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Title: Frances Kane's Fortune
Author: Meade, L. T., 1854-1914
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 "Frances Kane's Fortune" ***

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                        FRANCES KANE'S FORTUNE.



                                   BY

                              L. T. MEADE,

        AUTHOR OF "HOW IT ALL CAME ROUND," "WATER GIPSIES," ETC.



                                CHICAGO:

                          M. A. DONOHUE & CO.

       *       *       *       *       *



Contents

FRANCES KANE'S FORTUNE.
MONSIEUR THE VISCOUNT'S FRIEND.
THE YEW-LANE GHOSTS.

       *       *       *       *       *



FRANCES KANE'S FORTUNE.

CHAPTER I.

THE LETTER.


It was a very sunny June day, and a girl was pacing up and down a
sheltered path in an old-fashioned garden. She walked slowly along the
narrow graveled walk, now and then glancing at the carefully trimmed
flowers of an elaborate ribbon border at her right, and stopping for an
instant to note the promise of fruit on some well-laden peach and
pear-trees. The hot sun was pouring down almost vertical rays on her
uncovered head, but she was either impervious to its power, or, like a
salamander, she rejoiced in its fierce noonday heat.

"We have a good promise of peaches and pears," she said to herself; "I
will see that they are sold this year. We will just keep a few for my
father to eat, but the rest shall go. It is a pity Watkins spends so
much time over the ribbon border; it does not pay, and it uses up so
many of our bedding plants."

She frowned slightly as she said these last words, and put up her hand
to shade her face from the sun, as though for the first time she noticed
its dazzling light and heat.

"Now I will go and look to the cabbages," she said, continuing her
meditations aloud. "And those early pease ought to be fit for pulling
now. Oh! is that you, Watkins? Were you calling me? I wanted to speak to
you about this border. You must not use up so many geraniums and
calceolarias here. I don't mind the foliage plants, but the others cost
too much, and can not be made use of to any profit in a border of this
kind."

"You can't make a ribbon, what's worthy to be called a ribbon, with
foliage plants," gruffly retorted the old gardener. "Master would be
glad to see you in the house, Miss Frances, and yer's a letter what
carrier has just brought."

"Post at this hour?" responded Frances, a little eagerness and interest
lighting up her face; "that is unusual, and a letter in the middle of
the day is quite a treat. Well, Watkins, I will go to my father now, and
see you at six o'clock in the kitchen garden about the cabbages and
peas."

"As you please, Miss Frances; the wegitables won't be much growed since
you looked at them yester-night, but I'm your sarvint, miss. Carrier
called at the post-office and brought two letters: one for you, and
t'other for master. I'm glad you're pleased to get 'em, Miss Frances."

Watkins's back was a good deal bent; he certainly felt the heat of the
sun, and was glad to hobble off into the shade.

"Fuss is no word for her," he said; "though she's a good gel, and means
well--werry well."

After the old gardener had left her, Frances stood quite still; the sun
beat upon her slight figure, upon her rippling, abundant dark-brown
hair, and lighted up a face which was a little hard, a tiny bit soured,
and scarcely young enough to belong to so slender and lithe a figure.
The eyes, however, now were full of interest, and the lips melted into
very soft curves as Frances turned her letter round, examined the
postmarks, looked with interest at the seal, and studied the
handwriting. Her careful perusal of the outside of the letter revealed
at a glance how few she got, and how such a comparatively uninteresting
event in most lives was regarded by her.

"This letter will keep," she said to herself, slipping it into her
pocket. "I will hear what father has to tell me first. It is a great
treat to have an unopened letter to look forward to. I wonder where this
is from. Who can want to write to me from Australia? If Philip were
alive--" Here she paused and sighed. "In the first place, I heard of his
death three years ago; in the second, being alive, why should he write?
It is ten years since we met."

Her face, which was a very bright and practical one, notwithstanding
those few hard lines, looked pensive for a moment. Then its habitual
expression of cheerfulness returned to it, and when she entered the
house Frances Kane looked as practical and business-like a woman as
could be found anywhere in the whole of the large parish in the north
of England where she and her father lived.

Squire Kane, as he was called, came of an old family; and in the days
before Frances was born he was supposed to be rich. Now, however, nearly
all his lands were mortgaged, and it was with difficulty that the long,
low, old-fashioned house, and lovely garden which surrounded it, could
be kept together. No chance at all would the squire have had of spending
his last days in the house where he was born, and where many generations
of ancestors had lived and died, but for Frances. She managed the house
and the gardens, and the few fields which were not let to surrounding
farmers. She managed Watkins, too, and the under-gardener, and the two
men-servants; and, most of all, she managed Squire Kane.

He had been a hale and hearty man in his day, with a vigorous will of
his own, and a marvelous and fatal facility for getting through money;
but now he leaned on Frances, was guided by her in all things; never
took an opinion or spent a shilling without her advice; and yet all the
time he thought himself to be the ruler, and she the ruled. For Frances
was very tactful, and if she governed with a rod of iron, she was clever
enough to incase it well in silk.

"I want you, Frances," called a rather querulous old voice.

The squire was ensconced in the sunniest corner of the sunny old parlor;
his feet were stretched out on a hassock; he wore a short circular cape
over his shoulders, and a black velvet skull-cap was pushed a little
crooked over his high bald forehead. He had aquiline features, an
aristocratic mouth, and sunken but somewhat piercing eyes. As a rule his
expression was sleepy, his whole attitude indolent; but now he was
alert, his deep-set eyes were wide open and very bright, and when his
daughter came in, he held out a somewhat trembling hand, and drew her to
his side.

"Sit down, Frances--there, in the sun, it's so chilly in the
shade--don't get into that corner behind me, my dear; I want to look at
you. What do you think? I have got a letter, and news--great news! It is
not often that news comes to the Firs in these days. What do you think,
Frances? But you will never guess. Ellen's child is coming to live with
us!"

"What?" said Frances. "What! Little Fluff we used to call her? I don't
understand you, father; surely Ellen would never part with her child."

"No, my dear, that is true. Ellen and her child were bound up in each
other; but she is dead--died three months ago in India. I have just
received a letter from that good-for-nothing husband of hers, and the
child is to leave school and come here. Major Danvers can't have her in
India, he says, and her mother's wish was--her mother's last wish--that
she should make her home with us. She will be here within a week after
the receipt of this letter, Frances. I call it great news; fancy a young
thing about the house again!"

Frances Kane had dark, straight brows; they were drawn together now with
a slight expression of surprise and pain.

"I am not so old, father," she said; "compared to you, I am quite young.
I am only eight-and-twenty."

"My dear," said the squire, "you were never young. You are a good woman,
Frances, an excellent, well-meaning woman; but you were never either
child or girl. Now, this little thing--how long is it since she and her
mother were here, my love?"

"It was just before Cousin Ellen went to India," responded Frances,
again knitting her brows, and casting back her memory. "Yes, it was six
years ago; I remember it, because we planted the new asparagus bed that
year."

"Ay, ay; and a very productive bed it turned out," responded the squire.
"Fluff was like a ball then, wasn't she?--all curly locks, and dimples,
and round cheeks, and big blue eyes like saucers! The merriest little
kitten--she plagued me, but I confess I liked her. How old would she be
now, Frances?"

"About seventeen," replied Frances. "Almost a grown-up girl; dear, dear,
how time does fly! Well, father, I am glad you are pleased. I will read
the letter, if you will let me, by and by, and we must consult as to
what room to give the child. I hope she won't find it very dull."

"Not she, my dear, not she. She was the giddiest mortal--always
laughing, and singing, and skipping about in the sunshine. Dear heart!
it will do me good to see anything so lively again."

"I am glad she is coming," repeated Frances, rising to her feet.
"Although you must remember, father, that six years make a change. Ellen
may not be quite so kittenish and frolicsome now."

"Ellen!" repeated the squire; "I'm not going to call the child anything
so formal. Fluff she always was and will be with me--a kittenish
creature with a kittenish name; I used to tell her so, and I expect I
shall again."

"You forget that she has just lost her mother," said Frances. "They
loved each other dearly, and you can not expect her not to be changed.
There is also another thing, father; I am sorry to have to mention it,
but it is necessary. Does Major Danvers propose to give us an allowance
for keeping his daughter here? Otherwise it will be impossible for us to
have her except on a brief visit."

The squire pulled himself with an effort out of his deep arm-chair. His
face flushed, and his eyes looked angry.

"You are a good woman, Frances, but a bit hard," he said. "You don't
suppose that a question of mere money would keep Ellen's child away from
the Firs? While I am here she is sure of a welcome. No, there was
nothing said about money in this letter, but I have no doubt the money
part is right enough. Now I think I'll go out for a stroll. The sun is
going off the south parlor, and whenever I get into the shade I feel
chilly. If you'll give me your arm, my dear, I'll take a stroll before
dinner. Dear, dear! it seems to me there isn't half the heat in the sun
there used to be. Let's get up to the South Walk, Frances, and pace up
and down by the ribbon border--it's fine and hot there--what I like. You
don't wear a hat, my dear? quite right--let the sun warm you all it
can."



CHAPTER II.

"THIS IS WONDERFUL."


It was quite late on that same afternoon before Frances found a leisure
moment to read her own letter. It was not forgotten as it lay in her
pocket, but she was in no hurry to ascertain its contents.

"Until it is read it is something to look forward to," she said to
herself; "afterward--oh, of course there can be nothing of special
interest in it."

She sighed; strong and special interests had never come in her way.

The afternoon which followed the receipt of the two letters was a
specially busy one. The squire never grew tired of discussing the news
which his own letter had brought him. He had a thousand conjectures
which must be dwelt upon and entered into; how and when had Ellen
Danvers died? what would the child Ellen be like? which bedroom would
suit her best? would she like the South Walk as much as the old squire
did himself? would she admire the ribbon border? would she appreciate
the asparagus which she herself had seen planted?

The old man was quite garrulous and excited, and Frances was pleased to
see him so interested in anything. When she had walked with him for
nearly an hour she was obliged to devote some time to Watkins in the
vegetable garden; then came dinner; but after that meal there always was
a lull in the day's occupation for Frances, for the squire went to sleep
over his pipe, and never cared to be aroused or spoken to until his
strong coffee was brought to him at nine o'clock.

On this particular evening Frances felt her heart beat with a pleased
and quickened movement. She had her unopened letter to read. She would
go to the rose arbor, and have a quiet time there while her father
slept. She was very fond of Keats, and she took a volume of his poems
under her arm, for, of course, the letter would not occupy her many
moments. The rose arbor commanded a full view of the whole garden, and
Frances made a graceful picture in her soft light-gray dress, as she
stepped into it. She sat down in one of the wicker chairs, laid her copy
of Keats on the rustic table, spread the bright shawl on her lap, and
took the foreign letter out of her pocket.

"It is sure to be nothing in the least interesting," she said to
herself. "Still, there is some excitement about it till it is opened."
And as she spoke she moved to the door of the arbor.

Once again she played with the envelope and examined the writing. Then
she drew a closely written sheet out of its inclosure, spread it open on
her lap, and began to read.

As she did so, swiftly and silently there rose into her cheeks a
beautiful bloom. Her eyelids quivered, her hand shook; the bloom was
succeeded by a pallor. With feverish haste her quick eyes flew over the
paper. She turned the page and gasped slightly for breath. She raised
her head, and her big, dark eyes were full of tears, and a radiant,
tender smile parted her lips.

"Thank God!" she said; "oh, this is wonderful! Oh, thank God!"

Once again she read the letter, twice, three times, four times. Then she
folded it up, raised it to her lips, and kissed it. This time she did
not return it to her pocket, but, opening her dress, slipped it inside,
so that it lay against her heart.

"Miss Frances!" old Watkins was seen hobbling down the path. "You hasn't
said what's to be done with the bees. They are sure to swarm to-morrow,
and--and--why, miss, I seem to have startled you like--"

"Oh, not at all, Watkins; I will come with you now, and we will make
some arrangement about the bees."

Frances came out of the arbor. The radiant light was still in her eyes,
a soft color mantled her cheeks, and she smiled like summer itself on
the old man.

He looked at her with puzzled, dull wonder and admiration.

"What's come to Miss Frances?" he said to himself. "She looks rare and
handsome, and she's none so old."

The question of the bees was attended to, and then Frances paced about
in the mellow June twilight until it was time for her father to have his
coffee. She came in then, sat down rather in the shadow, and spoke
abruptly. Her heart was beating with great bounds, and her voice sounded
almost cold in her effort to steady it.

"Father, I, too, have had a letter to-day."

"Ay, ay, my love. I saw that the carrier brought two. Was it of any
importance? If not, we might go on with our 'History of Greece.' I was
interested in where we left off last night. You might read to me for an
hour before I go to bed, Frances; unless, indeed, you have anything more
to say about Fluff, dear little soul! Do you know, it occurred to me
that we ought to get fresh curtains and knickknacks for her room? It
ought to look nice for her, dear, bright little thing!"

"So it shall, father." There was no shade of impatience in Frances's
tone. "We will talk of Fluff presently. But it so happens that my
letter was of importance. Father, you remember Philip Arnold?"

"Arnold--Arnold? Dimly, my dear, dimly. He was here once, wasn't he? I
rather fancy that I heard of his death. What about him, Frances?"

Frances placed her hand to her fast-beating heart. Strange--her father
remembered dimly the man she had thought of, and dreamed of, and
secretly mourned for for ten long years.

"Philip Arnold is not dead," she said, still trying to steady her voice.
"It was a mistake, a false rumor. He has explained it--my letter was
from him."

"Really, my love? Don't you think there is a slight draught coming from
behind that curtain? I am so sensitive to draughts, particularly after
hot days. Oblige me, Frances, my dear, by drawing that curtain a little
more to the right. Ah, that is better. So Arnold is alive. To tell the
truth, I don't remember him very vividly, but of course I'm pleased to
hear that he is not cut off in his youth. A tall, good-looking fellow,
wasn't he? Well, well, this matter scarcely concerns us. How about the
dimity in the room which will be Fluff's? My dear Frances, what is the
matter? I must ask you not to fidget so."

Frances sprung suddenly to her feet.

"Father, you must listen to me. I am going to say something which will
startle you. All these quiet years, all the time which has gone by and
left only a dim memory of a certain man to you, have been spent by me
smothering down regrets, stifling my youth, crushing what would have
made me joyous and womanly--for Philip Arnold has not been remembered at
all dimly by me, father, and when I heard of his death I lived through
something which seemed to break the spring of energy and hope in me. I
did not show it, and you never guessed, only you told me to-day that I
had never been young, that I had never been either child or girl. Well,
all that is over now, thank God! hope has come back to me, and I have
got my lost youth again. You will have two young creatures about the
house, father, and won't you like it?"

"I don't know," said the squire. He looked up at his daughter in some
alarm; her words puzzled him; he was suddenly impressed too by the
brightness in her eyes, and the lovely coloring on her cheeks.

"What is all this excitement, Frances?" he said. "Speak out; I never
understand riddles."

Frances sat down as abruptly as she had risen.

"The little excitement was a prelude to my letter, dear father," she
said. "Philip is alive, and is coming to England immediately. Ten years
ago he saw something in me--I was only eighteen then--he saw something
which gave him pleasure, and--and--more. He says he gave me his heart
ten years ago, and now he is coming to England to know if I will accept
him as my husband. That is the news which my letter contains, father.
You see, after all, my letter is important--as important as yours."

"Bless me!" said the squire. The expression of his face was not
particularly gratified; his voice was not too cordial. "A proposal of
marriage to you, Frances? Bless me!--why, I can scarcely remember the
fellow. He was here for a month, wasn't he? It was the summer before
your mother died. I think it is rather inconsiderate of you to tell me
news of this sort just before I go to bed, my dear. I don't sleep
over-well, and it is bad to lie down with a worry on your pillow. I
suppose you want me to answer the letter for you, Frances, but I'll do
nothing of the kind, I can tell you. If you encouraged the young man
long ago, you must get out of it as best you can now."

"Out of it, father? Oh, don't you understand?"

"Then you mean to tell me you care for him? You want to marry a fellow
whom you haven't seen for ten years! And pray what am I to do if you go
away and leave me?"

"Something must be managed," said Frances.

She rose again. Her eyes no longer glowed happily; her lips, so sweet
five minutes ago, had taken an almost bitter curve.

"We will talk this over quietly in the morning, dear father," she said.
"I will never neglect you, never cast you aside; but a joy like this can
not be put out of a life. That is, it can not be lightly put away. I
have always endeavored to do my duty--God will help me to do it still.
Now shall I ring for prayers?"



CHAPTER III.

AFTER TEN YEARS.


When Frances got to her room she took out pen and ink, and without a
moment's hesitation wrote an answer to her letter.

     "MY DEAR PHILIP,--I have not forgotten you--I remember the
     old times, and all the things to which you alluded in your
     letter. I thought you were dead, and for the last three or
     four years always remembered you as one who had quite done
     with this world. Your letter startled me to-day, but your
     hope about me has been abundantly fulfilled, for I have
     never for a moment forgotten you. Philip, you have said very
     good words to me in your letter, and whatever happens, and
     however matters may be arranged between us in the future, I
     shall always treasure the words, and bless you for
     comforting my heart with them. But, Philip, ten years is a
     long time--in ten years we none of us stay still, and in ten
     years some of us grow older than others. I think I am one of
     those who grow old fast, and nothing would induce me to
     engage myself to you, or even to tell you that I care for
     you, until after we have met again. When you reach
     England--I will send this letter to the address you give me
     in London--come down here. My dear and sweet mother is dead,
     but I dare say my father will find you a room at the Firs,
     and if not, there are good lodgings to be had at the White
     Hart in the village. If you are of the same mind when you
     reach England as you were when you wrote this letter, come
     down to the old place, and let us renew our acquaintance.
     If, after seeing me, you find I am not the Frances you had
     in your heart all these years, you have only to go away
     without speaking, and I shall understand. In any case, thank
     you for the letter, and believe me, yours faithfully,

                                                  "FRANCES KANE."

This letter was quickly written, as speedily directed and stamped, and,
wrapping her red shawl over her head, Frances herself went out in the
silent night, walked half a mile to the nearest pillar-box, kissed the
letter passionately before she dropped it through the slit, and then
returned home, with the stars shining over her, and a wonderful new
peace in her heart. Her father's unsympathetic words were forgotten, and
she lived over and over again on what her hungry heart had craved for
all these years.

The next morning she was up early; for the post of housekeeper,
head-gardener, general accountant, factotum, amanuensis, reader, etc.,
to John Kane, Esq., of the Firs, was not a particularly light post, and
required undivided attention, strong brains, and willing feet, from
early morning to late night every day of the week. Frances was by no
means a grumbling woman, and if she did not go through her allotted
tasks with the greatest possible cheerfulness and spirit, she performed
them ungrudgingly, and in a sensible, matter-of-fact style.

On this particular morning, however, the joy of last night was still in
her face; as she followed Watkins about, her merry laugh rang in the
air; work was done in half the usual time, and never done better, and
after breakfast she was at leisure to sit with her father and read to
him as long as he desired it.

"Well, Frances," he said, in conclusion, after the reader's quiet voice
had gone on for over an hour and a half, "you have settled that little
affair of last night, I presume, satisfactorily. I have thought the
whole matter over carefully, my love, and I have really come to the
conclusion that I can not spare you. You see you are, so to speak,
necessary to me, dear. I thought I would mention this to you now,
because in case you have not yet written to that young Arnold, it will
simplify matters for you. I should recommend you not to enter on the
question of your own feelings at all, but state the fact simply--'My
father can not spare me.'"

"I wrote to Philip last night," said Frances. "I have neither refused
him nor accepted him. I have asked him on a visit here; can we put him
up at the Firs?"

"Certainly, my love; that is a good plan. It will amuse me to have a man
about the house again, and travelers are generally entertaining. I can
also intimate to him, perhaps with more propriety than you can, how
impossible it would be for me to spare you. On the whole, my dear, I
think you have acted with discernment. You don't age well, Frances, and
doubtless Arnold will placidly acquiesce in my decision. By all means
have him here."

"Only I think it right to mention to you, father"--here Frances stood up
and laid her long, slender white hand with a certain nervous yet
imperative gesture on the table--"I think it right to mention that if,
after seeing me, Philip still wishes to make me his wife, I shall accept
him."

"My dear!" Squire Kane started. Then a satisfied smile played over his
face. "You say this as a sort of bravado, my dear. But we really need
not discuss this theme; it positively wearies me. Have you yet made up
your mind, Frances, what room Ellen's dear child is to occupy?"



CHAPTER IV.

FLUFF.


The day on which Ellen Danvers arrived at the Firs was long remembered,
all over the place, as the hottest which had been known in that part of
the country for many a long year. It was the first week of July, and the
sun blazed fiercely and relentlessly--not the faintest little zephyr of
a breeze stirred the air--in the middle of the day, the birds altogether
ceased singing, and the Firs, lying in its sheltered valley, was hushed
into a hot, slumberous quiet, during which not a sound of any sort was
audible.

Even the squire preferred a chair in the south parlor, which was never a
cool room, and into which the sun poured, to venturing abroad; even he
shuddered at the thought of the South Walk to-day. He was not
particularly hot--he was too old for that--but the great heat made him
feel languid, and presently he closed his eyes and fell into a doze.

Frances, who in the whole course of her busy life never found a moment
for occasional dozes, peeped into the room, smiled with satisfaction
when she saw him, tripped lightly across the floor to steal a pillow
comfortably under his white head, arranged the window-curtains so as to
shade his eyes, and then ran upstairs with that swift and wonderfully
light movement which was habitual to her. She had a great deal to do,
and she was not a person who was ever much affected by the rise or fall
of the temperature. First of all, she paid a visit to a charming little
room over the porch. It had lattice windows, which opened like doors,
and all round the sill, and up the sides, and over the top of the
window, monthly roses and jasmine, wistaria and magnolia, climbed. A
thrush had built its nest in the honeysuckle over the porch window, and
there was a faint sweet twittering sound heard there now, mingled with
the perfume of the roses and jasmine. The room inside was all white, but
daintily relieved here and there with touches of pale blue, in the shape
of bows and drapery. The room was small, but the whole effect was light,
cool, pure. The pretty bed looked like a nest, and the room, with its
quaint and lovely window, somewhat resembled a bower.

Frances looked round it with pride, gave one or two finishing touches to
the flowers which stood in pale-blue vases on the dressing-table, then
turned away with a smile on her lips. There was another room just
beyond, known in the house as the guest-chamber proper. It was much more
stately and cold, and was furnished with very old dark mahogany; but it,
too, had a lovely view over the peaceful homestead, and Frances's eyes
brightened as she reflected how she and Ellen would transform the room
with heaps of flowers, and make it gay and lovely for a much-honored
guest.

She looked at her watch, uttered a hurried exclamation, fled to her own
rather insignificant little apartment, and five minutes later ran
down-stairs, looking very fresh, and girlish, and pretty, in a white
summer dress. She took an umbrella from the stand in the hall, opened it
to protect her head, and walked fast up the winding avenue toward the
lodge gates.

"I hear some wheels, Miss Frances," said Watkins's old wife, hobbling
out of the house. "Eh, but it is a hot day; we'll have thunder afore
night, I guess. Eh, Miss Frances, but you do look well, surely."

"I feel it," said Frances, with a very bright smile. "Ah, there's my
little cousin--poor child! how hot she must be. Well, Fluff, so here you
are, back with your old Fanny again!"

There was a cry--half of rapture, half of pain--from a very small person
in the lumbering old trap. The horse was drawn up with a jerk, and a
girl, with very little of the woman about her, for she was still all
curls, and curves, and child-like roundness, sprung lightly out of the
trap, and put her arms round Frances's neck.

"Oh, Fan, I am glad to see you again! Here I am back just the same as
ever; I haven't grown a bit, and I'm as much a child as ever. How is
your father? I was always so fond of him. Is he as faddy as of old?
That's right; my mission in life is to knock fads out of people. Frances
dear, why do you look at me in that perplexed way? Oh, I suppose because
I'm in white. But I couldn't wear black on a day like this, as it
wouldn't make mother any happier to know that every breath I drew was a
torture. There, we won't talk of it. I have a black sash in my pocket;
it's all crumpled, but I'll tie it on, if you'll help me. Frances dear,
you never did think, did you, that trouble would come to me? but it did.
Fancy Fluff and trouble spoken of in the same breath; it's like putting
a weight of care on a butterfly; it isn't fair--you don't think it fair,
do you, Fan?"

The blue eyes were full of tears; the rosy baby lips pouted sorrowfully.

"We won't talk of it now, at any rate, darling," said Frances, stooping
and kissing the little creature with much affection.

Ellen brightened instantly.

"Of course we won't. It's delicious coming here; how wise it was of
mother to send me! I shall love being with you more than anything. Why,
Frances, you don't look a day older than when I saw you last."

"My father says," returned Frances, "that I age very quickly."

"But you don't, and I'll tell him so. Oh, no, he's not going to say
those rude, unpleasant things when I'm by. How old are you, Fan, really?
I forget."

"I am twenty-eight, dear."

"Are you?"

Fluff's blue eyes opened very wide.

"You don't look old, at any rate," she said presently. "And I should
judge from your face you didn't feel it."

The ancient cab, which contained Ellen's boxes and numerous small
possessions, trundled slowly down the avenue; the girls followed it arm
in arm. They made a pretty picture--both faces were bright, both pairs
of eyes sparkled, their white dresses touched, and the dark, earnest,
and sweet eyes of the one were many times turned with unfeigned
admiration to the bewitchingly round and baby face of the other.

"She has the innocent eyes of a child of two," thought Frances. "Poor
little Fluff! And yet sorrow has touched even her!"

Then her pleasant thoughts vanished, and she uttered an annoyed
exclamation.

"What does Mr. Spens want? Why should he trouble my father to-day of all
days?"

"What is the matter, Frances?"

"That man in the gig," said Frances. "Do you see him? Whenever he comes,
there is worry; it is unlucky his appearing just when you come to us,
Fluff. But never mind; why should I worry you? Let us come into the
house."

At dinner that day Frances incidentally asked her father what Mr. Spens
wanted.

"All the accounts are perfectly straight," she said. "What did he come
about? and he stayed for some time."

The slow blood rose into the old squire's face.

"Business," he said; "a little private matter for my own ear. I like
Spens; he is a capital fellow, a thorough man of business, with no
humbug about him. By the way, Frances, he does not approve of our
selling the fruit, and he thinks we ought to make more of the ribbon
border. He says we have only got the common yellow calceolarias--he does
not see a single one of the choicer kinds."

"Indeed!" said Frances. She could not help a little icy tone coming into
her voice. "Fluff, won't you have some cream with your strawberries?--I
did not know, father, that Mr. Spens had anything to say of our garden."

"Only an opinion, my dear, and kindly meant. Now, Fluff"--the squire
turned indulgently to his little favorite--"do you think Frances ought
to take unjust prejudices?"

"But she doesn't," said Fluff. "She judges by instinct, and so do I.
Instinct told her to dislike Mr. Spens' back as he sat in his gig, and
so do I dislike it. I hate those round fat backs and short necks like
his, and I hate of all things that little self-satisfied air."

"Oh, you may hate in that kind of way if you like," said the squire.
"Hatred from a little midget like you is very different from Frances's
sober prejudice. Besides, she knows Mr. Spens; he has been our excellent
man of business for years. But come, Fluff, I am not going to talk over
weighty matters with you. Have you brought your guitar? If so, we'll go
into the south parlor and have some music."



CHAPTER V.

"FRANCES, YOU ARE CHANGED!"


"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight--good--nine, ten,
eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen--excellent! Oh, how out of breath I
am, and how hot it is! Is that you, Frances? See, I've been skipping
just before the south parlor window to amuse the squire for the last
hour. He has gone to sleep now, so I can stop. Where are you going? How
nice you look! Gray suits you. Oh, Frances, what extravagance! You have
retrimmed that pretty shady hat! But it does look well. Now where are
you off to?"

"I thought I would walk up the road a little way," said Frances. Her
manner was not quite so calm and assured as usual. "Our old friend
Philip Arnold is coming to-night, you know, and I thought I would like
to meet him."

"May I come with you? I know I'm in a mess, but what matter? He's the
man about whom all the fuss is made, isn't he?"

Frances blushed.

"What do you mean, dear?" she asked.

"Oh, don't I know? I heard you giving directions about his room, and
didn't I see you walking round and round the garden for nearly two hours
to-day choosing all the sweetest things--moss roses, and sweetbrier, and
sprays of clematis? Of course there's a fuss made about him, though
nothing is said. I know what I shall find him--There, I'm not going to
say it--I would not vex you for worlds, Fan dear."

Frances smiled.

"I must start now, dear," she said, "or he will have reached the house
before I leave it. Do you want to come with me, Fluff? You may if you
like."

"No, I won't. I'm ever so tired, and people who are fussed about are
dreadfully uninteresting. Do start for your walk, Frances, or you won't
be in time to welcome your hero."

Frances started off at once. She was amused at Fluff's words.

"It is impossible for the little creature to guess anything," she said
to herself; "that would never do. Philip should be quite unbiased. It
would be most unfair for him to come here as anything but a perfectly
free man. Ten years ago he said he loved me; but am I the same Frances?
I am older; father says I am old for twenty-eight--then I was eighteen.
Eighteen is a beautiful age--a careless and yet a grave age. Girls are
so full of desires then; life stretches before them like a brilliant
line of light. Everything is possible; they are not really at the top of
the hill, and they feel so fresh and buoyant that it is a pleasure to
climb. There is a feeling of morning in the air. At eighteen it is a
good thing to be alive. Now, at eight-and-twenty one has learned to take
life hard; a girl is old then, and yet not old enough. She is apt to be
overworried; I used to be, but not since his letter came, and to-night I
think I am back at eighteen. I hope he won't find me much altered. I
hope this dress suits me. It would be awful now, when the cup is almost
at my lips, if anything dashed it away; but, no! God has been very good
to me, and I will have faith in Him."

All this time Frances was walking up-hill. She had now reached the
summit of a long incline, and, looking ahead of her, saw a dusty
traveler walking quickly with the free-and-easy stride of a man who is
accustomed to all kinds of athletic exercises.

"That is Philip," said Frances.

Her heart beat almost to suffocation; she stood still for a moment, then
walked on again more slowly, for her joy made her timid.

The stranger came on. As he approached he took off his hat, revealing a
very tanned face and light short hair; his well-opened eyes were blue;
he had a rather drooping mustache, otherwise his face was clean shaven.
If ten years make a difference in a woman, they often effect a greater
change in a man. When Arnold last saw Frances he was twenty-two; he was
very slight then, his mustache was little more than visible, and his
complexion was too fair. Now he was bronzed and broadened. When he came
up to Frances and took her hand, she knew that not only she herself,
but all her little world, would acknowledge her lover to be a very
handsome man.

"Is that really you, Frances?" he began.

His voice was thoroughly manly, and gave the girl who had longed for him
for ten years an additional thrill of satisfaction.

"Is that really you? Let me hold your hand for an instant; Frances you
are changed!"

"Older, you mean, Philip."

She was blushing and trembling--she could not hide this first emotion.

He looked very steadily into her face, then gently withdrew his hand.

"Age has nothing to do with it," he said. "You are changed, and yet
there is some of the old Frances left. In the old days you had a
petulant tone when people said things which did not quite suit you; I
hope--I trust--it has not gone. I am not perfect, and I don't like
perfection. Yes, I see it is still there. Frances, it is good to come
back to the old country, and to you."

"You got my letter, Philip?"

"Of course; I answered it. Were you not expecting me this evening?"

"Yes: I came out here on purpose to meet you. What I should have said,
Philip, was to ask you if you agreed to my proposal."

"And what was that?"

"That we should renew our acquaintance, but for the present both be
free."

Arnold stopped in his walk, and again looked earnestly at the slight
girl by his side. Her whole face was eloquent--her eyes were bright with
suppressed feeling, but her words were measured and cold. Arnold was not
a bad reader of character. Inwardly he smiled.

"Frances was a pretty girl," he said to himself; "but I never imagined
she would grow into such a beautiful woman."

Aloud he made a quiet reply.

"We will discuss this matter to-morrow, Frances. Now tell me about your
father. I was greatly distressed to see by your letter that your mother
is dead."

"She died eight years ago, Philip. I am accustomed to the world without
her now; at first it was a terrible place to me. Here we are, in the
old avenue again. Do you remember it? Let us get under the shade of the
elms. Oh, Fluff, you quite startled me!"

