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Title: Meg's Friend - A Story for Girls
Author: Corkran, Alice Abigail
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 "Meg's Friend - A Story for Girls" ***

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[Illustration: "I WISH I WERE DEAD!" CRIED ELSIE.--Page 200.]


MEG'S FRIEND.

A Story for Girls.

by

ALICE CORKRAN,

Author of "Margery Merton's Girlhood," "Down the Snow
Stairs," "Joan's Adventures," etc., etc.

With Five Full-Page Illustrations by Robert Fowler.



New York:
A. L. Burt, Publisher.



CONTENTS.


  CHAPTER I.                                       PAGE
    Meg                                               1
  CHAPTER II.
    Two Years Later                                  21
  CHAPTER III.
    Meg to the Rescue                                36
  CHAPTER IV.
    Farewell                                         54
  CHAPTER V.
    A Mysterious Visit                               62
  CHAPTER VI.
    Miss Reeve's Establishment for Young Ladies      74
  CHAPTER VII.
    At School                                        85
  CHAPTER VIII.
    The School Annual                               100
  CHAPTER IX.
    Drifting Away                                   111
  CHAPTER X.
    Rebellion                                       121
  CHAPTER XI.
    Away                                            131
  CHAPTER XII.
    An Acquaintance by the Way                      142
  CHAPTER XIII.
    The Old Gentleman Again                         153
  CHAPTER XIV.
    Who Gave that Kiss?                             165
  CHAPTER XV.
    Miss Pinkett's Diamond                          172
  CHAPTER XVI.
    The Party                                       183
  CHAPTER XVII.
    Poor Meg                                        192
  CHAPTER XVIII.
    Peace                                           205
  CHAPTER XIX.
    Who Is He?                                      217
  CHAPTER XX.
    Arrival                                         228
  CHAPTER XXI.
    Sir Malcolm Loftdale                            241
  CHAPTER XXII.
    The Editor of the _Greywolds Mercury_           257
  CHAPTER XXIII.
    Friend or Foe                                   268
  CHAPTER XXIV.
    Friend!                                         277
  CHAPTER XXV.
    For "Auld Lang Syne."                           288
  CHAPTER XXVI.
    Before the Picture                              305
  CHAPTER XXVII.
    In the Editor's Office                          316



MEG'S FRIEND.



CHAPTER I.

MEG.


It was a queer old house in Bloomsbury, that had been fashionable some
two hundred years ago, and had fallen into abject neglect. The hall door
was dim for want of paint, and weatherbeaten to a dirty gray; the lower
windows were tawdry with vulgar blinds and curtains, and enlivened with
green boxes full of a few pining flowers. The drawing-room windows
showed a sort of mildewed finery, and then, in melancholy degrees,
poverty claimed the upper stories. It had all the features and cast of a
London lodging house.

Within, the house carried out the same suggestion of past grandeur and
present decay. The hall was wide, dingy, and unfurnished; the staircase
of oak was impressive, stained, and dusty.

On the topmost step of the top flight might habitually be seen, toward
sunset, a child seated and watching, with head thrust through the
banisters. She would sit still until there came the scrape of a latchkey
turning in the lock, and the sound of footsteps in the hall. Then the
mute little figure would grow full of sudden life; the little feet would
run down faster than eye could mark. Arrived in the hall, the child
would stop with sudden dignity before a man, robust and tall, and
looking up, ever so high, into a bright, young, manly face smiling down
upon her, she would lift her tiny forefinger, and some such colloquy
would ensue:

"You are late; where have you been, Mr. Standish?"

"At work, Meg--at work all the time."

"You have not been to the parlor of the Dragon?"

"No, Meg; not set my foot inside it."

"You have not been with those horrid whisky-smelling men?"

"Not seen one of them, Meg."

"Then you may come up," the child would say, taking his hand and leading
him up.

Mr. William Standish was beginning life as a journalist. He contributed
descriptive articles to a London paper, and was correspondent to a
colonial journal. His straight-featured countenance expressed energy and
decision; his glance betokened a faculty of humorous and rapid
observation; closely cropped blond hair covered his shapely head.

The journalist occupied the rooms on the upper story of Mrs. Browne's
lodging-house. He was the single member of the nomadic population
sheltering under that decaying roof who lived among his household gods.
He had made it a stipulation, on taking the rooms, that he should have
them unfurnished, and he had banished every trace of the landlady's
belongings.

The child was Meg. She went by no other name. When Mrs. Browne answered
her lodgers' queries concerning her, she replied vaguely that the child
had been left in her charge. Meg went to an over-crowded school in the
morning, and did odd jobs of household work in the afternoon. In the
intervals she sat on the topmost stair, watching the social eddies of
the shabby miniature world breaking down below. She was a silent child,
with a mop of dark brown hair and gray eyes, the gaze of which was so
sustained as not to be always pleasant to meet. The gravity of her look
was apt to make those upon whom it was directed feel foolish. She
repelled the patronizing advances of lodgers, and, when compelled to
answer, chilled conversation by the appalling straightforwardness of her
monosyllabic replies.

Two events had influenced her childhood. One day, when she was about
seven years of age, she had suddenly asked the old servant, who from
time immemorial had been the sole assistant of Mrs. Browne in
discharging her duties toward her lodgers:

"Tilly, had you a mammy?"

"Lor' bless the child!" answered Tilly, almost losing hold of the plate
she was washing. "Of course I had."

"Has every child got a mammy?" persisted Meg, with deliberate plainness
of speech.

"Of course they have," answered the old woman, utterly bewildered.

"Is madam my mammy?" asked the child, a slight tremor perceptible in the
slower and deeper intonation of her voice.

"Madam" was the name by which she had been taught to call Mrs. Browne.

"No!" answered Tilly sharply; "and if you ask any more questions ye'll
be put into the dark closet."

The threat, that brought to the child's mind associations of terror,
wrought the desired effect of silence. She stood, with her glance
unflinchingly directed on Tilly's face, and with a question trembling on
her lips, until the old servant turned away and left the kitchen.

Hitherto Meg had never asked a question concerning herself. She had
accepted a childhood without kissings and pettings--a snubbed, ignored
childhood--with a child's sainted powers of patience and resignation.

That night, as the old woman was composing herself to sleep in the attic
that she shared with the child, she was startled by Meg's voice sounding
close to her ear, and, turning, she saw the diminutive figure standing
near her bed in the moonlight.

"Tilly," she said, "I don't mind your locking me up in the dark closet,
if you'll just tell me--is my mammy dead?"

"Yes," said Tilly, taken off her guard.

There was a moment's pause, and an audible sigh.

"I'll never be naughty again, Tilly--never," resumed the child's voice,
"if you'll just tell me--what was she like?"

"You'll not ask another question if I tell ye?" replied Tilly after a
moment of silent self-debate.

"No, Tilly."

"Never another? Do ye hear?"

"Never, Tilly," repeated the child solemnly.

"And you'll never let madam know as I told you?" said Tilly excitedly,
sitting up in her bed.

"Never."

"Then, I don't mind saying, for I thinks as you ought to know, as she
was as pretty as a picture as I ever saw, and the gentlest, sweetest,
ladiest lady," said Tilly, nodding, as a sharp sob sounded in her
throat.

"Lady?" said Meg.

"A lady she was in all her ways, every bit of her; and the man as let
her die here all alone was a brute--that he was!" said Tilly, with
vehemence.

"What man?" asked the child, in a low voice.

"Go to bed," said Tilly severely, through her sobs.

"Was it my pappy?" said the child, who had seen and heard strange things
during her seven-years' life.

"Go to bed," repeated Tilly. "You promised as you'd never ask another
question."

"I will not, Tilly," said Meg, turning away, and returning through the
moonlight to bed.

The child kept her word, and never alluded to the subject again to
Tilly.

A few days later, when she was helping the old servant to tidy the rooms
after the departure of some lodgers from the drawing-room floor, Tilly
was surprised by the eagerness with which she craved permission to keep
a crumpled fashion-plate that she had found among the litter. It
represented a simpering young woman in a white ball dress, decked with
roses. Permission having been granted her to appropriate the work of
art, Meg carried it up to her attic, and hid it away in a box. Had any
one cared to observe the child, it would have been remarked that she,
who kissed nobody, lavished kisses upon this meaningless creation of a
dressmakers' brain; gazed at it, murmured to it, hid it away, and slept
with it under her pillow.

The next great event marking Meg's childhood had been the arrival of Mr.
William Standish to the lodging-house. It had occurred nearly two years
after the talk with Tilly concerning her mother. Meanwhile the old
servant had died.

Meg had watched with interest the arrival of the new lodger's
properties; and she had listened, fascinated, to his lusty voice,
singing to the accompaniment of hammering, and rising above the flurry
of settling down.

On the third evening Mr. Standish, who had observed the little figure
cowering in the dusk, and had once or twice given to it a friendly nod,
invited her to enter. Meg held back a moment, then shyly walked in.

She had a general impression of books and writing materials, pipes, and
prints on all sides, and of an atmosphere impregnated with the perfume
of tobacco.

After another pause of smileless hesitation, she took the footstool her
host drew for her by the fire. At his invitation she told him her name,
and gave a succinct account of her general mode of life. She admitted,
with monosyllabic brevity, that she liked to hear him sing, and that it
would please her if he would sing for her now. She sat entranced and
forgetful of her surroundings as he warbled:

    "Nellie was a lady--
     Last night she died,"

and followed the negro ballad with a spirited rendering of the "Erl
King."

At his invitation she renewed her visits. She was tremendously impressed
when he told her that he wrote for the papers; and was dumb with
amazement when he showed her, in a newspaper, the printed columns of
which he was the author.

They had been acquainted about a week, when Meg broke the silence set
upon her lips, and spoke to her new friend as she had never spoken to
human being before.

Mr. Standish had recited for her the ballad of the ghostly mother who
nightly comes to visit the children she has left on earth, and till
cock-crow rocks the cradle of her sleeping baby. The young man was
astonished at the expression of the child. Her cheeks were pale; she
breathed hard; her round opened eyes were fixed upon him.

"I wish mother would come just like that to me," she said abruptly.

"Your mother--is she dead?" he asked gently.

She nodded. "She's dead. I never saw her--never. I'd love to see her
just a-coming and standing by my bed. I'd not be a bit frightened."

"But if you have never seen her you would not know she was your mother,"
he replied, impressed by the passionate assertion of her manner.

"Oh, I'd know her! I'd know her!" said the child, with vivid assurance.
"Soon as she'd come in I'd know her. She was a lady."

"A lady!" he repeated. "How do you know? What do you mean?"

"Tilly told me. Tilly's dead," answered Meg with ardor. "She told it to
me once before; and I went to see her at the hospital, and she said it
again. She said, 'Meg, your mother was a lady--the sweetest, prettiest,
ladiest lady'--that's what she said; 'and, Meg, be good for her sake.'"
She paused, her eyes continuing to hold his with excited conviction.
"That's how I know she was a lady," Meg resumed; "and I know what a lady
is. The Misses Grantums down there"--infusing scorn into her voice as
she pointed to the floor to indicate she meant lodgers who lived
below--"they're not ladies though they've fine dresses; but they have
loud voices, and they scold. I go to the corners of the streets. I watch
the carriages. I see the ladies in them; and when I see one gentle and
a-smiling like an angel, I say mother was like one of these. That's how
I'd know what she'd be like. And," she added more slowly, lowering her
voice to a confidential whisper and advancing a step, "I have a picture
of her. Would you like to see it?"

"I would," he answered, thinking that at last he was approaching a clew
to the mystery.

She dashed off, and in a moment returned with something carefully
wrapped up in tissue paper, and gently drew out a limp picture, that she
held out at arm's length before the young man, keeping it out of his
reach.

"There, I'm sure she'd be like that--all smiling, you see. And those
beautiful curls, are they not lovely? and those large eyes and those
roses? I'm sure she'd be just like that."

"But let me hold it--just with my finger tips," he pleaded, as the child
jealously held the print away from him.

She slowly relinquished it to him and stood at his elbow.

"That's a picture taken out of a book--not a portrait," he said.

"I picked it up. Some lodgers had gone away. I found it in a corner.
Isn't it lovely? I'm sure she'd be just like that," reiterated Meg.

Mr. Standish was silent a moment. He was moved, yet he felt impelled to
speak words of wisdom to the child. Mooning about corners of streets
watching ladies drive past, and nursing those queer, foolish, ambitious
ideas about her mother was not likely to lead to any good. He thought
the whole story was probably without a grain of truth, the absurd
fabrication of some old woman's brain, and likely to prove hurtful to
Meg in giving her false notions concerning her duties in life.

He paused, revolving his words, anxious not to hurt, yet deeming it
incumbent upon him to expel this foolish fancy.

"My dear child," he said at last, "why do you imagine your mother was
like that picture, or like one of those ladies in the carriages? For all
you know they may be lazy, vain, and selfish. It is not the pretty dress
that makes the lady, or the face either. Is it not far better and more
reasonable to think of that dear mother, whom you never saw, as one of
God's own ladies? These ladies are found in all sorts of conditions,
sometimes in caps and aprons, sometimes in beautiful bonnets, very often
with brave, rough hands. What is wanted to make a lady is a kind, honest
heart."

"No, that's not being a lady," interrupted the child, with a flash and a
toss of her head. She spoke with decision; but her voice faltered as if
she had received a shock. Taking the picture from the young man's hand,
she began carefully, and with a trembling elaborateness, to replace it
in its coverings. "Jessie's good, and so was Tilly. They work hard, and
scrub, and run about on errands. They're not ladies. A lady's quite
different," continued Meg, suddenly facing him and speaking with
vehemence and clearness. "She's rich, and never scolds or cheats. She
does not work at all--not a bit; people work for her and drive her
about, but she does nothing herself. She has never dirty hands, or her
cap all untidy, or looking all in a fuss. She does nothing but smile and
look beautiful, like an angel," concluded Meg triumphantly, reiterating
her favorite simile.

"Meg," said the young fellow, seeing more clearly the necessity to root
out this absurd ideal from the child's mind, "you are talking very
foolishly. A lady is, indeed, not necessarily an angel. You say a lady
must be rich. Now, if your mother was rich, why are you poor? Would she
not have left you her money in dying, and you would have been rich like
her?"

"I don't know anything about that," said the child, growing a little
pale, and beginning once more to fidget with the fashion-plate.

"It is for your good, Meg, that I speak," resumed the young man. "You
must wish to be like your mother; and you cannot grow up good and
hard-working and honest if you think your mother was rich and left you
poor, with no one to look after you or care for you."

"It was not her fault," said the child faintly.

"It would have been her fault," he answered severely, shaking his head.
"My dear Meg, put away this foolish idea. Call up your mother to your
mind as a good, toiling woman; one of God's ladies, as I called her
before. Try to be like her. Lay aside the thought that she was one of
those carriage ladies."

"I won't!" interrupted the child, standing pale and upright, clutching
the fashion-plate close up against her chest. "It's a lie! She was a
lady!"

A smothered exclamation rose to Mr. Standish's lips. It was the first
offensive word he had heard the child use.

"Meg," he cried, following the fluttering little figure up the stairs.

He saw her enter an attic; he heard the door slam and the bolt drawn.

"Meg," he called again gently.

There came no answer; but Mr. Standish thought he heard the sound of
passionate sobbing. He waited, called a third time, and receiving no
response he shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

The exigencies of the press absorbed Mr. Standish so completely that for
the next few days he had no time to think of Meg. He noticed that the
corner on the top lobby was empty, and a vague feeling of regret crossed
his mind.

On the third day he was disturbed by a great clatter in the kitchen and
the noise of many voices, above which that of Meg rose shrill and angry.
Jessie, the hard-worked slavey of the establishment, admitted when she
came up with the coal-scuttle, in answer to Mr. Standish's inquiries
concerning the cause of the trouble, that it was Meg's fault. She was
not like the same child. She was like beside herself--she was--these
last three days.

Mr. Standish was perplexed, and resolved, after completing the weekly
budget he was writing for the _Melbourne Banner_, to seek out the child,
and get the clew to this sudden demoralization.

He was confirmed in this resolution when, in returning from the post, he
came upon Meg in fierce encounter with some boys. She was fighting
valiantly, but numbers proved too much. Mr. Standish stepped up to the
rescue. He caught one boy by the ear, rolled another in the dust, and
generally dispersed the assailants on all sides. Meg waited, watching,
on the outskirts of the fray; but as soon as Mr. Standish had disposed
of her enemies she turned and fled, disheveled, homeward. The account
her rescuer received left little doubt on his mind that Meg had been the
aggressive party.

Mr. Standish sought Mrs. Browne. The landlady was lachrymose and
muddled. To his inquiries concerning the queer notion Meg had concerning
her mother, she gave a rambling account of a mysterious lady who had
come to the lodgings accompanied by an older lady. Meg had been born
here, and the mother had died in giving her birth. No father had ever
come to visit the mother or child.

Mrs. Browne admitted that some money was sent regular through a
lawyer--just enough to pay for Meg's clothing and schooling; but who the
lawyer was, Mrs. Browne refused to tell.

Mr. Standish left Mrs. Browne drying her eyes, and went up, meditating
how to address Meg. There had come to him an indistinct realization of
what the thought of a lady-mother had been to the child in her sordid
surroundings. After a few moments' deliberation he took out pen, ink,
and paper, and wrote in Roman characters:

    "DEAR MEG: I write to ask you to forgive me. You were right, and I
     was wrong. Your mother was a lady, just as you thought she was. I
     have heard all about her. Won't you forgive me, and come and see
     me? I feel lonely without my little friend.

                                                              "W. S."

Having folded the letter, he slipped it under the child's door; then he
returned to his room and waited, leaving his own door ajar. After awhile
he began to sing some of Meg's favorite melodies--"Sally in the Alley"
and "Margery Allen." He thought he heard a furtive step. He turned his
head away, so as not to frighten by so much as a glance the shy advance,
and began softly to sing Meg's favorite ballad:

    "Nellie was a lady--
     Last night she died."

He fancied he distinguished the reluctant drawing near of tardy feet.
When the song was ended he looked round. Meg was on the threshold. A
glance revealed the change those four days had wrought. Her hair was
unkempt, her dress untidy, her cheeks pale; but it was not so much those
signs of neglect, the pallor of her cheeks, the drawn lines about her
mouth that startled him, as a certain expression of childish
recklessness. It was the Meg he had seen wrangling with boys in the
street, flying past him lawless and fierce. In her hand she held his
letter, and she kept her eyes fixed upon him with a bold stare.

"Is it true what you have written here, or is it a pack of stories?" she
asked abruptly.

"It is all true, Meg," said Mr. Standish gently. "She was a lady."

"A real lady, like those that drive about in the carriages?" asked the
child with stern cross-examination.

"She was a real lady, Meg; just as you have always pictured her--with
soft hands that had never done rough work, and a gentle voice. All about
her was beautiful," replied Mr. Standish in slow and convinced tones.

At this assurance Meg gave a little sigh; the tension about her lips
relaxed; the fierce brilliancy of her interrogative glance was subdued.

"How do you know?" she asked more softly.

"Mrs. Browne told me. I will take you to her, and she will tell it to
you."

"I don't want her to tell me, you tell me," said Meg quickly.

Mr. Standish hesitated; under the child's innocent gaze he found it
difficult to speak. He told her in simple words some of the story Mrs.
Browne had related. It was a mercy Meg evinced no curiosity concerning
her father. Mr. Standish dwelt upon the beauty, the youth, the suffering
of the mother; he spoke of the love she had lavished in anticipation
upon the babe she was never to see.

As he spoke, the thought of that early and lonely death thrust itself
before him with a new and piteous force. The thought of the forsaken
child moved him, and his voice faltered.

Meg was by his side in a moment; her hand touched his. "You asked me in
your letter to forgive you," she whispered. "I forgive you."

He took the little hand. "You must forget also, Meg, that I said your
mother had left you poor and uncared for."

"But she did. She left me poor, and with strangers; that's what you
said," replied Meg, with a return of the old fierceness, quoting his
words.

"She died," he answered with emphasis, bending forward. "Listen, Meg,"
he continued, as the child remained apparently unsoftened, "will you
believe me, even if you do not understand me--will you believe me?"

For a moment Meg remained dogged and silent, then, as she met his
troubled glance, the doubt passed from hers, the confiding light came
back.

"I believe you; I believe you very much," she said.

"Then, when you think of her, Meg, think that some one had done her
great injury--had made her suffer, more than you can know. That is why
she came here and died. She left you poor because everything had been
taken from her."

He paused a moment. Meg was pale, and seemed a little dazed; but the
excitement had left her manner.

"Everything," he repeated with emphasis.

The child's bosom heaved.

"Now that she is dead," resumed the young man, "I believe that dear
mother watches over her little daughter."

"You believe it," said Meg slowly.

"I believe it," said Mr. Standish. "But, come; where is that picture?
Let me look at it again."

Meg was off and back again in a moment. The print was torn and
besmeared, as if it had gone through rough usage since he had seen it
last.

"Halloo! it is falling to bits. It was not so crumpled and torn the
other day," he remarked.

"No," Meg confessed; "I hated it the other night, when you said mother
was hard-working, like a charwoman. I wanted to tear it up--I did; but I
could not." She stopped; for the first time there came a choking in her
throat, and a sob, quickly repressed.

Mr. Standish pretended absorption in his occupation, spread out the
tattered print, and announced his intention of bestowing to the painting
a new lease of life by pasting it upon a pasteboard back. He gathered
the necessary implements for the task. Meg, usually so active, watched
in silence; but he knew, by the trembling of the little hand resting on
the table, by the stiff uprightness of the small figure beside him, the
fierce battle the child was waging with herself to suppress all show of
emotion.

He took no apparent heed of her, but proceeded with the task of
renovation. Perhaps he had intended still to lead the child's mind to a
truer conception of a lady than she could get from worship of this
simpering fetish, with a mouth like a cherry, and curled eyelashes; but
as he handled the old fashion-plate, the pathos of its smeared and
battered condition touched him with a sense of sacredness, and he found
himself declaring that her mother might have been like that picture.
There was no doubt about it; it represented a lovely creature, and her
mother was a lovely lady.

When the task was completed he was rewarded by the sight of Meg's
radiant countenance. In perfect peace she carried off the restored
picture.



CHAPTER II.

TWO YEARS LATER.


Two years had elapsed, and to superficial observers Meg might have
appeared to have changed only by some inches added to her length of
limb. She still haunted the corner overlooking the stairs on the topmost
lobby, but it was not to watch the come and go of the shabby social
eddies breaking down below. She read much to herself. Her choice of
literature was a queer _mélange_ of odds and ends. She was up to all the
fires, the accidents, the pageants of a world into which she had never
set foot. She knew to what corner of a London daily paper and provincial
weekly she was to look to find descriptions of these sensational
incidents, and the style in which they were recorded stirred in her an
admiration worthy of being lavished on Homeric epics. She knew also a
number of ballads by heart that she would recite with an amount of
native dramatic vividness.

If the shifting scenes going on downstairs no longer attracted her as
in the past, she was intent and absorbed in watching one life. The
friendship between her and Mr. Standish had become a tie that drew out
peculiarities of the child's nature. There had been quarrels,
coolnesses, reconciliations, but Meg's usual attitude toward the
journalist was one of mingled proprietorship and watchfulness. It was a
mixture of motherly solicitude and dog-like faithfulness. She
cross-questioned, admonished, and kept vigilant guard over his
interests.

Once, having discovered that Mrs. Browne had cheated him of sixpence in
the weekly bill, she drew the landlady's notice to the overcharge; but
Mrs. Browne refused to acknowledge or set it right, and Meg cried
herself to sleep. Loyalty to the landlady was discarded, and with
brimming eyes and quivering lips she told Mr. Standish next day of that
fraudulent sixpence. To her dismay he laughed, and vowed that Mrs.
Browne's name ought to be handed down to posterity as an honest landlady
if sixpence covered the amount of a week's cheating. Meg would not be
comforted; to her the landlady seemed remorseless.

A mother could not have detected with quicker apprehension a shade of
weariness or pallor on the young man's face. Her invariable question on
such an occasion would be, "What have you had for dinner?" Sometimes he
tried to deceive her. He would roll out a dazzling _menu_--turtle soup,
turbot, plum-pudding.

She would stop him at once with pathetic and angry remonstrance. "It is
not true; you know it is not true. Why do you say it?"

Her earnestness always moved him; he was ashamed of deceiving her.

Their last quarrel had been caused by Mr. Standish's confession that he
had dined off fish.

"Fish!" cried Meg with scorn, tossing her head. "Can you work after a
bit of fish? What fish--turbot, salmon, fried soles?" The ladies who
occupied the drawing-room floor gave occasional dinner-parties, where
such delicacies figured.

As Mr. Standish kept shaking his head, the smile in his eyes growing
more amused and tender, a terrible idea dawned upon Meg. She grew pale.

"Herring!" she faltered.

"Herrings," he repeated in a voice of rich appreciation. "Two herrings,
fat as lord mayors!"

Meg walked about the room, her eyes bright with angry misery, her lips
trembling. "It's downright wicked! You want to kill yourself, that's
what you want to do." She flicked a tear away. "A workman in the street
down there has a better dinner than that."

"Now, Meg, be reasonable," the young man pleaded in a voice of protest.
"Don't you see," he went on, striking his left palm with two fingers of
the right hand, "there is a day called 'pay-day' that rules my bill of
fare, as I explained to you the other day the moon rules the tides. On
pay-day and its immediate followers I live in abundance. Then come days
of lesser luxuries, then abstinence. I have reached this period. Soon
plenty will reign again."

"It is a foolish way of managing money," said Meg, abrupt in her
trouble, and only half-comforted.

"Can you tell me, Meg, how to manage money without reference to
pay-day?" he asked.

"Will you do as I tell you?" she said, stopping short in her restless
peregrinations.

He nodded.

"Take your money, all your money, and divide it into little parcels, as
many parcels as there are days it must last, and every day spend just
what is inside one of the little parcels, and not a bit more," said Meg
with elucidating gestures.

Mr. Standish vowed she spoke like a chancellor of the exchequer; that
the more he heard her the more he was determined on coming into the
colossal fortune he was to enjoy some day, to appoint her his almoner,
housekeeper, the dispenser of his bounties, the orderer of his dinners.
This project to be his housekeeper was one dear to Meg's heart, the
pacifier of her wrath. By what means Mr. Standish was to come into
possession of this fabulous wealth remained vague. Sometimes he would
announce his intention of getting it by marrying an heiress, a project
always chillingly received by Meg. Sometimes she would suggest
spitefully that the heiress would not marry him; but Mr. Standish
overrode all objections, and would depict days of indolent delight for
himself and his bride, while Meg managed the household. When the
daydream reached this point it generally abruptly terminated by Meg
plunging out of the room, and banging the door after her with an
emphatic "Shan't!"

On the evening of the fish dinner Mr. Standish left the heiress out of
the question, and Meg was softened.

The next day the young man supped at home. His tray, as usual on these
occasions, was brought in by Meg. A burly German sausage and a pot of
Scotch marmalade graced the board. Meg's answers were evasive concerning
the source from which these dainties came. It struck Mr. Standish that
Meg had bought them with the store of half-pence he had taught her to
put away in a moneybox he had himself presented to her, with a view to
inculcating economical instincts. Her fierce refusal to answer convinced
him that he had guessed right.

The refusal to touch these dainties died on his lips. He could not hurt
the child. He ate the supper she had provided with loud laudations of
its excellence. Before it was finished an arrangement had been entered
into between them. On pay-day Meg would henceforth receive a sum to be
kept for him against the days of privation. The contract had been
fulfilled. Meg had proved a stern treasurer, resisting the young man's
entreaties to dole out portions of the money before the appointed time.

If the child had gained much by intercourse with an educated mind, if
her English had grown by it more refined and correct, her mind stored
with more definite and varied knowledge; if, above all, there had come
to her by this affection a precocious womanliness, taming and sweetening
her lonely life, Mr. Standish had gained as much by the tie between
them. A sort of wonder, half-amused, half-tender, sometimes awoke in his
heart at the thought of the child's devotion. His occupation led him to
see rough sides of life, and as he became familiar with degradation, the
goodness, the innocence of the child was ever before him. He felt it was
touching to be loved by a child of ten. Her advanced wisdom struck him.
If it stirred his sense of humor and inclined him to laugh, still it
made him thoughtful.

During those two years he had enlarged his connections. He was earning
more money. Individuals, somewhat of unkempt appearance, whom Meg
disapproved of thoroughly, often made their way up the stairs to the
young man's rooms. The peals of laughter, the loud talk emerging from
the sanctum, confirmed Meg in judging these visitors foolish company for
her hero. The child grew hot with angry apprehension when the bell rang
shortly after their coming, and Jessie would answer it with tumblers of
whisky and lemons. On letting out these friends Meg thought that Mr.
Standish usually looked excited, his eyes brighter, his manner more
expansive. The child grew restless, alert, suspicious. She did not
disguise her feelings to Mr. Standish. Why did these rough men come
drinking his whisky? She would break into fierce denunciations against
drink.

"Madam"--Mrs. Browne--"always said she was poor. Why was she poor?
Because she was always a-sipping and drinking. He'd keep being poor
too."

Often Meg's tones, staccato with prophetic denunciation, would falter at
the picture she evoked.

Mr. Standish listened sometimes with an amused and indulgent good humor
that exasperated Meg; sometimes an uneasy qualm was perceptible in his
voice as he admitted that Meg was wise; sometimes he assumed a superior
tone of disapproval that silenced her for the time, but left her more
than ever under the shadow of a vague and sorrowful apprehension.

One Sunday afternoon Mr. Standish emerged from his room ready to sally
forth. Meg appeared out of her shadowy corner.

"Going out?" she asked shortly.

He nodded, smiling down with benign amusement. He seemed enveloped in a
holiday brightness.

"Going with those horrid men?" she resumed, throwing her words out with
sorrowful brevity.

He nodded, and drew out his watch. He was apparently in a mood to be
entertained.

"Come, Meg, there are five minutes for a sermon. I will listen to it
respectfully, as if it were the Archbishop of Canterbury preaching."

But Meg was too much absorbed to mind a joke. She followed him into his
sitting-room, and began restlessly walking about.

Mr. Standish sat down, and as he stroked his hat with his sleeve he
watched the little figure's perambulations. Meg wore her Sunday gown, a
rusty black velveteen, foldless and clinging, buttoned from throat to
hem. She had outgrown its scanty proportions. Her feet, incased in black
felt slippers, looked large under the trim ankles.

"Well, Meg, I am waiting," said Mr. Standish.

"Don't go," said the child, stopping short and facing him abruptly. The
quaint austerity of the skimpy garment brought out the lines of the
childish figure as she stood erect and animated before him.

"Why not, Meg?"

"Because they're bad; because I hate them; because they'll bring you to
misery," said the child, with an upward flash of one little brown
well-formed hand, and with a piteous emphasis on the last word.

"Nonsense, Meg!" said Mr. Standish, impatient because more impressed
than he cared to be. "You keep comparing my friends with Mrs. Browne--I
don't mean any disrespect--an uneducated tippling old woman. My friends,
my dear Meg, are gentlemen, educated men, who, I admit, are fond of a
joke, fond of a glass or two glasses of grog, but who respect
themselves."

"Education has nothing to do with it," snapped Meg, with concise energy.
"There was a man downstairs, he was educated. I think he was the devil.
He'd leave his wife and little child for days, and come back drunk." Meg
gave a fierce little shudder. "There'd be scenes. One day he went and
never came back--never, and the wife and baby boy went off one snowy day
to the workhouse."

"Poor child, you should not see those things!" said Mr. Standish with a
troubled look.

"Why not? You would not let these men up there take your money if you
saw them."

There was a grotesque sweetness in Meg's appearance as she stood there
in her skimpy dress, her short dusky hair falling in masses about her
neck and over her forehead. There came to the young journalist a
remembrance of those wingless angels that the pre-Raphaelite masters
painted, gracious, grave, workaday beings, with unearthly wise faces.
But it was not as a picture that he contemplated Meg; the thought of the
goodness, the purity, the holiness of the child, who knew so much and
understood so little of life, overcame him. Her innocence almost
frightened him. He felt the sacredness of a vow taken to her; it would
be more binding than one taken before a court of justice.

"What is it that you want me to promise, Meg?" he asked.

"Not to let them take your money from you, not to let them give you
drink," she replied with her accustomed unhesitancy, but her voice
faltering with harbored longing.

"Not drink at all?" he asked.

"I wish not at all; I wish not at all," she replied with unconscious
repetition.

"Look here, Meg; I'll promise you this--I'll not waste my money, and
I'll not tipple like Mrs. Browne downstairs. Will that satisfy you?"

"You promise!" said Meg vehemently, with another upward flash of the
well-formed little brown hand, and holding him with her eyes.

"I promise," said Mr. Standish gravely, disguising an inclination to
laugh.

The young man was busy in the intervals of journalistic work composing a
political squib. He had not so much time to devote to Meg as in the
less-employed days, but he allowed her to sit near him when he wrote,
reading the story-books and ballads he gave her. In his leisure, as he
smoked his pipe, he watched with half-closed eyes the quaint little
figure, and drew the child out to talk. He explained the difficult
passages in the books she read, and gave her lessons in recitation.
Better than anything to Meg, he sometimes imparted to her the last _bon
mot_ he had put into the mouth of "Sultan Will" to his suffering
subjects--a confidence that invariably produced abnormal gravity in
Meg.

The child had no reason to think the young man was not fulfilling the
promise he had given. His alert carriage and concentrated expression
contradicted any suspicion of faltering. Yet she was restless; his
friends came often to see him.

"Why did they come, disturbing him at his work?" she asked spitefully.

Mr. Standish called her a hard little taskmaster, and received his
friends cordially. A formless fear was at the child's heart. She haunted
the threshold of his door when they were in his room; she lay awake of
nights when she knew that he had gone out with them. She magnified to
herself the number of times that he had gone out earlier and come home
later than he used. If she dropped asleep her slumbers were broken until
she heard the sound of his footsteps on the stairs.

One evening Mr. Standish went off in company with two journalistic
comrades to a public dinner, given to members of the press by the
directors of a new railway company. Meg would not retract the
unfavorable verdict she pronounced upon his appearance in the new dress
suit he had ordered specially for the occasion. She was not to be
mollified by the promise of an orange from the directors' table. "She
did not want an orange; she did not see what a dinner had to do with a
railway," she averred.

That night she could not sleep. The formless fear at her heart lay heavy
upon it; it seemed to her that the fulfillment of that nameless dread
was approaching. As the hour came and passed Mr. Standish had fixed for
his return, visions began to group about her bed and pass before her
wide-open eyes. All the sorrowful stories of accidents Mr. Standish had
related to her enacted themselves before her, in which he appeared the
central figure. The night plodded slowly on; the clock in the hall
struck the hours at intervals. When the clock struck three Meg got up
and paced about the room, a wan little ghost.

When another hour struck the four peals sounded like a hammer-stroke on
a coffin. Meg began to dress. She did not know why she did so, or what
she would do after, but a vague sense of being needed impelled her. She
fumbled her way to the staircase and sat on the topmost step.

She waited in the darkness and silence. A faint whiteness began to steal
through the sides of the blinds drawn over the window on the lobby. The
banisters, the flight of stairs, showed shadowily, gradually growing
more distinct.

Suddenly she sprang to her feet. There was the scrape of a key in the
latch. A step sounded in the hall, made its way up the stairs. It was
Mr. Standish. When he reached the topmost flight of steps he perceived
the little gray figure standing waiting in the gray dawn, erect,
immobile. He steadied himself against the banisters and began to laugh.
He looked pale, his eyes dark; his hat was thrown back, his hair
disordered.

"Why, Meg, you little detective, are you there? Such a jolly night!
splendid dinner! No humbug this time, Meg--real turtle, tuns of
champagne!" He came up a few steps. "Tuns of champagne, Meg! Speeches,
Meg! Such nonsense! Everybody complimented everybody else. I did not
forget you, Meg. Look here, I stole an orange and sweetmeats!" He began
fumbling in his pockets.

"You've broken your promise," said the child in a low and trembling
voice.

"Not a bit of it, Meg. Now you think I am tipsy," he replied, speaking
huskily. "Not a bit of it. You'll see if I can't walk straight as a lamp
post to that door."

As he went up he staggered--she had not seen him stumble before--caught
himself by the balustrade, then plunged forward with uneven steps.

Instinctively Meg put out her hand, but he did not see it. Catching at
the wall he fell into a fit of laughing; then making his way to his room
he let the door slam behind him.

Meg was petrified. All that she had dreaded seemed to have happened. She
sat down, her throat burning, her body cold, as if a shroud enfolded
her. She remained huddled and moveless until signs of life began to be
heard in the house. Then she got up and crept into her attic.



CHAPTER III.

MEG TO THE RESCUE.


Mr. Standish saw no more of Meg for some days. He made no attempt at
reconciliation. It amused him to think how Meg magnified his offense. It
seemed comical that the child should set him down as a drunkard. He
laughed out loud over it as he drank his single glass of lager beer at
dinner. In his workaday life he avoided taking his glass of grog. He
never indulged in it, for economical reasons. With his brothers of the
press he took a convivial glass, but as for squandering money, he had
none to spend.

After a few days, as Meg remained sternly invisible, he began to miss
her, as a man might miss a favorite dog. To his inquiries concerning the
child, Mrs. Browne or Jessie replied, she was "that" cross there was no
biding her.

If he caught a glimpse of Meg she would vanish at his approach, and no
call or song could entice her from her retreat. Then Mr. Standish made
up his mind the child was absurdly unjust, and that in time she would
come round; still he was more sorry than he allowed himself to
acknowledge at her desertion. His work had grown upon him, an old debt
harassed him, and he had lately received a sufficiently unpleasant
surprise to occupy his mind.

Meanwhile, the passionate little figure, hidden in the shadow of the
half-open door, watched his coming and going with keener vigilance. From
her hiding-place the child scanned his countenance as he came and went;
and at night fell into broken slumbers, until the sound of his returning
footsteps brought peace to her unquiet heart. If Meg had known how to
pray, or had realized that she could effectively and without indecorum
pray out of church, she would have climbed in spirit to the throne of
the Most High, and with insistent appeal have interceded for the friend
she confusedly felt was passing through some dread peril. But Meg's
conception of the world beyond the grave was as of a great darkness,
against which outlined itself a simpering countenance wreathed with
roses, which was her mother's face. To that dear vision Meg was eloquent
concerning her grief--brokenly, and with impatient and angry misery,
murmured to it of Mr. Standish's breach of faith, of the certain ruin
that was waiting him, and of her own wretchedness.

Mr. Standish's ways completely puzzled her, and the mystery added to
that desperate sense of estrangement between them. Some time before
their quarrel she had watched one day a shabby-genteel-looking man knock
at the journalist's door, and, on its being opened, hand to Mr. Standish
a paper which he received and glanced over, the child noticed, with an
expression of surprised consternation. He did not invite the visitor in.
Meg could not distinguish the purport of the talk that ensued between
them, but heard Mr. Standish's last words, in the anxiously confident
tones of which, she detected a ghost of displeasure: "There has been
some delay, but give me time to write again to him and I am sure it will
be all right."

On her inquiries concerning this mysterious visitor, with a face she
described as a red plum-pudding, Mr. Standish had given evasive answers.
From that day she noted, however, that he changed his hours of going
out; he appeared anxious; he locked his door after him. Sometimes, as a
pledge of confidence, he had left his key with her, and he had told her
not to let anyone in during his absence.

A week after their falling out, Meg, in looking over the superscription
of Mr. Standish's letter in the hall, recognized the delicate and
familiar handwriting of one of the young man's friends--who was also her
favorite antipathy. She had at one time often brought epistles in this
handwriting that she suspected were begging petitions. This letter bore
a foreign stamp.

That afternoon Mr. Standish's voice, for the first time since his
quarrel, was uplifted in song. As he went out he paused, and softly
called "Meg." But Meg, in the shadow, straightened herself; an
aggressive light brightened her eyes; she hesitated. Had he called again
she might have come, but with a half-vexed laugh and a shrug he ran
downstairs.

For the first time, also, he had left the key in his door. The child
stole toward the room, opened the door, and looked in. Her heart smote
her with remorse and pity as she beheld the disorder, the uncared-for
confusion that reigned within--slippers pitched at different corners of
the room; the tobacco-pouch half emptying its contents in a manuscript,
the dust lying heavy on papers and books, the boot-jack inside the
silver inkstand that had belonged to his father.

In a moment Meg was at her old task of setting the room in order.
Flitting hither and thither, she zealously dusted, swept, put the books
back into their accustomed places. She knew exactly where every volume
was to stand. As she scrubbed and worked, the hard knot at her little
heart loosened. She had proceeded some way at her task when she came
upon a paper. She recognized the nature of the paper at a glance; she
had seen such a missive in Mrs. Browne's possession before. It was a
summons to appear before the county court. She read the words on the
paper. The summons was taken out by one Abraham Samuels, who held a bill
overdue for £25. The court was to sit on Wednesday, November 16th.
To-day was the 26th--ten days later.

Meg stood stock-still with the paper in her hand. This was the paper the
strange man had brought. She thought of Mr. Standish's brightened mood;
what did it mean? Had he paid the debt? A tear dropped on the summons as
she dwelt upon that past anxiety. How could she atone for having kept
away so sternly? The only way that presented itself to her mind for
displaying the energy of her repentance was by rubbing the furniture
till it shone in the firelight. She put the last touch to her work by
filling the two vases with late autumn foliage and yellow
chrysanthemums, bought with her remaining pence. It was late that night
when the journalist returned, but she noticed that he bounded lightly
up the stairs, and she turned happily on her side and fell asleep. Mr.
Standish was not up next morning when Meg set off for school.

He was out when she returned. As she was sallying forth on an errand for
Mrs. Browne she perceived Jessie in deep confabulation with a
smooth-voiced stranger in the hall, who was apparently making himself
agreeable to the slavey. At a glance she recognized him to be the
stranger with the face like a red plum-pudding, who had handed that
summons to Mr. Standish.

In a flash she recollected the key was in the door of the journalist's
room. The next moment her bounding young feet had carried her up the
stairs, and she had locked the door, and dropped the key into her apron
pocket, before the representative of justice came panting up on the
scene. Meg's experience of life had included strange branches of
education. She had watched the maneuvers of debtors to keep bailiffs at
bay, and the strategy of the men in authority to get into possession.

"What do you want?" she inquired, standing before the threshold she was
defending.

