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´╗┐Title: Sweet Content
Author: Molesworth, Mrs., 1839-1921
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 "Sweet Content" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Sweet Content
By Mrs Molesworth
Illustrations by W. Rainey
Published by E.P. Dutton and Co, 31 West 23rd Street, New York.
This edition dated 1891.

Sweet Content, by Mrs Molesworth.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
SWEET CONTENT, BY MRS MOLESWORTH.

CHAPTER ONE.

AN "ONLY" BABY.

"Sweet Content."  That was my name when I was a very tiny child.  It may
sound rather conceited to tell this of myself, but when I have told all
the story I am now beginning, I don't _think_, at least I _hope_, you,
whoever you are that read it, won't say I am conceited.  Indeed, if I
thought any one I knew, or rather that knew me, would be likely to read
it and to know that the "I" of it was _me_, I am not by any means sure
that I would write it.  But, of course, it is not at all certain that it
ever will be printed or seen by any one (except, perhaps, by my
children, if, when I am grown up, I am married and have any) who ever
heard of me.  The world seems to me a very big place; there are such
lots and lots of people in it, old ones and children, and middling ones;
and they are all busy and taken up about their own affairs.

Some other children might like to read my story, just _as_ a story, for
I do think some parts of it are rather _extra_ interesting; but it is
not probable that any of them would recognise _me_, or the other
"characters" (I think that is the right word) in it.  Except--except
some of the other characters themselves!  They don't know I am writing
it, perhaps they never will know about it; but if they did--yes, even if
they read every word of it--I don't think I'd mind.  They are so truly--
no, I mustn't begin telling about them like that; you will understand,
all in good time, why, least of any people in the world, perhaps, I
should mind their reading the exactly how it was of everything I have to
tell.  This shows how perfectly I can trust them.

And in saying even that, though I really couldn't help it, I'm afraid I
have already got rather out of the proper orderly way of telling a
story.

I will start clearly now.  What I have written already is a sort of
preface or introduction.  And it has a much better chance of being read
than if I had put it separately.

As I began about my baby name, and as I am going to use it for a title--
for several reasons, as you will see--I will first explain about it.

I have been an only child ever since I can remember.  But I was not
always an only child.  When I was a baby of a very few months old, a
terrible trouble came to our house: scarlet fever broke out very badly
in the little town or big village, whichever you like to call it, where
we lived then, and where we still live.  And among the first deaths from
it were those of my brothers and sister, the doctor's own children!
Fancy--_three_ dear little children all dying together--in two days at
least, I think it was.  No one was to blame for their catching the
infection; the fever broke out so suddenly that there was no time to
send them away, and though papa, as the doctor, had of course to be
constantly attending the fever cases, his own children must have caught
it before there could possibly have been time for him to bring it to
them.  Even if he _could_ have done so, which was doubtful, as for the
two or three days before they got ill he never came into the house at
all, and did not even see mamma, but eat his meals and slept in a room
over the stables.  I have always been glad for papa to know it could not
have come through him, for even though it would have been in the way of
duty--and papa is a perfect _hero_ about duty--he might have blamed
himself for some carelessness or forgetfulness.  And once--though they
seldom speak of that awful time--mamma said something of the kind to me.

I was the baby, as I have told you.  A tiny, rather delicate little
thing.  And, strange to say, I did not catch the fever.  They did not
send me away; it seemed no use after all the risks I had already run.  I
could almost think that poor mamma must have felt as if it would not so
very much matter whether I got it or not; _my_ dying then could not have
made things much worse for her to bear!  For, after all, a very little
baby, even though it is nice and funny and even sweet in its way, can't
be anything like as interesting or as much a part of your life as
talking, understanding, loving children.  So it seems to me, though
mamma doesn't quite agree with me.  She loves me so very much that I
think she couldn't bear to think there ever was a time when I was less
to her.  I fancy the truth is that she does not very clearly remember
what she felt during those dreadful days; I hope she does not, for even
to think of them makes me shiver.  They were such dear children; so
bright and healthy and happy.  Mamma seemed like a person in a dream or
a trance, our old Prudence has often told me, after the last, Kenneth,
the eldest, it was, died.  Fancy the empty nurseries, fancy all the toys
and books, and, worst of all, the little hats, and jackets, and _shoes_
lying about just as usual!  For they were only ill four days--oh, I
think it must have been _awful_.  And yet so beautiful too.

And the little, stupid, crying baby lived, and throve, and grew well and
strong.  When papa, weeks after, ventured at last to look at me, he
could not believe I was the same!  I _hope_ he felt it was a little tiny
bit of a reward to him for his goodness to others.  To think of him
going about as usual, no, not as usual, for he worked like _ten_, I have
been told, to save others, though his own poor heart was breaking.  And
he did save many--that, too, must have been a real reward.

He kissed me gravely--Prudence told me this, too--but just then I
smiled, a slow-coming baby smile, I think it must have been; you know
how a baby stares first before it makes up its mind to smile--and he
stopped; he had been turning away, and took me in his arms.

"My poor little darling," he said, "I feel almost afraid to love you.
But no, that would be faithless."

And he carried me downstairs to mamma in the drawing-room.  I can fancy
how she must have been sitting there alone, looking out on to the pretty
old-fashioned garden behind the house, and watching the spring flowers
blossoming out, for it was in spring that all this happened, and
thinking of _her_ spring flowers.  I have so often fancied it, and seen
her there in her deep black dress, in my mind, that it has come to be
like a real picture to me.  But of course I don't know what actually
happened, for Prudence wasn't there to see.  Only I _think_ that from
that day they took me into their hearts in a quite wonderful way, for,
ever since I can remember, they have been, oh, so _very_ good to me--too
good, I am afraid.  I fear they spoilt me.  And I for long, long, was
not a good and grateful little daughter to them.

It is difficult to blame them for spoiling me; is it not?  And perhaps
there is just a _little_ excuse for me in its having been so.  I don't
want to make excuses for myself, but looking back I do see that I didn't
know in the least how selfish, and self-seeking, and vain and proud and
stuck-up, and everything horrid like that, I was.  Jealous, too; but
that, you see, I had no reason to find out for a long while.  What a
good thing it was for me that a day came when I was really tested!

I was a fat, healthy, perfectly happy baby, and I grew into a fat,
healthy, perfectly happy little girl.  Nothing seemed to come wrong to
me.  I never got ill, and by nature I think I must have had a very even,
comfortable temper.  I was always smiling and satisfied.  Now you see
how I came by my name of "Sweet Content."  Mamma kept it for a sort of
private pet name, but it did very well with my real name, which is
Constantia.  And this was naturally shortened into "Connie."  I remember
papa and mamma laughing very much one day at a new servant, who must, I
suppose, have overheard my private name, and wishing to be very
respectful, spoke of me as "Miss _Content_."

"Never let it get into `Discontent,' Connie," said papa.

"That she never will," said mamma fondly.  "I am sure all the good
fairies, and none of the spiteful ones, were at my Sweet Content's
christening."

I was quite used to hearing pretty things like that said to me or of me,
and I took them as a matter of course, never doubting that I deserved
them.  And as no one contradicted me, and I had everything I wanted, and
as I was not naturally a cross-grained or ill-tempered child, the
spoiling did not show as quickly, or quite in the same ways, that it
usually does, though I cannot help thinking that some people must have
noticed it and thought me a selfish little goose.  If they did, however,
they were too kind to mamma, remembering her sad story, ever to say so.
Besides, mamma was gentle and sweet to everybody, and she had too much
good taste and feeling to go on fussing about me before people, in the
way some _very_ foolish parents do.

So altogether, up to the time I was ten or eleven years old, my fool's
paradise was a very perfect one.  I was quite satisfied that I was a
model of every virtue, as well as _exceedingly_ clever, and I am afraid
papa and mamma thought so too; as to my looks, I have no doubt they were
more than satisfied too; though to do myself justice, I really did not
trouble myself about that part of my perfections, beyond being very
particular indeed about my clothes, which I never would wear if they
were the least shabby or spoilt.  And as I was careless and extravagant,
I must have cost a good deal in this way.

"Connie has such wonderful taste for a child of her age," I remember
hearing mamma say.  "She cannot bear anything ugly, or ill-assorted
colours."

All the same, Connie had no objection to fishing for minnows in the pond
with a perfectly new white muslin frock on, which was not rendered
lovelier by streaks of green slime and brown mud stains all over the
sash.  I don't know if I thought those "well-assorted colours."  And
though I told mamma that my every-day hat was very common-looking
without ostrich feathers, I never troubled myself that my best one was
left out in the garden one Sunday afternoon, so that on Monday morning
it was found utterly ruined by a shower of rain that had come on in the
night!

If I had had any brothers or sisters I _could_ not have been so
indulged, for papa was not a rich man--no country doctors ever are, I
think--though he was not poor.  But no more babies came, and, in her
devotion to me, I hardly think mamma wished for them.  I remained the
undisputed queen of my kingdom.

Mamma was never very strong after her three children's deaths I was
obliged to be gentle and quiet; I learnt to be so almost unconsciously,
and this, I think, helped to make me seem much sweeter and better than I
really was.  I had almost no companions; there did not happen to be many
children near my age in the neighbourhood, and even if there had been I
doubt if mamma would have thought them good enough to be allowed to play
with me.  Though she never actually spoke against any one to me, I saw
things quickly, and I know I had this feeling myself.  Once or twice
papa, who was too wise not to know that companionship is good for
children, tried to bring about more friendship between me and our
clergyman's daughters.  But I did not take to them.  Anna, the eldest,
was "stupid," I said, so old for her age (she was really three years
older that I), and always "fussing about her Sunday-school class, and
helping her father, as if she was his curate."  How well I remember
mamma's smiling at this clever speech!  And the two little ones were
"babyish."  Then some other girls at Elmwood went to school, and even in
their holiday time I did not care to play with "school-girls."  Besides
which poor mamma was quite dreadfully afraid of infection, and perhaps
this was only to be expected.

Once during some summer holidays when we happened to be at home, for
mamma and I generally went to the seaside in July, a little cousin came
to stay with us.  He was two years younger than I and the only first
cousin I had, for papa was an only child.  He was mamma's nephew, and I
know now that he was really a nice little boy; he is a nice big boy now,
and we are great friends.  But perhaps he was rather spoilt too, though
in a different way from me, and I, as I have said, was very selfish
indeed.  So we quarrelled terribly, and the end of it was that poor
Teddy was sent home in disgrace; no one dreaming that it _could_ have
been "Connie's" fault in the least.

I think, now, I have explained pretty well about myself and my home when
I was very little.  Nothing very particular happened till after my tenth
birthday.  I had scarcely a wish ungratified, and yet everybody praised
me for my sweet contented disposition!  There were times when I used to
wish or to _fancy_ I wished for a sister, though if this wish had
magically come true, I don't believe I _would_ have liked it really, and
now and then papa and mamma would pity me for having no friends of my
own age.  But I do not think I was to be pitied for this, except that it
certainly is better training for a child to have companions of one's own
standing, instead of grown-up people who can see no fault in you.

Things happen queerly sometimes.  What are called "coincidences" are not
so uncommon after all.  The first great change in my life happened in
this way.  It was in the autumn of the year in which I was ten.  The
weather had been dull and rainy.  I had caught cold and was not allowed
to go out for some days.  I was tired of the house and of myself, and
though no one ever thought of saying so to me, I feel sure I was very
cross.  I took it into my head to begin grumbling about being lonely;
grumbling, it is true, was not usually a fault of mine, and it
distressed mamma very much.

"My darling, it must be that you are not at all well," she said, one
dreary afternoon--afternoon just closing into evening--when she and I
were sitting in the drawing-room waiting for papa to come in.  He had
told mamma he might be late, so that she had had dinner early with me,
and there was only some supper ready waiting for him in the dining-room,
beside our tea.  I always dined early of course, but when papa expected
to be home pretty early and not to go out again, he and mamma dined at
half-past six or seven.

"No, it isn't that at all," I replied to mamma's anxious question.  "I'm
not a bit ill.  I'm quite well, and I'm sure it couldn't have hurt me to
go a ride on Hop-o'-my-thumb to-day."

Hop-o'-my-thumb was my pony.  I often called him "Hoppo" for short.

"Dearest Connie, in the rain?" said mamma.

"Well--I forgot about the rain.  But to-morrow, mamma, I really must go
out.  It isn't for me like for most children, you know.  _They_ have
each other to play with in the house if they have to stay in.  My only
pleasure is being out-of-doors," and I sighed deeply.

"You wouldn't like to send for Anna Gale or the twins to spend the day
with you to-morrow, would you?" mamma suggested.  "I am so afraid that
if this east wind continues papa won't let you go out."

"Oh, mamma dear, how you do fuss about me," I said.  "No, I don't care
for any of the Gales.  Anna doesn't know how to play: when she's not
cramming at her lessons, she's cleaning the store-closet or making
baby-clothes for the parish babies," I said contemptuously.

"Poor girl!  I don't think she is a very lively companion," mamma
agreed.  "But then she has no mother, and her aunt is a dull sort of
woman."

It never struck me that, whether _I_ cared for her or not, an afternoon
among my pretty toys and books, and other luxuries, might have been a
pleasant change for Anna, even if she were rather commonplace and very
overworked.

"I wish," I remarked, "I do wish there were some nicer people at
Elmwood.  I wish you knew some nice companions for me, mamma."

"So do I, darling.  But you know, dearest, _how_ different all would
have been if--" But here there came a sort of break in mamma's voice,
and she turned away.

I gave myself an impatient wriggle; not so that she could see it, but
still it was horrid of me.

"I know what she was going to say," I thought; "`if Eva and the others
had lived.'  But they _didn't_ live.  I wish mamma would leave off
thinking about them and think more about me who _am_ alive."

In my heart I did feel tenderly for mamma about her lost children; but I
was so selfish that whatever came before _me_, even for a moment,
annoyed me.

I sighed again more deeply.  I have no doubt mamma thought it was out of
sympathy with her.  But just then there came the sound of wheels--
faintly, for the drawing-room was at the back of the house, and the
street at the front; up I jumped, delighted at the interruption.

"It's papa," I said, as I ran off to welcome him.

CHAPTER TWO.

PAPA'S BIT OF NEWS.

Yes, it was papa.  I opened the front-door a tiny bit just to make sure.
He had already sprung out of the dog-cart, throwing the reins to the
groom, who went round by a back way to the stables.  As papa came close
to the door he caught sight of me.

"Connie!" he exclaimed; "my child, keep out of the draught.  Well,
dear," when he had come in and was standing by me in the hall, where a
bright little fire was burning--we have such a nice hall in our house,
old-fashioned and square, you know, with a fireplace--"well, dear, how
are you?  And what have you been doing with yourself this dull day?"

"Oh, I _have_ been so tired of myself, papa," I said, nestling up to
him.  If there is, or could be, any one in the world I love better than
mamma, it's papa!  "I am so glad you've come home, and now we may have a
nice evening, mayn't we?"

"I hope so.  Mamma must let you come in at the end of dinner, to make up
for your dull day," said papa.  But I interrupted him eagerly:

"It's not dinner to-night, papa--not proper dinner--because you were so
uncertain, you know."

"All the better," he replied, "for I have some news for mamma and you."

News!  What could it be?  It was not often that news of much interest
came to enliven our quiet life.  I felt so curious and excited about it
that by the time we were all three comfortably settled round the
dining-table, my cheeks were quite rosy and my eyes bright.

"Connie is looking quite herself again," said papa.  "I don't like to
hear her complain of being dull and tired.  It isn't like you, my little
girl."

"No, indeed," mamma agreed, "it isn't like our Sweet Content."

"But I'm not Sweet Content at all just now," I said.  "I've been just
_boiling_ for Peter to go out of the room so that papa can tell us his
news."

Mamma had not heard of it.  She, too, glanced up with interest in her
eyes.

"It isn't anything _very_ important," said papa.  "No one has left us a
fortune, and all my patients are much the same; it is only that I
think--nay, I may say I am sure--I have got a tenant for the Yew Trees."

Mamma looked pleased.

"I am very glad indeed," she replied.  "I am quite tired of seeing the
place deserted, and it is a good deal of expense to keep it at all tidy.
I hope the offer is from some nice people."

I had not spoken.  I was very disappointed.  I did not care at all
whether the Yew Trees was let or not.  I was far too unpractical to
think anything about the money part of it.  I suppose papa saw the
expression on my face, for he turned to me as he answered mamma's
question.

"Yes," he said, "that is the best part of it.  I think they are
certainly very nice people.  And, Connie, there will be some companions
for you among them--two girls just about your age, perhaps a little
older.  Their name is Whyte--a Captain Whyte and his family; he has been
in the navy, but is shelved for the present.  They are old friends of
the Bickersteths."

"White?"  I repeated.  I think I pictured it with an "i," not a "y."
"White: what a common name!"

Mamma smiled.  I think my pert speech seemed to her rather clever; but
papa turned upon me almost sharply.

"Nonsense, child!" he said; "where do you get such ridiculous notions
from?"

"_Our_ name is so pretty," I replied, "and not at all common.  It is a
very old name, everybody says."

Our name is Percy; papa is Dr Percy.  I don't think "Dr" suits it as
well as "Major," or "Colonel," or "Sir."  "Sir something Percy," not
"Thomas," which is papa's name, but some grander name, like "Harold" or
"Bevis," would sound lovely before "Percy."

Papa looked at me, and he, too, smiled a little.

"It is a pretty name if you like, my dear," he said, "and I am glad it
pleases you.  But as for our family being `old' in the usual sense,
don't get any fancies into your head.  My father was an honest yeoman,
and _his_ father was only a head-man on a farm, though thrifty and
hardworking, and, best of all, God-fearing.  So that, bit by bit, he
came to own land himself, and my father, following in his steps, was
able to give me a first-rate education."

I had heard this before, or some of it, but it rather suited me to
ignore it.  I gave my head a little toss.

"I don't see that that has anything to do with `White' being a common
name," I said.

"Perhaps not.  But I don't want you to get silly fancies in your head,
dear," said papa, gently.  "Trust me that Captain Whyte and his family
are _not_ common.  It would be a pity for you to lose the chance of nice
companions by any prejudice."

"Oh, Connie would never be so foolish as that," said mamma; "and the
Bickersteths' friends are sure to be nice people."

Mr and Lady Honor Bickersteth, I may as well explain, were the former
rector of Elmwood and his wife.  Mr Bickersteth was a very old man now,
and had resigned the living some years ago in favour of Mr Gale, Anna's
father, who had been his curate.  Lady Honor was quite an old lady, and
though she was very kind, I think most of our neighbours were a little
afraid of her.  She was what is called "a lady of the old school," and
had very precise ideas about how children should be brought up.  I think
she was the only person who ever dared to hint that I was at all spoilt.
The Bickersteths still lived at Elmwood, in a pretty house a little way
out of the town.  They had never inhabited the vicarage, but had let the
curate have it, so when Mr Gale became vicar it made no difference in
that way.  And even now Mr Bickersteth still preached sometimes when he
was feeling well enough.

"I am quite sure the Whytes are nice people," papa repeated in a settled
sort of way; "and I shall be very glad for Connie to make friends with
them."

His tone was so decided that neither mamma nor I _could_ have made any
kind of objection.  In my heart, too, I was really pleased, and not a
little excited, at the idea of some new friends of my own age.

"Have they only those two children--the girls you spoke of?" asked
mamma.

"Those are the only girls, but there are ever so many boys of all ages--
from fifteen or sixteen down to a baby, I believe," papa answered.  "The
elder boys are to be weekly boarders at Leam; that is one reason why
they have chosen Elmwood."

Mamma raised her eyebrows a very little.

"Then they are not--not rich?" she said.

"Not at all rich," papa replied promptly.  "I want to spare them all the
expense I can.  Captain Whyte is to pay a very fair rent for the Yew
Trees--the same that old Mrs Nesbitt paid.  I would have taken less had
he pressed it, but he did not.  He is very gentlemanlike and liberal--it
is curious how you can see the liberal spirit even when people are
poor--so I want to meet him half-way.  I shall have his final decision
to-morrow morning, and if it is closing with the thing, I should like
you to drive over with me to the Yew Trees and have a look round.  There
are some things it is only fair we should do, and as it is your house,
Rose, you have a voice in it."

The Yew Trees had been mamma's own home as a girl.  Her father had been
the Elmwood doctor before papa, and this house was left to her as she
was older than her sister.  Yet she had never lived there since her
parents' death; it was larger than we required, and mamma fancied it was
lonely.

"I should like very much to go with you," she replied.  "Except--Connie,
dear, I don't like leaving you alone."

"Connie is much better," said papa; "and I think the wind is changing.
I should not wonder if we have a bright, mild day to-morrow.  If so, she
might come too.  Old Martha always has a good fire in the kitchen at the
Yew Trees, and if the rest of the house is draughty, she can wait for us
there."

I was very pleased at this.  Strange to say, the little prejudice,
though it seems exaggerated to speak of it as that, which I had so
ridiculously taken up on the mention of the Whyte family, had quite
melted away when I heard they were not rich.  I liked the idea of being
kind and generous to people less well off than ourselves, and though
there was, perhaps, a little love of patronage in this, I hope it was
not _only_ that.

