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´╗┐Title: Dumps - A Plain Girl
Author: Meade, L.T.
Language: English
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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 "Dumps - A Plain Girl" ***

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Dumps - A Plain Girl
By L.T. Meade
Illustrations by R. Lillie
Published by E.P. Dutton and Company, New York.
This edition dated 1905.

Dumps - A Plain Girl, by L.T. Meade.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
DUMPS - A PLAIN GIRL, BY L.T. MEADE.

PART ONE, CHAPTER ONE.

A LESSON IN PATIENCE.

The boys were most troublesome.  They never would mind in the very least
when father had one of his worst headaches.  It was not that they did
not try to be good--I will say that Alex had the kindest heart, and that
Charley was good-natured too--but it seemed to me as though they could
not walk quietly; they would stump upstairs, and they would go heavily
across the big attic where they slept, and father was so fearfully
sensitive; the least sound made him start up, and then he would get into
a sort of frenzy and hardly know what he was doing.  He would call out
to the boys and thunder to them to be quiet; and then his head was worse
than ever.  Oh, it was all dreadful--dreadful!  I sometimes did not know
what to do.

I am going to tell the story of my life as far as I can; but before I
begin I must say that I do wonder why girls, as a rule, have a harder
time of it than boys, and why they learn quite early in life to be
patient and to give up their own will.  Now, of course, if father comes
in after his very hard day's work, schoolmastering, as he calls it, and
when he has one of his fearful headaches, I sit like a lamb and hardly
speak; but it never enters into Alex's head, or into Charley's, that
they ought to be equally considerate.  I do not for a minute want to
praise myself, but I know that girls have an opportunity very early in
life of learning patience.

Well now, to begin my story.

I was exactly fifteen years and a half.  I should not have a birthday,
therefore, for six months.  I was sorry for that, for birthdays are very
nice; on one day at least in the year you are queen, and you are thought
more of than any one else in the house.  You are put first instead of
last, and you get delicious presents.  Some girls get presents every
day--at least every week--but my sort of girl only gets a present worth
considering on her birthday.  Of all my presents I loved flowers best;
for we lived in London, where flowers are scarce, and we hardly ever
went into the country.

My name is Rachel Grant, and I expect I was a very ordinary sort of
girl.  Alex said so.  Alex said that if I had beautiful, dancing dark
eyes, and very red lips, and a good figure, I might queen it over all
the boys, even on the days when it wasn't my birthday; but he said the
true name for me ought not to be Rachel, but Dumps, and how could any
girl expect to rule over either boys or girls with such a name as Dumps?
I suppose I was a little stodgy in my build, but father said I might
grow out of that, for my mother was tall.

Ah dear! there was the sting of things; for if I had had a mother on
earth I might have been a very different girl, and the boys might have
been told to keep their place and not to bully poor Dumps, as they
called me, so dreadfully.  But I must go on with my story.

I was Rachel or Dumps, and there were two boys, Alex and Charley.  Alex
was a year younger than I, and ought really to have been very much under
my control; and Charley was two years younger.  Then there was father,
who was quite elderly, although his children were comparatively young.
He was tall and had a slight stoop, and his hair was turning grey.  He
had a very beautiful, lofty sort of expression, and he did wonders in
the great school or college where he spent most of his time.  Our house
belonged to the college; the rooms were large, and the windows looked
out on the grounds of the college and I could see the boys playing, Alex
and Charley amongst them, only I never dared to look if I thought Alex
or Charley could see me; for if they had caught sight of me it would
have been all over with me, for they did not particularly want the other
boys to know they had a sister.

"If she was a beauty we'd be awfully proud," said Alex, "but being only
Dumps, you know,"--and then he would wink at me, and when he did this I
felt very much inclined to cry.

Well, these things went on, and I went to school myself and learnt as
hard as I could, and tried to keep the house in order for father, whom I
loved very dearly, and who sometimes--not very often, but perhaps once
or twice, on a birthday or some special occasion of that sort--told me
that I was the comfort of his life, and I knew that I was patient,
whatever other virtue I might lack.

There came a special evening in the beginning of November.  It had been
a drizzling sort of day, and rather foggy, and of course the old house
looked its worst, and it was six months--six whole months--before I
could have a birthday, and the boys were so loud, and father's head was
so bad, and altogether it was a most discouraging sort of day.  I had
invited Rita and Agnes Swan to come and have tea with me.  They were my
greatest friends.  I hardly ever dared to ask them to come, because
something would be sure to happen on the nights when they arrived.  But
at school that morning it had seemed to me that I might certainly enjoy
a quiet hour with them, so I said, "If you will come in exactly at four
o'clock--father won't be in, I am sure, for two hours, for it is his
late day at the school, and it is half-holiday for the Upper Remove and
Alex will be out of the way, and if Charley does come in we can manage
him--we'll have the entire house to ourselves from four to five, and can
have a glorious game of hide-and-seek."

Rita said she would be charmed to come, and Agnes said the same, and I
hurried home to do the best I could for my friends.

Rita and Agnes were not exactly beautiful; but they were not like me--no
one could have called either of them Dumps.  They had soft, pretty hair
which waved about their little heads, and their features were quite
marked and distinct, and I think their eyes were beautiful, although I
am not absolutely sure.  They were rather clever, and often got praised
at school.  I am afraid they were inclined to patronise me, but I
thought if I could have them to tea, and could show them over our large
house, and let them see what a splendid place it was for hide-and-seek,
it being a very old house with lots of queer passages and corners, they
might respect me more and get the other girls in the school to do so
also.

Accordingly, when I got home about one o'clock on that November day I
was in high spirits.  But there was my usual lesson in patience waiting
for me; for father came in at three o'clock instead of at six, as he had
done every single Thursday since I could remember.

"Where are you, Rachel?" he called out when he entered the house.

I ran to him.

"Oh father, is anything wrong?"

"Only this abominable headache," he replied.  "It is worse than usual.
I am going to my room to lie down.  See that the house is kept quiet,
Rachel."

"Oh yes," I replied.  "Shall I get you a cup of tea?"

"No; I couldn't touch anything.  Just keep the house as quiet as
possible.  If those young rascals come in, tell them about me.  I trust
you, Rachel, not to allow a sound."

"Very well, father," I said.

He never noticed that I was in my best frock, pale-blue with a sash of
the same, and that I had combed and brushed my hair until it fairly
shone.  I knew that my hair was thick and longer than most girls' hair,
and I was proud to let it fall over my shoulders, and I wondered if Rita
and Agnes would remark it.

But here at once was a stop to our jolly game of hide-and-seek; we could
not play a game of that sort without making a noise.  We must sit in the
parlour.  The parlour was farthest away from father's bedroom.  We must
sit there and be as still as possible.  We might play games, of course;
but then one could play games at the Swans' house, which was a very
ordinary, everyday sort of place, not a bit like ours, which at least
was quaint and out of the common.

I had ordered queen-cakes for tea, and a fresh pot of jam to be opened,
and I was all expectation, and primed, as Alex would say, to exert
myself to the very utmost to entertain my friends, when who should come
thundering up the steps, making a most horrible noise, but the boys,
with two other boys bearing them company.  I rushed out to the hall.

"You mustn't really, Alex," I said.

"Mustn't what?" he cried, looking at my excited face.  "What's up now,
Dumps?"

The other boys were strangers.  One had red hair, and the other was
dark.  He looked like a foreigner; his hair fell straight in two lines
down his forehead and almost met his eyebrows.  He was sparely built,
and very tall, and had great big hands.  Alex glanced back at him.

"I wanted to take these fellows over the house," he said.  "This is Von
Marlo"--here he introduced the taller boy--"and this is Squibs.  You
must have heard me talk of Squibs.  Now, don't stand in the way; let us
come in.  Von Marlo is Dutch, and very proud of his country--aren't you,
Von Marlo?"

Von Marlo smiled, and bowed to me.

"Now get out of the way, Dumps," said Alex.  "And what have you put on
your best frock for, and why are you all prunes and prisms?  What is the
matter?"

"Only that father is at home.  He is lying down; he has a shocking
headache.  You really mustn't make a noise.--You must go away, please,
Mr Von Marlo and Mr Squibs."

"Oh, how jokingly funny!" exclaimed Alex, and he burst into a loud laugh
and sank down on the bench in the hall.  But the Dutch boy, Von Marlo,
came up to me and made another little bow, and took my hand as though he
would kiss it; he raised it to within a few inches of his lips and then
dropped it again.  I was told afterwards that this was the Dutch way of
showing reverence to a lady, and I was immensely touched by it.  He
said, "Certainly, Miss Grant, we will go away.  I did not know when
Grant asked me to come in that your father was ill."

"But I say, the Professor was in his class holding forth not
half-an-hour back," said Squibs, whose real name was Squire.

"Well, he's lying down now, and there can be no noise," I said.

I had scarcely uttered the words before up the steps came my own two
special visitors, Rita and Agnes Swan.

"Oh Jiminy!" cried Alex; and he stepped back as the two young ladies
sailed in.

"How do you do, Rachel?" said Rita.

"How do you do, Rachel?" said Agnes.

They were also dressed in their best, and were evidently highly pleased
and intended to have a good time.  They did not at all object to the
fact that four rather tall, ungainly schoolboys were standing about in
the hall.

"You know my brothers, don't you, Rita?"  I said, presenting Alex and
Charley.  "And this is Mr Von Marlo, and this is Mr Squire."

Alex and Charley reddened up to the roots of their hair; Squibs looked
as though he could not possibly get any redder--he was nearly always
scarlet; but the Dutch boy, Von Marlo, bowed in the most graceful style,
and then stood quite at his ease, glancing at the girls.

"I say," said Alex, coming up to me and speaking in a very loud
semi-whisper, "have they come to tea?"

"Yes--yes.  Do go away--please go away--and take the boys with you."

"But are there cookies and good things for tea?"

"Yes; but there really isn't enough for four extra people.  Do go away,
Alex.  I'll have something nice for your supper by-and-by.  Do! there's
a good boy."

But neither Alex nor Charley would see the fun of that, and I am sure
those girls who take the trouble to read my history will guess at my
mortification when I tell them that four extra guests sat down to a
tea-table only prepared for three.

Now Hannah, our servant, was by no means noted for her good temper.  She
brought in fresh bread-and-butter, fresh tea, fresh jam; but the fearful
difficulty of keeping the room quiet and of making those boys abstain
from laughter, of making even Rita and Agnes behave themselves, was
enough to wear any poor girl out.  I do not know what I should have done
but for the Dutch boy, Von Marlo.  He saw that I was annoyed, and he
came up to me and offered me all the help he possibly could.

"It is quite a shame," he said; "and you looked so nice when you opened
the door.  I thought you were the very prettiest girl I had ever laid
eyes on.  You see, I have not been in England more than two months.  I
have come here to go to this famous school."

"You speak English very well," I said.

"Oh yes, I learnt that in Holland; we all learn it there.  We learn
English, German, and French as soon as ever we can speak at all, I
think; for, you see, our language--Dutch--is not much use to us outside
our own country.  There is nothing in that," he continued modestly.
"Now, what can I do to help you?"

I looked at him, and my ruffled spirits became soothed.  After all, why
should I not make the best of things?

"I'll try to keep the fellows quiet," said Von Marlo; "and you needn't
call me Mr--I am only a schoolboy.  You can just say Von Marlo, as I am
sure you say Squibs to Squire.  We can all be jolly together.  What do
you say?"

"Done!"  I cried; and after that the meal went swimmingly.

It was amazing what those fellows managed to eat; and it was still more
amazing to see how Rita and Agnes enjoyed themselves.  It was the
thought of their disappointment which had so terribly annoyed me when
the four boys insisted on bursting into our parlour and forcing
themselves into our presence; but I soon saw that Rita and Agnes were
only delighted.  They laughed and joked, and as they laughed Alex and
Charley became like lambs of sweetness and gentleness.  Dear, dear! how
nice a brother can be to other people's sisters!  It is quite
extraordinary.  I bent over to Rita and whispered to her, "I hope you
are not vexed."

"Vexed?" she whispered back.  "No; I'm sure I'm delighted.  I did not
think it was to be a big party of this sort; and really the boys of the
upper school are almost like men.  It is very nice indeed; I am enjoying
myself extremely."

And so she was, and so was Agnes.  When tea was over, however, an
anxious moment arrived.  We could not play any noisy games, and the boys
immediately declared that they were not going away.

"We are going to see the fun out now," said Alex.  "Never mind
to-morrow's work.  I'll do that in the small hours--burn the candle, you
know."

Here he winked at Agnes, and she winked back at him, thinking herself
exceedingly witty.

Games were proposed, and games were begun; but, alas! how could seven
young people keep absolutely quiet?  I was trembling all over.  If
father were but to come down and see the absolute riot in the parlour, I
didn't know what would happen.  I was certain of one thing: neither Rita
nor Agnes would ever be allowed to have tea with me again.

After a time I did a very injudicious thing.  I left the room.  I ran
upstairs.  I listened outside father's room and heard him moving about.
I knocked, and immediately the door was flung open, and there was father
in his dressing-gown, with his beautiful grey hair pushed back off his
forehead.

"What's all that murmuring and muttering and shuffling that is going on
downstairs?" he said.  "And how flushed your cheeks are!  And there is a
smear of jam on one of them.  What have you been doing?"

"Having tea, father."

"You never offered me a cup."

"Oh father! when you first came in I offered to get you some."

"Well, I'd like some now.  Bring me up something to eat."

"Then, father darling, is your head better?"

"Yes, my dear, yes.  Go downstairs and bring me up a tray full of food--
toast and an egg and some tea.  Bring them up with your own hands.  See
there isn't a sound.  If I have two or three hours of quiet I shall be
quite fit to resume my work to-night.  I have to lecture in Hall at nine
o'clock this evening.  I shall not be able to utter a word if this
headache continues.  Now, Rachel, be off; set to work and get me some
food at once, as fast as ever you can."

I was half-way downstairs when my father's voice called after me:

"Do stop all that whispering and whistling and noise.  I can't imagine
what is happening."

"I will do what I can, father," I said.

PART ONE, CHAPTER TWO.

THE POACHED EGG.

I returned to the boys and to my school friends.

"Father is awake," I said, "and he complains of the noise we are
making."

"Noise?" cried Alex.  "Why, we are as mum as mice!"

"People must breathe, you know," said Agnes in what I considered a very
impertinent way.

I stared at her.  She had no right to speak like that of my father, the
great Professor Grant; for my father was a member of the Royal Society,
no less, and you can imagine that to hear such talk from a silly little
girl like Agnes Swan was, to say the least of it, disagreeable.  So I
drew myself up; but then I caught Von Marlo's eyes, and I felt soothed,
for he seemed to understand.

"If the Professor wishes it," he said, "we will, of course, hardly speak
at all.--It might be best," he added, turning to Alex, "if we all went
away.  What do you think?"

"Please yourself, Von," said Alex, speaking in a very patronising way,
and flinging himself back in a deep chair.  "Squibs and Charley and I
stay; and as you are the quietest of the party, and inclined to
patronise Dumps, I don't see why you should go."

Von Marlo came straight up to me and said:

"Can I do anything for you?  They say I patronise you, but that is not
true.  I don't exactly know what they mean by patronise, but I will do
all I can to help you, for you are quite the nicest little girl I have
met since I came to England."

Agnes and Rita seemed neither of them to thoroughly appreciate these
remarks of Von Marlo's, for he was really the biggest and most
imposing-looking of the four boys.  Even Alex, who was a handsome
fellow, looked very young beside him.  As to me, I felt soothed.  Of
course, you must understand that if you have been called Dumps all your
life, and told to your face that you haven't one vestige of good looks,
it must be a sort of pleasure to have a person suddenly inform you that
you are--oh! better than good-looking--the very prettiest girl he has
seen in the whole of the country.  I felt, therefore, a flush of triumph
stealing to my cheeks, and then I said, "Please keep things as quiet as
you can.  I must go to the kitchen to get some tea for father.  Please
don't let them be noisy."

"I'll sit on them if they are," said Von Marlo.

But Alex called out, "Go along, Von, and help her; that'll be the best
way.  Good gracious! she's in such a state of mind, because you are
noticing her and bolstering her up, that she will fall, as likely as
not, going down those slippery backstairs.  Go along with her, old chap,
and help her."

"Yes, come," I said, for I could not resist it.

So Von Marlo and I found ourselves in the big hall; then he took my hand
and we went along the passage, and then down another passage, and then
we opened a door and I called to Hannah.

"Hannah, are you downstairs?"

We were looking into pitch-black darkness, but we heard a muffled voice
say, "Yes, Miss Rachel?  Sakes alive!  What's wanted now?"

Then Hannah appeared at the foot of the stairs, holding a lighted
candle.

"I'm coming down," I said, "and I'm bringing a gentleman with me."

Hannah very nearly fell in her amazement, but I went steadily down, Von
Marlo following me.

"It is a very old house," I whispered, "and some people say it is
haunted.  But you are not afraid of ghosts, are you?"

"I think they are the jolliest things in the world!" was his reply.

He said the word jolly in a very funny way, as though he was not
accustomed to the word, and it sounded quite sweet.

At last we got to the lower regions, and then, guided by Hannah's
candle--which was really only like a very little spark of light--we
found our way into the kitchen.

"Once this was a grand house and grand people lived here," I said.
"Father lives here now because it belongs to the college.  The house is
a great deal too big for us, but it is a glorious place for
hide-and-seek.  This is the kitchen--monstrous dinners used to be cooked
here."

"Now then, Miss Rachel, what do you want?" said Hannah.  "And I think
young gents as ought to be at school ought to keep out of the
Professor's kitchen.  That's what I think."

"Oh, please, Hannah," I said, "this gentleman is from over the seas--he
comes from Holland, where the beautiful tulips are grown, and his name
is Mr Von Marlo."

"Catch me trying to say a mouthful of a name like that!" was Hannah's
rejoinder.

"He is exceedingly kind," I continued, "and he is going to help us."

"Yes, I will help you if you will let me," said Von Marlo, speaking in
his slow and rather distinct way, and not gabbling his words as we
English do.

"I want tea and toast and an egg for father; he is waiting for them, and
we must hurry," I said.  "Hannah, be as quick as you can."

"My word," said Hannah, "what a fuss!"

She was really a kind creature.  She must have been good to live with us
in that queer old house, for she was actually the only servant we kept.
She must have been brave, too, to spend so much of her time in that
desolate kitchen and in those black passages, for gas had never been
laid on in the bottom portion of the old house, and it smelt very damp,
and I am sure the rats had a good time there at night.  But Hannah,
forty-five years of age, with a freckled face and reddish hair, and high
cheek-bones and square shoulders, had never known the meaning of the
word fear.

"Ghosts?" she would cry.  "Don't talk nonsense to me!  Rats?  Well, I
guess they're more afraid of me than I am of them.  Loneliness?  I'm a
sight too busy to be lonely.  I does my work, and I eats my vittals, and
when bedtime comes I sleeps like a top.  I'm fond of the Professor, and
proud of him, he's so cliver; and I'm fond of Miss Rachel, whom I've
known since she was born, and of the boys, although they be handfuls."

This was Hannah's creed; she had no fear, and she was fond of us.  But
she had a rough tongue, and could be very rude at times, and could make
things unpleasant for us children unless we humoured her.

It was Von Marlo, the Dutch boy, who humoured her now.  He offered to
cut the bread for toast, and he not only offered, but he went boldly to
the cupboard, found a loaf, and cut most delicate slices, and set to
work toasting them before a clear little fire in a small new range at
one end of the kitchen before Hannah had time to expostulate.  Then he
suggested that father's egg should be poached, not boiled, and he found
a saucepan and put it on the fire and prepared to poach the egg.  And
when Hannah said, "My, what a fuss!" he found the egg, broke it into the
boiling water, poached it beautifully, and put it on the toast.  Really,
he was a wonderful boy; even Hannah declared that never had she seen his
like.

The tea was made fragrant and strong, and we put it on a little tray
with a white cloth, and Von Marlo carried it for me up the dark stairs.
We reached the hall, and then we stood and faced each other.

"You are going up all those other stairs with that tray?" said Von
Marlo.  "Then I insist upon carrying it for you."

"But suppose father should come out?  He sometimes does, you know," I
whispered.

"And if he does, what matter?" said Von Marlo.  "He won't eat us!  Come
along, Miss Rachel."

I was very glad he did not call me Dumps.  He must have heard Hannah
call me Miss Rachel, for, as far as the boys were concerned, I might
have been christened Dumps, for they never addressed me as anything
else.

We went up the stairs, I going first to lead the way, and Von Marlo
following, bearing the little tray with its fragrant tea, hot toast, and
poached egg.  All went well, and nothing would have happened except the
pleasant memory of our little adventure if suddenly at the top of the
stairs we had not encountered the stern face of father himself.  There
was gas in that part of the house, and it had been turned on; father
looked absolutely black with rage.

"What is the meaning of this?" he said.  "Who are you?  Von Marlo, I
declare!  And what, may I ask, are you doing in my house, and venturing
up to my rooms, sir?--What is the meaning of this, Rachel?  I shall
punish you severely.--Go downstairs, sir; go down at once, and leave the
house."

If it had been Squibs, even had it been Alex or Charley, I think he
would have turned at once at the sight of that angry, very fierce face;
but Von Marlo was like Hannah--he knew no fear.  He said quietly, "You
are mistaken, sir; I have done nothing that I should be ashamed of.
Your son, Mr Alex, invited me to come into the house, and he also
invited me to have tea downstairs.  Your daughter went to the kitchen to
prepare your tea, and I offered to assist her.  It is a way we have in
my country, sir, to assist the ladies when they have more to do than
they can well accomplish.  It is the way we gentlemen act, Professor."

There was something so quaint in Von Marlo's utterance that even father
was appeased.  He murmured, "I forgot you were a foreigner.  Well then,
thanks; but go away now, for goodness' sake.--Rachel, take the tea into
my bedroom.--Von Marlo, you must go; I cannot have any one in my house
this evening; my head is very bad."

"Good-bye, Mr Von Marlo," I said; "and thank you, thank you."

Von Marlo boldly took my hand in the presence of father, and then bolted
downstairs, I regret to say, with extreme noise; for, notwithstanding
his gentlemanly manners, his boots were thick and rough, and the stairs
were destitute of carpets.

"Lay the tea on the table, Rachel," said my father.

He pushed his hands through his hair, which now seemed to stand up on
his head and gave him a wild appearance.

"What does this mean?  Tell me at once.  Speak, Rachel."

"I think Mr Von Marlo explained, father.  I am awfully sorry.  I did
ask Agnes and Rita Swan to tea this evening.  You said--or at least you
never said that I wasn't to ask them."

"I never gave you leave to ask any one.  How dare you invite people to
my house without my permission?"

"I am lonely sometimes, father."

I said the words in a sad voice; I could not help it; there was a lump
in my throat.  Father gazed at me, and all of a sudden his manner
altered.  He seated himself in a chair, and motioned to me to take
another.  He pulled the little tray with the nice tea towards him,
poured out a cup, and drank it.  Then he looked at the poached egg, put
on his glasses, and gazed at it more fixedly.

"That's a queer sort of thing," he said; and then he ate it with
considerable relish.  "It's very good," he said when he had finished it.
"Who did it?"

"Mr Von Marlo."

"Rachel, you must be mad!"

"No, father; he isn't an English boy, you know.  He helped me; he is a
very nice boy."

My father sank back in his chair, and suddenly, to my amazement and
relief, he burst into a roar of laughter.

"Well, well!" he said, "I admit that I was in a temper; and I was rude
to the lad, too.  If you ever have headaches like mine you will get into
passions too, Rachel.  Pray that you may never have them; my misery is
something too awful; and when I saw that lad, with his great dark head,
and that hair of his coming straight down to his eyebrows, marching up
the stairs with you, I really thought a burglar had got into the house.
But, after all, it was only the Dutch lad, and he is clever enough, and
doesn't know our English customs.  And to think that he poached an egg!"

"And he made the toast, father."

My father laughed again.

"Whatever he did, he has cured my headache," was his next remark; "I
feel as right as a trivet.  I'll come downstairs, and I'll turn those
lads out, and those girls."

"But, father--father darling--they have come by invitation.  It isn't
their fault."

My father took my hand.

"So you are lonely, Dumps?" he said.  "And why in the world should you
be lonely?"

"I want friends," I said.  "I want some one to love me."

"All women make that sort of cry," was his next remark.  He pulled me
close to him and raised my head and looked into my face.

"You have a nice little face of your own," he said, "and some day you
will find--But, pshaw! why talk nonsense to the child?  How old are you,
Dumps?"

"I'll be sixteen in six months," I said.  "It is a long way off to have
a birthday, but it will come in six months."

"And then you'll be seventeen, and then eighteen, and, hey presto!
you'll be a woman.  My goodness, child! put off the evil day as long as
you can.  Keep a child as long as possible."

"But, father, most children are happy."

"And you are not?  Good gracious me! what more do you want?"

"I don't know, father; but it seems to me that I want something."

"Well, look here, you want girls about you, do you?"

"Yes, some girls."

"And you think Rita and Agnes Swan, the daughters of our local doctor,
quite delightful companions?"

I made no answer.

"Just wait for me a minute, Dumps, and I'll get dressed and come down
and inspect them."

"Oh, but you won't frighten them?"

"Frighten them?  Well, if they're that sort they won't be much good to
you.  But wait outside the door, and I'll come down.  To think that Von
Marlo made the toast!  And how do you say he prepared the egg?"

"Poached it, father."

"Poached an egg for me, and cured my headache, and I scolded him as
though he were a rascal!  I'll make amends when I see him next.  Wait
outside the door, Rachel; I'll join you in a minute."

I did wait outside the door, and when my father came out he looked quite
spruce.  He had absolutely put on a less greasy and shabby coat than
usual, and he had brushed his grey hair across his lofty brow; his pale
face looked its most dignified and most serene.  He took my hand, and we
went downstairs.

By this time, as I knew there would be, there were high-jinks going on
in the parlour.  Von Marlo was not present, but Alex, Charley, Squibs,
and the girls were playing at blind-man's buff.  They were endeavouring
not to be too noisy; I will say that.  It was Rita who was blindfold
when my father appeared.  The tea-table was pushed into a distant corner
of the room; a guard had been put on the fire; and Rita was running as
silently as she could, but also as swiftly, round and round, with one of
father's own silk handkerchiefs tied across her eyes.  Agnes was in
convulsions of laughter, and the boys were also.

"Caught! caught!" she cried, not noticing the entrance of my father, and
she clasped him firmly round the waist.

Her horror when the handkerchief was removed, and she found herself
holding on to the Professor, may be better imagined than described.
Poor Rita! she very nearly turned silly on the spot.  I had to convey
her to a chair.  Father said, "I am your prisoner, Miss Rita Swan.  Am I
now to be blindfolded?"

"Oh no, father, you couldn't think of such a thing," I said.

He smiled and looked at me.

"Well, young people," he said, "you seem to be having a very merry time.
But where's my Knight of the Poached Egg?  Why is he not present?"

However inclined to be impertinent and saucy and rude to me Alex and
Charley were when father was not present, they never dared to show this
spirit when he was by.

Father related the story of Von Marlo and the poached egg to the other
children.

"He is a chivalrous fellow, and I shall talk to him about it when I see
him, and thank him.  I was very rude to him just now; but as to you,
Alex and Charley, if you ever let it leak out at college that he did
this thing, or turn him into ridicule on account of it, you won't hear
the last of it from me.  It's a right good flogging either of you'll
get, so just keep your own counsel.  And now, boys, if I don't mistake,
it's time for you to get to your books.--Rachel, my dear, you and your
friends can entertain one another; but would it not be nicest and more
cheerful if you first of all requested the presence of Hannah to remove
the tea-things?"

As father spoke he bowed to the girls, marched the boys in front of him
out of the room, and closed the door behind him.

"Well, I never!" exclaimed Agnes.  "To be sure, Dumps, you do have
exciting times in this house!"

"I am very glad you have enjoyed it," I said, and I sat down and pushed
my hair away from my face.

"How flushed your cheeks are!  And where is the Knight of the Poached
Egg?  What a very funny boy he must be!"

"But you two mustn't tell the story about him either," I said.  "I mean,
if you have any friends at the college, you mustn't relate it, for they
might laugh, and he was really very chivalrous.  Father thinks a lot of
him; I can see that.  And as to me, I think he is the most chivalrous
boy I have ever come across in the whole course of my life."