"I want Mr. Standish--a writing gent. I've got news for him," replied
the stranger with an air of business.

"Can't see him," said Meg briefly. "He's out, and the door's locked."

"Now, that's awful unfortunate," replied the visitor, with an air of
perplexed consternation. "Those writing gents make their living by
getting news, and my news is so important that he ought to know it."

"What news is it? I'll tell him when he comes in," said Meg curtly.

"Can't do that, missy. Now, I take it," continued the stranger
insinuatingly, "you know where the key of that room is. If you let me
in, I'll give you the prettiest, shiniest sixpence you ever saw. Come,
now, let me in, and I'll write my news down for the gent. My time's
precious-like, you see."

"Who are you? Where do you come from?" asked Meg.

"I come from his newspaper office. I am what these writing gents call a
printer's devil, ha, ha, ha!"--and the stranger bubbled over with
enjoyment of his own joke.

"You're telling an awful fib," said Meg, red to the roots of her hair.
"You are a bailiff. I've seen bailiffs," and she nodded, "and I know
their dodges. You want to get into Mr. Standish's room to take his
things--that's what you want to do."

"Eh, now, you are clever--as clever as clever can be--the prettiest,
cleverest little girl!" rejoined the visitor admiringly.

"Do you think," said Meg, evidently taking no notice of the compliment,
"that a man ought to be punished who is always very kind and good, and
who works--works so hard--I could not tell you how hard; who eats very
little, and who scarcely drinks ever at all--that is, very seldom." Meg
dashed away a tear, and went on with energy, advancing with restless
steps. "If this good man has friends who are bad, dishonest, lazy
drunkards, who take all his money and don't give it back, don't you
think it is they who ought to be punished, not the good man?"

"Well, missy, there's a deal in what you say--a deal," said the stranger
ponderingly; then, as Meg approached, lost in her pleading, he made a
sudden flop forward, and almost clutched her skirt, gasping, "That's a
pretty apron, missy--a nice little apron."

But Meg had whisked the apron out of his grasp; and, dancing back, shook
the hair out of her eyes. "You wickedest man! trying to get the key out
of my pocket! But I'll not let you have it. I'll throw it out of that
window into the gutter that runs down there sooner than let you have
it." Meg as she spoke opened the window in the lobby, and kept near it.

"Then here I'll sit!" said the bailiff, depositing his burly form on the
stair.

"How long will you sit there?" asked Meg.

"That's none of your business. I'll sit till he comes up. I believe he's
a scamp. Those hauthors and hartists are. I know lots of 'em. I warrant
he's in the tavern spending his money."

"I hate you!" cried Meg with a flash, her bosom heaving, her little red
lips drawn tight over her teeth.

There was something pitiably droll in the attitude of the child,
standing at a safe distance, clutching her pocket, quivering with
helpless wrath, before the impassable persecutor. With a sudden spring
she turned and dashed away, pausing to open a little wider the window
that let in the draft upon the bailiff.

"You'll get frightful rheumatism waiting there, and I'm glad of it," she
cried, as she disappeared.

Mr. Standish, returning half an hour later, saw a small figure
promenading up and down before the house under a dripping umbrella. It
was Meg. She was by his side in a moment.

"Come this minute," she said, putting her hand into his.

"Why, Meg," he said cheerily, yet surprised at her manner; "so you have
forgiven me at last!"

She did not answer; but as he was about to open the hall door with his
latchkey, she said laconically, "Not this way," and led him round by the
back way.

Meg flitted up the narrow stairs before him, every now and then turning
back with forefinger on lips to enjoin silence. Up, up she went, until
she reached the attic that was her own room. She signed to him to enter,
and then shut the door.

"Why, what is this for, Meg," said Mr. Standish, looking round.

"He's here--the bailiff--waiting on the stairs, but he can't get in. I
locked the door and kept the key; here it is." With an expressive
twinkle of her eyes she whisked it out of her pocket, and put it into
his hand.

Mr. Standish sat down, looked at Meg, scarce understanding. "Bailiff!"
he repeated. "Then Gilbert has not paid! I backed his bill because I
trusted his sacred promise that he would meet it in time!"

"It was kind, but foolish," said Meg briefly.

"He wrote the other day to say he would make it all right with Samuels,
when I told him of the writ. He assured me the money was going by the
next post," Mr. Standish went on blankly.

"He's an old cheat," said Meg, with scornful directness of speech.

"What is to be done? I have no money, Meg," said the young man, with a
wretched flicker of a smile.

"Pawn your watch and chain--they're real gold; they're big and heavy;
they'll raise the money," said Meg, with her usual unhesitancy.

The journalist flushed red. "I can't, Meg!" He drew the watch out of his
pocket. It was a large hunting watch, that had been presented to the
rector, his father. Inside the lid the names of the donors were
inscribed in minute characters. "I can't, Meg," he repeated, looking at
it and shaking his head. "A token of affectionate gratitude, a
testimonial to his faithful work--I can't place it where there are so
many associations that are disgraceful. It would be degradation----"

"Not a bit of it!" said Meg with fearless rapidity, as he rose and
walked up and down the attic. "You'll get it back soon. You'll work hard
to get it out. If you don't pawn it you'll have to let that man in,"
nodding in the direction of the staircase. "He'll sit in your room.
You'll be able to do no work with him there, smelling of gin, and his
red face looking at you. He'll take the silver ink-bottle--and the
books. Pawn your watch, and if you work hard you'll get it out soon."

"Wise, practical Meg," said Mr. Standish, scarcely able to repress a
smile, moving irresolutely about the little room.

"Give it to me! I'll pawn it for you," rejoined Meg, intent and
business-like. "I've been there before. Last time Mrs. Browne put the
silver teapot up the spout I went for her. She was tipsy; she could not
go. The man knows me. He'll give me the money."

"I have not the heart to do it Meg--I have not the heart," said Mr.
Standish, hesitating as the child approached.

"It's better than having the man inside your room, sitting on your green
velvet armchair or the chintz sofa, taking the silver ink-bottle and the
books, and preventing your working," continued Meg, pressing her
advantage; and as Mr. Standish began slowly to unloose the chain, her
deft fingers came to the rescue and helped him.

He looked down at the eager, determined child-face. "How good you are to
me, Meg; how good!" he said, the words rushing almost unconsciously to
his lips.

A quiver of the eyelids only showed the child felt the tones. "Give it
to me," she repeated imperatively.

The next moment the watch and chain, wrapped in a clean
pocket-handkerchief, were in Meg's grasp, and she had departed. Mr.
Standish, stooping under the shelving ceiling on a level with the strip
of window, looked out and watched the wet umbrella making its way under
the flaring gas and over the muddy street. When it disappeared he turned
and looked about him. There was a sincerity, a poverty, a purity about
the tiny chamber that affected him with a wholesome shock. Over the
little white bed hung the fashionplate that he had mended, in the
pasteboard frame he had manufactured for it. A bit of scarlet ribbon
fastened it to a nail, with an elaborate bow. Above it, as a pious
Catholic might have crossed about some saint's image branches of blessed
palms, so Meg had placed sprigs of lavender, that delicately scented the
room. On the peg behind the door hung the little Sunday frock, turned
inside out. On a table, under a clean pocket-handkerchief, were placed
three books that he had given her--a volume of ballads, "Stories from
the History of England," a gaudily illustrated shilling copy of
"Cinderella." Also under the pocket-handkerchief was a bundle of paper,
tied with scarlet ribbon, that proved to be some of his articles neatly
cut out. A black clay pipe of his, which Meg had mended, was put up like
a little Indian idol over the table. The little room, so spotlessly
clean, and so characteristic in all its details, was distinctly Meg's
room, telling of that mystic love for her mother, and of her solitary
friendship.

Mr. Standish was not tired of waiting when Meg appeared, her hand
clutching the bodice of her dress.

"Here, I've got the money," she said, as carefully pulling out the
handkerchief and opening it she displayed a roll covered with paper;
"twenty-five pounds--count; and here's the ticket. Don't lose it on any
account. Perhaps I'd better keep it for you."

"Twenty-five pounds, Meg!" said Mr. Standish.

"He wanted to give me twenty. I said 'No, twenty-five.' He was smiling
when he said twenty. Those men always smile when they want to cheat
you," said Meg, with a nod of retrospective observation. "He gave me
twenty-five pounds at last, though. Count."

The child cut short the words of thankfulness that rose to Mr.
Standish's lips.

"Go," she said imperatively, taking him by the hand and leading him to
the door; "pay the man and get him off."

A few minutes later, with great glee, Meg watched the departure of the
bailiff; she thought with pleasure as he made his way downstairs that he
seemed a little stiff, as if he had got rheumatism. After the hall door
had slammed behind the representative of the law she stood hesitating.
Soon her diffident feet slowly brought her to Mr. Standish's threshold.
She pushed the door softly open. He was sitting by the table, his face
covered with his hands. He looked up as she entered.

"He's gone," said Meg, nodding. "Aren't you glad?"

"You have done me a great service, Meg. How can I thank you for it?"
said the young man, rising and taking the child's two hands in his.

"Don't thank me--not at all," said Meg with ardor, looking up into his
face. "Just promise never to lend your money again--never."

"No--never again!" replied Mr. Standish, shaking his head. He led the
child in and sat down, still keeping her hand in his. "How did you guess
that man was a bailiff?"

"Oh," said Meg, with the scornful brevity of wide experience in her
voice, "I knew him by his sleeky ways. I've watched them at their
dodges. They're up to almost anything."

Mr. Standish laughed out loud; but the laugh suddenly fell as he
thought of all that knowledge implied. He said gently, after a pause:

"I thought the little friend who used to sit by my fireside had left me.
I missed you, Meg."

"You were tipsy that night," the child answered, with a quaver in her
voice that did not take from its severity.

"You punished me hard, Meg. Don't you know I had to drink so many
healths. There was the queen's health to drink, and I should have been a
disloyal subject if I had not drunk that; and there was the lord mayor's
health, I should have been a bad citizen if I had not drunk that; then
there were the directors' healths, and there were one another's
healths." As Meg remained unmollified, he went on, "Meg, I will tell you
a secret. I was not so bad as I looked that night--I put it on a little
for your benefit."

"That was wicked of you," said Meg with spirit.

"It was," agreed Mr. Standish candidly. "Come, Meg, won't you forgive me
if I promise----"

"You promised before," interrupted the child.

A desire to rehabilitate himself in the child's eyes seized Mr.
Standish. He felt a touch of awe of that creature regarding him with
steady gravity, and he found himself pleading his cause before her as if
she were a little chief justice.

"If he got himself into difficulties for his friends, they were often to
be pitied; so many in this world were born weak, like spiritual cripples
who needed a helping hand."

"No use to them when they get it," said Meg. "They're always in a
muddle."

Mr. Standish once more repressed an inclination to laugh at the child's
precocious wisdom. He admitted there was truth in what she said. Once,
three years ago, just before coming here, he had given all he had to a
friend, and it had been of no use.

"Did you lend him much money?" asked Meg.

"Yes; he was in the greatest distress. I loved him, Meg. I would do it
again if he came to me. If he was reckless, he was so handsome and so
jolly. He came and told me all about his trouble. His father was very
stern; he would not see him or help him. My friend wanted three hundred
pounds. It was all the money that I had."

"And you gave it?" she said, and stopped.

He nodded.

"Did he never pay you back?" she faltered.

"Never, Meg. It is a sad story. There was some disgrace, and he died."

She did not speak; the fate of the stranger seemed to affect her but
little.

"You gave him all your money?" she repeated, and again she paused; then
she put out her hand and stroked his head, with a look of tender and
ineffable admiration.



CHAPTER IV.

FAREWELL.


There followed a time of perfect happiness for Meg, during which, for a
few weeks, she sat by her friend's fireside, watched him at his writing,
listened to his reading, ruled over the meals that he took at home, and
questioned him concerning those that he took abroad.

On a memorable afternoon they celebrated together, with much pomp, over
a banquet of jam puffs and lemonade at a confectioner's shop in the
Tottenham Court Road, the redemption from pawn of his father's gold
watch and chain. Meg again played the part of _Deus ex machina_ in the
transaction, and personally paid the ransom of the precious pledge. In
honor of the event, Mr. Standish presented her with a copy of
Goldsmith's "Animated Nature," with "Meg" printed in gold letters on the
cover. The sight of her name thus honored overcame the child. He
explained to her, when she appeared inclined to rebuke him for
extravagance that the political squib, the jokes which used to have a
depressing effect upon her, had brought him the unlooked-for cash.

Shortly after this festivity Mr. Standish's movements once more became
erratic. Meg could discover no signs, however, of the symptoms that she
feared. He seemed mysteriously elated and full of business, yet he wrote
less. He admitted when she questioned him that something was absorbing
his time, but his answers were evasive concerning the nature of this new
interest. He promised that she would know what it was shortly.

One day Mr. Standish had a long talk with Mrs. Browne over a bottle of
sherry, after which he went out and returned late. The landlady was
maudlinly effusive over Meg that evening, puzzled the child with her
ramblingly affectionate talk, and filled her with vague apprehension.
Mr. Standish's answers to Meg's queries were also unsatisfactory.

A few days later a dandified elderly gentleman wearing a frilled shirt
visited the journalist. As he was leaving Mr. Standish called Meg in,
and introduced her to the visitor as "the child I spoke to you about."
The elderly gentleman looked at her peeringly, with his head on one
side. He chuckled, patted her cheek, and told her if she were a good
girl something wonderful might happen to her. The announcement, far
from cheering Meg, deepened the foreboding in her heart.

That evening she softly entered Mr. Standish's room. A confused dread
seized her when she saw the floor littered with books and papers lying
about in parcels. The journalist was sitting by the fire, abstractedly
poking the embers.

Meg touched his elbow. "Are you not going to write to-night?" she asked
in a low voice.

"Not to-night, Meg. I am going to talk to you instead."

She remained motionless by his chair, questioning him with her glance
only.

Still he did not speak. After a moment or two he said abruptly, "Meg
would you like to go to school?"

"I go to school every day. What do you mean?" she asked, looking at him
with quick suspicion.

"I mean quite another sort of school--one kept by ladies, and where your
schoolfellows would be ladies; where you would make lots of nice
friends; and where you will sleep at night instead of----"

"You mean go away from here--quite?" interrupted Meg, growing pale to
the lips.

"Yes," he answered.

"What do you want me to go away for?" she demanded, a flash of anger in
her eyes.

"Because I do not like to leave you with no one but Mrs. Browne to look
after you; and I am going away."

"When?" she asked tremulously.

"To-morrow."

She gave an exclamation that sounded like a cry.

He drew her to him.

"Listen, Meg. It will make me very unhappy if I think you are fretting
when I am gone. I want my little friend to be brave; she must not fret."

"Where are you going?" she faltered, mastering her emotion.

"I am going to travel and write accounts of what I see, for a newspaper
that will pay me very well. It is a great lift for me, Meg, and I want
you to have your lift also."

She did not speak, but kept her eyes fixed upon his face. He then gently
and guardedly told her that he had got from Mrs. Browne the name of the
family solicitor who paid for her keep. He had gone to see him to speak
of Meg. The elderly gentleman with the frilled shirt, who had patted her
on the head, was the solicitor in question. His name was Mr. Fullbloom.
The young man did not tell the child that he had found out how
shamefully misapplied by the landlady was the allowance she received,
nor did he tell her that he had made in writing a vivid statement of
her forlorn and neglected condition in the boarding-house.

He laid as light stress as he could on the refusal of the solicitor to
give up the name of the child's mysterious patron.

"Some one takes a great interest in you, Meg," he said in conclusion;
"and Mr. Fullbloom came to assure me from that person that you would now
be placed in a first-rate school, where you will have plenty of comrades
of your own age, teachers who will care for you; and you will grow up to
be a little lady, like your mother in the picture."

Meg listened cold and silent to the end.

"Won't you be glad to go to school to be educated?"

"No," she answered, stiffening herself and jerking out her words,
relapsing in her excitement into her old pronunciation. "I will hate
going. I don't want to be edicated. What do I want to be edicated for?
And if you cared for me you would not wish me to go away, you would
not."

Tears stood in her eyes, but anger kept them from falling.

"Do you wish to remain here when I am gone Meg?" he asked.

"No," she replied faintly, as if her heart failed her at the suggestion.
"Why can't I go where you go? Who'll light your fire for you, who'll
look after you? You want somebody to look after you."

"I know it, Meg, and no one would look after me as you would."

"I'd not want much to eat or drink," Meg went on, alive to the
economical side of the question; "and once you said you felt lonely
without me."

"So I will, Meg," he answered, drawing her nearer and keeping his arm
about her. "And it is just because I care for you that I want you to go
to school, that I want you to learn all that can be taught you. I want
your little hands to grow soft, that now are hard with housework for
me."

The child's face worked, but she controlled the rising sob.

"Listen, Meg. It may be in five years, it may be in six years, it may be
when you are a tall, accomplished young girl of eighteen, I shall come
to the school where you are, and--" He paused.

"Take me home to be your housekeeper?" said Meg.

A laugh drifted to his face.

"Better than that. We will be friends, close friends, such friends as
never were, if you go to this school," he said.

"You promise?" said the child, holding him with her eyes.

He nodded. "I promise, Meg."

"Then I will go to that school," she said submissively, putting her hand
into his.

Until eight o'clock, when she usually said good-night, Meg helped Mr.
Standish to pack up. She asked to be allowed to remain up a little
longer, but he refused the petition.

"It is not good-by, Meg; it is good-night only," he said cheerily,
stroking her head; then stooping, he kissed the child's forehead. "God
bless you, little Meg!"

Meg did not go to bed. She made no pretense to undress. She lay on the
floor of her attic all night, letting the solitude of the coming years
pass in anticipation over her heart. In the gray of the morning some
furtive sounds reached her ears, and she sprang up listening. A few
moments after, Mr. Standish, portmanteau in hand, emerged from his room.
A gray little figure stood waiting for him in the dim dawn, as it had
waited for him once before. It was Meg, pressing something to her heart.

"My child, I had hoped, I had planned to avoid this for you," he said.
"I hoped you would be asleep."

[Illustration: MEG PRESENTS THE OLD FASHION-PLATE TO HER FRIEND.--Page
61.]

The child's lips moved, but she did not speak. Abruptly stretching out
the hand that she had held pressed against her bosom she put
something into his. It was the fashion-plate that had been to her as her
mother's portrait.

"Is that for me, Meg?" he asked.

She nodded.

"I'll keep it safe. I'll give it back to you, Meg, when we meet again,"
he replied, tenderly folding the battered print and laying it inside his
pocket-book.

The child kept a stern silence.

"We'll meet again, Meg; I promise you that. Poor little Meg!" he said
feelingly. "It is hard for you; but I will write to you--I will write.
No one will ever care for me as you have cared."

He kissed her, and as still she preserved the stern silence of repressed
grief he turned quickly away. As he ran down he looked back and saw the
child watching him, with her face thrust through the banisters.

He waved his hand to her and smiled. The next moment the hall door
clapped below, and from above there came the sound of sobbing in the
darkness.



CHAPTER V.

A MYSTERIOUS VISIT.


A few days after, in the early afternoon, as Meg was sitting on the
floor in her attic with the bundle of articles given her by Mr. Standish
spread out on her lap, the books he had given her on the floor around
her, the door opened and Mrs. Browne entered.

Meg had been silent and repellent since her friend's departure. She had
lived alone, communing with her grief.

The landlady sat down on the child's bed and began rocking herself
backward and forward, uttering faint moans.

Meg looked at her gravely and apparently unmoved.

"What are you crying for?" she asked at last, when Mrs. Browne's moans
became too emphatic to be passed over in silence.

"I am going to lose you, Meg--after all these years--There's a
gentleman downstairs--waiting to take you away. Oh! oh! oh!" moaned Mrs.
Browne.

"A gentleman--what gentleman?" asked Meg with trembling eagerness, a
light springing to her eyes, for her thoughts had flown to her only
friend.

"A kind gentleman--Mr. Fullbloom--You must remember, Meg, as I always
said--Mr. Fullbloom--pays for you regular--regular as quarter-day comes,
he pays. Remember, as I always said it--And now he's come to take you
away from me--who loves you as a mother."

"Is he coming to take me away to that school?" asked Meg, sitting up
straight, speaking in curt and business-like tones.

"Yes, you're to go to a school--a grander school--a ladies' school--and
you'll forget me, who loved you like a mother."

Meg did not answer. She began to prepare rapidly for her departure. She
was going to the school; and this was the first step toward rejoining
Mr. Standish in the future.

She paid no heed to Mrs. Browne's feeble grieving over the shabbiness of
her wardrobe, her unmended boots, and to the landlady's repeated
injunctions to "speak up for me who has been good to you as a mother to
the gentleman." Every week, Mrs. Browne protested, she had meant to buy
Meg a pretty dress and hat.

"What do I want with a fine dress at school for? I am going to
learn--that's what I am going to do. I am going to be a lady," said Meg
severely, locking the writing-case, a present from Mr. Standish, in
which she had deposited her bundle of articles, and wrapping her books
in brown paper.

"The gentleman says you're to take nothing with you except just what
will go in a little bag," said Mrs. Browne; "and I've brought you my
best hand-bag."

"I'll not go away without these things," said Meg ardently. "I'll not go
to school or nowhere without them."

Mrs. Browne shook her head; but Meg was not to be moved.

A few minutes' later, attired in her Sunday garments, her feet shod in
worn boots, Meg, carrying her parcel, went downstairs, followed by Mrs.
Browne. In the best parlor stood the gentleman she had once seen in Mr.
Standish's room, and to whom she had been introduced as the "little girl
I spoke to you of."

He still wore a frilled shirt and tapped a silver snuffbox, and he
looked at Meg with his head very much on one side.

"Ready to go--ready to go!" he said in a quick chirping voice. "Not
crying, eh? not crying?"

Meg disengaged her hand to take the one proffered to her.

"Can't take that parcel," said Mr. Fullbloom, shaking his head. "Can't
take it."

"Then I won't go away--I won't go to the school without it," said Meg
with fierce decision.

"Tut, tut, tut!" said the lawyer. "What's inside it? Lollipops, eh?
lollipops?"

"No," said Meg, pale with eagerness; "it's books and things--keepsakes.
I'll never part with them--never!"

"Oh, hoity-toity!" said Mr. Fullbloom, then impressed with the child's
resolute look. "Well, well," he added, jerking his head to the other
side, "perhaps we'll find a place for it in the carriage."

Then once more Mrs. Browne lifted up her voice, and weeping embraced
Meg, who submitted to her caress with a certain stiff-backed
irresponsiveness. It is probable that if Meg had been called under other
circumstances to leave the gloomy old boarding-house and the boozy
landlady, about whom clustered all the associations of her childhood,
she would have felt the pang of the uprooting; but an absorbing
affection now filled her little heart, and with it had come new hopes
and ambition.

A brougham was waiting at the door. Into it she stepped, and after her,
Mr. Fullbloom. The next moment she was driving swiftly and silently
along. It was all very strange; yet Meg did not feel surprised. Grief
had lifted her unconsciously to a higher level of expectation; all
unknowingly her attitude toward life was changed.

She was vaguely aware that she was the object of her companion's amused
and attentive observation. For all his waggish ways and darting
movements Mr. Fullbloom had a shrewd and observant mind. He was a
lawyer, accustomed to note with discriminating eye external signs that
gave him the clew to the personality of those with whom he came in
contact. It had grown to be a second nature with him to take note of
appearances. This little maid's imperturbable demeanor before the tears
of Mrs. Browne, her quick, fearless trust in him, her determined
attitude toward the bundle covered with brown paper, piqued his
curiosity, and moved a deeper interest in her than that which he usually
accorded to children. The clear-cut little profile, he acknowledged, had
a character of its own. Meg's attitude, as she sat upright and somewhat
stiffly, partook of the same individuality. Mr. Fullbloom noted every
detail of the child's dress--the well-worn turban hat crowning the
brown crop of hair, the shabby velveteen dress, the weather-beaten
jacket with its border of mangy fur, the old boots, the darned worsted
gloves covering the hands that clasped the parcel.

"I think I know a little girl who is not very sorry to leave the old
house--not sorry," he said at last, stooping forward and cocking his
head with that bird-like swiftness.

"I want to go to that school. Are we going there now?" inquired Meg.

"Perhaps we are--perhaps we are not--perhaps we are going to a fairy
palace," replied Mr. Fullbloom with a suggestive sidelong glance.

Meg looked at him smilelessly.

"There are no fairies," she said curtly. "Am I going to that school?"

"Before I tell I want to know who gave you those keepsakes--who was it?
The clever young gentleman who took such an interest in little Miss Meg,
and who had set his heart so much upon her going to school--was it?"
said Mr. Fullbloom facetiously, laying his hand upon the bundle.

"Mr. Standish," answered Meg softly; and the lawyer was astonished at
the emotion perceptible on the child's face. It seemed to quiver like
the chords of a harp upon which a hand is laid.

The silence was broken, and the lawyer began to question. Meg was
guarded and reticent in her monosyllabic replies; but by a few leading
questions the lawyer got from her what he wished to know.

He became satisfied that the picture Mr. Standish had drawn of her
isolation, neglect, and half-servile position in the boarding-house was
unexaggerated. His veiled cross-examination was scarcely concluded
before the brougham drew up before a large house overlooking a square,
in which tall trees cast their shade athwart the smoothly shaven turf.

"Was this grand house the lady's school?" thought Meg.

A solemn man in black opened the door; an imposing being in a
gold-buttoned coat, plush breeches, and silk stockings came forward, and
Meg by a dexterous move just rescued her parcel from his officious
clutches.

Mr. Fullbloom led her into a side room, saying as he left her that he
would be back immediately. The firelight glowed upon frames and mirrors,
delicate porcelains, and blue satin hangings. For a few moments the
little Cinderella figure remained standing immobile amid these
surroundings, lost in wonder, then the lawyer returned, and taking her
by the hand conducted her upstairs.

Who was she going to see now? Was she about to be brought before the
master or mistress of this fairy palace?

Meg was aware of passing through a room larger and more splendid than
the one she had just left. Then Mr. Fullbloom pushed open a door and
ushered her into another room furnished with bookcases filled with
books, a long table, and dark leather chairs.

An old gentleman was sitting there. His chair was against the window, so
that his face was in shadow, but his white hair shone. He was leaning
back; there was something rigid in his attitude; his long white hands
grasped the arms of the chair.

"Here is the little girl," said Mr. Fullbloom.

The white-haired gentleman made no sign of greeting, and did not speak
for a moment; but a close observer might have noticed, even in that
half-light, a slight twitch of the old hand.

"You are the little girl who spent all your life in Mrs. Browne's
boarding-house?" he said at last, abruptly.

"Yes, sir," said Meg with a quiver in her voice.

In her heart she thought the elderly gentleman was not to be compared in
appearance with the glittering footman; but his chill stare seemed to
freeze her.

"You remember no other place? You have never been to another?" he asked.

"I remember other places, but I have never lived in another place," said
Meg with her usual accuracy.

"What is your name?"

"Meg."

"Meg what?"

"Browne," said Meg.

"No, that is not your name. Beecham is your name. Don't
forget--Beecham."

"Beecham?" repeated Meg, amazed.

"Take off your hat!" said her interlocutor.

Meg lifted her left hand to obey, but the elastic caught in her hair,
and she put her precious parcel down to free her right hand.

"You were to take nothing out of that house," said the old gentleman
sternly.

"I won't give them up--I won't!" cried Meg with kindling countenance,
and with hands outstretched to protect her parcel.

"You won't!" repeated the old gentleman with frozen severity. Mr.
Fullbloom bent over his chair. There was a whispered colloquy. Then the
old gentleman said in a voice that might have been that of an audible
icicle: "You may keep those things if you do not ask for anything
else."

"I do not want anything else," said Meg with energy.

"Turn to the light."

Meg, all rebellion smoothed from her countenance, turned, obedient as a
light-haunting flower, toward the gleam of sunshine filtering through
the heavy curtains. The light fell caressingly on the spirited little
face in its renewed quietude.

"That will do," said the old gentleman; and he fell into a brooding
silence.

"This little girl wants to grow up a learned little lady--a learned
little lady," put in Mr. Fullbloom cheerily after a pause.

"Yes, that is what I want to be," answered Meg with an eager nod.

"If you are sent to school," resumed the stranger sternly, bending on
the child a glance that seemed to her to be one of aversion, "you must
promise never to speak of that time spent in the boarding-house. You are
to forget everything that happened there, and everybody you met there."

"I'll not forget every one. There is one person I will never
forget--never," replied Meg with energy.

"Mr. Standish, the young man who was her friend. Can't ask her to forget
him yet--can't do that," put in Mr. Fullbloom in a tone of jaunty
conciliation, shaking his head. "I feel sure Meg will not speak about
him."

"I don't want to talk about him," said Meg, her voice instinct with the
sacredness of her affection.

"Do you know how to read?" asked the old gentleman.

"Yes," replied Meg briefly.

Her mysterious questioner opened a volume, turned rapidly over the pages
until he came to one where a chapter ended. He passed his forefinger
over the page with a heaviness that widened the delicate nail.

"When a chapter is done, it is done--you turn the page." He suited the
action to the words and brought his palm down upon the book. "You
understand?" Meg nodded. "You begin another chapter--the first chapter
of your life is finished--you understand?" Again Meg nodded. "It was an
ugly chapter--it remains with you to make the next chapter a better and
a finer one."

"I will not talk of anybody or of anything; but I will always think of
one person," persisted Meg, intent upon making the conditions of the
bargain clear between her and this stranger.

"I cannot dictate to your thoughts," he replied. "I want you to promise
not to speak about the past. What will you say when you are questioned
concerning it by teachers, schoolfellows, or servants?"

"I'll tell them it's none of their business, that's what I will tell
them," said Meg, with spirit and a relapse into a pronunciation that
savored more of Mrs. Browne's than of Mr. Standish's influence.

Mr. Fullbloom chuckled, but the old man remained smileless.

"I have nothing more to add; take the child away," he said.

Mr. Fullbloom put out his hand to Meg. She hesitated, looking toward the
old gentleman to say good-by.

Once more the child encountered a glance that seemed to freeze her with
its mysterious dislike and she went out in silence.



CHAPTER VI.

MISS REEVES' ESTABLISHMENT FOR YOUNG LADIES.


Moorhouse was a red brick mansion of Elizabethan architecture, standing
on the outskirts of the old-fashioned town of Greyling, nestling under a
misty embattlement of distant downs. Tracts of ferny solitudes and
clumps of woodland lay beyond, cloven by the long straight road that led
Londonward. It was difficult to imagine that such rural peacefulness
could be found at thirty miles distance from the big metropolis.

Moorhouse was a boarding-school for young ladies. It had gained a high
reputation under the direction of its present head-mistress, Miss
Reeves, a middle-aged lady of dignified appearance.

It was to Moorhouse Mr. Fullbloom was taking Meg. The child had never
gone on a railway journey. The shriek and whistle of the engine as the
train dashed along startled her. She felt whirled forward as by a
demoniac force, and the pant of the engine seemed to her like the
audible heart-beat of some dread monster. She sat rigid and silent in
the corner by the window as she passed out of the station across the
bridge-spanned river, past squalid streets and roofs crowding below. At
last she emerged into more airy and peaceful surroundings. The speed and
pant still filled the limpid daylight with terror; but Meg fought
against her unstrung nerves and compelled herself to look out of the
window. She was passing through a pageantry of meadows lying in the mild
sunshine of the March afternoon; of cows grazing, of a pallid golden
light in the sky, veiled with fleecy purple clouds. She heard the
passing chirp of birds; she caught glimpses of leafless woods spreading
a tracery of boughs against the brightness of the sky. There were banks
flickering with suggestions of primroses under the hedges; undulating
greenswards losing themselves in blue distances. Through the terror of
that ride the influence of nature brought comfort to her heart. An
exhilarating sense that she was traveling to a better land overcame
fear. A house in the distance, perched on a height, with the sunlight on
its windows, appeared to her a type of that school to which she was
journeying; a sort of magic academy where she would grow worthy of
becoming Mr. Standish's friend.

Mr. Fullbloom coughed and Meg turned her head. She caught the amused
glance of her traveling companion fixed upon her. The solicitor had been
dividing his attention between his paper and the child by his side. Meg
had been unconscious of his investigation.

"Reach the school soon now," said the lawyer with his accustomed airy
nod.

"I am glad of it," replied Meg.

"Want to be a learned little lady, eh?"

"Yes, that is just what I want to be," Meg answered in an eager tone;
"learned as a lady."

"Well, so you will be--excellent school that of Miss Reeves--learn to
dance, play the piano, to speak French, German--any amount of
accomplishments. Bless me, there will be no talking to you in a year or
two. Have to study hard, though."

Meg nodded in token of her readiness to face any amount of study.

"Don't forget your name--Beecham--it is not Browne. Madam was not your
mother, or for the matter of that any relation," said the lawyer.

"I knew she was not my mother," said Meg in a low voice.

"No, indeed; light and darkness could not be more unlike."

"You knew my mother?" cried Meg, a flush kindling her cheeks.

"I knew her a little," replied the lawyer guardedly. "You are like her
about the mouth and eyes."

"I am not a bit like her," Meg answered in a tone of offense. "She was
beautiful--like an angel."

"Yes, she was beautiful," acquiesced Mr. Fullbloom.

Meg looked at the lawyer with a new expression. A halo surrounded his
brow, for he had seen her mother.

"Did the old gentleman I saw to-day know her too?" she asked softly.

The lawyer put up his finger and wagged his head.

"Little girls must not ask questions. They must be seen, not heard," he
replied, taking up his paper and growing absorbed in its contents.

He did not speak again until the train shortly after stopped at Greyling
station.

Before long they had reached Moorhouse, and the door had opened for Meg.
As she passed through the portal of the red brick mansion she felt as if
she stood upon the threshold of a sanctuary. This sense deepened when, a
few moments later, she was confronted by a majestic lady, whom the
lawyer introduced to her as Miss Reeves, who looked at her kindly and
scrutinizingly. After a low-voiced colloquy with Mr. Fullbloom at the
other end of the room, Miss Reeves took her by the hand, saying:

"Your guardian has confided you to my care. I hope, my dear child, that
we may both learn soon to love and trust each other."

Meg took with confidence the extended hand. Shortly after, Mr. Fullbloom
bade her an airy farewell, and she followed Miss Reeves into a room
where a meal was going on.

"Miss Grantley and Madame Vallaria," said the head-mistress addressing
the two ladies sitting at either end of the table, "let me introduce to
you a new pupil, and to you, young ladies, a new school-fellow--Miss
Margaret Beecham. Ursula Grey, let her sit beside you; look after her,
she is a stranger."

The room swam around Meg as she took her seat near a girl with a
pleasant rosy face and bright eyes shining behind a pair of
clever-looking spectacles. The child fancied she detected muffled
exclamations, and that on all sides a stare was turned upon her which
was not friendly.

The young ladies appeared to her beautifully dressed. They wore pretty
brooches and necklaces of colored beads; their shining hair fell about
their necks, and they had delicate bits of lace round their throats and
wrists. One girl appeared to Meg so beautiful that she forgot everything
in the delight of looking at her.

She was roused by a nudge of the elbow.

"Miss Grantley is speaking to you," said her spectacled neighbor. The
young lady's lips were quivering with restrained smiles.

"Miss Beecham, will you take a glass of milk or a cup of cocoa?" said
the lady at the head of the table.

Meg looked blankly in the direction of the speaker.

"Is not your name Beecham?" said this lady with a shade of annoyance in
her voice.

Meg shook her head in the negative; then suddenly remembering the
warning she had received not to forget:

"Yes--Beecham--that's my name," she said hurriedly, with the vivid nod
that usually accompanied her assertions.

A titter went round the table.

"Hush!" said Miss Grantley severely.

Meg sat stiff and upright.

"Will you have milk or cocoa?" repeated Miss Grantley.

"Cocoa," blurted out Meg with monosyllabic brevity, in her confusion
forgetting her manners.

She was intensely aware of the nudgings going on around her; of subdued
fits of laughter shaking some of the young ladies; of the surprised
stare of others. She caught Miss Grantley's cold glance.

Meg seized with both hands the cup passed on to her and hurriedly gulped
down some of its contents.

As she put it down she again encountered shocked and amazed glances. An
embarrassed misgiving fell upon her. Breaking her bread into small
morsels she slowly munched, gazing down into her plate.

When she became aware of a general pushing back of chairs and of rising
about her, Meg stood up. She knew the teacher was saying grace. Her
spectacled neighbor then nodded.

"Come along," she said, and Meg followed.

The girls were pouring into another room. They at once surrounded Meg.
The whispers became audible.

"Who is she?"

"Who brought her?"

"Where did she come from?"

To Meg's surprise, one of the girls approached her and said with
familiar cordiality:

"What is your name--your real name, I mean?"

"My real name?" repeated Meg. She was standing inflexibly upright near a
table.

"The name you were called by before to-day?" said her interrogator.

"You did not recognize your name when you were called Beecham--what is
your real name?" said another.

Meg did not answer for a moment. She remembered her promise to the
mysterious white-haired stranger. Then she said huskily:

"What does it signify what name I had before?"

Again she paused.

"Then you had another name?" said the pretty girl in a thin, high voice.
"How very romantic!"

"Don't tease her--what does it signify?" put in Ursula.

"What does it signify?" was repeated all round in what Meg fancied a not
unkindly tone. She took courage.

"What is in a name?" demanded one of the girls.

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet would it not?" said
another.

"Yes," said Meg, bewildered.

"Where did you live!" questioned one.

Meg remained mute. Again her promise to the mysterious stranger sealed
her lips.

"Up a tree," suggested one.

"Second branch," said another with a laugh.

"Letters to you came addressed 'Miss What's-her-name, second branch,
fourth tree, on the right side of the road,'" cried a third.

This description of Meg's late abode was greeted by peals of laughter.

"Visitors climbed up," suggested another.

"Why do you say those things?" asked Meg, looking round on the laughing
faces. "I am come here to learn lessons--to grow up to be a lady. That's
what I come for."

"A lady!" echoed all around her.

"A lady is born a lady," said a tall girl who had not spoken hitherto.
She had a high nose and a voice of ice.

"My mother was a lady," said Meg.

"Your mother!" was echoed all around.

Meg did not answer; words seemed to tremble on her lips as she gazed on
her tormentors.

"Is your dress her taste?" asked one.

"Did she teach you to say 'Cocoa' like that, without saying 'if you
please'?" asked another, mimicking Meg's answer to Miss Grantley.

"My mother taught me nothing--she is dead," said Meg slowly.

There was a pause.

Then the tormentors began again.

"Are you sure you would know a lady if you saw one?"

"Would you call the grocer's wife a lady because she wears a silk
dress?" demanded the Roman-nosed young lady in her chilly voice.

"No," said Meg with concentration.

"Does a lady go about playing the street-organ?" asked a fat,
stupid-faced girl.

"No," again said Meg fiercely. Then addressing the assembly generally,
but looking especially at the high-nosed young lady, she went on:
"Why do you want to know all those things about me? It's idle
curiosity--that's what I call it. And if my dress is ugly, what is that
to you? I come here to learn lessons and to be a lady."

"But do you know what it is to be a lady?" replied the girl.

"One is born, not made a lady," said another.

"If," said Meg, trembling with energy, looking round on her persecutors,
"to be a born lady makes one laugh at another because she's badly
dressed, and to mock her because she's not got fine manners, then to be
a born lady is to be vulgar and cruel--that's what I think."

For a moment there was silence; then the stupid-looking girl, coming
close to Meg and thrusting her face near hers, said in a jeering drawl:

"I saw you and your mother selling matches in Bond Street last Easter
holidays. Your mother had a red handkerchief round her head and a monkey
under her arm."

"That is a falsehood!" said Meg. Up flashed the little brown hand and
came down with a slap on the dull, mocking face.

There was a hubbub.

Cries of "She's a savage!" "A gypsy!"

"We will tell Miss Reeves," was vociferated on all sides.

Above the tumult rose the voice of Ursula:

"You deserved that slap, Laura Harris. Miss Beecham had told us her
mother was dead. She has been teased too much."

A bell sounded and the head-mistress, followed by the other teachers and
the servants, entered the room.

"Silence, young ladies," said Miss Reeves.

Prayer-time had come at Moorhouse.



CHAPTER VII.

AT SCHOOL.


Meg was going through the ordeal that her friend had set for her, and
she strung herself to endurance. She felt she was tabooed by these
fashionable young ladies, and she fiercely anticipated their neglect.
She avoided them; she rejected Ursula's advances with impatience.

For awhile some of the girls felt a temptation to bait this little
badger, but at last either the freshness or the excitement of the sport
died away. Perhaps, too, a certain amount of fear restrained them. The
slap administered to Laura Harris had made an impression, and it was
considered advisable not to goad the "savage" beyond bounds. Meg after
awhile was very much left alone.

She was an outcast, and she felt homesick for the London cage from which
she had flitted, and which the presence of a friend had cheered. For the
first time, also, she realized her ignorance, and with resolute heroism
she set herself to learn. She worked with astonishing zeal. At her
books and lessons Meg did not feel so lonely. At church and in her walks
through the pleasant country lanes the sense of her absolute isolation
was lifted. In recreation hours she sat apart from her schoolfellows.
There was a yew tree on the outskirts of the playground into which she
climbed to read Goldsmith's "Animated Nature." She began its perusal for
the sake of the donor; then, gradually, this book of wonder fascinated
her. The description it gave of strange, beautiful creatures, of birds
especially, enthralled her. She gathered from the pages hints of
far-away countries that called to her like a voice. This little
town-bred heart was seized with a passionate love of nature and a
foolish love of wild flowers. As she formed one of the regiment of girls
who tramped, two and two, through the country lanes, the beauty of
nature seemed to comfort Meg as if the touch of a reassuring hand were
laid upon her heart. She would almost forget, then, that she was an
object of mockery or patronage to her fellows. In the beautiful old
church she felt nearly happy. "I am out of school," she would say to
herself. The voice of the organ took her immensely. It seemed to be a
voice talking to God. She liked the clergyman also. He was an old
gentleman who appeared to her to be endowed with great benevolence. She
thought his sermons marvels of eloquence. When, in answer to her long
stare, his eye sometimes rested upon her, she felt immensely
distinguished and honored.