"I should _so_ like to go too," I exclaimed.  "I do hope it will be a
fine day.  Papa, if you are going to paint and paper any of the rooms,
_mayn't_ I choose the paper for the little girls."

Papa smiled.  I saw he was pleased.

"How can we tell which room will be theirs?" he said.

"Oh, I _think_ we can guess.  They're sure to have a room together as
they're so near of an age.  I daresay their papa and mamma will let them
choose, and if the paper is the kind of one I mean, it would _make_ them
fix on the room where it is.  I saw it in Fuller's shop-window the other
day; roses, mamma, little climbing ones on a pale grey ground.  And the
painting shall be pale grey with a pink line.  It'll be lovely."

I felt so eager about it I could scarcely sit still.

"I'm afraid that kind of paper is rather expensive," said papa.  "And
though I want to make the house neat and nice, still I can't spend very
much.  However, we shall see."

"The room my sister and I had would be the nicest," said mamma, quite
entering into my plans.  Dear mamma is not _very_ sensible about money--
she won't mind my saying so, for she says it herself.  She leaves
everything to papa, and a good deal _now_, I am proud to say, to me.
"You remember it, Connie?  Mrs Nesbitt called it her best room.  It
looks out to the side with a sort of square bow-window, though that
sounds very Irish!" she added, laughing.

Papa glanced at her with such pleasure.  He is always _so_ delighted
when mamma laughs.

"I do hope it will go through with the Whytes," I heard him say to
himself in a low voice.

"I am so glad they are not rich," I said, with such satisfaction that
papa and mamma really looked rather startled.

"Dear child--" mamma began.

I had scarcely known I was speaking aloud.  I felt myself grow a little
red.

"I mean," I began confusedly--"If they had been rich, you know, we
couldn't have done anything for them, and--and--they might have been
spoilt, and very likely they would have looked down on us."

"Even though they have such a common name," said papa, mischievously.
"Eh, Connie?  Try and keep your mind clear of all those prejudices, my
dear.  Take people as they really are, and be as good and kind to them
in deed and thought, rich or poor, grand or lowly, as you _can_ be, and
you will find it will be all right.  The real way to get on happily is
to think as little of _yourself_ as possible: then you will neither
despise those below you, nor expect to be despised by those above you."

I don't know that I quite understood papa then; I think I understand it
better now.  But that night my dreams were very pleasant; they were not
about myself at all, nor even about the unknown Whytes.  They were all
about a lovely room with roses growing up the walls, and as they grew
higher and higher the walls seemed to melt away and I found myself in a
beautiful garden.  But just as I was rushing forward in delight I caught
sight of old Lady Honor sitting in an arbour, knitting.

"Connie Percy," she said solemnly, in her rather peculiar voice;
"remember, the true way to gather roses is first to plant them."

Wasn't it a funny dream?

The postman's knock came, as it generally does, while we were sitting at
breakfast.  There were two letters for papa, only.  I had forgotten
about Captain Whyte's answer being expected by post; my head was full of
the Yew Trees and the climbing rose paper, and wondering if it was going
to be a fine enough day for papa to say I might drive out.  It was only
when he looked up with a pleased exclamation that I remembered what a
disappointment that letter _might_ have brought.

"It is all right," said papa.  "Captain Whyte agrees to my terms.
Indeed, I almost wish," he went on less brightly, "that I had not named
so high a rent.  I'm afraid they are very--well, not at all rich, to put
it mildly.  He says they cannot afford to do anything to the house, and
as it is quite healthy, they will be satisfied if it is just clean and
tidy.  Strictly speaking, you see, I am not bound to do much to it; I
did it up so thoroughly for Mrs Nesbitt, and it is in perfectly good
order, substantially speaking, only--"

"The papers are _so_ ugly," said mamma.  "You know Mrs Nesbitt chose
them all, and her taste was dreadful, and there are several little
things that would make it much nicer for a family of younger people.
These two poky little rooms at the back would make a nice schoolroom if
thrown into one."

"Just what Captain Whyte said himself," papa agreed.  "Well, we must go
over it, and I will see what I can afford."

"If they are paying a good rent," said mamma, "that might make up a
little."

Dear mamma! she looked quite delighted with herself for being so
business-like.

"Any way," I said, "you really _must_ let me choose a paper for the
girls' room.  I'd rather pay for it myself, or count it as one of my
birthday presents, papa, than not have it."

Papa laughed at us both.

"What delightful `landladies,' I suppose that's the feminine of
`landlord,' even in the sense of a `proprietor,' you would make, you
two," he said.

But by the way he stroked my head when he went out I could tell he was
pleased.  I think, though he very seldom found fault with me, that papa
was terribly afraid of my becoming selfish.  Ah, dear, I see now that I
was that already!

To my great delight papa's prophecy about the weather proved true.  The
wind _had_ changed; it was mild, and, for November, pleasant.  If only a
little bit of sun would come out, said mamma, it would be perfect.

And after luncheon--which was my dinner--the sun _did_ come out, and
papa came driving up just as we were beginning to be afraid he was going
to be late.

"I've two hours free," he called out cheerfully, as he came in.  "I only
want a scrap of luncheon, Rose; I won't be two minutes.  Run and get
your hat, Connie.  Wrap up well, though it is a fine day, for you've not
been out lately."

CHAPTER THREE.

THE YEW TREES.

When I said "a pleasant day _for November_," I think I should have left
out the two last words.  For they rather sound as if November was rarely
pleasant, and though this may be the case in some parts of England it is
certainly not so with us.  Our Novembers are generally this way: there
are some perfectly horrible days, rain, rain, slow and hopeless; not
heavy, but so steady that you long to give a shake to the clouds and
tell them to be quick about it.  And then for a day or two, everything
and everywhere are just _sopping_; it's almost worse than the rain, for
the sky still looks grim and sulky and as if it more than half thought
of beginning again.  But _then_--there comes sometimes a little wind,
and faint gleams of sunshine, sparkle out, growing steadier and fuller,
and then we generally have a few days together of weather that for
pleasantness can scarcely be matched.  They are soft, quiet, dreamy
days; the sunshine is never bright exactly, but gentle and a little
melancholy.  There is a queer feeling of having been naughty and being
forgiven: the wind comes in little whispering sobs, like a tiny child
that can't leave off crying all at once; the whole world seems tired and
yet calm and hopeful in a far-off sort of way.  Somehow these days make
me feel much _gooder_ ("better" doesn't do so well) than even the
brightest and loveliest spring or summer-time.  They make me think more
of Heaven--and they make me dreadfully sorry for all the naughty selfish
thoughts and feelings I have had.  Altogether there is something about
them I can't put in words, though once--I will come to that "once" later
on--some one said a thing that seemed to explain it almost exactly.

And this day--the day we went to the Yew Trees--it was the first time
mamma and I had been there for very long--was one of those days.  It was
not late in November, so though it had been raining tremendously only
the day before, the clearing-up process had been got through much more
expeditiously than usual, and the sun had of course rather more strength
still with which to help.

"The wind has been pretty busy in the night," said papa.  "He must have
sent out all his elves to work.  I scarcely remember ever seeing the
roads dry up so quickly."

"But they are rather untidy elves all the same, papa," I replied--I do
like when papa says these funny kinds of things--"just look what a lot
of their brushes and dusters they have left about."

We were driving along Crook's Lane as I spoke--the road to the Yew Trees
goes that way, right through Crook's Wood, and I pointed to lots of
boughs and branches, many of them still with their leaves on, that had
been blown off in the night.

"Yes," said papa, laughing.

We were in the pony-carriage; at least we call it the pony-carriage,
though it is much too big for Hoppo to draw, and at that time we drove a
rather small horse, a cob, of papa's in it.  I did feel so happy and
nice.  Papa was driving and I was beautifully wrapped up in the seat
behind, which is really quite as comfortable as the front one.  It
seemed to me I had never scented the air so fresh and sweet before, nor
heard the birds' mild autumn chirpings so touching and tender.

The Yew Trees is only about a mile from us, and over the fields it is
still nearer.  We were soon there, and old Martha, knowing we were
coming, had got the door open and the front steps cleaned.  It did not
look at all desolate outside, for the garden had been kept tidy in a
plain sort of way.  The trees which give their name to the house make a
short avenue from the gate; some of them are very fine yews, I believe,
though I always think them rather gloomy.

Inside, the rooms of course seemed bare and chilly.  I had never
thoroughly explored it before, and I was surprised to find how large it
was.  Mamma, of course, knew every chink and cranny, and she took me all
over while papa was speaking to a man--a builder, who had come by
appointment to meet him.  It was found that the partition between the
two odd little rooms on the ground floor was a very thin one and could
be taken away quite easily, and, to mamma's great pleasure, papa decided
on this.

"It will make such a nice bright schoolroom," she said, as we went
upstairs.  "And here," she went on, "is the room Bessie and I used to
have.  Isn't it a nice room, Connie?  Long ago, I remember, I used to
fancy that if ever my little Evie had a sister, and we came to live here
some day, I would have it beautifully done up for my own girls."

Mamma's voice faltered a little as she said this.  I was not feeling
cross or impatient just then, so I answered her more gently than I am
afraid I sometimes did when she alluded to my little dead brothers and
sister.

"Well, mamma dear," I said, "if you do it up very prettily now it will
be a great pleasure to the one little girl you still have beside you,
and _also_ to the two stranger little girls.  I am sure, too, that if
Eva knew about it, _she_ would be pleased.  And perhaps she does."

"Darling!  My own Sweet Content!" said mamma.  She thought me _so_ good
for what after all was a great deal a fancy, though a harmless one, to
please myself.

"It shall be done, Connie dearest, if I can possibly manage it," said
mamma.  "I wonder if the man downstairs has anything to do with the
papering and painting?"

It turned out that he had--in little country towns you don't find
separate shops for everything, you know.  This was the very man in whose
window I had seen the lovely rose paper.  So it was settled that on our
way home we should call in and look at several wall papers.  And soon
after, we left the Yew Trees and drove off again.

Mr Bickersteth's house was between the Yew Trees and the town.  As we
were passing the gate it opened, and Lady Honor came out.  She was
walking slowly, for she was not strong now, and she was an old lady.  In
my eyes _very_ old, for I could not remember her anything else.  Papa
drew up when he saw her, and jumped down.

"We have just been at the Yew Trees," he said.  "My wife and Connie are
so interested in getting it made nice for your friends."

"Ah, yes!" said Lady Honor, looking pleased, "we heard from Frank Whyte
this morning that it is settled.  Very good of you to go yourself to
look over the house, my dear Mrs Percy.  And Connie, too!  That is an
honour--however in this case you will be rewarded.  You will find the
Whyte girls delightful and most desirable companions for her, Mrs
Percy, Evey especially."

Mamma grew rather white, and gave a little gasp.

"_Evie_," she whispered (I spell it "Evie," because I know that was how
mamma _thought_ it), "do you hear, Connie?"

"Yes, of course," I said rather sharply.  No one else noticed mamma, for
Lady Honor had turned to papa.  I felt half provoked.  I wished the
little Whyte girl had not been called "Evie."

"Mamma will always be mixing her up with our Evie, and thinking her a
sort of an angel," I thought to myself, and something very like a touch
of ugly jealousy crept into my heart.  Just at that moment, unluckily,
Lady Honor glanced my way again.

"Are you quite well again, Connie?" she said.  "You don't look very
bright, my dear.  She needs companionship, doctor--companionship of her
own age, as I have always told you.  It will do her good in every way,
yes, in _every_ way," and she tapped the umbrella which she was carrying
emphatically on the ground, while she nodded her head and looked at me
with the greatest satisfaction in her bright old eyes.  I am not sure
that there was not a little touch of mischief mingled with the
satisfaction--a sort of good-natured spitefulness, if there could be
such a thing!  And perhaps it was not to be wondered at: "bright" I
certainly was not looking, and indeed I fear there must have been
something very like sulkiness in my face just then.  "Sweet Content,"
Lady Honor went on, half under her breath, as if speaking to herself, "a
very pretty name and a very lovely character.  I was telling the Whyte
children about it when I was with them the other day."

Mamma flushed with pleasure, but I felt inwardly furious.  I was sure
the old lady was mocking at me; afterwards I felt glad that papa had not
seen my face just then.

For the rest of the way, after we had said good-bye to Lady Honor, I was
quite silent.  If it had not been for very shame, I would have asked to
be put down at our own house when we passed it instead of going on to
Fuller's shop.  And mamma's gentle coaxing only made me crosser.

"I am sure you are too tired, darling," she kept saying.  "You don't
think you have caught cold?  Do say, if you feel at all chilly?"

And when I grunted some short, surly reply, she only grew more and more
anxious, till at last papa turned round and looked at me.

"She is all right, Rose," he said.  "It is as mild as possible--leave
the child alone.  At the same time, Connie," he added to me, "you must
answer your mother more respectfully.  You have nothing to be so cross
about, my dear."

I felt startled and almost frightened.  It was very seldom papa found
fault with me.  Yet there was something in his tone which prevented my
feeling angry; something in his tone and in his eyes too.  It was as if
he was a little sorry for me.  I felt myself redden, and I think one or
two tears crept up.

"I am sorry," I said, gently.

Papa's face brightened at once, and this made it easier for me to master
myself.  We were just at Fuller's by this time.  I went in with papa and
mamma, and after a minute or two I found it was not difficult to talk as
usual, and to feel really interested in the papers.  Papa and mamma
chose very nice ones for the dining- and drawing-rooms, and I was asked
my opinion about them all, especially about the schoolroom one.  Then
came the bedroom ones, most of which were quickly decided upon.  I grew
very anxious indeed when mamma asked to see the pale-grey-with-roses
one, which had been in the window a week or two ago.  Fuller's man knew
it at once and brought it out.

"It is beautiful," he said, "a French paper, but expensive."

And so it was, dearer than the one chosen for the dining-room!  But papa
glanced at it and then at me with a smile.

"Yes," he said, "I will have that one for the bedroom to the right--the
room off the passage up the first stair."

"Oh, papa, _thank_ you," I said earnestly.  And I meant it.

I have told all these little things to make you understand as well as I
can, the mixture of feelings I had about the Whyte children even before
I ever saw them.  Now I will skip a bit of time, and go on to tell about
how things actually turned out.

Things _almost never_ turn out as one expects, the older one gets the
more one sees this, especially about things one has thought of and
planned a good deal.  I had planned the first seeing the Whytes ever so
many times in my own mind, always in the same way, you know, but with
little additions and improvements the more I thought it over.  The
general idea of my plan was this.  It was to be a lovely day: I was to
ride over with papa one morning, Hoppie was to be looking his sweetest,
and as we rode up to the house I was to see (and pretend not to see, of
course) a lot of heads peeping out of a window to admire the little girl
and her pony.  Then we should be shown into the drawing-room, which I
had furnished in my own mind rather shabbily and stiffly, and Captain
and Mrs Whyte would come in and begin thanking papa for all his
kindness, and would speak to me _very_ nicely and rather admiringly, and
Mrs Whyte would sigh a very little as if she wished her daughters were
more like me.  She would say how _very_ much they wanted to know me, and
she would beg papa to stay a few minutes longer while she called them.
She would be very kind, but rather fussy and anxious.  Then the girls
would come in, looking very eager but shy.  They were to be smaller than
I, and younger-looking, very shabbily dressed, but nice, and very
admiring.  I would talk to them encouragingly, and they would tell me
how beautiful they thought the rose paper, and that Lady Honor had told
them I had chosen it--at least, _perhaps_ it should be Lady Honor, I was
not quite sure--sometimes I planned that papa should smile and it should
come out by accident, as it were.  Then this should lead us to talk of
flowers, and I would tell them how they might make winter nosegays to
brighten up the drawing-room a little, and I would promise them some
flowers out of our conservatory, and papa would ask Mrs Whyte to let
them come to have tea with me the next day, and they would look
delighted though half afraid, and they would all come to the door to see
me mount, and, and--on and on I would go for hours, in my fancies, of
which "I" and "we" were always the centre, the pivot on which everything
else revolved!

Now I will tell what really happened.

It was about six weeks after the day that I had gone with papa and mamma
to the Yew Trees.  So it was within a fortnight of Christmas.  Mamma and
I had been to the Yew Trees again once or twice to see how things were
getting on, but for the last ten days or so we had not gone, as the
Whytes' two servants and their furniture had come, and the house was
now, therefore, to all intents and purposes theirs, and one morning a
letter from Captain Whyte to papa announced that he and Mrs Whyte and
"some of our numerous youngsters" were to arrive the same day.

"Poor things," said mamma, with a little shiver, "how I do pity them
removing at this season."

"But it isn't cold," said papa.  "So far it has been an unusually mild
winter, though certainly we have had a disagreeable amount of rain."

He glanced out as he spoke.  It was not raining, but it looked dull and
gloomy.

"I suppose there is nothing we can do to help the Whytes?" said mamma.
"You will tell me, Tom, if you think there is."

"I almost think the kindest thing in such circumstances is to leave
people alone till they shake down a little," he replied.  "However, I
shall be passing that way this evening, and I'll look in for a moment.
Captain Whyte won't mind me."

I didn't think any one could ever "mind" papa!  I suppose it comes
partly from his being a doctor and knowing so much about home things,
children and illnesses, and so on, that he is so wonderfully sensible
and handy and tender in his ways--"like a woman," Prudence says; but
indeed I don't think there are many women like _him_--and I don't think
it can be all from his being a doctor, it must be a good deal from his
own kind, tender, sympathising heart.

"Please find out how soon we can go to see them at the Yew Trees," I
said.  "Perhaps I might ride there with you some morning on
Hop-o'-my-thumb before mamma goes regularly to call."

"We'll see," said papa, as he went off.  Of course, I was thinking of my
imaginary programme, but papa did not know that.

When he came home that night I was disappointed to find that he had not
seen any of the Whytes.  Captain Whyte was out, and Mrs Whyte, after
all, had not yet come.  "Only Miss Whyte and two of the young
gentlemen," the servant had said, and as papa had no very particular
reason for calling, he had not asked to see "Miss Whyte."

"Do you think she is one of the little girls?"  I asked.

Papa shook his head.

"I don't know.  She may be an aunt who has come to help," he said.

This idea rather annoyed me.  I had not planned for a helpful aunt; it
disarranged things.

"Never mind, Connie," said mamma, thinking I was disappointed.  "We
shall soon know all about them.  I should think we might call early next
week.  The old-fashioned rule in a country-place is to wait till you
have seen people in church," she added.

This was Wednesday.  It was a good while to wait till next Monday or
Tuesday.  However, I set to work at my fancies again, determining all
the same to ride past the Yew Trees, as often as I could this week.  It
would be rather nice and romantic for them to have seen me riding about
without knowing who I was, before they actually met me.

Whom I meant by "they" I am not quite sure.  I fancy I did the Whyte
girls the compliment of placing them _next_ in importance to myself in
my drama.

"I wonder," I thought, "if Lady Honor told them _nicely_ of my being
called `Sweet Content,' or if she said it mockingly.  It was horrid of
her if she did."

CHAPTER FOUR.

ALL MY OWN FAULT.

"What are you in such a brown study about, Connie?" asked mamma at
breakfast the next morning.

I started.

"Nothing very particular," I said, and I felt myself get red.  I should
not have liked mamma to know my thoughts--I was rehearsing for the
hundredth time the scene of my first meeting with the Whytes, or rather,
I should say, of their first meeting _me_.  Just as mamma spoke I was
wondering how I could persuade papa to let me ride over with him before
mamma paid her more formal call at the Yew Trees.

Mamma smiled but did not press for an answer.

"I must go and order dinner," she said, rising from her seat rather
wearily.  Papa had already gone out.  "How nice it will be when you are
grown up, my Sweet Content, and able to help me with the housekeeping."

"Oh dear, I hope you will have a housekeeper when you get tired of it,"
I said.  "You never need count upon me for anything to do with eating
and cooking, mamma.  I should hate ordering dinners and looking over the
butcher's and grocer's books.  You wouldn't like to see me a second Anna
Gale, I hope?"

"No, indeed, dear; that you never could be.  Poor Anna has no brains,
and she is so very dowdy--though, perhaps that sounds unkind, for she is
a very good girl," and mamma looked rather shocked at herself.

"But one may be good without being _quite_ so dull and `dowdy,'" I said,
coaxingly.

Mamma stooped to kiss me as she passed my chair.  "I trust you will
never have to do any uncongenial work, my darling," she said.  "You
shall not if I can help it."

I remained where I was for a minute or two, thinking what I would best
like to do that morning.  It was a holiday, for my daily governess had
got a slight cold and sore throat, and till _quite_ satisfied that it
was nothing infectious mamma had decided that she had better not come.
I was rather sorry than otherwise, for I by no means disliked my
lessons, and in dull weather the time was apt to hang heavily.  There
was no question of my going out for a ride, for, though not actually
raining, it looked as if it might do so any moment.