Fluff, all in white--she was never seen in any other dress, unless an
occasional black ribbon was introduced for the sake of propriety--came
panting up the avenue. Her face was flushed, her lips parted, her words
came out fast and eagerly:

"Quick, Frances, quick! The squire is ill; I tried to awake him, and I
couldn't. Oh, he looks so dreadful!"

"Take care of Philip, and I will go to him," said Frances. "Don't be
frightened, Fluff; my father often sleeps heavily. Philip, let me
introduce my little cousin, Ellen Danvers. Now, Nelly, be on your best
behavior, for Philip is an old friend, and a person of importance."

"But we had better come back to the house with you, Frances," said
Arnold. "Your father may be really ill. Miss--Miss Danvers seems
alarmed."

"But I am not," said Frances, smiling first at Philip and then at her
little cousin. "Fluff--we call this child Fluff as a pet name--does not
know my father as I do. He often sleeps heavily, and when he does his
face gets red, and he looks strange. I know what to do with him. Please
don't come in, either of you, for half an hour. Supper will be ready
then."

She turned away, walking rapidly, and a bend in the avenue soon hid her
from view.

Little Ellen had not yet quite recovered her breath. She stood holding
her hand to her side, and slightly panting.

"You seem frightened," said Arnold, kindly.

"It is not that," she replied. Her breath came quicker, almost in gasps.
Suddenly she burst into tears. "It's all so dreadful," she said.

"What do you mean?" said Arnold.

To his knowledge he had never seen a girl cry in his life. He had come
across very few girls while in Australia. One or two women he had met,
but they were not particularly worthy specimens of their sex; he had not
admired them, and had long ago come to the conclusion that the only
perfect, sweet, and fair girl in existence was Frances Kane. When he saw
Fluff's tears he discovered that he was mistaken--other women were sweet
and gracious, other girls were lovable.

"Do tell me what is the matter," he said, in a tone of deep sympathy;
for these fast-flowing tears alarmed him.

"I'm not fit for trouble," said Fluff. "I'm afraid of trouble, that's
it. I'm really like the butterflies--I die if there's a cloud. It is not
long since I lost my mother, and--now, now--I know the squire is much
more ill than Frances thinks. Oh, I know it! What shall I do if the
squire really gets very ill--if he--he dies? Oh, I'm so awfully afraid
of death!"

Her cheeks paled visibly, her large, wide-open blue eyes dilated; she
was acting no part--her terror and distress were real. A kind of
instinct told Arnold what to say to her.

"You are standing under these great shady trees," he said. "Come out
into the sunshine. You are young and apprehensive. Frances is much more
likely to know the truth about Squire Kane than you are. She is not
alarmed; you must not be, unless there is really cause. Now is not this
better? What a lovely rose! Do you know, I have not seen this
old-fashioned kind of cabbage rose for over ten years!"

"Then I will pick one for you," said Fluff.

She took out a scrap of cambric, dried her eyes like magic, and began to
flit about the garden, humming a light air under her breath. Her dress
was of an old-fashioned sort of book-muslin--it was made full and
billowy; her figure was round and yet lithe, her hair was a mass of
frizzy soft rings, and when the dimples played in her cheeks, and the
laughter came back to her intensely blue eyes, Arnold could not help
saying--and there was admiration in his voice and gaze:

"What fairy godmother named you so appropriately?"

"What do you mean? My name is Ellen."

"Frances called you Fluff; Thistledown would be as admirably
appropriate."

While he spoke Fluff was handing him a rose. He took it, and placed it
in his button-hole. He was not very skillful in arranging it, and she
stood on tiptoe to help him. Just then Frances came out of the house.
The sun was shining full on the pair; Fluff was laughing, Arnold was
making a complimentary speech. Frances did not know why a shadow seemed
to fall between her and the sunshine which surrounded them. She walked
slowly across the grass to meet them. Her light dress was a little
long, and it trailed after her. She had put a bunch of Scotch roses into
her belt. Her step grew slower and heavier as she walked across the
smoothly kept lawn, but her voice was just as calm and clear as usual as
she said gently:

"Supper is quite ready. You must be so tired and hungry, Philip."

"Not at all," he said, leaving Fluff and coming up to her side. "This
garden rests me. To be back here again is perfectly delightful. To
appreciate an English garden and English life, and--and English
ladies--here his eyes fell for a brief moment on Fluff--one most have
lived for ten years in the backwoods of Australia. How is your father,
Frances? I trust Miss Danvers had no real cause for alarm?"

"Oh, no; Ellen is a fanciful little creature. He did sleep rather
heavily. I think it was the heat; but he is all right now, and waiting
to welcome you in the supper-room. Won't you let me show you the way to
your room? You would like to wash your hands before eating."

Frances and Arnold walked slowly in the direction of the house. Fluff
had left them; she was engaged in an eager game of play with an
overgrown and unwieldly pup and a Persian kitten. Arnold had observed
with some surprise that she had forgotten even to inquire for Mr. Kane.



CHAPTER VI.

"I WILL NOT SELL THE FIRS."


On the morning after Arnold's arrival the squire called his daughter
into the south parlor.

"My love," he said, "I want a word with you."

As a rule Frances was very willing to have words with her father. She
was always patient and gentle and sweet with him; but she would have
been more than human if she had not cast some wistful glances into the
garden, where Philip was waiting for her. He and she also had something
to talk about that morning, and why did Fluff go out, and play those
bewitching airs softly to herself on the guitar? And why did she sing in
that wild-bird voice of hers? and why did Philip pause now and then in
his walk, as though he was listening--which indeed he was, for it would
be difficult for any one to shut their ears to such light and
harmonious sounds. Frances hated herself for feeling jealous. No--of
course she was not jealous; she could not stoop to anything so mean.
Poor darling little Fluff! and Philip, her true lover, who had remained
constant to her for ten long years.

With a smile on her lips, and the old look of patience in her steady
eyes, she turned her back to the window and prepared to listen to what
the squire had to say.

"The fact is, Frances--" he began. "Sit down, my dear, sit down; I hate
to have people standing, it fidgets me so. Oh! you want to be out with
that young man; well, Fluff will amuse him--dear little thing,
Fluff--most entertaining. Has a way of soothing a man's nerves, which
few women possess. You, my dear, have often a most irritating way with
you; not that I complain--we all have our faults. You inherit this
intense overwrought sort of manner from your mother, Frances."

Frances, who was standing absolutely quiet and still again, smiled
slightly.

"You had something to talk to me about," she said, in her gentlest of
voice.

"To be sure I had. I can tell you I have my worries--wonder I'm
alive--and since your mother died never a bit of sympathy do I get from
mortal. There, read that letter from Spens, and see what you make of it.
Impudent? uncalled for? I should think so; but I really do wonder what
these lawyers are coming to. Soon there'll be no distinctions between
man and man anywhere, when a beggarly country lawyer dares to write to a
gentleman like myself in that strain. But read the letter, Frances;
you'll have to see Spens this afternoon. _I'm_ not equal to it."

"Let me see what Mr. Spens says," answered Frances.

She took the lawyer's letter from the squire's shaking old fingers, and
opened it. Then her face became very pale, and as her eyes glanced
rapidly over the contents, she could not help uttering a stifled
exclamation.

"Yes, no wonder you're in a rage," said the squire. "The impudence of
that letter beats everything."

"But what does Mr. Spens mean?" said Frances. "He says here--unless you
can pay the six thousand pounds owing within three months, his client
has given him instructions to sell the Firs. What does he mean, father?
I never knew that we owed a penny. Oh, this is awful!"

"And how do you suppose we have lived?" said the squire, who was feeling
all that undue sense of irritation which guilty people know so well.
"How have we had our bread and butter? How has the house been kept up?
How have the wages been met? I suppose you thought that that garden of
yours--those vegetables and fruit--have kept everything going? That's
all a woman knows. Besides, I've been unlucky--two speculations have
failed--every penny I put in lost in them. Now, what's the matter,
Frances? You have a very unpleasant manner of staring."

"There was my mother's money," said Frances, who was struggling hard to
keep herself calm. "That was always supposed to bring in something over
two hundred pounds a year. I thought--I imagined--that with the help I
was able to give from the garden and the poultry yard that we--we lived
within our means."

Her lips trembled slightly as she spoke. Fluff was playing "Sweethearts"
on her guitar, and Arnold was leaning with his arms folded against the
trunk of a wide-spreading oak-tree. Was he listening to Fluff, or
waiting for Frances? She felt like a person struggling through a
horrible nightmare.

"I thought we lived within our means," she said, faintly.

"Just like you--women are always imagining things. We have no means to
live on; your mother's money has long vanished--it was lost in that
silver mine in Peru. And the greater part of the six thousand pounds
lent by Spens has one way or another pretty nearly shared the same fate.
I've been a very unlucky man, Frances, and if your mother were here,
she'd pity me. I've had no one to sympathize with me since her death."

"I do, father," said his daughter. She went up and put her arms round
his old neck. "It was a shock, and I felt half stunned. But I fully
sympathize."

"Not that I am going to sell the Firs," said the squire, not returning
Frances's embrace, but allowing her to take his limp hand within her
own. "No, no; I've no idea of that. Spens and his client, whoever he is,
must wait for their money, and that's what you have got to see him
about, Frances. Come, now, you must make the best terms you can with
Spens--a woman can do what she likes with a man when she knows how to
manage."

"But what am I to say, father?"

"Say? Why, that's your lookout. Never heard of a woman yet who couldn't
find words. Say? Anything in the world you please, provided you give him
to clearly to understand that come what may I will not sell the Firs."

Frances stood still for two whole minutes. During this time she was
thinking deeply--so deeply that she forgot the man who was waiting
outside--she forgot everything but the great and terrible fact that,
notwithstanding all her care and all her toil, beggary was staring them
in the face.

"I will see Mr. Spens," she said at last, slowly: "it is not likely that
I shall be able to do much. If you have mortgaged the Firs to this
client of Mr. Spens, he will most probably require you to sell, in order
to realize his money; but I will see him, and let you know the result."

"You had better order the gig, then, and go now; he is sure to be in at
this hour. Oh, you want to talk to the man that you fancy is in love
with you; but lovers can wait, and business can't. Understand clearly,
once for all, Frances, that if the Firs is sold, I die."

"Dear father," said Frances--again she took his unwilling hand in
hers--"do you suppose I want the Firs to be sold? Don't I love every
stone of the old place, and every flower that grows here? If words can
save it, they won't be wanting on my part. But you know better than I do
that I am absolutely powerless in the matter."

She went out of the room, and the squire sat with the sun shining full
on him, and grumbled. What was a blow to Frances, a blow which half
stunned her in its suddenness and unexpectedness, had come gradually to
the squire. For years past he knew that while his daughter was doing her
utmost to make two ends meet--was toiling early and late to bring in a
little money to help the slender household purse--she was only
postponing an evil day which could never be averted. From the first,
Squire Kane in his own small way had been a speculator--never at any
time had he been a lucky one, and now he reaped the results.

After a time he pottered to his feet, and strolled out into the garden.
Frances was nowhere visible, but Arnold and Ellen were standing under a
shady tree, holding an animated conversation together.

"Here comes the squire," said Fluff, in a tone of delight. She flew to
his side, put her hand through his arm, and looked coaxingly and
lovingly into his face.

"I am so glad you are not asleep," she said. "I don't like you when you
fall asleep and get so red in the face; you frightened me last night--I
was terrified--I cried. Didn't I, Mr. Arnold?"

"Yes," replied Arnold, "you seemed a good deal alarmed. Do you happen to
know where your daughter is, Mr. Kane?"

"Yes; she is going into Martinstown on business for me. Ah, yes, Fluff,
you always were a sympathizing little woman." Here the squire patted the
dimpled hand; he was not interested in Philip Arnold's inquiries.

"If Frances is going to Martinstown, perhaps she will let me accompany
her," said Arnold. "I will go and look for her."

He did not wait for the squire's mumbling reply, but started off quickly
on his quest.

"Frances does want the gift of sympathy," said the squire, once more
addressing himself with affection to Ellen. "Do you know, Fluff, that I
am in considerable difficulty; in short, that I am going through just
now a terrible trouble--oh, nothing that you can assist me in, dear.
Still, one does want a little sympathy, and poor dear Frances, in that
particular, is sadly, painfully deficient."

"Are you really in great trouble?" said Fluff. She raised her eyes with
a look of alarm.

"Oh, I am dreadfully sorry! Shall I play for you, shall I sing
something? Let me bring this arm-chair out here by this pear-tree; I'll
get my guitar; I'll sing you anything you like--'Robin Adair,' or 'Auld
Robin Gray,' or 'A Man's a Man;' you know how very fond you are of
Burns."

"You are a good little girl," said the squire. "Place the arm-chair just
at that angle, my love. Ah, that's good! I get the full power of the sun
here. Somehow it seems to me, Fluff, that the summers are not half as
warm as they used to be. Now play 'Bonnie Dundee'--it will be a treat to
hear you."

Fluff fingered her guitar lovingly. Then she looked up into the wizened,
discontented face of the old man opposite to her.

"Play," said the squire. "Why don't you begin?"

"Only that I'm thinking," said the spoiled child, tapping her foot
petulantly. "Squire, I can't help saying it--I don't think you are quite
fair to Frances."

"Eh, what?" said Squire Kane, in a voice of astonishment.
"Highty-tighty, what next! Go on with your playing, miss."

"No, I won't! It isn't right of you to say she's not sympathetic."

"Not right of me! What next, I wonder! Let me tell you, Fluff, that
although you're a charming little chit, you are a very saucy one."

"I don't care whether I'm saucy or not. You ought not to be unfair to
Frances."

These rebellious speeches absolutely made the squire sit upright in his
chair.

"What do you know about it?" he queried.

"Because she is sympathetic; she has the dearest, tenderest, most
unselfish heart in the world. Oh, she's a darling! I love her!"

"Go on with your playing, Fluff," said the squire.

Two bright spots of surprise and anger burned on his cheeks, but there
was also a reflective look on his face.

Fluff's eyes blazed. Her fair cheeks crimsoned, and she tried to thunder
out a spirited battle march on her poor little guitar.



CHAPTER VII.

NO OTHER WAY.


Arnold went quickly round to the back of the house. Although he had been
absent for ten years, he still remembered the ways of the old place, and
knew where to find the almost empty stables, and the coach-houses which
no longer held conveyances.

"This place requires about four thousand pounds a year to keep it up
properly," murmured Arnold to himself, "and from the looks of things I
should say these dear good folks had not as many hundreds. I wonder if
Frances will have me--I wonder if--" here he paused.

His heart was full of Frances this morning, but it was also full of a
strange kind of peace and thanksgiving. He was not greatly anxious; he
had a curious sensation of being rested all over. The fact was, he had
gone through the most hair-breadth escapes, the most thrilling
adventures, during the last ten years. He had escaped alive, at the most
fearful odds. He had known hunger and thirst; he had been many, many
times face to face with death. For more than half the time of his exile
things had gone against him, and hard indeed had been his lot; then the
tide had slowly turned, and after five more years Philip Arnold had been
able to return to his native land, and had felt that it was allowed to
him to think with hope of the girl he had always loved.

He was in the same house with Frances now. She had not yet promised to
be his, but he did not feel anxious. The quiet of the English home, the
sweet, old-fashioned peace of the garden, the shade under the trees, the
songs of the old-fashioned home birds, the scent of the old-fashioned
home flowers, and the bright eyes and gentle voice of the prettiest
little English girl he had ever seen, had a mesmerizing effect upon him.
He wanted Frances; Frances was his one and only love; but he felt no
particular desire to hurry on matters, or to force an answer from her
until she was ready to give it.

He strolled into the stable-yard, where Pete, the under-gardener,
message-boy and general factotum, a person whom Watkins, the chief
manager, much bullied, was harnessing a shaggy little pony to a very
shaky-looking market cart. The cart wanted painting, the pony grooming,
and the harness undoubtedly much mending.

"What are you doing, Pete?" said Arnold.

"This yer is for Miss Frances," drawled the lad. "She's going into
Martinstown, and I'm gwine with her to hold the pony."

"No, you're not," said Arnold. "I can perform that office. Go and tell
her that I'm ready when she is."

Pete sauntered away, but before he reached the back entrance to the
house Frances came out. She walked slowly, and when she saw Philip her
face did not light up. He was startled, not at an obvious, but an
indefinable change in her. He could not quite tell where it lay, only he
suddenly knew that she was quite eight-and-twenty, that there were hard
lines round the mouth which at eighteen had been very curved and
beautiful. He wished she would wear the pretty hat she had on last
night; he did not think that the one she had on was particularly
becoming. Still, she was his Frances, the girl whose face had always
risen before him during the five years of horror through which he had
lived, and during the five years of hope which had succeeded them.

He came forward and helped her to get into the little old-fashioned
market cart. Then, as she gathered up the reins, and the pony was moving
off, he prepared to vault into the vacant seat by her side. She laid her
hand on it, however, and turned to him a very sad and entreating face.

"I think you had better not, Philip," she said. "It will be very hot in
Martinstown to-day. I am obliged to go on a piece of business for my
father. I am going to see Mr. Spens, our lawyer, and I may be with him
for some time. It would be stupid for you to wait outside with the pony.
Pete had better come with me. Go back to the shade of the garden,
Philip. I hear Fluff now playing her guitar."

"I am going with you," said Arnold. "Forgive me, Frances, but you are
talking nonsense. I came here to be with you, and do you suppose I mind
a little extra sunshine?"

"But I am a rather dull companion to-day," she said, still objecting. "I
am very much obliged to you--you are very kind, but I really have
nothing to talk about. I am worried about a bit of business of father's.
It is very good of you, Philip, but I would really rather you did not
come into Martinstown."

"If that is so, of course it makes a difference," said Arnold. He looked
hurt. "I won't bother you," he said. "Come back quickly. I suppose we
can have a talk after dinner?"

"Perhaps so; I can't say. I am very much worried about a piece of
business of my father's."

"Pete, take your place behind your mistress," said Arnold.

He raised his hat, there was a flush on his face as Frances drove down
the shady lane.

"I have offended him," she said to herself; "I suppose I meant to. I
don't see how I can have anything to say to him now; he can't marry a
beggar; and, besides, I must somehow or other support my father. Yes,
it's at an end--the brightest of dreams. The cup was almost at my lips,
and I did not think God would allow it to be dashed away so quickly. I
must manage somehow to make Philip cease to care for me, but I think I
am the most miserable woman in the world."

Frances never forgot that long, hot drive into Martinstown. She reached
the lawyer's house at a little before noon, and the heat was then so
great that when she found herself in his office she nearly fainted.

"You look really ill, Miss Kane," said the man of business, inwardly
commenting under his breath on how very rapidly Frances was ageing. "Oh,
you have come from your father; yes, I was afraid that letter would be a
blow to him; still, I see no way out of it--I really don't!"

"I have never liked you much, Mr. Spens," said Frances Kane. "I have
mistrusted you, and been afraid of you; but I will reverse all my former
opinions--all--now, if you will only tell me the exact truth with regard
to my father's affairs."

The lawyer smiled and bowed.

"Thank you for your candor," he remarked. "In such a case as yours the
plain truth is best, although it is hardly palatable. Your father is an
absolutely ruined man. He can not possibly repay the six thousand pounds
which he has borrowed. He obtained the money from my client by
mortgaging the Firs to him. Now my client's distinct instructions are to
sell, and realize what we can. The property has gone much to seed. I
doubt if we shall get back what was borrowed; at any rate, land, house,
furniture, all must go."

"Thank you--you have indeed spoken plainly," said Frances. "One question
more: when must you sell?"

"In three months from now. Let me see; this is July. The sale will take
place early in October."

Frances had been sitting. She now rose to her feet.

"And there is really no way out of it?" she said, lingering for a
moment.

"None; unless your father can refund the six thousand pounds."

"He told me, Mr. Spens, that if the Firs is sold he will certainly die.
He is an old man, and feeble now. I am almost sure that he speaks the
truth when he says such a blow will kill him."

"Ah! painful, very," said the lawyer. "These untoward misfortunes
generally accompany rash speculation. Still, I fear--I greatly
fear--that this apprehension, if likely to be realized, will not affect
my client's resolution."

"Would it," said Frances, "would it be possible to induce your client to
defer the sale till after my father's death? Indeed--indeed--indeed, I
speak the truth when I say I do not think he will have long to wait for
his money. Could he be induced to wait, Mr. Spens, if the matter were
put to him very forcibly?"

"I am sure he could not be induced, Miss Kane; unless, indeed, you could
manage to pay the interest at five per cent. on his six thousand pounds.
That is, three hundred a year."

"And then?" Frances's dark eyes brightened.

"I would ask him the question; but such a thing is surely impossible."

"May I have a week to think it over? I will come to you with my decision
this day week."

"Well, well, I say nothing one way or another. You can't do
impossibilities, Miss Kane. But a week's delay affects no one, and I
need not go on drawing up the particulars of sale until I hear from you
again."

Frances bowed, and left the office without even shaking hands with Mr.
Spens.

"She's a proud woman," said the lawyer to himself, as he watched her
driving away. "She looks well, too, when her eyes flash, and she puts on
that haughty air. Odd that she should be so fond of that cantankerous
old father. I wonder if the report is true which I heard of an
Australian lover turning up for her. Well, there are worse-looking women
than Frances Kane. I thought her very much aged when she first came into
the office, but when she told me that she didn't much like me, she
looked handsome and young enough."

Instead of driving home, Frances turned the pony's head in the direction
of a long shady road which led into a westerly direction away from
Martinstown. She drove rapidly for about half an hour under the trees.
Then she turned to the silent Pete.

"Pete, you can go back now to the Firs, and please tell your master and
Miss Danvers that I shall not be home until late this evening. See, I
will send this note to the squire."

She tore a piece of paper out of her pocket-book, and scribbled a few
lines hastily.

     "DEAR FATHER,--I have seen Mr. Spens. Don't despair. I am
     doing my best for you.
                         FRANCES."

"I shall be back before nightfall," said Frances, giving the note to the
lad. "Drive home quickly, Pete. See that Bob has a feed of oats, and a
groom-down after his journey. I shall be home at latest by nightfall."



CHAPTER VIII.

FOR THE SAKE OF THREE HUNDRED A YEAR.


For nearly another quarter of a mile Frances walked quickly under the
friendly elm-trees. Then she came to some massive and beautifully
wrought iron gates, and paused for an instant, pressing her hand to her
brow.

"Shall I go on?" said she to herself. "It means giving up Philip--it
means deliberately crushing a very bright hope."

She remained quite still for several seconds longer. Her lips, which
were white and tired-looking, moved silently. She raised her eyes, and
looked full into the blue deep of the sky; and then she turned in at one
of the gates, and walked up an exquisitely kept carriage drive.

Some ladies in a carriage bowled past her; the ladies bent forward,
bowed, and smiled.

"Why, that is Frances Kane," they said one to another. "How good of her
to call--and this is one of Aunt Lucilla's bad days. If she will consent
to see Frances it will do her good."

Frances walked on. The avenue was considerably over a mile in length.
Presently she came to smaller gates, which were flung open. She now
found herself walking between velvety greenswards, interspersed with
beds filled with all the bright flowers of the season. Not a leaf was
out of place; not an untidy spray was to be seen anywhere; the garden
was the perfection of what money and an able gardener could achieve.

The avenue was a winding one, and a sudden bend brought Frances in full
view of a large, square, massive-looking house--a house which contained
many rooms, and was evidently of modern date. Frances mounted the steps
which led to the wide front entrance, touched an electric bell, and
waited until a footman in livery answered her summons.

"Is Mrs. Passmore at home?"

"I will inquire, madame. Will you step this way?"

Frances was shown into a cool, beautifully furnished morning-room.

"What name, madame?"

"Miss Kane, from the Firs. Please tell Mrs. Passmore that I will not
detain her long."

The man bowed, and, closing the door softly after him, withdrew.

Her long walk, and all the excitement she had gone through, made Frances
feel faint. It was past the hour for lunch at the Firs, and she had not
eaten much at the early breakfast. She was not conscious, however, of
hunger, but the delicious coolness of the room caused her to close her
eyes gratefully--gave her a queer sensation of sinking away into
nothing, and an odd desire, hardly felt before it had vanished, that
this might really be the case, and so that she might escape the hard
rôle of duty.

The rustling of a silk dress was heard in the passage--a quick, light
step approached--and a little lady most daintily attired, with a
charming frank face, stepped briskly into the room.

"My dear Frances, this is delightful--how well--no, though, you are not
looking exactly the thing, poor dear. So you have come to have lunch
with me; how very, very nice of you! The others are all out, and I am
quite alone."

"But I have come to see you on business, Carrie."

"After luncheon, then, dear. My head is swimming now, for I have been
worrying over Aunt Lucilla's accounts. Ah, no, alas! this is not one of
her good days. Come into the next room, Frances--if you have so little
time to spare, you busy, busy creature, you can at least talk while we
eat."

Mrs. Passmore slipped her hand affectionately through Frances's arm, and
led her across the wide hall to another cool and small apartment where
covers were already placed for two.

"I am very glad of some lunch, Carrie," said Frances. "I left home early
this morning. I am not ashamed to say that I am both tired and hungry."

"Eat then, my love, eat--these are lamb cutlets; these pease are not to
be compared with what you can produce at the Firs, but still they are
eatable. Have a glass of this cool lemonade. Oh, yes, we will help
ourselves. You need not wait Smithson."

The footman withdrew. Mrs. Passmore flitted about the table, waiting on
her guest with a sort of loving tenderness. Then she seated herself
close to Frances, pretended to eat a mouthful or two, and said suddenly:

"I know you are in trouble. And yet I thought--I hoped--that you would
be bringing me good news before long. Is it true, Frances, that Philip
Arnold is really alive after all, and has returned to England?"

"It is perfectly true, Carrie. At this moment Philip is at the Firs."

Mrs. Passmore opened her lips--her bright eyes traveled all over
Frances's face.

"You don't look well," she said, after a long pause. "I am puzzled to
account for your not looking well now."

"What you think is not going to happen, Carrie. Philip is not likely to
make a long visit. He came yesterday; he may go again to-morrow or next
day. We won't talk of it. Oh, yes, of course it is nice to think he is
alive and well. Carrie, does your aunt Lucilla still want a companion?"

Mrs. Passmore jumped from her seat--her eyes lighted up; she laid her
two dimpled, heavily ringed hands on Frances's shoulders.

"My dear, you can't mean it! You can't surely mean that you would come?
You know what you are to auntie; you can do anything with her. Why, you
would save her, Frances; you would save us all."

"I do think of accepting the post, if you will give it to me," said
Frances.

"Give it to you? you darling! As if we have not been praying and longing
for this for the last two years!"

"But, Carrie, I warn you that I only come because necessity presses
me--and--and--I must make conditions--I must make extravagant demands."

"Anything, dearest. Is it a salary? Name anything you fancy. You know
Aunt Lucilla is rolling in money. Indeed, we all have more than we know
what to do with. Money can't buy everything, Frances. Ah, yes, I have
proved that over and over again; but if it can buy you, it will for once
have done us a good turn. What do you want, dear? Don't be afraid to
name your price--a hundred a year? You shall have it with pleasure."

"Carrie, I know what you will think of me, but if I am never frank again
I must be now. I don't come here to oblige you, or because I have a
real, deep, anxious desire to help your aunt. I come--I come alone
because of a pressing necessity; there is no other way out of it that I
can see, therefore my demand must be extravagant. If I take the post of
companion to your aunt Lucilla, I shall want three hundred pounds a
year."

Mrs. Passmore slightly started, and for the briefest instant a frown of
disappointment and annoyance knit her pretty brows. Then she glanced
again at the worn face of the girl who sat opposite to her; the
steadfast eyes looked down, the long, thin, beautifully cut fingers
trembled as Frances played idly with her fork and spoon.

"No one could call Frances Kane mercenary," she said to herself. "Poor
dear, she has some trouble upon her. Certainly her demand is exorbitant;
never before since the world was known did a companion receive such a
salary. Still, where would one find a second Frances?"

"So be it, dear," she said, aloud. "I admit that your terms are high,
but in some ways your services are beyond purchase. No one ever did or
ever will suit Aunt Lucilla as you do. Now, when will you come?"

"I am not quite sure yet, Carrie, that I can come at all. If I do it
will probably be in a week from now. Yes, to-morrow week; if I come at
all I will come then; and I will let you know certainly on this day
week."

"My dear, you are a great puzzle to me; why can't you make up your mind
now?"

"My own mind is made up, Carrie, absolutely and fully, but others have
really to decide for me. I think the chances are that I shall have my
way. Carrie dear, you are very good; I wish I could thank you more."

"No, don't thank me. When you come you will give as much as you get.
Your post won't be a sinecure."

"Sinecures never fell in my way," said Frances. "May I see your aunt for
a few minutes to-day?"

"Certainly, love--you know her room. You will find her very poorly and
fractious this afternoon. Will you tell her that you are coming to live
with her, Frances?"

"No; that would be cruel, for I may not be able to come, after all.
Still, I think I shall spend some time in doing my utmost to help you
and yours, Carrie."

"God bless you, dear! Now run up to auntie. You will find me in the
summer-house whenever you like to come down. I hope you will spend the
afternoon with me, Frances, and have tea; I can send you home in the
evening."

"You are very kind, Carrie, but I must not stay. I will say good-bye to
you now, for I must go back to Martinstown for a few minutes early this
afternoon. Good-bye, thank you. You are evidently a very real friend in
need."

Frances kissed Mrs. Passmore, and then ran lightly up the broad and
richly carpeted stairs. Her footsteps made no sound on the thick
Axminster. She flitted past down a long gallery hung with portraits,
presently stopped before a baize door, paused for a second, then opened
it swiftly and went in.

She found herself in an anteroom, darkened and rendered cool with soft
green silk drapery. The anteroom led to a large room beyond. She tapped
at the door of the inside room, and an austere-looking woman dressed as
a nurse opened it immediately. Her face lighted up when she saw Frances.

"Miss Kane, you're just the person of all others my mistress would like
to see. Walk in, miss, please. Can you stay for half an hour? If so,
I'll leave you."

"Yes, Jennings. I am sorry Mrs. Carnegie is so ill to-day."

Then she stepped across the carpeted floor, the door was closed behind
her, and she found herself in the presence of a tall thin woman, who was
lying full length on a sofa by the open window. Never was there a more
peevish face than the invalid wore. Her brows were slightly drawn
together, her lips had fretful curves; the pallor of great pain, of
intense nervous suffering, dwelt on her brow. Frances went softly up to
her.

"How do you do, Mrs. Carnegie?" she said, in her gentle voice.

The sound was so low and sweet that the invalid did not even start. A
smile like magic chased the furrows from her face.

"Sit down, Frances, there's a dear child," she said. "Now, I have been
wishing for you more than for any one. I'm at my very worst to-day,
dear. My poor back is so bad--oh, the nerves, dear child, the nerves! I
really feel that I can not speak a civil word to any one, and Jennings
is so awkward, painfully awkward--her very step jars me; and why will
she wear those stiff-starched caps and aprons? But there, few understand
those unfortunates who are martyrs to nerves."

"You have too much light on your eyes," said Frances. She lowered the
blind about an inch or two.

"Now tell me, have you been down-stairs to-day?"

"How can you ask me, my love, when I can't even crawl? Besides, I assure
you, dear, dearest one"--here Mrs. Carnegie took Frances's hand and
kissed it--"that they dislike having me. Freda and Alicia quite show
their dislike in their manner. Carrie tries to smile and look friendly,
but she is nothing better than a hypocrite. I can read through them all.
They are only civil to me; they only put up with their poor old aunt
because I am rich, and they enjoy my comfortable house. Ah! they none of
them know what nerves are--the rack, the tear, to the poor system, that
overstrained nerves can give. My darling, you understand, you pity me."

"I am always very sorry for you, Mrs. Carnegie, but I think when you are
better you ought to exert yourself a little more, and you must not
encourage morbid thoughts. Now shall I tell you what I did with that
last five-pound note you gave me?"

"Ah, yes, love, that will be interesting. It is nice to feel that even
such a useless thing as money can make some people happy. Is it really,
seriously the case, Frances, that there are any creatures so destitute
in the world as not to know where to find a five-pound note?"

"There are thousands and thousands who don't even know where to find a
shilling," replied Frances.

Mrs. Carnegie's faded blue eyes lighted up.

"How interesting!" she said. "Why, it must make existence quite keen.
Fancy being anxious about a shilling! I wish something would make life
keen for me; but my nerves are in such a state that really everything
that does not thrill me with torture, palls."

"I will tell you about the people who have to find their shillings,"
responded Frances.

She talked with animation for about a quarter of an hour, then kissed
the nervous sufferer, and went away.