The teachers of Moorhouse were as much puzzled concerning Meg as were
the girls. She knew so much of some subjects and so little of others.
Miss Reeves, after a careful examination of the new pupil's
acquirements, declared that Meg might beat the girls of the upper class
in knowledge of some parts of history, and in familiarity with some of
Shakespeare's plays; while the lower classes might overmaster her in the
elements of arithmetic, geography, and other subjects.

Mr. Foster, the arithmetic master, a lank man with a large nose and a
long neck, who looked like an innocent vulture, and who had never been
known to give a bad mark, contenting himself with feebly rubbing out the
mistakes on the slates presented to him, was bewildered by Meg's
absolute ignorance of the rules of arithmetic, and by her dependence
upon her fingers for counters.

"Miss Beecham is a _table-rase_, as was the great philosopher Descartes
before he began to observe for the sake of his method," said the
professor to Miss Reeves, with forefinger uplifted, for Mr. Foster was
proud of making little pedantic jokes.

Madame Vallaria, the middle-aged lady who superintended the music of the
establishment, teaching piano and singing from morning till night, was
divided between admiration for Meg's correct ear and determination to
learn, and despair over the stiffness of her fingers and her ignorance
of the first elements of music. The signora was hot-tempered; her nerves
were jarred by listening to incessant practice.

"No, no, it is impossible! I will not teach you--I will refuse--I will
say to Miss Reeves that I cannot!" She sometimes exclaimed, addressing
Meg: "Your fingers are like the chop sticks the Chinese do use for
eating. You thump--thump--thump! I hear it in my sleep. It ever gives me
the nightmare." Sometimes Mme. Vallaria relented and with voluble
heartiness would exclaim: "Oh, Povera! your leetle heart is set to
learn; you are so courageous; and your ear it is exact, like a machine
made to catch the sounds. Yes, I will teach you--you shall learn it
yet--the piano--never fear!"

Mr. Eyre, the shy and eminent professor who came down twice a week from
London to take classes of history and English literature of younger and
elder pupils, would alternately pass from delight to annoyance at Meg's
answers. Her indifference to dates appeared to him a sort of moral
deficiency--it amounted to contempt. Her power of realizing historical
facts and characters in which she took an interest was vivid, as if she
had been a spectator of the events described, and had a personal
acquaintance with the actors therein. He vowed she spoke of Julius Cæsar
as if she knew him, and of his murder as if it had happened yesterday
and was the subject of a leader in this morning's _Times_. He was
appalled and puzzled, he exhorted, he raged; but his eye rested
expectantly upon Meg when her companions floundered behind, and the
dullness of the class was relieved for him by the audacity of her
answers.

"You ought to go up to London to see the coronation," he said to her one
day when the theme of the lesson was Queen Elizabeth's reign, and Meg
surpassed herself in the brilliancy of her descriptive replies and the
astounding incorrectness of her dates.

"What coronation?" asked Meg.

"That of Queen Elizabeth."

"But she is dead and buried in Westminster Abbey," Meg rejoined blankly,
being dismally dense in apprehending a joke.

"Is she?" replied Mr. Eyre with feigned astonishment, and as was his
wont when he bantered his pupils, he set about biting what remained of
his nails and scribbled the lessons to be learned in the following week.

"Let her go on! She will go forever and ever backward till she is
stopped by the pyramid of Ghizeh!" he remarked another day as Meg placed
the date of Cromwell a century too early, and was sending it back
another hundred years when she found she was wrong.

Miss Grantley, the English and geography teacher to the younger class,
was antagonistically chilly in her treatment of Meg. The child felt she
was disliked, and with that precise and unsympathetic teacher her
deficiencies came out flagrantly. Signora Vallaria's voluble wailings,
Dr. Grey's jokes, did not dispirit Meg as did Miss Grantley's frosty
censoriousness.

Meg was solitary, and in her solitude she grew defiant and repellent.
Her heart suffered from the atmosphere of repression. As far as outward
appearances went she resembled her comrades; she was dressed like her
fellow-pupils, her wardrobe having been replenished under Miss Reeves'
direction; but inwardly she was not of them. She sat among them like an
owl among sparrows.

She observed them. As she had watched the hubbub of the lodging-house,
so she now watched the routine of the school. The girls of the first
class, tall, elegantly dressed, appeared to her like young goddesses.

Some of those nodded to her kindly as they passed, and she returned the
salute awkwardly without a smile.

Among the girls who had tormented her on her first night, a group,
headed by Miss Rosamond Pinkett, the cold-eyed, straight-backed,
Roman-nosed young lady, kept up an aggressive attitude. It still
appeared to Miss Pinkett that a degradation had been inflicted on the
school by the introduction of the "savage," and she ignored Meg with
contemptuous coldness. This young lady's bosom friend, Gwendoline
Lister, the beauty of the school, had a nature addicted to romance. Her
mind was like a story-book in which every page contained a thrilling
incident of which she was usually the heroine.

The sudden appearance of Meg, in a costume that suggested the dress of a
poor tradesman's child, her fierce refusal to betray anything concerning
her antecedents except the reiteration that her mother was a lady, fired
the beauty's fancy. Meg, she imagined, was the scion of a noble family,
stolen by gypsies, found at last, and sent here to be educated.

"Daughter of a ballet-dancer, my dear, you mean," Miss Pinkett said with
an icy sniff. "That ridiculous drawing speaks volumes."

The drawing to which Miss Pinkett alluded, and from which the Beauty had
evolved her romance, was an attempt made by Meg to repeat from memory
that dear fashion plate, which she had given away.

She had rudely drawn a small-mouthed, large-eyed face, the head wreathed
with roses, the dress covered with roses. Underneath she had written in
Roman characters, "My mother." This drawing had been found in
Goldsmith's "Animated Nature," taken out by prying fingers, and had been
passed from hand to hand. Where others had found food for mockery, Miss
Lister had found food for her imagination.

Meg had come on the scene as Miss Pinkett was in the act of examining
the sketch. With a cry she had snatched it out of the enemy's grasp,
and, tearing it to bits, she had flung herself from the presence of the
girls.

Ursula continued the defense of the stranger, and made advances to Meg,
which the child persistently refused.

"Why won't you take my sweets?" Ursula asked once in a piqued tone.

"I don't want them," said Meg with jerky abruptness.

"Why? Is it because you have none to give in return?" demanded Ursula
bluntly.

"I don't want them--that is all!" answered Meg.

"It is pride--nothing but pride!" said Ursula, turning away with a
displeased gleam of her spectacles.

A few days later an incident happened which showed that Meg was not all
indifferent to kindness. The spring had come and decked with lavish
waste of blossoms disgraced corners as well as more favored places. It
had rimmed with a fringe of velvet wallflower the top of the arid garden
wall. The orange and brown blooms spread in the sunlight, swayed in the
breeze, attracted the murmuring bees, and sang the praise of spring in
delicate wafts of perfume.

"How delicious those wallflowers smell," said Ursula, sniffing the air
with head thrown back. "It is a shame they should be unpluckable. I wish
I had a handful."

Meg heard the wish as she sat perched on the yew tree. When Ursula
turned away she abandoned her leafy throne, and swung herself from one
of the branches on to the trellis that covered the wall. It was a high
wall, but she climbed it with the precision of a woodland animal, here
grasping the trellis, there planting her foot on some bit of projecting
masonry. "You'll fall!" cried a chorus of voices. "To climb that wall is
absolutely forbidden, Miss Beecham," called out Miss Pinkett's voice. "I
will go and tell Miss Grantley," cried Laura Harris, setting off at a
run. Meg, undismayed by warnings and threats, pursued her quest.

A moment later Ursula felt a gentle touch on the elbow, and a fragrant
bunch of brown blossoms was thrust into her hand.

"Meg, you did not!" she cried with amazed spectacles, gazing at the
child, who bore marks of her recent encounter with the perils of the
wall.

Meg nodded.

Ursula buried her nose into the flowers with a hesitating expression as
Miss Grantley came up, followed by girls.

"Miss Beecham, go indoors at once! You shall stay in this afternoon for
this unlady-like and disobedient conduct. Ursula, those flowers must be
given up!"

[Illustration: MEG PULLS THE FORBIDDEN FLOWERS.--Page 94.]

Meg went indoors without a murmur, and zealously devoted herself to the
task set her as expiation of her offense. She took pleasure in its
difficulty. She was glad the day was so beautiful, that the room was
full of sunshine, and the wandering puffs of wind brought in messages
from the odorous sweetness of the day. She was proud of being punished
for Ursula's sake. It seemed to put her on a more equal footing, as if
repaying her for past kindness.

Another incident that followed shortly after the wall-climbing episode
proved that Meg's sense of loyalty survived amid the withering influence
of loveless criticisms around her.

Miss Gwendoline Lister, because of her beauty, was a personality in the
school. She suffered the penalties of celebrity. Stories were current
concerning her. One averred that she had been found dissolved in tears
on the discovery of a freckle upon her nose. Another rumor was current
that the Beauty spent the afternoon of wet half-holidays locked up in
the room she and Miss Pinkett shared in common arranging and dressing
her hair in various fashions, enhancing her charms with rouge and
powder, and trying on her ball dress.

Perhaps this report arose from the fact of a rouge pot having been found
in the school. Some averred it was the property of Miss Lister, others
declared its contents had been used by the young ladies who had taken
part in a theatrical entertainment given on the occasion of breaking up
for the holidays.

Meg, in her isolation, took no interest in the "rouge pot controversy."
One afternoon, to her surprise, she was beckoned by Miss Pinkett into
the room shared by her and Gwendoline.

The Beauty was standing near the dressing-table, a radiant vision
clothed in white, with hair unbound, wreathed with roses, and with roses
in the bodice of her dress.

For a moment Meg remained struck dumb with admiration, then came a
sudden revolution. In her wide experience of life in the boarding-house
she had known an obscure member of the theatrical profession. This
little slip of the foot lights, who spent her life in alternate squalor
and fairy-like splendor, had on one or two occasions dressed herself up
for Meg's benefit. The child had grown to know cheeks bedabbled with
paint and eyes outlined with bismuth. The face of Miss Lister brought
back this acquaintance of bygone times.

"Well, what do I look like?" said Gwendoline, with her head cocked on
one side and her finger-tips caressing the roses in her bodice. "You
know, little monkey, you are not to tell."

Miss Pinkett watched the effect on Meg with cold curiosity.

"You look much prettier as you are every day," said Meg.

"Do I look like your mother?"

"My mother!" repeated the child, and she began to tremble.

"I copied the portrait you drew, roses and all," said the Beauty.

"My mother never painted her cheeks; she never put black under her eyes.
You are like a Christy minstrel painted pink and white--that's what you
are like!" said Meg, with the concentration of fury in her voice. She
turned, unlocked the door, and slammed it behind her.

As she emerged out of the room the dressing bell for tea rang, and she
encountered a group of girls waiting outside. They cried breathlessly:

"What are they doing inside?"

"Is not Gwendoline dressing up? Does she rouge her cheeks?"

"I saw a bit of a white dress."

"I did--I did! Tell us, Meg--Meg!"

But Meg did not answer. She tore along the passage and up the stairs
till she came to a solitary attic. She flung herself down on the floor
and hammered the insensate boards with her fists. In her untamed heart
she would have wished to wipe the insult from her mother's memory by
thus maltreating the painted cheeks of Miss Lister.

When the tea bell rang Meg went downstairs.

"Where are Miss Pinkett and Miss Lister?" asked Miss Reeves, after she
had said grace, glancing down the table.

"They have not come down yet from their room, madam," said the attending
parlor-maid.

"Miss Lister is dressing up. Miss Beecham was there--she knows," said
Laura Harris, who might be relied upon for giving information on the
doings of the other girls.

"Miss Beecham knows!" repeated some other voices.

"Miss Lister puts paint on her cheeks," resumed Laura, growing more
explicit.

"I hope not!" said Miss Reeves, with an anxious brow, and her eye rested
upon Meg.

"I heard it said before by Miss Reeves' young laidees," put in Signora
Vallaria, rolling her dark eyes. "Tell, my leetle Meg, what they were
doing, the silly young laidees, when they call you in?"

At this moment Miss Pinkett and Gwendoline entered. The Beauty's face
was shining with soap.

"What were you doing in your room, young ladies?" asked Miss Reeves
gravely.

"I suppose, madam, Miss Beecham has been telling," replied Miss Pinkett.

"No, we are waiting for her answer to the question I have just put to
you."

Meg was conscious of every eye being turned upon her--Miss Reeves
sternly questioning, Miss Pinkett coldly supercilious, Gwendoline, with
pursed lips, imploring. She stood up, her little red lips closed
tightly, her heart fiercely divided between a desire for vengeance and a
sense of loyalty. After a pause she said:

"They called me into the room to make fun of a portrait of my mother
which I had drawn."

A murmur of comical disappointment from the girls round the table, an
expression of relief on the faces of the two culprits, greeted this
answer.

"It was such an absurd portrait, madam," said Miss Pinkett in an
explanatory tone; "a lady suffering from the mumps wearing a wreath of
roses."

A titter went round the table.

"Hush!" said Miss Reeves seriously. "It is unkind to laugh at the child.
Sit down, young ladies."

"It was awfully good of you, Meg, not to tell about me," said Gwendoline
that evening, when she got Meg alone. "I am awfully obliged. I am sorry
I offended you. Will you forgive me?"

"No!" said Meg emphatically, turning her back upon the Beauty and
walking stiffly away.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE SCHOOL ANNUAL.


Ursula had founded the "Moorhouse Annual." The volume appeared every
year just before the midsummer holidays. It consisted of poems and
stories by the young ladies, copied in Miss Clara Maxton's beautiful
copperplate writing, and edited by Ursula.

Ursula was editress, illustrator, and chief contributor. The history of
the courtship, squabbles, friendships, and adventures of Mr. Gander and
Miss Chilblane, chiefly related in pen-and-ink drawings, with
commentaries appended beneath, by Ursula, was a leading feature of the
periodical.

The would-be contributors to the annual usually assembled some Saturday
afternoon in May, to read aloud their MSS. and submit them to the
editorial judgment.

The important Saturday had arrived, and Ursula and her staff were
assembled, with Miss Reeves' permission, in the smaller schoolroom.
Ursula sat at the head of the table in an impressive armchair; the
spectacles astride her _retroussé_ nose seemed critically brilliant.

Meg slunk in, and sat at the window within earshot.

Gwendoline had asked her on entering, MS. in hand, if she was going to
read a story. "I am sure you could write a most bewitching story about
that beautiful lady," the Beauty had averred.

"No, no, no!" said Meg, retreating into the veranda.

She had crept back in time to hear Laura Harris read her tale. It
appeared to be the history of a confectioner, who owned a famous
west-end shop, which was in vogue with the fashionable and wealthy.
Ladies sat there and feasted. The description of its charms had
apparently such an overwhelming attraction for the authoress that she
could not prevail on her pen to quit it and pass on with her story.
There was a gigantic wedding-cake, with a sugar-almond top, fully a yard
high. The cream puffs, the jam tarts, the ices, the chocolates, the
sweets were piled on with profusion.

The conclusion of this story was not arrived at.

Ursula rapped the table with her paper-knife.

"Story declined with thanks," she said briefly.

"Why?" asked Laura indignantly.

"Because, notwithstanding the delicious cakes, we consider it in bad
taste," replied Ursula, using the editorial "we" with fine effect.

"Miss Grant, have you a story to submit to us for the forthcoming
annual?"

Miss Grant had made a hit the year before by her story of "The Ghostly
Postman," who knocked in the ordinary way, and sent summons of death by
the letter box.

An audible shiver ran through the audience as she now unrolled her MS.,
and in a deep voice read the title--"The Midnight Yell."

The story told of a beautiful country house, on a moor, in which there
was a haunted chamber. Whoever entered that room at night never came out
alive. At midnight a yell would ring through the mansion--unearthly,
blood curdling. When the chamber was broken into the guest was always
found dead, with arms outstretched and eyes starting out of their
sockets. Who uttered that midnight yell?--was it the living or the dead?
The visitor or the ghost? None could tell. Some said it was an old hag
who haunted the chamber, some said it was a beautiful white lady; but it
was generally reported to be a murdered queen.

A sigh greeted this story.

"Accepted," said Ursula, in a business-like tone.

"Will it be illustrated?" inquired the authoress anxiously.

"Yes; probably with a spectral donkey braying," said Ursula.

"Oh, no, I cannot allow that!" said the authoress.

"We decline to hold communications about the MSS., refused or accepted,"
replied Ursula, bringing her paper-knife sharply down upon the table.

"Miss Lister's story," she demanded.

"It is entitled," said Gwendoline in a falsetto voice, "'The Lover's
Grave.'" The Beauty proceeded to read how a gypsy with weird, mystic,
somber eyes, and serpent-like, coiling, blue-black hair, had scanned the
shell-like palm of a lovely Venetian maiden with golden tresses, and
warned her with strange fatal mutterings that to her love and death
would come hand in hand. Careless of the muttered prophecy, the Venetian
damsel with hair like bullion, and clad in a rich violet velvet gown,
and with a necklace of pearls clasped about her lily-white throat, set
off every morning in her gondola to look for the gallant whom she could
love. One day the predicted lover came in another gondola; he was
beautiful as Apollo. His mustache was long and silky, his eyes liquid
and violet; he had an air of combined tenderness and strength. The
gondolas drifted toward each other, impelled by fate. The lady rose
impulsively; so did the gentleman. They endeavored to embrace. As they
did so, both fell into the water. For awhile they floated on the
blue-green flood, smiling seraphically at each other, then they subsided
gracefully, and were drowned, and ever after that spot was called "The
Lovers' Grave."

"It will make a pretty picture," said Ursula. "I can see the two
drowning with that set seraphic smile, as if they liked it."

"Yes," said Gwendoline, who never saw a joke, "it will make a lovely
picture."

"I have written a poem," said Miss Blanche Hathers modestly, taking out
a roll of paper tied with bows of pink satin ribbon.

A hum of approbation greeted this announcement.

"Go on," said Ursula, with the freezing brevity of the editor.

"The poem is called 'A Lament,' perhaps it might be more appropriately
called 'A Deserted Maiden's Prayer.'"

Ursula nodded. Miss Hathers began effectively:

    "Oh! star of even
     My heart is riven,
     Come thou down and shine
     In these eyes of mine;
    'Twill draw him back."

Ursula, forgetting editorial dignity, completed the couplet, amid
giggles and laughter:

    "And his cheek I'll smack."

The discomfited poetess folded up her effusion. The next line was:

    "On dreamy track,"

and it was only the first verse.

    "'Twill draw him back,
     On dreamy track."

she repeated in an injured voice.

"Never mind on what track--we must shunt him," said Ursula with
decision. "Any more MSS.?" she inquired, scanning the assembled
contributors.

There came a rustle of many pages.

Miss Margaret Smith submitted the story of "The First Ball-dress," which
had a high moral; it was accepted, and was voted lovely. Miss Sarah
Robbins contributed "The Vampire Schoolmistress," an awful tale of a
teacher, whose pupils all died mysteriously--"sucked like oranges,"
Ursula suggested. One young lady gave an account of her trip to Paris,
which contained vivid descriptions of bonnets and capes, and some
obscure allusions to the galleries.

"My story is entitled 'The Noble Heiress,'" said Miss Pinkett. In a
lisping, fine voice the young lady read the story of a wealthy damsel,
who lived in a beautiful house, exquisitely furnished.

As Portia was at Belmont, so was this heiress sought in marriage by many
suitors. It was said that besides her wealth she possessed
"love-powders;" for all who saw her loved her. But she was as sensible
as she was rich and beautiful, and she kept her heart in check. It was
only when the eldest son of a marquis came forward to woo her that she
allowed herself to love. Wealth and nobility, the sensible heiress felt,
was the true marriage sung of by poets from all ages. The wedding
presents were numerous--the author was lavish in descriptions of the
diamonds, the rubies, the emeralds. The wedding-dress was a charming
costume, which Miss Pinkett described with much fervor.

Meg, who had sat still all the time with her chin in her hands, like a
surly little exile from the circle, looked as if the foolish tales
irritated her. Suddenly, in a clear, abrupt voice she said:

"Shall I tell you my story?"

"Your story?" echoed the girls, amazed.

"Yes," said Ursula.

"Do!" exclaimed Gwendoline.

"It is the story of a toad," said Meg.

"Of a toad!" repeated Gwendoline in dismay.

"There was once upon a time a toad," Meg began, breathing
heavily--taking no notice of the interruption.

"It was ugly, lonely, and always in danger of being kicked and crushed;
but it had splendid eyes, like jewels. At night it liked to crawl out
and look up at the beautiful stars. Every one who saw it," Meg went on
with more concentration, "looked at it with disgust. The toad used to
make its way to the edge of the still water and look at itself, and
think 'how they hate me.' It envied the frogs which croaked and could
jump, while it could only crawl.

"Down in the water below the ground lived the great mother of all the
toads, and this little toad went down to find her, for it wished to ask
her why it had ever been born? The mother of all the toads was immensely
large. She had bigger and more beautiful eyes than any other toad. They
were like soft precious stones, and round each eye was a circle of
light like a ring of gold. The little toad sat before her and said:

"'Why have I been born? Why should I be crushed and beaten, and looked
at with disgust? Why do the children put out their little red lips at
me? They hate and fear me. Sometimes when they see me they step back and
go headlong into the water. I have not even power to punish them.'

"And the mother of all the toads did not answer, she only blinked. She
showed no sympathy at all, and never looked at the little toad.

"Once the toad thought it would do a kind thing. It lived near a garden,
and in it there was a child who had a pet flower, and when the child
went away the toad took care of the flower, brought water to it,
scratched the earth, and took all the insects away.

"When the child returned the flower was more beautiful than before. But
when it saw the toad, it stamped its little foot, crying 'Kill it! kill
it!' and the gardener gave the poor toad a kick with his nailed boot on
its tender side, and threw it, almost killed, into the water. So the
little toad said 'I will never like anybody again, and I will never do a
kind thing.'

"Its heart grew wicked." Meg put emphasis on this last word. "It had
teeth to bite, it croaked its ugliest, and it had just one longing to
see something uglier than itself. One day it saw this thing. It was a
pug dog--petted, and fed, and caressed, and wearing a gold collar round
its neck. The toad was glad there was something uglier than itself; it
frightened the pug dog, and was comforted.

"One day as the little toad was crawling along it heard steps. 'I shall
be killed it said,' and it tried to hurry away. But the steps came
nearer and nearer. Suddenly the toad felt itself taken up gently, and it
saw bending over it the face of a young man, and it was a kind face; and
the young man put the little toad down in a sheltered spot, saying
'Remain there, out of harm's way, till I come back.' He went away." Here
Meg's voice faltered.

"He did not know that there were dreadful thorns in that spot; but the
little toad tried for the sake of that friend not to mind. It remained
there, and it was always listening for the young man's steps coming
back. That is all," said Meg in abrupt conclusion.

There was a silence.

Then Miss Pinkett said: "What a shocking story!"

"Shocking!" circled round the table.

"Were you the little toad?" asked Laura Harris.

"Yes!" said Meg curtly.

"I like that story," said Ursula, "and I shall draw such a toad."



CHAPTER IX.

DRIFTING AWAY.


It was the eve of the midsummer holidays; the examinations were over.
Miss Pinkett had come out victorious in music and geography, Ursula in
drawing and artistic needlework. The Beauty had proved to be nowhere in
the competition. Meg had taken no prize, but she had been encouraged by
kind reports from Signora Vallaria and Mr. Eyre. She had worked
incessantly, and some of the teachers had recognized her zeal.

The tension of the past few weeks was relaxed, and Miss Reeves was
giving the picnic that she usually organized for her pupils, in the
Surrey woods, watered by a branch of the Thames. It was a perfect summer
day, broadly golden, benignly calm.

The repast under the trees was over; the girls, tired of their games,
sat about in groups discussing plans for the holidays. Meg sat apart. In
the midst of the surrounding gayety the loneliness of her heart
deepened. She was enduring the tantalizing pangs of picturing the happy
hours from which she was excluded.

She heard of the dear little children who would come to the station to
welcome these home-comers; of the lawn-tennis parties, the rides, the
picnics which awaited them. One girl was going home for the wedding of
her sister; another was promised a pony to ride out with her brother
George. There were vivid descriptions going on all around her of the
charms of holidays. Oh, the delights of not hearing the school-bell of a
morning--of awaking at the appointed hour, and being able to turn round
cosily for another sleep! All were going home; even the teachers looked
forward to meeting relatives and friends. She alone was remaining--she
alone of all the school had no home to go to. She rose and wandered
away. Her desolate little heart could bear it no more: a bitter sense
was growing there that no one cared for her--that if Mr. Standish cared
for her he would have written.

Meg walked away, not minding where she went, willing only to be out of
earshot of that joyous talk. She presently found herself by the river's
bank; and there, moored among the reeds, was the longboat hired for the
occasion, in which the girls had rowed each other in parties all the
morning.

Ursula had pressed her to join the group of which she was a member, but
Meg had refused. It had seemed to the child enough to lie among the
ferns, inhaling the delicate, pungent perfumes, feeling the breath of
the summer day on her cheek, surrendering herself to the strength and
calm of nature's influence.

Meg now stepped into the boat and sat down. It was like being in a
cradle, she thought, as the water softly rocked the craft. No one was
near. Presently she perceived that the boat was sliding off--softly,
softly the shore was receding; the banks and the long reeds were falling
back.

Meg watched immobile. Bundles of oars lay at the bottom of the boat;
which was also strewn with bunches of meadow-sweet, elder-blossoms,
forget-me-nots, and other riverside trophies which the girls had plucked
on their travels. Meg sat upright like a startled rabbit, wondering when
the boat would stop. She wished that it would never stop--that it would
carry her away, away, she knew not whither! She had heard the girls
speak of the "weir." What was that? Was it some weird spot?--a strange
island, perhaps, inhabited by some of the water-fowl of which she had
read?

Then she perceived that the boat had swung itself round; it was drifting
down with the current. The river was narrow, and there was not another
boat within sight. Without oars, without sails, without guidance, the
little craft was making its way, keeping right in the middle of the
stream. For a moment Meg could not believe; then joy seized her--she was
off on her travels!

Past pale-green willows that hung their branches down into the water,
filling it with a twilight of green, sprinkling its surface with leaves
as with a goblin fleet; past sunny, silent stretches of woodland and
meadows where cows grazed and looked at her with horny heads sharply
outlined against the light; past banks full of flowers went Meg. The sun
shone for her, the breeze stirred for her, the trees seemed to look at
her. She felt like a little river-queen.

As she drifted along, the misery and loneliness at her heart dropped,
like the leaves the breeze had shaken from the willows. She, the
despised Meg, was free; all nature was her playfellow. From the banks
the cuckoo cried like a friendly presence playing at "hide-and-seek"
with her. A kingfisher, with a breast like a jewel fashioned in the sky,
skimmed past her where the solitude was shadiest. From the forked
branches of a willow a water hen, sitting on its nest, peered at her
with trustful eyes; a water rat from under the leaf of a water lily
eyed her with pleasant sympathy, as if he understood the pleasures of a
skiff on a summer day. The fishes leaped and made rippled circles around
her.

After awhile the river broadened. She passed boathouses that appeared to
stand in the water, their roofs bright with flowers; she drifted along a
bank where children were playing. They left their games to watch her.
They pointed at her, and Meg lifted herself up that she might be better
seen, feeling more than ever like a little river queen. She, the wild,
despised Meg, was envied and admired!

Once more the river grew lonely. Presently she thought she heard a
distant, drowsy sound; it grew louder; the boat seemed to glide along
more quickly. After awhile the sound became a roar, and the boat skimmed
along as if it were flying; still the water remained smooth as glass.
She fancied she heard voices shouting, but the roar of the water filled
her ears till it became a boom. She sat up straight and rigid, and as
she flashed past she saw with dreadful clearness the word "Danger"
written up in great letters on a post by the riverside. For the first
time Meg's heart began to beat. She heard shouts; she turned her head,
and again she saw with terrible distinctness the word "Danger" written
above the place the boat was making for. The water-line ended there,
and she understood the booming was the roar of the river rushing down to
a lower level. Her boat would upset and she must drown! Meg shut her
eyes. Mr. Standish, the old boarding-house, seemed to rise before her as
she speeded along.

Suddenly the boat jerked, struggling like a living creature arrested in
full flight.

"Don't move!" shouted a voice; and Meg, quiet as an image, felt the
struggling boat slowly turned round; a head showed above the water; a
muscular arm, bare to the elbow, a figure clad in white flannels,
swimming low and strong, were beside her.

It had been accomplished in one moment's time. The boat was being now
pushed in the direction of a bank, on which stood a watching group of
young men, clad, like her rescuer, in white flannels and loose,
bright-colored jackets. One of these got into the water, and catching
the prow of the boat, pulled it in with one vigorous sweep. The keel
grazed the bottom of the river; the young men lifted Meg and set her on
shore.

"Well, if ever a little girl escaped drowning you have!" said her
rescuer, giving himself a shake.

Meg was silent as she realized that she had been saved from drowning in
the whirl and foam of roaring water. The young men looked at her with
kind, smiling glances--she was surrounded with laughing eyes and
gleaming teeth. They plied her with questions of "Who was she?" "What
was her name?" "Where did she come from?" "Had she been frightened?"

She explained how she had got into the boat and she had drifted away.
No, she had not been frightened--only when she saw the word "Danger" she
had begun to be afraid.

Her rescuers voted that she was a heroine.

The young men moved away a few steps and held a consultation; one, who
had an eyeglass stuck in his eye and a pipe in his mouth, came forward.

"Get into the boat, Meg, and we will all row you back. You will point
out the place you came from when we approach it."

He handed Meg in, and the young fellows vied with each other to pay her
attention. One put a cushion at her back, another a plank to her feet.
"Meg," they vowed, "must be rowed back in triumph."

They stepped into the boat, four took oars. Another sat behind Meg,
ropes in hand. Presently they lit their pipes. Meg sat back in state.
How kind they were! They were not cross, as girls mostly were; they did
not mock or tease her; they did not say a word of what some of the
girls called chaff. She watched with amazement all their pipes going
puff, puff, puff. She liked them because they did not talk much. They
reminded her of Mr. Standish. When their eyes caught hers they gave her
a smile. How strong they were! She watched their muscular arms and hands
sweeping the water with their oars, the rhythmic movement of their
swaying bodies.

No Greek maiden delivered from peril by a group of demi-gods ever felt
more lost in dreamy wonder and gratitude than did Meg, rowed up the
river by her rescuers. Her eyes rested oftenest on the one who had saved
her--he seemed to her the most magnificent member of this gallant crew.
He had laughing, twinkling eyes, thick, short, curly hair, silky
mustache no bigger than an eyebrow. It occurred to her that she had not
thanked him for saving her life. She turned over in her mind what was
the proper thing to say. She tried to recollect what persons in
story-books said to the saviours of their lives, but she could not
remember; she pondered, but the words of gratitude would not come. At
last she exclaimed abruptly:

"You saved my life--and--and--I am very much obliged to you."

A peal of laughter taken up by all the group greeted this speech. The
laughter was so jovial and good-natured that Meg felt at her ease. It
seemed to say: "What nonsense! Don't thank me. It was nothing."

Then they began to question her again: "Was she afraid of meeting her
schoolmistress? Would she be scolded?"

Meg admitted the possibility of being scolded. Her rescuers vowed that
they would plead for her. They would extract a promise from the
schoolmistress not to punish her. Meg must not be scolded; Meg must be
welcomed home like the prodigal returning.

"There!" exclaimed Meg dejectedly, pointing to a group of girls and
teachers looking up and down the river. She enjoyed the amazement of the
spectators as from the bank they watched her triumphant return. With a
sweep of the oars the boat came alongside the shore. Miss Reeves stepped
forward.

"You must have been frightened, madam, at this young lady's
disappearance," said Meg's rescuer, jumping on shore.

Meg allowed herself to be helped out like a princess by the oarsmen.

"We had not long missed the child," replied Miss Reeves. "We were
startled when we discovered that the boat was gone. She ought not to
have gone alone--it was very thoughtless."

"The boat drifted away with her--it nearly carried her down the weir,"
said the spokesman. "She was very courageous."

Meg felt herself pleaded for, and listened, motionless.

"You saved her life?" said Miss Reeves.

"I was able, by swimming out in time, to turn the boat's head," replied
the young man lightly. "She behaved with great pluck."

"I am most grateful, and I shall acquaint her guardians," said Miss
Reeves.

"No, no--pray don't!" replied the young man; and his comrades echoed his
words. "Only," he added with a merry twinkle, "do not let Miss Meg be
scolded! She is so spirited, so courageous--she ought to have a medal
for steadiness of nerves."

Miss Reeves hesitated, then she said smiling: "She will not be scolded."

The announcement was received with approbation, the young men shook
hands with Meg, and lifting their white caps to Miss Reeves and the
schoolgirls, turned away.

Meg watched their figures retreating through the trees; and when they
vanished she felt the loneliness creep over her again.



CHAPTER X.

REBELLION.


The second week of the holidays had come. For close upon a fortnight Meg
had been alone with Miss Grantley. The self-centered chilliness of the
English teacher deepened the solitary child's sense of isolation. Miss
Grantley affected her like the embodied quintessence of censure upon all
her moods and actions.

This lady always made Meg feel in the wrong. An increased brusqueness of
gesture, a more rigid set of the defiant lips, expressed the protest of
the wild little soul.

During the first week of her holidays she had a companion in her
solitude. It was a battered doll, with rough hair and faded cheeks. It
looked deserted. Rosamund Seely, a kind-hearted child, as a parting
gift, had offered it to Meg on receiving the present of a beautiful new
doll. "Poor Meg, you are going to be left alone. There's a dollie for
you," the child had said, in transferring the belated toy; and Meg's
desolate soul had been touched by the words.

For a week she had loyally carried the plaything about with her; she had
perched it on a branch of the yew tree when she sat on her leafy throne;
she had got to feel so lonely that she sometimes talked to it, and felt
toward it as toward a companion, bidding her answer when she spoke.
After awhile that constant comrade, sitting opposite to her with its
grimy cheeks, its faded and ragged finery, became in its look of
abandonment an emblem to Meg of herself. She grew to hate the sight of
the doll; but still she would not part with it for the sake of the
donor, and she thrust it in a corner of the shelf assigned to her in the
dormitory.

The loneliness chilled the marrow of the child's life. The object ever
in view, the repellent attitude toward her comrades, the consciousness
that her replies were waited for and sometimes admired, had kept up
Meg's spirit. It flagged in the length, the languor, the emptiness of
those July days. There was nothing to be done but to sit up in the tree,
to read, to think, and remember. As the hare seeks its form, so Meg's
thoughts returned to the home where she had spent her childhood. She was
always seeing that place on the stairs from which she had watched the
coming and going of her only friend during those neglected years. Why
did he not write to her? Why? Her lonely heart asked itself this
question with insistence. He had promised to write to her, he was true,
he never told a falsehood. Why did he not write? Then the conviction was
borne in upon her that a letter was waiting for her at Mrs. Browne's
house. Mr. Standish thought the landlady would forward it, but perhaps
the stern white-haired gentleman, who told her she must forget her
childhood and every one she had then met, would withhold her address
from Mrs. Browne. The conviction haunted Meg. If she could but get to
London she would make her way to Mrs. Browne and get that letter. Meg
would lie awake, thinking of this, "If she could but get to London." The
contemplation was still vague in her mind. It wanted something to
condense it into a resolution, and that something came.

One late afternoon Meg sat at tea with Miss Grantley. She was always
awkward under this lady's censorious glance. Stretching her hand for the
bread and butter she upset her cup of milk on the teacher's dress. Miss
Grantley had on her best mauve silk. She was going out to supper with a
friend. As she wiped the stain from her draperies she looked icily at
Meg.

"Your manners are deplorable, Miss Beecham. I do not wonder that your
companions shun you. It must be most painful for young ladies to be
associated with one who so richly deserves her nickname of the
'savage.'"

"I am not a savage," said Meg shortly.

"Do not answer me. Your untamed nature, which neither religion nor
culture has softened, does not possess the very rudiments of civilized
society. You shame this establishment. I had meant to take you out this
evening."

"I would not have gone," retorted Meg, her eyes brilliant with
indignation.

"Impudent little thing! Don't venture to talk to me like that!" and
forgetting herself, Miss Grantley rose and gave a slap with the back of
her hand on Meg's ear.

A fit of fury seized the child. She was once more the old wild Meg. She
rushed into the garden, running blindly she knew not whither. A couple
of slugs were crawling across her path. With an impulse of revenge she
picked them up, and hurrying to Miss Grantley's room, hid them in the
bonnet that lay on the bed ready to be put on.

From the dormitory Meg listened. She heard Miss Grantley go in, and when
two short shrieks reached her ear she shook with impish laughter The
next moment Miss Grantley appeared on the threshold.

"I know you did this," she said.

"I did," replied Meg.

"You might have given me my death. I might have had a fit. Miss Reeves
comes home to-morrow, and the first thing I will do on her return is to
report you to her. Meanwhile, you shall not leave this room."

Miss Grantley left, and Meg heard the key turn in the lock.

She was locked in.

A rush of passion swept over Meg as she realized that she was a captive.
For a moment she stood stock still, thinking of all the terrible things
Miss Grantley had said, realizing the bankruptcy of her little peace.
She saw herself brought up solemnly before Miss Reeves, who appeared to
her to live against a kind of ethereal background. A touch of fear
chilled her courageous spirit. The silence of the school, the empty
dormitory, deepened the impression of reprobation cast upon her. She
felt herself disowned by a law-abiding community. Suddenly an idea came
which held her breath in suspense--she would run away! She would go to
London. There was a finger post on the highroad they sometimes passed in
their walk which pointed to London. She would get out and follow that
road, and make her way to Mrs. Browne. The immensity of the resolve
overcame Meg for a moment. She walked restlessly up and down the room.
Then, with shaking hands, she began to pack up her treasures. A spasm of
excitement held her lips rigid as she set about collecting what she
would take with her.

Goldsmith's "Animated Nature," the "Stories from the History of
England," and "Cinderella," would go into one parcel with the little
writing-case. She had still the brown paper and the bit of cord that had
held them at her coming. The silver pencil-case and the roll of articles
she resolved to carry inside the bodice of her dress. The single
threepenny-piece with a hole through it which she possessed, a present
from Mrs. Browne, she put into her pocket to serve in case of
emergencies.

She would take nothing more with her.

As Meg was tying up her books she caught sight of the doll, with its
demoralized, abandoned air, seeming to be watching her. With a movement
of sudden, unaccountable anger she took it up and threw it to the
furthest corner of the room.

Her preparations made, Meg began to turn over in her mind means of
escape. She set about calculating the chances like a little general.
She looked out of the window. The door being locked, this was her
single means of exit. The porch stood right under the center dormitory
window, the wall stretched sheer and blank between.

Meg was gazing down with neck craned to discover if the wall contained
any chinks or irregularities that might serve as stepping-stones, when
the door opened, and Rachel the housemaid entered, bringing Meg's supper
on a tray.

Meg perceived that besides a liberal amount of bread and butter there
was a large slice of currant cake.

Rachel was a conscientious and sullen young woman, who executed orders
and delivered messages with the exactitude of a sundial and the
surliness of a bulldog. She laid the tray sternly down.

"Cook sends her duty, miss, and this bit of cake which she made for the
kitchen. She hopes you'll accept it."

"Thank cook kindly, and say I am much obliged," replied Meg with
alacrity, recognizing the value of this contribution to her
commissariat. The offering appeared to her in the light of a good omen.

Rachel received Meg's thanks in gruff silence, and departed,
deliberately locking the door behind her.

Meg drank the tumbler of milk, but abstained from touching the
provisions. She took a page of newspaper lining one of the drawers and
carefully packed the cake and bread and butter, fastening this smaller
parcel to the larger one of books.

Then again she returned to her meditations and calculations as to her
mode of escape. If she had but a stout rope with which to swing herself
down!

Then suddenly she remembered stories of hairbreadth escapes from fires,
recounted to her by Mr. Standish, effected by the aid of a ladder made
of sheets and blankets knotted together.

The materials were at hand with which to attain her freedom. Meg's mind
was made up. As soon as she was safe from interruption: when Miss
Grantley had returned and the household had retired to rest, she would
begin making a ladder of sheets.

She determined not to go to bed, but to sit up till daybreak, and at the
first streak of dawn scale the wall and escape.

Then she remembered that it would be probable that Miss Grantley would
conform to the habit of the school, and make her round over the various
rooms. At this thought Meg swiftly set about obliterating every trace of
disorder from the dormitory. She stowed her parcel out of sight, and
drew the curtains, and began to undress.

She was not yet in bed when she heard steps coming up the garden path
and voices bidding each other good-night.

A few moments later the key of her door was turned, a step entered, and
Meg heard the rustle of a silk dress. Miss Grantley was making her
rounds. Meg appeared to be profoundly asleep; she was conscious of
candle-light directed upon her face, but her eyelids did not quiver.

Miss Grantley stole out of the dormitory. Meg listened for the click of
the key turned again upon her, but this time Miss Grantley contented
herself with closing the door.

Meg could not believe her ears. She got out of bed, and by the moonlight
she examined the lock. No, the second bolt was not drawn; the key was
not turned. There was no necessity to make a ladder of bedclothes, no
need to have recourse to this perilous mode of escape. This difficulty
removed seemed like another good omen, an assurance of success to Meg.

She felt as if some guardian angel child were directing her project.

Before returning to bed, and when by the perfect silence she judged that
all the household was asleep, she softly drew back the curtains from
the windows. Then she lay down, determined to keep awake.

She would not go to sleep; she struggled to keep slumber at bay. She sat
up when she felt drowsiness overtake her; unconsciously she slipped off
into a doze. She had a dream, rather the sketch of a dream. She had a
glimpse of a road--she was walking. She started up frightened, got out
of bed, rubbed her eyes, plunged her face into water; she was wide awake
now. Then she lay down again; unaware she dropped asleep.



CHAPTER XI.

AWAY.


The day had shot a golden arrow across the uncurtained window of the
dormitory when Meg awoke. The sense of something to be done confusedly
urged itself upon her mind, and she jumped out of bed. In a flash she
remembered everything, and with trembling trepidation she asked herself
was she late? Were the servants stirring? The profound silence in the
house reassured her. Outside she saw the sky saffron and rose behind the
trees, and she heard the birds singing their matins. Meg began to dress
rapidly. She was careful in her speed. She was going on a long journey
on foot, and she must not look like a little tramp.

