop into Mrs. Ryan's room on some pretext or another,
and ask how she was getting on at school or how she liked London.

This morning she had her algebra to do, and was puzzling over a
difficult problem, for mathematics was not her strong point, when the
junior partner appeared, and seeing her occupation, exclaimed, 'Well,
Miss Vava, how are you? And how's the algebra getting on?'

'I'm quite well, thank you, Mr. Jones; but my algebra isn't. Miss
Courteney says I have not a mathematical brain, and I don't know how I
am to get one,' replied Vava.

'I shouldn't bother about a mathematical brain. I don't see what women
want with mathematics myself; but as for that problem, I'll show you how
to do it,' said the good-natured young man, sitting down beside her and
patiently explaining the difficulty.

'Thank you ever so much. I wish you taught me mathematics--by myself, I
mean. Miss Courteney is a very good teacher; but, you see, she has
thirty of us, so she can't explain each sum to each girl as you have
explained this to me. Besides, the others don't seem to want so much
explanation as I do,' cried Vava, delighted at understanding at last a
difficult rule.

'Is that so? I will teach you, if you like to bring your work to me, for
half-an-hour on Saturdays; I'm generally slack the first half-hour after
I have given your sister her letters,' he said.

'Oh I wish I could; but I don't know if Stella will let me, she's
so'----Vava stopped suddenly.

'So what?' demanded Mr. Jones, laughing.

'So afraid of my troubling you, and she does not like my making friends
with people,' explained the girl; and then, to change the conversation,
she told about the new house they were going to see.'

'I should think it would be a very good plan, and a great deal more
comfortable than your present lodgings,' said Mr. Jones promptly.

'How do you know?' asked Vava, opening her eyes, for Mr. Jones had never
been to their lodgings, and she had never mentioned them to him, for
Stella had forbidden her to speak about them or complain of discomforts.

'Lodgings are mostly uncomfortable,' said Mr. Jones, 'and Blackstead is
a very healthy suburb.'

Here Vava looked more astonished still.

'How did you know it was Blackstead?' she cried, for she had not
mentioned that either.

'Didn't you tell me? Oh well, some one did, and I suppose it is no
secret, is it?' he replied, looking a little annoyed.

'Oh no; only I wondered how you knew the name,' said Vava, and she took
no more notice of his knowledge, and chattered on gaily about the new
house, adding, 'Stella and I are not going to get anything on the
hire-system; she says she could not enjoy sitting in an arm-chair that
had not been paid for.'

Mr. Jones nodded approval. 'That's quite right, and just what I should
expect from your sister. It's not a good way of setting up house; save
first and furnish afterwards is my motto. I have known many cases of
young householders starting in this way and getting deeper and deeper
into debt as expenses increased. But I think it is a good move, and will
not be much more expensive; only you must have some elderly person to
look after you. If I may give a piece of advice, it is to get _no
furniture_ yet.'

'Stella says she will only get simple, light furniture, because we have
our own furniture at home, only it is too big to bring down, and some
horrid people have it now.'

Mr. James looked very grave. 'Why do you call them horrid? Have they
_spoilt_ the furniture, or are they horrid themselves?' he demanded.

'Oh no; they are not really horrid, and they have not used the furniture
yet. They are only horrid because they have taken our house from us, and
Stella says that's not their fault. But I don't agree with her; I call
it mean to take advantage of another person's not being business-like to
win his property from him, and that's how my father lost his.'

Mr. Jones did not reply to these remarks, and Vava, who liked to be
agreed with, persisted, 'Don't you think it was rather a mean thing to
do?'

'I don't know all the facts of the case; but I hope it was a fair and
square deal, and I should think it was,' he replied at last; but he did
not seem to want to talk about it, and after finishing the lesson he got
up and went away.

But Stella was horrified when Vava repeated this conversation to her.
'How many times am I to tell you not to talk of our private concerns to
strangers?' she exclaimed.

'Well, you must have been talking about them yourself, or how did Mr.
Jones know we were going to take a house at Blackstead?' retorted Vava.

'You must have mentioned the name yourself, and you ought not to have
done so. I certainly never did; besides, we are going to view a house,
not take it,' corrected her sister.

'As it happens, I could not remember the name, and that's why I was so
surprised when Mr. Jones said it,' observed Vava.

Stella was thoughtful for a moment, and then she said, 'I don't know who
can have told him, for only Mr. Stacey knows, unless he heard it from
some one at your school. He is a governor, and sometimes goes there, and
I suppose asked about you, and heard so.'

'I never thought of that; of course that's it!' cried Vava; and then
they met the other two and lunched together.

'Have some pepper?' said Eva suddenly, and produced a quaint little
pepper-pot from her bag.

'Is this another piece of furniture?' demanded Stella, smiling.

'Yes, it cost a halfpenny,' said Eva.

'It looks it,' said Amy severely.

'It will have to go into the kitchen; I won't eat out of it,' declared
Vava, pushing it away with pretended scorn.

'People don't eat out of pepper-pots,' remarked Eva, shaking some on to
her plate.

'It's full! Did you get the pepper and all for a halfpenny?' they cried.

But Eva shook the pepper steadily out till her plate was covered and the
other three were sneezing. 'You seem to have colds,' she observed at
last.

'Eva, you are a perfect plague with your purchases,' said Amy, laughing.

'I got it at a penny bazaar--two for a penny; here is the other,' said
Eva, producing a second, and preparing to empty it.

But Vava made a dart at it, and after a struggle secured it. 'No more of
that, thank you,' she declared.

'You need not have excited yourself; it's empty,' said Eva.

Amy pushed her chair back. 'If you have finished, Miss Wharton, I think
we had better start. I know what Eva is like when she gets into one of
these moods, and she is better when she is moving and her mind
occupied.'

As Stella had finished, she willingly agreed to set off, and they were
soon in the train for Blackstead and on their way to No. 2 Heather Road.

'Oh Stella, do let's live here! It feels so fresh, and the trees are
beginning to bud, and these are quite nice gardens!' cried Vava.

'We will see. The house may be damp or very small and dark, or quite
unsuitable,' said Stella cautiously.

But when they came to the semi-detached villa it was none of these
things, but a pretty bow-windowed house, with a nice little garden in
front, and there was a very pretty garden next door, where they knocked
and asked for the key, which was handed to them by a maid, who said,
'The master will be round in ten minutes to see if you like the place.'

'By the way, I don't know the name of the landlord,' said Stella, as she
took the key and walked off with the others.

'That's awkward. Wasn't it on the order to view?' inquired Amy.

Stella laughed guiltily. 'I believe it was; but, to tell the truth, I
did not look. It was very unbusiness-like of me. However, we shall know
if it comes to anything.'

'But we sha'n't know what to call him,' said Eva.

'It doesn't matter. Let's go over the house--it looks lovely to me.--Oh
Stella, there is a tiny lawn, and a tree in the middle, and fruit-trees
round the sides, and an arbour with a little table in it. Oh we must
take this house; I should love to live here!' cried Vava with
enthusiasm.

'You can't live in the arbour; let us go and look at the house,' said
Stella; but Vava and Eva had opened the back-door, which led into the
garden, and their voices were heard exclaiming in delight as they found
primrose and violet plants and an early snowdrop, and fruit-trees which
might be apples or pears or plums.

From the next-door drawing-room window a girl watched them, but kept
well behind the curtain. 'They like it, mother; I believe they will take
it,' she said to some one within the room.

'I hope they will; they will be very nice, quiet neighbours; but, mind,
I will not have you running in and out and intruding upon them.'

Meanwhile Stella and Amy were looking over the house, and they found a
large bedroom, three smaller ones, a nice bathroom, and two
sitting-rooms, one looking on the garden and one on the road, and a
kitchen, 'which is almost the pleasantest room in the house,' said
Stella.

'Yes, and it is all on two floors. I do hope the landlord will agree to
our taking it together,' said Amy.

At that moment the landlord rang the front-door bell, and the two girls
who went to meet him were agreeably surprised to see such a fine,
dignified man.

After some talk, the man said, 'I fancy you do not know who I am?'

'No-o, I forgot to read your name,' Stella admitted.

'And my daughter did not tell you either, for some foolish reason. My
name is Hackney,' said the man.

But Stella looked puzzled. 'Your daughter? Do I know her?' Then a light
dawned upon her. 'Is Doreen Hackney your daughter? I had forgotten her
name. That is very nice for Vava, as they are great friends at school.'

Amy was surprised to see the pleased and relieved look on Mr. Hackney's
face. 'So Doreen says, and I hope we may come to terms. Your lawyer
seemed satisfied. I suppose you know he wrote to me? I can only say I
will do all I can; and now, if you will accept a cup of tea my wife will
be honoured.'

Stella did not know Mr. Stacey had written, but accepted the invitation
very simply. She liked this simple, straightforward man, and called the
two girls in from the garden to come to tea at the landlord's.

'Mrs. Hackney has kindly asked us to have tea with her,' she said; but
she had no time to say more, for they were at the house, and Mr. Hackney
took them into the drawing-room, where they found Mrs. Hackney and
Doreen.

'Doreen!' cried Vava, and stood still in astonishment, and then, as
Doreen came forward, she added mischievously, 'Please, Stella, I don't
think we had better stay, as Doreen does not approve of knowing her
next-door neighbour.'

Mrs. Hackney laughed; and though Stella was a little shocked at Vava's
want of manners, she smiled at sight of the two girls' pleasure and the
amount they had to say to each other.

'Doreen is an only child, and was very delicate, though she looks strong
now, and we sent her to a farm for a couple of years, where she has
learnt rough ways. It has been a great thing for her your sister making
friends with her; but it must just go as far as you wish out of school,'
said Doreen's mother.

'It may go as far as you like; I could not wish for a nicer companion
for Vava,' said Stella.

And Vava heard her with surprise. 'You are a naughty girl, Doreen, and
you annoyed me very much yesterday; and now I should think you have
learnt that honesty is the best policy,' she said to her friend.

'I was so dreadfully afraid your sister would not come if she knew,'
said Doreen.

'Then what would have been the use of her coming, only to refuse when
she did know?' inquired Vava with some reason.

'Oh I was sure if she once saw the house and garden she would take it,
because it is such a nice one!' cried Doreen.

Stella only smiled, but Vava whispered, 'I'm sure we shall come here.
Stella never speaks until she is quite certain of a thing, and our
landlord approves.'

And then, after a very dainty tea out of a silver teapot and fine
porcelain, the four turned homeward, talking eagerly about 'our new
home,' as they called it.

Stella Wharton and Amy Overall sat leaning back in opposite corners of
the carriage, smiling at the grand plans of the two younger girls, who
were arranging the rooms and furnishing them with ideal furniture, which
changed every few minutes, as did the wall-papers, except Eva's bedroom,
which always had a paper covered with roses. 'I have always dreamt of
living in a cottage covered with roses; but, till I do, I am going to
make shift with a bedroom covered with rose-pink roses climbing about
everywhere in large bunches tied up with blue ribbons,' she affirmed.

'Roses don't climb about tied up with ribbons,' remonstrated Vava, and
then they all laughed at Eva's mistake.

'Oh well, I meant hanging about; I have seen papers like that, all pink
roses and blue ribbons, and longed to have one; and now that I can
choose my own paper that's what I'm going to have.--And oh, Miss
Wharton, do have a crimson hall; it makes you feel warm the minute you
get into a house!' cried Eva.

'And what about summer--you want to feel cool then? I think a green
paper would be best,' argued Vava, and in discussing the merits of the
different colours the journey was soon at an end, and the four, as they
often did, wound up the evening together at Bleak House, where the
matron generally arranged a musical or card evening for the girls who
boarded with her.



CHAPTER XIV.

OFF TO A HOME AGAIN.


The mystery of Doreen's behaviour being cleared up, the two Whartons
thought no more of Mr. James and his acquaintance with their movements.
But a week later, when the little house was practically taken, Miss
Wharton had a letter from Mr. Stacey which made her think that 'people'
did interest themselves in her private affairs, and mingled with her
gratitude was a feeling of resentment.

However, she read the letter to Vava, who by no means shared this
resentment. 'Sending us some surplus furniture which is not wanted up
there, and will nearly furnish our little house, is he? That's the
Montague Joneses, you may be sure, Stella. How nice and thoughtful of
them! I wonder if Mr. James Jones is any relation of theirs?'

Now this thought had come into Stella's mind too; but she replied, 'I
don't think so. He would probably have mentioned it, and been rather
proud of the fact that some of his family owned Lomore.'

'I don't believe he would mention it; he is too much of a gentleman,'
maintained Vava stoutly.

'Mr. James Jones?' questioned Stella, lifting her eyebrows at this
championship.

'Yes, and I want to know if he may teach me algebra?' continued Vava.

Stella, as has been said, was a slow thinker, and the junior partner as
a mathematical master was a novel and strange idea which she did not
take in at once. 'I don't understand. How can Mr. Jones teach you
algebra?' she inquired at length.

'Quite well; he explained a difficult rule to me in about ten minutes
last Saturday,' said Vava.

'You surely don't imagine that Mr. Jones has time to teach you
mathematics in office hours? And he certainly can't teach you out of
them,' objected Stella.

'He has plenty of time; he says he's always slack on Saturday mornings
after he has given you the letters, and he will teach me for
half-an-hour if you will let him,' explained Vava.

Miss Wharton did not like the idea somehow. She did not want to be under
an obligation to her employer; nor did she like to own to herself, far
less to Vava, that the reason of her objection was a feeling that it was
'because he thought she was pretty.' However, as she could not give this
reason, and had no other, she said reluctantly, 'It is very kind of Mr.
Jones, but you must not take advantage of his good-nature; you must only
come occasionally, not every Saturday.' Stella consoled herself with the
thought that when they were in their new house Vava would no longer want
to come to the City with her, but would prefer to stay with Doreen
Hackney. Again it occurred to her to wonder how Mr. Jones knew they were
going to Blackstead, and she felt rather annoyed at his impertinent
curiosity, in consequence of which her manner was so reserved, not to
say forbidding, that Mr. Jones in his turn wondered what was the matter
with his secretary, and whether she would never be more friendly with
him.

'I don't want to be familiar, goodness knows; but really to work for
hours every day with a person who treats you as if you were her deadly
enemy, and won't allow you even to ask if she is cold, and would like
the window shut or sit nearer the fire, is annoying, you must own?' he
complained to his mother.

The latter laughed at his aggrieved expression. 'Girls don't generally
treat you so badly, do they? Well, it won't do you any harm to be
snubbed for once in your life, though it's only by a City clerk,' she
replied.

'Only a City clerk? A disguised duchess would be nearer the mark! I 'm
helping Vava with her sums--Miss Vava, I beg her pardon--one has to be
careful with any one belonging to Miss Wharton. I am surprised that she
allows me to give her sister algebra lessons, as Vava calls it. What a
stupid thing pride is, and, above all things, pride of birth. Think how
much more she would enjoy life if she would be friends with us, instead
of keeping us at a distance as if we were dirt under her feet!' cried
the young man with irritation.

'You would not take so much trouble if she were plain, and perhaps she
feels that,' observed his mother.

'I should be civil to her, and she would be civil to me, which is more
than Miss Wharton is,' observed Mr. James Jones, taking up his hat to go
to his office.

His mother looked after him with troubled eyes. 'I am dreadfully afraid
he is getting to like that girl,' she remarked to her husband.

'Then he'd better give it up, for she evidently doesn't care for him?'
replied Mr. Jones.

'He's good-looking enough to please most girls,' said his wife.

'Yes, but Miss Wharton did not go to the City to flirt or fall in love,
and I respect her all the more for it. I should like to ask her and that
little sister of hers here; but I suppose it's no use, eh?' he inquired.

'Not a bit, especially as they are moving out of town; not but what I
shall call upon them when they are settled at Blackstead, and I'll see
if I can persuade them to come and dine here then,' she said.

Stella Wharton ought to have been much flattered at the desire for her
society and the trouble these rich people were putting themselves to in
order to make the acquaintance of their son's clerk; but it is to be
feared that if she had known it would neither have flattered nor pleased
her--poor proud Stella! But the kindness of the Hackneys pleased her,
and she did not seem to mind accepting civilities from them.

It was Stella's house, taken in her name, and the other two were to
share it for a year, furnishing their own rooms and a sitting-room; the
rest was being furnished by Stella, chiefly from Lomore, where old
'nursie' was finding unexpected treasures.

'If only she could come herself, Stella!' said Vava wistfully.

But Stella replied decidedly, 'That is impossible; she could not
possibly do the work of that house alone, and we cannot afford two
servants.'

So Vava gave up all hope of seeing her old nurse until fate should take
them north again.

The next time the youthful housekeepers went to Heather Road to measure
rooms and windows, the exact sizes of which Mrs. Morrison wrote from
Scotland that she wished to know, Mrs. Hackney as usual asked them to go
in to tea with her, and, in the course of conversation with Stella,
observed, 'If I may be allowed to make a suggestion, I should not get a
servant at once; it will be amusing for a short time to do a little
housework, and while everything is new and clean there will be no hard
work to do. Besides, the Easter holidays are soon coming, and you want
to go to the sea for a few days to bring the roses back to this young
lady's cheeks.'

'Oh I think it will be change enough to come out here,' said Stella
quickly.

'Then you will have plenty of time to do your own work,' agreed Mrs.
Hackney, guessing that motives of economy prevented the girls from going
away at Easter, and respecting Stella's sturdy independence and thrifty
ways.

Stella, for her part liked and respected Mrs. Hackney, and she and Amy
decided to take her advice, and do without a servant, for the present at
least.

In spite of Vava's disappointment at not having 'nursie' at No. 2
Heather Road, she found herself counting the days until they moved.

Nor was Eva less enthusiastic. Indeed, her enthusiasm went rather too
far; she was always buying something or other 'for her bedroom.'

'There won't be an inch of wall-paper to be seen, Eva,' Vava warned her,
as she showed her the tenth picture she had bought for it.

'Oh yes, there will; it's wonderful what a lot you can get into a room,
and pictures brighten up a place,' she argued.

But one day Eva came to the club in a state of great excitement.
'Girls!' she cried, including Stella in this familiar address, 'I have
just bought myself the sweetest suite of furniture you ever saw!'

Every one was surprised at this, for only the day before Eva had
announced in melancholy tones that she had spent her last penny, and
could buy no more pictures, for which she had developed a mania.

'I thought you had no money?' said Vava, with her usual impulsive
candour.

'Oh that's all right; the man does not want to be paid yet. I know you
don't approve of that; but it is a case of Hobson's choice with me, and
heaps of people do it,' she said, turning to Stella.

'I only disapprove of it for myself. What is your suite like?' inquired
Stella with extra geniality, because she wished to put Eva at her ease.

This was very easily done, for things, as a rule, did not go deep with
that young lady, and she replied, 'It is inlaid walnut, and the wardrobe
has three cheval-glasses, so that you can see all sides of you at once
and how your dress hangs, and that's a thing one never can see, and I do
hate a skirt that dips at one side or is short in the front and draggles
behind, so you can all come and look at yourselves in my glass before
you go out; and the washing-stand is a dream too, with tiles
hand-painted; so is the chest of drawers. You will all fall in love with
it when you see it, as I did.'

'Was it very expensive?' asked Vava.

'No, not very, considering how beautiful it is,' replied Eva airily.

All this time Amy had said nothing, but looked rather grave, and now she
inquired, 'Did you say you had bought it, Eva?'

'Yes--that's to say, I have ordered it, and it is to be sent down to 2
Heather Road on the 19th of March.'

This was the day before the girls were to move in; it was a Friday, and
the Hackneys had offered to take in anything that was sent down
beforehand, and suggested their coming in on the Saturday before
quarter-day.

'It will prevent their breaking into another week's rent at their
lodgings,' Mrs. Hackney had suggested to her husband. And as it was the
most convenient day for them to move, it was decided to ask for a
holiday from their various chiefs in the City, and start the new
experiment on the 20th of March, and most of the furniture was being
sent the day before.

But Amy looked hurt. 'Have you chosen it without me?' she asked.

Eva coloured up as she answered in rather a hurried way, 'I couldn't
help it. I did it rather suddenly, and the man said he could not promise
to keep it for me. Besides, I knew you would only object, now you've
become so strait-laced and are furnishing your room out of
packing-cases.'

Amy took no notice of this scornful accusation. 'But you can't have
bought it alone? The man would never sell furniture on credit to a girl
like you,' she protested.

Eva got very indignant. 'Why not? I suppose he knows he can trust me?'
she said.

'But that is just what he cannot; you are only sixteen, and he could not
recover from you if you did not pay. I can't understand it,' observed
Amy.

'You are not wanted to; it's all arranged, and the suite will arrive on
the 19th of March, and I shall pay so much a week honestly until I have
paid up,' said Eva.

But Amy would not let the matter rest; and, failing to get any
satisfaction out of Eva, she took counsel with Stella, rather to the
latter's embarrassment. However, as Amy seemed to be really worried,
Stella tried to comfort her without being false to her principles. 'It
cannot be more than a few pounds. They get up these suites to look very
pretty for a low sum, and if none of the drawers shut, as often happens,
it will be a lesson to her; and as for the payments, fortunately she
gets her money weekly, so she can pay regularly.'

'But she can only pay a few shillings a week, and that only by being
very economical and self-denying, and Eva is neither by nature. Besides,
I cannot get her to tell me where she bought it, nor what agreement she
has signed,' said Amy.

'I think that may be because she knows we all disapprove of getting
goods on credit,' suggested Stella.

'Still, there is something I do not understand about it; no reputable
tradesman would enter into an agreement with a young girl like Eva. I
hope--I do hope--she has not done anything foolish,' Amy said with a
sigh.

Stella thought there was no doubt about that, though she did not say so,
for she expected to see some showy, sham walnut suite which Eva had been
inveigled into buying by some unscrupulous tradesman; but she only said,
'One learns by experience. I should not say any more about it; it is too
late to stop her, and perhaps when we all live together she will be more
open.'

But Amy had not told Stella her real fear, lest she should be shocked;
but the truth was she was haunted by a horrid suspicion that Eva had
bought the furniture in their names, or done something she was ashamed
of; else why did she so obstinately refuse to say where she had bought
it? But it was not much good asking herself these questions, for there
was no answer to them for the present, and the answer when it did come
was not pleasant.

In the meantime there was plenty to do, for they were to take possession
of their new abode in a fortnight, and every minute was spent in running
up casement cloth for curtains, hemming dusters, and shopping. Stella
had not thought she could be so happy in this wilderness of bricks.

Mrs. Hackney was kindness itself, and yet she kept at a distance and
never once came into the new house, which looked very pretty, with its
papers, self-coloured in most of the rooms, though Eva had chosen a
bright floral paper covered with pink roses.

Mr. Jones noticed the brighter looks of his secretary, though he made no
remark, not even when she asked to be excused from coming to the office
on the 20th of March, a request which he immediately granted.

And at last the eventful day came, and at the very early hour of six the
four girls started from their respective houses. They travelled out by
the same train, alighted at Blackstead, and set off for No. 2 Heather
Road, where they arrived not long after seven o'clock to a series of
surprises.



CHAPTER XV.

EVA'S PRESENTIMENT.


'I am tired already,' said Eva with a yawn, as they started from
Blackstead Station to walk to Heather Road. It was not far, and it was
too early for any cabs to be at the station.

'Take my arm,' said Vava with pretended sympathy.

But as Eva took it she sighed, instead of laughing, as she said, 'I feel
dreadfully depressed, just as if something were going to happen.'