"Oh, that's because he said you were pretty.  That's a foreigner's way
of talking.  Alex spoke about it when you had gone out of the room.  He
said of course his sister was good-looking; he would always stand up for
his sister; but it was a foreigner's way."

As Agnes spoke she raised her somewhat piquant little face and glanced
at me, as much as to say, "Poor Dumps! you are very plain, but of course
your own people must stand up for you."

"Well, we can have some games now," I said, forcing myself to turn the
conversation.

But the girls were disinclined for games; they preferred to sit by the
fire and talk, and ask me innumerable questions about the school, my
brothers, and Mr Von Marlo, and if Mr Von Marlo would be allowed to
come to see them on Sunday evenings, and if I would bring him, and all
sorts of talk of that sort.  I answered that I shouldn't be allowed to
do anything of the sort, and that the only boy I knew in the school
except my brothers was Squibs, and of course, now, Mr Von Marlo.

"Well, well! we'll come and see you again if you like; and you must have
tea with us, you know, Rachel.  Come to see us the night after
to-morrow, and we'll have some friends who will surprise you a bit.  You
do look very nice in that pale-blue dress.  But good-bye now, for it is
getting late."

PART ONE, CHAPTER THREE.

A WELCOME CALLER.

Father looked mysterious during the next few days.  I mean that he had
begun a strange new habit.  During meals he used to put down his knife
and fork and stare hard at me.  Now, until the affair of the poached egg
he had hardly noticed me.  He had an abstracted way about him, as though
he did not see anybody.  Sometimes he would address me as though I were
one of the schoolboys, and would say, "Hurry up, Stumps, with your
lessons;" or, "My dear Moore, you will never win that scholarship if you
don't put your back into the thing."  And then he would start violently
and say, "Oh, it's only little Dumps, after all!"

But this new sort of staring was quite different.  He was looking at me
as though he saw me, and as though he were disturbed about something.  I
used to turn very red and fidget and look down, and look up again, and
get the boys to talk, and employ all sorts of devices to get his eyes
off me.  But it was all of no use; those large, calm, thoughtful eyes of
his seemed screwed to my face, and at times I got quite nervous about
it.

After a second or even a third day had passed, and this habit of
father's had become in a measure confirmed, I went down to the kitchen
to consult Hannah.

"Hannah," I said, "I don't think father is at all well."

"And whatever do you come and say that to me for?" said Hannah.

She was crosser than usual.  It was the sort of day to make any woman
cross, for there was a dreadful fog outside, and a lot of it had got
into the kitchen, and the little stove in the farther corner did not
half warm it, and Hannah had a cold.  That was certain, for she wore her
plaid shawl.  Her plaid shawl had been left to her by her grandmother,
and she never put it on except when she was afflicted with a cold.  She
then wore it crossed on her chest and tied behind.  She did not like to
be remarked on when she wore that shawl, and the boys and I respected
her on these occasions, and helped her as much as we could, and had very
plain things for dinner.

So now, when I saw the shawl, and observed how red Hannah's nose was and
how watery her eyes were, I said, "Oh dear, dear!  I suppose I oughtn't
to come complaining."

"I wish to goodness you'd keep up in your own part of the house--that I
do," said Hannah.  "This fog makes one choke, and it's so dismal and
dark, and one can't get any light from these bits of candles.  I
misdoubt me if you'll get much dinner to-day, Miss Rachel.  But I don't
suppose you children will mind."

"I tell you what," I said; "I do wish you'd let me cook the dinner.  I
can, and I'd love to."

"You cook the dinner!" said Hannah in disdain.  "And a pretty sort of
mess you'd have for the Professor if you gave him his food."

"Well, at any rate, Hannah, you can't say that you are the only one who
can cook.  Think of Mr Von Marlo."

"Don't bother me by mentioning that gawky creature."

"I don't think he's gawky at all," I said.

"But I say he is!  Now then, we won't discuss it.  What I want to know
is, why have you come bothering down, and why have you took it into your
head that the Professor is ill?  Bless him! he ain't ill; his appetite's
too hearty."

"He does eat well," I admitted.  "But what I wanted to tell you is
this--he has taken to staring at me."

Hannah stopped in her occupation, threw her hands to her sides, and then
taking up a lighted candle which stood on a table near, she brought it
close to me and looked hard into my face.  She made a rapid inspection.

"You ain't got any spots on you, or anything of that sort," she said.

"Oh, I hope not, Hannah!"  I said.  "That would be a terribly
uninteresting way of explaining why father stares at me.  I am sure I
haven't," I continued, rubbing my hands over my face, which felt quite
smooth.

"Then I don't see why he do it," said Hannah, "for you ain't anything to
look at."

"I know that," I replied humbly; "but that makes it all the more
wonderful, for he does stare."

"Then I can't tell you why; but it's no proof that he's ill, for his
appetite's that hearty.  I've ordered half a pound more rump-steak than
usual for his supper to-night.  I'm sure I'm pleased he can eat it.  As
to you children, you must do with a mutton bone and potatoes, for more
you won't get."

"Very well, Hannah," I said, and I sadly left the kitchen.

I traversed the dark passages outside, and found the long flight of
stairs which led up to the ground-floor; and then I went into the big,
big parlour, and sat close to the fire, and thought and thought.

It was dull at home--yes, it was dull.  It would be nearly two hours
before the boys came home and before father returned.  I had finished
all my lessons, and had no new story-book to read.  The cracked piano
was not particularly pleasant to play on, and I was not particularly
musical.  I could scarcely see through the fog, and it was too early to
light the gas, but I made up my mind that if the fog did not lighten a
bit in the next half-hour I would put the gas on and get the story-book
which I had read least often and begin it over again.  Oh dear!  I did
wish there was some sort of mystery or some sort of adventure about to
happen.  Even if Mr Von Marlo came in it would be better than nothing,
but I dared not ask him, although I wanted to.

I had been to tea with Agnes and Rita Swan, but it had been quite a dull
affair, and I had not found on closer acquaintance that those girls were
specially attractive to me.  They were silly sort of girls; quite
amiable, I am sure, but it seemed such utter nonsense that they at their
age should talk about boys, and be so interested in a boys' school, and
so anxious to get me to bring Alex and Charley, and even poor, ugly
Squibs and Mr Von Marlo, to tea.  I said that I could not possibly do
it, and then they took offence and became suddenly cool, and my visit to
them ended in a decided huff.  The last two or three days at school they
had scarcely noticed me, and I had become friends instead with Augusta
Moore, who was more to my taste, although she was a very plain girl and
lived in a very plain way.

Yes, there was nothing at all specially interesting to think about.
School was school, and there was no stimulation in the life; and
although our house was such a big one, such a barrack of a place, it was
bitterly cold in winter; and we were poor, for father did not get a very
large income, although he worked so hard.  He was also somewhat of a
saving turn of mind, and he told me once that he was putting by money in
order to help the boys to go to one of the 'varsities by-and-by.  He was
determined that they should be scholars and gentlemen; and of course I
thought this a very praiseworthy ambition of his, and offered to do
without a new summer dress.  He did not even thank me; he said that he
thought I could do quite well with my present clothes for some time to
come, and after that I felt my sacrifice had fallen somewhat flat.

But now to-day, just in the midst of my dismal meditations, there came a
smart ring at the hall door bell.  There were all sorts of ways of
pulling that bell; it was not an electric bell, but it had a good
ringing sound which none of those detestable new bells ever make.  It
pealed through the half-empty house as though the person outside were
impatient.  I started and stood irresolute.  Would Hannah trouble
herself to attend to it?  Hannah was dreadfully rude about the hall
door.  She often left people standing there three or four minutes, and
on a bitterly cold day like this it was not pleasant to be in such an
exposed spot.  So I waited on tiptoe, and at the first sound of the
second ring I went into the hall, deliberately crossed it, and opened
the hall door.

A lady was standing without.  She looked me all over, began to say
something, then changed her mind and stepped into the house, and held
out her hand.

"Why, of course," she said, "you are Rachel Grant."

"Yes, I am," I replied.

"I have come to see you.  Will you take me somewhere where I can have a
chat with you?"

"But what is your name, please?"  I could not help saying.

"My name is Miss Grace Donnithorne.  The Professor knows all about me,
and will explain about me presently; but I have just come to have a
little chat with you.  May I come in?"

"You may, of course, Miss Donnithorne," I said.  I was secretly
delighted to see her; I liked her appearance.  She was a fat sort of
person, not at all scraggy or thin as poor Hannah was.  She was not
young; indeed, to me she looked old, although I dare say father would
have thought her comparatively juvenile.  But that sort of thing--the
question of age, I mean--depends altogether on your point of view.  I
thought Hannah a woman almost dropping into the grave, but father spoke
of her as an active body in the prime of life.  So, as I did not feel
capable of forming any correct judgment with regard to Miss Grace
Donnithorne's age, I asked her to seat herself, and I poked the fire,
and then mounted a chair to turn on the gas.  She watched me as I
performed these little offices; then she said, "You will forgive me,
child, but don't you keep any servants in this great house?"

"Oh yes," I replied, "we keep Hannah; but Hannah has a bad cold and is
rather cross.  You would like some tea, wouldn't you, Miss Donnithorne?"

"I should prefer a cup of tea at this moment to almost anything in the
world," said Miss Donnithorne.  "It's this awful fog, you know; it gets
into one's throat."  Here she coughed; then she loosened her furs; then
she thought better of it and clasped them more tightly round her person;
then she drew her chair close to the fire, right on the rug, which
father rather objected to, and put her feet, which were in goloshes, on
the fender.  She held out her hands to the blaze, and said, "It strikes
me you haven't much of a servant or much of a fire either.  Oh, goodness
me!  I have my goloshes on and they'll melt.  Take them off for me,
child, and be quick about it."

I obeyed.  I had begun by being rather afraid of Miss Donnithorne, but
by the time I had got off her goloshes--and they seemed to stick very
firmly to her boots--I was laughing; and when I laughed she laughed in
unison, and then we were quite on equal terms and got on quite
delightfully.

"What about tea?" she said.  "My throat is as raspy as though it were a
file."

"I'll see about it," I said, speaking somewhat dubiously.

"Why, where's the difficulty?"

"It's Hannah."

"Does she grudge you your tea?"

"No, I don't think so; but, you see, we don't have tea quite so early,
and when your house is so big, and there are a great many stairs, and
you have only one servant, and she is rather old--although father
doesn't think her so--and has got a bad cold in her head, and is wearing
her grandmother's plaid shawl, you have to think twice before you ask
her to do anything extra."

"It is a long catalogue of woes," responded Miss Grace.  "But I tell you
what it is--oh, they call you Dumps, don't they?"

"Have you heard?"  I said, puckering my brows in distress.

"Yes; and I think it is quite a nice name."

"But I'd much, much rather be called Rachel."

"Well, child, I don't mind--Rachel or Dumps--I must have tea.  Go down
to the kitchen, fetch a kettle with hot water, bring it up, and also the
tea-caddy and sugar and milk if you can get them, and we'll make the tea
ourselves.  But oh, good gracious, the coal-hod is empty!  What an awful
spot!"

Now really, I thought, Miss Donnithorne was becoming too free.  It was
all very well for her to force herself into the house; I had never even
heard of her before; but to put her feet on the fender, and then to
complain of the cold and to say she must have tea, and also to grumble
because there was no more coal in the hod, rather took my breath away.

"I see," said Miss Grace, "that I must help you."

"Oh no," I answered, "please don't."

For this would be the final straw.  It was all very well to take Von
Marlo down to the kitchen.  A boy was one thing, but an elderly, stout
lady about Hannah's own age was quite another thing.  So I said, "I'll
do my best, but you must stay here."

Good gracious!  I had imagined the two hours before father and the boys
came home would be dull and would pass slowly, but I never was so worked
in my life.  First of all I had to go to the coal-cellar and fill the
empty hod with coals and tug it upstairs.  When I got into the parlour I
let Miss Grace do the rest, and she did set to work with a will.  While
she was building up the fire I purloined a kettle from the kitchen while
Hannah's back was turned, and two cups and saucers, for I thought I
might as well have tea with Miss Grace.  There was some tea upstairs,
and some sugar and a little bread-and-butter, and as father always had
special milk for himself in a special can, and as this was kept in the
parlour cupboard, I knew that we could manage the tea after a fashion.
When I got back there was a roaring fire in the grate.

"There," said Miss Donnithorne; "that's something like a fire!"

She had unfastened her furs at last; she had even removed her jacket;
and when I arrived with the kettle she stamped it down on the bed of hot
coals, and looked round at me with a smile of triumph.

"There, now!" she said.  "We'll have our tea, and afterwards I want to
have a chat with you."

I must say I did enjoy it, and I liked the glowing heat of the fire; it
seemed to blot away some of the fog and to make the room more cheerful.
And Miss Grace, when she got her way, became very cheerful also.  She
laughed a great deal, and asked me a lot of questions, in especial about
father, and what he was doing, and how he passed his time, and if he was
a good-humoured sort of man.

Exactly at five o'clock she got up and took her departure.

"Well, child," she said, "I am warm through, and my throat is much
better, and I am sure you look all the better for a bit of heat and a
bit of good food.  I'll come again to see you presently, and I'll bring
some new-laid eggs with me, and better butter than that stuff we have
just eaten; it wasn't fit for a Christian's palate.  Good-bye, child.
You'll see more of me in the future."

PART ONE, CHAPTER FOUR.

MISS GRACE DONNITHORNE.

When father came in that evening I was quite lively, but he did not
specially notice it.  I hoped he would.  I felt wonderfully excited
about Miss Grace Donnithorne.  The boys, of course, were also in the
room, but they were generally in a subdued state and disinclined to make
a noise when father was present.

Hannah came up with the dinner.  She dumped down the tray on the
sideboard, and put the appetising rump-steak in front of father.  It was
rump-steak with onions, and there were fried potatoes, and there was a
good deal of juice coming out of the steak, and oh, such a savoury
smell!  Alex began to sniff, and Charley looked with keen interest and
watering eyes at the good food.

"There," said Hannah, placing a mutton bone in front of Alex; "you get
on with that.  There's plenty of good meat if you turn it round and cut
from the back part.  It's good and wholesome, and fit for young people.
The steak is for the Professor.  I've got some roast potatoes; thought
you'd like them."

The roast potatoes were a sop in the pan; but oh, how we did long for a
piece of the steak!  That was the worst about father; he really was a
most kindly man, but he was generally, when not absorbed in lecturing--
on which occasions, I was told, he was most animated and lively and all
there--in a sort of dream.  He ate his steak now without in the least
perceiving that his children were dining off cold mutton.  Had he once
noticed it, he would have taken the mutton bone for himself and given us
the steak.  I heard Alex mutter, "It's rather too bad, and he certainly
won't finish it!"

But I sat down close to Alex, and whispered, "Alex, for shame!  You know
how he wants it; he isn't at all strong."

Then Alex's grumbles subsided, and he ate his own dinner with boyish
appetite.

After the brief and very simple meal had come to an end the boys left
the room, and the Professor, as we often called him, stood with his back
to the fire.  Now was my opportunity.

"Father," I said, "I had a visitor this afternoon."

"Eh?  What's that.  Dumps?"

"Father, I wish you wouldn't call me Dumps."

"Don't fret me, Rachel; what does it matter what I call you?  The thing
is that I address the person who is known to me as my daughter.  What
does it matter whether I speak of her as Dumps, or Stumps, or Rachel, or
Annie, or any other title?  What's in a name?"

"Oh father!  I think there's a good deal in a name.  But never mind," I
continued, for I didn't want him to go off into one of those long
dissertations which he was so fond of, quite forgetting the person he
was talking to.  So I added hastily, "Miss Grace Donnithorne called.
She said she was a friend of yours.  Do you know her?"

"Miss--Grace--Donnithorne?" said father, speaking very slowly and
pausing between each word.  "Miss--Grace--Donnithorne?"

"Why, yes, father," I said, and I went close to him now.  "She was, oh,
so funny--such a fat, jolly sort of person!  Only she didn't like this
house one bit."

"Eh?  Eh?" said my father.

He sank into a chair near the fire.

"That is the very chair she sat in."

My father looked round at it.

"The shabbiest chair in the whole house," he said.

"But the most comfy, father."

"Well, all right; tell me about her."

"She sat here, and she made me have a good fire."

"Quite right.  Why should you be cold, Dumps?"

"But I thought, father, that you did not want us to be extravagant?"

"It is far more extravagant, let me tell you, Dumps, to get a severe
cold and to have doctors' bills to pay."

I was startled by this sentiment of father's, and treasured it up to
retail to Hannah in the future.

"But tell me more about her," he said.

Then I related exactly what had happened.  He was much amused, and after
a time he said, with a laugh, "And so you got tea for her?"

"Yes; she insisted on it.  She wouldn't let me off getting that tea for
all the world.  I didn't mind it, of course--indeed, I quite enjoyed
it--but what I did find hard was bringing up the hod of coal from the
coal-cellar."

"Good practice, Dumps.  Arms are made to be useful."

"So they are," I answered.  "And feet are made to run with."

"Of course, father."

"And a girl's little brain is meant to keep a house comfortable."

"But, father, I haven't such a little brain; and I think I could do
something else."

"Could what?" said father, opening his eyes with horror.  "What in the
world is more necessary for a girl who is one day to be a woman than to
know how to keep a house comfortable?"

"Yes, yes," I said; "I suppose so."

I was very easily stopped when father spoke in that high key.

"And you have complained to me that you find life dull.  Did you find
Miss Grace Donnithorne dull?"

"Oh no; she is very lively, father."

Father slowly crossed one large white hand over the other; then he rose.

"Good-night, Dumps," he said.

"Have you nothing more to say?"  I asked.

"Good gracious, child! this is my night for school.  I have to give two
lectures to the boys of the First Form.  Good-night--good-night."

He did not kiss me--he very seldom did that--but his voice had a very
affectionate tone.

After he had gone I sat for a long time by the fire.  The neglected
dinner-things remained on the table; the room was as shabby and as empty
as possible, but not quite as cold as usual.  Presently Hannah came in.
She began to clear away the dinner-things.

"Hannah," I said, "I told father about Miss Grace Donnithorne's visit."

"And who in the name of wonder may she be?" asked Hannah.

"Oh, a lady.  I let her in myself this afternoon."

"What call have you to be opening the hall door?"

"Didn't you hear a very sharp ring at the hall door about three
o'clock?"  I said.

Hannah stood stock-still.

"I did, and I didn't," she replied.

"What do you mean by you did and you didn't?"

"Well, you see, child, I wasn't in the humour to mount them stairs, so I
turned my deaf ear to the bell and shut up my hearing one with
cotton-wool; after that the bell might ring itself to death."

"Then, of course, Hannah, I had to go to the door."

"Had to?  Young ladies don't open hall doors."

"Anyhow, I did go to the door, and I let the lady in, and she sat by the
fire.  She's a very nice lady indeed; she's about your age, but not
scraggy."

"I'll thank you, Miss Dumps, not to call me names."

"But you are scraggy, for that means thin."

"I may be thin and genteel, and not fat and vulgar, but I won't have it
said of me that I'm scraggy," said Hannah; "and by you too, Miss Dumps,
of all people!"

"Very well, Hannah.  _She_ was fat and vulgar, if you like, and _you_
are thin and genteel.  Anyhow, I liked her; she was very jolly.  She was
about your age."

"How d'you know what age I be?"

"Didn't I see father put it down at the time of the last census?"

"My word!  I never knew children were listening.  I didn't want my age
known."

"Hannah, you are forty-five."

"And what if I be?"

"That's very old," I said.

"'Tain't," said Hannah.

"It is," I repeated.  "I asked Alex one day, and he said it was the age
when women began to drop off."

"Lawks! what does that mean?" said Hannah.

"It's the way he expressed it.  I don't want to frighten you, but he
said lots of people died then."  Hannah now looked really scared.

"And that's why, Hannah," I continued, "I don't like to see you in your
grandmother's shawl, for I am so awfully afraid your bad cold will mean
your dropping off."

"Master Alex talks nonsense," said Hannah.  "You give me a start for a
minute with the sort of gibberish you talk.  Forty-five, be I?  Well, if
I be, my grandmother lived to eighty, and my grandfather to ninety; and
if I take after him--and they say I have a look of him--I have another
good forty-five years to hang on, so there's no fear of my dropping off
for a bit longer."  As these remarks of Hannah's were absolutely
impossible for me to understand, I did not pursue the subject further,
but I said, "Father made such a nice remark to-night!"

"And whatever was that?  The Professor is always chary of his talk."

"He said that it was very wrong to be cold, and that the fires ought to
be large and good."

"He said that?"

"Yes, he did.  And then I said, `I thought you wanted us to be saving;'
and he said, `It's not saving to catch cold and have doctors' bills.'
So now, Hannah, you have your orders, and we must have a big, big fire
in the parlour during the cold weather."

"Don't bother me any longer," said Hannah.  "Your talk is beyond
anything for childishness!  What with trying to frighten a body in the
prime of life about her deathbed, and then giving utterance to rubbish
which you put into the lips of the Professor, it is beyond any sensible
person to listen to.  It's cotton-wool I'll put in my right ear the next
time I come up to see you, Miss Dumps."

By this time Hannah had filled her tray.  She raised it and walked
towards the door.  She then, with some skill and strength, placed the
whole weight of the tray on her right arm, and with the left she opened
the door.  I have seen waiters in restaurants do that sort of trick, but
I never could understand it.  Even if Hannah was dropping off, she must
have some strong muscles, was my reflection.

The next day I went to school as usual.  The fog had cleared and it was
fairly bright--not very bright, for it never is in the city part of
London in the winter months.

At school I, as usual, took my place in the same form with Agnes and
Rita Swan.  I was glad to see that I got to the head of the form and
they remained in a subordinate position that day.  In consequence during
play-hours they were rather less patronising and more affectionate to me
than usual.  But I held up my head high and would have little to do with
them.  I was much more inclined to be friends with Augusta Moore than
with the Swans just then.

Now, Augusta lived in a very small house a long way from the school.
She was very poor, and lived alone with her mother, whose only child she
was.  Augusta was an uncommunicative sort of girl.  She worked hard at
her books, and was slow to respond to her schoolfellows' advances of
friendship; but when I said, "May I walk up and down in the playground
with you, Augusta?" she on this occasion made no objection.

She glanced round at me once or twice, and then said, "I don't mind, of
course, your walking with me, Rachel, but I have to read over my poetry
once or twice in order to be sure of saying it correctly."

I asked her if she would like me to hear her, and she was much obliged
when I made this offer; and after a few minutes' pause she handed me the
book, and repeated a very fine piece of poetry with considerable spirit.
When she had come to the end she said, "How many mistakes did I make?"

"I don't know," I answered.

"You don't know?  But you said you would hear me."

"I didn't look at the book," I said; "I was so absorbed watching you."

"Oh! then you are no good at all," said Augusta, and she looked really
annoyed.  "You must give me back the book and I must read it over
slowly."

"But you know it perfectly--splendidly."

"That won't do.  I have to make all the proper pauses, you know, just as
our recitation mistress required, and there mustn't be a syllable too
many or a syllable too few in any of the words, and there mustn't be a
single word transposed.  That is the proper way to say poetry, and I
know perfectly well that I cannot repeat Gray's _Elegy_ like that."

I said I was sorry, and she took the book from my hands.  Presently she
went away to a distant part of the playground, and I saw her lips moving
as she paced up and down.  I walked quickly myself, for I wanted to keep
warm, and just before I went into the house Rita Swan came up to me.

"Well, Dumps," she said, "I wonder how you'll like it?"

"Like what?"  I asked.

Rita began to laugh rather immoderately.  She looked at Agnes, who also
came up at that moment.

"I don't believe Dumps knows," she said.

"Know what?"  I asked angrily.

"Why, what is about to happen.  Oh, what a joke!"

"What is it?"  I asked again.  I was so curious that I didn't mind even
their rude remarks at that moment.

"She doesn't know--she doesn't know!" laughed Rita, and she jumped
softly up and down.  "What fun!  What fun!  Just to think of a thing of
that sort going to take place in her very own house--in her very own,
own house--and she not even to have a suspicion of it!"

"Oh, if it's anything to do with home, I know everything about my home,"
I said in a very haughty tone, "and I don't want you to tell me."

I marched past the two girls and entered the schoolroom.  But during the
rest of the morning I am afraid I was not very attentive to my lessons.
I could not help wondering what they meant, and what there was to know.
But of course there was nothing.  They were such silly girls, and I
could not understand for one moment how I had ever come to be friends
with them.

At one o'clock I went home, and there, lying on the parlour table, was a
letter addressed to me.  Now it is true, although some girls may smile
when they read these words, I had never before received a letter.  I
have never made violent friendships.  I met my school friends, for what
they were worth, every day; I had no near relations of any sort, and
father was always at home except for the holidays, when he took us
children to some very cheap and very dreary seaside place.  There was
really no one to write to me, and therefore no one ever did write.  So a
letter addressed to Miss Rachel Grant made my heart beat.  I took it up
and turned it round and round, and looked at it back and front, and did
all those strange things that a person will do to whom a letter is a
great rarity and something precious.

I heard the boys tramping into the house at that moment, and I thrust
the letter into my pocket.  Presently father came in, and we sat down to
our midday meal.  Luckily for me, neither father nor the boys knew
anything about the letter; but it was burning a hole in my pocket, and I
was dying for the boys to return to school, and for father to go back to
his classes, so that I might have an opportunity of opening the precious
epistle.

Just as father was leaving the room he turned back to me and said, "You
may accept it if you like."

"What, father?"  I said in some astonishment.

"When it is offered to you, you may accept it."

He stooped and, to my great astonishment, kissed me on the forehead.
Then he left the room, and a minute or two later left the house.

What could he mean?  Would the letter explain?  Was there anything at
all in the strange words of Agnes and Rita Swan?

Of course, any ordinary girl would have relieved her curiosity by
tearing open the letter; but I was somewhat slow and methodical in my
movements, and wished to prolong my luxury as much as possible.  I had
the whole long afternoon in which to learn a few stupid lessons, and
then to do nothing.

Just then Hannah came up to remove the lunch-things.  She seemed so sure
that I would tackle her about her age that she had stuck cotton-wool
into her right ear.  I therefore did not speak at all; I was most
anxious for her to depart.  At last she did so, banging the door
fiercely behind her.  I heard her tramping off with her tray, and then I
knew that my moment of bliss had arrived.

I got a knife and very deliberately cut the flap of the envelope open at
the top.  I then slipped my hand into the precious enclosure and took
out its contents.  I opened the sheet of paper; I could read writing
quite well, and this writing was plain and quite intelligible to any
ordinary eyes.

On the top of the sheet of paper were written the words, "Hedgerow
House, near Chelmsford, Essex," and the letter ran as follows:

  "My dear Rachel or Dumps,--I want to know if you will come on Saturday
  next to pay me a little visit until Tuesday evening.  I have heard
  that it is half-term holiday at your school, and should like you to
  see my pretty house and this pretty place.  I believe I can give you a
  good time, so trust you will come.--Yours sincerely, Grace
  Donnithorne.

  "P.S.--In case you say yes, I will expect you by the train which
  leaves Liverpool Street at ten o'clock in the morning.  I shall be
  waiting with the pony and cart at Chelmsford at eleven o'clock, and
  will drive you straight to Hedgerow House.

  "P.S. 2.--I have a great many pets.  I trust you will be nice about
  them.  Don't fear my little dog; his bark is worse than his bite.

  "P.S. 3.--Your clothes will do; don't bother about getting a fresh
  wardrobe."

This extraordinary letter caused a perfect tumult in my heart.  I had
never gone on a visit in my life.  I really was a very stranded sort of
girl.  Hitherto I had had no outlets of any sort; I was just Dumps, a
squat, rather plain girl, who knew little or nothing of the world--a
neglected sort of girl, I have no doubt; but then I had no mother.

A warm glow came all over me as I read the letter.  The half-term
holiday had not been looked forward to with any feelings of rapture by
me.  I could well guess what, under ordinary circumstances, would
happen.  I should be indoors all the morning as well as all the
afternoon, for the half-term holiday was so planned that it should not
in any way clash with the boys' half-term holiday.  If Alex and Charley
had had a holiday at the same time, I might have coaxed one of them at
least to come for a walk with me in Regent's Park, or to take me to the
British Museum, or to the Zoo, or to some other sort of London treat;
but I shouldn't be allowed to go out alone, and at present I was not in
the humour to ask either Agnes or Rita Swan to entertain me.  Now I need
ask nobody, for I was going away on a visit.  Of course, I understood at
last the meaning of father's words, "You may accept it;" though it
seemed strange at the time, now I knew all about it, and my excitement
was so great that I could scarcely contain myself.

