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´╗┐Title: The Carroll Girls
Author: Quiller-Couch, Mabel, 1866-1924
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 "The Carroll Girls" ***

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THE CARROLL GIRLS.

By

MABEL QUILLER-COUCH.



CHAPTER I.


Up and down, to and fro, backwards and for wards over the sunny garden
the butterflies, white, sulphur, and brown, flitted and fluttered,
lightly poising on currant-bush or flower, loving life as they basked
in the sunshine; and Penelope lay and watched them.  What did it matter
to them that the garden was neglected, the grass rank and uncut,
the currant-bushes barren from neglect, the lilacs old and blossomless?
It mattered no more to them than it did to Penelope, lying so lazy and
happy in the coarse grass.

Penelope had never known the garden other than it was now, except,
perhaps, at very far-distant intervals when a visitor was expected--
usually Aunt Julia, when a shilling or so had to be found to pay a
gardener to come and 'tidy up.'  She herself was always better pleased
when he did not come, for almost invariably he charged too much,
or Lydia said he did, and would tell him of it, not too politely, and tell
her mistress that she was encouraging robbery; and Mrs. Carroll--who would
far rather pay too much and hear no more about it than be bothered--would
be worried, and Lydia would be cross; and to Penelope it seemed a pity to
be made so uncomfortable for the sake of sixpence or a shilling.
She could not bear jars and discords.  These, though, were troubles that
occurred but seldom to ruffle the surface of her usually happy life.
As a rule, like the butterflies, she saw only the sunshine, and the green
things growing, and nothing of the sordidness and neglect of everything
about her.  If she did, if things jarred or fretted her, she just walked
away, far out into the country and the woods where everything was
peaceful, and nothing seemed to matter; and out there she would very soon
recover again and become her old happy self.

There were three other Carroll children--Esther, the eldest, Angela, and
Poppy, the baby of them all.  Penelope was the second, aged nearly twelve.

"Four girls! isn't it dreadful?"  Esther sometimes sighed.  "But there, I
suppose it is better than some of us being boys, for now we _can_ hand our
clothes down from one to the other, and if we couldn't I am afraid the
younger ones would often have to go without."

In the thirteen short years of her life poor Esther had grown to know all
the shifts and economies and discomforts of poverty only too well.
She had seen, so to speak, the rise and fall of her family, and at last
had become almost the only prop which kept it from falling altogether.
She could remember when the house was always full of company and life and
laughter, when her mother always wore pretty frocks and beautiful jewels,
and drove everywhere in their own carriage.  She could remember gay
dinner-parties, when she used to creep out of bed and sit on the stairs to
listen to the singing in the drawing-room.

The scent of certain flowers still brought back the memory of those days,
when she and Penelope used to go down in their prettiest frocks to
dessert, and were given dainty sweets and fruits, and were made much of.

Then there came a dark time when, although she was so young, she felt
vaguely that there was trouble overshadowing them, and saw it, too,
reflected in her father's face; and the darkest day of all was when
Grandpa Carroll came, and with scarcely a word or a glance for the
children, went at once to the library with her father, and departed again
that same night, leaving gloom and misery behind him.  All the rest of the
day, she remembered, her father remained shut up in the library, and her
mother locked herself, weeping, in her bedroom; and Esther and Penelope
went to bed that night without any good-night kiss from either; and worse
than that, Esther heard nurse and Jane, the housemaid, talking in low,
mysterious tones, and knew that they were talking of her parents' and
their affairs; and, as any child would, bitterly resented it.

"Why don't you go downstairs, Jane?" she said at last, when she could
endure it no longer; "you know mother doesn't allow gossiping in the
nursery."

But she had only a shaking from nurse, and a rude answer from Jane, which
made her anger burn hotter than ever.  She lay awake a long time that
night, trying to make sense of what they had been saying, but it was not
until years later that she really understood.

The next day Jane had had a month's notice given her, not because she
gossiped in the nursery, or was rude to Esther--Esther never told tales
about the servants--but because Mr. Carroll said briefly that they must
manage with fewer servants and cut down all expenses.  For that same
reason the children's pony was taken away and sold a few days later,
and from that time it seemed to Esther it had been nothing but cutting
down and giving up and doing with less and less.  It was only a few
months after the pony was sold that Poppy was born, and soon after that
they left their old home and went to live in a little house where they had
no library and no nursery, and no stables or horses, and the children had
to play in the dining-room; and Esther's chief recollection of this time
was her constant struggle to prevent Penelope and Angela and the new baby
from crying or making too much noise, for she knew by the frown on her
father's face that he was worried and bothered by it, and she could not
bear to see him looking gloomy, or to hear the children scolded.

Having no nursery they had no nurse--no real nurse; they had a
'cook-general' and a 'nurse-housemaid' as the advertisements put it, and,
in common with most persons who profess to be able to 'turn their hands to
anything,' they could do few things, and nothing well.  So it fell to
Esther and her mother to take care of the babies, and as Mrs. Carroll had
not yet learnt to take care of herself even, a very heavy burden rested on
little serious-faced Esther.

It was better when the summer came, though, for then the family made
another move.  True it was to a yet smaller house, and more things had to
be given up; but the smaller house was in a little village called Framley,
and the little village had woods lying behind it, and here was nursery
large enough for any number of children to laugh in or cry to their
hearts' content, without disturbing any one; and Esther's heart was
relieved of one big worry, and the children soon learnt to laugh a again,
and play, and make as much noise as their hearts desired.

Summer, though, cannot last for ever, and woods do not make an ideal
nursery in winter.  The perplexed frown was beginning to pucker Esther's
brow again when once more they were called on to relinquish something.
The nurse-housemaid had to be sent away, and they had to learn how to
manage with one servant; and it was just about that time that she heard
her father say one day, "It will really be easier for you, dear, when I am
gone," at which her mother burst into tears and wailed something Esther
could not quite understand, about being left to bear all the worries
alone.  "It is much worse for those who are left than for those who go,"
she cried.

"But you will have the children," Mr. Carroll said sadly.

"Yes, four of them to feed and bring up on two hundred a year, and only
one servant to help me.  I don't know how any one can expect me to do it.
I've not had a new gown myself for nearly a year."

"It shall not be for long, dear, if I can help it," her husband had said,
very patiently.  "As soon as possible I will send for you and the
children.  But it is no use to take you all out until I have a home of
some sort ready for you; it would be greater misery than this."

But Mrs. Carroll had only wept more and more, until the children began to
weep too, though they did not know for what.

Soon after that there had been a great deal of upset and excitement in the
house:  big boxes stood about on the landing, and the children were told
that daddy was packing--he was going away to Canada, where they were all
to join him soon.  For a few days this news filled them with a pleasant
excitement, and for months after their father had gone Esther and Penelope
talked and talked of what they would do when they got to Canada, and
Penelope dragged out an old trunk and began to pack a curious assortment
of things that she thought peculiarly suitable for that country.
But as time went on she found she needed the things, and by degrees the
thought of Canada became dim, and of no immediate interest to them.
They were excited at first when their father's letters came because they
thought each one would bring the longed-for summons; then they grew almost
to dread them, for their mother always broke out into tears and wailings
on reading them, finally locking herself in her room for the rest of the
day, and the children were left to themselves to try to throw off the load
of oppression and wretchedness which weighed on them even while they
played.  The memory of the wretchedness of those days remained with them
to the end of their lives.

Two, three, four years passed by, and gradually they forgot Canada, and
Mrs. Carroll ceased to weep on receipt of a letter from her husband; but
whether it was that she grew more used to her trouble, or that the news
was better, the children did not know, though Esther often longed to.

So things were on that sunny May day when Penelope lay dreaming and
watching the butterflies in the neglected garden, and Esther made a milk
pudding in the kitchen, and the two younger children played about the
house, while nearer and nearer came the postman bearing the letter that
was to alter all their lives for them.

Esther had just finished making her pudding, and Poppy had that moment
succeeded in inveigling Angela into the cupboard under the stairs and
turning the key on her, when footsteps came up the path, a letter dropped
in through the letter-box, and a postman's rat-tat sounded to the
furthermost corner of the little house.

The post was the principal excitement of the day to the little Carrolls,
and there was usually a race to the door to try to be first to seize the
letters.  This time Poppy had a clear start, for Esther was in the
kitchen, and Angela was safely under lock and key.

"A letter from daddy," she shouted, recognising the stamp; and in she flew
with it to her mother.

Mrs. Carroll, roused from her reading, laid aside her novel and bottle of
smelling-salts to take the letter.  Having secured and handed over the
prize, Poppy danced off again.  She was far more interested, at that
moment, in her prisoner, whose kicks on the door and screams of rage had
brought Esther to her rescue.

Esther, having released one sister, strolled wearily out into the garden
to seek another and a little rest.  She was very tired and very depressed;
but the garden did not look inviting when she got there.

"How can you like this untidy old place?" she cried, as she made her way
through the long rank grass.

"Oh, Esther, come gently, do!  Look, oh do look at that lovely dragon-fly!
Did you ever see such a beauty?  Don't disturb him.  Oh, do be careful!"

But Esther looked with only half-interest at the gorgeous insect; then,
turning away a little impatiently, "I don't know how you can be out here
so much and not try to make it a little tidier," she said vexedly.
"I only wish I had a machine, or shears or something, and more time, and I
would do something to it."

Esther was by nature a very neat and dainty little person, with none of
Penelope's dreamy indifference to her surroundings.  The untidy garden
with its air of neglect would have been irritating to her if it had
belonged to some one else, but being their own, and feeling responsible
for it, it vexed her so she could hardly endure to stay in it.
If the others could have had their way, they would have had all their
meals out there, but not so Esther; the sight of the poor neglected spot
would have quite destroyed her appetite, though no one loved having meals
out-of-doors better than she did.  She often took the children to tea in
the woods, but _that_ was different; the woods were always lovely, and
just what they should be.

Esther's earlier years had given her a brief experience of how things
should be done, and how they should look, and she had never forgotten;
Penelope, on the other hand, had forgotten, or never noticed Angela and
Poppy, fired by Esther's example, had spasmodic passions for improving the
house or garden, during which every one suffered more or less, and they
themselves were exhausted long before the huge tasks they had undertaken
were half completed.

So here and there the garden showed cleared and scarred patches where the
children had 'worked,' which meant that they had begun to 'tidy' by
pulling up everything that grew, after which they would scrape the bed
over with a rake and replace in a prim row as many of the plants as they
could get in, and a day or two later the eye would be caught by a square
of brown earth, broken by a row of sorry-looking dead or dying plants
standing conspicuous and solitary against the wild, untrained vegetation
round about, while a later search would perhaps reveal, under the tangled
litter in the path, one of the best dinner-knives, covered with rust, and
other lost treasures, such as a trowel, scissors, and occasionally a
silver fork.

To Esther these attempts were merely depressing and irritating; they
seemed only to emphasise their helplessness, and the uselessness of trying
to make things better.

"Nothing is right here, somehow," she complained to Penelope now,
"neither the house, nor the garden, nor ourselves.  Look at us!" throwing
out her hands dramatically.  "We aren't educated, or dressed properly,
or--or anything.  Look at that," stretching out her foot, and eyeing
disdainfully the clumsy shoe which disfigured it.  "We aren't fit to go
anywhere, and we can't ask any one here because the house is never fit to
be seen, or the meals, or--"

"Never mind," said Penelope placidly.  She was used to Esther's outbursts,
but, though quite unable to sympathise, she was ready with attempts at
comfort.  "You don't want to know any one but ourselves, do you?
I don't."

"No-o," admitted Esther.  "But we ought to.  It--well, it is always
supposed to be right.  We shall grow up like savages, Aunt Julia says, and
not be fit to talk to any one or go anywhere, and we shan't have any
friends; and every one _ought_ to make nice friends; it looks so bad if
one has none--"

"Miss Esther!  Miss Esther!" called a sharp voice from the kitchen door.
"You must all come in at once.  Your ma wants you immejutly--all of you."

Esther rose, a little anxious pucker gathering on her brow as she
remembered the Canadian letter.

"Come along, Pen," she said impatiently.  "I wonder what it is.  Bad news
from father, I expect."

"P'r'aps it's good news," said Penelope hopefully, rising with a sigh of
regret at having to leave her nest and the sunshine and the butterflies.
Somehow, though, she did not really expect any such thing.  "P'r'aps we
are to go, at last.  Oh," with sudden excitement, "wouldn't it be
perfectly lovely!  Oh, Essie, wouldn't it be splendid!  Do let's run in
and see if that is what it is mother wants us for."



CHAPTER II.


"Children, _do_ make haste!  How long you do take coming when I send for
you!  And I've had such news I am really quite bewildered, and haven't a
moment to spare.  All my plans are changed in a minute, and I can hardly
realise all I have to do.  I have heard from your father.  He wants me to
come out to him, and I am going, at once; of course, I _must_ go.
I couldn't refuse to, and--you must all go to live with your Aunt Julia.
I know you don't like her--and it is very naughty and ungrateful of you--
but I can't do anything else, and you must make up your minds to behave."

Mrs. Carroll paused at last from want of breath, and the children gasped
in sympathy.

They had barely entered the dining-room when this cataract of speech was
turned on them by their mother, with every appearance of excitement and
gratification.  All her usual melancholy apathy was thrown aside; her face
was alight with pleasure, her eyes bright with excitement.  Mrs. Carroll
loved to be the bearer of startling news, to spring a surprise on people--
just as she loved to have a pleasant one sprung on herself.  She adored
excitement, and under its influence saw nothing but the one thing that
appealed to her at the moment.

Now, after hastily scanning her husband's letter, she grasped the one fact
that he thought she might come out to him very soon.  What the change
might mean to others, never occurred to her; that it might be for the
worse, never entered her head.  She saw simply a chance of a change, an
escape from the monotony and sordidness of her present life.  She would
have a new outfit, and travel, and meet new people, and escape from that
dreadful little cheap house and dull village, not to speak of other
tiresome things which had been thrusting themselves on her attention for a
long time, but had been put aside and aside for consideration 'some day.'

The children stood just within the door, startled and bewildered--too
bewildered for the moment to move or speak.  "Going away!" they gasped at
last, "and--and _we_ are to be left _behind!_  Oh, mother, you can't mean
it!"

They loved their careless, easy-going mother very dearly, and, in spite of
her neglect of them were, as a rule, very happy.  She was the one person
in the world, too, that they knew well and were accustomed to; and to be
thus suddenly bereft of her and left entirely to strangers, or worse, was
a prospect too appalling almost to be credited.  In spite of her neglect
they loved her; in fact it was only as they grew older that they realised
that she did neglect them, or was not to them all she might have been.
Esther was beginning to realise it; but Esther, in spite of her odd, sharp
temper and reserved manner, had a great love for her mother; she loved her
so much that she wanted her to be different, to be more what the ideal
mother was--such a one as she had read of in books.

"Oh, mother, you aren't really going away, and going to leave us!" cried
Angela again.  "Mother, you can't!  We can't be left!"  At the thought of
it Poppy began to cry.

"Yes, your father wants me to come, and I must go as soon as I can make
arrangements.  Of course I can't take you all with me, so I am going to
ask your Aunt Julia to let you go and live with her."

What Esther had been on the point of saying, was never said--her mother's
apparent indifference to their separation hurt her too deeply.
"Oh, then, Aunt Julia does not know it yet?" she remarked shrewdly.

"No, your father has left all the arrangements to me to make, and I am to
come as soon as I like; so, as I see no use in delaying, I shall try to
get away as soon as I possibly can."

Mrs. Carroll's brain could work very quickly under certain circumstances.
Now, though only a few moments had elapsed since the momentous letter had
arrived, she had formed plans innumerable, to be carried out at once in
spite of all obstacles.  She would give Lydia a month's notice this very
day, and the landlord notice that she was going to leave the house, and
her sister Julia that she was about to send the four children to take up
their abode with her at once--she would feel so much freer when they were
settled, and she was alone.

"But perhaps Aunt Julia will not have us," said Penelope, joyfully
clutching at the hope.  They none of them loved their Aunt Julia.
Not to be going to Canada was bad enough, but to have to go and live with
Aunt Julia, for no one knew how long, was too dreadful to contemplate.

"Oh, mother, _don't_ send us to her, _do_ take us with you, mother dear,"
pleaded Angela tearfully.  "Doesn't father say we are to come?  I am sure
he wants us too."

"Don't bother me now, child," said Mrs. Carroll, not crossly, but with a
distracted air, pushing aside Angela's clinging, eager arms.
"I've got more than enough to think of as it is.  Of course you can't go
now."

"Why, mother?  Can't we afford it?" asked straightforward Penelope.

"Oh, do be quiet.  Don't bother any more," cried Esther bitterly.
"Don't you see that mother doesn't want us, and Aunt Julia won't want us--
nobody wants us."  And in a tumult of pain and anger she flung herself out
of the room to hide the tears that made her eyes smart and tingle.

"I really think your Aunt Julia would refuse to have Esther if she knew
how bad her temper has become," said Mrs. Carroll with a sigh.
"She seems quite to have forgotten the respect due to her mother, and to
think I may be spoken to in any way she chooses.  I am sure no other
mother would endure such behaviour from their children as I have to."

"Esther didn't mean to be rude, mother," pleaded Penelope.  "I expect she
is upset 'cause daddy didn't send for us too.  He _said_ he would, you
know, and we always thought we should go too when you went.  It is an
_awful_ disappointment," sadly.

"Mother," pleaded Angela wistfully, "it isn't true what Esther said, is
it?  You _do_ want us, don't you?"

"I certainly do not want children with me who don't know how to behave,"
said Mrs. Carroll in a quick, reproving tone, never dreaming of the love
and longing in the child's heart.  A few words of explanation, of love,
and sorrow for the parting, of hope of a speedy reuniting would have
relieved all their young hearts of a load, would have banished that
chilling feeling of being unloved, unwanted, would have filled them with
hope and patience, and have bound their young hearts to their absent
parents for ever.  Instead of which they felt rebuffed and unloved, they
were turned in on themselves, until such time as some other love should
warm their chilled hearts and expand their natures, and a stranger, maybe,
should mean more to them than a parent.

Of all the little brood Angela was the most affectionate, the most
clinging little home-bird.  She loved her mother passionately, and her
home too, in spite of its unattractiveness, for the flaws she saw in
persons or things only made her love with a deeper, more sympathetic
desire to help.  It was always to the most unlovable and unattractive that
Angela's heart went out.  If people or animals had no one else to care for
them, she felt they might be glad of her.

She turned away from her mother with a little sigh.  She did not blame her
for her want of feeling, she only winced as at a new revelation of her own
unlovableness.

Poppy, who all this while had been standing mute and considering, was at
that moment struck by an inspiriting idea.

"But, mother," she said gravely, "if we don't know how to behave properly
Aunt Julia won't want us either, and then what shall we do!  You will
_have_ to take us with you," with rising hope in her voice, "and I am
_sure_ daddy would be glad, and I _do_ want to go in the big ship and see
daddy," with a deep sigh.  "Oh, I _do,_" pathetically, "want to see daddy,
so badly."

"Don't talk nonsense, child.  You can't remember your father.  Why should
you want to see him?"

"I do.  I want to see what he is like.  Esther remembers him, and she
wants to see him too.  _Do_ take us with you, mother.  We'll be--oh, ever
so good.  I _don't_ like Aunt Julia; she is _always_ cross, and I don't
like cross people."

Poppy had no fear or awe of any one.  Every one but Aunt Julia had loved
her always, and done their best to make her happy, even cross Lydia, and
she in return rewarded them by a placid, sweet acceptance of their
efforts, and allowing them to love her.

"Mother," burst out Penelope eagerly, "couldn't we all go to
boarding-school while you are away?  It would be jolly, and ever so much
nicer than living with Aunt Julia.  I know we shall always be getting into
scrapes if we go to her, and no one _could_ please her, Lydia said so."

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Carroll warmly, "Lydia is a very rude girl to speak
so of a lady, and my sister, and if I were remaining here I should not
allow you all to go into the kitchen so much.  It will be very good for
you to try to please your aunt.  Children don't know what is best for
them, and--and they should learn to consider others before themselves."

A grown-up observer might have smiled satirically at Mrs. Carroll's
theories, so easily preached, so neglected in practice.

"Now run away.  I have so much to think of, my poor head is quite
bewildered.  I think I must have a cup of tea at once--will you tell
Esther or Lydia to make it for me--or I shall have a dreadful headache,
and I _must_ think out what outfit I shall require, or it will never be
ready in time, and I must try to let the house, or we shall have to pay
another quarter's rent, and there is the furniture to get rid of and--oh
dear, oh dear, my poor head feels quite bewildered already; however
_shall_ I manage it all, and by myself too!  It is really too much to face
alone--now, children, don't make a noise or you will drive me distracted."

Without another word the three walked away in search of Esther, and to
talk over the dreadful and bewildering change the last hour had wrought in
their outlook; but Esther, sitting white-faced and angry-eyed on her bed,
could not be brought to discuss anything.  She was bitterly disappointed
not to be going to Canada, furiously angry at having to go to Aunt Julia,
who treated them all invariably as though they were naughty or going to be
naughty, cruelly hurt that her mother showed so little feeling at being
parted from them all, and, curiously, full of pain at the thought of
parting from that mother.

Poor Esther could not see, of course, that this same parting was really
for her good; that there, under the strain and discord of her home she was
allowing herself to become irritable and captious, despondent and
sharp-tongued.  She knew she always felt cross and injured and sore,
but she never set herself to face the reason and combat it.

Two days later a reply came from Miss Julia Foster, and a frown sat
heavily on Mrs. Carroll's brow.  Aunt Julia firmly refused to take over at
a moment's notice the burden her sister was so calmly laying on her
shoulders.

"People who have children must expect to give up something for them," she
wrote.  "You really must not expect to throw off your responsibilities in
this way.  It is your duty to stay with them if you cannot take them with
you.  I observe you say nothing as to the provision you are prepared to
make for their board and clothing and education.  I presume you don't
expect me to take over the responsibility of providing all that too."

Miss Foster wrote as she talked, very candidly.

Mrs. Carroll's face flushed with anger and annoyance.

"Julia never would do anything to oblige any one," she said sharply.
"She has always been the same.  I only wonder I thought of asking her."

It never occurred to her to think what it would mean to a person
unaccustomed to children to have four suddenly introduced into a quiet
home hitherto occupied only by one very prim and particular lady and two
equally prim servants, who did not know what real work was.

Miss Foster's first thought had been: "Neither of the maids would stay,"
and she could not contemplate the terrors of changing.  Her second
thought, "Who is to provide for the children?"  She felt quite certain
that that important point had never entered into their mother's
calculations, and she felt distinctly annoyed with her sister for the
abrupt and casual way in which she threw such a great responsibility on
others' shoulders, and in her letter she made her feelings plain.

For a few moments Mrs. Carroll sat considering.  One by one all her
relations and friends were passed in review before her mind's eye.
"There seems," she said at last in a musing tone, "no one but Cousin
Charlotte.  I wonder--"

There was not much doubt as to what Mrs. Carroll was wondering.  Her face
lightened, determination shone in her eye.

"Cousin Charlotte," or Miss Charlotte Ashe, was a cousin of Mrs. Carroll's
mother.  In her earlier years she had kept a girls' school in London, but
when she found herself growing old she sold it, and retired to a little
house in her native village in Devonshire.  Schoolmistresses do not, as a
rule, grow rich, and Miss Ashe was the last person to save money for
herself while there was any one else wanting it; she managed, however, to
save enough to keep herself, and Anna, her former cook, in their little
house in comfort, and put a trifle by for an emergency.

It was to this quiet, modest little home that Mrs. Carroll's thoughts now
flew, without the slightest feeling of compunction at invading it, as she
meant it to be invaded.  Her letter to Miss Ashe was a masterpiece of
pathetic pleading.  Miss Charlotte read it with tears of pity for the poor
mother, reduced from affluence and luxury to poverty and the position of
an emigrant's wife torn from her children by stress of circumstance.
Then she read it again to Anna, and Anna's eyes filled too; but it was for
the children that Anna wept.  Both kind hearts agreed, though, that they
could not refuse to give the homeless ones a home; and a letter was
despatched at once, full of warm hospitality and affection, and almost
before it was posted a perfect fury of cleaning, planning, rearranging
burst over Moor Cottage, in preparation for the four new inhabitants.

"Children," cried Mrs. Carroll delightedly, when the letter arrived,
"your dear Cousin Charlotte is quite anxious to have you in her charming
little home in Devonshire.  I know you will be happy there, she is so
sweet and kind.  I was always very fond of her, and so will you be, I
know; and you must do all you can to help her, and not be too troublesome.
She says she can have you at any time, so I think you really had better go
as soon as I can get you ready.  I shall be able to see to things better,
and pay a few farewell visits, when I am quite free.  It will be a great
relief to know you are comfortably settled."

Esther listened in silence.  She was terribly sensitive.  She was
interested, but troubled.  Did Cousin Charlotte really want them, she
wondered, "or had mother forced them on her?"

Penelope knew no qualms; she simply danced with delight at the thought of
going to Devonshire, and to live on a moor.  "I always wanted to go
there," she cried.  "I know I shall love it."

Angela wept quietly at the thought of leaving Framley, and her mother, and
the house and the woods.  Poppy stood gazing eagerly from one to the
other, prepared to do whatever her sisters did, but puzzled to know which
to copy.

"Cousin Charlotte will want a big house," she remarked gravely, "if she
has all of us to live with her.  I wonder if she is glad we are coming--or
sorry," she added as an afterthought.

"What about our clothes and food, and everything," asked Esther presently,
nervously summoning up courage to put the great question that had troubled
her most ever since the move was first mooted.  She knew from bitter
experience that the very last person to trouble about such details was her
mother.

"Really, Esther, you are very inquisitive and interfering," said Mrs.
Carroll, deeply annoyed because the question was one of the most
embarrassing that could have been put to her.  "Who do you consider is the
right person to attend to such matters, myself or yourself?"

Esther sighed, but made no answer.  She had no doubt as to who was the
right person, her doubt was as to the right person's doing it.
The matter, though, was too important for her to be easily daunted.
She felt she _must_ know, or she could not go.

"And--and what about our education?" she asked.  She meant so well, but
she spoke in that sullen, aggressive tone that always put her in the wrong
and made her mother angry.  It was purely the result of nervousness.
She did so hate to have to be disagreeable and say these things, making
herself seem so forward and important, when she really felt just the
reverse.  There was no one else though to do it, so she had to.
"Is there a school there?  We all ought to go to school now, even Poppy.
I am thirteen, and--and I don't know as much as the village children,
and I--I'm ashamed to go anywhere or meet any one.  Every one sees how
stupid and ignorant we are."  A great sob clutched her throat and choked
the rest of her words, tears of mortification and bitterness filled her
eyes.  She was painfully conscious of her own ignorance, and had an
exaggerated idea of the contempt others must feel for her.  "And some day
the others would come to feel the same," she told herself resentfully,
"if nothing was done for them.  It was cruel.  No one seemed to care for
them, or how they grew up."

And then again, she would hate herself for her bad temper, and the nasty
things she said.  She knew she was making herself unlovable, and she did
so long for love.

Mrs. Carroll looked somewhat taken aback at this new question.
"Oh," she stammered, "I suppose I must arrange something.  I must talk to
your father about it when I get out to him.  In the meantime I daresay
Cousin Charlotte will be able to help you a little with a few lessons.
She has been a schoolmistress all her life; she had a splendid school--
such nice girls, too.  She must miss them so.  She will probably be quite
glad to do a little teaching."

"I wonder what she will think of us," said Esther, "if she has been
accustomed to well-brought-up girls."

"Well," cried Mrs. Carroll, turning on her sharply, "surely if you are so
anxious to learn, you might have been studying by yourself all this time.
I am sure there are books enough in the house, and you knew there was no
money to spare for education."

"Yes, there are books," said Esther quietly.  "Father's books that he
brought from Oxford, but I can't understand them.  It is books for quite
little children that I want," her face flushing hotly.

"Well, I daresay Cousin Charlotte will have loads of old school-books,
and--and well, at any rate, Esther," reproachfully, "you know how to read
and write, and you might have been teaching Angela and Poppy to do so, you
really might have done that."

"I have," said Esther.

"Oh, well, that is something.  When one can read there is no excuse for
ignorance in a place where there are books.  There are lots of people who
have set to work and taught themselves when they have been too poor to go
to school, and have done--oh, marvels!" responded Mrs. Carroll, relieving
herself of any feeling of self-reproach.  Because a few rare geniuses had
done so, by facing difficulties and self-sacrifices such as she could not
even imagine, she felt there was nothing to prevent every ordinary child
from pursuing the same course.

Esther said no more; a sense of hopelessness and helplessness seized her--
a feeling common to most who had to do with Mrs. Carroll, but Esther, as
yet, did not know that.  She walked away out of the room and the house--
she felt she must get away somewhere by herself.

She hurried on quickly till she came to the woods.  There, at any rate,
there was peace and rest, and no bickerings.  "But oh," she thought, as
she flung herself down on the soft, springy pine-needles which lay so
thickly everywhere, "what shall I do when I haven't the woods to come to?"
and she put out her hand and patted tenderly the rough trunk of the
nearest pine-tree.

Half an hour later she rose as bewildered and vexed as ever.  Her thoughts
had led her nowhere; instead of finding some way to surmount her troubles,
she had just brooded and brooded, and nursed her grievances until they
were larger than ever.  She could not go home yet, she felt too depressed
and miserable, so she wandered on and on.

In one little hollow in the woods was a spot they called their 'house,'
where they spent long days playing all sorts of lovely games, and very
often, when their mother or Lydia wanted to have a free day, they had
their dinner and tea there too.  Making for this place now, Esther came
upon Penelope perched in the forked trunk of an old tree, a book in her
hand.  She was so absorbed she gave quite a start when Esther called to
her, "What are you doing, Pen?"

Penelope had a deep pucker in her forehead and a very grave face.
"I am trying to educate myself," she said soberly.  "I thought if I could
learn even only a little before I went to Cousin Charlotte's it would not
seem _so_ bad.  But I don't seem able to get on _very_ well.  I can't
quite make out what it is all about, and the words are very long.
I thought I'd try though.  I only wish I'd thought of it sooner."

Esther felt a twinge of shame.  She had thought of it, but she had done
nothing, and her inmost conscience told her she might have spent her time
more profitably than she had.  "If we were not going away, Pen," she said
enthusiastically, "we would have lessons here every day.  P'r'aps if we
kept on at it we might get to understand better, and we might get some
nice books in time.  But," hopelessly, "it is too late now."

"Oh, I don't think so," said Penelope encouragingly.  "It can never be
_too_ late to learn things, and p'r'aps we can make up for lost time.
At any rate, let's try."

"Very well, we'll begin now.  Shall we start together?  What book are you
reading?"

"It is called _The Invasion of the Crimea_" said Penelope slowly.
"I think it will be very interesting--further on."

"I wonder what the Crimea was," mused Esther.

"If we read very carefully perhaps we shall find out.  There seems to be a
lot about soldiers and battles."

"I wonder," said Esther, after a moment's thought, "if it will be any good
our reading all this.  Don't you think we ought to learn something that
people talk about every day?"

Penelope looked a little disappointed.  "I don't know," she said slowly.
"I don't know how to--or what books to get, and--and p'r'aps some people
do talk about the Crimea.  Cousin Charlotte may, and then won't she be
surprised if we know all about it!"

"Is it long?" asked Esther, still dubiously.  Esther wanted to find the
royal road to knowledge, which is easy and short and smooth--so they say,
but no one knows, for no one has found it yet.

"Eight more volumes," said Penelope, almost apologetically.  She was
beginning to feel her zest for self-education considerably damped.
"But," brightening up a little, "we can go on with this, at any rate,
until we find out what we _ought_ to learn.  It can't do any harm.
It looks like history, and I am sure we ought to know history."

"Yes," agreed Esther.  So they began taking it in turns to read; but the
words were long, and the names difficult to pronounce, and Esther's mind
was in such a state of turmoil she could not fix it on anything, and line
after line, as Penelope read, fell on deaf ears.  "I think I shall go home
now," she said at last.  "Penelope, do you think we shall have some new
clothes before we go away?  We ought, we are dreadfully shabby."

Penelope looked up with doubt in her face.  "I don't know.  I don't expect
so; you see it would cost such a lot to get things for the four of us, and
there will be the tickets too, and it must be a very long journey."

Esther sighed.  "Well, we are disgracefully shabby.  I don't know what we
are going to do.  Cousin Charlotte will think we are a tramp's children."

The next day, when the study hour came, Esther took a large basket of
stockings out into the woods with her to darn.  "I must try and mend these
again," she said.  "We don't seem to be going to have any new ones," and
while Penelope with some trouble made her way through a chapter of the
_Invasion of the Crimea_, and the younger ones collected fir-cones to take
home for the kitchen fire, Esther sorted out and darned a motley
collection of stockings of various sizes and every variety of shade of
washed-out black and brown.  She darned them quickly and thoroughly; but
the great excrescences of blue, brown, grey, or black darning-wool would
have brought terror to the heart of any one who suffered from tender feet.
"There," she said, laying aside the last pair with a sigh, "at any rate we
shall be sound if we are shabby.  I wish, though, the darns didn't show
quite so much," gazing regretfully at a large light-blue patch in the
middle of one of Poppy's black stockings.

After that the _Crimea_ was abandoned, and they all fell to talking of the
strange new life which was drawing so close to them now, and by degrees,
and in spite of their first dread, was so exciting, so full of interest,
and all manner of possibilities.



CHAPTER III.


And now at last the parting was over, and the new life fairly begun.
Esther, Penelope, Angela, and Poppy sat alone in a third-class carriage,
looking out with blurred and smarting eyes at the fields and hedges
rushing past them, at telegraph wires bowing and rising, at people and
cattle and houses, and wondered if it could all be real or if they were
only dreaming.

They had been very sad for the last few days, for the parting had been a
painful wrench.  In spite of all its drawbacks, the little house at
Framley was their home, and they shed many bitter tears when they bade
good-bye to it, and the woods and the walks, and all their well-known
play-places.  They wept, too, at leaving their mother, and even Lydia,
cross, careless Lydia, for, after all, their mother and Lydia were the
only two beings they knew well, and to be obliged to leave them and go
entirely to utter strangers, in a quite unknown place, was very alarming.

"No one knows what it may be like at Dorsham," said Esther tragically,
"and we--and we are not like children accustomed to going about.
We don't know what are the right things to do--you know what I mean, we
don't know how to behave, at least I don't.  I hate having to meet any one
in the street, for I never know what to say or do; and if I don't speak I
know I am rude, and they think all sorts of things about me, and then I am
miserable, and--and it'll be like that all the time at Cousin
Charlotte's."

The other children looked awed until Penelope brightened up a little.
"Never mind," she said hopefully, "we will go on just as we do now.
After all, we can't be so very very dreadful, for mother _is_ a lady, and
knows, and we aren't wild savages; and Cousin Charlotte must tell us if we
don't do things right, and we must remember for another time.
Don't you think that will be all right, Esther?"

"I wish I could remember all the things Aunt Julia used to tell us,"
sighed Angela regretfully.  "If we could we should know exactly what to
do; but she was always telling me things and I've got them all mixed up."

"Will Tousin Charlotte whip us if we don't do right?"  asked Poppy, in an
awe-stricken voice.

"No one knows," said Esther, still in the same tragic, woebegone manner.
"She may.  I believe schoolmistresses are _very_ strict.  We shall know
when we get there."  Poppy's face grew longer and longer.  "Mother says
she is a _dear_ old lady, but--but mother forgets, and she never had to
live with her, as we've got to."

So their hearts were heavy with mingled dread and shyness, as well as
sadness and a sense of desertion, as they took their seats in the train
which was to convey them to Dorsham.  In the luggage van were two small
trunks containing their four scanty wardrobes, and all their toys and
other treasures.  In her hand Esther carried a large old purse of her
mother's, containing their four tickets, and a sovereign which her mother
had at the last moment given her to provide them all with stamps and
notepaper and pocket-money for the next twelve months.

To children who had been in the habit of doing without pocket-money at all
it seemed as though unbounded wealth were theirs, and they could never
know want again.

Penelope carried a basket of provisions, which Lydia, with unusual care,
had insisted on their taking.  Penelope consented because she did not like
to refuse Lydia's last request, but neither it nor its contents held the
slightest interest for them until quite a long stretch of their journey
had been covered.  They were too unhappy to feel hungry.  They would never
care for food again, or for any one or anything but Framley and their
mother and Lydia; and while they were in this frame of mind two or three
hours and many miles passed by.

But the lapse of time brought some relief and a lightening of their
depression.  They became able to take a growing interest in their
surroundings, and a sensation of hunger began to assert itself; so did a
savoury odour from Lydia's basket, an odour so delicious that, in spite of
themselves, they became interested.

"I wonder what Lydia put in here," said Penelope, looking down at the
despised basket for the first time.  "Something smells rather nice."
They had left home before nine, and the meal they ate before starting was
hardly worthy the name, and as it was now past twelve they began to feel
very empty and rather faint, and the savoury whiffs which floated out from
the basket grew more and more appealing.

Poppy slipped from her seat at last and pressed her small nose close to
the cover.  "I believe it's patties, and gooseberries, and--and--"

Lydia had her faults as to temper, but there was no denying she could cook
when she chose to, and her meat patties were the joy of the children's
hearts on the rare occasions when she could find time to make them.

Without more delay the basket was unpacked, and Poppy's sense of smell was
amply justified.  Four meat patties, some hard-boiled eggs and slices of
bread and butter, cakes, biscuits, milk, gooseberries, and apples, made a
lunch fit for four queens.  And the children fairly squealed with delight
as they unrolled packet after packet.

"We will have a table," cried Esther, springing up and spreading a
newspaper on the seat for a tablecloth, "and lay everything out on it.
I only hope no one else will want to come into this carriage."

It was not very easy to keep on their feet with the train swaying and
jerking them as it did, but it made it all the more amusing, and when all
was spread it looked so nice it made them feel very grand and grown-up.
It was a wonderful new experience, and their spirits rose quite high under
it.

"I wish we could go on and on like this always," said Esther. "Wouldn't it
be jolly!  There would be no one to worry us, and no strangers to face."

Penelope looked up quickly, her eyes alight with a sudden idea.
"Oh, Esther, let's do it!  Let's go on and not get out at Dorsham,"
she cried wickedly.

"But could we go on much further?" asked practical Angela.  "Isn't there
any end to the railway?"

"I don't know.  Perhaps it just goes on and on all round England, and in
and out until it comes to where it started from, and then goes on again,"
said Penelope, her mind busy over the problem.