Half an hour's brisk walking brought her back to Martinstown. She
reached the lawyer's house, and was fortunate in finding him within.

"Will you tell your client, Mr. Spens, that if he will hold over the
sale of the Firs until after my father's death, I will engage to let him
have five per cent. on his money? I have to-day accepted the post of
companion to Mrs. Carnegie, of Arden. For this I am to have a salary of
three hundred pounds a year."

"Bless me!" said the lawyer. "Such a sacrifice! Why! that woman can't
keep even a servant about her. A heartless, selfish hypochondriac! even
her nieces will scarcely stay in the house with her. I think she would
get you cheap at a thousand a year, Miss Kane; but you must be joking."

"I am in earnest," responded Frances. "Please don't make it harder for
me, Mr. Spens. I know what I am undertaking. Will you please tell your
client that I can pay him his interest? If he refuses to accept it, I am
as I was before; if he consents, I go to Arden. You will do me a great
favor by letting me know his decision as soon as possible."

The lawyer bowed.

"I will do so," he said. Then he added, "I hope you will forgive me,
Miss Kane, for saying that I think you are a very brave and unselfish
woman, but I don't believe even you will stand Mrs. Carnegie for long."

"I think you are mistaken," responded Frances, gently. "I do it for the
sake of three hundred pounds a year, to save the Firs for my father
during his lifetime."

The lawyer thought he had seldom seen anything sadder than Frances'
smile. It quite haunted him as he wrote to his client, urging him to
accept her terms.



CHAPTER IX.

UNDER THE ELMS.


Squire Kane had spent by no means an unhappy day. The misfortune, which
came like a sudden crash upon Frances, he had been long prepared for.
Only last week Mr. Spens had told him that he might expect some such
letter as had been put into his hands that morning. He had been a little
nervous while breaking his news to Frances--a little nervous and a
little cross. But when once she was told, he was conscious of a feeling
of relief; for all his hard words to her, he had unbounded faith in this
clever managing daughter of his; she had got him out of other scrapes,
and somehow, by hook or by crook, she would get him out of this.

Except for Fluff's rather hard words to him when he spoke to her about
Frances, he had rather an agreeable day. He was obliged to exert himself
a little, and the exertion did him good and made him less sleepy than
usual. Both Fluff and Philip did their best to make matters pass
agreeably for him, and when Frances at last reached home, in the cool of
the evening, she found herself in the midst of a very cheerful domestic
scene.

At this hour the squire was usually asleep in the south parlor; on this
night he was out-of-doors. His circular cape, it is true, was over his
shoulders, and Fluff had tucked a white shawl round his knees, but still
he was sitting out-of-doors, cheering, laughing, and applauding while
Arnold and Miss Danvers sung to him. Fluff had never looked more lovely.
Her light gossamery white dress was even more cloudy than usual; a
softer, richer pink mantled her rounded cheeks; her big blue eyes were
lustrous, and out of her parted lips poured a melody as sweet as a
nightingale's. Arnold was standing near her--he also was singing--and as
Frances approached he did not see her, for his glance, full of
admiration, was fixed upon Miss Danvers.

"Halloo! here we are, Frances!" called out the squire, "and a right
jolly time we've all had. I'm out-of-doors, as you see; broken away from
my leading-strings when you're absent; ah, ah! How late you are, child!
but we didn't wait dinner. It doesn't agree with me, as you know, to be
kept waiting for dinner."

"You look dreadfully tired, Frances," said Philip.

He dropped the sheet of music he was holding, and ran to fetch a chair
for her. He no longer looked at Ellen, for Frances's pallor and the
strained look in her eyes filled him with apprehension.

"You don't look at all well," he repeated.

And he stood in front of her, shading her from the gaze of the others.

Frances closed her eyes for a second.

"It was a hot, long walk," she said then, somewhat faintly. And she
looked up and smiled at him. It was the sweetest of smiles, but Arnold,
too, felt, as well as the lawyer, that there was something unnatural and
sad in it.

"I don't understand it," he said to himself. "There's some trouble on
her; what can it be? I'm afraid it's a private matter, for the squire's
right enough. Never saw the old boy looking jollier." Aloud he said,
turning to Fluff, "Would it not be a good thing to get a cup of tea for
Frances? No?--now I insist. I mean you must let us wait on you, Frances;
Miss Danvers and I will bring the tea out here. We absolutely forbid you
to stir a step until you have taken it."

His "we" meant "I."

Frances was only too glad to lie back in the comfortable chair, and
feel, if only for a few minutes, she might acknowledge him her master.

The squire, finding all this fuss about Frances wonderfully uncongenial,
had retired into the house, and Arnold and Fluff served her
daintily--Arnold very solicitous for comfort, and Fluff very merry, and
much enjoying her present office of waiting-maid.

"I wish this tea might last forever," suddenly exclaimed Frances.

Her words were spoken with energy, and her dark eyes, as they glanced at
Arnold, were full of fire.

It was not her way to speak in this fierce and spasmodic style, and the
moment the little sentence dropped from her lips she blushed.

Arnold looked at her inquiringly.

"Are you too tired to have a walk with me?" he said. "Not far--down
there under the shade of the elm-trees. You need not be cruel, Frances.
You can come with me as far as that."

Frances blushed still more vividly.

"I am really very tired," she answered. There was unwillingness in her
tone.

Arnold gazed at her in surprise and perplexity.

"Perhaps," he said, suddenly, looking at Fluff, "perhaps, if you are
quite too tired even to stir a few steps, Frances, Miss Danvers would
not greatly mind leaving us alone here for a little."

Before she could reply, he went up to the young girl's side and took her
hand apologetically.

"You don't mind?" he said. "I mean, you won't think me rude when I tell
you that I have come all the way from Australia to see Frances?"

"Rude? I am filled with delight," said Fluff.

Her eyes danced; she hummed the air of "Sweethearts" quite in an
obtrusive manner as she ran into the house.

"Oh, squire," she said, running up to the old man, who had seated
himself in his favorite chair in the parlor. "I have discovered such a
lovely secret."

"Ah, what may that be, missy? By the way, Fluff, you will oblige me very
much if you will call Frances here. This paraffine lamp has never been
trimmed--if I light it, it will smell abominably; it is really careless
of Frances to neglect my comforts in this way. Oblige me by calling her,
Fluff; she must have finished her tea by this time."

"I'm not going to oblige you in that way," said Fluff. "Frances is
particularly engaged--she can't come. Do you know he came all the way
from Australia on purpose? What can a lamp matter?"

"What a lot of rubbish you're talking, child! Who came from Australia?
Oh, that tiresome Arnold! A lamp does matter, for I want to read."

"Well, then, I'll attend to it," said Fluff. "What is the matter with
it?"

"The wick isn't straight--the thing will smell, I tell you."

"I suppose I can put it right. I never touched a lamp before in my life.
Where does the wick come?"

"Do be careful, Ellen, you will smash that lamp--it cost three and
sixpence. There, I knew you would; you've done it now."

The glass globe lay in fragments on the floor. Fluff gazed at the broken
pieces comically.

"Frances would have managed it all right," she said. "What a useless
little thing I am! I can do nothing but dance and sing and talk. Shall I
talk to you, squire? We don't want light to talk, and I'm dying to tell
you what I've discovered."

"Well, child, well--I hate a mess on the floor like that. Well, what is
it you've got to say to me, Fluff? It's really unreasonable of Frances
not to come. She must have finished her tea long ago."

"Of course she has finished her tea; she is talking to Mr. Arnold. He
came all the way from Australia to have this talk with her. I'm so glad.
You'll find out what a useful, dear girl Frances is by and by, when you
never have her to trim your lamps."

"What do you mean, you saucy little thing? When I don't have Frances;
what do you mean?"

"Why, you can't have her when she's--she's married. It must be
wonderfully interesting to be married; I suppose I shall be some day.
Weren't you greatly excited long, long ago, when you married?"

"One would think I lived in the last century, miss. As to Frances,
well--well, she knows my wishes. Where did you say she was? Really, I'm
very much disturbed to-day; I had a shock, too, this morning--oh!
nothing that you need know about; only Frances might be reasonable.
Listen to me, Fluff; your father is in India, and, it so happens, can
not have you with him at present, and your mother, poor soul, poor, dear
soul! she's dead; it was the will of Heaven to remove her, but if there
is a solemn duty devolving upon a girl, it is to see to her parents,
provided they are with her. Frances has her faults, but I will say, as a
rule, she knows her duty in this particular."

The squire got up restlessly as he spoke, and, try as she would, Fluff
found she could no longer keep him quiet in the dark south parlor. He
went to the open window and called his daughter in a high and peevish
voice. Frances, however, was nowhere within hearing.

The fact was, when they were quite alone, Philip took her hand and said,
almost peremptorily:

"There is a seat under the elm-trees; we can talk there without being
disturbed."

"It has come," thought Frances. "I thought I might have been spared
to-night. I have no answer ready--I don't know what is before me. The
chances are that I must have nothing to say to Philip; every chance is
against our marrying, and yet I can not--I know I can not refuse him
to-night."

They walked slowly together through the gathering dusk. When they
reached the seat under the elm-tree Arnold turned swiftly, took
Frances's hand in his, and spoke.

"Now, Frances, now; and at last!" he said. "I have waited ten years for
this moment. I have loved you with all my heart and strength for ten
years."

"It was very--very good of you, Philip."

"Good of me! Why do you speak in that cold, guarded voice? Goodness had
nothing to say to the matter. I could not help myself. What's the
matter, Frances? A great change has come over you since the morning. Are
you in trouble? Tell me what is troubling you, my darling?"

Frances began to cry silently.

"You must not use loving words to me," she said; "they--they wring my
heart. I can not tell you what is the matter, Philip, at least for a
week. And--oh! if you would let me answer you in a week--and oh! poor
Philip, I am afraid there is very little hope."

"Why so, Frances; don't you love me?"

"I--I--ought not to say it. Let me go back to the house now."

"I shall do nothing of the kind. Do you love me?"

"Philip, I said I would give you an answer in a week."

"This has nothing to say to your answer. You surely know now whether you
love me or not."

"I--Philip, can't you see? Need I speak?"

"I see that you have kept me at a distance, Frances; that you have left
me alone all day; that you seem very tired and unhappy. What I see--yes,
what I see--does not, I confess, strike me in a favorable light."

Frances, who had been standing all this time, now laid her hand on
Arnold's shoulder. Her voice had grown quiet, and her agitation had
disappeared.

"A week will not be long in passing," she said. "A heavy burden has been
laid upon me, and the worst part is the suspense. If you have waited
ten years, you can wait another week, Philip. I can give you no other
answer to-night."

The hand which unconsciously had been almost caressing in its light
touch was removed, and Frances returned quickly to the house. She came
in by a back entrance, and, going straight to her own room, locked the
door. Thus she could not hear her father when he called her.

But Philip remained for a long time in the elm-walk, hurt, angry, and
puzzled.



CHAPTER X.

"FLUFF WILL SUIT HIM BEST."


Frances spent a very unhappy night. She could not doubt Philip's
affection for her, but she knew very little about men, and was just then
incapable of grasping its depth. Like many another woman, she overlooked
the fact that in absolutely sacrificing herself she also sacrificed the
faithful heart of the man who had clung to her memory for ten long
years.

Frances was too humble to suppose it possible that any man could be in
serious trouble because he could not win her.

"I know what will happen," she said to herself, as she turned from side
to side of her hot, unrestful pillow. "I know exactly how things will
be. The man to whom my father owes the money will accept the interest
from me. Yes, of course, that is as it should be. That is what I ought
to wish for and pray for. In about a week from now I shall go to live at
Arden, and the next few years of my life will be taken up soothing Mrs.
Carnegie's nerves. It is not a brilliant prospect, but I ought to be
thankful if in that way I can add to my poor father's life. Of course,
as soon as I hear from Mr. Spens, I must tell Philip I can have nothing
to say to him. I must give Philip up. I must pretend that I don't love
him. Perhaps he will be disappointed for awhile; but of course he will
get over it. He'll get another wife by and by; perhaps he'll choose
Fluff. Fluff is just the girl to soothe a man and make him happy. She is
so bright, and round, and sweet, she has no hard angles anywhere, and
she is so very pretty. I saw Philip looking at her with great admiration
to-night. Then she is young, too. In every way she is more suited to
him than I am. Oh, it won't be at all difficult for Philip to transfer
his affections to Fluff! Dear little girl, she will make him happy. They
will both be happy, and I must hide the pain in my heart somehow. I do
believe, I do honestly believe, that Fluff is more suited to Philip than
I am; for now and then, even if I had the happiest lot, I must have my
sad days. I am naturally grave, and sometimes I have a sense of
oppression. Philip would not have liked me when I was not gay. Some days
I must feel grave and old, and no man would like that. No doubt
everything would be for the best; at least, for Philip, and yet how
much--how much I love him!"

Frances buried her head in the bed-clothes, and sobbed, long and sadly.
After this fit of crying she fell asleep.

It was early morning, and the summer light was filling the room when she
woke. She felt calmer now, and she resolutely determined to turn her
thoughts in practical directions. There was every probability that the
proposal she had made to Mr. Spens would be accepted, and if that were
so she had much to do during the coming week.

She rose at her usual early hour, and, going down-stairs, occupied
herself first in the house, and then with Watkins in the garden. She
rather dreaded Philip's appearance, but if he were up early he did not
come out, and when Frances met him at breakfast his face wore a tired,
rather bored expression. He took little or no notice of her, but he
devoted himself to Fluff, laughing at her gay witty sallies, and trying
to draw her out.

After breakfast Frances had a long conversation with her father. She
then told him what she meant to do in order that he might continue to
live at the Firs. She told her story in a very simple, ungarnished
manner, but she said a few words in a tone which rather puzzled the
squire at the end.

"I will now tell you," she said, "that when Philip wrote to me asking me
to be his wife I was very, very glad. For all the long years of his
absence I had loved him, and when I thought he was dead I was
heart-broken. I meant to marry him after he wrote me that letter, but I
would not say so at once, for I knew that I had grown much older, and I
thought it quite possible that when he saw me he might cease to love me.
That is not the case; last night he let me see into his heart, and he
loves me very, very deeply. Still, if your creditor consents to the
arrangement I have proposed, I can not marry Philip--I shall then
absolutely and forever refuse him. But I do this for you, father, for my
heart is Philip's. I wish you to understand, therefore, that I could not
give up more for you than I am doing. It would be a comfort for me if,
in return, you would give me a little affection."

Frances stood tall and straight and pale by her father's side. She now
looked full into his face. There were no tears in her eyes, but there
was the passion of a great cry in the voice which she tried to render
calm.

The squire was agitated in spite of himself; he was glad Fluff was not
present. He had an uneasy consciousness of certain words Fluff had said
to him yesterday.

"You are a good girl, Frances," he said, rising to his feet and laying
his trembling old hand on her arm. "I love you after my fashion,
child--I am not a man of many words. By and by, when you are old
yourself, Frances, you won't regret having done something to keep your
old father for a short time longer out of his grave. After all, even
with your utmost endeavor, I am not likely to trouble any one long. When
I am dead and gone, you can marry Philip Arnold, Frances."

"No father."

Frances's tone was quiet and commonplace now.

"Sit down, please; don't excite yourself. I am not a woman to keep any
man waiting for me. I trust, long before you are dead, father, Philip
will be happy with another wife."

"What! Fluff, eh?" said the old man. "What a capital idea! You will
forgive my saying that she will suit him really much better than you,
Frances. Ah, there they go down the elm-walk together. She certainly is
a fascinating little thing. It will comfort you, Frances, to know that
you do Philip no injury by rejecting him; for he really gets a much more
suitable wife in that pretty young girl--you are decidedly _passée_, my
love."

Frances bit her lips hard.

"On the whole, then, you are pleased with what I have done," she said,
in a constrained voice.

"Very much pleased, my dear. You have acted well, and really with
uncommon sense for a woman. There is only one drawback that I can see
to your scheme. While you are enjoying the luxuries and comforts of
Arden, who is to take care of me at the Firs?"

"I have thought of that," said Frances. "I acknowledge there is a slight
difficulty; but I think matters can be arranged. First of all, father,
please disabuse yourself of the idea that I shall be in a state of
comfort and luxury. I shall be more or less a close prisoner; I shall be
in servitude. Make of that what you please."

"Yes, yes, my love--a luxurious house, carriages, and horses--an
affectionate and most devoted friend in Lucilla Carnegie--the daintiest
living, the most exquisitely furnished rooms. Yes, yes, I'm not
complaining. I'm only glad your lot has fallen in such pleasant places,
Frances. Still, I repeat, what is to become of me?"

"I thought Mrs. Cooper, our old housekeeper, would come back and manage
matters for you, father. She is very skillful and nice, and she knows
your ways. Watkins quite understands the garden, and I myself, I am
sure, will be allowed to come over once a fortnight or so. There is one
thing--you must be very, very careful of your money, and Watkins must
try to sell all the fruit and vegetables he can. Fluff, of course, can
not stay here. My next thought is to arrange a home for her, but even if
I have to leave next week, she need not hurry away at once. Now, father,
if you will excuse me, I will go out to Watkins, for I have a great deal
to say to him."



CHAPTER XI.

EDGE TOOLS.


"I have something to say to you, Fluff," said Frances.

The young girl was standing in her white dress, with her guitar hung in
its usual attitude by her side. She scarcely ever went anywhere without
this instrument, and she was fond of striking up the sweetest, wildest
songs to its accompaniment at any moment.

Fluff, for all her extreme fairness and babyishness, had not a doll's
face. The charming eyes could show many emotions, and the curved lips
reveal many shades either of love or dislike. She had not a passionate
face; there were neither heights nor depths about little Fluff; but she
had a very warm heart, and was both truthful and fearless.

She had been waiting in a sheltered part of the garden for over an hour
for Arnold. He had promised to go down with her to the river--he was to
sketch, and she was to play. It was intensely hot, even in the shadiest
part of the squire's garden, but by the river there would be coolness
and a breeze. Fluff was sweet-tempered, but she did not like to wait an
hour for any man, and she could not help thinking it aggravating of
Arnold to go on pacing up and down in the hot sun by the squire's side.
What could the squire and Arnold have to say to each other? And why did
the taller and younger man rather stoop as he walked? And why was his
step so depressed, so lacking in energy that even Fluff, under her shady
tree in the distance, noticed it?

She was standing so when Frances came up to her; now and then her
fingers idly touched her guitar, her rosy lips pouted, and her glowing
dark-blue eyes were fixed reproachfully on Arnold's distant figure.

Frances looked pale and fagged; she was not in the becoming white dress
which she had worn during the first few days of Arnold's visit; she was
in gray, and the gray was not particularly fresh nor cool in texture.

"Fluff, I want to speak to you," she said.

And she laid her hand on the girl's shoulder--then her eyes followed
Fluff's; she saw Arnold, and her cheeks grew a little whiter than
before.

"Fluff misses him already," she whispered to her heart. "And he likes
her. They are always together. Yes, I see plainly that I sha'n't do
Philip any serious injury when I refuse him."

"What is it, Frances?" said Fluff, turning her rather aggrieved little
face full on the new-comer. "Do you want to say anything to me very
badly? I do call it a shame of Mr. Arnold; he and the squire have
chatted together in the South Walk for over an hour. It's just too bad,
I might have been cooling myself by the river now; I'm frightfully hot."

"No, you're not really very hot," said Frances, in the peculiarly
caressing tone she always employed when speaking to her little cousin.
"But I own it is very annoying to have to wait for any one--more
particularly when you are doing nothing. Just lay your guitar on the
grass, Fluff, and let us walk up and down under the shade here. I have
something to say to you, and it will help to pass the time."

Fluff obeyed at once.

"You don't look well, Frances," she said, in her affectionate way, linking
her hand through her cousin's arm. "I have noticed that you haven't looked
yourself ever since the day you went to Martinstown--nearly a week ago now.
Now I wonder at that, for the weather has been so perfect, and everything
so sweet and nice; and I must say it is a comfort to have a pleasant man
like Mr. Arnold in the house. I have enjoyed myself during the past week,
and I greatly wonder you haven't, Frances."

"I am glad you have been happy, dear," said Frances, ignoring the parts
of Fluff's speech which related to herself. "But it is on that very
subject I want now to speak to you. You like living at the Firs, don't
you, Fluff?"

"Why, of course, Frances. It was poor mamma's"--here the blue eyes
brimmed with tears--"it was darling mother's wish that I should come
here to live with you and the squire. I never could be so happy anywhere
as at the Firs; I never, never want to leave it."

"But of course you will leave it some day, little Fluff, for in the
ordinary course of things you will fall in love and you will marry, and
when this happens you will love your new home even better than this.
However, Fluff, we need not discuss the future now, for the present is
enough for us. I wanted to tell you, dear, that it is very probable,
almost certain, that I shall have to go away from home. What is the
matter, Fluff?"

"You go away? Then I suppose that is why you look ill. Oh, how you have
startled me!"

"I am sorry to have to go, Fluff, and I can not tell you the reason. You
must not ask me, for it is a secret. But the part that concerns you,
dear, is that, if I go, I do not see how you can stay on very well at
the Firs."

"Of course I should not dream of staying, Francie. With you away, and
Mr. Arnold gone"--here she looked hard into Frances's face--"it would be
dull. Of course, I am fond of the squire, but I could not do without
another companion. Where are you going, Frances? Could not I go with
you?"

"I wish you could, darling. I will tell you where I am going to-morrow
or next day. It is possible that I may not go, but it is almost certain
that I shall."

"Oh, I trust, I hope, I pray that you will not go."

"Don't do that, Fluff, for that, too, means a great trouble. Oh, yes, a
great trouble and desolation. Now, dear, I really must talk to you about
your own affairs. Leave me out of the question for a few moments, pet. I
must find out what you would like to do, and where you would like to go.
If I go away I shall have little or no time to make arrangements for
you, so I must speak to you now. Have you any friends who would take you
in until you would hear from your father, Fluff?"

"I have no special friends. There are the Harewoods, but they are silly
and flirty, and I don't care for them. They talk about dress--you should
hear how they go on--and they always repeat the silly things the men
they meet say to them. No, I won't go to the Harewoods. I think if I
must leave you, Frances, I had better go to my old school-mistress, Mrs.
Hopkins. She would be always glad to have me."

"That is a good thought, dear. I will write to her to-day just as a
precautionary measure. Ah, and here comes Philip. Philip, you have tried
the patience of this little girl very sadly."

In reply to Frances' speech Arnold slightly raised his hat; his face
looked drawn and worried; his eyes avoided Frances's, but turned with a
sense of refreshment to where Fluff stood looking cool and sweet, and
with a world of tender emotion on her sensitive little face.

"A thousand apologies," he said. "The squire kept me. Shall I carry your
guitar? No, I won't sketch, thanks; but if you will let me lie on my
back in the long grass by the river, and if you will sing me a song or
two, I shall be grateful ever after."

"Then I will write to Mrs. Hopkins, Fluff," said Frances. And as the two
got over a stile which led down a sloping meadow to the river, she
turned away. Arnold had neither looked at her nor addressed her again.

"My father has been saying something to him," thought Frances. And she
was right.

The squire was not a man to take up an idea lightly and then drop it. He
distinctly desired, come what might, that his daughter should not marry
Arnold; he came to the sage conclusion that the best way to prevent
such a catastrophe was to see Arnold safely married to some one else.
The squire had no particular delicacy of feeling to prevent his alluding
to topics which might be avoided by more sensitive men. He contrived to
see Arnold alone, and then, rudely, for he did not care to mince his
words, used expressions the reverse of truthful, which led Arnold, whose
faith was already wavering in the balance, to feel almost certain that
Frances never had cared for him, and never would do so. He then spoke of
Fluff, praising her enthusiastically, and without stint, saying how
lucky he considered the man who won not only a beautiful, but a wealthy
bride, and directly suggested to Arnold that he should go in for her.

"She likes you now," said the squire; "bless her little heart, she'd
like any one who was kind to her. She's just the pleasantest companion
any man could have--a perfect dear all round. To tell the truth, Arnold,
even though she is my daughter, I think you are well rid of Frances."

"I'm ashamed to hear you say so, sir. If what you tell me is true, your
daughter has scarcely behaved kindly to me; but, notwithstanding that, I
consider Frances quite the noblest woman I know."

"Pshaw!" said the squire. "You agree with Fluff--she's always praising
her, too. Of course, I have nothing to say against my daughter--she's my
own uprearing, so it would ill beseem me to run her down. But for a
wife, give me a fresh little soft roundabout, like Fluff yonder."

Arnold bit his lip.

"You have spoken frankly to me, and I thank you," he said. "If I am so
unfortunate as not to win Miss Kane's regard, there is little use in my
prolonging my visit here; but I have yet to hear her decision from her
own lips. If you will allow me, I will leave you now, squire, for I
promised Miss Danvers to spend some of this afternoon with her by the
river."

"With Fluff? Little puss--very good--very good--Ah!

     'The time I've spent in wooing'

never wasted, my boy--never wasted. I wish you all success from the
bottom of my heart."

"Insufferable old idiot!" growled Arnold, under his breath.

But he was thoroughly hurt and annoyed, and when he saw Frances, could
not bring himself even to say a word to her.

The squire went back to the house to enjoy his afternoon nap, and to
reflect comfortably on the delicious fact that he had done himself a
good turn.

"There is no use playing with edge tools," he murmured. "Frances means
well, but she confessed to me she loved him. What more likely, then,
that she would accept him, and, notwithstanding her good resolutions,
leave her poor old father in the lurch? If Frances accepts Arnold, it
will be ruin to me, and it simply must be prevented at all hazards."



CHAPTER XII.

THE CUNNING LITTLE MOUSE.


Fluff found her companion strangely dull. They reached the river, where
Arnold, true to his promise, did stretch himself at full length in the
long fragrant grass; and Fluff, true to her promise, touched her guitar
gently, and gently, softly, and sympathetically sung a song or two. She
sung about the "Auld acquaintance" who should never be forgot; she sung
of "Robin Adair;" and, lastly, her clear little notes warbled out the
exquisite Irish melody, "She is far from the land." Never had Fluff sung
better. She threw feeling and sympathy into her notes--in short, she
excelled herself in her desire to please. But when at the end of the
third song Arnold still made no response, when not the flicker of an
eyelid or the faintest dawn of a smile showed either approbation or
pleasure, the spoiled child threw her guitar aside, and spoke pettishly.

"I won't amuse you any more," she said. "I don't like sulky people; I am
going home to my darling Frances. She is often troubled--oh, yes, she
knows what trouble is--but she never sulks, never!"

"Look here, Fluff," said Arnold. "I may call you Fluff, may I not?"

"I don't mind."

Fluff's big eyes began to dilate. She stretched out her hand to draw
her guitar once more to her side. She was evidently willing to be
reasonable.

"Look here," repeated Arnold. He rose hastily, and leaning on a low wall
which stood near, looked down at the bright little girl at his feet.
"Fluff," he said, "should you greatly mind if I threw conventionality to
the winds, and spoke frankly to you?"

"I should not mind at all," said Fluff. "I don't know what you have got
to say, but I hate conventionalities."

"The fact is, I am very much bothered."

"Oh!"

"And I haven't a soul to consult."

Another "Oh!" and an upward glance of two lovely long-fringed eyes.

"And I think you have a kind, affectionate heart, Fluff."

"I have."

"And you won't misunderstand a man who is half distracted?"

"I am sorry you are half distracted. No, I won't misunderstand you."

"That is right, and what I expected. I was thinking of all this, and
wondering if I might speak frankly to you when you were singing those
songs. That is the reason I did not applaud you, or say thank you, or
anything else commonplace."

"I understand now," said Fluff. "I'm very glad. I was puzzled at first,
and I thought you rude. Now I quite understand."

"Thank you, Fluff; if I may sit by your side I will tell you the whole
story. The fact is, I want you to help me, but you can only do so by
knowing everything. Why, what is the matter? Are you suddenly offended?"

"No," answered little Ellen; "but I'm surprised. I'm so astonished that
I'm almost troubled, and yet I never was so glad in my life. You are the
very first person who has ever asked me to help them. I have amused
people--oh, yes, often; but helped--you are the very first who has asked
me that."

"I believe you are a dear little girl," said Arnold, looking at her
affectionately; "and if any one can set things right now, you are the
person. Will you listen to my story? May I begin?"

"Certainly."

"Remember, I am not going to be conventional."

"You said that before."

"I want to impress it upon you. I am going to say the sort of things
that girls seldom listen to."

"You make me feel dreadfully curious," said Fluff. "Please begin."

"The beginning is this: Ten years ago I came here. I stayed here for a
month. I fell in love with Frances."

"Oh--oh! darling Frances. And you fell in love with her ten years ago?"

"I did. I went to Australia. For five years I had an awful time there;
my friends at home supposed me to be dead. The fact is, I was taken
captive by some of the bushmen. That has nothing to say to my story,
only all the time I thought of Frances. I remained in Australia five
more years. During that five years I was making my fortune. As I added
pound to pound, I thought still of Frances. I am rich now, and I have
come home to marry her."

"Oh," said little Fluff, with a deep-drawn sigh, "what a lovely story!
But why, then, is not Frances happy?"

"Ah, that is where the mystery comes in; that is what I want you to find
out. I see plainly that Frances is very unhappy. She won't say either
yes or no to my suit. Her father gives me to understand that she does
not love me; that she never loved me. He proposes that instead of
marrying Frances I should try to make you my wife. He was urging me to
do so just now when I kept you waiting. All the time he was telling me
that Frances never could or would love me, and that you were the wife of
all others for me."

"Why do you tell me all this?" said Fluff. Her cheeks had crimsoned, and
tears trembled on her eyelashes. "Why do you spoil a beautiful story by
telling me this at the end?"

"Because the squire will hint it to you, Fluff; because even Frances
herself will begin to think that I am turning my affections in your
direction; because if you help me as I want you to help me, we must be
much together; because I must talk very freely to you; in short, because
it is absolutely necessary that we should quite understand each other."

"Yes," said Fluff. "I see now what you mean; it is all right; thank you
very much." She rose to her feet. "I will be a sort of sister to you,"
she said, laying her little hand in his; "for I love Frances better than
any sister, and when you are her husband you will be my brother."

"No brother will ever be truer to you, Fluff; but, alas, and alas! is it
ever likely that Frances can be my wife?"

"Of course she will," said Fluff. "Frances is so unhappy because she
loves you."

"Nonsense."

"Well, I think so, but I'll soon find out."

"You will? If you were my real sister, I would call you a darling."

"You may call me anything you please. I am your sister to all intents
and purposes, until you are married to my darling, darling Frances. Oh,
won't I give it to the squire! I think he's a perfectly horrid old man,
and I used to be fond of him."

"But you will be careful, Fluff--a rash word might do lots of mischief."

"Of course I'll be careful. I have lots of tact."

"You are the dearest girl in the world, except Frances."

"Of course I am. That was a very pretty speech, and I am going to reward
you. I am going to tell you something."

"What is that?"

"Frances is going away."

Arnold gave a slight start.

"I did not know that," he said. "When?"

"She told me when you were talking to the squire. She is going away very
soon, and she wants me to go too. I am to go back to my old
school-mistress, Mrs. Hopkins. Frances is very sorry to go, and yet when
I told her that I hoped she would not have to, she said I must not wish
that, for that would mean a great calamity. I don't understand Frances
at present, but I shall soon get to the bottom of everything."

"I fear it is all too plain," said Arnold, lugubriously. "Frances goes
away because she does not love me, and she is unhappy because she does
not wish to give me pain."

"You are quite wrong, sir. Frances is unhappy on her own account, not on
yours. Well, I'll find out lots of things to-night, and let you know.
I'm going to be the cunningest little mouse in the world; but oh, won't
the squire have a bad time of it!"



CHAPTER XIII.

"LITTLE GIRLS IMAGINE THINGS."


The morning's post brought one letter. It was addressed to Miss Kane,
and was written in a business hand. The squire looked anxiously at his
daughter as she laid it unopened by her plate. Fluff, who was dressed
more becomingly than usual, whose eyes were bright, and who altogether
seemed in excellent spirits, could not help telegraphing a quick glance
at Arnold; the little party were seated round the breakfast-table, and
the squire, who intercepted Fluff's glance, chuckled inwardly. He was
very anxious with regard to the letter which Frances so provokingly left
unopened, but he also felt a pleasing thrill of satisfaction.

"Ha! ha!" he said to himself, "my good young man, you are following my
advice, for all you looked so sulky yesterday. Fluff, little dear, I do
you a good turn when I provide you with an excellent husband, and I
declare, poor as I am, I won't see you married without giving you a
wedding present."