'So something is going to happen; we are going to have a home of our own
again,' said Vava. 'But I don't see why that should make you so
melancholy; it is not very flattering to us.'

'It's not that! You know I am just as keen about this house business as
ever I was, and I consider I worked it very cleverly, for you would
never have come here but for me. Confess now, would you?' said Eva.

'No, I don't suppose we should; but I don't know that you "worked it,"
as you call it, quite honestly,' replied Vava.

'If every one were as honest as you are, which means saying out just
what you think, the world would be a very disagreeable place to live
in,' retorted Eva.

Vava did not make any reply; she was beginning to feel a little of Eva's
depression, for it did not seem promising to begin their new life
together by quarrelling.

Presently Eva, who forgot what she had said five minutes after she had
said it, remarked, 'You may laugh as much as you like.'

Vava was not laughing, but Eva did not notice that.

'But I have a presentiment that something will happen in this house. I
woke up this morning with a dreadful weight on my mind, just as if some
one were dead, and it's a dreadful feeling. Have you ever had it?'

'The feeling that some one were dead? Not unless it was true,' replied
Vava.

'But it's not true now--at least as far as I know--so it must be a
presentiment; or else why should I feel like this to-day of all days,
when I was in such good spirits yesterday?' she demanded.

'Do you mean that you think that one of us is going to die?' inquired
Vava in low tones. She was not superstitious, though like most Celts she
had a vivid imagination.

But Eva was sorry when she saw how she had frightened Vava, and she said
hastily, 'Of course not; I only felt as if things would go wrong. I dare
say we shall find that some of the furniture has not arrived, or that
your china has been broken on the way, or that the chimney smokes and we
sha'n't be able to have any fire in the dining-room, or something horrid
like that.'

'Well, you are a cheerful companion!' said Amy's voice from behind.

The two girls turned, and found that Stella and Amy had caught up to
them and overheard Eva's prophecies about the state of things that
awaited them.

'Eva has been having bad dreams or something, I think,' laughed Vava,
who had recovered her spirits.

'I haven't. I only had a presentiment, and, mark my words, it will come
true,' declared that young person.

'So have I a presentiment, and that is we shall find the fire lighted
and a nice warm room to go into, thanks to Mrs. Hackney's kindness,'
remarked Stella, as they turned the corner of the road.

The others looked at No. 2 Heather Road, which had come in sight; and,
spying smoke come out of the chimney, laughed heartily at Stella's
presentiment. So that it was a merry quartette, after all, which arrived
at the new little house, and the sound of their young and joyous voices
made Mrs. Hackney smile happily to herself.

'Oh mother, can't I just go in and bid them welcome? I do so want to see
their faces and hear what they say when they see everything,' pleaded
Doreen.

'No, Doreen; I will have no running in and out, and you are not to go
near them to-day. I have left a message to say that if they want
anything they are to come and ask for it; but they will have plenty to
do and talk about without you?' declared her mother.

So Doreen, who had already been into No. 2 with flowers for the vases,
gave a sigh, and had to content herself with looking out of the back
window, in the hope that Vava would go into the garden, and she would
see her from there.

Stella put the key into the door and turned the handle, but found that
it was already unlocked; and, making their way to the sitting-room which
was to be furnished for the Whartons for their own use, they found to
their delight that not only was the fire lit, but the breakfast was
laid, and the room quite tidy and furnished.

Amy and Eva were loud in their exclamations of delight; but Stella and
Vava stood quite still, with lumps in their throats, for the room was
furnished exactly like Stella's little boudoir at Lomore, with the same
carpet, curtains, and all, and even the same pictures on the wall, with
a single oil-painting of her mother over the mantelpiece.

Vava was the first one to recover herself. 'Stella, it's just like
Lomore!' and as Stella had chosen a paper like her former one, it really
was like the old room.

'It's very kind of them,' she said, rather doubtfully.

'Kind of them! I should think it is! And fancy Mrs. Hackney guessing
where all the furniture used to go! Do you remember that bureau always
stood on the left of the window, just like that, and the little table in
the bow? I expect nursie or David wrote and told them!' exclaimed Vava.

'It is very kind,' repeated Stella in the same constrained voice.

Seeing that the two sisters were agitated at sight of the familiar
objects, Amy and Eva, with tact, went upstairs to look at the latter's
suite, and give them time to recover themselves.

'Kind! of course it is. What is the matter, Stella? You never seem to
like people doing kind things. Aren't you pleased that David took the
trouble to pack all these things so carefully that they are not a bit
scratched or spoilt, and aren't you obliged to Mrs. Hackney for making
the room like our old sitting-room at home?' demanded Vava
half-impatiently.

'It was very good of David, and of course I am grateful to him; and Mrs.
Hackney meant to be kind too, but I think she ought to have asked me
before she unpacked my private things,' said Stella.

Vava looked thoughtful. She felt that Stella was in the right about
this. 'But they are not private, Stella; they are only furniture, and
she meant to be kind, and she has got all this nice breakfast ready. I
think she is in the kitchen, for I can hear some one poking the fire. Do
let's go and thank her, and please be nice and smile at her, Stella,'
Vava begged her.

Stella smiled at this, and it was with smiles on their faces that they
picked their way along the passage through packing-cases into the
kitchen. But when they opened the door the smiles changed into wild
cries of delight, and her English friends would have been surprised if
they had seen the way in which the reserved and cold Miss Wharton threw
her arms round the neck of the respectable middle-aged servant, who
turned and held out her arms to her 'bairns.'

'You thought your old nursie was going to let you keep house all by
yourselves, with no one to look after you, did you?' she said, as she
smoothed their hair and petted them both as if they were little
children.

'Then it was you who unpacked our things? Stella thought some one had
been taking a liberty. Stella's dreadfully afraid of people taking
liberties with her, nursie,' said Vava.

'And quite right too! Dearie me! if you knew how I've worried at the
thought of you two lambs alone in this great city! But it's all right
now; I'm here to look after you. And you've very decent neighbours, who
know their place, and are very obliging without being forward at all,'
said Mrs. Morrison, for she it was.

'Oh I forgot Doreen; I must just go and tell her how glad we are to see
nursie. Fancy her never letting it out, for she must have known it, and
Mrs. Hackney too!' cried Vava, preparing to rush off as she spoke.

'Hoots, Miss Vava, what can you be thinking of, running off without ever
asking your elder sister's leave, and she your guardian and all?' said
Mrs. Morrison reprovingly.

'I didn't think.--May I go, Stella?' she said.

'Yes, but don't stay, and thank Mrs. Hackney for ordering the coals and
the gasman,' said Stella.

'You'd better say for all she has done, for she met me at the station,
and brought me across London herself, or I doubt if I'd ever have got
here; it fairly bewildered me,' said their old nurse.

'When did you come, nursie?' inquired Vava.

'On Wednesday. I wanted to get over the journey and the strangeness of
things before you came, and to get things a bit straight; but I've only
been able to settle the kitchen and your own sitting-room and one
bedroom. I could not take it upon me to interfere with the two young
leddies' rooms, and indeed I did not know where to put their furniture.
There's only furniture for one bedroom between the two of them, though
that's fine. They would have done better to have got two smaller sets,
or a few pieces at a time, I'm thinking, instead of spending all that
money on one suite, as the man called it,' remarked Mrs. Morrison.

'It belongs to one of them; the other is getting hers, a piece at a
time, as you suggest,' said Stella.

'She'll be a sensible young lady. What are they like?' continued Mrs.
Morrison.

Vava left Stella to describe their new house-mates, and also to talk
things over with Mrs. Morrison, who had a great deal to tell her and ask
her, and ran off to see Doreen, who was rewarded for her patience by
Vava's delight.

'I'm just so happy I don't know what to do!' she cried, her eyes shining
and her cheeks so rosy that Mrs. Hackney felt as if the sea-breezes
could very well be done without.

'She is a nice old woman, your old nurse,' said Doreen.

'She's not old; she's only middle-aged.--And she says--at least Stella
says--I am to thank you for all your kindness, and nursie is very
grateful to you too,' said Vava to Mrs. Hackney.

'She is a treasure, and I am very glad you have her. Thank you for
coming in Vava; and now run and have your breakfast; you ought to have a
fine appetite for it after all this excitement, especially as you did
not have much breakfast before you started, I expect,' said Mrs.
Hackney.

'We did not have any. Our landlady said she could not get breakfasts at
that unearthly hour, as she should not be up herself, so we just had
some biscuits, and I am hungry. But, oh I am glad to have said good-bye
to those horrid lodgings!' cried Vava with feeling.

'You have much to be thankful for,' observed Mrs. Hackney.

'Yes, and I am thankful,' said Vava simply. Then she went back to her
new home, and found Stella, Amy, and Eva in the kitchen, talking happily
to Mrs. Morrison, who quite approved of the two strangers, and was
inclined to take them to her motherly heart when she found that they
were orphans like her own bairns, and had been well brought up, and were
well-mannered young ladies. Then the four went in to breakfast.

'What about your presentiment now?' cried Vava, turning to Eva, who had
quite recovered her good spirits.

'It has come to pass. I said something was going to happen, and you see
it has. Fancy your old nurse being here without your knowing anything
about it!' cried Eva.

'You said you had a bad presentiment about something having gone wrong,
and nursie's coming is not wrong at all; it has put things right,'
persisted Vava.

'Oh well, I haven't got any presentiment now, so it's all right,'
declared Eva.

'And presentiments are very foolish things,' said Stella rather primly.

The breakfast was a very good one. Mrs. Morrison had made porridge and
hot scones, and had brought honey with her from the north, and the girls
sat over their meal a long time, forgetting the work they had before
them, until Amy started up, saying, 'We had better begin putting up the
curtains and getting the rooms ready. My bedroom is chaos, and Eva's is
not much better.'

Stella had noticed that Amy was very quiet during breakfast, and it
occurred to her that perhaps the girl was disturbed at the arrival of
Mrs. Morrison. It made it look as if the house and the ordering of it
were to be entirely Stella's, whereas it had been arranged that she and
Amy should share in the management. So, leaving Vava with Eva to clear
away, she followed Amy to her room, which did indeed look chaotic.

Amy had bought a nice bed and a chest of drawers and washstand of light
oak, very simple but quite pretty, and these, with one chair and some
boxes and pictures, were all her furniture.

'We shall soon make this look pretty; and, if you will use it, there is
an extra arm-chair which they have sent down from Lomore that I should
like you to have,' said the Scotch girl.

'Thank you, I should like it very much, if you can spare it; but you
must value anything that comes from your old home,' replied Amy, who
seemed a little depressed.

'Yes, that is why it is such a pleasure to have Mrs. Morrison with us;
she is almost like a mother to us. She was with my mother before she was
married. I hope you don't mind her coming?' asked Stella.

'Mind? I am delighted; I like her already, and I don't mind saying that
I was rather dreading the housekeeping and managing. It is all very well
when you have nothing else to do, but it is difficult to do two things
well. My City work gets rather heavy in spring, and I am often not home
till late, and then I am too tired to do anything but sit quietly by the
fire and read a book.'

'You will like her the more the more you know her,' said Stella, much
relieved; and then added, 'I thought something had vexed you.'

'Oh it had nothing at all to do with Mrs. Morrison; it was only Eva's
suite; but it's no use talking about it, or to her. The thing is done,
and something has come over Eva lately; she is not a bit like what she
used to be. I have been hoping that Vava would do her good; but they
don't seem to get on quite as well as I hoped,' replied Amy.

'Vava is a little too outspoken, but I hope they will be friends; I
think she will have a good influence over Eva, because she is so very
frank. I am sorry you don't like the furniture Eva has bought. Is it
very gimcrack?' inquired Stella.

'Gimcrack! I only wish it were; it's far too handsome. I don't know how
much she paid for it, but it can't have cost less than twenty pounds at
the least!' exclaimed Amy.

'Shall we go and look at it?' suggested Stella, who was curious to see
this much-talked-of furniture, and the two went into Eva's room, where
they found Vava admiring herself in the three cheval glasses of the
wardrobe.

'Look, Stella, isn't this a lovely idea, and isn't it a lovely suite?'
cried Vava, twisting and turning herself.

'Yes, it is very handsome,' said Stella, and said no more, and then,
after a few polite remarks about the pictures, which Eva was just
hanging, she left the room, and was followed by Amy.

'How on earth did the man give it her, and where do you think she has
got it?' demanded Amy when they were back in her bedroom.

'I don't know. I am afraid it is a very expensive suite; but it is no
good worrying about it. It seems so dreadful that a girl of sixteen
should have no one to look after her, no near relation, and no guardian,
except yourself, and you are only a friend, after all, and have no
authority over her. We must just be as friendly as we can to her, and
try and win her confidence, and if she won't give it, wait until the man
turns up for his money, which he will soon do if she does not pay up.'

'Then he will remove it, and that will disgrace us all!' cried Amy.

'No, indeed, he will not; I shall not allow anything of that kind,'
declared Stella with decision.

And then, though 'Eva's suite' was often in their minds, they dismissed
the subject from their conversation, and started upon the putting in
order of the new house.



CHAPTER XVI.

VAVA'S BUSINESS LETTER.


Eva's presentiment was already a thing of the past, for she was the
merriest of the four, and the day would not have been half such fun nor
have passed so pleasantly and easily if she had not made a joke of all
difficulties, and helped by her suggestions, which were very shrewd, in
spite of their being mixed up with a great deal of nonsense.

Mrs. Morrison had made the Misses Whartons' large bedroom habitable, and
in a very short time it was pronounced quite comfortable for the
present; so there really were only the hall and staircase to arrange,
about which Eva had numerous theories, which she propounded sitting on
the top stair in an apron made of newspapers.

'Leave half a yard at each end for moving the stair-carpet up and down
every week,' she observed.

'That is a very good idea, if we have enough,' replied Amy.

'If not, you must put mats at the turnings of the stair; it's most
important; also, you must put a pad on each step, then you feel as if
you were sinking into velvet,' came from Eva, still sitting at her ease
and surveying the workers.

'What kind of pad?' asked Stella, who with Amy was laying the
stair-carpet.

'Velvet,' said Eva, absent-mindedly.

'What nonsense, Eva! What do you mean?' demanded Amy.

Eva, who had been looking out of the staircase window, turned her head.
'I wasn't thinking of what I was saying--felt, I mean--or, failing that,
folds of newspapers, and by so doing you double the life of your
carpet,' she explained.

'Then, suppose you go and get that pile of newspapers that came from
Scotland, and fold them into pads, instead of sitting there coolly and
watching us work?' suggested her friend.

'I might, for a consideration,' agreed Eva, and help she did with such
good-will that the house was quite comfortable by night.

Mrs. Morrison kept to her kitchen, and sent in a nice dinner, for which
Vava laid the table, having spent her morning flitting in and out of the
kitchen, helping 'nursie,' as she imagined, and it is doubtful which of
them was the happier--the old Scotchwoman, who had her bairns with her
again, or the child, who obeyed her old nurse more willingly than her
elder sister.

'Vava, the post has just brought this. I wish you would sit down and
answer it politely, and say that I am obliged by his kind offer, but
that I shall be at the office on Monday morning at the usual time,' said
Stella, coming into the kitchen with an open letter in her hand, which
she handed to her younger sister.

Vava took it, and found that it was a very polite letter from the junior
partner, saying, that as he understood they were moving and would be
busy for a few days, he would be glad for her to take a holiday, and
thought they would manage without her till Wednesday. 'He _is_ kind, and
I'm sure I don't know why, for you never smile at him, and till you do
smile you really look disagreeable,' commented Vava.

'I am sorry, but I shall continue to look disagreeable then, for I have
no intention of smiling at Mr. James Jones, or any other stranger with
whom I have business,' observed Stella.

'Why don't you answer it yourself? It's got nothing to do with me,'
grumbled Vava.

'Because I am busy; you can tell him that,' said Stella; who might have
added, 'Because I do not choose to,' but she refrained.

'My lamb, you should not answer your sister as you do,' said Mrs.
Morrison, when Stella had left the kitchen, her head very much in the
air.

'She aggravates me with her airs and unfriendliness,' said Vava in an
apologetic tone.

'And who are you to criticise your elders in that unbecoming way? What
do you know of the world? Miss Stella is quite right not to be too
friendly with strangers and to keep her bonny smiles for friends; and
even if she were not right, it is not for you to question her doings or
sayings, and she your guardian,' protested her old nurse with decision.

'She is not so very old after all--only seven years older than I am;
last year she was an infant in the eye of the law,' announced the girl,
who had read this piece of information somewhere.

'She is of age this year, at any rate, Miss Vava, and you had better do
as she bids you; she knows what she is about, and you will understand it
better in seven years' time--seven years make a great difference in a
young girl; so write that letter like a good child, and don't worry Miss
Stella, who has plenty to do without fashing herself about
letter-writing,' admonished Mrs. Morrison.

'But you know, nursie, this is a business letter, and he is the man she
gets her living by; she really might be civil to him. Suppose he gets
offended and tells her to go? That would be a nice thing, just after we
have got into a new house!' exclaimed Vava.

'If he is a business man he'll not be so silly as to be offended because
a young lady isn't too friendly; and if he is so foolish, the sooner she
leaves his office and gets with sensible people the better. That will do
for those currants, Miss Vava, they are quite clean now, and I'll make
the pudding while you write that letter. You'll find paper and stamps
and all in the bureau in the sitting-room,' said nurse.

Vava went off as she was told, and found that nurse had 'found up' a
quantity of writing-paper and envelopes at Lomore, as well as stamps,
all of which she had packed into the bureau and brought south with her,
besides other treasures, the looking over which took Vava some time. But
at last she set to work to write the letter; and, being very much
excited by all the events of the day, she took a large sheet of paper,
and wrote a long letter to the junior partner, which was likely to amuse
him very much. It ran as follows:

     'DEAR MR. JONES,--Thank you very much for offering to give my
     sister a holiday. She says to tell you she is very busy putting
     down the stair-carpet, so can't answer herself; but she will be
     quite able to come to the office on Monday morning at the usual
     time. She did not say she was putting down the stair-carpet, but
     she is; it's a horrid work, as you have to pad it. When I 'm rich
     I'll have workmen to do all that when I move house, and never go
     near it till it's quite tidy. I can't find a single thing.

     'The other Joneses who have bought Lomore (I hope they are no
     relation of yours) have been very kind; they have sent down all the
     furniture of Stella's sitting-room, and lots and lots of things
     that they must want themselves, and I'm sorry I called them
     "horrid;" they have been very friendly to us, and even brought us
     to town in their motor. I only said that because I felt horrid at
     that moment to think of an English Jones being Laird of Lomore. Oh
     dear! I forgot your name was Jones; but I would not mind your being
     laird so much, you look a great deal more like one than old Mr.
     Montague Jones. But our old nurse, whom we found here this morning,
     says he has been very good to all the old servants, and is not
     turning out one, or changing anything; so things might have been
     worse. I must stop and help to put the house in order.--I remain,
     your sincere friend, VAVA WHARTON.

     '_P.S._--Please be sensible, and don't mind Stella being so stiff
     and stuck-up; it's being poor that makes her like that, and I'm
     sure she's grateful to you, really. V. W.'

Now, Vava was a very open child; but it never entered her head that she
ought not to have written a letter like that to Mr. James Jones, nor
that her sister would expect to see it. 'Nursie' had said that there
were stamps there, and evidently meant her to write, close, and post the
letter, so as to save Stella trouble, and this she accordingly did, as
there happened to be a pillar-box just outside the front-gate.

Stella, who was still putting down the stair-carpet, heard the gate
click, and observed, 'Oh dear, I hope that nobody is coming; they can't
come through the hall.'

'No, it is only Vava; she is posting a letter,' replied Eva, who from
the top stair, where she was folding newspapers to form pads, could see
the front-gate and road.

Stella stopped abruptly in her work. 'I wouldn't'----she began; and
then, dropping the hammer, she continued, 'I will be back in a minute,
Miss Overall; I just want to speak to Vava,' and went into the
sitting-room to await her sister.

Vava saw her through the bay-window, and went in to her, saying
cheerfully, 'I've written the letter and posted it and everything.'

'Why did you not show it to me first?' demanded Stella.

'Why should I? I never thought of it. Besides, you never read my
letters; you always say you trust me,' said Vava.

'So I do; but you do sometimes say things you had better not have said,
and as this is my business I think you should have brought the letter to
me. What did you say in it?'

Upon reflection, Vava was not sure that she wanted to tell Stella what
she had written, and upon further reflection she began to doubt whether
she ought to have written it. 'I told him you thanked him for his offer
of holiday, and that you were busy putting down the stair-carpet, so had
told me to write, and that you would be there on Monday at the usual
time. That's all I said about you--I mean about your business. The rest
of the letter was just a friendly one from myself,' she said.

This was just what Stella was afraid of, and she exclaimed, 'I never
told you to say what I was doing.'

'I told him that,' interrupted Vava.

Stella was speechless for a moment; then she continued, in a tone of
exasperation, 'Will you please tell me what you did say, Vava?'

'It's got nothing to do with you. Mr. Jones has been very kind to me,
and I just wrote him a friendly letter; but it sounds silly repeated.
Don't bother about it, Stella; if you were so particular about the
letter you should have written it yourself,' retorted Vava.

'I wish I had--I wish to goodness I had!' she exclaimed, and went out of
the room.

Vava felt rather uncomfortable for a time; and then, saying to herself
that Stella made a great fuss about nothing, she went off to the kitchen
to help Mrs. Morrison to prepare tea for them.

Stella seemed to have forgotten her annoyance when she came in to tea,
for she was laughing heartily; but when Vava asked her if she were
tired, she said, 'No,' very coldly, and addressed no more conversation
to her.

Vava consequently talked to Eva; but this kind of thing could not go on,
and after tea, when she found herself with Mrs. Morrison, she unburdened
herself to her old nurse. 'And you see, nursie, I don't know what to do.
If I don't tell Stella she will be horrid and cold with me; and if I do
tell her she will be frightfully annoyed,' she explained.

But Mrs. Morrison would not sympathise with her. 'You ought not to write
letters you do not wish your sister to see; you have done very wrong,
and must go and tell Miss Stella so at once, and if she is angry and
scolds you you must bear it,' she said decidedly.

'There was no harm in what I said, and--and, nursie, I simply can't tell
Stella!' cried Vava, as her postscript came into her mind.

Mrs. Morrison looked at her gravely. 'What did you say, my lamb? Tell
me,' she inquired.

Vava told her, as well as she could remember, all that she had said in
the letter.

A grim look of amusement came over the good woman's face; but she turned
away and poked the fire to prevent Vava seeing it, and when she turned
round again she was quite grave as she replied, with a shake of her
head, 'You should not have said that about Mr. Montague Jones being
"horrid," you let your pen run on too fast, and you should not have
written that bit about Miss Stella, and you may well say that she will
be annoyed. But for all that, you must tell her what was in the letter,
and it will be a lesson to you to mind what you write in future.'

Vava groaned, but went off obediently and told Stella, who listened in
silence till she came to the postscript, whereat she gave an
exclamation; but all she said when Vava had finished was, 'I am glad you
told me, for I think I can prevent Mr. Jones getting that letter. I was
so busy this morning that I forgot that to-day was Saturday, and that
consequently the letter would not arrive any sooner than myself on
Monday morning; so that you need not have written at all.'

'But, Stella, what will you do? You can't take away a letter addressed
to Mr. Jones. The clerks may tell him how many there were, and he would
miss it,' protested Vava.

'I have no intention of touching Mr. Jones's correspondence without his
knowledge; but, as I get there before him, I shall ask him not to open
that particular letter, and I shall tell him why,' replied Stella.