"I may as well do the flowers in the drawing-room," I said to myself.
This was one of the few things I did regularly for mamma, and I am
afraid its being regularly done was greatly owing to my _liking_ it!  I
sauntered into the conservatory, glancing round to see what flowers I
could cut without spoiling the appearance there; then through the
conservatory, I sauntered on into the drawing-room.  The housemaid, a
young girl, whom I was not at all in awe of, was giving the room its
morning cleaning.  It was _nearly_ done, but there remained the last
touches--the laying down the hearthrug and removing one or two
dust-sheets, and replacing some of the ornaments lying about--without
which, however clean a room really is, it looks, of course, messy and
disorderly.

"Oh, Eliza, why isn't the drawing-room done?"  I exclaimed.  "I want to
arrange the flowers, and I can't have you fussing about while I am doing
them.  You must leave it for a quarter of an hour."

The girl looked round regretfully.

"I'd have done in five minutes, Miss Connie," she said; "I would indeed.
I'm no later than usual, but you don't often come in here so early; and
the fire isn't lighted, and you with your cold," she added, as if that
would decide matters.

"Oh, bother my cold," I said.  "It's not chilly in here with the door
open into the conservatory.  I _must_ do the Bowers now, or I can't do
them at all, and those in the glasses are very withered."

Eliza gave in.  But as she was turning away, leaving her dustpan and
brushes behind her, she stopped short again.

"Oh, Miss Connie!" she exclaimed, "your frock's all out of the gathers
at the left side; and there's a hole in your elbow."

"I know," I said, composedly; "I caught it in the balusters--the skirt I
mean; but I didn't know about the elbow.  That's Prue's fault, but it
doesn't matter; I'll change it before luncheon;" and I set to work at my
flowers.

It was interesting work; there was a tap where you could draw cold water
in the conservatory, and a little table on which I always arranged the
flowers.  And I had no trouble in getting rid of the withered ones; I
threw them in a heap on the floor, and the gardener carried them away.
But, all the same, I made myself rather dirty; my hands were smudged
with mould, and some of it had got on to my face by the time I was half
through my task.  And as I had particular ideas about arranging the
colours, and so on, I was very deliberate in my movements.  Quite half
an hour must have passed, and I had not begun to think of calling Eliza
back to finish putting the drawing-room in order, when there came a ring
at the front-door bell.

"Who can that be?"  I thought to myself, though without much interest in
the matter.  "Some one ringing by mistake for the surgery-bell; people
are so stupid."

For rings at the front-door were comparatively rare, and really confined
to the postmen and visitors for mamma, as, besides the surgery-bell,
there is a side-door for tradespeople.

I thought no more about it, till suddenly the drawing-room door opened,
and I heard Benjamin the "boy"--Benjamin was not even a "buttons," and
he only answered the front-door bell in the morning, while Eliza was
busy "with the rooms," as housemaids say--in colloquy with some person
or persons unseen.

"Step this way, please sir," he was saying with his broadest accent, as
I ran forward, torn frock, dirty hands, smudged face and all, to see who
it could possibly be.

Oh, dear!  _How_ I wished I had not yielded to my curiosity; how I
wished I had run out by the door of the conservatory into the garden;
how I wished I had not interrupted Eliza at her work, which would by
this time have been neatly accomplished!

For there stood before me a tall, handsome man, younger-looking than
papa--very young-looking to be the father of the girl at his side--a
girl quite half a head taller than I, with grave, considerate eyes, and
a quiet, pale face.  She was dressed very simply, but with extreme
neatness; all that, I took in, in less than an instant, even while I
felt my face growing scarlet, and I seemed conscious of but one intense
wish--that the ground would open and swallow me and the drawing-room up!
Yes--the room was worse than I--I did not care so much for my own
appearance at any time, but the drawing-room--It looked so messy and
horrid--so _common_, too--"as if we only kept one servant," I said to
myself, "and could not afford to have the fire lighted early."  And to
know that it was all my own doing!

A smile flickered over the gentleman's face; he must have seen how
wretchedly awkward and ashamed I looked--my burning cheeks must have
told their own tale.  But the girl only looked at me gravely, though
very gently.  I am sure she was as sorry for me as she could be.

"I am afraid," Captain Whyte said at last--all this time I was blocking
up the doorway, remember--"that we are taking a great liberty in
disturbing Mrs Percy so very early, but--"

Here the girl interrupted.

"You are busy arranging your flowers," she said.  "_May_ we look at the
conservatory?  Perhaps, papa, Miss Percy can tell us all we want to
know?"

And before I knew where I was she had crossed the room, not seeming even
to _see_ that it was in a mess, and we were all three standing in the
conservatory, which, of course, though rather untidy, did not look
nearly so bad as the drawing-room.

"_How_ pretty your flowers are!" she went on, and one could see that she
meant it.  "Papa, do look at those begonias--but--shouldn't we introduce
ourselves first?"  And she gave a nice little kind sort of laugh.

"I know who you are," I said, as I awkwardly rubbed my hands on my apron
to clean them from the mould.  "I--I can't shake hands--but--it's all my
fault that the fire isn't lighted, and the room so messy.  Mamma will be
very vexed--she's always ready as early as this to see any one."

"We have unfortunately lost the address of the `odd man' that Dr Percy
was so good as to give us, and we find ourselves sadly in want of his
services already," said Captain Whyte.  "There are one or two other
points we should be grateful for a little advice about, too, but these
can wait."

I was beginning to recover my presence of mind a little by this time,
though with it, alas! an increased feeling of mortification.

"I will fetch mamma," I began; but Captain Whyte interrupted: "Please
don't disturb her," he said.

I felt more and more vexed.

"I believe they think she's a vulgar, fussy old thing like Agnes Gale's
aunt," I said to myself; "never fit to be seen till the afternoon."

"It won't disturb her at all," I said.  "Mamma is never very busy."

And just as I spoke I heard her voice from the drawing-room.

"Connie dear," it said, "where are you, and what's the matter with the
drawing-room?"  Oh, how glad I was that she said that!  "Benjamin said
some one wanted me;" and then catching sight of figures in the
conservatory, in mamma came.

They started a little, and no wonder that they were surprised.  Thanks
to me, they had small reason to expect much in Mrs Percy.  Never in all
my life did I feel prouder of mamma, or more grateful for her unfailing
sweet temper.  Just think--many a mother in such a case would have come
through the drawing-room scolding for finding it in such a mess; her
voice would have been heard sharp and angry before she was seen.  And
many, even sweet-tempered women, would have been upset and flurried.
Not so my dear little mother.  She came in looking so sweet, and so neat
and pretty--with just a little half-smile of amusement on her face.
"What is the matter, Connie dear?" she repeated, and then she caught
sight of the strangers.

I flew to her side.

"Mamma dear," I said--I was not often so gentle, but I was humbled for
once--"it is Captain Whyte and Miss Whyte.  It is all my fault about the
drawing-room.  I would not let Eliza finish it, because she was in the
way when I was doing the flowers."

Then mamma glanced at me, and I saw that she had to make some effort not
to look vexed at the state I myself was in.

"My dear child!" she exclaimed.  But in an instant she was shaking hands
with our visitors.

"I am so sorry," she said.

"Nay," Captain Whyte replied, "it is our place to apologise.  I only
ventured to intrude so early--"

But mamma interrupted him.

"Won't you come into the dining-room?" she said; "it will be more
comfortable."

And so it certainly was, though it was the very thing of all others I
would have hated.  I had so often mocked at the Gales for never using
their drawing-room except on great occasions, and always huddling
together in the dining-room.  But our dining-room did look nice that
morning.  It was as neat as could be, and the window was a tiny bit
open, and a bright fire burning, and on a small table in the window
stood a pretty glass with one or two late roses and a trail of ivy,
which mamma had just gathered in the garden outside.

Captain Whyte walked towards the fireplace and stood on the hearthrug,
talking to mamma.  Miss Whyte drew nearer the window, where I followed
her.

"How sweet these late roses are," she said.  "You and Mrs Percy must be
very fond of flowers."

"Yes," I said, stupidly enough.  I could see she thought me shy and
awkward, and that made me still more so.

"And what a dear garden you have," she went on, evidently anxious to set
me at my ease, "just as if I had been Agnes Gale," I thought.  "Our
garden at the Yew Trees will be very nice, but I do love those walled-in
gardens at the back of a house in a street.  I always think there's a
sort of surprise about them which makes them still nicer.  Do you do
much gardening yourself, Miss--no, won't you tell me your first name?"

"Connie," I blurted out.  A smile lighted up her grave little face.

"`Connie?'" she repeated.  "Oh, yes, I remember.  Is that the short
for--" but then she stopped abruptly, murmuring something about "Lady
Honor;" and for the first time _she_ looked a little shy.  It made me
feel pleased.

"I suppose," I said, rather disagreeably--"I suppose Lady Honor made fun
of my baby name?"

Miss Whyte looked puzzled and surprised.

"Made fun of it," she said; "of course not.  We all thought it _so_
sweet--`Sweet Content,' I mean--and what Lady Honor said has made us
look forward ever so much to knowing you.  I think it was a little
_that_," she went on, smiling again, "that made me beg papa to bring me
with him this morning."

How ashamed I felt!  It seemed as if I were to do nothing but be ashamed
this morning--and this time with more reason.  My ugly suspicions of
Lady Honor _were_ something to be ashamed of.  She had always been a
true and kind friend; and just because she did not flatter and spoil me,
I could not trust the good old lady.

"Oh," I began, "I didn't mean--I thought perhaps--"

Then I stopped short.  "My real name is Constantia," I went on
hurriedly, "not Constance.  I think Constantia prettier; don't you?"

"It is more uncommon; it's like my name.  People think mine is Eva or
Evelyn, when they hear me called--"

"Evey!" came her father's voice across the room.  We both laughed.

"Wasn't that funny?" said Evey, as she turned with a "Yes, papa."

"Wasn't there something else rather particular, that you had to ask
about, if possible, at once?" said Captain Whyte.  "Mrs Percy is so
kind."

Evey went towards my mother; a very business-like expression came over
her face.

"It's about the laundress, Mrs Percy.  Mother would be so glad to know
of one at once.  You see there are so many of us, it's an important
consideration.  Mother will be here by Tuesday, we hope, and it would be
nice for her to find it arranged, and all the things sent for the week.
It was one of the reasons she was sorry not to come at once herself--to
see about it."

"I hope it was not illness that delayed Mrs Whyte's coming," said
mamma, kindly.

"Not her own," said Captain Whyte, "but one of the boys had caught
cold--he's our delicate one--and very subject to croup.  So it was safer
to wait, and Evey and I came on with the three other small ones and one
big one, leaving Mary and Joss to help their mother with the invalid."

"I am sure I can find you a nice laundress," said mamma, on which Evey's
brow cleared.

"And not dear?" the little girl asked--for, after all, she _was_ a
little girl, barely thirteen.

Mamma could not help smiling.  Evey was so business-like.

"I think Mrs Whyte would find our laundress reason able," she said.
"Indeed, I don't think any prices about here are extortionate."

"That is one of the recommendations of Elmwood to us," said Captain
Whyte, smiling.  "But, Evey, we have really intruded on Mrs Percy too
long.  Thank you so very much for your kind help."

And he turned to go.

"I will not forget to send Mrs Green, the washerwoman, to speak to
you," said mamma, as she shook hands with Evey.

"Oh yes, thank you--this evening, please, if possible," the little girl
replied.

CHAPTER FIVE.

A LARGE FAMILY.

After they had gone, neither mamma nor I spoke for a minute or two.  I
did not quite know what to say, and I was not sorry to have some little
time to consider, while mamma quickly wrote a few words on a sheet of
paper, which she folded and addressed to Mrs Green.  Then she rang for
Benjamin, and told him to take the note at once and bring back an
answer.

"I could have taken it, mamma," I said.  "Mrs Green's is so near."

It was not often I volunteered any little service of this kind, but
somehow I had a wish to be of use to Evey Whyte, too, and I spoke in a
matter-of-fact way, as if it was quite a usual thing for me to do.

"Thank you, dear," said mamma.  "I don't think you should go out till we
see what the day is going to be.  Your cold is not quite gone yet."

"Oh, bother!"  I said, crossly.  "Mamma, I wish you would not fuss so.
I'm sure that little girl looks far more delicate than I, and she's out.
I only wish I had gone out _quite_ early, and then they wouldn't have
come in and found everything in such a mess."

"I mind the most their seeing you yourself in such a mess," said mamma,
regretfully.  "I don't think you should do the flowers if it dirties you
so."

"Oh, I _needn't_ be so dirty," I said.  "But I didn't mind that half as
much as the drawing-room;" and then I had to explain how I had
interfered with the housemaid.

"It can't be helped," mamma replied.  "They are nice, kind people, I am
sure, and the next time they come we must have things ready.  Besides,
such a large family as they are, they can't be always in apple-pie order
themselves.  Connie," she went on, "did you hear that dear child's
name?"

"Of course," I said, rather sharply.  "They call her Evey, but her
name's not `Eva,' nor `Evelyn'--she told me so, and she was just going
to tell me her real name, when Captain Whyte called to her.  I daresay
it's some name not the least like `Eva.'"

"Oh," said mamma, in a tone of disappointment, "I had hoped it was."

In my heart I was sorry for her; how gentle and kind she was!  And when
I went upstairs to wash my hands, I had even more reason to think so,
for when I looked in the glass--oh dear!--what an untidy, dirty little
girl I saw!  There was a smear of mould all down one cheek, some of
which I had rubbed on to my nose, and my hair was straggling and my
frock torn, as I have said.  "I would have scolded _my_ daughter
dreadfully if I had been mamma," I said to myself.  And I got hot and
red all over when I thought of my grand plans and pictures of my first
meeting with our new friends.

My next meeting with them, though different from this first one, was
also quite different from my fancies.  We saw the Whytes in church on
Sunday--not Mrs Whyte, she was not to come until Monday--but Captain
Whyte and Evey and a big boy--quite big, looking almost grown up, and
three small ones--dear little fellows in sailor-suits, all in a row,
between Evey and the big brother.  And they were so good!  Evey herself
was as neat as could be, and her jacket and hat were a very nice shape,
and her hair prettily done.  Altogether I began to be afraid the Whytes
were not the sort of people I could at all "show off" to--(not that I
called it "showing off" to myself).  And after church I saw Lady Honor
hurry up to them, and I _felt_ she was asking them all to go home with
her to luncheon.  So I walked on rather gloomily beside mamma.

"I don't think I want to know the Whytes," I said; "I think they're very
stuck-up."

Mamma stared at me in astonishment.

"Connie, dear?" she said, "that simple child!  And so plainly dressed,
too.  She might rather think it of you, I'm afraid."

But she glanced at me so proudly as she said it, that my self-love felt
rather smoothed down than otherwise.

"I am glad for little Miss Whyte to see that you are not _usually_ going
about in a torn frock and with a dirty face," mamma went on.  "Of
course, Mrs Whyte could not afford to dress several children as one can
dress an only one, though they certainly look very neat.  I am sure
every one must admire that jacket of yours, Connie; it is really very
pretty."

It was a new jacket, dark-brown velvet, very handsomely trimmed with
fur; rather _too_ handsome altogether, I now think, for a girl of the
age I was then.  But I had been very well pleased with it and the cap to
match, and it had struck me--though really I was _not_ vain of my looks,
nor much interested in my clothes--as I was dressing, that my fair, long
hair looked nice on the rich, dark velvet.  Now, however, I gave myself
a dissatisfied shake.

"I don't think I like it, mamma.  I would much rather have a tweed
jacket and frock the same.  I think velvet and fur are rather vulgar.
And--mamma--I wish you'd cut my hair off--I think Evey Whyte looks so
nice with her short, dark, curly hair."  I forget if I have said that
Evey's hair was almost as short as a boy's.

Mamma gasped.  "Cut off your hair, Connie!" she said.  "My Sweet
Content's great beauty!  Cut off your hair, Connie?"

I was beginning a rather cross reply, when steps behind us--short,
quick, pattering steps--made both mamma and me look round.  A little boy
in a sailor suit was running after us, and behind him again, at some
little distance, we saw Evey, also running.

"Oh, please, please stop," panted the small boy.  He was the biggest of
the three we had seen in church.  "Evey's got something to say to you,
Mrs Percy."

He tugged off his cap as he spoke, and stood smiling up at us--his
round, rosy face all in a glow.  He was a dear, sunburnt little fellow,
not the least shy, and yet not a bit forward.

"I am so sorry we did not hear you coming before," said mamma, kindly.
"You have run so far.  I hope you won't get cold from being so
overheated," she added, anxiously.

"Oh no, thank you.  I never catch cold.  It's only Addie that catches
cold," the boy replied.  He evidently thought we must know who Addie
was, and all about him or her.  And by this time Evey's voice was heard
near at hand.

"How do you do, Mrs Percy?" she said.  "I hope you didn't mind Charley
running after you?  It was Lady Honor sent him, and I've come to
explain.  She wants to know if you will let Connie--mayn't I say
`Connie'?--come to luncheon at her house with all of us?  We're _all_
going--isn't it kind?--Charley and Douglas and Tot and Papa and Lancey,
too.  Oh, do let Connie come.  I'm the only girl, and I do feel so funny
without Mary."

She was so bright and eager it would have been difficult to refuse.  My
contradictory humour melted away before her heartiness, and I smiled
back in answer to the unspoken inquiry in mamma's face.

"Certainly, my dear; I shall be delighted for Connie to go.  Please
thank Lady Honor very much.  Shall I send for her in the afternoon?"

"Oh, please, we can bring her home.  We aren't going to church, because
we're not very settled yet, and the servants couldn't go this morning,
so we shall be going home by ourselves and passing your house before
four o'clock.  Connie won't spoil her things," she added considerately,
glancing at my smart attire, "for we shan't be romping, as it is
Sunday."

"Oh, I'm not afraid.  Connie is not a great frock-tearer," said mamma,
smiling, though she spoke quickly.  I think she was afraid that my
appearance the other day was still in Evey's memory.  "Then good-bye,
Connie, till four o'clock.  And good-bye, Master Charley, and many
thanks.  Thank you, too, Miss Whyte, very much."

Then we separated.  Mamma continuing her way home, quite happy in my
happiness, while I retraced my steps with Evey and her brother.  Evey
glanced over her shoulder at mamma.

"You don't mind Mrs Percy going home alone, I hope?" she said, half
anxiously.

It had never struck me that there was anything to mind!

"Oh, of course not," I said.

Evey looked a little sorry, but walked on.

"I didn't mean--" she began.  "At least, I only meant--" then her face
cleared.  She evidently thought she had hit upon an explanation of my
indifference.  "I see," she said; "it must be quite different when one
is an only child.  Your mother _must_ be alone, sometimes; it isn't like
ours.  You see there are such a lot of us; she would feel quite
miserable if there weren't some of us with her.  At least, she says so,"
and Evey laughed merrily.

"Perhaps," I said, half mischievously, "she says it a _little_ out of
politeness.  I think grown-up people all do like to be alone
_sometimes_."

We both laughed at this, and then the remains of shyness that had hung
about seemed quite to disappear.  But I did not forget Evey's gentle
anxiety about mamma.

We soon came up to the others, who were all walking on slowly together--
such a party they looked!  Captain Whyte and old Mr Bickersteth in
front, then Lady Honor and the big boy, Lancey, and the two smaller
sailor-suits, Tot and Douglas, as Evey had called them, now joined by
Charley, bringing up the rear.

"What a lot of you there must be when you are all together," I
exclaimed, not very politely, I am afraid, to Evey.  She smiled, as if
she thought it rather a compliment.

"Yes," she said--we were walking rather more slowly now to get back our
breath, as Lady Honor had nodded back to us to show it was all
right--"yes, eight are a good many, and somehow, so many being boys,
makes it seem even more--in the house above all.  Boys can't help being
noisy, you see."

She said it in such an old-fashioned way that I couldn't help smiling.

"I don't know much about boys," I said.  "I think I'd rather have
sisters."

"Oh, no, you wouldn't," replied Evey quickly.  "You don't _know_ how
nice brothers are.  When you see Joss--" but here she had to break off.
Lady Honor had stepped back a pace or two to speak to us.  Her face
looked very kind and pleased, and there was nothing the least "mocking,"
as I called it to myself, in her tone.

"That's right, Connie, my dear," she said, as she shook hands with me.
"Very good of your dear mother to let you come.  Now, is it your place
or mine, Evey, to introduce all these brothers of yours to Miss Percy,
or shall we let things settle themselves?  You _will_ learn them all in
time, Connie, though it may seem at first as if you never would."

In Evey's place I should probably have been rather offended at this,
but, on the contrary, both she and her brothers seemed to think the old
lady's joke very amusing.

"I'll introduce them by telling Connie all their names and ages, thank
you, Lady Honor," she answered brightly.  "Come on, Connie; it will take
some time, I warn you."  We ran on a little way together, Lady Honor
looking quite pleased.  It was easy to see that she really wanted Evey
and me to be friends, and I felt gratified at this.

"It will be nice for Evey sometimes to get out of all that crowd of
boys," I thought to myself.  "I daresay Lady Honor thinks being with me
may make her quiet and refined," though, truth to tell, for all her
simplicity, I had seen no touch of anything the least rough or hoydenish
in my new friend.

"Lady Honor is always so funny, isn't she?" was Evey's first remark, as
soon as we were out of hearing.  "Papa says it's delightful to see an
old person so fresh and merry.  But she has such a kind heart: that
keeps people young more than anything," she added, in her wise way.