After breakfast the squire rose, pushed aside his chair, and was about
to summon his daughter to accompany him to the south parlor, when Fluff
ran up to his side.

"I want to speak to you most particularly," she said. "I have a secret
to tell you," and she raised her charming, rounded, fresh face to his.
He patted her on the cheek.

"Is it very important?" he said, a little uneasily, for he noticed that
Philip and Frances were standing silently, side by side in the
bay-window, and that Frances had removed her letter from its envelope,
and was beginning to read it.

"She'll absolutely tell that fellow the contents of the most important
letter she ever received," inwardly grumbled the squire. "He'll know
before her father knows." Aloud he said, "I have a little business to
talk over with Frances just now, Ellen. I am afraid your secret must
wait, little puss."

"But that's what it can't do," answered Fluff. "Don't call Frances;
she's reading a letter. What a rude old man you are, to think of
disturbing her! I'm quite ashamed of you. Now come with me, for I must
tell you my important secret."

The squire found himself wheedled and dragged into the south parlor.
There he was seated in his most comfortable chair, just as much sunlight
as he liked best was allowed to warm him, a footstool was placed under
his feet, and Fluff, drawing a second forward, seated herself on it,
laid her hand on his knee, and looked at him with an expression of
pleased affection.

"Aren't you dreadfully curious?" she said.

"Oh, yes, Fluff--quite devoured with curiosity. I wonder now what
Frances is doing; the fact is, she has received an important letter.
It's about my affairs. I am naturally anxious to know its contents. Tell
your secret as quickly as possible, little woman, and let me get to more
important matters."

"More important matters? I'm ashamed of you," said Fluff, shaking her
finger at him. "The fact is, squire, you mustn't be in a hurry about
seeing Frances--you must curb your impatience; it's very good for you to
curb it--it's a little discipline, and discipline properly administered
always turns people out delightful. You'll be a very noble old man when
you have had a little of the proper sort of training. Now, now--why, you
look quite cross; I declare you're not a bit handsome when you're cross.
Frances can't come to you at present--she's engaged about her own
affairs."

"And what may they be, pray, miss?"

"Ah, that's my secret!"

Fluff looked down; a becoming blush deepened the color in her cheeks;
she toyed idly with a rosebud which she held in her hand. Something in
her attitude, and the significant smile on her face, made the squire
both angry and uneasy.

"Speak out, child," he said. "You know I hate mysteries."

"But I can't speak out," said Fluff. "The time to speak out hasn't
come--I can only guess. Squire, I'm so glad--I really do think that
Frances is in love with Philip."

"You really do?" said the squire. He mimicked her tone sarcastically,
red, angry spots grew on his old cheeks. "Frances in love with Philip,
indeed! You have got pretty intimate with that young Australian, Fluff,
when you call him by his Christian name."

"Oh, yes; we arranged that yesterday. He's like a brother to me. I told
you some time ago that he was in love with Frances. Now, I'm so
delighted to be able to say that I think Frances is in love with him."

"Tut--tut!" said the squire. "Little girls imagine things. Little girls
are very fanciful."

"Tut--tut!" responded Fluff, taking off his voice to the life. "Little
girls see far below the surface; old men are very obtuse."

"Fluff, if that's your secret, I don't think much of it. Run away now,
and send my daughter to me."

"I'll do nothing of the kind, for if she's not reading her letter she's
talking to her true love. Oh, you must have a heart of stone to wish to
disturb them!"

The squire, with some difficulty, pushed aside his footstool, hobbled to
his feet, and walked to the window where the southern sun was pouring
in. In the distance he saw the gray of Frances's dress through the
trees, and Philip's square, manly, upright figure walking slowly by her
side.

He pushed open the window, and hoarsely and angrily called his
daughter's name.

"She doesn't hear you," said Fluff. "I expect he's proposing for her
now; isn't it lovely? Aren't you delighted? Oh, where's my guitar? I'm
going to play 'Sweethearts.' I do hope, squire, you'll give Frances a
very jolly wedding."

But the squire had hobbled out of the room.

He was really very lame with rheumatic gout; but the sight of that gray,
slender figure, pacing slowly under the friendly sheltering trees, was
too much for him; he was overcome with passion, anxiety, rage.

"She's giving herself away," he murmured. "That little vixen, Fluff, is
right--she's in love with the fellow, and she's throwing herself at his
head; it's perfectly awful to think of it. She has forgotten all about
her old father. I'll be a beggar in my old age; the Firs will have to
go; I'll be ruined, undone. Oh, was there ever such an undutiful
daughter? I must go to her. I must hobble up to that distant spot as
quickly as possible; perhaps when she sees me she may pause before she
irrevocably commits so wicked an act. Oh, how lame I am! what agonies
I'm enduring! Shall I ever be in time? He's close to her--he's almost
touching her--good gracious, he'll kiss her if I'm not quick! that
little wretch Fluff could have reached them in a twinkling, but she
won't do anything to oblige me this morning. Hear her now, twanging away
at that abominable air, 'Sweethearts'--oh--oh--puff--puff--I'm quite
blown! This walk will kill me! Frances--I say, Frances, Frances."

The feeble, cracked old voice was borne on the breeze, and the last high
agonized note reached its goal.

"I am coming, father," responded his daughter. She turned to Arnold and
held out her hand.

"God bless you!" she said.

"Is your answer final, Frances?"

"Yes--yes. I wish I had not kept you a week in suspense; it was cruel to
you, but I thought--oh, I must not keep my father."

"Your father has you always, and this is my last moment. Then you'll
never, never love me?"

"I can not marry you, Philip."

"That is no answer. You never loved me."

"I can not marry you."

"I won't take 'no' unless you say with it, 'I never loved you; I never
can love you.'"

"Look at my father, Philip; he is almost falling. His face is crimson. I
must go to him. God bless you!"

She took his hand, and absolutely, before the squire's horrified eyes,
raised it to her lips, then flew lightly down the path, and joined the
old man.

"Is anything wrong, father? How dreadful you look!"

"You--you have accepted the fellow! You have deserted me; I saw you kiss
his hand. Fah! it makes me sick. You've accepted him, and I am ruined!"

"On the contrary, I have refused Philip. That kiss was like one we give
to the dead. Don't excite yourself; come into the house. I am yours
absolutely from this time out."

"Hum--haw--you gave me an awful fright, I can tell you." The squire
breathed more freely. "You set that little Fluff on to begin it, and you
ended it. I won't be the better of this for some time. Yes, let me lean
on you, Frances; it's a comfort to feel I'm not without a daughter. Oh,
it would have been a monstrous thing had you deserted me! Did I not rear
you, and bring you up? But in cases of the affections--I mean in cases
of those paltry passions, women are so weak."

"But not your daughter, Frances Kane. I, for your sake, have been
strong. Now, if you please, we will drop the subject; I will not discuss
it further. You had better come into the house, father, until you get
cool."

"You had a letter this morning, Frances--from Spens, was it not?"

"Oh, yes; I had forgotten; your creditors will accept my terms for the
present. I must drive over to Arden this afternoon, and arrange what day
I go there."

"I shall miss you considerably, Frances. It's a great pity you couldn't
arrange to come home to sleep; you might see to my comforts then by
rising a little earlier in the morning. I wish, my dear, you would
propose it to Mrs. Carnegie; if she is a woman of any consideration she
will see how impossible it is that I should be left altogether."

"I can not do that, father. Even you must pay a certain price for a
certain good thing. You do not wish to leave the Firs, but you can not
keep both the Firs and me. I will come and see you constantly, but my
time from this out belongs absolutely to Mrs. Carnegie. She gives me an
unusually large salary, and, being her servant, I must endeavor in all
particulars to please her, and must devote my time to her to a certain
extent day and night."

"Good gracious, Frances, I do hope that though adversity has come to the
house of Kane, you are not going so far to forget yourself as to stoop
to menial work at Arden. Why, rather than that--rather than that, it
would be better for us to give up the home of our fathers."

"No work need be menial, done in the right spirit," responded Frances.

Her eyes wandered away, far up among the trees, where Arnold still
slowly paced up and down. In the cause of pride her father might even be
induced to give up the Firs. Was love, then, to weigh nothing in the
scale?

She turned suddenly to the father.

"You must rest now," she said. "You need not be the least anxious on
your own account any more. You must rest and take things quietly, and
do your best not to get ill. It would be very bad for you to be ill now,
for there would be no one to nurse you. Remember that, and be careful.
Now go and sit in the parlor and keep out of draughts. I can not read to
you this morning, for I shall be very busy, and you must not call me nor
send for me unless it is absolutely necessary. Now, good-bye for the
present."

Frances did not, as her usual custom was, establish her father in his
easy-chair; she did not cut his morning paper for him, nor attend to the
one or two little comforts which he considered essential; she left him
without kissing him, only her full, grave, sorrowful eyes rested for one
moment with a look of great pathos on his wrinkled, discontented old
face, then she went away.

The squire was alone; even the irritating strain of "Sweethearts" no
longer annoyed him. Fluff had ceased to play--Fluff's gay little figure
was no longer visible; the man who had paced up and down under the
distant trees had disappeared; Frances's gray dress was nowhere to be
seen.

The whole place was still, oppressively still--not a bee hummed, not a
bird sung. The atmosphere was hot and dry, but there was no sunshine;
the trees were motionless, there was a feeling of coming thunder in the
air.

The squire felt calmed and triumphant, at the same time he felt
irritated and depressed. His anxiety was over; his daughter had done
what he wished her to do--the Firs was saved, at least for his
lifetime--the marriage he so dreaded was never to be. At the same time,
he felt dull and deserted; he knew what it was to have his desire, and
leanness in his soul. It would be very dull at the Firs without Frances;
he should miss her much when she went away. He was a feeble old man, and
he was rapidly growing blind. Who would read for him, and chat with him,
and help to while away the long and tedious hours? He could not spend
all his time eating and sleeping. What should he do now with all the
other hours of the long day and night? He felt pleased with Frances--he
owned she was a good girl; but at the same time he was cross with her;
she ought to have thought of some other way of delivering him. She was a
clever woman--he owned she was a clever woman; but she ought not to
have effected his salvation by deserting him.

The squire mumbled and muttered to himself. He rose from his arm-chair
and walked to the window; he went out and paced up and down the terrace;
he came in again. Was there ever such a long and tiresome morning? He
yawned; he did not know what to do with himself.

A little after noon the door of the south parlor was quickly opened and
Arnold came in.

"I have just come to say good-bye, sir."

The squire started in genuine amazement. He did not love Arnold, but
after two hours of solitude he was glad to hear any human voice. It
never occurred to him, too, that any one should feel Frances such a
necessity as to alter plans on her account.

"You are going away?" he repeated. "You told me yesterday you would stay
here for at least another week or ten days."

"Exactly, but I have changed my mind," said Arnold. "I came here for an
object--my object has failed. Good-bye."

"But now, really--" the squire strove to retain the young man's hand in
his clasp. "You don't seriously mean to tell me that you are leaving a
nice place like the Firs in this fine summer weather because Frances has
refused you."

"I am going away on that account," replied Arnold, stiffly. "Good-bye."

"You astonish me--you quite take my breath away. Frances couldn't accept
you, you know. She had me to see after. I spoke to you yesterday about
her, and I suggested that you should take Fluff instead. A dear little
thing, Fluff. Young, and with money; who would compare the two?"

"Who would compare the two?" echoed Arnold. "I repeat, squire, that I
must now wish you good-bye, and I distinctly refuse to discuss the
subject of my marriage any further."

Arnold's hand scarcely touched Squire Kane's. He left the south parlor,
and his footsteps died away in the distance.

Once more there was silence and solitude. The sky grew darker, the
atmosphere hotter and denser--a growl of thunder was heard in the
distance--a flash of lightning lighted up the squire's room. Squire Kane
was very nervous in a storm--at all times he hated to be long alone--now
he felt terrified, nervous, aggrieved. He rang his bell pretty sharply.

"Jane," he said to the servant who answered his summons, "send Miss Kane
to me at once."

"Miss Kane has gone to Martinstown, sir. She drove in in the pony-cart
an hour go."

"Oh--h'm--I suppose Mr. Arnold went with her?"

"No, sir. Mr. Arnold took a short cut across the fields; he says the
carrier is to call for his portmanteau, and he's not a-coming back."

"H'm--most inconsiderate--I hate parties broken up in a hurry like this.
What a vivid flash that was! Jane, I'm afraid we are going to have an
awful storm."

"It looks like it, sir, and the clouds is coming direct this way.
Watkins says as the strength of the storm will break right over the
Firs, sir."

"My good Jane, I'll thank you to shut the windows, and ask Miss Danvers
to have the goodness to step this way."

"Miss Danvers have a headache, sir, and is lying down. She said as no
one is to disturb her."

The squire murmured something inarticulate. Jane lingered for a moment
at the door, but finding nothing more was required of her, softly
withdrew.

Then in the solitude of his south parlor the squire saw the storm come
up--the black clouds gathered silently from east and west, a slight
shiver shook the trees, a sudden wind agitated the slowly moving
clouds--it came between the two banks of dark vapor, and then the
thunder rolled and the lightning played. It was an awful storm, and the
squire, who was timid at such times, covered his face with his trembling
hands, and even feebly tried to pray. It is possible that if Frances had
come to him then he would, in the terror fit which had seized him, have
given her her heart's desire. Even the Firs became of small account to
Squire Kane, while the lightning flashed in his eyes and the thunder
rattled over his head. He was afraid--he would have done anything to
propitiate the Maker of the storm--he would have even sacrificed himself
if necessary.

But the clouds rolled away, the sunshine came out. Fear vanished from
the squire's breast, and when dinner was announced he went to partake of
it with an excellent appetite. Fluff and he alone had seats at the
board; Arnold and Frances were both away.

Fluff's eyes were very red. She was untidy, too, and her whole
appearance might best be described by the word "disheveled." She
scarcely touched her dinner, and her chattering, merry tongue was
silent.

The squire was a man who never could abide melancholy in others. He had
had a fright; his fright was over. He was therefore exactly in the mood
to be petted and humored, to have his little jokes listened to and
applauded, to have his thrice-told tales appreciated. He was just in the
mood, also, to listen to pretty nothings from a pretty girl's lips, to
hear her sing, perhaps to walk slowly with her by and by in the
sunshine.

Fluff's red eyes, however, Fluff's disordered, untidy appearance, her
downcast looks, her want of appetite, presented to him, just then, a
most unpleasing picture. As his way was, he resented it, and began to
grumble.

"I have had a very dull morning," he began.

"Indeed, sir? I won't take any pease, thank you, Jane; I'm not hungry."

"I hate little girls to come to table who are not hungry," growled the
squire. "Bring the pease here, Jane."

"Shall I go up to my room again?" asked Fluff, laying down her knife and
fork.

"Oh, no, my love; no, not by any means."

The squire was dreadfully afraid of having to spend as solitary an
afternoon as morning.

"I am sorry you are not quite well, Fluff," he said, hoping to pacify the
angry little maid; "but I suppose it was the storm. Most girls are very
much afraid of lightning. It is silly of them; for really in a room with
the windows shut--glass, you know, my dear, is a non-conductor--there is
not much danger. But there is no combating the terrors of the weaker sex. I
can fancy you, Fluff, burying that pretty little head of yours under the
bed-clothes. That doubtless accounts for its present rough condition. You
should have come to me, my love; I'd have done my best to soothe your
nervous fears."

Fluff's blue eyes were opened wide.

"I don't know what you are talking about," she said. "I afraid of the
storm, and burying my head under the bed-clothes, as if I were a baby or
a silly old man! Yes, of course I knew there was a storm, but I didn't
notice it much, I was too busy packing."

This last remark effectually distracted the squire's attention.

"Packing! good gracious, child, you are not going away too?"

"Of course I am; you don't suppose I am going to stay here without my
darling Francie?"

"But what am I to do, Fluff?"

"I don't know, squire. I suppose you'll stay on at the Firs."

"Alone! Do you mean I'm to stay here alone?"

"I suppose so, now that you have sent Frances away."

"I have not sent her away. What do you mean, miss?"

"I'm not going to say what I mean," said Fluff. "Dear Frances is very
unhappy, and I'm very unhappy too, and Philip, I think, is the most
miserable of all. As far as I can tell, all this unhappiness has been
caused by you, squire, so I suppose you are happy; but if you think I am
going to stay at the Firs without Frances you are very much mistaken. I
would not stay with you now on any account, for you are a selfish old
man, and I don't love you any longer."

This angry little speech was uttered after Jane had withdrawn, and even
while Fluff spoke she pushed some fruit toward the squire.

"You are a selfish old man," she continued, her cheeks burning and her
eyes flashing; "you want your comforts, you want to be amused, and to
get the best of everything; and if that is so you don't care for others.
Well, here is the nicest fruit in the garden--eat it; and by and by I'll
sing for you, if my singing gives you pleasure. I'll do all this while I
stay, but I'm going away the day after to-morrow. But I don't love you
any more, for you are unkind to Frances."

The squire was really too much astonished to reply. Nobody in all his
life had ever spoken to him in this way before; he felt like one who was
assaulted and beaten all over. He was stunned, and yet he still clung in
a sort of mechanical way to the comforts which were dearer to him than
life. He picked out the finest strawberries which Fluff had piled on his
plate, and conveyed them to his lips. Fluff flew out of the room for her
guitar, and when she returned she began to sing a gay Italian air in a
very sprightly and effective manner. In the midst of her song the squire
broke in with a sudden question.

"What do you mean by saying I am unkind to Frances?"

Fluff's guitar dropped with a sudden clatter to the floor.

"You won't let her marry Philip--she loves him with all her heart, and
he loves her. They have cared for each other for ten long years, and now
you are parting them. You are a dreadfully, dreadfully selfish old man,
and I hate you!"

Here the impulsive little girl burst into tears and ran out of the room.
The squire sat long over his strawberries.



CHAPTER XIV.

"I HATE THE SQUIRE."


It was arranged that Frances should take up her abode at Arden on the
following Friday, and on Thursday Fluff was to go to London, to
stay--for a time, at least--under the sheltering wings of her late
school-mistress, Mrs. Hopkins. With regard to her departure, Fluff made
an extraordinary request--she earnestly begged that Frances should not
accompany her to Martinstown. She gave no reason for this desire; but
she enforced it by sundry pettings, by numerous embraces, by both tears
and smiles--in short, by the thousand and one fascinations which the
little creature possessed. A certain Mrs. Mansfield was to escort Fluff
to London; and Frances arranged that the two should meet at the railway
station, and catch the twelve-o'clock train for town.

"I don't want you to introduce her to me, darling," said Fluff. "I can't
possibly mistake her, for she is tall, and has a hooked nose, and always
wears black, you say. And you know what I am, just exactly like my name;
so it will be impossible for us not to recognize each other."

Thus Fluff got her way, and Frances saw her off, not from the railway
platform, but standing under the elm-trees where Fluff had first seen
her and Arnold together.

When a turn in the road quite hid Frances Kane from the little girl's
view she clasped her hands with a mixture of ecstasy and alarm.

"Now I can have my way," she said to herself, "and dear Frances will
never, never suspect."

A cab had been sent for to Martinstown to fetch away Fluff and her
belongings. The driver was a stranger, and Fluff thought it extremely
unlikely that, even if he wished to do so he would be able to tell
tales. She arrived in good time at the railway station, instantly
assumed a business-like air, looked out for no tall lady with a hooked
nose in black, but calmly booked her luggage for a later train, and
calling the same cabman, asked him to drive her to the house of the
lawyer, Mr. Spens.

The lawyer was at home, and the pretty, excitable little girl was
quickly admitted into his presence. Mr. Spens thought he had seldom seen
a more radiant little vision than this white-robed, eager, childish
creature--childish and yet womanly just then, with both purpose and
desire in her face.

"You had my letter, hadn't you?" said Fluff. "I am Ellen Danvers; Miss
Kane is my cousin, and my dearest, and most dear friend."

"I have had your letter, Miss Danvers, and I remained at home in
consequence. Won't you sit down? What a beautiful day this is!"

"Oh, please, don't waste time over the weather. I am come to talk to you
about Frances. You have got to prevent it, you know."

"My dear young lady, to prevent what?"

"Well, she's not to go to Arden. She's not to spend the rest of her days
with a dreadful, fanciful old woman! She's to do something else quite
different. You've got to prevent Frances making herself and--and--others
miserable all her life. Do you hear, Mr. Spens?"

"Yes, I certainly hear, Miss Danvers. But how am I to alter or affect
Miss Kane's destiny is more than I can at present say. You must explain
yourself. I have a very great regard for Miss Kane; I like her
extremely. I will do anything in my power to benefit her; but as she
chose entirely of her own free will--without any one, as far as I am
aware, suggesting it to her--to become companion to Mrs. Carnegie, I do
not really see how I am to interfere."

"Yes, you are," said Fluff, whose eyes were now full of tears. "You are
to interfere because you are at the bottom of the mystery. You know why
Frances is going to Mrs. Carnegie, and why she is refusing to marry
Philip Arnold, who has loved her for ten years, and whom she loves with
all her heart. Oh, I can't help telling you this! It is a secret, a kind
of secret, but you have got to give me another confidence in return."

"I did not know about Arnold, certainly," responded Spens. "That alters
things. I am truly sorry; I am really extremely sorry. Still I don't see
how Miss Kane can act differently. She has promised her father now: it
is the only way to save him. Poor girl! I am sorry for her, but it is
the only way to save the squire."

"Oh, the squire!" exclaimed Fluff, jumping up in her seat, and clasping
her hands with vexation. "Who cares for the squire? Is he to have
everything. Is nobody to be thought of but him? Why should Frances make
all her days wretched on his account? Why should Frances give up the man
she is so fond of, just to give him a little more comfort and luxuries
that he doesn't want? Look here, Mr. Spens, it is wrong--it must not be!
I won't have it!"

Mr. Spens could not help smiling.

"You are very eager and emphatic," he said. "I should like to know how
you are going to prevent Miss Kane taking her own way."

"It is not her own way; it is the squire's way."

"Well, it comes to the same thing. How are you to prevent her taking the
squire's way?"

"Oh, you leave that to me! I have an idea. I think I can work it
through. Only I want you, Mr. Spens, to tell me the real reason why
Frances is going away from the Firs, and why she has to live at Arden.
She will explain nothing; she only says it is necessary. She won't give
any reason either to Philip or me."

"Don't you think, Miss Danvers, I ought to respect her confidence? If
she wished you to know, she would tell you herself."

"Oh, please--please tell me! Do tell me! I won't do any mischief, I
promise you. Oh, if only you knew how important it is that I should find
out!"

The lawyer considered for a moment. Fluff's pretty words and beseeching
gestures were having an effect upon him. After all, if there was any
chance of benefiting Miss Kane, why should the squire's miserable
secret be concealed? After a time he said:

"You look like a child, but I believe you have sense. I suppose whatever
I tell you, you intend to repeat straight-way to Mr. Arnold?"

"Well, yes; I certainly mean to tell him."

"Will you promise to tell no one but Arnold?"

"Yes, I can promise that."

"Then the facts are simple enough. The squire owes six thousand pounds
to a client of mine in London. My client wants to sell the Firs in order
to recover his money. The squire says if he leaves the Firs he must die.
Miss Kane comes forward and offers to go as companion to Mrs. Carnegie,
Mrs. Carnegie paying her three hundred pounds a year, which sum she
hands over to my client as interest at five per cent. on the six
thousand pounds. These are the facts of the case in a nutshell, Miss
Danvers. Do you understand them?"

"I think I do. I am very much obliged to you. What is the name of your
client?"

"You must excuse me, young lady--I can not divulge my client's name."

"But if Philip wanted to know very badly, you would tell him?"

"That depends on the reason he gave for requiring the information."

"I think it is all right, then," said Fluff, rising to her feet.
"Good-bye, I am greatly obliged to you. Oh, that dear Frances. Mr.
Spens, I think I hate the squire."



CHAPTER XV.

"MR. LOVER."


If there was a girl that was a prime favorite with her school-fellows,
that girl was Ellen Danvers. She had all the qualifications which insure
success in school life. She was extremely pretty, but she was
unconscious of it; she never prided herself on her looks, she never
tried to heighten her loveliness by a thousand little arts which
school-girls always find out and despise. She had always plenty of
money, which at school, if not elsewhere, is much appreciated. She was
generous, she was bright, she was loving; she was not sufficiently
clever to make any one envious of her, but at the same time she was so
very smart and quick that not the cleverest girl in the school could
despise her.

When Fluff went away from Merton House the tribulation experienced on
all sides was really severe. The girls put their heads together, and
clubbed to present her with a gold bangle, and she in return left them
her blessing, a kiss all round, and a pound's worth of chocolate creams.

The school was dull when Fluff went away; she took a place which no one
else quite held. She was not at all weak or namby-pamby, but she was a
universal peace-maker. Fluff made peace simply by throwing oil on
troubled waters, for she certainly was not one to preach; and as to
pointing a moral, she did not know the meaning of the word.

It was with great rejoicing, therefore, that the young ladies of Mrs.
Hopkins' select seminary were informed on a certain Thursday morning
that their idol was about to return to them. She was no longer to take
her place in any of the classes; she was to be a parlor boarder, and go
in and out pretty much as she pleased; but she was to be in the house
again, and they were to see her bright face, and hear her gay laugh, and
doubtless she would once more be every one's confidante and friend.

In due course Fluff arrived. It was late when she made her appearance,
for she had missed the train by which Frances had intended her to
travel. But late as the hour was--past nine o'clock--Fluff found time to
pay a visit to the school-room, where the elder girls were finishing
preparations for to-morrow, to rush through the dormitories, and kiss
each expectant little one.

"It's just delicious!" whispered Sibyl Lake, the youngest scholar in the
school. "We have you for the last fortnight before we break up. Just
fancy, you will be there to see me if I get a prize!"

"Yes, Sibyl, and if you do I'll give you sixpennyworth of chocolate
creams."

Sibyl shouted with joy.

The other children echoed her glee. One of the teachers was obliged to
interfere. Fluff vanished to the very select bedroom that she was now to
occupy, and order was once more restored.

Fluff's name was now in every one's mouth. Didn't she look prettier than
ever? Wasn't she nicer than ever? Hadn't she a wonderfully grown-up air?

One day it was whispered through the school that Fluff had got a lover.
This news ran like wildfire from the highest class to the lowest. Little
Sibyl asked what a lover meant, and Marion Jones, a lanky girl of
twelve, blushed while she answered her.

"It isn't proper to speak about lovers," said Katie Philips. "Mother
said we weren't to know anything about them. I asked her once, and that
was what she said. She said it wasn't proper for little girls to know
about lovers."

"But grown girls have them," responded Marion, "I think it must be
captivating. I wish I was grown up."

"You're much too ugly, Marion, to have a lover," responded Mary Mills.
"Oh, for goodness' sake, don't get so red and angry! She's going to
strike me! Save me, girls!"

"Hush!" exclaimed Katie, "hush! come this way. Look through the lattice.
Look through the wire fence just here. Can you see? There's Fluff, and
there's her lover. He's rather old, isn't he? But hasn't he _l'air
distingué_? Isn't Fluff pretty when she blushes? The lover is rather
tall. Oh, do look, Mary, can you see--can you see?"

"Yes, he has fair hair," responded Mary. "It curls. I'm sorry it is fair
and curly, for Fluff's is the same. He should be dark, like a Spaniard.
Oh, girls, girls, he has got such lovely blue eyes, and such white
teeth! He smiled just now, and I saw them."

"Let me peep," said Marion. "I haven't got one peep yet."

But here the voices became a little loud, and the lovers, if they were
lovers, passed out of sight behind the yew hedge.

"That's it," said Fluff when she had finished her story; "it's all
explained now. I hope you're obliged to me."

"No brother could love you better, nor appreciate you more than I do,
Fluff."

"Thank you; I'll tell you how much I care for those words when you let
me know what you are going to do."

Arnold put his hand to his forehead; his face grew grave, he looked
with an earnest, half-puzzled glance at the childish creature by his
side.

"I really think you are the best girl in the world, and one of the
cleverest," he said. "I have a feeling that you have an idea in your
head, but I am sorry to say nothing very hopeful up to the present time
has occurred to me. It does seem possible, after your explanation, that
Frances may love me, and yet refuse me; yes, certainly, that does now
seem possible."

"How foolish you are to speak in that doubting tone," half snapped Fluff
(certainly, if the girls had seen her now they would have thought she
was quarreling with her lover). "How can you say perhaps Frances loves
you? Loves you! She is breaking her heart for you. Oh! I could cry when
I think of Frances's pain!"

"Dear little friend!" said Arnold. "Then if that is so--God grant it,
oh, God grant it--Frances and I must turn to you to help us."

Fluff's face brightened.

"I will tell you my plan," she said. "But first of all you must answer
me a question."

"What is it? I will answer anything."

"Mr. Arnold--"

"You said you would call me Philip."

"Oh, well, Philip--I rather like the name of Philip--Philip, are you a
rich man?"

"That depends on what you call riches, Fluff. I have brought fifteen
thousand pounds with me from the other side of the world. I took five
years earning it, for all those five years I lived as a very poor man, I
was adding penny to penny, and pound to pound, to Frances's fortune."

"That is right," exclaimed Fluff, clapping her hands. "Frances's
fortune--then, of course, then you will spend it in saving her."

"I would spend every penny to save her, if I only knew how."

"How stupid you are," said Fluff. "Oh, if only I were a man!"

"What would you do, if you were?"

"What would I not do? You have fifteen thousand pounds, and Frances is
in all this trouble because of six thousand pounds. Shall I tell you,
must I tell you what you ought to do?"

"Please--pray tell me."

"Oh, it is so easy. You must get the name of the old horror in London to
whom the squire owes six thousand pounds, and you must give him six out
of your fifteen, and so pay off the squire's debt. You must do this
and--and--"

"Yes, Fluff; I really do think you are the cleverest little girl I ever
came across."

"The best part is to come now," said Fluff. "Then you go to the squire;
tell him that you will sell the Firs over his head, unless he allows you
to marry Frances. Oh, it is so easy, so, so delightful!"

"Give me your hand, Fluff. Yes, I see light--yes. God bless you, Fluff!"

"There is no doubt she has accepted him," reported Mary Mills to her
fellows. "They have both appeared again around the yew hedge, and he has
taken her hand, and he is smiling. Oh, he is lovely when he smiles!"

"I wish I was grown up," sighed Marion, from behind. "I'd give anything
in all the world to have a lover."

"It will be interesting to watch Fluff at supper to-night," exclaimed
Katie Philips. "Of course she'll look intensely happy. I wonder if
she'll wear an engagement-ring."

The supper hour came. Fluff took her seat among the smaller girls; her
face was radiant enough to satisfy the most exacting, but her small
dimpled fingers were bare.

"Why do you all stare at my hands so?" she exclaimed once.

"It's on account of the ring," whispered little Sibyl. "Hasn't he given
you the ring yet?"

"Who is 'he,' dear?"

"Oh, I wasn't to say. His name is Mr. Lover."



CHAPTER XVI.

SWEETLY ROMANTIC.


Mrs. Carnegie could scarcely be considered the most cheerful companion
in the world. There was a general sense of rejoicing when Frances took
up her abode at Arden, but the victim who was to spend the greater part
of her life in Mrs. Carnegie's heated chambers could scarcely be
expected to participate in it. This good lady having turned her thoughts
inward for so long, could only see the world from this extremely narrow
standpoint. She was hypochondriacal, she was fretful, and although
Frances managed her, and, in consequence, the rest of the household
experienced a good deal of ease, Frances herself, whose heart just now
was not of the lightest, could not help suffering. Her cheeks grew
paler, her figure slighter and thinner. She could only cry at night, but
then she certainly cried a good deal.

On a certain sunny afternoon, Mrs. Carnegie, who thought it her bounden
duty on all occasions to look out for grievances, suddenly took it upon
herself to complain of Frances's looks.

"It is not that you are dull, my dear," she remarked. "You are fairly
cheerful, and your laugh is absolutely soothing; but you are pale,
dreadfully pale, and pallor jars on my nerves, dear. Yes, I assure you,
in the sensitive state of my poor nerves a pale face like yours is
absolutely excruciating to them, darling."

"I am very sorry," replied Frances. She had been a month with Mrs.
Carnegie now, and the changed life had certainly not improved her. "I am
very sorry." Then she thought a moment. "Would you like to know why I am
pale?"

"How interesting you are, my love--so different from every other
individual that comes to see me. It is good for my poor nerves to have
my attention distracted to any other trivial matter? Tell me, dearest,
why you are so pallid. I do trust the story is exciting--I need
excitement, my darling. Is it an affair of the heart, precious?"