The first business was to answer the precious letter.  I sat down and
replied that I should be delighted to come to Miss Grace Donnithorne on
the following Saturday, that I would be sure to be at Liverpool Street
in good time to catch the train, that I adored pets, and was not at all
afraid even of barking dogs.  I did not mind going in a shabby dress,
and above all things I hoped she would call me Rachel, and not Dumps.

Having written my letter, which took me a long time, for I was
unaccustomed to writing of that sort, I got an envelope and addressed it
to Miss Grace Donnithorne, Hedgerow House, near Chelmsford, Essex, and
then went out and dropped it into the nearest pillar-box.  When I
returned the afternoon had fled and it was time for tea.

Father came in to tea.  This was unexpected; he had not often time to
leave his classes and rush across to the house to have tea; but he came
in on this occasion, and when he saw me in the parlour bending over the
warm fire making toast, he said at once, "Have you accepted it?"

"Then you know all about it, father?"  I exclaimed.  "Oh yes," he said,
with a grave and yet queer smile trembling for an instant on his lips
and then vanishing.

"I thought that must be what you meant, and I have accepted it," I said.
"I mean about going to Miss Grace Donnithorne's."

"Yes, child; it is very kind of her to ask you."

"Yes, isn't it, father?  And she is so nice and considerate; she says I
may go in my shabby clothes."

"Your shabby clothes, Rachel!" he replied, putting on his spectacles and
looking at me all over.  "Your shabby clothes!  Why should they be
shabby?"

"Well, father," I answered, "they are not very smart.  You know you
haven't given me a new dress for over a year, and my best pale-blue,
which I got the summer before last, is very short in the skirt, and also
in the sleeves.  But never mind," I continued, as he looked quite
troubled; "I'll do; I know I'll do."

He looked at his watch.

"I declare," he said, "this will never answer.  I don't wish my
daughter, Professor Grant's daughter, to go away on a visit, and of all
people to Miss Grace Donnithorne, shabby.  Look here, Dumps, can these
things be bought to hand?"

"What do you mean, father?"

He took up a portion of my skirt.

"Things of that sort--can they be bought ready to put on?"

"Oh, I expect so, father."

"They're to be found in the big shops, aren't they?"

"Yes, yes," I said warmly, for it seemed to me that a new vista of
wonderful bliss was opening out before me.  "Of course they are.  We
could go to--to Wallis's shop at Holborn Viaduct.  I have been there
sometimes with the boys, and I've seen all sorts of things in the
windows."

"Then go upstairs, put on your hat and jacket immediately, and I'll take
you there.  You shall not go shabby to Miss Grace Donnithorne's."

Wonder of wonders!  I rushed up to my room; I put on my short, very much
worn little jacket, and slipped my hat on my head, thrust my hands into
my woollen gloves, and, lo!  I was ready.  I flew down again to father.
He looked hard at me.

"But, after all, you _are_ quite well covered," he said.  It had
certainly never before dawned upon his mind that a woman wanted to be
more than, as he expressed it, covered.

"But, father," I said, "you can be shabbily covered and prettily
covered.  That makes all the difference; doesn't it, father?"

"I don't know, child; I don't know.  When I read in the great works of
Sophocles--"

He wandered off into a learned dissertation.  I was accustomed to these
wanderings of his, and often had to pull him back.

"I'm ready," I said, "if you are."

"Then come along," was his remark.

When the Professor got out of doors he walked very fast indeed.  He
walked at such a fearful pace that I had nearly to run to keep up with
him.  But at last we found ourselves at Wallis's.  There my father
became extremely masterful.  He said to the shopman who came to meet
him, "I want new garments for this young lady.  Show me some, please--
some that will fit--those that are ready-made."

We were taken into a special department where all sorts of dresses were
to be found.  Now, I had my own ideas about clothes, which by-and-by
would turn out quite right and satisfactory; but father's ideas were too
primitive for anything.  He disliked my interfering; he would not
consult me.  In the end I was furbished up with a long brown skirt which
reached to my feet, and a dark-red blouse.  My father bought these
garments because he said they felt weighty and would keep out the cold.
He desired them to be packed in brown-paper, paid for them, and gave me
the parcel to carry.

I felt a sense of absolute misery as I walked home with my hideous brown
skirt and that dreadful red blouse.  It was of a dark brick-red colour,
and would not suit me; I knew that quite well.  Still, father was highly
pleased.

"There, now," he said, "you won't go to Miss Grace Donnithorne's looking
shabby.  But, good gracious me!  I'm five minutes late for class.
Good-night, Dumps."

"Won't you be in to dinner, father?"  I asked.

"I don't know--don't expect to.  Now, not another word, or I shall have
one of my furious headaches.  Good-night, my dear."

He banged the hall door, and I sat down with the brown-paper parcel in
front of me.

PART ONE, CHAPTER FIVE.

THE PROFESSOR CHOOSES A DRESS.

Father was really quite interested about my wardrobe.  He asked me two
or three questions during the few days which ensued between Wednesday
and Saturday, and in particular said what good weight the brown skirt
was, and what an age it would last me.

"But it's just a wee bit too long for me," I could not help remarking.

He raised his brows very high when I said this, and pushed his glasses
up on his forehead.  Then he said after a pause, "There's no pleasing
some people.  Didn't you tell me that you had outgrown your clothes, and
wasn't I once and for all going to put a stop to that sort of thing?  Do
you suppose that a man who is saving his money to send his sons to
Oxford or Cambridge can afford to buy dresses often?  That skirt leaves
room for growth, and as it thins off with age it will be less heavy.
It's exactly the sort you ought to have, Dumps, and I won't hear a word
against it."

"Of course not, father.  It was very kind of you to buy it for me."

"Perhaps you'd best travel in it," he said.

But to this I objected, on the score that it might get injured in the
train.

"Very true," he remarked.  "But, all the same, I should like Miss
Donnithorne to see you looking nice.  Well, you can put it on when you
get there.  Be sure you do that.  Go straight up to your room and put on
your brown skirt and your red blouse, and go down to her looking as my
daughter ought to look."

"Yes, father," I said meekly.

The joyful day arrived.  Father could not take me to the station
himself; but Hannah and I went there in a cab.  Hannah was terribly
cross.  She said she knew I'd come home "that spoilt as would be past
bearing."

"You're going to that fat, vulgar body," she said.  "Oh, don't you talk
to me about it's being genteel to put on flesh, for I know better.  But,
anyhow, you'll be a good riddance while you are away, Dumps.  I'll have
time to give the parlour a rare good turning out."

"Oh Hannah," I said, nestling up a little closer to her in the cab,
"aren't you ever a little bit sorry that I'm going away?"

"Well, to be sure, child," she said, her eyes twinkling, "I've no fault
to find with you.  You can't help your looks, and you can't help your
aggrawating manners, and you can't help your perverse ways of going on.
But there, there! you're as you're made, and I've no fault to find with
you."

This was a great deal from Hannah, and I was obliged to be satisfied
with it.

"I don't think I shall ever grow up vain," I thought, "and I suppose I
ought to be satisfied."

By-and-by I was cosily travelling first-class, for father was peremptory
on this point, down to Chelmsford.  I had left smoky London behind me,
and was in the country.  It was very cold in the country; snow was over
everything, and the whole place looked so white and so sweet, and I just
pined for a breath of the fresh country air.  So I flung open the window
of the carriage nearest to me and poked out my head.

A poke of another sort was presently administered somewhere in my back,
and turning, I saw a most irate old gentleman who had been sitting at
the other end of the carriage.

"I'll thank you, young person," he said, "to shut that window without a
moment's delay.  You must be mad to put your head out like that in such
bitter weather.  I'm certain to be attacked by bronchitis with your
wilful and violent way of letting such extreme cold into the carriage."

I shut the window in a great hurry and sat down, very red in the face.
The old gentleman did not take any further notice of me; he buried
himself behind his paper.  After a minute or two I heard him sneeze, and
when he sneezed he gave me a very angry glance.  Then he coughed, and
then he sneezed again; finally he buried himself once more in his paper.

By-and-by we got to Chelmsford.  It was nice to see Miss Grace
Donnithorne standing on the platform.  She was so round and so jolly and
good-natured-looking, and her eyes, which were like little black beads
in the middle of her face, quite shone with happiness.

"There you are, you poor Dumps!" she said.  "Hop out, dear--hop out."

I sprang from the carriage to the platform.

"Where is your luggage, my dear?"

"I have it," I said; "it is in a brown-paper parcel on the
luggage-rack."

I thought I heard Miss Donnithorne murmur some thing; but all she said
was, "Give it to me, dear.  Be quick, or the train will move on."

So I lugged it out as best I could, and there I stood in my shabby grey
tweed dress, with my little worn-out jacket and my small hat, clutching
at the brown-paper parcel.  It was fairly heavy, for I had had to put
other things into it besides the now dress and the new jacket; but it
was tied very securely with cord, and addressed in my father's
handwriting with my name to the care of Miss Grace Donnithorne, Hedgerow
House.

"Now then, child," said Miss Grace, "we'll get into my pony-trap and
drive home.  Why, you poor thing, you're as cold as charity; and no
wonder--no wonder."

She insisted on carrying the brown-paper parcel herself.  Waiting
outside the station was a very neat little cart drawn by a shaggy pony.
There was a boy standing by the pony's head.  He was dressed in quite a
smart sort of dress, which I afterwards discovered was called livery.
He sprang forward when he saw Miss Donnithorne and took the parcel,
which she told him to put carefully in the back of the carriage, and on
no account to trample on it with his feet.

Then we both got in, and a great fur rug was wrapped round us, and a
cloak of Miss Donnithorne's fastened round my neck.

"Now you can't possibly catch cold," she said.--"Jump up behind, Jim."

Jim obeyed.  Miss Donnithorne took the reins, and off we flew.

Oh, how wonderful, how delightful was the sensation!

We got to the cottage in about a quarter of an hour.  Miss Grace told me
that although it was called Hedgerow House, it was really only a
cottage; but I could not tell what the difference was.  It was a long,
low, rambling sort of house, all built in one floor.  The walls were so
completely covered with creepers that, even though it was winter, you
could not see much of the original stone-work; and where there were no
creepers in full leaf there was trellis-work, which was covered with the
bare branches of what in summer, Miss Donnithorne told me, would be
roses.

"Do roses really grow like that?"  I asked.

"Oh yes," she replied; "and jasmine and wistaria and clematis, and all
sorts of other things."

The dog that Miss Donnithorne had warned me about came out to meet us.
He was a fox-terrier, with a very sharp nose black as coal, and all the
rest of his body was snow-white, except his sparkling, melting,
wonderful brown eyes.  I must say his eyes flashed very angrily when he
first saw me, but Miss Donnithorne said, "Down, Snap--down!" and then
she laid her hand on Snap's collar and said, "You're to be good to this
young lady, Snap."

Snap, after glancing at me in a crooked sort of way, as though he were
not at all sure that he would not prove the significance of his name,
condescended to wag his tail very slightly.

Miss Donnithorne took me into a very pretty little sitting-room at one
side of the pretty little square hall.  This room was filled with all
sorts of unaccountable things.  There were glass cases filled with
stuffed birds of gay plumage.  Miss Donnithorne glanced at them.

"I'll tell you their names presently," she said.  "My brother who died
brought them to me from South America."

There were three of these cases.  There were also stuffed animals, a
hare, a fox, and a dog, perched above doors and at the top of the
bookcase.  Where there were not these cases of stuffed creatures there
were books, so that you really could not see one scrap of the original
paper of the room.

"Is this the drawing-room?"  I asked.

"Oh, I don't call it by that name," said Miss Donnithorne.  "I sit here
because I have all my books and papers handy about the room.  But come
to the fire and warm yourself."

Certainly the fire in that dear little grate looked very different from
the dismal fire which Miss Donnithorne had seen in our big, fog-begrimed
parlour.  I came close to it, and I even so far forgot proprieties as to
drop on my knees and to hold out my hands to the blaze.

"Chilblains, I declare!" said Miss Donnithorne, taking one of my hands
between both her own.  "The best cure for those is to bathe your hands
once or twice a day in a very strong solution of salt and hot water.
The water must be as hot as you can bear it.  But the best cure of all
is a good circulation."

"What's that?"  I asked.

"Bless you, child!  Don't you know, and you go to school every day?"

I stood up; my hands were warm, and my feet were tingling with renewed
life.  I had a curious sensation that my nose, which was by no means my
best feature, was very red, for it certainly felt hot.  I turned round
and said, "I am quite warm now."

"Then you would like to go up to your room.  Nancy will go with you.
She'll unpack your parcel for you."

"Oh no, thank you," I replied.  Then I added, "Is Nancy one of your
servants?"

"I have only one servant in this tiny house, my dear, and Nancy is the
one.  She is a very good-natured sort of girl, and quite pleased at the
idea of your coming to stay with me.  I treat her as a sort of friend,
you see, as she and I are all alone in the house together."

I began to like Miss Donnithorne better and better each moment.  She was
so jolly.  Whenever she spoke her eyes sparkled as though they were
laughing, while the rest of her face was grave.  All the same, I did not
want Nancy, and I said so.

"I can help myself," I argued.  "We have only got Hannah in our big
house."

"Well, well, dear! if you can manage for yourself, I am the last one to
wish you to do otherwise," said Miss Donnithorne.  "Here is your parcel;
you can take it upstairs."

"But how am I to find my way to my room?"

"You cannot lose it, my dear.  Go up that little staircase, and when you
reach the landing you will see an open door.  Go through that doorway
and you will be in your own bedroom.  There's no other bedroom on that
landing, so you cannot miss it, can you?"

"No," I replied, laughing.

I seized my brown-paper parcel and ran upstairs.  It certainly was nice
in the country, and how delicious a small house was!  One could be warm
in a small house; it was impossible to be warm in that great, rambling,
old-fashioned house which belonged to the college and where father and
the boys and I lived.

I found my bedroom.  Now, girls who are accustomed to nice bedrooms all
their lives take, I suppose, no particular interest in another nice
bedroom when they are suddenly introduced into it.  But my room at home
could never, under any pretext, be considered nice.  For some
extraordinary reason, big as the house was, I had always slept next to
Hannah in one of the attics.  There was no earthly reason for this,
except perhaps that when I was a child I was nearer to Hannah in case I
should turn ill.  It had never occurred to me to change my room, and it
had certainly never occurred to anybody else to make it comfortable.
There was a bedstead and a bed of a sort, and there was a looking-glass,
with a crack right down the middle, which stood on a little deal table.
The deal table was, as a rule, covered with a cloth, which seldom looked
white on account of the London fogs.  There was a huge wooden press--it
could certainly not be called by the modern name of wardrobe--in which I
kept my clothes; and there was a wooden chair on which I placed my
candle at night, and that was about all.  One side of the room had a
sloping roof, and the window was at the best of times of minute
proportions.  But the room itself had a vast amount of unoccupied space;
it was a huge room, and terribly ugly.

Never had I realised that fact until I went into the sweet little
apartment which Miss Grace Donnithorne had ordered to be got ready for
me.  In the first place, its window looked out on a pure expanse of
snow-covered country, and I jumped softly up and down as I gazed at that
view, for the sun was shining on it, and the sky overhead was blue--blue
as sapphires.  Then in the grate there was a fire--a fire just as bright
as the one in the little sitting-room with the stuffed birds downstairs;
and all the hangings of the room were of white dimity, which had
evidently been put up fresh from the wash.  It was by no means a grand
room; it was simple of the simple, but it did look sweet.  There was a
little nosegay of chrysanthemums on the dressing-table; there were
dainty hangings round my snow-white couch; and on the floor was an
old-fashioned carpet made of different shades of crimson, and very thick
and soft it felt to the feet.  The china in the room was very pretty,
being white with scarlet berries on it; it all looked Christmasy and
wintry and yet cheery, like the sort of Christmases one reads of in the
fairy-tales of long ago.

I unfastened my parcel.  I had just taken my long brown skirt out of its
wrappings, and was shaking it out preparatory to putting it on, when I
heard Miss Grace say from the bottom of the stairs, "Dumps, how long
will it be before you are downstairs?  I am just having the cutlets
dished up."

"Oh dear!"  I said to myself.--"I'll be down in a very few minutes," I
answered.

Now, I had promised father that I would certainly go down in the brown
skirt and red blouse, and I would not break that promise to him for the
world; so I quickly divested myself of my shabby little travelling
costume and got into the brown skirt.  It was a little tight in the
waist, for I must say mine was very broad, but in every other single
particular it was too big for me; it was so long in front that I could
scarcely walk without stumbling.  Still, I had no doubt that I made a
very imposing figure in it.  It was thick, it felt warm, and I
remembered my father's remark that there would be room for growth, and
that the thinning process would eventually make it not quite so heavy.

But the brown skirt, although a partial success, was nothing at all to
the red blouse.  I have said that it was a brick-red, and it did not
suit my face.  It was of common material, made with thick folds, and the
sleeves were much too long.  I got into it somehow, and cast a glance at
myself in the glass.  How funny I looked!--my head not too tidy; my face
flushed, in by no means a becoming way; with a brick-red blouse and a
brown skirt.  Nevertheless, I was dressed, and there was a sort of
satisfaction in feeling grown-up just for once.  I wished that I had had
time to plait my hair and pin it round my head; then I might have
impressed Miss Grace Donnithorne with the fact that not a child but a
grown-up young lady had come to visit her.  But as there was no time for
that, and as there was a most appetising smell coming up the narrow
stairs, I flew down just as I was, in my new costume.  I very nearly
stumbled as I ran downstairs, but I saved myself by picking up my skirt,
and then I entered the little drawing-room.

"Come, come, child!" said Miss Donnithorne.  "Not that way; come into
this room now."

I turned and crossed the little hall and entered the dining-room.  The
dining-room was twice the size of the little room where the stuffed
birds dwelt.  It was furnished in quite a modern fashion, and looked
very nice indeed to me.  The cloth on the table was so white that it did
not even look dirty by contrast with the snow outside, and the silver
shone--oh, like a number of looking-glasses; and the knives were so
clean and new-looking.

Miss Grace just opened her eyes for the tenth of a second when I entered
the room, and I wondered what reflection passed through her mind, but
she gave utterance to none.  She invited me to seat myself, and I had
the most delicious meal I had ever partaken of in the whole course of my
life.  Nancy flew in and out, serving us with more and more dainties:
puddings, jellies--oh dear, what delicious things jellies are when you
have never tasted them before!  Then there was fruit--apples which, Miss
Donnithorne told me, had grown and ripened in her own garden; and
finally we cracked nuts and became excellent friends, sitting close to
the fire.  Nancy's final entrance had been with coffee on a little tray.
Miss Donnithorne poured out a cup for me and a cup for herself.

"We'll go out presently," she said.  "It's a lovely day for a walk.  I
shall take you a good way and show you some of the beauties of the
place.  But what about your boots?  Are they strong?"

"Oh, pretty well," I replied.

"I can lend you some rubbers; but what size are your feet?"

I pushed out one of my feet for inspection.

"Dear, dear!" said Miss Donnithorne, "they're bigger than mine.  Mine
are rather small, and yours--you will forgive me, but yours are
enormous; they really are.  Have you been attended to by a shoemaker?"

"Oh, Hannah gets my boots for me," I said.  "She always has them made to
order, as she says they last twice as long; and she always insists on
having them made two sizes too large.  She says she can't be troubled by
hearing me complain that they are too small."

"Dear me, child!" said Miss Donnithorne.  "Do you know that you
aggravate me more each moment?"

"Aggravate you?"  I answered.

"Yes.  You make something plainer and plainer.  There! not a word more
at present.  But before I go upstairs, do tell me, was it Hannah or
yourself who chose _that_?"

As she spoke she pointed to the red blouse and the brown skirt.  She
evidently thought of them as a costume, for she did not speak of them in
the plural; she spoke of them as "that," and if ever there was
condemnation in a kind voice, it was when she uttered that word.

"It was father who got them at Wallis's," I said.  "I told him when I
was coming to you that my clothes were rather shabby, and he bought
them--he chose them himself."

"Bless him!" said Miss Donnithorne.

She looked at me critically for a minute, and then she burst into a
perfect shriek of laughter.  I felt inclined to be offended.  It had
never occurred to me that anybody in all the world could laugh at the
Professor; but Miss Donnithorne laughed till the tears rolled down her
cheeks.

"Mercy!  Mercy me!" she repeated at intervals.

When she had recovered herself she said, "My dear, you mustn't be angry.
I respect your father immensely, but his gift does not lie in the
clothing of girls.  Why, child, that is a woman's skirt.  Let me feel
the texture."

She felt it between her finger and thumb.

"Not at all the material for a lady," was her comment.  "That skirt is
meant for a hard-working artisan's wife.  It is so harsh it makes me
shudder as I touch it.  A lady's dress should always be soft, and not
heavy."

"Father thought a great deal of the weight," I could not help saying.
"He thought it would keep me so warm."

"Bless him!" said Miss Donnithorne again.  "But after all," she
continued, "the skirt is nothing to the blouse.  My dear, I will be
frank with you; there are some men who know nothing whatever about
dress, and that blouse is--atrocious.  We'll get them both off, Rachel,
or Dumps, or whatever you call yourself."

"But," I said, "I have nothing else much to wear.  I only brought this
and my little, shabby everyday dress."

"Now, I wonder," said Miss Donnithorne; but she did not utter her
thought aloud.  She became very reflective.

"I should not be surprised," she said under her breath.  "Well, anyhow,
we'll go out in the shabby little things, for I couldn't have you look a
figure of fun walking through Chelmsford with me.  That would be quite
impossible."

"All right, Miss Donnithorne," I said, inclined to be offended, although
in my heart of hearts I had no love for the brown skirt and the red
blouse.

"That costume will do admirably for that Hannah of yours," said Miss
Donnithorne after another pause.  "From what you tell me of that body, I
should think it would suit her; but it's not the thing for you."

"Only father--" I expostulated.

"I'll manage your father.  Now go to your room, child, and get into your
other things as fast as possible."

I went away, and Miss Donnithorne still continued to sit by the fire.
Could I believe my own ears?  I thought I heard her sigh when I got into
the hall, and then I heard her laugh.  I felt half-inclined to be
offended; I was certainly very much puzzled.  Truly my cheeks were red
now.  I looked at myself in the glass.  No, I was not pretty.  I saw at
once now why people called me Dumps.  It is a great trial for a girl
when her nose is half an inch too short, and her eyes are too small, and
her mouth a trifle too broad, and she has no special complexion and no
special look of intelligence, and no wonderfully thick hair, and has no
beautiful shades of colouring--when she is all made up of drabs and
greys, and her nose is decidedly podgy, and her cheeks inclined to be
too fat--and yet when all the time the poor girl has a feverish desire
in her soul to be beautiful, when she thinks more of beauty of feature
and beauty of form, and beauty, in fact, of every sort, than of anything
else in the world.  It was a girl with that sort of exterior who now
looked into the round glass.  It was an old-fashioned glass, but a very
good one, and I, Dumps, could see myself quite distinctly, and knew at
last that it was fit and right that I should have the name.  It was
absurd to call a creature like me Rachel.  Was not the first Rachel
always spoken of as one of the most beautiful women in all the world?
Why should I dare to take that sacred name?  Oh yes, I was Dumps.  I
would not be offended any longer when I was called by it.  My figure
very much matched my face, for it was squat and decidedly short for my
age.  In the hideous red blouse, and with that brown skirt, I looked my
very worst.  I was glad to take them off.  Talk of heat and weight!  I
knew at last what it was to be too hot and to have too much to carry.

I was delighted to be in my little, worn-out, but well-accustomed-to
garments, and I ran down to Miss Donnithorne, feeling as though I, like
Christian, had got rid of a heavy burden.

PART ONE, CHAPTER SIX.

AT HEDGEROW HOUSE.

We took a long walk.  We went right through Chelmsford, and I was
enchanted with the appearance of that gay little country town.  Then we
got out into the country, where the snow lay in all its virgin purity.
We walked fast, and I felt the cold, delicious air stinging my cheeks.
I felt a sense of exhilaration, which Miss Donnithorne told me the snow
generally gives to people.

"It makes the air lighter," she said; "and besides, there is so much
ammonia in it."

I did not understand what she meant, but then I did not want to
understand.  I was happy; I was having a good time.  I liked her better
each moment.

We got back to the little cottage in time for tea, which we had cosily
in the sitting-room with the stuffed birds and animals.

After tea Miss Donnithorne showed me some of her treasures--vast
collections of shells, which she had been gathering in different parts
of the world ever since she was a small child.  I was fascinated by
them; she told me that I might help to arrange them for her, and I spent
a very blissful time in this fashion until it was time for supper.
Supper was a simple meal, which consisted of milk and bread-and-butter
and different sorts of stewed fruit.

"I don't approve of late dinners," said Miss Donnithorne.  "That is,"
she added, "not for myself.  Now, Dumps, do tell me what sort of meal
the Professor eats before he goes to bed at night."

"Oh, anything that is handy," I answered.

"But doesn't he have a good nourishing meal, the sort to sustain a brain
like his?"

"I don't know," I replied.  "Hannah sees to it."

"But don't you?" said Miss Donnithorne, looking rather severe, and the
laugh going out of her eyes.  "Don't you attend to your father's wants?"

"As much as I can, Miss Donnithorne.  You see, I am still supposed to be
nothing but a child, and Hannah has the management of things."

"You are supposed to be nothing but a child?" said Miss Donnithorne, and
she looked me all up and down.

How I did hate the length of leg that I showed in my very short skirt!
She fixed her eyes in a very obstinate manner on those said legs,
clothed as they were in coarse stockings, which, alack and alas! were
darned in more places than one.  Then her eyes travelled lower and
rested on my feet.  I had taken off my huge boots now; but what was the
good of that when my feet were enveloped in shoes quite as large, and of
the very ugliest possible make?

Miss Donnithorne heaved a profound sigh.

"I wish--" I said impulsively.

"You wish what, Rachel?"

"That you would let me wear the brown skirt."

"And why, child?  It is absolutely hideous."

"But it is long," I cried.  "You would not see my legs nor my ugly
feet."

"Rachel, you want a great deal of attention; you are being sadly
neglected."

"Am I?"  I said.  Then I added, "Why do you say so?"

"It is but to look at you.  You are not such a child that you could not
do hundreds of things which at present never enter into your head."

"How do you know, Miss Donnithorne?"

"I know," she answered.  "A little bird has told me."  Now, all my life
I had hated women who spoke about having confidences with little birds;
and I now said impulsively, "Please don't say that.  I am so inclined to
like you just awfully!  But if you wouldn't speak about that bird--"

"You have heard of it before?" she asked, and the sparkle came back into
her eyes.  "Well, never mind how I know.  I suppose I know because I
have got observation.  But, to begin with, tell me how old you are."

"I'll be sixteen in a little less than six months."

"Bless us!" said Miss Donnithorne, "why can't the child say she is
fifteen and a half?"

"Oh, that's because of the birthdays," I replied.

"The birthdays?" she asked, raising her brows.

"Miss Donnithorne," I said impulsively, "a birthday is _the_ day in the
whole year.  A birthday makes up for many very dismal days.  On a
birthday, when it comes, the sun shines and the world is beautiful.  Oh,
Miss Donnithorne, what would life be without birthdays?"

I spoke with such emotion and earnestness that the little lady's face
was quite impressed; there even came a sort of dimness over her eyes.

"Then most of your days are dull, little Rachel?" she said.

"They are lonely," I replied.

"And yet you go to school; you have heaps of companions."

"But no friends," I replied.

"I wonder if Hermione Aldyce will suit you?" was her next remark.

"Hermione Aldyce!  What a queer name!  And who is she?"

"You will see her to-morrow.  She is different from you, but there is no
reason why you should not be friends.  She is much the same age."

"Is she coming here to-morrow?"

"No; you are going to her.  Her father and mother have invited us both
to dine with them."

"Oh!"  I said.

I looked down at my length of leg and at my ugly feet, and felt a little
shiver going through my frame.  Miss Donnithorne laid her hand on my
arm.

"I wonder, Dumps," she said, "if you are a very proud girl?"

"Yes," I said, "I think I have plenty of pride."

"But there are all sorts," said Miss Donnithorne.  "I hate a girl who
has none.  I want a girl to be reasonable.  I don't want her to eat the
dust and to do absurd things, or to lower herself in her own eyes.  I
want a girl to be dignified, to hold her head high, to look straight out
at the world with all the confidence and sweetness and fearlessness that
a good girl ought to feel; but at the same time I want her to have the
courage to take a kindness from one who means well without being angry
or absurd."