"Yes," I agreed, "she is very kind; but sometimes she's rather"--"rather
sharp," I was going to say, but something in Evey's eyes made me
hesitate--"I mean I sometimes am a very little frightened of her."

"You needn't be," said Evey, composedly.  "If you had ever stayed in the
house with her for weeks together as we do at my uncle's at Christmas,
you would see that she's just _quite_ good."

I could not say anything more after that, and Evey evidently wanted to
change the subject.

"Shall I tell you _us_, now?" she began again, laughingly.  "That big
Lancey is the eldest of us--he's sixteen, and, of course, his name's
Lancelot.  Then comes Joss--he's Jocelyn--those two names and mine are
very--what's the word--not `fanciful,' but something like that."

"Fantastic," I suggested.

"Yes, that's it.  How clever of you to know!" she said, admiringly.  "At
least they sound so, though really the boys' names are both family
ones."

"But yours," I interrupted, "isn't a very fanciful one--`Eva' or
`Evelyn'--oh, no; you said it wasn't one of these.  I forgot."

"It's Yvonne," said Evey.  "It's a French name--a very old French name.
A cousin of mother's was called Yvonne first, and I'm named after her.
Then, after these three names, we get quite sensible.  Next to me is
Mary, `plain Mary' we call her in fun, because she's the prettiest of
us!  And then come Addie and Charley and Douglas and Tot.  Addie's the
delicate one, and Charley and the two little ones you've seen."

"What a lot of boys!"  I said, my breath nearly taken away.

"Yes," said Evey, laughing; "and fancy, now they'll all be living at
home.  Won't it be nice?  Till now, you know, Lancey and Joss have been
at school away, but now they'll all be at home; at least till Lancey
goes to India," and for the first time Evey sighed a little at this
doleful prospect.

"Dear me," I thought to myself, "surely they'll be glad to get rid of a
few of them.  I should think their mother would, any way."

But, as if she answered my thought, Evey went on: "Mother can't bear to
think of Lancey going; nor Joss either, and I suppose he'll have to go,
too.  We have an uncle there who is a tea-planter; they're going to him.
Joss would give anything not to--he wants to go to college, but of
course it's _impossible_, so we never speak about it."

"And doesn't Lancey mind?"  I said.

"Not so much, except just for leaving us.  But it's no good thinking of
things long before they come.  We've settled that we're going to be as
happy as anything at the Yew Trees for two years at least.  Oh, how nice
it is, and _how_ kind your father has been about putting it in order.
We've never had a house at all like it before; our house at Southsea was
so--just like other houses you know."

I felt more on my own ground, now.

"I am so pleased you like the Yew Trees," I said, amiably.  "It is a
nice old house, and it _might_ be made quite perfect.  If we ever went
to live in it ourselves, I daresay we should change it a good deal--but
I don't think we ever shall.  When papa retires, and I hope he will
before I'm grown up, mamma and I want to travel a good deal, and perhaps
to live in London.  One gets tired of a little country-place."

Yvonne looked at me quite simply.

"Do you think so?" she said.  "I feel as if we should never get tired of
Elmwood.  And the people all seem so kind.  London seems so very big,
but then, of course, I haven't been _very_ much there."

My conscience pricked me.

"Well, I haven't, either," I said; "but still--" I had really only been
there once, and for one week!

"We always stay with mother's godmother for a month every summer in
London, Mary and I, and mother comes for the last fortnight.  Mother's
godmother is very kind, and we have very good music lessons--she gives
us them--she is Lady Honor's sister.  But we _are_ always so glad to
come home again."

I could not understand her, but I thought it wiser to say no more about
London and its attractions.  Nor was I sorry when Evey suddenly changed
the conversation by exclaiming:

"Oh, Connie, I have _so_ wanted to thank you about the rose paper.  Lady
Honor told us.  You can't think how lovely it looks--you must come and
see.  Father says I may have pink ribbons to tie up the curtains, and
_perhaps_ pink on the dressing-table--we shall fix when mother comes.  I
think we could trim the table ourselves.  Perhaps you could help us,
Connie?  Are you clever at things like that?"

"I don't know," I said.  "I don't think I ever tried.  The servants
always do up the dressing-tables, I suppose."

"Oh, yes, of course, you have more servants, and they haven't so much to
do as ours.  But you know, Connie, we're really very poor indeed, so we
_have_ to do things ourselves, especially if we want any extra things--
pretty things.  I daresay you can't understand how careful we have to
be.  But we're very happy all the same."

"I suppose people get accustomed to things," I said.  "I don't think I
should like to be poor at all.  You see I've always had everything I
wanted.  But I should like very much to help you if ever I could."

I meant to be gracious, I am afraid I was only patronising.  Vague
thoughts of presents to Evey and the others out of my lavish
pocket-money were in my mind; fortunately, I did not express them, and
Evey, in the dignity of her simplicity, took my offer of "help" quite
differently.

"I think very likely you could give me some ideas about the
dressing-table," she said consideringly.  "I'm sure you have good
taste--because of that lovely paper."

And just then we found ourselves at Mr Bickersteth's gate.

CHAPTER SIX.

NEW IDEAS.

That luncheon and afternoon, or part of an afternoon, at Lady Honor's
were very nice, and yet rather strange to me.  I had so seldom been
among several young people that I scarcely felt at home; and the Whytes
in themselves were unlike any children I had ever known.  They were not
the least shy, far less so, really, than I was.  I remember getting very
hot and red when I knocked over a glass of water, and Evey, who was
sitting next me, made me feel still worse by her open and outspoken
fears that I would spoil my frock.  She thought it was that that I was
so distressed about.

"I don't care a bit about my frock," I said to her quite crossly.  "If
it is spoilt, I can get another.  It is only that I hate to look so
awkward."

"Everybody does awkward things sometimes.  If you don't mind about your
frock, I don't see that a little spilt water matters much," said Evey,
looking at me in her straightforward way.  "Lady Honor isn't vexed, are
you, Lady Honor?" she said loud out, turning to the old lady.

"Of course not, there's no harm done.  Don't look at me as if I were Red
Riding Hood's grandmother, my dear child," she said in her funny way,
meaning to be kind to me, of course; and Evey meant to be kind too, but
I suppose it was that I didn't know Lady Honor as well as they did; and
still more, I daresay, it was from my habit of thinking about myself so
much, and fancying other people were noticing me, when very likely they
weren't, that I felt so horrid.

I forgot about it, however, after luncheon, when we all went out into
the garden.  Yvonne was so kind.  She felt a little, I think, as if I
were her visitor, and she just did everything she possibly could to make
me enjoy myself; and the boys were all very nice, too.  I could not have
believed that boys could be so nice, for I had always had rather a
horror of them.  I said so to Evey; she seemed pleased at my liking her
brothers, but amused, too, at my ideas about boys.

"You must see us when we are all together," she said.  "Fancy, besides
Mary, two more boys!  Though Addie is scarcely like a boy, he's the
delicate one, you know.  But he is _so_ brave.  I think it's almost more
brave of _him_ to be brave than if he were strong and big, don't you?"

"Yes," I said.  "It's what is called moral courage, isn't it?"

"It's that, and the other too," Evey replied.  "Or perhaps he's able to
make himself brave the other way by having moral courage.  I suppose
it's that; anyway I do _love_ Addie.  Oh, Connie, you wouldn't think
that way about boys if you had brothers."

"Not if they were like yours," I said; "but I have seen some brothers
that weren't at all nice to their sisters."

"Then I'm sure it was the sisters' fault; anyway, a good deal their
fault," Evey returned promptly.  "I'm just the opposite of you, for, do
you know, I have often longed to be a boy, and so has Mary.  If we had
all been boys, it would have been easier for father and mother.  I
almost think they'd have gone to the Colonies."

"How _horrible_," I said.  "I am sure you should be glad you and Mary
aren't boys, just to have stopped that."

But Yvonne was not to be convinced.

"No," she said.  "I think it would be delightful--all going together,
you know; and perhaps we may, some day, after all.  It would be much
better than staying in England, and the boys by themselves all over the
world, and father and mother looking anxious; and you know," she added,
"even Mary and I _mightn't_ be able to stay at home.  We, might have to
work somehow, too."

"Do you mean to be governesses?"  I asked, in a very appalled tone of
voice.  But Evey's reply appalled me still more.

"Perhaps, or, if not governesses, teachers of some kind, if we were good
at teaching.  But there are lots of other things for girls now.  Father
often talks about them.  We might have some sort of business.  Something
like a big upholsterer's, perhaps.  That would be nice, for the boys
might be in it too.  And Joss could design things, he _is_ so clever;
and Lancey could keep the books.  Lancey's very good at figures.  It
would be almost as nice as going to the Colonies."

I stared at her.

"Evey," I said, "you are joking."

But a glance at her face showed me she was quite in earnest.

"No, indeed," she said.  "If people are poor they must work.  Indeed,
rich people often work hard too, though in a different way.  What's
there to be ashamed of?"

"But a _shop_," I said, with extreme disgust--"That's not for ladies and
gentlemen."

"I don't see why, if they're poor and could get on that way.  Of course,
if the boys and we two were all together in it, you may be sure Mary and
I would be given the nicest part of the work," she said, smiling.  "And
if we could earn enough to make father and mother _quite_ comfortable
when they get old, really not to have any bother at all and not to need
to think about money, why, what _would_ we care what we did?  We'd be--"
here Evey stopped to find a sufficiently strong expression--"we'd be
_chimney-sweeps_."

This was rather a relief to my feelings.  "She knows they couldn't be
chimney-sweeps," I thought to myself, "so very likely she's joking about
a shop too."

And I was still more satisfied when, a moment or two after, Yvonne
added: "Of course, it's all castles in the air.  I daresay," and she
sighed, "we shall never be able to do anything much, any of us--not even
for father and mother.  _They_ say the best thing we can all do for them
is each to be good in his or her own way.  But one can't help sometimes
wishing to do something big--oh, what heaps of nice things one could do
for people if one were rich!  We often plan them together--for father
and mother first, you know."

"Yes, I suppose it would be nice to be rich," I replied; "but I've never
thought much about it,"--"Still, I don't think going to the Colonies or
keeping a shop would be `something big,'" I was on the point of saying,
when Evey interrupted me.

"No," she said earnestly; "it's not being rich, it's the things one
would do.  There's all the difference;" and perhaps it was as well I had
not finished my sentence.

This conversation was not the part of the afternoon I enjoyed the most,
nor did it take very long.  I have told it because it helps to show
Yvonne Whyte's way of looking at things, and the difference between her
and me.  I enjoyed much more talking about Evey's room, and how it was
to be dressed up in pink and white, and also the making plans for
meeting often, and discussing the lawn-tennis ground at the Yew Trees
with Lancey.  It was not a very good one and had been neglected, but
Captain Whyte and Lancey had great ideas about it, and Captain Whyte
thanked me very nicely, though he smiled a little, when I said rather
pompously that I was sure they could have our garden-roller and the
under-gardener to help, when the time came for attending to it.

Just before it was time to go, Lady Honor called us all in to sing a
hymn.  It was to please Mr Bickersteth, who was too feeble to go to
church again.  It was a long time since he had heard his young friends'
voices, he said, looking at Yvonne and her brother, and their hymn
should be his vespers to-day.  And when I heard them I was not surprised
at his wanting them to sing.  Their voices were _so_ nice, and, to my
surprise, Evey played the accompaniment on Mr Bickersteth's chamber
organ quite beautifully.

I was very fond of music, so I really enjoyed it, and for once forgot
that I was not the centre of it all.

"_How_ nice!"  I exclaimed heartily, when it was over.  And Lady Honor
smiled at me when I said this, in her very kindest way; for no one who
does not know Lady Honor pretty well can fancy how kind her smiles
_sometimes_ are.  "How have you learnt to play the organ so beautifully?
It takes a lot of time, doesn't it?"  I said to Evey.

"Yes," said Lady Honor, replying for her.  "But I have always found in
my life, my dear Connie, that it is the people who have the most to do
who do the most.  Think that over--you'll find it's not an Irish bull,
though it sounds like one."

I was not so pleased at this speech.

"She is thinking that I don't do much, I can see," I began fancying.
But Evey broke in upon my disagreeable thoughts.

"I don't think it's any credit to me that I can play the organ a little,
truly," she said.  "I've had such good lessons every year in London,
where we never really have anything to do except things like that.  And
at Southsea I was always allowed to practise on the church organ.  We
have a harmonium of our own," she went on to me.  "It's very nice, but
of course not as nice as this dear organ," and she touched the keys
lovingly.  Mr Bickersteth's organ was a very nice one indeed.

And, a few minutes after that, we went home.  The Whytes, all six of
them, escorted me all the way, as Lady Honor's is not far from our
house, and I showed them the short cut across the fields to the Yew
Trees through a turnstile close to us.  It was very kind of them all the
same, for they had to hurry a good deal after that to get home in time
to send the servants to church.

I found mamma by herself in the study.  We don't use the drawing-room on
Sunday.

"Well, darling?" she said.  I knew that meant a tender inquiry as to how
I had enjoyed myself, but a rather contradictory mood had come over me.

"It was very nice," I said.  "But, they're not a bit like what I thought
they would be, mamma.  You know--when we heard they were so poor--"

"But they _are_ poor," she replied, "and I'm sure they are not--they
would not set themselves up in any disagreeable way.  They seem so
well-bred."

"Ye-es," I said.  "They're--oh I think they are just everything they
should be, whether they're poor or not.  They're _much_ cleverer than
me, mamma.  They've learnt so many things I haven't, and seen so much
more--they go to London _every_ year--and--"

My depressed, discontented tone must have hurt and troubled mamma, for
she answered indignantly:

"It is very wrong and unkind of them--of that girl," she said, "to boast
and show off to you, darling.  You are too sensitive.  I am quite sure
they are not cleverer than my Connie, and as for looks--You shall not
see any more of them, dear.  It would be quite new indeed for my Sweet
Content to be made discontented.  I am disappointed in Evey Whyte.  I
was sure she was so nice."

There was a hot, red spot on each of poor mamma's cheeks; this state of
things was not at all what I had bargained for.  I had only wanted to
work off my own dissatisfaction, which was partly jealousy, but partly
too, I hope, a less unworthy feeling, by grumbling and by trying to put
blame on those who had had the care of me.  I was punished.

"Oh no, no, mamma dear," I said eagerly.  "Evey's _not_ like that.
She's not the least _atom_ boasting; it was more--things I noticed and
asked about, myself.  It's not only that she's clever--you should hear
how she can play the organ; but I daresay you'd let me learn it too, if
I liked--it's--it's partly, mamma, that I can feel she's so much more
useful, and--and unselfish than I am.  I can see it quite well; she does
such a lot to help her mother and them all."

And, greatly to mamma's surprise and distress, I leaned my head down on
her lap and burst into tears.

How she consoled and petted me!  How she assured me I was _everything_
to her; the very light of her eyes; her comfort, her blessing--that she
could not wish me any different from what I was, and ever so much more
in the same strain.  It was very sweet, and to a certain extent
soothing, but in the end it only deepened the impression.  For it made
me feel how utterly unselfish and self-forgetting mamma was, above all
wherever I was concerned, and it made me feel, too, how little I
deserved such devotion.  Then the thought of her cruel trials came over
me as it had never done before--how often I had grudged my sympathy to
her?  Even if she were almost weakly and foolishly indulgent to me, she
was scarcely to be blamed.  Instead of taking advantage of it and
treating her fondness with something very like contempt, as I had often
done, would not the right way be to try my best to be more worthy of it?
I don't know what put the thought into my head just then.  I had a
queer feeling that if I had been talking it all over with Yvonne, it was
what _she_ would have said, for it had struck me once or twice that in
her way of speaking to and of mamma there had been a special sort of
tenderness, almost reverence, as if she had heard her sad story, and I
remembered the anxious, half-reproachful way she had glanced at me when
I seemed so indifferent about mamma's walking home alone.  Yes; I felt
and knew that the sudden thought was one Evey would have approved of,
and I grew calmer.  I wiped my eyes and kissed mamma as I had seldom
done before: a new kind of strength seemed to come into me, and I
resolved that from that moment I would care for her in quite a new way.

"Mamma dear," I whispered, "you are too good to me.  But I will try to
be better.  Only will you please let me be more useful to you?  I am
sure," I added, and if this was a _very_ little cunning, I don't think
it was in a naughty way--"I am sure I should be far happier if I felt I
were of use."

And of course mamma promised.  What would she not have promised me!  I
think she told over this conversation to papa, and if any lingering
feeling of indignation against Evey had still been in her mind, I am
sure what he said must have removed it.  For the next morning they were
both full of plans for my being a great deal with the Whytes, and of
little kindnesses we might do to them, without, as papa said, seeming
officious or--he hesitated for a word.

"Patronising," mamma suggested.  He smiled at this.

"My dear," he said, "_that_ we could not possibly be accused of towards
the Whytes.  You scarcely realise--"

But there he stopped.  I felt a little ashamed when I recalled one or
two of my speeches to Evey.

"Papa has always such _perfectly_ nice feelings," I thought; and as I
glanced at his kind, quiet face I said to myself that I might indeed be
proud of him.  And when he kissed me that morning before he went out, I
felt something in his kiss that seemed to say he understood me and my
new resolutions, better even than mamma did.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

A TRIO OF FRIENDS.

One of the hardest things about trying to be good, particularly about
trying to be _better_, for that means getting out of bad ways as well as
getting into good ones, is the dreadful persistence of bad habits.  Even
when your heart is quite, _quite_ in earnest, and your mind too, and
often at the very time you're planning beautifully about keeping your
new resolutions, and quite bubbling over with eagerness about them, you
get a sudden shock, just as if you had walked straight into a bath of
cold water that you didn't know was there--and oh, dear, you stop to
find you have done the exact wrong or foolish thing you had been fixing
so to avoid.

How many times this happened to me about the new resolutions I wrote of
in the last chapter I should be afraid to say.  Sometimes it was almost
laughable.  One morning I remember I was busy writing down one or two
rules I had thought might help me, when I heard mamma's voice calling
me.

"Bother," I said to myself in my old way, "I shall never remember about
the third rule, if I leave it just now."

And I went on calmly writing, just calling to mamma, "Yes, yes, I'll
come directly;" and so absorbed was I, that when, a full quarter of an
hour afterwards, I happened to glance out of the window, and saw mamma
hot and out of breath from a chase after my new Persian kitten, who had
escaped through the conservatory and might _very_ easily have got lost
or stolen, or even killed, it never struck me that I might have saved
her this trouble.  Trouble on my account, too!

"What _is_ the matter, mamma?"  I exclaimed as I ran out, half crossly,
for I could not bear to see her so tired and breathless.  "How you do
fuss--why didn't you make the servants fetch Persica in?"

"My dear," said mamma, as gently as if I had any right to find fault
with her, "you know she won't come to any one but you or me; and I did
call you."

How ashamed I felt!  I tore up the rules, and called them nasty things
in my own mind, which was exceedingly silly.  Afterwards, when I had had
more talk with Yvonne, and Mary, I made some others.  Not half such
grand ones.  Only very, very simple ones, which I almost despised on
that account; but they were useful to me, by showing me that, simple as
they were, it was no easy matter to keep them, even for a few hours at a
time.

You see I had been selfish all my life.  I had never even _thought_ of
its being wrong.  Once I did begin to think about it, I was perfectly
startled and horrified to find how wide-spreading and deep-rooted my
selfishness was.  I should often have lost heart altogether had it not
been for my new friends.  Not that they ever "preached" to me or to
anybody, it was just the seeing and _feeling_ how different they were,
from what a different point of view they looked at everything, that made
me understand better where I was wrong, and take courage to go on
trying.  And now and then nice things happened to make me feel I was
getting on a little; some of these I will tell you about, though I have
also to tell you of some rather dreadful things that showed how very
naughty and horrid--oh!  I get hot still when I think of one of these--I
still was.

It was not only selfishness I had to fight against I was exceedingly,
absurdly, really _vulgarly_ self-conceited and stuck-up.  I don't think
Evey and Mary really ever knew the worst of me; for one thing, I began
to _try_ almost from the first of knowing them; for another, just as an
honest person cannot believe, and never suspects another of dishonesty
till he is actually _forced_ to do so, the dear Whytes were too sincere
and simple and single-minded to understand or take in my ridiculous
vanity and affectations.

But I must tell about my first visit to the Yew Trees--I mean my first
visit to its new inhabitants.  It was two or three days after the Sunday
at Lady Honor's.  I was fidgeting dreadfully to see Evey again, and I
think one of my first real "tries" at not being selfish was doing my
best not to tease mamma about when we should go, and worrying her all
day long to fix the exact day and hour.

It was not a very hard "try" certainly, for it was only on Wednesday
morning that papa told us at breakfast that he had met Captain Whyte the
evening before, and had been told by him that Mrs Whyte and the other
children had arrived that morning.

"He said," papa went on, "that Mrs Whyte would be very pleased to see
you, Rose; and when you go to call on her, you are to be sure to take
Connie."

"When should we go, do you think?" asked mamma.

"Not to-day--they will hardly be settled enough to see us."