Frances's face grew very red. Even Mrs. Carnegie ought to have been
satisfied for one brief moment with her bloom.

"I fear I can only give you a very prosaic reason," she said, in her
gentle, sad voice. "I have little or no color because I am always shut
up in hot rooms, and because I miss the open-air life to which I was
accustomed."

Mrs. Carnegie tried to smile, but a frown came between her brows.

"That means," she said, "that you would like to go out. You would leave
your poor friend in solitude."

"I would take my friend with me," responded Frances. "And she should
have the pleasure of seeing the color coming back into my cheeks."

"And a most interesting sight it would be, darling. But oh, my poor,
poor nerves! The neuralgia in my back is positively excruciating at this
moment, dearest. I am positively on the rack; even a zephyr would slay
me."

"On the contrary," replied Frances in a firm voice, "you would be
strengthened and refreshed by the soft, sweet air outside. Come, Mrs.
Carnegie, I am your doctor and nurse, as well as your friend, and I
prescribe a drive in the open air for you this morning. After dinner,
too, your sofa, shall be placed in the arbor; in short, I intend you to
live out-of-doors while this fine weather lasts."

"Ah, dear imperious one! And yet you will kill me with this so-called
kindness."

"On the contrary, I will make you a strong woman if I can. Now I am
going to ring to order the carriage."

She bustled about, had her way, and to the amazement of every one Mrs.
Carnegie submitted to a drive for an hour in an open carriage.

All the time they were out Frances regaled her with the stories of the
poor and suffering people. She told her stories with great skill,
knowing just where to leave off, and just the points that would be most
likely to interest her companion. So interesting did she make herself
that never once during the drive was Mrs. Carnegie heard to mention the
word "nerves," and so practical and to the point were her words that the
rich woman's purse was opened, and two five-pound notes were given to
Frances to relieve those who stood most in need of them.

"Positively I am better," explained Mrs. Carnegie, as she ate her dainty
dinner with appetite.

An hour later she was seated cosily in the arbor which faced down the
celebrated Rose Walk, a place well known to all the visitors at Arden.

"You are a witch," she said to Frances; "for positively I do declare the
racking, torturing pain in my back is easier. The jolting of the
carriage ought to have made it ten times worse, but it didn't. I
positively can't understand it, my love."

"You forget," said Frances, "that although the jolting of the carriage
might have tried your nerves a very little, the soft, sweet air and
change of scene did them good."

"And your conversation, dearest--the limpid notes of that sweetest
voice. Ah, Frances, your tales were harrowing!"

"Yes; but they were more harrowing to be lived through. You, dear Mrs.
Carnegie, to-day have relieved a certain amount of this misery."

"Ah, my sweet, how good your words sound! They are like balm to this
tempest-tossed heart and nerve-racked form. Frances dear, we have an
affinity one for the other. I trust it may be our fate to live and die
together."

Frances could scarcely suppress a slight shudder. Mrs. Carnegie suddenly
caught her arm.

"Who is that radiant-looking young creature coming down the Rose Walk?"
she exclaimed. "See--ah, my dear Frances, what a little beauty! What
style! what exquisite bloom!"

"Why, it is Fluff!" exclaimed Frances.

She rushed from Mrs. Carnegie's side, and the next moment Miss Danvers's
arms were round her neck.

"Yes, I've come, Frances," she exclaimed. "I have really come back. And
who do you think I am staying with?"

"Oh, Fluff--at the Firs! It would be kind of you to cheer my poor old
father up with a visit."

"But I'm not cheering him up with any visit--I'm not particularly fond
of him. I'm staying with Mr. and Mrs. Spens."

Frances opened her eyes very wide; she felt a kind of shock, and a
feeling almost of disgust crept over her.

"Mr. Spens? Surely you don't mean my father's lawyer, Mr. Spens, who
lives in Martinstown, Fluff?"

"Yes, I don't mean anybody else."

"But I did not think you knew him."

"I did not when last I saw you, but I do now--very well, oh, very well
indeed. He's a darling."

"Fluff! How can you speak of dull old Mr. Spens in that way? Well, you
puzzle me. I don't know why you are staying with him."

"You are not going to know just at present, dearest Francie. There's a
little bit of a secret afloat. Quite a harmless, innocent secret, which
I promise you will break nobody's heart. I like so much being with Mr.
Spens, and so does Philip--Philip is there, too."

"Philip? Then they are engaged," thought Frances. "It was very soon. It
is all right, of course, but it is rather a shock. Poor little
Fluff--dear Philip--may they be happy!"

She turned her head away for a moment, then, with a white face, but
steady, quiet eyes, said in her gentlest tones:

"Am I to congratulate you, then, Fluff?"

"Yes, you are--yes, you are. Oh, I am so happy, and everything is
delicious! It's going on beautifully. I mean the--the affair--the
secret. Frances, I left Philip at the gate. He would like to see you so
much. Won't you go down and have a chat with him?"

"I can not; you forget that I am Mrs. Carnegie's companion. I am not my
own mistress."

"That thin, cross-looking woman staring at us out of the bower yonder?
Oh, I'll take care of her. I promise you I'll make myself just as
agreeable as you can. There, run down, run down--I see Philip coming to
meet you. Oh, what a cold wretch you are, Frances! You don't deserve a
lover like Philip Arnold--no, you don't."

"He is not my lover, he is yours."

"Mine? No, thank you--there, he is walking down the Rose-path. He is
sick of waiting, poor fellow! I am off to Mrs. Carnegie. Oh, for
goodness' sake, Francie, don't look so foolish!"

Fluff turned on her heel, put wings to her feet, and in a moment,
panting and laughing, stood by Mrs. Carnegie's side.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," she exclaimed when she could speak. "I know who
you are, and I am dear Frances's cousin, Fluff. I know you would not
mind giving the poor thing a chance, and allowing me to stay and try to
entertain you for a little."

"Sit down, my dear, sit down. You really are a radiant little vision. It
is really most entertaining to me to see anything so fresh and pretty. I
must congratulate you on the damask roses you wear in your cheeks, my
pretty one."

"Thank you very much; I know I have plenty of color. Do you mind sitting
a little bit, just so--ah, that is right. Now we'll have our backs to
the poor things, and they'll feel more comfortable."

"My dear, extraordinary, entertaining little friend, what poor things do
you mean?"

"Why, Frances and--"

"Frances--my companion--Frances Kane?"

"Yes, your companion. Only she oughtn't to be your companion, and she
won't be long. Your companion, and my darling cousin, Frances Kane, and
her lover."

"Her lover! I knew there was a love affair. That accounts for the
pallor! Oh, naughty Frances; oh, cruel maiden, to deceive your Lucilla!
I felt it, I guessed it, it throbbed in the air. Frances and her lover!
My child, I adore lovers--let me get a peep at him. Dear Frances, dear
girl! And is the course of true love going smoothly, miss--miss--I
really don't know your name, my little charmer."

"My name is Fluff--please don't look round. It's a very melancholy love
affair just at present, but I'm making it right."

"My little bewitching one, I would embrace you, but my poor miserable
nerves won't permit of the least exertion. And so Frances, my Frances,
has a lover! It was wrong of her, darling, not to tell of this."

"She gave him up to come to you."

"Oh, the noble girl! But do you think, my child, I would permit such a
sacrifice? No, no; far rather would Lucilla Carnegie bury her sorrows in
the lonely tomb. Lend me your handkerchief, sweet one--I can't find my
own, and my tears overflow. Ah, my Frances, my Frances, I always knew
you loved me, but to this extent--oh, it is too much!"

"But she didn't do it for you," said Fluff. "She wanted the money to
help her father--he's such a cross, selfish old man. He wouldn't let her
marry Philip, although Philip loved her for ten years, and saved all his
pence in Australia to try and get enough money to marry her, and was
nearly eaten himself by the blacks, but never forgot her day or
night--and she loved him beyond anything. Don't you think, Mrs.
Carnegie, that they ought to be married? Don't you think so?"

"My child, my little fair one, you excite me much. Oh, I shall suffer
presently! But now your enthusiasm carries that of Lucilla Carnegie
along with you. Yes, they ought to be married."

"Mrs. Carnegie, they must be married. I'm determined, and so is Philip,
and so is Mr. Spens. Won't you be determined too?"

"Yes, my child. But, oh, what shall I not lose in my Frances? Forgive
one tear for myself--my little rose in June."

"You needn't fret for yourself at all. You'll be ever so happy when
you've done a noble thing. Now listen. This is our little plot--only
first of all promise, promise most faithfully, that you won't say a word
to Frances."

"I promise, my child. How intensely you arouse my curiosity! Really I
begin to live."

"You won't give Frances a hint?"

"No, no, you may trust me, little bright one."

"Well, I do trust you. I know you won't spoil all our plans. You'll
share them and help us. Oh, what a happy woman you'll be by and by! Now
listen."

Then Fluff seated herself close to Mrs. Carnegie, and began to whisper
an elaborately got-up scheme into that lady's ear, to all of which she
listened with glowing eyes, her hands clasping Fluff's, her attention
riveted on the sweet and eager face.

"It's my plot," concluded the narrator. "Philip doesn't much like
it--not some of it--but I say that I will only help him in my own way."

"My dear love, I don't think I ever heard anything more clever and
original, and absolutely to the point."

"Now did you? I can't sleep at night, thinking of it--you'll be sure to
help me?"

"Help you? With my heart, my life, my purse!"

"Oh, we don't want your purse. You see there's plenty of money; there's
the fortune Philip made for Frances. It would be a great pity anything
else should rescue her from this dilemma."

"Oh, it is so sweetly romantic!" said Mrs. Carnegie, clasping her hands.

"Yes, that's what I think. You'll be quite ready when the time comes?"

"Oh, quite. More than ready, my brightest fairy!"

"Well, here comes Frances--remember, you're not to let out a word, a
hint. I think I've amused Mrs. Carnegie quite nicely, Francie."

Frances's cheeks had that delicate bloom on them which comes now and
then as a special and finishing touch, as the last crown of beauty to
very pale faces. Her eyes were soft, and her dark eyelashes were still a
little wet with some tears which were not unhappy ones.

"Philip wrung a confession out of me," she whispered to her little
cousin. "No, Fluff--no, dear Fluff, it does no good--no good whatever.
Still, I am almost glad I told him."

"You told him what?"

"I won't say. It can never come to anything."

"I know what you said--you have made Philip very happy, Frances. Now I
must run away."



CHAPTER XVII.

THE FIRS OR FRANCES?


It is necessary for some people to go away to be missed. There are
certain very quiet people in the world, who make no fuss, who think
humbly of themselves, who never on any occasion blow their own trumpets,
who under all possible circumstances keep in the background, but who yet
have a knack of filling odd corners, of smoothing down sharp angles, of
shedding the sunshine of kindness and unselfishness over things
generally. There are such people, and they are seldom very much missed
until they go away.

Then there is a hue and cry. Who did this? Whose duty was the other?
Where is such a thing to be found? Will nobody attend to this small but
necessary want? The person who never made any talk, but did all the
small things, and made all the other people comfortable, is suddenly
missed, and in an instant his or her virtues are discovered.

This was the case at the Firs when Frances on a certain morning drove
away.

Watkins missed her--the stable-boy, the house-servant--the cat, the
dog--many other domestic pets--and most of all, Squire Kane.

He was not neglected, but he had a sense of loneliness which began at
the moment he awoke, and never left him till he went to sleep again.

He had his meals regularly; he was called in good time in the morning;
the new housekeeper lighted his candle and brought it to him at night;
his favorite fruit and his favorite flowers were still set before him,
and the newspaper he liked best always lay by his plate at
breakfast-time. Watkins was really an excellent gardener, and the ribbon
border still bloomed and flourished, the birds sung in the trees as of
yore, the lawn was smoothly kept. It was early September now, but the
old place never looked gayer, sweeter, brighter. Still, somehow or other
the squire was dull. His newspaper was there, but there was no one to
cut it, no one to read it aloud to him. The flowers were making a
wonderful bloom, but there was no special person to talk them over with.
He had no one to tell his thoughts to, no one to criticise, no one to
praise, and--saddest want of all to a nature like his--not a soul in the
world to blame.

Really, Frances was very much missed; he could not quite have believed
it before she went, for she was such a quiet, grave woman, but there
wasn't the least doubt on the subject. She had a way of making a place
pleasant and home-like. Although she was so quiet herself, wherever she
went the sun shone. It was quite remarkable how she was missed--even the
Firs, even the home of his ancestors, was quite dull without her.

Frances had been away for five weeks, and the squire was beginning to
wonder if he could endure much more of his present monotonous life, when
one day, as he was passing up and down in the sunny South Walk, he was
startled, and his attention pleasingly diverted by the jangling sweet
sound of silver bells. A smart little carriage, drawn by a pair of Arab
ponies, and driven by a lady, drew up somewhere in the elm avenue; a
girl in white jumped lightly out, and ran toward him.

"Good gracious!" he said to himself, "why, it's that dear little Fluff.
Well, I am glad to see her."

He hobbled down the path as fast as he could, and as Fluff drew near,
sung out cheerily:

"Now this is a pleasing surprise! But welcome to the Firs, my
love--welcome most heartily to the Firs."

"Thank you, squire," replied Fluff. "I've come to see you on a most
important matter. Shall we go into the house, or may I talk to you
here?"

"I hope, my dear, that you have come to say that you are going to pay me
another visit--I do hope that is your important business. Your little
room can be got ready in no time, and your guitar--I hope you've brought
your guitar, my dear. It really is a fact, but I haven't had one scrap
of entertainment since Frances went away--preposterous, is it not?"

"Well, of course I knew you'd miss her," said Fluff in a tranquil voice.
"I always told you there was no one in the world like Frances."

"Yes, my dear, yes--I will own, yes, undoubtedly, Frances, for all she
is so quiet, and not what you would call a young person, is a good deal
missed in the place. But you have not answered my query yet, Fluff. Have
you come to stay?"

"No, I've not come to stay; at least, I think not. Squire, I am glad you
appreciate dear Frances at last."

"Of course, my love, of course. A good creature--not young, but a good,
worthy creature. It is a great affliction to me, being obliged, owing to
sad circumstances, to live apart from my daughter. I am vexed that you
can not pay me a little visit, Fluff. Whose carriage was that you came
in? and what part of the world are you staying in at present?"

"That dear little pony-trap belongs to Mrs. Carnegie, of Arden; and her
niece, Mrs. Passmore, drove me over. I am staying with Mr. and Mrs.
Spens, at Martinstown."

"Spens the lawyer?"

"Yes, Spens the lawyer. I may stay with him if I like, may I not? I am a
great friend of his. He sent me over here to-day to see you on most
important business."

"My dear Fluff! Really, if Spens has business with me, he might have the
goodness to come here himself."

"He couldn't--he has a very bad influenza cold; he's in bed with it.
That was why I offered to come. Because the business is so very
important."

"How came he to talk over my affairs with a child like you?"

"Well, as you'll learn presently, they happen to be my affairs too. He
thought, as he couldn't stir out of his bed, and I knew all the
particulars, that I had better come over and explain everything to you,
as the matter is of such great importance, and as a decision must be
arrived at to-day."

Fluff spoke with great eagerness. Her eyes were glowing, her cheeks
burning, and there wasn't a scrap of her usual fun about her.

In spite of himself the squire was impressed.

"I can not imagine what you have to say to me," he said; "but perhaps we
had better go into the house."

"I think we had," said Fluff; "for as what I have got to say will
startle you a good deal, you had better sit in your favorite arm-chair,
and have some water near you in case you feel faint."

As she spoke she took his hand, led him through the French windows into
his little parlor, and seated him comfortably in his favorite chair.

"Now I'll begin," said Fluff. "You must not interrupt me, although I'm
afraid you will be a little startled. You have mortgaged the Firs for
six thousand pounds."

"My dear Ellen!"--an angry flush rose in the squire's cheeks. "Who has
informed you with regard to my private affairs? Frances has done very--"

"Frances has had nothing to say to it; I won't go on if you interrupt
me. You have mortgaged the Firs for six thousand pounds, to some people
of the name of Dawson & Blake, in London. Frances lives at Arden, in
order to pay them three hundred pounds a year interest on the mortgage."

"Yes, yes; really, Frances--really, Spens--"

"Now do stop talking; how can I tell my story if you interrupt every
minute? Messrs. Dawson & Blake were very anxious to get back their
money, and they wanted to sell the Firs in order to realize it. Mr.
Spens had the greatest work in the world to get them to accept Frances's
noble offer. He put tremendous pressure to bear, and at last, very
unwillingly, they yielded."

"Well, well, my dear"--the squire wiped the moisture from his
brow--"they have yielded, that is the great thing--that is the end of
the story; at least, for the present."

"No, it is not the end of the story," said Fluff, looking up angrily
into the old man's face. "You were quite satisfied, for it seemed all
right to you; you were to stay on quietly here, and have your comforts,
and the life you thought so pleasant; and Frances was to give up Philip
Arnold, whom she loves, and go away to toil and slave and be miserable.
Oh, it was all right for you, but it was bitterly all wrong for
Frances!"

"My dear little Fluff, my dear Ellen, pray try and compose yourself; I
assure you my side of the bargain is dull, very dull. I am alone; I
have no companionship. Not a living soul who cares for me is now to be
found at the Firs. My side is not all sunshine, Fluff; and I own
it--yes, I will own it, Fluff; I miss Frances very much."

"I am glad of that; I am very glad. Now I am coming to the second part
of my story. A week ago Mr. Spens had a letter from Messrs. Dawson &
Blake to say that they had sold their mortgage on the Firs to a
stranger--a man who had plenty of money, but who had taken a fancy to
the Firs, and who wished to get it cheap."

The squire sat upright on his chair.

"Mr. Spens wrote at once to the new owner of the mortgage, and asked him
if he would take five per cent. interest on his money, and not disturb
you while you lived. Mr. Spens received a reply yesterday, and it is
because of that I am here now."

The squire's face had grown very white; his lips trembled a little.

"What was the reply?" he asked. "Really--really, a most extraordinary
statement; most queer of Spens not to come to me himself about it. What
was the reply, Fluff?"

"I told you Mr. Spens was ill and in bed. The stranger's reply was not
favorable to your wishes. He wishes for the Firs; he has seen the place,
and would like to live there. He says you must sell; or, there is
another condition."

"What is that? This news is most alarming and disquieting. What is the
other condition--the alternative?"

Fluff rose, yawned slightly, and half turned her back to the squire.

"It is scarcely worth naming," she said, in a light and indifferent
voice; "for as Frances loves Philip, of course she would not think of
marrying any one else. But it seems that this stranger, when he was
poking about the place, had caught sight of Frances, and he thought her
very beautiful and very charming. In short, he fell in love with her,
and he says if you will let him marry her, that he and she can live
here, and you need never stir from the Firs. I mention this," said
Fluff; "but of course there's no use in thinking of it, as Frances loves
Philip."

"But there is a great deal of use in thinking of it, my dear; I don't
know what you mean by talking in that silly fashion. A rich man falls in
love with my daughter. Really, Frances must be much better-looking than
I gave her credit for. This man, who practically now owns the Firs,
wishes to release me from all difficulties if I give him Frances. Of
course I shall give him Frances. It is an admirable arrangement. Frances
would be most handsomely provided for, and I shall no longer be lonely
with my daughter and son-in-law residing at the Firs."

"But Frances loves Philip!"

"Pooh! a boy-and-girl affair. My dear, I never did, and never will,
believe in anything between Frances and Arnold. I always said Arnold
should be your husband."

"I don't want him, thank you."

"Frances was always a good girl," continued the squire; "an excellent,
good, obedient girl. She refused Philip because I told her to, and now
she'll marry this stranger because I wish her to. Really, my dear, on
the whole, your news is pleasant; only, by the way, you have not told me
the name of the man who now holds my mortgage."

"He particularly wishes his name to be kept a secret for the present,
but he is a nice fellow; I have seen him. I think, if Frances could be
got to consent to marry him, he would make her an excellent husband."

"My dear, she must consent. Leave my daughter to me; I'll manage her."

"Well, the stranger wants an answer to-day."

"How am I to manage that? I must write to Frances, or see her. Here she
is at this moment, driving down the avenue with Mrs. Carnegie. Well,
that is fortunate. Now, Fluff, you will take my part; but, of course,
Frances will do what I wish."

"You can ask her, squire. I'm going to walk about outside with Mrs.
Carnegie."

"And you won't take my part?"

"I won't take anybody's part. I suppose Frances can make up her own
mind."

When Miss Kane came into her father's presence her eyes were brighter,
and her lips wore a happier expression than the squire had seen on them
for many a long day. She stepped lightly, and looked young and fresh.

Fluff and Mrs. Carnegie paced up and down in the South Walk. Mrs.
Carnegie could walk now, and she was certainly wonderfully improved in
appearance.

"Beloved little fairy," she whispered to her companion, "this excitement
almost overpowers me. It was with the utmost difficulty I could control
myself as we drove over. Our sweet Frances looks happy, but I do not
think she suspects anything. Dear little one, are you certain, quite
certain, that the hero of the hour has really arrived?"

"Philip? I have locked him up in the dining-room," said Fluff, "and he
is pacing up and down there now like a caged lion. I do hope the squire
will be quick, or he'll certainly burst the lock of the door."

The two ladies paced the South Walk side by side.

"We'll give them half an hour," said Fluff.

When this time had expired, she took Mrs. Carnegie's hand, and they both
approached the open windows of the squire's parlor. When the squire saw
them he rose and confronted them. Angry red spots were on his cheeks;
his hands trembled. Frances was seated at the table; she looked very
pale, and as the two ladies approached she was wiping some tears
silently from her eyes.

"Yes, look at her," said the squire, who was almost choking with anger.
"She refuses him--she absolutely refuses him! She is satisfied that her
poor old father shall end his days in the work-house, rather than unite
herself to an amiable and worthy man, who can amply provide for her. Oh,
it is preposterous! I have no patience with her; she won't even listen
to me. Not a word I say has the smallest effect."

"Because, father--"

"No, Frances, I won't listen to any of your 'becauses.' But never, never
again even profess to care for your father. Don't waste words, my child;
for words are empty when they are not followed by deeds."

"I must take an answer to Mr. Spens to-day," said Fluff. "Perhaps, if
Frances thought a little, she would change her mind."

These words seemed to sting Frances, who rose quickly to her feet.

"You know why I can not help my father in this particular," she said.
"Oh, I think, between you all, you will drive me mad."

"Perhaps," said Fluff, suddenly--"perhaps if you saw the gentleman,
Frances, you might be able to give a different answer. He really is very
nice, and--and--the fact is, he's very impatient. He has arrived--he is
in the dining room."

"The gentleman who has purchased the mortgage is in the dining-room!"
said the squire.

He rubbed his hands gleefully.

"Excellent! Frances will never be so rude as to refuse a rich man to his
face. I look upon him already as our deliverer. I, for my part, shall
give him a hearty welcome, and will assure him, if he will only give me
time, that I will not leave a stone unturned to overcome my daughter's
absurd infatuation. Frances, do you hear me? I desire you to behave
politely to the stranger when he comes."

"Perhaps I had better go away," said Frances.

"No, no, dear Frances; do stay," pleaded Fluff. "I'll go and fetch the
gentleman; I know him; he is really very nice."

She darted away.

Frances turned her back to the window.

"You know, father, all I have done for you," she said, her beautiful
eyes shining and her slim figure very erect. "I have loved Philip--oh,
so deeply, so faithfully!--for ten years. For five of these years I
thought he was in his grave; and my heart went there, too, with him.
Then he came back, and I was very happy; for I found that he had loved
me, and thought of me alone, also, all that long, long time. I was happy
then, beyond words, and no woman ever more fervently thanked God.
Then--then--you know what happened. I gave Philip up. I consented to let
my light, my hope, and my joy die out. I did that for you; but I did not
consent to let my love die; and I tell you now, once and for all, that
my love will never die; and that, as I so love Philip, I can never, even
for your sake, marry any one but Philip!"

"Oh, Francie! Francie!" suddenly exclaimed a joyful little voice. "No
one in all the world wants you to marry any one else! The stranger isn't
a stranger. Say 'Yes' to your father and to Philip at the same time."

Frances turned; Arnold stepped in through the open window and put his
arm round her.

"Now, sir," he said, holding Frances's hand, and turning to the squire,
"which am I to have--the Firs or Frances?"

Of course everybody present knew the answer, so there is no need to
record it here.


THE END.



MONSIEUR THE VISCOUNT'S FRIEND.

A TALE IN THREE CHAPTERS

    "Sweet are the vses of aduersitie
    Which like the toad, ougly and venemous,
    Weares yet a precious Iewell in his head."

                              AS YOU LIKE IT: A.D. 1623.

CHAPTER I.


It was the year of grace 1779. In one of the most beautiful corners of
beautiful France stood a grand old chateau. It was a fine old building,
with countless windows large and small, with high pitched roofs and
pointed towers, which, in good taste or bad, did its best to be
everywhere ornamental, from the gorgon heads which frowned from its
turrets to the long row of stables and the fantastic dovecotes. It stood
(as became such a castle) upon an eminence, and looked down. Very
beautiful indeed was what it looked upon. Terrace below terrace glowed
with the most brilliant flowers, and broad flights of steps led from one
garden to the other. On the last terrace of all, fountains and jets of
water poured into one large basin, in which were gold and silver fish.
Beyond this were shady walks, which led to a lake on which floated
waterlilies and swans. From the top of the topmost flight of steps you
could see the blazing gardens one below the other, the fountains and the
basin, the walks and the lake, and beyond these the trees, and the
smiling country, and the blue sky of France.

Within the castle, as without, beauty reigned supreme. The sunlight,
subdued by blinds and curtains, stole into rooms furnished with every
grace and luxury that could be procured in a country that then accounted
itself the most highly-civilized in the world. It fell upon beautiful
flowers and beautiful china, upon beautiful tapestry and pictures; and
it fell upon Madame the Viscountess, sitting at her embroidery. Madame
the Viscountess was not young, but she was not the least beautiful
object in those stately rooms. She had married into a race of nobles who
(themselves famed for personal beauty) had been scrupulous in the choice
of lovely wives. The late Viscount (for Madame was a widow) had been one
of the handsomest of the gay courtiers of his day; and Madame had not
been unworthy of him. Even now, though the roses on her cheeks were more
entirely artificial than they had been in the days of her youth, she was
like some exquisite piece of porcelain. Standing by the embroidery frame
was Madame's only child, a boy who, in spite of his youth, was already
Monsieur the Viscount. He also was beautiful. His exquisitely-cut mouth
had a curl which was the inheritance of scornful generations, but which
was redeemed by his soft violet eyes and by natural amiability reflected
on his face. His hair was cut square across the forehead, and fell in
natural curls behind. His childish figure had already been trained in
the fencing school, and had gathered dignity from perpetually treading
upon shallow steps and in lofty rooms. From the rosettes on his little
shoes to his _chapeau à plumes_, he also was like some porcelain figure.
Surely, such beings could not exist except in such a chateau as this,
where the very air (unlike that breathed by common mortals) had in the
ante-rooms a faint aristocratic odor, and was for yards round Madame the
Viscountess dimly suggestive of frangipani! Monsieur the Viscount did
not stay long by the embroidery frame; he was entertaining to-day a
party of children from the estate, and had come for the key of an old
cabinet of which he wished to display the treasures. When tired of this,
they went out on to the terrace, and one of the children who had not
been there before exclaimed at the beauty of the view.

"It is true," said the little Viscount, carelessly, "and all, as far as
you can see, is the estate."

"I will throw a stone to the end of your property, Monsieur," said one
of the boys, laughing; and he picked one off the walk, and stepping
back, flung it with all his little strength. The stone fell before it
had passed the fountains, and the failure was received with shouts of
laughter.

"Let us see who can beat that," they cried; and there was a general
search for pebbles, which were flung at random among the flower-beds.

"One may easily throw such as those," said the Viscount, who was poking
under the wall of the first terrace; "but here is a stone that one may
call a stone. Who will send this into the fish-pond? It will make a
fountain of itself."

The children drew round him as, with ruffles turned back, he tugged and
pulled at a large dirty-looking stone, which was half-buried in the
earth by the wall. "Up it comes!" said the Viscount, at length; and sure
enough, up it came; but underneath it, his bright eyes shining out of
his dirty wrinkled body--horror of horrors!--there lay a toad. Now, even
in England, toads are not looked upon with much favor, and a party of
English children would have been startled by such a discovery. But with
French people, the dread of toads is ludicrous in its intensity. In
France toads are believed to have teeth, to bite, and to spit poison; so
my hero and his young guests must be excused for taking flight at once
with a cry of dismay. On the next terrace, however, they paused, and
seeing no signs of the enemy, crept slowly back again. The little
Viscount (be it said) began to feel ashamed of himself and led the way,
with his hand upon the miniature sword which hung at his side. All eyes
were fixed upon the fatal stone, when from behind it was seen slowly to
push forth, first a dirty wrinkled leg, and then half a dirty wrinkled
head, with one gleaming eye. It was too much; with cries of, "It is he!
he comes! he spits! he pursues us!" the young guests of the chateau fled
in good earnest, and never stopped until they reached the fountain and
the fish-pond.

But Monsieur the Viscount stood his ground. At the sudden apparition the
blood rushed to his heart, and made him very white, then it flooded
back again and made him very red, and then he fairly drew his sword, and
shouting, "_Vive la France!_" rushed upon the enemy. The sword if small
was sharp, and stabbed the poor toad would most undoubtedly have been,
but for a sudden check received by the valiant little nobleman. It came
in the shape of a large heavy hand that seized Monsieur the Viscount
with the grasp of a giant, while a voice which could only have belonged
to the owner of such a hand said in slow deep tones,

"_Que faites-vous?_" ("What are you doing?")

It was the tutor, who had been pacing up and down the terrace with a
book, and who now stood holding the book in his right hand, and our hero
in his left.

Monsieur the Viscount's tutor was a remarkable man. If he had not been
so, he would hardly have been tolerated at the chateau, since he was not
particularly beautiful, and not especially refined. He was in holy
orders, as his tonsured head and clerical costume bore witness--a
costume which, from its tightness and simplicity, only served to
exaggerate the unusual proportions of his person. Monsieur the
Preceptor, had English blood in his veins, and his northern origin
betrayed itself in his towering height and corresponding breadth, as
well as by his fair hair and light blue eyes. But the most remarkable
parts of his outward man were his hands, which were of immense size,
especially about the thumbs. Monsieur the Preceptor was not exactly in
keeping with his present abode. It was not only that he was wanting in
the grace and beauty that reigned around him, but that his presence made
those very graces and beauties to look small. He seemed to have a gift
the reverse of that bestowed upon King Midas--the gold on which his
heavy hand was laid seemed to become rubbish. In the presence of the
late Viscount, and in that of Madame his widow, you would have felt
fully the deep importance of your dress being _à la mode_, and your
complexion _à la_ strawberries and cream (such influences still exist);
but let the burly tutor appear upon the scene, and all the magic died at
once out of brocaded silks and pearl-colored stockings, and dress and
complexion became subjects almost of insignificance. Monsieur the
Preceptor was certainly a singular man to have been chosen as an inmate
of such a household; but, though young, he had unusual talents, and
added to them the not more usual accompaniments of modesty and
trustworthiness. To crown all, he was rigidly pious in times when piety
was not fashionable, and an obedient son of the church of which he was a
minister. Moreover, a family that fashion does not permit to be
demonstratively religious, may gain a reflected credit from an austere
chaplain; and so Monsieur the Preceptor remained in the chateau and went
his own way. It was this man who now laid hands on the Viscount, and, in
a voice that sounded like amiable thunder, made the inquiry, "_Que
faites-vous?_"

"I am going to kill this animal--this hideous horrible animal," said
Monsieur the Viscount, struggling vainly under the grasp of the tutor's
finger and thumb.

"It is only a toad," said Monsieur the Preceptor, in his laconic tones.

"_Only_ a toad, do you say, Monsieur?" said the Viscount. "That is
enough, I think. It will bite--it will spit--it will poison; it is like
that dragon you tell me of, that devastated Rhodes--I am the good knight
that shall kill it."

Monsieur the Preceptor laughed heartily "You are misled by a vulgar
error. Toads do not bite--they have no teeth; neither do they spit
poison."

"You are wrong, Monsieur," said the Viscount; "I have seen their teeth
myself. Claude Mignon, at the lodge, has two terrible ones, which he
keeps in his pocket as a charm."

"I have seen them," said the tutor, "in Monsieur Claude's pocket. When
he can show me similar ones in a toad's head I will believe. Meanwhile,
I must beg of you, Monsieur, to put up your sword. You must not kill
this poor animal, which is quite harmless, and very useful in a
garden--it feeds upon many insects and reptiles which injure the
plants."