"But the poor engine-drivers must get down sometimes and go to bed,
mustn't they?" asked Poppy.  "They don't sleep on the engine, do they?"

"I wish I knew," said Penelope.  "It would be so lovely just to go on and
on and not know where we were, or anything, and--"

"But what should we do for food?" asked Esther quietly.  "The meat patties
are gone already," throwing the last crumbs out of window, "and we
couldn't get any more, and--and--"  At that moment the train drew up at a
station, and a ticket-collector, flinging open the door, came in and
demanded to see their tickets.  Trembling with nervousness, certain that
he must have heard what they had been saying, Esther fumblingly undid her
purse and produced them.  The man looked at the tickets closely, clipped
bits out of them, and handed them back again, giving at the same time a
keen, curious look at the four young travellers.

It was not until the train had steamed on again, and he was left behind on
the platform, that either one of them recovered from the shock
sufficiently to speak.

"He must have heard us," breathed Angela, with wide frightened eyes.
"He _must_ have, and--oh! he must have seen all that," pointing to the
remains of the feast spread out on the seat.

"I expect he is used to it," said Penelope consolingly.  "Most people do
eat when they are travelling, I expect.  But it is no use for us to try to
travel on beyond Dorsham, that is certain.  They would find us out by
looking at our tickets, and--and p'r'aps we should be sent to jail!"

Agreeing, reluctantly, that their plan for a life of perpetual travel must
be abandoned, they settled down again to face the more monotonous future
that had been arranged for them.  Tired at last of talking, they tried to
read, but no book could enthral them for long, while there was so much to
see and take note of, as they rushed through the beautiful country all
bathed in June sunshine, or stopped at the big bustling stations,
and the funny little country ones.  Oddly enough, though they stopped so
often no one got into their carriage, which was very nice, they thought.
By and by, though, they began to grow very weary, the carriage was very
hot, and they grew tired of their own company.  It might have been better
for them, perhaps, had they had some fellow-passengers.

"Only three o'clock!" sighed Penelope, catching sight of a clock at the
station they were drawn up in.  "We have two and a half more hours yet.
Oh dear, what a long day it is!  I believe I shall be almost glad to get
there, though I do dread it so."

"I wonder if Cousin Charlotte is nervous, too," remarked Angela, who had
been very quiet for some time.

Poppy woke up from an uncomfortable nap, looking and feeling very cross.
"Oh, I am so thirsty," she cried.  "Esther, mayn't I have an apple?"

Esther roused herself from her study of the landscape.  "Of course you
may, dear--let us all have another meal now, and call it tea.  You see, if
we get there at half-past five we are sure to have something to eat soon
after, so it will be better to eat up what we have here soon, unless we
mean to waste it."

There was complete agreement of opinion on this point, so Esther tidied
their tablecloth and rearranged the remaining food as well as she could,
and they set to work to demolish everything with keen appetites--a task
they accomplished without any great effort; and it is only to be hoped
that Lydia heard of the appreciation the contents of her basket met with.

Try, though, as they would to spin out the meal, it was not yet four when
the last crumb and drop had vanished; and, finding nothing else to do,
they nestled down in their four corners again with the quiet melancholy of
a dying day settling down on them once more.  Though it was June, the land
outside seemed already to take on a look of evening, the wind had changed,
and little dark clouds had come up and hidden the sun.  The children were
reminded of the woods at home, and the curious air of gloom they wore, as
though there were a storm outside, even when the sun was shining brightly.

Poppy crept from her corner and nestled up close to Esther.

"Essie, let's tell stories that will make us feel happy," she said,
wistfully, with just the faintest quiver of her baby lip.  "Something that
will make me not think about mummy and Lydia and home."

"Pen, you tell us one, will you?" said Esther, lifting her little sister
on to her lap, and holding her very close.  "You can tell stories better
than I can."

Angela in her corner kept her back turned to them, looking out of window
very persistently, and winking very hard.  But when the story was fairly
begun she too crept up and nestled close to Esther, with her face well
hidden behind Poppy's back and Esther's encircling arm.

The request roused Penelope from her own depression.  She loved to tell
stories.  Usually she made up her own, for she had read but few to repeat;
and the children always preferred hers, for, somehow, she seemed to know
exactly what they liked.  Now it seemed as though she understood perfectly
just what would cheer them, and what to avoid, and they listened in
perfect silence, drinking in comfort.

"Don't stop, don't stop!" pleaded Poppy, when the obvious end had been
reached.  But at that moment the train drew up, and Esther's eyes,
wandering idly over the little station to see what place they had reached,
read 'Dorsham' on the signboard, and sprang to her feet with such energy
as to send Angela and Poppy tottering across the carriage.

"We are come," she gasped.  "Oh girls, we are come!  What shall we do?"

"Dorsham, Do-orsham," shouted a porter outside, in confirmation of her
words, and the carriage immediately became a scene of wild confusion and
excitement.

"I wonder if there is any one here to meet us," said Esther, as she tidied
Poppy's dark hair and put on her hat.  "Perhaps some of us had better get
out and see, or they'll think we have not come."

They were all almost breathless with nervous excitement, and Esther was
just popping her head out of the window to try to open the carriage door
when a little lady came hurrying along the platform, her cheeks very pink,
her eyes bright with anxiety.  When she saw Esther she stopped, her face
brightening with an expectant smile.  When her eye fell on the three other
little faces gazing out through the side windows with eager curiosity, her
face brightened still more.

"Oh," she gasped, "are you--I think you must be the little Carrolls from
Framley, my young cousins.  I am Miss Charlotte Ashe, Cousin Charlotte--
and I've come to meet you--are you Esther?  I think you must be."

Esther's face had brightened too, with relief.  This gentle little lady
was so unlike the formidable stranger she had been dreading so, she felt
quite at ease at once.

In another moment they were all on the platform being introduced.

"This is Penelope, and this is Poppy, the youngest of us, and this is
Angela, the third," she said with the air of a proprietor, "and I am the
eldest."

"I am delighted to see you all, my dears," said Miss Ashe warmly, kissing
each in turn.  She felt a little nervous under the fire of four pairs of
enquiring eyes; there was nothing rude, though, in their stare; it was
simply full of a wistful, half-incredulous pleasure.  They could scarcely
believe their eyes and ears that things were turning out so much less
dreadful than they expected.

Then followed a moment of bustle, while the station-master and the one
porter went in search of the luggage, and the children were led up to
identify the various things as they should be lifted out.  When they were
told that the two shabby trunks were all there were to identify,
disappointment was only too plainly written on the men's faces.

Seeing how little it was, the porter readily promised "to wheel it along
by and by," and Miss Ashe turned away with a sigh of relief.

"Now then, chicks," she said cheerily, "we will start for home.
You won't mind a walk, I hope, dears.  My house is only fifteen minutes
from the station.  Are you _very_ tired?" looking anxiously from one to
the other, but most anxiously at Poppy.

"Oh no," they assured her politely.  "We would like to walk, Cousin
Charlotte," added Esther; "after sitting still so long it will be very
nice," and her sisters supported her eagerly.

The engine, with a good deal of puffing and snorting, glided on its way
again.  The children stood to watch it, but they saw it depart without any
of the regret they had expected to feel, and then the little party turned
out of the station, on the last stage of their pilgrimage to their new
home.

They were accustomed to the country, of course, so that their first view
of Dorsham did not affect them as it would have affected a town child, but
even they exclaimed with delight at the weird, wild beauty which opened
out before them.  The station appeared to have sprung up in the heart of a
little forest of firs, as being the most sheltered spot it could alight
upon in that open country, and it was not until they had walked a little
way along the white road which skirted the woods, and came to the other
road which led at right angles to Dorsham, that the real beauty of the
place they had come to burst upon them.

Then, "Oh!" they gasped.  "Oh! oh! Cousin Charlotte, how perfectly lovely!
We did not think it would be a bit like this."

Angela alone did not speak; she gazed, and shivered as she gazed.
She was too awed by the rugged wildness to be able to find any words--awed
and rather frightened.  In the beautiful evening light of the summer's day
there lay before them an immense stretch of wild and rugged moorland,
sloping down on either side till it met a winding silver streak at the
bottom of the valley, and rolling upwards, away and away, rising and
dipping, with every here and there rough boulders and tors, single or in
groups, standing upon its brown bosom like rocks out of a brown sea,
until in the distance high rock-crowned hills bounded and closed it in.

Then would the eye travel from the wilder beauty back to rest on the
gleaming, gliding river in its rocky bed, and the group of little houses
which stood about so irregularly as to give the impression that they had
been dropped down promiscuously and allowed to remain as they fell; while
close about each house were large gardens snatched from the wealth of
wildness outside and enclosed within sturdy walls, as though to protect
them from the encroaching brown sea outside.

"Oh, Cousin Charlotte," gasped Angela, "aren't you afraid to live here?
It looks so--so wild and--and sad?"

Cousin Charlotte smiled.  "Oh no," she cried, "it is not as lonely as it
looks.  There is quite a village just on beyond, but you cannot see it
from here."  Then noticing the look on Angela's face, "You will not be
afraid, will you, children?" she asked anxiously.

"Oh no," said Esther, replying for them all.  "I am sure we shall like it,
Cousin Charlotte.  I don't think it is as lonely as a wood really, because
here you can look all about you, and can see if any one is coming.
Angela is tired, I expect, and I think every place looks rather sad when
night is coming on.  I think she will like it soon, when she is more used
to it."

"The village looks more lonely than it is really," said Cousin Charlotte.
"From here it seems as though we are quite unprotected, but when we are at
home that feeling will be gone.  It seems then as though the moor is
protecting us.  There are other villages just beyond us in each
direction, too, so we are not quite deserted."

"Oh, I love it, I love it!" gasped Penelope, who had been silent from the
intensity of her emotion all this time.  It was almost as though the sight
was too much for her.  She felt bewildered, overcome, full of awe and
love, and a feeling she could not describe.  She stood still in the wide
white road, and gazed and gazed with her heart in her eyes.  The others
walked briskly on, Angela keeping close to Esther, her hand thrust through
Esther's arm, Poppy holding Miss Ashe by one hand and Esther by the other.
The road wound down in almost a straight line, until they could hear the
murmuring of the river, like a welcoming voice, as it hurried along over
the stones.  The nearer they drew to the house and the river, the less did
the moor and the hills seem to dominate them, and the feeling of home grew
on them.

Just before they reached the house Penelope overtook them.

"Oh," she cried enthusiastically, "it is so lovely.  I--I am sorry I have
lived all my life away from it.  I might have had nearly twelve more years
here."

Miss Ashe laughed, well pleased.  "I am so glad, children, that you think
you will like it.  Anna and I thought it might be dull for you.
Well, here we are at last, and very glad you must be, I am sure, after
your long, tiring day.  This is Moor Cottage, dears, and I hope you will
all be very, very happy here as long as I am allowed to keep you.
It shall not," she added gravely, pausing as she stood in the porch with
her hand on the latch, "be my fault if you are not."

"I am _sure_ we shall be happy, Cousin Charlotte," said Esther earnestly,
longing to throw her arms about the dear little lady, and kiss her, but
feeling too shy.  "I know we shall."

Angela did not only long, but she acted.  "And I hope we shall make you
happy, too," she cried, and throwing her arms about Miss Ashe's neck
kissed her lovingly.

Cousin Charlotte's eyes were dim as she opened the door wide.
"Welcome home," she cried.  Then in a louder, brisker voice, "Anna, Anna,"
she called, "where are you?  Here are our young ladies come, and neither
of you out to meet and welcome them!  I am ashamed."

A wild scratching was heard at the back of the little stone-paved hall,
then a door was flung wide, revealing for a moment a pretty, cosy kitchen
with firelight gleaming on a dresser laden with dainty china; but only for
a moment, for the doorway was almost immediately blocked by a figure which
blotted out every other view--the big, broad figure of Anna, white-capped,
white-aproned, red-faced and smiling.

"Well I never!" she kept exclaiming, "and to think of me never hearing you
coming.  Well I never!" but all further talk was put a stop to by a yelp
of joy, and the wild rush from somewhere of a creature that, for the
moment, Poppy was quite sure was a bear.  The creature flung himself on
Miss Ashe so impetuously as to very nearly topple her over.

"Guard, Guard," she protested, recovering her footing with a laugh,
"behave yourself, sir."  But the great dog would not be quiet until she
had given him her hand to kiss and her purse to hold; with that in his
mouth he contented himself with wriggling joyfully at her feet, making
little muffled sounds of welcome.

"Now come and speak to your visitors," she said, "and shake hands like a
gentleman."  But he had to return her purse to her own safe keeping before
he could be induced to do anything more, after which he went round and
solemnly shook hands with each of the girls, smiling very wide with
pleasure at the pats and caresses he got, until, on coming to Poppy, she
flung her baby arms about his great rough neck, crying, "Oh, you darling,
you darling," and kissed his soft brown cheek, upon which he looked up at
her adoringly, and seated himself beside her.  Then Anna came forward and
seemed quite pleased when they all shook hands with her; and Guard, seeing
every one else so hearty, began to dash round and round again as he looked
ecstatically from one to the other, making little low cries of pleasure.



CHAPTER IV.


"Now then, Anna," said Miss Ashe at last, "we really must show these poor
children their rooms, and let them wash and refresh themselves before tea;
they must be longing to, and I am sure they are famished--aren't you,
children?"

They remembered their 'tea' at three o'clock, and blushed; but that really
did seem hours ago now, and they honestly were very hungry again.
Perhaps the moor air had something to answer for already.

"Well, come along," said Miss Ashe, while, murmuring something about hot
water, she bustled off to the kitchen.  "No, Guard, you must wait down
here," said his mistress, as he rose to follow them; and with his feet on
the bottom stair he stood still, gazing after them longingly, but without
attempting to follow.

At the right of the hall was an archway, and going up a step and through
this, the children found themselves in another little hall, with doors on
two sides of it, and a staircase at the back, all completely cut off from
the view from the front door.  The stairs were so wide and shallow they
tripped as they followed Miss Ashe up them.  At the top they found
themselves in a little gallery which ran all round with several doors
opening into it.

"Now, my chicks," said Miss Charlotte, throwing open the first door they
came to, "you must settle amongst yourselves which two shall share a room,
and which room you will have."

The children, greatly excited, poured after her into what they all thought
the sweetest, loveliest bedroom they had ever seen in their lives--which
it certainly was.  The walls were covered with a pretty creamy paper
festooned all over with bunches of pink-tipped daisies tied together with
blue ribbons; two little white beds, with snowy curtains and quilts, stood
with a table between them.  But most fascinating of all was the long, low,
lattice-window with its white dimity curtains, and frill across the top.
They flew to it to look out, and there before them lay the river winding
in and out on its crooked course, and beyond it the moor stretching away,
as far as the eye could see, to where, in the distance, it melted into the
sky.  The beauty of it so fascinated them that it was not until later they
noticed all the remaining charms of the room--the little white bookcase
full of books, the chairs on either side of the windows, the two white
chests of drawers, one for each of them, and provided with a key, too,
and the charming blue carpet on the floor.

"I hope we don't do any harm," said Esther nervously.  To her, accustomed
to the shabby bare rooms at home, ill-kept and untidy, it looked almost
too dainty and pretty to use.

"I am quite sure you will not," said Miss Ashe, who appeared to have no
fears.  "Now this is the sunniest side of the house, and I think, perhaps,
the Poppy ought to have the sun."

Poppy laughed.  The idea pleased her, and, as though to claim possession,
threw her hat on to one of the chairs.

"Now, come along, or tea will be ready before we are."  Out they trooped
excitedly, each delighted in her own particular way.  "That is my room,"
said Miss Ashe, touching the next door, which was closed.  "My window
looks towards the station, along the road we came just now."  She did not
say she had given up the pretty room they had just quitted, in order that
they might have the sunshine.

At the back of the square gallery she threw open another door.  "This is
your other room," she said; and Penelope, who was standing by her, gave
one long, low cry of pleasure, and was across the room in a moment.

"Oh!" she gasped, "oh my!"  She could not find words to express the
feelings which rushed over her as her eyes fell on the view without--the
pretty garden full of flowers, enclosed within a stone wall, and beyond
that the old brown moor stretching far and wide in every direction, until
it broke like a brown sea about the foot of the distant hills.  Here and
there were lesser tors and piles of rock, and little footpaths through the
heather, and pools which gleamed with a cold light in the light of the
evening sky.  It was wild, weird, fascinating.

"I think you, at any rate, should have this room," said Miss Ashe,
smiling, well pleased at Penelope's delight.  The rest of the children
were looking interestedly about them.  "As this has a colder aspect I
thought it should be made to look warmer," Miss Ashe explained; and indeed
the warm red carpet, and the dark-red roses nestling against deep-green
leaves on the walls, gave it a very cosy, comfortable look.

Esther felt soothed and calmed already.  The air of comfort and neatness,
the good taste that met them on all sides, gave her such a sense of
pleasure and ease as she had never known before.  This was just how things
should look, how she had always wanted them to look, and had never been
able to get them to, or make the others understand.

"How do you think you will manage?" said Miss Ashe, turning to Esther.
"Don't you think you and the baby here had better be together in the other
room, so that you may be able to help her a little?  I have only the one
servant yet, so we must manage to do as best we can for the time.
I think these two," laying a hand on Angela and Penelope, "had better stay
here;" a plan they all heartily agreed with.  Then, after providing them
with brushes and combs until they could unpack their own, Miss Ashe went
away, and left them to prepare themselves for tea.

And here, perhaps, it would be as well to give you some idea of what the
four little Carrolls were like at this time, for one's first question
generally, on hearing any one spoken of, is, "Is she pretty?" or, "What is
she like?" and quite naturally, too, for people only seem real to us when
we are able to picture them in our own minds as they really are.

Well, Esther Carroll at this time was a tall, thin girl, with a grave face
and fine expressive grey eyes.  She was not pretty, but she would have
been what is generally described as 'nice-looking' if her face had not
been almost always spoilt by her worried, cross expression.  She was a
tall, graceful girl, with a good carriage, well-shaped hands and feet, a
good complexion, and an abundance of long light-brown hair.  She took
great pains that her hair should look well-kept and glossy, and it hung
long, straight, and gleaming, to below her waist.

Penelope was shorter and broader, altogether a more portly little person,
with a clever face, dreamy, questioning grey eyes, and a nose which was
decidedly a snub--a fact there was no getting over, though Penelope often
tried.  Her hair, which was short and curly, was not so golden as
Esther's; it had deeper, redder tints in it.

Angela was more like Esther in appearance than either of the others.
She was a lanky, overgrown little person at nine years of age, but her
long, shapely feet and hands gave promise of a graceful woman by and by.
She had long, fair hair like Esther's too, but Angela's had a beautiful
wave in it.  Her eyes, blue and soft, and appealing as her warm
affectionate nature, looked out of a beautiful child-like face, full of
gentleness and love.

Then came the Poppy, the pet and plaything and ruler of them all,
a little round, dark-haired, brown-eyed contrast to the others,
who demanded love and got it, giving it in return when she chose,
and that was not always to those who asked most loudly for it.
Fearless, outspoken, and quick, Poppy had none of Penelope's dreaminess,
or Esther's anxiousness, or Angela's timidity.  She was eminently a
practical little person, with deep thoughts and plans of her own, and a
will to carry them through.

They had had a rough, uncared-for upbringing, which had made Esther
perhaps a little masterful and grown-up in her ways and ideas,
and Penelope, somewhat careless, had not checked Angela's nervousness or
Poppy's independence, but they were all honest and truthful, and full of
good instincts; and as they stood looking out of the windows of their new
home at the new strange world beyond, each in her own way was determining
to make the best of her new life, and be good.

But they dared not linger at the windows.

"Tea may be ready even now, and Cousin Charlotte is perhaps a very
particular and punctual person," said Esther, and taking Poppy by the hand
they started to go down.  But at the top of the stairs they found Penelope
and Angela debating and looking about them nervously.

"Ought we to go down, or ought we to wait till we are called?" asked
Angela, turning to Esther, with relief at leaving it to some one else to
decide.  "Would it be rude to seem in a hurry, or to keep Miss Charlotte
waiting?"

Esther could throw no light on the dreadful problem, there were so many
things to think of.  If they went down they would not know where to go,
and if they stayed in their rooms Cousin Charlotte might wait and wait for
them, thinking they were not ready.

"Anyhow, we can't stand here," whispered Penelope.  "It will look as
though we are listening and prying.  Let's go back to our rooms--and yet--
oh dear, Cousin Charlotte may be down there now, at this very moment,
getting angry with us and thinking how long we take getting ready, and we
don't really."

Esther's temper suddenly gave way.  "I do wish one knew what to do,
always," she said crossly.  "But mother never taught us things like this--
yet we are expected to know--"

"P'r'aps it doesn't really matter," whispered Angela, who could not bear
to hear her mother spoken harshly of.


"Oh yes, it does," snapped Esther.  "It makes all the difference."

"P'r'aps they'll ring a bell when tea is ready," chimed in Poppy, with
sudden inspiration, "then we will know."  And sure enough at that moment a
bell did ring down below, and settled the difficulty.  In their relief
Penelope and Angela started off with a rush.

"Oh, girls, don't hurry so," cried Esther nervously.  "It looks so bad, as
though we had been waiting."

So the impetuous ones slackened their pace, and four very demure little
maidens entered the dining-room a moment later in a manner as decorous and
restrained as the most polite could wish.

And what a charming scene it was that met their eyes--one that all the
four appreciated to the full: a long, low room with a French window
standing wide open to the garden just a step or two below.  On the evening
breeze wafted in the scent of mignonette and flowers, and the low sleepy
clucking of the hens, about to go to roost.  Near the window stood the
table, with a silver kettle boiling merrily on its stand, and fruit and
flowers and pretty china in abundance, all looking as dainty and tempting
as heart could desire.  There was an abundance too of more substantial
fare, eggs and fish, and jam and cream, a tart, and a big home-made loaf;
and the scent of the flowers and the tea all mingled together in a most
appetising whole.

To the children it all seemed wonderful, exquisite; and for the first time
they realised how hungry they were.  Penelope's eyes wandered through the
window to the flower-beds outside.

"Oh, what a lovely garden!" she cried, struck at once by the beauty of its
well-kept air, and the cared-for look of everything.  Then she grew silent
as her thoughts flew back with tender pity to the old beloved untidy
Framley garden, and she felt a twinge of remorse that she had not tried to
do something with it--it might perhaps have been made to look like this.
Then, at a word from Miss Ashe, they turned away from the window to the
tea-table.

While the children were taking their places she made the tea.

"Now," she said, as she drew the cosy over the teapot, "which of you will
say grace?"

The four looked from one to the other dismayed.  Esther and Penelope's
cheeks flamed hotly, Angela looked puzzled.  Poppy alone spoke.

"What is 'grace'?" she asked innocently.

Miss Ashe grasped the situation in a moment, and, though her heart sank a
little in dismay at their ignorance, she showed no sign.  "It is a little
prayer we say before a meal, to ask God's blessing on what He has given
us, and we say one again at the end to thank Him for it."

"We never say anything at home," said Poppy, with childlike candour.
"What do you say, Cousin Charlotte?"

"Put your hands together, dear, and bow your head, and you shall hear.
It is very simple; you will be able to say it too in a day or so.
Now," bowing her head reverently, "For what we are about to receive, O
Lord make us truly thankful.  Amen."  Then Miss Ashe raised her head, and
the children followed suit.

"I've read in some of my books of people who said grace," said Angela,
"but I didn't know that people really did it."

Cousin Charlotte's face was very grave.  "A great many do, and a great
many more do not, but every one should.  Don't you yourselves feel that
you want to, dears?  You say 'Thank you!' to any one who gives you even
the least little trifle.  You have just said 'Thank you!' to me for the
cup of tea I handed you; then surely much more should you say it to the
good God who gives you everything.  Don't you see, darling?"

"Yes, I see," said Penelope soberly.  "I wish I had thought of it before.
How ungrateful we must seem to God!  I wonder He goes on being good to
people if they never seem grateful."

"God is so tender, and loving, and forgiving.  He does not punish us
because we are ungrateful, and forget Him; but, though what is done in
ignorance is excusable, when we know and yet forget Him we are committing
a sinful and ungrateful act."

Poppy sat drinking in eagerly all that was said.  "I'll try to remember,
Cousin Charlotte," she said seriously.  And Cousin Charlotte smiled, and
blinked her eyes rather hard for a moment and laid one hand on Poppy's
tiny hand resting on the table by her.  Then the meal began in earnest.
And oh what a meal it was!  The children were wildly hungry, and the new
fare was so tempting compared with what they had been accustomed to at
home.  Then, when it was over, and that was not very quickly, and grace
had been said, they all strolled out through the open window and down the
steps to the sweet-scented garden, where they wandered about until it was
time to go in and unpack their boxes, and put Poppy to bed.

It was great fun unpacking and laying away their things in the places
meant for them, though there was so little to lay away it looked quite
lost in the deep drawers and cupboards.  Esther felt horribly ashamed as
she wondered what Miss Ashe and Anna would think when they came and saw
them.  At the same time it was great fun running from room to room to look
for missing articles.  One of Poppy's shoes was in one box, and the other
in the one Penelope was unpacking in her room.  Then no nightgowns could
be found until, after a long search, they were discovered at the very
bottom of one of the boxes underneath the toys they had insisted on
bringing.

"I don't think the boots ought to have been put in last," said Esther
gravely.  "Your old boots were right on top of my best hat, and the crown
has been doubled right in.  Look, Pen."

Penelope looked at it with serious consideration.

"What a pity!  I believe," she added, after vainly trying again and again
to make the crown stay up, "I believe you will have to pretend this is how
it ought to be."

The Carroll children had had so little in the way of hats and clothes, and
so seldom a pretty thing, they thought very little about dress, so the
catastrophe did not affect them as it would have vainer children; and, in
any case, their minds were too full now of other things to have much time
to spare for trouble.

That night as soon as they were in bed they fell asleep, and slept like
tops; their long day had tired them out, and the moor air made them
sleepy, so sleepy that when morning came they slept on and on, in spite of
the sun shining outside, and the birds calling, and the voices of the men
and boys shouting 'Good mornin'!'  'Bootiful day,' to each other as they
went on their way to their work.

When Esther did awaken at last it was to find Anna knocking at her door,
and calling, "Time to get up, young ladies; it is half-past seven, and
breakfast will be ready at half-past eight.  Are you awake, missie?"

"Come in," called Esther in a very sleepy tone, stretching herself
luxuriously in her comfortable bed.  They had rarely known the luxury of
being called--never, certainly, of having hot water brought them.

Anna opened the door, and her big person filled the aperture.  When she
caught sight of Poppy's dark head so still and quiet on the pillow, she
came further in.  "Well, I never!" she breathed softly, as she gently
placed down the can of hot water, "how sound she do sleep, the pretty
dear; it do seem a shame to wake her.  P'r'aps she'd better 'bide on for a
bit, and rest herself."

"Oh no," said Esther, rousing herself.  "Poppy is all right, she is a
dreadful sleepy-head.  Poppy!" she called, raising herself on one elbow,
"Poppy!  Wake up!  It will soon be breakfast time, and Cousin Charlotte
will be awfully angry if you are late."

"Ah, now, it do seem crool to frighten her like that," said Anna, half
smiling, half troubled.

Poppy stirred herself, opened her dark eyes, and then, recognising her new
surroundings, sat bolt upright in bed, looking about her with deep
interest, but no sign of alarm or fear.

"I couldn't think where I was, just at first," she exclaimed in a sleepy
voice.  "It's Tousin Charlotte's.  Is it time to get up?  Oh how lovely!
Now we've got all day to go and look at where we are."

She was out of bed at once, dancing about on her little white toes, her
short curls all tumbled about her pretty flushed face.

"Now I'm going on to call your sisters," said Anna.  "The bath water is
all ready, missie; you've only got to turn the tap to get it just to your
liking.  You know where the bathroom is, don't you?"

"Bags I bath first!" shouted Poppy, who, all the while Anna had been
speaking had been edging nearer and nearer the door; and with a triumphant
laugh she had flown along the corridor and shut herself in before any one
could stop her.

Esther felt distinctly aggravated.  She had considered herself obliged by
politeness to remain in bed and give Anna her undivided attention while
she was talking, and now Poppy, troubled by no such scruples, had taken
this mean advantage.  She would really have to be kept in better order,
and taught to behave.   Anna went away to call the others.

"Well, she hasn't got any towels, or sponge, or anything," said Esther,
looking about the room.  "Serve her right, she deserves--oh dear! I forgot
the water would be hot; she's sure to scald herself, Or do something mad
with the taps or the water.  I _must_ go and see to her."

At home the bathroom had had no bolt or lock on the door, and she would
have gained admission at once by simply storming it.  But here, as yet,
she felt constrained to do things in a more gentle manner.  So she crept
softly along the corridor and tapped at the door lightly.  "Poppy," she
pleaded in an anxious whisper, "Poppy, do open the door, and let me get
the bath ready for you.  I am sure you will scald yourself, or swamp the
house.  _Do_ let me in, dear; just think how angry Cousin Charlotte would
be if any accident were to happen."

But no answer came to her pleading.  "Poppy," more seriously, "do you hear
me!  Let me in at once, as I tell you."  But the only response was a
mighty rush of water and a great splashing, and Esther retreated,
defeated, to nurse her wrath and await Miss Poppy's return.

"I do hope the children won't behave like savages," she muttered angrily,
"and so disgrace us all."  And a few moments later she had cause to echo
this wish, for with a good deal of rattle and noise the bathroom door was
flung open, and Poppy, having discovered nothing to dry herself with, flew
dripping back to her bedroom, leaving a trail of wet footmarks all along
the speckless carpets.

It really was enough to make Esther very cross, and it did, and Miss Poppy
was rubbed dry with more vigour than she at all appreciated, a vigour
which was not lessened by a rush from the other bedroom and the capture of
the bathroom by Penelope.  Esther felt very injured.  As eldest she
considered she had the first right.  On her way back again, Penelope,
unconscious of the state of feeling in the blue bedroom, unceremoniously
opened their door and popped her head in.  "How are you?" she asked, her
face all beaming with smiles.

"I don't know how I am, but I know how I shall be," said Esther tartly.
"I shall be late, and it won't be my fault."

To Penelope this seemed a matter too trifling to think of.
"Isn't everything jolly?" she breathed loudly, remembering suddenly that
Miss Charlotte was in the next room.  "I couldn't think where I was when I
woke up, it was so funny--"

"Go and dress," said Esther, "or you--oh, it really is too bad!" she
exclaimed abruptly as a soft swish along the corridor and the click of a
latch told her that she had been again forestalled, and Angela was now in
possession of the bathroom.  "I ought to go first, because I am the
eldest, and Poppy last because she is the youngest."

Poppy chuckled, "_I_ was first and _you'll_ be last, to-day," she said
aggravatingly.

"I didn't know it mattered, as long as we all got washed," said Penelope,
and finding the atmosphere uncongenial, began edging away.

"It matters very much," said Esther with dignity.  "I have to dress Poppy,
and tidy the room.  If I am dressed first I can--" but Penelope had melted
away, and Poppy was kneeling by her bed, saying her prayers.  Esther could
have cried with annoyance.

She was ready in time after all, but barely.  She was just fastening her
frock when the bell rang, and her waistband she put on as she went down
the stairs.  A frown still rested on her face and she felt very cross.
She had not said her prayers, and she had not been able to put her room
tidy as she meant to, and she felt that her first morning, that she had
thought would have been so lovely, was quite spoilt.



CHAPTER V.


Poppy's boldness vanished when it came to going downstairs, and, though
she had been ready so long, she waited for Esther after all.  So did the
others; they all felt rather shy at meeting Miss Charlotte again.

In the breakfast-room they found their cousin sitting at the table with
some books before her.  She looked up and smiled brightly when they
entered, and beckoning to them, drew each in turn to her for a morning
kiss.  A quite unusual beginning to their day.

"Now, darlings," she said, "will you find seats for yourselves for
prayers?"

The request startled them.  They had never before heard of such a
proceeding; but Esther, quickly recovering herself, tried to appear as
though she were used to everything, though, with Poppy looking at her with
such interested, astonished eyes, it was difficult.

"I've said mine," whispered Poppy, in rather an injured tone.
Esther looked at her warningly.  "Yes, I know, but Cousin Charlotte
hasn't, and--and this is different.  Lots of people do this.
Sit there, and don't talk."

Poppy obeyed.  Anything that her sisters approved was right, in her
judgment.  Penelope seated herself by the window, Angela on a little chair
by the empty hearth, a grave, devout look on her pretty face.
Then Anna came in, and Miss Ashe opened the Bible and read.
She read only a few verses, but they were such as would appeal to the
hearts of children.  Then she closed the book and knelt down; at a sign
from Esther they all knelt too, and Miss Ashe asked God's blessing on this
new day and their new life, and thanked Him for His care and love, after
which she began to repeat the Lord's Prayer.

"Oh, I know that," exclaimed Poppy delightedly.  She repeated the prayer
sentence by sentence; Anna did the same, and Esther and the others joined
in; and to Esther, at least, as the sacred words were spoken, the whole
world seemed to alter.  The worry and irritability, the dread of she knew
not what, all slipped away from her; and life seemed brighter and happier,
and full of good things.

"What a lovely way to begin a day," she thought.  "I hope we always have
prayers.  She got up and helped Poppy to her feet, and, after a moment or
two, they all drew up to the table.  Poppy looked about her with frank
interested eyes.

"Oh, _what_ a lovely breakfast!" she sighed, apparently overwhelmed by the
loveliness, and every one was obliged to laugh.  It was what they were all
thinking, but the elder ones did not like to put their thoughts into
words.  Yet it was a simple enough meal; but the clean white cloth and
shining silver, the flowers and fruit, and the dainty neatness of
everything made it seem perfectly beautiful to little people accustomed to
Lydia's untidy, careless ways, to soiled and ragged cloths, badly washed
silver and dirty knives, and food put down anyhow, and often not enough of
it.  This was what Esther had always instinctively yearned for; to the
others it came as a surprise.

"I've been thinking, children," said Cousin Charlotte--who had indeed been
lying awake half the night, realising for the first time all she had
undertaken, and trying to grasp all her duties.  "I have been thinking you
had better perhaps have a few days' holiday to begin with, so as to get
accustomed to your new surroundings, and then by and by we must begin to
think about lessons.  I am expecting to hear from your mother or father as
to their views on the subject of your education.  I expect they are
anxious that you two elder ones should go to a good school at once.
And that is one of my greatest difficulties, and the greatest drawback to
your coming here, for there is no good school within reach, and I am
puzzled to know what to do.  It is so important that you should have every
advantage now."

Esther's heart sank, for Cousin Charlotte's sake as much as anything.
She knew as well as possible that Cousin Charlotte would have to settle
this matter for herself, and bear the responsibility entirely.
She knew, too, that the importance of it appealed as little to her mother
as it did greatly to her cousin.  Mrs. Carroll was one of those
happy-go-lucky persons, so difficult to deal with, who think that
'sufficient for the day is the evil thereof,' and 'the future will take
care of itself,' so what is the use of worrying--something is sure to turn
up, and everything will turn out right, somehow.

It never occurred to her that her four children's future depended almost
entirely on the education given them now; or to ponder what, poor and
ill-educated, their future would be.

"Oh, something will be sure to happen," she would have answered.
"What is the use of planning, no one knows what the future may bring."
Miss Ashe's idea, on the other hand, was that with a good education any
child had, at any rate, one strong weapon with which to fight her way.

At Dorsham the post did not come in until ten o'clock, so that there was
no correspondence to discuss over the breakfast-table.  Not that the
children expected any letters; they had never received one in their lives.

Breakfast over, Miss Ashe was a little at a loss to know what to do with
her charges; her life had suddenly become so changed and complicated,
that the little lady had difficulty in grappling with it all at once.
"I think you may like to go out and look about you," she said at last.
"You can come to no harm, I am sure, if you keep away from the river.
You may play in the garden, or wander on the moor a little way.  But if
you go beyond the garden, take Guard with you; he will be a companion and
protector.  Don't go very far, dears; I want you all to come back at
eleven for some milk and biscuits."

The children were enchanted.  This was a happy life indeed!  As quickly as
ever they could they got on hats and boots and started.  They had never a
doubt as to where they would go.  The garden was very nice, but the moor!
--a heaven-sent playground, miles of freedom, and all to themselves.
The thought of having to return at eleven was the only thing that marred
their perfect joy; they felt they wanted to have the whole long day before
them to cover all the ground and make all the discoveries they wanted to.
Guard, a proud and delighted protector, rushed about as excitedly as any
of them.  The new interest that had come into his life promised to be all
that he could desire.

"I do want to get to the very top of that mountain," said Penelope, gazing
earnestly at what was really a very modest hill, and apparently at no
great distance from them.

"Well, let's," said Esther encouragingly, "it can't be very far away," and
off they started.  But the grey tor seemed to possess the power of gliding
backwards, and the more the children walked, the further it seemed to
recede; until at last, when, on scaling what they thought was the last
height, they saw still a long stretch of moorland before them, with more
deceptive dips and rises, they gave in and postponed their climb for
another day.  Moor air has a way of increasing the appetite at an alarming
rate.

"I am afraid it must be past eleven,"  said Esther as they gave up the
quest, and sat down to rest before turning homewards.  "I wish I had put
on my watch; but I was afraid of losing it."

Esther had a silver watch of her very own, one she had earned for herself.
She had won it as a prize in a competition offered by a magazine the
children took in.  Her success had come as a surprise to them all, but
most of all to herself, and the proudest moment of her life had been that
when a carefully sealed-up jeweller's box had come directed to
'Miss E. J. Carroll,' and she had lifted out her prize under the admiring
eyes of Lydia and the children, and the astonished gaze of her mother.

Mrs. Carroll was doubly astonished, firstly because she had not considered
Esther capable, secondly because she had not grasped the fact that Esther
was really seriously competing; but when she saw this proof of her
labours, she made her a present of a pretty silver chain, with two little
silver tassels at the end, and Esther's cup of joy overflowed.

From that moment she would have bodices to her frocks that buttoned up in
front, that she might pass the little silver bar through the buttonhole;
and she set herself to make watch-pockets in all her skirts, which she
managed by cutting slits in them just below the waistband, and sewing to
the slits on the inside little pockets like small bag purses.  Lydia
showed her how to do it; and if the work was somewhat rough, and not quite
finished, the pocket answered very well, and we cannot all reach
perfection at once.

But at this moment the precious watch stood on the mantelpiece in the blue
bedroom, on the watch-stand which was another of Esther's treasures.
Lydia had given it to her on one of her birthdays; it was made of white
wood, and had a little view on it of Blackpool, where Lydia had been
spending her holidays.  In her shabby, ugly bedroom at home Esther had not
used her precious stand, it was all too dusty and ill-cared for; but here,
where everything was so nice, it was to be given a prominent position.