"I don't know that," papa replied.  "Captain Whyte said _any_ time; the
sooner the better.  Mrs Whyte may have little things to ask you about;
and I fancy they are very methodical, sensible people, who will soon get
into order."

"They all help so; they're so useful," I could not help saying with a
little sigh.

"Well, dear," said mamma, with an encouraging glance, "other little
daughters are useful, too.  You should have seen how beautifully Connie
dusted and rearranged the bookshelves for me yesterday, Tom," she went
on to papa, for which he gave me one of his nicest smiles.

And it was settled that mamma and I should go that very afternoon.

I felt a very little nervous about seeing Mrs Whyte.  Somehow the
mother of such very well brought up children, and a person, too, whom
Lady Honor evidently approved of so thoroughly, must, it seemed to me,
be rather alarming; and I am not sure but that dear mamma was a very
little nervous too.

"We won't stay long, Connie," she said, as we drew near the Yew Trees.
"Very likely they are still busy, though they don't mind us.  I have
been thinking we might ask Evey and her sister to spend an afternoon
with you--to-morrow perhaps, or the day after."

"Yes," I said.  "I should like that.  If their mother can spare them,
and if all their time isn't settled out for lessons, and sewing, and
taking care of the little ones, like dreadfully good girls in
story-books.  I'm afraid they're a _little_ that way, mamma--very, very
regular and punctual, and their mother rather severe and particular.
I'll tell you what I'm sure she's like, mamma.  Very tall, much taller
than you,"--and mamma is not little--"and black hair, quite straightly
done, and rather small eyes, and a prim way of speaking."

Mamma began to laugh.

"Hush, Connie," she said, "you mustn't upset my gravity.  Once I begin
laughing,"--poor mamma, it wasn't very often she was really merry,
though she tried to seem so for other people's sake--"I can't leave
off."

We were close to the house by this time, though the thick-growing shrubs
hid the lower part of it from view, and as mamma spoke, sounds of
ringing laughter--the most ringing, happy, _pretty_ laughter I ever
heard--reached our ears; and then voices.

"Joss, Evey, come to my rescue; catch him, the great, silly boy.  No,
no, Lancey--" and then as we came right in front, we saw what it was.  A
lady, a rather little lady, with dark hair--nice, wavy dark-brown hair,
like what Evey's would have been if it hadn't been so short--and the
brightest, sweetest, dark-eyed, rather gipsy-looking face, was running
at full speed across the little lawn before the door, with Lancey, the
biggest boy of all, you know, after her.  She was waving something
white, a roll of paper, above her head, which Lancey was evidently
determined to get possession of, and behind him, in every direction it
seemed at the first glance, were all the rest of the young Whytes--the
three sailor-suits, two girls, Evey and a fair-haired one, and two or
three more boys.  Such a lot they looked!  All rushing about, shouting
and laughing at the top of their voices.  Suddenly somebody--Evey, I
think--caught sight of us.  There came an instant hush.

"Oh dear," were the first words the lady uttered, as she hastened up to
us.  "I am so ashamed.  You must think me out of my mind, Mrs Percy--it
is Mrs Percy?" with a quick bright glance of questioning.  "How good of
you to come!  We have been hoping you would.  And this is Connie?  I am
so pleased to see you, dear."

How charming she was.  Not exactly pretty, but so bright and sweet and
irresistible--prettier than Evey and not as grave, but yet quite like
enough to be her mother.

"You must think me a terrible tomboy," she said, laughing again, and
blushing a very little.  "But we are in such spirits.  It's so long
since we've been all together like this, for the big boys only came from
school last week, and--"

"Mother _is_ rather a tomboy," said Lancelot, coolly.  "I think Mrs
Percy had best understand the truth from the first, and then she will
never be shocked at our goings on."

"You impertinent boy," said his mother, laughing up at him.  He was a
great deal taller than she.  "You shouldn't waste your time in writing
verses, instead of doing your lessons, should he, Mrs Percy?"

This hint silenced Lancey effectually.  And soon all the children
dispersed, and Mrs Whyte took mamma away into the house.  Only Yvonne
and the fair-haired girl, who, I knew, must of course be Mary, stayed
with me.  I had not yet spoken--I had felt so completely bewildered by
the contrast between the real Mrs Whyte and the fancy picture I had
been drawing of her just the moment before, that no words came to my
lips.

Yvonne thought that I was feeling shy, I suppose, and to put me at my
ease she drew forward her sister.

"This is `plain Mary,' Connie," she said.  "I see I must introduce you
formally.  Doesn't she suit her name?" she added, and I could hear in
her tone how proud she was of Mary.

No wonder.  Mary was _so_ pretty.  She was very, very fair--and she
seemed even fairer beside her rather gipsy-like mother and sister.  But
she had dark eyes, much darker than mine; I am not speaking of myself
out of conceit, truly, but because I know that fair hair and dark eyes
are thought pretty, as mamma has often praised mine, and Mary's hair is
fairer and her eyes darker than mine, and she has a very sweet
expression, what is called an "appealing" expression, I think.  She
stood there glancing up at Evey in a little timid way, as if accustomed
to be protected and directed by her, that I did think so sweet.  I had
not one atom of jealousy--I am so glad I hadn't--in my thoughts as I
looked at her, even though there was a _sort_ of likeness between her
and me that might have made me feel jealous of her being so much
prettier.  But then, this particular kind of envy has not been my
temptation; so it wasn't any goodness in me not to feel it.  I just
stood looking at Mary with a real nice pleasure in her sweetness.  And
she looked at me with a shy smile in her eyes, and Yvonne looked at us
both for a moment in silence.  Then she gave a sort of jump and clapped
her hands.

"Connie," she said, "I knew there was something that made me feel sure
I'd love you at once.  Do you know you and Mary are really rather like
each other?  I wonder if the others have seen it?"

I felt myself get rosy with pleasure.

"Are we really?"  I said.  "I am so glad."

And sweet Mary grew red too, when I said that.  "I'm very glad you're
glad," she said, shyly.  "Of course _I_ would like to be like you."

And I think that afternoon sealed our friendship.  How happy we were!
We explored all the garden together, making plans for all sorts of nice
things, out-of-door teas, games of hide-and-seek, gardening and
flower-shows (I will tell you about our flower-shows some other time--
they were such fun), when the summer came; then we went into the house
and explored it too, spending most of our time in the girls' room, the
room with the rose paper, where the two little white beds were standing
side by side and everything as neat as could be, though to my eyes,
accustomed to much more luxury, it looked rather bare.  But Evey was
full of her plans for dressing up the toilet-table and adorning the
windows with blinds and ribbons to match.

"I've been waiting for you to come to talk about it with us," she said.
"Connie has such good taste," she went on to Mary; "you know she chose
this paper."

And though I had always fancied and had even, I fear, been rather proud
of saying that I hated needlework, I found myself undertaking a share in
it all, quite cheerfully.

"You'll join our poor work, won't you, Connie?" said Evey; "unless, of
course, you've got a club of your own already."

And when I stared, she went on to explain that, busy as they were,
busier still as their mother was, they all gave a certain amount of time
regularly every week to sewing for the poor.

"You wouldn't believe how much one can do if one keeps to it," said
Evey.  "And you know things that are neatly made are so much more good
to poor people than what one can buy.  Once we had quite a proper club,
and twice a year we had a shop--it was such fun.  Mother says it is best
to let them buy the things when they can, though we always gave away
_some_.  I wonder if we can have a club here."

"There is a sort of one I think," I said.  "Anna Gale and her aunt
manage it.  But I'm sure it is stupidly done.  They are so dull and
stupid about everything."

Evey glanced up quickly.

"Mother is so clever about things like that," she said.  "Perhaps
something might be done about it.  I daresay she would talk about it to
Miss Gale.  There are a good many new ideas about such things now, and
perhaps--perhaps it is a little old-fashioned here, and mother might
improve it.  I think Anna Gale must be a very good girl."

"Oh, yes," I said contemptuously; "she's _good_ enough."  Again Evey's
quick little glance.  I didn't quite like it.

"Evey," I said, "you needn't look at me that way.  I know it's wrong to
say unkind things of people, but when any one _is_ very dull and stupid,
you can't say they're interesting and clever."

"I don't think you needed to say anything.  I wasn't asking you about
what the Gales were," said Evey, in her rather blunt way.  "I don't mean
to be rude or laying down the law, Connie, only--"

"Mother says," Mary interrupted in her shy way--"mother says it is
always so very easy to find fault and to see the worst of people.  It
takes much more cleverness trying to see the best of them."

I had begun to feel rather angry, but Mary's words made me think a
little.

"Well," I said, "I daresay that's true.  But, I don't like Anna Gale, I
suppose, and I daresay I've never tried to.  Do you think that's wrong?
You can't like everybody the same."

"No," said Evey, "not the same.  That's just the difference.  But
there's _something_ to like in nearly everybody.  And I think we should
try to see that part of them most.  But, _of course_, you don't need to
like everybody the same; that would do away with friends and friendship.
One thing I do like you for, Connie, is that you're frank and honest."

I smiled.

"Well, then, try to think most of that part of me," I said, repeating
her own words.  "No, I'd like you to see the bad parts of me too, and
help me to be better."

Evey opened wide her bright brown eyes, and for once she got a little
red.

"My dear Connie," she said, "I'm far too full of bad things myself to be
able to make any one else better," and I saw she quite meant it.

A nice little thing happened that afternoon as we were leaving, which
was great encouragement to me.  It had grown rather chilly, and at the
door I was helping mamma on with some extra wraps we had brought.

"You mustn't catch cold, mamma dear," I said.

We thought we were alone, but just then Evey ran out again with some
forgotten message to mamma, and as they two were speaking I heard voices
just behind the inner door.

"I like to see how gentle and tender Connie Percy is to her mother," one
said--it was Mrs Whyte's.  "I might have been sure any girl Lady Honor
liked would be _that_."

Where were all my unworthy fears that Lady Honor had spoken "against me"
to the Whytes?

CHAPTER EIGHT.

FOUND WANTING.

That winter and spring and summer, and the winter that followed them
too, were, happy as my life had been in many ways, the happiest I had
ever known.  I was not, of course, constantly with the Whytes, for we
had our lessons separately, and they had a great many other things to do
beside lessons, things which it had never entered my head that a little
girl could help in, though, once I made a start, I found that this had
been quite a mistake.

I have marked down a few special days to write about--for looking back
upon your life after a few years you can see what were the really
important things that happened, the events which were the first links in
a chain that led to lasting effects--little and trifling as these events
may have seemed at the time.

Yvonne's birthday was in November.  Not a very nice month for a
birthday, one might think.  But, as I have said before, November in our
part of the world is often very nice.  _Some_ days in it are sure to be
so, and of course we made up our minds that _the_ day could not but be
one of the nicest.

"I have always been sorry my birthday was in November," said Evey one
afternoon, a week or two before the important date, "but Connie has
almost made me change my mind."

"I think it rather suits you," I said.  "You wouldn't seem in your place
on a very hot, lazy, full-summer day, when one _can't_ be active and
energetic and useful: the sort of day when you feel you _may_ be idle
and of no use for once," and I gave a little sigh.  They all laughed.

"Poor Connie," said Mary, "Evey has bullied you out of your nice
comfortable lazy ways rather too much, hasn't she?  Well, I'll tell you
what, when your birthday comes you shall stay in bed and we'll all come
and pay you a visit."

They were paying me a visit that day.  We were at tea in my schoolroom:
I was making the tea--pouring it out I mean--and mamma, who had come in
to see how we were getting on, was sitting knitting in the window, where
Evey had just carried her a cup.  Two of the boys were with us; Addie,
whom they always tried to get any treat for, as he was kept out of so
many boys' pleasures; and Charley, the next in age to him.  Lancelot and
Jocelyn did not often honour us with their society; they were working
very hard now, at their particular studies.

Mamma looked up at this speech of Mary's, and said quickly:

"I am sure that way of spending her birthday would not be at all to
Connie's taste.  She has _never_ been lazy, though of course in a large
family there are a great many things to do that it would be absurd to
spend time over where there is only one child and plenty of servants."

I felt a little vexed.  Mamma need not have started up in my defence,
and _I_ knew that even if I had never been actually lazy, I had, before
I began to think about such things, been often very, very _idle_.  I
could tell by mamma's tone that she was annoyed, though she spoke as
usual quite gently.  I could see, too, that Yvonne and Mary felt it, but
then they were so simple and downright that they never took things in a
hurt, _self_ sort of way.  Mary's face shadowed over a little--she was
just sorry to have vexed mamma, and ready to blame herself.

"Oh, dear Mrs Percy," she exclaimed, "_please_ don't think I was in
earnest.  It would have been very unkind and--impertinent.  Do you know
we often say Connie is the most active of us all, and it's all the more
credit to her, for she doesn't _need_ to be, like us.  You couldn't
fancy one of us ever able to sit with our hands before us doing
nothing--up at the Yew Trees.  Now could you?"

And she broke into a merry sweet little laugh, for, indeed, the idea of
any one at the Yew Trees indulging in much _dolce far niente_, was
rather comical.  They had only two servants, and the odd man, for all
there was to do, and yet everything was nice and comfortably done, and
there was never any "fussing," which _is_ so disagreeable.

The laugh made Mary's peace.

"It is all right, my dear," said mamma, kindly.  "I daresay I take up
things mistakenly sometimes," she added.  "You must forgive me; I fear I
lost some of my capacity for fun long ago."

She spoke in the rather touching way she sometimes, but rarely, did,
when one could see she was thinking of that sad long ago time.  Yvonne
and Mary glanced at each other, and then at her half wistfully.  They
knew the story, of course, and even if mamma had been cross and
disagreeable, I don't believe they would ever have found it in their
hearts to blame her.  Still, there was no doubt mamma had never taken to
Mary in the same way as to Evey.  It was partly, I think, because of the
name, "Evey" I mean, which mamma loved so; and partly--now I _hope_ it
is not wrong or disrespectful of me to say this--that Mary was like me,
only _much_ prettier, and I am afraid poor little darling mamma was a
tiny atom jealous _for_ me.

However, it was all smoothed down now about Mary's little speech, and
the boys' talk soon took away any feeling of constraint.

"The worst of a birthday so near Christmas," said Charley, thoughtfully,
"is that it muddles the presents.  Either you feel as if you'd got too
much, or else people give you less than if Christmas wasn't coming, and
that isn't fair."

"It doesn't matter so much now we've made a new rule," said Addie.  "We
all give birthday presents to each other, but at Christmas we only give
them to father and mother, and they give to us.  It's a good plan."

"Yes," said Mary, "there are so many of us, you see, that the lots of
Christmas presents were really dreadful."

You might think from this that the Whytes were very rich--but if you had
seen the simple presents they gave each other!  Yet they weren't silly
or rubbishing, though as often as not home-made, and if not home-made,
useful and practical--like gloves or neckties--the kind of presents _I_,
I am afraid, would rather have despised.  I once heard a rather spoilt
little girl call such things "at any rate presents," meaning that she
would have got them _any way_.  But new gloves and so on were too rare
among my nine friends for them to be looked on in this way.

"Mother made another rule," said Charley, who was rather a chatterbox,
"at least it wasn't a settled rule--it was one we might keep or not and
nobody need know--it was about birthdays, for everybody on their
birthday to promise themselves that they'd do something kind to
somebody--I mean something _extra_, you know, like Addie writing a long
letter to old nurse, which is rather a bore.  But he did it."

Addie grew red.

"And," pursued the irrepressible Charley.  "I _think_ I know what Evey's
fixed for her private birthday treat, that's what we call it.  I
couldn't help hearing, Evey--your door was wide open when you were
telling Mary.  She's going to ask An--"

"Charley, _hush_," cried Evey, for once almost cross.  "If you couldn't
help hearing, you could help telling it over.  And I hadn't settled--I
haven't yet."

"If it's anything about Anna Gale, I just hope you haven't settled," I
said, _very_ crossly.  "At least I hope you won't go and do anything
that will spoil your birthday for other people."

Yvonne did not answer, but Mary began talking rather eagerly about a new
game we were going to try, and for the time I forgot about Anna Gale.

I was very anxious and important about _my_ present to Evey.  I had
plenty of pocket-money, and I would have loved to give Evey something
_very_ nice.  But mamma--I rather think it was papa who put it into her
head to say so to me--told me that she did not think it would do to give
Yvonne anything very expensive.  It might rather annoy the Whytes
instead of pleasing them.  I felt very disappointed at first, till mamma
reminded me that if my real wish was to give pleasure to Evey, I should
not risk mingling anything uncomfortable with it.

"That would be selfish," she said, "pleasing yourself instead of her,"
and I saw that that was true.

Indeed, everything in this world that is worth anything seems mixed up
with self-denial!  The longer one lives the more one sees this--I
suppose it is _meant_ to be so.

There did seem rather more self-denial than need have been about Evey's
birthday.  I don't think so _now_; it was my own fault that things went
wrong.  If I had been different about it, lots of going wrong would have
been avoided, but I must tell it all straight on as well as I can, and
as nearly as it happened.

Two or three days before the birthday, Evey came to me looking rather
grave.

"Connie," she said, "I've something to tell you which I'm afraid will
vex you rather.  It's about my birthday.  You remember what Charley said
the other day?"

"About doing something nice for other people on your birthday," I said.
"Oh, you needn't tell me anything more, Evey.  I know what it is--you're
going to ask that horrid Anna Gale; well, I must say, I don't see that
you've any right to spoil _other_ people's pleasure, whatever you choose
to do about your own.  That is a queer sort of self-sacrifice."

Yvonne looked very distressed, I had never seen her bright face so
troubled before.

"Connie," she said, "you do make me feel so unhappy, and rather puzzled.
I wonder if really I have been selfish when I was so wanting to be
unselfish.  But it can't be helped now.  I'm not _going_ to ask Anna,
because I _have_ asked her."

Poor Evey; she got red and blurted it out.  I think she was a little
afraid of me.  I was very angry, and I fear something mean in me made me
get still more so when I saw that she was frightened.

"Upon my word," I said, "you're a queer sort of friend.  If it _had_ to
be done, you might at least have told me about it, and given me the
chance of being self-denying too--it wouldn't have seemed _quite_ so bad
then.  But to be forced into joining in a horrid thing and not to get
any credit for it, I don't think _that's_ fair.  I won't come to your
birthday, Evey, that'll be the best way out of it; and if you do care
for me as you make out, that'll be a little more self-denial, as you're
so fond of it."

Evey looked on the point of crying, and she very seldom cried.

"Oh, Connie," she said, "you _can't_ be in earnest."

But that was all.

I only saw her once again before the birthday, and that was after church
on Sunday, when Mary came running after mamma and me--we were walking
home rather quickly--to say that Evey had sent her to remind me not on
any account to be later than three o'clock on Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday was _the_ day.

"Certainly, dear," mamma replied, as I hesitated a little, "Connie will
be in good time.  If it is a wet day she must have a fly, for our pony--
the one we drive--has got a cold, unluckily."

"But it's not going to be a rainy day," said Mary, brightly.  "It's
going to be lovely.  So if it's fine, Connie, do walk, and we'll meet
you.  I hope the field path won't be too muddy with the rain last week."

And off she flew again, before I had time to say anything.  But mamma
looked at me inquiringly.

"Is there anything the matter, darling?" she said, anxiously.  I had not
told her about Anna--I was ashamed of myself in my heart.

"_Everything's_ the matter," I said, shaking myself, crossly.  And then
I told her.  Mamma was sorry for me, and sorry about the thing itself.

"I do think Evey might have--" she began, but then she stopped.  Her
conscience would not let her say more.  It was so very clear a case of
right and wrong, of selfishness and unselfishness.  For she knew, and I
knew, that it was not often the Whytes could afford, any sort of
"treat"--they lived very simply and plainly, and the cakes for the
birthday were thought of a long time before.  They were glad to ask Anna
to an entertainment which would really please her and her friends, much
more than being invited to tea with them quite in an every-day way.

"Dear Connie," mamma went on, "you must try to be self-denying too.
After all, I daresay Anna won't interfere much with your amusement."

"Yes she will," I said, kicking the pebbles on the road; "she'll quite
spoil it.  And then she'll go telling everybody--all Miss Parker's girls
that she's such friends with--about having been at the Yew Trees for
Evey's birthday.  It'll make it seem so _common_."

"You can any way go early," said mamma, "and be there with your friends
before she comes.  Then you can give your present by yourself.  I don't
suppose Anna will have a present, so it is better on all accounts for
you to give yours alone."

This smoothed me down a little.  Then the interest of the present itself
was very great--it was a very pretty little silver brooch, made of the
letters "C" and "Y" twisted together, and in those days monogram
brooches were not yet common.  It had been made to order of course, and
though it looked simple, it had really cost a good deal.  Still there
was nothing about it to make the Whytes feel as if it were too handsome.
By Tuesday morning, especially when the day proved clear and fine--one
of our very sweetest November days--I had pretty well recovered my good
temper, and was prepared to make myself agreeable.  But I had not really
struggled against my selfishness--I had just got tired of being cross,
and let my ill-humour drop off--so I was not at all in a firm state of
mind for resisting any new trial.

And the trial came.