"What does all this mean?"  I asked.

"It means, my dear Dumps, that I have in my possession at the present
moment a very pretty costume which you might exchange for the red blouse
and brown skirt.  I know a person in Chelmsford who would be charmed to
possess that red blouse and brown skirt, and if you wore the costume I
have now in my mind, why, you would look quite nice in it--in fact, very
nice indeed.  Will you wear it?"

"What!"  I answered; "give away the clothes father bought for me, and
take yours?"

"I could make it right with your father.  Don't be a goose, Dumps.  Your
father only bought them because he didn't know what was suitable.  Now,
will you let me give you the costume that I have upstairs?"

"But when did you get it?"

"The fact is, I didn't get it.  I have some clothes by me which belonged
to a girl I was once very fond of.  I will tell you about her another
time."

"A girl you were fond of--and you have her clothes, and would like me to
wear them?"

"Some of them would not fit you, but this costume would.  Will you put
it on to-morrow?  Will you at least wear it to-morrow for my sake?"

Of course there are all sorts of prides, and it did seem wrong to hurt
Miss Donnithorne, and the temptation to look nice was great.  So I said
softly, "I will wear it to-morrow--yes, I will wear it to-morrow--
because you wish me to."

"Then you are a darling child," said Miss Donnithorne.

She gave a great sigh of relief, jumped up from her seat, and kissed me.

Soon after that, being very tired with the adventures of the day, I went
to bed.  How delicious that bed was--so warm, so white, so inviting!
How gaily the fire blazed in the grate, sending up little jets of flame,
and filling the room with a sense of comfort!  Miss Donnithorne came in,
and saw that I had hot water and everything I required, and left me.

I undressed slowly, in the midst of my unwonted luxury.  Perhaps if I
lived always with Miss Donnithorne I should be a different sort of girl;
I might even grow up less of a Dumps.  But of course not.  Nothing could
lengthen my nose, or shorten my upper lip, or make me big.  I must make
up my mind to be quite the plainest girl it had ever been my own
misfortune to meet.  For I had met myself at last in the looking-glass
in Miss Donnithorne's bedroom; myself _and_ myself had come face to
face.

In the midst of my pleasure a scalding tear rolled down one of my cheeks
at the memory of that poor reflection.  I had been proud to be called
Rachel, but now I was almost glad that most of my world knew me as
Dumps.

Notwithstanding these small worries, however, I slept like a top, and
woke in the morning to see Nancy busy lighting the fire.

"Oh dear!"  I said, "I don't want a fire to dress by."

"Yes, you do, miss, to-day, for it's bitter cold," said Nancy.

She soon had a nice fire blazing; she then brought me in a comfortable
hot bath, and finally a little tray with a cup of tea and a thin slice
of bread-and-butter.

"Now, miss," she said, "you can get up and dress slowly.  Missis said
she won't have breakfast until a quarter to nine this morning, and it is
only a quarter to eight now.  And, miss, them are the clothes.  They're
all beautifully aired, and ready to put on, and missis says that you'll
understand."

Really it was exciting.  It seemed to me that I had been wafted into
Fairyland.  I sipped my tea and ate my bread-and-butter, and thought
what a delightful place Fairyland was, and that, after all, none of the
children's books had half described its glories.  I then got up and
dressed luxuriously, and at last turned to the chair on which lay the
costume I was to wear that day.  There was a very pretty skirt of a rich
dark-blue; it was trimmed all round the edge with grey fur, and I did
not think that in all my life I had ever seen anything quite so lovely.
It had even further advantages, for when I walked it made a swishing
sound, and raising the skirt, I saw that it was lined with silk.

Now, Hannah had once described to me the wonderful glories of a dress
which had belonged to her mother, and which was lined with silk.  She
said she had bought it at a pawnbroker's, and she knew quite well the
last owner had been a duchess, for only duchesses could afford to wear
such an expensive thing as silk hidden away under the skirt.

The bodice of this costume was as pretty as the skirt; it was also
silk-lined, and full of little quaint puffings, and there was fur round
the neck and on the cuffs.  It fitted me to perfection, and I do think
that even Dumps looked better in that dark-blue dress, with its grey
fur, than I had believed it possible for her to appear in anything.

But there were even further delights; for the dark-blue dress had a
beautiful dark-blue coat to match, and there was a little grey fur cap
to be worn with it, and a grey fur muff.  Oh dear, dear, I was made!
And yet there were further treasures to be revealed.  I had not seen
them before, but I had to put them on before I went down to breakfast--
neat stockings of the very finest cashmere, and little shoes with
rosettes and buckles.  There were also walking shoes of the most refined
and delicate make.  And, wonder of wonders! they fitted me.  I felt
indeed that I had come to Fairyland!

Miss Donnithorne was far too much of a lady to make any remark when I
came into the room in my dark-blue costume for breakfast.  She hardly
glanced at me, but went deliberately to the sideboard and began to carve
some delicate slices of rosy ham.

I sat down facing the fire.  I felt almost self-conscious in the glories
of that wonderful costume, and Miss Donnithorne must have guessed that I
would have such feelings.  She therefore began to talk in her most
matter-of-fact style.

"We shall have a very busy day, Rachel," she said.  "There is not much
time even for us to finish breakfast, for I have a class in the
Sunday-school, and you, if you like, can come with me.  Of course, if
you prefer it, you can come to church later with Nancy."

"Oh, I should much prefer to go with you," I replied.

"That's right--that's right," said Miss Donnithorne.  "After church we
go straight to the Aldyces'; they'll take us in their carriage.  We
shall dine with them, and I think you might like Hermione to come back
to have tea with us."

"You are good," I said.  "It does sound wonderful."

Then I added, as I broke a piece of crisp toast in two, "I have never
ridden in a carriage in all my life."

"Oh, you are not at all remarkable in that," replied Miss Donnithorne in
her frank way.  "London girls, unless their fathers happen to be very
rich, don't have carriages to drive in.  But there is one thing I would
bid you remember, Dumps."

"What is that?"  I asked, raising my eyes to her face.

"You will meet, my dear, in your way through life, all sorts and
conditions of men and women, rich and poor, lowly and haughty, and you
will have to remember distinctions.  One man may be better than his
neighbour; one man may be lower than his neighbour; but the thing that
makes the difference between man and man is not what he possesses, but
what he is in himself.  Now, your father, my dear Rachel, happens to be
a much greater and much more distinguished man than Squire Aldyce."

I wondered why she spoke so.  Her laughing eyes were not laughing now;
they were wonderfully serious; and her lips wore a remarkable expression
of great firmness and yet of great sweetness.

"I am proud to know Professor Grant," she said, "and you ought to be an
exceedingly proud girl to be his daughter."

"Oh, I love him very much," I said; but then I added a little
tremblingly, "My brother Alex has sometimes told me that father is a
great scholar, but I didn't know--I didn't understand that all the
world--I mean that other people knew about him."

"Bless the child!" said Miss Donnithorne.  "She has been brought up, so
to speak, in the dark.  You are a little mole, Dumps.  You have kept
your eyes shut.  Some day you will realise what the Professor really is.
He has a bigger brain than any other man I happen to know about.  He is
the foremost man in a most advanced realm of thought; his powers of
imagination are great.  Did he live in another age, he might have been a
second Milton.  You ought to be very, very proud indeed to be his
daughter."

It was thus she spoke to me, and so I quite forgot about the dark-blue
costume, and accompanied her to Sunday-school, feeling composed and at
the same time proud.

The Sunday-school was a very nice one, and the children were the
ordinary sort of children one meets in the country.  The superintendent
of the school came up and shook hands with me.  He said he was very
proud to meet Professor Grant's daughter.  It was quite amazing--
Fairyland was growing more dazzling each moment.  It was not only that I
was lifted right out of my ugly surroundings, but that I, plain as I
was, was turned into a sort of princess.  Surely no princess had ever
worn a more lovely dress; and surely no princess could hold her head
higher, if what Miss Donnithorne said about my father was true.

In church I regret to say that I more than once stroked the grey fur
muff and softly felt the texture of my dress.  But after church was over
fresh excitement was in store for me.

Hermione Aldyce was waiting in the church porch for us.  She was alone.
I don't in the least remember what she wore.  She was very tall and very
slim, and I am sure she was very young, for she wore her hair in two
great plaits down her back.  Her hair was dark-brown, and her eyes were
exactly the same colour.  She had a face with a pale, creamy complexion,
and when she smiled she showed two rows of little even teeth, white as
pearls.

"Dear Miss Donnithorne," she said.  "And is this Dumps?"

I could not feel indignant, even though I resented being called Dumps by
a total stranger, for Hermione's eyes had a sort of pleading expression
in them, and she seemed sorry the moment she had said the word.

"Of course I ought to call you Miss Grant," she said.

"No, no," I answered; "I am Rachel Grant.  Nobody in all the world ever
yet called me Miss Grant."

"Is the carriage waiting, Hermione?" said Miss Donnithorne.  "It is cold
here in the porch."

"Yes," replied Hermione.  "And father and mother have not come.  Father
would have had to walk back, for we could not all go in the carriage,
and so mother decided to stay with him.  Father has a cough--not much--
nothing to speak of."

"Come then, dear, we will go at once," said Miss Donnithorne.

She got into the carriage first; then I was desired to step in, and
notwithstanding my smart dress, I am afraid I was very awkward as I got
into that carriage.  Miss Donnithorne and I had the seat facing the
horses, and Hermione sat opposite to us.  It seemed to me as though we
flew over the country; the whole feeling was too delicious--the softly
padded cushions, the rhythmic beat of the horses' feet.  The girl who
was not fortunate enough to possess a father like Professor Grant had
some compensations!  Such a carriage!  Such a nice face!  The girl
herself impressed me in the most marvellous way.  As to the dreadful
Swans, I am afraid I gave them anything but kind thoughts at that
moment.

By-and-by we got to the house.  Then Hermione took possession of me.

"You are my guest," she said.  "Come up and I'll show you my room."

We ran upstairs together.  I was feeling so very good that I did not
think for a moment that anything but good could befall me during that
delightful visit.  Hermione took me first to her bedroom, and then into
a little sitting-room which opened out of it.

"I do my lessons here," she said, "and read here, and entertain my
friends.  I haven't many friends.  I cannot tell you how interested I
was at the thought of your coming to-day."

"Were you indeed?"  I answered.

I wondered what she would have thought if I had come to visit her in the
brown skirt and red blouse.

"You must take off your pretty jacket," she said.

"What a sweet frock that is!  In what shop did you buy it?"

"I didn't buy it at all," I said.

I felt my cheeks crimsoning.  There was a kind of naughty pride in me
that would not tell her the truth that Miss Donnithorne had given it to
me.

"I suppose your governess, or whoever takes care of you, arranges your
clothes," said Hermione in a careless tone.  "Well, it is sweetly
pretty, and so becoming!  And what nice hair you have!"

"Nice hair?"  I responded.

"Why, of course it is nice; it is so thick and such a good colour.  It
will look very handsome when you have it arranged in the grown-up
style."

"I don't want to be grown-up," I said.  "I'd like to be a child always--
that is, if I could have birthdays all the same."

"Do you think so much of your birthdays?" said Hermione, leaning up
against the window-sill as she spoke, and twiddling with a paper-knife.
"I think they're rather tiresome.  I think birthdays are overdone."

"You wouldn't if you knew what my birthday was like," I said.

"Oh, then," she exclaimed, "you must tell me all about it."

I was just about to explain, wondering if I could get her to see the
vivid picture of the bright day, the presents, the anxious little girl,
whose heart had been aching for so many long months just because of this
glorious time, when a great gong sounded through the house, and Hermione
said, "Oh! we can't talk at present; it is dinner-time.  Come along,
Rachel; come downstairs."

Squire Aldyce was a very aristocratic-looking old gentleman, and his
wife was the sort that one would describe as a very fine lady indeed.  I
did not like her half as much as I liked him.  He was quite sweet.  He
congratulated me on being my father's daughter, and asked when the
Professor was going to bring out another pamphlet on some appallingly
learned subject, the name of which I could not possibly pronounce.  I
said I did not know, and a minute or two later we found ourselves
sitting round the dinner-table.

There were a few other guests, and I was introduced to them as Miss
Rachel Grant.

"The daughter of the well-known Professor," said the Squire after each
of these formalities.

The ladies did not take much notice of me, but the gentlemen stared at
me for a minute or two, and one man said, "I congratulate you, little
girl.  To be so closely related to so great a man is an honour, and I
hope you appreciate it."

Dear old father!  I did not know that the glories and laurels he had won
were to follow me, such a very plain little girl, to such a grand house.

When dinner came to an end we again went upstairs, and Hermione showed
me her treasures, and forgot to ask me about my birthdays.  We were
having a long and very serious talk, in which she spoke of books and
music and the delights of the higher sort of education, when I broke in
by saying suddenly, "You don't understand me a bit."

"What in the world do you mean?  What is the matter?" she exclaimed.

"Because I don't love study, or books, or anything of that sort.  I
think," I added, my eyes filling with tears, "that I have come here as a
sham, for I am not the least morsel like father--not the least."

"Perhaps you resemble your mother," said Hermione in her very calm way.

I had quite loved her up to now, for she had such beautiful manners and
such a nice face; but now when she made this reply I looked at her
steadily, and saw that, just because of her wealth and high birth and
fine clothes, her knowledge of life was limited.  She could not see
things from my point of view.

"I don't think I am the least like my darling mother," I said, "for she
was beautiful."

"And don't you remember her?"

"I don't remember her.  If she were alive I should be quite a different
sort of girl.  But oh, Hermione! sometimes at night I think of her just
when I am dropping off to sleep.  She comes to me when I am asleep.  To
think of any girl having a mother!  Oh, it must be the height of bliss
and of joy!"

Hermione stared at me for a minute; then she said, "I don't understand.
I love my father best."

"Do you?"  I said, a little shocked.

"Of course you cannot possibly love your mother's memory as you do your
father, for he is such a great man--a man whom all the world is proud
of."

"But he is only a teacher in a school," I could not help saying.

"He could be anything; but he will not leave the school.  He loves to
instruct the boys.  But it isn't for his scholastic work he is known; it
is because he is himself, and--and because of those wonderful lectures,
so many of which are published.  He lectures also at the Royal Society,
and he writes pamphlets which set the greatest thinkers all agog.  Oh, I
should be proud of him if I were you!"

"I am glad," I said.  I knew that I loved the Professor dearly.  Had I
not all my life sacrificed myself for his sake, as every one else had
also done?

Hermione said after a pause, "Miss Donnithorne told me that you were--"

"What?"  I asked.

"A little bit--don't be offended--a little bit neglected."

"She had no right to say so; I am not."

As I spoke I laid my hand on the dark-blue dress, and all of a sudden I
grew to hate it.  I disliked Hermione also.

"What is the matter?" she said.  "Have I hurt you in any way?  I
wouldn't for all the world.  I am so truly glad to make your
acquaintance."

"You didn't mean to," I said, recovering my temper; "but the fact is,
Hermione, I live one life and you live another.  You are rich, and we
are poor; I am not ashamed to say it."

"It must be rather exciting to be poor," said Hermione.  "I mean it must
be interesting to know the value of money.  But you don't look poor,
Dumps--or--I mean Rachel.  That dress--"

"Oh! don't talk of my dress, please."

"I know it's bad form," she replied, and she seemed to shrink into her
shell.

After a minute she spoke on a different subject, and just then a stately
but somewhat withered-looking lady entered the room.

"Hermione, Miss Donnithorne says that you and Miss Grant must put on
your things now in order to return to Hedgerow House, otherwise you
won't be in time to receive the Professor."

"The Professor?"  I cried, jumping to my feet.  Hermione laughed.

"You don't mean to say that Miss Donnithorne hasn't told you that your
father is coming to have tea with you both?"

"I didn't know anything about it.  My father?  But he never leaves
London."

"He has managed to leave it to-day.  How queer that you shouldn't know!"

"I had better get dressed; I shouldn't like to be late," I said.

I felt all of a flutter; I was nervous.  Would he remark my dark-blue
costume, and be angry with me for not wearing my brown skirt and red
blouse?

"I'll get dressed in a twinkling," said Hermione.  "Come along, Dumps;
this is interesting."

I wondered why she was so pleased, and why a sort of inward mirth began
to consume her.  Her eyes were twinkling all the time.  I began to like
her a little less and a little less; and yet, of course, she was a most
charming and well-bred and nice-looking girl.

We went downstairs a few minutes later.  We said good-bye to the Squire
and his wife.  The Squire said he hoped he would have the honour of
entertaining Professor's Grant's daughter again, and the Squire's lady
made some remark which I presumed signified the same.  Then we went
away, driving as fast as ever we could in the direction of Hedgerow
House.

PART ONE, CHAPTER SEVEN.

A SURPRISE TEA.

We were a little late after all, for the Professor was standing on the
steps.  It does seem so ridiculous to call your own father the
Professor, but after all I had heard of him that day I really felt that
I could not even think of him under any other title.  He was dressed
just as carelessly and with as little regard to outward appearances as
though he had been giving a lecture to the Sixth Form boys in the
college.  His hair was rumpled and pushed back from his lofty forehead.
His eyes had that somewhat vacant stare which, notwithstanding his
genius, I could not help constantly noticing in them.  His adorers--and
it struck me that the Professor had many adorers--called that his
"far-away" or his "abstracted" or his "marvellous thinking" look, but to
me it seemed that it was his vacant look.  But there! it was very wrong
of me to think such a thing about father.

"He has come," said Miss Donnithorne.  "Rachel, your father is here.  I
am more vexed than I can say not to have been ready to welcome him.  I
hope Nancy saw to his comfort.  Jump out, child, and run up the path.
Be the first to greet him.  I will follow you immediately."

I was almost pushed by Miss Donnithorne out of the carriage, and I ran
up the little path which led to Hedgerow House.  I felt that Miss
Donnithorne and Hermione were following me a few steps behind.  I
wondered if father would notice the dark-blue dress and the grey fur.
If he did he would be sure to say something which would let the cat out
of the bag--something which would lower me for ever in the eyes of
Hermione.  As I had not chosen to tell Hermione at the time that Miss
Donnithorne had requested me to wear the dress that day, I should
dislike beyond anything to have father blazoning the whole secret
abroad.  But he did nothing of the kind; he merely said, "Well, Dumps,
you look flourishing."

He held out his hand and gave me the tips of his fingers.  Then he shook
hands with Miss Donnithorne, and Miss Donnithorne presented Hermione to
him.  I observed that Miss Donnithorne's cheeks were brighter than their
wont.  She began to speak in a very apologetic way, but father cut her
short.

"It doesn't matter," he said; "pray don't apologise."  They both went
into the house, and it seemed to me that they forgot all about Hermione
and me as completely as though we did not exist.

"How queer!"  I could not help saying.

"Queer?" said Hermione.  "It isn't a bit queer; it's what we ought to
expect."

"I don't know what you mean," I said.

She looked at me.  I observed then that her soft brown eyes could be
quizzical at times.  The lids became slightly narrow, and a smile, not
the sweetest, trembled on her lips; then it vanished.

"Have you seen Miss Donnithorne's garden?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied; "and I am cold; I want to go into the house.  Let us
go in, Hermione.  I want, now father is with us, to be as much with him
as I can."

"Oh, you little goose!" said Hermione.  "For goodness' sake leave them
alone.  Come upstairs and show me your room."

"Why should I leave them alone?"  I said.

"You are a baby!" said Hermione.  She spoke almost crossly.

I certainly absolutely failed to understand her.  I said after a minute,
"I suppose that I understand father better than you do, and better than
Miss Donnithorne does."

"Better than Miss Donnithorne understands him?" cried Hermione.  "Oh
Dumps!  I must call you Dumps, for you are quite delicious.  Never,
never since I was born did I meet a little girl quite so much the colour
of--the colour of--"

"The colour of what?"  I said.

She had her umbrella in her hand.  It was very neatly folded.  I really
don't know why she brought it, as we had driven in a covered carriage;
but now she poked and poked in the snow with it until she came to the
grass beneath.

"The colour of that," she said.

I am sure I turned scarlet; and I can assure you, readers, that I was
not at all pretty when I turned that colour, for my complexion was
somewhat muddy, and I had none of those delicate pinks and whites in my
skin which make people think you so absolutely charming.

"I don't understand you," I said.  "I think you are very rude."

She laughed and patted me on the arm.

"You are a very nice girl," she said.  "I know that; but you will
forgive me.  I perceive that Miss Grace Donnithorne is right and you
know nothing of the world."

"I don't know anything whatever of the world you live in," I answered.
"I know nothing whatever of the world which suddenly declares that a
person whom I scarcely know at all knows more of the heart of the one
person whom I have been brought up with all my life than I do myself.  I
positively declare that Miss Grace Donnithorne does not know as much
about father as I do."

"And I defy you to prove it.  If I were a boy I'd make a bet on it,"
said Hermione.  "But there I never mind; don't let us talk on the
subject any longer.  Come and show me your room, and afterwards you can
tell me about yourself."

I had to crush down my gathering wrath, and we went upstairs.  Hermione
was restless; I tried to talk in a matter-of-fact and yet haughty sort
of way, but she hardly replied.

"It is so amusing," she said.

"What is the matter with you?"

"Oh, to be in the house with _them_, you know."

"The house with whom?"

"Why, the Professor and Miss Grace Donnithorne."

"I don't see that it is the least remarkable," I answered.

"But it is--very.  And dear old Grace, too--dear old Grace--whom I have
known ever since I was a baby.  I suppose I am glad, but perhaps I am
sorry too; I am really not sure.  You see, I have hardly looked at your
Professor, but I'll study him tremendously when tea is ready.  Now do
come downstairs, Dumps, and don't look so bewildered.  You would be
quite nice-looking if your hair was properly arranged.  Here, let me
arrange it for you.  Why should it sag in that hideous way over your
forehead?  Give me your comb."

Hermione could be very masterful.  She folded back my hair in some
marvellous fashion, which made my forehead look much broader, and then
she plaited it in two thick plaits which hung down my back.  Those
plaits kept the front quite tidy and in complete order; and then she
brought a little hand-glass and made me look at my reflection behind.

"You look quite a nice girl," she said.  "I grant that you have not the
most perfect features in the world, but a great many girls who have
better features would give up everything for your hair."

Yes, my hair was very thick, and it was very bright, and somewhat tawny
in shade, and the two plaits were massive and very long, for they hung
far below my waist.

"I have such a little screw of hair," said Hermione, "that I shall be
delighted when I am allowed to put it up; but mother won't hear of it
until I am seventeen.  She says that, as my hair is so rat's-taily, I
may as well put it up when I am seventeen, but that won't be for a whole
year and three months."

"Then you are not sixteen yet?"

"No."

"I am three months younger than you," I replied, "and I am not a bit
anxious to be grown-up; I want to remain a child."

"Perhaps so; with your sort of figure and your thick hair--it won't look
nearly so well when it is coiled round your head--I am not surprised.
Oh, delightful sound!  There's the tinkle of dear Grace's tea-bell.  Now
come along down; I do want to store at the Professor."

We did go down.  There was a very cosy tea; it was laid in the pretty
parlour.  Father sat at one end of the table and Miss Donnithorne at the
other, while Hermione occupied the central position at the side near the
fire, and I the opposite one.  The Professor kept talking all the time.
It did not matter in the very least whether he was answered or not.  He
was explaining the peculiarities of a fossil which he had discovered by
the merest chance a month ago.  He was telling the exact age which had
produced this fossil, and using most unintelligible names.  Miss
Donnithorne was listening, and now and then putting in a remark, but
neither Hermione nor I uttered a word.  I began to day-dream.  The
Professor was just as he always was.  He always talked like that--
always.  He was a little less interesting than usual when he got on
fossils; they were his very driest subject.  The boys and I knew quite
well what subjects he was best on: he was best when he alluded to the
great Greek tragedians; occasionally then an ordinary person _could_ get
a glimmering of his meaning.  I thought I would show those good ladies,
Miss Donnithorne and that precious Hermione, that I understood father a
little better than they did.  So I said after a pause, "Which of the
plays of Sophocles do you like best, father?"

It was a very daring remark, and Miss Donnithorne opened her brown,
laughing eyes and stared at me as though I had committed sacrilege.
Hermione very nearly jumped from her seat.  My words had the effect of
pulling the Professor up short.  He stared at me and said, "Eh, Dumps--
eh?  What are you talking about, Dumps?"

"Which play of Sophocles do you regard as his greatest?"  I said, and I
felt very proud of myself as I uttered this remark.

I had now led father into the stream of conversation in which he could
show himself off to the best advantage.  He took to the bait, forgot the
fossils, and began to talk of that other fossil the old Greek tragedian.
I leant back in my chair; I had accomplished my object.  Father looked
as though he were about to fight the whole world in the cause of
Sophocles--as though any human being wanted to take any of his laurels
from the poor old dead and gone tragedian.

But I was watching my chance.  I saw that the ladies were impressed, and
by-and-by I swept father once more off his feet into another direction
by asking him to explain one of the greatest passages in the works of
Milton.  Father turned on me almost with fury.  Miss Donnithorne
muttered something.  Hermione said, "Oh, I am so hot with my back to the
fire!"

But again father rose to the bait and burst forth in a panegyric on
Milton which I suppose a scholar, if he knew shorthand, would have taken
down on the spot, for I know it was marvellously clever.  But Miss
Donnithorne was a little pale when father had finished.  Then he and she
got up and went into the garden, and walked up and down; and Hermione
took my hand and dragged me into the room with the stuffed birds, and
flung herself on the sofa and burst into a peal of laughter.

"How rude you are!"  I said.  "What is the matter?"

"Oh, you are a genius, you greenest of green Dumps!" was her remark.
"To think of your daring to oppose that stream of eloquence!"

"Well, you see, I know father, and I know that there are two subjects on
which he can be wonderful; one is Sophocles and the other Milton."

"I never heard of Sophocles," said Hermione in her calmest tone.

"You never heard of Sophocles?"  I said, for the temptation to crow over
her was too great to be resisted.  "Why, he was the greatest writer of
the tragic muse that ever existed."

"For goodness' sake, Dumps--" Hermione pressed her hands to her ears.
"If you talk like that I shall fly."

"I don't know him," I said; "and what is more," I added, "I never mean
to.  If you had a father like the Professor you'd hate the classics.
But after Sophocles," I continued, "the person he loves best is Milton.
I haven't read Milton, and I don't mean to."

"Oh, I suppose I shall have to read him," said Hermione.  "But poor,
poor dear Grace!  Does he always talk like that, Dumps?"

"He was particularly lucid to-day," I said.  "As a rule he is much more
difficult to understand."

"And do you always have your meals with that sort of stream of learning
pouring down you?"

"Oh no; most times he is silent."

"That must be much better," said Hermione, with a profound sigh.

"I don't know; it's rather dull.  We aren't allowed to talk when the
Professor is silent."

"Bless him!  And Grace is such a chatterbox, you know."

"She is very, very nice," I said.

Just then the Professor came in.

"Where is Dumps?" he said.

I jumped to my feet.

"Good-bye, child," he said, holding out his hand limply.  Then he drew
me to him and pressed a very light kiss on my forehead.

"Glad you are with Grace--Miss Donnithorne, I mean.  Hope you are
enjoying yourself.  I'll expect you back on the evening of Tuesday.
School begins on Wednesday.  You mustn't neglect your books.  As
glorious Milton says--"

He rhapsodised for two minutes, then stopped, glanced at Hermione, and
said abruptly, "Don't know this young lady."

"Oh yes, you do, Professor," said Miss Donnithorne.  "This is my great
friend, Miss Hermione Aldyce."

"My father is a great admirer of yours, sir," said Hermione, colouring
slightly and looking very pretty.

"Eh--eh?" said the Professor.  "Don't like people to admire me.
Good-bye, good-bye.--Good-bye, Miss Donnithorne--Grace, I mean--no, Miss
Donnithorne, I mean.  Good-bye, good-bye!"

He was out of the house and down the path before we had hardly time to
breathe.  Hermione went away a few minutes afterwards, and Miss
Donnithorne and I had the evening to ourselves.  We had supper almost in
silence.  There was a sort of constraint over us.  I looked at Miss
Donnithorne, and saw that she was very pale.  I said to myself, "No
wonder, poor thing!  She has had some of father's eloquence dinned into
her ears; it is enough to scare any one."