When the children got home at last, tired and very hungry, they found four
mugs of milk awaiting them, and a tin of biscuits; they found also that
the postman had been with letters.  There were none for them; but they
never expected any, and postmen and posts held little interest for them as
a rule.  To-day, though, it had brought them something.

"I have heard from your mother, dears," said Cousin Charlotte, "and she
sends you her love, and hopes you have arrived safely."

"Oh, we ought to let her know," cried Penelope, with sudden remorse that
they had none of them thought of doing so before.

"It is all right," said Miss Charlotte consolingly.  "I sent her a
telegram last evening, after you came.  She knew before Poppy went to bed.
Ephraim took it to Gorley for me.  Oh, you don't know Ephraim yet, do you?
He is our handyman.  He attends to the garden, and the poultry, and does
all kinds of useful things.  But, of course, you want to hear about your
mother, more than about Ephraim.  Well, dears, I cannot tell you much, for
I have broken my glasses and cannot read very well.  I was waiting for
Esther to come home and be my eyes for me for once.  I did make out,
though, that she is very busy, and leaves Framley to-morrow.  No, dear,"
to Esther, "I won't ask you to read it now.  We will wait till you have
had your lunch.  I expect you are all hungry, and there is no great
hurry."

Their milk and biscuits disposed of, Penelope and the two younger ones
sauntered away to the garden.  Esther waited.  Miss Charlotte took Mrs.
Carroll's letter from a little pile, and handed it to her.  Esther, who
was burning with impatience to know if her mother wrote of those things
that were troubling her, began to read at once:

    "DEAREST COUSIN CHARLOTTE,

    "It is _more_ than good of you to have my four poor children and give
     them a _home_.  They will be as _happy_ as possible with you, I
    _know_.  I expect by this time they have reached you.  To come to the
    _business_ part of our plan, which I know _you dislike_ as much as _I_
     do, I am _very_ thankful you can keep them, clothe and educate them,
     for the hundred and fifty pounds a year.  Their clothes need cost but
    _very little_; after all, it does not much matter what _children_ wear
     in a country place."

"I have my friends here," Miss Charlotte was thinking, "and I cannot let
my little cousins run about dressed like little tramps."

    "While as for their _education_, we need only think of Esther and
     Penelope _yet_, and theirs must be of the _simplest_; it matters so
     much _less_ for_ girls_ than for _boys_."

    "Oh dear, oh dear," thought Miss Charlotte, "what a mistaken notion!"

    "Ronald _hopes_ to send more when the children are a little older.
     Oh, this _dreadful_ want of money! I have been nearly _distracted_ to
     know what to do.  _Do_ you mind, dear Cousin Charlotte, if I do not
     send you the cheque for this quarter till later on, but keep it for
     my own needs, which are _so_ urgent?  I _have_ to get _so_ much for
     my outfit, and so _many_ things besides, I find I have not nearly
     enough money for it all.  I _hope_ you do not mind.  I am up to _my
     eyes_ in work, turning out the house and packing; and to-morrow I go
     to stay with friends in the North.  I think the change will _brace_
     me up for the journey; _I sadly need_ it.

    "My love to the chicks and to yourself.

                               "Your affectionate cousin,"
                                      "MAUDE CARROLL."

For a moment Esther could not lift her eyes from the sheet, they were too
full of bitter tears of mortification.  "Oh, why does mother always act
like this," she was crying to herself, "and make people think unkind
things of her?  It is cruel of her, too, to leave us like this with a
stranger, and not a penny to pay for it all."

Esther's heart burnt hot with shame as well as anger, for she knew
instinctively that Miss Charlotte Ashe would never see one penny of that
money.  She knew, oh, she knew only too well!  She had had six years'
experience of debt and trouble and shame, of money being diverted from its
destined use and frittered away and wasted, of tradesmen and servants
continually asking for their money, their threatenings, and all the shifts
and contrivances that had to be resorted to to get a little to satisfy
them for the moment.

The cheque her father had intended for their needs would, she knew, be
frittered away on useless, foolish things; and never, never would her
mother be able to get together so large a sum again, for she would never
tell her husband of the debt; she would not have the courage; it would
mean 'a scene,' and she hated to be scolded.  If Miss Charlotte worried
and made continual demands, a sovereign or a few shillings might be sent
to her now and again; but if she were too proud or too kind to ask, she
would never have a penny of it.  Esther knew, oh, how well she knew and
understood it all; and how it hurt and humiliated and maddened her,
as she realised their position!  Helpless, penniless, homeless, four of
them, and dependent on this gentle little lady, who was neither rich nor
young, and could have no great love for them.  They had no claim on her
whatever.  Esther could scarcely summon courage sufficient to look up; her
shame and trouble burnt in her eyes and wrung her young heart.
It was a bitter, bitter moment, how bitter Miss Charlotte had no
conception, for she did not know all.  But never, throughout the whole of
her life, did Esther lose the memory of that scene, and the shame and
misery which swamped her.

But, though she did not realise Esther's trouble, Miss Charlotte was
greatly troubled too, for she had but a limited income, and to make it
provide for six where it had only been expected to suffice for two was a
matter that required some consideration, and when the extra four were but
scantily supplied with clothes, and had to be provided with education too,
the matter became very serious indeed.

But Miss Charlotte was not one to worry unduly.  In the first place she
had been accustomed all her life to facing difficulties, and in the
second, she had too much faith to worry about things.

"The dear Lord has His own plans for us," she would say, "and He will
guide us through if we only have faith and hope."  She said it to herself
now, as she tried to put troublesome thoughts into the background.

But poor Esther had as yet none of Miss Charlotte's faith.  Troubles to
the young appear so much more appalling than they do in later life,
for they have no experience to look back upon and learn from.

Cousin Charlotte began to perceive, though, that Esther was very troubled
too, seriously troubled.  With quick intuition she divined something of
what she was feeling, and her whole heart flew out in sympathy to the
child.

"It will be all right, dear," she said, smiling cheerfully.  "We shall do.
Don't let the matter trouble you.  We grown-ups will see to it all.
Don't upset yourself, Esther dearest."

The kindness of her words and tone broke down Esther's last powers of
restraint.  "But--I can't help it--you didn't want us, you couldn't have,
and--and here we are--so many, filling up your house, and--and costing so
much, and--and--oh, Cousin Charlotte, I am so sorry.  We must go away,
go back, we can't stay here--"  Esther's voice and manner grew almost
hysterical.

"Oh, but, dear, you must stay, _please_," pleaded Cousin Charlotte gently.
"You would not go away and leave me lonely again, would you, and upset all
my plans and my pleasure, would you?  Don't you know that it is a very
great pleasure to me to have you?  It is," seeing Esther's look of
incredulity, "I assure you.  I love girls of all ages, and I have missed
them terribly here.  Never let such a thought trouble you again.
After all, dear, I could not expect to have the money in advance.
I might, you know," smiling, "take it and spend it on myself, and pack you
all up and set you adrift if I had it beforehand.  Every one has to earn
their money before they get it.  It is about your education and Penelope's
that I am troubled most.  Your mother does not mention it.  I wanted to
send you to a good school, but if I did it would cost the whole of the
money your father is able to spare for you all, and I think I am hardly
justified in running him into so much expense.  I would gladly put out the
money--"

"Oh no, please, you mustn't," cried Esther eagerly.  "Please don't,
Cousin Charlotte, you mustn't think of it."  Again Cousin Charlotte was
perplexed by her very real distress.  "I will teach myself and the others
if I can only have some books, but it mustn't cost you anything."

Miss Ashe would not allow a glimmer of a smile to show in her face or
eyes.  "Well, dear," she said gravely, "we will think about it and have
another talk.  We cannot settle such a big question in a moment, can we?
At any rate, if you cannot manage the teaching you can help me in other
ways."

"How?" asked Esther eagerly, her whole face brightening.  "Oh, I do so
want to help."

But at that moment Anna came in to say Miss Ashe was wanted, and the
conversation had to end.

"Run out and amuse yourself now, dear, and keep an eye on the others,"
said Miss Charlotte, laying a gentle hand on Esther's shoulder with a
little caressing touch.  "I am afraid I am leaving the care of them very
much to you, but we shall settle down in time.  I hoped to have got
another maid; but well, Anna has lived so long alone now it is a little
difficult to find any one she would live with happily.  I want a girl,
too, who would not require high wages.  Now run along, dear.  I hear Poppy
calling to you," and with the same Miss Charlotte bustled away, and Esther
was left alone.



CHAPTER VI.


"Girls," said Esther solemnly, as she hurried down the garden to where
they were sitting, "I've got a lot to talk about.  Let's go somewhere
where we can be quiet."

There was a door in one wall of the garden, which led out directly on to
the moor.  Penelope had already discovered this, and at once led her
sisters through it.  At no great distance up the slope was a large group
of rocks, which afforded them seats and shelter; it had other advantages,
too, for from it they could look along the winding road, or down on the
river and the cottages.  Here the four of them ensconced themselves, with
Guard beside them, and the three looked eagerly at their eldest sister.

"What is it?"  asked Penelope.

"It isn't bad news from mother, is it?" gasped Angela, with a frightened
face.

Esther sat looking very grave and absorbed, yet eager.  "There is so much
to say I hardly know where to begin," she said at last, and the excitement
of the others increased.

"Begin anywhere," urged Poppy, who was not noted for her patience, and the
others echoed her suggestion.

Methodical Esther, though, began at the beginning, and at great length
told her story.  The others listened with interest, but only Angela
sympathised with Esther entirely.  Penelope and Poppy were impressed,
but they did not feel her peculiar horror of the situation as Angela did,
nor her sensitive pride and shame.  They grew more alert, though, when
she, having finished her story of the letter, said gravely, "Girls, we've
all got to do something, and I'll tell you what we've got to do."

"What?" they demanded in one breath.

"Well, we've got to save Cousin Charlotte all we can, and not cost a penny
more than we can help."

"Must I only eat a very little teeny tiny bit?" asked Poppy gravely.

Esther laughed.

"Oh no, dear, you must eat as much as you want, or Cousin Charlotte will
be angry.  But we must manage so that she won't have to have another
servant, and if we all help Anna and do a lot of the work, I don't think
she need.  We managed with only Lydia at home.  But what I want most of
all is to try and earn some money so as to be able to give it to Cousin
Charlotte for what we cost her.  But I can't think of _any_ way, can you?
Do let's try and think of something," she ended anxiously.  "I am sure I
would if I only knew how.  I wish we weren't all so small."

"I saw a littler girl than me selling bootlaces once," said Poppy eagerly.
"I could do that."

They all laughed, and the laugh inspirited them; the four faces grew
bright and eager, the four brains went to work busily, and the maddest,
wildest schemes chased each other through those little heads.

At dinner Miss Ashe was struck by the air of gravity which hung over them.
She feared they must be tired or homesick, or suffering from the change of
air, and grew quite troubled.  They disclaimed all three when questioned,
and spoke quite cheerfully when spoken to, and apparently were quite well;
it seemed to be more an abstraction that enveloped them than depression.

Poppy at last gave a clue to their feelings.  "We are finding," she said,
looking at Miss Charlotte, as though she felt some explanation were
necessary; but catching Esther's warning glance she said no more.

"We must not let Cousin Charlotte know," Esther had said.  "She is so kind
she would not like us to worry, so we won't say anything about it to her
if we can help."

"We'll s'prise her," Poppy had cried gleefully; so, catching Esther's eye,
she remembered, and grew silent again, leaving Cousin Charlotte more
puzzled than ever.

"I wonder," said Miss Charlotte, as they rose from the table, "I wonder if
you children would mind going to Mrs. Bennett's for me for some rice.
Anna tells me she has run out of it.  You haven't seen our shops yet, have
you?"

"Shops!  Oh no, we didn't know there were any."  And off they ran
delightedly and put on their hats at once.  Esther took her purse with her
too.  She wanted to change the sovereign; she was so dreadfully afraid of
losing it, and several silver and copper coins seemed safer than one small
gold one.

Mrs. Bennett's shop was not difficult to find.  Just beyond Miss Ashe's
house, round a bend in the road, they found themselves in what was called
'the street.'  There were at least a dozen cottages close together;
a little further on were two or three more, and up the hill were scattered
others, at greater distances apart.  The children were perfectly
delighted.  Here was life and interest in plenty, and Moor Cottage was not
so lonely as they had imagined.

The shops were in two of the first group of cottages they came to, and
here was more delight--a perfect feast.  Such fascinating windows they
had, so full of all sorts of interesting things, and all at such
reasonable prices too, or so it seemed to the children.

Mrs. Bennett's held groceries and drapery, and boots and writing-paper,
kettles and saucepans, little china images and 'surprise' packets.
Mrs. Vercoe's held ironmongery and drapery, and dolls and groceries,
sweets and toys of various sorts, bread, cakes and books.  Mrs. Bennett
sold china too, and glass, some homely medicines, and hoops and thimbles
and skipping-ropes.  Mrs. Vercoe included cheese and bacon, rope and
twine, and baskets.

Of the two they were most drawn to Mrs. Vercoe's.  Her stock appealed to
them more.  But as they had been told to go to Mrs. Bennett, thither they
went; and Mrs. Bennett, who kept the post office too, sold Esther some
stamps and changed her sovereign for her, and while they gazed fascinated
about her shop, she gazed at them with frank curiosity.  But nothing she
could say could draw them into conversation.  For some reason, they could
not have said what, they did not like her.  It may have been that she
'talked fine,' as her neighbours said, and minced her words in a somewhat
affected way, or that she seemed very inquisitive, or that her rather cold
manner unconsciously offended them.  The children could not have explained
why it was, but fascinating though the shop was, they hurried away from it
and crossed the road to Mrs. Vercoe's.

Mrs. Vercoe's window was certainly more enticing to them than Mrs.
Bennett's.  A prolonged and critical gaze showed them not only all the
things already mentioned, but dear little rough red pitchers which would
hold just half a pint, and a larger size which would hold a pint; packets
of flower-seeds with gay pictures on the outside, and only a penny each;
the pitchers were only a penny and twopence; there were the dearest little
watering-cans too, and fancy handkerchiefs with a nursery rhyme round the
border, and funny little books, with roughly done pictures in the
brightest of colours, and money-boxes, some like little houses, others
representing miniature letter-boxes.

Angela longed and longed for a pitcher.  Poppy wanted a penny
watering-can, painted bright red inside, and green out.  Penelope wanted a
book and some sweets, and Esther a money-box, that she might begin to save
at once.

"_Do_ let's go inside," whispered Penelope.  "There may be lots of other
things inside."

"But wouldn't it look rude to come out of one shop and go right into
another?" asked Esther, who was really as interested as Penelope.

"Can't we walk on a little way, and then on our way back go in as though
we had just seen something we wanted?" suggested Angela, who was an adept
at trying to spare people's feelings.  "P'r'aps Mrs. Bennett won't be in
her shop by that time."

They all agreed to this, and sauntered on with a simulated air of
unconcern.  They walked on past all the cottages, keeping to the wide
granite road which led with many windings up and up a hill beyond the
village.  How far they went they had no idea, but by and by they heard a
clock strike in the distance.

"I do believe we have come to a town, or something," said Penelope
excitedly.  "There isn't a church or a big clock in Dorsham, only a
chapel.  Let's go on and see."

But Esther checked her enthusiasm.  "We had better not stay away too long,
or Cousin Charlotte may be frightened, and we want to stop at Mrs.
Vercoe's before we go home.  Let's go there now, shall we?"

The suggestion was seconded with alacrity.  But if they thought that their
little manoeuvrings were going to blind Mrs. Bennett, or spare her
feelings, they made a mistake.  They had yet to learn that no single thing
happened in Dorsham 'street,' no single person went up it or down, without
the fact being known sooner or later--generally on the instant--to every
dweller therein; and for four strangers, newly come to live in the place,
to expect to escape notice was absurd.

The only result of their plan was to attract more attention to themselves;
but of this they were happily unconscious, and once inside the little,
low, dim, crowded place, their joy seemed unbounded.  If Mrs. Bennett had
repelled them, plump, jolly-looking Mrs. Vercoe, with her round rosy face
and kindly, smiling eyes, attracted them at once.

"Well, my dears," she said warmly, "and what can I do for you to-day?"

There was a delicious smell of hot cake pervading the place, and Mrs.
Vercoe herself had come out streaked with flour, and carrying a big black
'sheath' full of new currant cakes and buns.

"I--I hardly know," said Esther.  "There are such lots of nice things
here," she added politely.  "Do you mind if we look about for a few
minutes first?"

"Look about to your heart's content, my dear," she said genially.
"Well, little missie," to Poppy, "'tis nice to see so many young ladies
about Dorsham; 'tis what we ain't over-blessed with.  I'm afraid you'll
find it dull without any little companions; 'tis very quiet here, not that
I'm complaining," she added hastily, afraid of seeming disloyal to her
native place.  "And what do 'ee think of our village?" she asked, seeing
Penelope's eyes fixed interestedly on her.  "Fine and lonely I reckon it
looks to strangers, but 'tis airy," with a little laugh, "and bootiful air
too.  Makes 'ee hungry, I expect, missie, don't it?  Could 'ee eat a new
bun now?"

Penelope was about to decline, thinking it would be correct to do so,
but her finer natural instinct told her that it might be politer to
accept, and in response to Mrs. Vercoe's bidding she helped herself.
The old dame delightedly invited them all to do the same.  Angela and
Poppy accepted; Esther held back with shy reluctance.

"Oh no, thank you," she said. "We are so many."

"Well, they'm only farden buns," said Mrs. Vercoe, with a little chuckle;
"but p'r'aps you'd rather have one of these," and she held out to Esther
an apple.  Esther felt more embarrassed than ever.  Mrs. Vercoe seemed to
think she had declined the bun because she wanted something better.

"Oh no, thank you," she said, with a great effort.  "I like the buns very
much, but I am not hungry.  We had dinner just before we came out."

Mrs. Vercoe laid the apple down without saying any more; but Esther
thought she looked rather hurt, and felt that it would have been more
tactful to have taken it.  To break the awkward pause which followed, she
plunged into business.

"Please how much each are those little pitchers?" she asked hastily.

"Tuppence, missie," said Mrs. Vercoe, as pleasantly as ever, to Esther's
great relief.  "And the littler ones are a penny."

"May I have one of the tiny ones?" whispered Angela eagerly.

"It was for you I wanted it," said Esther, who would have liked one for
herself, too.  "Aren't they dears!"

"I must look 'ee out a perfect one," said Mrs. Vercoe, tapping up one
after another and rapping them with her knuckles.  "They'm terrible things
for getting chipped.   There, I think those are all right."

Angela, in a high state of delight, chose the one she thought the
prettiest.  Poppy, meanwhile, was tugging at Esther's skirt.  She had been
very quiet for some time, absorbed in a boxful of the packets of
flower-seeds, with gay pictures outside.

"Esther, may I have a packet of seeds? and one of those dear dinkey little
watering-cans?  May I, Essie?  Do say 'yes,' please do."

Poppy was not only fascinated, but she was possessed by a sudden,
brilliant idea which the packets of seeds had suggested.  She could not
rest until Esther had consented, and she could not keep from dancing with
excitement as she bent over the box, trying to make a selection.

"Bless her pretty face," cried Mrs. Vercoe, much amused.  The old lady was
as delighted with her customers as though they were spending pounds
instead of pennies.  Penelope, meanwhile, was perched on a corner of a
sugar-box, absorbed in one of the funny little books which were lying in a
pile on the counter, and was quite oblivious of all that was going on
around her.

Esther paid for Poppy's purchases.  "And will you take for the book, too,
please," she said, as she held out a shilling.  "The book my sister is
reading."  She blushed as she spoke, for she was shocked at Penelope's
behaviour.

But Mrs. Vercoe would not hear of it.  "Why no, my dear; 'tisn't likely
she'd be wanting to buy it now she mostly knows what's in it.
You'd rather have another, wouldn't you, missie? and it don't make no
manner of diff'rence to me."

Penelope looked up with a start, and blushed too, but an end to the
discussion was put by Poppy, who came up very excitedly with a packet of
parsley seed in her hand.  It was not one of those with a picture on the
outside, but a larger, plainer packet.

"Please, how much is this?" she asked eagerly.

"Ah, you wouldn't like that, dearie, that isn't pretty.  It's parsley.
Very good parsley it is, but it don't have no pretty flowers."

"I know," said Poppy, nodding her head vigorously.  "How much does it
cost?"

"A penny."

"Well, I'll take it, please, instead of the other," and she held out her
hand for the packet as though she was afraid of having it wrested from
her.

Mrs. Vercoe held it while her eyes searched Esther's face.  It seemed to
her such an extraordinary choice for a tiny child to make.  She was
reluctant to let her have it.  "Hadn't she better have the one she chose
first?" she asked anxiously.  But Esther was accustomed to her sister's
vagaries.

"No, thank you.  I expect she would rather have this.  Perhaps she thinks
she gets more."

Poppy smiled, and pursed her lips, and hugged her secret to herself
delightedly.

Then, having paid for Penelope's book, and bought some sweets for them
all, Esther led her little troop out of the shop and home.

Miss Ashe was out when the children returned, so they strolled into the
garden to amuse themselves as best they could.  But the garden was too
neat and well-tended to allow of much in the way of games, so very soon
they wandered further, and escaped on to the moor, Penelope with her new
book, Esther with another book and the sweets, Angela carrying her beloved
pitcher.  Guard followed them devotedly.

Poppy, though, decided to remain behind.  She did not say so; nor did
they, so busy were they with their plans, at first notice her absence.

Miss Ashe's garden was a large one.  In Dorsham land was of little value,
and one could have almost as much as one chose, if one took the trouble to
enclose it.  The Moor Cottage garden was large enough to allow of its
being divided up into several small ones, the dividing being done chiefly
to provide shelter from the storms which so often swept over the moor,
though the strong stout walls provided excellent space for fruit-trees.

Poppy, when she saw she was alone, walked quickly from one part of the
garden to another, looking about her eagerly, her watering-can in her
hand, her packet of seeds in her pocket.  No one else was about.  Anna was
in the kitchen, she heard her voice there, singing hymns; Ephraim, whom
she was most afraid of meeting, was away, apparently.  Probably he had
gone to Gorley with Miss Charlotte's broken glasses.  Having made quite
sure that she had the place to herself, Poppy carefully deposited her can
on the ground, and ran to a corner where she had seen some tools stacked.
There were a spade, a large fork, a rake, and a little fork.  Poppy seized
the spade, but after she had struggled with it a few yards and tumbled
down twice, she exchanged it for the little fork.

Close by where she had dropped her can was a neat square bed of nice
earth, all beautifully sifted and raked over.  This pleased her critical
eye immensely.  With the fork she made several little holes not far from
the edge, then she got out her packet of seeds and opened it.

"What _lots_!" she cried delightedly, and proceeded to place carefully one
seed in each hole.  But the seeds she planted seemed not to lessen the
number in the packet in the least.  "I must make another row," she
murmured, and carefully covering in the first holes, she stepped on the
bed and made some more.

When she had made a third row and filled them in she sighed a little.
Before she had finished she had had to commandeer the whole of the bed,
and was weary and confused.  There seemed to be nothing but footprints all
over it, and where the seed was, or how to make the earth look nice and
smooth again so that no one should guess her secret, she was puzzled to
know.  She could have cried with weariness, but she bravely kept back her
tears with the thought of the splendid thing she had done, and the delight
and surprise there would be when her secret came to light.  While she was
standing looking in some dismay at the trampled bed, she remembered the
rake standing in the corner.

It was heavy, so heavy she could hardly carry it, and far too clumsy for
her to wield properly, but she worked bravely, and tried to forget her
aches; she had not a very critical eye either, and soon the bed, to her
eyes, looked quite neat and tidy.  Then came the crowning moment.  At the
water-tap, which stood over a butt sunk in the ground by one of the paths,
she filled her new water-can, and proceeded to give her seeds a good
watering.

This was joy indeed, pure joy.  The can poured splendidly, Poppy was
delighted.  She had to run many times to the tap to get water enough for
the whole bed, and by the time it was done to her satisfaction her
pinafore was well soaked, and she herself was almost too weary to stand.
Her task was perfected, but when she looked down over herself, at her
mud-clogged shoes, her dripping clothes, her begrimed hands, and realised
what she would have to go through in the way of questioning and scolding,
her spirits sank altogether.  Cousin Charlotte or Anna she dared not face.
Her only resource was to try to find Esther, or the others.  They would
scold too, but she knew them and their scoldings; they were not very bad,
and were soon over.  With the aid of the fork she managed to lift the
latch of the garden door, and stepped out on the great wide waste; but in
all the length and breadth of it, as far as her eyes could see, she caught
no glimpse of the others.  They were nowhere in sight, and the moor looked
big, and lonely, and frightening.

Poppy felt very forlorn, and miserable, and homesick, standing there in
that great waste; and under the weight of her troubles her lip began to
quiver, though she did her best to steady it.  She dared not go indoors,
and she was too weary to go in search of the others, so she crept up the
slope to the nearest rocks large enough to hide her, determined to sit
there and wait until she saw the others coming home, when she would call
to them.  She slipped off her pinafore, spread it on the ground to dry,
and with much care and trouble cleaned first her hands and then her boots
on the short coarse grass, after which, utterly weary, she lay down
herself and knew no more.



CHAPTER VII.


Esther, Penelope, and Angela reached home at just about what they thought
must be tea-time.  They came in the way they had gone out, through the
garden door.  In the garden path they saw Poppy's new watering-can lying.
They expected to see Poppy too, but she did not appear, and the garden
seemed quite empty.  She must have gone indoors, they concluded, and
Esther began to feel very compunctious for having left her alone so long.
With this feeling on her she hurried in to find her little sister,
but the house seemed quiet and empty too.  They ran up to their own rooms.
No one was there.  They came down and looked in the sitting-rooms,
Esther with a sudden fear that Poppy might be at some mischief; but both
rooms were quite empty.  They next ran out and tapped at the kitchen door.

"Come in," said Anna cheerfully.  She liked to have the children about
her.

"Is Poppy here?"  asked Esther.

"Miss Poppy!  No, miss.  I haven't seen her since she went out with you."

"She hasn't been with us.  We have been on the moor ever since, and she
must have stayed in the garden, but I can't see her there now.  We saw her
little can in the path, that was all, and I can't find her in the house
anywhere.  I thought perhaps she was here with you."

Anna looked anxious.  "Have you been all over the house, miss?"

"I have been in our rooms and the dining-room and drawing-room, and we
have all called her, but we can't find her."

"I'd look again, miss, if I was you; look in the missus's room, and mine
too, if you like.  I'd come with you, but I can't leave my bread for a few
minutes."

"Oh, we will find her," said Esther cheerfully, and they ran off again.

She was back in a short while, though, and not quite so cheerful.  Just as
she reached the kitchen Ephraim came in at the other door.

"Who hev been meddlin' with my new turnip-bed?" he demanded.  He did not
see Esther.

"What's the matter with your turnip-bed?" asked Anna shortly.  She was
just lifting her loaves out of the oven, and it was a critical moment;
besides, Anna was always 'short' with Ephraim; she had a theory that it was
good for him.

"Why, it's in such a mess as you never saw in your life; anybody'd think
there'd been a month's rain emptied over it, and all the hens in Dorsham
scratching it over, and me only sowed the seeds this morning and left it
as tidy as ever you see a bed, only so long ago as dinner-time."

Anna, looking up, caught sight of Esther.  "Have 'ee found her, missie?"
she asked, taking no further notice of Ephraim.

"No," said Esther anxiously, "she isn't in the house, I'm sure."

Anna always grew cross when she was frightened.  "Here," she cried,
turning sharply on Ephraim, "never mind your old turnip-bed.  You just
take and look for Miss Poppy; she's the youngest of our young ladies, a
little bit of a thing, and she's lost, so you'd best go and look for her
this very minute.  Look in the garden first of all.  Time enough to worry
about an old garden bed when the children's all safe."

Esther, in spite of her growing trouble, could not help laughing, their
speech sounded so odd and funny, and Ephraim's face was such a picture of
offended dignity.

Penelope meanwhile, without saying a word to any one, had gone down to the
garden again, and out on to the moor.  She had a feeling that Poppy might
be out there somewhere.  Very likely she had gone in search of them and
missed them.

Esther, not knowing this, followed Ephraim.  "She couldn't come to any
harm, even if she opened the door and got out, could she?" she asked
eagerly.

Ephraim shook his head with ponderous gravity.  "I wouldn't go for to say
so much as that," he said soberly, "there's wild beastes about in plenty
on these here moors."

"Wild beasts!" Esther almost screamed with horror at the thought.
She pictured her poor little Poppy flying shrieking before a cruel wolf,
frightened nearly to death, calling for help, for her sisters--and no one
near to save her.  Beyond that she dared not let her imagination go.
She felt sick and almost fainting.  "Do you mean wolves and bears, and--
and--"

"Well, no," said Ephraim slowly, as he searched a bed of young carrots as
though he thought Poppy might by chance have got under the feathery
leaves.  "I won't say there are any of them there kinds exactly, but wild
cattle, and 'osses, and sheep; there's plenty 'nough of they about, and
they'm 'most so bad."

Esther's heart was relieved.  ''Osses and cattle' seemed so very mild
after what she had pictured.

"I think we'd better go and look on the moor," she said impatiently, as
Ephraim showed every sign of making a prolonged search amongst the
sea-kale pots, taking the cover off each one in turn.  Almost reluctantly
he followed her.  In the path there still stood Poppy's little
watering-can.  Esther's eyes filled with tears as she caught sight of it.
Ephraim saw it too, and picked it up.

"Perhaps we'd better take this here along as a clue," he said, looking
very wise.

Esther could not see what possible use it could be, or how it could help
them, but she consented in order to hurry him along; so off they went,
Ephraim carrying the tiny can.  But hardly had they stepped through the
doorway than they saw that their search was ended.  Poppy, led by
Penelope, was coming down the hill towards them.

"There she is! oh, there she is!" cried Esther, and flew up to meet them,
Ephraim following.

On getting outside, Penelope had, by good fortune, at first followed
almost exactly in Poppy's footsteps.  By stopping to search every bush and
boulder she had got somewhat out of her way, but, as she was stooping to
look under a large clump of broom and gorse not so very far from where her
little sister lay asleep, something white fluttering about had caught her
eye.  It was Poppy's pinafore, dried now by the breeze.  A moment later
she caught sight of Poppy's shoes standing alone, without any wearer in
them.  The sight of her little sister's clothes lying about the moor in
this fashion turned Penelope perfectly sick and cold with a horrible,
indescribable fear.  With feet weighted with terror, and quivering limbs,
she hurried to the spot, and dropped on her knees half senseless by her
sister's body.  A moment later all her terrors fled, replaced by a
wonderful ecstasy of thankfulness and joy.  Poppy stirred, turned in her
sleep, and showed a dirty but rosy face to her frightened sister.  In her
relief Penelope, with a shout of happiness, flung her arms about her and
hugged her.

Suddenly awakened, Poppy sat up and looked about her in a dazed way; then
her eyes fell on her muddy pinafore and boots, and a hot blush spread over
her baby face.

"I didn't mean to make my pinny dirty," she said anxiously, "but I
_touldn't_ help it; there was such a _lot_ of seed, and I _had_ to water
it, and the silly water would run out over the can, though I was _ever_
and _ever_ so careful."

"But how did you come to be lying here, darling?" said Pen, drawing her
little sister closer into her arms.  In her relief she was quite unable to
scold her for the fright she had given them.  "We left you in the garden.
You shouldn't have come out here alone.  We thought you were lost, and we
were awfully frightened!"

Poppy sat up very erect.  She suddenly felt herself very important and
interesting.  "I wanted to find you and Essie.  I was 'fraid to see Cousin
Charlotte with my dirty pinny on; and I came out here and you weren't
anywhere, and then I was _so_ tired I lay down.  Oh, it took me such a
long time, but Mrs. Vercoe said it was _beautiful_ parsley.  Do you think
it is beginning to grow yet, Pen?"

"I don't know," said Pen absently; "we must make haste back, now, to let
them know you are safe.  You see, if you go getting lost, Cousin Charlotte
won't let us come out on the moor alone.  Come along," raising her sister,
after putting on her shoes for her.

For a moment Poppy looked troubled, but quickly cheered up.  "I don't fink
Cousin Charlotte will be cross when she knows," she said confidently.

"Knows what?" asked Penelope curiously.

"My secret," said Poppy solemnly.  "I'll tell you if you'll promise not to
tell any one else."  But at that moment all confidences were stopped by
the appearance of Esther and Ephraim.

Poppy accepted Esther's rapturous greeting calmly.  She, of course, did
not realise yet the state of alarm they had all been in on her account;
her whole attention was absorbed by the sight of a strange man in
possession of her precious watering-can.  It was too much for her to pass
unnoticed.

"That's my tan, please, I fink," she said politely but firmly, and Ephraim
felt his wisdom in bringing this means of identification had been fully
justified.

Happy and triumphant the whole party returned to the house, to be received
by Anna with open arms and a face beaming with joy.  What did it matter if
Poppy's apron was covered with mud, and her frock and boots and hands the
same?  Instead of being treated as a culprit, she was made a heroine of,
and appreciated the difference.

When Anna had finished crooning over her, and the story of the discovery
had been repeated more than once, she was taken upstairs by Esther, and
washed and changed, so that by the time Miss Ashe returned, instead of the
bedraggled, dirty little maiden of an hour before, she saw only a
perfectly neat and spotless one, and had no suspicion of all that had
taken place during her absence.

Ephraim came into the hall to speak to his mistress just as Poppy came
down the stairs.

"Well, Ephraim, how far did you get with your morning's work?  Did you get
the turnip-seed planted?"

"Well, yes, ma'am, I did," said Ephraim slowly.  "I made a nice bed for it
right there under the lew wall there in the far corner.  But--well,
whatever has come to it since, it passes me to know; when I went away that
there bed was so smooth and tidy as my hand; when I comes back to it--
well, ma'am, you honestly might have knocked me flat with a feather, that
there newly made bed was--well, 'twas more like a mud-heap than anything
you ever saw in your life, ma'am, and trampled--well, out of all shape and
semblance.  I neer see'd the likes of it in my life.  So soon as it's
dried I'll have to go and do it all again, and have a second sowing, but
it'll be a day or so before it's fit to touch; 'tisn't no use to trust to
that first crop--it's my belief it's all ruined."

Poppy drew up suddenly on her way to the dining-room.  Her face had grown
very red, her hands were working nervously.  "You--oh, you mustn't disturb
it, please," she gasped.  "I--I've planted some thing, and it mustn't be
disturbed, it's _very good_ seed, and I watered it to make it grow
quickly--it--it did look rather muddy, but--but it'll soon dry."

Ephraim stared in dumb bewilderment.  Miss Ashe looked from him to the
child and back again, scarcely taking in the situation.  She looked again
at Ephraim, but getting no help from him, she turned to Poppy.

"What do you mean, darling?  Have you been sowing seeds?"

"Yes," said Poppy, but with marked hesitation.  "You shall know soon, but
it's a secret now, and I mustn't tell, only I was afraid he,"--nodding at
Ephraim--"would dig them all up again."

"But, Poppy dear, you shouldn't have done it without asking permission;
you see you might do considerable damage by taking a piece of ground like
that, not knowing whether there is anything in it or not.  As it is, you
see, you have spoilt all my turnips.  If we hadn't found it out in good
time, we should have been left without any for the whole season.
Don't you see, dear, how important it is?"

The importance of it was so apparent, and what she had done appeared so
overwhelmingly naughty, it seemed to Poppy as though all joy and happiness
had gone out of her life for ever.  It was dreadful, intolerable.
In trying to help Cousin Charlotte as Esther had wished, she had done harm
instead of good.  Her beautiful secret was over, and instead of being a
help she had been a naughty, foolish little girl, whom these strange new
people would wish they had never seen, while every one else would laugh
when they heard the story.  She felt herself covered with shame and
disgrace; she was humiliated and miserable; her little lip quivered
piteously, her eyes filled, and she was too tired and hurt to fight
against her woe.

Miss Charlotte's kind eyes saw the humiliation in the pretty, tired little
face, and held out her hand.  "Never mind, dear; as it happens there is no
harm done; Ephraim shall choose another spot for the turnips, and you
shall have that piece of ground for your own garden.  It would never do to
destroy a second lot of seeds by digging the bed all over again.
Good evening, Ephraim, I'll see you to-morrow."

So, thanks to Cousin Charlotte, Poppy was saved the disgrace of having
cried before Ephraim; her tears did not fall; she winked them away, and
her lip grew steadier.  The thought restored her spirits, but her great
pleasure in her scheme was dashed.

"And I sowed the parsley on purpose for Tousin Charlotte, only 'twas to be
a secret," she confided to Esther as she was being put to bed that night,
"to help her, like you said.  She could have some to use, and I was going
to sell most of it and give the money to her."

Esther did not smile; indeed her eyes were misty as she took her little
sister on her lap and kissed her on the top of her head.  "It will be all
right, dear," she said, "and--and you are the first of us to begin to do
something useful; it was splendid of you to think of it.  I wish I knew
what I could do," she added wistfully, her cheek resting on Poppy's curls.

"I'll try and fink of something for you," said Poppy gravely.  "P'r'aps by
the morning I'll have finked of something _very_ nice--then won't you be
glad?"

But she fell asleep before she had come to any satisfactory conclusion,
and Esther, downstairs, in spite of her busy brain and sober face, was
equally unsuccessful.  She was still thinking when she got up to say
'good-night' and kiss Miss Charlotte.  But Miss Charlotte did not bid her
good-night at once; instead, she asked her to wait a few moments.

"I wanted to have a little talk, dear, now we are alone," she said, with
her pretty smile.

Penelope and Angela had already gone to bed.

Esther sat down again, wondering what was coming.

"I have been thinking,"  said Miss Charlotte, laying down her pen and
coming to sit by Esther, "I have been thinking over our plans, dear, and I
have come to the conclusion that I might superintend your studies myself,
for a time at any rate."

Esther looked up quickly, her pleasure showing in her eyes.  "Oh, that
_would_ be nice, Cousin Charlotte," she cried.  "I do want to learn so
much, but--but you have such a lot to do already, and we are _very_
backward, and I am so--so stupid."

"I don't think you are that, dear," said Miss Charlotte gently, and her
words, quiet though they were, brought deep pleasure to Esther.