Having completed her toilette she took up her parcel and softly opened
the door. Her nerves were tense with excitement, and a restrained
trembling shook her from head to foot. How still it was! She had a
strange fancy; the silence seemed as though some unseen presence was
there listening and watching. The shutters were closed everywhere; only
a gleam of light flickered through the skylight on the lobby. If she
stumbled she would wake some of the inmates; she kept thinking as she
stole down. Once she nearly lost her footing. She fancied she had come
to the last step of a flight of stairs when two or three still remained
to descend. Had she not caught herself up in time she would have fallen,
and, weighted as she was, the clatter would have been heard through the
house.

As she crossed the hall she knocked up against something which fell with
a muffled sound, that in the gulf of silence came like a boom. Meg
listened. She heard the furtive clicking of a door above. She waited
motionless. It was succeeded by no sound of footsteps, and she concluded
it was the creaking of an unclosed door. Then she resumed her progress.
She groped her way down to the kitchen--she knew there was no
possibility of letting herself out by the hall door--it was dark there,
and she knocked her foot against a chair and hurt herself. But she did
not mind the pain. All her capabilities of feeling were strained in
listening. Had she been heard? The silence still lay like a spell over
the house. She shut the door that isolated the downstairs premises and
she felt safer.

All depended still upon the caution of her movements, as she turned the
key and unbarred the bolts of the door of the servants' exit. With
determined quiet the deft brown hands proceeded upon their task when
another danger met Meg. Pilot began to bark outside. His kennel was
close to the kitchen door, and the furtive sounds had caught his ear and
roused his suspicions. Every bark grew louder, and he growled savagely.
Meg controlled the trembling that seized her, and the next movement
opened the door and encountered the dog. Pilot was reputed dangerous by
the schoolgirls, but Meg had no fear. In her isolation she had made
friends with the mastiff. At sight of the little figure with hand
uplifted to enjoin silence, Pilot paused in the spring he was crouching
to make, and stopped barking.

"Hush, Pilot," whispered Meg in a concentrated voice; "don't bark, not
on any account, Pilot! I am running away because I am miserable.
Good-by, old Pilot!"

Pilot looked at Meg with questioning eyes, debating the reasonableness
of her speech. He apparently hesitated to commend the step she was
taking, for he did not return her greeting with any demonstration, but
remained with head erect and pricked ears surveying her, and let her go
in silence.

Meg went round to the kitchen-garden. She had decided to escape that
way. The wall was covered with a trellis-work on which fruit was
trained. Meg threw her parcel lightly over and began to clamber. She
heard the unripe plums fall as she climbed with a sure-footedness that
was one of her claims to the title of "savage" bestowed upon her by her
schoolmates. With the agility of a squirrel she swung herself over and
dropped among the nettles that grew at the base of the wall.

She sprang to her feet, picked up her parcel, conscious of one dominant
emotion only--she was out of Moorhouse; she was free! Like a bird
winging its way to more genial climes Meg dashed forward.

Across two fields at the back of the house, the bright road lay before
her; her escape was made. Not a soul was up, and forgetting that she
should economize her strength she ran gladly along, when suddenly an
object arrested her eyes and riveted her to the spot. There, at the
stile, facing the field, the path through which issued on to the
highroad, stood a figure. The face was turned away, but Meg recognized
that straight back, that dark dress with austere folds, that severe
straw bonnet. It was Miss Grantley.

Was it some waking nightmare, an illusion of frightened fancy? Meg
remembered the furtive click of the door. Could her escape have been
discovered, and the mistress be lying in wait for her? With desperate
resolve, after a moment, Meg determined to chance it. She would creep
beside the hedge that led round the stile, and once on the other side
she would trust to fortune and to her heels to escape pursuit. She began
softly to move; a spray of woodbine caught her skirt--she disentangled
it with trembling fingers; a puddle barred the way; she prepared to leap
over it, watching that figure with terror. Something in its stillness,
its stiffness, and its bent head frightened her. She thought she would
call out and speak to it. As she hesitated the figure turned round, and
Meg saw, not Miss Grantley, but a stranger whom she had seen at church
and admired for her young and peaceful countenance. The lady was holding
carefully something lying in her hollowed hand. Perceiving Meg she
beckoned. The coil of fear about Meg's heart loosened, and she breathed
again.

"Look at this poor chick!" said the stranger. "It has dropped from the
nest. See how the mother is hovering round. Poor mother, we will not
hurt your little one. God takes care of the fallen nestlings."

"Shall I put it back into the nest?" said Meg impulsively, feeling
generous under the impression of that great relief.

"Can you climb?" said the stranger.

For answer Meg deposited her parcel and climbed up into the tree, then
stretching out her hand she took the little bird tenderly, and in a
moment she had softly dropped it back into the nest.

"That was a good action," said the lady, as she came down again, looking
kindly at her. "I thought I was the only one out of doors--it is not yet
five o'clock; but you have taken the conceit out of me. This is holiday
time. Is that the way you take your holidays, by going out to walk at
sunrise?"

Meg nodded. She was eager to dismiss the stranger; but still the lady
dallied, looking kindly at her.

"There is a little nosegay; I picked it as I went out. I give it to you.
Good-by!"

She took some flowers from her belt.

"Good-by," said Meg, with cordiality.

The stranger nodded again, and turning round walked away with swift and
even steps.

Meg loitered a moment watching her, then she clambered over the stile
and was off.

She sped along until she reached the highroad. She turned Londonward,
not slackening her pace. Not a living soul was within sight or hearing.
She had the road to herself. The sun was behind her. Her shadow
stretched thin and long before her. It looked like her own ghost
gliding in front of her and leading her on. Meg did not look about her,
but she was conscious of a universal shining around her, of jocund
shadows about her feet, of birds twittering, and delicate perfumes
stirring through the breeze that blew so pure and fresh that it seemed
to come from heaven's gate. She ran until she could run no more, then
skirting the fields she walked quickly along. She thought it was another
good omen that the day of her flight should be so brave and gladsome.
Was nature rejoicing with her because she was hurrying to the place
where she would hear news of the only friend she had in the world?

The hedges sparkled with dew; every bush and brake was hung with sheeny
fragments of hoary silver that turned to gold in the sunlight. For her
every blade of grass and little flower glistened with a limpid coronal.
A thrush sang aloft in a tree; Meg thought it sang for her. After awhile
she met a few laborers, but they took no notice of her. Their eyes were
fixed on the ground.

As Meg walked along the assurance that a letter was awaiting her grew in
intensity. She had heard that by steady walking London could be reached
in six hours, seven at most. It was not five o'clock when she started.
She would be in London by noon. She saw herself already entering the
big city, asking her way to Queen Street; she would make straight for
number 22 and ring the bell. Perhaps a strange servant would answer it;
perhaps it would be Mrs. Browne herself. What a surprise, what
exclamations, if it were the landlady who answered the door! But she
would not reply to any questions until she had got her letter. "What
letter?" "The letter that came for me with a foreign stamp," she would
answer. "Ah, yes! it had come. How had she known it had come? There it
was;" and she would take it to her attic, and sitting by the window she
would read and read it till she knew every word of it by heart.

Meg passed a village. The people were astir in the streets, the shops
were open. Everything sparkled in the sunshine and cast a blue shadow. A
baby was crawling on all-fours, its little blue shadow by its side. A
woman in the doorway with bare arms akimbo was chatting to a friend.
Some geese were waddling down, moving spots of incomparable whiteness. A
cart full of hay was standing in the glare of that morning sun. A
red-armed girl was milking a patient cow, and there came the pleasant
sound of the milk as it rushed into the pail. It was half-past eight by
the church clock, the face of which was a blob of brightness. Miss
Grantley and the servants had discovered her flight by this time.
Perhaps they guessed that she was going toward London; perhaps that
strange lady would tell! Meg at this thought left the road for the
fields, and walked on the other side of the hedge. She tried to walk
quicker to avoid pursuit; but all at once she began to feel as if she
could not take another step. She was so tired. She was weak also from
hunger. She must sit down and eat.

She had entered a meadow bordered at the further end by a stream. She
crossed the grassy stretch, took off her shoes and stockings, and waded
ankle-deep into the water. On the other side a little wood cast its
shade. She would sit and take her pleasant rest there. The touch of the
cool running water was delightful to her burning feet. She knelt on the
opposite bank and bathed her hands and face. Then she sat down under a
tree. It was delicious to rest; it was enough for a moment to feel how
tired she was, to lean back and enjoy the support of that great trunk,
and the shade of those leafy branches. No queen ever sat on a throne
more restful, nor under a more dainty canopy. She took out the bread and
butter--she would not touch the cake yet--and began to eat. She ate
slowly. Her repast was a banquet. It tasted of all the penetrating
sweet perfumes about her; of the honey-laden breeze, of the fruity
sunshine.

When it was over Meg thought it would be pleasant to lie down and sleep.
Then she rebuked herself. She had no time for sleep, she must get on to
London. She had no time to waste; still she dallied. Nature had spread a
couch of dried aromatic leaves for her, perfumed with sweet small
flowers, guarded by a green barrier of bushes, shaded with a curtain of
leaves. The soothing stillness of nature crooned to her a wordless
lullaby. Meg stretched herself under the tree, drowsiness overcame her.
She thought of the little bird that had fallen from its nest. Was she
like that little bird which had dropped from its home of twigs? But she
said to herself, "I put it back there."

Meg had a dream. The black slug had grown to an immense size, with its
horns out. Its face seemed to grow like Miss Grantley's. Then it seemed
to her that hostile inimical presences were around her, muttering. She
woke; where was she? Who were around her? Brown eyes gazed down upon her
from every side, warm breathings passed across her face, wide pink
nostrils inquisitively moved up and down.

A forest of light-tipped horns surrounded her.

Meg started up. At the sudden movement the creatures jerked backward
and took flight. She heard the clatter of hoofs; then pausing and
huddling together, they turned and looked at her from a distance. Meg
gazed back at them. She laughed; these woodland gossips were
heifers--five heifers. She called to them, but they would not come. When
she got up to approach them they scampered off.



CHAPTER XII.

AN ACQUAINTANCE BY THE WAY.


Meg decided that time for luncheon had come. The shadows lay long beside
the trees and marked afternoon. She felt so rested as she blithely ate
the piece of plum-cake saved from last night's supper that it seemed to
her that she could walk all the way. It was a generous slice, and she
threw crumbs for the birds, which flew down from the surrounding wood
and became her guests.

Meg would have gladly dallied awhile, but time was pressing. She must
get to London to-night. Taking off her shoes and stockings once more she
crossed the stream, pausing a moment to enjoy the sense of the running
water against her bare ankles. Then she determinedly resumed shoes and
stockings, and after bathing her hands and face she turned to go on her
way.

The road lay through hedges full of sweet-smelling eglantine and wild
rose which stirred with every gust. As Meg trudged along she looked at
the marks in the sand left by the feet which had come and gone across
it that day. They made a confused pattern, through which here and there
a footprint came out distinctly. There was one of a big nailed shoe that
recurred with a sort of plodding regularity, and there was another of a
dainty high-heeled boot that seemed to speed gayly along. There was a
clumsy sprawling mark of a woman's foot that suggested slatternly
shodding, and by its side that of a child's naked foot. Meg wondered if
these were a mother and child, beggars going up to London. Presently
another footmark attracted her attention. It was that of a single nailed
boot, attended by what looked like the mark of one toe resting on the
ground, surmounted by another mark. Together these two prints seemed to
make a sign of admiration in the sand. Meg puzzled over this strange
footmark till she forgot all the others. It fascinated her; preceding
her like a cheery mystery. After a while the trace vanished. Meg watched
for it; but it had gone, and with it the road seemed to her to have lost
some of its interest. Presently she was startled by a "thump, thump"
behind her. She felt a little startled, and she turned round to see who
was coming. It was a lad swinging himself actively along on a high
crutch. He soon overtook Meg, and as he passed he gave her a sidelong
glance and touched his hat. He had a pleasant plain face, and bright
brown eyes. She noticed that as he went along he left on the road that
double mark that had such a quaint resemblance to a point of admiration.

Meg had returned his salute with a nod, which was not wanting in
cordiality although it was somewhat stiff. This cripple seemed to her an
acquaintance.

"Nice day, miss!" said the boy.

Meg nodded again.

"Going this way, miss?" continued the cripple.

"Yes," Meg replied, in a tone of embarrassed coolness, which was not,
however, discouraging to conversation.

"Going far, miss?"

"Going to London," said Meg.

The cripple looked at her with evident admiration.

"Are you going to London?" asked Meg.

"No," replied the lad, "I'm going part of the way."

Meg did not like to press the question further, and the resources of
conversation seemed exhausted.

"You see," said the boy after a pause, "I'm going to earn my livin' and
the livin' of my mither and the little chap."

Meg looked at her companion with some surprise.

"I'm agoing to where I can earn thirteen pence a day; there's where I'm
going. What I want is, they may want for nothink off there," and the
boy, with a jerk of his chin, indicated a backward direction.

Meg felt curious to know how this crippled boy earned a living, but she
did not like to inquire. So she said, with vague encouragement to
further confidence, "You love them very much?"

"I love 'em," assented the cripple in a guarded tone. After a pause he
continued, with more frankness, "I'm uncommon fond of the little chap.
Mither can't earn enough, so he depends upon me, like. Now, how old do
you think I am?" He straightened himself for her inspection, and leaned
upon his crutch with the air of a soldier on parade.

Meg hesitated. The boy had a quaint, plucky face, childlike in line, and
yet old by its expression of sagacity and caution. His arms and hands
were well developed; one shriveled leg hung helpless at some distance
from the ground. He seemed of no age and no distinct size.

"I cannot guess," said Meg. "I am eleven and a half," she added, with a
generosity of confidence that invited a magnanimous return.

"I am fourteen come next March," said the boy. "Now you think I can't do
nothink because of that ere leg." He glanced with some contempt down the
maimed limb. "You thinks because I can't put my foot on the ground I
can't do nothink. I can do everythink." The cripple turned with a
swagger, and the children resumed their walk.

"I once punched a lad--he was older than me--who was worriting the
little chap."

"You did?" said Meg admiringly.

"I did. He was striking the little chap in the face; and I comes upon
him, and with my fist I gives him a blow, and before he can look up I
hits him another, and when he knocks my crutch down I fastens upon
him--I drags him down, that's what I does."

"You did right!" cried Meg.

"And I just gives it to him till he lies quiet as a lamb. And says I to
him, 'If ye do it again I'll serves ye the likes again,' that what I
says," concluded the cripple, marching along with a triumphant "thump,
thump," of his crutch.

"I am glad you did it," said Meg, with a flush on her cheek and approval
in her eye.

"That's what I does," repeated the cripple, with another swagger of his
pendant body.

Meg began to feel a great respect for this cripple, who seemed to her
to have the spirit of a lion.

"How are you going to earn money?" she asked, feeling an admiring
friendship now justified the question.

The cripple, after a cautious moment, replied:

"Blacking boots."

"Oh!" said Meg, a little disconcerted.

"Faither was a dustman. I'd raither be a dustman than anythink. Ye've a
cart, and there ye sits, and ye comes down only to clean away the
rubbish; and sometimes ye find an elegant teaspoon, and ye may find a
ring. Faither once found a gold ring with three red stones in it that
shine. There's nothink like being a dustman," said the boy, with an air
of one taking a survey of all the learned professions. "I'd be a
dustman, but because of that ere leg. To be a dustman you must be hale
in all yer limbs, ye must; so a lady comes round and says I'm to be a
bootblack. She gives me brushes and a board and a pot of blacking, and I
sets to; and I can make boots shine as will make your eyes blink. Now
your boots," with a downward glance at Meg's feet, "are uncommon
dusty--I'll black 'em for you."

Meg hesitated; but the cripple had already unstrapped the parcel swung
on his back, taken from it a brush, a pot of blacking, and a board, and
was down on one knee before her.

Meg could not refuse. She placed first one foot then the other on the
board, and brush, brush went the active hands.

Meanwhile a big struggle was going on within Meg. She had no money but
that threepenny-piece. Ought she to give it to the lad for blacking her
boots? She put her hand into her pocket and turned the small silver
piece about.

It was all that stood between her and penury. Still she could not accept
a service without paying for it from this cripple, who was earning money
for the "little chap."

"There!" said the boy rising, putting up his traps with an air of fine
indifference to the effect produced by his action upon Meg's boots.

"I am very much obliged," said Meg hesitatingly; "and here is
threepence."

"I don't want yer money," replied the boy with an emphatic jerk of his
head. "Keep it; ye'll want it yerself."

Meg's admiration for her companion increased. She gazed down on her
boots. "They're splendid," she said fervently; "I never thought boots
could shine like that!"

"Well, I thinks as no one can beat me at blacking," said the cripple,
accepting the compliment. "It's my notions as when the sloppy weather
comes I'll make two shillings a day. But it's not a bootblack I'll
remain."

"What will you become?" asked Meg.

"I do not mind telling you," replied the cripple with cautious slowness.
"I'm going to be a joiner. Ye thinks as I can't. Ye thinks there's too
much agin me. Why, everythink was agin me earning money. First that
school-board, that was agin me. It wanted to set me all astray, spending
time learning figures and spellin'; but I conquered the school-board. I
gets too old for that after a bit. Then when I'm told by the lady of
this situation in Weybridge to black boots every morning, there's fifty
miles for me to get over; and here's the cripple boy agin, two miles
from Weybridge!"

The lad gave a chuckle, a jerk of his head, and a thump of his crutch.

"You've walked fifty miles!" said Meg, with the homage of round-eyed
surprise.

"Fifty miles," repeated the boy. "Then a friend o' mine is a carpenter.
He would not trust me with a tool two years agone; and now I can plane
and drive nails with the best of them. I had no money to buy a box of
tools. I'm going to work for it with the boots. All I wants is the
sloppy weather, and a spell of it, and that's enough for me."

Meg's admiration overflowed her pent-up heart, and moved her to confide
in this cripple and ask his advice. She had not spoken to him of her
schoolfellows, or of the object that had impelled her flight.

"Suppose," she began, "some one had been very kind to you, very good,
would you not run away from people who were unkind to you, and laughed
at you, and despised you?"

"No, I would stay to conquer them," said the cripple, stamping his
crutch.

"How would you conquer them?" said Meg.

"I'd wear 'em out," said the lad. "Spite can't stand pluck; that's what
I've found out. I'd give 'em a laugh, and if they pushed me hard I'd
give 'em a slip of my crutch."

Meg was silent awhile with appreciation of such courage. Then she said:

"But suppose you felt sure there was a letter waiting for you, would you
not go to get it?"

"Depends upon that ere letter," replied the cripple with circumspection.
"If it was to tell me what to do to better myself I'd go and fetch it
were it at the other end of the country."

"But," said Meg, with a quivering voice, letting out the secret fear at
her heart, "suppose there was no letter waiting for you when you got to
the place?"

"I'd go and look for the one as should ha' written it everywhere. I'd
not give over till I found him," said the cripple.

"You would!" said Meg.

"I would!" repeated the boy.

"I wish you were going all the way to London," said Meg.

"To take care of you?" asked the lad. "Wish I could, but I can't, miss.
I have the kid and the mistress to think of. It's not so far; to-morrow
you'll get there."

"To-morrow!" repeated Meg, aghast.

"It's getting late," said the boy, "ye can't walk in the night. Now,
what I say is, if ye find a barn, creep in there and lie in the straw;
but if ye can get a hayrick and cover yerself all up to yer head, that's
fit for a king--better than a bed. I've slept in 'em, so I ought to
know."

Meg could not speak from consternation; the prospect for a moment
overwhelmed her.

"Perhaps ye'll meet a cart, and the driver will give ye a lift. My
faither once gave a lift in his cart to a little girl going toward
London," the cripple suggested.

"I wish I could meet some one who would drive me," said Meg in faltering
accents.

"If ye're frightened ye'll never find the person as was good to you,"
the lad replied rousingly.

"You were not frightened at night, all alone?" asked Meg.

"I'm frightened of nothink," said the lad; "but ye're a little lady, so
that makes a difference."

Meg asked herself if her companion's shriveled leg did not make up for
the disadvantages of sex, and she trudged along, resolved not to give
in, but she wished she did not begin to feel so hungry again.

Presently they came to a fingerpost.

"What's written up there?" said the cripple.

"Can't you see?" asked Meg, astonished.

"I can't read," said the boy.

"Oh!" exclaimed Meg, whose admiration received a great shock.

"I'm ignorant," replied the boy, no whit disconcerted. "I'll conquer
that, too. I conquered that school-board because I wanted to earn. I'll
conquer ignorance; it's as bad as the school-board."

Meg's admiration revived.

"Weybridge is written on that side," she said.

"That's my way, then," said the cripple. "Good-by to ye, miss. I hope
ye'll get all right. Don't forget the barn, or the hayrick if ye can get
one."

"Good-by," said Meg, wishing to shake hands, yet hesitating.

The boy touched his hat and set off on his way.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE OLD GENTLEMAN AGAIN.


Meg listened to the thump, thump of the little crutch going off into the
dusk, and to the sound of merry whistling, and she turned to pursue her
way. The thought of that small lad with his crooked leg and his great
courage roused her spirit. No obstacle now appeared too great to
overcome, no road too long to walk in order to achieve her object; and
she trudged bravely along.

She was very hungry. Her feet were beginning to ache again; but she was
not going to stop yet; nothing would induce her to do this; so long as
she could hold out she would walk. She would then look out for a proper
resting-place in which to spend the night, and set off on her journey in
the early morning. She tried to distract her mind by weighing the merits
of sleeping up in a tree, or down on the ground, or in a haystack; but
her thoughts would fix themselves upon nothing but upon something to eat
and drink. She passed a village where all the cottagers seemed to be at
their supper. Meg trudged valorously along, neither looking to right or
left. Still she debated whether the time had come for breaking into that
threepenny-piece. She looked at the matter all round. It stood between
her and starvation. Until she reached Mrs. Browne's house she had
nothing else to count upon.

Was she hungry enough yet? Had supper-time come? A whiff of the perfume
of buns and hot loaves from a wayside shop decided the question. She
felt weak and limp from longing for food, and she went in. There were
tumblers of milk on the counter. A halfpennyworth of milk and a
pennyworth of bread must make up her meal. The remaining penny and
halfpenny must be left to pay for her breakfast to-morrow. She drank the
milk in the shop, and she ate the bread in the open air, sitting on a
common outside the village among great ferns. Meg thought she had never
tasted bread so delicious as this. She felt as if she would like to
sleep here among the crisp ferns; but she got up, resolved to walk all
the way to London if the daylight would but last.

The fingerpost pointed down a road bordered on either side by pine
trees. It ran through a wood. The west glowed before her, and the trees
marshaled darkly against the light. The birds flew twittering across
the sky, and all the insects seemed to be singing good-night to the day.
The straight road seemed to stretch like a white ribbon before Meg. It
was very lonely. She did not like the solitude; but she would not admit
to herself that she was frightened. Yet an awe was creeping over her.
The trees seemed supremely dignified. She felt very small and
insignificant as she walked under their silence.

After awhile she heard a sound. It was a distant rumble. She looked
round. A cart was coming along. It was filled with hay. Meg thought how
pleasant it would be to creep within, tuck herself inside the hay, and
sleep while the plodding horse bore her on to her destination. She
loitered and waited until the cart passed, and then went right out into
the road; but at the sight of the large, red-faced man, whose chin was
resting on his chest and whose eyes were closed, Meg went quickly back
into the path. The rumble of the cart died away, and again nothing was
heard but the twitter of birds and the drone of the insects. Presently
she heard a voice spreading in song through the dusk. It sang loud and
discordantly. In Meg's childish experiences songs sung in such tones had
a place; she gave a fierce little shiver, and hid behind the trees. She
was naturally fearless; but she remained quiet as a little ghost until
the figure, with unsteady gait, had passed. Then Meg resumed her way
determinedly.

All at once she began to realize how tired she was. It seemed as if she
had lost all her strength. She must lie down. In the faint light and
silence, amid the calm trees, she must lie down and rest.

How quiet and still it was, as if all nature were bidding Meg trust to
its protection and sleep till morning.

She looked around. There were no hayricks, but there were clumps of fern
and soft sand covered thickly with the brown needles of pine. Then again
Meg thought she heard the rumble of wheels, distant like wheels heard in
a dream, not jolting wheels, but soft swift-rolling wheels. A carriage
drawn by two horses was driving down the road toward London. Meg
dreamily remembered how once she had driven in just such a beautiful
carriage by Mr. Fullbloom's side; how easily they had traveled. In her
weariness came a longing to be taken up into this carriage and to be
driven along. She stood looking in its direction. It came nearer. It was
an open carriage; a man was sitting inside it alone. She discerned the
gleam of white hair on which the western light fell. Then she became
aware of a stern face thrust forward, looking out at her. She had seen
that face before. Where had she seen it? She dreamily remembered. It was
that of the old gentleman who had bidden her never mention her
childhood.

At a word from him the carriage stopped, and he beckoned to Meg. She
hesitated to come forward; she felt inclined to run away. There was a
vague motive in that impulse of flight. It partook of all the past alarm
and misery, and she felt very much as if she stood on the brink of a
precipice. The old gentleman beckoned again impatiently, and a grotesque
idea flitted through Meg's mind that she must have lain under that tree,
gone to sleep, and had a dream. The carriage, the horses, the servants,
the dreaded old gentleman, were all a vision that would pass if she made
an effort. She shut her eyes. When she opened them there was the figure
still bending forward.

It beckoned to her. "Come here!" said a voice; but Meg did not move.

"Drive on!" exclaimed the impatient voice, and the carriage moved off.

A sudden revulsion of terror seized Meg as she watched it driving away.
She roused herself and began to run.

Again the figure stooped forward--beckoned to her as the carriage
stopped.

Meg approached.

"Are you not Meg--Meg Beecham?" the old gentleman said in a voice of
stern surprise.

"Yes, sir," Meg answered faintly. There was a pause; the cold blue eyes
rested heavily upon her as they had done that day, and their gaze
suggested dislike.

"Come inside. I do not hear you," her interlocutor said, opening the
carriage door. He did not stretch his hand out to help her; and Meg
scrambled up, and at his bidding sat down on the seat opposite.

"Why are you here at this hour and alone? Why is your dress and your
whole appearance so soiled and tattered? Have you strayed from your
teachers? Have you lost your way?"

"No, sir," answered Meg.

"No, what?" repeated the old gentleman. "I do not understand your
answer."

"I have not lost my way," said Meg.

"Then where are the persons in whose charge you are? Where are your
schoolfellows?"

"They are not here. I did not go out with them," said Meg, and paused
again.

Her dauntlessness was quelled by fatigue, and by the chill weight of
these eyes fixed upon her.

"Will you answer me plainly? Why are you here, and why are you alone?"

"I have run away," said Meg with a flicker of her old spirit.

"Run away from school?" asked the old gentleman in an icy voice.

Meg nodded.

There was an awful pause.

"Why have you run away?"

"Because," said Meg, "they despise me--they say I shame the school.
That's why I've run away."

"You say you have not lost your way," replied the old gentleman, taking
no heed of her answer. "Where were you going to?"

"To London."

"To London!" repeated her interlocutor. "What would you have done
there?"

"I would have gone to Mrs. Browne. I would have asked my way until I
found her house."

There came a pause, during which the old gentleman looked at her and
muttered himself.

Meg thought she heard him say, "Like parent, like child. The same evil
disposition." Then lifting his voice, he called to the coachman, "Drive
to Greyling; when you get there ask the way to Moorhouse, Miss Reeves'
school for young ladies."

"No, no! I will not go back!--I will not!" cried Meg, jumping to her
feet as the carriage began to turn round.

"You shall go back," said the old gentleman, pushing her down in the
seat opposite and holding her there.

The carriage moved swiftly, and so noiselessly that Meg heard every word
her companion said.

"You shall go back this time; but if ever you seek to run away from that
school again, no one will take you back again. You shall be left to
achieve your own willful ruin. I will wash my hands of you forever.

"Listen," he continued, with upraised finger, as Meg, awed by his
manner, did not reply. "Do you know what will happen if you try to
escape from that school again? You will become a pauper. You will have
to beg by the roadside. You will sink lower and lower, until you get
into the workhouse."

"No!" cried Meg, with a flash of confidence. "Mrs. Browne will take me
in."

"Mrs. Browne has left that house. It is occupied by strangers who do not
know you, who would shut its doors upon you."

"Gone!" repeated Meg, aghast. "Where is she gone to?"

"You will never know," said the stranger. Then after a moment he
resumed: "If I had not been driving down that road this evening you
would have begun your downward course already. Remember what I say to
you. If you try to escape again you will become a little casual. A
ruffianly porter will let you in and order you about, you will be put
into a dirty bath, obliged to wear clothes other beggars have worn
before you."

"No, no! It can't be--it won't be!" cried Meg.

"Who will prevent it?" said the old gentleman.

"Mr. Standish. He is my friend--he shall prevent it! I will write to
him--he will fetch me away!" cried Meg incoherently, with a despairing
sense of the futility of her assertions.

"Where will you write to him?" asked the stranger sharply. "Listen,
child. You do not deserve that I should trouble myself on your account,
and it seems as if you did not care to deserve that I should. There was
one whom I loved who proved base and ungrateful. I left him to his
fate."

He paused. Meg had not understood this mysterious speech. Her blood grew
cold. After a moment the stranger resumed: "I do not doubt this Mr.
Standish showed you much kindness, and I will not blame you because you
are grateful to him; but from the moment you left your former life Mr.
Standish passed out of it. He does not know where you are. He never will
know. You do not know where he is. I do not know it; I could tell you
nothing about him. Dismiss him from your thoughts." He made a gesture as
if, with his uplifted hand, he were tearing the tie between her and that
friend of her childhood. "Remember you owe duty and gratitude to another
now. Be silent!"

"Oh, I want to know where he is--I want to know!" cried Meg, breaking
again into incoherent appeal.

The old gentleman did not reply. He sat there silent, his face growing
dimmer as the evening deepened. Suddenly Meg realized the desolation
that had overtaken her, and throwing herself forward with her face prone
down upon the cushions, she burst into weeping, with speechless sobs.

The stranger made no effort to comfort her. When the paroxysm of weeping
had spent itself Meg turned her head, and saw that the night had come.
The stars were out in the sky. By their light she dimly discerned the
old gentleman's face. She thought that he was looking at her, then she
saw that he lay back with his eyes closed, as if asleep.

She did not move. A hope and an assurance which had hitherto filled her
heart had gone out of her life, and she lay there an atom of despair
lost in a void of desolation. The carriage drove noiselessly on. She was
vaguely aware of the still freshness of the night spreading about her.
She knew when the carriage stopped, and when lights flashed, and
familiar voices, speaking excitedly, sounded near. Still she did not
stir.

She confusedly heard the old gentleman ask for Miss Reeves, and this
lady reply. She recognized Miss Grantley's accents angrily asserting she
ought not to be taken back. Then again she knew the stranger requested
that she should be put to bed and given some food, while he had a
private talk with the head-mistress.

Meg felt herself taken out; she recognized that she was in Rachel's
arms. She was carried upstairs and undressed. She made no resistance,
except to refuse the food Rachel pressed upon her.

At last she lay in bed and in the dark, communing and wrestling with
her soul--living the troublous day over again. Sometimes thinking
that she was once more struggling up that dusty highway; that she was
falling and stumbling along; drifting away and then coming back to
half-consciousness; and then dreamily hearing the thump, thump of
crutches coming toward her, and catching a glimpse of a bright, bold
face looking at her.

As she lay there oppressed by the weariness and bewilderment of that
feverish time, a thirst for comfort rose in her little heart. She
vaguely heard the rumble of carriage-wheels driving away, and she knew
the old gentleman was gone.

In her sadness and longing for solace Meg was dropping off to sleep,
when suddenly and softly she felt a kiss alight upon her forehead. She
did not stir or question; she was too exhausted to wonder or to fear.
After the day's fever and alarm she could not quail or wonder any more.

She fancied she heard light steps leave the room; but that kiss had
brought the solace she yearned for, and she fell asleep.



CHAPTER XIV.

WHO GAVE THAT KISS.


A year and a half had elapsed since that wild outburst of rebellion
against discipline had sent Meg flying Londonward. She had settled down
into the routine of the school. Nothing now existed for her outside its
boundaries. She had parted company with her childhood. The goblin past
lay behind her, and as she looked back upon it the child who watched
over the staircase almost appeared to have been a visionary creature.

She concentrated all her attention upon her studies. If still Miss
Grantley was prejudiced against her she won the approbation of her other
teachers. Signora Vallaria rolled her dark eyes as Meg's fingers still
lagged behind in execution; but there was an energy, an intelligence in
her apprehension that made the signora, while wringing her hands, yet
consider Meg's lesson a treat to give. If Meg's answers occasionally
still lacked exactitude in the historical class they were always roughly
brilliant and intelligent. She was still apt to pass beyond her own
depth, but her fellow-pupils felt the impetus of a rashness that was the
outcome of energy. Meg had an unconscious ascendency over her
schoolmates. A vigorous nature will always sway more languid spirits;
but her influence over them was due rather to the fact that since she
was eight years of age she had begun to think, and, like all suffering
creatures, to observe. This power of observation, of drawing her own
conclusions, and of acting upon them, was the secret of her ascendency
over her schoolfellows. It was the ascendency of character.

Some called her repellent; for there was a childlike bluntness, a
certain defiant awkwardness about her still. Others, like Miss Pinkett,
treated her with contempt as a nameless waif. Others again, like
Gwendoline Lister, wove a web of romance about her; nothing short of Meg
being the deserted child of a duchess satisfied the Beauty. Meg knew she
continued to be the object of this speculation, and these castles in the
air made about her future wounded her, and she repelled curiosity. She
still remained solitary in that busy republic of girls. Still her
sensitive pride impelled her to refuse sweets when offered to her,
because she had none to give in return; still she refused invitations,
because she could not ask others to be guests at her home.

The day of her attempted flight had proved memorable; that day of
feverish adventures had brought her an experience over which, in her
loveless life, she often pondered. That spectral kiss placed on her
forehead, which had brought such solace to her as she lay in misery and
loneliness, haunted her. Who had given her that kiss? At first she had
thought it might be Miss Reeves to assure her of pardon; but why should
the schoolmistress have made a mystery of her kindness? The balanced
composure and impartiality of the lady's manner dispelled this
conjecture. The more Meg saw Miss Reeves the more she felt sure the lady
would not yield to any emotional demonstration, and, if she yielded, she
would not conceal it. Miss Grantley could not have taken this fit of
pity. Her frosty behavior precluded its possibility. Then Meg thought it
might be the cook who was kind to her.

"Did you come up to my room that night when I was going to sleep?" she
asked the old servant; but the surprised denial she received was
conclusive. Who then could have given her that kiss? It could not be the
old gentleman. She had heard the wheels of his carriage driving down the
garden, and nothing could well be more unlikely or unlike his stern,
unsympathetic nature. There was no one else in the house that day except
the servants, and no servant could have approached with that gliding
footfall. Meg sometimes fancied it might be her dead mother attracted to
her grieving child's bedside; but Meg asked herself, "If it were, why
had she not come to kiss or comfort her before?" and then she added,
"there are no such things as ghosts." But still this solution seemed to
rest upon her mind as a notion more akin to her feelings, if it were the
least probable explanation of the mystery.

Meg, during the year and a half that had elapsed, had given way to no
more bursts of impish rage; she had become a reticent, grave, and silent
girl. She was rather stern-looking, but this expression of sternness, if
to a superficial observer it might have seemed an outcome of her nature,
was in truth but that of a habit acquired by its enforced repression.
Her sympathies bid fair to languish and die from want of soil, when an
event happened which gave a force and a color to her school-life.

One afternoon after class, Meg, entering the schoolroom, perceived the
girls gathered in a knot at the further end. She pushed her way through
to discover what was attracting them. A golden-haired child was the
center of the group. She was a new pupil come from India, and the girls
were lavishing caresses upon the little stranger. The child was pretty
and frail-looking enough to justify their enthusiastic effusiveness.
She submitted to the kisses and hugs and general petting with a
half-resigned air that suggested endurance of what she was already
over-satiated with, rather than gratitude for the accorded welcome. Meg
looked on, unsympathizing with these cheap caresses, but still attracted
by the prettiness of the child as one might be by a strange bird of
great beauty. The wistful gaze of large blue eyes encircled with lilac
shadows met hers; but still Meg took no notice, repelled by that excess
of demonstration lavished upon the little stranger by the other girls.
"They don't see how they worry the poor little thing," she muttered as,
taking up what she had come for, she went upstairs.

Some time after, as she knelt before her trunk, putting its contents in
order, a slight touch on her elbow caused her to look round.

"What pretty things!" said a little voice. It was the child. With tiny
fingers she pointed to the gayly-bound volume Meg was restoring to the
box.

"There are pictures inside," Meg replied, turning the pages. The child
looked coldly at the prints. She apparently did not care for the
illustrations. It was the gold-edged leaves and the gold pattern on the
cover which attracted her.

"How it _sines_!" she said with her baby lisp, and she passed her rosy
fingertips over the gilding.

Meg looked at the bright hair falling in soft abundance over the tiny
shoulders, at the dark lashes that shaded the eyes, surrounded by pearly
shadows, at the sculptured lips, the upper lip lying softly curled over
the lower. She thought she had never seen anything so dainty and
delicate as this child. She seemed to be like a feather blown out of
heaven across her path.

"What is your name?" asked Meg.

"Elsie," said the child; "and what is yours?"

"My name is Meg."

"Did your mamma give you those books?" asked the child.

"I have no mamma," Meg replied curtly.

"I have no mamma either; she is dead," said Elsie.

Meg was moved by one of those sudden emotions which come with a rush.
She lifted her box with violence and carried it some paces off.

"How strong you are!" said the child. "Can you lift me?"

Meg felt inclined to be impatient. Then, meeting the glance of eyes the
appeal of which was irresistible, she took the child in her arms and
tossed her up.

That night, through the silence of the dormitory, Meg heard subdued
sobbing. All the other girls were asleep. Elsie's bed had been placed on
the other side of the room. Meg listened for a moment. Her heart was
wrung by that low sound of weeping. She thought of her own anguish of
loneliness, and of that haunting kiss which had brought such solace to
her in her night of sorrow. After awhile she stole out of bed, and
bending over the child, she kissed her forehead.



CHAPTER XV.

MISS PINKETT'S DIAMOND.


Elsie had taken a fancy to the stern, silent girl. She put out all her
little arts to please Meg. Indifferent and inclined to be fitful to the
girls who petted her and offered to carry her in their arms, she
followed Meg about with pathetic persistence. Meg felt the delight of a
devoted nature, thankful for opportunities given to it of sacrificing
itself, and mingled gratitude with the feeling she returned. She devoted
herself to Elsie. She played with her, she taught her lessons, she spent
time and ingenuity in making learning easy to her; and Elsie accepted
this devotion. There was pity for Elsie mingled in Meg's solicitude. She
was so strong, and the child looked so frail. She was so fearless, and
the child was as easily frightened as a little bird. A severe word made
Elsie tremble; and it was pitiful to see the little hands, with their
network of veins, trembling at any harshness.

The girls were astonished to see a return of the terrible Meg one day
when Laura was teasing Elsie, mimicking her nervous ways, her frightened
starts and turns of the head. Meg suddenly leaped forward and pushed
Laura with such force that this damsel found herself sitting on the
ground at some yards' distance.

"How dare you be so cruel to a little child!" Meg said, standing between
Elsie and her tormentor.

"I shall have you punished, you gypsy!" Miss Laura replied.

"Have me punished if you like," said Meg; "but if you dare hurt this
child I will give it to you again."

A peculiarity of the child which perplexed Meg, besides an almost
abnormal timidity, was the singular fascination exercised over her by
bright objects. Like a little grayling that rises to the light, every
shining object attracted Elsie. It seemed almost uncanny to Meg, whose
æsthetic sense was yet in its elementary stage, and who was
unconsciously stirred by the moral suggestiveness of beauty, rather than
by its physical appeal. Flowers, birds, Elsie herself, came to her as
vague yet tangible revelations of a greater calm, a higher goodness and
sweetness than earth holds. Elsie's delight in brilliancy was purely
sensuous, and its influence over her nervous little frame puzzled Meg.
A Salviati glass that stood in Miss Reeves' sanctum fascinated the
child. She seized every opportunity to catch a sight of the wonderful
vase; the shifting opal tints seemed to throw her into an excited dream.
She would go and peep at it through the open door. Meg missed her one
day from the playground, and found her perched on a chair in the room no
one was allowed to enter without the mistress' permission, touching the
vase, cooing and kissing the cold and glittering glass.

"Come down, Elsie! You must not come in here, you know, without Miss
Reeves' permission," she said, alarmed, gently taking the child up in
her arms. Then as Elsie struggled she went on: "Everything in this room
is a present from an old pupil or a friend. Everything is very dear to
Miss Reeves in it. She would be very angry if an accident happened to
the vase. You would be punished for disobedience."

Elsie at this prospect let Meg carry her away, but she began to cry:

"I want it--I want it. I want to take it to bed with me! I want to have
it all to myself!"

Meg soothed her. She endeavored to divert her attention by telling her
the story of a mine of diamonds, more wonderful than that of the field
of diamonds in "Sindbad the Sailor." For Elsie's sake Meg had developed
the gift of telling stories. Her inventive powers were as the wand of a
magician over the child. Her tales were distinguished by a touch of the
grotesque and grewsome, a spice of humor and adventure. Meg's voice,
which was of a peculiar quality, helped the effect. It was low and
feeling at times, and again it had a spirited emphasis kept under gentle
restraint. A child was the heroine of these stories, inspired by
incidents enlarged upon and drawn from her childish recollections.

The stories that attracted Elsie most were those of splendor and of
perfume. She would listen enthralled to the adventures in the bowels of
the earth of a little girl, who met there the giant who took care of the
fire, the sparks of which formed the diamonds, rubies, and topaz.

One day Elsie crept like a lizard to Meg's side. Miss Pinkett, who was a
parlor-boarder now, had certain privileges, and was going to a party.
She had called Elsie in to see her dressed, and she had shown the child
a diamond star her father had sent from India on her last birthday.

"She put it here"--Elsie's little hand touched her forehead. "It looked
all alive, twinkling--twinkling! It was more beautiful than the glass
vase. It shot out now a lovely red ray, then a yellow light or a bit of
shiny blue. Miss Pinkett said her mother had more beautiful diamonds,"
Elsie concluded, with a sigh of exhausted happiness.