'Then he might as well read it!' cried Vava.

'I shall not tell him what you said,' replied Stella; and as she had
evidently made up her mind on the subject, Vava said no more, but she
wished with all her heart that she had never written the unfortunate
letter.

However, Stella was friends with her again, and the first day at Heather
Road ended happily enough; for, tired though they were, the four girls
were able to go to bed in a tidy house, with carpets, curtains, and
furniture in their proper places, which was really a comfortable home
again.



CHAPTER XVII.

A SUNDAY AT HEATHER ROAD.


'Stella! Stella! wake up! the sun is shining, and I can see a tree, and
hear birds singing, and I feel so happy that I really must get up,
although it is Sunday morning and we have not to go off to the City!'
cried Vava the next morning.

Stella opened her eyes and looked at her sister, smiling. 'One might
almost be in the country--everything looks so fresh and clean; we must
try and keep it so, and help nursie as much as we can, for she is not
used to much housework,' she replied.

'I don't mind how much I do to save her as long as we can have her with
us. I think I had better get up and light the fire for her; I dare say
she will be tired this morning,' observed Vava, sitting up in bed.

There was a knock at the door, and Mrs. Morrison, bearing a tray, came
into the room with a cheery, 'Good-morning, young leddies!'

'Oh nursie, I meant to light the fire and get breakfast ready for you!'
cried Vava.

'What would you do that for? I am not tired; it's you that must be
worn-out, so here's your breakfasts for you, and you can just stay where
you are for a while, and get up in time for the kirk, which is not far
off, I hear,' replied Mrs. Morrison, unfolding their table-napkins, and
waiting on them as she used to do when they were children.

Suddenly Vava exclaimed, 'Nursie, I must get up; the others will be
hungry too!'

'And why will they be hungry, when they are eating their breakfasts
quite comfortably?' inquired the good woman quietly.

'That is good of you, nursie; but you must not wait upon us strong
people!' protested Stella.

'That's only for to-day, because you are all just worn-out, and I knew
you would oversleep yourselves. Next week I'll be obliged if you will
just make your own beds and tidy your own rooms a bit,' nurse answered.

'Have we overslept ourselves?' inquired Stella; and, taking out her
watch, she exclaimed with surprise, 'A quarter to nine! How could we
have slept so late?'

'I expect it's the quiet after the noise of Westminster and the exciting
day we had yesterday,' said Vava, who was enjoying her breakfast in bed.

It was a very happy day. Stella, Vava, and Mrs. Morrison went to their
own church, and Amy went to hers alone, for Eva was not up.

When Eva came down to dinner she said with a yawn, 'You are energetic,
you good people; I hope you feel better for having been to church; you
looked most frightfully righteous coming in with large prayer-books in
your hands. For my part, I think one can be just as religious without
ever going to church at all.'

'Perhaps, but I think if one can go to church one should, and I do feel
better for having been this morning,' said Stella quietly.

When she found herself alone with Amy she asked her whether Eva really
never went to church.

Amy looked worried as she replied, 'I am afraid she has got into bad
habits lately. She says she is tired on Sunday mornings, and that it is
the only day she can rest, and that she does not notice that people are
any the better for going; in fact, she says, they generally come back
cross and complaining of the heat or cold of the church or the length of
the sermon.'

'That's the kind of things people always say when they want to defend
themselves for not going to church. But if she is tired in the morning,
surely she can go in the evening?' suggested Stella.

'Perhaps you will be able to persuade her; I cannot,' responded Amy.

But Stella shook her head. 'I shall not try; I do not believe in arguing
about such things. We must try by our own example to make her see that
churchgoing does make us feel better. I know it made me feel ashamed of
my discontent these last three months. I have hated my life here and
every one around me; and I certainly don't deserve things to have turned
out so well,' she said humbly.

'And the funny part of it is that Eva has really been the person to
bring it about, and--I don't like saying so--she managed to twist what I
said, and what you said, so as to make us each believe that the one was
quite willing for the move and was only kept back by the other,'
observed Amy, who had resented this management when she found it out.

'It has happened to answer in this case, but it does not generally
answer, and I am sorry for her sake that she has succeeded in getting
her way by rather crooked means,' said Stella.

The girls had yet to learn that 'the mills of God grind slowly, but they
grind exceeding small,' and that the experiment which had started in so
promising a manner might turn out a failure, and that Eva had time yet
to repent of her 'clever management.' At present, however, everything
was _couleur de rose_, and after tea they all sat round the fire in the
Whartons' sitting-room, while Stella played hymns on her piano, and Eva,
who had a very pretty voice, joined in very heartily, to Mrs. Morrison's
delight.

'Let's go for a walk; I've got my presentiment again,' announced Eva,
shutting up her hymn-book and jumping up from her chair.

Mrs. Morrison looked at her over the top of her spectacles. 'What might
you have?' she inquired, thinking that Eva was complaining of not
feeling well.

'The hump, Mrs. Morrison, and I want a walk to shake it off,' she
replied.

Mrs. Morrison did not understand this slang; but she understood that Eva
felt depressed, and said, 'A walk will do you all good, and you will
just have time to go over the hill yonder before church.'

Eva did not like to say that she was not going to church, but she
privately decided to return home and amuse herself by trying over some
waltzes while the rest were all at church.

The four accordingly set out for their walk; and, as Eva was a very
entertaining companion, Vava enjoyed the walk with her. Amy and Stella
were becoming such fast friends that they had dropped the formal 'Miss'
in speaking to each other, and they enjoyed the walk. Mrs. Morrison had
told them she should go straight to church. On the way back they passed
the Presbyterian Church; and the two Whartons, remarking that they were
only five minutes too early, turned in there.

'Won't you come to church with me, Eva?' asked Amy as the two walked on
together.

'No, thank you; I have something to do at home. It's so jolly having a
home that I prefer to stay in it. I sha'n't plague you to come to the
pictures every night now,' replied Eva, going off.

But Eva had counted without her host, as Mrs. Morrison, having supposed
that they would all go to church, had locked up and gone out, taking the
key with her. As they were not on a main road, the door was not kept
latched, and so they had no latchkeys. There was a light in the hall,
and Eva turned the handle of the door, expecting it to open; but in
vain. Then it flashed upon her that she was locked out, and must either
wait there for an hour and a half or else go to church; neither of which
things did she wish to do. A thought then struck her, and she knocked at
the Hackneys' door; but they were all out, it appeared, for she knocked
in vain. So turning away in annoyance, Eva sauntered back to the main
street where Amy had gone to church.

'I believe that Scotchwoman did it on purpose; she thought I ought to go
to church, and so she locked me out of my own home. But if she thinks
she's going to manage me she's very much mistaken, as she will find, and
I'll just show her that,' she said to herself; for she had just come to
a brilliantly lighted kinematograph show, and made up her mind to go in
there.

It was the first time she had gone there on Sunday, and to make herself
feel more comfortable she had to remind herself that she must put her
foot down and not be dictated to by strangers; and soon the music and
the scenes before her distracted her thoughts, and this was what Eva
really wanted. For some of her thoughts were troubling her, and she
wanted to banish them.

But unfortunately the pictures could not last for ever, and when they
were over there was Mrs. Morrison to face; and though Mrs. Morrison had
a very kindly face, and had been very friendly and nice to Eva, whom she
liked, the latter had a feeling that she could be very stern, and that
she would disapprove of going to an entertainment on Sunday evening. To
her surprise, when she came out there were no churchgoers to be seen in
the streets, and when she passed Amy's church it was in darkness, and
she guessed that it must be past nine o'clock, and that the others would
be home.

'That comes of leaving my watch at home and trusting that man, who said
we should be out before nine,' she muttered to herself, and hurried to
Heather Road.

'Here she is!' cried a voice as Eva opened the gate; and Vava, who was
standing looking out of the bow-window, came running to the door to
greet her.

'We are so very sorry you were locked out! Mrs. Morrison understood you
were both going to church, and she hurried home so as to be back before
you. But it will not happen again; we will have a latch put on, and have
our own keys,' said Stella, apologising.

'It doesn't matter. I had a headache, so did not go to church,' said
Eva.

'And have you been walking about all this time in the dark by yourself?
How horrid; nursie will be vexed!' cried Vava.

'I enjoyed myself very much, thank you,' said Eva, escaping upstairs to
take off her hat and coat.

She had not said where she had been; and though Amy, who knew her, did
not believe she had walked for more than two hours after their long
walk, and guessed what she had done, no one asked any questions. For
that Eva was thankful, and in spite of a bad conscience, which should
have pricked her, she enjoyed the pie which Mrs. Morrison had made the
day before and left in the oven to heat up along with baked potatoes.

'Sunday's dinner and supper always cook themselves,' she explained.

As a kind of amends for her un-Sunday-like day, Eva went into the
kitchen and asked Mrs. Morrison if she might help her to wash-up.

It was on the tip of the good woman's tongue to refuse, and tell her
that she must be too tired to stand about any more; but a glance at
Eva's face showed that the girl was not tired, and some intuition told
her that she had better accept the offer and try and make friends with
this girl, who, after all, was only sixteen, and had no one to keep her
in order. So she said, 'Thank you kindly, Miss Barnes, my dear; if you
take this mop you will not put your hands in the water so much, and as I
never use soda they will not get spoilt, and here 's a nice apron for
you.'

Eva accordingly, enveloped in a large apron, stood at the tub and
conversed with the Scotchwoman, who watched her quick movements with
interest and admiration, for she was very graceful, and she did her work
in a very business-like manner, which pleased the methodical
housekeeper.

'There's a right way and a wrong way of doing everything, but you've got
the right way of washing-up, and it makes a deal of difference, though
folk won't believe it. I can't bear to see a young girl doing a few
things at a time, and then going to find some more, and putting in the
greasy things first, and the glasses and silver last,' she observed.

'My mother taught me that; once a week we went into the kitchen to learn
how to do cooking and kitchen-work,' said Eva, and she gave a sigh.

'She must have been a wise woman and a good mother. Have you lost her
long, my poor bairn?' inquired the housekeeper.

'A year and a half, but it feels like ten,' said Eva; and then she began
to tell Mrs. Morrison about her past life at the pretty home in
Cambridge, of which she had never spoken to Vava. 'Things were very
different then,' she wound up.

'But they are not so bad now, and you have your old friends. Do you
never see them or hear from them?' inquired the housekeeper.

'They have written, but I don't care to answer them. They have asked me
to go and stay with them, and wanted to come and see me; but I had not a
nice place to ask them to come to, and I won't stay with people I can't
ask back.'

'I think you are wrong there; anybody would like to have a bright young
leddie like you as a visitor, and you would like to see your old friends
again, I'm sure. At any rate, now you have a nice home, and we'll soon
have your sitting-room fit to receive a queen,' said Mrs. Morrison.

'I'll write to Mrs. Croker. She often comes to town, and she has a
daughter just my age, only she is still at school and going on to
college, and I am working for my living and not learning anything,' said
Eva, a little bitterly.

'But you should be learning; you can get books anywhere, and can always
improve yourself in the evenings. You shouldn't let Miss Croker get
before you,' said Mrs. Morrison.

The good woman's interest touched Eva, and had its effect; for she
delighted Mrs. Croker by writing to her and telling her where she was,
and what she was doing; and Mrs. Croker said to her husband, 'I am so
glad she has written. I was so vexed at losing sight of her, but she
seemed to want to drop us all.'

'People do when they are poor, and she felt having her education
stopped. You must ask her down for Easter. She has a few days then, I
suppose?' replied the professor.

So the first Sunday at Heather Road did them all good in different ways.



CHAPTER XVIII.

STELLA'S SURPRISING REQUEST.


'I shall breakfast a little earlier than usual to-morrow morning, Vava,'
said Stella when they were going to bed that night.

'Doreen says she catches the 8.40, so we shall be in plenty of time if
we have breakfast at eight o'clock,' objected Vava.

'You can go with Doreen by that train, but I shall take the 8.20,'
replied her sister.

Vava coloured up, for she remembered in a flash that it was to secure
that unlucky letter of hers that her sister was going up to town so
early. 'Oh that letter!' she said, in such dejected tones that Stella
was sorry for her.

'Never mind, Vava; I will not let Mr. Jones have that letter, so you
need not worry,' she said.

'Don't you think I had better come with you?' suggested Vava.

'No! What for? I shall know your handwriting; there is no need for you
to be there, and I should think it would be rather uncomfortable for
you,' said Stella, lifting her eyebrows.

'I sha'n't feel uncomfortable. I feel quite at home with Mr. Jones, and
I think I could ask for the letter back much better than you,' persisted
Vava.

'Why?' inquired Stella, getting annoyed at her sister's persistence.

'Because it is my letter, and one has more right to ask for one's own
letter than for other people's. Perhaps he'll refuse to give it to you;
he'll think it will get me into a row,' suggested Vava.

'In that case I shall walk straight out of his office,' declared Stella,
very angry at this last suggestion of Vava's.

'For goodness' sake don't do that, Stella! Leave the letter alone. Mr.
Jones is much too gentlemanly to take any notice of what I said;
besides, he knew it all before,' said Vava.

But Stella, who had calmed down, ignored this advice. 'You did not mean
any harm, Vava, and it must be very difficult for an impulsive girl like
you to think before you say or do things; you will know better when you
are older,' was all she said.

But Vava saw her sister start off with many misgivings, which she
imparted to the housekeeper. 'Mr. Jones won't like Stella going and
looking over his private correspondence. You know City men don't like
their lady-clerks taking liberties of that kind,' she declared.

'Miss Stella is not one to take a liberty,' affirmed the housekeeper.

'She may not think it a liberty, but it is one, and I should not be
surprised if they quarrelled over it, because she really is rather
disagreeable to him; and I don't see why she need have made all that
fuss, nor why she would not let me go myself,' argued Vava.

'Miss Vava, my bairn, you think too much of yourself and your wits. I
know you are quicker than your elder sister, but that's not to say you
have more brains; and, even if you had, you have not as much knowledge
as she has,' Mrs. Morrison admonished her.

Vava was just going to say that she had more sense about some things,
but happily she abstained; and having finished her breakfast she went to
the window to look out for Doreen, who had promised to call for her.

The other two girls went to town by a later train; so Vava, seeing
Doreen coming out of her gate, called out good-bye to Amy and Eva, and
went to meet her friend.

'Isn't Miss Wharton coming with us?' Doreen inquired, rather
disappointed, for she admired Stella greatly.

'She has gone; she had some business to do at the office, so she went
early,' explained Vava.

'She does work hard, and so do you. Miss Courteney said the other day
that we might take an example from you in that; you do what you have to
do with all your might, and so quickly too, and yet you are not a bit
serious by nature,' commented Doreen.

Vava was very pleased at this praise; but, remembering nursie's lecture
on not thinking too much of herself, she replied, 'I can't do things by
halves, I suppose because I have too much energy. I wish sometimes I did
not go at things so hard. I don't take time to think, and so I make a
lot of mistakes.'

'We all make mistakes; I've made some mistake in this problem, and I
can't get it right,' said Doreen, taking out her algebra.

'I can tell you how to do that,' said Vava, for it was one Mr. Jones had
helped her with; and the two were soon deep in algebra, which lasted
them until they got to the City.

'What a short journey!' said Vava as they alighted at the City station.

And yet that morning Stella had said to herself what a long journey it
was. All the same, when she got out at that City station she wished she
were just leaving home. To the proud, sensitive girl the business before
her was very unpleasant, and she had magnified its importance till she
felt as if she must get that letter or leave the office.

Mrs. Ryan was dusting the office when she arrived, and was surprised to
see her. 'Mr. Jones did not expect you to-day, miss. He stopped late on
Saturday answering a lot of letters himself, and said he should not be
here till late this morning, as you would not be coming,' she told
Stella.

'There was no need for me to stay at home, as we got the house nearly
straight on Saturday. We had a delightful surprise; our old nurse and
housekeeper was there. She is going to keep house for us, so we shall be
very comfortable,' said Stella, smiling.

'I am glad to hear that; she will look after you, and it's much better
to have some older person with you, for you are all very young to be
householders,' said the old woman, going on with her dusting.

'Have the letters come, Mrs. Ryan?' inquired Stella anxiously.

'Yes, they get here by eight o'clock; they are in the letter-box,'
replied the housekeeper.

'Where is the letter-box?' asked Stella.

Mrs. Ryan looked a little surprised at the question as she replied, 'On
the door.'

Stella looked at the door, but saw none.

'Not that door; the door of the outside office,' explained Mrs. Ryan.

Stella was a little uncomfortable, but she felt she must get Vava's
letter before any one came in, and she went to the letter-box, which, of
course, was locked, as she might have expected if she had but thought a
little. But Stella Wharton was not easily turned from a purpose she had
formed; and, coming back to the housekeeper, she asked the woman if she
had the key or knew where it was kept.

If Mrs. Ryan had been surprised before she was doubly surprised now, and
said in rather shocked accents, 'No, I have not the key, nor do I know
where Mr. Jones keeps his; and, if you'll excuse my saying so, Miss
Wharton, I should not tell you if I did know, for City gentlemen don't
care to have their correspondence meddled with. I know you only want to
get to your work; but I know more about City ways than you, and I advise
you not to do more than is your work. The head-clerk always unlocks the
letter-box, and brings the letters into Mr. Jones when he arrives.'

Stella listened to this speech in silence. She did think of taking the
good woman into her confidence; but a dislike of talking about her
private concerns prevented her, so she said nothing. Going to her room,
she took off her hat and coat, and sat down to wait until the head-clerk
should appear and she should hear him unlocking the letter-box, a noise
she remembered hearing about ten o'clock every morning. The half-hour
seemed very long, and she grew so nervous that she gave a great start
when she heard a step, and presently two or three more, and then the
sound of the letter-box being opened.

She waited a moment, and then, summoning up her courage, she went up to
the head-clerk, to whom, as it happened, she had never spoken, and asked
him politely if she might have Mr. James Jones's letters.

The man, who had been in the employment of the firm for twenty-five
years, stood, his hands full of letters, and stared at her. In all his
years of service such a request had never been made to him. He had been
rather flattered by Stella speaking to him at all, for she appeared, as
a rule, not to be aware of the existence of any of them; but this
request was so unusual that the man did not answer at once.

'Did Mr. James give you orders to open his correspondence?' he then
asked; for every one in the office had such a high opinion of Stella
that they would not have been surprised at any token of trust, and this
occurred to the head-clerk as the possible explanation.

'Oh no, I do not want to open them,' said Stella, colouring and looking
embarrassed.

They were standing just within the door of the large general office; but
the head-clerk, after glancing at the other clerks, several of whom had
arrived and were listening with curiosity, stepped outside the door,
and, leading the way to Stella's office, said, 'May I speak to you for a
moment, Miss Wharton?'

Stella, with her proudest and coldest manner, said, 'Yes.'

The man entered and shut the door. He still had the packet of letters in
his hand as he said, 'Excuse me, Miss Wharton, but I do not quite
understand what you want.'

'I wanted Mr. Jones's letters; the letters addressed to Mr. James Jones,
the junior partner,' replied Stella.

'By whose authority do you ask? I am sorry to appear rude; but, you see,
this is a serious matter. I should not like to refuse a request of
yours, as the firm have a very high opinion of you, and, I know, trust
you implicitly; but it is against all rules and regulations to give the
letters of the partners into any hands but their own. Trade secrets, you
know, Miss Wharton,' he wound up, with a smile.

Stella wished she had never asked for the letters, and replied in her
coldest voice, 'I did not know it was against the rules. I have not Mr.
James Jones's authority to ask for his correspondence, and of course I
do not wish you to give it to me. I will wait till he comes, thank you;'
and, so saying, she uncovered her typewriter as a sign that the
conversation was at an end.

But the head-clerk stood there perplexed. Why had she asked for the
letters? Ought he to give them? Would Mr. James be annoyed if he refused
them? 'If you think Mr. James would wish you to have them'----he began
doubtfully.

But Stella cut him short. 'It is of no consequence, thank you,' she
said.

The head-clerk still lingered. 'Is it some special letter'----he began.

Stella interrupted him. 'That is my business,' she said curtly.

'I only thought you might have some letter that you were expecting which
wanted answering,' he said, half-offended, for Stella's manner was not
conciliatory.

'No, thank you; I will wait until Mr. James comes,' she repeated.

It was evidently no good talking to Stella, whom the head-clerk
designated to himself a haughty young woman. And, vexed that this first
encounter with her should have been such an unfortunate one, he went
away, but decided to take counsel with one of the other heads of the
firm if he should arrive first; or, if not, to see Mr. James and make
his peace with him, if necessary, before Stella made any complaint.

As fortune would have it, the senior partner, Mr. Baines, arrived soon
after, and to him the head-clerk took his tale.

Mr. Baines heard him in silence. 'Mr. James says she's a very good
clerk, and I should imagine she is trustworthy; but one never knows.
I've never seen the young lady myself. They say she is good-looking and
very proud,' he remarked at last.

'She is both, sir; in fact, she's the prettiest young lady I've ever
seen in my life. But proud!--proud isn't the word for it; she positively
freezes you up. She looked so odd when I asked her why she wanted the
letters that, upon my word, I didn't half like it; one never knows with
women, not the best of them, sir,' said the head-clerk.

Mr. Baines laughed. 'Anyway, I should not worry about it; you did quite
right not to give the letters to her, and if Mr. James says anything to
me about it I shall take your part. If he had wished her to open his
correspondence he should have given her his written authority; it would
never do if any clerk who liked could ask for our letters, and so I
shall tell him,' he declared.

The head-clerk went away, and hoped that he had done right. And Stella
waited, with what patience she could, for Mr. James Jones's arrival,
which was not until half-past ten, when she heard his step along the
passage--there was no mistaking it, because it was so light and springy,
the step of a man who loved and lived as much as was possible in the
country. In fact, Stella had owned to herself that if she had met him in
society she should have taken him for a country gentleman or a sailor,
certainly not for a business man, which he clearly was from choice,
since Mrs. Ryan said that he was very rich, and that he could retire
from business to-morrow.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE JUNIOR PARTNER.


Some months later it would have seemed impossible to Stella that she had
worked herself into a state about such a trifle as a foolish letter from
Vava to the junior partner, which, as she owned to herself, said nothing
but the truth, for she knew she was stiff and proud, and that poverty
made her stiffer and prouder, and that Mr. Jones knew it, and was far
too friendly with Vava to resent her familiarity. But this morning the
one thought that possessed her was that she must get that letter
whatever happened. She could never face Mr. Jones after he had been
asked by her younger sister to put up with her stiffness because she was
poor and could not help it. So when his step was heard she just waited
until he was in his office and had time to take off his hat and coat,
and then she knocked at the door.

There was a murmur of voices within, and then the head-clerk opened the
door, and said to Mr. Jones, 'Miss Wharton, sir.'

'Oh come in, Miss Wharton. I am late this morning, and your letters are
not ready for you yet,' he replied.

'I should like to speak to you before you open them, if you please,' she
said.

'Certainly, come in and sit down.--I'll see you in a few minutes,
Leighton,' he added to the head-clerk.

'Excuse me, sir, but I want to speak to you too, and perhaps my
twenty-five years' service may give me the right of precedence,' said
Mr. Leighton, who was not very tactful.

'Not of a lady, Leighton. I expect your business can wait,' said Mr.
Jones, turning civilly to Stella.

'I'm afraid it can't, sir; it has to do with Miss Wharton'----he began.