"I think we might manage it," she went on cheerfully.  "Of course I have
many calls on my time, and I shall not be able to give you all the
attention I should like to; but we can but do our best, and this seems the
best plan I can think of.  I cannot very well manage to have a governess
to you, and there is no school nearer than Gorley, and that is not only
four miles away, but a school I do not approve of.  So, at any rate, we
will try this plan for the present."

Esther got up and stood by Miss Charlotte, her colour coming and going,
her fingers playing nervously with her pinafore.  "I--I think you are too
good to us, Cousin Charlotte," she said huskily, speechless almost with
nervousness, but determined to say something of what was in her heart.
"I--I don't know how to thank you, but I _do_ want to, and--and--"

Cousin Charlotte's arm was round her, drawing her to her.  "We can never
be _too_ good to one another, dear; and what are we here for but to help
each other over hard places, to try to make each other's lives easier?
I am only thankful to have this opportunity of doing good.  I was growing
narrow and selfish all by myself.  I think you were sent to rouse me."

"Oh, Cousin Charlotte, I want to help too," cried Esther wistfully.
"I do want to be useful, but I don't know how.  Will you tell me?
Nothing ever seems to happen to me; I never get a chance of helping
people."

"Opportunities, small or great, occur every day, dear," said Miss
Charlotte; "it is the little opportunity we must look out for, the small
things that we must do.  Big ones come sometimes, but little ones every
day; if you look for them you will find them.  We will help each other,
dear.  Now we will say good-night.  You are tired with your long day in
the open air.  We will not begin lessons until Monday, there will be so
much else to do and arrange.  Good-night, my love," and with a warm kiss
they parted.

Esther went up to her room with a great glow of happiness at her heart.
For the first time in her life she had met some one who understood her;
at least, some one who could draw out the good side of her, and not the
bad.  Esther did not understand what it was, but she felt a difference,
and she undressed and said her prayers with Cousin Charlotte's words still
ringing in her ears: "We can never be _too_ good to one another, dear; and
what are we here for but to help each other over hard places?"

She prayed very especially that she might be shown how to do her share in
helping others.  Like Poppy, she lay down, determined to think and think,
hoping that perhaps by morning she would have thought of some way of
helping Cousin Charlotte; and, more successful than Poppy, before even she
fell asleep an idea had come.  Quite suddenly there came back to her Miss
Ashe's remark, that 'it was not convenient then to have a governess.'
"It must be on account of the expense," thought Esther, with sudden
inspiration.  "She talked of getting another servant; but I am sure, if
she can't afford a governess she can't afford a servant; and I do believe
we could do without one, if I helped quite a lot, as I did at home.
And I can.  I did all right there.  I will ask her to let me try.
Oh!"--enthusiastically, as the idea took a firmer hold on her--"I _hope_
she will.  She _must_--and I am sure Anna would be glad."

Too excited and pleased to sleep, Esther slipped from her bed, crept to
the window, and looked out.  A bright moon lighted up the moor opposite
and the river below, until she could see the old brown boulders quite
plainly; birds called to each other across the distance, and far away a
cow lowed monotonously for its calf.  Esther stood and gazed and listened
with uplifted heart, yearning for something, she knew not what, something
higher and better to be and do.

"Oh, I am so glad we came here!" she murmured, "so glad!  I am sure it
will be easy to be good here, and I do so want to be good!  I wish I
hadn't been so horrid to mother sometimes, and--and now I can't ever be
anything else, to her."  And there came back to her mind her mother's
words, "I am sure your Aunt Julia would not have Esther if she knew how
bad her temper had become," and her eyes filled with tears at the
recollection.

"I will try," she whispered.  "I will try that no one else shall ever say
that of me--and I will write to mother, and tell her I am sorry."
And it was a very grave and serious Esther who fell asleep at last.



CHAPTER VIII.


When Esther awoke the next morning, she wondered for a moment why she felt
so happy and light-hearted.  Then memory returned.  She recollected the
talk of last night, Cousin Charlotte's kiss, and the plan for Monday.  She
would begin to learn at last! But even greater was her joy at the other
thought--her own plan to help Miss Charlotte.  She could hardly lie still
when she thought of all she meant to do.  She would dust, and tidy and
sweep, and sew, and polish the furniture, and she even pictured herself
making bread and cleaning windows.

She longed to be dressed, and beginning already.  She sat up in bed and
looked across at Poppy.  She wanted to tell her and the others all the
news, but Poppy was sleeping in the most aggravatingly persistent way.

Too impatient to wait for her to wake, she slipped out of bed and crept
along the corridor, past Miss Charlotte's room, to Penelope's.

Angela was asleep, but Penelope lay awake reading.

"What is that you are reading?" asked Esther, eyeing the red-covered book
with a sort of feeling that it was familiar to her.

"Oh, it's only _The Invasion of the Crimea_," said Penelope, withdrawing
her eyes almost reluctantly from the page.

"I didn't know you were going on with it," said Esther, a touch of
resentment in her voice.  She did not like to feel that Penelope was more
persevering than she herself, and had outstripped her.  She was conscious
in her inmost heart that she had not been sorry when the readings were
broken off; the history did not interest her.  At the same time it
mortified her a little that it did interest Penelope.

"It's awfully exciting," said Penelope.  "Of course I have to skip some,
I can't understand it, but here and there it's lovely."

Esther's first fresh joyful feeling was a little dashed, but as it came
back to her mind what it was that she wanted to say, she recovered
herself.  "In a few days I shall be learning properly," she thought, and
then Penelope would not outstrip her.

"Listen to me," she said eagerly, as she perched herself on the foot of
Penelope's bed.  Angela stirred, and catching sight of Esther, was wide
awake in a moment.

"What is it?" she demanded.  "Has anything happened?"

"Listen," said Esther again, "both of you.  I want to tell you about our
schooling.  Cousin Charlotte stopped me last night as I was going to bed,
to have a talk; it was about our lessons.  We are to begin on Monday."

"Where are we going?" asked Penelope.  "There isn't any school here, is
there?"

"No, Cousin Charlotte is going to teach us herself.  Isn't it good of
her?"

"I am sure I shall never learn.  She will be shocked at me," said Angela
nervously.  "She doesn't know how backward I am.  Fancy me, nine years
old, and not able to read yet.  I shall be ashamed to look, and there she
will be all day long.  I would rather go somewhere where I could get away
when lessons are over."

"Don't be silly," said Esther.  But Angela had only expressed something of
her own feeling.

Penelope was sitting up in bed now, her eyes alight.  "How jolly," she
said, half absently.  Then in low, eager tones, "I wonder if she will let
us learn just what we want to?  I don't want to learn grammar and sums.
I want to know about people, and wars, and battles, and revolutions, and I
want to learn French and music and to sing.  When I grow up I should like
to be able to sing and play _very_ well.  I would rather do that than
anything.  I wonder if Cousin Charlotte would let me learn?"

Esther looked up in mild disapproval of Pen's enthusiasm.  It worried her
when her sisters showed any unusual traits, or expressed desires that
differed from her own.  Penelope very often worried her in that way.
Poppy too, at times.  She felt a twinge of jealousy always that the idea
had not first come to her, and of resentment that they should have tastes
apart from her.

"I don't suppose Cousin Charlotte would if she could," she said coldly.
"Of course you must learn grammar, and history, and geography, and all
those things first.  Every one has to learn them."

Penelope looked disappointed, but she was not one to worry.
"Perhaps before long I shall be able to do both," she said cheerfully.
"I wish Cousin Charlotte had an organ.  I do want to be able to play the
organ."

Esther grew impatient; these things seemed so trifling and useless
compared with what she had in her mind.  "I think you ought to try and
think how you can help Cousin Charlotte instead of giving her more to do."

"That's just it," persisted Penelope.  "If I only knew how to play well,
I could be an organist, and teach people, too, and earn quite a lot of
money."

"Not for years and years," said Esther, in a very crushing manner.
"And we ought to begin to help at once.  I'll tell you what I am going to
do--I thought of it last night when I was in bed; it is not nonsense,
but something very sensible.  I am going to ask Cousin Charlotte to let me
help Anna; I can do a lot if I have some big aprons like Anna's, and big
white sleeves to go over my frocks.  I know Cousin Charlotte and Anna
don't want to have a strange servant in; she would cost a lot, and Anna
wouldn't like her in the kitchen--and I could save all that."

"And I could help too," cried Angela excitedly.  She was a born housewife,
and all her tastes lay in that direction.  "I can dust, and clean silver,
and all sorts of things--"

"I am going to do all that," said Esther loftily, resenting at once any
encroachment on her domain.  "You can keep Poppy out of mischief, and play
with her.  I can do the hard work, if you will only be good and keep out
of harm."

Angela's face and spirits fell.  She did so love to do real work, it was
so much more interesting than play; and keeping out of harm was not a bit
interesting--it was very dull and stupid, in fact.  But Angela was used to
disappointments; besides which experience had already taught her that if
she waited patiently she could often find little things to do, little ways
of helping, that others forgot, or did not care about, so she said no
more, but waited.  "When I am older, perhaps I'll be able to do the things
I like," she very often said to herself, by way of encouragement.

Esther crept back to her room and to her bed, and lay there impatiently,
waiting to be called.  The minutes seemed endless, and Anna so slow in
coming!

And when at last she was dressed and downstairs she had scarcely patience
to endure prayers and breakfast, she was so longing to broach her great
idea to Cousin Charlotte.  But Cousin Charlotte seemed to be wanted by
everybody.  First Ephraim kept her ever so long talking over the day's
work; then Anna came in with a question to be answered; then Cousin
Charlotte began to talk to the others about the lessons which were to
begin on Monday, and Penelope was telling her all about her longing to
learn to play and sing, and Cousin Charlotte seemed so interested, she
talked on and on for quite a long time about it; and all the while Esther
was growing more and more vexed, until, when Cousin Charlotte at last
sprang up, exclaiming, "My dear children, do you know how long we have
been talking?  I must hurry away this minute, or I shall be behindhand all
day!" the limit of poor Esther's patience was passed.

Angela looked up eagerly.  "Can't I do something to help you,
Cousin Charlotte?" she asked eagerly; "I should love to."

Cousin Charlotte paused and looked down at the pretty, eager face
thoughtfully.  "I wonder if you could pick some strawberries for us.
Would you like to?"

"Oh, yes!" cried Angela delightedly.  "I should like to do anything to
help." She did not mean to trespass on Esther's plan.  This, she thought,
was quite different work from what Esther was going to do.  But her
promptness added to Esther's vexation.

"Well, there are a great many ripe ones, and I want some for ourselves and
some to give away; and Anna has no time this morning to pick them, and--
well, my back is not young enough to enjoy such work."

"I will do it," said Angela, very pleased and proud.

"May I help, Cousin Charlotte?" pleaded Poppy.  "I'd love to."

"Yes," said Cousin Charlotte, smiling.  "Can you whistle?
Strawberry-pickers must whistle all the time they are at work; you know
that, don't you?"

Poppy looked up very gravely.  "I can't whistle," she said regretfully,
"but I can sing.  Will that do, Cousin Charlotte?"

Miss Charlotte laughed and kissed her.  "Yes, my pet, anything that will
prevent too many strawberries finding their way down Red Lane."

The others laughed merrily.  Poppy began to understand.

"Put on your shady hats, and I will get you some baskets."  And off they
ran in a high state of delight.

Esther waited.  Though she had been full of excitement and pleasure about
approaching Miss Charlotte, she had felt very nervous, too, and this long
delay only increased her nervousness.

Anna came in to clear the table; Penelope strolled away, no one knew
where.  Esther stood by the window looking out and drumming impatiently on
it with her fingers.  Anna looked at her once or twice as though she would
like to say something.  No one cares to see a window covered with
finger-marks.  But she did not say anything; she was in a hurry, and
presently retired to her kitchen, and Esther was left alone.

"I thought last night it would be quite easy to be good here," she said to
herself, "but it doesn't seem so now."  She stood and gazed out at the
river disconsolately.  It seemed to her that the others, who were not
nearly as anxious to help as she was, were taking all her opportunities,
and she was left, to seem idle and unkind--and really she meant so
differently.

Poor Esther!  Once more, while full of big aims, she was overlooking the
little chances.

"Well," she said at last in a very proud tone, "if no one wants me I will
go for a walk by myself.  I shan't be in any one's way then!"  She knew
quite well she was in no one's way, but she was very aggrieved and full of
self-pity.

She was just crossing the hall to put on her hat, when Miss Charlotte
entered it.  Then was her chance, and she knew it; but the old sullen
temper had the upper hand, and forbade her to speak.  By this time she had
let herself feel as hurt as though Miss Charlotte had known what was in
her mind and purposely ignored her.

She passed on, put on her hat, and went out.  She would not go to the
garden because she did not want to see the others happily at their work;
so, when Miss Charlotte turned in to the kitchen, she slipped out at the
front door and walked away quickly up the road towards the station.
She would not go past the cottages, she wanted to avoid every one;
for that reason she avoided that part of the moor behind the house,
where Penelope would probably be, if she were not in the house or garden.
A little way up the road, on the right-hand side, a bridge crossed the
river.  Esther went over it and found herself on the moor beyond, but she
turned away from it lest she should be seen, and clambered down to the
river's edge, where boughs and bushes shut her off from view.  It was
lonely there, and she wandered on and on, through sun and shadow, under
low-hanging branches, by tiny beaches of clean river-sand, and all the way
she went the river ran beside her singing a low, cheery song as it rippled
over its uneven bed.

It could not be long before such loveliness must have a soothing effect on
any troubled spirit.  By degrees Esther's mood changed, her sense of wrong
grew less, and presently she began to wish she had acted differently.
If she only had, she might now have been busy and happy too.  She began to
feel ashamed of herself.  How foolish she had been.  She would go back
again and see if she could not be more sensible, and she rose from her
seat and turned her face homewards.

The house seemed deserted when at last she reached it.  She went into the
hall, looked in the dining-room and drawing-room, saw no one, and strolled
out to the garden.

"Where can they all be?" she wondered, "and what can they be doing?"

From the kitchen came a great clatter of crockery.  Anna was washing
dishes, and by the noise one could gather that Anna's temper was not of
the smoothest.

As Esther stepped out she saw Miss Charlotte coming towards her from the
group of outbuildings, carrying a basket of eggs.  She was looking grave
and worried, and for a moment Esther felt she could not speak to her then;
she must wait until she found her again in such a mood as last night's.
But a second glance told her that Miss Charlotte looked tired, and without
giving herself time to think, Esther stepped up to her.

"Cousin Charlotte," she said, "I have nothing to do; let me help you--may
I?"

Cousin Charlotte's face brightened.  "Oh, could you, dear?  I am so busy I
don't know what to do first.  I wonder if you could wash those eggs for
me, and write the date on them?"

Esther assented joyfully, and Miss Ashe led her to the pantry and showed
her where to find a cloth and a pencil and a place to store the eggs.

"While you are doing that, I can make out my list to send to Gorley; that
will be capital!"

"Cousin Charlotte," said Esther, in a voice that trembled a little with
nervousness, "I--I wanted to speak to you.  I--I--you said you were trying
to get another servant."  Miss Charlotte sighed.  "I know you don't want
to, and--and don't you think we could manage without one, if I--if I
helped Anna?"  Her voice was trembling, uncertain, but there was no
mistaking the earnestness of her purpose.  "I used to help a lot at home,
and I should like to here.  I can sweep, and dust, and make beds, and
clean silver, and cook some things, and--oh, I can do lots of little
useful things.  I could keep our bedrooms dusted, and the drawing-room--
and it would all help, wouldn't it?"

Miss Ashe, who had paused in what she was doing, listened attentively.
"My dear," she said, as gravely as Esther herself, "it is very good and
thoughtful of you to think of such a thing, and you can certainly be most
useful in many ways, but I hardly know what to think about trying to do
without an extra servant.  I cannot let you work too hard; you will have
your studies, you know, and we are rather a large family now.  I cannot
let you become a little slave with no time for enjoyment; at the same
time, I must admit I really do not know how Anna and another maid would
get on.  Anna does not like the idea, and to prove that one is not
necessary, she slaves and slaves to do everything herself, gets over-tired
and worried, and--and--well, she is very difficult; her only fault is her
temper, but that _is_ rather trying.  I know she means well, and I keep on
telling myself so.  She gets so hurt and offended if I try to help her;
she seems quite to resent it; and it requires a great deal of tact,
more than I possess, I am afraid," concluded Miss Ashe with another deep
sigh.

"Perhaps she wouldn't mind so much if I helped her," said Esther shrewdly;
"you see, it is we who have made so much extra work.  Do let me try,
Cousin Charlotte, if it is only for a time."

Esther's face was very eager, her voice very pleading; Cousin Charlotte
could not resist the appeal, and gave in with another sigh, but of relief
this time.  Esther, in her joy and excitement, marked every egg twice with
the wrong date, but what did it matter when she had gained her point?

For a few minutes Miss Ashe went on making her list, but in an
absent-minded fashion.  "I wonder," she said at last, rather nervously,
"how it would be best to broach the subject to Anna?"

Esther looked up somewhat puzzled; she would have gone straight out to
Anna and told her she was going to undertake this, that, and the other
thing, and give all the help she could, but Miss Ashe had other views,
born of experience.

"My dear," she said, smiling rather shamefacedly, as though aware of her
weakness, "it all depends on how we manage it, whether all goes smoothly,
or there is constant friction.  I think the best way will be not to speak
to Anna about it as though we had planned it, but just begin gradually,
doing what you can.  I think it is always wiser not to begin violently
with changes and reforms.  No one likes to have new plans made and thrust
on them, or their work taken from them, even though they grumble at having
to do it.  We should not like it ourselves, should we, dear?"

Esther's memory flashed back to the morning, and her objection to Angela's
desire to share in the new scheme; she understood something of what Miss
Charlotte meant.

"I think, dear, if you just go about quietly, with your eyes open, ready
to give a little help when you see an opportunity, that would be the best
way; then by degrees you will build a little niche for yourself, and get
your own duties; and Anna, instead of resenting your help, will grow to
trust you, and count on you, and be grateful."

"Yes, Cousin Charlotte," agreed Esther, but in a not very enthusiastic
voice.  She saw the wisdom of the plan, but it was rather a descent from
the beautiful scheme by which she was to have been the help and comfort of
them all, and she felt she might as well say 'good-bye' at once to the big
aprons and white sleeves which had formed such a delightful feature of her
plans.

"Things never turn out just as we want them to," she sighed, "and they
might so easily if people's tempers were not so tiresome."  But at that
point she paused suddenly, and had the grace to blush warmly, though no
one was there to see her.



CHAPTER IX.


"Oh dear!" sighed Esther, dropping wearily into the chair by her bedroom
window.  "I _am_ so tired!"

Anna looked up in surprise from her task of bed-making.

"Tired, Miss Esther!" she exclaimed.  "Whatever with?  You oughtn't to be
tired at this time of day."

"I am though," said Esther, sighing again; "tired of doing nothing,
I suppose.  You see, I used to have lots to do at home, and I miss it."

"Did you, missie?  Well, I'm thinking if I had a chance to sit still I'd
be only too glad, and not grumble, I know."  And Anna thumped a pillow
vigorously.

"I don't think you would," said Esther.  "You would soon get tired.
But perhaps you don't like doing housework.  I do; I love it."

"Do you really, miss?" said Anna, as though such a taste were past her
comprehension.  "Well, you'll have enough to do next week, when your
lessons begin."

"Yes," assented Esther, "but they won't take long; and it's dusting and
tidying, and all that sort of thing that I like.  I wish I had a little
house of my very own.  I would do all the work in it myself.  I'd love to
blacklead a grate, and clean windows, and scrub tables and things--oh,
Anna, do let me help you, or I shall grow homesick and miserable.
Do let me do some dusting for you; I'd love to--will you?"

Anna was quite touched by Esther's piteous appeal; also she herself
detested dusting and 'finicking work,' as she called it.

"Would you really like to, dearie?  Then you shall.  I know it's miserable
not to know what to do with yourself; I used to feel like it when I was a
child.  I was never so happy as when I'd got real work to do; 'twas better
to me than play.  You shall dust your own room presently, if you like."

"Shall I?  Oh, that will be nice."  Esther was on her feet in a moment,
all her melancholy gone.  "Where shall I find a duster, Anna?"

"Don't be in too much of a 'urry, Miss Esther.  I reckon you wouldn't feel
so pleased if you'd got to do it," added Anna, laughing.  "I'll give you
the duster and brush in a minute.  You lend me a hand with this, if you
will," turning the mattress on Poppy's bed, "and I'll be ready in half the
time; it's ever so much quicker done if there's two at it; you see, when
one's alone, one wastes so much time running round and round the bed."

"Of course," said Esther.  "I wish I'd helped you sooner.  I wonder how
long I should be learning to make a bed.   Is it very difficult?"

"Not a bit," said Anna, "once you've got into the way of it.  First you
spreads the blanket like so, and tucks it in--you must always begin at the
bottom."

    "First the foot and then the head,
     That's the way to make a bed."

"My old grandmother taught me them lines when I wasn't more'n eleven, and
I've never forgot 'em.  Next you spreads the sheet just so, and you must
be careful not to leave any creases in it.  Then you beat up the bolster
and pillow, and lay them like that," suiting the action to the words.
"Then comes the top sheet, and the blankets.  You must tuck each one in at
the bottom first, and then at the sides, and leave the top end loose, so
that when you've got the blankets spread, you turn the sheet neatly down
over the blankets; and then you see it's all tidy under the quilt, ready
for when you come to turn down the bed at night."

Esther followed her instructions closely to the end.  "Shall I come and
help you with the others?" she asked, as Anna moved off to Penelope's
room; and Anna quite graciously consented.

"I shall be glad enough to have the dusting done," she said, as they
finished off the other two little beds.  "I've got to make jam to-day, and
that means that I can't leave the kitchen a minute when once I've put it
on," and Esther could have danced with joy.  She was managing wonderfully,
she told herself, and felt very proud.

From the French window below they heard Miss Charlotte's voice.
"Penelope!" she called.  "Penelope, dear!"

Penelope came running up the garden at once.

"Do you think you could walk as much as two miles without getting
over-tired?"

"Oh yes," said Penelope, without a moment's hesitation.  "I often walked
five or six miles at home.  Do you want me to go somewhere, Cousin
Charlotte?"

"Well, dear, I very much want some one to go to Four Winds for me.
I promised some strawberries to a friend of mine, Miss Row, who lives just
outside Four Winds.  She is giving a garden-party to-day, and I know she
is relying on my sending her some fruit.  I thought Ephraim would have
been able to go, but he started for Gorley before I could speak to him."

"I should love to go," said Penelope.  "I will start at once.  Which way
is it, Cousin Charlotte?"

"You go past the houses here, and keep on the main road, right up the
hill, until you come to the top; just before you reach the top you will
come to a church."

"Oh, I know," cried Penelope.  "I went there yesterday, and when I came to
the church it was open, and some one was playing the organ, and I went in
and sat in one of the pews for ever so long to listen."

"Oh, is that where you were?" said Miss Charlotte.  "I wondered what had
become of you.  Well, when you go so far another time, dear, take Guard
with you.  We rarely, if ever, get a tramp, or any other undesirable
person about these parts, we are too remote, and too poor to be worth
coming so far to find, but all the same I do not like you to go about
quite alone.  Take him with you now, dear.  When you reach the church you
must go on a little further, until you come to the village; then you cross
the square straight, keep down the next hill a little way, and you will
soon come to a large white gate with 'Cold Harbour' painted on it.
That is my friend's house.  Go in, and ask for Miss Row, and if you can
see her, give her the basket and this note.  If you can't see her you must
leave them; but I hope you will, for I should like you to rest a little
before you take the walk back."

Penelope took the basket, and was starting straight away with it.

"I think, dear, you had better wash your hands and brush your hair before
you go," said Cousin Charlotte.  "Miss Row is very good and kind, but she
is a very particular lady, and I want you to make a good impression on
her; besides, one lady never calls on another with soiled hands."

"Oh, of course!" Penelope blushed and ran upstairs, and some few minutes
elapsed before she walked out and through the village, her basket of
strawberries on her arm, and Guard at her heels.

It was a glorious day, with rather a stiff breeze blowing, and clouds and
sunshine chasing each other along the road.  If it had not been for the
clouds, and the intervals when the shadows had overtaken the sun, the walk
would have been a hot one; but Penelope did not notice that, her mind was
absorbed by other things, for suddenly it seemed to her that it was rather
an alarming thing to be going alone to face a strange, and very
particular, lady, and she felt a great shyness coming over her.
She tried to forget it by racing the cloud, as it chased the sunshine,
and the sunshine as it overtook the cloud, and so, at last, she came to
the church.  She paused a moment to listen, but the organ was silent
to-day, so on she went again, but more soberly, and soon found herself in
the village square, with little low-roofed houses on either side and a
pump in the middle of the square, and two or three happy ducks paddling
about in the damp earth by the trough.  Guard, as though he knew it of
old, went up to the pump for a drink.  The ducks fled, tumbling over each
other in their hurry, scrambling and quacking indignantly at the great
creature who had so disturbed their pleasure; but Guard, quite
unconcerned, drank, and went calmly on his way again until he led Penelope
straight to the white gate with 'Cold Harbour' painted on it.

A short drive led from the gate to the house, and Penelope felt horribly
shy and conscious as she made her way up it.  It seemed to her that
somebody might be watching her from every window, and there were so many
windows it was quite embarrassing.

But, apparently, no one had witnessed her approach, for she stood quite a
long time at the door, not able to reach the knocker or find the bell.
She rapped with her knuckles; but they grew sore and produced no result,
for the sound did not reach beyond the door-mat, or so it seemed to her,
and the vast, still hall within appeared to swallow up everything.
Guard lay down at last on the gravel and went to sleep, and Penelope
longed to sit beside him.  She was tired, and her arm aching a good deal
from carrying the basket.

But at last, just as she was beginning to get anxious and a little vexed,
a servant crossed the hall on her way to one of the rooms, and saw her.

"Good morning," said Penelope.  "I have been trying to ring the bell, but
I don't know where you keep it."

The servant, an elderly woman, who looked like the cook, smiled.
"There's a brave many can't do that," she said.  "There," showing Penelope
a little knob like a button, "there 'tis; 'tis one of them new-fangled
electric things.  I can't abide 'em myself; they may be very fine and nice
for towns, but in the country, where we don't have to count every inch of
room, give me the good old sort.  'Tis such a silly noise these makes,
too, like a child's toy, yet it never sounds but what I jumps nearly out
of my skin."

Penelope wished one would sound then, that she might see so wonderful a
sight.  But she only smiled.

"I wanted to see Miss Row, please.  I've come from Miss Ashe."

"Please to walk inside, miss," said cook, very amiably; and Penelope
followed her through the dim hall to a large room where a lady was sitting
at a table littered with vases, cans of water, and quantities of cut
flowers.  She was rather a severe-looking lady, and glanced up so sharply
when cook opened the door and showed the visitor in, that Penelope was,
for the moment, quite frightened.  But it was not Penelope's way to remain
frightened for long, and she soon recovered herself, as did Miss Row when
she saw that the intruder was not a very formidable person.

"I have brought you these from Cousin Charlotte," said Penelope, advancing
to the table with her wide, frank smile; "and I was to give them to you
myself if you were at home."

Miss Row took the basket and the letter, but she was paying more attention
to their bearer than to either.

"I suppose you are one of Miss Ashe's young cousins?" said Miss Row
abruptly.

"Yes, I am Penelope, the second eldest."

"Well, sit down for a little while, and rest before you walk back again."

Penelope, not being directed to any particular seat, and seeing by the
window a little low, upright chair, evidently made for small people like
herself, went over and seated herself on it with much satisfaction.

But Miss Row, glancing up presently from her letter, felt no satisfaction
at all; in fact she gave quite a scream when she saw her.  "Oh, child,"
she cried.  "Get off that chair this moment, quick! quick!  It isn't meant
to be sat on; it is far too old and valuable.  Oh dear! you might have
broken it right down, or--oh dear, oh dear, to think that out of all in
the room you should have chosen that one!"

Penelope sprang to her feet at once.  At first she felt terribly alarmed,
then very angry; it made one feel so small to be screamed at in that way.

"I--I didn't know--how could I?" she said crossly.  "Is it a broken
chair?"  What she longed to say was, "Why do you keep it there if it is so
unsafe?" but she felt that would be rude.  "I am very sorry," she added,
forcing herself to be polite.  "Is it a very old chair?"

"Yes, very old.  It was made for my great-great-grandmother, when she was
a little girl, and I value it exceedingly.  Unfortunately the last two or
three years worms have got into the wood, and have eaten it so it is quite
crumbling away."

"But can't you do anything for it?" asked Penelope, her vexation swallowed
up in pity for the chair.  She was thinking that if she had valued it so
much she would have taken better care of it.

But Miss Row had returned to her letter again.  When she had done she rose
and rang the bell.  "You can take some milk and cake before you go, can't
you?" she asked.

"Yes, I think so, thank you," said Penelope modestly.  "But I left Guard
outside.  Will he stay, do you think?"

"Oh yes, he is used to waiting here."

Cook came in presently with a tray, on which was a large jug of milk, some
glasses, and a plate of cakes of various kinds.  Penelope thought they
looked beautiful, so beautiful that she longed to take some back to the
others.  She knew exactly how thoroughly they would enjoy them; but, of
course, no sign of what she was thinking escaped her.

She was wondering which of all them she might take for herself, when Miss
Row took up the plate.  "I think you will find that very nice," pointing
to a piece of uninteresting-looking shortbread, "or that," pointing to a
slice of ginger-cake.  "They would be less likely than the others to
disagree with you."

Penelope longed to say that nothing disagreed with her, but she did not
like to, and helped herself with the best grace she could to the
shortbread.

Miss Row continued arranging her flowers, sipping a glass of milk
meanwhile, and eating one after another of the fascinating little sugared
cakes Penelope was eyeing so wistfully, while she nibbled at her thick
piece of shortbread, unable to get a real bite.  There really was no
satisfaction about that shortbread.  It was so hard as to be unbiteable,
and so crumbly it scattered all over the floor; while with one hand
occupied holding the glass of milk, and the other the cake, she could not
pick up the crumbs, or break the piece.  When she saw the crumbs filling
her lap and pouring off on to the carpet, poor Penelope wished she had
declined to have anything, and sat in misery wondering what she could do.

Presently Miss Row looked around at her, and her sharp eyes fell
immediately on the litter on her usually speckless carpet.  "Oh dear," she
said with the little click of her tongue which expressed annoyance more
effectually than any words could.  Then, perhaps catching sight of the
child's mortified face, she tried to pass it off.

"I expect your Cousin Charlotte has a trial with the four of you,"
she said, in what she meant to be a joking manner; but her words, and the
little laugh that accompanied them, were worse to Penelope than anything.

"I--we--try not to be more troublesome than we can help," she said
shortly, without a trace of a smile on her face.  "Cousin Charlotte
doesn't seem to mind--and we try to help as much as we can."  Then, after
a moment's silence, "I--I wish I hadn't taken it.  It was so crumbly I
_couldn't_ eat it without its falling all about; and the chair is so high
my feet don't touch, so they all ran off my lap."  She meant the crumbs,
though it sounded as if she was speaking of her feet.

Perhaps something told Miss Row that she had not been very kind, for her
tone changed.  "I ought to have thought of it, dear," she said.
It was the first time she had ever been known to call any one 'dear'.

"I think I had better go now, please Miss Row," said Penelope very
gravely.  She still felt mortified and unhappy.

"I wonder if you would mind waiting just a little longer, then I could
have your company as far as the church.  I must go and have my practice,
or I shall not be ready for Sunday."

Penelope looked up with sudden interest, all her mortification and
resentment forgotten.  "Oh, was it you who was playing there on Tuesday?"

Miss Row nodded.  "Probably, I don't know of any one else who plays that
organ.  Why?  What do you know about it?"

"I walked up there the day after we came, and I heard the organ, and I
went in and listened for ever so long.  I hope you don't mind.
The door was open, and I thought any one might go in."

"Mind?  Oh dear no! I am only thankful some one besides myself takes any
interest in it.  Are you fond of music?"

"I love it!  I love to hear it!  I can't play yet, but I want to learn,
and I _think_," gravely, "I'd rather play the organ than anything.
I do want to learn to play so well that I can earn money by it."

"Oh, you mercenary little person," laughed Miss Row.  "What can you want
with money?"

Penelope did not know what 'mercenary' meant.  She understood the second
question, but she did not know whether she was at liberty to answer it or
not.  Miss Row seemed, though, to be waiting for a reply, so she felt
obliged to.

"We all want to help Cousin Charlotte and father," she added, with great
earnestness.  "You see we are so many, and it costs such a lot to keep us
all, so Esther says, and I don't know _how_ to help, but I am trying to
think of a way."

Miss Row looked at her little companion very thoughtfully, with a somewhat
puzzled expression.  She herself had never known what it was to want
money.  She was a wealthy woman, and she did a certain amount of good with
her wealth, subscribing to many charities, but it never occurred to her
that there might be anxiety and need amongst people of her own class,
still less among those she knew.  Penelope's words opened a new vista
before her, and set her wondering if there were not many things she had
missed for want of eyes and understanding.

"If you could play the organ," she said at last slowly, "it would be years
before you could earn your living by it.  You could not do much until you
were seventeen or eighteen."

"No," said Penelope sadly.  "That is the worst of it, and by that time
perhaps daddy will be able to have us out to Canada; but it would always
be useful, for I daresay there are organs in Canada, and I don't suppose
daddy will ever be very rich again, and--and if I only knew how to play I
could help if I was wanted to."

"It is always a great pleasure and solace too, even if one only plays for
one's own pleasure," said Miss Row softly.

She led the way into the hall, unhung a hat and put it on, and preceded
Penelope to the door.  Guard, hearing their footsteps, rose from his sleep
in the sun, and expressed his delight.

On their way through the garden Miss Row gathered quite a large nosegay of
lovely roses and carnations and mignonette, and as she wandered from bush
to bush, Penelope followed her in a state of perfect delight.
She was passionately fond of flowers.

At last they made their way into the road and up the hill.  Miss Row was
rather silent.  Penelope talked and Miss Row listened, but she did not say
much until they came to the gate of the church and stopped.

"Tell Miss Ashe I will come and see her tomorrow.  Give her my love and
thanks for the fruit, and for introducing one of her cousins to me--you, I
mean," touching Penelope's cheek lightly with her finger.  "And these are
for you," placing in Penelope's hands the lovely flowers she had been
carrying all this time.

Penelope gasped with delight.  "For Cousin Charlotte! oh, how lovely, I
thought they were for the church."

"They are for neither.  They are for you yourself," said Miss Row, with
just the faintest tinge of colour in her cheeks.  For one second Penelope
looked incredulous; then in a kind of rapture she held her bouquet closer.
"Oh, thank you very, very, _very_ much," she said earnestly.  "I never had
anything so lovely in my life before," and she put up her face with the
prettiest grace imaginable to kiss her new friend.

"I am glad you are pleased," said Miss Row smilingly.  "Now, good-bye.
Perhaps I may see you on Sunday."

"On Sunday?"  said Penelope puzzled.

"If you come to church."

"Oh, do we come up here to this dear little church?  I am so glad,
I didn't know.  I hope we shall all come.  Good-bye, and thank you,
and,"--hesitating a little and colouring warmly--"I am _so_ sorry about
the crumbs;" and waving her hand to her new friend as she disappeared
within the church, she ran off in a state of high glee.

Mrs. Vercoe was standing at her door as Penelope passed.  "Good-morning,
missie," she said.  "I reckon you'm fond of walking.  I was the same when
I was young.  Oh my! what bootiful flowers!"

Penelope stayed to display her treasures.  "You must have one of them,
Mrs. Vercoe," she said, selecting one of the handsomest roses from her
bouquet.

Mrs. Vercoe was vastly pleased.  "'Tisn't often one has a flower like that
now," she exclaimed delightedly.  "It'll brighten up my bit of a place
wonderful.  Thank you kindly, missie "; and she disappeared into her house
to place her treasure in water.

Penelope was hurrying on, when, glancing round to look for Guard, her eye
fell on Mrs. Bennett standing at her shop door.  Mrs. Bennett said
"good-morning," and Penelope returned the greeting; but she had gone a
step or two before it occurred to her that she had not been very gracious
or kind to the post-mistress.  Mrs. Bennett must have seen her stop and
give a flower to Mrs. Vercoe.  She paused, then slipped back to Mrs.
Bennett's door.  "Would you like one of my pretty flowers?" she asked.

"Oh no, thank you, miss.  Don't you pull your bookay to pieces for me,"
she answered civilly, but with just the slightest toss of her head.
She was really a little hurt and jealous, for she had seen that Penelope's
offer to Mrs. Vercoe was quite spontaneous.  Penelope, conscious of the
feeling that had been in her own heart, was ashamed and sorry.
"Do please let me give you one," she said earnestly.  "I want to.
I have such a lot it would be greedy to keep them all."

Mrs. Bennett backed into her shop.  "Won't you come inside, missie?" she
said, much more graciously.  "Your little hands are almost too small;
you'm in danger of dropping some of them."

Penelope followed her in gladly enough.  She could not bear to think she
had hurt any one's feelings, even any one she did not particularly like.
Mrs. Bennett led the way into her parlour, where Penelope had never been
before.  It held all the treasures she was most proud of, and the window
was full of geraniums, fuchsias, and hanging baskets of 'Mothers of
Thousands,' blocking out most of the light.  While Penelope was selecting
a flower Mrs. Bennett stepped to the window.

"Are you fond of flowers, miss?"

"Oh, _very_," said Penelope, "I _love_ them.  I wish I could grow some.
I think I shall ask Cousin Charlotte to let me have a little bit of garden
of my own.  Do you think I should ever get anything to grow?"

She talked on rapidly, partly because she was really interested and partly
in the hope of ministering balm to Mrs. Bennett's wounded feelings.

"Oh yes, missie, of course you could, and if you'd like a split or two of
geranium I'd be glad to give 'ee some off of any of mine, or you could
have 'em in pots in your own windy.  Have 'ee got a windy-ledge to your
room?"

"Yes," said Penelope eagerly.

"Then you could grow mignonette and lots of things there.  Look at mine.
I've got flowers 'most all the year round."

Penelope stepped over to look closer at the beautiful pelargoniums, the
great white geraniums, and graceful fuchsias, all blooming as happily in
their narrow space as though it had been a handsome conservatory.

"Oh, and what is that?"

Two halves of a cocoanut shell hung from the top of the window with a
curious little creeping plant growing in them, and sending long, hanging
tendrils down over the sides.