"It is only a bit of coal--black coal that has been buried a long time
in the earth," Meg replied with practical coldness.

"I don't believe it. It shines--shines--shines!" said the child. "Do you
think Miss Pinkett would let me touch it, put it on, and play with it?"

"No," said Meg bluntly. "I would not ask her. You might lose it, and she
would never forgive you."

But the diamond star had taken possession of Elsie's mind, and the fear
of punishment did not lift the spell it exercised.

"Do you see that little red-morocco box?--it is in there. I saw her put
it in there," she whispered to Meg next morning, dragging her by the
skirt into the room Miss Pinkett still shared with Miss Lister alone.

"Do leave that diamond alone," said Meg brusquely. "Don't think of it so
much, Elsie. It will get you into trouble and you will get punished. Did
you ever see a drop of water through a microscope? That is ever so much
more wonderful. Dr. Flite showed us this at the chemistry class this
morning."

"I don't care for drops of water," said Elsie pettishly.

"There are monsters in it that fight each other and eat each other up.
I'll tell you a story about a drop of water," said Meg suggestively,
still trying to divert Elsie's attention.

One morning Meg was running down the corridor that led out of the
dormitories.

"Meg, Meg!" called a little voice in a whisper. Meg looked round; it was
Elsie standing at Miss Pinkett's door. She was holding something in the
palm of her small, shaking hand. Meg, approaching, saw it was the
diamond star.

"Elsie, put it back at once," she said peremptorily.

"The box was open. I saw it shining and I took it out. I could not help
it. Is it not lovely?"

The tiny fingers caressed the stone, and the baby voice gurgled and
laughed to it.

"You will get into trouble, and I shall not be able to save you from
being punished," said Meg. "Put it back."

As she spoke Elsie gave a sudden start, dropped the diamond, and took to
flight.

Meg picked up the gem and went inside the room to place it in its box.
She encountered Miss Pinkett and Miss Lister coming in by another door.

"What are you doing in my room?" asked Miss Pinkett coldly.

Meg, without answering, put down the diamond.

Miss Pinkett flushed. "What right have you to touch anything of
mine--this diamond especially?"

Meg remained silent, as if pondering what she would say.

"If I find you fingering anything that belongs to me I will report you,
Miss Beecham," resumed Miss Pinkett in her most chilly tones.

"You ought to lock up your diamond," said Meg, at last, with an effort.
"It it not right to leave it about--not right to others. It might bring
some one into temptation."

"I understand," replied Miss Pinkett with cutting point. "I see there is
necessity to lock it up." She shut the box with a snap, and closed the
drawer with an elaborate jingle of keys.

The diamond was hidden, but Elsie still thought of it. One evening, as
Meg sat on the window sill absorbed in reading an account of the condor,
and following with tremendous interest the flight of the bird over
mountain and seas, Elsie suddenly interrupted her.

She pointed to the evening star hanging in the suffused light of the
sunset. "I wonder if papa sees that star in India," she said.

"Not just now, at any rate," answered Meg a little roughly. Any sign of
yearning in Elsie's voice affected her painfully.

"Do you think Miss Pinkett's lovely jewel is like that star?" said
Elsie, after a pause.

"No, it is not more like it than a lighted lucifer match is like a sun,"
replied Meg.

"She is gone out to a dinner-party to-night, and she did not wear it. I
wonder why," continued the child, undismayed by the blunt reply.

"I do not care for that diamond more than if it were a pebble from the
gravel of the playground," answered Meg impatiently; then with abrupt
transition she asked, "Did you ever hear of the condor?"

"The what?" asked Elsie.

"The condor," repeated Meg, and she pointed to the picture of the bird.
But Elsie's mind was not to be so easily diverted.

"If I had that diamond," she said in a subdued tone, "I would carry it
about wherever I went. I would talk to it, and kiss it."

"I think," said Meg, "that if you had it you would want nothing but that
hard, glittering stone."

"Nothing! At night I would put it under my pillow and it would come into
a dream," continued Elsie.

"You dream of it already," said Meg impatiently.

"I wish you would tell me a story about it," replied Elsie with a sigh.

Meg shut her book. She drew her breath heavily

"I don't like that diamond," she said. Then pausing, she began abruptly:

"Once upon a time there was a little girl like you, who wanted a
diamond, and she cared for nothing because she could not get that
diamond; and a spirit put her into a small bare world all alone, to own
it and be its queen. And the spirit gave her a beautiful diamond, twenty
times as big and as beautiful as that one of Miss Pinkett's."

"Oh!" said Elsie, with a pant.

"The little girl," went on Meg, "jumped about for joy, and said she
would want nothing now that she had this diamond.

"And the spirit said to her, 'There is something better and more
beautiful than this diamond. When you have got tired of that jewel you
will find this out, and then you will want that greater blessing.'"

"Blessing!" repeated Elsie petulantly. "I am sure she never did want
anything more."

"And so the little girl," continued Meg, "talked to her diamond, and
kissed it, and put it under her pillow at night and dreamed of it. But
the diamond did not answer her, did not kiss her back; if she were sad
or if she were glad it glittered the same. So the little girl at last
grew tired of the diamond. It was not a companion. She felt a great
want. There is something better, she thought; something that would be
good and pleasant to have in sorrow as well as in joy. She asked the
spirit to tell her what was that better thing. But the spirit did not
answer. So the little girl went wandering about her bare world to find
it. She walked till she was footsore, and still she could not find it;
for she did not know what it was. Only she yearned for it. One night she
was so weary and lonely that she felt as if she must die, and she prayed
to the spirit to have pity upon her and give her that better thing; and
at last it came to her."

"What was it?" said Elsie eagerly.

"She was dropping off to sleep, sobbing to herself in her weariness and
solitariness, when on her forehead there was laid a soft kiss."

"A kiss!" repeated Elsie in a tone of disappointment.

"It was a kiss of love, like this," said Meg, bending forward and gently
kissing Elsie's forehead. "And when she felt this kiss the fatigue, the
loneliness and sadness left her, and the next morning she awoke quite
happy."

"Was it the spirit gave her the kiss?" asked Elsie, with cold interest.

"She sometimes thought it was," said Meg.

"And the diamond--what became of the diamond?" asked Elsie.

"It had vanished," said Meg.

"I do not like that story," said Elsie pettishly; but she remained
thoughtful by Meg's side.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE PARTY.


Meg thought that a change had come over Elsie. The child was attentive
at her lessons, and softly dependent upon the protection of her friend.
Elsie's mind had also become full of a school-party that was shortly to
be given. There were to be theatricals. Miss Pinkett, who was to leave
school after this term, was to play a grand piece on the pianoforte. The
evening was to close with dancing. Some of the girls' brothers were
asked to the party. Elsie was to take part in the theatricals--she was
to appear as a fairy, in a white dress ornamented with tinsel.

Nothing else but the coming party was talked of. The girls discussed the
festivity between lessons, and it was the theme of their speculation as
they walked abroad. Meg alone was uninterested, and would have wished to
escape and remain in her room that night. On the appointed day there
were no lessons, and the schoolroom was decorated with flowers and
sketches; the pupils lending their aid and their taste to Signora
Vallaria, who supervised the arrangements.

The evening was approaching. All the girls who were to take part in the
theatricals had dropped in one by one dressed for their parts. There was
to be a rehearsal before the guests arrived. Elsie alone was missing.
Meg sought her high and low. Once she thought she caught sight of the
little figure in Miss Pinkett's room, but when she entered she found the
room empty. As she was turning away she encountered Miss Pinkett, who
looked at her with surprised coldness.

"I was looking for Elsie," Meg explained.

"She is not in the habit of coming into my room uninvited," replied Miss
Pinkett. "Indeed no one is but yourself, Miss Beecham," and Miss Pinkett
shut the door without waiting for Meg's reply.

The dress rehearsal had begun without Elsie, when suddenly the door flew
open and Miss Pinkett entered in great agitation. Her diamond star was
gone. Had any one seen it? The case was on the table where she had put
it, but it was empty. Blank astonishment greeted the announcement. There
was a rush to the young lady's room to help in the hunt for the missing
jewel. The servants were called and asked if any of them had seen it;
but all declared they had not entered that room. At last all adjourned
to the schoolroom, where the wild excitement resolved itself into a
solemn inquiry as to who had been last in Miss Pinkett's room. Whispers
grew around Meg. More than one glance of suspicion was turned upon her.
At last Miss Reeves asked quietly, "What were you doing, Miss Beecham,
in Miss Pinkett's room a little while ago?"

"I?" replied Meg, amazed.

"You cannot deny that you were there. I met you there!" Miss Pinkett
rejoined excitedly.

"What do you mean?" said Meg. She looked round in a dazed manner, then a
sudden fury gripped her throat as she understood the drift of the
questions.

"Do you mean to say that you accuse me of stealing?"

"It does not amount to an accusation," said Miss Reeves. "I only ask you
what you were doing in Miss Pinkett's room?"

"I never touched the diamond star," said Meg.

"Never! Do you mean," cried Miss Pinkett, "that you did not touch it
that day I found you in my room with the diamond in your hand?"

"I touched it that day," said Meg, and paused; she had caught sight of
Elsie, cowering pale and trembling against the wall.

"Why did you touch it? Why did you say I ought not to leave it about?"
hotly questioned Miss Pinkett.

"I had a reason for touching it that day."

"What reason?" asked Miss Reeves.

"One which I cannot tell. It was a good reason. Believe it or not, I
don't care. But I did not touch it to-day. I did not see it."

"You were in my room," said Miss Pinkett, "and the diamond case was on
the table, and the diamond was in it, I know."

"I was in your room," Meg began.

"What for?" asked Miss Pinkett.

"I was looking"--again Meg encountered that appealing look from Elsie,
cowering a white trembling little scrap against the wall.

"Your explanations are lame," said Miss Reeves gravely.

"I don't care if they are lame or not," Meg interrupted fiercely. "I
have not taken that diamond. That is all I have to say. I have not taken
it. I had it one day in my hand. Appearances may be so far against me;
but if you condemn me on that, you do it out of your hatred to me."

"Hush, Miss Beecham!" said Miss Reeves severely.

"You hate and despise me because I have no one who belongs to me in the
world," continued Meg. "You call me a gypsy girl and a tramp, that's
what you call me. I don't care if you hate and despise me. I can't help
what I was born, and I don't want to help it. What I know is that I have
not taken that diamond."

A murmur ran round the room, but Meg did not pause to consider its
nature. She turned in her ungovernable indignation, and pushing through
her companions she flung open the door and slammed it after her. Again
she caught a glimpse of Elsie's terrorized face and figure as she rushed
past.

She went out into the playground to breathe the fresh air, trembling
with fury. The old wild self had returned to her, taking with it seven
devils. Her heart felt too big for her breast. Tearless sobs shook her
as with all the vehemence of her spirit she repelled the charge brought
against her.

Then again she seemed to see before her the wretched, cringing little
figure of Elsie, and the large eyes fixed wistfully upon her. A
suspicion fell cold and terrible on Meg's heart and checked her wrath.
She had vaguely interpreted that look as an entreaty not to reveal
Elsie's admiration for the gem. It seemed now to convey another
meaning. How could she see that child alone, get a few secret words
with her?

She went indoors, and in the hall she met Elsie, like a little ghost,
furtively creeping out, holding something in her shaking hand.

"What is it, Elsie?"

"They are going to search our things, everybody's things," gasped Elsie.
"I am going to throw it away."

"Throw what away?" asked Meg energetically.

"The diamond," the convulsive voice of the child answered; and still she
held something tight hidden in the small shaking hand covered with a
network of blue veins.

"Oh, Elsie, did you take the diamond?" asked Meg sadly.

"Yes, I thought--I thought Miss Pinkett would not wear it. I wanted to
have it for one night. I--I thought she would not find it out. I heard
her say she was not going to wear it. Where shall I throw it away?"

"You must not throw it away," said Meg. "Some one else would be
suspected. Come, Elsie, you must be brave. You must say that you took
it. Come with me, I'll say it for you."

She put her arm about the child. But Elsie struggled like a little mad
animal from her grasp.

"No, no; don't say it was I--don't say it was I!"

An infinite compassion seized Meg when she saw the big tears welling in
Elsie's eyes, and she asked herself how she could save this little one.
Pity grew into the stronger motive and smothered fear. It was Meg's
nature that what she undertook to do she did thoroughly.

"I will ask to be punished in your stead, Elsie," she said.

"They won't punish you for me--they won't let you be punished for me!"

Meg drew her breath.

"They don't think it is I--they don't think it is I!" sobbed Elsie,
clinging to Meg. "Don't say it is I!"

The child was cold with anguish.

"Very well; I will not say it is you."

"You'll not say it--you'll not say it?" repeated Elsie, clinging to
Meg's skirt.

"No; I'll manage it," said Meg.

"How will you manage it? Who will give the diamond up?"

"I," said Meg.

The child put her arms round Meg's neck, kissing her over and over
again, and reiterating her cry not to say she had taken it.

Meg put her gently away, marched out and went straight into the room
where all were assembled.

Miss Reeves with Signora Vallaria and two other teachers were preparing
for the search of the boxes. Meg walked up to the head-mistress.

"There is the diamond!" she said, holding it out with outstretched hand.

A dead pause greeted this speech. Then Miss Pinkett's laugh rippled up.

"I thought so," she said.

Miss Reeves took the jewel, lifting her hand to enjoin silence.

"What does this mean?" she asked.

"I return Miss Pinkett's diamond," Meg replied.

"Do you mean to say that you took it notwithstanding your repudiation of
the accusation which shamed some of us into believing you innocent?"

"I restore it now," said Meg huskily.

"Had you heard that the boxes were to be searched?" demanded Miss
Reeves.

"Yes," said Meg.

Again there was a pause.

"I will stake my word upon it, there is a mystery," said Signora
Vallaria, fixing her dark eyes upon Meg.

"Miss Beecham," resumed Miss Reeves, "did you take this diamond?"

Meg remained silent.

"I repeat the question," said Miss Reeves. "Did you take this diamond?"

"I restore it, and I am ready to submit to any punishment you may
decree. Is that not sufficient answer?"

Again there was a murmur round the room.

"I am afraid it is a sufficient answer," said Miss Reeves gravely. "The
punishment is expulsion from school. I give you till to-morrow morning,
Miss Beecham, to explain your strange conduct. You cannot attend the
party. You have turned an occasion of festivity into one of humiliation
and unhappiness for us all. Go upstairs. You can no longer occupy the
dormitory with your fellow-pupils. You will be taken to a room on the
other side of the corridor where you will sleep alone. Miss Grantley
will show you the way."

Meg turned to follow her guide in silence. The stern girl seemed turned
to stone.



CHAPTER XVII.

POOR MEG.


Through the evening Meg heard the intolerable dance music going on and
on. Little by little there came to her in her isolation the realization
of the thankless load she had taken upon herself--a burden of guilt of
the meanest kind. What would Mr. Standish think of her now? He had for
some time past fallen into the background of her thoughts; but now there
returned to her the memory of this friend of her childhood. With anguish
she felt that when they met again, instead of appearing before him grown
into a lady, full of the grace of blossomed womanly ways, and with the
dignity which comes of loving protection to the weak, what would she
seem to him? For years, thought Meg, for all her life, she must seem a
miserable wretch and a thief.

She walked up and down the little room contemplating this picture. She
could not face the prospect; and still, as there rose before her that
vision of a cringing, shrinking child, an atom of terror outlined there
against the darkness, appealing to her, Meg once more took up the load
of guilt. Up and down she wandered, unable to concentrate her thoughts,
sometimes contemplating how two hours ago she was a different being--all
the change that had happened in two little hours!--then feeling that one
comfort remained to her--the thought of Elsie's gratitude. In an alien
world this little blossom of love would sweeten her lot. She turned from
the realization of her own ruin to linger on this consolation that round
Elsie's heart would hang the rich perfume of thankfulness for the
sacrifice she had made. And then still, as she walked up and down, she
thought how downstairs as they danced they all knew it. She was worse to
them than a beggar in the streets. "If I were to go downstairs they
would all shrink from me," she muttered bitterly. There was a stain upon
her never to be wiped off. In two years would it be forgotten? she asked
herself drearily. No, it would not. In three years? No, it never will,
answered the thought; and then always, like the burden of her plaint,
that Mr. Standish would hear of it.

The intolerable dance music stopped at last. She heard the rustle of
dresses, the rush of feet. The party was over. The girls were going to
bed. The gas was turned off and the house was plunged into darkness.

Meg lay down upon her bed and from sheer fatigue of sorrow fell asleep.
She woke with the dawn, and for a moment she forgot what had happened.
Then the heavy misery shaped itself and pressed upon her soul again. The
calm morning held a promise of hope. What would the day bring her? Would
not Elsie tell?

Just before the bell for prayers rang she heard a step outside. The
handle of the door turned and Miss Reeves entered.

There was a moment of silence as the head mistress and the pupil faced
each other.

"Meg, how did that diamond come into your possession?" Miss Reeves
asked, not unkindly.

Meg did not answer.

"Will you not explain? I have come here to win your confidence. Why did
you not return it before the order came for searching the boxes?"

A passing moment of temptation came to Meg to explain, to admit that
certain reasons kept her silent, but she sternly repressed the impulse.

She repeated what she had said before--she had restored the jewel, was
that not enough? She would say nothing more.

"Then," said Miss Reeves sternly, "I can give but one interpretation to
your obstinate silence. You are guilty of an act which seems to me the
meanest that ever occurred in my school. There remains but one course
for me to take. I will write to your guardian. You must be removed at
once. The disgrace of your presence must be removed from your comrades.
You will join your schoolfellows at prayer-times only. Your meals will
be brought up and served to you here. I must forbid you to address any
of your schoolfellows; nor must you speak to any of your teachers except
to make the small reparation of a full confession."

Miss Reeves turned and left the room with cold stateliness. Meg remained
standing where she was till the prayer-bell rang. The fury of the night
was over. Her mind seemed a void. She could think no more, scarcely
could she suffer. When the bell ceased, she left the room. A few laggard
girls were hurrying out of the dormitory. They passed her with averted
faces and in silence; and they whispered with each other. There came
upon Meg the first bitterness of the realization that she was an outcast
from the community.

She entered the room where all were assembled, feeling dizzy. Then a
sort of courage of indignation came upon her, for she was innocent. She
looked in the direction of Elsie's place, eager to receive a glance
that would repay her for all that she was bearing; but Elsie's eyes were
carefully turned in another direction, and she appeared bent upon hiding
behind another girl, as if to avoid seeing Meg. A pang of anguish shot
through Meg's heart. Was that little hand lifted with the others against
her? Was Elsie also thrusting her out as did all those who refused her
fellowship in their lot? She felt so dazed that she remained for a
moment standing, unaware of the general kneeling around her as Miss
Reeves' voice was raised in prayer. Then her heart began to harden, and
she looked toward Elsie no more.

When the girls were filing out she thought she would give Elsie another
chance. The child must pass her in going out. Meg was conscious of her
pet's approach, although she did not openly look her way. She felt if
she watched Elsie and the child made an advance it would not be
spontaneous. And yet, when there came no furtive touch on her hand, no
whispered word as Elsie passed, Meg could not withhold from glancing
toward her. Yes, Elsie had passed with eyes averted. That last link of
sympathy which had given her hope gave way and broke.

Meg went up to her room, and the day passed. She sat with her chin
buried in her hands looking heavily out. She felt stunned; she no
longer protested or pondered over the future. At prayer-time that
evening she did not look toward Elsie.

The next morning there was again a moment of forgetfulness when she
awoke. Then again the horror gradually shaped itself, but this morning
nature brought to her no reassurance. At the sound of the bell Meg rose
with a heart like lead. She dressed herself and went down slowly. A mood
of indignant bitterness had replaced the chilled misery of her
bewildered heart. After prayers Miss Reeves informed her that she had
received a letter from Mr. Fullbloom. He would fetch her away that
afternoon. She must be prepared to leave then.

Meg received the news mutely, and went upstairs to begin her packing as
directed.

She mechanically folded and put her belongings into her trunk. When she
took out the presents Mr. Standish had given her, and that bore the
marks of much handling, a movement of enraged despair seized her, and
she trembled. "He'll never care to see me again, and how could I see
him?" she muttered.

The girls were out in the playground as she finished her task. "I'll be
glad to get away!" she said, as she sat on her box a moment and looked
round her. But even as she said this her mind called up before her the
departure. "Where am I going to?" she muttered. With compressed lips she
whispered to herself as she rose, "No matter! no matter!"

It was two o'clock; in less than an hour she knew Mr. Fullbloom would be
here. Her trunk, locked and strapped, stood in a corner; her hat and
cloak lay upon it ready to be put on at his summons. No one had come
near her. All her preparations were made. The old restlessness had
returned; and she was walking up and down, thinking, thinking where was
she to go to. What would happen to her?

"Meg! Meg!" said a little voice in a whisper. She turned; it was Elsie
standing on the threshold of the door. There was a pause, during which
Meg eyed the little figure, huddling up into a corner, its hands
convulsively working together with a pitiful resemblance to older grief.

"Speak to me, Meg! won't you speak to me? I am so miserable," lisped the
child piteously.

"You ought to be," replied Meg.

"If they would only let me go away with you!" moaned the child. "Oh,
Meg, if they would only let me go away with you!"

"How could they let you go with me? I am a thief; you are a white,
pure, innocent child," Meg said in bitter sarcasm.

"It is I who am wicked, not you. Oh, Meg, I love you so much, I love you
so much!" reiterated the child, with that piteous quaver in her voice,
stealing into the room, still wringing her little hands.

"Love me!" repeated Meg, her voice shrilly bitter; "and you do as the
others do. You turn your face away when I come into the room."

"I am frightened, I am frightened. The girls say no one must look at
you, or talk to you. I am frightened."

"Yes, I know you are frightened," Meg replied with softened gruffness.
Elsie looked changed, she seemed a little wasted.

"I cannot sleep. Oh, Meg, I cannot sleep, I am so miserable!" sobbed
Elsie, touching Meg's dress.

A pang of pity shot through Meg's heart.

"Hush! Elsie. Never mind, never mind," she said, stroking the child's
hair. "Don't speak loud, some one may be listening."

"I wish I could tell," said Elsie, with heaving bosom. "I try to make
myself tell. It stops here!" and the child put her hand to her throat.
"I try to say I took it; but I can't, I can't. And you won't tell, Meg,
you won't tell?"

"No, I won't," said Meg. "I won't. Do not be afraid, my pet."

She kept stroking Elsie's hair, grateful for that moment of solace.

"I wish I were dead!" cried Elsie, with a sudden wail, flinging herself
into Meg's arms.

"Come away this moment!" said a voice, and a hand took hold of Elsie and
dragged her away.

Meg recognized Ursula. She stood stock-still for a moment. Then she
threw herself prone down upon the ground with a passionate cry.

That touch of comfort so rudely taken from her; that word of love from
the child who had most right to give her love, silenced so abruptly!
Why? Because in their rude honesty her comrades had decreed to exile her
and abhor her like a thief.

She remained with her face pressed down to the ground, as if she would
press herself into the heart of the cold floor. Vaguely she was aware of
the bell ringing as for classes, and she knew the time had come--in a
few moments more she would be gone on her way. But she did not move.

She became aware of steps approaching. Some one touched her on the
shoulder. Ursula's voice said, "Meg, you must come down at once."

Meg turned her head round.

"You must come down at once," repeated Ursula, as Meg kept looking at
her stupidly. "You had better come down," continued Ursula gently,
putting her hand upon hers. Meg rose.

"I am going, but I will go alone," she said with returning fierceness,
flinging Ursula's hand away. She pushed her hair roughly from her eyes
and went toward her trunk to put on her hat and cloak.

"You need not put on your things," said Ursula. "It is in the schoolroom
you are wanted."

"In the schoolroom? Very well," said Meg. She passed Ursula. She went
downstairs, and with a reckless bang she opened the schoolroom door.
What new ordeal or humiliation was awaiting her?

The room was full. Miss Reeves advanced to meet her.

"Miss Beecham," said the head-mistress, "Elsie has confessed everything.
Young ladies, I have sent for you all, for before you all Miss Beecham
was declared guilty and before you all she must be cleared of this
charge. She is entirely innocent."

The ground seemed to sink under Meg's feet; the surroundings to fade
away as in a splendor. She was aware of a murmur all round her, of the
girls looking at her with a new expression of regret.

"Has Elsie confessed?" she panted.

"Not of her own free will," replied Miss Reeves gravely. "She was forced
to confess by the suddeness of Ursula's action. Ursula had crept up to
say good-by to you. She never thought you guilty. When she came into
your room she overheard enough to convince her of the truth. She dragged
Elsie before me, and forced her to tell. It was not a right thing, Meg,
to shield this action. But it was so generous I cannot blame you. You
were ready to sacrifice yourself for a child who would have let you go
forth disgraced."

"It was splendid!" said Ursula. "Meg Beecham is a noble girl."

"She is," circled round the room.

Then Miss Pinkett stepped forth, elegant and straight-backed even in her
evident emotion. Tears stood in her eyes, yet her voice was high-pitched
and smooth.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Beecham; I apologize with all my heart to you.
It was I who first accused you. Will you forgive me?"

"I forgive you," said Meg automatically, taking Miss Pinkett's extended
hand. Then Ursula, with spectacles shining with tears, came forward and
kissed Meg, who received the embrace in the same dazed fashion. All the
girls trooped around, taking her listless hand.

Suddenly Meg recognized Elsie standing alone, wringing her little hands
with that piteous gesture of older grieving. Sinking down on her knees,
she stretched out her arms.

"Elsie, Elsie!" she cried, and in a moment the sobbing child was clasped
to her heart.

"Oh, Miss Reeves, Miss Pinkett, young ladies!" said Meg, looking round,
holding Elsie tight, tears coursing down her cheeks, "do not punish her,
she is so little, so tender. She took the diamond as a child might take
a shining bit of glass, only because it was pretty. Do not punish her,
she is so delicate, so little! It was fright that kept her silent.
Forgive her!"

There was a pause, broken by Elsie's sobs, repeated in various corners
of the room.

"How can Elsie be forgiven?" said Miss Reeves gravely. "Worse than
taking the diamond was her willingness to let another be expelled."

Then again Miss Pinkett stepped forward.

"Madam," she said, "we owe Meg Beecham some reparation. I owe it to her
more than any one. For Meg's sake, pray let Elsie go unpunished!"

"For Meg's sake!" said Ursula, seconding Miss Pinkett's petition.

"For Meg's sake!" was repeated all round the room.

Miss Reeves hesitated. Then laying her hand on Elsie's head:

"Let it be so. For Meg's sake you shall be forgiven; for the sake of the
girl whom you would have injured beyond words to tell, you shall go
unpunished. This miserable incident will never be referred to again.
That is all that we can do to make it up to Meg--to forgive you, Elsie,
for her sake."



CHAPTER XVIII.

PEACE.


Meg was courted now by her schoolfellows; but the attention lavished
upon her wounded her pride. She measured by it the contempt that had so
easily accused her of thieving. To her sensitive spirit this kindness
seemed insulting. It said, "We thought you a thief, and we find you are
not." She responded coldly to advances made to her by all but Ursula.

The girls did not reproach Elsie; a sense of fair play kept them from
referring to the diamond episode, but they shunned her. They stuck to
the letter of the promised forgiveness, but they did not forget that she
was a little thief. Meg watched the small figure lying apart and
solitary in the play-hours--a white drift upon the bench.

Her heart bled. The child had been so caressed before, and was now an
outcast. She remembered how she, too, had been neglected and shunned;
but she was strong, and had never known petting, and her anger was
stirred against the girls.

She tried to make it up to Elsie; but a change had come over the child,
and she shrank from her friend. Meg knew Elsie felt ashamed, and she
busied herself about the child to prove that the sorrowful time was not
forgiven only, but forgotten also. She watched her opportunities to help
the little one at her lessons; to put away her books, pencils, and other
belongings. Elsie refused help, and avoided giving Meg those
opportunities. The old clinging ways were gone. The chattering voice was
hushed. A circle of ice seemed to surround the child.

Meg felt lonely and blank; and pity mingled with her desolateness. All
the graceful radiance of childhood had gone from Elsie. Meg knew the
change was due to remorse; the shyness of guilt was upon Elsie's heart.
She longed to make the child smile and prattle again. As Elsie had
longed for that foolish diamond, so Meg longed for Elsie's smile and
prattle.

April had come; there were violets and primroses in the woods about
Moorhouse, and Miss Reeves announced that the Saturday half-holiday
might be spent afield. Meg determined that to-day she would conquer her
pet's shrinking--that she would win that laugh. She went to look for
Elsie. She found her lying listlessly on a bench in the sunshine. As she
approached Elsie turned her face away.

"We are going out into the country to pick flowers," said Meg, kneeling
beside her.

Elsie did not answer, and made a little movement with her elbow as if to
wave Meg away.

"We are not to walk two and two together like soldiers," Meg went on,
taking no notice. "When we get to the woods we are to break up our ranks
and run wild. You and I will hunt for violets together."

"I don't want to go," said Elsie.

"You are not well, my pet," said Meg, patting the little hand.

"I am quite well," said Elsie harshly. "I do not want to go, that is
all."

"Then I will not go either. I will stop with you," said Meg
determinedly.

"No, no, no. I don't want you to stop with me! I don't want you!"
replied Elsie with hurried emphasis. "I want to be alone. Of all the
girls you are the one I want most to be left alone by."

"Why do you hate me, Elsie?" asked Meg gently.

"I don't hate you," replied Elsie, after a pause, in a faint, quavering
voice. Then she added with labored utterance: "I am ashamed. Every time
you look at me, every time you come near me, I am ashamed." Her voice
gathered energy, while her breast heaved with tearless sobs. "The other
girls look at me as if they were always thinking 'She is a thief,' and
I don't mind--their looks not half (sob, sob) so much--as--I mind--your
kind look. It makes me think--of--my dreadful wickedness."

"I look at you like that because I love you so dearly," said Meg,
seeking to draw the child to her.

Elsie struggled and sobbed, but at last she let Meg take her on her lap
and lean her cheek down on her head. It seemed to Meg as if the circle
of ice were broken. She did not know what to say that would soothe that
stricken little conscience, and yet guide it. All she could do was to
hold the sobbing child tight.

It was one of those beautiful days in spring when everything seems
careless and fond. The trees rustled around them as if hushing the voice
of sorrow. The flowers looked up with bright faces; the indulgent
sunshine shed its broad light. Everything seemed so much in contrast
with the grieving child that Meg could think of nothing but to set
herself to make that little pale face smile again. The child used in her
happier moments to be fond of playing a game of shop. Meg excelled in
mimicking the various customers coming to buy. Taking her ribbon now
from her throat she set it up for sale, and became in turns the
querulous customer, the fat fussy customer, the French customer. As she
gesticulated, shaking her fingers up in the air, shrugging her
shoulders, and talking in French, bargaining, vowing it was _trop cher_,
she acted her part so vividly that Elsie forgot her sorrow, and at last
broke out into a laugh.

From that day Elsie clung to Meg. The girls continued to abstain from
referring to the incident of the diamond, and Miss Pinkett was
elaborately kind; but Elsie was reminded of her sin by the emphasis of
absolution around her. She still shrank from the companionship of other
girls. With Meg alone she was forgetful of the past. The tie between
them was recognized, and during the constitutional walks of the
schoolgirls Elsie was allowed to leave her place among the younger ones
and walk with her friend. These walks now lay toward the country, away
from the village, where an outbreak of scarlatina was raging. In the
blue-rimmed land, with its misty embattlement of downs outlined against
the sky, through the shade and flicker of woods, through lanes sweet
with the bravery of floral walls, the girls walked; and to Elsie Meg
became the mouthpiece of nature. Those walks in the countryside were at
this time the happy hours of Meg's life. The sensitive little hand in
hers, that responded so quickly to her own delight, helped the
inspiration that came to her from the illusive cloudland overhead, from
wooded aisles, spread with wild flowers, voiced with notes of birds and
buzz of insects.

This part of Meg's school-life came to an abrupt conclusion. One morning
Elsie did not come down to breakfast. That evening she had a little
fever, and the child's throat was sore. The doctor came, and the word
"scarlatina" was whispered. In a few days the school was empty of the
girls. Meg alone remained as usual. Every precaution to prevent
infection was taken by Miss Reeves, and Elsie was isolated.

A new anxiety now sprang up in Meg's heart. Her thoughts were ever in
the room at the top of the house, with the heavy curtains drawn before
the door, from which distilled an acrid smell of disinfectants. Often
Meg crept upstairs and listened. She watched every day for the doctor,
to ask how Elsie was. The answers were always vague. In a few days the
crisis would come. There was a tantalizing mystery in these replies,
always followed by the injunction not to go near the child.

"Does she ever ask for me?" asked Meg.

"She is delirious, she would not know you," was the invariable answer.

One morning the news came that the crisis was past--delirium was over.
The news was good; yet the doctor's face looked grave. Meg overheard
him say to Miss Reeves that Elsie might sink from weakness. The child's
feebleness baffled him.

"When shall I see her?" asked Meg huskily.

"Not just yet," the doctor replied, patting her head.

That night a storm of wind raged outside. Meg listened to the howl of
the wind, to the lashing of the trees bending their backs to the
scourge. The doors creaked; Pilot was dragging at his chain. Meg's
thoughts were with Elsie. The contrast of her feebleness and the force
raging outside seemed to haunt her. She fell asleep, and she dreamed
that Elsie was dead. She saw her distinctly, a white, piteous figure
lying very still, beaten down by some pitiless assailant who had left
her there. Meg awoke with a start. The storm was over, but Elsie had
called her.

"Meg, Meg, come!"

Was that cry part of her dream? She sat up rigid, her ears strained,
every nerve on the alert, listening. Through the silence the call came
again:

"Meg, Meg, come!"

She could not have told if she heard it with her physical ears. Elsie
wanted her; that was all she knew. She was out of bed in a moment. A
determination strong as had been that former idea of flight impelled
her. She would see her pet. If she caught the infection and died, what
mattered it? She would go to Elsie, the child wanted her.

A pale light flickered through the space of windows left uncovered by
the shutters. Meg made her way cautiously, yet swiftly. It seemed to her
that Elsie knew she was coming, and that there was no time to be lost. A
jet of gas was burning low in the passage at the end of which was the
curtained door. Meg lifted the heavy drapery. The scent of the carbolic
grew more acrid. She pushed her head through the door that stood
slightly ajar. The nurse, lying on a couch, was asleep. Meg at first
could not see Elsie, but when she made a few steps inside the room she
perceived the child.

Elsie's eyes were turned toward the door, as if anxiously watching. As
Meg entered she made a little ghostly gesture, as if trying to get up.
Meg was by her bedside in a moment. She had an impression that it was
Elsie and yet not Elsie who was there. The beautiful hair was all cut
off. The face was shrunk, a distressed expression rumpled the brow. The
eyes were very bright and wide open. They seemed to Meg Elsie's eyes
looking at her from a distance. As she clasped the child in her arms she
realized with despair that it was like clasping a small gasping
phantom.

"I thought you would never come, Meg," Elsie murmured through her
labored breathing.

"Oh, Elsie, I have wanted to come," whispered Meg, bringing her face
close down to the pillow.

"I wanted you," whispered Elsie. "I kept saying, 'Meg, Meg, come!'"

"I heard you," said Meg.

"Heard me?" repeated the muffled voice. "How could you hear me? I only
whispered it. 'Meg Meg, come!'"

"But I heard you," said Meg, "and here I am, darling; here I am, and I
will never leave you."

"I said," continued Elsie in that labored whisper, "if Meg comes the
dreadful diamond will go."

"The dreadful diamond?" repeated Meg.

"It was always there; and sometimes it grew big, big, like a shining
mountain, and put itself here." The spectral hand placed itself on the
tiny chest. "It was heavy and cold--it pressed me down."

"It was a bad dream, my pet; not reality," said Meg soothingly.

"I saw it always, shining red, blue, and green. It shone in the dark as
in the light, and sometimes it was like a great bright eye looking at
me--always looking at me. It moved when I moved, and seemed to say, 'You
nearly had Meg turned away like a thief.'"

"No, no; it was not you, it was I--I who did it all of my own free
will," cried Meg, kissing the cold face that had become the emblem round
which gathered her tenderest emotions.

"But it won't come again, because you have kissed me. The kiss that is
better than the diamond," said Elsie with a vague relief in her panting
voice.

"It will never come again," repeated Meg, trying to still her sobs.

Elsie lay back apparently at peace. Suddenly she turned, and there was a
flicker of the old trouble in her eyes.

"Do you think God, too, forgives me?"

"Yes," replied Meg with a bursting heart.

"Are you sure he does?" insisted the piteous, laboring voice.

"I am sure of it, I know it!" said Meg with a world of conviction.

Elsie sighed, closed her eyes, and there was a silence. Meg thought she
was asleep, when she opened her eyes again and looked round with a
troubled movement.

"It is very dark," she said. "Draw back the curtains and let in the
light."

"It is not day yet," said Meg.

"Stay with me, it is so dark," gasped Elsie, her hands restlessly moving
as if pushing back some weight.

"I will not stir from your side, my pet," said Meg, stilling her sobs.

The gray light was stealing in. The tired nurse still slept. Meg saw the
remote expression in the sick child's eyes growing more remote.

Suddenly Elsie made another ghostly attempt to sit up.

"How sweet the lilac smells!" she said. "Here is London-pride, and
there's thrift. I'll pluck these for Mamey."

She struggled to get out of bed, while Meg held her tight.

"Mamey calls to me--to--say--good-night--and say my prayers," she
panted, and then dropped back.

The blue lips moved as if speaking; but Meg could not distinguish the
words. A realization that the child was slipping away, that phantoms
were about her as she stood on the threshold of the other world, came
upon Meg with an anguish of awe.

"Our Father," she began softly, impelled to pray; but Elsie seemed to
pay no heed. The little hands still stirred uneasily. The lips still
moved. At last Meg distinguished some broken words: "Forgive us our
trespasses--as--as--Meg forgives." There came a sigh, the lips stopped
muttering, and only the waxen image of what had been Elsie lay on the
bed.



CHAPTER XIX.

WHO IS HE?


Five years had elapsed. Meg was eighteen; she had distanced all her
competitors, and she was the head-pupil of Miss Reeves' establishment.

During those years she still remained somewhat of a solitary in the
school. The girls who had been her first schoolfellows had all left. By
the succeeding girls, Meg was still called repellent by some, attractive
by others.

As time went on the mystery of her origin, about which her schoolmates
still busied themselves, pained and humiliated her with greater
poignancy. She longed to be allowed to know and love her benefactor.
When questioned as to who she thought she was--how she had come by the
name of Beecham--she felt inclined to answer bitterly: "Do not call me
by my name. It would be more convenient to call me by a number, as I am
told the prisoners are called. Let me say I am number 18 or 24."

Mr. Standish still held an ever-present if somewhat dim place in the
background of Meg's consciousness. It was a quaint half-goblin
remembrance. The link between them seemed sundered forever. She had
never heard from him since their parting. To Ursula alone she had spoken
of that solitary time, of the friend who had been kind to her, and of
the fashion-plate which had been sacred to her as her mother's portrait.
To her alone she had shown her treasured presents. One day Ursula
suggested that her mysterious protector was Mr. Standish. That the stern
old gentleman was perhaps a guardian appointed by this friend in his
absence. Meg had disclaimed the possibility. Yet the thought that he
might be lingered in her mind. As a child loves wonderland, so she dwelt
upon Ursula's suggestion. She reasoned herself out of it. She laughed at
it, yet it remained. Was he not the only one who had cared for her in
her unsheltered childhood?

"Describe him to me," Ursula had once asked.

"I cannot," Meg answered. "It is strange. I can remember a tie he
wore--dark-blue, dotted over with tiny horseshoes; and I remember a pair
of slippers he had, with big red roses on the toes. I remember his
hands, and the color of his hair."

"And you can't remember his face?" Ursula said in tones of
disappointment.

"Perhaps if I saw him I might," answered Meg reflectively. "It is so
long ago, I have a very dim recollection of his features. They beamed
with kindness, and he was kind to me." And then she would tell again the
many kind things he had done, the memory of which she held sacred. "Ah,"
she continued, "I used to be unable to think and speak of those things
without tears, but now you see my eyes are quite dry."

Once Meg asked Mr. Fullbloom if Mr. Standish was her guardian. The
elderly lawyer she had once known was dead. His brother was now the
representative of her unknown benefactor. He alone visited her from the
outside world. The solicitor chuckled, as if he were amazingly tickled
by this question, but he answered it neither in the affirmative nor the
negative.

Mr. Horace Fullbloom was cheery and gray-headed; his sparkling brown
eyes were surrounded by crinkles, suggestive of puckers made by laughter
rather than by age. His appearance suggested a mischievous humor. Like
his brother, he was a bit of a dandy. He also wore a frilled shirt, an
impressive bloodstone ring on his little finger, and he sported a silver
snuffbox. The solicitor was a favorite with the girls. His cynicism was
the sunshine of cynicism. He chaffed them with paternal familiarity,
watching them with amused benevolence. He seemed to regard them as
belonging to a species not deserving any serious thought or treatment.
Meg especially interested him. He always questioned her kindly about
herself, and apparently relished the little tiffs that marked their
intercourse.

These tiffs were caused by Meg's endeavors to find out the name of her
mysterious benefactor, and by the humorous banter with which the
solicitor evaded her curiosity. She had dreams of that human providence
who stood between her and destitution. Every noble personality she heard
or read of became associated in Meg's mind with the thought of her
guardian hero. The banter with which Mr. Fullbloom met her inquiries did
not prevent Meg from waiting and watching for the feverish moment when
she would again question him. Was it the stern old gentleman she
remembered who twice had appeared to her? If it were, what was his name?
If it were not, who was it, then?

To the teasing humor with which the solicitor asked her why she wanted
so much to know, she answered, "Because I am grateful."

"But gratitude, my dear," said Mr. Fullbloom, tapping his snuffbox,
"wants an object. Suppose I were to tell you it was the big stone
figure on the gate, or some old parchment will and testament that is
your guardian. What then? Would you feel grateful to those bloodless
patrons?"

"I would be grateful to one who remembered and thought of me were he
living or dead," said Meg.

"Perhaps if he be alive he is a gruff, disagreeable old curmudgeon; you
might be afraid of him--you might not like him!"

Meg was not to be baffled by such answers. She wanted to know who it was
she had a right to love and be grateful to. It was such pain to her also
to live among people who kept wondering who she was.