After a long period of silence, during which I was scraping more and
more apple off the core of the baked one I had been eating, and trying
to fiddle with my bread and get it to last as long as possible, she said
abruptly, "One's duty is sometimes difficult, is it not, little Rachel?"

"Is it?"  I answered.  "Yes, I suppose so."

She looked at me again.

"You are the index-finger which points to the path of duty," was her
next remarkable speech.

This was too much!

"I hate being called an index-finger!" was my answer.  "I don't know
what it means."

She got up, put her arm round me, and kissed me.

"I would be good to you," she said in her softest voice.

It really was difficult to resist her.  She was a very sweet woman.  I
knew it then by the way she kissed me, and I don't think in all my life
I ever felt anything softer than the soft, soft cheek which was pressed
against mine.  Had she been a girl of my own age, she could not have had
a more delicate complexion.

"You are good to me--you are very good to me," I said with gratitude.

"I like you and even love you, and I hope you will like me and not
misunderstand me."

"But why should I?"  I asked.

"Come into the other room, child," was her remark.

We went into the room where the stuffed birds were, and Miss Donnithorne
sat down and poked up the fire.

Then she said gently, "Does he always talk as much as he did at tea?"

"Who, Miss Donnithorne?"

"Your father, my dear."

"Not always," I answered.

She gave a sigh of profound thankfulness.

"But does he at most times?"

"Most times he is silent," I said, "and we are all silent too.  It's the
rule at home for none of us to speak when the Professor is eating.  If
he likes he speaks, but none of us does."

"What do you mean by `none of us'?"

"The boys and I.  We sit very still.  It isn't difficult for me, because
I am accustomed to it; but Alex--he sometimes moves his legs, for they
are so long.  Father is annoyed then.  Father suffers from headache."

"No wonder, with such a brain.  His learning is colossal!"

"It is," I said wearily.

"You admire him very much, don't you, Dumps?"

"Naturally, because he is my father."  But then I added, "I only wish he
wasn't so learned.  I hate learning, you know.  I never mean to be
learned."

Miss Donnithorne laughed, and her favourite expression, "Bless the
child!" burst from her lips.

PART ONE, CHAPTER EIGHT.

HOME AGAIN.

I went home on Tuesday evening.  I had no more very specially
interesting conversations with Miss Donnithorne; but she gave me during
the whole of Monday and all Tuesday, until it was time to put me into
the train for my return journey, a right royal time.  I can speak of it
in no other way.  I lived for the first time in my whole existence.  She
managed to open up the world for me.  She did not tell me about the dead
and gone great people, who to me were very musty and mouldy and
impossible; but she talked of living things--of birds and beasts and
flowers.  She was great on flowers.  She said the country was the right
place to live in, and the town was a very melancholy abode, and not
specially good for any one.  But then she added, "It is the lot of some
girls and some men and women to live in the town, and when it is they
must make the best of it."

I began to consider her not only a most agreeable woman, but also a very
noble woman.

"Now, if you lived in our house, would you make things different?"  I
said.

"I shall--" she began, and then she stopped.

"Oh yes, Dumps--yes.  Your house isn't at all what it ought to be; it
isn't well ordered."

"How would you manage things?  I wish you would tell me, Miss
Donnithorne--I really do--for now I have been with you, and eaten such
delicious meals, and been in such a pretty, very clean house, I see the
difference."

"It would be difficult for you to make much change," she said; "but of
course there are always things to be done.  Your house wants--"

She paused to consider.  There came a frown between her brows.

"Dumps dear," she said after a pause, "I cannot explain just now.  Your
house wants--well, I will say it--to be turned topsy-turvy, inside out,
round about; to be--to be made as different from what it is now as the
sun is different from the moon."

"If that is the case I needn't trouble," I said in a sort of desponding
tone, "for Hannah won't work any harder, and I don't think I can; and
father likes his meals anyhow, and the boys and I--well, I suppose we
are poor; I'm sure I don't know, but there doesn't seem to be much
money.  It will feel so strange when I go home."

"Trust to better times coming," said Miss Donnithorne.  "The house can
be altered.  I will write to you about it."

We were sitting by the fire on the last evening when she said this.  I
turned to her.

"Why don't you tell me now?"

But she said, "No; it will be best to write.  The fact is, I could not
tell you now; it will be best to write."

"What a darling little house this is!" was my next remark.  "If only we
could have a sweet little house like this to live in in town, how happy
I should be!"

"It is a nice house," she said.  "I don't think I'll give it up.  In
fact," she added, "I have made up my mind not to."

"Were you thinking of moving?"  I asked.

"I have made up my mind that the house shall remain--I mean that I shall
keep the house," was her unintelligible remark; and then she got very
red--quite scarlet--all over, and she walked to one of the bookcases,
opened it, and took out two volumes of _The Daisy Chain_ and two more of
_The Heir of Redclyffe_, and flung them into my lap.

"You haven't read those, have you?" she asked.

"Oh no," I replied, opening the first volume that came handy, and
dipping into its contents.

"I think you will like them," she said.  "Take them back with you; put
them into your brown-paper parcel.  I mean--" She stopped.

She was a funny woman, after all.  Why did she draw herself up each
moment?  It became almost irritating.

Well, the precious, darling, joyful time came to an end, and I was once
more in the train.  I was in the train, but on the rack above me there
was no longer a brown-paper parcel--a hideous, humiliating brown-paper
parcel.  On the contrary, there was a neat little trunk in the
luggage-van, and the only thing I had with me was my umbrella, which I
held in my hand.  I was wearing the dark-blue dress with the grey fur,
so my hands were warm with my little grey muff, and altogether I was a
totally different creature from the girl who had travelled down to
Chelmsford on the Saturday before.

Hannah was waiting for me on one of the big platforms at Liverpool
Street Station.  I was amused at the way she stared at me.

"Sakes!" she cried, "who's that?"

I went up to her and clapped her on the shoulder.

"It's I.  I am smart, am I not, Hannah?"

"Sakes!" said Hannah again, "I wouldn't ha' known you.  Here, come
along--do.  Where in the name of fortune did you get them things from?"

"I'll tell you presently."

"And where's your brown-paper parcel?  My word, if it's lost there'll be
a fuss!  I don't think I dare take you home if the parcel is lost; all
your best linen in it, and your night-dress with the frills, and the
handkerchiefs, and the stockings, and the dress you went down in, and
the new skirt and blouse as the Professor gave you.  Wherever be the
parcel?"

I felt very dignified and grand.  I called a porter.

"My luggage is in the van behind that carriage," I said--"the van at the
end of the train."

"You ain't never put a brown-paper parcel in the van, child?" said
Hannah, in high dudgeon.

"Oh, come along, Hannah," I said.

I swept her with me.  She was quite neatly dressed, but I saw the
cotton-wool sticking in her right ear, and somehow the depression of all
that was before me in the ugly house swept over my mind with renewed
force.  The trunk was small and wonderfully neat.  It had my initials,
R.G., on it.  Hannah gave a snort.

"I suppose the person as togged you up in all that finery give you the
trunk as well," she said.

"You may suppose anything you like, Hannah; the trunk holds my clothes.
Ladies cannot go about with brown-paper parcels.  Now then!"

The trunk was put on the top of a four-wheeler--nothing would induce
Hannah to go in a hansom--and we drove back to the old house belonging
to the college.  It was dark and dismal, for the dim light of one
gas-jet in the hall only made the shadows look the deeper.  The parlour,
too, was quite hideous to behold.  It was more than usually untidy, for
there had been no one to put the books in order or keep confusion at bay
since Dumps had gone.  Not that Dumps was in herself in the very least
of the tidy sort, but she was a few shades tidier than the boys, Alex
and Charley.

Alex was sitting by the fire with his shoulders hitched up to his ears;
he was conning a Latin treatise, muttering the words aloud.  I came in,
stole softly up to him, and gave him a slap on the back.

"Goodness gracious! who's that?"

Alex sprang to his feet.  He saw a smartly dressed girl.  Alex secretly
adored girls.  He became immediately his most polite self.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "I--"

He approached in the direction of the nearest gas-jet in order to turn
it up higher.  Then he recognised me.  He recoiled at once; he was angry
with me for misleading him.

"Oh, it's you, Dumps!  What in the name of fortune did you steal in like
that for, like a thief in the night, and slap me on the back to make
me--"

"Oh, you didn't know me!"  I said, catching his hands and jumping softly
up and down.  "Don't I look nice in my new dress?  Tell me I look nice--
tell me--tell me, Alex!"

But Alex was really angry.

"I don't know anything about it," he said.

I had counted much on the impression that I should make on Alex with my
dress.  I thought he would be respectful and treat me as a lady.  I
thought he would begin to see that even Dumps, with her hair neatly
arranged and in a pretty costume, could look nearly as nice as other
girls.

But if Alex failed me, Charley did not.  Charley came in at that moment,
and he was in raptures.  On his heels came Von Marlo.  And as to Von
Marlo, he said quite openly that Miss Rachel was a most charmingly
pretty young lady.

"You shut up!" said Alex.  "It isn't the custom here to praise girls to
their faces.  Sit down, Von, or go away, but don't stand there looking
like a foolish owl."  Nothing could put Von Marlo out of countenance.
He sank down on the nearest chair, hitched up his great, square
shoulders, and gazed at me from under his penthouse of inky-black hair.

"Very, very nice indeed," he said.  "And where did you get the dress,
Miss--Miss Dumps?"

I was inclined to be friendly with Von Marlo and with Charley, but I
would be quite cold to Alex.

Just at that moment Hannah bustled in with the supper.  I did think she
might have made a little struggle to have something appetising for me
to-night; but no, there was the invariable cold mutton bone and
potatoes, boiled this time, and not too well boiled at that.  There was
a dear little dish of something fried, which smelt very good, for
father.

Then the Professor came in without his glasses.  He could never see much
without them.  He called out to me, as though I had never left the
house, "Go and hunt for my spectacles, Dumps."

Away I went, and of course I found them and brought them to him.  He put
them on his nose, and his eyes fell on Von Marlo.

"Is that you, Von Marlo?" he said.  "Sit down, my dear fellow, and have
some supper.--Alex, help Von Marlo to whatever there is."

He pulled the contents of the hot dish towards himself and began to eat
ravenously.  There was not even a welcome for me.  He had evidently
quite forgotten that I had been away.  After a time I said, "Father, I
have come back."

"Eh?" said the Professor.  "By-the-bye, Von Marlo, did you notice the
grand passage you and the other fellows were construing this afternoon?
There was a fellow in the form inclined to mock at the magnificent
words, but that could not have been you."

"Oh no, sir," replied Von Marlo.

"Father, I have come back," I repeated.  "I have come back from Miss
Grace Donnithorne's."

"Ah!" he said.  The fact that I had come back did not move him, but the
words "Miss Grace Donnithorne" seemed to rouse him, for he got up, came
straight towards me, and put a hand on my right shoulder and a hand on
my left, and drew me towards him.

"How is Grace Donnithorne?" he said.

"She seems quite well, father."

"Then that is all right."

"Aren't you glad I am back?"  I said.

The Professor returned to his seat.  "Alex, I shall be obliged to stay
up until the small hours.  That paper for the Royal Society must be
finished to-night.  I shall send it to be typed the first thing in the
morning.  You must get up half-an-hour earlier than usual, and come to
my room for copy, and take it to the typewriting office in Chancery
Lane."

Not a word about me.  I felt a sense of pain at the back of my eyes.
What was the good of having a learned Professor for a father when he
hardly noticed you?  I had been so hoping that my pretty dress would be
seen and admired in the home circle.

I went to bed that night in my comfortless and hideous room.  It was so
cold that I could not sleep for some time, and as I pressed and pressed
the bedclothes round me I could not help thinking of the jolly life some
girls had, and even a few tears rolled down my cheeks.  To be very ugly,
to be in no way endowed with any special talent, and to have a great
father who simply forgot your existence, was not the most enviable lot
in all the world for a girl.

"If only mother had lived!"  I could not help saying to myself.

Then in my dreams mother seemed to come to me; she took me in her arms
and kissed me and called me her little darling; and when she did this it
seemed to me that looks mattered nothing and love mattered everything.
I was her child; I was with her; she was all my own.

When I went down to breakfast I was surprised to find that the only
person in the parlour was father.  He was not eating; he was standing on
the hearth-rug.  His hair was ruffled up, but his face looked calmer
than usual.  He was evidently in one of those moods in which he could be
approached.  I had on, of course, my everyday school dress, and I must
start almost immediately for school.  I went up to him and took one of
his long hands.

"Father," I said, "may I ask you something?"

He looked down at me with quite a gentle expression.

"What is it my little Rachel wants?"

"Father, have you got anywhere a picture of my mother?"

He dropped my hands as though they hurt him.

"You want it?" he said.

"I should love to have it."

"You have missed your mother's care?"

"Yes."

"If I--" He stopped.

"Why do you stop?"  I said.  "You are just like Miss Donnithorne.  She
is always beginning sentences and stopping.  But oh! please,"--for he
seemed to be going off into one of his Demosthenes or Sophocles
monologues--"please, if you have a picture of my mother, give it to me."

For answer he went out of the room.  He was gone two or three minutes.
When he returned he put a little case into my hand.

"You can keep it; it is yours now by every right.  I treasured it.
Understand that I have not forgotten her; but you can keep it.  It is
yours by every right."  Before I could reply he had left the room.  I
heard him bang the door, and I heard Hannah's step on the stairs.  I
could not stand the thought of Hannah seeing the little case in my
hands.  She was the sort of woman who could be devoured by curiosity.
This was more than I could bear.  I flew to my room and put the dear
little case into one of my drawers.  I forbore to open it just then.  My
heart was warm and full of bliss.  I possessed it; I would look at it
to-night.  It should lie in my arms when I slept; I could kiss it in the
morning.  It was next best to having mother to have a picture of mother.
I was happy.

A few minutes later I was on my way to school.  There I met the Swan
girls.  They came up to me.

"Well, well," they said, "how are you?  How do you like her?"

"What do you mean?"  I said.

"Why, all the world knows that you have been staying with Miss
Donnithorne.  Do tell us about her.  We are dying with curiosity.  It is
no secret, you know."

"What is no secret?"

"Why, that you have been staying there," said Rita Swan, giving her
sister a nudge at the moment.

"I don't want it to be a secret," I said.  "I have had a very happy
time.  I'll tell you about her and her nice house later on."

"Oh dear! we are likely to know plenty of her in the near future," said
Agnes.  "But there's the bell; we must go in.  Come along, Dumps.  Why,
to be sure, you do look smartened up!  But you will be twice as smart as
this in the future."

PART ONE, CHAPTER NINE.

THE PROFESSOR LEAVES HOME.

As I took my place in class I observed that all the girls stared at me;
and after staring, one whispered to another, and then they stared again.
It was really very confusing.  After a time I did not like it.  I
thought they were impertinent.  I could have borne with the stares and
all the nudges and the whispers if I had been wearing my dark-blue dress
with the grey fur, for I should have put down the curious behaviour of
my schoolfellows to the fact of the dress: they were admiring the dress;
they were jealous of the dress.  But I had gone to school that morning
just the ordinary Dumps--Dumps in clothes she had grown out of, Dumps
with a somewhat untidy head, Dumps with her plain face.  Why should the
girls look at me?  It was not possible that the good food I had eaten
and the happy life I had led at Miss Donnithorne's could have made such
a marvellous difference in so short a time--just about three days and a
half.

But my lessons were more absorbing than usual, and I forgot the girls.
In the playground I resolved to avoid the Swans, and in order to do this
I went up to Augusta Moore and slipped my hand through her arm.

"Do let us walk about," I said, "and let us be chums, if you don't
mind."

"Chums?" said Augusta, turning her dreamy, wonderful eyes upon my face.

"Yes," I said.

"But chums have tastes in common," was her next remark.

"Well, you are very fond of books, are you not?"  I said.

"Fond of books!" cried Augusta.  "Fond of books!  I love them.  But that
is not the right word: I reverence them; I have a passion for them."

She looked hurriedly round her.  "I shall never marry," she continued in
a low whisper, "but I shall surround myself with books--the books of the
great departed; their words, their thoughts, shall fill my brain and my
heart.  I shall be satisfied; nothing else will satisfy me but books,
books, books!"

"Do come to this corner of the playground," I said.  "You speak as
though you were reciting, and if you raise your voice the least bit in
the world some one will hear you, and we shall have a crowd round us."

She obeyed me.  She was in a world of her own.  As I looked at her I
thought she was marvellously like the Professor in her mind.

"It is a dreadful pity," I said.

"What is a pity?" she asked.

"That you are not me, and I am not you."

"Oh dear," she said, "how you do mix things up!  How could I be you?"

"Well, if you lived with the Professor--if you were his child--you'd
have books; you'd live in the world you love."

Her eyes lit up then.  They really were fine eyes, although she was--I
could not help feeling it--a most provoking girl.

"That would be paradise," she said.  "But that can never happen.  It
never does happen.  Men like your marvellous, your wonderful father have
commonplace children like you.  Now I, who have all the instincts and
all that soul within me that just burns for books, and books alone, have
a painfully commonplace mother.  It is a mixed world.  It is painfully
mixed."

"Well, at any rate let us be chums," I said, for the Swans were getting
nearer and nearer.

"Oh, as you please, Dumps.  But you mustn't interrupt my work; I always
avoid having a girl chum, because she is sure to interrupt.  If you like
to walk with me in recess you may."

"Oh, I should, Augusta--I should!  I find the other girls so chattery
and so queer.  I don't understand them."

"Well, naturally, to-day they're excited," said Augusta.

She looked full at me.

"What about?"  I said.

"Why, about you."

"But why in the world about me?  What has happened to me?  Have I
grown--grown beautiful?"

I coloured as I said the words.  Another girl would have laughed, but
Augusta did not; it was not her way.

"You are very plain indeed," she said calmly; "you have not one feature
which could possibly, at any time, grow into a beautiful feature.  But
that doesn't matter.  You have privileges.  Every evening you can look
at the Professor and think how marvellous is his brain and how beautiful
is his face.  Oh, do you think there is any chance of my being able to
get a ticket for the next meeting of the Royal Society?  He is going to
speak.  I could listen to him; I could hang on his words."

I made no answer; but I made a special resolution.  It was quite
impossible for me to be friends with Augusta Moore.  She was looking at
me at that moment, however, with great attention.

"I tell you what it is," she said; "if you are inclined to be friends
with me, you might now and then get me tickets for your father's
lectures.  I mean, of course," she added, colouring very much, "that is,
when you do not want them yourself."

"I never go to them," I said fervently.  "I would not go to them for all
the world."

"How queer of you!"

"I think I can promise to get you two tickets for the next meeting of
the Royal Society," I said, "if it will make you really happy.  Father
was busy over his lecture last night.  It has gone to be typed this
morning."

"Oh, don't!" said Augusta, with a shudder.

"Don't what?"

"Make the thing so realistic.  Leave it, I beseech of you, leave it in
the clouds.  Don't show me the ropes, but get me the tickets.  Do!  I
shall worship you.  I will even think you beautiful if you can get me
tickets for your father's lectures."

"I'll see; I'll speak to him to-day."

Augusta glanced nervously round.

"Do you think it would be possible for you to bring them to our house?
We live just outside Inverness Terrace, Bayswater.  You could come by
the Tube.  I would meet you, and I'd bring you home.  We have only three
rooms, mother and I--a sort of flat at the top of the house.  I come
every day to this school because it is thought quite the best in London.
It doesn't take long by the Twopenny Tube.  You have a station not far
from your house.  You could come, could you not?"

"I could come, of course."

"Well then, let me see.  Shall I meet you at four o'clock to-day just
outside the Bayswater Station?  I'll be there when you come."

The bell rang for us to return to school.

"I'll come," I said.

"I'll have quite a nice tea for you--that is, if you care for food."

"I do--I love it," I said in a stout voice.  Augusta did not smile.  She
went very gravely back to the school.  She had forgotten me; she was a
sort of female Professor.  I certainly did not like her, and yet I would
get her the tickets and go to her house.  She was better than the Swans.

Agnes Swan came up to me when school was over.

"You have been nasty in your ways to-day, Dumps," she said.  "Can't you
stay a minute now?"

"No," I said, "I cannot I must run all the way home; I am late."

"Nonsense!  Well, will you come to tea with us to-night?"

"No, thank you," I replied; "I have an engagement."

"Oh, she'll have heaps of engagements from this out!" said Rita.  "Don't
worry her.  She'll be much too grand to speak to us by-and-by."

"I have an engagement," I replied.  "I am going to tea with Augusta
Moore."

"Oh, with that old frump!"

"She is an exceedingly clever girl."

"But you and she have nothing in common, Dumps."

"Yes, we have," I replied.  "Have we not a Professor in common?"  I
murmured to myself; and then I left the Swans standing discomfited,
their faces all agog with longing to tell me something which I would on
no account hear from their lips.

I hurried back to the house.  To my joy, father was in.  He was very
neatly dressed.  I had not seen him so smart for a long time.  "Why,
father!"  I said.

"I am leaving home to-night," was his remark.  "I shall be away for a
little.  I shall be back presently.  You will get a letter from me."

"But, father, the lecture at the Royal Society?"  I said.

"That is not until next Wednesday, this day week.  I shall be back again
by then.  I shall return probably on Sunday, or Monday morning.  My dear
child, don't gape.  Another man is taking my place at the school.  Here,
Dumps, here; you'd like five shillings, wouldn't you?"

"Oh yes, father."

It did not really greatly matter to me whether my dear father was in the
house or not.  I was bewildered at his going; it was quite amazing that
he should get any one else to take his boys in the middle of term, but
it did not seriously affect my interests or my peace.  "You have a very
smart coat on," I said.

"Have I?" he replied, shrugging his shoulders.  "Well, if it pleases you
it will please other women.  Can't understand why people look so much at
the exterior.  Exterior matters nothing.  It is how the brain is worked,
how the mind tells on the body, how the soul is moved.  Those are the
things that matter."

"Father, have you had any food?"

"Yes; Hannah gave me a chop."

There was a bone from a mutton-chop on a plate near by, but there seemed
to be no appearance of a meal for me, and I was very hungry.

"The boys are dining at the school to-day," said my father.  "Now, my
child, it is time for me to be off."

"But one minute first.  There is a girl at school--"

"There are two hundred girls at your school.  Which special one do you
now allude to?"

"Her name is Augusta Moore.  She has a love for books, somewhat as you
have a love for books."

The Professor raised one hand.

"I beseech of you, Dumps," he said, "don't speak of any girl's immature
admiration for the great works of the mighty dead.  Don't!  Your words
will get on my nerves."

"Well, I won't; but she wants to learn, and I suppose she has a right
to," I said in a somewhat dogged tone.  "She has begged of me to ask you
to give her two tickets for next Wednesday when you are lecturing at the
Royal Society.  She wants two, for she would not be allowed to go
alone."

For answer my father stalked across the room.  He crossed the wide hall
and entered his own study, a room he seldom used, for he did most of his
home work in his bedroom.  He came back presently with a couple of
tickets and threw them on the table.

"There," he said; "don't say anything more about her.  Don't worry me on
the subject.  Good-bye, my little girl."

He stooped and kissed me; his kiss was more affectionate than usual.

"Be a good girl, Dumps.  What I do I do for my children's sake."

"Of course, father;" I said, touched by the feeling which seemed to be
in the kiss he had just bestowed upon me.

"By the way, Dumps, I gave you that picture of your mother?"

"Oh yes, father; but I have not looked at it yet."

"It is a good likeness," he said.  "She was a pretty woman, and a good
wife to me; I never forget that.  I don't forget it now.  Good-bye,
Dumps."

"You will write, father?"

"Yes, yes; anyhow you will hear.  Good-bye, child; good-bye."

I followed him into the hall.  There was a neat little Gladstone bag on
a chair.  It really was brand-new, and it had his initials on it.

"Why," I said, taking it up in my hand, "this is exactly the same sort
of bag as my trunk--I mean it is such very new-looking leather.  How
pretty!  When did you get it?"

"Don't be inquisitive, child.  Is it new?  Upon my word!  Well, that's
all right.  Good-bye, good-bye, Dumps."

He snatched up the bag and went out, banging the hall door.  I went
straight back to the parlour and pulled the bell.  I pulled it twice in
desperation.  There was no response of any sort.

"Hannah gets worse and worse," I thought.  I was ravenously hungry.
There was not a scrap of preparation for a meal on the table, only the
glass out of which father had drunk his accustomed quantity of beer, and
the bone of the mutton-chop, and a small piece of bread.  Hannah was
certainly in her deafest and worst humour, and the cotton-wool was
sticking firmly into her right ear.

I ran downstairs.  I entered the kitchen.

"Sakes!" said Hannah.

I went close to her and dexterously put out my hand and removed the
cotton-wool from her ear.

"Miss Dumps, how dare you?"

"I want my dinner," I said.

"Sakes!  What with frying chops for the Professor, and him going off in
a hurry, why, my head is in a moil."

"Hannah," I said, "I must have some food.  I am awfully hungry."

"Well, set down right there by the kitchen table and I'll give you
another chop," said Hannah.  "I hear the Professor's not coming back
to-night.  It's the very queerest thing I remember happening since your
poor mother died.  But you set there and I'll grill a chop for you, and
you shall have it piping hot, and potatoes as well.  There, now, what do
you say to that?"

I thought I would oblige Hannah to any extent with the prospect of such
a meal in front of me, and accordingly I sat down while she prepared the
chop and potatoes.  Presently she brought them to me, and I ate them
with the satisfaction which only a hungry schoolgirl can feel when she
is seldom given a satisfying meal.

"Master said to me just before he left, `Tidy up the house a bit,
Hannah.'  Never heard him make such a remark before in all my life since
your poor mother were took."

"You remember mother very well, don't you, Hannah?"

"Bless her! yes, I have memories."

Hannah looked very thoughtful.

"Do sit down," I said.  "You and I are alone in the house."

"You are her mortal image," said Hannah as she sank into her chair.

"I like mother?"

"Not in face, but in ways.  You have a sort of coaxing way with you, and
your temper is good--I will say that.  But God only knows who you hark
back with regard to face, for you are plain, Dumps, there's no doubt of
that."

"So every one says--that is, every one except Mr Von Marlo."

"That queer Dutch boy--that foreigner?  Nobody minds what foreigners
say."

"Still, it is nice sometimes, by somebody, to be called even fairly
good-looking," I responded.

"Maybe you're in Dutch style," said Hannah.  "I always was told they had
flattened-out faces, same as the Dutch dolls, you know."

This remark was scarcely flattering; but then Hannah, on principle,
never did flatter.

"Tell me about mother," I said.  "What was she really like?"

"Mr Alex takes after her.  Eyes blue as the sky, a tender, gentle face,
rather tall, rather slim, the sweetest of voices."

"Why did she die?"  I asked.

My own voice trembled.

"Killed, child--killed."

"Killed?"  I exclaimed.  "I never heard that."

"Oh, there are ways of doing the job!  She weren't killed by any
accident--not by fire, nor by water, nor by a street accident--but just
she wanted what she couldn't get."

"And what was that?"

"Why, the understanding of the sort of man she had married.  He is real
good is the Professor, downright good at heart, but he wanted a
different sort of wife from your mother, some one as could rouse him and
take him by the shoulders and shake him.  That's the sort he wanted, and
she weren't the kind.  So, you see, she hadn't enough sunshine, and
by-and-by the want of sunshine killed her.  Yes, she were killed if ever
a woman were killed; yes, that's it--killed."

I started to my feet.

"You really are very melancholy, Hannah."

"And why in the name of fortune should I be merry?  What's to make me
merry?"

"Well, we all have to make the best of things.  Miss Donnithorne says
so."

"Don't you mention the name of that hussy to me!"

"Hannah, you have no right to call her that.  She is a most sweet, dear,
charming woman."

"Get you out of my kitchen, Dumps!"

"Hannah, what do you mean?"

"Mean?  I don't want that woman coming fussing round the place, making
up to you, dressing you up--I know what it means.  Don't you talk to me.
Get along, Dumps, or I'll say something angry.  Now then, out you go!"

Hannah pushed the cotton-wool well into her ear with her thumb, and
after that I knew that I might as well talk to a deaf and dumb image.

PART ONE, CHAPTER TEN.

A VERY QUEER CHUM.

I went to tea with Augusta Moore.  She was full of raptures with regard
to the tickets which I had brought her.  She turned in the street and
kissed me quite demonstratively; but the next moment she lapsed into one
of her brown studies.