"I was going to ask you if you would accept one of these, missie, by way
of a beginning.  We calls 'em 'Mothers of Thousands' here, and a very good
name for 'em.  I tilled both those last year from my old plant there, and
look how they've growed a'ready."

Penelope was overjoyed.  To have a plant of her very own, and growing in a
cocoanut shell, too, gave her the greatest delight.  She thanked Mrs.
Bennett profusely, took her new present almost reverently, and hardly knew
how she got home, her hands were so full of treasures and her mind of
excitement.



CHAPTER X.

The next day, according to promise, Miss Row came to call on Miss Ashe.
The children were all out and very busy when she came, and did not know
anything about the call until Cousin Charlotte came to the garden to them
after.

Esther was shelling peas, Penelope was filling flower-pots in which to
plant some mignonette seeds she had bought at Mrs. Vercoe's that morning.
Angela and Poppy were playing shops.  They had the long stool Anna used
for her washing-trays on washing-days.  This was their counter, and on it
they had arranged their stock of goods--a little pile of unripe
strawberries, another of currants, a heap of pebbles to represent nuts,
gravel for sugar, and earth for tea.  One of their greatest treasures was
a little tin scoop which Anna had presented to them, and which they took
it in turns to use.  They both stood behind the stool, with a pile of
newspaper cut into all kinds of shapes and sizes in front of them, and
were apparently kept as busy as could be by the constant stream of
invisible customers which flowed into their shop.

When Miss Charlotte came out she found them as busy as possible.
"Penelope," she called, "I want to speak to you, dear.  I have something
to tell you--something that I think will please you very much, dear."

Penelope looked up from her seed-sowing with a face full of pleased
surprise.

"I have had a visitor, Miss Row, and she has offered to give you lessons
on the organ if you would like to learn.  She tells me she thinks you
would.  It is very kind of Miss Row, and a great opportunity for you."

"I'd _love_ to, I told her so."  Penelope stopped abruptly, her face
crimsoning.  "Oh, I hope she did not think I was asking!"

"No, dear, she certainly did not think that," said Miss Charlotte
reassuringly.  "I know my friend well enough to know that she would never
have made the offer if she had."

"But where can I learn?" asked Penelope.  "I shouldn't be allowed to use
the organ in the church, should I?"

"I think so; but Miss Row will settle all that.  You see, her father used
to be the vicar at Four Winds, and she has been the organist ever since
she was sixteen--"

"Sixteen!" cried Penelope.  "Can I be an organist when I am sixteen?"

"As I was saying," said Cousin Charlotte, in a slight tone of reproof,
"she has been the organist there since she was sixteen, and all for love,
so no one would be so ungrateful as to object to her using it."

"Oh, how beautiful, how beautiful, and just the very thing I wanted."
Penelope fairly danced with delight.  "Isn't it strange," she said,
"how one gets just the very things one has been longing for?"

Esther did not make any remark.  The old demon jealousy surged up in her
heart and forbade her saying anything that was nice or kind.

"Why was it that Penelope always attracted all the notice, and made
friends, and got the very things she longed for?" she asked herself
angrily.  She wished she had said she would like to learn to play the
organ, and had made friends with Miss Row; then perhaps she would have had
lovely flowers given her, and be thought a lot of.  Having finished her
task she picked up her things and walked away into the house.
Penelope looked after her, a little hurt at her seeming want of interest.
Angela and Poppy had dropped their play and were bubbling over with joyful
sympathy.

"Angela dear," said Miss Charlotte, "will you go to the henhouse for me,
and see if there are any eggs there?"

Angela was delighted.  She was always longing to be employed, and she
loved anything to do with the fowls or the garden.

Miss Ashe's fowl-houses were models of what fowl-houses should be, airy,
snug, and beautifully clean; and her fowls were something to be proud of.
Angela ran off at once, found three eggs, and took them into the house.
Miss Ashe was busy in the pantry tying down jam.

"I wonder if you could mark them for me," she said.  "My fingers are very
sticky."

Angela took the pencil and did her best.  The figures were clumsy, but
they were her neatest.  They were something like this--22/6.

She looked up at her cousin with shamed eyes and rosy cheeks as she held
out the eggs.

"That will do," said Miss Charlotte kindly.  "You will soon be able to
make tiny figures."  Then, as Esther had done once before, Angela put the
eggs in their box; but Esther had forgotten all about her first task in
her anxiety to get others.

"Cousin Charlotte, if I learn to write better, may I always collect the
eggs and mark them?  I'd love to.  I love the chicken and fowls, and I'd
try to do it properly."  She was very eager and very shy about making her
request.

"I shall be very glad indeed of your help," said Cousin Charlotte.
"Anna seems too busy and Ephraim forgets; he thinks eggs and hens too
unimportant for his notice.  I, though, think them very important indeed;
they make quite a nice little addition to one's income, I find."

"Do they?" said Angela, full of interest.  "When I grow up I shall keep
fowls too, I think."

"You will have to learn all about them first," said Cousin Charlotte,
"but that you can begin to do at once.  You have them here always under
your eyes, and you must keep your eyes open and take in all you can."

Angela felt, as Penelope had done, that all her dearest wishes were being
granted at once.  "Is there something else I can do for you, Cousin
Charlotte?"  she asked.

"Yes, dear, if you will.  I want to send those fresh eggs up to Miss
Bazeley.  She has a lady lodging there who is ill, and Miss Bazeley's hens
seem to have all stopped laying just as she most wants fresh eggs."

"I'd like to go.  I'll go now," said Angela, running off to get her hat.

"You can take Poppy with you, dear.  It is not far, and you can't make a
mistake.  Miss Bazeley's house is the very last in the village; it stands
at the side of the hill on the way to Four Winds."

"I think I know; it has a honeysuckle arch over the gate, hasn't it?"

"Yes, sharp eyes.  Now run along."

Esther was up in her room, trying to work herself into a better state of
mind.  She knew she was jealous of Penelope's good fortune, and she was
vexed with herself for being so.  When people recognise their weaknesses,
and see the wrong of them, they are on a fair way to recovery--if they
choose.

Esther did really want to get the better of the nasty moods and tempers
that she, better than any one, knew she suffered from, and presently she
came down in quite an altered frame of mind, though a little embarrassed
to know how to express herself.

Penelope was in the garden alone, busy over her flower-pots once more.
Esther went up to her wondering what she could say, but Penelope looked up
with so grave a face Esther found her speech at once.

"Aren't you glad?" she asked in surprise.

"Oh yes," cried Penelope enthusiastically.

"So am I," said Esther, and with the same felt her burden of jealousy fall
from her.  "It will be fine; it was the very thing you wanted.  But you
don't look glad."

"I am," said Penelope emphatically; "but I was thinking how kind every one
is, and I do want to do something for them--and I don't know how.
There don't seem to be any ways for children to help grown-ups."

Esther stood very still and quiet for a moment.  Then, after a little shy
hesitation, she said, "Cousin Charlotte says we can always help each
other, only we must not be always looking out for big things to do.
If we do the little things, we shall do big things, too, in time."

"Oh," said Penelope.  "I suppose I shall get to know what little things to
do.  What I would like would be to give Miss Row a beautiful organ, and
Mrs. Bennett a greenhouse, and Cousin Charlotte--oh, a lot of money and
things, and--and--"

"I don't suppose Mrs. Bennett would know what to do with a greenhouse if
she had it," said Esther wisely.

"Don't you?" said Penelope disappointedly, and was silent for some time,
pondering the matter.  "Well," with a sigh of resignation, "I'll give her
one of my pots of mignonette when it grows--that will be something--just
to show I care, and perhaps--"

But what Penelope intended to say further was lost for ever, for at that
moment there was a rush through the house and garden, a chorus of cries
and exclamations, and Angela and Poppy and Guard burst on them like a
small hurricane.

"Oh, do look!" cried Angela, her face flushed, her eyes dancing with joy--
"do look what Miss Bazeley has given me!  Oh, it is such a darling!
And the poor mite has no mother, or brothers or sisters.  And _do_ you
think Cousin Charlotte will let me keep it?  It is a very good one, Miss
Bazeley says.  What sort did she call it, Poppy?  I said it over and over
so as to remember, and have forgotten it after all."

"It was somefin like the name of a sweety," said Poppy, racking her brain
so hard she brought a frown to her brow.  "Was it somefin drop, or rock,
or--"

"I know it was something like Edinburgh Rock."

"Plymouth Rock, perhaps," said Miss Ashe's voice, close behind them.
In their excitement they had not heard her coming, and they all sprang
around with a start.  "What is it, dear?" looking at the little basket
Angela was holding so carefully.

As if in reply, a tiny, very forlorn 'che-ep' came from the inside.

"It is a dear little motherless chick, Cousin Charlotte," cried Angela
eagerly.  "A tiny baby one, and it's an orphan.  A fox killed its poor
mother, and the other hens won't be kind to it; they are very cruel to it,
Miss Bazeley says, and she asked me if I would like to have it.  May I,
Cousin Charlotte?  Do you mind?  I will take care of it, and then some
day, when it lays eggs, you shall have all the eggs."

"Well, we will see about that when the time comes," said Cousin Charlotte.
"Yes, dear, you may certainly keep it.  I foresee I shall have a rival
poultry-yard in my own garden."

Angela and Poppy ran off in a state of the highest glee; but when they got
to the yard, and all the hens ran towards them in expectation, they were
afraid to trust their treasure alone among the crowd.

"You will have to try to get one of the hens to mother it," said Miss
Charlotte, who had followed them, "or it will die of cold and loneliness."

This presented some difficulty.  As soon as the little chick was put down
it would run to the nearest hen as if it thought it had found its mother,
but the hens would have nothing to say to it; first one and then another
pecked it savagely, until the poor little thing was nearly scared to
death.

At last Miss Charlotte threw down some oatmeal before a coop where a
solemn old hen sat with half a dozen chicks playing about her.  As soon as
they saw the food, the greedy little creatures poured out, while the
mother rose and clucked noisily with annoyance at not being able to
follow.  Angela put the orphan chick down amongst the others; for a second
it cheeped pitifully; then it, too, began to eat.  As soon as the last
grain had gone some more was thrown into the coop for the old hen.  All
the chicks poured back helter-skelter into the coop, the orphan amongst
them, and the hen took it into her family circle without demur, and the
baby Plymouth Rock's life was saved.

After that, to say that Angela was as fussy as a hen with one chick was to
speak but very mildly of her condition.  She looked on it as the
foundation of her fortunes, and, surely, she thought, no one had ever
owned such a beautiful chick before.

The next day Penelope went to the church at twelve o'clock to have her
first lesson.  She went off jubilantly; she returned a little less so.
Miss Row was unaccustomed to children, or to teaching, and she had never
been considered a patient woman.

"I believe it is going to be dreadfully hard," Penelope confided to the
others, as they gathered round her.  They had all gone to meet her, and
hear her experiences.  They had always been so much together that what
happened to one was of the keenest interest to all.

"I don't believe I shall ever learn, there are such lots of things to
remember, and Miss Row doesn't like to explain a thing more than once, and
you've _got_ to remember."

Esther began to feel thankful that she had not expressed a desire to know
how to play the organ.  She much preferred to do housework and not be
scolded.  Penelope's next words then came as a shock.

"Oh, and what _do_ you think!  Miss Row wants us to sing in the choir!
She says we _must_.  She can get scarcely any one to sing, and she says it
will be good for us, and we shall be very glad by and by--"

"Oh, I couldn't!" cried Angela, overcome with nervousness.  "I haven't got
any voice, and I don't know how to; and I couldn't sing with all the
people looking at me."

"It will be dreadful," said Penelope drearily.  "But Miss Row says we
shall be glad later on--"

"People always say that when they want one to do anything one simply hates
doing.  But she can't make us, can she?  I shall ask Miss Charlotte to say
we can't.  I am sure she will when she knows how much we don't want to.
I wish you had never said anything, Penelope, about the organ, and
learning to play, and all that.  Miss Row would never have thought of it
if you hadn't," grumbled Esther; and Penelope, feeling the truth of it,
looked more dejected than ever.  After her first encounter with Miss Row
as a teacher, the prospect before her looked anything but enticing,
and she was haunted by a feeling that she had not declined the honour as
firmly as she might have done, for the sake of the others.

They all turned and walked homewards very gloomily.  The only cheerful
member of the party was Poppy.  "I wouldn't mind singing in church," she
said, "if nobody wouldn't look at me.  I can sing 'Once in Royal David's
City' all through."

"It doesn't seem so bad if you haven't _got_ to," said Angela miserably.
"But when you have, it is awful.  I--I almost wish I'd never come to
Dorsham, and yet--I loved it so till this happened."

During dinner Miss Charlotte looked at the four from time to time, first
with faint surprise, then with anxiety.  They were so quiet, so gloomy, so
changed.  When she had spoken two or three times and received polite, but
the briefest of answers, she began to feel she must get to the bottom of
the mystery.

"Well, Penelope, did you enjoy your organ lesson, dear?" she asked
briskly.

Penelope looked up with the ghost of her old comical smile gleaming in her
eyes.  "Well, I--I didn't exactly _enjoy_ it," she said, trying to be
polite and truthful at the same time.  "It is rather hard at first, but--
but I wouldn't mind that if--if--"

"If what, dear?" asked Miss Charlotte gently.  "Is it anything I can help
in?"

"No-o, I am afraid not, thank you.  It's the singing--Miss Row wants us
all to sing in the choir!"

The great and terrible news was out, the shadow that hung over them was
explained, and eight eyes gazed at Miss Charlotte, expecting to read in
her face something of the shock and dismay they had felt, instead of which
she sat looking quite unmoved and rather amused.  "Well, dears, I don't
see anything very dreadful in that.  Do you?"

"But we can't," cried Esther.  "We can't sing, except just a little bit to
ourselves."

"But you can learn.  I don't suppose Miss Row, or any one else, would
expect you to sing perfectly at first.  She would teach you.  You said you
wanted to learn all you could, didn't you, dear?"

"Ye-es," said Esther slowly, feeling she was having the worst of the
argument, but unmoved in her dread and dislike of joining the choir.
"But I never thought of this; this is different."

"Yes; but, dear, you will find very few things happen just as you would
have them to.  We may miss the best chances of our lives if we insist on
that.  You told me you wanted to save money and expense--now here is your
opportunity.  You will gain a knowledge of music and singing such as you
could not gain in any other way, for even if we had the means, there is no
one here to teach you.  I dare say you feel a little shy and nervous, but
don't be foolishly so, dears.  All your lives you will be thankful you had
this chance."

Esther had no word to say.  She felt she was in the wrong again, and that
is never a pleasant feeling.

"But I could never sing before so many people, Cousin Charlotte," said
Angela.  "I wouldn't mind so much if it was only just ourselves, but I am
sure I couldn't sing before strangers."

"Then, dear, it will be good for you in another way.  You must learn to
get over your self-consciousness.  You must not imagine the eyes of every
one are on you.  You must try to forget all about yourself.  Remember that
every one there has a lot else to think about, and that you are only one
little person amongst a number."  Cousin Charlotte laid her hand on
Angela's to take away any seeming severity from her words.

"I know Miss Row is always trying to make up a choir, and she has such
difficulty.  You would be doing her a real kindness if you help her; and I
know you would like to do that," with a smile at Esther.

Esther sighed.  "Yes," she said hesitatingly.  "But--but can't one ever do
things just in the way one likes, Cousin Charlotte?  There are lots of
kind things I should love to do."

"We may choose, generally, whether we will do a thing or not, or whether
we will do it in our way, or the way that is mapped out for us.
But usually if we choose our own, it is ourselves we please, and not the
person we are doing it for.  But this we can always do, dearie--if we have
to do a thing we do not like, we can teach ourselves to like to do it."

"It sounds like a riddle," said Penelope.

"It very often is," said Miss Charlotte.  "But am sure you will all grow
to love your singing and your choir when the first shyness is over, and
then you will be glad you gave in, and did not choose your own way.
And of one thing you may be quite sure: if, as you think, you have no
voices, Miss Row will soon tell you so, and you will not be bothered any
more about having to sing."

But, after all, somehow it did not seem to them that that was what they
wanted.



CHAPTER XI.


To the girls' relief they were not expected to appear at the very next
choir practice.  Miss Charlotte had a talk with her friend, which tempered
her enthusiasm with common sense, with the result that the children had
their voices tried and two or three lessons given them before they were
expected to appear in public, with the result that poor Poppy, the only
one who really longed to be in the choir, was the only one denied that
honour.  All their voices were pronounced quite good.  But Poppy was too
young; it would strain her voice, she was told, and to her chagrin she had
to sit in an ordinary pew with Miss Ashe while the others sat in what
Poppy called the 'dear little' choir stalls in the chancel.

But, to show her defiance of this objectionable, and, as she thought,
unnecessary care for her voice, she sang always at the top of it.
It happened often that she did not know the right words, but she always
managed to pick up the tune quickly, and with just one sentence to repeat
over and over again, she got along to her own satisfaction, at any rate
convinced in her own mind that it would not be very long before they would
be glad to _ask_ her to come into the choir.

So the days flew by and the summer slipped away; autumn had gone and
winter, almost, before they realised it, so full were their days with
their lessons and their singing, their housework and gardening, walks on
the moor, and games and play.  By degrees, as Miss Charlotte had foretold,
each had made a little niche for herself.  Esther had obtained almost
complete charge of the drawing-room--no one else dusted it or arranged a
flower in it.  Penelope sometimes tried to find room in it for one of her
pet plants, but unless permission was asked, and Esther chose the place
where it might stand, the treasure was certain to be found 'in the way.'

She dusted their own bedrooms, too, and helped to make the beds, and did
lots of other little duties; and at Christmas, to her great delight,
Miss Charlotte had given her the much-longed-for sleeves and aprons.

Angela had become, meantime, almost sole mistress of the hens and the
eggs.  She had begun by just collecting the eggs, and washing and marking
them, and she did her work so well that no one else ever thought of
troubling about them; and before very long, to her enormous pride, she was
given the task of packing them for market. And oh! the joy of it! the
pleasure she took in laying the rich brown and creamy-white eggs in cosy
nests in the sweet-smelling hay; her pride in their appearance!  The only
flaw in her happiness was the fact that she could not carry the basket and
dispose of the contents herself to the customers.  She pictured herself
turning back the snow-white cloth from the top of the basket, and counting
out her beloved treasures one by one.

After that she began to feed the fowls, and keep account of the corn that
was used, and the number of eggs that were laid.  Anna consulted her quite
gravely about the house scraps.

Perhaps, though, the very happiest day of all her life, at any rate the
proudest, was that on which Fluffikins laid her first egg. Angela, when
she saw it and the little hen strutting up and down before the nest in
which it lay, stood in a kind of speechless ecstasy, much as a young
author when his first work has been accepted, or an artist before his
first completed picture. Then she held out her arms to the proud
Fluffikins, who mounted to her shoulder, clucking happily; and, rubbing
their cheeks against one another, they gazed ecstatically at the precious
egg.

"Oh, Fluff, I _am_ so sorry to take it from you," she cried, "but I _must_
show it to Cousin Charlotte.  Fluff, you darling, do go on and lay lots
more.  I want one every day, then you shall sit on some, and hatch out
some dear little baby chicks of your very own; and you shall live with me
till you are an old, old bird, Fluffikins darling, and no one shall dare
to--to--" she hesitated to name the dreadful word 'kill,'--"shall
interfere with you.  You are what they call the 'founder' of my fortune,
you precious bird."

She did not take the egg in to show to Miss Charlotte after all.
She thought of another plan.  She took it in and showed it to Anna, and to
the girls, who gazed at it and marvelled at its beauty, but Miss Charlotte
was not to see it until it appeared on her plate at tea, with an
inscription on it to say whose it was.

It hurt Angela very much to deprive poor Fluffikins of her treasure, but,
while she was not looking, she slipped another new, warm egg in the nest
in its place, and hoped the dear bird would not see through the fraud; and
Miss Charlotte did deserve the honour, after all her goodness to Fluff and
her mistress; in fact they were pledged to it.

Cousin Charlotte could not suppress a slight start of surprise when she
saw the black-speckled thing in the egg-cup on her plate; but she was as
pleased as the girls could wish when she read, 'My and Fluff's first egg
for you,' and assured them, as she ate it under their united gaze, that
she had never in her life tasted a better one.

Poppy had constituted herself every one's hand-maiden and handy-maiden.
If she were allowed to have a duster and dust-brush and help Esther, her
cup of joy was full, but she was just as pleased to run to the post, or to
the shops, or to help Ephraim gather windfalls in the orchard, dig
potatoes, or assist Anna in any way she was allowed to.  And now that her
parsley bed was really in full growth, in spite of its troubled beginning,
she was very full of happy importance.  To be asked if she could spare a
pennyworth of parsley filled her with pleasure for days.

"I never saw anything like it," she would say seriously, shaking her
little purse the while.  "It only cost me a penny, and I've made fourpence
by it already.  I wonder every one doesn't grow parsley."

"If they did, dear, there would be no one to sell to," Cousin Charlotte
explained.

Of them all Penelope did least to help.  She had her flowers--quite a
collection of them now.  "But she doesn't do anything with them,"
complained Esther one day.

"They make the house pretty," urged Angela, always ready to defend her
room-mate, "and they make our room so sweet and pretty."

"But she should try to sell them," argued Esther, "or--or do something.
She seems to have forgotten all about helping Cousin Charlotte."

"She doesn't get much time," pleaded Angela, "by the time her lessons are
done, and her organ lesson, and the practice, and her reading--she always
reads for an hour a day, sometimes more.  And--and there isn't any one
here to sell flowers to--"

At that moment Penelope herself dashed in on them, her eyes dancing, her
face glowing.  "Oh, girls, what _do_ you think?" she cried, as she flung
her music-case on to one chair, her hat on another, and herself on a
third.

"What?" asked Esther, as she picked up the music-case and straightened the
cushion it had knocked over.

"Oh, _do_ tell, do tell quick," urged Angela.

"Well!" sitting up and clasping her hands tight in an ecstasy of pleasure,
"you know Miss Row has friends staying with her."

"Yes; but I don't see much in that to be excited about," said Esther.

"Well, one of them is called Mr. Somerset, and he is a musician, and he--
he heard me sing.  Miss Row made me sing on purpose.  I was awfully
frightened, but I got through all right, and--and what _do_ you think he
said?"

Esther felt the old demon jealousy clutching at her heart at once.
"I don't know, I'm sure," she said coldly.  "Do tell if you are going to,
Penelope.  I am too busy to wait."

"Oh, what?" gasped Angela, with eager, questioning eyes.

"He said,"--in an impressive, almost awed voice--"he said I had the
promise of a very fine voice, and--and no expense ought to be spared in
training it!"  Penelope repeated the words slowly, like one in a dream.

"Oh, Pen!" Angela gasped, almost speechless with delight, "did he really?"

Pen nodded.

"What nonsense!" said Esther, in a strained voice, quite unlike her usual
tones.

Angela turned on her reproachfully.  "Essie, aren't you glad?"

"Of course I am," snapped Esther shortly; "but it is so silly to put such
things into people's heads when there _is_ no money.  I suppose he thinks we
all ought to give up everything for this, and--and never thinks that the
rest of us might like to--to have lessons--"

Esther really did not mean a tenth of the hard things she was saying, and
she hated herself for saying them, but that wretched temper of hers got
the upper hand of her again.  She knew she was being mean and unkind, and
it added to her vexation; but she had not the strength of will to get the
better of it.  In her calmer moments she longed to be one of those who
could rise above such mean jealousies, and be unselfish and brave and
strong, but when the trial came she succumbed.

Penelope was too lost in happy dreams, though, to heed or be hurt by
Esther's remarks.

"Of course I can't have it trained, but all the same I _am_ glad I have a
nice voice," she said in a happy, dreamy voice.  "Fancy me, _me_, with a
beautiful voice!  Isn't it strange?  Doesn't it seem as though it can't be
true?  Oh, I _am_ so happy!"

"I always loved to hear you sing, dear," said Angela, seating herself on
the ground at Penelope's feet and hugging her sister's knees.
"And, Pen, just imagine if you could have lessons, and could sing at
concerts, and everybody wanted to hear you, and you made lots and lots of
money--wouldn't it be _lovely_!  Esther, come and sit down and talk about
what we would do if Pen were famous and made a heap of money."
Angela never doubted that what good fortune came to one would be shared by
all.  "Come and sit here, Esther."

"It will be Penelope's money," said Esther coldly.  "It would be for her
to say what she would do with it, not for us.  I am busy; I can't stay
talking nonsense," and away she walked out of the room, leaving Penelope
and Angela with their spirits considerably lowered.

"I don't know why it is," sighed Penelope, roused at last from her happy
oblivion, "but whenever I bring home what I think is good news it always
seems to upset Esther.  I thought she was just dying for us all to be able
to do something to help father and Cousin Charlotte, and this seemed such
a lovely thing!  Of course there is all the expense first, but _if_ I have
a really good voice, later on I should be able to keep you all, and give
you all you want.  I think she might have seemed a little bit glad."

"Perhaps she is worried," said Angela, "because she wants you to have
lessons, and there isn't any money for them, and--and I think she is
tired."

"I wish she would not do so much and get so tired," said Penelope
wistfully.  "We scarcely ever see her now; she hardly ever has any time to
play, and--and it is disappointing when she acts like that." Penelope's
voice quavered a little, in spite of herself, and she rose and looked out
of window that Angela might not see her misty eyes.

"Never mind, dear," coaxed comforting Angela, "don't you fret. Essie is as
glad as either of us, _really_, and by and by she will be all right.
Let us go out on the moor, and talk over what we will do when you are
rich, shall we?"

"Yes," said Penelope, with a little sigh, and a shake to shake off her
gloom.  "Dear old moor, I feel I want to lie down on it and hug it when
big, nice things happen, and tell it all about them. Come along, Angel."

Esther, from upstairs, saw them go out together, Angela's arm about Pen's
waist, Penelope's arm about Angela's shoulders.  With angry eyes and
aching heart she watched them go through the garden, and guessed whither
they were bound; and a sense of loneliness, of being shut out, stole over
her.

Cousin Charlotte had gone to Gorley and taken Poppy with her, so she was
quite alone.  With a hasty movement she flung on her hat, and dashed
downstairs and out of the front door.  "If they went out, she could go out
too," she told herself angrily, and could find her own company sufficient.
If they went one way she would go another, the moor was large enough,
and--and at any rate the tors and the gorse and the birds liked her as
much as they liked Penelope. She would not there be put aside for her
younger sister.

By that time she had worked herself up into such a state of resentfulness
of imagined injuries and fancied wrongs, she felt she could hardly endure
her unhappy lot.  She walked along the road in a perfect turmoil of mind,
and, fearing she might meet some one, turned down towards the bridge and
the river; but the weather had been rainy lately, and the river was
swollen, and the bank all wet and slippery.

She had never been further than the bridge and the river-bank before,
and as she clambered up from the muddy, slippery river-path, and pushed
through the sheltering brushwood which lined it, she found herself, a tiny
speck, apparently the only living creature, in a huge great stretch of
moorland which was all new ground to her. There were a few big rocks here
and there, but no big hills, as on the other side, with their friendly
sheltering look; and the great stretch of bare land, stretching away and
away, looked the picture of desolation.

The spirit of it seemed in tune with Esther's own sense of loneliness; but
it touched her heart with the softening touch of sadness.  She sank down
on a big boulder beside her, and, stretching out her arms on its rough,
lichen-covered breast, buried her face in them and burst into sobs.

"Why is it? why is it?  Why should every one like the others and no one
like me?  Why should Penelope have everything and me nothing, and why
can't I feel nice about it?  Why do I care, or why can't I pretend I don't
mind?"  At that moment Esther really did believe that no one in all the
world cared in the least for her.  "Penelope is pretty and clever, and--
and taking, and--and now she has a beautiful voice, and I have nothing.
I am not pretty or clever or nice, and I shall never be anything, or do
anything, and--and no one wants me. She will be able to go about and
travel, and be rich and have everything she wants, and be able to help the
others, and--and I am no better than a drudge!"

A little field-mouse, creeping out of its hole, heard the sobs and flew
away again, nearly scared out of its wits.  A goldfinch came and perched
on a furze-bush near, looked wonderingly at the odd-shaped thing that made
such funny noises, and then flew away to a thistle and began to search for
any stray seeds that might have been overlooked.  Little spiders ran over
the boulder and put out delicate feelers to try to discover what curious
pinky-white things those were that lay on the old stone; then, after a
first venture, finding them harmless, ran over and over Esther's hand in a
perfect fuss and fury of excitement.

Esther, feeling the slight tickling of the little creatures' feet, raised
her head to look, and kept it raised to watch their busy movements.  Her
storm of tears had relieved her heart, and done her good.  She felt less
injured, and in a better frame of mind. She did not dare to move until the
last spider had finished his investigations, for fear of alarming him; but
when he had scurried away home, evidently eager to tell of his adventures,
she raised herself and looked about her.

Her face and eyes were hot and swelled and aching.  She could not meet any
one while looking such a sight as she was.  She would walk on until the
fresh breeze should have cooled down her burning features.  She turned
away from Dorsham in the same direction as the river ran.  It was all a
strange country to her, and she would explore it.  No one would miss her
at home.  The anger and jealousy were gone, but she still felt sad and
lonely, and full of pity for herself.

She walked on and on and on, still too absorbed in herself to pay any heed
to the voice of the birds or the river or the myriad little creatures
moving about her.  She was thinking how much she would like to frighten
them all at home, and make them anxious about her; she felt she would like
to walk on and on until twilight and darkness fell, and she and the moor
were left to their loneliness together. It was all very foolish; but as
long as there are boys and girls, or men and women, these moods will come
to them, to be fought down and overcome; and we must remember that to the
sufferer they do not seem foolish at the time.

How far she did walk she had no idea at the time; it seemed to her it was
miles and miles;--in reality it was only about a mile and a half,--and the
sun was going down, and she was beginning to admit doubts to her mind as
to whether she should turn back or not, when suddenly, in a hollow in the
moor before her, she saw, though at first she could hardly believe her
eyes, a real little house with real smoke coming out of the chimney on the
thatched roof.

If it had not been for the smoke, whirled and beaten about by the breeze,
she would have thought the house was not really a human habitation, but a
bit of the moor itself risen up, so brown and rough and weather-beaten it
looked under its old lichen-grown thatch. But the smoke was real smoke,
and Esther, stepping nearer, saw one window lit by the leaping, cheery
glow of a fire.

Fascinated and surprised, she drew nearer and nearer.  Before the cottage
was a little garden surrounded by a sturdy railing and a thick-set,
close-clipped holly-hedge, within the shelter of which whole beds of
crocuses and daisies and polyanthuses bloomed gaily. The crocuses were all
asleep now, their little petals fast closed, and the daisies too, but the
polyanthuses looked bravely with their beautiful eyes at the fast
darkening sky.  Over the cottage walls, as well as on the thatch, lichen
and house-leeks grew, as though to prove it was but a boulder, one of the
many scattered thereabouts in all directions, and not a house at all.



CHAPTER XII.


Ester stood staring fascinated, quite unconscious of the fact that a pair
of bright but dim eyes were peering out at her wonderingly; and she
started, quite guiltily, when presently the cottage door opened, and a
lady came along the garden path towards her.

Esther began to move away, feeling ashamed that she should have stared so
rudely; but the lady hearing her, spoke.

"Don't go away, please," she said in a pretty soft voice with a foreign
accent.  "I saw you, and I wondered if you had lost your way.  It is not
often we see strangers here, we are so far away from other houses."

"No-o, thank you," stammered Esther shyly.  "I--I don't think I have lost
my way.  I was out for a walk, and had never been this way before.
I have come from Dorsham."

"Dorrsham, oh!" the lady rolled her r's, and poke in the prettiest way
imaginable.  "It is rather a long walk home for a young lady when the
light is beginning to fail.  Have you no one with you?"

"No," said Esther, suddenly realising her disobedience in not having
brought Guard.  "I am not afraid; at least--I--I shall be home before it
is dark."

"I do not feel so sure of that."

Neither did Esther as she looked about her, and saw how quickly twilight
had fallen since the sun had gone.

"I hardly like to let you go, my child, by yourself only, over the moor.
You could so easily miss your way, and get into the river, or fall over a
boulder and injure yourself.  Will you come into my house and rest; and
after you have had some tea--"

"Oh, thank you, no," cried Esther, overcome with shyness at the thought of
giving so much trouble.  "I am sure I shall get back all right."

"Will you not do it to oblige me?"  And the lady, who was very pretty and
graceful and charming, spoke so coaxingly, so prettily, Esther could not
refuse her.

"I--I--but it would make me later," she began.

"Ah, but I was going to say, Anne is going to Dorsham presently, and he
shall conduct you safely home."

"Who?" breathed Esther, puzzled beyond politeness.

"Anne.  He--well, he is not exactly my servant--he is my friend and
factotum; he and his wife live in the cottage at the back," explained the
little lady.  "His wife is ill, unfortunately, and he is going to get some
mustard for poultices for us to apply, and he will see you home."

"Oh, thank you," stammered Esther, interested but uneasy.  She was
beginning to feel uncomfortable about Cousin Charlotte, and the anxiety
she might be causing her; but she really did shrink from the long walk
home in the gathering darkness, and, too, she did not know how to refuse
the kind stranger's request.  So she stepped in at the open gate, and put
her hand in the one outstretched to welcome her.

"My name is Esther Carroll," she said, feeling some introduction was
necessary, "and I and my sisters live with Miss Ashe at Moor Cottage."

"Oh," said the lady vaguely.  Evidently she did not know Miss Ashe or the
cottage.  "I have not the pleasure of knowing Miss Ashe.  I never go to
Dorsham.  I seldom go beyond my garden; in fact--I cannot walk much," and
Esther noticed for the first time that she was lame.  "My name is
Mademoiselle Leperier.  I am not one of your countrywomen, though I might
claim to be, having lived in England most of my life.  Now I think," with
a bright smile, "we know each other.  Come inside, do.  Anne had just
brought in the tea-tray when he caught sight of you, and drew my
attention.  We thought perhaps you had lost your way.  Come in, we will
have tea at once, and you shall start very soon for home, or your cousin
will be anxious."

Esther, following her kind hostess, thought she had never in all her life
seen anything so pretty as the little firelit room into which she now
stepped, with its pure white walls, its green dresser hung with priceless
old blue china, the high white mantelpiece, loaded, too, with china, the
high-waisted lattice window, with its prim little creamy silk curtains.

By the fire stood two comfortable easy-chairs, and a little square table,
on which was spread a white cloth and dainty tea-things, bread-and-butter,
and tempting little cakes.  To Esther it all seemed perfect, as perfect a
picture as Mademoiselle Leperier herself in her soft grey gown, with her
white hair, bright eyes, and pale face.

In a very short time they were seated on either side of the table,
drinking fragrant creamy tea and chatting as friendly as though they had
often met before.   Anne, who had brought another cup and saucer, had been
told his errand, and with quiet politeness expressed his eagerness to
oblige.  Esther looked at him with interest.  Somehow she had expected to
see quite a young man, but Anne was old--older than his mistress.
That he was a foreigner, too, there could be no doubt; his speech,
his appearance, his every action bespoke the fact.

"Is--is Mr. Anne French too?" asked Esther, and then blushed, fearing she
had been rude.

But Mademoiselle nodded brightly.  "Yes.  Call him 'Anne,' please, dear.
His name is Anne Roth.  His parents came to England with mine, when they
had to fly from France, and he and his have been with me and mine ever
since.  Ah! but he is a dear, faithful soul is Anne, and so is Laura, his
English wife.  They would not leave me, even when I came to this far-away
spot.  At first it made them sad, I think, but now they have come to like
it."

"Were you exiles?" asked Esther, with eager interest.  "Oh, how
interesting!"

Mademoiselle Leperier's heart warmed towards her sympathetic visitor with
the eager face, and soon they were deep in talk, so deep that they were
surprised when Anne knocked at the door to say he had come to know if the
young m'amzelle was ready to be conducted home.

Under the spell of her hostess's kind face and voice Esther had told some
of her story too--told more, really, than she could have believed possible
considering that she had not spoken of the events of that afternoon, nor
to what led to her appearance at Edless, as the spot was called where
Mademoiselle lived.

"May I come to see you again?" she asked impulsively, as she put up her
face to kiss the gentle, fragile-looking French lady.

"Will you, dear?  I shall be so pleased if your cousin will permit you.
It is a little desolate here, and _triste_ at times, for I cannot read or
write much, or use my needle; my eyes are not strong."

"Those bright, shining eyes not strong!" thought Esther with surprise.
"Could I read to you sometimes, or write for you, or sew?" she asked
eagerly.  "I am sure Cousin Charlotte would be pleased for me to, and--and
I should _love_ to.  May I?"

"If _la cousine_ does not object, dear child, I should be grateful indeed;
but, remember, she does not know me, or anything of me, and you must not
be angry if she does not permit you.  It would be but natural."

"Oh, I am sure she will," said Esther confidently, and out she stepped
into the darkness with Anne.

To the end of her life Esther will never forget that walk across the moor
under the cold blue of the darkening sky--the long, mysterious-looking
Stretches of darkness with here and there a big rock standing up grim and
gaunt in the silence, the vastness in which they seemed but specks, the
shrill, sweet voices of the birds calling to each other, and the busy,
persistent voice of the river, added to the weirdness and loneliness of
the experience.  The only lifelike sounds were their own footsteps, and it
was only here and there, when they got on to rough ground and off the
turf, that these could be heard.

Esther grew oppressed by the awe and silence.  She longed for her
companion to speak.  She would have said something herself, only she did
not know what to begin about, and it needed courage to break, with her
small voice, that vast silence.

At last though, a rabbit, or some other wild animal that loves the
night-time and the silence, darted right across their path, making her
start and scream.  The shock past, she laughed a little with shame of her
own weakness.  The scream and the laugh broke the spell.

"It was very silly of me, but it came so suddenly," she explained
apologetically.

"It did, m'amzelle.  I expect you are not used to such places at night?"

"No, not at night.  We love the moor, though, by day, and know it well,
and I am not really afraid of the wild things."

"No, m'amzelle," politely.  Silence followed again.  Esther grew
desperate.

"I--I hope your wife will soon be better," she said sympathetically.

"Thank you, m'amzelle.  I hope so, too."

"Is she very ill?"

"Well, not--not dangerous, but she troubles.  Our M'amzelle Lucille is not
strong, she suffers so, and when Laura--my wife--is ill, M'amzelle does
too much, she is so good."

"Can't you have some one in to help you?" asked practical Esther.

"No, m'amzelle, we are so far away.  But we do not want any one really.
I can do all.  I know how to nurse," with evident pride, "but M'amzelle
likes to help us, and--and she is not strong, she suffers so."