More than once she put into the solicitor's hands a letter, that she
asked him to deliver to her unknown friend; but to these missives, that
he invariably took away with him, Mr. Fullbloom never brought an answer.
To her demand, had he delivered her letters, Mr. Fullbloom returned
tantalizing answers. One day he admitted that he had put them all, every
one, into the pillar post.

"But not as they were, without an address?" Meg asked in consternation.

"That was no concern of mine. I posted them," said Mr. Fullbloom.

"But where did my letters go?" she cried.

"Perhaps one went to Surrey; perhaps another found its way to York
Minster; perhaps a third was carried by fate to its rightful owner," the
solicitor replied with a chuckle, and eyes twinkling with the light of
mischief. With a little burst of anger, Meg told him that if he would
not tell her who her protector was she would rather not see him; it was
so painful not to know to whom she owed all this gratitude.

After this scene a long interval elapsed, during which Mr. Fullbloom did
not appear; till inconsistently Meg began to long for him to come and
visit her again.

It was the eve of the Easter holidays. The school was breaking up. Meg
had formed a resolution. This resolution helped her to bear the pain
that always accompanied the approach of the holidays. The eager plans
she heard her comrades discussing were ever an occasion of pain to her
sensitive nature, bringing her loneliness home more keenly.

The gentle independence that now marked Meg's manner had grown upon her
of late; the stern necessity of self-support that, since her childhood,
had governed her thoughts and actions, had become the ruling instinct of
her life. She had determined to be no longer a burden to her protector,
and the resolve heightened her spirits. Dreaming is the employment of
the idle, and Meg's life was one of action.

If something of the vividness that had distinguished her glance and
expression in childhood seemed to have passed away, it was rather
subdued or merged in a look, as of a habit of thought now usual to her.
Meg's appearance was a matter of discussion in the school; some called
her beautiful, others vowed she was plain. Her soft, silky "no color"
hair--"mousey hair" Ursula called it--went charmingly with her
complexion; it obtruded somewhat heavily over her forehead, for she was
inclined to be careless about her dress. Her beauty was of the sort that
you do not think of analyzing. It grew upon the beholder, who invariably
discovered that her features possessed beauty of form, and that the
whole physiognomy had the charm that is magnetic.

Meg had been contemplating writing to Mr. Fullbloom to tell him the
resolve she had taken, when his presence was announced in the
drawing-room.

"Well, my dear," said the solicitor, taking her two hands in his, "here
I am. I did not dare to show myself before I could communicate news. You
commanded me the last time I saw you not to appear in your presence
until I brought you tidings of your guardian."

"I was sorry I said that," replied Meg. "I have missed you. I did not
think you would obey me so implicitly."

"Not after such a definite command!" Eh? exclaimed the solicitor,
jerking his head on one side and surveying her with his superficially
smiling glance. "Well, now, what news of yourself, little lady?" he
continued, leading her to a chair and sitting down beside her.

"I have passed my examination," said Meg. "I am now at the head of the
school."

Mr. Fullbloom put his hand on his heart and bowed.

"A modern Aspasia!" he replied as Meg paused, and seemed to hesitate.
"Come," he went on, "when is our tiff to begin? I must have my tiff
about the great Unknown."

"No," said Meg gently, "we shall have no more tiffs. I have made up my
mind I will ask no more questions; and if possible, I shall cease
wondering concerning myself. Whoever my benefactor may be, I am grateful
to him--grateful from my heart. I wish I could prove my gratitude to
him. I wish it so much that I cannot but think it will be granted to me
to do so some day."

"Perhaps it will--and sooner than you think," exclaimed Mr. Fullbloom.
"Ha! ha!" he went on tantalizingly, the flicker of mischief alight in
his eyes as Meg looked up inquiringly. "You have just been saying you
would not wonder any more.

"You would not be curious. Ha! ha! Mrs. Blue Beard, you would pry into
any forbidden closet--you know you would--to find out that secret."

"No," repeated Meg, "I will not be curious any more. There must be some
reason--some reason that I ought to respect. You will, I know, tell my
kind friend, who he or she may be, that I am grateful; also, that I have
taken a great resolve."

"Indeed!" said Fullbloom with evident enjoyment. "May I ask what it is?"

"I will not be dependent any longer. I am going to earn my own
livelihood," replied Meg.

"How valorous we are, all of a sudden!" said Mr. Fullbloom, chuckling as
if immensely tickled by the idea of Meg earning her livelihood.

"No, not all of a sudden!" said Meg with energy. "I have long thought of
it. My wishes, my dreams have long been to be independent; to be no
longer a pensioner on the bounty of one whose very name is unknown to
me. I am going to be a governess. Miss Reeves has heard of a situation,
the duties of which she thinks I am fitted to undertake--to teach three
little girls in the country. The salary is thirty pounds. I won't be
dependent any longer," repeated Meg with concentration.

"Miss Reeves and the three little girls go to Jericho!" cried Mr.
Fullbloom. Then taking Meg's two hands in his paternal grasp, "My dear
child," he said, "you have long wished to know your benefactor's name.
To-morrow you will know it. You will not only know it, but you will be
on a visit to him. He sends me to invite you down to stay at his place
in the country."

"To-morrow!" repeated Meg. "On a visit to him! Who, then, is he?"

"Ha! ha!" cried Mr. Fullbloom gleefully. "All that fine assumption of
having laid curiosity aside, where is it? No, no, no; not till to-morrow
will you know anything about it."

"But where am I to go? Who am I to ask for?" cried Meg.

"Listen, my dear," explained Mr. Fullbloom, giving an occasional
emphasis to his words by a pressure of Meg's hands. "You are to go to
London first, then to the station of the North-Western Railway. Miss
Reeves will go with you thus far; she will take a first-class ticket for
you. You must take the train that leaves London at a quarter to three. I
will be at Greywolds Station to meet you at half-past five. It takes
over three hours to get to Greywolds."

Meg felt a sudden recoil as she realized how near she was to the meeting
she had dreamed of so long.

"Don't trouble your little head about money. All that is settled. Miss
Reeves will make the necessary preparations. You have nothing to do but
attend to the farewells. I must be off now. I am going to Greywolds
to-night. I have an appointment with your mysterious patron."

Mr. Fullbloom's eyes were brimming over with elvish laughter, as with
another pressure of Meg's two hands he turned away. He left her standing
silent and chill, under the impression of that sudden revulsion of
feeling.



CHAPTER XX.

ARRIVAL.


Past stretches of meadowland and woodland, past undulating fields
sleeping peacefully in the sunshine, past busy towns and reposeful
hamlets sped the train bearing Meg to her unknown guardian's home. The
solitude of the empty carriage oppressed her. The flurry of the
farewells and the pain of sundered associations increased the timidity
of her spirit, as she realized more vividly that she was hurrying she
knew not whither to meet she knew not whom.

Meg had not yet recovered from the recoil she had experienced on hearing
that she was so soon to meet her mysterious benefactor. As every moment
lengthened the space that parted her from surroundings which, if not
altogether sympathetic, had yet the sweetness of familiarity, the
unknown future presented itself to her invested with a touch of fear.
She combated this mood. Was she not hastening toward the human being
who had shown solicitude toward her in her forlornness?

She felt almost sure that her protector would prove to be the stern
stranger whom she had twice seen in her childhood, and yet there would
drift up to her mind the possibility that Mr. Standish might turn out to
be this unknown friend.

"I hope not," Meg said to herself, sudden shame overcoming her at the
possibility of meeting so soon, and of owing so much to one upon whose
personality her thoughts had dwelt so long. "I was a foolish sprite of a
child when I cared for him. I am a young woman now," she murmured.

When she stepped out on the platform of the wayside station of Greywolds
she looked about. Mr. Fullbloom was not there. No one appeared to be
waiting for her. A farmer's cart and a private carriage were drawn up on
the other side of the paling that separated the country station from the
roadside. The single passenger who had alighted besides herself from the
train got into the carriage and drove off; the cart after depositing a
load of metal casks jogged away. Meg felt bewildered. If Mr. Fullbloom
did not come for her, what was she to do? She had no money with which to
pay her fare back. She did not know the name of the place to which to
direct the porter to take her luggage after she had identified her
modest trunk. The old sense of isolation so familiar to her in her
schooldays paralyzed Meg, and her eyelids smarted, as if she were about
to cry.

Suddenly a carriage drove up, the gate of the station was pushed open,
and the dandified figure of Mr. Fullbloom came gayly forward.

"So, you have found your way," he said airily.

"I was afraid you had forgotten your appointment," Meg answered with
dignity.

"I always associate this train and ladies with unpunctuality," the
solicitor replied with unruffled equanimity.

Offering Meg his arm he led her out. Nervousness conquered every other
feeling, even curiosity. She asked no questions as she perceived a
carriage with two horses and liveried servants awaiting her. She stepped
inside, sank back into the cushioned seat, with Mr. Fullbloom by her
side. As she felt herself bowled along she gave a little gasp.

The solicitor was very chatty. He inquired after her journey. He asked
details of the parting with schoolfellows. He pointed out pretty bits in
the landscape. Meg could not follow what he said; a longing for silence
was upon her. She wished with all her heart her companion would hold his
tongue and let her think and realize.

Presently the carriage drove through gates, thrown open to let it pass
in. The way lay under an avenue of trees. A park stretched to right and
left. As Meg looked round she felt sure this stately domain could not
belong to William Standish.

"This is Greywolds Manor," said Mr. Fullbloom with a chuckle, pointing
to a solid gray pile flanked with turrets at either end. "What do you
think of your new home?"

Meg did not answer. Now that she knew for certain it was not the friend
of her childhood who would welcome her when she alighted she was aware
of an inconsistent disappointment. There came a sudden chill in the air.
The owner of this lordly place would not understand her. Everything
seemed gigantic, repellent. The trees threw too much shadow, the
sunshine was too bright, the massive house too large for homeliness.

"Sir Malcolm Loftdale is the proprietor of this place. Now the mystery
is out. You know the name of your benefactor," chuckled Mr. Fullbloom,
the signals of mischievous enjoyment alight in his eyes.

The carriage had drawn up before the door of the mansion. Meg descended;
she was aware of a discreet-looking elderly man helping to gather
together her loose traps, of a respectable-looking dame in an
impressive black silk gown coming forward to meet her.

"This is Mrs. Jarvis, Sir Malcolm's trusty housekeeper. I cannot leave
you in better hands. Good-by, my dear," said Mr. Fullbloom. Kissing his
finger tips and spreading them in the air, he disappeared through a side
door.

Meg followed the housekeeper up a softly-carpeted staircase, fragrant
with the perfume of flowers. She was vaguely aware of statues in niches,
of limpid pictures dreaming on the walls. A knight of old entering an
enchanted castle could not have felt more strange and bewildered, or
could not have summoned more desperate courage than did Meg as she moved
up that grand staircase.

She was ushered into a pretty bedroom, hexagon shaped. Through the
windows looking out on the park at different angles poured the mellow
light of the late afternoon. Meg, at the request of a trim maid in a
dark gown and dainty muslin cap and apron, gave up the key of her trunk,
painfully realizing as she did so the slenderness and shabbiness of the
wardrobe that would be exposed to this smart young woman's gaze. With
brusque shyness she answered the housekeeper's bland expressions of
hospitality and exhortations to rest. In a trice the deft-handed,
nimble-footed attendant had disposed of the modest stock of wearing
apparel in wardrobes and drawers, and arranged on the tables the books,
desk, and cheap knickknacks--parting presents from some of Meg's school
friends; after which she disappeared with the housekeeper, to return
after a few moments carrying a delicate porcelain and silver five
o'clock solitaire tea-service, which she deposited on a table by Meg's
side. Then the trim attendant, in tones as respectful as if Meg's
belongings had revealed her to be a duchess, asked if she could do
anything more for Miss Beecham. On receiving a timorous negative she
announced that dinner was served at seven-thirty; that the dressing bell
would sound at seven. Could she help Miss Beecham to dress? "No, thank
you," replied Meg hastily; "I am accustomed to dress myself."

With a sense of relief Meg heard the door close, and reflected that
probably until dinner-time she would be left alone.

She poured herself out a cup of tea and looked round the room. It was a
charming little chamber. Its shape showed that it was placed in a tower.
On all sides she was surrounded by sky and trees. After awhile she set
about making a journey of discovery. One of the windows was over the
mantelpiece; she tried to find how the flue of the chimney went to
allow of this quaint arrangement. A bookcase stood in a corner; its
shelves held a delightful selection of books. A water-color drawing
representing a stormy sea, another of a peaceful and Arcadian scene,
hung on the walls. Two miniatures--one of Queen Elizabeth in an immense
ruffle, another of Mary, Queen of Scots--adorned a recess. The bed was
large, with two pillows; the coverlid and hangings, of delicate sea-blue
damask, matched the curtains at the windows. An electric bell was placed
near the bed. Meg thought it was the prettiest, coziest little chamber
she had ever seen, and her spirits rose.

She was still in a kind of half reverie when the gong sounded, and
looking at the clock, she perceived that the short hand pointed to
seven.

Taking out her white muslin gown, Meg began to array herself with care.
She had never devoted much thought to her toilet before, but she was
eager to please her benefactor. She coiled her brown hair smoothly round
her head, and fastened a red rose in her bodice. Then she waited till
the gong sounded again.

Timidity once more overcame her as she descended the grand staircase;
realizing at every step more keenly that the moment had come when she
would be ushered into the presence of her benefactor. Two footmen in
plush and gold lace stood on either side of an open door; this was the
room in which her host awaited her.

Meg paused on the threshold. A somewhat short elderly man in evening
dress stood near the table. This was no familiar figure; but she
remained where she was, overwhelmed with emotion, looking dumbly at this
protector of her forlorn youth. She could not speak for her beating
heart. Her shyness was enhanced by the silence of her host. He did not
advance to greet her; he did not stretch out a hand of welcome. He stood
close to a chair in a somewhat deferential attitude. Then suddenly Meg
recognized him to be the butler who had received her in the hall on her
arrival. She had not identified him in her fright.

With a painful sense of the absurdity of her mistake she took the seat
he placed for her and looked hurriedly round the table. The flower and
fruit-decked expanse, the white cloth, the plate and delicate glass,
glowed rosily under the crimson-shaded suspension lamp; no second cover
was laid, no other chairs near the board. She was to dine alone.

Meg had scarcely realized this when a plateful of soup was placed before
her, and she felt the two magnificent lackeys standing on either side of
her chair, watching as she dipped the spoon and raised it to her lips.
The thought that she was to eat her dinner under the inspection of this
frigid and observant gaze struck her with palsied nervousness. She upset
a tumbler as she stretched her hand for the salt-cellar; she helped
herself to everything that was offered to her by her attendants; she
allowed the butler without protest to fill the glasses at her side with
claret, hock, and champagne, and let the beverages stand there untasted.
In the awful silence she started when the door opened. After awhile the
tension of her nervousness was relieved by a freakish fancy. What a good
story it would make to tell the girls in the dormitory! How she had sat
in a skimpy muslin dress in this splendid room, hung round with family
portraits which seemed to be watching her; of the sumptuous repast
served to her alone; of the obsequiousness of the servant men; how
terrified she had been; with what clumsiness she had behaved, and with
what attempts at dignity!

There came a moment at last when, every trace of heavier diet having
been removed, the servants retired, after having placed the dessert and
three decanters of wine before Meg. She drew a breath of relief as she
made sure that she was alone. A girlish love of fruit came over her, and
she helped herself to a bunch of grapes. She remembered she had once
heard the story of a girl who for a day had been mistaken for a queen.
The people cheered her, the courtiers obeyed her slightest wish. Meg
smiled as she thought this girl must have felt as she felt to-night.

She glanced around as she ate her grapes. The table made a patch of
brilliancy in the long room, the corners of which remained dusky.
Gleaming frames caught the light of the suspension lamp, and here and
there revealed the superb apparel of the dignified full-length men and
women gazing down upon her from the walls. As Meg's eyes traveled slowly
round this stately company she was vaguely revolving in her mind how she
would summon up courage to leave this room and make her way back to her
own.

Presently her eyes rested on what looked like a blank framed space at
the furthest end of the apartment. She could not distinguish the cause
of this effect. It puzzled her, so she rose from her chair and drew
nearer. She found it was a picture with its face turned to the wall.

The discovery affected her like the touch of a spectral hand. That
disgraced canvas riveted her attention. What did it mean? She looked
away; but the spell continued to work, and once more she drew near. The
sight of its disgrace brought a piteous feeling. It looked like an
outcast in the midst of this painted pageantry of splendid men and
women.

Whose face was it thus turned away? Was it that of a man or of a woman?
Meg felt as if she would give anything to know. Everything else faded in
interest near the story of that picture. She tried vainly to discover a
trace of revealing outline. The fascination grew too strong. She got up
on a chair and tried with all her strength to turn the picture round and
get a glimpse. She had succeeded in moving it slightly when she heard
behind her the door open.

Meg dropped her hold of the frame and turned round.

The housekeeper was standing on the threshold looking at her aghast.

"Miss Beecham, what are you doing?"

"I was trying to get a peep at this picture," said Meg, jumping down.
"Why is its face turned to the wall?"

Mrs. Jarvis shook her head. "Why, miss, it would be worth a servant's
place in this house to turn that picture round. Sir Malcolm Loftdale has
forbidden the name of the person whose portrait that is to be mentioned.
He never comes into this room. I am sure it is because of that
picture."

"Indeed; I am sorry," said Meg in some confusion.

"I could tell you all about that picture, Miss Beecham. I have been in
this house these thirty years, and I was there the day it was turned to
the wall. It was a day I'll never forget--not so long as I live; but
it's laid upon me not to tell," went on the housekeeper, who looked
packed with mystery.

"Do not think I would wish you to tell me," exclaimed Meg hurriedly. "I
would not--not on any account." Then she asked with abrupt transition:
"Shall I see Sir Malcolm Loftdale to-night?"

"No, Miss Beecham, not to-night. Sir Malcolm sent me down to ask you to
excuse him. He is old, miss, and not strong. He hopes that you will
forgive his not welcoming you himself, and that you will make yourself
at home."

"Thank Sir Malcolm Loftdale for me, and say that I feel very grateful to
him for his hospitality," Meg replied, relieved yet vaguely nettled by
her host's neglect.

"Coffee is served in the drawing-room, Miss Beecham."

"Thank you; but I think I shall return to my room," said Meg.

She hurried up the staircase. A confused pain seemed to haunt the
surrounding splendor. It oppressed her as might the scent of flowers in
a room of death.

When she opened the door of her pretty room, the sea-green silk curtains
of which had been drawn, the daintiness and comfort contrasted
pleasantly with the alien magnificence outside, saddened as it was by a
jarring note of brooding grief. A black cat had found its way in, and
came forward to meet Meg with tail uplifted and a welcoming purr. The
homeliness of the scene revived her drooping spirits.



CHAPTER XXI.

SIR MALCOLM LOFTDALE.


Meg had more than once explored the house and the grounds. She had
performed the pilgrimage under the expansive wing of Mrs. Jarvis; she
had wandered alone over the mansion and rambled through the park,
feeling delight in the old-world charm of the place. The touch of tragic
mystery brought into the atmosphere by the picture on which a ban had
been laid now added to the spell of its fascination. The lofty rooms,
with somber gilt or painted ceilings; the faded tapestries and brocaded
hangings; the dusky tones of the furniture, upon which the sunbeams fell
with an antique glow, appeared to her steeped in the mystery of
associations. Every room seemed a chapter in an unknown story, the
thought of which kindled her fancy. The park, with its lengthening
vistas, its sylvan retreats, and patriarchal trees, a branch of the
silver river sweeping through its stately alleys; the stretches of
lawns, the flower-gardens, the glass structures in which bloomed a
tropical vegetation, enchanted her.

It was like living in a picture, she thought, to live amid such
peaceful, beautiful, finely ordered surroundings, whose past haunted
them like a presence. After the crude and noisy bustle of immature
possibilities to which she was accustomed, the wearied splendors of this
domain came to her as a revelation of novel possibilities in the setting
of life.

A week had elapsed, Meg had almost grown accustomed to the place, and
yet she had not seen its owner. She had at first begun every morning by
asking Mrs. Jarvis if there was a probability of her seeing Sir Malcolm
Loftdale during the course of the day, but the housekeeper on each
occasion had given an evasive answer, and Meg now asked no more. She
might have felt wounded at this breach of hospitality had not the
behavior of the servants precluded all idea of a slight being offered to
her. They paid her obsequious attention, they obeyed her slightest
expressed wish. She might have imagined herself the queen of the domain.
The solitude, the homage paid to her, the regard for her comfort,
reminded her of a fairy tale where the host remains unseen and the
heroine lives in splendor and isolation. She wondered often why her
benefactor kept himself thus sternly secluded. She began to think it
could not be the old gentleman she had seen in her childhood; why should
he avoid her? If it were a stranger was it because of some unsightly
physical affliction, some form of mental derangement? was it a brooding
melancholy that caused him morbidly to shrink from contact with
outsiders? A longing to be of comfort mingled with the curiosity she
felt concerning her mysterious host.

One late afternoon as she rambled in the park she saw, framed in by
trees as in a picture, the figure of a tall, slender, white-haired
gentleman walking toward her. She recognized him at once. It was the
mysterious stranger, twice met in her childhood. He held his head high.
What a head it was! There was an eagle cast of physiognomy, a chill
expression in the eyes, a hardness on the lips. He wore a country suit
and carried a heavy gold-headed stick; a diamond stud on a jeweled seal
caught the light and shone. These little details curiously impressed
themselves upon Meg. She stopped, asking herself if this was the master
of the house?

The stranger glanced toward her, lifted his hat, and with an old-world
salute passed on. Meg determined not to look after him; but she could
not resist the temptation, and turning round she saw him ascending the
steps of the house. On questioning the housekeeper, Meg found that the
picturesque old gentleman was Sir Malcolm Loftdale.

Next morning Meg was standing arranging some flowers in the window of
the little room she had chosen for her morning retreat--it looked out on
a pleasant side alley of the grounds in the center of which stood a sun
dial--when the door suddenly opened, and the gentleman she had seen in
the park on the previous evening entered unannounced. He did not advance
beyond the threshold, but he closed the door after him and kept one hand
on the handle. He did not extend the other in greeting.

At sight of him Meg's heart fluttered, and she acknowledged by a
flurried inclination of her head his stately bow.

He was handsomer than she had imagined him to be; but the light of his
stern blue eye remained cold, and there was a remoteness in the steady
glance that he fixed upon her.

"I beg you, Miss Beecham, to excuse me for not having welcomed you
before," he said in a voice of cold courtesy. "I trust you will forgive
me for exercising a privilege age is apt freely to indulge near
youth--that of following the usual routine of life. I am a solitary, my
life is organized for loneliness."

"You have been most kind, sir," muttered Meg, in a tumult of timidity.

"My servants have received strict orders to attend to your comfort. I
hope they have been attentive?"

"They have been very attentive," replied Meg.

"I fear the days may seem to drag heavily for you, Miss Beecham," the
old gentleman resumed, without a shadow of softening in the coldness of
his voice or the scrutiny of his glance. "I have thought--to relieve
their tedium--that you might like a horse. I will have one broken for
your use. There are pretty rides about."

"I do not know how to ride, sir," said Meg, touched and bewildered by
the thoughtfulness and repellent manner of her host.

"My old groom would teach you; he is a most trustworthy and respectable
man," said Sir Malcolm.

"Thank you sir," said Meg. Then with desperate courage, as her
benefactor seemed about to retire, she added breathlessly: "I should not
feel lonely, sir--not--if you would let me be with you a little--if you
would let me read for you, or do something for you. You have been so
good to me all those years."

The old gentleman bowed hastily; the expression of his cold glance
seemed to grow colder as he replied: "I assure you, Miss Beecham, you
need feel yourself under no obligation to me for what I have done. It is
very little."

"Little! It was everything to me!" said Meg hurriedly, her voice
trembling with restrained emotion. "You twice saved me from a wretched
fate. But for you, sir, as you told me on that evening you took me back
to school, I would have been as uncared for as a workhouse child."

"I wish, if you will allow me distinctly to state my wishes, that
allusion to the past be dropped between us. I can repeat only that you
are under no obligation," replied her host, his thin lips remaining
tense in their cruel firmness of line, his glance courteously repellent.
"When the case was pointed out to me it became my plain duty to do what
I did."

"I do not understand; I only know that if you had not been good to me I
should have been ignorant and homeless," answered Meg with reckless
iteration.

There was a pause, Sir Malcolm frowned, then he said with the same
impassible frigidity:

"If you choose, Miss Beecham, to consider that you are under a debt of
gratitude to me, allow me to say that you will express it in the manner
most agreeable to me by never referring to the subject."

Bowing once more with that impassible fineness of mien, the old
gentleman opened the door and disappeared.

Meg felt crushed as by some physical blow. The gratitude that she had
harbored in her heart till it was filled to bursting all those years was
thrown back upon it, and the pain stifled her. She realized her
loneliness as she never had realized it before. She wandered blindly out
into the park, and for the first time, in the heart of nature, she felt
like an outcast. She rebelled against the isolation to which her
benefactor would condemn her. It felt like an insult.

To be grateful to those who are good to us is a sacred right. He had no
authority to take from her this God-given privilege. After awhile she
grew calmer, but a melancholy fell over her such as she had never known.

Day succeeded day, and the intercourse between Meg and her host remained
but little changed. She watched him curiously whenever she had the
opportunity. She came to know his habits. A young man was closeted with
him for some hours every morning. Mrs. Jarvis told Meg he was Sir
Malcolm's secretary, and read the papers to him, as the baronet's
eyesight was beginning to fail. He had lodgings in the village.

Sir Malcolm rode out alone, walked alone, took his meals alone, spent
his evenings alone. Occasionally some elderly country squires called at
the house; but there was apparently no intimacy between the baronet and
his neighbors. Meg often watched her host wandering about the park;
there was an alley he haunted. As he paced backward and forward, his
hands behind his back, his tall figure, slender almost to gauntness,
clothed in the somewhat old-fashioned costume he affected, his white
hair shining like spun glass about his pale, high-featured face, she
thought he looked like a ghost which had stepped down out of one of the
pictures. Little by little she grew to feel an intense interest in that
stately specter.

Whenever they met Sir Malcolm was courteous and cold. Sometimes he
passed her by with that old-world salute; oftener he stopped to inquire
after her comfort, to offer with distant interest suggestions for her
amusement. He recommended her books to read; he once pointed out to her
the parts of the house to which historical interest was attached.

He attracted and repelled Meg. She was always in a fright when she was
near him. His glance withered every impulse to pass the distance he
imposed between them. A chill air seemed around him, as might be round
an iceberg. The look of power on his face, the suggestion his appearance
gave of a strong, self-contained personality, possessed for her the same
sort of fascination as the flash and iridescence of an iceberg that will
not melt. The interest Meg felt for her host kept pace with her fear.
She always connected that picture turned to the wall with his history
and his character. There it was always in presence, and yet under
apparently some black disgrace.

Away from Sir Malcolm, she would indulge a zeal to win his regard, to
conquer it. Watching his solitary pacings to and fro, a pity would fill
her heart for the lonely man who had been so good to her. In his
presence came the chill, checking every expression of emotion. Sometimes
when she met his glance she fancied her benefactor disliked her.

The sadness deepened upon Meg--the sadness of a sensitive nature
condemned to isolation. The inaction of her days wearied her. She looked
back with a touch of nostalgia on the busy schooldays, and mourned anew
for Elsie, who had allowed her to give love. Meg's pride also rebelled
against eating the bread of idleness under her benefactor's roof: that
gentle independence had grown a sort of second nature with her.

One morning she was aware of a certain flurry through the house. Mrs.
Jarvis told her that Sir Malcolm's secretary had been called away
suddenly to London on important family business, and that the master was
left with his papers alone.

Meg received the information in silence. For a few moments after the
housekeeper left she stood still, thinking. Once or twice she walked to
the room and came back irresolute. She at last went determinedly out of
the room and made her way to the library, where Sir Malcolm spent the
greater part of his time indoors.

She knocked, but scarcely waited for permission to open the door.
Walking swiftly in before he could recognize her, she stood by Sir
Malcolm's chair.

"I have come to ask if I may read to you, sir, in the absence of Mr.
Robinson?" she said in the smooth, quick voice of mastered timidity.

He looked up surprised, and rose.

"I could not accept it of you," he said with a bow.

"Why not?" she asked with breathless gentleness.

"Did Mrs. Jarvis suggest to you to come?" he said with a quick frown,
an evidence of irritation he suppressed at once.

"No," said Meg. "I heard Mr. Robinson had left, and I hoped that you
would let me take his place."

"That would be impossible. I would not lay such a tax upon any lady," he
said with courteous definiteness of accent and manner.

"Why will you not let me read to you?" asked Meg pleadingly.

"Because," he answered, with an attempt at lightness of tone that did
not yet take from its distance and firmness, "young ladies do not care
for politics, and politics alone interest me."

"They would interest me if I read them for you," said Meg with timid
persistence.

"Allow me to beg you to put into the balance against this plea the
argument that it would be disagreeable to me," Sir Malcolm replied, with
a directness the brutality of which was veiled by the stately tone of
dismissal in his voice and manner. "And the spirit that impelled you to
undertake the task would make it all the more painful."

As Meg did not answer he continued:

"Excuse the frankness of my refusal. I thank you, nevertheless, for the
offer."

He glanced toward the door, and as she moved away he advanced to open
it for her; but Meg paused on her way. Her spirit was up; the fear that
hitherto had quelled her before him fell from her. She had grown
suddenly irritated at his invincible coldness. She would expose herself
to no more rebuffs.

"May I ask you, sir, to be so kind as to spare me a moment? I have a
request to make."

"Certainly," he replied, turning back; he sat down and pointed to a
chair near his. But Meg remained standing.

Embarrassment, resolution kept her motionless with a touch of angular
rigidity in her pose. Her voice, unsteady at first, grew more controlled
as she went on:

"Before leaving school I had an offer of a situation as governess to
three young children. You were kind enough, sir, to ask me on a visit. I
thank you for the hospitality you have shown me. I think my visit must
now come to an end. With your permission I shall inquire if the place is
still vacant, and take it if it be."

"Why do you want to go, Miss Beecham?" said Sir Malcolm. "Are you not
comfortable here?"

"Comfortable, yes," said Meg. She paused as if hesitating, then she
added brusquely, "I do not think I care much for comfort."

There was something primitive, almost childish, in Meg's manner; but it
gave the impression of the strength rather than of the weakness of
childhood. It came with a freshness that was as the scent of the flower
rather than that of the toilet perfume.

Meg's mood seemed to pique the old gentleman; he looked curiously at
her, almost as if for the first time he recognized in her an
individuality.

"You do not care for comfort. That is a great source of independence,"
he observed.

"I wish to be independent," said Meg with gentle spirit.

"You are proud. It is a spirit that should be repressed," he answered.

"I do not know if I am proud," replied Meg, her low, feeling voice under
evident restraint. "I know it pains me to be here receiving everything,
giving nothing in return."

"What could you give?" he asked with a slight contraction of his hard
lips.

"I could give proofs of what I feel--gratitude," she said.

"I have explained I do not want gratitude," he replied with chill
distinctness. "I do not either wish to receive it or to inspire it."

"You cannot help my feeling it," Meg broke out with spirit and with a
vivid glance; "that is beyond your control. You may condemn me to
silence and to apparent apathy, but the gratitude is here all the same;
and because I cannot express it, it becomes a burden and hurts me."

There was a pause, during which Sir Malcolm continued to look at Meg
with that new look of curiosity, as if for the first time he recognized
her as a personality.

"Am I to understand," he said slowly, "that you wish to leave my house
because I do not care for any allusion to be made between us of the part
I have taken in defraying the cost of your education?"

Meg made a quick gesture. "Because you will let me do nothing for you,
and also because I want to be independent. I would never wish to leave
you if I could be of service to you--never; but as you will not let me,
I ask you to let me go and earn my own living."

Sir Malcolm bowed his head. "I understand; you do not wish to be
dependent upon me for your maintenance."

"No, sir."

"Suppose," resumed her host after a pause, "I were to feel disposed to
accept the offer you just now made to me, to replace Mr. Robinson during
his absence, would you allow me to do so?"

Meg gave an exclamation of acceptance.

[Illustration: MEG READS THE MORNING PAPERS TO SIR MALCOLM.--Page 255.]

"Understand me," said the old man with deliberate distinctness,
looking full at Meg. "It is a business proposal. I still maintain my
point. I do not want gratitude. If I accept your services, it is on the
condition that you will accept a remuneration."

Meg colored. For a moment she knit her brows, then she said with effort,
"I shall accept the chance of being of service to you under any
condition, sir, that you may name."

"So be it, then," said the baronet.

At a sign from him Meg sat down and took up the _Times_. "Where shall I
begin, sir?" she asked.

"With the first leader, if you please," he replied with an inclination
of the head, crossing his knees, and composing himself to listen.

Meg read, mastering her nervousness with a strong effort of will. Once
or twice she looked up and caught his eyes fixed upon her, with that new
curiosity in their glance that seemed to humanize their expression.

After she had read the _Times_, the political leaders of the _Standard_,
and selections from its foreign correspondence under Sir Malcolm's
directions, a third paper remained--the local organ apparently--the
_Greywolds Mercury_. At the murmured injunction of her auditor, "The
leader, if you please," Meg once more set upon her task.

The article handled a book upon the rights of property which had lately
appeared and was making a stir. As Meg read the opening paragraph her
voice faltered and hesitated. She was reading a fierce attack upon Sir
Malcolm Loftdale.

She looked up distressed and flurried. The old man set his jaw. "Go on,"
he said, and Meg continued. She could scarcely follow the drift of what
she read for sympathy with the pain she was inflicting upon her
benefactor. She confusedly gathered that Sir Malcolm had raised rents in
order to get rid of certain tenants on his estate; that the compensation
he gave his ejected cottagers might appear to justify the proceeding,
which nevertheless remained in the eyes of the writer of the article an
infamous cruelty.

"I think this will suffice for to-day, Miss Beecham," said the baronet,
when she had read to the end.

She rose as he spoke. She noticed he looked paler. "Is there no letter,
sir, that I can write for you?" asked Meg.

"None this morning, I thank you," he replied with that fine air of
dismissal which awed Meg. He preceded her to the door, and held it open
for her to pass out.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE EDITOR OF THE "GREYWOLDS MERCURY."


Morning after morning Meg appeared at her post. She was punctual. As the
clock struck ten her knock sounded at the library door, and she glided
in. The greeting between her employer and herself was always the same--a
formal and courtly bow from him, an inclination of the head and low
"Good morning, sir," from her. Then she would begin to read. She knew
the order in which he liked to listen to the contents of the various
journals. Sometimes also Meg remained to write letters. She had rebelled
at first against the business contract her benefactor had proposed to
her; she liked it well enough now that she had entered upon it. The
touch of frigidity it brought into the more emotional relationship of
gratitude with which she regarded him imparted definiteness to their
intercourse. The somewhat elaborate courtesy with which he treated her
lent a charm to service.

On Wednesday and Saturday the _Greywolds Mercury_ appeared among the
papers to be read. Its columns usually contained an attack, covert or
personal, against Sir Malcolm Loftdale. Sometimes he was mentioned by
name; sometimes he was alluded to in pointed and unmistakable terms as
"a large landed proprietor living in unsympathetic isolation." In his
dealings toward his tenants he was represented as a tyrant, not so much
actively as passively; and "passive injustice," the writer maintained,
"is worse than active, for it leaves no hope behind."

Meg felt a flame of indignant protest rising against this persistent
abuse. She would have skipped the censure so relentlessly pursuing the
old man, who listened in silence with jaw set and lips compressed; but
he always detected the attempt, and bade her "go on" in a voice so stern
that its tone stopped the reluctant quaver in hers. Meg knew that her
auditor, who never offered a word of remonstrance or vouchsafed an
exclamation as she read, suffered from these scathing attacks. He looked
paler and feebler, she thought, during the day, and wandered with more
piteous aimlessness about the park.

One hot Wednesday afternoon she came upon him asleep in a garden chair
in the sunshine. The feebleness of his aspect strangely appealed to
Meg. He looked so frail and pale. The pride of his appearance was
relaxed. The colorless features, the delicate hands loosely crossed,
might have been modeled in wax. In the immobility of sleep the face had
a tragic cast. Meg thought it looked like that of one dead, who in life
had suffered beyond the ordinary lot of man. Pity and indignation that
one so old and stricken should be made to suffer stirred Meg's heart.
For a moment she looked upon her benefactor, and then she turned away
with moistened eyes.

Meg was no dreamer. She was of an active nature. As she walked
feverishly about the grounds she found herself remonstrating in
imagination with this venomous persecutor of one who had cast a spell of
interest over her, and to whom she owed so much. She sometimes stopped
in her walk to complete some angry appeal. Suddenly a daring thought
arose in her mind. She would call upon this man, and in the strength of
a just cause she would meet him face to face without anger, and tell him
the injury he was doing to an old man's life. Would she dare to do it?
She did not know the editor's name, but she had noticed that letters
published in the paper were simply addressed to him in his official
capacity. She knew where to find the office of the _Greywolds Mercury_.
She had seen it one day that she had had occasion to visit the market
town two miles distant. After the first flash of courage her spirit
failed as she approached the gate. She hesitated. She thought of that
newspaper in the library, and went back and read the article again.
Again her indignation blazed up. Holding the paper in her hand she set
out on her mission. As she walked she read over portions of the article
to keep her zeal warm. Thus she proceeded on her way, filled with her
theme, yet faltering.

She reached the town, and turned into the High Street where the office
stood. She easily recognized it by the posters outside and the
advertisements in the windows. Meg entered the shabby interior with a
desperate effort, and while trembling, yet full of moral courage,
impelled to act by what seemed to be a duty. A clerk sat at a desk; a
small boy was posting and rolling up the papers. It was the dingiest
corner from which a thunderbolt could be launched.

"I want to see the editor," she said brusquely.

"He is busy, miss," answered the clerk, surveying her slowly over his
spectacles.

"I want to see him on important business," said Meg determinedly, trying
to look unabashed.

"What name shall I say?" asked the clerk.

"Miss Beecham; but he will not know me," replied Meg.

The clerk disappeared, and returned after a moment to say the editor
would be glad to see the lady.

They climbed a narrow, dusty flight of stairs that led to a glass door.
It was opened by her guide, who ushered her into a room that impressed
her as a medley of papers and books. A man, who had been sitting before
a large table, rose at her entrance. She perceived that he was tall and
broad-shouldered, that his countenance was energetic and expressive, and
his glance brilliant. The lower part of his face was hidden by a reddish
beard; the closely-cropped hair was of a darker and less ruddy hue. He
bowed to her.

"Are you the editor of the _Greywolds Mercury_?" she asked, making
another desperate effort to conquer her shyness.

"I am," he answered.

"If anything appears in the paper that is unjust it is to you one must
appeal?"

"Certainly. I hope nothing of this kind has appeared," he answered. His
tone was curt, his voice deep and not inharmonious.

"It is because something unjust has appeared, and has been repeated,
that I have called upon you," said Meg.

"Indeed! Would you tell me the particulars? Pray, sit down," said the
editor. If his manner had a certain _brusquerie_ it was that of
self-possession; it was characteristic of a man accustomed to speak to
business men, and who could listen as well as talk.

He was dressed with a certain negligence, but with great neatness. Meg
noticed, she knew not why, his large, well-shaped hand.

"There have been a number of articles upon Sir Malcolm Loftdale," began
Meg.

The editor acknowledged the truth of this statement by an inclination of
the head.

"I know Sir Malcolm well. I am staying at Greywolds Manor. I am taking
the place of his secretary," said Meg, determinedly ignoring the shyness
that, without chilling her indignation, yet threatened to overcome her
under the scrutinizing glance of the editor. "I am under great
obligations to Sir Malcolm, I owe him everything."

The editor bowed his head, but did not break the silence. He appeared to
be waiting for more cogent reasons to be advanced. Meg felt to a certain
degree baffled by his manner.

"You do not know how good he is," she resumed with energy, "and you
represent him as unjust and tyrannical."

"You must remember the criticisms are upon Sir Malcolm in his public
capacity of landlord and magistrate. They do not apply to him as a
private individual," said the editor.

Meg made a movement as if repudiating this line of argument.

"A man cannot be one thing in his public capacity and another in his
private relationship," she said quickly.

"I am afraid he can," answered the editor, with a smile distantly
brightening his glance.

"I cannot believe it," said Meg with energy. "He is old and feeble. It
is cruel to hurt him, and I know those attacks hurts him. He never says
a word. He has never mentioned the subject to me. I watch him as I read
aloud to him, and I think they will kill him."

"I think you exaggerate their importance," said the editor, averting his
glance in which Meg thought she detected a sparkle of amusement. After a
moment he resumed with seriousness. "You must understand me. I do not
like to hurt your feelings, but this is a matter of principle with me.
To put it plainly, Sir Malcolm Loftdale is a bad landlord, and in a
public sense a bad man."

Meg gave an exclamation. "I do not believe it; I do not accept this
statement. You misjudge him, You do not know him as I know him. He
leads a lonely life and perhaps does not know."

"Exactly! That is one of the reasons that make him a bad landlord. He
ignores the needs of his tenants by indulging his selfish love of
loneliness, he becomes utterly unsympathetic. He cares nothing for the
laborers who look to him for securing them the commonest rights, more
decent dwellings, fair rents. And yet what wonder," continued the
editor, turning his head away and speaking as if to himself, "that he
should not care for them, when he did not care for his own son."

Meg thought of the picture with its face turned to the wall. She felt
she touched a boundary that lay beyond her self-imposed task, and she
rose.

"I see that I am making no way," she said in hurt accents. "I cannot
influence you to abandon the cruel course you seem determined to pursue.
Nothing remains for me to do but to apologize for having made the
attempt, and to go."

"Indeed," said the editor, rising also, "I am sorry I should have given
this wrong impression of the interest with which I have listened to your
arguments in favor of Sir Malcolm Loftdale, and of your appeal against
the censure pronounced upon him in the _Greywolds Mercury_. But, believe
me, there are many upon his estate who daily talk of him more bitterly
than I do; many who have been compelled to leave and to face ruin in
already over-crowded cities after accepting his offer of compensation,
which was a hard bargain driven on his side alone. You do not know,
perhaps, the merits of the case against him. He turns his tenants out,
if they are not punctual with their rents as soon as the law allows. In
his selfish desire for isolation he allows no cottages to be built on
his extensive estates. He has checked innocent amusements; barred the
right of way. These sufferers represent the people. I shall not offend
you by stating what I could of the class to which Sir Malcolm belongs.
You see I have argued and discussed the matter fairly with you,"
continued the editor, checking the warmth of his tone.