"Do look out," I said; "you will be run over."

"As if that mattered," said Augusta.

"As if what mattered?"  I asked.

"Why, what you said just now.  Don't interrupt me.  I am puzzling out a
thought which will lead to--oh! it has gone--don't speak; it will come
back if you keep quiet.  There, I've nearly caught it!"

"Oh Augusta!"  I said, "you mustn't talk in that way while we are
walking in this street."

I clutched her by the arm.

"Guide me, Dumps; guide me, commonplace Dumps; then I shall be able to
think in peace."

I guided her then very steadily.  We walked up Queen's Road.  Queen's
Road is a long street.

"I thought," I said, "that you lived somewhere near Inverness Terrace,
close to the Twopenny Tube."  Augusta pulled up short.

"What have you been doing?" she said.

"What have I been doing?"  I answered.

"Why, you've led me more than half a mile away from home, and mother
will be very much annoyed."

"Well, you must wake up and get me there in some sort of fashion," I
said, "for I cannot possibly guide myself when I don't know where you
live."

Thus adjured, and by dint of constant pokes, and even pinches, I did
manage to take Augusta to her own home.  There was a lift which would
take us to her mother's flat at the top of the great house; but she was
a quarter way up the stairs before I was able to remind her of the fact.
She then said it didn't matter, and began to quote from _The Ancient
Mariner_, saying the words aloud.  People looked at her as they came
downstairs.  One lady said, "How do you do, Miss Moore?" but Augusta did
not make any reply.

At last we arrived at the very top of the house, and as there were no
more stairs of any sort to go up, we had to pause here.

"Now, which door are we to knock at?"  I said.  Augusta pointed to one.

"We're awfully late," she said.  "Mother will be terrible I shall go
into my own room until she subsides.  You won't mind listening to her;
you will probably agree with her.  You are fearfully commonplace
yourself.  Two commonplaces together make--oh!  I ought to be able to
say something very smart and witty on that subject, but I can't.  I am
going to cultivate smart sayings.  I believe it is possible to cultivate
them.  The spirit of repartee can be produced with care.  I have read
about it; it is possible.  A person who can make good repartees is much
appreciated, don't you know?"

"Oh yes, yes; but do knock at the door, or let me."  She approached the
door, but before she could raise her hand to ring the bell she turned to
me again.

"What is the subject of your father's next lecture?"

"I'm sure I don't know from Adam," I replied.

"What a vulgar way of expressing it!  How terrible to think you are his
child!"

"Augusta," I said, "there is one thing that puzzles me.  I am the
Professor's child, and doubtless I am commonplace; but I am glad of it,
for I wouldn't be like you for all the world."

"I don't want you to envy me," she said.  "I never ask any one to envy
me.  Those who are geniuses are above anything of that sort."

"But I should like to ask you a question."

"What is it?  Has it something to do with the great departed, or--"

"It has not," I said.  "It is, how do you ever manage to get to school
in the morning?  Are you awake?  Can you get along the streets?  Are you
always in a dream as you are now?"

"Mary Roberts, who also comes to the school, but who is in a very
inferior class, calls for me.  She has done that ever since I lost my
way in a distant part of Regent's Park and was very much scolded by my
teacher.  I forgot the school; I forgot everything that day.  I was
puzzling out a problem.  Your father could reply to it."

I made no answer to this, except to pull the bell vigorously myself.
This brought Mrs Moore on to the scene.  It was a great relief to see a
placid-looking, blue-eyed little lady, neatly and nicely dressed, who
said, "Augusta, late as usual!  And this is your dear little friend.--
How do you do, Miss Grant?  Come in, dear--come in."

"Mother," said Augusta, "while you are on the scold, you may as well
scold Miss Grant, or Dumps, as we call her.  I am going to my room.  I
have received two tickets for the next great meeting of the Royal
Society.  I shall live in bliss with the thought of those tickets until
that night.  You are to come with me."

"What night is your father's lecture?" asked Mrs Moore, glancing at me.

"Next Wednesday," I answered.

"We cannot possibly go on Wednesday; you know that, Augusta.  It is your
uncle Charles's birthday, and we have both been invited to dine with
him; he would never forgive us if we did not go."

"Just as you please, mother, as far as you are concerned.  I shall go,"
said Augusta; and she went into her bedroom and slammed the door behind
her.

Mrs Moore gave one patient sigh.  "Would you like to take your jacket
off?" she said.

I hastily removed it.  She began to pour boiling water into the teapot.
The little room was very neat and clean, and there was quite a cosy,
appetising tea spread on the board.

"I have heard a great deal about your father, my dear," said Mrs Moore
after a pause.  "And now I also hear about you.  I am glad to welcome
you here.  You are Augusta's special friend, are you not?"

"Oh, I know her very well," I said.

"She told me to-day at dinner that you wished to be a chum of hers.  She
said she was willing.  I felt quite relieved, for I think it would be
very good for Augusta to have a sort of human influence; she needs human
influence so badly."

"But can't she get it, Mrs Moore?"  I asked.  "Surely it is all round
her?"

"Well, dear, the fact is, she always stays amongst the dry bones; that's
what I call that terrible sort of learning which she so clings to.  Not
a word when she comes out, my love.  I assure you it is quite a comfort
to confide in you."

She motioned to me to draw my chair to the table.  I sat down.

"You look quite an interesting person," said Mrs Moore.

"Oh no, I am not at all interesting," I replied.

"Here is a cup of tea, love."  She handed me one.

"Ought I not," I said, "to wait for Augusta?"

"Dear me, no! on no account.  She will probably not come in at all.
Doubtless by now she has forgotten that you are in the house."

I could not help laughing.

"But doesn't she ever eat?"

"I bring her her food.  She takes it then without knowing what she is
taking.  She is a very strange child."

"Well," I said as I helped myself to a very nice piece of hot cake, "I
don't think I should have got her here to-day without pinching and
poking her.  She took me quite a long way round.  I believe," I added,
"that I shall not be able to get back, for I don't know this part of
London well."

"I will take you to the Twopenny Tube myself, dear.  Don't imagine for a
single instant that you will see anything more of Augusta."

When I discovered that this was really the case I gave myself up to the
enjoyment of Mrs Moore's pleasant society.  She was a very nice woman,
not at all commonplace--at least, if that meant commonplace, it was a
very good thing to be.  She was practical, and had a great deal of
sense.  She talked to me about my life, and about my father, and said
she wished we lived a little nearer.

"You must sadly want a lady friend, my dear," she said.

Then she stared at me very hard, and I saw a curious change come over
her face.

"Perhaps you will have one in the future," was her next remark.

"Oh yes," I answered briskly, "I have one now--a most dear, sweet lady.
She came to see me quite a short time ago, and I went to stay with her
last Saturday, and came home only last night.  I love her dearly; her
name is Miss Grace Donnithorne."

"Then that is excellent--excellent," said Mrs Moore.  She looked at me
wistfully, as though she meant to say something, but her next remark
was, "It is a very nice, suitable arrangement."

When tea was over I said I thought I ought to be going home.  I had a
hunger which was filling my heart.  My body had been well fed--
surprisingly well fed for me--that day.  Had not Hannah supplied me with
mutton-chops and potatoes, and Mrs Moore with hot cakes and fragrant
tea?  But I was hungry in another sort of way.  I wanted to look at my
mother's picture.  I wanted to gaze at the face of my very own mother.
I meant to do so when I was quite alone in my bedroom that night.  So I
said hastily, "I must go back now;" and Mrs Moore went to put on her
bonnet.

While she was away I knocked at Augusta's door.

"Who's there?" she called out.

"It's I.  I want to say good-bye."

"Don't come in, I beg of you.  Good-bye."

"Good-bye," I answered, feeling somewhat offended.  I heard her
muttering words inside the room.  They became louder:

  "And like a dying lady, lone and pale,
  Who totters forth wrapped in a gauzy veil."

Mrs Moore opened her door.

"What is the matter with Augusta?"  I said.

"Nothing; she is only reciting.  She is mad on Shelley at present.--
Good-bye, Gussie; I am going to see your friend, Miss Grant, to the
Twopenny Tube."

Augusta replied in a still louder rendering of the words:

  "Art thou pale from weariness
  Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth--"

We went into the street.  Mrs Moore took me to the station, and saying
she had something to do in another part of the street, she bade me on
affectionate good-bye.

I returned to our own house, and when I got there I found Alex and
Charley and Von Marlo, as we always called him, waiting for me.

"Then it's quite true," said Alex, "that we are to have the whole
evening to ourselves?  I have brought some grub in, and we are going to
cook it ourselves in the parlour.  You must help us, Dumps.  It doesn't
matter how shabby your frock is; you have got to be the cook."

"Oh, how scrumptious!"  I cried.  I felt just in the humour.

"And we can be as noisy as ever we like," said Charley.

"Only we won't do anything to hurt your feelings, Miss Rachel," said Von
Marlo.

"The main thing of all is," said Charley, "that Hannah isn't to know."

"Oh, we can easily manage that," I said.  "She won't come upstairs
unless we ring for her.  She never does."

"I've taken precious good care that she doesn't come upstairs," said
Alex, "for I've locked the door at the top of the kitchen stairs;" and
he produced the key in triumph from his pocket.

"Oh Alex, suppose by any sort of manner or means she wanted to come!
Why, she would never forgive us."

"Serve her right.  She won't answer our rings of late, so now we'll keep
her downstairs in that sweet spot in which she so loves to dwell."

"But," I said, "our dinner?"

"Oh, here it is--a mutton bone, barer than usual, and a few potatoes.  I
thought we'd have a real feast.  Did father give you any of the needful
when he was going away to-day, Dumps?"

"Why, yes," I said, "he gave me five shillings."

"And he gave me the same."

"And me the same," said Charley.

"You'll have to pay us back your share of the grub to-morrow," said
Alex; "but we bought it beforehand."

"Well, we can't cook without cooking things," I said.

"Sakes!" replied Alex; "do you suppose that while you were wandering
about London by yourself--highly improper for any young lady, I call
it--that we were idle?  Charley and Von Marlo and I went down into the
kitchen and purloined a frying-pan, a saucepan, a kettle, cups and
saucers, glasses, knives and forks galore, and plates.  Table-cloths
don't matter.  Now then, to see the array of eatables."

Alex produced out of his bag first of all, in a dirty piece of paper, a
skinned rabbit, next a pound of sausages, next a parcel of onions.

"These will make a jolly good fry," said Alex, smacking his lips as he
spoke.

From Charley's pockets came a great piece of butter, while Von Marlo rid
himself of a huge incubus in the shape of a loaf of very fresh bread.

"There are lots of things beside," said Charley: "potatoes--we're going
to fry them after the rabbit and sausages--and fruit and cakes.  We
thought if we had a good, big, monstrous fry, and then satisfied the
rest of our appetites with cake and fruit, as much as ever we can eat,
that we'd do."

"What about tea or coffee?"  I said.

"Bother tea or coffee!" said Alex.  "We'll have ginger-beer.  We brought
in a whole dozen bottles.  It was that that nearly killed us.  If it
hadn't been for Von Marlo we'd never have done it.  Now then, Dumps,
who'll cut up the rabbit, and who'll put it into the pan with the
sausages?  They ought to be done in a jiffy.  We'll cut up the onions
and strew them over the rabbit and sausages.  I want our fry to be real
tasty."

I became quite interested.  What girl would not?  To have the whole of
the great house to ourselves, to have three lively, hungry boys gloating
greedily over the food, and to think that I alone knew how to cook it!

But, alas and alack! my pride was soon doomed to be humiliated; for Von
Marlo, who had poached the egg so beautifully, now came forward and told
me that I was not cutting up the rabbit with any sense of its anatomical
proportions.  He took a sharp clasp-knife out of his pocket, and in a
minute or two the deed was done.  He then objected to my mode of
preparing the sausages, declaring that they ought to be pricked and the
skins slightly opened.  In the end he said it would be much better for
him to prepare the fry, and I left it to him.

"Yes, yes," I said; "and I'll put on the table-cloth.  Oh, but there
isn't a table-cloth!"

"Who wants a table-cloth?" said Alex.  "Let's have newspapers.  Here's a
pile."

We then proceeded to spread them on the centre table, and placed the
knives and forks and glasses upon them.  The sausages popped and
frizzled, the rabbit shrank into tiny proportions, the onions filled the
air with their odorous scent, and by-and-by the fry was considered done.
When we had each been helped to a goodly portion, Von Marlo began to
fry the potatoes, and these turned out to be more delicious than the
rabbit and sausages.  What a meal it was!  How we laughed and joked and
made merry!

"Three cheers for father's absence!" shouted Alex, holding his glass
high, as he prepared to pour the foaming contents down his throat.

There came a knocking--a violent and furious knocking--in a part of the
house which was not the front door.

"It's Hannah!  Hannah!"  I cried.  "She wants to come out.  Oh Alex, we
must let her out!"

"Nothing of the sort," exclaimed Charley.  "Let her knock until she's
tired of knocking."

The door was shaken violently.  We heard a woman's voice calling and
calling.

"Charley, I must go," I said.  "I cannot eat anything.  Poor old Hannah!
Oh, do let me open the door!"

"When the feast is over we'll cook a little supper for her, and bring
her in and set her down in front of the fire, and make her eat it," said
Von Marlo.  "Now, that will do, won't it?  Sit down and eat your nice,
hot supper," he continued, looking attentively at me with his honest
brown eyes.

I coloured and looked at him.  It was so pleasant to have eyes glancing
at you that did not disapprove of you all the time.

Von Marlo drew a chair close to the table for me, and placed another
near it for himself, and we ate heartily--yes, heartily--to the
accompaniment of Hannah's knocks and shrieks and screams to us to let
her out of her prison.

By-and-by the meal came to an end, and then it was Von Marlo himself who
went to the door.  We three, we Grants, were sufficiently cowardly to
remain in the parlour.  By-and-by Von Marlo reappeared, leading Hannah.
Hannah had been reduced to tears.  He had her hand on his arm, and was
conducting her into the parlour with all the grace with which he would
conduct a duchess or any other person of title.

"Here's your supper," he said.  "Sit here; you must be very cold.  Sit
near the fire and eat, eat."

She sat down, but she did not eat.

"Come, come," he said, and he placed an appetising plate of food close
to her.  She went on sobbing, but her sobs were not quite so frequent.

"It smells good, doesn't it?" said Von Marlo; and now he put a tender
piece of rabbit on the end of a fork and held it within an inch of her
mouth.

"You will be much better after you have eaten," he said in a coaxing
tone.

He had managed to place himself in such a position that when she did
stop crying she could only see him; and after a time the smell of the
delicious stew, and something about the comfort of her present position
close to the fire, caused her to open her eyes, and then she opened her
mouth, and in was popped the piece of tender rabbit.  She ate it, and
then Von Marlo fed her by popping piece after piece into her mouth; and
he gave her ginger-beer to drink; and when the supper was quite ended
and the platter clean, he stepped back and said, "You must forgive the
Grants; it was rather mischievous of them.  But it was not Miss Rachel;
it was Alex and Charley, and in especial it was Von Marlo's fault.  Now
you will forgive Von Marlo?"

He dropped on one knee, and put on the most comical face I had ever
seen; then he looked up at her, wiping one of his eyes, and winking and
blinking with the other.  Hannah absolutely laughed.

"Oh, you children, you children!" she exclaimed.

It was a most wonderful victory.  We knew now she would not scold, and
it had a marvellous effect upon us.  I rushed to her and flung my arms
round her neck and kissed and hugged her.  Alex said, "Good old Hannah!"
and Charley crouched down by her side and said, "Rub my hair the wrong
way; you know how I like it, Hannah."

Then Von Marlo said, "I'm not going to be out of it," and he planted
himself with his broad back firmly against her knees; and thus we all
sat, with Hannah in the centre, making a sort of queen in the midst.
She had ceased to weep, and was smiling.

"Dear, dear!" she said; "but I never was too hard on real
mischievousness; it's naughtiness as angers me.  Oh, my sakes!  Charley,
my lamb, I remember you when you were nothing more than a baby."

"But I was your pet, Hannah," I said.  "Tell me that I was your pet."

"But you were nothing of the sort," said Hannah.  "I will own that I was
always took with looks.  Now, Alex has looks."

"And I.  I have looks too," said Charley.  "I was gazing at my face in
the glass this morning, and I saw that I had beautiful, dark,
greyey-blue eyes."

"It's very wrong to encourage vanity," said Hannah.  "Well, Dumps will
always be spared that temptation.  But sakes!  I must take away the
things.  What a mess you have made of the place!  And whoever in the
name of fortune fried up that rabbit?  It was the most appetising morsel
I ever ate in the whole course of my life."

"I shall have much pleasure in writing out the recipe and giving it to
you," said Von Marlo, dropping again on one knee, and now placing his
hand across his heart.  "Fairest of women, beloved Hannah, queen of my
heart, I shall write out that recipe and give it to you."

"Oh my!" said Hannah, "you are worse than the Dutch dolls; but you do
make me laugh like anything."

PART ONE, CHAPTER ELEVEN.

MOTHER'S MINIATURE.

The supper was at an end.  I was in my room.

Now was the time to look at mother's picture.  The hunger in my heart
was now to be satisfied.  For many long years I had wanted to be the
possessor of that portrait, which I knew existed, but which I had never
seen.  How easily I had got possession of it in the end!  It was queer,
for we had all been afraid to speak of mother to father.  He had said
once that he could not stand it, and after that we never mentioned her
name.  But she was my mother.  I had envied girls who had mothers, and
yet some girls did not appreciate them.  There was Augusta, for
instance; how rude and insufferable she was to her mother!  She called
her commonplace.  Now, I could have been very happy with Mrs Moore.  I
could have been quite glad to be kissed by her and fondled by her, and
to sit with her and encourage her to tell me stories about herself.  And
I could have helped her with her needlework, and to keep the place tidy;
and I should have enjoyed going with her to dine with Uncle Charles--
whoever Uncle Charles might be.  But there was Augusta, who did not care
a bit about her mother, but wanted to be the daughter of my father.  Oh
yes, she was right; it was a strange, mixed world.

Well, I had the picture of mother, and I was going to look at it
to-night.  I lit three or four pieces of candle in honour of the great
occasion, and then I drew my chair near the ugly little dressing-table,
and I took the case and opened it.  The picture within had been
carefully painted; it was a miniature, and a good one, I am sure, for it
looked quite alive.  The eyes seemed to speak to me; the gentle mouth
looked as though it would open with words of love for me.  It was the
sort of mouth I should like to kiss.  The face was very young.  I had
imagined that all mothers must be older than that.  It was a girlish
face.

"It was because no one understood her that she died," I said to myself.
"Hannah said she was killed.  Hannah spoke nonsense, of course."

Tears filled my eyes.

"Darling, I would have loved you," I murmured.  "I'd have made so much
of you!  You wouldn't have been a bit angry with Dumps for not
resembling you.  You'd have let me kiss you and kiss you, and your
hungry heart would not have pined and pined.  Why didn't you live just a
little longer, darling--just until I grew up, and Alex grew up, and
Charley grew up?  Why didn't you, dearest, darling?"

My tears flowed.  I gazed at the picture many, many times.  Finally I
put it under my pillow.

In the middle of the night I woke, and my first thought was of the
picture and of the mother whom it represented.  I clasped it tightly to
my breast and hugged it.  Oh yes, the picture of my mother was better
than nothing.

The next morning I got up with a sense of relief at knowing that father
would be away for at least a couple of days.  It was a sadly wrong
feeling; but then I held mother's picture, and father had not understood
mother, and mother had died.  Killed!--that was what Hannah had said--
killed because she had not had enough sunshine.

"It was such a pity you didn't wait for me!  I'd have made things
sunshiny for you," I thought.

I ran downstairs.  The boys had had their breakfast and had already gone
to school; but there was a little pot of coffee inside the fender, some
bread-and-butter on the table, and a jug of cold milk and some sugar.
It was one of Hannah's unpleasant ways that she never would make the
milk hot for the children's coffee.  She said cold milk was good enough
for them.

But there was something else also on the table.  There was a letter--a
letter addressed to me.  Now, when you hardly ever get letters, you are
interested.  I had been terribly excited about Miss Donnithorne's
letter; and now here was another, but it was not written by Miss
Donnithorne; it was in father's handwriting.  What could father have to
say to me?  He had never written to me before in the whole course of my
life.  I took the letter in my hand.

"I wonder if he is coming back to-day," I thought.

I felt rather sad at this thought, for there was quite a lot of money
left and we could have another good supper to-night.

Then I opened the letter and read its contents.  They were quite brief.
These were the words I read:

"My dear Rachel,--I have just done what I trust will contribute much to
your happiness.  I have been united in marriage with Grace Donnithorne.
I will bring your new mother back on Sunday evening.  Try and have the
house as nice as possible.  My dear child, I know well what a great
happiness lies before you in the tender care and affection of this
admirable woman.--Your affectionate Father."

I read the letter twice, but I could not comprehend it.  I read it in a
misty sort of way, and then I put it on the table and went to the window
and gazed out into the street.  There was no fog this morning; there was
even a little attempt at watery sunshine.  I remembered that if I was
not quick I should be late for school; and then it did not seem to
matter whether I went to school or not.  I took up the letter again.
What was the matter with my eyes?  I rubbed them.  Was I going blind?
No, no--of course not.  I could see perfectly.  I read the words, "I
have been united in marriage with Grace Donnithorne."

United in marriage!  That meant that father had married Grace
Donnithorne, the lady I had stayed with on Saturday and Sunday and
Monday and part of Tuesday.  She was--oh no, what nonsense!--she was
nothing of the sort; I would not even allow my lips to frame the words.

I tore the letter up into little fragments and thrust the fragments into
the fire.  I kept saying to myself, "Nonsense! it isn't true!  Father
was in one of his dreams!"

I deliberately poured out my coffee and drank it; I cut a hunk of bread,
buttered it, and ate it.  All the time I was saying fiercely to myself,
"It isn't true; it is a practical joke that father is playing on me."

I was so fiercely, terribly indignant with myself for even allowing the
thought of that word, which from ordinary lips would be applied to Miss
Donnithorne, to come so near my own lips, that I had no time to remember
that father was the very lost man to play a practical joke on any one.

Hannah came into the room.  I looked at Hannah.  Her face was quite
unsmiling, quite everyday.  If it was true Hannah would know--certainly
Hannah would know; she would be the last person to be kept in ignorance.

"Why, Miss Dumps--sakes alive, child!  You'll be late for school.  Hurry
up.  Whatever are you pondering about?  What's the matter?"

"Nothing.  What should be the matter?  Hannah, I have got a little
money; father left it with me."

"That's something queer," said Hannah.  "How much did he give you?"

"Five shillings."

"My word!  Sakes alive!  The man must have lost his senses!"

When Hannah said this I rushed up to her, and clasped both her hands,
and said, "Oh Hannah, Hannah darling, say that again--say it again!"

"Whatever am I to say over again?  I've no time to repeat my words."

"Oh Hannah, do say it once more!  Father has lost--"

"What little sense he ever had," said Hannah.  "Don't keep me, Dumps."

She had laid a hideous iron tray on the table, and with a noisy clatter
she put the cups and saucers on it.

"When people have lost their senses they say and do all sorts of queer
things, don't they?"  I asked.

"My word, child, they do!"

"And other people, when they know that they have lost their senses,
don't believe them?"

"Believe 'em?  Who'd ever believe what people who have gone crazy say
and do?"

I rushed up to Hannah and hugged and kissed her.

"I'll be in time for school," I said, "for I'll run all the way.  Get me
a little chop for dinner--please do, Hannah; and--and to-night we'll
have supper, and we'll ask Von Marlo, and you shall come and have supper
with us, dear, darling Hannah!"

Hannah grinned.

"You're wonderful coaxing in your ways just now, Dumps.  I can't make
out what sort of maggot you've got in your head.  But there! you shall
have your chop; it's as cheap as anything else."

I always brought my hat and jacket down with me when I came to
breakfast; now I put them on and went off to school.  I really was very
ridiculous; but I always was wanting in common-sense.  I forced myself
to believe that father's letter was a sort of practical joke, and I was
comfortably conning over the fact that we would have another jolly
evening to-night, and that he doubtless would have forgotten all about
having ever put pen to paper when he returned home, when I saw a number
of my schoolfellows waiting for me just round the corner which led into
the great school.  Amongst them was Augusta Moore.  But Augusta Moore,
who might have been a sort of refuge from the ordinary girls, was now
flanked on the right hand by Rita Swan and on the left by Agnes Swan;
and there were several other girls behind this trio.  When they saw me
they all shouted, "Here she is!  Here she is!" and they made for me in a
body.

I stood still when I saw them advancing.  It wasn't that they came
slowly; they came in a great rush as from a catapult.  They drew up when
they got within a few inches of me.  Then Rita said, "We were making a
bet about you."

"A bet?"  I said.  "What do you mean?"

"Augusta said you would come; Agnes and I said you wouldn't."

"Why should I come?"  I said.

"Well," exclaimed Rita, "I know most girls would take a holiday on the
day after their father's wedding.  Most girls would--but you!"

"What do you mean?"  I said.

My face was as white as a sheet then, I knew, for I felt very cold, and
my eyes were smarting, and that dimness was coming over them again.

"Oh, there, there!" said Augusta Moore.

She wrenched herself away from the Swans, and came up to me and took my
hand.  I don't exactly know what followed next; I only knew that there
was a great buzzing, and a number of people were talking, and I knew
that Augusta went on saying, "There, there, dear!"  Finally I found
myself walking away from school, led by Augusta--away from school, and
towards home.  I was making no protest of any sort whatever.

At last we reached our own house, and Augusta looked wistfully at the
tall steps which led to the front door; but she said, "I am not coming
in with you, for I know you would rather be alone.  It must be a fearful
trial for you to have that noble, exalted father of yours united in
marriage to such a very commonplace woman as Miss Donnithorne.  I feel
for you, from the bottom of my heart.  Kiss me; I am truly sorry for
you."

Of course, I could not go to school that day.  I allowed Augusta to
print a little kiss--a tiny, tiny kiss--on my forehead, and then I
waited until Hannah opened the door.  I felt so stupid that perhaps I
should not have rung the bell at all; but Augusta, roused out of herself
for the time being, had performed this office for me, and when Hannah
opened the door I crept into the house and sank down on a chair.

"Hannah," I said--"Hannah, it is true, and he hasn't taken leave of his
senses.  He was united in marriage yesterday with Grace Donnithorne.  Oh
Hannah!  Oh Hannah!"

Perhaps I expected Hannah to show great surprise; but all she really did
was to kneel down beside me, and open her arms wide, and say, "Come,
then, honey!  Come, then, honey!" and she clasped me in her bony arms
and drew my head down to rest on her breast.  Then I had relief in a
burst of tears.  I cried long.  I cried as I had not cried since I could
remember, for no one in the old house had time for tears; tears were not
encouraged in that austere, neglected abode.

After a time Hannah lifted me up, just as though I were a baby, and
conveyed me into the parlour.  There she laid me on two chairs, and put
cushions under my head, and said, "I have got a drop of strong broth
downstairs, and you shall have it."

I enjoyed being coddled and petted by Hannah, and we both, by a sort of
tacit consent, agreed not to allude for the present to the terribly
painful topic which had at last intruded itself upon us.  After I had
taken the soup I felt better and was able to sit up.  Then Hannah
squatted down in front of the fire and looked into it.  I observed that
her own eyes were red; but all she did was to sway herself backwards and
forwards and say, "Dearie me!  Oh, my word!  Dearie me!"

At last the mournful sort of chant got upon my nerves.  I jumped up with
alacrity.

"Hannah, the boys will be in soon.  We must tell them, and we must get
the place in order, and--"

"Miss Dumps!" cried Hannah.

She spoke in a loud, shrill voice.  "If you think, Miss Dumps, even for
a single minute, that I'm going to put up with it, you've mistook me,
that's all."

"But what are you going to do, Hannah?  You won't leave us, will you?"

"Leave you?  Go out of the house into which I came when Master Alex was
a baby, bless him! and when you were but a tiny, tiny tot!  Leave the
house?  No, it ain't me as 'ull do that."

"Then, Hannah, what will you do?"

I went up to her and took one of her hands.  She gave it unwillingly.

"Dumps," she said.  She was still huddled by the fire.  I had never seen
her so subdued or broken-down before, and it was only when I heard her
voice rise in shrill passion that I recognised the old Hannah.  "Dumps,
is it you who is going to submit tame--you, who had a mother?"