It came that very morning about twelve o'clock, and it was brought by
the "boy" from the Vicarage, in the shape of a note to mamma, from Miss
Gale, senior--that is Anna's aunt--asking if her niece might call for me
on her way to the Yew Trees that afternoon, and walk there with me, as
it was not convenient to send a maid with her.  There was no question of
its being much of a favour on my side.  Old Miss Gale, as I called her,
seemed quite comfortably assured that it would be a pleasant arrangement
for all parties.  I was with mamma when the note came; I saw there was
something wrong, and I insisted upon her telling me what it was.  I
listened in silence.  Then I broke out: "I _won't_ go with her; I say I
_won't_" I exclaimed loudly.  "You may just write and say so, mamma."

But at that moment papa put his head in at the door.  I had not known
that he was in the house.

"What is all this?" he said, and his face and his voice were as I had
never seen them before.  Mamma explained, as gently as she could, of
course, and so as to throw the least possible blame on me.

"It is rather trying for Connie, you see, Tom," she finished up.

"And does Connie expect never to be tried?" he answered, sternly.  "Why
are you to be exempt from the common lot?" he went on, turning to me.
"Where is your principle, your boasted superiority--yes, child, you may
not exactly say so in words, but you _do_ think yourself superior to
others," he went on, seeing that I was about to interrupt him--"if at
the very first little contradiction you are to lose your temper, and
forget yourself so shamefully?  You have no right to feel it a
contradiction even--it is only proper and natural that Anna should
sometimes share your pleasures."

"Then I won't go," I said sulkily; "I will stay at home Anna may have
the Whytes all to herself."

Papa looked at me.  It was like the waiting for the thunderclap one
knows must come.

"If you do not go, and, what is more, behave like a lady, I shall tell
the reason in plain words to Captain and Mrs Whyte, and leave them to
judge if you are a fitting associate for their children."

I said nothing more.  I knew I must give in.  I had met with my master!
Mamma was nearly crying by this time, but I was not the least sorry for
her, I was only angry.  I turned and left the room, saying as I did so,
in a cool, hard voice, that I hardly recognised as my own:

"Very well.  I will be ready in time."

CHAPTER NINE.

THE STRANGE OLD WOMAN.

It was a good thing for Anna's own comfort that afternoon that she was
not of a very observant nature, otherwise she would certainly not have
found me either a pleasant or courteous companion.  I was obliged to
obey papa, and I dared not be positively rude to her, but beyond this I
was determined not to go; the very feeling of having been forced to give
in made me the more bitter and the more inclined to resent my grievances
on her, the innocent cause of them.  But Anna had never been accustomed
to overmuch civility from me; even as quite little children I had
treated her as if it did not matter _how_ she was treated.  And she only
smiled placidly at my vagaries, and doubtless said to herself that "poor
little Connie was very spoilt."

We had seen each other very rarely of late, and then generally with the
Whytes, so I don't think it struck Anna as at all strange that I walked
on beside her in grim silence, scarcely even condescending to notice her
few amiable commonplace remarks.  Poor child! her head was always full
of home cares; I think it must have been a treat to her even to walk
along quietly without a lot of "little ones" tugging at her skirt.

"It _is_ a nice day," she observed for about the fifth time.  "The boys
have gone to Belton Woods.  I hope aunt won't let Prissy go with them,
however; she is sure to catch cold if they stay late.  November evenings
are so chilly."

"I should think you'd be rather glad for some of them to catch cold
sometimes," I said.  "It must be a blessing to have a few quiet in bed."

Anna stared at me, then a smile broke over her rather dull face.

"How funny you are, Connie!" she said.  "No, I think they're quite as
noisy in bed as anywhere else, except when they're really very ill, and
that, of course, is no laughing matter.  But they're all well just now,
and really to-day is like September: it _is_ a nice day."

"Yes," I agreed.  "It's one of our nicest autumn days.  If--if only some
things were different," I added to myself.

We were by this time in the lane, which, after crossing the fields, was
the nearest way to the Yew Trees.  This lane ran into the high road too,
so any one coming to the Whytes' _had_ to go some way along it.  Just as
I spoke--we had climbed over a stile into the lane--I saw coming towards
us, as if going to the Yew Trees from the road, a very curious figure.
It was that of a small old woman.  She seemed a little lame, yet she
walked pretty fast.  But I did not like her look at all; indeed, as she
came nearer and I saw that her face was almost hidden by a lace veil of
a very heavy pattern, and that she had a wig of very black and shiny
curls, falling on each side of her cheeks, I felt almost frightened, I
scarcely knew why.  She had a long cloak of rusty black silk, and a
queer brown fur "pelerine"--I think that is the old-fashioned name for
such things.  And she seemed to have sprung up so suddenly, that I
almost felt as if I was _fancying_ her.  For the first time that
afternoon I turned to Anna with a sort of friendliness.

"Anna," I said, "do look.  Who can that queer woman be?"

"A tramp," Anna began to say.  We were used to tramps of all kinds, but
still this description hardly suited the person now closely approaching
us.  A thought crossed my mind--could it be one of the Whyte boys
dressed up to frighten us?  But no; they never played such tricks.

"It must be one of those tiresome old things from the Marley
almshouses," I said.  Marley was a village about five miles off.  "I
know how they pester papa.  He is far too good to them.  Very likely she
thinks the Whytes are new-comers, and that she'll get something out of
them."

And no longer frightened, but rather disgusted, I prepared to walk on,
when suddenly a sharp, almost imperious, voice bade me stop.

"Please to tell me if this is the way to the Yew Trees," it said.  "The
Yew Trees--a cottage where Captain Whyte has come to live.  Don't you
hear me, child--can't you speak?"  For I had been at first too startled
to answer; and then, as I took in the meaning of the old woman's words,
I grew angry.  What right had she to call the Yew Trees--mamma's own old
house, which would be _my_ house some day--"a cottage"?  And what
business had she to speak to me so sharply--"child," indeed--a dirty old
tramp, or, worse, a cheat, a begging-letter impostor, or something of
that kind, to speak to _me_ so?  For she was addressing me and not Anna,
who was a little behind me.

"I don't see that I am obliged to answer every beggar in the road who
may happen to speak to me," I said, very rudely, I must confess.  For
queer as she was, the old woman was plainly not a common beggar.

She came closer.

"Beggar," she repeated, "beggar indeed!"  Then she gave a horrid mocking
little laugh.  But suddenly she controlled herself again.  "Be so good
as to tell me where Captain Whyte's cottage is."

"It isn't a cottage.  It's a large house," I said.  "I should know,
considering it's mine, or as good as mine."

She started a little, then eyed me curiously.

"Oh!" she exclaimed.  "I might have guessed it.  Then you are one of the
Whyte children; let me see--not the eldest?"

"No; I'm not the eldest.  But I don't see what business it is of yours
who I am.  Let me go,"--for she had laid her hand--it was covered with
an old black kid glove much too large for her--on my sleeve; "let me
go," I said, as I felt her holding me more firmly.  "You may save
yourself the trouble of going on to the Yew Trees.  Captain Whyte and
Mrs Whyte wouldn't speak to you."

"Indeed," she said with a sneer, "I can quite believe it, to judge by
their daughter's pretty manners to a poor tired old woman.  I could not
have believed it of--He was proud, but you are insolent, I can tell you.
It's as well, perhaps, but I wish I hadn't met you, with your fair hair
and pretty eyes, just like--Have they never taught you to show respect
to age, young lady?  I suppose you think yourself a lady?"

"_You_ are insolent," I said, stamping my foot in fury.

"How dare you--get away you dirty old tramp, or I'll send for the
police."

But at that moment, while the old woman positively glared at me through
her veil, Anna, who had not yet spoken, came close and whispered
something in my ear, "I daresay she's insane," Anna said; "you know
there's an asylum at Wichthorpe.  She may have escaped.  You should
never provoke mad people, Connie."

And she turned to the stranger, and spoke to her gently.  "I think you
would get any information you want in Elmwood better than here," she
said.  "Captain and Mrs Whyte have not been here so very long.  And--
and I think they're rather busy to-day."

The old woman turned to her.  She looked at Anna for a moment or two
without speaking.

"Thank you," she said.  "I have changed my mind; I have no wish to pay
the Whyte family a visit.  I--I think I've had enough of them.  And who
are you, pray?" she went on.  "You have a civil tongue in your head at
least."

"I'm--my father's the Vicar of Elmwood," said Anna, very frightened, but
not daring not to reply.  "He's Mr Gale--if you want anything, I
daresay he could help you.  You could ask for the Vicarage."

"No, thank you; but I'm obliged.  Yes, I'm obliged to you," said the
queer creature.  Then she turned and walked rapidly back the way she had
come.  We lost sight of her, of course, when she turned into the road;
but a moment or two afterwards we heard wheels, and looking right on to
the end of the lane, we saw a fly drive rapidly past.  We looked at each
other.

"Dear me," said Anna, "it's just as if the fly had been waiting for
her."

"Nonsense," I said roughly; "an old beggar like that."

"I don't think she was exactly a beggar," said Anna.  Nor did I, at the
bottom of my heart.

"Then she was mad, as you said yourself," I rejoined.  "But listen,
Anna; don't tell them about her at the Yew Trees.  I don't want Yvonne's
birthday spoilt any more.  Do you hear, Anna?--you're not to tell."

Anna hesitated.  "I don't see that it would spoil the birthday," she
said; "and perhaps--"

"It would spoil it to _me_," I said, "if you care about that.  Of course
you'd tell them I was rude to the old woman, and they'd be all down upon
me.  I don't deny I was rude; I've been too vexed by other things to be
in a good temper."

"I'm so sorry," said Anna, her kind heart at once touched.  "No, I won't
say anything about it then.  The only thing was--are you sure it isn't
anything that matters?  Suppose she really had some message for Captain
or Mrs Whyte?"

"We didn't stop her going on if she had.  At least I only told her they
wouldn't be bothered with her, and you said they were busy to-day.  That
wouldn't have stopped her if it was anything real."

"N-no, I suppose not," said Anna.  She was very slow at seeing things,
and I could generally overrule her, in the first place, any way.  So,
though she was plainly not quite satisfied, she gave in.

I felt a little conscience-stricken myself, to own the truth.  I knew I
had behaved inexcusably to the strange old woman, and the consciousness
of this made me gentler and more conciliatory, so to speak, than I might
otherwise have been.  So the birthday party went off peacefully, and on
the whole, pleasantly, though somehow not as merrily and cheerily as was
usual with the Whytes' simple festivities.  Evey was very pleased with
the monogram brooch, so pleased that I could afford not to feel jealous
when she warmly thanked Anna for her present of a neat and well-made,
but extraordinarily ugly, toilet-pincushion.  And I was able heartily to
admire the other presents, all from her own family, and mostly of home
manufacture.

"Evey's _best_ present hasn't come yet," said Mary.  "It's a post late
somehow."

"It's sure to come this evening," said Evey, hopefully.

"Papa's going to walk in to the post-office to see; you know we don't
get afternoon letters unless we send for them.  And there's sure to be a
letter too; indeed, that's almost what we care most for."

"But what is the present?"  I asked curiously.  "Whom is it from?  And
is it always the same thing?  And why do you care so for a stupid
letter?"

Yvonne hesitated.  She and Mary looked at each other.

"I am sure you may tell Connie," said innocent Mary.

"Well," said Evey, "I can tell part any way.  The present, that we call
my best present," she went on, "comes from my godmother, papa's aunt.
It isn't always the same, but it's always something very nice and
useful.  Last year it was two muffs and four pairs of gloves, for me to
do what I liked with; so of course I gave one muff and two pairs of
gloves--we take the same size, you know--to Mary.  And this year we were
half hoping it _might_ be jackets."

"What stupid presents," I said.  "I don't care a bit for _clothes_
presents."

"But then you're different; things are quite different for you, Connie,"
said Evey.

"I know," I replied, with self-satisfaction.  "But if it was jackets,
Evey, they couldn't come by post."

It was before the days of parcel-post.

"No, but the letter telling of them would be coming.  And it _mightn't_
be jackets."

"Why do you care so for the letter?"  I asked.

"Oh, because it pleases papa and mamma so.  Papa hasn't seen her for
ever so long, though she almost brought him up--but--there were things--
I don't think I can tell you any more," she broke off, and of course I
could not ask any more questions after that.  But I had a vaguely uneasy
and anxious feeling, especially a little later in the evening, when
Captain Whyte returned, dispirited and tired.

"It's beginning to rain," he said.  "Evey dear, your birthday is not
ending as brightly as it began; however--"

"There was no letter?" said Mrs Whyte.

He shook his head.

"It may come to-morrow morning still," he replied.  But I saw that they
all seemed disappointed.

Anna Gale and I went home as we had come, with the addition of Peters,
our old gardener, as escort.  It had left off raining again, and there
was some faint moonlight struggling through the clouds.  Mamma had meant
to send the brougham, but papa had been suddenly summoned to a distance,
and as the evening was fine after all, she thought we might walk, by the
road of course.  As we got to the end of the lane, the scene of that
afternoon came back to our minds.  I did not want to think of it, but
Anna would speak about it.

"I _wonder_," she said--fancy Anna "wondering" about anything--"I really
_wonder_ who she was."

"Oh, rubbish," I said.  "Who could she be but some old lunatic?"

"Well," said Anna, "if she were, it isn't very nice to think of."

I faced round upon her.

"Now, Anna, you're not to go talking about it, for I know it would sound
as if I had been horrid to her, and perhaps I was; I don't pretend to be
an angel.  But I don't want any fuss--do you hear, Anna?"

"Yes," she said, "of course I hear you, Connie."

"Well, then, will you promise?"

"I'll promise not to speak about it if I can help it," she said; and
with that I had to be content.

I don't quite know why I was so anxious that no one should hear of our
adventure.  I was not, after all, so _very_ ashamed of my behaviour to
the old woman; not as ashamed as I should have been.  But I had an
uncomfortable, uneasy feeling--I just wanted to forget all about it.

I did not see Yvonne and Mary for some days after that; the next morning
was showery, though it cleared up between times.  But after that, the
rain set in, and we had a week or two of almost constant downpour, which
interfered very much with our usual ways.  They came to spend an
afternoon with me at last.  Mamma arranged that the carriage should both
fetch them and take them back, for the roads were really sopping, though
the rain overhead was less incessant.  We were very glad to be together
again.  Evey wore my little brooch; it reminded me of her birthday.

"Oh, by-the-by," I said to her, "did your jackets, or whatever it was,
come the next day?"

A cloud came over their bright faces.

"No," said Evey, "nothing came--and no letter.  We were very
disappointed."

"Perhaps something will come at Christmas instead," said Mary,
hopefully.

"You greedy little thing," I said, thoughtlessly.  "I wonder you care,
especially if it was something to wear."

"You--you don't quite understand, Connie," said Mary, her eyes filling
with tears; "there was no letter, and father and mother mind _that_."

"Letters are often lost in the post.  Why don't you write to the old
lady,"--what was it that gave me a queer thrill as I said the
words?--"and ask if there is anything the matter?"  I said, meaning in a
clumsy way to suggest some comfort.

"We can't," said Yvonne, in a low voice.

But they explained no more, and I was not sorry.  I did not want to
spoil our afternoon by disagreeable subjects.

Christmas came.  The day after, there was a large gathering at Lady
Honor's, as there had been the year before.  Captain and Mrs Whyte
would not leave their own home on Christmas-day itself, as they did not
like to separate from any of the little ones; but Mr Bickersteth was
not satisfied without a Christmas party, so it was arranged to have it
on the 26th.  A good many Whytes came; all, down to the three youngest,
I think.  Papa and mamma and I were of the party too.  Mr and Miss
Gale, Anna and her two brothers from school, and two or three people
staying with Lady Honor.  It was a very nice party, and everything was
done to make it so; but somehow it was not quite so merry as it should
have been.  Mrs Whyte, who was generally the life of everything, looked
tired, and owned to a headache for once; Captain Whyte was very silent,
and the boys and girls were rather subdued.

In the course of the evening, during some of the games, I happened to be
standing near Lady Honor and Captain Whyte, and I could not avoid
hearing what they said.

"Did you know, Frank," asked Lady Honor, "that Hugo is expected back
next week?"

He started.

"No, indeed," he said.  "I had no idea of it."

"I only heard it this morning," she went on, "in a letter from--" I did
not catch the name.  "He is not well--coming on sick leave, straight
to--your aunt's."

Captain Whyte looked grave.  Still there was a touch of something not
altogether regret in his voice as he answered:

"I am very sorry, very--but, oh, I should be glad to see him again; and,
selfishly speaking, just now--" he hesitated and glanced round.  At that
moment I was called for in the game, and I ran off and heard no more.

"I wonder who `Hugo' is," I thought, "and if his aunt is the Whytes'
jacket-aunt too."

CHAPTER TEN.

THE LOOK ON PAPA'S FACE.

A week or two after, papa came in one day just as mamma and I were
finishing luncheon, looking rather grave.

"I am very sorry for the Yew Trees people," he said; "I've been there
this morning to see Addie.  I'm afraid he's in for bronchitis, poor
little chap, and troubles never come singly.  Captain Whyte has heard
that a favourite cousin of his--a Major Hugo Whyte, who has just come
home from India--is very ill.  He says he is like a brother to him, and
he's very cut up."

"Is he going to see his cousin?" mamma asked.

"N-no; there seem other difficulties, family complications.  He was
going to tell me more, but we were interrupted.  Lady Honor sent for
Captain Whyte in a hurry.  I hope there's nothing wrong there.  I don't
know what's coming to everybody."  Papa, usually so cheerful, looked
rather depressed.  "The Whytes have some money bothers, too, I fear."

"Evey and Mary haven't got any new winter jackets," I said.  "They're
still wearing their tweed ones, with knitted vests underneath.  The old
lady can't have sent them any Christmas present."

Papa glanced at me in surprise.

"What old lady?  You seem to know a great deal about our neighbours'
affairs, Miss Connie."

"No," I said.  "I don't know much.  Only it's an old lady who's Evey's
godmother, and she generally sends her birthday presents, and she didn't
this year."

Papa looked grave.

"I wonder," he said, consideringly, "if that is what's wrong.  Whyte has
an aunt, I know, who almost brought him up.  I have heard Lady Honor
speak of her as very eccentric.  Perhaps--but I mustn't gossip about my
friends' concerns," he added more lightly, "though truly, in this case,
it is real interest in them that makes me do so."

"I am sure no one could ever accuse _you_ of gossiping, Tom," said
mamma, in the funny little way she had of bristling up in papa's or my
defence.

"No one has done so, my dear, except my own self.  _Qui s'excuse,
s'accuse_, you know."

And whistling in a boyish way, as he sometimes did, papa started off on
his hard day's work again, stopping to give me a kiss on my forehead as
he passed me.

I have always remembered that morning, because of what came afterwards:
it was _so_ miserable.

It was about three o'clock only; I was still at my lessons with my
governess in the schoolroom.  I had no idea of seeing papa again till
perhaps late in the evening, for he was very busy just then; there was
so much illness about.  Still I was not exactly startled when I heard
his voice in the hall, calling me.  He did sometimes look in for a
moment as he was passing, now and then, to give some directions at the
surgery, or to fetch a book for himself, if he were going to drive far.

"Connie," I heard, "Connie, I want you at once."

"Run, Connie," said Miss Wade, my governess, for I was delaying a moment
to finish a line; a bad habit of mine was want of prompt obedience; "run
at once, Dr Percy has no time to spare."

She spoke rather sharply, and I got up.

"Yes, papa," I said as I opened the door, rather affecting
deliberateness till out of Miss Wade's sight (I have told you that I had
been "going back" lately in several ways.) "Yes, papa, I am here."

I moved quickly once I got into the hall.  Papa was standing there,
booted and spurred--how nice and big and manly he looked!--for he had
been riding.  But his face had a strange expression; he looked stern and
yet upset.  Under his rather sunburnt bronzed complexion, I could see an
unusual flush of excitement.

"Is anything the matter?"  I asked, startled, I scarcely knew why.
"Addie Whyte isn't worse?"

"No, no, nothing like that.  But I want you at once, Connie,"--he had
begun to speak rather impatiently, but his tone softened as he saw that
I looked frightened.  "You needn't look so terrified, my dear.  It is
nothing--only--only a little misapprehension which you will be able to
set right at once.  I want you to come with me to Lady Honor's.  I have
ordered the carriage; it will be round in an instant.  Run and put your
things on, something warm; it is very cold."

"But papa," I began, "won't you tell--"

"No, my dear, I can't explain.  You will see for yourself that it is
better not I will tell Miss Wade that you cannot have any more lessons
this afternoon, and I have already told mamma that I want you.  Be
quick, dear."

In five minutes I was seated beside papa in the brougham.  He drew the
soft, warm fur rug over me tenderly, and put his arm round me.

"Why are you trembling so, Connie?" he said.  "You have done nothing
wrong--what are you so frightened about?"

"I--I don't know, papa," I said, which was true.  "It seems so strange."

But this was not the whole truth.  I _had_ a queer, vague misgiving that
the mystery had to do with the Whytes and their family affairs, though
my mind was not collected enough to go into it properly.