"It shall not be useful in this garden," said the little Viscount,
fretfully. "There are plenty of gardeners to destroy the insects, and
if needful, we can have more. But the toad shall not remain. My mother
would faint if she saw so hideous a beast among her beautiful flowers."

"Jacques!" roared the tutor to a gardener who was at some distance.
Jacques started as if a clap of thunder had sounded in his ear, and
approached with low bows. "Take that toad, Jacques, and carry it to the
_potager_. It will keep the slugs from your cabbages."

Jacques bowed low and lower, and scratched his head, and then did
reverence again with Asiatic humility, but at the same time moved
gradually backwards, and never even looked at the toad.

"You also have seen the contents of Monsieur Claude's pocket?" said the
tutor, significantly, and quitting his hold of the Viscount, he stooped
down, seized the toad in his huge finger and thumb, and strode off in
the direction of the _potager_, followed at a respectful distance by
Jacques, who vented his awe and astonishment in alternate bows and
exclamations at the astounding conduct of the incomprehensible
Preceptor.

"What is the use of such ugly beasts?" said the Viscount to his tutor,
on his return from the _potager_. "Birds and butterflies are pretty, but
what can such villains as these toads have been made for?"

"You should study natural history, Monsieur--" began the priest, who was
himself a naturalist.

"That is what you always say," interrupted the Viscount, with the
perverse folly of ignorance; "but if I knew as much as you do, it would
not make me understand why such ugly creatures need have been made."

"Nor," said the priest, firmly, "is it necessary that you should
understand it, particularly if you do not care to inquire. It is enough
for you and me if we remember Who made them, some six thousand years
before either of us was born."

With which Monsieur the Preceptor (who had all this time kept his place
in the little book with his big thumb) returned to the terrace, and
resumed his devotions at the point where they had been interrupted;
which exercise he continued till he was joined by the Curé of the
village, and the two priests relaxed in the political and religious
gossip of the day.

Monsieur the Viscount rejoined his young guests, and they fed the gold
fish and the swans, and played _Colin Millard_ in the shady walks, and
made a beautiful bouquet for Madame, and then fled indoors at the first
approach of evening chill, and found that the Viscountess had prepared a
feast of fruit and flowers for them in the great hall. Here, at the head
of the table, with the Madame at his right hand, his guests around, and
the liveried lackeys waiting his commands, Monsieur the Viscount forgot
that anything had ever been made which could mar beauty and enjoyment;
while the two priests outside stalked up and down under the falling
twilight, and talked ugly talk of crime and poverty that were
_somewhere_ now, and of troubles to come hereafter.

And so night fell over the beautiful sky, the beautiful chateau, and the
beautiful gardens; and upon the secure slumbers of beautiful Madame and
her beautiful son, and beautiful, beautiful France.



CHAPTER II.


It was the year of grace 1792, thirteen years after the events related
in the last chapter. It was the 2d of September, and Sunday, a day of
rest and peace in all Christian countries, and even more in gay,
beautiful France--a day of festivity and merriment. This Sunday,
however, seemed rather an exception to the general rule. There were no
gay groups of bannered processions; the typical incense and the public
devotion of which it is the symbol were alike wanting; the streets in
some places seemed deserted, and in others there was an ominous crowd,
and the dreary silence was now and then broken by a distant sound of
yells and cries, that struck terror into the hearts of the Parisians.

It was a deserted by-street overlooked by some shut-up warehouses, and
from the cellar of one of these a young man crept up on to the pathway.
His dress had once been beautiful, but it was torn and soiled; his face
was beautiful still, but it was marred by the hideous eagerness of a
face on which famine has laid her hand--he was starving. As this man
came out from the warehouse, another man came down the street. His dress
was not beautiful, neither was he. There was a red look about him--he
wore a red flannel cap, tricolor ribbons, and had something red upon his
hands, which was neither ribbon nor flannel. He also looked hungry; but
it was not for food. The other stopped when he saw him, and pulled
something from his pocket. It was a watch, a repeater, in a gold
filigree case of exquisite workmanship, with raised figures depicting
the loves of an Arcadian shepherd and shepherdess; and, as it lay on the
white hand of its owner, it bore an evanescent fragrance that seemed to
recall scenes as beautiful and as completely past as the days of
pastoral perfection, when--

    "All the world and love were young,
    And truth in every shepherd's tongue."

The young man held it up to the other and spoke.

"It is my mother's," he said, with an appealing glance of violet eyes;
"I would not part with it, but that I am starving. Will you get me
food?"

"You are hiding?" said he of the red cap.

"Is that a crime in these days?" said the other, with a smile that would
in other days have been irresistible.

The man took the watch, shaded the donor's beautiful face with a rough
red cap and tricolor ribbon, and bade him follow him. He, who had but
lately come to Paris, dragged his exhausted body after his conductor,
hardly noticed the crowds in the streets, the signs by which the man got
free passage for them both, or their entrance by a little side-door into
a large dark building, and never knew till he was delivered to one of
the gaolers that he had been led into the prison of the Abbaye. Then
the wretch tore the cap of liberty from his victim's head, and pointed
to him with a fierce laugh.

"He wants food, this aristocrat. He shall not wait long--there is a
feast in the court below, which he shall join presently. See to it,
Antoine! and you _Monsieur_, _Mons-ieur_! listen to the banqueters."

He ceased, and in the silence yells and cries from a court below came up
like some horrid answer to imprecation.

The man continued---

"He has paid for his admission, this Monsieur. It belonged to Madame his
mother. Behold!"

He held the watch above his head, and dashed it with insane fury on the
ground, and bidding the gaoler see to his prisoner, rushed away to the
court below.

The prisoner needed some attention. Weakness and fasting and horror had
overpowered a delicate body and a sensitive mind, and he lay senseless
by the shattered relic of happier times. Antoine the gaoler (a
weak-minded man, whom circumstances had made cruel), looked at him with
indifference while the Jacobin remained in the place, and with
half-suppressed pity when he had gone. The place where he lay was a hall
or passage in the prison, into which several cells opened, and a number
of the prisoners were gathered together at one end of it. One of them
had watched the proceedings of the Jacobin and his victim with profound
interest, and now advanced to where the poor youth lay. He was a priest,
and though thirteen years had passed over his head since we saw him in
the chateau, and though toil and suffering and anxiety had added the
traces of as many more: yet it would not have been difficult to
recognize the towering height, the candid face, and finally the large
thumb in the little book of ----, Monsieur the Preceptor, who had years
ago exchanged his old position for a parochial cure. He strode up to the
gaoler (whose head came a little above the priest's elbow), and drawing
him aside, asked with his old abruptness, "Who is this?"

"It is the Vicomte de B----. I know his face. He has escaped the
commissaires for some days."

"I thought so. Is his name on the registers?"

"No. He escaped arrest, and has just been brought in as you saw."

"Antoine," said the Priest, in a low voice, and with a gaze that seemed
to pierce the soul of the weak little gaoler; "Antoine, when you were a
shoemaker in the Rue de la Croix, in two or three hard winters I think
you found me a friend."

"Oh! Monsieur le Curé," said Antoine, writhing; "if Monsieur le Curé
would believe that if I could save his life! but--"

"Pshaw!" said the Priest, "it is not for myself, but for this boy. You
must save him, Antoine. Hear me, you _must_. Take him now to one of the
lower cells and hide him. You risk nothing. His name is not on the
prison register. He will not be called, he will not be missed; that
fanatic will think that he has perished with the rest of us;" (Antoine
shuddered, though the priest did not move a muscle;) "and when this mad
fever has subsided and order is restored, he will reward you. And
Antoine--"

Here the Priest pocketed his book and somewhat awkwardly with his huge
hands unfastened the left side of his cassock, and tore the silk from
the lining. Monsieur the Curé's cassock seemed a cabinet of oddities.
First he pulled from this ingenious hiding-place a crucifix, which he
replaced; then a knot of white ribbon which he also restored; and
finally a tiny pocket or bag of what had been cream-colored satin
embroidered with small bunches of heartsease, and which was aromatic
with otto of roses. Awkwardly, and somewhat slowly he drew out of this a
small locket, in the center of which was some unreadable legend in
cabalistic looking character, and which blazed with the finest diamonds.
Heaven alone knows the secret of that gem, or the struggle with which
the Priest yielded it. He put it into Antoine's hand, talking as he did
so, partly to himself and partly to the gaoler.

"We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry
nothing out. The diamonds are of the finest, Antoine, and will sell for
much. The blessing of a dying priest upon you if you do kindly, and his
curse if you do ill to his poor child, whose home was my home in better
days. And for the locket,--it is but a remembrance, and to remember is
not difficult!"

As the last observation was not addressed to Antoine, so also he did not
hear it. He was discontentedly watching the body of the Viscount, whom
he consented to help, but with genuine weak-mindedness consented
ungraciously.

"How am I to get him there? Monsieur le Curé sees that he cannot stand
upon his feet!"

Monsieur le Curé smiled, and stooping, picked his old pupil up in his
arms as if he had been a baby, and bore him to one of the doors.

"You must come no further," said Antoine hastily.

"Ingrate!" muttered the priest in momentary anger, and than ashamed, he
crossed himself and pressing the young nobleman to his bosom with the
last gush of earthly affection that he was to feel, he kissed his
senseless face, spoke a benediction to ears that could not hear it, and
laid his burden down.

"God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be with thee now and in
the dread hour of death. Adieu! we shall meet hereafter."

The look of pity, the yearning of rekindled love, the struggle of
silenced memories passed from his face and left a shining
calm--foretaste of the perpetual Light and the eternal Rest.

Before he reached the other prisoners, the large thumb had found its old
place in the little book, the lips formed the old old words; but it
might almost have been said of him already, that "his spirit was with
the God who gave it."

As for Monsieur the Viscount, it was perhaps well that he was not too
sensible of his position, for Antoine got him down the flight of stone
steps that led to the cell by the simple process of dragging him by the
heels. After a similar fashion he crossed the floor, and was deposited
on a pallet; the gaoler then emptied a broken pitcher of water over his
face, and locking the door securely, hurried back to his charge.

When Monsieur the Viscount came to his senses he raised himself and
looked round his new abode. It was a small stone cell; it was
underground, with a little grated window at the top that seemed to be
level with the court; there was a pallet--painfully pressed and worn,--a
chair, a stone on which stood a plate and broken pitcher, and in one
corner a huge bundle of firewood which mocked a place where there was no
fire. Stones by lay scattered about, the walls were black, and in the
far dark corners the wet oozed out and trickled slowly down, and lizards
and other reptiles crawled up.

I suppose that the first object that attracts the hopes of a new
prisoner is the window of his cell, and to this, despite his weakness,
Monsieur the Viscount crept. It afforded him little satisfaction. It was
too high in the cell for him to reach it, too low in the prison to
command any view, and was securely grated with iron. Then he examined
the walls, but not a stone was loose. As he did so, his eye fell upon
the floor, and he noticed that two of the stones that lay about had been
raised up by some one and a third laid upon the top. It looked like
child's play, and Monsieur the Viscount kicked it down, and then he saw
that underneath it there was a pellet of paper roughly rolled together.
Evidently it was something left by the former occupant of the cell for
his successor. Perhaps he had begun some plan for getting away which he
had not had time to perfect on his own account. Perhaps--but by this
time the paper was spread out, and Monsieur the Viscount read the
writing. The paper was old and yellow. It was the fly leaf torn out of a
little book and it was written in black chalk, the words--

                  "_Souvenez-vous du Sauveur._"
                     (Remember the Saviour.)

He turned it over, he turned it back again; there was no other mark;
there was nothing more; and Monsieur the Viscount did not conceal it
from himself that he was disappointed. How could it be otherwise? He had
been bred in ease and luxury, and surrounded with everything that could
make life beautiful; while ugliness, and want, and sickness, and all
that make life miserable, had been kept, as far as they can be kept,
from the precincts of the beautiful chateau which was his home. What
were the _consolations_ of religion to him? They are offered to those,
(and to those only) who need them. They were to Monsieur the Viscount
what the Crucified Christ was to the Greeks of old--foolishness.

He put the paper in his pocket and lay down again, feeling it the
crowning disappointment of what he had lately suffered. Presently,
Antoine came with some food; it was not dainty, but Monsieur the
Viscount devoured it like a famished hound, and then made inquiries as
to how he came and how long he had been there. When the gaoler began to
describe him whom he called the Curé, Monsieur the Viscount's attention
quickened into eagerness, an eagerness deepened by the tender interest
that always hangs round the names of those whom we have known in happier
and younger days. The happy memories recalled by hearing of his old
tutor seemed to blot out his present misfortunes. With French
excitability, he laughed and wept alternately.

"As burly as ever, you say? The little book? I remember it, it was his
breviary. Ah! it is he. It is Monsieur the Preceptor, whom I have not
seen for years. Take me to him, bring him here, let me see him!"

But Monsieur the Preceptor was in Paradise.

That first night of Monsieur the Viscount's imprisonment was a terrible
one. The bitter chill of a Parisian autumn, the gnawings of
half-satisfied hunger, the thick walls that shut out all hope of escape
but did not exclude those fearful cries that lasted with few intervals
throughout the night, made it like some hideous dream. At last the
morning broke; at half-past two o'clock, some members of the _commune_
presented themselves in the hall of the National Assembly with the
significant announcement: "The prisons are empty!" and Antoine, who had
been quaking for hours, took courage, and went with a half loaf of bread
and a pitcher of water to the cell that was not "empty." He found his
prisoner struggling with a knot of white ribbon, which he was trying to
fasten in his hair. One glance at his face told all.

"It is the fever," said Antoine; and he put down the bread and water and
fetched an old blanket and a pillow; and that day and for many days, the
gaoler hung above his prisoner's pallet with the tenderness of a woman.
Was he haunted by the vision of a burly figure that had bent over his
own sick bed in the Rue de la Croix? Did the voice (once so familiar in
counsel and benediction!) echo still in his ears?

"_The blessing of a dying priest upon you if you do well, and his curse
if you do ill to this poor child, whose home was my home in better
days._"

Be this as it may, Antoine tended his patient with all the constancy
compatible with keeping his presence in the prison a secret; and it was
not till the crisis was safely past, that he began to visit the cell
less frequently, and re-assumed the harsh manners which he held to befit
his office.

Monsieur the Viscount's mind rambled much in his illness. He called for
his mother, who had long been dead. He fancied himself in his own
chateau. He thought that all his servants stood in a body before him,
but that not one would move to wait on him. He thought that he had
abundance of the most tempting food and cooling drinks, but placed just
beyond his reach. He thought that he saw two lights like stars near
together, which were close to the ground, and kept appearing and then
vanishing away. In time he became more sensible; the chateau melted into
the stern reality of his prison walls; the delicate food became bread
and water; the servants disappeared like spectres; but in the empty
cells, in the dark corners near the floor, he still fancied that he saw
two sparks of light coming and going, appearing and then vanishing away.
He watched them till his giddy head would bear it no longer, and he
closed his eyes and slept. When he awoke he was much better, but when he
raised himself and turned towards the stone--there, by the bread and the
broken pitcher, sat a dirty, ugly, wrinkled toad gazing at him, Monsieur
the Viscount, with eyes of yellow fire.

Monsieur the Viscount had long ago forgotten the toad which had alarmed
his childhood; but his national dislike to that animal had not been
lessened by years, and the toad of the prison seemed likely to fare no
better than the toad of the chateau. He dragged himself from his pallet,
and took up one of the large damp stones which lay about the floor of
the cell, to throw at the intruder. He expected that when he approached
it, the toad would crawl away, and that he could throw the stone after
it; but to his surprise, the beast sat quite unmoved, looking at him
with calm shining eyes, and somehow or other, Monsieur the Viscount
lacked strength or heart to kill it. He stood doubtful for a moment, and
then a sudden feeling of weakness obliged him to drop the stone, and sit
down, while tears sprang to his eyes with a sense of his helplessness.

"Why should I kill it?" he said bitterly. "The beast will live and grow
fat upon this damp and loathsomeness, long after they have put an end to
my feeble life. It shall remain. The cell is not big, but it is big
enough for us both. However large be the rooms a man builds himself to
live in, it needs but little space in which to die!"

So Monsieur the Viscount dragged his pallet away from the toad, placed
another stone by it, and removed the pitcher; and then, wearied with his
efforts, lay down and slept heavily.

When he awoke, on the new stone by the pitcher was the toad, staring
full at him with topaz eyes. He lay still this time and did not move,
for the animal showed no intention of spitting, and he was puzzled by
its tameness.

"It seems to like the sight of a man," he thought. "Is it possible that
any former inmate of this wretched prison can have amused his solitude
by making a pet of such a creature? and if there were such a man, where
is he now?"

Henceforward, sleeping or waking, whenever Monsieur the Viscount lay
down upon his pallet, the toad crawled up on to the stone, and kept
watch over him with shining lustrous eyes; but whenever there was a
sound of the key grating in the lock, and the gaoler coming his rounds,
away crept the toad, and was quickly lost in the dark corners of the
room. When the man was gone, it returned to its place, and Monsieur the
Viscount would talk to it, as he lay on his pallet.

"Ah! Monsieur Crapaud," he would say with mournful pleasantry, "without
doubt you have had a master, and a kind one; but tell me who was he, and
where is he now? Was he old or young, and was it in the last stage of
maddening loneliness that he made friends with such a creature as you?"

Monsieur Crapaud looked very intelligent, but he made no reply, and
Monsieur the Viscount had recourse to Antoine.

"Who was in this cell before me?" he asked at the gaoler's next visit.

Antoine's face clouded. "Monsieur le Curé had this room. My orders were
that he was to be imprisoned 'in secret.'"

Monsieur le Curé had this room. There was a revelation in those words.
It was all explained now. The priest had always had a love for animals
(and for ugly, common animals) which his pupil had by no means shared.
His room at the chateau had been little less than a menagerie. He had
even kept a glass beehive there, which communicated with a hole in the
window through which the bees flew in and out, and he would stand for
hours with his thumb in the breviary, watching the labors of his pets.
And this also had been his room! This dark, damp cell. Here, breviary in
hand, he had stood, and lain, and knelt. Here, in this miserable prison,
he had found something to love, and on which to expend the rare
intelligence and benevolence of his nature. Here, finally, in the last
hours of his life, he had written on the fly-leaf of his prayer-book
something to comfort his successor, and "being dead yet spoke" the words
of consolation which he had administered in his lifetime. Monsieur the
Viscount read that paper now with different feelings.

There is perhaps no argument so strong, and no virtue that so commands
the respect of young men, as consistency. Monsieur the Preceptor's
lifelong counsel and example would have done less for his pupil than was
effected by the knowledge of his consistent career, now that it was
past. It was not the nobility of the priest's principles that awoke in
Monsieur the Viscount a desire to imitate his religious example, but the
fact that he had applied them to his own life, not only in the time of
wealth, but in the time of tribulation and in the hour of death. All
that high-strung piety--that life of prayer--those unswerving
admonitions to consider the vanity of earthly treasures, and to prepare
for death--which had sounded so unreal amidst the perfumed elegancies of
the chateau, came back now with a reality gained from experiment. The
daily life of self-denial, the conversation garnished from Scripture and
from the Fathers, had not, after all, been mere priestly affectations.
In no symbolic manner, but, literally, he had "watched for the coming of
his Lord," and "taken up the cross daily;" and so, when the cross was
laid on him, and when the voice spoke which must speak to all, "The
Master is come, and calleth for thee," he bore the burden and obeyed the
summons unmoved.

_Unmoved!_--this was the fact that struck deep into the heart of
Monsieur the Viscount, as he listened to Antoine's account of the Curé's
imprisonment. What had astonished and overpowered his own undisciplined
nature had not disturbed Monsieur the Preceptor. He had prayed in the
chateau--he prayed in the prison. He had often spoken in the chateau of
the softening and comforting influences of communion with the lower
animals and with nature, and in the uncertainty of imprisonment he had
tamed a toad. "None of these things had moved him," and in a storm of
grief and admiration, Monsieur the Viscount bewailed the memory of his
tutor.

"If he had only lived to teach me!"

But he was dead, and there was nothing for Monsieur the Viscount but to
make the most of his example. This was not so easy to follow as he
imagined. Things seemed to be different with him to what they had been
with Monsieur the Preceptor. He had no lofty meditations, no ardent
prayers, and calm and peace seemed more distant than ever. Monsieur the
Viscount met, in short, with all those difficulties that the soul must
meet with, which, in a moment of enthusiasm, has resolved upon a higher
and a better way of life, and in moments of depression is perpetually
tempted to forego that resolution. His prison life was, however, a
pretty severe discipline, and he held on with struggles and prayers; and
so, little by little, and day by day, as the time of his imprisonment
went by, the consolations of religion became a daily strength against
the fretfulness of imperious temper, the sickness of hope deferred, and
the dark suggestions of despair.

The term of his imprisonment was a long one. Many prisoners came and
went within the walls of the Abbaye, but Monsieur the Viscount still
remained in his cell: indeed, he would have gained little by leaving it
if he could have done so, as he would almost certainly have been
retaken. As it was, Antoine on more than one occasion concealed him
behind the bundles of firewood, and once or twice he narrowly escaped
detection by less friendly officials. There were times when the
guillotine seemed to him almost better than this long suspense: but
while other heads passed to the block, his remained on his shoulders;
and so weeks and even months went by. And during all this time, sleeping
or waking, whenever he lay down upon his pallet, the toad crept up on to
the stone, and kept watch over him with lustrous eyes.

Monsieur the Viscount hardly acknowledged to himself the affection with
which he came to regard this ugly and despicable animal. The greater
part of his regard for it he believed to be due to its connection with
his tutor, and the rest he set down to the score of his own humanity,
and took credit to himself accordingly; whereas in truth Monsieur
Crapaud was of incalculable service to his new master, who would lie and
chatter to him for hours, and almost forget his present discomfort in
recalling past happiness, as he described the chateau, the gardens, the
burly tutor, and beautiful Madame, or laughed over his childish
remembrances of the toad's teeth in Claude Mignon's pocket; whilst
Monsieur Crapaud sat well-bred and silent, with a world of comprehension
in his fiery eyes. Whoever thinks this puerile must remember that my
hero was a Frenchman, and a young Frenchman, with a prescriptive right
to chatter for chattering's sake, and also that he had not a very highly
cultivated mind of his own to converse with, even if the most highly
cultivated intellect is ever a reliable resource against the terrors of
solitary confinement.

Foolish or wise, however, Monsieur the Viscount's attachment
strengthened daily; and one day something happened which showed his pet
in a new light, and afforded him fresh amusement.

The prison was much infested with certain large black spiders, which
crawled about the floor and walls; and, as Monsieur the Viscount was
lying on his pallet, he saw one of these scramble up and over the stone
on which sat Monsieur Crapaud. That good gentleman, whose eyes, till
then, had been fixed as usual on his master, now turned his attention to
the intruder. The spider, as if conscious of danger, had suddenly
stopped still. Monsieur Crapaud gazed at it intently with his beautiful
eyes, and bent himself slightly forward. So they remained for some
seconds, then the spider turned round, and began suddenly to scramble
away. At this instant Monsieur the Viscount saw his friend's eyes gleam
with an intenser fire, his head was jerked forwards; it almost seemed as
if something had been projected from his mouth, and drawn back again
with the rapidity of lightning. Then Monsieur Crapaud resumed his
position, drew in his head, and gazed mildly and sedately before him;
_but the spider was nowhere to be seen_.

Monsieur the Viscount burst into a loud laugh.

"Eh, well! Monsieur," said he, "but this is not well-bred on your part.
Who gave you leave to eat my spiders, and to bolt them in such an
unmannerly way, moreover?"

In spite of this reproof Monsieur Crapaud looked in no way ashamed of
himself, and I regret to state that hence-forward (with the partial
humaneness of mankind in general), Monsieur the Viscount amused himself
by catching the insects (which were only too plentiful) in an old
oyster-shell, and setting them at liberty on the stone for the benefit
of his friend. As for him, all appeared to be fish that came to his
net--spiders and beetles, slugs and snails from the damp corners,
flies, and wood-lice found on turning up the large stone, disappeared
one after the other. The wood-lice were an especial amusement: when
Monsieur the Viscount touched them, they shut up into tight little
balls, and in this condition he removed them to the stone, and placed
them like marbles in a row, Monsieur Crapaud watching the proceeding
with rapt attention. After awhile the balls would slowly open and begin
to crawl away; but he was a very active wood-louse indeed who escaped
the suction of Monsieur Crapaud's tongue, as his eyes glowing with eager
enjoyment, he bolted one after another, and Monsieur the Viscount
clapped his hands and applauded.

The grated window was a fine field for spiders and other insects, and by
piling up stones on the floor, Monsieur the Viscount contrived to
scramble up to it, and fill his friend's oyster-shell with the prey.

One day, about a year and nine months after his first arrival at the
prison, he climbed to the embrasure of the window, as usual,
oyster-shell in hand. He always chose a time for this when he knew that
the court would most probably be deserted, to avoid the danger of being
recognized through the grating. He was therefore, not a little startled
at being disturbed in his capture of a fat black spider by a sound of
something bumping against the iron bars. On looking up, he saw that a
string was dangling before the window with something attached to the end
of it. He drew it in, and, as he did so, he fancied that he heard a
distant sound of voices and clapped hands, as if from some window above.
He proceeded to examine his prize, and found that it was a little round
pincushion of sand, such as women use to polish their needles with, and
that, apparently, it was used as a make-weight to ensure the steady
descent of a neat little letter that was tied beside it, in company with
a small lead pencil. The letter was directed to "_The prisoner who finds
this._" Monsieur the Viscount opened it at once. This was the letter:

                              "_In prison, 24th Prairial, year 2._

     "_Fellow-sufferer, who are you? how long have you been
     imprisoned? Be good enough to answer._"

Monsieur the Viscount hesitated for a moment, and then determined to
risk all. He tore off a bit of the paper, and with the little pencil
hurriedly wrote this reply:--

                                      "_In secret, June 12, 1794._

     "_Louis Archambaud Jean-Marie Arnaud, Vicomte de B. supposed
     to have perished in the massacres of September, 1792. Keep
     my secret. I have been imprisoned a year and nine months.
     Who are you? how long have you been here?_"

The letter was drawn up, and he watched anxiously for the reply. It
came, and with it some sheets of blank paper.

     "_Monsieur,--We have the honor to reply to your inquiries
     and thank you for your frankness. Henri Edouard Clermont,
     Baron de St. Claire. Valerie de St. Claire. We have been
     here but two days. Accept our sympathy for your
     misfortunes._"

Four words in this note seized at once upon Monsieur the Viscount's
interest--_Valerie de St. Claire_:--and for some reasons which I do not
pretend to explain, he decided that it was she who was the author of
these epistles, and the demon of curiosity forthwith took possession of
his mind. Who was she? was she old or young. And in which relation did
she stand to Monsieur le Baron--that of wife, of sister, or of daughter?
And from some equally inexplicable cause Monsieur the Viscount
determined in his own mind that it was the latter. To make assurance
doubly sure, however, he laid a trap to discover the real state of the
case. He wrote a letter of thanks and sympathy, expressed with all the
delicate chivalrous politeness of a nobleman of the old _régime_, and
addressed it to _Madame la Baronne_. The plan succeeded. The next note
he received contained these sentences:--"_I am not the Baroness. Madame
my mother is, alas! dead. I and my father are alone. He is ill; but
thanks you, Monsieur, for your letters, which relieve the_ ennui _of
imprisonment. Are you alone?_"

Monsieur the Viscount, as in duty bound, relieved the ennui of the
Baron's captivity by another epistle. Before answering the last
question, he turned round involuntarily and looked to where Monsieur
Crapaud sat by the broken pitcher. The beautiful eyes were turned
towards him, and Monsieur the Viscount took up his pencil, and wrote
hastily, "_I am not alone--I have a friend._"

Henceforward the oyster-shell took a long time to fill, and patience
seemed a harder virtue than ever. Perhaps the last fact had something to
do with the rapid decline of Monsieur the Viscount's health. He became
paler and weaker, and more fretful. His prayers were accompanied by
greater mental struggles, and watered with more tears. He was, however,
most positive in his assurances to Monsieur Crapaud that he knew the
exact nature and cause of the malady that was consuming him. It
resulted, he said, from the noxious and unwholesome condition of his
cell; and he would entreat Antoine to have it swept out. After some
difficulty the gaoler consented.

It was nearly a month since Monsieur the Viscount had first been
startled by the appearance of the little pincushion. The stock of paper
had long been exhausted. He had torn up his cambric ruffles to write
upon, and Mademoiselle de St. Claire had made havoc of her
pocket-handkerchiefs for the same purpose. The Viscount was feebler than
ever, and Antoine became alarmed. The cell should be swept out the next
morning. He would come himself, he said, and bring another man out of
the town with him to help him, for the work was heavy, and he had a
touch of rheumatism. The man was a stupid fellow from the country, who
had only been a week in Paris; he had never heard of the Viscount, and
Antoine would tell him that the prisoner was a certain young lawyer who
had really died of fever in prison the day before. Monsieur the Viscount
thanked him; and it was not till the next morning arrived, and he was
expecting them every moment, that Monsieur the Viscount remembered the
toad, and that he would without doubt be swept away with the rest in
the general clearance. At first he thought that he would beg them to
leave it, but some knowledge of the petty insults which that class of
men heaped upon their prisoners made him feel that this would probably
be only an additional reason for their taking the animal away. There was
no place to hide it in, for they would go all round the room;
unless--unless Monsieur the Viscount took it up in his hand. And this
was just what he objected to do. All his old feelings of repugnance came
back, he had not even got gloves on; his long white hands were bare, he
could not touch a toad. It was true that the beast had amused him, and
that he had chatted to it; but after all, this was a piece of childish
folly--an unmanly way, to say the least, of relieving the tedium of
captivity. What was Monsieur Crapaud but a very ugly (and most people
said a venomous) reptile? To what a folly he had been condescending!
With these thoughts, Monsieur the Viscount steeled himself against the
glances of his topaz-eyed friend, and when the steps of thee men were
heard upon the stairs, he did not move from the window where he had
placed himself, with his back to the stone.

The steps came nearer and nearer, Monsieur the Viscount began to
whistle;--the key was rattled into the lock, and Monsieur the Viscount
heard a bit of bread fall, as the toad hastily descended to hide itself
as usual in the corners. In a moment his resolution was gone; another
second, and it would be too late. He dashed after the creature, picked
it up, and when the men came in he was standing with his hands behind
him, in which Monsieur Crapaud was quietly and safely seated.

The room was swept, and Antoine was preparing to go, when the other, who
had been eyeing the prisoner suspiciously, stopped and said with a sharp
sneer, "Does the citizen always preserve that position?"

"Not he," said the gaoler, good-naturedly. "He spends most of his time
in bed, which saves his legs. Come along Francois."

"I shall not come," said the other, obstinately. "Let the citizen show
me his hands."

"Plague take you!" said Antoine, in a whisper. "What sulky fit
possesses you, my comrade! Let the poor wretch alone. What wouldst thou
with his hands? Wait a little, and thou shalt have his head."

"We should have few heads or prisoners either, if thou hadst the care of
them," said Francois sharply. "I say that the prisoner secretes
something, and that I will see it. Show your hands, dog of an
aristocrat!"

Monsieur the Viscount set his teeth to keep himself from speaking, and
held out his hands in silence, toad and all.

Both the men started back with an exclamation, and Francois got behind
his comrade, and swore over his shoulder.

Monsieur the Viscount stood upright and still, with a smile on his white
face. "Behold, citizen, what I secrete, and what I desire to keep.
Behold all that I have left to secrete or to desire! There is nothing
more."

"Throw it down!" screamed Francois; "many a witch has been burnt for
less--throw it down."

The color began to flood over Monsieur the Viscount's face; but still he
spoke gently, and with bated breath. "If you wish me to suffer, citizen,
let this be my witness that I have suffered. I must be very friendless
to desire such a friend. I must be brought very low to ask such a favor.
Let the Republic give me this."

"The Republic has one safe rule for aristocrats," said the other; "she
gives them nothing but their keep till she pays for their shaving--once
for all. She gave one of these dogs a few rags to dress a wound on his
back with, and he made a rope of his dressings, and let himself down
from the window. We will have no more such games. You may be training
the beast to spit poison at good citizens. Throw it down and kill it."

Monsieur the Viscount made no reply. His hands had moved towards his
breast, against which he was holding his golden-eyed friend. There are
times in life when the brute creation contrasts favorably with the lords
thereof, and this was one of them. It was hard to part just now.