"Oh, I must submit," I said.  I sank down again into a chair.  "Where's
the good?"  I queried.

"I always know you had no spirit worth speaking of," said Hannah.  "I'm
sorry now as I gave you that drop of soup.  It was the stock in which I
meant to boil the bits of mutton for the boys' dinner, but I said you
should have it, for you were so took aback, poor child!  But there!
'tain't in you, I expect, to feel things very deep; and yet you had a
mother."

"You said yesterday that she had been killed," I said, and my voice
trembled.

"And so she were.  If ever a woman were pushed out of life--pushed on to
the edge of the world and then right over it--it was the Professor's
wife, Alice Grant.  Ah! she was too gentle, too sweet; he wanted a
different sort."

When Hannah said these words, in a flash I seemed to see Grace
Donnithorne in a new position--Grace Donnithorne with her laughing eyes,
her firm mouth, her composed and dignified manner.  It would be very
difficult, I felt certain, to push Grace Donnithorne over the edge of
the world.  I rose.

"Hannah, if you don't mind, I'll tell the boys.  But please understand
that I am very unhappy.  I don't love my mother one bit the less; I am
about as unhappy as girl can be.  I have been cruelly deceived.  I went
to see Miss Donnithorne, and she was kind to me, and I thought her
kindness meant something."

"I didn't," said Hannah.  "I felt all along that she was a snake in the
grass."

"She was kind, even though she meant to marry father; and perhaps
another girl would have guessed."

"Sakes! why should you guess?  You ain't that sort; you're an innocent
child, and don't know the wicked ways of wicked, knowing, designing
females.  Why ever should you guess?"

"Well, I didn't; but, now I look back, I see--"

"Oh, we all see when the light comes," said Hannah; "there's nought in
that."

"But, Hannah, she is not bad.  She is good, and if she chose to marry
father--"

"My word, we'll have no more of that!" said Hannah.  "I'm sorry I gave
you that drop of soup.  The boys will have to eat the mutton boiled up
with water from the pump."

"Oh Hannah, will you never understand?"

"I don't understand you, Miss Dumps; but then I never did."

"Well, I am going to tell the boys, and I'm as unhappy as I can be; but
I don't see the use of fighting.  I'll try to do what's right.  I'll try
to.  I don't love her.  I might have loved her if she had just remained
my friend."

"Friend, indeed!  What should make her take up with you--a plain girl
like you, with no sort of attraction that any living being ever yet
discovered?  What should make her pet you, and fondle you, and dress you
up if she hadn't had in her mind the getting of a husband?  There I now
you know.  That's the long and short of it.  She used you for her own
purposes, and I say she is a low-down sort of hussy, and she won't get
me a-humouring of her!"

"Very well, Hannah.  I don't love her.  I would have loved her had she
not been father's wife."

"There's no use talking about what you would do had certain things not
happened; it's what you will do now that certain things have happened.
That's what you've got to face, Dumps."

"Am I to sit up in my room all day and never speak to father and--and
his wife?"

"Oh, I know you!" said Hannah.  "You'll come down after a day or two and
make yourself quite agreeable, and it'll be `mother' you'll be calling
her before the week's out I know you--she'll come round the likes of you
pretty fine!"

But this last straw was too much.  I left Hannah.  I went unsteadily--
yes, unsteadily--towards the door.  I rushed upstairs, entered my own
room, bolted myself in.  I took my mother's miniature in my hands.  I
opened the case and pressed the miniature to my heart, flung myself on
the bed face downwards, and sobbed and sobbed.  No broken-hearted child
in all the world could have sobbed more for her own mother than I did
then.

PART ONE, CHAPTER TWELVE.

DISCUSSING THE NEW MOTHER.

It was not I, after all, who told the boys Hannah was the person who
gave them that piece of information.  I did not come downstairs for the
watery stew which she had prepared for them.  Doubtless she would tell
the boys that I had swallowed the spirit of that stew and left them the
poor material body.  She would make the most of my conduct, for she was
very angry with me.  But by-and-by there came a knock at my door, and I
heard Alex's voice, and he said, "Oh, do open the door and let me in!
Please let me in, Rachel."

He so seldom called me by that name that I got up, went to the door, and
flung it open.  Alex's face was very pale, and his hair was rumpled up
over his forehead, but he had not been crying at all.  I don't suppose
boys do cry much; but the moment I glanced at him I knew that Hannah had
told him.

He took my hand.

"My word," he said, "how cold you are!  And I can scarcely see your
eyes.  You'll have a bad inflammation if you give way like this.
Where's the use?  Come along downstairs."

He took my hand, and we raced down together.  When we got down I clung
to him and said, "Kiss me, Alex."

"Why, of course I will, Dumps."

He kissed me twice on my forehead, and I knew by the trembling of his
lips that he was feeling things a good bit.

"Hannah has told you?"  I said.

"She has.  But she isn't coming upstairs again to-day."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Charley, you can explain to Dumps."

Charley was standing by the fire.  He was a very solidly made boy, not
nearly so handsome as Alex, who was tall and slight, with regular
features and beautiful eyes.  Charley was in some respects like me, only
very much better-looking.

"Oh," said Charley, "she began talking in a way we couldn't stand about
the Professor, so we just took her by the shoulders and brought her to
the top of the stairs.  She said she was going out, and wouldn't be back
until to-night--or perhaps never."

"Oh, you haven't turned her away?"  I said; for although Hannah was very
troublesome and most disagreeable, and was certainly the last person to
conciliate the disturbed state of the household and bring peace out of
disorder, I could not bear the idea of her not being there.

"She'll come back, right enough.  I tell you what it is, Dumps," said
Alex; "we're--we're a bit stunned.  Of course, it's rather awkward,
isn't it?"

"I don't know that it is," said Charley.  "He could always do as he
liked, couldn't he?  I mean he never thought much about us, did he?"

"Oh, don't blame him now," I said.

"I don't want to--I only want you to understand.  Father always did what
he liked.  Hannah was dreadful; she spoke as she ought not to speak.  It
is just as well she should go out and let the open air smooth away some
of her grievances.  I do not see that it matters to her; he is not her
father."

"No, it doesn't really matter to her; and yet it does matter in another
sense," I said.

Charley turned round.

"When are they coming back?" was his next remark.

"I think on Sunday evening."

"Well, this is Thursday.  We have got to-day and to-morrow and Saturday
and Sunday.  We have got four whole days.  Let us have some fun.  How
much of your five shillings have you left.  Dumps?"

"I don't care," I said.

"That's nonsense.--Alex, push her into that chair.--Now, how much money
have you got?"

"I've got it all," I said.

"All of it?"

"Yes, every farthing.  I had a few pence over which paid for the
Twopenny Tube yesterday; I have not broken into the five shillings at
all."

"We spent one and sixpence each last night, so you owe each of us a bit,
because you enjoyed the supper just as much as we did."

"Oh yes."

"Let us have something good for tea.  You can go out and buy it.  You
can spend your share on that.  And I'll bring Von Marlo in, and we'll
have a chat, and perhaps we'll go somewhere to-night.  Why shouldn't
we?"

"Oh Charley, where?"

"Well, I was thinking of the pit of one of the theatres."

This was such a daring, such an unheard-of suggestion that it really
took my breath away.

"Do you think we might?"

"Why not?  Von Marlo would love it.  We four could go.  We three big
boys could take care of one dumpy girl, I'm sure.  There's a jolly thing
on at the Adelphi.  I love the Adelphi, for it's all blood and thunder.
Don't you like it best of all, Alex?"

"Well, you see, I've never been to a theatre in the whole course of my
life," said Alex.

"Except once to the pantomime," I said.  "You remember that?"

"Who cares for the pantomime?" said Charley.

"Very well, we'll go to the Adelphi," I said.  "But I hope it won't be
very frightening."

"It will scare you out of your seven senses; I know it will.  But I tell
you what it will do also," continued Charley--"it will make you forget;
and if you remember at all, you have but to squeeze the thought up in
your heart that you have got three more whole days, or nearly three
whole days, before _she_ comes in."

"All right," I said; "I'll get something for tea."

"And we must be off to school," said Alex.  "The Professor's away, and
when the cat's away the mice will play."

"Oh Alex, you oughtn't to compare father to a cat!"

"Never mind; Hannah isn't here.  If she were here we'd round on her fast
enough.  Now then, good girl, eat some bread-and-butter, for you weren't
down to that dinner of horrid stew.  Hannah said that you'd supped up
all the gravy.  Jolly mean, I call it.  But there! we'll be back about
half-past four.  Then we'll have tea, and hurry off to the theatre
afterwards."

The boys left the house, and I was quite alone.  Yes, there was nothing
like occupation.  I put on my hat and jacket and went out.  I bought
golden syrup--the darkest sort--we all loved that; and I bought a loaf
of crispy new bread, and half a pound of butter.  Then I got a
currant-cake and a small--very small--tin of sardines.  The meal would
be delicious.

I returned home.  I entered the parlour and put the kettle on to boil.
Then I went down to the neglected kitchen.  The fire was out in the
little range, the doors of which stood open wide.  There was no sign of
Hannah anywhere.  I went to the kitchen door, and saw that it was
locked.  There was no key in the lock; she had doubtless taken it with
her.  This fact relieved me, for I knew that she was coming bock,
otherwise she would most certainly have left the key behind.

I selected the best of the cups and saucers, choosing with difficulty,
for there were few that were not either deprived of handles or with
pieces cracked out of the rims.  It was a nondescript set when presently
it appeared on the table, and the cloth which I spread on it to lay out
our meal was none of the cleanest.  But there was the golden syrup, and
the crispy loaf, and the butter, which I knew was good; and there was
the tin of sardines.

Punctual to the minute, at half-past four, the three boys made their
appearance.  Von Marlo had been told.  He came straight up to me and
took my hand.  He did not speak; but the next minute he put his hand
into his waistcoat pocket and took from it a knife.  This knife was a
curious one; it seemed to contain every possible tool that any human
being could require in his journey from the cradle to the grave.  With
one of the instruments in it he speedily opened the tin of sardines;
then he himself made the tea, and when it was made he drew chairs up to
the table and said, "Come and eat."

We all fell upon the provisions in a ravenous fashion.  Oh dear! even
when you are in great trouble it is good to be hungry--good to be hungry
when you have the means of satisfying your appetite.  I felt downright
starving with hunger that evening.  I drank the hot tea, and ate
bread-and-butter and golden syrup, and left the sardines for the boys,
who made short work of them.

At last we were all satisfied, and we talked over the matter of the
theatre.  We must be standing outside not a minute later than seven
o'clock.  Von Marlo would keep at my right, and Alex at my left, and
Charley would be my bodyguard behind.  When the rush came we would
surely be in the front rank, and we would get good seats.  The scenes of
the play would be most harrowing; there was a secret murder in it, and a
duel, and one or two other extreme horrors.  The boys said it was of the
sensational order, and Alex wound up with the remark that we could not
possibly stand anything else to-night.

Then there fell a silence upon us.  We need not go to the Adelphi yet;
it was not very far from where we lived.  We could get there in a few
minutes.  There was more than an hour between us and the desirable
moment when we were to steal like thieves in the night from our father's
respectable house to go to that place of iniquity, the pit at the
Adelphi.  For, of course, it was very naughty of us to go.  Our father
himself would not have thought it right to allow children to partake of
these worldly pleasures.

In the silence that ensued the pain at my heart began again.  It was
then Von Marlo made his remark.

"I think," he said, "it would be exceedingly interesting if Miss Rachel
would tell us exactly what the new mamma is like."

Nothing could be more intensely aggravating than those words, "the new
mamma," had they fallen from any lips but Von Marlo's.  But the peculiar
foreign intonation he gave the words caused us three to burst out
laughing.

"You must never say those words again--never as long as you live, Von
Marlo," cried Alex, while Charley sprang upon him and did his very best
to knock him off his chair.

"Come, come! no violence," I said.  "Please understand, Mr Von Marlo,
that the lady who has married our father is not our new mamma."

"I am sorry, I am sure," said Von Marlo.  "I won't call her that any
more--never; I am certain of that.  But, all the same, if she is coming
to live here, what is she like?  You have seen her, Miss Rachel; you can
describe her."

"Yes, you may as well tell us about her," said Charley.  "I suppose she
is precious ugly.  Catch father choosing a woman with good looks!  Why,
he doesn't know blue eyes from brown, or a straight nose from a crooked
one, or a large mouth from a small one.  He never looks at any woman; I
can't imagine how he got hold of her."

"Hannah said," remarked Alex, "that she got hold of him."

"Well, surely that doesn't matter," said Von Marlo.  "Describe her, Miss
Rachel."

"I will if you wish it," I answered.

"Yes, do," said Charley.  "You have seen quite a lot of her."

"I must be honest at all costs," I said, "and if she had not married
father--yes, it is quite true--I'd have liked her.  She is what you
would--I mean she _was_--I don't suppose she is now, for when people are
dreadfully wicked they change, don't they?  But _before_ she was
wicked--before she married father--she was a very--very--well, a very
jolly sort of woman."

"Jolly?" said Charley.  "I like that!  How do you mean jolly?"

"Round and fattish--not too fat--with laughing eyes."

"We haven't much of laughing eyes in this house," said Alex.

"Well, her eyes seem to be always laughing, even when her face is grave;
and she makes delicious things to eat--at least she did make them."

"Let's hope she has not lost the art," said Alex.  "If we must have her
in the family, let us trust that she has at least some merits.  Good
things to eat?  What sort?"

I described the food at Hedgerow House, and described it well.  I then
went on to speak of the stuffed birds.  The boys were wildly excited.  I
spoke of other things, and gave them a very full and true account of
Miss Grace Donnithorne.

"It seems to me she must be a splendid sort of woman," said Alex.

"Hurrah for Miss Grace Donnithorne!" said Charley.  "She must be a most
charming lady," said Von Marlo in his precise way.

Then I sprang to my feet.

"Now listen," I said.  "I have told you about her as she was.  When I
saw her she had not done this wicked thing."

"But she was going to do it; she had made up her mind pretty straight,"
said Alex.

"Well, she hadn't done it, and that makes all the difference," I said
stoutly.  "She will be changed; I know she will be changed."

"I hope she won't have got thin (I'm sick of Hannah's sort of figure)
and cross and churlish and miserly," said Charley.

"I don't think so," I answered.  "I don't suppose she'll be as changed
as all that; but, anyhow, I know--"

"I tell you what," interrupted Von Marlo; "she is coming here, and
nothing living will stop her."

"That's true enough," I said gloomily.

"Then can't you three be sensible?"

"What do you mean now, Von?" said the boys.

"Why can't you make the best of it?  Don't hunt the poor lady into her
grave by being snappish and making the worst of everything.  Just give
her a fair trial--start her honest, don't you understand?"

Alex stared; Charley blinked his eyes.

I said slowly, "I don't mean to be unkind; I mean to be kind.  I am not
going to say a word to father--I mean not a word of reproach--"

"Much use if you did!" muttered Alex.

"But, all the same," I said very distinctly, "not for a single instant
will I love _her_.  She can come and take her place, and I will try to
do what she wishes, but I will never love her--never!"

"Hurrah!" said Charley.

"Quite right, Dumps; you show spirit," cried Alex.

But Von Marlo looked dissatisfied.

"It doesn't seem right," he said.  "It doesn't seem quite fair; and the
poor lady hasn't done you any harm."

PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

PUTTING THE HOUSE IN ORDER.

The play was as lively as any four children could desire.  It was called
_The Grand Duke Alexis_; it had a great deal to do with Nihilism and
with the Russians generally.  There was a very handsome woman in it who
had a mission to kill somebody, and a very evil-looking man whose
mission it was to get her arrested; and the handsome woman and the
wicked man seemed to chase each other on and off the stage, and to
mingle up in the plot, and to fasten themselves in some unpleasant
manner into my brain.  I am sure the boys enjoyed themselves vastly, and
there is no doubt that I was interested.

"Your eyes are like the eyes of an owl," whispered Charley to me; "if
they get any rounder they'll drop out like marbles."

I was accustomed to this kind of remark, and was too much fascinated
with the lovely lady and the man who was trying to arrest her to take
any notice of his words.  The Grand Duke was certainly the most
appallingly wicked person I had ever imagined.  Even father's new wife
seemed pale and commonplace and everyday beside him.  Even the fact that
my own precious mother was superseded by another was of no consequence
at all when I recalled to memory that lovely lady's face, and the face
of the man who was trying to have her arrested.

The play came to an end, but when we arrived home Hannah had not yet
returned.  We let ourselves in, in lordly fashion, with the latchkey.
Von Marlo bade us good-bye, and promised to come in again on the
following day.  He said he would stand by us.  He gave my hand an
affectionate squeeze.

"Make the best of things," he said; "there's a good girl."

I began to think Von Marlo a very comfortable sort of friend.  I wished
that he was a girl instead of a boy.  I could have been quite fond of
him had he been a girl.

We three sat in the parlour; we would not go to bed until Hannah came
in.  We began to nod presently, and Alex dropped off to sleep.  It was
past midnight when we heard Hannah's steps creeping upstairs towards her
bedroom.  Charley immediately rushed on tiptoe to the parlour door,
opened it a tenth of an inch, and peeped out.

"She is off to bed.  She is walking as straight as a die.  She has got
on her best bonnet.  I hope she'll be in a better temper in the morning.
Now then, I'm going to follow her example; I'm dead-beat I shall be
asleep in a twinkling."

He went off; his good-humoured, boyish face flashed back at us full of
fun.  Father's marriage, the knowledge that there would soon be a lady
in the house, whom some people would call his new mamma, did not affect
him very deeply.

I went up to Alex and spoke to him.

"You and I will stand shoulder to shoulder, won't we?"  I said.

"Why, yes, Dumps--of course," he replied.

"I mean," I said, "that you will do what I do."

"What do you exactly mean by that?"

"I'm prepared to be quite kind and lady-like, and not to storm or scold
or say ugly things, and I want you to do just the same.  You will, won't
you?  We'll understand each other.  We'll be most careful, truly, not to
put her in dear mother's place."

My voice trembled.

"It's a long time since mother died," said Alex.

"But, Alex, you remember her."

"No, I don't," said Alex.

"Nor do I," I said.  "Sometimes I try to.  But I have got her miniature;
father gave it to me.  Wouldn't you like to see it?"

"A miniature?  That's a picture of her, isn't it?  Have you got one?"

"Yes."

"I knew father had one, but I didn't know he would part with it."

"He never would until now."

"Once," said Alex, "years ago, he was very ill in bed for a few days,
and I went into his room.  He was sitting up in bed, and he had a
picture in a frame; he was looking at it, and there were tears in his
eyes.  When he saw me he fired up--you know his hasty sort of way--and
stuffed the picture under his pillow.  I believe it was mother's picture
he was looking at.  He must have loved her then."

"But he doesn't love her now," I said.  "He has given the picture to me
because he has put another woman in her place."

"Well, most of them do," said Alex.

"What do you mean?"

"Most men marry again.  There are two masters at our school, and they've
married again jolly quick--one of them within a year and a half, and the
other even in a shorter time.  All the fellows were talking about it.
It was mighty unfortunate, I can tell you, for we had to subscribe to
give them both wedding presents, otherwise we wouldn't have noticed.
They were widowers, and they had no right to do it.  It was beastly hard
on the boys; that's what I think."

"What do you mean?"

"The wedding presents, I mean."

"Oh Alex! that is a very trivial part of the matter."

"I expect they'll collect something jolly for father."

"Well, we needn't subscribe," I said.

"Of course not; that's the best of it."

"I hope they won't," I said.

"They're certain to.  They just worship him in the school.  You haven't
the least idea how popular he is.  They just adore him.  He's such a
splendid teacher, and so sympathetic over a difficulty.  He is a great
man, there's no doubt of that."

But I was not in a humour to hear his praises.

"Let's think of our own dear little mother to-night," I said.

"All right, Rachel."

"Come up with me to my room and I'll show you her portrait."

"All right, old girl."

We went up together.  I thought if Alex would stand my friend--if he
would lean on me as a very superior sort of sister, and allow me to take
the place of sister and mother--then I could endure things.  Father's
new wife might go her own way, and I would go mine.  I just wanted Alex
at least to understand me.  Charley was a good boy, but he was hopeless.
Still, I had a vague sort of hope that Alex would keep on my side.

When we got to my room I lit all the bits of candle, and made quite a
strong light; and then I opened the miniature frame, and told Alex to
kneel down by me and I would show it to him.  He looked at it very
earnestly.  He himself was strangely like the miniature, but I don't
think the likeness struck him particularly.  Nevertheless, he had his
sensibilities, and his lips quivered, and his soft, gentle brown eyes
looked their very softest and gentlest now as they fixed themselves on
my face.

"Poor mother!" he said.  He bent his head and kissed the glass which
covered the pictured face.

I shut up the case hastily.

"You are in rare luck to have it," he said.

"Yes," I answered; "it is a great comfort to me.  This is mother; this
is the woman I love; no other can ever take her place."

"Of course not," said Alex.  "And some day when I'm rich you'll let me
have it photographed, won't you?"

"Indeed I will.  We'll stick to our bargain, won't we, Alex?"

Alex rose to his feet.  He yawned slightly.

"I'm dead-tired, and I must go to school to-morrow.  I haven't looked at
one of my lessons, but it doesn't really matter.  When the Professor is
away marrying, you know, he can't expect his children to work as hard as
they do when he is at home."

"Oh Alex, Hannah said something dreadful!"

"As though anybody minded what she said!"

"She said that mother--our little, young, pretty mother--was killed.
She said mother would have been in the world now if she hadn't been
killed."

"That's all stuff!" said Alex.  "Why do you speak in that exaggerated
sort of way?  If she had been killed there would have been a coroner's
inquest and a trial, and the murderer would have been discovered and--
and hanged.  Why do you talk such rot?"

"Oh, there are many ways of killing a person, and mother died for want
of sunshine."

"Oh, I see.  Well, well! good-night."

He kissed me again and left the room.

During the next day or two I was very busy.  Father had said that the
house was to be put in order.  Now, what that meant I could not tell,
but the house on the whole was about in as much order as such a great,
desolate, and unfurnished abode could be.  But when the next day at
breakfast I found a second letter from father on my plate, and when I
opened it and read father's own directions that the spare room was to be
got ready for the reception of himself and his wife on the following
Sunday, I knew that Hannah and I must come either to open war or to a
dismissal of the latter.  I went down to the kitchen and told her at
once.

"The spare room, forsooth!" she said.  "Well, yes, I thought of that
last night.  Master said it was to be put in order, but he needn't have
written; I'd have seen to it."

I was greatly relieved at this change of front.  Hannah was looking
quite gentle.  She was moving about in the kitchen in quite an orderly
fashion.  The little cooking-stove was black instead of grey; there were
no ashes to be seen anywhere, and a bright little fire burned in it.
There was a pot on, and there was something boiling in the pot, and the
thing that boiled and bubbled gave forth a most appetising smell.  When
I spoke Hannah turned and opened the oven door, and I saw inside a great
cake.

"Why, Hannah!"  I said.

"It's only right to have cake and that sort of thing handy," she said.
"Don't talk nonsense, Dumps.  There's a deal for you and me to do.  Be
you going to school to-day?"

"No," I said.

"Why will you keep away?"

"Because I won't go."

"You will get a report; your mistress will be very angry."

"I don't care," I said; "I won't go.  I'll go afterwards.  I won't go
this week."

"Highty-tighty!" said Hannah.  "Well, you'll catch it!"

"Seems to me I'm always catching it," I said.

"Seems to me you are," said Hannah.

"Well, Hannah, what about the spare room?"

"I'll see to it myself.  I'll have it ready."

"Can I help you, Hannah?"

"No; but you can come and look on if you like."

"Don't you want Mrs Herring?  She is so strong.  Everything should be
turned out; the place should be made very clean."

"I don't want none of your herrings nor your sprats neither," replied
Hannah in her most aggressive tone.  This was a very old joke of
Hannah's.

I went upstairs now.  The spare room was on the same landing as the
drawing-room, and, as far as I could tell, had never been of any use at
all to any single member of the family.  Perhaps in mother's time it had
been of service to some long-forgotten guest.  The door was always
locked.  I supposed Hannah had the key.  At nights sometimes, when the
wind was blowing high, there was a moaning, through the keyhole of that
locked door, and there were times when I flew past it up and up and up
to my own attic bedroom.  But now I stood outside the door.  At the
other side of the landing was the drawing-room.  It was a very big room
with three windows.  We sat there sometimes when father had his
professors, men very nearly as learned as himself--not quite, of
course--to visit him.

I went into the drawing-room.  It was very ugly, and not nearly as cosy
as the parlour.  The spare room I had never seen the inside of that I
could remember.  Hannah came up now, and took a great bunch of keys from
her pocket and opened the door, and we went in.

"Oh, how musty it smells!"  I said.

"In course it do," said Hannah.  "When a room's shut up for going on
fourteen years, why shouldn't it smell musty?  But there, child! don't
you go and catch your death of cold.  The first thing is to air the room
and then to light a fire.  Afterwards I'll rub up the furniture and put
up clean hangings.  It won't be exactly a cheerful sort of room, but I
suppose the master must be content."

There were grey-looking curtains hanging at the three tall windows.
There were green Venetian blinds, which looked almost white now, so
covered were they with dust.  There was a sort of rough drugget stuff on
the floor, which was quite as grey as the curtains which surrounded the
windows.  There was a huge four-poster bed, drawn out a little from the
wall, and taking one of the best positions in the room.  This also was
hung with grey moreen, and looked as desolate and as uninviting as a
couch could look.  There was a huge arm-chair, covered also with the
same grey moreen; and there were a few other chairs, hard and dirty.
There was a very tall brass fender to the grate, which in itself was
large and of generous proportions.  There was a chest of drawers, made
of mahogany, with brass handles; and a huge wardrobe, almost as big as a
small house.  I really don't remember the rest of the furniture of the
room, except that there were engravings hanging on the walls, and one in
particular portraying Herodias bearing the head of John the Baptist on a
charger, hanging exactly over the fireplace.  The picture was as ghastly
as the room.

"I wouldn't sleep here for the world," I said.

"Well, you won't have the chance," said Hannah.  "Now, you can just go
out and make yourself useful somewhere else, while I'm beginning to
clean up and get things in order."

PART ONE, CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

THE PROFESSOR'S RETURN.

When Sunday morning dawned the place was, according to Hannah's ideas,
in perfect order.  She had not got in any one to help her, and I am
afraid she must have been nearly dropping with fatigue.  She allowed me
to dust a little, but would not permit me to do any harder work.

"No, no," she said--"no, no; you're the young lady, and I'm a poor
drudge.  It's right that the drudge should work, and not the young
lady."

I proceeded to try to remind her that she had not considered my young
ladyhood much in the past.

"Things is different now," said Hannah.  "I have got to look after you
now."

"But why so?"  I asked.

"I had a dream in the night," she said.  "Your poor mother come to me,
and she said, `Don't leave my children, Hannah.'  Oh dear! oh dear! she
as was killed--as was killed!"

To my amazement, Hannah burst out crying.  When she cried I rushed to
her and flung my arms round her neck and cried also.

"Oh, I am so glad you won't leave us!"  I said.  I felt like a most
terrible little martyr, and Hannah's sympathy soothed me inexpressibly.

That evening--it was Saturday--I told Alex and Charley and Von Marlo
about Hannah's dream.

"Rot, I call it!" said Charley.

"Oh Charley, you are very unkind!"

"Well, I'm sure," said Charley, "why should she have been so cross and
disobliging when we really wanted somebody--when we had no sort of
mother?  Now that we're going to have that jolly, fat, round woman to
look after us and to see to our comforts, Hannah is beginning to find
out what her duties are."

"Things will work themselves right," said Von Marlo in his solemn way.
"Take my word for it, Rachel, things will shape themselves right."

I didn't think Von Marlo half so comforting as Hannah on this occasion,
and I almost said so, for I felt very snappish.

That night I scarcely slept at all.  To-morrow would find us with that
detestable person in the house--"the new mamma."  Of course, she wasn't
my mamma, but the world would speak of her in that manner, just as Von
Marlo had once done.  He would never say those words to my face again.

I went to church on Sunday morning, accompanied by Alex and Charley.  As
we were coming back Augusta Moore rushed up to me.

"I thought you were very ill," she said.  "We all thought so--Miss
Franklin, your form mistress, and all."

"I'm not a bit ill," I said.  I did not want Augusta's sympathy, or,
indeed, to say anything at all to her just then.