"Does she?" asked Esther sympathetically.  "I am so sorry.  I noticed she
was lame.  Does she suffer pain from her lameness?"

"Yes, m'amzelle.  She had a fall some years ago.  You know, I daresay,
that M'amzelle Lucille was at one time a famous singer.  No? She has not
told you?  Then perhaps I should not have, but I thought that when she
told you her name you would know."

"I can keep a secret," said Esther.  "I will never mention it if I may
not.  Why did M'amzelle stop singing and come here?"

"Ah, she stopped singing long, long before she came here.  She never sang
after the great trouble came to her life, when the great English gentleman
she was so soon to marry was killed."

Esther gave a little cry of horror.  "Oh, how dreadful, but--but how--was
it an accident?"

Anne's tongue was loosened now, he needed no questioning; he had so few
opportunities to talk, he could not resist this one, and he wanted every
one's sympathy for his beloved mistress.  "Yes, it was an accident,
a fearful, a cruel accident, and it happened less than a week before the
wedding day.  They were together at a station waiting for a train, when
some one ran against him with so great force he reeled, he lost his
balance, he fell forward, right off the platform--the train was just
coming in!"  Anne's voice died away in an awful impressive silence.
"M'amzelle Lucille sprang to catch him--"

"Oh!" gasped Esther, in horror.

"They saved _her_," he added significantly; "but she was injured, she was
lame always from that day, and her eyes were injured.  She may be blind,
some day--if she lives.  He was killed before her eyes."

"Oh, poor M'amzelle Leperier," groaned Esther, her heart aching with the
tragedy of the terrible story.  "I wonder it did not kill her."

"It nearly did," said Anne significantly.

"And her singing?"

"She never sang again, m'amzelle.  She says her voice broke with the
shock--but it was her heart that broke.  She loved him so; it was too
cruel, too terrible."

"Did you come here to live then?"

"No, m'amzelle, not for a long time.  We travelled from place to place.
M'amzelle Lucille said she would go alone, but my wife and I would not
leave her, she was so lonely, so _triste_, she had no one but us.
Wherever we went people stared at her and annoyed her so.  Very often they
recognised her, she was so well known; or they saw she was beautiful, and
they knew her story, or found it out, and they had no delicacy, no
feeling.  We always had to leave.  Last year we came here.  M'amzelle does
not suffer here, except from loneliness, and I think she never will, but
it is too lonely for her.  I hope you will come to see her, m'amzelle.
She likes you, I can see."

Esther was delighted.  Here, at last, was some one who really needed her.
In her heart she determined to devote all her spare time to M'amzelle
Lucille.  The walk home was over much sooner than she wished.  She could
have gone on listening to Anne for miles further, but the bridge was
crossed, the lights began to show in the cottage windows, and soon they
were at the gate of Moor Cottage.

Here Esther's new joy began to moderate.  It was quite dark now.
Anne told her it was nearly six o'clock.  What would Cousin Charlotte be
thinking?  Now she had time to spare a thought for her, Esther felt sorry
and ashamed.

The sounds of their footsteps or voices must have reached the anxious ears
within, for even while she was saying 'good-night' to her companion the
cottage door was opened wide, letting a flood of light pour along the
pathway.  "Esther, dear, is that you?" asked Cousin Charlotte's gentle
voice reproachfully, and Esther flew to her and flung her arms about her.

"Oh, Cousin Charlotte, I _am_ so sorry," she cried repentantly.  "I can't
tell you _how_ sorry.  I didn't mean to be so late, really--at least, at
first I did--but--but--I shouldn't have--"

"Never mind now, dear.  Come in and warm yourself, and you can tell me all
about it later.  You have frightened me dreadfully, Esther; but just now I
am too relieved to scold, only--only don't do it again, it is more than I
can endure bravely," and Cousin Charlotte leaned down and kissed her.

Esther saw then that she was white and trembling, that tears glistened in
her eyes, and understood for the first time how much Cousin Charlotte
cared.

"Oh, Cousin Charlotte, Cousin Charlotte," she cried remorsefully, "if only
I were like you.  I wish I could be good.   I do want to be, I do really."

"Try to be good, but not like me, dear," said Cousin Charlotte huskily,
"or you will be a very weak and foolish old woman.  Now," with another
kiss, "run upstairs and take off your hat and shoes, and come and tell us
all your adventures.  We have all been dreadfully anxious."

Esther went upstairs feeling far more remorseful than if Miss Charlotte
had scolded her well.  When she had taken off her hat and shoes, and made
herself tidy, she felt really shy of going down to face them all.
But while she was hesitating, the door opened and Poppy flew into the room
and straight to Esther's arms.

"Oh, Essie, I couldn't wait, and Cousin Charlotte said I might come up for
you.  Are you all right?  You are not hurt or--"

"You have been crying," broke in Esther.  "Oh, Poppy, I made you!"

"I couldn't help just a teeny tiny little cry, but it was only a tear or
two when I thought the wild beasts had got you and were eating you right
up.  Come down now."

In the dining-room it was all so cosy and pleasant that Esther soon forgot
her embarrassment, and, seated in the midst of the circle round the fire,
was soon telling her story to a rapt audience.

"I should love to see the little cottage, and have tea in that dear little
room," said Angela, after Esther had described her sudden discovery of the
little brown house and the flower-filled garden.

"Mademoiselle Leperier!" cried Miss Ashe quite excitedly.  "Why, child, I
remember her quite well; at least her name and fame, and the tragedy of
her lover's death.  I have often wondered what had become of the poor
lady."

"Have you?" cried Esther, delighted.  "Cousin Charlotte, I wish you would
get to know her.  I am sure she is very lonely."

"Perhaps she prefers loneliness, dear.  I should be only too pleased to
show friendly neighbourliness to the poor lady if she would like it, but
sometimes it is greater kindness not to intrude.  You can go there, dear,
if you and she wish it, and perhaps the friendliness will increase by
degrees."

"Is she very ill?  Does she have a great lot of pain?" asked Poppy
anxiously.  "I wonder if she knows she may be blind some day.  Why doesn't
she have a doctor?"  Poppy had no doubt in her mind that a doctor could
cure every ill human beings can suffer.

"She has seen nearly every famous doctor there is," said Esther, "so Anne
said.  But, Poppy, if you ever see Mademoiselle, you must never let her
know that we know about it, and _never_ speak about her to _any one_.
Do you hear?  You won't, will you, dear?  She might not like it."

Poppy promised.  "_Oh, no_," she cried emphatically, "tourse not "; and
Poppy's promises were always kept.  "Esther, hasn't she got any eyes,
and is she very sad, and--and--"

"Not at all.  She was anxious about Laura, and she looked thin and
delicate, but you would never know she was suffering; and her eyes are as
bright and pretty as any I have ever seen."

Then Penelope, who had been all this time thinking things over, began to
put her questions.  All her curiosity was about Mademoiselle's singing,
but Esther could tell her little on that point.  "Perhaps she will tell me
more when I know her better," she said hopefully, and went to bed in high
spirits at the thought of the new friend she had made, and of another
visit to the dear little cottage soon.



CHAPTER XIII.


"Angela, has Fluffy laid an egg to-day?"

"Yes.  Why?"

"Will you sell it to me?  I've got the money for it."  Poppy opened her
hand to display the penny she had been tightly grasping.

"What do you want to buy an egg for?" asked Angela, with sudden caution.
"I don't think you had better eat any more without asking Cousin Charlotte
first.  You had a big breakfast."

"I don't want to eat it," cried Poppy, in a tone of wounded dignity.
"I want it to--to give to some one."

"Some poor person?"

"Well, yes, I think she is poor.  I know she is not well, and eggs are
good for people who are not well."

"Yes, very.  Well, there's the egg.  Isn't it a beauty?  _I_ call it
perfectly lovely."  Angela looked at it lovingly.  To her there never were
or would be such eggs as her Fluffikins laid.  "Now do be careful.
How are you going to carry it?"

Poppy ran off, and in a moment was back again with a little covered basket
lined with hay.  Evidently it had been prepared beforehand for this
purpose.  The egg was laid in and carefully covered over, and the lid shut
down and secured.

"Are you going with it now?" asked Angela.

"In a minute.  I have to get something else too."

The girls were always very considerate to each other over their little
mysteries and secrets, so Angela, without further inquiry, went away to
her hens, and Poppy hurried off to the end of the garden, where she
gathered a bunch of beautiful green parsley, and wrapped it round with a
piece of paper which she tied with a little piece of pink ribbon she had
saved on some previous occasion.

Miss Charlotte and Anna were in the kitchen arranging the meals for the
day.  Esther was busy in the bedroom, Angela was in the hen-house, and
Penelope already at the church, practising, for although it was Easter,
and holiday time, she continued her organ-practice daily.  So no one saw
Poppy as she and Guard started off together.  She was bound on a secret
expedition to Mademoiselle Leperier, carrying with her all she could
compass as suitable offerings to an invalid--a new-laid egg and a bunch of
her own fresh parsley.  She had not mentioned her plan to Miss Charlotte--
not because she was afraid of being stopped, but because she wanted to
give of her very own, and not make demands on Cousin Charlotte.
She knew if she did speak of it that Miss Ashe would be thinking of all
sorts of things to send, and Poppy did not want that.  She wanted it to be
entirely her own little scheme, in gratitude to the poor lady for her
kindness to Esther.

She did not know in the least how long the walk would be, but she was
prepared for it to take her a very great while.  Essie had said it was a
long way there but a short way back, and it had not occurred to either of
them to wonder how this could be possible.  Thinking, though, of the
expedition before her as something very great, she hurried along without
once pausing to look at the river or play on the bridge or pay heed to any
of the hundreds of attractions which lie on a walk on a beautiful spring
day.  Guard made little dashes and excursions in all directions, but was
never absent for more than a moment or two from his little mistress's
side.

Now and again Poppy sat down on a big boulder to rest, standing her basket
on the ground beside her, and she and Guard would gaze eagerly about them
at the wide-spreading sunny moorland; and probably both of them thought of
the games they might be having there if matters so serious were not
engaging their attention, but no thought of doing so crossed their minds
now.

The result of all this haste was that, long before she expected it, Poppy
found herself face to face with the little brown cottage, and felt there
must be some mistake.  This could not be the place, she thought; it must
be another.  Perhaps, oh dreadful doubt! she had come the wrong way.  She
was a very wise little person, though, and to make sure, before she went
further, she determined to go in and inquire.

Rather timidly, but full of interest, she walked along the paved garden
path, and tapped at the door with her knuckles, not being able to reach
the knocker.  It was a feeble knock, but soon called forth an answer.  A
man opened it, an elderly man--Anne himself, in fact.

"Please does Mademoiselle Le-le-, the French lady, live here?" she asked,
finding some difficulty in pronouncing the long French name.

"Yes, m'amzelle.  M'amzelle Leperier lives here."

Poppy was a little non-plussed.   She had not thought out any plan or
reason to give for her visit, nor how she was to reach the presence of
Esther's new friend, but her usual ready frankness stood her in good
stead.  "I have come to ask how she is, and how--how Anne's wife is.
My sister Esther was here last night.  Made--Miss, the French lady, asked
her to tea, and--and sent her home with a Mr. Anne."  The man smiled.

"Ah!  I know.  The young lady I conducted to her home last night--
Miss Esthaire.  Come inside, m'amzelle.  I know M'amzelle Leperier will
wish to see you."

A sudden shyness rushed over Poppy.  "Oh, I--I don't think I had better
come in, thank you.  I didn't mean to do that.  I have to go all the way
home, and it will take me rather a long time.  I--I only brought a fresh
egg that Angela's hen laid this morning, and some parsley out of my own
garden for--for Miss Leperier, and perhaps if she didn't like it she might
give it to your wife.  I am sorry I had nothing nicer."

"There couldn't be anything nicer, m'amzelle," said Anne Roth with ready
tact.  "It will come in for an omelette for the mistress's lunch, and the
parsley too, it will be most useful.  How fine it is.  We have none here.
It is always a difficulty to get any."

"Oh, I am so glad I brought it!" cried Poppy, flushing with delight.
"If ever you want any, _do_ come and have some of mine.  I have a whole
bedful, and all from a penny packet of seed that I sowed myself.
I should be delighted to give you some at any time."

She refrained from mentioning the fact that it was her only source of
income.  She had thrust the basket and the parsley into the man's hand,
and was edging away.

"But M'amzelle will be annoyed with me if I let you go all the way back
without any rest," he pleaded.  "Please to enter, m'amzelle."

At that moment Mademoiselle Leperier herself appeared.  Anne turned to her
with relief.

"Here, M'amzelle, is the sister of the young lady who was here last night.
She has come with kind inquiries for M'amzelle and my wife."

Mademoiselle Leperier stepped to the door, and taking the blushing Poppy's
hands in both her own, stooped and kissed her.  "Oh, you dear child,
how sweet of you," she cried with warm delight.  "Come in, you must come
in.  Is that beautiful dog at the gate yours?  I saw him there and felt I
must go out and speak to him, and then I heard your voice and Anne's.
Do call him in, I want to know him too.  You must both come."

There was no shyness or hesitation about Guard; he hurried in almost
before he was invited to, and he and his little mistress found themselves
in the room Esther had described so vividly the night before, only now it
was lit by sunshine instead of fire and lamp.  Poppy did not like to look
about her, she knew it was not polite to do so, but her eye fell on the
dresser with its lovely china, and the blue bowl of primroses and moss and
ivy leaves on the little black table, and thought it all more perfect even
than she had imagined.

Guard, as though feeling he was too large for the small room, went over
and sat close against the wall by the window, shedding around him genial
smiles in return for all the attentions lavished on him.  Anne was
despatched for milk and biscuits; and while he was gone Mademoiselle
inquired for Esther, and how she got home, politely hoping they had not
been very anxious.

"Yes, we were; we were very anxious, thank you," said Poppy, half
absently.  She was looking at her hostess, and thinking of the story she
had heard of her.  It seemed so wonderful that after going through such
terrible tragedies she could laugh and talk and be interested in little
every-day matters.  But she was, especially when Poppy, at last recovering
her tongue, told her all about themselves, and their father and mother in
Canada, and how they four came to Cousin Charlotte's because no one else
could have them, and how frightened they ware until they saw her, but were
never frightened after, she was so kind; and how they all wanted to help
her, and how they tried all sorts of ways.

Mademoiselle was very interested in the parsley-bed, and Angela's hen,
and Esther helping in the house, and Penelope's desire to be able to play
the organ and sing; and Poppy chattered on, delighted to find so
interested a listener.

"I think it quite cheered her and did her good," she confided to Angela
later.  "She said it did, and she asked me to come again; and I am to keep
threepennyworth of parsley for her every week.  Isn't it lovely!
A whole shilling a month!  Oh, I wish I had a whole garden to sow parsley
in.  Do you think it will go on growing for ever, Angela?"

Angela did not know, but she was hopeful.  Ephraim, however, thought that
at the rate she was picking it her crop would not last another month, and
strongly advised the clearing of a part of the bed and tilling more seeds.

But when Poppy went to Esther to tell her about her expedition, she met
with a disappointment.  Esther did not seem at all pleased at the
attentions she had shown the invalids.  She seemed, in fact, quite
annoyed.

"I was going myself," she said coldly, "by and by; but I sha'n't now, of
course.  I don't suppose Mademoiselle Leperier wants the whole Carroll
family continually going to her house.  It was not right for you, either,
to go all that way alone; it was not safe."

"I had Guard with me," said the crestfallen Poppy.  "I didn't know you
wouldn't like it, Essie.  I thought you--you would be glad."  Her lip
would quiver a little as she spoke.  "I--I only wanted to be kind to the
poor lady because she was kind to you, and I--didn't mean to go inside,
but she made me.  Aren't you really going again, Esther?  She expects you,
she said so."

"I can't go if all the rest of you keep going.  Besides, Mademoiselle
won't want me."

"Oh yes, she will," cried Poppy, almost in tears.  "She _does_ want you;
and--and I won't go any more if you don't like me to.  You can take the
parsley for me.  I wish now I hadn't promised to bring it; but they can't
get any one to come, and--and--" and then a tear really forced its way out
and fell; but at the sight of it Esther's better nature conquered her
temper, and she took her little sister in her arms with real remorse.

"No, darling, you shall go, and we will go together; but not always,"
she added presently.  "I should like to go alone sometimes, Poppy, to have
a quiet talk with Mademoiselle."



CHAPTER XIV.


To-morrow was Poppy's birthday, and all day long there had been mysterious
whisperings and signs and nods, hasty dashes in and out of the house,
invasions of Mrs. Vercoe's and Mrs. Bennett's shops, and great
mysteriousness on the part of Ephraim, who had to make a special journey
to Gorley.

And all the time Poppy, with a little thrill of excitement at her heart,
went about pretending to see and hear nothing, and half wishing her senses
were not so acute.

Miss Charlotte was very vexed with herself.  She had made an engagement
for the very afternoon of the great day, and could not get out of it.

"I am _so_ vexed I did not remember, dears," she said; "but it was so long
ago I was asked, and I had to accept or refuse then and there, and I
really did not realise what the date actually was.  I should have liked,
above all things, to have been home with you on that day."

The children were very sorry too; but seeing Cousin Charlotte so vexed
they made light of their own disappointment.

Anna was vexed too.  To her the birthday tea was the great feature of the
birthday, and she had, days before, with a great deal of trouble to keep
it a secret from the children, made and baked a beautiful birthday cake,
which now lay hidden away in a white cloth in a tin box in the copper in
the wash-kitchen.

On this day, the day before the great day itself, when she had for the
first time realised that the children would be alone on the important
occasion, her mind had grown very seriously troubled, so troubled that she
could think of nothing else, until suddenly a beautiful idea came into her
head, so beautiful an idea that Anna fairly gasped.  Later on, when she
had really sorted out her plans, she went upstairs to a big box in her
bedroom which held untold stores of treasures, and searched until she drew
from the depths a box of little sheets of fancy note-paper and envelopes.
This was hid in the copper too, along with the cake; but only until the
children had all gone to bed and the house was quiet.

As soon as ever she was sure there would be no more rushes into the
kitchen that night, Anna got out the wooden box with 'Hudson's Soap
Powder' stuck all over it, in which she kept her writing materials; and
then, withdrawing the box of fancy note-paper from its hiding-place,
she sat down, and taking out sheet by sheet, spread them all on the table
before her.

"It do seem a pity to use it after keeping it all these years," she said
regretfully, as she examined each one.  They were all different.
"But there, there couldn't be a better time.  They'm just what I want."
So hardening her heart against any further regrets, she proceeded to make
her choice.

"I think Miss Poppy ought to have the roses.  They'm considered the best
of all the flowers, and 'tis her day.  Then Miss Esther shall have--let me
see.  They'm all so pretty I don't hardly know which to choose for which--
oh, Miss Angela shall have the daisies, somehow they remind me of her,
and vi'lets seems like Miss Esther's flower, and I'll give the sunflowers
to Miss Penelope."

That settled, and four envelopes picked out and inscribed each with one of
the children's names, Anna squared her elbows and began the real work of
the evening.  First she took some old scraps of paper, and wrote note
after note on them before she succeeded in pleasing herself.  At last she
accomplished what she wanted, and feeling satisfied, copied it out, word
for word, on the four sheets of note-paper.  She hesitated as to whether
she should not put her writing on the plain side, and so avoid marring the
fair beauty of the flowered side, but she thought better of it,
and hardened her heart; and after one had been done she did not mind so
very much.

It was almost late when at last she went to bed, her task had taken her so
long, and the clock actually struck ten as she crept into Esther's room
and left two of her little notes on the dressing-table, after depositing
the other two in Penelope's and Angela's room.

Poppy, being the heroine of the day, was naturally the first to wake the
next morning.  At the remembrance of what the occasion was, she sat
straight up in bed with excitement, and nearly shouted; then she saw that
Esther was asleep still.  It seemed very hard that every one else should
be asleep, and quite lost to the greatness of the occasion, while she was
awake and alert, all ready to receive congratulations.

As her eyes grew accustomed to the dimness she could make out a square,
fascinating-looking parcel on the table by Esther's bed, after which it
became almost intolerably hard to lie still and wait for the others to
wake.  The little heroine's excitement began to give way to quite a hurt
feeling.   It seemed as though no one could care, or they would never
sleep on like this.  She actually began to feel aggrieved; but she sprang
out of bed to try to drive away the feeling by looking out to see what
the morning and the weather were like.  She might, if she had liked,
have pulled back the curtains in a way that would have waked Esther at
once; but she drew them as gently as though her one anxiety was not to
disturb her sister, and opening the window, looked out.

Oh, how lovely it was!  Poppy, child as she was, gasped at the sight
before her.  Road and river, houses and moor, lay bathed in the clear glow
of the beautiful pure morning sunshine.  Every leaf and twig sparkled with
dew; even the little window-panes in the cottages glittered and looked
beautiful.  On the moor opposite great cloud-like masses of mist rolled
away quickly before the advancing sun, leaving the old brown moor behind
it, flashing from thousands of tiny leaves and blades.  The river gleamed
and scintillated as it danced along, singing as it went.

"Everything seems to know what day it is," said Poppy gleefully.
"Oh, you dear river, you dear sun, you dear, dear moor and houses, _how_ I
love you all!"

She softly closed the window and turned away to get back to bed.  As she
turned her eye fell on two little envelopes, one pink, the other
lilac-coloured.

"What _can_ they be?" she cried, as she read the inscriptions on them.

'Miss Esther.'

'Miss Popy.'

Taking up the one addressed to her, and carefully opening it, she took out
the pretty sheet with the spray of rosebuds scattered over the page.
Across the rosebuds, sprawled in big letters,--

    "Anna rekuests the pleasure of Miss Popy's compny to tea in the
     kitchun at five o'clock.

    "Yours respectfly

    "Anna."

The rustling of the paper had aroused Esther at last.  First she opened
one eye, then the other, and would have shut both again, only they
happened to fall on the white parcel beside her.

"Why, it has come!  The day has come!  It is Poppy's birthday!" she
thought.  She sprang up in a moment, wide awake.  "Many happy returns of
the day," she cried.  "Oh, Poppy, have you been out of bed long?
Come into my bed and get warm.  Here is something for you.  Why, what have
you got there?"  Poppy was dancing about the room in a high state of glee,
waving a letter in her hand.

"Oh, thank you, darling," she cried, seizing the parcel and hugging Esther
at the same time.  "And here's something for you.  Won't it be fun!
Isn't Anna a dear!  I _do_ love her.  I fink I love _every_ body."

"Get into bed," commanded careful Esther, and Poppy hopped into her
sister's bed before she even stayed to open her first birthday present.

Esther's gift was a book, which she had bought for her little sister the
last time she was at Gorley.  Poppy was delighted.  New books, or even old
ones, came to her so seldom.  She loved them with such a love as only the
unspoiled child can know.  While she was still crooning over it, looking
at the pictures, examining the covers, patting it and loving it as
though it were a living, feeling thing, the other two came flying in,
all excitement.  Each held in one hand a letter, in the other a small
parcel.

"Many happy returns of the day.  Oh, you darling!" as they caught sight of
Poppy's dark head and beaming face in Esther's bed.  "Just look at our
letters,--oh, you have got some too?  Isn't it lovely of Anna?  I think
she is a perfect dear."  Both talked at once, and as fast as their tongues
could wag.  "Here's a present for you," said Penelope, laying her parcel
very carefully in Poppy's lap, and kissing her on the top of her curly
poll.

"Jump in too, at the bottom," said Esther; and soon all four were tightly
packed into the little bed.

Poppy's fingers shook as she fumbled with the string.  It was a
curious-shaped parcel, and Penelope kept enjoining her to be very careful,
and not to turn it over.  When at last she did undo the wrappings, and the
box inside, and found a tiny red flower-pot with a baby cactus in it,
her joy knew no bounds.

"I am afraid you won't care for mine very much," said Angela meekly.
"It is something for your room."  But Poppy was equally delighted with the
little blue pincushion, with her name, 'Poppy,' outlined in bright new
pins.  "It is stuffed with tiny, soft, beautiful feathers from our own
hens," explained Angela.  "I've been saving them, and Anna baked them for
me."

They all agreed that it was a perfectly lovely birthday morning, one of
the nicest they had ever known, and when the presents had been examined
and discussed, Anna's pretty writing-paper came in for a long examination.

"I like mine best," said Esther, and all agreed they each preferred their
own.

"Mine ought to have had poppies on it," said their little namesake; "but I
do like roses best."

"Anna gave you the roses because the rose is the queen of flowers, and you
are the queen of the day, I expect."

Then Anna came in to call them, and at the sight of the four figures in
the bed immediately collapsed on to a seat by the door, and laughed and
laughed until they laughed too from the infection of it.

"We'd best stop ourselves," she said presently, rising, and trying to make
her face very grave.  "Laugh before breakfast, cry before night, they do
say; and we don't want no tears this day, do we?"

"Oh no," they all agreed, and tried very hard to draw long serious faces
at once; but it was difficult on a birthday, and holiday, with the sun
shining, and the birds singing, and tea in the kitchen in prospect.

When Poppy presently danced singing down to breakfast, she found by her
plate another present--a pretty scarlet housewife from Cousin Charlotte,
containing a little pair of scissors, a silver thimble, a case of needles,
a stiletto, a bodkin, and two of the tiniest reels of silk she had ever
seen.  When the case was closed it looked like a dear little red hand-bag.

There was a letter, too, from Canada from father, for the mail happened to
come in that very day.  Such a nice letter it was--so full of love for his
little daughter, and longing to see her, and all of them.  "Sometimes I
feel I cannot bear this exile from my little ones any longer," he wrote.
"If I do run away from here and return, will you help to make a home for
your old father and mother? or will you want to remain with Cousin
Charlotte always?  Give her my love and grateful thanks for all her
kindness to my chicks."

Angela cried a little over this letter.  "I don't believe father is a bit
happy out there," she said.  "I do wish he would come home and live here,
and mother too.  It would be so jolly, and I'm sure they would love it."

A little cloud of sadness rested on them for a while, but for Poppy's sake
they put away all sad thoughts, and began to make all kinds of nice plans
for the day, and before very long they were all as merry as grigs.
Cousin Charlotte was really very pleased when she heard of Anna's
invitation.

"I wish you were coming too," cried Esther, "then it would be all quite
perfect,--oh, and there's Ephraim.  I do think Anna ought to invite him
too--don't you, Cousin Charlotte?"

"You had better ask her," said Miss Ashe with a smile.  But Anna did not
smile when they put the question to her.  "Me ask Ephraim!" she cried
indignantly.  "Me ask him!  No, my dears, 'tain't likely as I shall ask
him to tea in my kitchen, so he needn't expect it," and she bustled away,
sniffing and snorting in a perfect fury of disgust apparently.  Why she
should show such scorn and contempt of poor Ephraim no one could ever
understand; but some very wise, sharp-eyed people had been known to say
that she over-acted her contempt for all men, and Ephraim in particular,
and that really--well, they even went so far as to say she had so warm a
spot in her heart for him, she was always afraid some one would find it
out.

But, if it was so, she acted so well that neither Ephraim nor the children
ever suspected it was acting.

Having made their suggestion, and not met with the success they had
expected, they turned their thoughts next to the spending of their
morning.  With one consent they agreed it was to be spent on the moor.

"I will wear my watch," said Esther, "and we will see how far we can get;
but we will come back to 'the castle' for lunch, won't we?"

All agreed joyfully; and Miss Charlotte's permission having been obtained,
Anna packed them two noble baskets of provisions, and gave them a can of
milk.  Poppy was loth to go away and leave her new treasures, and debated
long whether she would not carry her book or her cactus with her--one
would be so nice to read on the way, and the sunshine would be so good for
the plant; but on the others pointing out to her that she would not be
away so very long, she finally agreed to leave both in Anna's care.

"Don't you think," said Penelope, when at last, after many wanderings this
way and that, they reached the castle, and she had dropped her basket and
thrown herself on the ground beside it--"don't you think we might leave
the baskets and can here?  It will be ever so much nicer not to have to
carry them all the way, and I should think they would be quite safe if we
hide them very carefully."

All agreed at once that it was a splendid idea, and quite safe, for they
scarcely ever saw any one on the moor but themselves; and the baskets were
heavy, and the milk was apt to slop, and it would be much nicer to go on
with free hands.

"We will try a new way to-day, shall we?" cried Penelope; and they bore
away to the right instead of keeping straight on up the slope, wandering
hither and thither, it is true, but still bearing in the same direction,
until presently they came out by the station.

A train was just coming in, and they stopped to watch it--a great delight
to them always, for the coming and going of the trains was one of the
greatest excitements of their lives.  They never expected to see any one
they knew; but the sight of the people in it, even if they did not get
out, afforded them interest and food for talk, wondering where they were
going, and whether they wanted to go or not, and making up all sorts of
tales about them and the people they were going to.  An engine is always
fascinating, too.

To-day, though, was quite an unusual day.  First Anne Roth got out, and
then Miss Row and her guest Mr. Somerset.  Anne left the platform first,
and was walking briskly away when he caught sight of the children, and
came up to them smiling and bowing.

"How is Mademoiselle?" asked Esther, who never forgot her inquiries.

"Not very well, m'amzelle," Anne answered sadly.  "I think she is
suffering, and her spirits are low.  If m'amzelle could find time to come
and cheer her, she would be glad, I know, and it would do her much good."
He glanced at the others; but they had learned that Esther disliked any
encroachment on what she considered her rights.

"Oh, yes, I will come," she answered gladly.  "I will come to-morrow.
I cannot to-day, for it is my little sister's birthday, and we have had an
invitation to tea; but I will come to-morrow, and I will bring a book.
Perhaps Mademoiselle would like to be read to."

"I am sure she would," agreed Anne.  "Thank you, m'amzelle.  _Bon jour_ ";
and with a bow which included them all, Anne hurried on.

As he went Miss Row was rapidly approaching the spot where the children
stood.  She looked with curious, suspicious eyes after Anne, and then at
the children.

"Who is your friend?" she asked with frank curiosity..

"That is Anne Roth, Mademoiselle Leperier's man," said Esther, not without
a touch of importance in tone and manner.  "Mademoiselle Leperier is a
friend of mine," she added.  She still felt a little sore that Miss Row
had passed her over for Penelope, and she was not sorry to let her know
she had friends who could appreciate her.

Mr. Somerset had been teasing Poppy in the meantime, and laughing with the
others.

"What a pretty name," said Miss Row, who was very curious and wanted to
find out more; but she already knew enough of Esther to understand that
she must not let her curiosity be apparent.

"Yes, it is," agreed Esther, by her little vanity falling easily into the
trap laid for her; "and she is so pretty, too, and she had such a lovely
voice once.  She was a very famous singer years ago, but she never sings
now--"

Then remembering, she stopped suddenly in her chatter, colouring hotly
with anger with herself, and embarrassment, as she glanced round and saw
all eyes fixed on her.  It seemed to her that every one was listening to
her indiscreet, foolish talk.  Mr. Somerset had ceased playing with Poppy,
and was listening with particular interest.

"Mademoiselle Leperier," he cried, drawing nearer.  "You don't mean to say
she is in the neighbourhood!  You never told me," turning to Miss Row,
"what a celebrity you had in your midst.  I should so much like to meet
her--quite an interesting personality.  I have always wanted to know her.
Don't you know her story?"  And in a few brief, cold words he gave the
outline of the bitter tragedy of the singer's life.

Esther chafed and boiled with anger against them, and resentment and rage
with herself.  She realised to the fall now what she had done.  She had
destroyed Mademoiselle Leperier's peace and seclusion.  She had laid her
open to curiosity and unwelcome visitors, and--and she might even have
driven her from that neighbourhood, and Mademoiselle would know it was her
fault, and blame her, and never like her again.

Oh! it was bitter to think that she had done it, she who loved
Mademoiselle so, and knew and understood her, who meant to have been such
a comfort to her.  Poor Esther was heartbroken as she realised it all.
Something must be done, she determined.  She must do something to undo
some of the mischief.  She could not let things go on like this; it was
too dreadful.

They turned to her full of inquiries.  Where did Mademoiselle Leperier
live?  What did she look like?  Who lived with her? etc. etc.
Esther set her lips tight.  They should get no more out of her.
In the first place she could decline to tell them where Mademoiselle
lived.  If they determined to find out, she must find some means of
preventing their going.

When Miss Row had asked three or four questions and got no answer,
she began to grow annoyed.  "What is the matter with you, child?
Why don't you speak when you are spoken to?  Don't you know how rude it
is?"

"Yes, I do know," said Esther, in a very trembling voice, "and I am very
sorry, but I am not going to tell any one anything more about
Mademoiselle.  I--I ought not to have said anything.  I promised her I
wouldn't.  I am _very_ sorry I did--"

"Dear me! dear me! how important we are!" cried Miss Row, whose temper was
far from being one of the best.  "Let me inform you that we all knew of
Mademoiselle Leperier before you were born, and Mr. Somerset knew her
personally--"

Mr. Somerset stepped forward, colouring a little.  "I--I am afraid I can
hardly claim that much," he said hastily.  "She was so great and so sought
after, and--and so exclusive, it was difficult to get to know her--
unless,"--with a smirk--"one were a celebrity too."

Miss Row looked at him as crossly as she had at Esther.  She hated to find
herself mistaken at all.

"But I thought," he went on hastily, "I would very much like to see this
celebrity of a past generation, the heroine of such a romance, in her--ah
--in her retirement.  Perhaps she would not be so exclusive now.
A chat with her would be most interesting--such valuable 'copy.'  I really
must try to accomplish it.  Shall we call, dear Miss Row?  I am sure you
and she would be mutually pleased."

Esther's feelings became too much for her.  She did not know what 'copy'
meant; but she felt certain that this kind of person was the very last
Mademoiselle would wish to see.

"Oh, please don't," she cried anxiously.  "Please, you mustn't go there.
Mademoiselle herself told me she did not want any visitors, and Anne told
me she came here on purpose that she might be quite quiet, because she
can't see them.  Please don't go.  If people call she will go away--
I'm sure she will.  Anne says she had to move from ever so many places
because people would not let her be quiet.  _Please_ don't let her know
that I said she lived here.  I did not mean to--"

"Dear me!  I suppose you have the exclusive right to the lady's society--
that, knowing Miss Esther Carroll, she does not require any other
friends!"  Miss Row's sneering, sarcastic words brought the colour to
Esther's cheeks and the tears to her eyes.

"I didn't--mean--that," she stammered confusedly, bitterly hurt.
"You know I didn't," then turned away hastily that they might not see how
weak she was.

All this time the others had stood by listening, growing more and more
indignant with Miss Row, and more and more sorry for Esther.  At first
they were afraid to say anything for fear they might make matters worse,
but Miss Row's last speech was more then they could bear.  Angela ran to
Esther with blazing cheeks and flashing eyes.  "Never mind, dear," she
cried, putting her arms about her.  "You were very brave to speak up so."

Penelope stepped nearer to Miss Row.  Her cheeks were white, her eyes very
bright and indignant.

"It is not fair to speak to Esther like that, Miss Row," she said
reproachfully.  "It was by accident she came to know Mademoiselle
Leperier, and Mademoiselle _asked_ her to go again, or she wouldn't have
gone, for Esther knew she did not want to have strange visitors--she told
her so.  She said she didn't want any one to know she was living here,
for she was not strong enough to have visitors, or to go anywhere.
Esther ought not to have said anything about her, and she was frightened
when she had; but when she had, she had to tell you--about--about not
going there."

Miss Row was not in the frame of mind to be reasonable.  She felt she was
in the wrong, and that made her the more cross.  "Well, Penelope," she
said icily, "I did not expect to be spoken to like this by you, after all
I have done for you, too.  I did expect civility and some gratitude in
return, I must confess; but I find I have been grossly mistaken in you."

Penelope started, and her face flushed crimson.

"I suppose," went on Miss Row, turning to Mr. Somerset, "I was foolish to
expect it from children brought up as they were."  Then turning to
Penelope again--"Esther's unfortunate temper one has grown accustomed to;
but you--"

Penelope hung her head for a moment, overcome with mortification;
then suddenly raising it she looked fearlessly, but wistfully, into Miss
Row's angry eyes.  "I wish you would understand," she said earnestly.
"We neither of us mean to be rude or--or ungrateful."  She stammered a
little over the last word.  "It was only Mademoiselle we were thinking
of--and--and then you were unfair to Esther, and--and I couldn't bear
that."

"And I can't bear rudeness," said Miss Row, beginning to move away.
Her face was very red, and her eyes ugly.  "Don't come to me again this
week for a lesson," she said, turning round to face Penelope once more.
"I--I don't want to see you for a while.  When I do I will send for you.";
and Miss Row walked away very quickly, chattering volubly all the way to
her companion, while Penelope stood, stunned and wounded, scarcely able to
believe her own ears.

For a few seconds she remained looking after the retreating pair, then
turned, walked silently for a little distance, and suddenly dropped on the
old brown turf in a passion of sobs.

For a moment Poppy gazed, too entirely astonished to know what to do.
She could not remember when she had last seen Penelope weep; it happened
so rarely.  Flinging herself on the turf beside her, she threw her arms
lovingly about her.  "Don't cry, darling.  Oh, Pen, don't cry," she
pleaded.  "It doesn't matter what that horrid old Miss Row says, and we
all love you.  Don't cry, dear."  She was too young to comprehend what was
hurting Penelope most--the words that rankled, and stung; the charge of
ingratitude; the taunt; the throwing up to her of favours she had
received--things no lady should ever permit herself to do.

Under the lash of it all Penelope sobbed on uncontrollably.  When she did
weep, she did weep--a perfect storm of tears that shook and exhausted her.
Poppy grew frightened at the violence of her grief.  There seemed to be
something more here than she could understand.  "Oh, where is Essie?
Essie must come," she cried, raising herself on her knees and looking
about for her sisters; but Esther and Angela were at some distance,
walking slowly but steadily away, apparently absorbed in talk.

Poppy sighed a big sigh which sounded almost like a sob.  "My poor little
birthday," she murmured wistfully, "that I fought was going to be so
lovely!"

The words and the tone touched Penelope.  Her sobs grew less, broke forth
again, then stopped, and she struggled up into a sitting position.
"Oh, you poor little Poppet," she cried.  "It _is_ hard on you.  I _am_ so
sorry, dear.  It is too bad that your birthday should be spoilt like this.
I wish--I wish we had kept to the moor, and not come anywhere near human
beings."  Tears welled up into her eyes again, but she only threw up her
head and tilted her nose a little higher, as though to make them run back.

"Never mind, darling.  We will try to forget all about it, and enjoy
ourselves."; but a sob shook her even as she spoke.