"I cannot judge the case as you state it," said Meg with a pained frown.
"I am sure it is one-sided." Then with gathering energy she went on:
"Cannot you conceive that your continued persecution may drive him to
worse acts? It is enough to make him shun his neighbors to be thus
always held up to them as cruel and exacting. It is enough to make him
wish to remove them from his sight when he knows that they are taught to
revile him. I know that he is good. Take my case. I owe him everything;
yet I have no claim upon him. Doubtless mine is not an isolated case.
He may be helping many others in an obscure way. Noble natures shrink
from publicity. I know he shrinks from being thanked. He will not allow
me to thank him. It almost led to a misunderstanding between us when I
tried to express to him my gratitude. You talk of his getting rid of
tenants after giving them compensation. What is that suffering compared
to the one you inflict upon him by these words that may sting to death?"

Meg's defense of her guardian was not logical, but it was of the heart,
and womanly. She ignored all her antagonist's arguments, and saw
everything colored by her emotions of the moment. The editor looked at
her with a sort of half-amused amazement. Her vehemence was not to be
answered by balanced sentences or editorial dignity.

"You are so good an advocate," he said, smiling, "that you almost
incline me to be a convert."

"I wish I could convert you to believe in his goodness--to me, and
perhaps to many others," said Meg, with the constraint of shy
awkwardness upon her, as she accepted the homage of his softened mood.

"His kindness to you is all that I care for," said the editor,
gallantly.

"Will you promise me not to write any more articles against him?" asked
Meg, with the childlike almost primitive directness that occasionally
distinguished her speech when greatly in earnest.

"I promise to remember your advocacy whenever I begin to write, or to
think of Sir Malcolm Loftdale," answered the editor.

"You promise it?" repeated Meg.

"I promise it," said the editor.

After a pause of awkward hesitation Meg bowed and turned away. The
editor held open the door for her, and she passed out of the dingy
office.

As Meg walked home she was conscious of a certain light-heartedness. The
interview had been, on the whole, antagonistic; yet the impression it
left on her mind was pleasant. The editor was a stranger, and yet he
almost seemed to her a friend. She could not account for a sense of
trustfulness with which she felt inclined to regard him. There was
nothing to justify this confidence, yet the impression remained.



CHAPTER XXIII.

FRIEND OR FOE.


The impression, for which she could give no reason, that this stranger
was a friend remained with Meg. When on the following Wednesday she
recognized the _Greywolds Mercury_ lying among the morning newspapers,
she looked at its pages with confidence.

She read the _Times_ abstractedly, eager to get to the local organ. Her
voice lost its intelligent enunciation. Sir Malcolm, with courteous
apologies for what might be, he owned, his lack of attention, asked on
two occasions for a paragraph to be read over again, the sense of which
he had not gathered. Meg, the second time, recognized the implied
rebuke, and compelled herself to concentrate her mind upon her task.

When the turn of the _Greywolds Mercury_ came she took it up
deliberately, and slowly unfolded its pages. She turned to the leader;
she glanced over it; the print swam before her eyes. The article was an
onslaught upon Sir Malcolm. Last week he had passed a hard sentence upon
a poacher caught red-handed in his preserves, and this severity had
roused the editor's ire. Meg dropped the paper with an exclamation, her
heart beat with indignation and with an exaggerated sense of
disappointment.

"What is it, Miss Beecham?" asked Sir Malcolm.

"I cannot read it!" replied Meg unsteadily.

"I suppose it is one of those low-bred, personal attacks upon myself.
Pray do not let it discompose you, Miss Beecham," said Sir Malcolm with
formal coldness. "I assure you it affects me as little as would the
barking of an ill-bred puppy."

As Meg still hesitated he added, after a moment's pause, with impassible
politeness, "I must beg you, Miss Beecham, to be so good as to read this
article aloud."

The formality of the tone, into which Sir Malcolm had infused a touch of
command, reminded Meg that he was her employer, and she proceeded. She
went steadily on to the end. The article seemed to her to be marked by
increased virulence. She could not judge the merits of the case that
formed the subject of the editor's attack. She did not care to judge
them. These were outside the point.

The concluding phrases ran: "There is a justice that keeps within the
letter of the law, and ignores every suggestion of compassion and
fellow-feeling for other human beings. But this justice fails in
severity before that which deals out punishment for breaking the edicts
contained in the code of so-called social honor. The modern Brutus would
immolate not the unhappy peasant only, to whom belong no human rights,
he would immolate his own son, if he conspired to rebel against the
sacred commandments contained in that code."

Meg was startled by a low exclamation. She looked up. Sir Malcolm was
lying back in his chair, his eyes closed, his countenance ashen and
drawn.

As she paused he opened his eyes and looked round; his expression was
one of mental anguish.

"Thank you," he said, with a ghastly attempt to assume that fine air of
dismissal he knew so well how to put on, "that will suffice for to-day."

"May I not do something more for you, sir?" asked Meg, affected by his
tone and manner.

"Thank you, I am much obliged," he replied, turning away and taking up a
book.

Meg noticed that his hand trembled. She remembered the editor's words.
"He was not good to his son."

Was it for this that the reckless allusion to a father's condemnation of
a son to death in the name of justice had hit him so hard?

She dared no longer intrude upon the presence of that sorrow or remorse,
and left the room. What did it all mean? She went to the great
dining-room and stood before the picture with its face turned to the
wall. The disgrace appealed to her with tragic piteousness; and the
father's unforgiveness acted upon her like a chill repulse.

The house seemed full of an unforgiven pain; the sense of it oppressed
Meg, and she wandered out into the amity of the woodland roads. As she
walked down a narrow path she became aware of a man approaching toward
her from the opposite direction, with a long stride and an absorbed
mien. She recognized the editor.

The indignation that had been thrust back by the thought of that unknown
sorrow blazed forth anew. It flamed on her cheek and burned in her eyes.
As the editor came near he met her glance and removed his hat; but Meg,
taking no notice of his salute, passed on, like a little goddess clothed
in the panoply of her wrath.

As she returned home by another way she was surprised, and a little
offended, to see the editor loitering near the gates of the park. She
was preparing to cut him once more, when he advanced resolutely toward
her.

"May I say a few words to you, Miss Beecham, with reference to the
article that appeared in this morning's _Mercury_?"

"I would prefer not," replied Meg curtly.

"I feel an explanation is due. I would like to justify myself," he said,
keeping pace with her as she walked on with her face turned from him.

"I would rather not approach the subject. No explanation is possible,"
replied Meg coldly.

"I think you are mistaken in saying that. Will you give me the
opportunity I ask?"

"I prefer not," repeated Meg, stopping short and now turning round full
upon him. "We approach this subject from such totally different
standpoints, I feel very seriously about it. You gave your promise
lightly, and as lightly broke it. I asked it after much hesitation and
reluctance. To address a stranger, to call upon him as I did upon you,
was a strong measure to take--a reckless one, some might say. I knew it,
I felt it. I put myself into a false position--I exposed myself to the
insult of being regarded as one to whom a promise means no bond."

"Not so. That is unjust. Allow me to say you are harsh beyond my
deserts," replied the editor, unconsciously raising his voice. Checking
himself he resumed more gently: "You will admit that the case of the
poacher was entirely different. It was so strong, so startling."

"It was not so much against the matter as against the manner of your
attack upon Sir Malcolm Loftdale that I appealed, and that you promised
to alter," said Meg, unsoftened.

"I was strongly moved as I wrote," said the editor, who, somewhat to his
surprise, found himself pleading before this young girl with eager
self-justification. "The severity of the sentence passed upon the
unhappy man--I know him and his poor wife--seemed to me so out of all
proportion to the offense committed that I forgot everything else. It
was only when I looked over the article in print that I realized how the
tone of it might hurt you."

"How it might hurt him! It did hurt him! If it is a satisfaction to you
to know it, the blow struck home. That allusion to the modern Brutus had
its full effect. It went to his heart!" said Meg passionately, with
flaming eyes.

"I will not pretend to say, Miss Beecham, except for the apparent
neglect of my promise to you, that I would regret the effect of my words
upon Sir Malcolm. By his coldness and harshness he drove his son to a
piteous death."

"I know nothing of the story to which you allude; and I do not wish to
know it. I will not hear it from the lips of an enemy of Sir Malcolm
Loftdale," said Meg almost fiercely. "What I do know is, that if it is
remorse or sorrow that darkens his old age, it is altogether too sacred
a theme to be dragged into print and made the subject of a newspaper
attack."

The editor was silent a moment, then he said: "You are right."

The gravity of his tone softened Meg; she hesitated a moment, then
inclining her head she moved away.

"I wish you would retract what you said just now concerning your visit
to my office," the editor began somewhat blunderingly--"that it was a
reckless step--that you consider that it justified me in lightly
promising and lightly breaking my pledge."

"You must acknowledge, then, that you forgot all that I said," replied
Meg with the childlike bluntness which characterized her.

"Forgive me, and I will never forget again," he replied. "Will you not
let me discuss the case of the poacher with you--of the other wrongs
that exist--will you help me to advocate the rights of the tenants and
laborers without wounding the landlord?"

"I will never discuss with you again," said Meg hastily; and with a
quick bow she left him and passed within the gates.

As she went up the avenue she caught sight of Sir Malcolm wandering up
and down the yew-tree walk. He saw her and came forward to meet her. The
emotion of the morning still left its traces upon his features. He held
a letter.

"I have heard from my late secretary," he said. "He writes from London.
He will be back in a few days."

"Then, sir, I suppose I must resign my post," said Meg in a pained
voice. "I have been happy in serving you."

"You seem to think that all the use you are to me is to serve me, read
to me, work for me. Can you conceive yourself of no other use?" said Sir
Malcolm in gentler tones than she had ever heard him speak.

"Of what other use can I be, sir, to you?"

"The use of bringing pleasure to me by your simple presence in my
house," he said, taking her hand.

"I would be unhappy if I felt myself an idle dependant upon you, sir,"
Meg said, shy pride giving a touch of awkwardness to her attitude and an
embarrassed tone to her voice.

"Were you fond of your task?" he asked.

"I liked it, sir," she replied.

"Then I will write to Mr. Robinson that he may stay where he is. Do not
think that I shall be inconsiderate," he went on as she looked up
anxiously. "I know that his wish is to find a situation in London. I can
get him just the post he desires. Have an easy conscience about him. If
you will, indeed, stay to be an old man's eyesight and his right hand, I
will be grateful to you. I should be lonely now without you. Will you
stay with me, Meg?"

"I will stay with you, sir, till you send me away," said Meg with zeal;
and to her surprise she found herself in tears, moved to the heart at
the old man's tone of unexpected tenderness.



CHAPTER XXIV.

FRIEND!


From that day a subdued tone of affectionate confidence entered into the
relations between Meg and her guardian. Sir Malcolm did not emerge from
the seclusion in which he lived so much as from his cold and distant
manner. He still took his meals alone, he spent his evenings in
solitude, he still wandered alone in the park; but his taciturnity was
less marked. He often joined Meg in the grounds, and sometimes they
drove out together into the surrounding country.

While continuing to treat her with that dignified courtesy that had a
charm for Meg, he assumed toward her a gentle familiarity which kept up
a reminder of that unexpected tenderness which had so profoundly moved
her on the day when he asked her to stay with him. It was the only time
she had seen him relax his stateliness of manner. Meg never knew him to
depart from a lofty composure of demeanor. He never gave way to
irritability; but if a servant was neglectful of orders, memorable
severity visited this breach of duty. Toward her Sir Malcolm assumed a
splendid deference. The flowers he plucked for her he presented with a
suggestion of the superb homage a regent might give to a child-queen. As
he walked and talked with her his conversation showed an appreciation of
rustic beauty, and gave evidence of intellectual culture. He told her
the names of the trees; he related anecdotes of country life and
manners, of illustrious statesmen and persons of note whom he had known;
he sometimes flavored his conversation with quotations from the works of
classic authors. Sir Malcolm acknowledged, with that fine air which was
not one of boasting, still less one of apology, that he knew nothing of
contemporary literature outside that of the newspapers--his literary
studies terminated with that of the wits of Queen Anne's reign. He spoke
with an easy choice of words that gave a balanced elevation to his
language. This gentler mood dispelled the fear Meg had felt in his
presence, and the fascination grew that he exercised over her. The
nobility, the dignity, the sternness of the old man's appearance--the
recognition that he was always at his best with her, who was a
dependant, added to the spell he exercised over her. The gentle and
subtle artificiality--perhaps it were better to say the art--of his
manners influenced those of Meg, and they acquired by contact with him
an added grace of reserve and composure.

The attacks in the _Mercury_ had ceased. Meg attributed Sir Malcolm's
brighter mood to their cessation. Week after week elapsed, and the local
print, while advocating as forcibly as before the right of the laboring
classes to happier conditions brought into their lives, abstained from
all personal or covert allusions to Sir Malcolm Loftdale. Meg felt
grateful. The editor had done this for her, and the desire grew upon her
to thank him.

One afternoon, as she walked about the grounds, she began timidly to
draw the baronet's attention to the softened tone of the _Greywolds
Mercury_.

Sir Malcolm reared his head, and turning upon her a countenance the
features of which seemed to stand out with added definiteness, he said
with haughty distinctness: "I have noticed nothing. What an insolent
radical thinks fit to say or not to say, matters nothing to me. I
utterly ignore it. I regard it as I would regard the advocacy of
ruffianism by a member of the criminal classes."

"The attacks pained me," began Meg with regretful hesitation, struggling
to master her timidity.

"I know it," replied Sir Malcolm; "and I thank you for your kind
heartedness. It was unnecessary pain that you felt. Believe me, the
whole affair was unworthy of your consideration. Disdain is the only
attitude to assume toward such conduct. No means are too contemptible
for a low-born demagogue to adopt for the attainment of his aims."

"But, do you not admit, sir," said Meg with a slight tremor in her deep
tones, "that liberalism, if mistaken, yet has its principles?"

"Principles!" repeated Sir Malcolm with scornful clearness. "The
burglar, doubtless, has his principles when he picks my lock, and is
silent lest he might awake the house. Never mention this man or his
paper again."

He left her; and Meg, with a shadow over her face, walked slowly away.
She thought there was a certain injustice in not recognizing the altered
tone of the newspaper, and the wish came to her more strongly to thank
the editor for the deference he had paid to her request.

The next day she was driving out with Sir Malcolm. The way home lay
through the straggling market-town, down the High Street, in which stood
the office of the _Mercury_. The baronet seldom spoke during a drive, he
sat back with that cold and distant air which seemed to withdraw him
from his surroundings. The scene impressed itself and made a picture in
Meg's mental vision: the red-tiled roofs of the irregular houses coming
out against the lemon sky; the office on the southern side of the
thoroughfare, the ugly posters glaring in the late sunlight. As they
passed the office Meg glanced in its direction; her eyes met those of a
man emerging from the doorway. It was the editor. A chill force, that
seemed to emanate from the white-haired immobile presence by her side,
compelled her to withdraw her eyes and turn them coldly away. It was but
for a flash, then Meg looked round to bow and smile her thanks; but the
editor had already turned away and was walking with swift, long strides
up the street.

Self-upbraidings kept Meg silent during the drive home. The opportunity
that she had wished for, of showing to this stranger that she thanked
him for his generous fulfillment of the promise he had given to her, had
presented itself, and she had used the opportunity to wound him. She sat
still and unhappy. In the loneliness of the evening, the pain of having
offered what might well be interpreted as an affront by one who had been
kind made her restless. A feverish longing came to her to remove the
hurt she had given. She thought she would write to this stranger who
seemed a friend; but when she endeavored to do so she found the task too
difficult. His very name was unknown to her. Allusion to the apparent
rudeness of her conduct seemed but to emphasize the incivility she had
offered and make explanation inadequate. She put down her pen, and set
about thinking once more. She would call upon him and explain! The
resolve brought a sense of flurry; but the more she thought over it the
more she grew reconciled to it. She owed it to him. She had been to him
in anger and to expostulate; she would go to him now in reconciliation
and to thank.

The next morning her resolve had not grown the less, but the stronger,
for the night's sleep upon it. Meg felt impatient for the hour to come
when she could put it into execution. A fretful apprehension was upon
her that she would not be able to fulfill her intention. Sir Malcolm
proved that day in a mood for relishing her company. With reluctant feet
she accompanied him in a ramble through the park. She lent an
inattentive ear to his reminiscences in stately English of times long
past, of folk who had played their part and were now out of the world's
wrangles and reconciliations, its loves, its friendships and
estrangements.

Meg was free at last, and with a sense of relief she quickly made her
way through the stretching country to the old market town. She did not
falter or slacken her pace until she came within sight of the office,
then a sudden shyness overcame her. She took some restless steps
backward and forward, debating with herself; then the sense that this
stranger had been kind to her, that she owed him a debt of gratitude,
and that she had inflicted a wound upon him, resumed its ascendency and
she went in.

The clerk told her that his master was out. "But I expect him back in
five minutes," he added. "Will you walk upstairs, miss?"

Meg was once more shown by her guide into the dingy sanctum. It was as
she had seen it before--littered with books, with strips of
proof-sheets, and dust. It was imbued with a smell of tobacco. The
masculine personality that permeated the room worked upon Meg, and
brought on a fit of shyness more overwhelming than the first. Shame at
being here came over her, and a longing to escape before the master of
the place appeared. She determined to scribble off a few words before he
returned.

Writing implements surrounded her on every side. She took up a pen and a
sheet of paper. As she drew toward her an ink bottle she knocked
something down on the floor. She stooped to pick it up. As she did so a
picture hanging in an obscure corner caught her eye. It was in a rude
frame. It looked like a colored plate cut out of a fashion-book of some
years back. Meg started and drew her breath; a crowd of emotions passed
over her. She knew every cluster of roses on that white ball-dress; she
knew the affected grace of the simpering figure's posture; she
remembered that mended tear right across the page. As she looked at it
the room in which she sat became full of the hubbub of a London street.
It was a room similar to this one--littered with books and paper, imbued
with the smell of tobacco; in it sat a young man with kind bright eyes,
and a mane of blond hair; he was carefully pasting that inane
representation of a lady, and by his side a child, neglected and
forlorn, stood eagerly watching the strong hands as they repaired the
beloved print.

A mist gathered before Meg's eyes. This child in the shabby frock was
herself; this battered and mended fashion-plate was the idolized
imaginary picture of her mother. That young man with the kind eyes and
the deft fingers, who was he?

Meg was still gazing at the conventional figure in the ball-dress when
the door opened, and the editor walked in.

She vaguely recognized that his demeanor was altered. He bowed
distantly.

[Illustration: MEG RECOGNIZES THE OLD FASHION-PLATE.--Page 284.]

"I came to thank you and to explain," began Meg, and paused. Memory had
touched her eyelids and she recognized him. The puzzling recollection
that had obtruded itself with vague pertinacity asserted itself
triumphantly. She knew now why she had thought of this stranger as a
friend.

"To explain?" he repeated; and he, too, paused.

"Yes; about yesterday. I saw you," she said abruptly, almost
mechanically, as if speaking by rote and eager to get done; "but I was
afraid to bow to you, because I was with Sir Malcolm Loftdale. It was
mean and weak of me when I owe you so much."

"You owe me nothing. You convinced me, and I acted upon my new
conviction," he answered, still in a distant tone.

"I have much to be thankful to you for," she repeated in a voice that
was hoarse with emotion. "Where did you get this?" she added brusquely,
interrupting herself and pointing to the fashion-plate.

He looked surprised and said:

"I have had it some years."

"Who gave it to you?" she asked.

He looked curiously at her. "A story is attached to that picture," he
answered evasively.

"Is your name William Standish?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied. "Did you not know my name was Standish?" he added,
puzzled by the expression of her face.

She shook her head in denial. "Was it a child gave you this picture?"

"Yes," he replied, monosyllabic in his surprise.

"To her foolish, lonely fancy was it the portrait of her mother, who had
died in giving her birth?"

"That is true," he replied. Then he added earnestly, "Do you know
anything of that child? Can you tell me anything about her? I have tried
to find her. I have made many efforts to do so, but in vain. I have lost
all clew to her."

"Was her name Meg?" she asked.

"Yes, her name was Meg--dear little Meg!" he said, his eyes shining
softly, as if he were seeing before him an image that delighted him.

"I am, or rather I was little Meg," she said in a low voice.

"You?" he exclaimed, looking at her.

She nodded.

"But I thought your name was Beecham," he said. "That of Meg, I
understood, was Browne."

"Till I went to school I believed my name was Browne; but one day I was
told it was Beecham," she said.

"You Meg, little Meg!" he replied, his eyes traveling slowly over her.
"I can scarcely believe it."

"But all the same it is I!" she said with a laugh, as he kept looking at
her. "Let me prove my identity--put me to the test; you will see how
correctly I will answer," she said. "I remember the night when you put
that patch on the old fashion-plate. I had crumpled it up in despair
because you said that probably my mother was not a lady."

"That is true!" he replied, still looking scrutinizingly at her.

"I remember how I used to tease you about your dinners. I was quite
motherly with you!"

"Motherly! Grandmotherly! Bless you, little Meg!" he cried, and then he
laughed. "Is it you? Is it really you?" and he stretched out his two
hands.

Meg placed hers into their clasp. "Yes, it is little Meg for whom you
did that kind thing, of stopping the attacks upon Sir Malcolm."

"That was for tall Meg!" he said.

"Tall Meg, who I fear, did what little Meg would never have done:
appearing to ignore a kindness out of fear."

"No, no, we will not talk of that. It was so natural," he said, still
looking at her with surprised and friendly eyes.

They fell to chat, interchanging memories of those old childish days. He
walked with her across the country to the gates of the park, and as they
walked still they chatted of that fond, silly past.



CHAPTER XXV.

FOR "AULD LANG SYNE."


Although Meg could not explain to herself the right of authority Sir
Malcolm had over her, she felt it and acknowledged his control. The
temptation often came to enjoy the society of the friend of her
childhood, but her honest nature shrank from meeting him secretly; and
yet the attacks on the old baronet that had appeared in the local paper
precluded the possibility of mentioning to him its editor's name.

Still she longed to see Mr. Standish. One day she thought she would
venture to ask Sir Malcolm's permission. She began, blundering a little
about the debt of gratitude which she owed to him, and which it was her
pleasure to acknowledge; his wishes, she said, would ever influence her
in her acts and her conduct. Then, with a blush, she admitted there was
something she wished to do, for which she wished to get his permission.
Meg was amazed at the manner in which the old gentleman met her
advances. He distinctly disclaimed any shadow of authority over her.

"But you have been so good to me, sir," she replied. "But for you, when
I ran away from school----"

"When you ran away from school," he interrupted with unexpected
coldness. "I was almost inclined, when you refused to enter the
carriage, to leave you on the road. If I have given you protection it is
for reasons I do not care to explain. I have told you, I do not want
gratitude. The tie between us is a voluntary one. You are free as air,
young lady, but always with a risk. Your acts will not be disobediences,
though they may be imprudences. Distinctly remember you are your own
mistress. Keep your secrets if you have any. I do not demand your
confidence."

"Free as air!" rang through Meg's heart. "I am my own mistress; free to
meet my friend again."

After this extraordinary ebullition of candor from Sir Malcolm, the old
gentleman's kindness seemed to regain its late level. Meg even fancied
that he was kinder, as if he endeavored thus to salve any wound to her
feelings which his temporary harshness might have occasioned.

Still he had said she was free as air, and Meg now felt justified in
acting as her heart impelled her. The winter came and went, but it
brought no sense of dreariness or bleakness to Meg. She had found the
friend of her childhood, and the reflection of her childhood's days
shone over everything. It was no wonder that she felt some of the charm
of the old companionship with him who had been good to her when all the
world had neglected her; and the memory of whose kindness had set a halo
about the memory of her forlorn life.

She asked herself no questions concerning the nature of this new
interest; she knew only that until it came back to her she was as one
walled in, and without daylight. The real Meg had lived captive in a
state of repression; to no one had she ventured to tell her impressions;
but to this friend she could speak of the most trivial event, and
confide the most intimate thought. He drew her out with a frank
tenderness that won her simple trust. There grew a fascination to walk
and to talk with him; to tell him all that had happened to her since the
day of their parting. She had never forgotten him; the thought of him
had ever dwelt in her mind, ready to start up and welcome him at his
coming. And although it was still her pleasure and her duty to minister
to her benefactor's need, yet by his own injunction she felt herself
free to yield to the refreshment and delight of those meetings.

They met at sunset, after the journalist's work was done, in the wood
behind the house; and their trysting-place was an elm.

"It looks like an old wizard," said Mr. Standish, pointing to the
leafless tree standing gaunt against the dying light.

"Old Merlin!" said Meg; "and there is the eerie brightness about him. He
is going to throw a spell over us."

The prediction proved true; a spell was cast about Meg's life, and she
loved no spot on earth as she loved the place by that tree.

No young girl ever set forth to her first ball with more expectation and
longing than did Meg feel in anticipation of some new chat with the lost
friend whom she had found again. Endless, endless appeared to her the
sources of interesting conversation and of sentiment that he had at his
command, and each time they met and talked it seemed to her that he
opened a new world of thought and imagination for her spirit to dwell
in.

They had a thousand subjects to speak about. Every topic came at random.
They cared not which it was, for each seemed ever new. Meg was like a
child who has never seen the sea, now picking up rainbow shells by the
shore; every shell different in the heap lying beside her in a glorious
chance medley.

Sometimes he entertained her with scenes of travel, of striving and
success. Sometimes they interchanged memories, mutually reminding each
other of incidents in the past. With grave humor, followed by hearty
laughter, he would describe the part she had played in some scene where
she had behaved with great motherliness and dignity toward him. He would
tell her how she had never despaired of him, although the bailiffs were
after him.

"But I was a sad trouble to you, Meg," he vowed. "You were a little
tyrant then. Where is all that tyranny gone?"

"You give me no excuse to exercise it," she replied one day. "The
instinct may be there still; but you are so good, so absorbed in work
now."

"Ah, if you only knew it!" he exclaimed. "Little Meg would have been
more quick-sighted. She would have sternly reproved me, and preached to
me about wasting my time when I should be furnishing copy."

"Copy! What is copy?" she asked.

"Blessed ignorance! Copy is that which goes to fill those columns of
print. It is what the hungry printer clamors for, and looks very black
when he does not get."

Meg laughed.

"You speak as if printers were wild beasts fed with leaders on schemes
for extending the franchise or removing some dowdy old tax."

"Well, well, I am a humbug. All the time that I am writing these leaders
I am thinking of coming to see you; I hurry through my work in order to
be in time to meet you, Meg," he answered.

"Then I will meet you no more if I spoil your work," she said gravely.

"There spoke the child. All the severity of the little monitor of yore
is in those accents," he replied with a laugh. "No, Meg, I work all the
better to earn my play."

"Your play?" she said slowly, with a slight emphasis on the word; and
she was silent awhile. The expression remained with her, casting its
little shadow of doubt, and she would harp back upon it.

"Is this your play?" she would question gravely, when he said anything
complimentary.

They had their merry wrangles, their desperate fallings-out, their
pretty makings-up. Meg, with characteristic repartees, parried his
thrusts, and their intercourse was sweet with wholesome laughter. With
a blunt playfulness she met anything approaching to sentiment.

"While I was waiting," he said one day, "there was a little bird up
there--you'll hear it--which continually says, 'She'll come! she'll
come!'"

"And I heard a cuckoo in the wood as I came along," she replied; "he
cried nothing but 'Copy! copy! copy!'"

"It must have been the printer's devil," he said, "when I was taking a
holiday."

An innocent coquetry, which was the simple outcome of delight in her
ever-growing happiness, would tinge her manner with a little salt of
aggressiveness. She sometimes played at making him jealous.

She was late one day; she had been detained, she explained, by a
fascinating being.

"Who was he?"

She would not tell his name, but vowed he had splendid lustrous eyes,
and a mustache an officer in the guards might envy.

Mr. Standish laughed, and seemed inclined to turn the conversation to
another topic.

"You do not ask his name," she said; "yet this fascinating creature made
me late, and with difficulty I tore myself from his spell."

"But you came," he replied, falling into her mood.

"My sense of duty. I am naturally punctual. I push it to a weakness."

"I wish to forget him," he said; "he has robbed me enough. What is the
name of the country bumpkin?"

"Country bumpkin, indeed! He wears a coat the fit of which the most
fashionable tailor might well envy the secret of its cut--a coat black
and glossy, with just a touch of white at the throat."

"The rector. I knew it. Confess it is the rector," Mr. Standish said with
finger uplifted.

"No white-haired rector, indeed," said Meg.

"Then the curate? All the ladies are fascinated by the curate."

"Not the curate. My charmer is an inmate of the house."

"An inmate?" repeated Mr. Standish, perplexed.

"On the day of my arrival he was so pleasant and cordial his greeting
almost made me feel at home."

"I wonder who he is!" said Mr. Standish.

"As you look troubled, I will be generous and tell you," said Meg, and
paused.

"Well," said Mr. Standish, "who is he?"

"My charmer of the admirable coat, the impressive mustache, and the
splendid eyes is--well--my black cat. He it was who received me
cordially, sat by my fire, purred a welcome, and followed me about with
a tail straight as that;" and she lifted her parasol to a perpendicular.

Sometimes the talk drifted to Sir Malcolm's son, who had been the
editor's friend, and whose portrait, turned to the wall, appealed with a
piteous interest to Meg, and was always recurring to her mind.

"He had many faults," Mr. Standish admitted one day. "He was reckless,
but there was a winsomeness about him that won hearts; and the fault he
committed which rankled deepest in the old baronet's mind was an action
that came nearer to a virtue."

"What was that fault?" she asked.

"He married the woman he loved. She was the prettiest, sweetest woman I
ever saw. Absurd as it may seem, Meg, the first time I saw you grown up
you reminded me of her. It was simply fancy, of course the likeness is
lost now. It seems to have gone out."

"Do you think it was because of this marriage that his portrait was
turned to the wall?" persisted Meg.

"I think so. At least this I know: Sir Malcolm never forgave that
marriage."

"But why?" asked Meg.

"Because she was poor and brave enough to work for her living. I
believe she was a governess; but her trials came after their marriage.
His debts accumulated, his father was unforgiving; he sometimes had to
hide."

"What became of her?" still questioned Meg.

"She died when her child was born. After her death he certainly grew
more reckless. He was unhappy, and I think he had some remorse. The
marriage took place on the continent."

"Did the child live?"

"I don't know. He certainly had no home for it. He never alluded to it.
I believe he was not with his wife when she died."

"Poor wife!" said Meg, thinking of that unhappy wife who had suffered so
much, who had died so neglected and uncared for. "Is it not strange,"
she continued after a pause, "that it should have been my guardian's son
who was the friend for whom you almost beggared yourself?"

"And for having done which, do you remember, you stroked my head?" he
replied smilingly.

She answered him with a blush only.

Sometimes he spoke to her as to a comrade out of the fund of his large
experience and knowledge. His interest in the working classes appealed
to her, and life seemed to grow wider from the solicitude that he
brought into it for others. There grew every day in her heart a
reliance, a sort of wide faith in him, as if all he said and thought
must be right.

The winter passed and the spring came round; the sap rose in the earth
and the pulses of nature quickened.

They met oftener. Sometimes they wandered forth to meet each other in
the dewy mornings, when the fields shone like gossamer. There, in the
woods, where the birds wearied themselves for listeners, they came on
the scene. Meg would bid him forget his politics, his ink-bottle, in
honor of all the loveliness around.

"Look at this clump of daffodils," she said one morning when a mood of
mirthful raillery was upon her, pointing to the silly flowers. "Don't
they look like Hebes drooping their gold cups? Ah! everything is young
and merry, sir, but your old politics--your dull old politics."

Then he vowed he would never talk politics to her again, upon which she
coaxed and played the little siren until he relented, complaining that
she honeycombed his will by her cajoleries.

An exaltation stirred Meg's spirit--the girl who had been silent and
reserved was full of innocent gayety; and still that companionship with
one who had brought happiness to her childhood continued simple,
familiar, and charming, as it might be between dearest friends.

Sir Malcolm had an attack of illness, and as Meg devoted herself to him
for some time there were no meetings at the elm. Then she became
conscious of the value of the enchantment this new-found relationship
brought into her life; and when they met again she was aware of a subtle
change in the sentiment with which she regarded the relations between
Mr. Standish and herself.

While compelling herself to greet him with the same equable
friendliness, she was often chilled by the awkwardness of
self-restraint. The facile word lagged when she tried to assume an
attitude of bantering reserve, and her sincere nature oftener hid itself
behind that of shy formality. She would then gravely inquire of his
work, awkwardly plunge into politics or surface topics, but after awhile
in his reassuring presence the pain of her embarrassed spirit would
vanish, and she would feel comforted. In the sweetness of restored
harmony between them, after the jar of repression, her heart would
expand, and again she would weave around him a web of delicate sympathy
and winsome pleasantry. She would be a child again, and would display
her old quickness of mood to suit his disposition--gay when he wished to
be gay, serious when he was serious, silent when he was inclined for
silence. In this childlike docility and wistful eagerness to please him
dwelt the old wakeful and sensitive pride, quick to take alarm, easily
perplexed. The happy confidence would take flight like a frightened
bird, the laughter of her heart would be quenched, the trustful
approaches of her spirit checked as quickly as had been those of the
susceptible child, so coy and yet so devoted.

One day he did not come. In the evening she received a note of
explanation. He had been detained by business; he had come too late, and
he had waited, hoping some kindly inspiration would lead her to see if
he had kept tryst after the appointed hour. But she had not come. Would
she be gracious and come the next day?

After a debate with herself Meg sallied forth. Again he was not there,
and a dull, unhappy anger took possession of her. She was returning at
once, but a shower came. She stood under a tree waiting for it to pass,
but the trailing cloud seemed never to empty. She was angry, and she
felt about to cry for being imprisoned there. The raindrops began to
saturate the tree. She would not forgive him; twice to have failed her!
She had her upbraiding of him so perfect by going over it, she wished he
might come in time to deliver it. She heard steps approaching, and she
kept her eyes sternly before her. It was only a countrywoman with sloppy
shoes. Her heart went down, and tears rushed to her eyes; and so full
was she of her grievance that when he joined her with the rain streaming
from his hat she started, not having heard him come, and all her
prepared reproaches left her memory. She did not give him her hand,
however, and tried to flick away the telltale tears.

"I am late again. I am so sorry. I could not help it," he said
earnestly.

"But I can help coming in future," said Meg in a severe tone.

"No, you could not punish me like this," he said. "It was a telegram
from London upon which I was obliged to write a short article which kept
me. That article was written in such desperation that I shall be afraid
to read it in print. Won't you give me your hand?"

"The shower is over. I think I shall go back," she said.

"Do you see that black cloud shaped like an Inverness cape? It is coming
right up with its deluge."

"All the more reason that I should hurry home," she said.

"But consider, Meg," he replied, smiling down upon her; "what an
undignified retreat. Before you have gone a hundred yards you will be
obliged to break into a run, and finally make another stage under yonder
elm tree, where I will rejoin you; and then we will begin all over
again. Nothing like a good rainstorm for a reconciliation. But all the
grace of it is gone. Come now, I have felt the first menacing drop upon
my nose. Make friends, it says."

She looked at him with scrutinizing gravity, then a smile broke.

"I cannot resist the drop's appeal," she replied with a laugh, and she
put out her hand. "Still, for all the rain in the world," she continued,
"I must air my grievance. I had a good right to be angry. I waited
nearly twenty minutes yesterday."

"I waited two hours," he replied.

"But you came at a wrong hour," she said. "I came at the hour you
appointed. Look at this--just look at this, and you will be silent."

She took out his note, opened it, and held it under his eyes.

"I know--I know," he said; "that perjured note. But all is forgiven
now."

The cape of cloud passed away, and the sun came out.

There was a good-humored strength about Mr. Standish that puzzled Meg,
and she often longed to pierce the mystery--at least the mystery to
her--of his nature. But after a time his manner changed; a melancholy
grew upon him. One day he turned and said: "You call me your friend,
Meg. You keep dwelling on the memories of those fond silly days of your
childhood. But you are a child no longer. Perhaps we had better think of
one another, and cease those happy walks."

"Cease those walks!" she exclaimed with a gasp in her voice. He remained
silent. Then she said proudly: "If you think so, really--" but her voice
failed, and with a sudden cry she exclaimed, "I knew it could not
last--that you must tire of me."

"Tire of you, Meg!" he cried, facing round upon her. "It is because I
love you that I say this. But it is not as the friend of your childhood
that I love you. We must make no mistake. I love you as the man loves
the one woman in all the world he wants for his wife. If you cannot
accept that love from me I would prefer not to see you again."

She did not reply, and she averted her face. When she looked slowly up,
even in the tension of waiting for her answer, he felt something of the
thrill he might have experienced if a spirit had answered to his call.
The child he had known was looking back at him. A something he had
missed--a mystery of spiritual identity with the Meg of long ago,
glimmerings of which he had caught--had waked up. It was the child grown
to be a woman--endowed with a woman's soul, gifted with a thousandfold
powers of feeling. She did not speak; her silence, her quivering
features, her kindling countenance answered him.

"Meg!" he said in a low voice, and bending forward he drew her to him.



CHAPTER XXVI.

BEFORE THE PICTURE.


Meg delayed announcing the news of her engagement to Sir Malcolm. She
feared the effect upon him of hearing that she had betrothed herself to
the man who had written those attacks in the local newspaper. Sir
Malcolm had been ailing during the winter.

"She could not leave him yet," she told her lover. "It was her duty to
remain with him." And he agreed that it was for awhile.

The crisis, however, came sooner than she anticipated. A trouble had
been fermenting in Sir Malcolm's secret thoughts. He had noticed Meg's
absences. Always regular at her post at the hours when he required her
services as secretary and reader, he missed her companionship in his
walks; he had lost the certainty of meeting her in the drawing-room, in
her little study with her books, or at the piano.

One morning, on returning from her tryst in the woods, she met the
baronet at the gates of the park. "You are out early, Miss Beecham," he
said with constrained courtesy.

"I hope, sir, I am not late," she replied anxiously.

"You are always punctual--a model of punctuality--in the discharge of
your duties. It is scarcely half-past ten," he replied in a ceremonious
tone, with the slightest emphasis on the word duties. As they walked
toward the house he added, "Far be it from me to imply that I have a
right to claim more of the pleasure of your society than you care to
give me."

"I am afraid, sir, you have missed me--" she began.

"I have told you I am a solitary; I miss no one," he interrupted with
that directness of speech which might have been brutal, had it not been
veiled by the art he possessed of lofty politeness.

"There is something I want to tell you, sir, that I ought to have told
you before," began Meg, her heart beating and her cheeks flushing, as
she felt that the hour of revelation had come.

The baronet's gaze rested upon her with an illconcealed flicker of
anxiety. But he said in his finest manner that he would be happy to
listen to anything she had to say; but perhaps the interview had best be
deferred until they reached his study.

When they came there Meg began hesitatingly: "The post that I have
filled, sir, in your household has been one of pleasure to me; still
what is difficult to say I must say now--I must resign it."

"Resign it!" exclaimed Sir Malcolm, bending his eyes upon her. "For what
reason?"

"I have formed an attachment, sir. I am engaged to be married," she
replied with the calmness of fright.

"Married!" ejaculated Sir Malcolm. "Engaged without having consulted me!
Nonsense; you mean to tell me--" He paused. "But this is monstrous." He
got up, walked up and down the room. Meg watched him in silence,
astonished at what seemed to her an extraordinary outburst of emotion.
After a few moments Sir Malcolm regained his composure, and sitting down
again said in a constrained, business-like tone, "You will admit that,
at least, as your guardian, I should have been told of this before. To
whom are you engaged?"

She hesitated under the influence of a gaze, the keenness of which
stopped confidence at its source.

"To one who was very good to me in my childhood. When no one else cared
for me he was my only friend."

"Have you corresponded with him ever since your childhood?"

"No, sir; I met him here. I had lost sight of him for years."

"Is he of low birth?" asked the baronet with frigid brusqueness.

"No, sir. But if he were--" She paused and looked at the old man with a
glance steady as his own.

"I understand. You assert your right to marry who you will--clodhopper
or landowner. Perhaps, however, you will admit, as I observed just now,
that as your guardian I am justified in asking questions about this
young man?"

"I gladly admit it, sir, and thank you; for it is another proof of the
interest--the generous interest--you have lavished upon me," she said
warmly.

"May I ask to what profession he belongs?" demanded Sir Malcolm.

"He is a writer," said Meg, and paused.

"A writer? That is somewhat vague," said Sir Malcolm.

"A journalist," she resumed, and again she paused.

Sir Malcolm knit his brows.

"It is difficult for me to explain," continued Meg, raising her eyes and
speaking low, but quite firmly. "The circumstances that led to our
meeting were so strange--in a manner they are painful. They may place
me in a false light--I may appear ungrateful. The friend of my childhood
is Mr. Standish, the editor of the _Greywolds Mercury_."

"Of the paper that dragged my name into print and held it up to public
ignominy in its columns?" observed Sir Malcolm.

Meg bowed her head, and said falteringly: "These articles led to our
meeting. I had called at the office to remonstrate, to expostulate with
the writer."

"To expostulate, to remonstrate!" cried Sir Malcolm with a burst of
outraged pride. "What! You exposed me to this humiliation; you begged
quarter for me of this insolent radical. It was a grievous injury you
did me!" He checked himself, then resumed with deliberate calm: "But let
that pass. It is your marriage with this man we were discussing. I
forbid it; I cannot countenance such an engagement."

"I think, sir," said Meg after a pause, speaking steadily, but in a
feeling voice, "that after reflection you will admit that you are
claiming too much authority over me. Mr. Standish and I love each other,
and we admit the right of no third person to part us. I know you have
been my secret benefactor for a long time; yet it is more than a
benefactor's due you are claiming. A father only would have the right
to impose the authority over me you demand to establish."

"It is this authority over you that I demand and that I rightly
possess," said the baronet in a weighty voice, rising and drawing
himself up. "You are my only son's only child. I stand in your father's
place toward you. I am your grandfather."