Stella had always thought the junior partner one of the easiest-going
and most good-tempered of men, and she was startled by the look of anger
that came into his face and his stern voice as he replied, 'You can have
nothing to do with this lady. I thought I made that understood.--I hope
you have not been annoyed in any way?' he continued to Stella.

But Stella, though she was annoyed with the senior clerk for his
persistence, and rather angry that he should be there to complain of
her, was too just not to know that it was her own fault, and she said in
her proud way, 'Not in the least, thank you. On the contrary, I am
afraid I annoyed your clerk by asking for your letters. I did not know
it was against the rules.'

'So it is, Mr. Jones, without your authority,' began Mr. Leighton,
anxious to defend himself.

But Mr. Jones cut him short. 'It's all right, Leighton; I quite
understand how the mistake arose. Miss Wharton wished to get on with her
letters; and, knowing she has our complete confidence, she thought she
could ask for such a simple thing. If she ever makes any request in
future, remember she has my authority,' he said.

Mr. Leighton left the room with a 'Very good, sir.' But he was far from
thinking that it was very good, and might have been heard muttering in
his own room about a 'pretty face' being the very mischief in a City
office, and a nice thing for them all if she was to be allowed to ask
for what she liked, and have it too. 'A proud minx!' he wound up
viciously.

Meanwhile, Stella, being left with the junior partner, began to explain.
'It was not your business correspondence I wished to see, Mr. Jones, but
a private letter.' She stopped, for really it sounded very odd; and then
she continued, 'May I just look at the addresses of the letters,
please?'

'Certainly,' said Mr. Jones, handing her his letters, with a perfectly
grave and business-like face. Not a sign of surprise nor annoyance at
this truly extraordinary request was to be seen on his face, nor even a
gleam of amusement in his eyes.

Stella took the letters and looked them through; but in vain! Vava's
letter was not amongst them! She looked a second time, and then handed
them back, with a worried air, to Mr. Jones, who apparently waited for
an explanation, which Stella did not find easy to give. She could not
understand the non-arrival of the letter, unless, indeed, Vava had
addressed it wrongly. Then it occurred to her that it might have been
delayed and come by the next post; and even as the thought passed
through her mind a clerk brought in some more letters.

'You might open those to save time, as we are late to-day, while I go
through these,' said the junior partner, seeing that Stella was not
ready with an explanation.

But neither among this pile was there one with Vava's childish
handwriting. If Stella had not herself seen the letters delivered she
would have thought that Mr. Jones might have received the letter and
hidden it from her; but she saw them in the head-clerk's hands when she
came in, and watched him lay them on the desk before the junior partner.
Still, there was just a chance that it had been taken before she came
in, being a very unbusiness-like letter, and likely to have been noticed
and put on the top, and she felt she must put her mind to rest; so she
asked, 'Excuse me, Mr. Jones, but are these all the letters that have
arrived this morning?'

'To the best of my knowledge, yes; at least, they are all that I have
received,' he replied; but still he did not ask why.

And, for the life of her, Stella could not get herself to tell him why,
but began mechanically opening the letters and reading them without
taking in what they were about, until, with a start, it dawned upon her
that she was reading a private letter of invitation from some people she
knew. She gave an exclamation of surprise and annoyance at her
carelessness, which made Mr. Jones look up.

'I beg your pardon, I did not think of what I was doing,' she said,
handing him the letter.

'Oh that's all right; there's nothing private in that. Rothery often
writes to me here; he says he has a better chance of being answered,' he
observed.

Lord Rothery was a neighbour, and had been a great admirer of Stella,
and he was a friend of the junior partner. Wonders would never cease!
Stella was perturbed at the information, for the letter said that he
should be up in town that day, and was coming to see Mr. Jones in his
office to fix up dates for their yachting.

'I know--I knew Lord Rothery,' she said at last in desperation, for she
felt that she could not meet him in Mr. Jones's office.

'Ah, yes, of course, he was a neighbour of yours. I am sure he will be
delighted to meet you again, Miss Wharton,' said the junior partner
politely.

'But I don't want to meet him!' Stella exclaimed impulsively, and then
stopped. This morning was going all wrong; she had meant to be very
polite, but more reserved than ever, and here she was, on the contrary,
having more conversation with her employer than she had had all the time
she had been with him.

Mr. Jones seemed to understand at once; and, in spite of herself, Stella
could not help being grateful to him. 'In that case I had better come
and dictate my letters to you in your room, for Rothery has a
light-hearted way of bursting in upon me without waiting to be
announced; he won't take my business seriously, and persists that I come
here for amusement, as I can't want to make more money,' he says.

But when they were in her room, and she had taken down all her notes,
and Mr. Jones got up to go, she summoned up all her courage and said, 'I
wish to explain to you that my little sister wrote you a foolish letter
on Saturday, and that I would rather you did not read it.'

'So you meant to abstract it from my letters?' he said, looking at her
very straight.

But Stella lifted her head, and looked back just as straight as she
replied, 'I meant to do no such thing. I simply meant to give you the
letter, which I should know by the handwriting, and ask you as a
gentleman not to read it.'

A gleam came into James Jones's eyes as she said this; but he replied
quietly, 'I think you might trust me, Miss Wharton, as a gentleman, not
to take any notice of what a child like Vava said. You know, or rather
you don't know, that business men can behave honourably and be gentlemen
as well as the bluest-blooded among you.'

'I hope I have not implied the contrary, and I do not suppose you would
pay any attention to what Vava said; but I should be very much obliged,
all the same, if you would give me the letter unopened,' remarked
Stella.

'I am afraid that is impossible,' he said gravely.

'Impossible!' said Stella, and then her pride and anger got the better
of her. 'I fail to see why it is impossible, nor why you should persist
in wishing to read a letter which I tell you I did not wish my sister to
write to you. If it is some mistaken sense of loyalty to Vava, I may as
well tell you that she has told me what was in it, and knows that I am
asking for it back unread,' she said.

Mr. Jones looked undecided for a moment, and then he observed, 'I am
sorry that she told you the nonsense she wrote, and I am very sorry that
you have taken it so seriously. I would not refuse a request of yours
for the world, Miss Wharton, and I only wish I could make your life here
less distasteful to you'----he began.

Stella interrupted him. 'Then why not promise to give me the letter when
it comes, without reading it?' she said eagerly.

Mr. Jones thought if Stella had been pretty before she had never looked
so beautiful as she did at this moment, as she laid aside her pride for
a moment, to plead for the unlucky letter. He would have given a good
deal to have been able to gratify her. 'Miss Wharton,' he said, 'you
really are exaggerating this matter, and, if you will excuse my speaking
plainly, you are not very just or polite to myself in objecting to my
receiving a friendly letter from your little sister. After all, I am not
a cad or such an objectionable person that you need mind her writing
foolish confidences to me. I hope you will believe that I shall in no
way take advantage of them?'

'That is not the point; but as you refuse to return me the letter I have
only one course open to me, and that is to resign my post in your
office,' said Stella, looking very white and angry.

'I have no wish to keep you here against your will, and as I am so
obnoxious to you perhaps you will be happier in another office; and, as
it happens, I know of a post that is vacant, and that you can have on my
recommendation. You will allow me to say that we shall regret your
departure very much, for it will be difficult to replace you,' he
observed, and left the room.

Stella sat for a moment doing nothing; then she took up her letters and
began transcribing them, and so the morning passed away, and she thought
she had never passed such a miserable one. On her way to lunch she took
her letters to the junior partner's room and knocked at his door; but
instead of his usual cheery, 'Come in!' he came hastily to the door,
and, only opening it a few inches, took the letters with a polite 'Thank
you.'

And as she turned away, Stella heard Lord Rothery's hearty laugh, and
she understood Mr. Jones's thought for her, and felt a little ashamed of
herself; but stay there after his refusal of her request she could not,
and she thought sadly of having to face strangers again in a new office,
and wondered whether she would receive as much consideration there as
she had done at Baines, Jones & Co.'s, and she could not help thinking
that it had been very kind of the junior partner to assure her of
another berth immediately on leaving him. 'He knows I should miss the
money,' she said bitterly to herself.

However, that afternoon when she went to his room he was as civil as
ever, though very grave. He said nothing about Lord Rothery, nor about
her leaving until she was going out of the room, and then he observed,
'I would rather you had not known this, Miss Wharton, and I am sorry
your sister told you what she had written. Of course I should have
returned the letter if it had been possible; I certainly wouldn't have
read it if I had known what you feel about it.'

'I really don't understand. I made it clear this morning; but since you
have read it there is no more to be said,' she replied in tones of
scorn.

'It is very easy to understand; the letter arrived on Saturday
afternoon, and I happened to be here and opened it. I only laughed, and
liked the child better for her openness. I have it here; you can take it
and read it if you like, unless you will do me the honour to believe
that there is nothing in it which makes me respect either of you less,
and to let me keep the letter.'

Stella struggled with many emotions during this speech, and then she
said in a subdued voice, 'Pray, keep it,' and turned to leave the room.

'And may we consider your resignation withdrawn?' he asked.

'Certainly,' said Stella, and she could not help feeling somehow that
she had made herself very ridiculous, and it gave her an unwonted
feeling of humility as she went home, which Vava's conversation did not
help to allay.

'Well,' was her greeting, 'what did Mr. Jones say?'

'He got the letter on Saturday afternoon, so I was too late to prevent
his opening it,' Stella replied.

'O-oh! But you needn't really mind, Stella; he would not think any the
less of you for it,' she observed.

'He was very polite about it,' said Stella in a reserved tone.

Vava looked inquiringly at her sister. 'I hope you were polite, because
he's a most awfully nice man to be with, and you don't half-appreciate
it,' she said with her usual candour.

And then Doreen, who was buying a book at the bookstall, joined them,
and the subject was dropped, to Stella's relief; and Vava, who would
have liked to know what Mr. Jones said, finding her curiosity was not to
be gratified by Stella, privately made up her mind to ask Mr. Jones on
Saturday when he helped her with her algebra.

What satisfaction she got out of him will be told later on; but, though
the storm had blown over this time, it was not the last quarrel between
Stella and her employer, and Vava declared to Mrs. Morrison that it was
'no good, for Stella would never get on with Mr. James Jones, who really
was the nicest man she had ever met, and quite a gentleman.' Whether
this was a true prophecy time will show.



CHAPTER XX.

VAVA ON FRIENDS.


Both the sitting-rooms at 2 Heather Road were rarely used at the same
time, for Vava learnt her lessons either with Doreen or with Mrs.
Morrison in the kitchen, which, the girl declared, was 'the most
comfortable room in the house,' and which, at any rate, was always
spotlessly clean, and had a bright fire burning, and certainly looked
inviting enough with the kindly, gray-haired woman sitting in the wooden
arm-chair at the table knitting stockings for her 'young leddies' or
mending their clothes. So that Stella would have been alone if she had
not sat with the two others, who were only too glad to have her, not
only because they both liked her, but because they did not care to be
left alone either.

It was a sad fact which Amy had come to realise, that Eva no longer made
a friend of her, but shut herself up within herself, and only opened out
to Mrs. Morrison, and even to her she only spoke about her life before
she came to London, since which, she explained, she had only existed.
She never spoke of the present time.

As for Vava, she avoided Eva's society rather than sought it. Stella
allowed her to be as much with Doreen as she liked, and she took
advantage of the permission not only to do her lessons with her, but to
invite her to learn knitting or hear tales of the Highlands from Mrs.
Morrison, when, if she liked, Eva was free to join them, and was
welcomed.

This seemed quite natural; but when Vava had spent two or three whole
Saturdays with Doreen, for she did not often go to the City on that day
now, Stella woke up to the fact that Eva was rather out of it. She and
Amy were great friends, and though they always invited Eva to come with
them on their outings, they knew that she felt it dull, for their
conversation was all of books which Eva had never read. So Stella took
Vava to task.

'How is it you never go out with Eva, Vava? She has two or three times
had to go for a walk by herself, because you were busy, so she said, and
then you go off a little later with Doreen!' she protested.

'Of course I go with Doreen; she is in my class, and we do everything
together, and I have more to say to her,' said Vava.

'But that is rather selfish; Eva is living in the same house with you,
and yet you take no notice of her except at meal-times, and the poor
girl is lonely,' expostulated Stella.

'She can go out with you and Amy. Amy was her friend before she came to
live with us, why shouldn't she be friends with her still?' argued Vava.

'I am afraid I have rather taken possession of Amy; but I thought as you
two were much of an age you would fraternise, and I find Amy's society
very congenial,' said Stella.

'And so do I find Doreen's society very congenial, and you can't be
friends with people just because it is convenient; but I don't mind
asking her to come with Doreen and me next Saturday,' replied Vava.

Fortunately Eva did not hear this condescending remark, and accepted the
invitation, and the three went botanising some miles out of town.

Stella elected to stay at home, as Amy had letters to write, and she was
sitting alone in their pretty sitting-room when a motor drove up to the
door, and looking out of the bow-window in which she was sitting she saw
Mrs. Montague Jones alight. As she had been seen, there was nothing for
it but to receive her visitor civilly when Mrs. Morrison ushered her in.
But before the old Scotchwoman did this, she stopped to have quite an
animated conversation in the hall with the visitor. Stella had never
been annoyed with her old nurse before, but she felt quite cross at this
odd behaviour. The motor was throbbing so noisily outside that she could
not hear what they were saying, but they were evidently on very good
terms with each other.

This may have helped to make her manner colder than usual; for Mrs.
Montague Jones almost made up her mind to give up any further attempts
to be friendly with this unfriendly girl. However, she had strong
reasons besides kind-heartedness for persevering, and persevere she did.
Fortunately Stella, who, to do her justice, was quite unaware of her
cold manner, remembered that it was to Mrs. Jones's kind thoughtfulness
that she had that pretty sitting-room, and she hastened to thank her.

'Indeed we were only too glad for you to have it, as we have plenty of
sitting-rooms besides that, and we had settled, my husband and son and
I, that we would not use your rooms at Lomore--yours and Vava's,' said
Mrs. Jones.

The Joneses were showing very kindly feeling, which surprised Stella,
who answered lamely, 'You are very kind; but it does not matter, as they
are not our rooms now.'

'But we hope to see you there some day; in fact, you will always be most
welcome to occupy them. At any rate, my son would not have them used,
and insisted on the furniture being sent down here,' said Mrs. Jones.

'It is very kind of your son; but please explain to him that the place
is no longer ours, nor have we any connection with it now, and that we
are never likely to see it again. I hope you will not think me rude,
Mrs. Jones, but I could never go to Lomore again,' Stella said; and she
could not help the tears rising to her eyes, much to her annoyance.

'Indeed I understand that, and I feel that you must hate us, and if it
were not that my husband is so taken with Vava and with you, if you will
forgive my saying so, I would not intrude my acquaintance upon you; but
I must give you his message. He wants me to ask if you and your sister
will not come home with us and dine after the breaking-up at the City
school on Friday week, and let us go and see _Henry VIII._ acted
afterwards; Vava is studying it at school. My husband has to take the
chair and make a speech at the breaking-up, and I shall have to go with
him. You are going of course?'

'I do not know, but I dare say I shall be able to get away from the
office. I am not a free agent, you know; but I will ask my employer's
leave to have the afternoon off,' said Stella.

'Of course you can have the afternoon, and you will come back and dine
with us, won't you--you and your sister? I should like you to know my
son better,' Mrs. Jones begged her.

Stella thought this rather an odd way of speaking, as she did not know
the aforesaid son, 'better or worse,' nor had she any desire to know
him, and was sure that she could picture him as a young edition of his
bullet-headed, commonplace-looking father; but she felt that she could
not refuse the invitation to dinner, and accepted it with her pretty
smile, which made Mrs. Jones forgive a good deal.

'My son will be very pleased,' was her reply, which made Stella almost
repent of her acceptance, and she was surprised at Mrs. Jones's
continual and tactless references to her son and heir, as Stella
bitterly felt. She understood, or thought she understood, that in a way
Mrs. Jones and this son felt that they had ousted her from her
inheritance, and wanted to make amends to her. 'As if they could!' she
said with some scorn.

However, it was impossible to remain untouched by such kindness, and
when Mrs. Morrison brought in hot scones she said quite friendlily,
'This is in your honour, Mrs. Jones; nursie does not make scones for
every one, and I don't think I should have been favoured this afternoon,
as Vava is out.'

So Mrs. Jones went away quite satisfied with her visit, and told her
husband, with a sigh of relief, 'She's actually coming; but upon my
word, Monty, I doubt if the game's worth the candle. It's more
exhausting to try and get on with that young woman than any number of
haughty dowagers, and really I should be sorry for our boy to fall in
love with her; it would be slow work having a statue for a wife.'

'She would not be a statue if she were a happy wife; the City has
petrified her,' said Mr. Jones.

'I don't remember that she was particularly unbending at Lomore before
the City had time to chill her,' said Mrs. Montague Jones dryly.

'No, but adversity had done that,' her husband reminded her; and he was
as pleased as his wife at Stella's acceptance of their invitation.

But this was nothing to Vava's delight. 'And you actually are going? I
am so glad, and you are going to see _Henry VIII._ also! Nursie must
make haste and finish my black embroidered silk, and I must finish
reading the play. Mr. Jones says it's splendidly staged!' she exclaimed.

'When did you see Mr. Jones?' inquired Stella.

'In the office yesterday, when I came to fetch you. He told me where to
go botanising this afternoon,' explained Vava.

'Oh,' said Stella, 'that Mr. Jones!' and it flashed across her mind that
the two Joneses certainly knew each other, and very probably were
related, and that, also very probably, at the office Mr. Jones had
mentioned the fact of Vava's interest in _Henry VIII._ and that she was
going botanising without her (Stella), who would consequently be at home
alone. Well, after all, it did not matter; they meant to be kind, and
she would accept their kindness in the spirit it was given.

'Do you know life's very funny? I mean, the way things happen are
funny,' observed Vava, breaking in upon her sister's thoughts.

'What is that apropos of?' inquired her elder sister, smiling.

'Why, this afternoon. I thought it was going to be spoilt for me because
Eva was coming with us for our walk, and then I come home and find a
delightful invitation waiting for me--a motor drive, a dinner-party, and
the theatre; and I dare say we shall go and have ices at some nice
restaurant afterwards. Mr. Jones knows I love ices,' observed Vava.

'Don't be greedy, Vava; I think you are getting spoilt. Why should Eva's
going with you spoil your walk? I hope Doreen is not making mischief
between you? You liked Eva at first, I thought?' said Stella in a tone
of reproof.

'Doreen is above such a thing; it's Eva's own fault; besides, I do like
her, only I don't always like the way she talks,' said Vava rather
hotly.

'She talks a great deal better than Doreen, as a matter of fact. What
has she done to offend you? You had better tell me, for I think she
feels that you avoid her, and it is very unkind unless you have some
good reason,' persisted Stella.

'I haven't anything against her; it is just that Doreen and I don't
approve of her,' announced Vava.

'Pray, what business have you and Doreen to judge other people?'
exclaimed Stella. 'What do you disapprove of? I insist upon knowing.'

'You don't approve of her yourself, Stella,' said Vava.

'I don't remember ever having said so.'

'You said you did not approve of her buying that suite of furniture,'
Vava reminded her.

'I beg your pardon, I said I did not approve of getting furniture on the
hire-system for myself; but I never criticised Eva. I know nothing of
her private affairs, nor do I wish to pry into them, and you and Doreen
have nothing to do with them either; so if that is all you have against
her you had better put it out of your mind.'

'It isn't only that. She never goes to church'----began Vava.

'Vava, I am ashamed of you! Eva may well say that churchgoing does not
seem to make people better. What right have you to set yourself up to
judge other people in that pharisaical manner? It is a most unchristian
spirit. I know I am not a very good example, for I am not at all humble;
but I think if we want Eva to go to church and be better we shall only
do it by being very nice to her, and not by treating her unkindly and
making her feel that we think ourselves superior,' said Stella very
gravely.

Vava listened with equal gravity, but made no reply. If she had spoken
what was in her mind she would have said that those were not the only
two reasons for disapproving of Eva; but she abstained, and when she saw
Doreen that evening she informed her that she was going to be nice to
Eva.

'I think we are nice to her; we took her for a walk with us on Saturday,
though she doesn't care a bit about botany, and wanted to be at the
skating-rink or the pictures, and talked bosh.' She paused, and then
added, 'By the way, does your sister know what silly stuff she talks?'
she asked.

'No, I did not tell her. Stella is particular, and if she knew some of
the things Eva says she would be very angry; in fact, she would probably
not let me speak to her at all; and then I don't know what would happen,
for we could not go on living in the same house like that,' remarked
Vava.

'Anyway, I don't believe my mother would let me be friendly with her if
she knew. I don't know what to do,' said Doreen.

'We must reform her,' announced Vava.

Doreen laughed. 'I don't think we should have much influence upon her.
She thinks she's very clever because she has read some silly books which
say that one should get all the enjoyment one can out of this life
because it's all that's certain, and you can't argue with a person like
that, who says you have a right to be happy, and that things are right
that you know quite well are wrong, only you can't prove it. Father
would be horrified if he heard her; he'd say she was dangerous.'

'She's only silly,' said Vava in a superior tone. Then they were both
silent, until she exclaimed suddenly, 'Doreen, I have it. I'll tell
nursie all about it!'

'She'll be worse than father; she's awfully strait-laced,' protested
Doreen.

'Yes, but she's very charitable too, and she likes Eva. If any one can
do anything with Eva, nursie can,' declared Vava.

'Well, tell Mrs. Morrison, then, because I think some one ought to know,
and to tell her that she ought not to talk to us like that; we don't
like it, and it muddles one up,' said Doreen with a laugh.

'It does not muddle me; it's against the Bible, and I'd rather go by
that than by Eva,' said Vava; and that ended the conversation.



CHAPTER XXI.

EVA'S CONDUCT AND ITS SAD EFFECTS.


But when Vava told the old housekeeper of Eva's unorthodox views and
sayings she did not seem at all shocked, or even impressed, by the
information.

'Says we are put into this world to enjoy ourselves, does she? Well, so
we are, and so we shall if we do what is right,' she observed
cheerfully.

'But, nursie, you don't think Eva is doing what is right, do you?'
inquired Vava, who was quite put out at this way of taking what the girl
had been half-afraid to tell her, for fear the old woman should refuse
to have anything more to do with Eva.

She was to be yet further surprised, for the housekeeper turned on her
severely. 'And who am I, to say whether the poor young lady is doing
right or wrong? As for what she says about religion, we know she is
mistaken; but all you have to do is to refuse to talk about it. I never
knew any good come of arguing on such matters, especially amongst young
people. You can say a prayer for Miss Eva, and that's all you have to
say,' she said, and turned to poke the fire.

Vava was silenced for the moment, and then her irrepressible spirits,
which had returned at sight of her old nurse and the new home, burst
forth, 'What will you do in summer, nursie? You'll have no fire to poke
then, and you won't be able to change the conversation when you want!'

Nurse gave a smile of grim amusement (she rarely laughed) at Vava's
shrewdness. 'I think I'll manage it without the poker, Miss Vava,' she
declared.

At any rate, though she had not been very sympathetic, and did not seem
to think it mattered, or that Eva was worse than any one else (or so
Vava imagined), she had set the girl's mind at rest; and as neither
nursie nor Stella seemed to think her an undesirable companion, she and
Doreen must just invite her to go with them on their expeditions, when,
if she chose, Eva could be very amusing, only that lately she had not
chosen, or else had been too unhappy; for, in spite of all her talk
about enjoying life, she did not look happy.