Antoine, who had been internally cursing his own folly in bringing such
a companion into the cell, now interfered. "If you are going to stay
here to be bitten or spit at, Francois, my friend," said he, "I am not.
Thou art zealous, my comrade, but dull as an owl. The Republic is
far-sighted in her wisdom beyond thy coarse ideas, and has more ways of
taking their heads from these aristocrats than one. Dost thou not see?"
And he tapped his forehead significantly, and looked at the prisoner;
and so, between talking and pushing, got his sulky companion out of the
cell, and locked the door after them.

"And so, my friend--my friend!" said Monsieur the Viscount, tenderly,
"we are safe once more; but it will not be for long, my Crapaud.
Something tells me that I cannot much longer be overlooked. A little
while, and I shall be gone; and thou wilt have, perchance, another
master, when I am summoned before mine."

Monsieur the Viscount's misgivings were just. Francois, on whose
stupidity Antoine had relied, was (as is not uncommon with people stupid
in other respects) just clever enough to be mischievous. Antoine's
evident alarm made him suspicious, and he began to talk about the
too-elegant-looking young lawyer who was imprisoned "in secret," and
permitted by the gaoler to keep venomous beasts. Antoine was examined
and committed to one of his own cells, and Monsieur the Viscount was
summoned before the revolutionary tribunal.

There was little need even for the scanty inquiry that in those days
preceded sentence. In every line of his beautiful face, marred as it was
by sickness and suffering--in the unconquerable dignity, which dirt and
raggedness were powerless to hide, the fatal nobility of his birth and
breeding were betrayed. When he returned to the anteroom, he did not
positively know his fate; but in his mind there was a moral certainty
that left him no hope.

The room was filled with other prisoners awaiting trial; and as he
entered, his eyes wandered round it to see if there were any familiar
faces. They fell upon two figures standing with their backs to him--a
tall, fierce-looking man, who, despite his height and fierceness, had a
restless, nervous despondency expressed in all his movements; and a
young girl who leant on his arm as if for support, but whose steady
quietude gave her more the air of a supporter. Without seeing their
faces, and for no reasonable reason, Monsieur the Viscount decided with
himself that they were the Baron and his daughter, and he begged the man
who was conducting him, for a moment's delay. The man consented. France
was becoming sick of unmitigated carnage, and even the executioners
sometimes indulged in pity by way of a change.

As Monsieur the Viscount approached the two they turned round, and he
saw her face--a very fair and very resolute one, with ashen hair and
large eyes. In common with almost all the faces in that room, it was
blanched with suffering; and it is fair to say, in common with many of
them, it was pervaded by a lofty calm. Monsieur the Viscount never for
an instant doubted his own conviction; he drew near and said in a low
voice, "Mademoiselle de St. Claire!"

The Baron looked first fierce, and then alarmed. His daughter's face
illumined; she turned her large eyes on the speaker, and said simply,

"Monsieur le Vicomte?"

The Baron apologized, commiserated, and sat down on a seat near, with a
look of fretful despair; and his daughter and Monsieur the Viscount were
left standing together. Monsieur the Viscount desired to say a great
deal and could say very little. The moments went by and hardly a word
had been spoken.

Valerie asked if he knew his fate.

"I have not heard it," he said; "but I am morally certain. There can be
but one end in these days."

She sighed. "It is the same with us. And if you must suffer, Monsieur, I
wish that we may suffer together. It would comfort my father--and me."

Her composure vexed him. Just, too, when he was sensible that the desire
of life was making a few fierce struggles in his own breast.

"You seem to look forward to death with great cheerfulness,
Mademoiselle."

The large eyes were raised to him with a look of surprise at the
irritation of his tone.

"I think," she said gently, "that one does not look forward to, but
_beyond_ it." She stopped and hesitated, still watching his face, and
then spoke hurriedly and diffidently:--

"Monsieur, it seems impertinent to make such suggestions to you, who
have doubtless a full fund of consolation; but I remember, when a child,
going to hear the preaching of a monk who was famous for his eloquence.
He said that his text was from the Scriptures--it has been in my mind
all to-day--'_There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary
be at rest._' The man is becoming impatient. Adieu! Monsieur. A thousand
thanks and a thousand blessings."

She offered her cheek, on which there was not a ray of increased color,
and Monsieur the Viscount stooped and kissed it, with a thick mist
gathering in his eyes, through which he could not see her face.

"Adieu! Valerie!"

"Adieu! Louis!"

So they met, and so they parted; and as Monsieur the Viscount went back
to his prison, he flattered himself that the last link was broken for
him in the chain of earthly interests.

When he reached the cell he was tired, and lay down, and in a few
seconds a soft scrambling over the floor announced the return of
Monsieur Crapaud from his hiding place. With one wrinkled leg after
another he clambered on to the stone, and Monsieur the Viscount started
when he saw him.

"Friend Crapaud! I had actually forgotten thee. I fancied I had said
adieu for the last time;" and he gave a choked sigh, which Monsieur
Crapaud could not be expected to understand. In about five minutes he
sprang up suddenly. "Monsieur Crapaud, I have not long to live, and no
time must be lost in making my will." Monsieur Crapaud was too wise to
express any astonishment; and his master began to hunt for a
tidy-looking stone (paper and cambric were both at an end). They were
all rough and dirty; but necessity had made the Viscount inventive, and
he took a couple and rubbed them together till he had polished both.
Then he pulled out the little pencil, and for the next half hour wrote
busily. When it was done he lay down, and read it to his friend. This
was Monsieur the Viscount's last will and testament:--

                  "_To my successor in this cell._

     "To you whom Providence has chosen to be the inheritor of my
     sorrows and my captivity, I desire to make another bequest.
     There is in this prison a toad. He was tamed by a man (peace
     to his memory!) who tenanted this cell before me. He has
     been my friend and companion for nearly two years of sad
     imprisonment. He has sat by my bedside, fed from my hand,
     and shared all my confidence. He is ugly, but he has
     beautiful eyes; he is silent, but he is attentive; he is a
     brute, but I wish the men of France were in this respect
     more his superiors! He is very faithful. May you never have
     a worse friend! He feeds upon insects, which I have been
     accustomed to procure for him. Be kind to him; he will repay
     it. Like other men, I bequeath what I would take with me if
     I could.

     "Fellow-sufferer, adieu! God comfort you as He has comforted
     me! The sorrows of this life are sharp but short; the joys
     of the next life are eternal. Think some times on him who
     commends his friend to your pity, and himself to your
     prayers.

     "This is the last will and testament of Louis Archambaud
     Jean-Marie Arnaud, Vicomte de B----."

Monsieur the Viscount's last will and testament was with difficulty
squeezed into the surface of the larger of the stones. Then he hid it
where the priest had hid his bequest long ago, and then lay down to
dream of Monsieur the Preceptor, and that they had met at last.

The next day was one of anxious suspense. In the evening, as usual, a
list of those who were to be guillotined next morning, was brought into
the prison; and Monsieur the Viscount begged for a sight of it. It was
brought to him. First on the list was Antoine! Halfway down was his own
name, "Louis de B--," and a little lower his fascinated gaze fell upon
names that stirred his heart with such a passion of regret as he had
fancied it would never feel again, "Henri de St. Claire, Valerie de St.
Claire."

Her eyes seemed to shine on him from the gathering twilight, and her
calm voice to echo in his ears. "_It has been in my mind all to-day.
There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary be at rest._"

_There!_ He buried his face and prayed.

He was disturbed by the unlocking of the door, and the new gaoler
appeared with Antoine! The poor wretch seemed overpowered by terror. He
had begged to be imprisoned for this last night with Monsieur the
Viscount. It was only a matter of a few hours, as they were to die at
daybreak, and his request was granted.

Antoine's entrance turned the current of Monsieur the Viscount's
thoughts. No more selfish reflections now. He must comfort this poor
creature, of whose death he was to be the unintentional cause. Antoine's
first anxiety was that Monsieur the Viscount should bear witness that
the gaoler had treated him kindly, and so earned the blessing and not
the curse of Monsieur le Curé, whose powerful presence seemed to haunt
him still. On this score he was soon set at rest, and then came the old,
old story. He had been but a bad man. If his life were to come over
again, he would do differently. Did Monsieur the Viscount think that
there was any hope?

Would Monsieur the Viscount have recognized himself, could he, two years
ago, have seen himself as he was now? Kneeling by that rough,
uncultivated figure, and pleading with all the eloquence that he could
master to that rough uncultivated heart, the great Truths of
Christianity,--so great and few and simple in their application to our
needs! The violet eyes had never appealed more tenderly, the soft voice
had never been softer than now, as he strove to explain to this ignorant
soul, the cardinal doctrines of Faith and Repentance, and Charity, with
an earnestness that was perhaps more effectual than his preaching.

Monsieur the Viscount was quite as much astonished as flattered by the
success of his instructions. The faith on which he had laid hold with
such mortal struggles, seemed almost to "come natural" (as people say)
to Antoine. With abundant tears, he professed the deepest penitence for
his past life, at the same time that he accepted the doctrine of the
Atonement as a natural remedy, and never seemed to have a doubt in the
Infinite Mercy that should cover his infinite guilt.

It was all so orthodox that even if he had doubted (which he did not)
the sincerity of the gaoler's contrition and belief, Monsieur the
Viscount could have done nothing but envy the easy nature of Antoine's
convictions. He forgot the difference of their respective capabilities!

When the night was far advanced the men rose from their knees, and
Monsieur the Viscount persuaded Antoine to lie down on his pallet, and
when the gaoler's heavy breathing told that he was asleep, Monsieur the
Viscount felt relieved to be alone once more; alone, except for Monsieur
Crapaud, whose round fiery eyes were open as usual.

The simplicity with which he had been obliged to explain the truths of
Divine Love to Antoine, was of signal service to Monsieur the Viscount
himself. It left him no excuse for those intricacies of doubt, with
which refined minds too often torture themselves; and as he paced feebly
up and down the cell, all the long-withheld peace for which he had
striven since his imprisonment seemed to flood into his soul. How
blessed--how undeservedly blessed--was his fate! Who or what was he that
after such short, such mitigated sufferings, the crown of victory should
be so near? The way had seemed long to come, it was short to look back
upon, and now the golden gates were almost reached, the everlasting
doors were open. A few more hours, and then--! and as Monsieur the
Viscount buried his worn face in his hands, the tears that trickled from
his fingers were literally tears of joy.

He groped his way to the stone, pushed some straw close to it, and lay
down on the ground to rest, watched by Monsieur Crapaud's fiery eyes.
And as he lay, faces seemed to him to rise out of the darkness, to take
the form and features of the face of the Priest, and to gaze at him with
unutterable benediction. And in his mind, like some familiar piece of
music, awoke the words that had been written on the fly-leaf of the
little book; coming back, sleepily and dreamily, over and over again--

       "_Souvenez-vous du Sauveur! Souvenez-vous du Sauveur!_"
                      (Remember the Saviour!)

In that remembrance he fell asleep.

Monsieur the Viscount's sleep for some hours was without a dream. Then
it began to be disturbed by that uneasy consciousness of sleeping too
long, which enables some people to awake at whatever hour they have
resolved upon. At last it became intolerable, and wearied as he was, he
awoke. It was broad daylight, and Antoine was snoring beside him. Surely
the cart would come soon, the executions were generally at an early
hour. But time went on, and no one came, and Antoine awoke. The hours of
suspense passed heavily, but at last there were steps and a key rattled
into the lock. The door opened, and the gaoler appeared with a jug of
milk and a loaf. With a strange smile he set them down.

"A good appetite to you, citizens."

Antoine flew on him. "Comrade! we used to be friends. Tell me, what is
it? Is the execution deferred?"

"The execution has taken place at last," said the other, significantly;
"_Robespierre is dead!_" and he vanished.

Antoine uttered a shriek of joy. He wept, he laughed, he cut capers, and
flinging himself at Monsieur the Viscount's feet, he kissed them
rapturously. When he raised his eyes to Monsieur the Viscount's face,
his transports moderated. The last shock had been too much, he seemed
almost in a stupor. Antoine got him on the pallet, dragged the blanket
over him, broke the bread into the milk, and played the nurse once more.

On that day thousands of prisoners in the city of Paris alone awoke from
the shadow of death to the hope of life. The Reign of Terror was ended!



CHAPTER III.


It was a year of grace early in the present century.

We are again in the beautiful country of beautiful France. It is the
chateau once more. It is the same, but changed. The unapproachable
elegance, the inviolable security, have witnessed invasion. The right
wing of the chateau is in ruins, with traces of fire upon the blackened
walls; while here and there, a broken statue or a roofless temple, are
sad memorials of the Revolution. Within the restored part of the
chateau, however, all looks well. Monsieur the Viscount has been
fortunate, and if not so rich a man as his father, has yet regained
enough of his property to live with comfort, and, as he thinks, luxury.
The long rooms are little less elegant than in former days, and Madame
the present Viscountess's boudoir is a model of taste. Not far from it
is another room, to which it forms a singular contrast. This room
belongs to Monsieur the Viscount. It is small, with one window. The
floor and walls are bare, and it contains no furniture; but on the floor
is a worn-out pallet, by which lies a stone, and on that a broken
pitcher, and in a little frame against the wall is preserved a crumpled
bit of paper like the fly-leaf of some little book, on which is a
half-effaced inscription, which can be deciphered by Monsieur the
Viscount if by no one else. Above the window is written in large
letters, a date and the word REMEMBER. Monsieur the Viscount is not
likely to forget, but he is afraid of himself and of prosperity lest it
should spoil him.

It is evening, and Monsieur the Viscount is strolling along the terrace
with Madame on his arm. He has only one to offer her, for where the
other should be an empty sleeve is pinned to his breast, on which a bit
of ribbon is stirred by the breeze. Monsieur the Viscount has not been
idle since we saw him last; the faith that taught him to die, has
taught him also how to live,--an honorable, useful life.

It is evening, and the air comes up perfumed from a bed of violets by
which Monsieur the Viscount is kneeling. Madame (who has a fair face and
ashen hair) stands by him with her little hand on his shoulder and her
large eyes upon the violets.

"My friend! My friend! My friend!" It is Monsieur the Viscount's voice,
and at the sound of it, there is a rustle among the violets that sends
the perfume high into the air. Then from the parted leaves come forth
first a dirty wrinkled leg, then a dirty wrinkled head with gleaming
eyes, and Monsieur Crapaud crawls with self-satisfied dignity on to
Monsieur the Viscount's outstretched hand.

So they stay laughing and chatting, and then Monsieur the Viscount bids
his friend good-night, and holds him towards Madame, that she may do the
same. But Madame (who did not enjoy Monsieur Crapaud's society in
prison) cannot be induced to do more than scratch his head delicately
with the tip of her white finger. But she respects him greatly, at a
distance, she says. Then they go back along the terrace, and are met by
a man-servant in Monsieur the Viscount's livery. Is it possible that
this is Antoine, with his shock head covered with powder?

Yes; that grating voice which no mental change avails to subdue, is his,
and he announces that Monsieur le Curé has arrived. It is the old Curé
of the village (who has survived the troubles of the Revolution), and
many are the evenings he spends at the chateau, and many the times in
which the closing acts of a noble life are recounted to him, the life of
his old friend whom he hopes ere long to see,--of Monsieur the
Preceptor. He is kindly welcomed by Monsieur and by Madame, and they
pass on together into the chateau. And when Monsieur the Viscount's
steps have ceased to echo from the terrace, Monsieur Crapaud buries
himself once more among the violets.

       *       *       *       *       *

Monsieur the Viscount is dead, and Madame sleeps also at his side; and
their possessions have descended to their son.

Not the least valued among them, is a case with a glass front and sides,
in which, seated upon a stone is the body of a toad stuffed with
exquisite skill, from whose head gleam eyes of genuine topaz. Above it
in letters of gold is a date, and this inscription:--

              "MONSIEUR THE VISCOUNT'S FRIEND."
                            ADIEU!



THE YEW-LANE GHOSTS.

CHAPTER I.

    "Cowards are cruel."

                    OLD PROVERB.


This story begins on a fine autumn afternoon, when at the end of a field
over which the shadows of a few wayside trees were stalking like long
thin giants, a man and a boy sat side by side upon a stile. They were
not a happy looking pair. The boy looked uncomfortable, because he
wanted to get away, and dared not go. The man looked uncomfortable also;
but then no one had ever seen him look otherwise, which was the more
strange as he never professed to have any object in life but his own
pleasure and gratification. Not troubling himself with any consideration
of law or principle--of his own duty or other people's comfort--he had
consistently spent his whole time and energies in trying to be jolly;
and though now a grown-up young man, had so far had every appearance of
failing in the attempt. From this it will be seen that he was not the
most estimable of characters, and we shall have no more to do with him
than we can help; but as he must appear in the story, he may as well be
described.

If constant self-indulgence had answered as well as it should have done,
he would have been a fine-looking young man; as it was, the habits of
his life were fast destroying his appearance. His hair would have been
golden if it had been kept clean. His figure was tall and strong; but
the custom of slinking about places where he had no business to be, and
lounging in corners where he had nothing to do, had given it such a
hopeless slouch, that for the matter of beauty he might almost as well
have been knock-kneed. His eyes would have been handsome if the lids had
been less red; and if he had ever looked you in the face, you would have
seen that they were blue. His complexion was fair by nature, and
discolored by drink. His manner was something between a sneak and a
swagger, and he generally wore his cap a-one-side, carried his hands in
his pockets, and a short stick under his arm, and whistled when any one
passed him. His chief characteristic perhaps was a habit he had of
kicking. Indoors he kicked the furniture; in the road he kicked the
stones; if he lounged against a wall he kicked it; he kicked all
animals, and such human beings as he felt sure would not kick him again.

It should be said here that he had once announced his intention of
"turning steady, and settling, and getting wed." The object of his
choice was the prettiest girl in the village, and was as good as she was
pretty. To say the truth, the time had been when Bessy had not felt
unkindly towards the yellow-haired lad; but his conduct had long put a
gulf between them, which only the conceit of a scamp would have
attempted to pass. However, he flattered himself that he "knew what the
lasses meant when they said no;" and on the strength of this knowledge
he presumed far enough to elicit a rebuff so hearty and unmistakable,
that for a week he was the laughing-stock of the village. There was no
mistake this time as to what "no" meant; his admiration turned to a
hatred almost as intense, and he went faster "to the bad" than ever.

It was Bessy's little brother who sat by him on the stile; "Beauty
Bill," as he was called, from the large share he possessed of the family
good looks. The lad was one of those people who seem born to be
favorites. He was handsome and merry and intelligent; and being well
brought up, was well-conducted and amiable--the pride and pet of the
village. Why did Mother Muggins of the shop let the goody side of her
scales of justice drop the lower by one lollipop for Bill than for any
other lad, and exempt him by unwonted smiles from her general anathema
on the urchin race? There were other honest boys in the parish who paid
for their treacle-sticks in sterling copper of the realm! The very
roughs of the village were proud of him, and would have showed their
good nature in ways little to his benefit, had not his father kept a
somewhat severe watch upon his habits and conduct. Indeed, good parents
and a strict home counterbalanced the evils of popularity with Beauty
Bill, and on the whole he was little spoilt, and well deserved the favor
he met with. It was under cover of friendly patronage that his companion
was now detaining him; but all the circumstances considered, Bill felt
more suspicious than gratified, and wished Bully Tom anywhere but where
he was.

The man threw out one leg before him like the pendulum of a clock--

"Night school's opened, eh?" he inquired; and back swung the pendulum
against Bill's shins.

"Yes;" and the boy screwed his legs on one side.

"You don't go, do you?"

"Yes, I do," said Bill, trying not to feel ashamed of the fact. "Father
can't spare me to the day-school now, so our Bessy persuaded him to let
me go at nights."

Bully Tom's face looked a shade darker, and the pendulum took a swing
which it was fortunate the lad avoided; but the conversation continued
with every appearance of civility.

"You come back by Yew-lane, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"Why, there's no one lives your way but old Johnson; you must come back
alone?"

"Of course I do," said Bill, beginning to feel vaguely uncomfortable.

"It must be dark now before school looses?" was the next inquiry; and
the boy's discomfort increased, he hardly knew why, as he answered--

"There's a moon."

"So there is," said Bully Tom, in a tone of polite assent; "and there's
a weathercock on the church steeple; but I never heard of either of 'em
coming down to help a body, whatever happened."

Bill's discomfort had become alarm.

"Why, what could happen?" he asked. "I don't understand you."

His companion whistled, looked up in the air, and kicked vigorously, but
said nothing. Bill was not extraordinarily brave, but he had a fair
amount both of spirit and sense; and having a shrewd suspicion that
Bully Tom was trying to frighten him, he almost made up his mind to run
off then and there. Curiosity, however, and a vague alarm which he could
not throw off, made him stay for a little more information.

"I wish you'd out with it!" he exclaimed impatiently. "What could
happen? No one ever comes along Yew-lane; and if they did, they wouldn't
hurt me."

"I know no one ever comes near it when they can help it," was the reply;
"so to be sure you couldn't get set upon; and a pious lad of your sort
wouldn't mind no other kind. Not like ghosts or anything of that."

And Bully Tom looked round at his companion; a fact disagreeable from
its rarity.

"I don't believe in ghosts," said Bill, stoutly.

"Of course you don't," sneered his tormentor; "you're too well educated.
Some people does, though. I suppose them that has seen them does. Some
people thinks that murdered men walk. P'raps some people thinks the man
as was murdered in Yew-lane walks."

"What man?" gasped Bill, feeling very chilly down the spine.

"Him that was riding by the cross roads and dragged into Yew-lane, and
his head cut off and never found, and his body buried in the
churchyard," said Bully Tom, with a rush of superior information; "and
all I know is, if I thought he walked in Yew-lane, or any other lane, I
wouldn't go within five mile of it after dusk--that's all. But then I'm
not book-larned."

The two last statements were true if nothing else was that the man had
said; and after holding up his feet and examining his boots with his
head a-one-side, as if considering their probable efficiency against
flesh and blood, he slid from his perch, and "loafed" slowly up the
street, whistling and kicking the stones as he went along. As to Beauty
Bill, he fled home as fast as his legs would carry him. By the door
stood Bessy, washing some clothes, who turned her pretty face as he came
up.

"You're late, Bill," she said. "Go in and get your tea, it's set out.
It's night-school night, thou knows, and Master Arthur always likes his
class to time." He lingered, and she continued--"John Gardener was down
this afternoon about some potatoes, and he says Master Arthur is
expecting a friend."

Bill did not heed this piece of news, any more than the slight flush on
his sister's face as she delivered it; he was wondering whether what
Bully Tom said was mere invention to frighten him, or whether there was
any truth in it.

"Bessy!" he said, "was there a man ever murdered in Yew-lane?"

Bessy was occupied with her own thoughts, and did not notice the anxiety
of the question.

"I believe there was," she answered carelessly, "somewhere about there.
It's a hundred years ago or more. There's an old gravestone over him in
the churchyard by the wall, with an odd verse on it. They say the parish
clerk wrote it. But get your tea, or you'll be late, and father'll be
angry;" and Bessy took up her tub and departed.

Poor Bill! Then it was too true. He began to pull up his trousers and
look at his grazed legs; and the thoughts of his aching shins, Bully
Tom's cruelty, the unavoidable night-school, and the possible ghost,
were too much for him, and he burst into tears.



CHAPTER II.

    "There are birds out on the bushes,
      In the meadows lies the lamb;
    How I wonder if they're ever
      Half as frightened as I am?"

                            C. F. ALEXANDER.


The night-school was drawing to a close. The attendance had been good,
and the room looked cheerful. In one corner the Rector was teaching a
group of grown-up men, who (better late than never) were zealously
learning to read; in another the schoolmaster was flourishing his stick
before a map as he concluded his lesson in geography. By the fire sat
Master Arthur, the Rector's son, surrounded by his class, and in front
of him stood Beauty Bill. Master Arthur was very popular with the
people, especially with his pupils. The boys were anxious to get into
his class, and loath to leave it. They admired his great height, his
merry laugh, the variety of walking-sticks he brought with him, and his
very funny way of explaining pictures. He was not a very methodical
teacher, and was rather apt to give unexpected lessons on subjects in
which he happened just then to be interested himself; but he had a clear
simple way of explaining anything, which impressed it on the memory, and
he took a great deal of pains in his own way. Bill was especially
devoted to him. He often wished that Master Arthur could get very rich,
and take him for his man-servant; he thought he should like to brush his
clothes and take care of his sticks. He had a great interest in the
growth of his mustache and whiskers. For some time past Master Arthur
had had a trick of pulling at his upper lip while he was teaching; which
occasionally provoked a whisper of "Moostarch, guvernor!" between two
unruly members of his class; but never till to-night had Bill seen
anything in that line which answered his expectations. Now, however, as
he stood before the young gentleman, the fire-light fell on such a
distinct growth of hair, that Bill's interest became absorbed to the
exclusion of all but the most perfunctory attention to the lesson on
hand. Would Master Arthur grow a beard? Would his mustache be short like
the pictures of Prince Albert, or long and pointed like that of some
other great man whose portrait he had seen in the papers? He was
calculating on the probable effect of either style, when the order was
given to put away books, and then the thought which had been for a time
diverted came back again,--his walk home.

Poor Bill! his fears returned with double force from having been for a
while forgotten. He dawdled over the books, he hunted in wrong places
for his cap and comforter, he lingered till the last boy had clattered
through the door-way and left him with the group of elders who closed
the proceedings and locked up the school. But after this, further delay
was impossible. The whole party moved out into the moonlight, and the
Rector and his son, the schoolmaster and the teachers, commenced a
sedate parish gossip, while Bill trotted behind, wondering whether any
possible or impossible business would take one of them his way. But when
the turning-point was reached, the Rector destroyed all his hopes.

"None of us go your way, I think," said he, as lightly as if there were
no grievance in the case; "however, it's not far. Good-night, my boy!"

And so with a volley of good-nights, the cheerful voices passed on up
the village. Bill stood till they had quite died away, and then, when
all was silent, he turned into the lane.

The cold night-wind crept into his ears, and made uncomfortable noises
among the trees, and blew clouds over the face of the moon. He almost
wished that there were no moon. The shifting shadows under his feet, and
the sudden patches of light on unexpected objects, startled him, and he
thought he should have felt less frightened if it had been quite dark.
Once he ran for a bit, then he resolved to be brave, then to be
reasonable; he repeated scraps of lessons, hymns, and last Sunday's
Collect, to divert and compose his mind; and as this plan seemed to
answer, he determined to go through the Catechism, both question and
answer, which he hoped might carry him to the end of his unpleasant
journey. He had just asked himself a question with considerable dignity,
and was about to reply, when a sudden gleam of moonlight lit up a round
object in the ditch. Bill's heart seemed to grow cold, and he thought
his senses would have forsaken him. Could this be the head of--? No! on
nearer inspection it proved to be only a turnip; and when one came to
think of it, that would have been rather a conspicuous place for the
murdered man's skull to have been lost in for so many years.

My hero must not be ridiculed too much for his fears. The terrors that
visit childhood are not the less real and overpowering from being
unreasonable; and to excite them is wanton cruelty. Moreover, he was but
a little lad, and had been up and down Yew-lane both in daylight and
dark without any fears, till Bully Tom's tormenting suggestions had
alarmed him. Even now, as he reached the avenue of yews from which the
lane took its name, and passed into their gloomy shade, he tried to be
brave. He tried to think of the good God Who takes care of His children,
and to Whom the darkness and the light are both alike. He thought of all
he had been taught about angels, and wondered if one were near him now,
and wished that he could see him, as Abraham and other good people had
seen angels. In short, the poor lad did his best to apply what he had
been taught to the present emergency, and very likely had he not done so
he would have been worse; but as it was, he was not a little frightened,
as we shall see.

Yew-lane--cool and dark when the hottest sunshine lay beyond it--a
loitering-place for lovers--the dearly loved play-place of generations
of children on sultry summer days--looked very grim and vault-like, with
narrow streaks of moonlight peeping in at rare intervals to make the
darkness to be felt! Moreover, it was really damp and cold, which is not
favorable to courage. At a certain point Yew-lane skirted a corner of
the churchyard, and was itself crossed by another road, thus forming a
"four-want-way," where suicides were buried in times past. This road
was the old highroad, where the mail-coach ran, and along which, on such
a night as this, a hundred years ago, a horseman rode his last ride. As
he passed the church on his fatal journey, did anything warn him how
soon his headless body would be buried beneath its shadow? Bill
wondered. He wondered if he were old or young--what sort of a horse he
rode--whose cruel hands dragged him into the shadow of the yews and slew
him, and where his head was hidden and why. Did the church look just the
same, and the moon shine just as brightly, that night a century ago?
Bully Tom was right. The weathercock and the moon sit still, whatever
happens. The boy watched the gleaming highroad as it lay beyond the dark
aisle of trees, till he fancied he could hear the footfalls of the
solitary horse--and yet no! The sound was not upon the hard road, but
nearer; it was not the clatter of hoofs, but something--and a
rustle--and then Bill's blood seemed to freeze in his veins, as he saw a
white figure, wrapped in what seemed to be a shroud, glide out of the
shadow of the yews and move slowly down the lane. When it reached the
road it paused, raised a long arm warningly towards him for a moment,
and then vanished in the direction of the churchyard.

What would have been the consequence of the intense fright the poor lad
experienced is more than any one can say, if at that moment the church
clock had not begun to strike nine. The familiar sound, close in his
ears, roused him from the first shock, and before it had ceased he
contrived to make a desperate rally of his courage, flew over the road,
and crossed the two fields that now lay between him and home without
looking behind him.



CHAPTER III.

     "It was to her a real _grief of heart_, acute, as children's
     sorrows often are.

     "We beheld this from the opposite windows--and, seen thus
     from a little distance, how many of our own and of other
     people's sorrows might not seem equally trivial, and equally
     deserving of ridicule!"

                             HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN.


When Bill got home he found the household busy with a much more
practical subject than that of ghosts and haunted yew-trees. Bessy was
ill. She had felt a pain in her side all the day, which towards night
had become so violent that the doctor was sent for, who had pronounced
it pleurisy, and had sent her to bed. He was just coming down-stairs as
Bill burst into the house. The mother was too much occupied about her
daughter to notice the lad's condition; but the doctor's sharp eyes saw
that something was amiss, and he at once inquired what it was. Bill
hammered and stammered, and stopped short. The doctor was such a tall,
stout, comfortable-looking man, he looked as if he couldn't believe in
ghosts. A slight frown however had come over his comfortable face, and
he laid two fingers on Bill's wrist as he repeated his question.

"Please sir," said Bill, "I've seen--"

"A mad dog?" suggested the doctor.

"No, sir."

"A mad bull?"

"No, sir," said Bill, desperately, "I've seen a ghost."

The doctor exploded into a fit of laughter, and looked more comfortable
than ever.

"And _where_ did we see the ghost?" he inquired in a professional voice,
as he took up his coat-tails and warmed himself at the fire.

"In Yew-lane, sir; and I'm sure I did see it," said Bill, half crying;
"it was all in white, and beckoned me."

"That's to say, you saw a white gravestone, or a tree in the moonlight,
or one of your classmates dressed up in a table-cloth. It was all
moonshine, depend upon it," said the doctor, with a chuckle at his own
joke; "take my advice, my boy, and don't give way to foolish fancies."

At this point the mother spoke--

"If his father knew, sir, as he'd got any such fads in his head, he'd
soon flog 'em out of him."

"His father is a very good one," said the doctor; "a little too fond of
the stick, perhaps. There," he added good-naturedly, slipping sixpence
into Bill's hand, "get a new knife, my boy, and cut a good thick stick,
and the next ghost you meet, lay hold of him and let him taste it."

Bill tried to thank him, but somehow his voice was choked, and the
doctor turned to his mother.

"The boy has been frightened," he said, "and is upset. Give him some
supper, and put him to bed." And the good gentleman departed.