"You will understand it directly," said papa.  "Ridiculous--"--he gave a
strange little laugh--"as if my Connie--so open too--"

But somehow this did not reassure me.

When we got to Lady Honor's, we were shown into the library.  There was
no one there, but in a moment or two old Mr Bickersteth hobbled in.  He
nodded to papa; afterwards I found, that he and papa had met already
that afternoon.  Papa had looked in to speak to Lady Honor about some
poor _protege_ of hers, and she had taken the opportunity of telling him
of the Whytes' troubles.  Old Mr Bickersteth spoke kindly to me--even
more kindly than usual--almost as though he were a little sorry for me.

I fancy I did look rather white and startled.

"Connie is a little frightened," said papa.  "I told you I should say
nothing to her, so that Lady Honor or Captain Whyte can question her
themselves straight away.  I should like to lose no time, if you please,
Mr Bickersteth; I am extremely busy."

"Of course, of course, very sorry to detain you," said the old
gentleman.  "Just a little mistake, no doubt.  You have taken it up too
seriously, my dear Percy."

But papa shook his head, though he smiled a little, too.

"Shall we go to the drawing-room?" he said; on which Mr Bickersteth
opened the door and led the way, talking, as we crossed the hall, in a
cheery, ordinary manner; no doubt to make it seem as if nothing were the
matter.

A servant was standing close by.  He threw open the drawing-room door,
and papa, half slipping his arm through mine, led me in.  There were
several people in the room, and I shook hands all round, though scarcely
knowing with whom.  Then by degrees I disentangled them; there were not
so many after all, and all well known to me.  Captain and Mrs Whyte and
Mary--not Yvonne Lady Honor, of course, and Anna Gale and her father.
Anna was very pale, and I could see she had been crying.  Mary came up
close to me and stood beside me.  I think she took hold of my hand.

"Now, Connie," said my father, "I want to ask you something.  It has
been stated--it is believed by some of our friends here--but of course
the moment you deny it, it will be all right--that some little time ago
you met in the lane that leads to the Yew Trees an old lady, a stranger,
who asked you the way.  And that you, instead of replying courteously
and civilly as one should _always_ do to a stranger, above all to an
_old_ person, answered her rudely, and went on to speak to her with
something very like absolute insult.  That you called her an old beggar,
a tramp--I know not what;" here Anna Gale began sobbing audibly.  Papa
took no notice, but went on coolly.  "Furthermore, that you bound down
your companion not to tell of this, and that though it was at least a
rather curious incident--strangers are not so common at Elmwood as all
that--you have all these weeks concealed it and kept silence about it
from _some_ motive.  Your companion supposes you knew you had done
wrong, and that your conscience made you silent.  Now, I shall be
pleased if you will look up and say that the accusation is entirely
unfounded; either that it is some strange mistake--or--or--no, _I_ can't
accuse other people's daughters of anything worse than making a
mistake."

He glanced round the room, a proud, half-defiant smile on his face.  I
seemed obliged by some fascination to keep my eyes on him till his gaze
fell on me.  And I think I was very pale, but while he spoke I don't
think my expression had changed or faltered.  _Now_, however, when he
looked at me again, I felt as if his eyes were stabbing me; still I
looked up.

"Yes, papa," I said; "it is all quite true.  I spoke even worse than
that.  I made Anna promise not to tell, and I have never told myself,
because I knew I had behaved disgracefully.  But--but--I thought she was
some kind of a tramp--there are plenty of tramps about here."  I stopped
for a second.  "No," I went on, something seemed _pushing_ at me to tell
the whole truth, "no, I didn't think she was a tramp when she came
close.  I thought she was from the almshouses.  But she called me
`child,' and--and I was cross already, and I didn't think she was a
lady, and--yes, I said it all, worse than you know even.  And I didn't
want any one ever to know."

Papa stood looking at me, but he did not speak.  He seemed turned to
stone.  I could not bear it.

"Oh, papa!"  I cried, stretching out my hands to him, "don't--don't
look--"

But he did not move.  Only two arms were thrown round me and clasped me
tight.  It was Mary.

"You should forgive her," she called out in a voice that was almost
fierce.  "You _should_--everybody.  She has told it all now bravely, and
she didn't mean it.  She didn't know it was our aunt."

"Your aunt?"  I gasped.

"Yes," said Captain Whyte, coming forward and speaking very gently.  "My
aunt, Connie.  You did not know it, but I fear you have injured us
irreparably, my poor child.  She took you for Mary; she was coming to
see us, as a surprise on Evey's birthday--and now nothing will make her
believe it was _not_ Mary.  You allowed her to think so."

"Yes; I suppose I did.  I couldn't explain," I replied; "but she would
believe--she _must_--if you told her."

He shook his head.

"You cannot understand," he said, quietly.

I don't clearly remember what happened after this.  I think Lady Honor
spoke to me, not unkindly, but with a very troubled look.  I remember
Anna going on sobbing till I turned to her.

"What are you crying for?"  I said.  "Nobody is vexed with you."

"I should have told sooner," she wept.

"Yes, I suppose you should.  But it was my fault, not yours.  Why can't
you be satisfied that it's I--only I--to blame?  Everybody thinks me as
bad as I can be, but _you_ needn't go on.  Did your father ever look at
you as papa did at me?"

I was growing desperate.  Papa had walked out of the room without
speaking to me.  I did not know any one heard what I said to Anna till I
felt some one's arm passed round me.  It was Mrs Whyte.  Her pretty,
merry face was quite changed, the bright, gipsy look quite gone, but the
kind, true brown eyes--Evey's eyes--were kind and true still.

"Don't speak like that, Connie dear," she said.  "I am far more sorry
for you than for ourselves.  I will come and see you to-morrow.  I wish
I could go home with you now but poor Addie is so ill;" and I saw the
tears glistening.

Then I found myself in the hall, and in another moment in the carriage
again--alone!  I heard Captain Whyte speak to the coachman.

"Take Miss Percy home, and then drive back to Todholes as fast as you
can," he said.  "Dr Percy will be there."

I would have liked to say I could walk, and that the carriage might go
after papa at once, but I was too stupified.  I think if all the village
children had turned out and hooted after me as I drove along I should
not have been surprised.  I had only one thought--however wicked and
horrid other people thought me, _mamma_ would still love me.  But for
all that I hardly felt as if I could have kept my senses.

Perhaps I had better explain here how it had all happened and why,
naughty as I had been, what was after all in itself but a trifling
matter was considered so very seriously.

The old lady I had insulted was Mrs Fetherston, Captain Whyte's own
aunt.  She had been many years a childless widow, was very rich and very
peculiar.  She was rich partly through her husband, partly because the
Whytes' family place was hers, left her by her father, for the property
was not entailed.  She had another nephew, Major Hugo Whyte, who as well
as Captain Whyte had been partly brought up by her.  But Captain Whyte
had always been her favourite, and though he himself was younger than
Major Whyte, his father had been older than Hugo Whyte's father, so Mrs
Fetherston made him her heir.  There was no jealousy between the two
cousins; they loved each other dearly.  Major Whyte went into the army
while Captain Whyte was still at school, and he was out in India when a
quarrel occurred between the old lady and her favourite nephew.  She
wanted him to give up his profession, the navy, and live at home with
her, doing nothing; she also, I _think_, wanted him to marry some girl
he did not care for.  He would not consent to either, and he would marry
Mrs Whyte!  So Mrs Fetherston disinherited him and put his cousin in
his place.  At first, he did not much care; he was very happy in his own
home, and his aunt still continued his allowance.  It was not a very
large one, and as time went on and so many children came, it began to
seem a very small one.  At last he was forced to retire on half-pay.  He
had a little money of his very own, and Mrs Whyte had a little, and
Major Whyte helped them as much as he could, though he was not, at
present, rich himself.  He also was always trying to soften his aunt to
them; she had no real cause for disliking Mrs Whyte, who was very
well-born indeed, only not rich.  It was in consequence of one of Hugo
Whyte's letters that the queer old lady at last determined to see her
nephew's family for herself, and to pay them a surprise visit.  Then--
you know what happened.

Soon after Yvonne's unfortunate birthday, Major Whyte, who had not been
well for long--he was a delicate man, and had had much active service--
got worse, and in consequence of this, as you may remember my
overhearing at Lady Honor's party, he came home.  He had seen by his
aunt's letters that she was more bitter than ever against "Frank" and
his family, but he did not know why till he saw her, and she told him
the whole.  He was dreadfully sorry; he did not think himself likely to
live long, and his one wish was to see his cousin reinstated.  For Mrs
Fetherston was quite capable, if he died, of leaving everything, even
the Whytes' own old place, to some charity, away from Captain Whyte
altogether.  Hugo Whyte wrote to his cousin explaining what had
happened, never doubting, of course, but that the rude little girl was
Mary!  Poor Mary at once denied it, and it became evident there was some
strange mistake.  Captain Whyte went off to consult Lady Honor, whose
quick wits set to work to disentangle the riddle.

"There were two little girls," she said.  And that very day she saw Mr
Gale and had a long talk with him.  Mr Gale, in turn, had a long talk
with Anna.  Anna, it must be remembered, had only promised "not to tell"
of our adventure conditionally; and she had often felt uneasy about it.
In one sense it was a relief to her to _have_ to tell; but she got more
than her share of punishment, poor girl, I shall always think.  Lady
Honor was unwilling to tell papa about it.  She knew how sensitive he
was, and how he would take it to heart.  So a letter was sent to Major
Whyte, explaining the mistake, and asking her to allow Captain Whyte to
take his two girls to see her.  But the old lady had got an obstinate
fit.  She would not believe that the culprit was not Mary.

Then at last Lady Honor told papa.  He took it up very seriously, just
as she had feared, _too_ seriously in one sense, though I well deserved
all the blame I got.

And another long letter was despatched to poor Major Whyte, who ill as
he was, was determinedly trying to put things right.

The answer to this letter did not come for some days.  But I have
forgotten one part of the sad business.  Not only was no birthday
present or Christmas present sent to Yvonne by her godmother, but for
the first time no cheque was received by Captain Whyte's bankers from
Mrs Fetherston.  Her rancour had gone the length of stopping his
allowance!  No wonder the poor Yew Trees people were anxious.  And this
was _my_ doing.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

NOTHING VENTURE, NOTHING WIN.

The short winters day was already closing in when the carriage stopped
at our own door.  I was crouched up in one corner, _perfectly_
miserable, the fur rug was in a heap at my feet--when I glanced at it,
and thought of how papa had tucked it round me that very afternoon, I
felt as if I _could_ not bear it.  As I got out and entered the hall,
where the light was dim, I saw some one standing at the drawing-room
door.  It was mamma waiting for me; she had heard the carriage stopping.

"Connie, is that you?" she said.  "Is papa there?"

"No, mamma," I managed to get out.  "I'm alone."  Then she drew me into
the drawing-room--it looked so warm and bright, the red firelight
dancing on the old furniture--and I was so shivering and cold!  Somehow
the look of it all--the look, above all, in mamma's eyes--was too much
for me.

"Mamma, mamma," I sobbed, and once I had begun my tears came like a
thunderstorm, "do you know?  Do you know about how naughty I've been?"

She had not really known of course; till I owned to it no one could have
really known, except Anna.  But mamma had guessed it was true--in some
ways she knew me and my faults and follies even better than papa did,
gentle as she was.  She had been afraid it was true when he told her
that afternoon what I had been accused of--and he had been rather vexed
with her!

"Yes, darling," she said, "I know about it, mostly at least."

She drew my head on to her knee, as I crept close to her where she sat
on a low couch, and let me sob out all my misery.  Oh, mamma, dear
little, sweet, unselfish mother--was there, _could_ there ever be any
one so kind as you?  And I, who had sometimes almost dared to look down
on her for her very goodness!  That afternoon brought me the end of the
lesson I had begun to learn.  It was quite dark, and growing late,
before mamma rang for lights.  I had cried my eyes into a dreadful
state, and I was still shivering every now and then from a sort of
nervousness.  Mamma took me upstairs and made me go to bed.

"You will feel better in the morning," she said.  "And I will talk more
to you.  We must not _exaggerate_ things, you know, dear.  Good-night,
my Connie, my own little Sweet Content."

Was it not nice of her to call me that!  I did not go to sleep for a
good while.  When I did I slept heavily.  It was quite daylight when I
woke.  Mamma was standing beside me, and Prudence was setting down a
tray with my breakfast.

"I will come back when you have finished, dear," mamma said.  She did
not mention papa, and when I asked Prue she only said he was already
out.

So he was.  Not only out, but away.  When mamma came up again she told
me that he had got a letter the night before, which had decided him on
going to London for two or three days--I think it was to attend some
scientific meeting.

"He came up to look at you last night," mamma went on, "but you did not
wake."

I did not speak for a minute or two.  Then I said timidly:

"Mamma, do you think he will ever forgive me?  Mamma, do you know that
he could scarcely have seemed more _terribly_ angry if--if--I had done
it on purpose to hurt the Whytes, and you _know_ it wasn't that I love
them too much; and even if I didn't, I _couldn't_ be as bad as that?"

"I know, dear," said mamma.  "But papa has very strong feelings about
courtesy to strangers; above all to the old and poor--and that strange
old Mrs Fetherston _seemed_ poor.  And then, too, the consequences are
so _very_ serious to the Whytes.  Papa said to me he was afraid of
judging your fault too much by the consequences; that was partly why he
sent you home alone, and he is not sorry to be away for a day or two to
think things over.  I may tell you Connie," she went on, "that bright
and sweet-tempered, almost _perfect_ as he seems to us, papa has
naturally a very hot and violent temper.  You have never seen it; he has
learnt to control it so perfectly; but yesterday he was afraid of saying
_too_ much to you; that was partly why he went away."

"I understand," I said, "though after all I think I deserved everything
any one could have said--mamma," I added, "perhaps it's from papa I get
_my_ temper: it's certainly not from you.  And people generally think
I'm good-tempered, just as they do him.  But he _is_ good-tempered,
because he has mastered himself, and I'm only not often bad-tempered,
because I generally manage to get my own way, and am very seldom
crossed!"

Mamma smiled.  She was glad to see me really thinking seriously.

"Mamma," I said, "even if that--that horrid old woman does leave
everything to the other one--to Major Whyte,"--mamma had explained it
all to me the evening before--"it couldn't matter so very much, would
it?  For he's so fond of them all--could he not make it up to them?"

"They fear he would be bound down by her will to do nothing for his
cousins," said mamma.  "The old lady, once she has taken a thing in her
head, seems very vindictive.  Besides, Captain Whyte is a proud man, he
has always hoped his aunt would leave him something--it would be hard
for him to take it as a gift, almost like a charity, from his cousin.
And what can they do for the present?  They had little enough before;
but now they must be terribly poor.  And the old lady may live many
years.  The worst of all would be if Major Whyte died before her,
without her being reconciled to his cousins."  This made it all clear
enough to me--only too clear.  I could think of nothing else.  I got up
and dressed, for I was not ill.  I was only feeling very miserable and
rather shaky with crying so.  Mamma had very kindly sent to Miss Wade to
tell her not to come, which was a comfort.  I was very glad to see no
one but mamma, even though I longed for papa.  I wanted so to consult
him, and see if nothing could be done.

It was a very rainy day; it went on steadily till late in the afternoon.
It was one of those days which seem as if the sun had not risen.

I could not settle to anything.  I tried to work and read, but it was no
use.  Then I began a letter to Evey; I did so want to let them know how
miserably sorry I was, but the words would not come, and I gave it up.

"It would only seem a mockery," I said to myself; "I don't suppose they
want to be reminded of me at all," and I got up and stood drearily by
the window watching the plash of the rain as it fell into the puddles of
the gravel walk.  Suddenly a feeble ray of light caught my eyes--where
was it coming from?  I looked up.  Yes, there, over where the sun would
soon be setting there was a little break in the clouds; some thin, cold,
watery yellow was peeping out, and even as I gazed it reddened and
warmed a little.

And at that moment an idea struck me, which, the more I reflected on it,
the more my judgment approved of.  I stood there some minutes thinking
intently.  Then I flew into the library where mamma was, I knew, tidying
some of papa's books that afternoon.

She had finished and was standing by the fire.

"Mamma dear," I said, "I have thought of something;" and I went on
rapidly to tell her what had come into my mind.  She listened eagerly,
but her face flushed and she looked half-frightened.

"We must wait till papa comes home and see what he says," she replied.

I clasped my hands in entreaty.

"No, mamma," I said.  "I have a feeling that we mustn't wait.  There
_can't_ be any harm in it.  It is my duty to apologise.  I could write
her a letter, but that would not be the same good.  I will not go to her
to say `I'm not Mary'; I will just say I am the little girl that was so
rude to her."

Mamma considered.

"But if she refuses to see us," she said.  I saw she was yielding.

"Oh well, then--I don't know.  But any way I will have _tried_.  Do you
know her address, mamma?"

"I know the square she lives in, and the name is not common.  We can
easily find the number in any address-book when we get there.  But,
Connie--"

I stopped any further misgivings by kissing her.  And seeing me look so
much happier, mamma had not the heart to say anything more against it.

I need not explain what it was I wanted to do, more particularly, for I
think any one who reads this will understand.  I will just go on to tell
exactly what happened.

The next morning--it was a fine day; how glad I was of that!--saw mamma
and me comfortably installed in a first-class railway-carriage, _en
route_ for London.  We had no luggage, for we were only going up for the
day--Elmwood is only two hours from Victoria.  When we got there mamma
hailed a four-wheeler--_I_ would rather have had a hansom, but mamma is
rather nervous about hansoms, and after all I was scarcely in the humour
to care much--and told the man to drive first to one of the big shops
she knew well.  There she got an address-book and found out old Mrs
Fetherston's number, and off we set again.  We scarcely spoke--I was
growing so nervous--not out of fear for myself, but lest possibly it
should all fail!

At last the cab drew up in front of a large, regular London house.  We
got out.  The door was opened by a footman, and further back in the hall
were one or two other men-servants.  It was a stately, rather
old-fashioned house.  How strange to think that it belonged to the queer
old woman I had so mistaken!

"Is Mrs Fetherston at home?" mamma inquired.  It was now about
half-past two; we had chosen the time well.  The footman hesitated.

"I think my mistress is at home," he said, "but she don't see many
visitors."  Mamma smiled so sweetly that he could not help adding: "I
can inquire if--"

"Perhaps you had better take my card to her, as it is really on
business.  And pray say I will not detain her many minutes."

At the word "business" the man hesitated again; but he saw that we had
kept the cab; that did not look much like ladylike impostors.  "Will you
step in?" he began again.

In her turn mamma hesitated.

"We could wait in the cab," she said to me doubtfully.  But it was a
very cold day.

At that moment a tall, thin, dark-complexioned man--a gentleman, I
mean--crossed the hall.

"Shut the door, David," he said hastily.  But then seeing us there he
came forward a little way, courteously, "I beg your pardon, won't you
come in?"

We did so, sufficiently at least for David to shut the door; then the
man turned to the gentleman to explain the state of the case.

"Do come in," the gentleman repeated, throwing open the door of a
library which looked warm and comfortable.

"I am half afraid Mrs Fetherston--"

Mamma and I glanced at each other.  She was going to speak, I think, but
I forestalled her.

"Major Whyte," I said, "please may we tell you about it?  Mamma--mamma
is Mrs Percy," I added.

He was very quick-witted.  He seemed to know in an instant.  Indeed,
though we did not hear that till afterwards, he had that morning got a
letter from his cousin, explaining the mystery of "Mary's" strange
behaviour!  And in another moment we were in the library with him, the
door closed, and David told to wait till he was rung for, while mamma
told our story.  Major White listened most attentively while mamma,
clearly and without hesitation--except just once, and that was at the
part about my naughty rudeness, when she stopped and glanced at me; "I
need not say how deeply Constantia has grieved over this," she said--
related everything.  The only sound besides her voice was Major Whyte's
cough, the sort of cough one cannot bear to hear.  And when she stopped,
for a minute or two he could not speak for coughing; his thin brown face
grew so painfully red, and he seemed to shake all over.  How sorry I
felt for him!

Mamma waited quietly.  Then glancing round she caught sight of a carafe
of water and a glass on the side-table.  She poured some out and brought
it to him.

"Thank you--so much," he said, and in a little he was able to speak
again.

"I see it all, of course," he said.  "It is brave of your daughter to
have come herself, Mrs Percy, and it seems to me it was the best thing
to do.  There is certainly a very strong likeness between her and Mary,
though I have not seen Mary for four years.  If I had been told you were
Mary," he went on, turning to me with a smile, "I think I should have
believed it.  Now, have you the courage to beard the--to come with me to
Mrs Fetherston alone?  I think, perhaps, that is the best chance."

Mamma and I looked at each other, and Major Whyte looked at us both.

"Yes," I said, "I'll come alone, if it's best."

"Bravo," said our new friend--I felt he was a friend at once--and he
held out his hand to me in a way I could not resist or resent, though
generally I stood on my dignity a good deal.  "We had been thinking of
trying a rather desperate experiment to bring my poor aunt to her
senses," he said.  "But I believe your effort will be more successful."