'All right,' said Doreen, with a shrug of her shoulders when Vava told
her. 'I'm sure I don't want to be a Pharisee, and if we've got no poker
to turn the conversation, as Mrs. Morrison has, we can use our tongues,
and perhaps she's right, and that it would be no good even for her to
talk to Eva; she's frightfully obstinate.'

The two Wharton sisters, it will be remembered, shared a large bedroom,
which was in the front of the house, and the other two girls had smaller
bedrooms at the back; while Mrs. Morrison's was half-way up the stairs,
and here Vava always went to say good-night and get her 'evening text'
from her old nurse, with whom it had been a practice ever since she had
been a little girl to say a text to her, generally one which she had
read that evening, to take to bed with her, as the old woman put it.

She had said good-night to the housekeeper, and was going to her own
room, when she heard what sounded like a moan from Eva's room as she
passed the door. 'Eva!' she cried, 'are you ill?'

There was no answer; but, as it seemed to the listener, a scuffle and a
kind of gasp. Vava had a vivid imagination, and her mind jumped to the
conclusion that this meant a burglar with whom Eva was struggling. Vava
was no coward, and she was a strong athletic girl as well, so she did
not hesitate a moment, but opened the door and burst into Eva's room.
She stopped in amazement, for there was no burglar; but Eva, her face
swollen with crying, was apparently making a survey of all her wardrobe
and other possessions, for the bed, chairs, and floor were strewn with
clothes, books, and all sorts of things.

'What do you want? Why didn't you knock at the door?' she inquired,
looking annoyed and trying to dry her eyes.

'I am very sorry; I thought you were ill, or that there was something
the matter,' stammered Vava, who wanted badly to comfort Eva, but did
not know how to set about it.

'There's nothing the matter; I'm simply tidying up, and had a fit of the
blues. Go to bed and don't say anything about it, there's a good girl,'
replied Eva.

'Good-night, Eva. I 'm sorry you've got the blues. Are you sure there is
nothing I can do for you?' asked Vava.

'No, nothing. Good-night,' said Eva, shutting and locking the door after
her visitor.

Vava went slowly upstairs. The voice in which Eva had said 'nothing'
made her feel miserable; but she did not see what she could do, and,
even if the latter had not asked her not to say anything about it, she
had not met with so much encouragement the last time she had talked
about Eva and her concerns as to make her do so again.

After she was gone, Eva threw herself upon the bed, regardless of the
piles of clothing already covering it, and gave way to a fit of weeping
which seemed to do her good, for she sat up, and with a long sigh began
to tidy up, which she had told Vava she was doing, though it certainly
had not looked like it. And having put nearly everything away in the
wardrobe or chest of drawers, she made up two parcels--one quite small,
containing a gold bracelet and watch; and the other a large one, in
which she put a very pretty silk frock. Then, with another huge sigh,
she went to bed.

The next morning at breakfast Eva's place was vacant.

'Where is Eva? Is she not down?' asked Amy, who was generally the last,
and now sat down to take a hurried breakfast.

'No, she has not appeared yet.--You might run and see if she has
overslept herself, Vava,' suggested Stella.

'I wish you'd go, Stella,' replied Vava.

Stella did not look at all pleased at Vava's disobligingness; but she
was too dignified to argue, and getting up she went herself to Eva's
room.

Amy looked with disapproval at Vava, who said, 'Eva did not like it when
I went to her room last night.'

'I think she had a headache; she said so when I knocked at her door,'
observed Amy.

'She is not in her room!' exclaimed Stella on her return.

Amy got up, looking disturbed. 'I wonder if Mrs. Morrison has seen her?'
she remarked, and went to inquire.

'Yes, she's had her breakfast and has gone off to town,' said the old
lady.

'Gone to town? It's only a quarter-past eight! Why has she gone so
early?' she inquired.

'That I can't tell you,' said Mrs. Morrison.

'I shall come up with you; I do dislike travelling by myself in these
morning trains. I can't understand Eva,' Amy said with a sigh.

It did not occur to Amy to ask the housekeeper if Eva had left any
message or explanation for her, and so she got none. As a matter of
fact, Eva had said as she went out, 'If they ask where I've gone just
say I have business in town.'

Mrs. Morrison made no reply, nor did she appear to see the two parcels
which Eva tried to hide as she left the house; but when the gate shut
behind her Mrs. Morrison looked after her with kindly pity. 'Poor bairn,
she'll learn by this bitter lesson,' she said to herself; and yet Eva
had made no confidences to her, nor had Mrs. Morrison said anything to
the girl about her private affairs. In fact, Vava was inclined to think
that the old woman was blind to Eva's faults, for she seemed to pet her
even more than the rest.

She would have been confirmed in this opinion if she had been down
earlier; for when Eva came into the kitchen and asked in a hurried way
if she could have a cup of tea, as she wanted to go earlier to town,
instead of saying she ought to have told her the evening before, Mrs.
Morrison said pleasantly, 'You can have your breakfast as soon as you
like. What train must you catch?'

'The 8.5,' replied Eva.

'Then you have twenty-five minutes to eat a good breakfast, and if you
will be so good as to sit by the fire and toast this bread I will have
it ready for you in five minutes,' declared the housekeeper.

It was a cold March morning, and Eva looked very chilly, and perhaps it
was that which made the kindly Scotchwoman suggest the toast and draw up
a chair for her before the bright kitchen fire, for as a matter of fact
she generally made it on the toaster.

Eva was only too glad to sit close to the fire and watch the good woman
moving so quietly about and yet getting everything so quickly. 'Let me
have it here, may I?' she cried impulsively, for the old woman's
presence and her motherly attentions soothed the girl.

'If you wish. I doubt if the sitting-room is very warm yet, so I'll put
your tray on this table near the fire, and you'll get well-warmed before
you go out, and that's the secret of not taking chills,' remarked the
old woman as she put a plate of crisp bacon on the tray and a hot roll
beside it.

'You are a lovely cook, Mrs. Morrison,' said Eva. 'When I'm rich I'd
like you to live with me.'

'If you want to be rich when you are old you must save when you are
young. I'm thinking of buying you all money-boxes and putting into them
all the money I save for you every week,' she observed, for she was
given the housekeeping money every week, on Saturday, and after putting
aside for the rent, the rest was left with her to do as she thought
best; and on the next Saturday she accounted for it to Stella and Amy,
who, she insisted, must go into the accounts and see how it all went,
and to their astonishment and delight there was always a small balance,
which they left with the housekeeper for emergencies.

'I don't know how you manage to save anything. I couldn't. In fact, I
can't live on what I earn. If I don't get a rise I don't know what I am
to do,' said Eva.

'But you have more than my young lady, so you told me; if she can live
on it, why can't you?' objected the housekeeper.

'Because I am extravagant, I suppose; but I can't, and there's the end
of it,' said Eva.

'Nay, my bairn, that's not the end of it; the end of it is a very bad
one--debt and dishonesty, for they are the same thing to me--if one does
not try to put a better end to it; and, I'm sure, you would not keep in
debt, would you? But there, it's no time for such conversation at this
hour, when you ought to be eating a good breakfast before going out to
earn an honest livelihood. Have a piece more bacon, Miss Eva; it's hot
and will keep you going till dinner-time--you've a long morning before
you, remember,' urged the housekeeper.

Then she made up a little parcel with Eva's lunch, for she declared it
was extravagant to pay sixpence a day for dinner when she could always
give them pies or sandwiches to eat at midday, and cook them a nice hot
dinner in the evening.

Eva did not say anything, but though she was quiet she looked less
miserable than she had done when she came down. That day she did not go
to the Enterprise Club, where they ate their cold lunch or had the pies
heated if they liked; and when Amy rang her up on the telephone she said
she was lunching with a friend. Nor did she come home by the same train
as Amy, who even waited for the next, and then gave her up in despair.

'What happened to you, Eva?' asked Stella. Neither Amy nor Vava cared or
dared to question her when she did come in, looking very tired and with
dark rims round her eyes.

'I missed my train,' she replied, throwing herself into a chair in an
attitude of utter exhaustion.

'You must have missed two trains,' said Amy.

'Yes, I did; I saw the second one go out of the station as I came in;
the office clock must have been slow,' observed Eva.

'I should not trust to the office clock,' said Stella.

'I thought you said your watch had never lost a minute since you had had
it,' remarked Vava.

It seemed an innocent enough remark; but Eva flushed crimson, and said,
'I wish you would not worry me like this. I suppose I can miss my train
without all this fuss?' Then she got up and left the room, and they
noticed that she had not her wrist-watch on.

No one made any remark upon her conduct, and at dinner they tried to
cheer her up by being very cheerful themselves; but the effort proved a
vain one. After a rather depressing meal, Eva got up and went to bed, as
she said; at all events, she retired to her room. Vava went off to do
her lessons with Doreen, and Amy and Stella were left together.

'Stella, what are we to do? We can't let her go on like this!' cried
Amy.

'I don't see what we are to do. Of course it is easy to see that
something is upsetting her, and I suppose it is the payment for that
furniture; but I do not think she is in the mood to be spoken to about
it. We must just wait until she says something herself, and be as nice
to her as we can meanwhile,' was Stella's advice.

'I am so afraid she will get into more and more trouble; this friend,
whoever she is, with whom she lunched to-day has not a good influence
upon her. I always notice that she propounds some of her reckless ideas
after she has been with her, and I have no doubt it was she who
persuaded her to buy that wretched furniture, which is far too large for
her room,' said Amy.

'She must buy her own experience, as nursie says; and, by the way, she
told me the other day not to worry about Eva, as she would come all
right, for her heart was in the right place,' said Stella.

'One consolation is that she is going to her old home for Easter, and I
am hoping that seeing her old friends will bring her back to what she
was when she came up to town. I am going there too. I know most of her
friends, and I am sure they will do her good,' said Amy.

The object of all this solicitude had gone to bed, and was lying there
reading a book she did not wish them to see downstairs, which engrossed
her so much that she fell asleep over it and left her gas burning all
night!



CHAPTER XXII.

DANTE'S IDYLL.


'We shall just have a quiet Easter here with nursie, Vava; you won't
mind not having sea-breezes now that you have her, will you?' Stella
inquired of her sister a week before the Easter holidays began.

They were sitting in the Enterprise Club waiting for Amy, who now had
frequently to go home alone, as Eva was often very late, and had told
her friend not to wait for her. So, as it only meant getting home
half-an-hour later, the sisters had promised to wait for Amy to-day.

All round them were girls talking of their Easter holidays, and every
one was going away somewhere, either to the sea or to the country, or to
their respective homes, wherever they were.

Stella knew very few of them, and those only to say good-morning to; but
they all turned to ask her where she was spending her holidays and how
long she had; and when she had told them she had ten days, and meant to
spend them at home, they were loud in their expression of surprise.

And Vava too seemed to be depressed at hearing of all these plans for
pleasure; though when they asked her if she did not want to go away she
immediately answered by saying of course she did not.

One of the girls, with less tact than the others, guessing that it was a
matter of expense, remarked, 'I should go away if I were you if only for
the day, if you can't afford more. But it really wouldn't cost much;
there are lots of places where they take in business girls for as little
as ten shillings a week, and it will cost you nearly that at home. I can
give you some addresses if you like.'

'No, thank you,' said Stella with stiff politeness, and she was glad
that Amy appeared just then, so that she could get out of the club-room,
which had never been so distasteful to her before.

'All the same, Stella,' observed Vava, when the three of them were in
the train, and although Stella had made no remark upon the subject, 'I
should like to go away for the day on Easter Monday. They say Bank
Holiday is a horrid day in London, and you can get very cheap tickets to
the sea on that day.'

'Go in an excursion train!' cried Stella in accents of dismay.

'You would not like it at all, Vava; it would be ten times worse than
stopping in town. Besides, Blackstead is not town, and you will not see
many holiday-makers down Heather Road; it will be quieter than an
excursion train, with twenty people crowded into one carriage, and then
spending the day at a crowded seaside resort,' said Amy.

'Oh well, I think it was only to say I had been somewhere; all the girls
at school are going away, even Doreen will be away; but I don't really
mind,' said Vava.

And so it was arranged, and the next week was spent in rehearsing a play
for Founder's Day.

'Fancy, Stella, I am to be Beatrice in our play; only it is not called
Beatrice, but "Beatreechee,"' explained Vava, pronouncing it, as she
hoped, in correct Italian fashion.

'What play are you acting--Shakespeare's?' inquired Stella.

'No, Dante's, and the proper Beatrice has got ill, and they have chosen
me, partly because I am the same height, and so her clothes will fit me,
and partly because they say my face suits, though I don't think I am a
bit Italian-looking. Do you think so, Stella?' Vava demanded.

Stella looked at her sister, and then remarked with a smile, 'No, I
don't think you are; at least, not the type we call Italian.' But she
privately thought the stage-manager had made a very good choice, for
Vava had improved in looks since her arrival in London, and would make a
handsome Beatrice.

'Miss Briggs says it does not matter, as none of us are Italian, nor
look it; but that, as I have a good memory and can learn quickly, I
shall be able to learn up her part. It's a lovely part, Stella, though
Miss Briggs says it's not historical at all, and that Dante never said
anything about talking to Beatrice, and she doesn't believe he ever
spoke to her; but that's nonsense. How could any man write pages and
pages of poetry about a person he had never spoken to?' demanded Vava.

'Quite well. Imagination goes a long way with poets, and I was just
wondering how you were going to act Beatrice. She does not say much in
the poem, and then only as a spirit; so you don't want clothes to fit.'

'Ah, but it is all her life before she dies; the play begins at the
party where Dante first meets Beatrice,' said Vava, who had the book of
words in her hand and was studying it.

'But you, or rather Beatrice, are only nine years old at that party. How
are you going to manage that?' demanded Stella, for Vava was a tall
girl, and had grown taller and slimmer since she had been in London.

'We can't take any notice of that; you have no imagination, Stella. How
can I make myself into a little child in the first act, and then be
grown-up in the second?' she asked impatiently.

'Then I think I should not attempt such a play; it is making a parody of
Dante's glorious poem,' protested Stella, who had studied Dante with her
father, and thought this play presumptuous.

'It's not a parody, and my opinion is that it's better than Dante's,'
declared Vava.

Stella laughed outright at this assertion.

But Vava was not crushed. 'You wait and see; it's got some lovely scenes
in it, and the stage scenery is beautifully painted by ourselves--at
least, in the school by the painting-mistress and the girls. There's the
Bridge of the Trinità at Florence, where Dante meets me and makes a
beautiful speech, and I have quite a lot to say to him there,' said
Vava.

'You ought not to have,' interposed Stella, meaning from a historical
point of view.

But Vava--who was 'rehearsing her play' to Stella more for her own
benefit than to entertain her sister--was not at all pleased at this
criticism, and replied irately, 'If you want to see your old Dante you'd
better not come, for we are not going by it at all.'

'So it appears,' observed Stella dryly.

'How could we--horrid, gruesome stuff? Pray, how would you expect us to
put on the stage a lake of boiling pitch, with a lot of people in it
heads downwards and their legs struggling in the air? And who would come
to see it if we did? I wouldn't take part in such a horrid piece! Why,
even the reading of it made me feel quite ill,' argued Vava.

'You need not pick out that particular scene; there are beautiful
passages in Dante; but I do not think it is suitable for staging, and I
can't understand why it has been chosen,' remarked her sister.

'It is called _Dante: an Idyll_; and, as I said before, you wait and see
whether it is not splendid. I must go and rehearse this with Doreen
now,' replied Vava.

'Is Doreen to be in the play too?' asked Stella.

'Yes, she's a Florentine painter named Giotto. It's very funny, but her
features are just like his in his picture; and there's a Jewish girl in
the school with a long face who makes up very well as Dante. Oh you will
be astonished when you see our play; we do things in style at our
school, I can tell you!'

'Don't boast, Vava; it's very vulgar,' said Stella.

Vava did not answer back as she used to do, but went off to Doreen, whom
she found studying her part diligently. 'I'm so glad you've come; it's
no use saying this play to one's self. I know the words all right, but
it's the coming in at the right place and the pronunciation. I wish, if
you didn't mind, you would just say these speeches over first, and let
me say them after you, and see if I can pronounce them like you. I would
like to speak well, but I can't twist my mouth into shape as you do!'
she exclaimed.

'But we don't twist our mouths; that is just what you do that you should
not. See, talk like this, Doreen,' explained Vava; and for more than an
hour she sat patiently repeating the words and correcting Doreen, who
had a quick ear and copied her way of speaking fairly well, until at
last Vava said, with a sigh of satisfaction, 'That's all right now,
Doreen; you pronounce those words quite nicely, and you say your
speeches ever so much better than the other girls; one would think you
were a painter yourself, you speak with such feeling of the beautiful
pictures you are supposed to be painting.'

'I don't know much about painting, though I like looking at pictures;
but I do feel what I am saying, and I think it must have been splendid
to have been Dante's friend as Giotto was, and have been inspired by
him. No wonder he painted beautiful pictures, and one day I will go and
see them all,' announced Doreen.

'I never thought of all that; then I ought to feel more still, because
it is I that inspired Dante; but the worst of it is, Doreen, that I
don't feel Beatrice at all,' Vava confided to her.

'How do you mean?' demanded Doreen.

'I don't feel as if I could possibly inspire a person like Dante; and,
what's more, I don't want to,' she announced in a burst of confidence.

'You wouldn't like to have inspired the most beautiful poem that was
ever written?' cried Doreen incredulously.

'No, I wouldn't like to have inspired a vision of such horrors,'
maintained Vava stoutly.

Doreen could not help laughing at her tone. 'Then you can't admire some
of my pictures,' she suggested.

'I like your little dog,' Vava replied, laughing too. This was an
allusion to Giotto's famous sculpture of shepherds with a dog, on his
beautiful tower at Florence.

And with this Doreen had to be satisfied.

'And you know, Doreen, they say I inspired him; but in this play I don't
say anything very inspiring; it's Dante who has all the say, and utters
all the beautiful speeches; I only have to try and look noble, and
that's fearfully difficult and frightfully dull,' complained Vava.

'It's not difficult for you to look noble, because you are noble--in
character, I mean--and you have a noble face,' declared Doreen.

'Oh Doreen! you horrid flatterer; that is just because you like me. I
don't feel at all noble; but don't let's talk about that. Tell me if
this is the proper way to move my hands when I am talking; the Italians
gesticulate all the time they are talking, it appears. I don't know how
they do it, for I have never been in Italy,' said Vava, talking rapidly,
to prevent Doreen making any more such embarrassing remarks.

'You must wave them gracefully in the air, one at a time,' said Doreen,
suiting the action to the word.

Doreen's action was anything but graceful, and Vava gave a peal of
laughter.

'What is the matter?' demanded the former, stopping her windmill
movements.

'I beg your pardon, but you did look so funny. I think I had better not
pretend to be Italian; I can't move my hands gracefully, and I feel
awkward all the time,' she said.

'Luckily I have not to be graceful, and I have a palette and paint-brush
in my hands all the time; that gives me some occupation for my hands,'
observed Doreen.

'Yes, but I don't believe you ought to point at people with your
paint-brush; the Italians are a very polite nation, and I do not think
they would do such a thing as that,' commented Vava.

Doreen looked grave. 'But I've got to point, and how am I to point
except with my paint-brush, or the palette, which would be worse? I have
one in each hand, and I haven't a third hand,' she said, after
consideration.

Vava laughed. 'I suppose you can put one of them down for a minute.
Giotto did not paint all day long,' she suggested.

'No, but I am going to. I would not be without them for the world, and I
should feel as if I had six pairs of hands. I shall do like you, and not
attempt to be an Italian,' she announced.

However, the two of them were very enthusiastic players, and at the
dress-rehearsal it was doubtful which was the better. Vava, of course
was prettier, and acted well, but hers was a difficult part; and Doreen
seemed to have become an Italian artist for the time being, and entered
into the life and feelings of a Florentine painter of the Middle Ages,
and her dress was an exact copy of Giotto's. It was as well that the
girls had become word-perfect in their play before the last week of the
term; for that week, at least, Vava would have found it difficult to fix
her mind on it. However, it was arranged that the dress-rehearsal should
come off before the examination began, so as to leave the girls' minds
free for them, and the girls all knew their parts a week beforehand.

Vava gave herself up to preparing for her examination, and took up
nearly two hours of Mr. Jones's time one Saturday morning in having her
algebra explained to her; and Stella, finding she could not stop this,
decided that it would be best to take no notice of Mr. James Jones's
goodness, and treat it as a personal matter between him and Vava, and
have nothing to do with the matter, which was also Vava's opinion; for,
as she said candidly to Stella, 'You are not so civil to him that he
would care to do you a favour.'

Afterwards she felt that her candour both to Stella and the junior
partner had been rather a mistake.



CHAPTER XXIII.

STELLA'S PRIDE.


As a rule, an employer feels no diffidence in offering one of his
employés a rise in salary; but Mr. James Jones found himself wondering
how he was to tell Miss Wharton that the three months being up, her
salary would be raised to two pounds. He always enclosed her cheque in
an envelope, and sent it by the housekeeper with some other letters
every Saturday morning. But this Saturday he wrote out the cheque for
the increased amount, and tried to compose a civil note to inform her
that the time for the usual rise had arrived. To begin with, he did not
know how to address her. 'Dear Madam' sounded too formal, and he did not
dare to say 'Dear Miss Wharton.' So he pushed the cheque on one side,
and began opening his letters and giving them to Stella.

When she had gone, a knock came to the door, and Vava's bright face
appeared.

'What a surprise; I thought you had given me up and got another
mathematical master!' cried Mr. Jones, looking very pleased to see his
young pupil again.

'Indeed I haven't; only I got lazy about coming up to the City on
Saturday when there was a nice cosy fire to sit by and old nursie to
talk to; but the examinations are next week, and I wanted to ask you to
explain one or two rules to me,' said Vava, bringing her book up to the
junior partner's desk.

'I shall be delighted; but I want you to explain to me first how to do
something,' replied Mr. Jones.

'Me? But I can't explain anything you can't understand!' she exclaimed
incredulously.

'Yes you can; you understand your sister,' he observed.

'Oh Stella'----began Vava, rather embarrassed; for Stella had requested
her since the episode of the letter not to discuss her or her private
affairs with Mr. James Jones or any one else.

'And I don't--I don't want to hurt her feelings,' continued Mr. James
Jones.

'Oh well, I don't suppose you would; she says you are very civil and
gentlemanly, and'----Here Vava stopped.

'Did she say that? I am very glad to hear it. What were you going to
say?' he inquired.

'I think I had better not say any more. You know I got into an awful row
about that letter, and nursie was cross with me too; so I really have
begun to be very careful what I say now,' announced Vava.

'You need not be careful with me; still, I don't want you to say what
you think you ought not. Now will you explain my difficulty to me? I
want to write to your sister, and I don't know how to begin the letter,'
he told her.

Vava opened her eyes wide. 'But she is in the next room!'

'I know; but I really could not say it to her,' said the junior partner,
looking uncomfortable.

Vava looked at him keenly. 'I can't imagine why not; she's not so
frightening as all that, unless you want to propose to her,' she added
with a laugh.

Mr. Jones laughed too, although he coloured and looked fearfully at the
door, as if Stella might by some evil chance be there. 'Would she be
frightening if one proposed?' he asked in joke.

'I hope you won't, because she would not marry you, you know,' responded
Vava.

'Thank you,' said Mr. Jones. And then he added, in a dry tone, 'As a
matter of fact, I was not going to take any such liberty; I was going to
tell her'----Here he stopped.

'That you didn't want her any more?' suggested Vava.