Bill was duly feasted and sent to rest. His mother did not mention the
matter to her husband, as she knew he would be angry; and occupied with
real anxiety for her daughter, she soon forgot it herself. Consequently,
the next night-school night she sent Bill to "clean himself," hurried on
his tea, and packed him off, just as if nothing had happened. The boy's
feelings since the night of the apparition had not been enviable. He
could neither eat nor sleep. As he lay in bed at night, he kept his face
covered with the clothes, dreading that if he peeped out into the room
the phantom of the murdered horseman would beckon to him from the dark
corners. Lying so till the dawn broke and the cocks began to crow, he
would then look cautiously forth, and seeing by the gray light that the
corners were empty, and that the figure by the door was not the Yew-lane
Ghost, but his mother's faded print dress hanging on a nail, would drop
his head and fall wearily asleep. The day was no better, for each hour
brought him nearer to the next night-school; and Bessy's illness made
his mother so busy that he never could find the right moment to ask her
sympathy for his fears, and still less could he feel himself able to
overcome them. And so the night-school came round again, and there he
sat, gulping down a few mouthfuls of food, and wondering how he should
begin to tell his mother that he neither dare, could, nor would, go down
Yew-lane again at night. He had just opened his lips when the father
came in, and asked in a loud voice "why Bill was not off." This
effectually put a stop to any confidences, and the boy ran out of the
house. Not, however, to school. He made one or two desperate efforts at
determination, and then gave up altogether. He _could_ not go!

He was wondering what he should do with himself, when it struck him that
he would go while it was daylight and look for the grave with the odd
verse of which Bessy had spoken. He had no difficulty in finding it. It
was marked by a large ugly stone, on which the inscription was green,
and in some places almost effaced.

                   SACRED TO THE MEMORY.
                            OF
                     EPHRAIM GARNETT--

He had read so far when a voice close by him said--

"You'll be late for school, young chap."

Bill looked up, and to his horror beheld Bully Tom standing in the road
and kicking the churchyard wall.

"Aren't you going!" he asked, as Bill did not speak.

"Not to-night," said Bill, with crimson cheeks.

"Larking, eh?" said Bully Tom. "My eyes, won't your father give it you!"
and he began to move off.

"Stop!" shouted Bill in an agony; "don't tell him, Tom. That would be a
dirty trick. I'll go next time, I will indeed; I can't go to-night. I'm
not larking, I'm scared. You won't tell?"

"Not this time, maybe," was the reply; "but I wouldn't be in your shoes
if you play this game next night;" and off he went.

Bill thought it well to quit the churchyard at once for some place where
he was not likely to be seen; he had never played truant before, and for
the next hour or two was thoroughly miserable as he slunk about the
premises of a neighboring farm, and finally took refuge in a shed, and
began to consider his position. He would remain hidden till nine
o'clock, and then go home. If nothing were said, well and good; unless
some accident should afterwards betray him. But if his mother asked any
questions about the school? He dared not, and he would not, tell a lie;
and yet what would be the result of the truth coming out? There could be
no doubt that his father would beat him. Bill thought again, and decided
that he could bear a thrashing, but not the sight of the Yew-lane Ghost;
so he remained where he was, wondering how it would be, and how he
should get over the next school-night when it came. The prospect was so
hopeless, and the poor lad so wearied with anxiety and wakeful nights,
that he was almost asleep when he was startled by the church clock
striking nine; and jumping up he ran home. His heart beat heavily as he
crossed the threshold; but his mother was still absorbed by thoughts of
Bessy, and he went to bed unquestioned. The next day too passed over
without any awkward remarks, which was very satisfactory; but then
night-school day came again, and Bill felt that he was in a worse
position than ever. He had played truant once with success; but he was
aware that it would not do a second time. Bully Tom was spiteful, and
Master Arthur might come to "look up" his recreant pupil, and then
Bill's father would know all.

On the morning of the much-dreaded day, his mother sent him up to the
Rectory to fetch some little delicacy that had been promised for Bessy's
dinner. He generally found it rather amusing to go there. He liked to
peep at the pretty garden, to look out for Master Arthur, and to sit in
the kitchen and watch the cook, and wonder what she did with all the
dishes and bright things that decorated the walls. To-day all was quite
different. He avoided the gardens, he was afraid of being seen by his
teacher, and though cook had an unusual display of pots and pans in
operation, he sat in the corner of the kitchen indifferent to everything
but the thought of the Yew-lane Ghost. The dinner for Bessy was put
between two saucers, and as cook gave it into his hands she asked kindly
after his sister, and added--

"You don't look over-well yourself, lad! What's amiss?"

Bill answered that he was quite well, and hurried out of the house to
avoid further inquiries. He was becoming afraid of every one! As he
passed the garden he thought of the gardener, and wondered if he would
help him. He was very young and very good-natured; he had taken of late
to coming to see Bessy, and Bill had his own ideas upon that point;
finally, he had a small class at the night-school. Bill wondered whether
if he screwed up his courage to-night to go, John Gardener would walk
back with him for the pleasure of hearing the latest accounts of Bessy.
But all hopes of this sort were cut off by Master Arthur's voice
shouting to him from the garden--

"Hi there! I want you, Willie! Come here, I say."

Bill ran through the evergreens, and there among the flower-beds in the
sunshine he saw--first, John Gardener driving a mowing-machine over the
velvety grass under Master Arthur's very nose, so there was no getting a
private interview with him. Secondly, Master Arthur himself, sitting on
the ground with his terrier in his lap, directing the proceedings by
means of a donkey-headed stick with elaborately carved ears; and thirdly
Master Arthur's friend.

Now little bits of gossip will fly; and it had been heard in the
dining-room, and conveyed by the parlor-maid to the kitchen, and passed
from the kitchen into the village, that Master Arthur's friend was a
very clever young gentleman; consequently Beauty Bill had been very
anxious to see him. As, however, the clever young gentleman was lying on
his back on the grass, with his hat flattened over his face to keep out
the sun, and an open book lying on its face upon his waistcoat to keep
the place, and otherwise quite immovable, and very like other young
gentlemen, Bill did not feel much the wiser for looking at him. He had
a better view of him soon, however, for Master Arthur began to poke his
friend's legs with the donkey-headed stick, and to exhort him to get up.

"Hi! Bartram, get up! Here's my prime pupil. See what we can turn out.
You may examine him if you like--Willie! this gentleman is a very clever
gentleman, so you must keep your wits about you. _He'll_ put questions
to you, I can tell you! There's as much difference between his head and
mine, as between mine and the head of this stick." And Master Arthur
flourished his "one-legged donkey," as he called it, in the air, and
added, "Bertram! you lazy lout! _will_ you get up and take an interest
in my humble efforts for the good of my fellow-creatures?"

Thus adjured, Mr. Bartram sat up with a jerk which threw his book on to
his boots, and his hat after it, and looked at Bill. Now Bill and the
gardener had both been grinning, as they always did at Master Arthur's
funny speeches; but when Bill found the clever gentleman looking at him,
he straightened his face very quickly. The gentleman was not at all like
his friend ("nothing near so handsome," Bill reported at home), and he
had such a large prominent forehead that he looked as if he were bald.
When he had sat up, he suddenly screwed up his eyes in a very peculiar
way, pulled out a double gold eye-glass, fixed it on his nose, and
stared through it for a second; after which his eyes unexpectedly opened
to their full extent (they were not small ones), and took a sharp survey
of Bill over the top of his spectacles, and this ended, he lay back on
his elbow without speaking. Bill then and there decided that Mr. Bartram
was very proud, rather mad, and the most disagreeable gentleman he ever
saw; and he felt sure could see as well as he (Bill) could, and only
wore spectacles out of a peculiar kind of pride and vain-glory which he
could not exactly specify. Master Arthur seemed to think, at any rate,
that he was not very civil, and began at once to talk to the boy
himself.

"Why were you not at school last time, Willie? Couldn't your mother
spare you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then why didn't you come?" said Master Arthur, in evident astonishment.

Poor Bill! He stammered as he had stammered before the doctor, and
finally gasped--

"Please, sir, I was scared."

"Scared? What of?"

"Ghosts," murmured Bill in a very ghostly whisper. Mr. Bartram raised
himself a little. Master Arthur seemed confounded.

"Why, you little goose! How is it you never were afraid before?"

"Please, sir, I saw one the other night."

Mr. Bartram took another look over the top of his eye-glass and sat bolt
upright, and John Gardener stayed his machine and listened, while poor
Bill told the whole story of the Yew-lane Ghost.

When it was finished, the gardener, who was behind Master Arthur, said--

"I've heard something of this, sir, in the village," and then added more
which Bill could not hear.

"Eh, what?" said Master Arthur. "Willie, take the machine and drive
about the garden a bit wherever you like.--Now John."

Willie did not at all like being sent away at this interesting point.
Another time he would have enjoyed driving over the short grass, and
seeing it jump up like a little green fountain in front of him; but now
his whole mind was absorbed by the few words he caught at intervals of
the conversation going on between John and the young gentleman. What
could it mean? Mr. Bartram seemed to have awakened to extraordinary
energy, and was talking rapidly. Bill heard the words "lime-light" and
"large sheet," and thought they must be planning a magic-lantern
exhibition, but was puzzled by catching the word "turnip." At last, as
he was rounding the corner of the bed of geraniums, he distinctly heard
Mr. Bartram ask,--

"They cut the man's head off, didn't they?"

Then they were talking about the ghost, after all! Bill gave the machine
a jerk, and to his dismay sliced a branch off one of the geraniums. What
was to be done? He must tell Master Arthur, but he could not interrupt
him just now; so on he drove, feeling very much dispirited, and by no
means cheered by hearing shouts of laughter from the party on the grass.
When one is puzzled and out of spirits, it is no consolation to hear
other people laughing over a private joke; moreover, Bill felt that if
they were still on the subject of the murdered man and his ghost, their
merriment was very unsuitable: Whatever was going on, it was quite
evident that Mr. Bartram was the leading spirit of it, for Bill could
see Master Arthur waving the one-legged donkey in an ecstasy, as he
clapped his friend on the back till the eye-glass danced upon his nose.
At last Mr. Bartram threw himself back as if closing a discussion, and
said loud enough for Bill to hear--

"You never heard of a bully who wasn't a coward."

Bill thought of Bully Tom, and how he had said he dared not risk the
chance of meeting with a ghost, and began to think that this was a
clever young gentleman, after all. Just then Master Arthur called to
him, and he took the bit of broken geranium and went.

"Oh, Willie!" said Master Arthur, "we've been talking over your
misfortunes--geranium? fiddlesticks! put it in your button-hole--your
misfortunes, I say, and for to-night at any rate we intend to help you
out of them. John--ahem!--will be--ahem!--engaged to-night, and unable
to take his class as usual; but this gentleman has kindly consented to
fill his place ("Hear, hear," said the gentleman alluded to), and if
you'll come to-night, like a good lad, he and I will walk back with you;
so if you do see the ghost, it will be in good company. But mind, this
is on one condition. You must not say anything about it--about our
walking back with you, I mean--to anybody. Say nothing; but get ready
and come to school as usual. You understand?"

"Yes, sir," said Bill; "and I'm very much obliged to you, sir, and the
other gentleman as well."

Nothing more was said, so Bill made his best bow and retired. As he went
he heard Master Arthur say to the gardener--

"Then you'll go to the town at once, John. We shall want the things as soon
as possible. You'd better take the pony, and we'll have the list ready for
you."

Bill heard no more words; but as he left the grounds the laughter of the
young gentleman rang out into the road.

What did it all mean?



CHAPTER IV.

     "The night was now pitmirk; the wind soughed amid the
     headstones and railings of the gentry (for we all must die),
     and the black corbies in the steeple-holes cackled and
     crawed in a fearsome manner."

                                MANSIE WAUCH.


Bill was early at the night-school. No other of his class had arrived,
so he took the corner by the fire, sacred to first-comers, and watched
the gradual gathering of the school. Presently Master Arthur appeared,
and close behind him came his friend. Mr. Bartram Lindsay looked more
attractive now than he had done in the garden. When standing, he was an
elegant though plain-looking young man, neat in his dress, and with an
admirable figure. He was apt to stand very still and silent for a length
of time, and had a habit of holding his chin up in the air, which led
some people to say that he "held himself very high." This was the
opinion that Bill had formed, and he was rather alarmed by hearing
Master Arthur pressing his friend to take his class instead of the more
backward one, over which the gardener usually presided; and he was
proportionably relieved when Mr. Bartram steadily declined.

"To say the truth, Bartram," said the young gentleman, "I am much
obliged to you, for I am used to my own boys, and prefer them."

Then up came the schoolmaster.

"Mr. Lindsay going to take John's class? Thank you, sir. I've put out
the books; if you want anything else, sir, p'raps you'll mention it.
When they have done reading, perhaps, sir, you will kindly draft them
off for writing, and take the upper classes in arithmetic, if you don't
object, sir."

Mr. Lindsay did not object.

"If you have a picture or two," he said. "Thank you. Know their letters?
All right. Different stages of progression. Very good. I've no doubt we
shall get on together."

"Between ourselves, Bartram," whispered Master Arthur into his friend's
ear, "the class is composed of boys who ought to have been to school,
and haven't; or who have been, and are none the better for it. Some of
them can what they call 'read in the Testament,' and all of them
confound _b_ and _d_ when they meet with them. They are at one point of
general information; namely, they all know what you have just told them,
and will none of them know it by next time. _I_ call it the rag-tag and
bob-tail class. John says they are like forced tulips. They won't
blossom simultaneously. He can't get them all to one standard of
reading."

Mr. Lindsay laughed and said,--

"He had better read less, and try a little general oral instruction.
Perhaps they don't remember because they can't understand;"--and the
Rector coming in at that moment, the business of the evening commenced.

Having afterwards to cross the school for something, Bill passed the new
teacher and his class, and came to the conclusion that they did "get on
together," and very well too. The rag-tag and bob-tail shone that night,
and afterwards were loud in praises of the lesson.

"It was so clear" and "He was so patient." Indeed, patience was one
great secret of Mr. Lindsay's teaching; he waited so long for an answer
that he generally got it. His pupils were obliged to exert themselves
when there was no hope of being passed over, and everybody was waiting.
Finally, Bill's share of the arithmetic lesson converted him to Master
Arthur's friend. He _was_ a clever young gentleman, and a kind one too.

The lesson had been so interesting--the clever young gentleman, standing
(without his eye-glass) by the blackboard, had been so strict and yet so
entertaining, was so obviously competent, and so pleasantly kind, that
Bill, who liked arithmetic, and (like all intelligent children)
appreciated good teaching, had had no time to think of the Yew-lane
Ghost till the lesson was ended. It was not till the hymn began (they
always ended the night-school with singing,) that he remembered it.
Then, while he was shouting with all his might Bishop Ken's glorious old
lines--

    "Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,"

he caught Mr. Lindsay's eyes fixed on him, and back came the thoughts of
his terrible fright, with a little shame too at his own timidity. Which
of us trusts as we should do in the "defence of the Most High"?

Bill lingered as he had done the last time, and went out with the
"grown-ups." It had been raining, and the ground was wet and sludgy,
though it was fair overhead. The wind was cold too, and Mr. Lindsay
began to cough so violently, that Bill felt rather ashamed of taking him
so far out of his way, through the damp, chilly lane, and began to
wonder whether he could not summon up courage to go alone. The result
was, that with some effort he said--

"Please, Mr. Lindsay, sir, I think you won't like to come so far this
cold night. I'll try and manage, if you like."

Mr. Lindsay laid one hand on Bill's shoulder, and said quietly--

"No, thank you, my boy, we'll come with you. Thank you, all the same."

"Nevertheless, Bartram," said Master Arthur, "I wish you could keep that
cough of yours quiet--it will spoil everything. A boy was eating
peppermints in the shade of his copybook this very night. I did box his
ears; but I wish I had seized the goodies, they might have kept you
quiet."

"Thank you," was the reply, "I abhor peppermint; but I have got some
lozenges, if that will satisfy you. And when I smell ghosts, I can
smother myself in my pocket-handkerchief."

Master Arthur laughed boisterously.

"We shall smell one if brimstone will do it. I hope he won't set himself
on fire, or the scenic effect will be stronger than we bargained for."

This was the beginning of a desultory conversation carried on at
intervals between the two young gentlemen, of which, though Bill heard
every sentence, he couldn't understand one. He made one effort to
discover what Master Arthur was alluding to, but with no satisfactory
result as we shall see.

"Please, Master Arthur," he said desperately, "you don't think there'll
be two ghosts, do you, sir?"

"I should say," said Master Arthur, so slowly and with such gravity that
Bill felt sure he was making fun of him, "I should say, Bill, that if a
place is haunted at all there is no limit to the number of ghosts--fifty
quite as likely as one.--What do you you say, Bartram?"

"Quite so," said Bartram.

Bill made no further attempts to understand the mystery. He listened,
but only grew more and more bewildered at the dark hints he heard, and
never understood what it all meant until the end came; when (as is not
uncommon) he wondered how he could have been so stupid, and why he had
not seen it all from the very first.

They had now reached the turning point, and as they passed into the dark
lane, where the wind was shuddering and shivering among the trees, Bill
shuddered and shivered too, and felt very glad that the young gentlemen
were with him, after all.

Mr. Lindsay pulled out his watch.

"Well?" said his friend.

"Ten minutes to nine."

Then they walked on in silence, Master Arthur with one arm through his
friend's, and the one-legged donkey under the other; and Mr. Lindsay
with his hand on Bill's shoulder.

"I _should_ like a pipe," said Master Arthur presently; "it's so
abominably damp."

"What a fellow you are!" said Mr. Lindsay. "Out of the question! With
the wind setting down the lane too! you talk of my cough--which is
better, by the bye."

"What a fellow _you_ are!" retorted the other. "Bartram, you are the
oddest creature I know. Whatever you take up, you do drive at so. Now I
have hardly got a lark afloat before I'm sick of it. I wish you'd tell
me two things,--first, why are you so grave to-night? and secondly, what
made you take up our young friend's cause so warmly?"

"One answer will serve both questions," said Mr. Lindsay. "The truth is,
old fellow, our young friend [and Bill felt certain that the "young
friend" was himself] has a look of a little chap I was chum with at
school--Regy Gordon. I don't talk about it often, for I can't very well;
but he was killed--think of it, man!--_killed_ by such a piece of
bullying as this! When they found him, he was quite stiff and
speechless; he lived a few hours, but he only said two words,--my name,
and amen."

"Amen?" said Master Arthur, inquiringly.

"Well, you see when the surgeon said it was no go, they telegraphed for
his friends; but they were a long way off, and he was sinking rapidly;
and the old Doctor was in the room, half heart-broken, and he saw Gordon
move his hands together, and he said, 'If any boy knows what prayers
Gordon minor has been used to say, let him come and say them by him;'
and I did. So I knelt by his bed and said them, the old Doctor kneeling
too and sobbing like a child; and when I had done, Regy moved his lips
and said 'Amen;' and then he said 'Lindsay!' and smiled, and then--"

Master Arthur squeezed his friend's arm tightly, but said nothing, and
both the young men were silent; but Bill could not restrain his tears.
It seemed the saddest story he had ever heard, and Mr. Lindsay's hand
upon his shoulder shook so intolerably while he was speaking, that he
had taken it away, which made Bill worse, and he fairly sobbed.

"What are you blubbering about, young 'un?" said Mr. Lindsay. "He is
better off than any of us, and if you are a good boy you will see him
some day;" and the young gentleman put his hand back again, which was
steady now.

"What became of the other fellow?" said Master Arthur.

"He was taken away, of course. Sent abroad, I believe. It was hushed
up.--And now you know," added Mr. Lindsay, "why my native indolence has
roused itself to get this cad taught a lesson, which many a time I
wished to God, when wishes were too late, that that other bully had been
taught _in time_. But no one could thrash him; and no one durst
complain. However, let's change the subject, old fellow! I've got over
it long since; though sometimes I think the wish to see Regy again helps
to keep me a decent sort of fellow. But when I saw the likeness this
morning, it startled me; and then to hear the story, it seemed like a
dream--the Gordon affair over again. I suppose rustic nerves are
tougher; however, your village blackguard shan't have the chance of
committing murder if we can cure him!"

"I believe you half wanted to undertake the cure yourself," said Master
Arthur.

Mr. Lindsay laughed.

"I did for a minute. Fancy your father's feelings if I had come home
with a black eye from an encounter with a pot-house bully! You know I
put my foot into a tender secret of your man's, by offering to be the
performer!"

"How?"

Mr. Lindsay lowered his voice, but not so that Bill could not hear what
he said, and recognize the imitation of John Gardener.

"He said, 'I'd rather do it, if _you_ please, sir. The fact is, I'm
partial to the young woman myself!' After that, I could but leave John
to defend his young woman's belongings."

"Gently!" exclaimed Master Arthur. "There is the Yew Walk."

From this moment the conversation was carried on in whispers, to Bill's
further mystification. The young gentlemen recovered their spirits, and
kept exploding in smothered chuckles of laughter.

"Cold work for him, if he's been waiting long!" whispered one.

"Don't know. His head's under cover remember!" said the other: and they
laughed.

"Bet you sixpence he's been smearing his hand with brimstone for the
last half hour."

"Don't smell him yet, though."

"He'll be a patent aphis-destroyer in the rose-garden for months to
come."

"Sharp work for the eyelids if it gets under the sheet."

They were now close by the Yews, out of which the wind came with a
peculiar chill, as if it had been passing through a vault. Mr. Bartram
Lindsay stooped down, and whispered in Bill's ear: "Listen, my lad. We
can't go down the lane with you, for we want to see the ghost, but we
don't want the ghost to see us. Don't be frightened, but go just as
usual. And mind--when you see the white figure, point with your own arm
_towards the Church_ and scream as loud as you like. Can you do this?"

"Yes, sir," whispered Bill.

"Then off with you. We shall creep quietly on behind the trees; and you
shan't be hurt, I promise you."

Bill summoned his courage, and plunged into the shadows. What could be
the meaning of Mr. Lindsay's strange orders? Should he ever have courage
to lift his arm towards the church in the face of that awful apparition
of the murdered man? And if he did, would the unquiet spirit take the
hint, and go back into the grave, which Bill knew was at that very
corner to which he must point? Left alone, his terrors began to return;
and he listened eagerly to see if, amid the ceaseless soughing of the
wind among the long yew branches, he could hear the rustle of the young
men's footsteps as they crept behind. But he could distinguish nothing.
The hish-wishing of the thin leaves was so incessant, the wind was so
dexterous and tormenting in the tricks it played and the sounds it
produced, that the whole place seemed alive with phantom rustlings and
footsteps; and Bill felt as if Master Arthur was right, and that there
was "no limit" to the number of ghosts!

At last he could see the end of the avenue. There among the last few
trees was the place where the ghost had appeared. There beyond lay the
white road, the churchyard corner, and the tall gray tombstone
glimmering in the moonlight. A few steps more, and slowly from among the
yews came the ghost as before, and raised its long white arm. Bill
determined that, if he died for it, he would do as he had been told; and
lifting his own hand he pointed towards the tombstone, and gave a shout.
As he pointed, the ghost turned round, and then--rising from behind the
tombstone, and gliding slowly to the edge of the wall which separated
the churchyard from the lower level of the road--there appeared a sight
so awful that Bill's shout merged into a prolonged scream of terror.

Truly Master Arthur's anticipations of a "scenic effect" were amply
realized. The walls and buttresses of the old Church stood out dark
against the sky; the white clouds sailed slowly by the moon, which
reflected itself on the damp grass, and shone upon the flat wet
tombstones till they looked like pieces of water. It was not less bright
upon the upright ones, upon quaint crosses, short headstones, and upon
the huge, ungainly memorial of the murdered Ephraim Garnett. But _the_
sight on which it shone that night was the figure now standing by
Ephraim Garnett's grave, and looking over the wall. An awful figure, of
gigantic height, with ghostly white garments clinging round its headless
body, and carrying under its left arm the head that should have been
upon its shoulders. On this there was neither flesh nor hair. It seemed
to be a bare skull, with fire gleaming through the hollow eye-sockets
and the grinning teeth. The right hand of the figure was outstretched as
if in warning; and from the palm to the tips of the fingers was a mass
of lambent flame. When Bill saw this fearful apparition he screamed with
hearty good-will; but the noise he made was nothing to the yell of
terror that came from beneath the shroud of the Yew-lane Ghost, who, on
catching sight of the rival spectre, flew wildly up the lane, kicking
the white sheet off as it went, and finally displaying, to Bill's
amazement, the form and features of Bully Tom. But this was not all. No
sooner had the first ghost started, than the second (not to be
behind-hand) jumped nimbly over the wall and gave chase. But fear had
put wings on to Bully Tom's feet; and the second ghost, being somewhat
encumbered by his costume, judged it wisdom to stop; and then taking the
fiery skull in its flaming hands, shied it with such dexterity that it
hit Bully Tom in the middle of his back, and falling on to the wet
ground, went out with a hiss. This blow was an unexpected shock to the
Bully, who thought the ghost must have come up to him with supernatural
rapidity, and falling on his knees in the mud, began to roar most
lustily:--

"Lord, have mercy upon me! I'll never do it no more!"

Mr. Lindsay was not likely to alter his opinion on the subject of
bullies. This one, like others, was a mortal coward. Like other men, who
have no fear of God before their eyes, he made up for it by having a
very hearty fear of sickness, death, departed souls, and one or two
other things, which the most self-willed sinner knows well enough to be
in the hands of a Power which he cannot see, and does not wish to
believe in. Bully Tom had spoken the truth when he said that if he
thought there was a ghost in Yew-lane he wouldn't go near it. If he had
believed the stories with which he had alarmed poor Bill, the lad's
evening walk would never have been disturbed, as far as he was
concerned. Nothing but his spite against Bessy would have made him take
so much trouble to vex the peace, and stop the schooling, of her pet
brother; and as it was, the standing alone by the churchyard at night
was a position so little to his taste, that he had drunk pretty heavily
in the public-house for half an hour before-hand, to keep up his
spirits. And now he had been paid back in his own coin, and lay
grovelling in the mud, and calling profanely on the Lord, whose mercy
such men always cry for in their trouble, if they never ask it for their
sins. He was so confused and blinded by drink and fright, that he did
not see the second ghost divest himself of his encumbrances, or know
that it was John Gardener, till that rosy-cheeked worthy, his clenched
hands still flaming with brimstone, danced round him, and shouted
scornfully, and with that vehemence of aspiration in which he was apt to
indulge when excited;--

"Get hup, yer great cowardly booby, will yer? So you thought you was
coming hout to frighten a little lad, did ye? And you met with one of
your hown size, did ye? Now _will_ ye get hup and take it like a man, or
shall I give it you as ye lie there?"

Bully Tom chose the least of two evils, and staggering to his feet with
an oath, rushed upon John. But in his present condition he was no match
for the active little gardener, inspired with just wrath and thoughts of
Bessy; and he then and there received such a sound thrashing as he had
not known since he first arrogated the character of village bully. He
was roaring loudly for mercy, and John Gardener was giving him a
harmless roll in the mud by way of conclusion, when he caught sight of
the two young gentlemen in the lane,--Master Arthur in fits of laughter
at the absurd position of the ex-Yew-lane Ghost, and Mr. Lindsay
standing still and silent, with folded arms, set lips, and the gold
eye-glass on his nose. As soon as he saw them, he began to shout,
"Murder! help!" at the top of his voice.

"I see myself," said Master Arthur, driving his hands contemptuously
into his pockets,--"I see myself helping a great lout who came out to
frighten a child, and can neither defend his own eyes and nose, nor take
a licking with a good grace when he deserves it!"

Bully Tom appealed to Mr. Lindsay:--

"Yah! yah!" he howled. "Will you see a man killed for want of help?"

But the clever young gentleman seemed even less inclined to give his
assistance.

"Killed!" he said contemptuously; "I _have_ seen a lad killed on such a
night as this, by such a piece of bullying! Be thankful you have been
stopped in time! I wouldn't raise my little finger to save you from
twice such a thrashing. It has been fairly earned! Give the ghost his
shroud, Gardener, and let him go; and recommend him not to haunt
Yew-lane in future."

John did so, with a few words of parting advice on his own account.

"Be hoff with you," he said. "Master Lindsay, he speaks like a book.
You're a disgrace to your hage and sect, you are! I'd as soon fight with
an old char-woman.--Though bless you, young gentlemen," he added, as
Bully Tom slunk off muttering, "he is the biggest blackguard in the
place; and what the Rector'll say, when he comes to know as you've been
mingled up with him, passes me."

"He'll forgive us, I dare say," said Master Arthur. "I only wish he
could have seen you emerge from behind that stone! It was a sight for a
century! I wonder what the youngster thought of it!--Hi, Willie, here,
sir! What did you think of the second ghost?"

Bill had some doubts as to the light in which he ought to regard that
apparition; but he decided on the simple truth.

"I thought it looked very horrid, sir."

"I should hope it did! The afternoon's work of three able-bodied men has
been marvellously wasted if it didn't. However, I must say you halloed
out loud enough!"

Bill colored; the more so, as Mr. Lindsay was looking hard at him over
the top of his spectacles.

"Don't you feel rather ashamed of all your fright, now you've seen the
ghosts without their sheets?" inquired the clever young gentleman.

"Yes, sir," said Bill, hanging his head. "I shall never believe in
ghosts again, sir, though."

Mr. Bartram Lindsay took off his glasses and twiddled them in his
fingers.

"Well, well," he said in a low hurried voice; "I'm not the parson, and I
don't pretend to say what you should believe and what you shouldn't. We
know precious little as to how much the spirits of the dead see and know
of what they have left behind. But I think you may venture to assure
yourself that when a poor soul has passed the waves of this troublesome
world, by whatever means, it doesn't come back kicking about under a
white sheet in dark lanes, to frighten little boys from going to
school."

"And that's very true, sir," said John Gardener, admiringly.

"So it is," said Master Arthur. "I couldn't have explained that myself,
Willie; but those are my sentiments; and I beg you'll attend to what Mr.
Lindsay has told you."

"Yes, sir," said Bill.

Mr. Lindsay laughed, though not quite merrily, and said,--

"I could tell him something more, Arthur, though he's too young to
understand it; namely, that if he lives, the day will come, when he
would be only too happy if the dead might come back and hold out their
hands to us, anywhere, and for however short a time."

The young gentleman stopped abruptly; and the gardener heaved a
sympathetic sigh.

"I tell you what it is, Bartram," muttered Master Arthur, "I suppose I'm
too young too, for I've had quite enough of the melancholies for one
night. As to you, you're as old as the hills; but it's time you came
home; and if I'd known before what you told me to-night, old fellow, you
shouldn't have come out on this expedition.--Now, for you, Willie,"
added the young gentleman, whirling sharply round, "if you're not a
pattern Solomon henceforth, it won't be the fault of your friends. And
if wisdom doesn't bring you to school after this, I shall try the
argument of the one-legged donkey."

"I don't think I shall miss next time, sir."

"I hope you won't.--Now, John, as you've come so far, you may as well
see the lad home; but don't shake hands with the family in the present
state of your fists, or you might throw somebody into a fit.
Good-night!"

Yew-lane echoed a round of "Good-nights," and Bill and the gardener went
off in high spirits. As they crossed the road, Bill looked round, and
under the trees saw the young gentlemen strolling back to the Rectory,
arm in arm. Mr. Bartram Lindsay with his chin high in the air, and
Master Arthur vehemently exhorting him on some topic, of which he was
pointing the moral with flourishes of the one-legged donkey.

For those who like to know "what became of" everybody, these facts are
added:--

The young gentlemen got safely home; and Master Arthur gave such a
comical account of their adventure, that the Rector laughed too much to
scold them, even if he had wished.

Beauty Bill went up and down Yew-lane on many a moonlight night after
this one, but he never saw another ghost, or felt any more fears in
connection with Ephraim Garnett. To make matters more entirely
comfortable, however, John kindly took to the custom of walking home
with the lad after night-school was ended. In return for this attention,
Bill's family were apt to ask him in for an hour; and by their fireside
he told the story of the two ghosts so often--from the manufacture in
the Rectory barn, to the final apparition at the cross-roads--that the
whole family declare they feel just as if they had seen it.

Bessy, under the hands of the cheerful doctor, got quite well, and
eventually married. As her cottage boasts the finest window plants in
the village, it is shrewdly surmised that her husband is a gardener.

Bully Tom talked very loudly for some time of "having the law of" the
rival ghost; but finding, perhaps, that the story did not redound to his
credit, was unwilling to give it further publicity, and changed his
mind.

Winter and summer, day and night, sunshine and moonlight, have passed
over the lane and the churchyard, and the wind has had many a ghostly
howl among the yews, since poor Bill learnt the story of the murder; but
he knows now that the true Ephraim Garnett has never been seen on the
cross-roads since a hundred years ago, and will not be till the Great
Day.

In the ditch by the side of Yew-lane, shortly after the events I have
been describing, a little lad found a large turnip, in which some one
had cut eyes, nose and mouth, and put bits of stick for teeth. The
turnip was hollow, and inside it was fixed a bit of wax candle. He
lighted it up, and the effect was so splendid, that he made a show of it
to his companions at the price of a marble each, who were well
satisfied. And this was the last of the Yew-lane Ghosts.



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