We left the room together, he and I.  I followed him upstairs to the
first floor, and through two big drawing-rooms into a third and smaller
one at the back.  In he stalked, coughing a little now and then; in I
crept after him.  A big fire was blazing, an armchair was drawn close to
it, and on, or rather in, the armchair, which almost seemed to swallow
her up, was seated a small dark figure.  She was reading the newspaper.

"What is it, Hugo?" she said, at the sound of my conductor's footsteps.
"There you are again, in and out as usual, exposing yourself to every
draught, of course."

The sharp tones, the queer, black, unnatural-looking curls were all too
familiar to me.  I could not help shivering a little.

"Aunt Angela," he said--only fancy _that_ being her name!--"I have
brought a young lady to see you," and he drew me forward a little.  "You
have seen her before,"--piercing eyes were upon me by this time--"but
perhaps I can best introduce her and best explain her visit by telling
you she is _not_ your great-niece, Mary Whyte."

He stood still to watch the effect of his audacity.  The old lady began
to tremble a little, though she tried to hide it.  But this gave me
courage, because it made me sorry for her.

"Who--who are you then?  Who do you say you are?" she said, in a shaky,
quavering voice.

I came towards her and stood full in the light such a light as there is
on a winter's day in a London back-drawing-room--I pushed my hat back--
it fell off, and my fair hair came tumbling over my face.  Major Whyte
picked up my hat; I shook back my hair.  The old lady could see me quite
plainly.

"You will remember my face, I think?"  I said, gently.  "My name is
Connie--Constantia Percy--papa is Dr Percy.  He is the doctor at
Elmwood; everybody there knows us.  I have come to--to apologise to you
_very_ much for being so rude to you that day.  I was in a bad temper
before I met you.  I don't think I'd have been so rude--and--and
unkind--to a stranger, if it hadn't been for that I do hope you will
forgive me."

She looked at me still for some seconds, without speaking.  Then she
turned to her nephew.

"I can see now that there is no real likeness to Frank," she said
coolly.  "Still the mistake was a very natural one, meeting her where I
did, and the superficial resemblance of colouring, and so on, to what
you had told me of the second girl, and to her photograph."

"Yes," said Major Whyte, his face flushing nervously, "the original
_mistake_ was natural enough, Aunt Angela: that is to say, if you could
imagine, which I _couldn't_, that one of Frank's girls could have
behaved so; but after you were assured that it _was_ a mistake, when
they absolutely denied it--" he stopped--his indignation had carried him
further than was prudent.  He had hit Mrs Fetherston hard; he had hit
some one else hard too.  Indeed, I think he had forgotten I was there.
But I was too much in earnest to resent the unflattering inference of
his words.

"You could not think me like Mary if you saw us together," I said
eagerly.  "She is ever, _ever_ so much prettier, and, _of course_, just
as good as I am naughty.  It is quite true, neither she nor Yvonne could
have behaved as I did."

My voice began to break as I said the last words; the long strain was
beginning to tell on me.  I felt the tears coming, and I tried to choke
them down.  I knew Mrs Fetherston's keen eyes were on me.

"My dear," she said--I could scarcely have believed her voice could have
been so different--"there are worse little girls in the world than you.
I freely forgive you what I have to forgive.  Some day I _may_ see you
and Mary together."

Major Whyte started and a bright look of pleasure lighted up his face.

"Aunt Angela," he began joyfully.  Then I think the remembrance of what
he had said came over him suddenly, for he turned to me.

"My dear child," he said, "you must forgive me.  I forgot."

"No, no, please," I said, though I was crying by this time.  "I don't
mind; it was quite true."

But at that moment we were all startled by a knock at the door--this
room was the old lady's private sitting-room and a man-servant, not
David--an older one--appeared in answer to Mrs Fetherston's "Come in."

"A--a gentleman to see Major Whyte, if you please, ma'am," he said;
adding in a lower tone, "I think it's something rather particular."

Major Whyte turned to go, but a fit of coughing interrupted him.

"My poor boy, you are killing yourself," said his aunt; "Freeland, bring
the gentleman up here if it is anything particular.  Your master can't
go running up and down stairs in this way."

CHAPTER TWELVE.

TRUE HEARTS.

We all waited, without speaking.  Poor Major Whyte indeed seemed
exhausted by his cough.  There was a feeling in the air, I think, as if
something strange were going to happen.

And in a very few moments there came the sound of footsteps up the
stairs, and then crossing the two big drawing-rooms.  And then--the door
opened.  Freeland murmured something, and I saw coming through the
doorway the familiar figure of Captain Whyte, and close behind him the
sweet fair face of dear Mary.

Major Whyte started up.  He wrung his cousin's hand without speaking.
But I--what do you think I did?  I seized Mary and dragged her forward.
Fancy _me_, naughty me, being the one to introduce Mary to her own aunt!

"Here she is," I cried; "now you _can_ see us together.  This is Mary,
your own niece, Mrs Fetherston; you can see if what I said wasn't
true."

Mary _did_ look sweet, though she was shabbily dressed and very
frightened.  In that grand house the old tweed jacket looked even
shabbier than at Elmwood.  She clung to me, till I almost pushed her
into the old lady's arms.

"Kiss her, Mary.  She's your own aunt.  Oh, _do_" I whispered; "you
don't know what good it might do.  Oh, do kiss her."

Perhaps the last three words were spoken more loudly in my excitement;
perhaps the old lady's ears were as sharp as her eyes!  However it was,
she heard, and she smiled.

"Yes, _do_," she repeated, and she half held out her arms to Mary.  "You
are not my special child, I suppose," she said.  "Yvonne is my godchild;
but, oh, you are very like what Frank was.  Frank," she added
tremulously, "my boy, Frank--are you not going to speak to me, too?"

He came to her at once; I turned away, and somehow or other I found
myself with Major Whyte in the outer room.

"Do you--do you really think it is going to be all right?"  I could not
help saying to him.

He nodded; for a moment or two it seemed as if he could not speak, and I
think there were tears in his eyes.  His voice was husky when he did
speak, but that might have been from his cough.

"Yes," he said, "I do--I do really hope so.  _Thank God_."

And as I glanced up at his kind, worn face, there seemed to me to be a
light about it--a light such as one never sees save in the face of those
who have suffered much, and have learnt to thank God for both sorrow and
joy.  I knew then that poor Major Whyte was not--as our simple
country-folk say--was not "long for this world."  I never saw him again,
and I had never seen him before, but I have never forgotten him.

He took me downstairs to where mamma was anxiously waiting.  He had
ordered tea for her and me; he knew we would be the better for it, he
said, before setting off on our cold journey back.  He was so gentle and
considerate to mamma, telling her all that had happened upstairs as
frankly as if she had been an old friend--I always notice that people
who are quite, _quite_ well-bred, are so much franker than commoner
people, who make mysteries about nothing, and treat you as if your one
object in life was to get their secrets out of them--and he was quite
right, for she did indeed feel like one.  And when we went away he took
both my hands in his _so_ nicely and thanked _me_--me, the naughty
horrid little mischief-maker.  Was it not more than good of him?  When
we were by ourselves in the cab I leant my head against mamma's shoulder
and burst into tears.  I could not help it.

"All's well that ends well, my Connie--my little Sweet Content," she
said.  But I could not help going on crying when I thought of poor Major
Hugo's thin face and his terrible cough, and of how much _I_ had added
to his troubles and anxieties by my naughtiness on Evey's birthday.

Papa came home the next day.  We were longing to see him and to tell him
everything.  I fancy mamma was just a little afraid of his thinking we
had been imprudent, though she did not say so to me, for fear of making
me anxious.  I _was_ anxious all the same.  We had heard nothing of the
Whytes, and mamma thought it better not to go to see them or send to the
Yew Trees till papa came home.  We did not know what time to expect him;
his letter only said "to-morrow, as early in the afternoon as I can
manage it."  I spent that afternoon principally at the dining-room
window, watching for him, which was very silly I know, and certainly did
not make the time pass quicker.  But I really _could_ not settle down to
anything.  Just fancy: I had not seen papa since he turned away from me
in silent, cold contempt in Lady Honor's drawing-room, though it was a
comfort to know that he had come up to my room that same night and
looked at me as I lay asleep.

When at last he _did_ come, I was, of course, not at my post: that is
always the way.  I was in the drawing-room at afternoon tea with mamma.
I did not even hear his latchkey in the lock, as I often did.  He was
standing at the drawing-room door, looking at us, before we knew he was
there!

All my plans of what I would say, how I would ask him to forgive me,
flew out of my head.  I just rushed up to him and threw my arms round
him and burst into tears.

"Oh, papa, papa!"  I said.

He did not repulse me; he did not speak for a moment, but I felt his
kind, firm clasp.  Then he said:

"My poor little girl," and he stooped and kissed me.  The kiss said
everything.

Mamma came forward.

"Tom, dear," she began, a little nervously, "we have a great deal to
tell you."

Poor little mamma--what a shame it was that she should be nervous, when
if she _had_ done anything imprudent it had only been for my sake!

But papa's first words took away all our fears.

"No, darling," he said.  I liked to hear him call mamma "darling"; he
did not often do so, for he is not at all what is called
"demonstrative."

"No, you haven't; I know all you have to tell me, and a good deal more.
Indeed, I rather think I have a good deal to tell _you_.  But first,
give me a cup of nice hot tea.  It _is_ cold this afternoon;" and still
with his arm thrown round my neck, he came close up to the fireplace and
stood there, watching mamma as she poured out his tea in the nice neat
way she does everything.

"This is comfortable," said papa; "it's worth having a cold journey to
come home like this, especially when--when one has good news, too, to
bring back."

I started at this.

"Oh, papa," I said, "is it about the Whytes?--is it all right?"

"I think so.  I quite believe so," he replied.  "I had a most cheerful
note from Captain Whyte this morning written from his aunt's house.  We
were together in London yesterday.  He came to my hotel with Mary, on
his way to Mrs Fetherston's, little thinking of your stealing a march
on us!  Indeed, it was a good deal my idea--the taking Mary to show that
she was herself, and not--"

"Not _me_," I interrupted.  "Oh, papa, I have been _so_ sorry, _so_
ashamed."

"I know you have," said papa, gravely.  "I would have spared it you if I
could; but yet, Connie--"

"I deserved it," I said, "and I wouldn't have minded its being twice as
bad as it was yesterday, if it was to put things right.  And the old
lady was really kind, papa, at the end."

"Captain Whyte told me all," he said.  "I don't think any of them dared
to hope in the least that things would turn out so well.  They are all
going up to town to-morrow--all, that is to say, except the three little
fellows.  Mrs Fetherston is not one to do things by halves, I fancy.
The saddest part of the whole is poor Hugo Whyte's precarious state."

"Have you seen him?" mamma asked.

"Yes," papa replied.  "I called on him the day I went up to speak about
Captain Whyte's idea of bringing Mary.  He is very, very ill.  I don't
think they quite realise how ill he is.  Perhaps, however, it is just as
well.  He may have a little breathing-time now he is happier and cheered
by having them all about him; he may live a few months in comparative
comfort.  That is the best I can hope for."

"It is a comfort to think that his last days will be cheered and happy,"
said mamma, softly.

But I could not help crying again just a little, at night when I was
alone, when I thought of Major Whyte's face, and that I could never hope
to see him well and strong and bright like papa and Captain Whyte.

Things turned out pretty much as papa had predicted.  Two days after the
evening I have been telling you about--the evening of papa's return--all
the Yew Trees people came home again.  We knew they had come home by
hearing accidentally that the fly from the Stag's Head had been ordered
to meet them at the station at three o'clock.  So I posted myself at the
dining-room window, and had the tantalising gratification of seeing both
it and Lady Honor's brougham pass our door on their way to the Yew
Trees.  I could distinguish Mrs Whyte in the brougham, and a bag or
two, and the back of a hat which I was sure was Yvonne's.  And the fly
was well filled too.  But none of them looked out our way, nor nodded to
me, though they _might_ have seen me.  I felt rather unhappy again.

"Mamma," I said, when I got back to the drawing-room, "I have seen them
all pass, but they didn't look this way.  Mamma, you and papa have
forgiven me, but perhaps--even if they _forgive_ me, they're perhaps not
going to be the same ever again," and I could scarcely choke down a sob.

"Connie, dearest," said mamma, "how can you fancy such things?  You will
see, dear, it will be all right."

But I was very unhappy all that evening.

"They have _never_ passed before without looking out," I kept saying to
myself, and mamma could not manage to cheer me.  But just as I was going
to bed, the "odd man" from the Yew Trees made his appearance with a note
for "Miss Percy," from Evey!  I knew the handwriting, and tore it open.

"Dearest Connie," it said, "we _were_ so disappointed not to find you
here, at the Yew Trees, when we arrived.  I wrote yesterday from London,
to ask you to be here to spend the evening, so that we could tell you
everything.  I gave the note to Lancey, and he has just found it in his
pocket!  So please ask dear Mrs Percy to let you come to-morrow.  You
must have a whole holiday for once, and stay all day.  Oh, we are so
happy.

"Your loving

"Evey."

"_Now_, Connie," said mamma, triumphantly, "surely you will never
mistrust your friends again."

I thought I never could, and I thought so still more when I came home
the next evening, after one of the very happiest days I ever spent.  But
I have not _quite_ kept to it, as I will tell before I come to the end
of my story.

I must go straight on--was it not sweet of them to make me so happy?--
they would not let me keep the least sore feeling about what I had done;
they would have it I had been so "brave and unselfish"--fancy _me_
unselfish!--in going to see Mrs Fetherston on my own account, as I had
done.  Everything was coming right, Mrs Fetherston had fallen in love
with their mother, and what wonder!  They were all to spend the next
summer holidays at Southerwold--that was the old home of the Whytes,
which none of the Yew Trees children had ever seen; "Uncle Hugo," as
they called him, was to get quite well immediately, and though I felt
more inclined to cry than to smile when they said this, knowing what
papa thought about Major Whyte, I took care not to cloud their bright
hopes.  It was so like the Whytes.  They could not see anything other
than hopefully--some people think that a bad way to face life and its
troubles, but I really can't say.  All I know is that when troubles do
come, these dear friends of ours meet them bravely.

"Isn't Uncle Hugo a darling?" said Yvonne.  "Of course we've known
_hint_ all our lives, though we never saw Aunt Fetherston before.  But
it's nearly five years since Uncle Hugo went to India, so of course we
had all to learn each other over again, as he says.  He's taken such a
fancy to you, Connie.  He's coming down here to stay with us as soon as
ever the milder weather really sets in; just now he's best in London.
There's no pleasure in being in the country if one can't go out."

"No, of course not," I agreed.  Evey's confident tone almost made me
feel as if, perhaps, papa was wrong, and that Major Whyte _would_ get
well again after all.

But, alas! it was not so.  He did seem to get better for a little, and
even papa, who was up in London again, a month or so later, and went to
see him, allowed when he came home, that he could not have believed
Major Whyte could have rallied so much.  And as the spring set in early,
and the good symptoms continued, all was arranged for his coming down to
the Yew Trees; the very day and train were fixed, and we three were
nearly as pleased at the idea of seeing him again as the Whytes
themselves, when the blow fell.  Something, no one could say certainly
what--it might have been a slight chill, or over-fatigue, or, perhaps
merely the pleasant excitement of the visit in prospect--something--he
was so far gone that a mere nothing was enough, papa said--brought on
his cough again fearfully.  He broke a blood-vessel, I think, and there
was only time to telegraph for Captain and Mrs Whyte, and the elder
children to go to bid him good-bye before he passed away, very
peacefully and very happily, Evey and Mary told me, when they were able
to tell me about it.  For it was a real and sad grief to them all, and
it was the first trouble of _that_ kind they had ever known.

"He sent his love and good-bye to you," Yvonne said; "`little Connie
Percy' he called you.  And I heard him say, `but for her, things might
not have been as they are.'  Yes, he was quite happy.  Do you know," she
went on in a very low voice, "years and years ago Uncle Hugo was going
to be married to somebody very nice and sweet, and she died.  Mother
told us--I think it was that that made him so gentle and kind, though he
was very brave too."

The children gave no thought to the difference Major Whyte's death would
make to them all in the end.  I think Captain Whyte told papa all, but I
never heard or thought about it till the change actually came.  That was
two years after Major Whyte's death, when poor old Mrs Fetherston died
too.  She felt the shock of his death very much, for though he had not
been originally her favourite nephew, no one could have lived with him
without learning to love him.  She had grown dependent on him, too, for
helping her to manage things.  Altogether it was a great blow, though
now, fortunately, as things were, she had Captain Whyte instead, and for
the rest of her life she did indeed cling to him and his wife, and to
them all.  But she never came down to Elmwood again.  She stayed on at
Southerwold, where she went immediately after Major Whyte's death, and
one or the other, or more of the Yew Trees family were always with her.
So I never saw her again, though now and then there was a talk of her
coming to the Yew Trees.

These two years were very happy.  The Whytes, though they still lived
very simply, were free from anxiety about the future, and instead of
this making them selfish, it only made them the kinder.  All children, I
suppose, live a good deal in the present.  I don't think I understood
this till the great change came, which made such a difference to me.  I
had thought, I suppose, that things would always go on much the same.

But one day--it was only six months ago--Captain and Mrs Whyte, who had
both been at Southerwold for nearly a week, telegraphed to papa, that
old Mrs Fetherston had died; it was rather sudden at the last; and in
the telegram they asked him to go to the Yew Trees to tell the children.
I had seen them only the evening before, when there was no expectation
of such a thing.

"Give them my love, papa," I said, as he was starting, "and tell them I
am very sorry."

"They _will_ be sorry, I suppose," I added to mamma, when we were
sitting alone; "but not _very_, do you think?  She was rather a
frightening old lady, though I don't mean to be unkind."

"She was very much softened of late," said mamma, but she spoke rather
absently.

"Still, mamma, it can't make them _very_ miserable--not like if one of
themselves had died," I said.  "I may go to see them soon, mayn't I, and
everything be the same?"

Mamma looked at me very tenderly.

"Connie, dear," she said, "don't you understand that it must make a
great difference?  Captain Whyte will be the owner of Southerwold, and
one or two other smaller places as well, I believe.  He will be a very,
very rich man, and they will be very important people.  I don't say it
will change their _hearts_; indeed, I am very, very sure it will not;
but they will have many new ties, and responsibilities, and duties,
and--they will have to leave us."

I stared at her.  It was very silly of me not to have thought of it
before, but I just hadn't.  Then I burst into tears, and hid my face on
mamma's shoulder.

"You must try not to be selfish, darling," she whispered.  "Try to be my
own Sweet Content, and trust."

I did try--I have tried, and I daresay mamma thinks I have succeeded.
But in my heart I know I have not, _quite_.  It all happened as mamma
had said; as it _had_ to, indeed.  But it came so soon: I had not
realised that.  They were all as kind and dear as they could be to the
end.  Only they were very busy, and, of course, a little excited by the
change.  What wonder!  Who could have helped it?  In their place, I am
sure, I should have been just _horridly_ selfish.  And before we knew
where we were they were gone; the Yew Trees empty and shut up again.  I
went through it once, just once--but never again, for when I came to
Evey and Mary's room, with the climbing roses paper on the walls, I felt
as if my heart would burst.  That was six months ago.  I have seen none
of them since.  They write me nice letters, but lately I have not had
one--and, after all, letters are only letters.  Some of them have been
abroad for part of the winter; poor Addie was ill again, and no doubt
they have new friends, and lots and lots to do.  Perhaps it will be
wisest for me to remember this, and not expect ever hardly to see them
again; but--there is mamma calling me--what can it be?  I must run and
see.

It was a letter from Yvonne--a letter and an _invitation_.  I am to go
to Southerwold for the Easter holidays!  Oh, I can hardly believe it.  I
don't know if I am glad or not.  I am _so_ afraid they will have grown
so grand, and that I shall feel strange and shy.  Oh, my dear Evey and
Mary--if I could but have you again like last year--with your dear old
shabby tweed jackets, and the loving hearts inside them!

  Southerwold, _April_ 16th, 188-.

  I am _here_, at Southerwold, and oh, so happy!  It is the most
  beautiful, the grandest place you can imagine.  They have
  _everything_!  But it is not the place nor the grandeur that makes me
  happy.  It is themselves.  They are just quite, _exactly_ the same.  I
  will never, never, never have horrid, distrustful fancies about them
  again.  They met me at the station--Evey and Mary--in their own
  beautiful pony-carriage, and in one moment I felt it was all right.
  And just fancy--they had on the old tweed jackets!

"It has got so suddenly hot," said Yvonne, in her funny, practical way,
"that we couldn't stand our winter things; so we routed these out.  They
do very well, don't they?  I suppose we shall get new ones this year.
There isn't any difficulty now about such things, you see, Connie," she
added smiling.

"How pretty your jacket is, Connie," said Mary, admiringly.  "Do let us
ask mother to get us ones something like it, Evey."

Dear Mary--they were all dear.  They are going to show me all the things
they do--the poor people, and the schools, and everything, so that when
I come here I shall know their ways and be able to help them.  For I am
to come _very_ often they say.  And the week after next, dear little
mamma and papa are coming to fetch me.  I shan't mind going home, for I
know now we shall never be separated for very long, and never at all _in
our hearts_.





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