'On the contrary, that her services were worth more to the firm than she
was being paid for them, and that her salary would be raised,' he
observed.

'How jolly! Why can't you tell Stella that straight out? She isn't
ashamed of earning money,' declared Vava.

Mr. Jones was not so sure of that. However, he so far took Vava's advice
as not to write, but simply to send the cheque of the increased amount,
and leave Stella to speak of it.

Meanwhile Mr. Jones set to work to explain not only one or two rules,
but to go through all the term's work, and spent, not half-an-hour, but
two hours at it; and Stella, who came in with her letters, could not
help feeling grateful, and admiring the young man for his good-nature
and the interest he was evidently taking in his pupil.

'Now if that does not bring you out first in the examination I shall be
surprised, that's all!' he exclaimed, when, having come to the last
rule, Vava declared that she understood them all.

'Then I shall have to give the prize to you,' she replied, laughing, and
went off.

Now it happened that Stella did not open her cheque at all that morning,
being very busy translating a long communication from a French firm, and
on the way home she took it out of its large business envelope to put
into her pocket-book, when her eye fell on the amount. 'Dear me! how
stupid of Mr. Jones; he has made this cheque out wrong. If I wanted to
cash this money it would be very inconvenient,' said Stella, who was
very particular about paying all bills and accounts regularly every
week.

'It's all right; he's raised your salary,' put in Vava.

Stella grew crimson with anger. 'How do you know? And what have you been
telling him to make him do it? If it is because I couldn't afford to
take you to the seaside, I may as well tell you it won't make any
difference, and I am surprised at your complaining of not having enough
money; it's just asking for it, that's what it is, and I never thought a
sister of mine would beg!' she cried scornfully.

Vava's anger was roused by this injustice, and a wicked desire to tease
her sister made her say, instead of denying the accusation, 'There was
no need to beg; he says you are worth it to the firm.'

'I shall return it on Monday,' said Stella.

'Then you will be very silly. To tell you the truth, I wonder Mr. Jones
puts up with you, and I should not be surprised if he gets tired of your
nasty pride, and tells you to go,' remarked Vava.

Stella said nothing in answer to this impertinence. She was very angry
with Vava; but now that she had time to think she felt that she had been
too hasty, and should have asked an explanation from her sister, whom
she could hardly believe had really asked for a rise; still it looked
like it, its coming that morning. In a different tone she asked, 'What
made Mr. Jones tell you about this cheque? I thought I told you not to
discuss me?'

'I didn't--at least, how could I help it; he began it, and I had to
answer him,' protested Vava.

'You ought to have declined to talk about me. One thing is certain, you
will not have the chance again, for you shall not go to him with your
sums or anything else. Our relations with Mr. Jones are simply business
ones, and I don't want him to think we wish them to be anything else,'
said Stella.

'That's just what I told him, and I said you would not marry him if he
asked you!' cried Vava impulsively.

Many a time during the following week did Vava ask herself why she did
such a silly thing as to repeat that foolish remark; but at the time she
had no idea of the trouble it would cause.

Stella stared at her sister as if she could hardly believe her ears.
'You discussed my marrying Mr. Jones with him?' she asked, red and white
in turns.

'I said you wouldn't marry him, so it's all right; you need not go
upsetting yourself,' she replied, half-frightened at the effect her
remark had had upon her elder sister.

'I do not want to hear anything more that you said. I have begged you to
be more careful of what you say, but it seems to be hopeless; other
arrangements will have to be made.' And she relapsed into cold silence;
but Vava saw that tears of mortification were in her eyes.

The girl made one or two attempts to speak to Stella, but without
success, and they walked home in silence from the station. Oh how glad
Vava was to have 'nursie' there, into whose ears she poured the whole
story.

'You should not have said it, Miss Vava; of course Miss Stella is vexed
at your suggesting such a thing,' said the old woman.

'But she does not know that I suggested it; she only knows half the
story, and I can't make her listen,' objected Vava.

'You must leave her alone till she comes round; her pride is hurt, and
no wonder. What I do wonder at is your talking about such things as
marriage to a strange gentleman; it's very unbecoming in a young lady of
your age,' said the housekeeper.

But 'nursie' could say what she liked to her 'bairn,' who took it quite
meekly, and did as she was told, and left Stella alone.

After dinner, at which they were all rather silent, Stella wrote a
letter, which she took out and posted, not at the pillar but at the
post-office.

'There now, she's written Mr. Jones a horrid letter, I'm quite sure!'
exclaimed Vava to the housekeeper.

'It's none of your business if she has,' replied the latter.

'I don't know so much about that. Mr. Jones will think I repeated the
conversation all wrong, and I'm certain she is sending back the extra
money,' retorted Vava.

'You can't help that; your elder sister must do what she thinks right,'
insisted the housekeeper.

'I can help it; I can write to Mr. Jones and tell him the truth,'
declared Vava.

But Mrs. Morrison would not hear of this. 'You wrote once, and it vexed
her; and now that she has forbidden you to go to see Mr. Jones any more
you have nothing to do but obey, even if it is hard.'

'But he will think horrid things of me,' protested Vava.

'I do not think he will; but even so, you must abide by it. Dearie me,
what bairns you all are! You are nothing but children, all of you, and
making trouble for yourselves, as if there were not enough in the world
without your adding to it,' said the good woman with a sigh, for she had
taken Amy and Eva to her warm heart, and their troubles as well, and
just now her keen eyes saw that there was trouble with them as well as
with her own two 'bairns.'

Stella's walk had done her good, for she seemed more cheerful at tea,
and spoke a few words to Vava, whose buoyant spirits revived at once. As
Mrs. Morrison had said, they were all young; and when after tea Stella
suggested a round game, they all joined in, and one would have thought
to hear their merry laughter that they had not a care among them.

However, when Monday morning came, Stella came down to breakfast in her
indoor clothes, and seemed to be taking things very easily.

'Stella, make haste, you will be late for the train, and I must be in
time this morning, because it is the examination!' cried Vava
impatiently.

'I am not coming with you to-day,' said Stella quietly.

'Then why did you not tell me? I let Doreen go past, and I must run now
to catch the train!' cried Vava, rushing off in a great hurry.

Stella certainly thought she had made Vava understand that she was not
going to town that day; but Vava very certainly did not understand it,
and remarked to Doreen, 'Stella is coming by a later train; she is
rather vexed with me for something stupid I said, so I dare say that's
why she did not come with us.'

'I'm sorry; she's so pretty, and I like to look at her,' said Doreen;
and then, Stella not being there to look at, she opened her books and
began looking over work for the examination.

The day went very well. Vava answered every question in the algebra
paper, and was only uncertain about two problems, and she decided when
she went to call for her sister to show her the paper and ask her if she
might not give it to Mr. Jones and just tell him how much he had helped
her. The last event was always uppermost with Vava, and her examination
seemed to be of much more importance than her sister's annoyance of
Saturday, and it was with a very bright face that she went to her
sister's little office at Baines, Jones and Co.'s to tell her how well
she had got on. She walked in as usual without knocking, and to her
surprise found Mr. Jones sitting at her sister's typewriter, or rather
the typewriter her sister had used.

'What! you, Vava? Haven't you washed your hands of me too?' he said
rather bitterly.

'I haven't washed my hands of you. Where is Stella?' she inquired in
surprise, looking round, and determined to be very careful what she said
to-day.

'Don't you know then?' he demanded.

'Know what? Have you quarrelled?' she inquired.

'I have not quarrelled, and as it takes two to make a quarrel I suppose
we have not; but your sister has left, and I cannot imagine why, except
that I raised her salary without explaining the reason,' he said.

'Left you! What reason did she give? When did she leave--just before I
came?' asked Vava.

'She never came to-day. I had a letter instead, simply saying as there
were only a few days to the holidays she begged to be excused from
returning, as she wished to leave my employ.'

'Oh dear! it's all my fault,' sighed Vava, and she told the story of her
conversation with Stella.

'Well, I am glad about one thing, and that is that I have seen you and
had this explanation,' said Mr. Jones.

'But I ought not to be here; Stella said I wasn't to come and see you
any more!' cried Vava, just remembering this fact.

'You did not come to see me--fate brought me to this room at this
minute; but I won't keep you. I have written to your sister; but since
you have explained matters I will write a different letter,' he
observed.

'I do hope she'll come back to you,' sighed Vava.

'I doubt it; pride is very strong with your sister; but I hope we shall
be friends in spite of it. Now, good-bye, don't miss your train,' he
said, holding out his hand before Vava had time to ask how they could be
friends without ever seeing each other.

As it was, she missed Doreen, who had gone by the earlier train, so she
had to go home alone, a thing she had never done before; and she felt a
little surprised and hurt at the indifferent way Mr. Jones had said
good-bye to her for ever, as she believed.



CHAPTER XXIV.

BADLY BEGUN AND MADLY ENDED.


Looking back on that examination week, Vava declared afterwards that it
was the longest week and the most eventful of her whole life--it 'began
badly and ended madly,' was how she put it, talking about it to nursie,
her confidante and comforter during this trying time.

She went home, feeling rather depressed, with an inward conviction that
her sister's leaving Messrs Baines, Jones & Co. was her fault in the
first instance, and she made a mental resolution to be more careful in
the future what she said. However, Stella met her with no reproachful
looks, but was calmly darning a tablecloth as if she had not just thrown
up thirty-five shillings, or rather two pounds, a week, which meant a
good deal to them at the present moment.

'You never told me you were not going to town at all,' was Vava's
greeting.

'It is none of your business,' said Stella, who, though she imagined she
had told Vava, did not wish to be questioned on the subject.

'All the same, you might have told me, for I went to your little room as
usual to fetch you, and there was Mr. Jones typing his own letters,'
retorted Vava with an injured air.

As it happened, she was getting the best of it, for Stella, who was not
at all pleased at this news, could not scold her for going there;
besides, it made the elder sister rather uncomfortable to know how her
sudden departure had inconvenienced her late employer. But not yet would
she own herself to be in the wrong. 'I hope you did not stop and talk,'
she remarked.

'I asked where you were, and Mr. Jones told me you had left; but he
would not keep me, he said, as he knew you disliked him'----replied
Vava.

'Vava, what do you mean?' interrupted her sister.

'If you had let me finish I was going to say, "being friends with me,"'
said Vava.

'Then you should talk grammatically; it is not "him being friends" but
"his being friends."'

'Well, he isn't either, so it does not matter,' replied Vava testily,
for she was very sorry about it all, and this made her cross.

The next morning's post brought Stella three letters. One was from the
junior partner, which she opened first, though why it should have
interested her does not seem clear, as she had finished with him and
would not return to him on any account; perhaps she wished to be asked
at least.

If so, she was disappointed. Mr. Jones's note was short and formal.
Stella had begun her letter of resignation 'Dear Sir;' but Mr. Jones
replied:

     'DEAR MISS WHARTON,--I beg to acknowledge your letter tendering
     your resignation as secretary, which I accept in the name of the
     firm; also the five shillings, which you return under some
     misapprehension. I regret your departure, and shall find it
     difficult to supply the place you have so admirably filled. I also
     regret that you should hold the opinion of me that you do, and
     trust you will some day modify your views. I shall be glad to
     answer any one you refer to me.--Yours faithfully,

     'JAMES JONES.'

Stella felt a distinct sensation of disappointment as she laid this
letter down. The next pleased her no better. 'What have my movements in
the City got to do with them?' she exclaimed involuntarily.

'With whom?' asked Vava.

'The Montague Joneses,' replied Stella, handing over to her sister the
note, in which Mrs. Jones hoped that her change of employment would not
interfere with her promise to dine with them next Friday, as it made no
difference to them. 'Of course it does not,' was Stella's comment.

The third letter was a still greater surprise, and she gave an
exclamation of pleasure as she said, 'I will come up with you this
morning, Vava. I have been offered an appointment in the City not far
from--my late office.'

'How quick! How did they know you wanted one, or your address? I suppose
that is Mr. Jones, and I call it rather decent of him,' observed Vava,
in a significant tone.

'As it happens, it was not Mr. Jones; it was that good Mrs. Ryan,' said
Stella with satisfaction.

'How on earth did she manage it?' inquired Vava, who thought privately
that if the housekeeper had got Stella this post she had done so by Mr.
Jones's orders, and as it happens (to quote Stella) Vava was quite
right; but fortunately Stella did not suspect this, or, as Vava well
knew, she was capable of throwing it over, and the younger sister wisely
kept her thoughts to herself.

The two sisters accordingly went up to the City together as usual, and
it was only when they were nearing their destination that Stella began
to look a little nervous at the thought of again facing strangers, and
to think with regret of the comfortable little room she had had all to
herself. For one short moment she had half a mind to return to Messrs
Baines, Jones & Co., the junior partner of which firm she knew would
welcome her back; but pride forbade such a step.

Vava, who knew her sister's face well, guessed at her nervousness, and
said in a pleading voice, 'Stella, please let me come with you; I shall
feel much happier, and as if you had forgiven me for causing all this
bother.'

Partly to please Vava, and partly because she dreaded facing a room full
of young men who stared at her in too open admiration, she accepted
Vava's offer, and went up the steps of Murchison Limited protected by
her sister.

Mr. Murchison had not arrived, and Stella was requested to take a seat
on a bench in the passage by a young clerk to whom she told her
business. Up and down the passage passed a countless number of men, as
it seemed to the two girls.

'Vava, you must go; you will be late for school,' said Stella, as the
minutes passed and no Mr. Murchison arrived.

'I simply couldn't go away and leave you alone in this horrid place!'
cried Vava.

Stella smiled at her younger sister's protective tone, as she said, 'But
your examinations?'

'I don't care if I miss fifty exams; you are more important than they
are!' exclaimed Vava.

An elderly gentleman coming in at the moment noticed the two girls in
mourning, the elder smiling as the younger looked eagerly up into her
face, and thought he had never seen a prettier picture. He came hastily
forward, and holding out his hand said, 'Miss Wharton, I am sure, and
this is the City schoolgirl? I am so sorry to have been late, but my car
broke down, as usual with these machines when one has an appointment;
but you should not have waited here. Come into my office.' He had such a
kind, fatherly way, and spoke in such refined accents, that Stella was
reassured; and the boy who had asked her to go outside wished he had
been more polite when he saw the courtesy his master was showing to the
two young clerks, as he had imagined them to be.

'You had better go now, Vava,' said Stella, as they entered Mr.
Murchison's private office.

'Are you sure you are all right?--You will see that she is comfortable,
won't you?' said Vava, turning to the old man.

A twinkle came into his eye, but he answered gravely and courteously,
'You may safely leave your sister with us; we will see that she is quite
comfortable and happy.'

'Thank you,' said Vava, and ran off happy too.

A short interview sufficed to tell Stella what was required of her, and
then she was shown into a small room by Mr. Murchison himself, who said
apologetically, 'I am afraid it is rather dark and dingy, but we have
not required it hitherto, and I am sure you will prefer this to being in
a room with the other clerks?'

'Oh yes, and it will do very nicely, thank you,' said Stella with
relief. Little did she or Vava dream that there was anything surprising
in her falling into a second berth so easily, or in the treatment and
consideration she received. Not that she would not have been kindly and
civilly treated; but, as a rule, Mr. Murchison did not interview his
clerks himself, nor did he hurry to the City to keep appointments with
them.

If Stella had been in the chief's office later on she would have been
enlightened about many things. As it was, she only wondered that she was
needed at all; it seemed to her that the small amount of work she did
might very easily have been distributed among the young men-clerks.

Mr. Murchison had just sent her in some papers to typewrite, and was
leaning back in his chair deep in thought when Lord Rothery was
announced.

'I hope I am not intruding, Mr. Murchison?' he began.

But the City magnate greeted him with a laugh. 'I believe you always say
that on entering a City office,' he answered.

'Well, I feel I'm the idle butterfly among the bees, don't you know; but
I was sent here this morning,' explained the young man.

'Not for a clerk's place, I sincerely hope, for I really can't find work
for another superfluous person!' protested Mr. Murchison with a look of
amusement.

'No, no; it's the last one I've come about,' observed his visitor.

'What! are you an admirer too? This promises to become complicated, not
to say a nuisance,' said the old man; but he still looked amused, for he
was a very kindly man, and Stella's quiet, ladylike manners, as well as
her beauty, had won him.

'I admire her all right--I don't see how one could help it. But it's no
go; she didn't admire me, and it seems Jones has no better luck. But
he's a dogged beggar, and won't give up hope, and he has sent me to see
that she is comfortable and all that,' he said.

'Oh yes, she's comfortable--at least, as comfortable as I could make her
at a day's notice. And if you are going back to that happy young man you
may tell him that it is more than I am, for I can't find anything for
her to do, and I think he'd better send her work along too to keep her
occupied,' replied Mr. Murchison.

'Oh that would never do; she'd spot something, and he says she must on
no account guess that he has got her this place,' said Lord Rothery
hastily.

Mr. Murchison put back his head and laughed. 'A City conspiracy to save
the pride of a most wrong-headed young woman, who, as a matter of fact,
does not deserve such consideration, after treating Jones so badly,
leaving him at a moment's notice. It's really great nonsense, if you
come to think of it. He wants her services, and I do not; but because
she gets into a rage about nothing he must find her a comfortable
sinecure. What am I to do with a lady-clerk? I don't want one at all,'
he wound up.

'Jamie knows that, and told me to tell you he's sure it won't be for
long. He's awfully sorry to ask such a favour, but it's a matter of life
and death to him.'

'Life and death fiddlesticks!' ejaculated Mr. Murchison.

'I'm only quoting his words. He really looks very bad this morning; I
feel quite sorry for him, and I'm awfully sorry for her too. Poor
Stella! it's an awful come down for her,' said his lordship.

'I don't think it is any hardship to earn your own living, though
perhaps she is too pretty; anyway, it's being made easier for her than
for many a girl who is just as good,' objected Mr. Murchison.

'It's worse for her, because she's so beastly proud--always was as a
child; but she's a good sort, and I only hope Jones will get his way,
though I "ha'e ma douts," as we say up north. He daren't come and see
you, he says,' said Lord Rothery.

But Stella knew nothing of all this, and only found the day drag, as she
had so little to do.

Vava too found the day long. She was half-an-hour late for school, and
as she brought no written excuse, and her own was not considered
satisfactory, she was not allowed to go in to the examination at all;
and although she had said Stella was more important than fifty
examinations, she was very disappointed to miss this one, which was
history, in which she hoped to do well, as it was her strong point.
However, she said nothing about this to Stella, who seemed depressed, on
the way home. Although they had only been in the new house a month,
things did not seem to be going very smoothly. Eva was like a
thundercloud all dinner-time, and snapped at any one who spoke to her,
until in desperation they left her severely alone.

'Everything's downright horrid, nursie,' said Vava, going into the
kitchen after dinner to pour out her woes into the housekeeper's
sympathetic ear.

'When night's blackest, dawn's nearest--not that I think it's a very
black night; we must all pay for our experience, and you are paying at
this minute,' replied the old woman.

'But I don't see why I should pay to-day! I had not done anything wrong.
I couldn't have left Stella sitting on that horrid bench all alone,
could I?' protested Vava.

'You are too fond of that word "horrid." I don't expect there was
anything the matter with the bench; it's no good being too high and
mighty in this world, and there's no disgrace or degradation in honest
labour,' said the old housekeeper; for however much she might regret the
necessity of her 'young leddies' earning their living, she was not going
to tell them so, or put foolish notions into their heads; moreover, she
thought they both needed a lesson in humility.

'It was not a pleasant place for a girl to sit alone, anyway, and you
would have said the same yourself, and it was horrid, for sitting there
made me miss my best exam, which was a horrid bore--well, a shame,' said
Vava.

'It was no shame if it was the rules of the school, and it was that
tongue of yours that took you both there to the new office, in the first
place; but I hope it will be a lesson to you. And now, my bairn, just
try on these stockings; they will be cooler for spring, and I don't know
if they are long enough or not,' she wound up.

Vava tried on the stockings, which she declared fitted, as nursie's
knitted stockings always did. But next another unpleasant event took
place, making this week the 'baddest and maddest' Vava had ever known;
and to understand it the events of the day before at the City school
must be related.



CHAPTER XXV.

UNDER A CLOUD.


When Vava had arrived at school, Miss Briggs, who really had nothing to
do with her, although she had taken it upon her to write to Stella about
her friendship with Doreen Hackney, told her to report herself to the
head-mistress for being late.

The girls rather resented Miss Briggs's interference. She was not one of
the form-mistresses, but taught certain subjects throughout the school,
and had passed very high examinations; and, in her zeal for the
well-being of the school and its pupils, she was apt to be meddlesome,
as she was this morning, when, having nothing to do, she was walking
about the corridors, and met Vava hurrying in late. Vava went by her
orders to the head-mistress's room, but found it empty. As she was
coming away she met Miss Briggs, and thought it her duty to tell her
that the head-mistress was not there, and was then going to pass on to
her classroom.

But Miss Briggs stopped her. 'Then you had better wait here for her,'
she observed.

'I shall miss my exam.!' protested Vava.

'Where is your written excuse for being late?' demanded Miss Briggs.

'I have none. I went with my sister to her City office, as she did not
like going alone,' explained Vava.

This explanation sounded very lame and unsatisfactory, Miss Briggs
thought. Moreover, this same sister had written her a very stiff letter
in answer to her warning against Doreen as a friend for Vava; and it is
to be feared there was a certain amount of spite mingled with a desire
for discipline when she replied, 'That is no excuse. You are too late to
go into the examination, and you will disturb all the others. Your
sister should have consideration for them, and you will stay here until
the bell rings for recreation.' And Miss Briggs marched away.

'Here' was a corridor without any seats; but Vava took this command as
meaning to stay out of the classroom, and she wandered off to the
playground, where she sat down on a garden-seat, and looked over the
subject for the next examination, feeling very irritated at Miss
Briggs's dictatorial manner.

Everything 'happened' wrong that morning. Miss Briggs, as she went back
to her room, chanced to pass Miss Courteney, who had come to the door of
the classroom to speak to some one, and Miss Briggs detained her, rather
against her will, saying, 'Oh Miss Courteney, I met Vava Wharton
strolling in just now. She had been to her sister's office instead of
coming to school, so I told her it was not worth while coming in now and
disturbing the others, and that she must wait till the bell rings.'

Miss Courteney looked vexed. 'It is her best subject. I am very sorry.
Where is she?' she asked.

'In the corridor. Shall I say you will excuse her this time, and send
her to you?' inquired Miss Briggs, who saw that, though Miss Courteney
was too polite to say so, she had done wrong.

'I shall be much obliged if you will. I will speak to her about being
late,' replied Miss Courteney, much relieved. She did not want to
contradict Miss Briggs's orders; but she did not want Vava to miss her
examination.

Miss Briggs hurried down to the corridor; but of course saw no Vava. She
searched in all the empty rooms and in the large assembly room, and in
her eagerness to find Vava she actually toiled up to the studio at the
top of the building, but in vain. Then, feeling rather annoyed with Vava
for her disobedience, Miss Briggs searched the cloak-rooms; and, not
seeing the girl there, looked for her hat and coat under the name of
Wharton. They were not there, and Miss Briggs came to the conclusion
that Vava had gone off to tell her sister, her ideas of school
discipline being elementary, in Miss Briggs's opinion. There was no
opportunity of telling Miss Courteney, who was in charge of the
examination, so she waited until the bell rung; for it never occurred to
her that on this cold March morning Vava would be sitting in the
playground.

But so it was. When the bell rung Vava joined the other girls at
recreation.