"And it began so beautifully," Poppy was murmuring.  "Anna said 'Laugh
before breakfast, cry before night,' and it's come true.  I'll never laugh
before breakfast again."

Penelope listening to her, suddenly made up her mind.  It _should_ be a
beautiful day, after all.  They would put away all unpleasant thoughts for
Poppy's sake.  It rested with her to be cheerful herself, and to comfort
and cheer up the others.  She put her arms about her baby sister and drew
her closer.  "Poppy dear, don't tell Esther about--Miss Row being so--
nasty, and about my crying.  It will only trouble her more, and I want her
to forget, and we will all try to be very jolly to-day, won't we?"

Poppy nodded her head vigorously; but there was a doubtful expression on
her pretty face.  "She will see you've been crying," she said gravely.

"No.  We will sit here facing the breeze, and that will soon make my face
and eyes look all right, and--we will laugh and talk as if nothing had
happened.  We are going to have a really jolly day, aren't we?"

Poppy nodded again; but a second later she shook her head gravely.
"I sha'n't ever forget what Anna said about laughing before breakfast,"
she said very seriously.  "It comes true."

Side by side on the springy turf the two little figures sat, leaning
against each other lovingly, waiting for the sweet breeze to take away all
traces of sorrow; telling secrets the while of what they would do by and
by, when they were grown-up, and trying bravely to forget their own
troubles for the benefit of others.



CHAPTER XV.


At last, finding the others did not come back to them, Poppy and Penelope
got up and prepared to follow them.  "I suppose they don't mean to go any
farther in this direction," said Penelope.  "Are my eyes all right,
Poppy?"

Poppy assured her, truthfully, that no one would know she had shed a tear,
and Esther and Angela, seated on a boulder waiting for them, saw no trace
on either face, and suspected nothing of the storm that had come and gone
since they parted.

"I am frantically hungry, aren't you?" called Penelope gaily, as they drew
near.

They were all ravenous.

"Let's go back and have lunch at once," suggested Esther.  "Did you get
away from that horrid old thing pretty soon?"

They all understood who the 'horrid old thing' was without explanation,
and none of them felt inclined to quarrel with the description.

"Oh yes, pretty soon,"  said Penelope, in an off-hand way, as she stooped
to pick some sweet wild thyme.

"I shall never like her any more," said Angela emphatically.  "She was so
horrid to Esther."

"I wouldn't be taught by her for something," said Esther.  "I don't envy
you, Pen."

Pen felt a big sinking at her heart at the thought of her music lessons,
and Miss Row's last words to her; but she made a brave effort to be
cheerful.  "She--she _can_ be very nice," she said lamely.

"It's all very well for you to talk," said Angela, whose usually gentle
spirit was greatly roused.  "She didn't speak to you as she did to
Esther."

Penelope gave Poppy a warning glance.  "Well, she _can_ be nice," she
repeated, for want of something else to say.  "Now come along, girls; do
let's get back to 'the Castle' and have some lunch, and we'll forget all
about Miss Row being so nasty.  It is the Poppy's birthday, and we've
_got_ to think only of nice things.  Now let's join hands and run down
this slope."

With Poppy tightly grasped by her two eldest sisters, they flew over the
ground as fast as their legs could go.  Poppy, her feet scarcely touching
the ground, shrieked with the greatest delight.  Guard, who had been
distractedly hovering between the two couples while their party was
divided, barked and danced, and raced away and back again, as pleased as
any of them.

They were quite exhausted before they reached 'the Castle,' and Poppy and
Angela had to be allowed to sit down to recover their breath.

"I will go on and begin to get out the baskets," said Esther, "and unpack
them by the time you come.  You won't stay here very long, will you?"

Penelope was lying on her back gazing up at the blue sky and the swarms of
tiny insects which hovered and darted between her and it.  She was too
comfortable to move, even to help get the lunch, so Esther and Guard went
alone.

'The Castle,' the children's favourite play-place, was a group of huge
boulders, like closely set rough pillars, so arranged by nature as to
enclose a considerable space, like a tiny room, while outside was a kind
of natural staircase leading to what they sometimes called 'upstairs,' and
sometimes 'the roof,' which was formed of a large flat boulder, forming a
natural roof, and keeping the interior dry and cosy save for the breezes
which blew through the various openings, large and small, between the
pillars.

It was in this centre, close to a pillar, and well out of sight, that the
children had hidden their things; and here Esther came now, and pushing
her arm through a narrow opening, groped about for the familiar baskets,
and groped in vain.

"I thought we put them here," she said to herself, "but I must have come
to the wrong opening."  She went to another, and groped again in vain.

"Well," she said perplexed, and beginning to feel troubled, "I am certain
it was in one of those.  We didn't go round to the other side, I am sure
we didn't.  I'll go inside and look."

She went to what they called their secret entrance, and creeping in, stood
up in the 'room' and looked about her.  Not a basket was to be seen.
The place was bare.

She scrambled out again more quickly than she had moved for a very long
time.  "Penelope," she shouted, "girls, quick--come--we've been--"

Then the thought suddenly came to her that perhaps the thieves were in
hiding somewhere near, and were chuckling over her dismay, and she drew
herself up abruptly.  If a trick had been played them the perpetrators
should not gloat over their discomfiture.

Guard was still sniffing eagerly about the spot when Esther walked with
dignity back to the others, and, still with that fear of watching eyes on
her, sat calmly down by them before she spoke; but when she did speak her
tragic, mysterious voice and manner filled them all with awe and dismay.

"Girls, keep very quiet and listen to me.  What _do_ you think has
happened!  There are thieves about.  They have stolen our baskets and the
can--everything.  There isn't a crumb left.  Isn't it awful!  Don't shriek
or make a fuss.  They may be watching us, and we won't let them see that
we know, or--or care, will we?"

To the two younger ones it was an impossibility to suppress all signs.
To them thieves meant robbers, bandits, a horde of savage creatures who
might spring from anywhere, who, having consumed their provisions,
might next run away with themselves.  There were other troubles, too.

"And I am _so_ hungry," cried Poppy.  "I am starving.  It isn't a bit like
a birthday.  I wish I hadn't had one."

Esther sat down by her and put her arms protectingly round her.
Penelope looked fierce.

"We cannot put up with it," she cried indignantly.  "It's such
impertinence to take our things, such wickedness, such thievery.
The children will be starved.  What can we do?  Where can we look?  Who do
you think can have done it?  Come and search for them, shall we?
Guard ought to be able to catch them.  Perhaps some one has done it just
to play us a trick."

"But suppose they are looking on and laughing," said Esther, who had a
perfect horror of being made to look foolish.  "And do you think it is
safe?  They must be horrid people, and might do anything if we found them
out."

"I expect they have run away by now, if they stole the things," said wise
Penelope, who could be very practical when she did come out of her dreamy
state, "and they would laugh more if the baskets were only just hidden for
a joke, and we went hungry because we wouldn't look for them."

Esther saw the sense of all that; but Angela repeated anxiously,
"Do you think it is safe?"

"Yes, safe enough with Guard to protect us," said Penelope, rather
impatiently.  She was dreadfully hungry, and very disappointed and rather
cross.  They all got up and looked about them.  Guard was at a little
distance from them, sniffing excitedly about a big clump of furze and
blackberry bushes.

"I believe they are there," cried Penelope.

"What, the thieves!" cried Angela, turning pale.

"Don't be silly, Angela," Penelope retorted crossly.  "Can't you see you
are frightening Poppy?  I meant the baskets.  If you are afraid, stay
here, and I will go alone."

Angela looked 'squashed.'  "Oh no," she stammered, "I--I will go too."

"We will all go," said Esther promptly.  "Come along, children, don't
let's be silly."

They went along hand in hand, trying hard to look unconcerned and brave,
and succeeding fairly well.  Guard, seeing them coming, ran back to them
excitedly, then tore back to the bushes again, while they followed as fast
as they could, peered in where he was thrusting his nose, and there, right
in the middle of the furze brake, they saw the two baskets and the can,
quite empty.

They were so hungry, so shocked, so disappointed, and so mortified by the
trick that had been played them, they had hard work to keep back their
tears.  Angela and Poppy quite failed to.  "I never knew such a horrid old
birthday," sobbed Poppy; "and the patties looked so lovely, and the cake,
and now we've got to wait till we go home."

Esther stood with the baskets in her hands, gazing at them with a troubled
face.  "I am glad we have these to take home with us," she said
thoughtfully.  "Girls, do you think we had better go straight back and
tell what has happened, or--or shall we say nothing and let Cousin
Charlotte and Anna think we have eaten it all up.  Anna would be so
awfully disappointed to think all the meat patties and the sandwiches she
had made, and all the other things, had been eaten by thieves, and--and
very likely we shouldn't be allowed to come out like this any more, and
that would be dreadful."

The consternation on all faces when Esther began was almost ludicrous,
and, indeed, it was no light matter to contemplate hours of hunger in that
hungry air; but the thought of Cousin Charlotte's and Anna's
disappointment, wrath, and alarm made them think of another side of the
question.

"Will it be very long?" asked Poppy, in a piteous little voice.
Esther took out her watch.  "Four and a half hours to tea-time, I am
afraid," she said reluctantly.  She could not bear to doom her sisters to
such a spell of waiting, it seemed really too dreadful; and so they all
thought as they groaned aloud.

"Can I go home and pretend to Anna we want more lunch, we are so hungry
to-day?" suggested Penelope.

"I am sure she would think we were ill, and make us all come home at
once," said Esther, laughing, "and perhaps make us go to bed.  She gave us
such a lot we couldn't possibly be hungry if we ate it all."

"I have a penny," said Angela.  "Shall we go and buy four tea-cakes at
Mrs. Vercoe's?  That will be one each, and better than nothing."
Better than nothing indeed!  One of Mrs. Vercoe's tea-cakes seemed then
the most desirable thing in the world--except two.

They were all starting off when Angela exclaimed again, "Oh, and I've
thought of something else.  If I could creep into the garden without being
seen, and get to the fowls' house, I believe I should find an egg in
Fluffikin's nest."

"One raw egg between four wouldn't be much good," said Penelope
hopelessly.  "It isn't worth going for."

"But I didn't mean that, I didn't mean to eat it.  I meant to take it to
Mrs. Vercoe's, and sell it.  I dare say she would give me a penny for it,
and that would buy four more tea-cakes."

The suggestion was pronounced a noble one, and hailed with joy, and in
another moment they were all running in the direction of home as fast as
they could go.

"I feel like a thief myself," said Angela, as she crept out of the garden
again, and rejoined them, a beautiful great egg in her hand.

"I wish I knew who stole our food," said Esther, "I should feel much
happier.  I don't like to tell, yet I don't think it is right to say
nothing about it."

It was a knotty problem, and lasted them all the time they were skirting
the end of the garden and crossing the moor, until they came out close to
Mrs. Vercoe's shop.

What had not occurred to any of them was that there might be any one else
in the shop, and least of all that it should be any one they knew.
And this was exactly what did happen.

The four of them walking quickly in at the door, as into a haven of refuge
reached at last, found themselves face to face with Cousin Charlotte.

It was so unexpected that for a moment they wavered, and nearly turned and
fled.  Colouring hotly, and looking the picture of confusion, they could
think of nothing to do or say.  But Cousin Charlotte, guessing nothing,
only smiled and looked amused.  Their dismay escaped her.  "Well, chicks,"
she said, "are you managing to enjoy your holiday?"

"Yes--thank you," they stammered, with as much enthusiasm as they could
muster.

"That's right.  Don't overtire yourselves, but have a nice day.  Now I
must hurry home to my meal.  I expect you have had yours by this time.
Ah, I see," glancing at the empty baskets, "every crumb cleared.  This is
wonderful air for giving one an appetite," she remarked, turning to Mrs.
Vercoe, and Mrs. Vercoe agreed; but the children felt that neither of them
understood that fact as they did.  It was almost torture to hear Cousin
Charlotte say she was going home to her meal.  Their longing to join her
was almost more than they could bear.  They were thankful, though, that
she did not ask them how they had enjoyed their lunch, and what Anna's
patties were like, or anything of that sort.

"Well, good-bye, dears, for the time.  You won't be late, will you?
It would be wise to have a nice rest before tea-time.  Don't eat a lot of
sweets now, will you?  After your big lunch you should reserve yourselves
for Anna's big tea.  She will expect you to do justice to it."
Then turning to Mrs. Vercoe again to explain, "It is this young lady's
birthday, and Anna has invited them to tea with her, as I, unfortunately,
have to be out."

"My!" exclaimed Mrs. Vercoe, looking at them with amused interest,
"that _will_ be nice.  Good-day, miss," as Cousin Charlotte hurried away.

On the counter stood a large tray of buns and tea-cakes--'splits' as they
call them in those parts.  They were new, and the smell was perfectly
delicious.  Mrs. Vercoe, saying, "I wishes you many returns of the day,
missie," was about to take one up and present it to Poppy, when she stayed
her hand.  "If you've just had your dinner you'd rather have a bit of
sweety, I reckon."

"Oh no," gasped poor Poppy, in her desperation almost clutching at the
tempting food.  "I--I--thank you very much," she stammered.  "I love plain
buns.  There's miffing I like so much."  But when she had it she hesitated
to begin to eat it; it seemed so selfish and greedy right there under
those three pairs of hungry eyes.  She longed to divide it, but did not
like to.  Esther, seeing her perplexity, came to her rescue.  "Eat it,
dear," she said softly, and Poppy never in her life was more glad to obey.

Angela stepped forward, colouring a little.  "Please, I want four farthing
tea-cakes," she said, as calmly as she could speak.  She was painfully
conscious of Mrs. Vercoe's look of surprise.  "And--and please," she went
on, growing painfully embarrassed, for it was not easy now it had come to
the point, "do you want an egg, Mrs. Vercoe?"

Mrs. Vercoe looked even more surprised, but she only said civilly that she
"could do with a dozen."

"I've only one at present," said Angela.  "It is one my own hen laid, but
you can have some more to-morrow morning."

"Very well, my dear," said amiable Mrs. Vercoe, "that will do.  I'll put
the one here until I get the rest.  Shall I give you the money, missie, or
would Miss Ashe prefer to have it in goods?"

"Oh please," said poor Angela, "this one is my own, and I should like--
some more tea-cakes for it."

"Tea-cakes!" said Mrs. Vercoe in a bewildered voice.  "Why, yes, my dear,
of course; but--you'll excuse my asking, but--there isn't nothing the
matter, is there?" she inquired confidentially, peering at them over her
big glasses.

Then Esther stepped forward.  "Yes, Mrs. Vercoe, there is.  It's--it's
nothing wrong that we've done, but you must promise not to say a word
about it to anybody, please.  It wouldn't have mattered _quite_ so much,
but now we have pretended to Cousin Charlotte that we enjoyed our lunch it
would be dreadful.  You will never say a word to any one, will you,
Mrs. Vercoe?"

Mrs. Vercoe promised solemnly, whereupon the four tongues were unloosed,
and the whole tale of the calamity and their hunger and disappointment was
poured out.  Mrs. Vercoe listened with the keenest interest, every now and
then raising her two fat hands in amazement, then resting them again on
her plump sides.

"Oh, my dears! oh, my dears!" she kept gasping.  "What owdacious
wickedness there do be in this world, to be sure.  To think of it! Well, I
never did!  And if they ain't caught and punished it'll be no more nor
less than a crying shame."

By the time they had finished she was leading them all into her little
parlour, bent on making tea for them and preparing them a good meal;
but Esther would not hear of it.

"Thank you very much," she said warmly, "but if we may have a few
tea-cakes it will be quite enough.  We only want something to prevent our
feeling so hungry and faint and horrid till tea-time."

Mrs. Vercoe insisted, though, on their all having some milk to drink with
their splits, on which she spread butter liberally, and an apple or so
each to take away and munch on the moor.  It was too soon to go home yet,
they felt, yet their love for wandering had been somewhat dashed by the
unpleasant experience of the morning.  Somehow the moor did not seem the
same while they felt that it held thieves too.

Guard, who had been given some biscuits and stale cake, looked up at them
inquiringly, as much as to say, "Aren't we going home now?"  Visions of
his comfortable bed rose before him, and he felt very inclined for a
noon-day nap.  But the children told him he was not to go home yet, and he
agreed, with his usual amiability, to follow where they led.

"I think we will go down by the river," said Esther.  "It will be a
change, and will seem different.  It won't remind us so much of thieves."

So on they went, past Moor Cottage, where they saw through the curtains
Cousin Charlotte at her solitary meal, and waved gaily to her; over the
bridge and down on the fascinating river-bank where all sorts of treasures
lurked, and the roots of the trees, rising out of the soft earth, formed
steps and seats and balustrades and all sorts of things.

"I think we won't go so very far," said Esther, looking at her watch.
"It is two o'clock now, and I think we might go home at half-past three.
Let's sit down here, shall we?"

"Shall we just go a teeny tiny way further?" pleaded Angela.  "There is a
beautiful place a little way further on, a dear little cosy, cubby corner
where we should be shut in, and as comfy as possible.  Shall we, Esther?"

Esther nodded, and on they went again.  Guard, as though he knew what they
had been saying, ran on in front, making for the very spot.

"He _couldn't_ have understood what I said could he?" asked Angela
eagerly, "but he has gone into the very place."

"And seems inclined to stay there," said Penelope.  She whistled once or
twice, but the usually obedient Guard did not appear.

"I wonder what he is doing?" said Angela, growing anxious at once, as she
always did.  "I will run on and see," and, no one stopping her, she went.



CHAPTER XVI.


The others, scarcely noticing that she had gone, went on their way very
slowly, watching the river as it swirled past, rushing by some places,
at others apparently not moving.  They were absorbed in sailing twigs down
the stream when a flying white-faced figure dashed into their midst,
chattering confusedly and almost weeping.

"Oh, what shall we do, what shall we do!" gasped Angela.  "Guard found
them.  They are in there, dead or asleep.  I don't know which.  He is
sniffing at their pockets.  There are three of them, and he won't let them
go, and it is Cousin Charlotte's cloth.  I recognised it hanging out of
his pocket, the one Anna wrapped the patties in--"

"_What are you talking about?_" demanded Esther, grasping Angela by the
arm.  "Don't be so frightened.  What has happened?"

Angela tried to be calmer and more coherent.  "There are three boys asleep
in the very place where we were going.  Guard found them.  He was sniffing
at their pockets when I got there, and he _wouldn't_ come away, and--I
believe they are the thieves that stole our lunch.  One had a bit of white
sticking out of his pocket, and Guard sniffed at it and pulled it out, and
I am certain it is Cousin Charlotte's doyley!  Oh, Esther, what shall we
do?  Shall we go away, or--or shall we--"

"Go away!" cried Esther, scornful and indignant.  "No, indeed, except to
fetch a policeman.  I am going to tax them with it, and hear what they
have to say.  What boys are they, do you know?"

"I believe I have seen them at 'Four Winds,' but I don't know their
names--but, Esther, do you think it is safe to accuse them--"

"Safe!" cried Esther scornfully.  "What is there to be afraid of?
If there was anything I shouldn't care.  I am not going to let them get
off scot-free, nasty, wicked thieves.  They have spoilt our day, too, and
all our fun.  Let's be quick and catch them before they manage to escape."

The four turned and hurried to the spot.  As they drew near they heard now
and again a low growl from Guard, then voices half-whimpering,
half-bullying.  "Get away, get away you ugly great thing.  You leave me
alone."

Esther's and Penelope's eyes lightened at the scent of battle.

"Oh, don't let them hurt poor Guard!" pleaded Poppy piteously.

"No, dear, they won't hurt him.  They are horribly afraid of him, really,
I expect.  Perhaps you had better stay here.  Would you rather?"

But Poppy clung close, begging not to be left.  If there was to be battle
she was not going to let her sisters face it alone.

There was not much battle left, though, in the three young scamps Guard
was keeping prisoners.  The sight of the big, angry-looking dog, and the
knowledge that they were trapped with proofs of their guilt on them, had
quenched all their spirit.  Torpid after their big meal, they had fallen
asleep in their hiding-place, feeling perfectly secure from detection.
They had been awakened by something touching them, breathing into their
faces, diving into their pockets where the remains of their feast lay
hidden, and had awakened with a start to find a huge, eager, angry animal
standing over them.  They would have yelled but for the fear of drawing
still more attention to themselves and their whereabouts.

When they heard footsteps approaching their terror increased a
hundredfold, but when the owners of them turned the corner, and they found
they were nothing worse than four little girls--the eldest no bigger than
themselves--their relief was great, and their courage began to return.
They assumed at once a superior 'don't-care' air, as though they thought
it all a great joke.  In their own minds they felt they could easily defy
such antagonists and get the better of them; but their attitude only made
Esther and Penelope more indignant with them.

"Now," said Esther severely, "you are caught.  You are three thieves, and
we have caught you, and it only remains for us to decide what we shall do
with you.  Guard, come here."

Guard obediently came to her side, but he only helped so completely to
block the entrance that the boys recognised at once that they were no
better off than they were before.

"You go away and leave us alone," cried the tallest of the young scamps, a
boy of about fourteen.  "We've got as much right here as you, and you've
no right to stop us if we wants to go.  I'll tell the p'lice as 'ow you
set your great savage dog on us.  Yes, I will, see if I don't!"

Esther laughed scornfully.  "I should like to see you," she said
contemptuously.  "You wouldn't _dare_!"

"Wouldn't I! wouldn't I dare!  You just wait and see then," he went on in
a bullying tone.

Penelope could keep quiet no longer.  "That's easily proved," she said
loftily.  "I will go and get one.  Constable Magor will be in the village
about this time, it won't take me long to get him," and she turned away.

The boys' faces were a picture.  Fear, confusion, astonishment took the
place of their bragging.  They still kept up a semblance of defiance,
but it was very lukewarm.  "No, you won't.  You know you don't mean it.
You needn't try to kid us.  We know better."

Penelope without another word walked away.  When first she spoke she had
hardly intended really to get a policeman, but their taunts roused her
spirit and determined her.  The boys listened to her departing footsteps,
and the look that came into their faces was not pretty.  For a moment they
looked only foolish, then their expression changed to one of bullying
anger.

"Let's knock 'em down and run for it," urged one.  "They don't know who we
are.  Tip they there things out of your pocket, Bill, so's they won't have
no clue."

Esther's eyes darkened and deepened, her lips grew a little more
compressed, but otherwise her expression did not change from its look of
scornful disgust.  Poppy clung closer.  "Oh, Essie, don't let them hurt
us," she whispered nervously.

Esther drew her closer and stood in front of her.  "They won't hurt us,
darling," she said, with calm defiance.

Angela, who all this while had been standing white to the lips and shaking
uncontrollably, now suddenly pulled herself together.  "If either of you
dare to touch my little sister," she called out, "I'll--I'll--"

"Dear me," mimicked one boy rudely.  "Will you really?  What very fine
people we are.  Ain't we brave too!  Come on, Bill," and they came towards
the girls with a rush.  But they had reckoned without a very important
antagonist.  Guard, sitting quiet, obedient, apparently unconcerned, had
watched every movement.  At their first step forward he was on his feet,
when they made their rush he sprang towards them, knocking the first boy
off his feet, and the others sprawling over him, and across the wriggling,
bellowing, gasping heap he planted his big, rough body determinedly,
growling fierce low growls every time they attempted to move, and even had
his mistresses called to him then it is doubtful if he would have moved,
so enraged was he.

But Esther did not call him.  Her anger had flamed as hot as his at this
attack of the bullies on Angela and little Poppy, and she felt no pity.
"They shall stay there," she determined, "for the time, at any rate.
We will see what will happen next."

The next thing that happened was a very meek voice coming from the
prostrate trio.  "Please, miss, if you'll call your dog off, we won't
touch you, we won't really, honour bright!"

"Honour bright," scoffed Esther.  "You have none.  You don't know what
honour is!  I didn't know before that boys ever were such cowards."

"Please, miss, if you'll call him off and not let him hurt us, we'll
promise--"

"I don't want your promises," cried Esther.  "You are thieves and cowards,
and I wouldn't take your word.  Besides, _we_ are not afraid of your
touching us.  Why did you steal our things?"

"Well--we found them," grumbled one of the boys.  "Findings is keepings,
and how was we to know they was yours?"

"You knew they were not yours, and you had no right to touch them."

"You shouldn't leave things about if you don't want them took.  As like as
not your dog would have had 'em if we hadn't."

"_He_ is _honest_," said Esther scathingly, "and we are accustomed to
honest people.  The things were put in a safe spot, out of sight."

"Not so very safe," taunted Bill.  "We found 'em easy enough."
But his energy only called forth an alarming growl from Guard.

"We will find a safe spot for you, at any rate," said Esther meaningly,
and the boys became thoughtful for a moment.

"Please, miss, your dog's 'urting.  He's treading on my chest, and he's
'eavy," whined Bill, but Esther paid no heed.  Silence reigned, broken
only by the voice of the river, and the singing of the happy birds.
Guard stood at his post, the three girls kept the entrance, the boys
waited in increasing alarm, wondering what was going to happen.
They were beginning to feel genuinely frightened.

Esther was thinking deeply.  The truth was she did not know what step to
take next.  She did not really want to give them in charge, she did not
want the affair to reach Cousin Charlotte's ears, and she did not know how
to dispose of her prisoners with dignity.

At last the silence was broken by a pitiful wailing voice.  "Please, miss,
if you'll let us go, we'll promise never to do no such thing no more.
Please, miss, we ain't thieves really; we done it for fun more'n anything,
and--and now I--I wish I hadn't never seen the old things," and then the
hero broke down and began to sob and call "Mawther, mawther, I want my
mawther!"

Angela's anger evaporated.  "I dare say he isn't really a bad boy," she
whispered to Esther.  "Let's forgive him, Essie."

Esther was making up her mind.  "Look here, you boys," she called out at
last, "if you apologise to us and say you are sorry, and will never do
such a thing again, we will let you off this time.  But you must tell me
your names and where you live."  She did not in the least know what good
an apology would be, nor did the boys know what it was, but they promised
readily.

"Guard, come here," commanded Esther.

Guard moved away reluctantly.  He had not forgotten the sudden attack on
his little mistresses.  The boys sat up.

"His name is John Thomas, and his is Bill Baker, and mine's Silas Hawken,"
said the eldest of the three, "and we lives to Four Winds."

"Um!" said Esther sternly.  "We know Four Winds and a lot of people there,
so we shall hear if you don't behave yourselves, and if you don't we will
tell the police about this.  Now go."

With intense relief and quickening steps the boys were hurrying by them,
Guard, still suspicious, following at their heels, when suddenly it was
his turn to be bowled over by the enemy.  With a roar of terror the three
boys recoiled one on the other, and all three on top of Guard, for at the
entrance stood Penelope and Constable Magor.

Angela and Poppy looked almost as frightened as the boys.  They did not
want them to be really taken to jail, and it seemed now as though matters
were being taken out of their hands.  They felt sure the culprits would be
led away handcuffed.  Poppy, with this in her mind, forgot everything.

"Oh, please," she cried, running to the constable, "please we have
promised to forgive them.  Don't take them to jail, please.  They said
they were sorry, and they won't ever be naughty again, and we let them go.
Didn't we, Esther?  Please don't hurt them."

Constable Magor looked at Esther, and Esther explained.  The boys, looking
the picture of miserable fear and shame, stood huddled together as far as
possible from every one.  The constable, with a knowing shake of the head
to Esther, said, "All right, miss.  I knows how to deal with they there
young rogues."  Going over to them he pushed them apart, and made them
stand at equal distances from one another.

"Now you turn out your pockets, every one of them," he commanded sternly.
"Right there afore me, you turn 'em out, and turn 'em out thorough, or
I'll be doing it for you.  Do you hear?"

They heard plainly enough, and with shaking hands turned out a collection
of marbles, crumbs, sticky sweets, twine, broken patties and sandwiches,
and sundry other odds and ends.  One had the little doyley Angela had
first recognised, another reluctantly produced a silver folding
fruit-knife with 'C. Ashe' engraved on the handle.  When the girls saw
this they looked at each other.  "Cousin Charlotte and Anna would have
missed that," they whispered, "and then we should have had to tell."

The constable looked grave, too, when he saw the knife and the doyley.
"This is serious," he said sternly, "and if it wasn't that the young
ladies perticler asked me not to, I'd clap the handcuffs on the lot of you
for it, and as like as not you'd get a week in jail, and have your jackets
warmed with that there cat-o'-nine-tails you may have heard tell on.
Don't you think, miss," turning to Esther with a very grave face, "as 'ow
I'd better, after all?"

"Oh no--don't let him!"  pleaded Poppy frantically.

Esther pretended to think deeply for a moment, debating the question;
then, with great importance and dignity, "No, I think we will let them go
this time, thank you," she said, "though when I gave them my promise I
didn't know they were going away with stolen things in their pockets.
I gave them my promise, and I'll keep it, but,"--very severely--"it is more
than they deserve."

"That it is," said Constable Magor emphatically; "and if they don't look
after their ways they'll taste that 'cat' yet.  Do you hear, you young
scamps?  Let this be a lesson to you, and thank your stars you've got such
kind-hearted young ladies to deal with, or I wouldn't say what would have
happened to you by now!  Now go.  Right about face, quick march, and don't
you let me have no more complaints of you, or I'll know how to act.
You won't have a second such chance.  Do you hear?  Now go!"

They did not need a second bidding, but dashed out of the place as though
they feared if they lingered their chance would be gone, and soon even
their stumbling, scrambling footsteps could no longer be heard.

Then the policeman took his leave too, and the four were left looking at
each other.  The scene had tried their nerves and their courage more than
they realised; they felt suddenly very tired and very depressed.
Poppy began to sob from sheer weariness.  The others felt as though they
would like to follow suit, but pride forbade them.  The moor and the river
and the day seemed suddenly to have grown chilly and gloomy and sad.

"I think we will go home," said Esther.  "Shall we?"

They all agreed, with something like relief in their voices.  Poppy's sobs
ceased.  "It doesn't seem a bit like a burfday, does it, Essie?  Oh, I am
_so_ tired."

Esther bent down and kissed her and picked her up in her arms.
She herself was tired, and Poppy was a heavy load for fourteen-year-old
Esther; but she loved her baby sister so dearly she could not bear to see
her sad and weary.  "Put your arms round my neck and hold tight, and we
will soon get home, and you shall rest a little; and then we will have
tea, and all the rest of the day shall be one of the beautifullest you
ever had.  We will play games, 'Hot and Cold,' 'Pepper, Salt, and
Mustard,' and all the ones you like best, and we will have a lovely time,
won't we?"

Poppy nodded the weary little head resting on her sister's shoulder.
"Yes," she agreed gladly, comforted greatly by Esther's tone.
Esther herself did not feel at all inclined for games or jollity, or
anything of the sort, but the mere pretending helped her.  Penelope and
Angela strolled on ahead, linked arm in arm.  Guard trotted along slowly
between the two couples, as though determined to be prepared for any more
attacks, and so they reached home again at last, and thankfully they made
their way to their comfortable bedrooms to prepare for the next event of
that exciting day.

"I do hope," said Esther, as she slowly mounted the stairs, "that we don't
have another angry word with any one all the rest of the day.  It seems to
have been nothing but quarrelling, so far."

"Laugh before breakfast, cry before night," murmured Poppy in a very weary
voice; but when Esther had given her a nice warm bath, and tucked her away
in her little bed for a rest, her spirits had recovered.  "She didn't say
'keep on crying,' did she, Essie?  So perhaps I have cried enough, and
it's all over.  Oh my! what lovely things Anna must be cooking," sniffing
in the savoury odours which were finding their way from the kitchen.
"I wonder what they are.  _I_ am going to have some of _everything_,
because it's my birthday," and then the little heroine of the day dropped
off into a dreamless sleep, while Esther turned over their scanty stock of
clothing to try to find something worthy of the occasion.

When Poppy awoke the scent of hot jams and spicy cakes, and all sorts of
other good things, was stronger than ever, reminding her, the moment she
opened her eyes, what day it was, and what was before her.  She jumped up
in bed with a start.  "Oh, I haven't slept too long, have I?  Esther, is
it very late?  Do help me to dress quick!"

"It is all right," said Esther, in a calm, reassuring tone.  "I am ready,
and now I can attend to you.  It is only four o'clock.  There is plenty of
time.  I wouldn't have let you sleep too long, dear."

"But supposing you had slept too, and we had all slept!"  Poppy's eyes
grew very large and round at the mere thought of so dreadful a
possibility.

"Oh my!" said Esther calmly, as she put the last finishing touches to her
hair, "wouldn't it have been dreadful!  Don't let's think about it."

Esther had put on her best frock and an old muslin fichu about her
shoulders.  The fichu was one her mother had thrown away long ago, and
Esther had rescued.  It was old, but it looked quite pretty and
picturesque over her plain red frock.  Poppy was better off than the
others.  She owned a little soft, white silk frock, which still looked
festive and partyfied, in spite of frequent washings and not too careful
ironings.  Her pretty dark hair Esther tied with her own best rose-pink
hair-ribbon.  "Now if I had only got a sash for you, dear, your frock
would look lovely."

"Never mind," said Poppy cheerfully.  "I will wear my locket."  From her
jewel-case, as she called it, she took carefully a thread-like gold chain
and a tiny old-fashioned gold locket; it had an anchor on one side and
held two photographs.  Poppy did not know whose photographs they were, and
no one had ever been able to tell her, but she would not have had them
removed for any consideration whatever.  The other contents of her
jewel-case were a large green malachite brooch in the shape of a Maltese
cross, a tiny silver pig, and a broken gold safety-pin; but no child ever
possessed treasures more greatly prized.

Before the toilette was complete Penelope and Angela came in, looking very
neat and nice, and then an anxious consultation was held as to whether
they ought to go down or wait until the bell rang.  They compromised by
going half-way and sitting on the stairs.  The last few minutes did seem
very long, for they were ravenous again by that time; but so prompt was
Anna that before the clock began to strike the hour she came to the
kitchen door, and had just begun to make a terrific clanging with the bell
when they ran through from the inner hall.

"Well! 'tis a compliment, sure enough," she said, with a beaming smile,
"when folks comes and waits outside for the doors to open.  Come along in
then, my dears.  'Tis all ready."

Anna was in her best frock with her Band of Hope scarf on, and looked
flushed and pleased, and no wonder, for the kitchen looked beautiful.
It was decorated with no fewer than twenty nosegays of flowers, arranged
on the dressers and mantelpiece and every available space in jugs and pots
and vases of every description; while on the table were bread and butter,
'splits' spread with jam and cream, seed-cakes, currant-cakes, an apple
tart covered with cream, on a plate, and _the_ birthday cake.  Oh! how
good it all smelt and looked.

Anna took her seat at the head of the table before the tea-tray, with the
heroine of the day on her right hand and Esther on her left.

"I hope you've all got good appetites," she said, as she handed them their
cups.

"Oh yes," they said meekly, but thought, as they looked at each other, it
was as well Anna did not know how good, and why.

"You look tired, I think," she went on.  "You've been out too long,
perhaps; but your tea will refreshen you."

Esther thought if Anna only knew all they had been through since she saw
them last she would not wonder at their looking tired.  She did long to
pour out all their adventures to her.  She would have been so interested
and sympathetic, and it would have been such a relief to have talked it
all over with some one older than themselves, and thus have thrown off the
fear of a chance word or hint escaping one or the other of them.  Once or
twice the tale almost got beyond the tip of her tongue; but she thought of
the curtailed freedom which might follow, so held her peace.

The others were, for a time, completely absorbed by the meal.
Never greater compliment was paid to any feast.  Very soon there was not a
dish on the table but what showed gaps.  The 'splits' vanished in no time;
the apple tart looked quite shabby.  Anna was kept quite busy helping them
to one thing after another.  At first she fairly beamed with delight;
but by and by she began to look a little perplexed.

"I suppose it _is_ a long time since you had your lunches," she said
reflectively, "and the air do give one a appetite.  P'r'aps you hadn't
better have any more tart, Miss Poppy, dear.  Hadn't you better try a bit
of plain bread and butter?"  She did not like to say much, but she really
began to grow quite troubled at the size of their appetites.

Before they had finished their tea Ephraim came to the door.  He had
tidied for the evening, but had come back with a message for Miss
Charlotte.

"Oh, _do_ ask him in," pleaded Poppy earnestly.  "Anna, do.  It would seem
so unkind to let him see us having such a _lovely_ tea and not offer him
any."

"I shouldn't think he'd want any," said Anna, with seeming reluctance; but
she called out to him, "Come inside, Ephraim, and close that door.
You'm keeping the young ladies in a draught.  Miss Poppy wants to know if
you can stay and have some of her birthday tea.  You'm welcome to if you
can."

Ephraim seemed able, and even glad, to stay.  "I wanted to see Miss
Poppy," he said.  "I've got something for her, as that there furrin chap
down to Edless was bringing along.  I met un at the gate and told un I'd
take it in for him as I was coming in," and he laid a neat white parcel on
the table beside the astonished little maid.

"For me!" she cried, looking all round the table, wide-eyed with
excitement.  "Are you _sure_ it's for me, Ephraim?" she asked, as she
began to undo the pretty ribbons which tied the parcel--rose-colour
ribbons like that in her hair.  The excitement of all very nearly equalled
hers, and when she lifted out of the soft white paper a beautiful
silk-fringed sash of the same shade, they all shrieked with joy.

"The very, very, very thing I was wanting for you just now!" cried Esther.
"Oh, how lovely!  It is from Mademoiselle.  How kind and beautiful of
her."

Poppy handed the sash round for inspection, while she read the little note
enclosed.

"It is not poppy-colour, but will my dear little market-woman accept it
from a grateful customer with much love and every good wish for many happy
returns of the day?"

Their excitement was so great they could not eat another mouthful,
somewhat to Anna's relief, for she had really grown quite anxious lest
they should make themselves ill.

Ephraim's appetite almost rivalled theirs, but at last even he had done,
the table was cleared, and space made for games to begin.  It was then
that Ephraim came out in a new and unexpected light, for if any one had
told Anna or the children that he could be a leading spirit in games and
jokes, and riddles and such-like, they would have refused to believe it;
but he proved it beyond all doubt or denial, for the next hour or two flew
by with shrieks of laughter and endless fun, and Ephraim was the leader of
it all.

"Anna," said Poppy, as she was being put to bed that night, "don't you
like Ephraim now better than you did?"

Anna refused to own to any such weakness, but she blushed a little as she
denied it.

"P'r'aps," said Angela, in a half-absent way as she brushed out her hair
in Poppy's room, "p'r'aps Anna likes him so much already she can't like
him better if she tries"; and Anna blushed as though Angela's chance shot
had reached home.



CHAPTER XVII.