"My grandfather!" said Meg stupidly. Everything grew indistinct around
her except the figure of the old man, standing erect, authoritative, the
sun shining on his white hair, illumining it like a halo round his head.

"Follow me!" he said. He turned and she followed automatically. He
preceded her down the great staircase. The perfume of flowers came to
her dreamily. Still she followed her guide on and on--vaguely conscious
that some great issue was at hand.

They entered the large dining-room. Sir Malcolm had signed to two
servants in the hall to follow.

They walked straight to where the picture hung with its face turned to
the wall, an outcast among that goodly painted company.

At the order of the master the picture was turned, and the servants left
the room. "That is your father's portrait," said Sir Malcolm in a voice
that sounded without a quaver.

She knew that he turned away and left her standing there, looking at the
representation of a young man dressed in a scarlet and gold uniform. He
had a gallant and winsome air, his features were femininely delicate,
the blue, small eyes bright, the lips full. As a sudden realization that
she was looking at her father's face came to her, a tumult of feeling
swept over Meg. Then came a chill and a disappointment. The countenance
said nothing to her; she gazed at it dry-eyed.

She moved away. Sir Malcolm's glance was steadily averted. As she
approached he looked round. His features were tense with suppressed
emotion; a flicker of wildness lit the eyes, lustrous with unshed tears.

"It is a beautiful face," said Meg softly, moved by the evidences of a
mental struggle that gave a crazy look of anguish to the old face; "but
it is not dear to me, sir, as yours is dear."

"It does not do him justice; he was the handsomest lad in the country,"
said the old man. "I loved him, Meg; I staked all my pride in life upon
him. When he disgraced me my pride in life left me."

"Ah! how could he bring this sorrow upon you, sir?" murmured Meg,
scarce knowing what she said, confused by this outburst of confidence
from one whom she had always known so reticent.

"He brought dishonor upon our name," said the old man. Meg saw that he
flushed and that he trembled; but he went on quietly nevertheless. "I
must explain to you now why this picture was turned to the wall. I must
tell you--what is agonizing to me to tell, and must be painful to you to
hear; but the circumstances compel me. He wronged you. I have tried to
fill his place toward you. He married your mother abroad, and under a
false name. He contracted debts--debts of honor--that, having the money,
he yet never paid. Thank God! the extent of his dishonor was never made
public." Sir Malcolm paused, then he resumed: "His last act was,
perhaps, the redeeming feature of his life. He killed himself. His
suicide showed that a gleam of the old spirit made a dishonored life
unbearable to him."

Meg did not speak. The horror of that tragedy filled the room. After a
silence the old man resumed in his more habitual manner and tone:

"We need never refer to this unhappy story again. Ask me nothing
concerning your mother; I never saw her, and know next to nothing about
her. She died in giving you birth." Again he paused, then slowly with
effort he said: "Will you forgive me, Meg, for your neglected
childhood?"

Meg made a deprecatory gesture, and uttered an exclamation. These words
of entreaty from him hurt her like a blow.

"I ask you to forgive it," continued the baronet with emotion. "I humbly
ask it from my soul. I have remorse for it. I admit that in your
childhood I looked upon you with aversion--that your coming here was a
pain to me; and yet I loved you before you came."

"Before I came?" murmured Meg, astonished.

"I have loved you ever since the day I brought you back to school. When
I saw you so spent with anguish and fatigue, lying on the cushions
before me, my heart went out to you. I stopped my carriage when I was
driving off after having left you; I returned, I came to your little
bedside and kissed you in the dark."

"Then it was you who gave me that kiss!" faltered Meg. "I have never
forgotten it." And on the impulse she pressed her lips on his thin hand.

"You have made me love you--you have wound yourself round my heart.
Forgive me, Meg," said the old man.

"Do not ask me to forgive you, sir. I have received nothing but good
from you," said Meg.

"Say it, Meg," the old man urged. "Say, 'Grandfather, I forgive it and
forget it.'"

"As you wish I will say it, sir. I forgive--" began Meg.

"Say, 'Grandfather,'" he interrupted.

"Grandfather, I forgive it and forget it," repeated Meg, stretching out
her hands.

He took them then, looking down into her eyes. "Can you, forgetting the
part I played of neglect, forget also the part of kindness played in it
by that man? For my sake can you forget it?"

The words struck the chords of Meg's heart and filled it with the memory
of the love that had come to her in her forlornness, and that now filled
her life with all youth's appeals.

"No, sir, I can never forget that--never!" she said, loosening her hands
from his grasp and stepping away.

"If you persist in this engagement, I will not disguise it from you,
Meg, you will strike the last prop from under me--it will break my
heart!" said Sir Malcolm.

The words crushed once more the rising mutiny in Meg's heart. The
tyranny of pity mastered its revolt--insisted upon the new duty to the
new loyalty.

She moved away restlessly; then suddenly throwing her arms up with a
gesture of despair she sank into a chair, and hiding her face in her
hands she burst into tears.

The old man waited until her sobs grew quieter; then he said:

"Come with me, Meg; we will go to Mr. Standish together."



CHAPTER XXVII.

IN THE EDITOR'S OFFICE.


A few moments later Meg was walking by her grandfather's side. He had
refused to drive. Sir Malcolm never said a word, but he seemed in hot
haste. Meg's thoughts were in a tumult. What was he going to do? How
would he meet his former enemy? Had he been softened?

The old baronet gripped his stick as he went along and planted it firmly
on the road. She would have given anything to have questioned him; but
fear on the one hand lest she should exasperate him, on the other a
failing heart lest if he were inclined to conciliation she might balk
the impulse by some well-meant blunder kept her silent.

When they reached the office, and her grandfather asked the clerk if Mr.
Standish was at home, she tried to judge his mood by the tone of his
voice. For an instant she hoped the clerk's answer would be in the
negative; but the young man, leaving his desk, replied that Mr. Standish
was at home, adding with an air of bewilderment: "Sir Malcolm Loftdale,
I believe?"

"Take my card up," said the baronet, pulling out his cardcase.

They climbed up the narrow stairs, and Meg saw her lover standing by his
table to receive them. With a bow as cold, Mr. Standish returned the old
gentleman's frigid salutation. He was stretching out his hand to her,
but with a little anxious frown she signaled to him to take no notice of
her at present.

"You are, I believe, sir, the responsible editor of the _Greywolds
Mercury_," said the baronet with a chill civility that brought a
sorrowful anticipation to Meg.

Mr. Standish in a constrained voice acknowledged his position. "I am
afraid that this places me in an unfavorable light before you, sir," he
continued in a half-apologetic tone.

Sir Malcolm moved his hand. "You mistake the object of my visit if you
think, sir, that I ask for an explanation--if you suppose that articles
upon myself which appeared some months ago, and which no doubt had
literary merit, have produced upon me the slightest impression. I am
ready to admit the right of every man to his opinions. I have my own
opinions on a subject which I would prefer not to express."

He paused, and Mr. Standish remained silent, waiting for his visitor to
continue.

"My motive for entering a publishing office," the baronet went on,
looking round him with a cold smile, "is from a widely different motive.
I will refer to one of those articles only for the simple sake of
illustration. You were very indignant, sir, at my stringent suppression
of a poacher. Now, sir, I beg you in justice to give me your opinion of
a poacher in a moral sense--one who, by assignations, by means at his
command, contrives to inveigle the affections of a young girl, almost a
child, intruding himself thus dishonestly into a gentleman's family."

"Sir Malcolm Loftdale," said Mr. Standish firmly yet courteously, "I
perfectly understand your meaning. This young lady occupies an honorable
position in your household, and she has always led me to understand that
you treated her with the utmost kindness and consideration; but she is
not a member of your family."

"Such being your impression, I will not presume to blame you," said the
baronet with the cynical courtesy one uses to an inferior. "Your
honorable intentions I take for granted. It only remains for me to
inform you, in the presence of this young lady--who has herself been
made acquainted by me within the hour of the position she holds in my
house--that Miss Beecham is my granddaughter."

"Your granddaughter!" repeated Mr. Standish with a movement of surprise.
"I thought, sir, you had but one child--a son?"

"She is the daughter and only child of that son," answered the baronet
with lofty curtness. "There is no necessity for me to enter with you
into the details of a family history. Suffice it to say that I beg of
you, as an honorable literary man"--the old gentleman laid a slight
sarcastic stress on the word literary--"never again to address this
lady, and to terminate from this moment an acquaintance which, if
pursued, must be henceforth termed clandestine, treacherous, and
dishonorable."

At these words Mr. Standish drew himself up with a dignity as cold and
stern as was that of his visitor. "Sir Malcolm Loftdale," he said, "this
comes rather late. It is not for me to give the pledge you exact; I will
give it at the request of Miss Beecham only."

For a moment irritation seemed about to surprise the old gentleman. He
clinched his stick and reared his grand old head as for a rebuke; then
he turned mutely toward Meg.

"You have applied the word dishonorable to me, Sir Malcolm Loftdale.
Allow me to say it is the last word, I think, you should have
employed," resumed Mr. Standish.

"Sir, your protestations are thrown away upon me. I have no more to say
to you," replied the baronet. "Meg, my child, it is now for you to
decide. You have heard the expression of my positive wishes; you know
how I feel on this subject; you know better than any one how your
decision one way or the other will affect me. I confide in you."

Meg wrung her hands and remained silent. In her despair she confusedly
felt she was called upon to make her choice between two duties. One was
heavy to follow, the other meant all the happiness of her young heart.
She gave an inarticulate moan--a word of that primal language common to
all creation in its moments of anguish.

"I do not ask you to speak," said Sir Malcolm. "Put your hand on my arm,
Meg, and let me take you home--that will suffice."

"I cannot--I cannot!" she moaned, moving a few irresolute steps away
from the two between whom her fate lay. She could not speak the word
that must bring sorrow to one who was weak, lonely, and already heavily
stricken, still less that other word which must crush the young, the
strong, and the beloved one.

"Before you ask this young lady to retract," she heard the voice of her
lover say; then he paused as if to change the phrase to one more
generously worded: "Before you ask her to refuse me for your sake, will
you grant me a few moments' private conversation?"

"No, sir," answered the baronet. "I repeat I have said all I have to say
to you. I wish this interview to end. Come back with me, Meg."

"You have addressed me as one capable of dishonorable conduct," Mr.
Standish resumed quietly. "This young lady's father, sir, if he were
alive, would have been the last to apply such a term to me."

"Her father! What do you know of her father?" said Sir Malcolm savagely.

"If Philip Loftdale was her father, I knew him well. He often called me
his dearest friend."

Meg, leaning back against the wall, saw her grandfather staring vacantly
at the speaker. "What do you mean? Who are you, sir?" he asked.

"Again I ask you, sir," said Mr. Standish with sudden gentleness, "for a
few moments' private conversation."

"No, sir; if you have anything to say, speak out before this young lady.
I took the step of leading Miss Beecham here that she might judge the
merits of the case for herself. I am sorry to have to add that the
assertion you have just made, that you were my son's friend, is no
recommendation to me. He was unfortunate in his associates."

Mr. Standish did not reply. He took out a bunch of keys and fitted one
into a drawer. Meg saw him draw out a bundle of letters. He kept his
eyes averted from her as he said:

"I shrink from telling the particulars I must now state, or of hinting
at an obligation. But I am playing for a great stake--one that is all
the world to me; and I see no means of moving you, sir, but by referring
to this fact, and bringing evidences of its truth before you."

He laid his hand upon the letters.

"It is your wish, sir, that I should speak before Miss Beecham. Perhaps
it is as well that she should hear what I have to say."

"It is my wish. Go on, sir!" said Sir Malcolm fiercely as Mr. Standish
paused.

"Your son was adjutant of his regiment. Whatever were his follies and
recklessness, he was a good soldier. He was trusted by his comrades, and
he was proud of their trust. You were stern with him, sir--I shall not
say overstern. It is not for me to judge."

"Go on, sir," said the old man.

"Since his marriage, if you remember, you held no communication with
him----"

"If your claim upon me," interrupted the baronet fiercely, "is that you
are a relation of the unhappy woman he married, I think you must admit
that the fact that I have recognized her daughter, and that I mean
publicly to declare her my grandchild, is a reparation which answers all
claims and silences all appeals."

"I make no claim upon you. I think I will establish that I am no--" Mr.
Standish paused, then resumed: "If you remember, your son wrote to you
shortly before his death a letter that you returned unopened, as you had
done others before."

Sir Malcolm did not reply, and for a moment there was a dead silence.
Mr. Standish resumed with difficulty:

"That letter, sir, was to ask you for three hundred pounds, that in a
reckless moment he had taken from the money belonging to his regiment,
convinced that he would be able to repay it."

Still the old man remained silent as death, looking with a fixed gaze
upon the speaker.

"Your son came to me. Dishonor faced him. He told me of his folly. The
next day he would be disgraced if he failed to raise the money."

Sir Malcolm drew a heavy breath; he parted his lips as if to speak, but
no words came; and he listened intently.

"God knows, sir," resumed the young man, "that I tell you what follows
with the utmost unwillingness. I had the money he needed so sorely, and
I let him have it. His honor was saved. His act remained unknown to his
brother-officers and to the world, but he felt the stigma too bitterly
to live."

The old man sat down and took the proffered documents. He read them
through hurriedly, and Meg noticed that once he brushed away a tear.
Then he rose, and with a large and liberal action put out a trembling
hand to the editor, who clasped it in his.

"Mr. Standish," said the baronet, "you have saved what is dearer to me
than life--my family honor. I will do, sir, what I have never done
before. I ask your pardon. I acknowledge an obligation to you that I can
never repay."

"You can repay it, grandfather," said Meg through tears.

"You can repay it, sir--ay, and brimming over," said Mr. Standish. "The
stake I have played for, as I said, is all the world to me. I love this
lady with a love that can never change. I loved her as a child, I love
her as a girl, I will love her as a woman all her life. Do not part
us!"

"Grandfather, do not part us!" repeated Meg in a voice hoarse with
pleading. "I will never desert you!"

The old gentleman hesitated. He resumed his seat, and putting his elbow
on the table he covered his eyes with his hand. There was anxious
silence in the room. At last Sir Malcolm rose, and with a grave dignity
he went to Meg, and taking her hand he placed it in that of her lover.


THE END.



A. L. BURT'S PUBLICATIONS

For Young People

BY POPULAR WRITERS,

97-99-101 Reade Street, New York.


     Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden. By G. A.
     HENTY. With 12 full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo,
     cloth, price $1.00.

The adventures of the son of a Scotch officer in French service. The
boy, brought up by a Glasgow bailie, is arrested for aiding a Jacobite
agent, escapes, is wrecked on the French coast, reaches Paris, and
serves with the French army at Dettingen. He kills his father's foe in a
duel, and escaping to the coast, shares the adventures of Prince
Charlie, but finally settles happily in Scotland.

     "Ronald, the hero, is very like the hero of 'Quentin Durward.' The
     lad's journey across France, and his hairbreadth escapes, make up
     as good a narrative of the kind as we have ever read. For freshness
     of treatment and variety of incident Mr. Henty has surpassed
     himself."--_Spectator._


     With Clive in India; or, the Beginnings of an Empire. By G. A.
     HENTY. With 12 full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo,
     cloth, price $1.00.

The period between the landing of Clive as a young writer in India and
the close of his career was critical and eventful in the extreme. At its
commencement the English were traders existing on sufferance of the
native princes. At its close they were masters of Bengal and of the
greater part of Southern India. The author has given a full and accurate
account of the events of that stirring time, and battles and sieges
follow each other in rapid succession, while he combines with his
narrative a tale of daring and adventure, which gives a lifelike
interest to the volume.

     "He has taken a period of Indian history of the most vital
     importance, and he has embroidered on the historical facts a story
     which of itself is deeply interesting. Young people assuredly will
     be delighted with the volume."--_Scotsman._


     The Lion of the North: A Tale of Gustavus Adolphus and the Wars
     of Religion. By G. A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by JOHN
     SCHÖNBERG. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

In this story Mr. Henty gives the history of the first part of the
Thirty Years' War. The issue had its importance, which has extended to
the present day, as it established religious freedom in Germany. The
army of the chivalrous king of Sweden was largely composed of Scotchmen,
and among these was the hero of the story.

     "The tale is a clever and instructive piece of history, and as boys
     may be trusted to read it conscientiously, they can hardly fail to
     be profited."--_Times._


     The Dragon and the Raven; or, The Days of King Alfred. By G. A.
     HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by C. J. STANILAND, R.I. 12mo,
     cloth, price $1.00.

In this story the author gives an account of the fierce struggle between
Saxon and Dane for supremacy in England, and presents a vivid picture of
the misery and ruin to which the country was reduced by the ravages of
the sea-wolves. The hero, a young Saxon thane, takes part in all the
battles fought by King Alfred. He is driven from his home, takes to the
sea and resists the Danes on their own element, and being pursued by
them up the Seine, is present at the long and desperate siege of Paris.

     "Treated in a manner most attractive to the boyish
     reader."--_Athenæum._


     The Young Carthaginian: A Story of the Times of Hannibal. By G.
     A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by C. J. STANILAND, R.I.
     12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

Boys reading the history of the Punic Wars have seldom a keen
appreciation of the merits of the contest. That it was at first a
struggle for empire, and afterward for existence on the part of
Carthage, that Hannibal was a great and skillful general, that he
defeated the Romans at Trebia, Lake Trasimenus, and Cannæ, and all but
took Rome, represents pretty nearly the sum total of their knowledge. To
let them know more about this momentous struggle for the empire of the
world Mr. Henty has written this story, which not only gives in graphic
style a brilliant description of a most interesting period of history,
but is a tale of exciting adventure sure to secure the interest of the
reader.

     "Well constructed and vividly told. From first to last nothing
     stays the interest of the narrative. It bears us along as on a
     stream whose current varies in direction, but never loses its
     force."--_Saturday Review._


     In Freedom's Cause: A Story of Wallace and Bruce. By G. A. HENTY.
     With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price
     $1.00.

In this story the author relates the stirring tale of the Scottish War
of Independence. The extraordinary valor and personal prowess of Wallace
and Bruce rival the deeds of the mythical heroes of chivalry, and indeed
at one time Wallace was ranked with these legendary personages. The
researches of modern historians have shown, however, that he was a
living, breathing man--and a valiant champion. The hero of the tale
fought under both Wallace and Bruce, and while the strictest historical
accuracy has been maintained with respect to public events, the work is
full of "hairbreadth 'scapes" and wild adventure.

     "It is written in the author's best style. Full of the wildest and
     most remarkable achievements, it is a tale of great interest, which
     a boy, once he has begun it, will not willingly put on one
     side."--_The Schoolmaster._


     With Lee in Virginia: A Story of the American Civil War. By G. A.
     HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth,
     price $1.00.

The story of a young Virginian planter, who, after bravely proving his
sympathy with the slaves of brutal masters, serves with no less courage
and enthusiasm under Lee and Jackson through the most exciting events of
the struggle. He has many hairbreadth escapes, is several times wounded
and twice taken prisoner; but his courage and readiness and, in two
cases, the devotion of a black servant and of a runaway slave whom he
had assisted, bring him safely through all difficulties.

     "One of the best stories for lads which Mr. Henty has yet written.
     The picture is full of life and color, and the stirring and
     romantic incidents are skillfully blended with the personal
     interest and charm of the story."--_Standard._


     By England's Aid; or, The Freeing of the Netherlands (1585-1604).
     By G. A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by ALFRED PEARSE, and
     Maps. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

The story of two English lads who go to Holland as pages in the service
of one of "the fighting Veres." After many adventures by sea and land,
one of the lads finds himself on board a Spanish ship at, the time of
the defeat of the Armada, and escapes only to fall into the hands of the
Corsairs. He is successful in getting back to Spain under the protection
of a wealthy merchant, and regains his native country after the capture
of Cadiz.

     "It is an admirable book for youngsters. It overflows with stirring
     incident and exciting adventure, and the color of the era and of
     the scene are finely reproduced. The illustrations add to its
     attractiveness."--_Boston Gazette._


     By Right of Conquest; or, With Cortez in Mexico. By G. A. HENTY.
     With full-page Illustrations by W. S. STACEY, and Two Maps. 12mo,
     cloth, price $1.50.

The conquest of Mexico by a small band of resolute men under the
magnificent leadership of Cortez is always rightly ranked among the most
romantic and daring exploits in history. With this as the groundwork of
his story Mr. Henty has interwoven the adventures of an English youth,
Roger Hawkshaw, the sole survivor of the good ship Swan, which had
sailed from a Devon port to challenge the mercantile supremacy of the
Spaniards in the New World. He is beset by many perils among the
natives, but is saved by his own judgment and strength, and by the
devotion of an Aztec princess. At last by a ruse he obtains the
protection of the Spaniards, and after the fall of Mexico he succeeds in
regaining his native shore, with a fortune and a charming Aztec bride.

     "'By Right of Conquest' is the nearest approach to a perfectly
     successful historical tale that Mr. Henty has yet
     published."--_Academy._


     In the Reign of Terror: The Adventures of a Westminster Boy. By
     G. A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by J. SCHÖNBERG. 12mo,
     cloth, price $1.00.

Harry Sandwith, a Westminster boy, becomes a resident at the chateau of
a French marquis, and after various adventures accompanies the family to
Paris at the crisis of the Revolution. Imprisonment and death reduce
their number, and the hero finds himself beset by perils with the three
young daughters of the house in his charge. After hairbreadth escapes
they reach Nantes. There the girls are condemned to death in the
coffin-ships, but are saved by the unfailing courage of their boy
protector.

     "Harry Sandwith, the Westminster boy, may fairly be said to beat
     Mr. Henty's record. His adventures will delight boys by the
     audacity and peril they depict.... The story is one of Mr. Henty's
     best."--_Saturday Review._


     With Wolfe in Canada; or, The Winning of a Continent. By G. A.
     HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth,
     price $1.00.

In the present volume Mr. Henty gives an account of the struggle between
Britain and France for supremacy in the North American continent. On the
issue of this war depended not only the destinies of North America, but
to a large extent those of the mother countries themselves. The fall of
Quebec decided that the Anglo-Saxon race should predominate in the New
World; that Britain, and not France, should take the lead among the
nations of Europe; and that English and American commerce, the English
language, and English literature, should spread right round the globe.

     "It is not only a lesson in history as instructively as it is
     graphically told, but also a deeply interesting and often thrilling
     tale of adventure and peril by flood and field."--_Illustrated
     London News._


     True to the Old Flag: A Tale of the American War of Independence.
     By G. A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE.
     12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

In this story the author has gone to the accounts of officers who took
part in the conflict, and lads will find that in no war in which
American and British soldiers have been engaged did they behave with
greater courage and good conduct. The historical portion of the book
being accompanied with numerous thrilling adventures with the redskins
on the shores of Lake Huron, a story of exciting interest is interwoven
with the general narrative and carried through the book.

     "Does justice to the pluck and determination of the British
     soldiers during the unfortunate struggle against American
     emancipation. The son of an American loyalist, who remains true to
     our flag, falls among the hostile redskins in that very Huron
     country which has been endeared to us by the exploits of Hawkeye
     and Chingachgook."--_The Times._


     The Lion of St. Mark: A Tale of Venice in the Fourteenth Century.
     By G. A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE.
     12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

A story of Venice at a period when her strength and splendor were put to
the severest tests. The hero displays a fine sense and manliness which
carry him safely through an atmosphere of intrigue, crime, and
bloodshed. He contributes largely to the victories of the Venetians at
Porto d'Anzo and Chioggia, and finally wins the hand of the daughter of
one of the chief men of Venice.

     "Every boy should read 'The Lion of St. Mark.' Mr. Henty has never
     produced a story more delightful, more wholesome, or more
     vivacious."--_Saturday Review._


     A Final Reckoning: A Tale of Bush Life in Australia. By G. A.
     HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by W. B. WOLLEN, 12mo, cloth,
     price $1.00.

The hero, a young English lad, after rather a stormy boyhood, emigrates
to Australia, and gets employment as an officer in the mounted police. A
few years of active work on the frontier, where he has many a brush with
both natives and bushrangers, gain him promotion to a captaincy, and he
eventually settles down to the peaceful life of a squatter.

     "Mr. Henty has never published a more readable, a more carefully
     constructed, or a better written story than this."--_Spectator._


     Under Drake's Flag: A Tale of the Spanish Main. By G. A. HENTY.
     With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price
     $1.00.

A story of the days when England and Spain struggled for the supremacy
of the sea. The heroes sail as lads with Drake in the Pacific
expedition, and in his great voyage of circumnavigation. The historical
portion of the story is absolutely to be relied upon, but this will
perhaps be less attractive than the great variety of exciting adventure
through which the young heroes pass in the course of their voyages.

     "A book of adventure, where the hero meets with experience enough,
     one would think, to turn his hair gray."--_Harper's Monthly
     Magazine._


     By Sheer Pluck: A Tale of the Ashanti War. By G. A. HENTY. With
     full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

The author has woven, in a tale of thrilling interest, all the details
of the Ashanti campaign, of which he was himself a witness. His hero,
after many exciting adventures in the interior, is detained a prisoner
by the king just before the outbreak of the war, but escapes, and
accompanies the English expedition on their march to Coomassie.

     "Mr. Henty keeps up his reputation as a writer of boys' stories.
     'By Sheer Pluck' will be eagerly read."--_Athenæum._


     By Pike and Dyke: A Tale of the Rise of the Dutch Republic. By G.
     A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by MAYNARD BROWN, and 4
     Maps. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

In this story Mr. Henty traces the adventures and brave deeds of an
English boy in the household of the ablest man of his age--William the
Silent. Edward Martin, the son of an English sea captain, enters the
service of the Prince as a volunteer, and is employed by him in many
dangerous and responsible missions, in the discharge of which he passes
through the great sieges of the time. He ultimately settles down as Sir
Edward Martin.

     "Boys with a turn for historical research will be enchanted with
     the book, while the rest who only care for adventure will be
     students in spite of themselves."--_St. James' Gazette._


     St. George for England: A Tale of Cressy and Poitiers. By G. A.
     HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth,
     price $1.00.

No portion of English history is more crowded with great events than
that of the reign of Edward III. Cressy and Poitiers; the destruction of
the Spanish fleet; the plague of the Black Death; the Jacquerie rising;
these are treated by the author in "St. George for England." The hero of
the story, although of good family, begins life as a London apprentice,
but after countless adventures and perils becomes by valor and good
conduct the squire, and at last the trusted friend of the Black Prince.

     "Mr. Henty has developed for himself a type of historical novel for
     boys which bids fair to supplement, on their behalf, the historical
     labors of Sir Walter Scott in the land of fiction."--_The
     Standard._


     Captain's Kidd's Gold: The True Story of an Adventurous Sailor
     Boy. By JAMES FRANKLIN FITTS. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

There is something fascinating to the average youth in the very
idea of buried treasure. A vision arises before his eyes of swarthy
Portuguese and Spanish rascals, with black beards and gleaming
eyes--sinister-looking fellows who once on a time haunted the Spanish
Main, sneaking out from some hidden creek in their long, low schooner,
of picaroonish rake and sheer, to attack an unsuspecting trading craft.
There were many famous sea rovers in their day, but none more celebrated
than Capt. Kidd. Perhaps the most fascinating tale of all is Mr. Fitts'
true story of an adventurous American boy, who receives from his dying
father an ancient bit of vellum, which the latter obtained in a curious
way. The document bears obscure directions purporting to locate a
certain island in the Bahama group, and a considerable treasure buried
there by two of Kidd's crew. The hero of this book, Paul Jones Garry, is
an ambitious, persevering lad, of salt-water New England ancestry, and
his efforts to reach the island and secure the money form one of the
most absorbing tales for our youth that has come from the press.


     Captain Bayley's Heir: A Tale of the Gold Fields of California.
     By G. A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by H. M. PAGET. 12mo,
     cloth, price $1.00.

A frank, manly lad and his cousin are rivals in the heirship of a
considerable property. The former falls into a trap laid by the latter,
and while under a false accusation of theft foolishly leaves England for
America. He works his passage before the mast, joins a small band of
hunters, crosses a tract of country infested with Indians to the
Californian gold diggings, and is successful both as digger and trader.

     "Mr. Henty is careful to mingle instruction with entertainment; and
     the humorous touches, especially in the sketch of John Holl, the
     Westminster dustman, Dickens himself could hardly have
     excelled."--_Christian Leader._


     For Name and Fame; or, Through Afghan Passes. By G. A. HENTY.
     With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price
     $1.00.

An interesting story of the last war in Afghanistan. The hero, after
being wrecked and going through many stirring adventures among the
Malays, finds his way to Calcutta and enlists in a regiment proceeding
to join the army at the Afghan passes. He accompanies the force under
General Roberts to the Peiwar Kotal, is wounded, taken prisoner, carried
to Cabul, whence he is transferred to Candahar, and takes part in the
final defeat of the army of Ayoub Khan.

     "The best feature of the book--apart from the interest of its
     scenes of adventure--is its honest effort to do justice to the
     patriotism of the Afghan people."--_Daily News._


     Captured by Apes: The Wonderful Adventures of a Young Animal
     Trainer. By HARRY PRENTICE. 12mo, cloth, $1.00.

The scene of this tale is laid on an island in the Malay Archipelago.
Philip Garland, a young animal collector and trainer, of New York, sets
sail for Eastern seas in quest of a new stock of living curiosities. The
vessel is wrecked off the coast of Borneo and young Garland, the sole
survivor of the disaster, is cast ashore on a small island, and captured
by the apes that overrun the place. The lad discovers that the ruling
spirit of the monkey tribe is a gigantic and vicious baboon, whom he
identifies as Goliah, an animal at one time in his possession and with
whose instruction he had been especially diligent. The brute recognizes
him, and with a kind of malignant satisfaction puts his former master
through the same course of training he had himself experienced with a
faithfulness of detail which shows how astonishing is monkey
recollection. Very novel indeed is the way by which the young man
escapes death. Mr. Prentice has certainly worked a new vein on juvenile
fiction, and the ability with which he handles a difficult subject
stamps him as a writer of undoubted skill.


     The Bravest of the Brave; or, With Peterborough in Spain. By G.
     A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by H. M. PAGET. 12mo, cloth,
     price $1.00.

There are few great leaders whose lives and actions have so completely
fallen into oblivion as those of the Earl of Peterborough. This is
largely due to the fact that they were overshadowed by the glory and
successes of Marlborough. His career as general extended over little
more than a year, and yet, in that time, he showed a genius for warfare
which has never been surpassed.

     "Mr. Henty never loses sight of the moral purpose of his work--to
     enforce the doctrine of courage and truth. Lads will read 'The
     Bravest of the Brave' with pleasure and profit; of that we are
     quite sure."--_Daily Telegraph._


     The Cat of Bubastes: A Story of Ancient Egypt. By G. A. HENTY.
     With full-page Illustrations. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

A story which will give young readers an unsurpassed insight into the
customs of the Egyptian people. Amuba, a prince of the Rebu nation, is
carried with his charioteer Jethro into slavery. They become inmates of
the house of Ameres, the Egyptian high-priest, and are happy in his
service until the priest's son accidentally kills the sacred cat of
Bubastes. In an outburst of popular fury Ameres is killed, and it rests
with Jethro and Amuba to secure the escape of the high-priest's son and
daughter.

     "The story, from the critical moment of the killing of the sacred
     cat to the perilous exodus into Asia with which it closes, is very
     skillfully constructed and full of exciting adventures. It is
     admirably illustrated."--_Saturday Review._


     With Washington at Monmouth: A Story of Three Philadelphia Boys.
     By JAMES OTIS. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

Three Philadelphia boys, Seth Graydon "whose mother conducted a
boarding-house which was patronized by the British officers;" Enoch
Ball, "son of that Mrs. Ball whose dancing school was situated on
Letitia Street," and little Jacob, son of "Chris, the Baker," serve as
the principal characters. The story is laid during the winter when Lord
Howe held possession of the city, and the lads aid the cause by
assisting the American spies who make regular and frequent visits from
Valley Forge. One reads here of home-life in the captive city when bread
was scarce among the people of the lower classes, and a reckless
prodigality shown by the British officers, who passed the winter in
feasting and merry-making while the members of the patriot army but a
few miles away were suffering from both cold and hunger. The story
abounds with pictures of Colonial life skillfully drawn, and the
glimpses of Washington's soldiers which are given show that the work has
not been hastily done, or without considerable study.


     For the Temple: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem. By G. A. HENTY.
     With full-page Illustrations by S. J. SOLOMON. 12mo, cloth, price
     $1.00.

Mr. Henty here weaves into the record of Josephus an admirable and
attractive story. The troubles in the district of Tiberias, the march of
the legions, the sieges of Jotapata, of Gamala, and of Jerusalem, form
the impressive and carefully studied historic setting to the figure of
the lad who passes from the vineyard to the service of Josephus, becomes
the leader of a guerrilla band of patriots, fights bravely for the
Temple, and after a brief term of slavery at Alexandria, returns to his
Galilean home with the favor of Titus.

     "Mr. Henty's graphic prose pictures of the hopeless Jewish
     resistance to Roman sway add another leaf to his record of the
     famous wars of the world."--_Graphic._


     Facing Death; or, The Hero of the Vaughan Pit. A Tale of the Coal
     Mines. By G. A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by GORDON
     BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

"Facing Death" is a story with a purpose. It is intended to show that a
lad who makes up his mind firmly and resolutely that he will rise in
life, and who is prepared to face toil and ridicule and hardship to
carry out his determination, is sure to succeed. The hero of the story
is a typical British boy, dogged, earnest, generous, and though
"shamefaced" to a degree, is ready to face death in the discharge of
duty.

     "The tale is well written and well illustrated, and there is much
     reality in the characters. If any father, clergyman, or
     schoolmaster is on the lookout for a good book to give as a present
     to a boy who is worth his salt, this is the book we would
     recommend."--_Standard._


     Tom Temple's Career. By HORATIO ALGER. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

Tom Temple, a bright, self-reliant lad, by the death of his father
becomes a boarder at the home of Nathan Middleton, a penurious insurance
agent. Though well paid for keeping the boy, Nathan and his wife
endeavor to bring Master Tom in line with their parsimonious habits. The
lad ingeniously evades their efforts and revolutionizes the household.
As Tom is heir to $40,000, he is regarded as a person of some importance
until by an unfortunate combination of circumstances his fortune shrinks
to a few hundreds. He leaves Plympton village to seek work in New York,
whence he undertakes an important mission to California, around which
center the most exciting incidents of his young career. Some of his
adventures in the far west are so startling that the reader will
scarcely close the book until the last page shall have been reached. The
tale is written in Mr. Alger's most fascinating style, and is bound to
please the very large class of boys who regard this popular author as a
prime favorite.


     Maori and Settler: A Story of the New Zealand War. By G. A.
     HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by ALFRED PEARSE. 12mo, cloth,
     price $1.00.

The Renshaws emigrate to New Zealand during the period of the war with
the natives. Wilfrid, a strong, self-reliant, courageous lad, is the
mainstay of the household. He has for his friend Mr. Atherton, a
botanist and naturalist of herculean strength and unfailing nerve and
humor. In the adventures among the Maoris, there are many breathless
moments in which the odds seem hopelessly against the party, but they
succeed in establishing themselves happily in one of the pleasant New
Zealand valleys.

     "Brimful of adventure, of humorous and interesting conversation,
     and vivid pictures of colonial life."--_Schoolmaster._


     Julian Mortimer: A Brave Boy's Struggle for Home and Fortune. By
     HARRY CASTLEMON. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

Here is a story that will warm every boy's heart. There is mystery
enough to keep any lad's imagination wound up to the highest pitch. The
scene of the story lies west of the Mississippi River, in the days when
emigrants made their perilous way across the great plains to the land of
gold. One of the startling features of the book is the attack upon the
wagon train by a large party of Indians. Our hero is a lad of uncommon
nerve and pluck, a brave young American in every sense of the word. He
enlists and holds the reader's sympathy from the outset. Surrounded by
an unknown and constant peril, and assisted by the unswerving fidelity
of a stalwart trapper, a real rough diamond, our hero achieves the most
happy results. Harry Castlemon has written many entertaining stories for
boys, and it would seem almost superfluous to say anything in his
praise, for the youth of America regard him as a favorite author.


     "Carrots:" Just a Little Boy. By MRS. MOLESWORTH. With
     Illustrations by WALTER CRANE. 12mo, cloth, price 75 cents.

     "One of the cleverest and most pleasing stories it has been our
     good fortune to meet with for some time. Carrots and his sister are
     delightful little beings, whom to read about is at once to become
     very fond of."--_Examiner._

     "A genuine children's book; we've seen 'em seize it, and read it
     greedily. Children are first-rate critics, and thoroughly
     appreciate Walter Crane's illustrations."--_Punch._


     Mopsa the Fairy. By JEAN INGELOW. With Eight page Illustrations.
     12mo, cloth, price 75 cents.

     "Mrs. Ingelow is, to our mind, the most charming of all living
     writers for children, and 'Mopsa' alone ought to give her a kind of
     pre-emptive right to the love and gratitude of our young folks. It
     requires genius to conceive a purely imaginary work which must of
     necessity deal with the supernatural, without running into a mere
     riot of fantastic absurdity; but genius Miss Ingelow has and the
     story of 'Jack' is as careless and joyous, but as delicate, as a
     picture of childhood."--_Eclectic._


     A Jaunt Through Java: The Story of a Journey to the Sacred
     Mountain. By EDWARD S. ELLIS. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

The central interest of this story is found in the thrilling adventures
of two cousins, Hermon and Eustace Hadley, on their trip across the
island of Java, from Samarang to the Sacred Mountain. In a land where
the Royal Bengal tiger runs at large; where the rhinoceros and other
fierce beasts are to be met with at unexpected moments; it is but
natural that the heroes of this book should have a lively experience.
Hermon not only distinguishes himself by killing a full-grown tiger at
short range, but meets with the most startling adventure of the journey.
There is much in this narrative to instruct as well as entertain the
reader, and so deftly has Mr. Ellis used his material that there is not
a dull page in the book. The two heroes are brave, manly young fellows,
bubbling over with boyish independence. They cope with the many
difficulties that arise during the trip in a fearless way that is bound
to win the admiration of every lad who is so fortunate as to read their
adventures.


     Wrecked on Spider Island; or, How Ned Rogers Found the Treasure.
     By JAMES OTIS. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

A "down-east" plucky lad who ships as cabin boy, not from love of
adventure, but because it is the only course remaining by which he can
gain a livelihood. While in his bunk, seasick, Ned Rogers hears the
captain and mate discussing their plans for the willful wreck of the
brig in order to gain the insurance. Once it is known he is in
possession of the secret the captain maroons him on Spider Island,
explaining to the crew that the boy is afflicted with leprosy. While
thus involuntarily playing the part of a Crusoe, Ned discovers a wreck
submerged in the sand, and overhauling the timbers for the purpose of
gathering material with which to build a hut finds a considerable amount
of treasure. Raising the wreck; a voyage to Havana under sail; shipping
there a crew and running for Savannah; the attempt of the crew to seize
the little craft after learning of the treasure on board, and, as a
matter of course, the successful ending of the journey, all serve to
make as entertaining a story of sea-life as the most captious boy could
desire.


     Geoff and Jim: A Story of School Life. By ISMAY THORN.
     Illustrated by A. G. WALKER. 12mo, cloth, price 75 cents.

     "This is a prettily told story of the life spent by two motherless
     bairns at a small preparatory school. Both Geoff and Jim are very
     lovable characters, only Jim is the more so; and the scrapes he
     gets into and the trials he endures will, no doubt, interest a
     large circle of young readers."--_Church Times._

     "This is a capital children's story, the characters well portrayed,
     and the book tastefully bound and well
     illustrated."--_Schoolmaster._

     "The story can be heartily recommended as a present for
     boys."--_Standard._


     The Castaways; or, On the Florida Reefs. By JAMES OTIS. 12mo,
     cloth, price $1.00.

This tale smacks of the salt sea. It is just the kind of story that the
majority of boys yearn for. From the moment that the Sea Queen dispenses
with the services of the tug in lower New York bay till the breeze
leaves her becalmed off the coast of Florida, one can almost hear the
whistle of the wind through her rigging, the creak of her straining
cordage as she heels to the leeward, and feel her rise to the
snow-capped waves which her sharp bow cuts into twin streaks of foam.
Off Marquesas Keys she floats in a dead calm. Ben Clark, the hero of the
story, and Jake, the cook, spy a turtle asleep upon the glassy surface
of the water. They determine to capture him, and take a boat for that
purpose, and just as they succeed in catching him a thick fog cuts them
off from the vessel, and then their troubles begin. They take refuge on
board a drifting hulk, a storm arises and they are cast ashore upon a
low sandy key. Their adventures from this point cannot fail to charm the
reader. As a writer for young people Mr. Otis is a prime favorite. His
style is captivating, and never for a moment does he allow the interest
to flag. In "The Castaways" he is at his best.


     Tom Thatcher's Fortune. By HORATIO ALGER, JR. 12mo, cloth, price
     $1.00.

Like all of Mr. Alger's heroes, Tom Thatcher is a brave, ambitious,
unselfish boy. He supports his mother and sister on meager wages earned
as a shoe-pegger in John Simpson's factory. The story begins with Tom's
discharge from the factory, because Mr. Simpson felt annoyed with the
lad for interrogating him too closely about his missing father. A few
days afterward Tom learns that which induces him to start overland for
California with the view of probing the family mystery. He meets with
many adventures. Ultimately he returns to his native village, bringing
consternation to the soul of John Simpson, who only escapes the
consequences of his villainy by making full restitution to the man whose
friendship he had betrayed. The story is told in that entertaining way
which has made Mr. Alger's name a household word in so many homes.


     Birdie: A Tale of Child Life. By H. L. CHILDE-PEMBERTON.
     Illustrated by H. W. RAINEY. 12mo, cloth, price 75 cents.

     "The story is quaint and simple, but there is a freshness about it
     that makes one hear again the ringing laugh and the cheery shout of
     children at play which charmed his earlier years."--_New York
     Express._


     Popular Fairy Tales. By the BROTHERS GRIMM. Profusely
     Illustrated, 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

     "From first to last, almost without exception, these stories are
     delightful."--_Athenæum._



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcribers note:

These variations that were present in the original text have been
retained:

  "Who Gave That Kiss?" and "Who Gave That Kiss."
  Italicized and non-italicized "Greywolds Mercury"
  fashionplate and fashion-plate
  finger-tips and fingertips
  weather-beaten and weatherbeaten





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