'Where have you been, Vava Wharton?' demanded Miss Briggs, who was in
charge of the playground.

'Here, Miss Briggs,' replied Vava.

Miss Briggs unfortunately took her to mean on the premises. 'Do I
understand you to say that you never left the school premises?' she
demanded.

'Yes, I stayed here all the time till the bell rung,' said Vava.

'Strange. I searched everywhere, but could not find you,' commented Miss
Briggs.

'I was here all the time,' repeated Vava, rather nettled at the young
teacher's tone.

Miss Briggs went to report the matter to Miss Upjohn, who listened with
a rather abstracted air.

'I will see the girl afterwards; at present I am worried about some
examination papers which I put on the top of my desk and cannot find,'
she replied.

'What papers are they?' inquired Miss Briggs.

'The Scripture papers for the Fourth Form; it is the next examination
after recreation,' explained the head-mistress, who took this subject
herself throughout the school.

'The Fourth Form! That is Vava Wharton's form,' observed Miss Briggs.

'Yes, she is in the Fourth Form,' agreed Miss Upjohn absent-mindedly.
And then she exclaimed, 'Why, what are those papers on that shelf near
the door?'

Miss Briggs went to look. 'They are the Fourth Form Scripture papers,'
she informed her.

'I am glad. But how on earth did they get on to that shelf? I am sure I
put them on this table; I never put them anywhere else, and that shelf
would be the last place I should put them. Any one passing the door
could easily see and read them without even meaning to do so,' remarked
Miss Upjohn, looking puzzled.

'It looks as if some one had looked at them,' observed Miss Briggs with
meaning.

'How? What do you mean?' inquired Miss Upjohn in surprise.

'I mean, if you did not put them there yourself some one must have
meddled with them, and it looks to me as if that some one had taken them
away to look at, and then hurriedly put them back as near the door as
she could get,' explained Miss Briggs.

'Oh I don't think it at all likely! I hope not; I should be sorry to
think there was a girl in my school who would do such a thing!' she
cried.

'Then how do you account for them being removed?' demanded Miss Briggs.

'I can't account for it; but I would rather think that I put them there
myself in an absent-minded moment than that they had been tampered
with.'

'But you are never absent-minded, and you do not forget things,'
objected Miss Briggs.

'I may have forgotten this; let us hope so,' said the head-mistress in a
tone which showed Miss Briggs she wished to change the conversation.

Miss Briggs took the hint and said no more, and it is just possible that
the matter might have dropped, and that a suspicion which had arisen in
her mind might have died out, but for another unfortunate coincidence,
which was as follows.

Vava, as has been said, had not learned to be subject to discipline, and
constantly talked when going to and from class; and now, after the bell
was rung, she observed to Doreen, 'I don't care if I have missed the
history. I shall be first in the Scripture examination--you see if I am
not. I can answer any of the questions they put.'

Vava took no heed of where she was when she spoke, and never noticed
that she was passing Miss Upjohn's room, until Doreen said, 'Hush!'

Miss Briggs, who was at the door with the head-mistress, overheard the
remark, and she looked to see what Miss Upjohn thought of it; but the
latter only looked grave at the breach of discipline.

'You heard that?' questioned Miss Briggs.

'Yes. I will have to speak to her,' replied Miss Upjohn.

But Miss Briggs did not let the matter rest there. She said nothing more
at the time; but after school was over she went to the head-mistress's
room, meaning to talk the matter over.

As it happened ('all wrong,' as Vava declared about all the happenings
of this day), Miss Upjohn had the Scripture papers of the Fourth Form
before her, and was correcting them.

'Miss Upjohn, excuse me,' began Miss Briggs.

Miss Upjohn patiently put her pen down. She occasionally found Miss
Briggs and her zeal trying; but there was a spirit of comradeship among
the members of the staff which is not often to be seen as strongly as at
the City School for Girls. 'You wish to speak to me?' she questioned.

'Yes. Have you corrected Vava Wharton's Scripture paper?' she inquired.

Miss Upjohn was surprised at the question, but replied, 'As it happens,
I have, and a very excellent paper it is; she has answered every
question.'

'She said she should, on her way into the classroom, if you remember,'
Miss Briggs remarked.

Miss Upjohn looked at the young teacher inquiringly, and then the
meaning of Miss Briggs's words dawned upon her, and she said hastily,
'She is very well up in Scripture.'

'I would not have spoken of it but for this, Miss Upjohn, and it leaves
no doubt in my mind as to the person who moved your papers,' said Miss
Briggs; and she told the story of Vava's morning as far as she knew it,
adding, 'She says she stayed in the building the whole time; but I know
that to be false, for I searched it from top to bottom.'

Miss Upjohn looked very grave, 'I believe her to be the soul of honour.
Surely you would not suspect a girl with such an open countenance as she
has of such a dishonest act, and in a Scripture examination too?'
objected the head-mistress.

'I am very sorry to do so, but appearances are often deceptive, or how
should we be so often taken in? I must say it looks to me very like it,
taking into consideration her speech before the examination, her
excellent paper, the fact that she was alone hiding somewhere for part
of the morning, and that your papers had undoubtedly been moved,' argued
Miss Briggs.

Miss Upjohn could not help thinking what an excellent detective the
young teacher would have made; but she was not convinced by her
arguments, all the same. 'I think you are mistaken; I sincerely hope so,
and I shall be obliged if you will not mention the matter to any one,'
was all she said, and she did not thank Miss Briggs for reporting the
matter to her; but long after the young mistress had gone she sat
looking thoughtfully before her, while the ink dried on her pen and the
papers remained uncorrected. Then, as if she dismissed an unpleasant
thought, she continued her corrections.

And that probably would have been the end of that matter if Miss Briggs
had not met Vava outside the school, talking eagerly to Doreen. 'I know
I have done well in this exam, and the algebra. Mr. Jones helped me with
the algebra, and in this exam. I knew quite well what questions were
going to be asked, and looked them up while you were doing your history
exam.; so it's all for the best, after all.'

'Vava Wharton,' said Miss Briggs sharply, 'how did you know what
questions were to be asked?'

Vava was by no means a nervous girl, nor given to starting when spoken
to; but perhaps the events of the past few days, or more likely the
examinations, had excited her. At all events, she started at Miss
Briggs's sharp voice, and stammering slightly, said, 'I guessed it, Miss
Briggs.'

'That is nonsense. How could you guess such a thing?' said Miss Briggs,
unbelieving.

'Indeed she did, Miss Briggs, for she told me one question she knew
would be asked as we were going up the stairs, before we saw the papers
at all; and it was great luck, for she reminded me of the answer, and it
was the first question on the paper!' cried Doreen, whose idea was to
prove to the mistress that Vava was not boasting, which was what she
imagined her friend was being suspected of doing.

But it was, as it happened, a most unfortunate remark. Little though
Miss Upjohn had encouraged her, Miss Briggs felt that she must go back
and tell the head-mistress this latest information. So she did, though
she was received very coldly.

Miss Upjohn heard her to the end without making any comment, and then
she said, 'I am sure you only wished to perform an unpleasant duty in
repeating this conversation, and I am obliged to you for telling me, as
I will speak to Vava Wharton to-morrow and hear her explanation, which I
am sure will be satisfactory. Good-evening, Miss Briggs.' And Miss
Upjohn held out her hand with a kind smile.

Miss Briggs went away far from satisfied. She thought Miss Upjohn very
credulous and prejudiced in Vava's favour, and the unworthy thought came
into her head that it was because she was a protégée of the chairman of
their board of governors. 'And because of that she won't believe a word
against her,' said the young mistress to herself. Then, being, as has
already been seen, a most meddlesome person, she had no sooner arrived
at her lodgings than she sat down and wrote a letter to no less a person
than Mr. Montague Jones, who read it aloud at breakfast to his wife.

'I'm going right to the City school to get to the bottom of this, and
give that "meddlesome Mattie" a piece of my mind,' he said in an annoyed
tone.

'But the letter is marked "Private and confidential," Monty,' protested
his wife.

'I'll "private and confidential" her. You haven't any right to libel any
one confidentially, and I'll make her eat her words, daring to accuse my
little Vava of looking at examination papers, and Scripture examination
papers too! The woman must be an idiot!' cried the irate man.

'Pray be moderate in your expressions, Monty, and don't go up there
storming at every one because they don't believe in Vava as much as you
do,' remonstrated his wife.

Mr. Jones turned on her indignantly. 'You don't believe this humbug, I
should hope?' he inquired.

'No, of course not, because I know the child; but I must own it looks
suspicious, and if you take my advice you'll have a talk with Vava, and,
without betraying Miss Briggs, get her to explain it all to you; there's
some explanation, I have no doubt,' suggested Mrs. Montague Jones.

This was very sensible advice, and Mr. Jones was in the habit of
blustering first, and then calming down and listening to his wife's
shrewd suggestions; and this was what he did in the present case, though
he went off in the car, which he had ordered round at once, muttering
all sorts of threats against Miss Briggs for daring to malign his
favourite.



CHAPTER XXVI.

MORE CLOUDS.


Vava meanwhile went to Stella's new office, and found her sister, with
hat and jacket on, waiting for her. 'You have got done? I suppose they
don't bring you tea here?' said Vava.

'No, we must wait until we get home. We shall enjoy a cup of tea with
dinner all the more,' said Stella.

However, when they arrived at No. 2 Heather Road, the housekeeper, who
had evidently been on the watch for them, came into the hall to welcome
them, and, taking their umbrellas, said, 'It's cold, this nasty wet day,
my bairns; come into the sitting-room and warm yourselves by the fire.
I've the kettle boiling and some hot scones, if you'd care to have some
tea.'

'Oh nursie, you just are the dearest darling in the world; we haven't
had any afternoon tea. These new people are not as thoughtful as Mr.
James Jones was!' exclaimed Vava.

'It is not really a necessity; we could very well wait till
dinner-time,' observed Stella. 'But I must say I shall be very glad of a
cup to-day; it has been such a long day.'

Mrs. Morrison looked at the weary young face from under her glasses with
her shrewd eyes, but said nothing, and only drew the little table near
the fire, took away the wet shoes, and went off to get tea.

'Nursie is a very comforting person, Stella, isn't she?' said Vava, as
she held out her cold hands to the cheerful blaze.

'She spoils us all. By the way, I wonder where Amy and Eva are; it is
time for them to be home, and nursie has only brought in two cups,'
replied her sister.

The housekeeper coming in with the teapot at that instant overheard the
last few words. 'The other two young leddies will be having their tea
upstairs,' she remarked in answer to Stella.

'Are they in?' asked Vava, helping herself to a hot buttered scone.

'Yes, they are in,' replied Mrs. Morrison.

'What's the matter? Did they get drenched? Why are they having tea
upstairs?' the girl continued.

'They wished to have it there, so I took it up,' observed the
housekeeper.

'But I don't think you ought to spoil them like that. Why could they not
come down and have tea with us here, instead of giving you the trouble
of carrying it up to them?' remonstrated Stella, who resented the two
English girls making the housekeeper run up and down stairs for them.

'I'm none so old as all that, and I have not much to do while you are
out all day,' declared Mrs. Morrison, putting down the scones on the
tripod in front of the fire and going out of the room.

'All the same, I call it rather cool of them making nursie run up and
down stairs for them,' objected Vava.

'I expect they were wet through and had to change, and that nursie took
the tea up without being asked,' suggested Stella.

'They'd be much more comfortable down here by the fire, I should think,
than in their cold rooms,' observed Vava.

'Perhaps they have gone to bed,' said Stella.

Vava listened for a moment. 'No, they haven't; I can hear them moving
above us, and--they have a fire in Amy's room; I can hear them poking
it! What extravagance!' she continued.

Stella was privately of the same opinion, and she wondered at the
housekeeper encouraging it. Moreover, it meant more work; but she would
not criticise their house-mates any more, and changed the conversation.
Soon after, Vava set to work at her books, reading over the term's work
for the examination on the following day, and Stella decided to go up
and see if Amy had caught a chill, or had any such reason for staying
upstairs, or whether it was only laziness.

There was dead silence when she knocked at the door, and then a murmured
conversation before Amy unlocked the door, and said, 'Come in, Stella.
Eva has a headache, so Mrs. Morrison very kindly insisted on her lying
down on my bed and having a fire.'

It did occur to Stella as strange that Eva should lie upon Amy's bed and
have the fire in her room; but as Eva had her back turned to her she
thought the kindest thing she could do would be to leave her alone, so
she said, 'I am so sorry Eva is ill. Mrs. Morrison did not tell me that,
or I would not have come and disturbed you.'

'I'm not ill.--You'd better tell her about it, Amy; she'll have to know
sooner or later,' said Eva from the bed in a muffled voice.

Stella looked with concern from one to the other. 'I hope there is
nothing wrong?' she asked.

Amy made a sign to her to come out of the room, and they went downstairs
to the little sitting-room before the former said anything, and even
when they were sitting down in the two easy-chairs, which the good old
housekeeper had drawn up to the fire, she did not seem inclined to
begin.

At last Stella said, 'Tell me what is wrong, Amy--a trouble shared is a
trouble halved. I suppose it has something to do with that wretched
furniture?'

Amy gave a great sigh, and said, 'Yes. Oh if only she had consulted us!
But it was only--thanks to Mrs. Morrison, who got the truth out of
her--that she told me to-night; though, I am afraid, it is too late for
us to do anything to help her.'

'I suppose the man is worrying her for the payments? Has she let them
fall into arrears?' inquired Stella, to help her friend, who seemed to
find a difficulty in continuing.

'It's worse than that; it's a dreadful business, and not a nice story;
but it is that friend of hers who is at the bottom of it. The furniture
has been bought in a false name, and Eva represented herself as over
twenty-one, and signed a paper making herself liable for the whole
amount if the payments fell into arrears, and of course they have, and
it appears the man came down and interviewed Mrs. Morrison, and would
have made himself very unpleasant if she had not overawed him. Of course
she denied there being any one here of the name Eva gave.'

Stella was, as Amy had expected, very much shocked at this tale, but all
she said was, 'I cannot understand the man's believing that Eva was
twenty-one; she does not look more than eighteen at the most.'

'That was just what we said, Mrs. Morrison and I; but--and this is the
worst part of it--she took the name of her friend and used her birth
certificate, which this girl happened to have for some examination, and
the girl actually went with Eva and identified her as being the person
in the certificate.'

'Disgraceful!' burst out involuntarily from Stella.

'It is disgraceful, and now the man threatens her with exposure if she
does not pay down the whole amount.'

'How much is it?' inquired Stella.

'Thirty-five pounds,' said Amy.

'That seems to me a good deal, even for that suite,' observed Stella.

'So it is; but he said it was credit price.'

'And how much has she paid?' asked Stella.

'Only five pounds, and she had to sell her watch and a gold bracelet and
a silk dress to pay that, she says. She never could save out of her
weekly salary,' explained Amy.

Stella remembered poor Eva's motto made out of their four names, and
thought how very inappropriate a one it had proved in her case. 'Poor
Eva!' she exclaimed.

'Yes, indeed it is "poor Eva!" and I don't see how we are to help her;
we cannot give her the thirty pounds, and the man demands it within
eight days.'

'I don't believe he can; besides, if she has not got it, it is not any
good his demanding it; he must take his furniture back,' declared
Stella, who, though she did not know much of such business, had a good
business head.

'He declares the furniture is not worth the half now, and threatens to
take the matter into court, and put Eva in prison for getting goods
under false pretences.'

'Has she no relations to whom she could go for advice? Surely she cannot
be alone in the world?' Stella asked anxiously.

'I don't think she has any near relations; her father was a very
peculiar man, and, I fancy, had quarrelled with all his relations, and
his wife's as well. I know none ever came to visit them,' said Amy.

'She must have friends,' said Stella.

'She says she would rather be put in prison than tell any of them,'
declared Amy.

'Then we must consult a lawyer. I wish Mr. Stacey were nearer; but he
may know some one in London who would advise us, though I don't know
what is to be done about the money. I have not thirty pounds at this
minute,' said Stella.

'Nor have I, or I would give it willingly; it is dreadful to see her.
She may say she is not ill, but she looks ill, and she will be if this
goes on,' said Amy.

Stella was very sorry for Eva; but she felt rather angry with her too,
though her hard-heartedness would have melted if she could have seen
Eva, who lay upon her bed looking the picture of woe.

When Vava came back, the three of them sat down to dinner, an especially
nice and tempting dinner made by the old housekeeper, who managed to
make tasty dishes, in spite of being economical; and her young charges,
for such they may truly be called, made a very good meal.

'I'll take some up to Eva; I 'm sure this will tempt her!' cried Vava
when she had finished her dinner.

Amy had already taken her tray up, and brought it back untouched; but
Vava would not be gainsaid, and carried up some soup, which she declared
Eva was very fond of.

'Perhaps she will take it from Vava, as she does not know anything about
it,' suggested Stella, who thought that Eva might be ashamed, under the
circumstances, of having any appetite.

Vava did not come down for more than half-an-hour, and when she did they
saw that she had been crying.

Stella gave an exclamation of vexation. 'I did not want you to be told
all this; you are too young to be mixed up with such disreputable
doings. Don't bother your head about it any more,' said Stella.

'But I must, because I feel that it was partly my fault,' declared Vava.

'Your fault!' cried Stella, horrified.

'Yes, because Eva would not have been such friends with this horrid girl
if I had not been so unfriendly with her. She says she was so
disappointed when she saw I did not care for her, and it made her take
to this other girl,' said Vava.

'Eva ought not to put the blame on to you; no one need do wrong unless
they choose, and it is very weak to be led away so easily. And what we
are going to do about it I don't know; she has got herself into a
terrible mess.'

'Poor Eva, she can't bear the sight of the furniture, so she is going to
sleep in Amy's room,' announced Vava.

'I should not think Amy would care to see it either,' observed Stella
dryly.

Vava saw that her sister had not much sympathy with Eva, and she had
certainly brought trouble upon the whole household at No. 2 Heather
Road, where they might all have been so happy if they had all done what
was right.

As it was, Stella and Amy sat up till midnight, talking the matter over
and wondering what could be done for Eva, and ending up after each
suggestion by deciding that they could do nothing.

Amy crept up to her room to get out some things she wanted, and Stella
stood upon the stairs to wait for her and hear how Eva was. Amy was some
little time, and presently she came on tiptoe to the door, a smile upon
her face. 'Just come and look at her, she is sleeping so peacefully,'
she said in a whisper.

There was a bright fire burning, and it passed through Stella's mind
that Eva's sorrow did not prevent her from making herself comfortable.
As the firelight fell upon the sleeping girl's face she could not help
thinking to herself that the miserable business did not seem to have
made a very deep impression upon the culprit, for she was, as Amy had
said, sleeping quite peacefully, as if she had not a care in the world,
with a smile upon her lips; and that smile hardened Stella's heart
against Eva.

'It's all very well, Amy, but she has upset us all dreadfully; and while
we have been cudgelling our brains downstairs to try and find a way to
help her, she goes happily to sleep and does not worry at all,' said
Stella, as she accompanied her friend to her bedroom.

'I suppose she had worn herself out,' said Amy, trying to be loyal to
her friend, though in her heart she had been rather surprised herself to
find Eva asleep.

Stella did not say any more; but any idea she had had of asking Mr.
Stacey to let her have a little money to help Eva was given up, and she
went to bed, pondering upon the easy conscience that some people had.

Vava had learnt her lesson from Eva's trouble, but Stella was too
shocked with Eva to be as sympathetic with the poor girl as she might
have been; and Vava, who thought her hard, remarked with her usual
candour, 'The fact is, Stella, you are a regular Pharisee, and you'll
have a nice tumble one of these days if you walk like that, with your
head in the air, looking over the heads of everybody.' And then Vava
turned over and went to sleep.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE VALUE OF A GOOD CHARACTER.


Vava tossed and turned and went to sleep, only to dream of prison cells,
in which Eva was secured by heavy chains, which she (Vava) tried in vain
to break, and it was from one of these nightmares that she awoke in the
morning to the sound of a laugh. Sitting up in bed, Vava listened,
hardly able to believe her ears, for it was Eva's laugh.

'Stella,' she said in solemn tones to her sister, 'do you hear Eva
laughing?'

'Yes,' said Stella shortly; but the little word said a good deal.

'Do you think she's in hysterics?' asked Vava.

'No, I do not; she seems very cheerful,' replied Stella.

Vava was very thoughtful; and when she went to the bathroom, Stella
noticed that she did not stop as usual to say good-morning to Eva as she
passed her door, at which her sister was rather pleased, for she did not
approve of Eva's light-heartedness under the circumstances.

However, she greeted the girl kindly enough when they met at breakfast,
and indeed it would have been difficult not to smile back at Eva's happy
face, with a look on it that they had not seen since they had been at
Heather Road. It scarcely needed Eva's announcement that she did 'feel
so happy' to assure them of the fact, for she looked a different girl;
'and I don't deserve it,' she added.

There was silence when she said this, for if her three listeners had
spoken their minds they would have cried in chorus, 'Indeed you do not!'
As it happened, however, it was Vava, with her usual candour, who
demanded, 'Then why do you feel happy?'

'Don't you know?' demanded Eva, looking from one to the other; and then,
seeing from their faces that they certainly did not know the reason for
her change of mood, she continued, 'I thought Mrs. Morrison would have
told you.'

'What has nursie got to do with it?' asked Vava.

'Everything, she has been so good. She came up to me last night, and
straightened things out in the most wonderful way, as far as they can be
straightened, and I am going to keep them straight for the future,' said
Eva.

'I am very glad,' said Stella; but though she wondered how the old
housekeeper had straightened out this tangled web, she was too polite to
ask any questions; nor, though they were burning with curiosity, did the
other two do so either; Vava because she thought she should hear it from
'nursie,' and Amy because she decided that Eva would prefer to tell her
when the two of them were alone.

Vava was disappointed in her hope of getting an explanation out of the
old housekeeper, who, in answer to her questions, said, 'And what will
it have to do with you, Miss Vava? I'm ashamed at your curiosity.'

'I don't call it curiosity to take an interest in your friends, and I
want to know that Eva is safe,' said Vava.

'Oh if that is all you are asking, then I can answer you; she is safe
from being punished for her wrong-doing except by her own conscience,'
replied Mrs. Morrison; and with this Vava had to be content, though it
was not all she wanted to be told, as the old woman very well knew.

Amy, however, fared better, and came out of Eva's room looking radiant.
'Stella, it is too good of Mrs. Morrison! Fancy, she is lending Eva the
thirty pounds, and she is seeing the man herself; so we need not bother
about a lawyer or anything!' she cried.

But Stella did not look at all pleased, and saying, 'Indeed!' she walked
straight into the kitchen to have it out with nursie, who received her
remonstrances very calmly.

'Don't you fash yourself, Miss Stella, dearie; I'm not throwing away my
money, and I am not spoiling Miss Eva, nor encouraging her either. She
will pay back every penny, and a hard time she will have doing it too.'

And with this Stella had to be satisfied. Mrs. Morrison was a woman of
great character, and what she thought it right to do she did, without
paying any attention to what people said or thought.

'I shall not be back to dinner,' said Eva as she said good-bye to the
other three.

'Why? What are you going to do?' asked Amy anxiously.

Eva coloured slightly as she answered in a would-be light manner, 'I
have some work to do at the office; we are working overtime, so I shall
be late for the next few weeks,' and then she nodded and went off before
she could be questioned further.

Amy turned to the sisters and said, 'I did her an injustice. I thought
she was taking things too easy, although I was thankful to hear that she
had been got out of her trouble; but this work that she speaks of is
dreadfully tiresome, and all the lady-clerks refused it. She is getting
very good pay for it, but it will tire her on these spring evenings.'