To Penelope the weeks that followed the great day were very sorrowful
ones.  Miss Row apparently could not forgive her.  Day after day she
waited, hoping for a message bidding her come to renew her lessons; but no
message came, and Penelope grew sick with disappointment and grief that
she should have given such offence to her good friend.  She went to Cousin
Charlotte about it--she had told her at once the story of how they had
given offence--but Cousin Charlotte only shook her head.

"I think you cannot do anything, dear, but go and apologise if you feel
you spoke rudely; but--well, to tell you the truth, Penelope, Miss Row has
a most unfortunate temper.  She was born with it, and she was never taught
to check it, and now it is too late.  I tell you this as a warning,
child."

Penelope did go to Cold Harbour to apologise.  She thought she would feel
happier if she did; but there she only met with another blow.  Miss Row
had gone away, and no one knew when she would come back.  Returning more
dejected than ever, she looked in at the church on her way home.  If she
could have practised a little it would have comforted her, but the organ
was locked.  Miss Row had probably left the key with some one, but
Penelope felt she could not ask for it, as Miss Row had not said anything
to her about it; so everything seemed at a standstill and full of gloom.

Esther, meantime, was spending what were perhaps the happiest weeks she
had ever known.  She went to Mademoiselle Leperier three times a week to
sit with her and read to her and do little things she needed done, and in
return Mademoiselle gave her lessons and talked to her in French, so that
very soon Esther began to feel she was becoming quite proficient in the
language.  So the visits were a double and a treble joy to her.
She loved to be with Mademoiselle in the dear little brown house where all
was so quiet and peaceful, and nothing rubbed her the wrong way; or to
stroll about the moor together.  She loved to learn, and, perhaps best of
all, she loved to be of use and feel she was some help.  Such pleasant
walks they had, and such long talks as they strolled slowly about, or sat
in the sunny sweet garden, looking over the great empty space where nature
dwelt alone, or in the cosy little parlour, fragrant always with the scent
of flowers and the pot-pourri with which the old blue bowls and teapots
were filled.  One of Esther's self-appointed duties was to keep the vases
always fresh and sweet.

The days were very full and happy now for Esther.  She had quite a number
of duties at Moor Cottage, duties that were now left entirely to her, and
for which she was held responsible.  She worked hard at her studies with
Cousin Charlotte, and she was still to some extent 'little mother' to
Poppy, so her mind and her time were very much occupied.  This perhaps
made her a little blind to Penelope's distress, yet poor Penelope's
distress was very complete and apparent, for Miss Row had been away for
months, and never once in all that time had she sent a word to her little
pupil.  The truth was she was so absorbed, as was her habit, in the people
and things she was amongst that she quite forgot all else.

It was Angela who felt most distressed by Penelope's trouble, and most
sympathetic; and Angela it was who, on one of her rare visits to Edless,
told the tale to Mademoiselle Leperier.

"Poor child, poor child," sighed Mademoiselle sympathetically, and asked
many questions until she drew from Angela all details, even to what
Mr. Somerset had said about her voice.  "Ah!" she said.  "It ought not to
be neglected, it ought not to be neglected.  It will soon be too late."

She said no more then; but when Angela and Esther were leaving she sent a
message to Penelope.  "Tell her to come to me to-morrow.  We may be able
perhaps to do something that will fill up the waiting time."

Angela returned home in a high state of joy, which was scarcely damped by
Esther's silence during the first part of their walk, or her vexed remark,
"I do think you should know better than pour out all the family troubles
to Mademoiselle.  I wonder you didn't ask her to teach--" but she stopped
before she finished what she had been going to say.  "You three never go
there but what you make me wish you hadn't."

"But I haven't done anything, Esther.  Mademoiselle asked how Pen was, and
when I told her she was very unhappy about something she asked me why,
and what it was, and I had to tell her; and then she just asked me all
about it, and I--I told her.  I couldn't help it--could I?  I couldn't
say I wouldn't."

"Penelope isn't very unhappy, nothing to make such a fuss about," grumbled
Esther.  "When _I_ am unhappy no one takes any notice of me.  I don't see
anything wrong with her."

"Oh, don't you?  I do.  She is always so quiet, not like she used to be.
She frets so about having vexed Miss Row, and not going on with her
music."

"If Miss Row had acted so to me I should have too much pride to grieve.
Why doesn't Penelope ask Mr. Jeffry to lend her the key of the organ?
He would in a moment."

"She won't because she feels Miss Row did not mean her to have it."

"That is nonsense," retorted Esther.  "She can't want it so very much if
she won't take the trouble to speak to Mr. Jeffry.  After all, it is not
Miss Row's organ."

"Pen does want it _very_ much," said Angela gently.

"I never did like Miss Row," Esther went on, still in her most
disagreeable mood.  "I could see she had a horrid temper.  If Pen lets
herself be taken up and made a lot of she must expect what she gets."

"But Miss Row didn't make more of Penelope than Mademoiselle has of you,"
urged Angela, always ready to defend her adored Penelope, "and you would
feel it if Mademoiselle acted so to you."

"Oh, Mademoiselle is quite different from Miss Row," said Esther loftily.
She did not admit even to herself that much of the charming difference lay
in the fact that she had singled out her, Esther, from her sisters.

She underwent some change of opinion, though, when, a few days later,
Penelope came dancing down the road from Edless beside herself, almost,
with happiness.  "Oh, Cousin Charlotte!" she cried as she rushed into the
house.  "Oh, Cousin Charlotte! oh, girls!  Mademoiselle has been talking
to me.  She _is_ so kind!  What _do_ you think?  She actually says she
will give me lessons in singing if Cousin Charlotte will permit her.
She says she would _like_ to.  Isn't it lovely! splendiferous! beautiful!
Cousin Charlotte, you will, won't you?  I _do_ want to learn, and this is
such a splendid chance.  Isn't it wonderful how the very things one wants
most come to one! I never dreamed of such a lovely thing as this."

Esther got up and walked away without speaking a word.  Cousin Charlotte,
who had seen her face, looked after her sadly, and sighed a little as she
watched her go.  Then she turned to Penelope.  "Yes, dear, certainly.
It is a wonderful opportunity for you here in this out-of-the-way spot,
and I could not deny it to you.  I am most grateful to Mademoiselle for
her thoughtful kindness.   I must call on her," Miss Charlotte added a
moment later, "whether she likes it or not.  I must thank her for her
goodness to all my chicks."

"Oh, she _will_ be glad," cried Penelope, flinging her arms about Miss
Ashe's neck, and kissing the soft old cheek.  "She will love you, Cousin
Charlotte, I know she will.  She can't help it.  Now I am going out to
think about it all.  Oh, I _am_ so happy.  Thank you ever so much,
Cousin Charlotte," and she kissed her impetuously again.

"You are easily made happy, my Penelope," said the little lady with a
sigh, as she put her arm around Penelope's shoulders and gave her a little
squeeze; and she sighed again as she thought of her Esther, and the
expression on her face.  "I had that same sort of temper once," she said
to herself, "so I ought to understand her, and help her through; but oh,
I pray she may be spared the sorrow I had to bear, and the bitterness of
such regrets."

But whatever Esther felt she said nothing.  She never once spoke to
Penelope, then or later, of her singing lessons, or mentioned the subject
to any one, and when Penelope returned from her lessons, full of talk of
what had been seen and done and said, Esther might have been dumb and deaf
for all the share she took in the conversation.  But she carefully avoided
Edless on those days; in fact she rarely went to the cottage at all from
the time Mademoiselle made her kind offer to Penelope.

No one knew it, though, for she went off as usual three times a week in
the direction of Edless; but usually she turned aside when she got out of
sight, and wandered on the moor hour after hour, lonely and most unhappy,
breaking her heart for neglecting her beloved Mademoiselle, yet such a
victim to her temper that she could not conquer it.  Often and often she
threw herself on the turf in a passion of tears, angry, wretched, ashamed.
More than once, in a better mood, she determined not to be so weak and
contemptible, but to be nobler and braver, and truer to her aims.
She hoped Mademoiselle did not notice anything and understand.  But how
could Mademoiselle help noticing?  She saw and grieved; and in part she
understood, but she said nothing.  She knew that time alone could set
things right.  Esther must learn by experience.  But how that lesson was
to come, or how bitter was to be the experience, she little dreamed until
the dreadful day I am going to tell you of.

To begin with it seemed like any other day.  Penelope had to go to Edless,
for it was one of her singing-lesson days, and Esther, jealous, angry,
wretched, had watched her start, envying her and full of wrath.
She herself had not been to Edless for a fortnight, and she had lately
felt shy about going again after such a long neglect.  She wondered what
Mademoiselle was thinking of her.  She was hurt that no message was sent
by Penelope, yet relieved that Mademoiselle was keeping her secret;
she often dreaded what Cousin Charlotte would think of her if she should
discover her deceit, for she had often and often gone out pretending she
was bound for Edless, and had even said, in answer to her inquiries for
Mademoiselle, that she was 'about the same,' or something to that effect,
though she really had no knowledge at all, and the deception made her
conduct trebly bad.  She was angry that all this misery should have come
and spoilt her happy life, jealous that Penelope should be able to go off
with such an honest, light heart and smiling face; and blamed every one
but herself.

Before Penelope was more than out of sight, on this particular tragic day,
Cousin Charlotte came into Esther's bedroom, looking alarmed and bothered.

"Esther dear," she said, "I wish you would go to Edless to-day and home
again with Penelope, and take Guard with you.  If you are quick you can
overtake her.  She has gone quite alone, and I am anxious.  Ephraim told
Anna that a lot of the cattle have wandered to this part of the moor, and
are in a very wild state.  I shall be afraid for you children to go on the
moor at all if they stay in this neighbourhood.  I wish Anna had spoken
about it before Penelope started; I would have sent Ephraim with her or
not have let her go.  Do you mind going, dear?"

"Oh no," said Esther, but very coldly.

"You will be quite safe with Guard, even if they do come near.
He will drive the creatures off," said Cousin Charlotte, thinking Esther
was nervous.  "Penelope ought to have taken him.  I should not have been
anxious about her if she had."

But Esther had none of that sort of fear.  "Oh, I am not afraid," she said
more heartily, and went away to put on her hat.  But when she was actually
on her way to Edless she felt she could not go there; she could not obey
Miss Charlotte and hurry after Penelope until she overtook her, and then
escort her to the very door.  In those days she could rarely bring herself
to talk to Penelope at all, so far had her feelings got the mastery over
her, and so deeply did her grievance rankle; and the farther she went the
less able did she feel to do so now.

"If I keep her in sight it will be all right," she said, with sudden
inspiration; and so they went all the way, the unconscious Penelope
walking on in front, Esther behind dodging and hiding and loitering so
that Penelope might not see her, until at last she knew the cottage was
almost reached, and stopped altogether.

She had had to lead Guard all the way, for he, catching sight of another
of his mistresses before him, was full of eagerness to tear on and greet
her; but Penelope, still quite ignorant of what was behind her, reached
the cottage safely, knocked, and was admitted.  Esther, from her
hiding-place behind a rock, saw the door opened by Laura, Anne's smiling
wife, and closed again, and resentment against her sister grew hotter than
ever.

"She gets everything," she muttered, "and if I have a friend or a chance
she takes them away; but she doesn't share hers with me."  She had told
herself all this so often she really believed it by this time.
Poor Esther! poor unhappy Esther!  Guard sat by her watching her with
wistful, wondering eyes.  He felt that something was wrong, poor old
doggie.

She seated herself behind the rock to await Penelope's return.  It would
be no use to conceal her presence any longer, for Cousin Charlotte would
certainly speak of it; so she must join Penelope on the way home, and
make some sort of explanation.  That, though, would be nothing compared
with the mortification of having to go into the cottage with her.

Esther in her nook, cut off from every view but the moor in the direction
from which she had just come, sat and dreamed troubled dreams, and brooded
over her grievances, but never once gave a thought to the danger she had
been sent to protect Penelope from.  And all the time that danger was
drawing nearer and nearer.

In the distance, just over the horizon behind her, on her left, there
appeared a shaggy brown form, followed closely by another and another and
another until a whole herd was descending the slope towards her, sniffing
the air and the strange ground, cropping the turf a little here and there,
or gazing about them with curiosity.  Closer and closer they came,
the soft turf deadening the noise of their coming.

"It must be nearly time for her to come out," said Esther at last, taking
out her watch.  Guard, at the sound of her voice, rose on his long legs
and, stretching himself, wandered away a little.  The foremost of the
shaggy brown creatures looked up sharply, looked again, suspiciously, at
this other occupant of this strange land who had so unexpectedly appeared,
and his eyes wore a new glint as he stood and watched with increasing fear
or suspicion, or both.  Then he took a pace nearer, and another, followed
by the others, all staring now at Guard, tossing their heads ominously,
and pawing the ground as they sniffed the air.

And just at that unfortunate moment Penelope came around the bend, dancing
along light-heartedly, singing to herself the exercise she had just been
learning.  Guard, looking about him eagerly, recognised her at once, and
with a yelp of joy dashed towards her.

Esther was not alarmed at his outcry.  She guessed the cause of it, and
rising with feigned indifference went out from her shelter to meet her
sister.  With cold, hard eyes and unsmiling face she looked towards
Penelope, framing the while her explanation of her presence there--only to
see that explanation had come too late.

The cattle, roused to anger by Guard's sudden bark and spring, were coming
down on him in a body, their pace growing faster, their anger increasing
with every step.  In charging him they must inevitably charge Penelope
too.  There was no escape for her, unless Guard ran away from her, drawing
the enemy off; but that, of course, he was not likely to do, he was too
pleased at seeing her again.

Esther saw and realised all at a glance, and the horror of it struck her
dumb.  Once, twice, three times she tried to call.  If she could only get
Guard away the cattle would follow him; but no voice came.  She grew
desperate, mad with fear for her sister.  Oh, if she could but get them to
come towards her and leave Pen.  She tried to whistle, but her lips
trembled too much.  She tried to shriek and failed, and when at last she
succeeded, the weak, strained voice could hardly be recognised as hers.
But Guard heard it.  "Guard, Guard, come here!" she called, running a
little to draw him after her.  The obedient old dog turned, saw the enemy,
and, all his fury aroused by the danger, charged them like a hurricane.

But what was one amongst so many!  They overwhelmed him, were on him,
closed around him, and around Penelope too.

Esther saw it--saw her sister fall, saw the big beasts trampling over her,
and Guard in their midst barking, snarling, flying at their noses, dodging
away from their horns, and punishing them so severely that in spite of
their numbers the poor brutes gave up the game at last, worsted, and tore
away over the moor in the direction whence they had come, as though they
had a pack behind them.

When Anne Roth came panting up a moment later, having seen the cattle
disappearing and been filled with alarm lest Penelope should have been
frightened by them, he found the two sisters unconscious on the ground,
with their poor protector lying bleeding and exhausted between them, and
whining piteously as he licked his bleeding wounds.

Here was a sight for one man in a lonely spot!  For a moment Anne was
bewildered; then, picking up Penelope, who he saw was the most injured,
he carried her with all the speed he could back to his own house.
But he was full of a double dread, for to the most casual eye it was plain
that the child was seriously injured, and the sight of her, bruised,
bleeding, and unconscious could not but be a shock to his mistress.

But Mademoiselle bore the shock well.  "Let me attend to her while you and
Laura go to poor Miss Esther and the dear dog," she said promptly; and
Penelope was taken up to her own room, where she undressed her and got her
to bed, and bathed her cuts, while they went out and brought in the other
two.

Esther was in a swoon, but quite uninjured, so they laid her on the couch
in the little sitting-room and administered restoratives, while Guard was
taken to the kitchen to have his wounds bathed and dressed, and Anne
hurried off for a doctor and Miss Ashe, for Penelope's injuries were far
too serious for home dressing.  She was bleeding so profusely from the
cuts on her head that there was real cause for alarm; her arm was broken,
and her collar-bone, too, they feared, while her poor body was bruised and
crushed all over.

When Esther came back to consciousness twilight had fallen.  She looked
about her for a moment in the dimness, bewildered and incredulous.
That she was in the dear familiar room she loved so well, she felt sure,
yet how came she there? and what had happened?  She lay still for a
moment, wondering; then, her head growing confused, she raised herself a
Little and looked again.  This time she recognised a figure seated by the
window, but so quiet and drooping she scarcely seemed alive.

For a second or so Esther gazed in sheer bewilderment, then raising
herself still more, she whispered, half-alarmed, half-questioning,
"Mademoiselle, is that you?"

Mademoiselle rose at once.  "Are you better, darling?" she said, bending
over and laying a soft hand on her head.  Esther noticed that she spoke in
a strange, hushed voice.

"Are you ill, Mademoiselle?"  she asked anxiously.

"No, darling.  I am well, but--" she paused, as though listening, and then
for the first time Esther noticed the sounds of strange voices and many
footsteps overhead, and with the same, memory returned.

"Penelope!" she cried frantically.  "Oh, Penelope! where is she?
Is she--is she--oh,"--burying her face in her hands as memory returned to
her--"I thought she was killed--I saw her--under their hoofs.  I saw them
trampling on her--is she--killed?"  in a hushed, gasping voice.

Mademoiselle laid a soothing hand on her.  "No, dear, she is alive and
safe.  She is badly injured, but she will recover, please God.  The doctor
is with her now, and Miss Ashe, so I came down to see my poor Esther.
My child, we have much to be thankful for that things are not worse.
It might have been--"

"Oh, Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle," cried Esther, "I can never tell you how
bad I have been--" but she found herself clasped in a warm embrace that
told of pity and love and sympathy unbounded.  Mademoiselle asked no
questions, but the whole story had to be told.  Esther knew she would know
no rest until she had unburthened her heart and humbled herself, and was
possessed by a feeling that if she did not do it then she might never
again be able to.  And Mademoiselle, with complete understanding, let her
talk.

"I saw her fall.  I heard her scream.  She tried to get up, but was
knocked down again.  She called 'Esther, Esther,' but I couldn't help
her--and I thought she was being killed.  Oh, Mademoiselle, I shall never
be able to forget it--never, never, never!" and Esther clung to her,
shaken with terror and the shock of all she had gone through.

"Darling, you must try not to dwell upon it.  You must try to be strong
and brave, and get well, for Penelope will need you, and Angela and Poppy
will need you--and Guard--"

"Oh! Guard?" gasped Esther, afraid to ask the question which filled her
mind.

"Do you think you can bear to see him?  He will be so much happier if he
may be with you."

"Then he is--all right?"  breathlessly.

"No, darling, not all right.  He has come out of the battle alive, which
is more than one could have dared to hope; but he is badly injured.
You will not be shocked by the sight of bandages, will you?  Guard looks a
poor old battered warrior at present, but we hope he will soon recover."

A battered warrior indeed did he look as he came creeping, limping in,
his head bound up in bandages, one leg in a splint, and bandages about his
body and chest where big gashes had been stitched and strapped up.
His pain was so great he could scarcely drag himself in, but he crept
forward, wagging his tail bravely; and when Esther laughed a little weak,
almost tearful laugh, at the sight of his long nose coming out of his
'nightcap,' as she called it, he smiled and wagged his tail again,
and tried to raise himself to kiss her.

The other victim Esther did not see until the next day, for Penelope was
too ill to bear anything more that night, and when Esther went into the
sickroom the next day she could hardly recognise her bonnie, smiling
sister in the pale, bandaged face on the pillow, so drawn with pain, so
dark about the eyes, so wan and changed in even that short time.

She was too weak and exhausted even then to speak much, but the old smile
flickered for a moment in her tired eyes, and the sound arm was stretched
out to creep around Esther's neck.

"I am all--all right," she whispered.  "I shall be well--soon.  It isn't--
so very--bad, now."

"Pen," Esther whispered back in an agony, "oh, Pen, you don't know all,
but--I'll never, never--"

Penelope put up her lips to be kissed.  "Never--mind," she whispered
faintly.  "Nothing shall--ever--come between us--again, shall it, dear?"

"Never," said Esther decisively, "if I can help it."  And she honestly
tried to keep her word.



CHAPTER XVIII.


It often happens that a big shock which pulls us up with a sharp jerk on
the road we are travelling will show us the danger of the way before us,
and teach us to walk warily all our days.  So it was with Esther.
The shock and horror, and the awful fear she endured that afternoon,
showed her, as nothing else could, the way she was going.  I do not for a
moment mean to say that she conquered her unfortunate temper all at once,
and became perfectly good and gentle and free from all jealousy from that
moment.  That would have been impossible to any one, certainly to a child
of such strong feelings, so reserved and sensitive, so full of failings as
Esther.  But she did try, and if she failed she did her best to conquer
next time, and only those who have tried too know how hard that is.

Others helped her a little without her knowledge.  Penelope tried to
restrain herself in a half unconscious habit she had got into of putting
herself before her shyer elder sister.

Mademoiselle was careful, too, to show her how much she valued her, and to
try not to wound her sensitive, loving heart; so was Cousin Charlotte.
And Esther, on her part, taught herself the lesson that one person can
love two without loving either the less.

So when Penelope was at last able to creep about again, and Guard seemed
as hale and hearty as ever, a new era of peace and happiness dawned for
Moor Cottage, and never could there have been a happier, busier, more
united little household than that was.

The summer went by like a golden flash, so it seemed to the children,
so full was every day of work and play, picnics, lessons, walks,
gardening, and a dozen other occupations.  No matter what the weather, or
how busy she was, Esther never failed to go to Mademoiselle Leperier's
three times a week, and twice a week Penelope went for her singing lesson.
Penelope was having French lessons of Mademoiselle too, and she and Esther
studied together.

Miss Row came back from her journeyings, and, entirely oblivious
apparently of all that had passed, sent for Penelope to recommence her
organ lessons, and was quite annoyed that she had not kept up her
practising.  But at this Miss Ashe's gentle spirit rose, and she talked to
Miss Row so frankly and seriously that that eccentric lady became very
repentant, and to make up for her unkindness promised Penelope the post of
organist, at a salary of twenty-five pounds a year, as soon as ever she
was capable of filling it.

To Penelope this was success indeed, and as soon as her arm was strong
enough to bear it she practised with an assiduity which promised that the
time was not so very far distant when she would be fitted to take over her
appointment.

Angela, before that summer was over, acquired three more chicks and a
fowls' house of her own, and already saw visions of herself presiding over
a farm--which should adjoin Moor Cottage--well stocked with fowls and
ducks, geese and turkeys, cows and pigs, horses and dogs.

"And I shall write out to daddy and mother to come home," she would say
triumphantly.  For Angela never grew reconciled to the thought of her
parents' exile.  "It must be so sad and lonely and uncomfortable out
there," she would say.  "Mother might find it dull here, but she would
have lots of books to read, and that would make her happy."

"I should live wiv you, shouldn't I, Angela?" Poppy inquired eagerly.

"Oh yes, we should all live together."

"But what about Cousin Charlotte?  I am sure she would be _very_ unhappy
wivout us; so would Anna."  Poppy found matters very difficult of
arrangement, owing to her incapacity to live in two places at the same
time.  "I shouldn't like to leave Cousin Charlotte and Anna and Guard and
Ephraim."

"I should stay with Cousin Charlotte," said Esther one day, when the
matter was under discussion.  "You see, there would be so many of you, you
wouldn't want me, but Cousin Charlotte would, and we should be next door,
so it would be almost the same."

But all these premature plans were thrown that autumn into confusion by a
letter from Canada.  Instead of waiting to be sent for by his prosperous
daughters Mr. Carroll wrote to say he had made up his mind to come.

"Your cousin cannot reconcile herself to the life here," he wrote, "and
says she can never be happy here; and as I am not doing well enough to
warrant me in staying on in spite of her objections, I am thinking of
selling out and coming home with her very soon.  For the time, to give me
an opportunity to look about me, I can think of no better plan than to
come near you, my dear cousin, if a small house can be found for us.
I cannot describe to you my longing to see my children again, nor with
what pleasure I am filled at the prospect of coming home, even though I
have to write myself down a failure here."

Then he went on to thank her in most grateful and feeling terms for her
goodness to his children, terms which drew tears from the gentle little
lady's eyes and set her to wondering what she could do really to help this
almost unknown cousin and his children.

When she told the children the news their excitement was great; but when,
a week later, came another letter, asking, if there was a cottage at
Dorsham or close by to be found, that it should be taken for them, if it
would possibly do, their excitement grew intense.

"Oh, if only I had my farm!" cried Angela, and she went out and looked at
the ground, as though expecting the foundations might have already begun
to show.

But no cottage was to be found next door or in Dorsham.  There were not
very many all told, and those there were were always full, so that if one
family wanted to change they had to wait until another was in the same
mind, and then just walk in to each other's houses.  But up at Four Winds
there was a square, sturdy cottage built expressly, one would think, to
defy those winds that blew over the village.  It was the only one, but all
the four girls agreed that it would be just the very thing.  It had a
sitting-room and kitchen and scullery and three bedrooms, tiny rooms all
of them, but to the children it was one of the most fascinating little
places ever built; and when stocked with the simple furniture Miss
Charlotte had had instructions to purchase it really did look a dear, cosy
little house.

And such it seemed to the weary travellers when they arrived, the father
tired, disappointed with his last attempt, and bowed under a burden of
care, but so glad to see his children again that nothing else seemed to
matter.  Such it seemed, too, to the mother, so disgusted with the
roughness and want of comforts in the life she had been leading lately
that everything seemed luxurious and replete with comfort.

Cousin Charlotte and the girls had certainly done their best to make the
place look homelike, and Anna had helped to clean it from top to bottom,
to lay carpets, hang curtains, and polish everything that could be
polished, so that it really was in a perfect state of order and
cleanliness.

It was in the spring that the travellers finally reached Four Winds, just
when the brooks were beginning to run with a cheerful note, and the scent
of wet moss and primroses to fill the air.

As they drove from the station on the memorable day of their arrival
Mr. Carroll drew in the sweet fresh breeze as though it were the breath of
life to him, and almost shouted with pleasure at the sight of the catkins
on the nut-bushes, and the 'goslings' on the willows, and the
yellowhammers and thrushes hopping in the hedges.

They got down for a moment at Moor Cottage to see the children's home, and
be introduced to Anna and Guard.

"You noble old fellow, you saved my girls' lives," said Mr. Carroll,
patting the dear old dog's rough head; and Guard wagged his tail and
looked as pleased as though he quite understood.

Then Mrs. Carroll and Miss Ashe mounted the quaint old carriage again,
and drove slowly on with the luggage, while Mr. Carroll and his girls,
and, of course, Guard, walked on behind.  The elder girls were a little
shy and constrained just at first, perhaps, and Angela was silent with
happiness.  If she talked much she should weep, she felt; but she showed
her father her hens and hen-house before they started on again.
"And in time I shall have a whole farm, father," she said seriously,
"and then I want you to come to live with me on it, and we will have all
kinds of animals."

"A capital idea," said Mr. Carroll gravely, without a trace of a smile as
he looked at the very modest beginning so much was to spring from.

But, if the others were silent Poppy, when once her tongue was loosened,
made up for it, and she trotted along by her father's side, holding his
hand, and chattering to him as freely as though he had never been away.

The greatest joy of all though was when they reached the new cottage,
and displayed their arrangements there--the sitting-room, with its
easy-chairs, and table spread with dainty white cloth, shining tea-things,
and some of Anna's nicest cakes.  A fire was burning in the grate, making
it warm and cheerful for the strangers.  Upstairs the simply furnished
bedrooms looked equally attractive and spotlessly clean, and then last of
all came the cheerful, cosy little kitchen, looking a perfect picture,
with its bright tin and copper and china reflecting the firelight on all
sides; and where, oh crowning delight, sat the neatest of neat little
maid-servants, her rosy cheeks growing rosier and rosier as her new master
and mistress and all the young ladies trooped in.  She rose and curtseyed
when she saw Mr. and Mrs. Carroll, for she was a well-trained country
child, not yet contaminated by the modern 'Board-school manners.'
So she curtseyed civilly, and stood while her master and mistress were
present; and when Mr. Carroll asked her her name, she answered,
"Grace, if you please, sir," and blushed again; and when he said,
"Well, Grace, so you have come to help us.  I hope we shall all be very
happy and comfortable together," she curtseyed and said, "Yes, thank you,
sir.  I'll try my best."

The bedrooms, all but Mr. and Mrs. Carroll's, were very tiny.  One was so
small it would only hold one little bed.

"But where is the fourth chick to roost?" asked their father anxiously.
"You don't expect one to sit up while the other sleeps, I hope?" laughing.

But Cousin Charlotte, to whom he spoke, did not laugh back.  "I--I
wondered," she said, looking up at him very wistfully, as though she knew
she was asking a great deal--"I wondered, Ronald, if you would spare me
one, at--at least until I have got used to losing them all.  I know it is
a good deal to ask you, but--I shall be so very lonely--" poor Cousin
Charlotte's voice quavered--"and as your house is so small I wondered if
you would let me still keep my Esther?"

Esther started, and a sense of disappointment made her heart sink.
Remembering her mother's dislike of housekeeping, and her incapacity,
Esther had all this time been picturing herself as housekeeper and real
mistress of this dear little home, presiding over the kitchen and the neat
little maid and generally distinguishing herself as cook and housewife.
She had known, of course, that there was only room for three of them
there, but she had, somehow, thought of Angela as being the one to remain
with Cousin Charlotte, because, perhaps, of her fowls, and her position as
mistress of the poultry yards.

For the first few moments, therefore, when she heard Cousin Charlotte's
request, she felt a deep pang of disappointment.  "But mother will need me
here," she was just about to say, when there rushed over her the memory of
all Cousin Charlotte had done for them, her goodness and patience,
her generosity and unselfishness, and now her loneliness,--and all her
feelings changed.

"She is my right hand," Cousin Charlotte went on pathetically.  "I do not
know what I should do without her now!"

Then how glad Esther was that she had not spoken, and oh! the joy and
pride that filled her heart, the deep, deep happiness of knowing that she
had been of real use and comfort, that some one really needed her.
With only a little effort she put aside all her feeling about the new
home, and determined, if her parents consented, to go blithely with Cousin
Charlotte, and never, never, never let her know of that moment's
unwillingness.

Consent was given, of course.  How could they refuse to spare one to her
who had taken them all and made her home theirs when they had no other,
and had loved and cared for them, and guided them so well and faithfully
without hope of reward?

Mr. Carroll was only too happy to be able to do something in return.

"I think it will be good for Penelope, too, to have a few housekeeping
duties," said Cousin Charlotte, smiling as she laid her gentle hand on
Pen's shoulder.  "It will help to balance the dreamy side of her--at any
rate until Angela grows older; while Angela--well, Angela is a born
housekeeper and farmer combined, and I prophesy that within a year or so
she will be keeping the house and all of you in such order and comfort as
to be a pattern to the country round."

Angela's face grew radiant.  "I'd love to," she said joyously; "but I
wish--the only thing I wish is that we could all live together.
I don't want to leave you, Cousin Charlotte, yet I want to be with--you
understand, don't you?"

Yes, Cousin Charlotte understood.  They all felt the same; but when the
three had left their old home for the new one it was only, as one might
say, to live in two houses instead of one, for never a day passed but what
they were down at Miss Charlotte's, and so the change was not such a
wrench as all had feared.  Miss Charlotte insisted on continuing to teach
them all--at any rate, she said, until they were obliged to go away to
school.

Mademoiselle Leperier, who actually went to call on Mrs. Carroll, declared
her health and spirits were so much improved by the new interest the
children had provided her with that she begged to be allowed to give them
all lessons in French, and singing, too.

"I foresee that I shall have no housekeeper after all," said Mrs. Carroll
with a sigh, "but I suppose I shall manage somehow, and the children are
being educated, which is something.  One must think of them first, I
suppose."

Esther felt a pang of doubt when she heard the words.  Ought she not,
after all, to give up her happy home with Cousin Charlotte, where by this
time she had completely settled down, and come up to take care of her
mother?  She would see but little of Mademoiselle if she did, she saw that
plainly, and there would be very little time for study, but there was her
father to think of, and his comfort.

But when she laid her doubts before her father and Cousin Charlotte,
they bade her put them out of her head.  She tried to, though she doubted
their advice; and it was only years later, when she was a well-educated,
cultured woman, full of interests and good aims, that she understood the
wisdom of Cousin Charlotte's plan in taking her away, at least until her
education was complete, from where she would have become little but a
household drudge, worked beyond her strength, her talents, her greatest
interests undeveloped, her temper irritated and ruined as it was when
first she came to Dorsham; and she felt deeply grateful for the
understanding and loving care which had surrounded her at so critical a
time.



CHAPTER XIX.


Five years have gone by since Mr. and Mrs. Carroll returned from Canada to
the little house on the moor which they have never left, or desired to
leave, since.

Mr. Carroll's health suffered severely from the long strain and the
rigour of his life abroad, and he was never again fit for hard work.
But grandpapa Carroll, recognising the brave fight he had made,
forgave him the misfortunes he had met with earlier and altered his will,
so that when he died, not long after Mr. Carroll's return, the little
family, though still obliged to be economical, and not above being glad of
the girls' little earnings, were placed beyond all want.

Esther still lived with Cousin Charlotte, the prop and mainstay of the
house, for Anna had married Ephraim and moved into the cottage next door
to Mrs. Bennett's.  Angela, pulling her bow at a venture on that birthday
night, so long ago now, had hit the truth when she said that Anna could
not think better of Ephraim after that evening because she thought so well
of him already.  A truth Ephraim found out for himself in time, though it
took him two years longer to do so.

Finding it was no use waiting to speak until he found her in a gentle mood
he spoke out then and there, and no one could decide whether Anna was most
astonished at being asked or Ephraim at being accepted.  However, when
once the need for concealment of her true feelings was over Anna's manner
to Ephraim changed so markedly that Ephraim often stopped to wonder if the
woman he had married could possibly be the one who had led him such a life
before.  Love can work miracles, Ephraim found, and came to the conclusion
that whether she was the same or not he was quite content.

It was a great blow to Miss Charlotte to lose her Anna, but more than one
nice little maiden was only too anxious to come to 'a place' where the
last servant had stayed twenty years; and Esther, and the fortunate maid
chosen to fill Anna's shoes, combined to prevent Miss Charlotte feeling
her loss too deeply.

Esther's hands had grown very full as time had gone on, and the fuller
they grew the happier she was.   Slowly and almost imperceptibly
Miss Charlotte gave up more and more of her work, and took life easily,
feeling she could leave all to her Esther, and know that all was well.

Angela's hens were moved to Four Winds, and Esther took over the
responsibility of the poultry yard as well as the house and the kitchen
and the new maid.  But in the midst of all her duties she contrived to
give a good deal of her time to her dearly loved Mademoiselle, for
Mademoiselle was failing, and those who loved her best knew that not for
very much longer would they have the joy of her presence.

Penelope was away in London, studying with all her heart and strength,
for in the sweet pure air of the moor her voice had developed beyond
everyone's expectation, and Mademoiselle Leperier never rested until she
had been sent to study under a distinguished master.  The question as to
ways and means had been a very serious one, but while it was being
anxiously discussed, and almost abandoned in despair, Miss Row came
forward, and with unwonted delicacy asked to be allowed to play the part
of fairy godmother to her favourite.

"I shall only be laying out a little to buy myself a big return some day,"
she pleaded.  "If you will let me have a share in Penelope's success the
kindness will be all on your part."

So Penelope went away from their midst to stirring scenes of life and
work, weeping at leaving her beloved moor, and vowing to return as soon
and as often as might be,--a vow she never forgot.

Angela's dream in time was realised too.  Her dream poultry farm became a
real one, and the most successful in the country.  Very slowly at first
she added penny to penny, then shilling to shilling, then pound to pound,
until at last, instead of building more hens' houses, she bought a cow.
It was an experiment, and one those about doubted the success of; but
Angela never doubted, and presently another cow was added to her stock,
and soon after that they all moved to a small farm, where Poppy had to
become the little housewife, for Angela's time was quite taken up with her
dairy.

Poppy's market-gardening scheme never got beyond the bed of parsley.
With that one success she decided to be satisfied.  "It was a most
wonderful pennyworth," she often remarked, "for it brought me quite a lot
of money, and Mademoiselle as a friend, and nothing could have been better
than that."

"Nothing," said Esther softly.  "Life is very wonderful, Poppy dear, isn't
it?"

"Very," answered Poppy sagely, with a serious shake of her curly head.


One last scene before we bid them all good-bye!

It is Easter time once more.  In the orchards and woods the daffodils are
bowing their golden heads, as though awed by the beauty of the
pear-blossom spreading between them and the glorious blue sky.
The hedges are starred with primroses, daisies, and king-cups, the air is
sweet with the scent of flowers and the fresh earth.  Everything seems
brimming over with sunshine and happiness and joy of living.  Easter is in
the heart of all things animate and inanimate.

Up in 'the Castle' the four girls are gathered as of old, but with one big
gap in their circle.  Guard, dear old Guard, will never accompany them
more in their wanderings.  He sleeps his last long sleep in the breast of
the moor he loved so well.  Yet he is with them in spirit and thought,
for he lies buried close beside 'the Castle,' and they feel he is near
them whenever they go there.

Easter is in their hearts, too, for Penelope is home for her holidays and
Angela has just returned from a much-dreaded duty visit to Aunt Julia,
and their joy at being together again is intense.

Penelope lies in her old attitude, flat on the moor, one cheek pressed
close to its breast, her eyes gazing in a perfect rapture of delight over
the length and breadth of it.

"I _almost_ think," she says softly, "it is worth going away to have the
joy of coming home again; to step out of that dear little station, and
then to turn the corner and see--this," waving her hand in a wide sweep.
"Oh, girls, shall you ever forget the first time we came, and how we
dreaded it, and how shy we were, and frightened--"

"Until we saw Cousin Charlotte," chimed in Esther.  "I never felt
frightened after that."

"And do you remember," burst in Angela, "our dear little rooms, and how
lovely it all looked when we came that night, and dear old Guard,"--her
voice wavered and dropped--"came out to meet us, and Anna?"

"And I was so troubled about our clothes because we were so shabby, and--
but it never seemed to matter much.  Cousin Charlotte made everything come
right.  Isn't it wonderful, all that has happened just through mother's
writing to Cousin Charlotte, and Cousin Charlotte being able to take us!"

"Wonderful," said Penelope softly; and back to her mind as through a vague
dream came a vision of a child lying amidst the long coarse grass of an
untidy garden, with butterflies, yellow and white and brown, flitting
about over her head, while through her mind as she watched them passed
visions and dreams of the future, and vague wonderings as to what it would
bring.

"And this is what it has brought," she thought to herself.  "I shall not
be afraid to take the next step now.  God has been so good to us."





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