'I did her wrong too. I am very glad she has taken this work and is
trying to earn extra money; she will feel much happier,' said Stella.

'Yes, and Mrs. Morrison has made her promise to bring her salary
straight to her every Saturday, and just ask her for what she needs; and
Eva says she means to live on two shillings and sixpence a week till she
is out of debt,' explained Amy.

Stella gave a sigh of relief. 'Perhaps it has taught her a lesson,' she
agreed; 'and it is a blessing that it has ended better than we
expected.'

Then the three started for the City with Doreen, who, of course, knew
nothing of what had happened.

'There's the chairman's motor at the school-gate,' exclaimed the latter,
as she and Vava approached the City school.

'Mr. Montague Jones's, you mean? So it is! I wonder what he has come
for? Something to do with the prizes, I expect,' said Vava, and she
stopped to speak to the chauffeur, with whom she was a great favourite.

'The master's in there; I believe he's looking for you,' the man
observed.

'That isn't the proper place to look for me; I go in at the pupils'
entrance, tell him,' said Vava.

But Mr. Jones was not at that moment looking for Vava. He had been met
by Miss Upjohn, who was very glad to see him, as she wished to speak
about some school matter, which being soon settled, Mr. Jones began at
once, 'And how is my little friend Vava Wharton getting on?'

There was nothing unusual in his asking this, for it was his usual
question, and the head-mistress replied with a smile, 'She is not very
little, but she is getting on very well. I think you will have to give
her two prizes, which is rather unusual for a girl in her first term.
She has done two excellent examination papers.'

'Indeed! Which are they?' inquired Mr. Jones, who was wondering how he
was to broach the subject of the Scripture papers, and get at the bottom
of Miss Briggs's tale without betraying her.

'Scripture and algebra; the first did not surprise me so much, for she
is exceptionally well up in Scripture, and we cannot take any credit to
ourselves for the knowledge she has displayed in that subject; but she
has made wonderful progress in algebra; she is a very clever girl. One
has the beauty, and the other the brains--not that Vava is not
good-looking, by the way,' said the head-mistress, correcting herself.

'Nor is the beauty stupid, by any means, though she is so reserved that
it is difficult to get to know her or her abilities,' said Mr. Jones,
who began to think that he had come on a fool's errand, and had better
have trusted the head-mistress to manage her school without his
interference. He was just getting up to say good-bye when there came a
knock at the door, and Miss Briggs entered, looking very perturbed at
sight of Montague Jones.

'My letter was strictly private, Mr. Jones,' she said.

'And so it has been treated, Miss Briggs,' replied Mr. Jones.

'Miss Briggs, excuse me, but did you write to Mr. Jones upon the matter
we discussed yesterday?' inquired the head-mistress, looking very much
annoyed.

Poor Miss Briggs looked very much ashamed of herself as she answered,
'Yes.' She saw that she had betrayed herself, whereas Mr. Jones had not
done so.

'Since you have told Miss Upjohn so much, I think you may allow me to
suggest that you should give us your grounds for suspecting my young
friend Miss Wharton of dishonest practices, and let us try and convince
you that you are mistaken,' observed Mr. Jones.

'Oh I did not say they were dishonest,' she protested.

'But I do,' he replied.

Thus put into a corner, Miss Briggs had to go through the whole thing
again, and a very bad time she had of it. Mr. Jones had not been a
magistrate for nothing. He questioned and cross-questioned and argued
till he had proved even to Miss Briggs's satisfaction that the very
remarks she had overheard only proved Vava's innocence, as no girl in
her senses would boast openly of knowing the questions beforehand if she
had looked at them secretly, far less impart one to a friend, and that
one a girl whom the girls had nicknamed 'Old Honesty.' At last Miss
Upjohn and her visitor had the satisfaction of having brought Miss
Briggs round to their opinion.

'I see now that I was mistaken, and I am very sorry about it, and I
ought not to have written to you,' she said frankly to Mr. Jones.

'No, you ought not. Miss Upjohn is quite able to manage her own affairs;
but I hope she will overlook your fault this time,' he replied with
equal frankness; and then he got up and left the two ladies alone.

Miss Briggs looked so ashamed of herself that Miss Upjohn was sorry for
her; but what she said to her young assistant no one knew, for the story
never went any further.

Vava never thought of her unpleasant experience with Miss Briggs after
that day, except to feel that it had done good instead of harm, for the
young mistress went out of her way to be pleasant to the girl she had
wrongfully accused, which Vava thought very nice of her, as it had never
been proved that she had not moved those papers. Perhaps she would not
have been so grateful to Miss Briggs if she had known that it had been
proved to have been some one else.

The facts of the case were that another mistress had taken them by
mistake, and in her hurry just put them back inside the door. Miss
Upjohn was very glad to have this explanation, not that she doubted
Vava, but because she thought it would show Miss Briggs how easily one
may be suspicious without cause. And, if the truth be told, it was not
till she heard this that Miss Briggs did quite believe in Vava's
innocence. So that it did teach her a lesson.

Vava was called into the head-mistress's study that morning, and went in
looking very hot and indignant, but came out smiling, and said to
Doreen, 'It's all right.'

'What's all right?' demanded Doreen, staring.

'Oh I forgot you know nothing about it. Well, it does not matter; it was
only something that was bothering me, and it's all right now. Miss
Upjohn is a brick,' explained Vava.

'I knew _that_ before, and I'm glad whatever was bothering you is all
right; you all seem to have had the blues lately at your place. Mother
said she supposed you found a house rather a bother as well as a
pleasure,' remarked Doreen.

'Oh no, we don't! Mrs. Morrison takes all the worry off us; she's a
brick too, a gold brick!' declared Vava with enthusiasm.

'I never heard of a "gold brick,"' observed Doreen.

'Well, she's one,' said Vava obstinately, and they both laughed.

But Vava never told any one except her 'gold brick,' as she called 'old
nursie,' of the bad quarter of an hour which she had had with Miss
Briggs before school, when the latter had accused her of having seen the
papers, and told her to go and confess it to Miss Upjohn. 'But that
wasn't the worst, nursie; the worst was in Miss Upjohn's room,' declared
the girl.

'But I thought she had the sense to believe in you?' asked the old
woman.

'Oh yes, she was most awfully nice, and told me she had never doubted me
for a moment; it was Miss Briggs that made me feel so horrid and
uncomfortable. Miss Upjohn told her she owed me an apology, and she
looked so miserable I felt as if I ought to apologise to her,' said
Vava.

'And why would you do that? No one has a right to take away your
character, and if they try to do it, and find they are wrong, it is they
who should apologise. There's nothing so much worth in this world as
one's character--never forget that, my bairn,' said the old nurse. 'You
see how Mr. Jones and Miss Upjohn both believed in you, though I must
say things did look black to a suspicious person; that was because they
knew your character, and that it was an honest character. If that same
tale had been told about a girl who was not straightforward it might
have been a different thing. Be thankful for your head-mistress's trust
in you, and always act up to the principles you have been taught; it
will save you from many a pitfall or from the trouble a weak young lady
like Miss Eva brings upon herself.'

'It doesn't seem to matter so much as long as I have you to get me out
of it,' said Vava mischievously.

'Indeed it does, for though I might get you off punishment I could never
undo what you had done,' said the old housekeeper.

'But if I was sorry?' suggested Vava.

'You would be forgiven, but it would never undo it, remember that,'
repeated Mrs. Morrison.

And Vava did remember it. At the moment she was thinking that Eva seemed
to have got over her trouble, and to feel as if it were undone the
moment the money was paid; but, as it happened, she was mistaken, and
when she saw her come in night after night, looking tired out and black
under the eyes, she began to understand that 'old nursie' was right, and
that one cannot undo a wrong deed. Moreover, though she never spoke of
it, Eva felt that she had lost her character for uprightness with her
friends, and she bitterly regretted her weakness. But if the girl had
but known it, they respected her more now that she was working so hard
to repay Mrs. Morrison than they had ever done before, and Vava was only
too glad to be with her in the short time she had free.

As for the furniture man, the shrewd Scotchwoman managed him better
perhaps than a lawyer would have done, and she got back Eva's jewellery,
which he had accepted in part payment at much less than their value; and
her still final triumph was that she only paid the thirty pounds.

'So I made him take five pounds off the bill, and then overpaid him to
be quit of him altogether, though it's a fine suite, after all,' said
Mrs. Morrison when recounting her transaction with the not too reputable
tradesman, who, for his part, was not sorry to have done with Mrs.
Morrison, whose shrewd questions and business knowledge made him feel
very uncomfortable, as did some of her plain comments on his behaviour.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

VAVA GETS A SHOCK.


The days flew by until the eventful Friday when there was the
prize-giving, the play of Dante, in which Vava had the rôle of heroine,
and, to wind up, the dinner-party and theatre afterwards.

'I'm glad we have had all this to look forward to,' said Vava on Friday
morning as they both, in very pretty black embroidered frocks, were
going up to the City.

'Yes,' agreed Stella, not too cordially, for though she was glad to go
to the prize-giving and see the play, since Vava was in it, still
neither of these things gave her unalloyed pleasure. At the prize-giving
she would be surrounded by the parents of these girls, whom she did not
expect to be very refined. As to the play, she, as a student and lover
of Dante, objected to its being acted, though she did not say so to
Vava. And as for the two other pleasures to which Vava was looking
forward so eagerly, Stella did not care for them at all, and was only
going to please Vava, whose great day it was.

'It has taken our mind off other worries,' announced Vava; and Stella,
looking at her sister, noticed with a pang that the bright young face
was paler and graver than it usually was, and realised that this week
had been a trying one for her, though quite how trying she did not know,
for Vava had not told her of her own private worry with Miss Briggs at
school.

'We are going to have a very nice day, quite a long day of pleasure,'
said Stella, smiling kindly at her sister.

'Yes,' agreed Vava, and she brightened up, for she had half-feared that
Stella would either back out of the dinner on some excuse or another, or
else go against her will and be stiff.

'I am afraid I shall be late for the prize-giving, for I cannot very
well ask to be let off an afternoon the very first week I am with these
people,' observed Stella.

'What a pity! But never mind, I will keep a seat for you,' replied Vava
as she said good-bye.

However, the first thing her new employer said to her was, 'I shall not
be here after lunch, Miss Wharton, so shall be glad if you will do this
work for me before I go, and the rest of the day will be at your
disposal, and next week I am taking a holiday, so I shall not require
your services until Tuesday week.'

There had not been any arrangement made about Easter holidays, and
Stella had quite made up her mind that she would only have the Bank
Holidays, and was rather surprised. However, she did not imagine it was
anything but a coincidence, or that her afternoon, like the Easter
holidays, had been arranged by Mr. James Jones; which perhaps was just
as well, or the perverse girl might not have enjoyed it as much.

As it was, she went off at one o'clock, having got through her work,
shaking hands cordially with old Mr. Murchison, whom she liked very
much; and, having had lunch, arrived at the City school just in time.
The porter in his gorgeous City livery was so impressed by Stella's
beauty and dignified carriage that he took her for some important
person, and showed her up to one of the front seats, which were reserved
for patrons and patronesses, and she found herself sitting next a very
pleasant woman, who took a great interest in education, and told Stella
what a high opinion she had of this school and its staff; and a little
farther up was Mrs. Montague Jones, talking in a friendly way to a lady
whom Stella had met once and knew to be a society woman, but had not
expected to meet here.

The proceedings were rather lengthy. There was the usual school concert,
which it is difficult to say who dislike most, performers or audience;
then came the play, and Stella was converted on the spot.

'What a delightful Beatrice!' cried her neighbour; 'she has a noble
face.'

Stella smiled as she replied, 'I am glad you approve of her, for she is
my sister.'

This broke the ice still more, and the two had become quite friendly by
the time Vava came up for her two prizes, which Mr. Montague Jones
presented to her with a specially friendly hand-shake.

Then there were speeches, congratulations, and refreshments, and after
that Mr. Jones said, 'These are very delightful functions, no doubt; but
they are a little long, and somehow they always make me very hot and
tired and headachy. What do you ladies say to taking a run out into the
country for a couple of hours, and getting home just in time for dinner?
You can't dress to-night, thank goodness, and so you can't expect me to
either.'

As all three were willing, he gave the order to the chauffeur, and they
went off, Stella in front with Mr. Jones, and Vava behind with his wife.

'Miss Wharton,' said the old man, when they had got some way out, 'I
don't want to bother you with business out of business hours; but I must
tell you how sorry I am you have left our firm.'

'Your firm, Mr. Jones?' exclaimed Stella in surprise.

'Yes! Surely James told you?' he replied.

'No, but it would have made no difference; I prefer to be where I am. I
do not wish to be rude, Mr. Jones; but I think we had better not discuss
the subject,' said Stella.

So Mr. Jones, finding he could do no good, changed the conversation, and
talked so well on all sorts of topics that Stella, who had been
excellently educated, and had been used to the society of a literary
father, found her companion very entertaining.

Mrs. Montague Jones and Vava noted this with satisfaction. 'They are
getting on very well,' said the former with a nod of her head.

'That's a blessing. Stella really is a very great trial to me,'
announced Vava quite gravely.

Mrs. Montague Jones laughed heartily. 'I wonder what she would say if
she heard you?' she replied.

'She would ask me quite solemnly what I meant, and I should not be able
to tell her,' observed Vava.

'You ought to be proud to have such a beautiful sister; every one was
asking me to-day who she was,' said Mrs. Jones.

'Beauty is a snare and a delusion for a City clerk, didn't they all say
when you told them who she was?' asked Vava.

'I did not say what she did. I told them she was the daughter of a
Scotch laird, and that you were her sister. They did not ask me her
occupation; we are not so rude in the City,' answered Mrs. Jones.

Vava sighed. 'It was much nicer before,' she remarked.

Mrs. Jones looked sympathetically at Vava; she had no daughters, only
the one son, and she would have liked nothing better than to adopt this
girl if it had been possible; but as she knew it to be impossible she
did not even speak of a plan she had in her head of taking them away for
Easter, which silence cost her some self-denial.

When they arrived at Belgrave Square, Vava, who as usual had made
herself quite at home, went off with Mrs. Jones to get some flowers from
the conservatory, and Stella was left in the drawing-room; but she had
not been there two minutes when the door opened, and a tall, gentlemanly
young man in evening-dress came in, saying to the footman who opened the
door, 'Has Lord Rothery not come, then?'

Stella, shaken out of her reserve, started up as the junior partner of
Baines, Jones & Co. came forward and shook hands gravely with her.

'Miss Wharton, you look surprised; surely you expected to see me here?'
he asked.

'No, I did not; it was only this afternoon that I knew that Mr. Montague
Jones had any connection with your firm. I did not know you were to be
invited to meet me,' said Stella.

'Invited! I need no invitation to my father's house; but if you object
to my presence I can easily dine at my club. I particularly told my
mother to ask you if it made any difference, and I understood her to say
it did not;' and then he wound up hotly, 'I do not know what I have done
to make you think me such a cad as to intrude my presence upon you when
I see it is so distasteful.'

Ten minutes later, when Mrs. Montague Jones and Vava came in laden with
flowers, Stella was sitting on the sofa, and at their entrance Mr. James
Jones, who was sitting beside her (as Vava noted with surprise), rose,
and taking Stella's hand brought her to his mother, saying, 'Mother,
this is my future wife.'

'It isn't! How dare you? Leave her hand alone!' cried Vava, starting
forward, and then, as it dawned upon her that _it was_, she stood still
and stared at them all; for Mrs. Jones, with a cry of delight, went
forward to Stella, and Mr. Jones, who came in then, seemed to be just as
delighted and not a bit surprised, though he said it was a pleasant
surprise; and, oddest of all, Lord Rothery--who had cared for Stella
himself once--now arrived on the scene, congratulated them both most
heartily, and said, 'I was a true prophet. I guessed this would be the
next news.'

This caused Vava to exclaim with indignation, 'How could you possibly,
when _I_ knew nothing about it, nor how they met--or anything? They'd
quarrelled for ever a week ago!'

'Ah! that's a sure sign,' said Lord Rothery, teasing her. He had left
the Jones family to make much of Stella, and took Vava to a window to
console her, for he saw that she was more angry than pleased.

'I believe it's an awful mistake,' she confided to him.

'Not a bit of it; they are frightfully in love with each other. He's a
splendid fellow, and quite a gentleman,' declared the young lord.

'Then they've been horridly deceitful about it, for Stella never would
be decently civil to him while I was there, and left him last week; and
now I suppose they have been meeting all this week and falling in love,'
said Vava in tones of disgust.

'Not they, that was done before; it's what they call a Scotch wooing,
and you ought to be glad about it, instead of being so disagreeable,' he
protested.

A tear stole down Vava's face, but she would not give way, and only
said, 'I don't see what is the use of her having taken a house when she
meant to go and do this.'

'These are things one cannot foresee; one does not mean to do them; they
do themselves. You'll do just the same when your time comes.'

'I shall not. If I were in love with you I should be civil to you, and
let you see that I liked you,' declared Vava.

'All right; I'll remember that, and in the meantime I think you might be
civil to your sister and Jamie.'

Vava made a little grimace. 'It's a hideous name, Jamie Jones!' she
declared.

But that gentleman, thinking he had given his former friend time to get
over her shock, came forward, and very soon managed to win her back to
her old friendliness, as he gave her his arm to take her in to dinner.
Poor Vava! she had so looked forward to this dinner; it had turned out
so very different to what she had expected, and no one said anything
about the play; so she made up her mind that they were going to 'fuss'
over Stella all the evening and give up the play.

But Lord Rothery came to the rescue. 'I propose an amendment to the
evening's programme. I suppose Jamie is going to cry off his engagement
with me, so I vote you take me to the theatre in Stella's place, and
leave her to rest here.'

This seemed a very good plan, and evidently suited the two most
concerned; and to Vava's relief they started in good time for _Henry
VIII._, and in spite of a little sore feeling at heart, she managed to
enjoy it very much.

The Joneses drove Vava home after the theatre, and there she found
'nursie' and Stella sitting by the kitchen fire; and even Vava, much
though she had admired her sister, thought she had never seen her look
so beautiful as she did to-night.

'All's well that ends well, my bairns, and he's a braw young laddie,'
said old nursie, lapsing into Scotch.

'Has he been to see you?' asked Vava.

'Yes, and wanted to know if I would trust him with my bairn. Eh, that I
would!' she said.

'And what am I to do?' cried Vava, and burst into tears.

Stella had her arms round her sister in a moment. 'It won't make any
difference, and we are going to stay where we are till the end of the
year, and then you and nursie shall come and live with us,' she
explained.

'We shall see,' put in nursie, who had her own ideas upon the subject,
and proved to be right.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THINGS STRAIGHTEN OUT.


It is three months later, a lovely evening in June, and the back garden
of No. 2 Heather Road was a blaze of fine flowers, and under the
apple-tree in the centre of the lawn sat four girls in dresses which
looked a little too elaborate and costly for a quiet tea in a little
suburban villa.

So apparently thought the thrifty old housekeeper, who came out in a
plain alpaca gown, and said, 'Ah, my bairns, but you'll soil your
beautiful frocks sitting on those garden-seats!'

'We can't possibly wear our ordinary frocks to-day, nursie; it would be
a dreadful come down. Why! you have taken off your "silken gown," and
it's Stella's wedding-day!' cried Vava merrily.

Evidently she had forgiven her sister the surprise she had given her on
that eventful breaking-up day, for she looked the picture of happiness.

'And do you think I'm going to cook in a silk gown, whatever the day?
No, indeed! it's safely packed away, as yours ought to be, young
leddies!'

'We are going back to the workaday world to-morrow, nursie; let us stop
in fairyland for to-day,' said Eva.

Mrs. Morrison smiled at her; they all called her nursie now, even Doreen
had been allowed this privilege, and that was not the only privilege she
had been allowed, for, to her amazement, she had been invited to be a
bridesmaid to her goddess of beauty at the quiet wedding at a West-End
church. Perhaps Vava was as surprised as Doreen; Amy and Eva she
understood, but Doreen she had not expected to be asked, although the
Stella of the last three months had been a Stella she had not known
before.

Stella had explained it very simply. 'I should like to have those who
have been good to me in my days of adversity,' she said, 'and among
these were the Hackneys.'

And the four fashionably dressed girls were Stella's four bridesmaids,
for Mr. James had begged for an early wedding; and when Stella demurred
because of the new responsibilities she had taken upon her with the new
house, Mrs. Morrison had come to the rescue, and offered to keep house
for Amy and Eva.

'But, nursie,' Stella had said, 'we want you at Lomore; your rooms are
there waiting for you, and why should you stay down here away from your
home when there is no need?'

'There is need, Miss Stella; they need me, and I could not leave them
just now. Your first duty is to your husband; mine is dead, and I am of
use here; but I'll come up home for a holiday in the summer when my
young leddies take theirs.'

Then Vava stoutly announced that if nursie stayed at No. 2 Heather Road
so should she; and if she had not quite meant it, for Lomore was home to
her too, the gleam of joy in Mrs. Morrison's eye at the suggestion
decided her.

At this Stella protested still more strongly; but it was really a way
out of a difficulty, for Vava was very happy at school and with Mrs.
Morrison, and she would spend the long summer holidays at Lomore, and in
the autumn Stella would be at her town house, and Vava could be
constantly with her.

And so the tangled skein straightened itself out, and the little
household at No. 2 Heather Road went on very happily.

Eva was acting up to her suggested motto of 'Save' to such good purpose
that, thanks to overtime and rigid self-denial, encouraged by Mrs.
Morrison, she had paid off half her debt.

'Fancy, fifteen pounds in three months! At that rate I shall soon be
able to look the whole world in the face!' she cried as she handed the
last instalment of the fifteen pounds to the kindly creditor.

Mrs. Morrison was as pleased as the girl; not that she was anxious to
have the money back, but that she wanted Eva to be out of debt.

Stella, whom her short spell of poverty had made thoughtful on such
matters, gave the bridesmaids their dresses, which meant best
summer-frocks and hats for them all, and saved Eva that expense; and of
pleasures they had no lack, for Mr. Montague Jones's car was always
running down to Blackstead.

Mrs. Montague Jones could not adopt Vava, but she insisted on
considering her a relation, and Vava never felt lonely, even while
Stella was away on her honeymoon. And when she returned, on her way up
north, she fetched Vava and Mrs. Morrison, and took them to Lomore with
her that they might be with her when she went to the home of her
fathers, and see the welcome she received.

And it was a warm welcome, a welcome to the late Laird's daughter and to
the new young Laird, who had won for himself golden opinions during the
short time he had reigned there, for his father had made over the
property to his son when, unknown to Stella, and before he had been
engaged to her, he had sought out her special protégées and assured them
of his friendship.

'All that time ago!' commented Vava; but she thought it best to refrain
from alluding to the time when Stella behaved so badly to her present
husband that she (Vava) had pitied him. 'Grown-up people are odd. I
prefer schoolgirls myself; you can understand them,' she said with
emphasis.

THE END.



BOOKS FOR GIRLS

BY MAY BALDWIN.

    HOLLY HOUSE AND RIDGE'S ROW
    A CITY SCHOOLGIRL
    A SCHOOLGIRL OF MOSCOW
    TWO SCHOOLGIRLS OF FLORENCE
    PEG'S ADVENTURES IN PARIS
    THE SUNSET ROCK
    MURIEL AND HER AUNT LU
    MYSIE: A Highland Lassie





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