"Then why didn't you come to school?"

I was silent.  Augusta took my hand.  She pulled it through her arm.

"I think I understand," she said.  "You were ill in mind; that is the
worst sort of illness, isn't it?"

She glanced round at Mrs Moore, who was trotting along behind.

"Go home, mother; I'll follow you."

"You'll lose yourself, Gussie."

"Don't call me Gussie.  I'll follow you."

Mrs Moore said something to me; she was quite nice and commonplace, and
did not allude to the subject of the "new mamma."

Presently Augusta and I found ourselves alone, for the boys the moment
they saw her had taken precious good care to make themselves scarce.  We
walked on slowly.

"I should like to see your house," said Augusta.

"You can if you wish to," I replied.

I took her in, and the moment she got into the hall she began to sniff.

"What is the matter?"  I asked.

"Books!" she said.  "Old leather!  How I envy that woman!"

"What woman?"

"That commonplace person who has dared to marry your father."

"Oh well, Augusta, we had better not talk of that."

"Not talk of it?  Why, it's a weight on my mind always.  I only trust
she won't make him fall off.  Rachel--Rachel Grant--you have a very
solemn responsibility before you."

"What is that?"

"The commonplace woman can do nothing, but you can do a great deal."

"In what way?"

"You, who are his child, must partake in some way of his nature."

"I never had the slightest influence on father," I responded.  "I think
he often forgets that I exist.  I shall certainly have less influence
than ever now."

"You have influence, but you won't use it.  Oh that I were his
daughter!"

Augusta began to sniff again.  Charley came into the room at that
moment.

"I thought dinner was served," he said.

He looked at Augusta.

"How do you do?" she said.  "You are the son of the greatest of men."

"Bosh!" said Charley.  He backed towards the door.  "I thought," he
said, glancing from me to Augusta, and then from Augusta to me again,
"that dinner was on the table, and that you were sniffing the good
smell."

"Books!  Books!" said Augusta.

Charley vanished.

"Take me to his library," said Augusta.  "Just let me walk round it
once, will you?"

"Oh yes, if you like," I replied.

I took her round.  She stepped softly in veneration.  She took up a
volume; she seated herself on a chair; she opened it; she was lost.

"Augusta," I said.

There was not the most remote movement on her part.

"Augusta!"  I said again.

Her lips quivered.  She was repeating something softly under her breath.

"Come," I cried, "it is time for you to go home to your dinner, and it
is time for us to eat ours.  Get up!  Awake!"

No stir of any sort.  Violent measures were necessary.  I snatched the
hook from her hand, and in so doing upset the stool on which she was
sitting.  To have her book taken away and her seat removed from under
her was sufficient to wake even Augusta Moore.  She rubbed her eyes and
said, "Where was I?"

"Where you have no right to be," I said.  "You really must go."

"But you will keep him up to the mark; you will take my advice, won't
you?"

"I tell you what," I said cheerfully; "if I can possibly manage it, I
will introduce you to him, and you shall talk to him.  If you feel that
he is so near you--so like you in all respects--you will have much more
influence over him than I should, and you will be able to keep him up to
the mark yourself."

The next minute I had repented of my hastily formed decision, for
Augusta's long, thin arms were round my neck, and she was hugging me and
kissing me on my cheeks, and then hugging me again with frantic energy.

"Oh, you dear!  You love!  You beautiful creature!  Oh! oh! oh!  To
think of it!  To think of it!"

"Dinner is served," said Charley, just poking his head round the door
and then vanishing.

At last I got rid of Augusta.  When I arrived in the dining-room Charley
asked me if I had had a mad girl in the house who had broken loose from
an asylum.  I replied with dignity that she was a very clever girl, and
then we proceeded to our meal.

The meal itself was quite plain--the usual sort--a piece of boiled beef,
carrots floating in gravy round it, and a few boiled potatoes.  These
were to be followed by one of Hannah's apple-dumplings.  Now,
apple-dumplings are supposed to be very good things, but I cannot say
that Hannah's recipe was worth preserving.  The pastry was always very
hard, and the apples were never done enough; in short, we were all tired
of them.

"I can't imagine why the thing that smells so jolly good doesn't come
upstairs," said Charley.  "It's too bad--it's worse than bad."

"Oh no," I answered; "don't say that, Charley.  Hannah is keeping it for
supper.  She is going to have a surprise supper; I know it for I saw the
cake."

"The cake!" cried Charley.  "A cake made by Hannah?"

"Yes; and I can tell you it did smell pretty good.  Oh, didn't it just!"
I smacked my lips in anticipation.

"I suppose we'll have to make this do," said Alex gloomily, helping
himself to another slice of tough beef.

Our conversation filtered away into mere nothings, then into
monosyllables; then it tailed off into utter silence.  We were all very
depressed, and yet we were excited; we wanted we knew not what; we were
afraid, we could not tell of what.  Each one of us had a sense that
things could never be the same again, that we were eating our humble
dinner and looking each into the humble face of the other for the last
time.  Everything from that hour forward would be different.  Would the
change be for the better?  No, it could not be for the better.  A
change, however, we were certain was coming.  We did not speak of it; we
sat very still.

At last the boys said they would go for a walk; they did not ask me to
accompany them, nor did I offer to go.  I ran up to my own room.  I took
the pretty dark-blue dress which Miss Grace Donnithorne had given me.  I
took the jacket, the little shoes, the stockings, all the things which
she had showered upon me when I was at Hedgerow House, and I put them
into the trunk which she had also presented me with--the pretty trunk
which I had been so proud of, and which bore my initials, R.G.  On the
top of all the things I put a card with the words, "Returned with
thanks--Rachel Grant," written upon it.  This little trunk I myself
conveyed to the bedroom which had been got ready for the Professor and
his wife.  There was no attempt at making this room pretty, but a huge
fire burned in the grate, and that alone had a certain cheerfulness
about it.  I put the little trunk at the foot of the bed.  I did not
know what would happen.  I felt afraid; nevertheless, I was quite
determined to let Miss Grace Donnithorne--Mrs Grant, as she was now--
know how things really stood.

At last the time came for me to make myself look as well as I could to
meet my father and his wife.  I put on the blue evening-dress which I
had outgrown, brushed out my long hair, and went down to the parlour.
The parlour certainly looked very smart.  Its central table alone was
worth the greatest admiration.  There was a white cloth--very white
indeed--in fact, dazzlingly so; and the crockery (I cannot call it by
the name of china) seemed to me quite amazing.  It did not matter that
none of the glass matched, and that there were plates of various sorts,
but what was all-important was the fact that the board groaned with
goodly fare.  There was a huge piece of cold roast beef, a salad made
according to an old-fashioned recipe of Hannah's, a cake (frosted) in
the centre of the table, some jellies, some fruit, a pair of roast
fowls, and a ham.  Oh, when before had the old house close to the
college seen such a feast?

Standing at the head of the table, with his arms folded and his eyes
fixed upon the goodly fare, was Alex; and standing at the foot of the
table, in precisely the same attitude, was Charley.  They did not move
when I came in, and I did not speak, but went and stood at one of the
sides.  Hannah bustled into the room.

"They'll be here in a few minutes, children," she said; "and don't
forget that I'm here to take your parts.  Bless you, poor orphans--bless
you!"

Then she disappeared downstairs.

"Oh dear!  Oh dear!"  I said.

"For goodness' sake," said Alex, moving away from the table, "don't
begin to snivel, whatever you do, Dumps.  She's a mighty silly old
woman."

"Oh, what a supper!" said Charley.

He gave a sigh of profound satisfaction.  After a minute he said,
"Whatever sort of a step-mother she is, I am going to eat!  I say, what
a supper!"

He had scarcely uttered the words before the sound of a cab stopping
outside the front door was distinctly heard.

"Shall we all go into the hall?" asked Alex.

"I'm not going to stir," I answered.

"Nor I," said Charley.  "I can't keep my eyes off the supper.  I'm
awfully afraid it's a sort of fairy feast, and will vanish if I don't
keep gazing and gazing at it."

The bell was pulled violently.  Hannah came hurrying up the stairs.  She
bustled into the hall.  Charley went on tiptoe to the door of the
parlour.  He came back again on tiptoe, with his eyes rounder than ever.

"What do you think?" he said.  "Hannah has got a white satin favour
pinned upon her dress.  Would you believe it?  What a turncoat she is!"

"She's not," I answered.  "She had to do it.  We must be outwardly
civil."

"Yes, yes; that's it," said Alex.

"And for the sake of the supper it's worth while," said Charley.

The hall door was opened.  My father's step was heard coming in; this
was followed by a lighter, much younger step.  Then a cheerful voice
said, "Well, here we are.--And you are Hannah, I think?  I have often
heard of you."

"The hypocrite!"  I muttered; but Alex said, "Hush!  Remember our
compact."

"I have often heard of you," said the cheerful voice.  "How do you do?"

Hannah's reply was so muttered that it could not be heard in the
parlour.  Then father said, "Where are the children?  Dumps!  Alex!
Charley!  Come along at once!"

We all made a rush to the parlour door.  We had to rush or we should not
have moved at all.  We went into the hall.  I felt at that supreme
moment that if I had not known Miss Grace Donnithorne in the past, and
had not really liked her very much, not to say almost loved her, I could
have borne my present position better.  But having already known her,
the present position was almost unbearable.  Nevertheless, things that
seem unbearable have now and then to be faced in life.  My father called
in his cheerful tones, "Well, children, well! here we are back.  Here's
your new mother.  I trust you will all be as dutiful as she deserves.  I
am sure it is very good of her to come and look after such harum-scarums
as you are.  Now then, Dumps, you give her a right royal welcome."

"How do you do?"  I said.

I held out my hand.  The kindest--oh yes, I must say the words--the
kindest eyes in the world looked anxiously into mine; the pleasant mouth
relaxed as though it was preparing to smile; then it became grave, but
its expression was as sweet as ever.

"How are you, Rachel?" said she who used to be Miss Grace Donnithorne.
She bent forward and gave me a light kiss--not the affectionate embrace
she had bestowed upon me once or twice when I was at Hedgerow House.

"Take your mother upstairs, Dumps.  Take her and show her her bedroom,"
said father.  "Come along, you two boys; just come and tell me all that
has been happening at the college.  My goodness, what an age it seems
since I went away!"

Father's tone and the mighty sigh of relief he gave did more to compose
my nerves than anything else.  Miss Grace Donnithorne had not changed
him.  I went up the stairs saying to myself, "She is not my father's
wife.  She is only Miss Grace Donnithorne, a stoutish lady, middle-aged,
quite nice and fat and pleasant; she is not father's wife."

All the time these thoughts kept coming and going in my brain; but the
lady who followed me did not speak at all.  That was quite unlike Miss
Donnithorne's way.

I opened the door of the big room.  The fire had almost burnt itself
out; the room in consequence was cold.  There was no gas of any sort in
this huge chamber; two poor, solitary candles had been placed on the
high mantelshelf, but had not been lighted.

"Dear me!" said the lady--and there was no mistaking the matter-of-fact
voice--"but this room is too cold for your father.  Come along.  Dumps,
you and I must see to this at once.  Where can we get coals?  Oh, this
hod is empty.  Get some matches quickly, child, and some hot water.
Your father must have hot water, and we must have this fire made up.
Dear, dear!  Dumps, our hands will be full.  He is a very precious man,
you know, but a handful--a good bit of a handful--more than one child
could possibly manage, and more than one woman can manage, but between
us, Dumps--"

She took up the poker, and the fire was soon blazing again.  Candles
were lit in a trice.  Hannah appeared with a great jug of hot water.

"Where would you wish your hot water to be placed, Mrs Grant?" she
said.  Her tone was very precise.  There was a red spot on one of her
cheeks; the other was deadly pale.  But the white satin favour!  What
possessed her to wear it?  It stood out with an aggravating stare on her
dark dress.

The new Mrs Grant turned at once.

"Put it here by the wash-hand stand," she said; "and bring some more
coals, please.  This fire is not nearly large enough.  The room is
chilly."

She spoke very cheerfully.  Hannah left the room at once.  Just at that
moment there came a knock at the door.

"Father says that supper is ready," said Charley's voice.

"Oh, I haven't spoken to you, Charley," said Mrs Grant.

She went to the door, took his hand, and wrung it.

"Good boy," she said.  "You will help me all you can."

I saw him gazing at her very hard; then he went downstairs, almost like
a flash.  I wondered what he was going to say to Alex.

Meanwhile I stood silent by the fire.  Miss Grace Donnithorne, that was,
faced me.  She had removed her hat and taken off her jacket.  She had a
little comb in her pocket; with this she smoothed out her hair.  She
went to the wash-stand and washed her hands.  Hannah appeared with the
coals.

"Put a good many on, please, Hannah.  I want the room to be quite warm,"
said the new mistress.

Hannah obeyed.  The late Miss Grace Donnithorne looked round the room.

"Much too large," she said.

"All the rooms are large in this house," I answered.

"Oh, we'll choose a cosier one than this--eh, Dumps?" she said.

"Can't find one in this house," was my response.

"Well, this will do for to-night."

She looked at me.  The kindness in her eyes seemed kinder than ever.  It
would have been difficult, had she not been my step-mother, to resist
her; but being my step-mother, I stood very cold and still, responding
quite civilly when she spoke, but not offering any advances on my part.

She had washed her hands now, and the fire was blazing brightly.  She
poured some hot water into a basin.

"This is for the Professor," she said.  "He must warm himself.  He is
very cold, dear man!  He is a very precious creature, and--"

I wished she would not talk of him like that.  I felt a sense of
irritation.  Then I looked at her and the irritation vanished.

"The boys are so hungry," I said.

"And so am I," she replied, with a laugh; "and your dear father is too.
My dear Dumps, he has a ravenous appetite.  That is a great relief to
me.  He hasn't the faintest idea how much he eats, but it's that that
keeps him going.  He eats without knowing that he is eating.  But he
mustn't go on doing that.  I am certain he bolts his food, and that will
mean indigestion by-and-by.  And indigestion breaks up life.  You and I
have a great deal on our hands."

Then there was a dead pause.

"Dumps dear," she said, coming nearer.

In another minute perhaps she might have said something, and all that
followed need never have been written; just at that moment she laid her
hand on my shoulder, but before she could utter the words, whatever they
were, that were trembling on her lips, her eyes fell on the little
trunk--on the little leather trunk with my initials, R.G., on the lid.
She could not mistake it.  She gave a start; into her comely cheeks
there flamed a vivid red.  She bent down without a word and opened the
trunk.  She looked at the contents, took up the card which I had laid on
the top and read it.  Then she laid it back again very quietly, without
uttering a syllable, and closed the lid of the little trunk.  Then she
turned to me.

"Shall we go down to supper?" she said.  Her voice was quite cheerful.
But there was a wall of ice between us.

PART TWO, CHAPTER ONE.

THE NEW ORDER OF THINGS.

Of course, my step-mother made a great change in the house.  I cannot
exactly describe how things were gradually altered, and how the desolate
old mansion became a habitable and cheerful home.  But it certainly was
completely metamorphosed.  The old regime with regard to fires was the
first change.  Mrs Grant said that such a big, empty, rambling place
must be kept thoroughly warmed in winter.  Accordingly, in the
dining-room a fire always blazed, and was kept well piled up with solid
lumps of shining black coal of the very best Silkstone, which Hannah
would never dream of affording in the old days.  Then into my bedroom
and into the boys' bedroom were introduced wonderful new gas-stoves,
which gave not the slightest smell, but which could be lit at a moment's
notice, and would make the bedrooms thoroughly warm and comfortable.

But I no longer slept in my attic.  I had struggled hard against Mrs
Grant's wish to move me into another part of the house, but in the end I
yielded, and now I had a pretty room, brightly papered and nicely
furnished, on the floor just above the drawing-room.

"Why," said my step-mother, "we do not need to use those desolate attics
at all.  This room will do for Alex, this for Charley, and this for
Dumps; and this, when we have visitors, for the spare room.  Hannah and
the other servants can sleep upstairs.  For you, children, this ought to
be your floor, and it shall be," continued the little lady, speaking
with that spirit which always characterised her.

As to the boys, they were delighted with their new rooms.  They were
furnished exceedingly simply; indeed, they looked quite bare enough to
make most people consider them somewhat hermit-like sort of sleeping
apartments; but then those people had never visited the attics where
Alex and Charley used to sleep.

"These rooms are quite good enough for boys; you mustn't pamper boys,
whatever happens," said Mrs Grant.  "Girls are different; girls need
softer treatment."

But her most delightful innovation was the introduction into the house
of two excellent servants to help Hannah.  There had been, I have not
the slightest doubt of it, a very terrible scene in the kitchen when
Mrs Grant interviewed Hannah.  Hannah was not visible at all for the
rest of the day, and my step-mother and I went out for our meals.

On the next day Hannah came upstairs and said she wished to speak to
Mrs Grant.  They had a long conference, and when Hannah came out of her
presence, the eyes of that good woman were very red, but she succumbed
without a word.

A new range was now put into the kitchen, a boy came every morning to
help Hannah with the heaviest part of her work, an excellent housemaid
attended to the bedrooms, and a first-rate parlour-maid opened the hall
door and served up our meals.  In short, we were a new family.

The drawing-room, however, had not yet been touched.  I wondered what
Mrs Grant would make of the drawing-room.  I did not like to question
her.  I was quite good--outwardly good, I mean--all this time to my
step-mother, but we did not come a bit nearer to each other.  The little
trunk with the letters R.G. on the cover seemed to stand between my
heart and her heart.  Nevertheless, we chatted together all day long,
and planned how we would meet this contingency and the other, and what
surprises we would give to father, and how we could manage things.

One day about six weeks after father's second marriage Mrs Grant came
to me.  She had a pleased and delighted expression on her face.

"Rachel, my dear child," she said, "how old are you?"

"I shall be sixteen on my birthday, and my birthday comes in May.  It is
a long way off yet."

Then I gave a sigh, and felt a sudden contraction of my heart.

"Well, anyhow, dear, this is Quarter Day, the 21st of December.  I have
been speaking to your father, and he means to give you a dress
allowance."

"A what?"  I said.

"A dress allowance, dear.  You must, you know, have clothes suitable to
your father's daughter.  Here is the first quarter's money."

She put two crisp Bank of England notes, worth five pounds each, into my
hand.  I started; I coloured crimson; I looked at the money.

"But I--I don't know what to do with this," I said.

"Oh yes, you will know very well what to do with it.  Now the question
is, would you like me to help you to choose some pretty dresses, or
would you rather manage the whole affair yourself?"

Again there was that pathetic expression in her eyes which I had seen
for a minute or two before.  She was looking at me very earnestly.  I
was about to say, "Oh, will you help me to choose, for I don't know
anything about dress?" when I remembered the pretty dark-blue dress with
the grey fur.  That dress, which I always felt had been given me under
false pretences, seemed to rise up now to slay the feeling of kindness
which, in spite of everything, I could not help entertaining for my
step-mother in my heart.  "If you don't greatly mind," I said, "perhaps
this first time I had better choose my own dresses."

"As you like, dear, of course; but you mustn't go alone.  You might ask
one of your schoolfellows to go with you.  And, Dumps dear, ask as many
of your friends in to tea as you like on Wednesday afternoons and
Saturday afternoons; those are your half-holidays, and you can go to
visit those whom I like you to know also on those days.  I want you to
have a very pleasant life, my dear child."

"Thank you," I answered.

"You understand, Rachel, that my wish is to make you happy."

"I am sure of it," I said.

"And you are happy?"

"I am comfortable," I said.

I folded the money up.

"I will thank father when I see him.  It is exceedingly kind of him," I
said.

"I wouldn't worry him," said Mrs Grant.  She looked at me a little
anxiously.

"But why not?"

"He has forgotten all about it by now.  It is unfair to disturb a man of
his nature with these trivial details."

I slipped the notes into my pocket.  "Have you no purse, dear?"

"Upstairs," I said.

"Well, be careful of the money.  Don't lose it."

"I'll be very careful; thank you so much."

I went out into the hall.  Charley was there.

"I say, Dumps!"

"What is it, Charley?"

"Von Marlo and I have been talking about the new mamma."

"You are not to call her that."

"But I say she is, you know; and Von and I, we say--"

"I don't want to hear."

"But you shall--you must!  We say she is _awfully_ jolly--just A1, A1--
and that--"

But I rushed past.  There was a choking lump in my throat; in another
minute I should have burst into tears.

I managed to reach my own pretty new bedroom without disgracing myself.
I shut and locked the door and stood in the centre of the room.  The
crisp five-pound notes rustled in my pocket, but I, Dumps--in other
words, Rachel Grant--stamped my foot.  I was in an absolute passion.  I
did not know why I felt so thoroughly angry.

What unreasonable creatures girls are!  Three months ago I would have
given anything for my present surroundings and my present prospects: I,
who hardly ever had a penny of my own; I, who was only half-fed and only
half-clothed, who was desolate, without a real friend in the world; for
my father--my dear old father--lived for ever and ever in Wonderland,
and no one could bring him bock from that strange country, where he
dwelt with other geniuses of his kind, and I and the boys had to suffer;
and Hannah, notwithstanding her protestations, neglected us so
shamefully that the wonder was we were not ill.  All of a sudden,
however, "Open sesame!" and behold a new order of things!  The old order
had given way to the new.  We were clothed; we were fed; we were
considered; we were treated with kindness; our wants were attended to,
our little trials sympathised with.  In short, love in the true sense of
the word had come into the house; the genius of Wonderment had taken to
himself the genius of Order and Motherly Kindness, and this latter
genius had made the whole house home-like and happy.

But I, at least, was not prepared to take into my heart this good fairy
whom the good queen of all the fairies had sent to us.  I stood in my
pretty room which my step-mother had arranged for me, and felt as angry
and as bitter as girl could feel.

By-and-by there came a cheerful sound on the stairs.  My step-mother
knocked at the door.

"Augusta Moore is downstairs and would like to see you, Dumps," she
said.  "It is a beautiful, sunshiny morning, and you may as well go out
with her."

I suddenly remembered that I had neglected Augusta a good deal of late;
that she had often come to the house and I had hardly spoken to her.  I
further remembered that, this being the 21st of December, the holidays
had begun.  Our big school had broken up on the 20th, but the boys'
college would break up to-morrow.  Christmas would be with us in no
time, and Christmas was to be spent in Hedgerow House.

That was the treat of all treats which was turning the heads of both the
boys.  I was to go, Alex was to go, Charley was to go, and Von Marlo was
to go.  He was alone at the school, and Mrs Grant, with her kind and
open-hearted hospitality, had invited him.

"It is to be my Christmas present to you all, to have you in my house,"
she said.  "I am sure you will enjoy yourselves vastly."

Now surely, with such a prospect in view, any girl would be a perfect
goose if she were not happy, and I do not think many girls will
sympathise with Rachel Grant at this moment.  I was making a martyr of
myself because I thought it not right to my mother's memory to receive
this new mamma in her place; and yet, if the truth must be told,
although I had often pined for my mother, there were days and months,
and perhaps even years, when I had forgotten her very existence.  She
was out of the world before I had time to remember her face.  That was
my position with regard to my real mother in the past, but from the hour
when I had heard that father was about to bring a new wife to the old
house, and after he had given me my mother's miniature, I worshipped
her, I kept her always in my memory, and I felt that the more I withdrew
my heart from the "new mamma," to quote Von Marlo's hideous phrase, the
more I showed my love and tenderness for the real mother.  Perhaps there
are other girls made like that; if so, I should like to show them once
for all how exceedingly silly, how exceedingly unpractical and
ungrateful, I was.  For this story would be worthless if it were not
told truthfully.

I got over my passion after a time.  I kept repeating to myself, "Odious
fellow, Von Marlo!  The new mamma A1 indeed!  A1!"  I wished he would
not talk to Charley and corrupt him with his wrong ideas.

Then I slipped the ten pounds which my step-mother had given me into my
purse, and put the purse into my pocket.  I dressed myself in the warm
clothes which I now had to wear--and which my father, of course, had
given me--and I went slowly downstairs.

Augusta was waiting in the drawing-room.  She was sitting near the fire;
she was talking to my step-mother.  As I entered the room I heard my
step-mother say, "I think it can be managed, Augusta.  It would be a
great pleasure for you, and if it is really the case that your mother
would like to spend Christmas with your uncle Charles, why--Oh, here you
are, Dumps!"

"Yes; what is it?"  I asked.

Augusta's sallow face was lit up with a gleam of red on each of her
cheeks.  This red tint improved her appearance vastly.

"Oh," said Augusta, "I don't for a moment suppose you'll do it."

"I don't see why," I replied.  "I'm not in the habit of making myself
unamiable."

"Well, it's this," said Mrs Grant; "Augusta would greatly like to come
with us to Hedgerow House for Christmas.  It will be a little difficult
to squeeze her in, but if you, Dumps, would not mind having her in your
room--"

"I'd take a very tiny bit of the bed.  I can make myself quite
accommodating," said Augusta.

"She would like it very much indeed," said Mrs Grant.

"Of course you must come if my step-mother invites you," I said.

Mrs Grant coloured; then she got up, walked to the table, and took up
some plain sewing which she was doing, and began a long seam.  She was
making some clothes for the poor; she was never idle for a minute of her
time.

"You can come, Augusta, as far as I am concerned," I said.

"Of course you can; you needn't share the same bed," said Mrs Grant.
"I think I can manage better for you than that, but I cannot give you a
room apiece.  If you will share the same room, that is all that is
required."

"Oh, it is too wonderful!" said Augusta.

"Come out, Augusta, or I shall be late," I said.

We found ourselves in the street.

"Oh!" said Augusta.  She walked on, not noticing me in the least.  After
a time she said, "To wake in the morning and to feel that you will
breakfast with him, that you will dine with him, and that you will sup
with him!  To think that occasionally he may even look at you, and
perhaps once or twice speak to you; and to know that this will go on for
seven days--seven whole days, for I have been asked for a week!  Dumps,
do you think it is true?  Do you think it is only a vision?  I often
have visions; they're beautiful, some of them, but none of them equals
this.  To be in the house with him, and to hang on his words for a
week!"

"I don't think, to tell the truth," I said, "that any one else will hang
on his words; you will have him all to yourself."

"Oh," said Augusta, "if you only wouldn't!"

"Wouldn't what?"

"Wouldn't try to deprecate him.  It seems wicked--it seems as though God
would punish you."

"Why, what do you mean?"  I said.

"You ought to be so happy and so pleased," said Augusta.  "And you have
got such a beautiful, commonplace step-mother.  I admit that she is
commonplace, but I never met so charming a woman.  If only my mother
were like her!"

"Your mother is excellent," I said--"quite as nice as my step-mother;
and then she is your own.  I think it is very wicked of you to run down
your mother.  If you hadn't a mother you'd know the difference."

"But you have."

"I haven't.  How dare you!"

"Dumps, I can't help thinking that you--but oh, perhaps you'd rather not
share your room with me?"

"How can I help it?"  I replied.  "Is the room mine?  Doesn't it belong
to Mrs Grant--I mean to my step-mother?  How can I question any of her
wishes?  You come to our house, and you snuggle into her good favour;
you worm yourself in, and you have got yourself invited, and I suppose--
oh dear, I wish I wasn't so cross!"

"If it were not such a very great thing I would take offence at your
words, Rachel," said Augusta, "and not come with you; but being such a
magnificent thing, and so all-important to me, I will not take offence,
even though you do compare me to a snuggler (I don't quite know what the
creature is), and even to a worm.  I will come with you on the 24th to
Hedgerow House, and when you look at my face you will perhaps realise
that you are looking at perfect happiness--yes, Perfect Happiness; spell
the words with capitals, for I have attained to that great height."

"This is the Twopenny Tube," I said.  "Perhaps you would like to go back
to your mother and make arrangements?"

"But where are you going?"

"I'm going to meet the Swan girls; they said they would be round the
corner waiting for me."

Augusta looked at me rather longingly, but I would not reply to her
look.

"Good-bye," I said.  "I'll try not to do anything to interfere with your
bliss."  I left her.  When I looked back she was already standing as one
in a dream.  I doubted if she would catch the next train in the Twopenny
Tube, but I concluded that in the course of hours she would return to
her commonplace mother.

PART TWO, CHAPTER TWO.

A QUARTERLY ALLOWANCE.

Rita Swan and Agnes had both been exceedingly interested with regard to
my conduct at the time of my father's second marriage.  My absence from
school had caused their wonder.  I was not blamed for that absence, and
I often wondered why the form mistress and the head-mistress said
nothing whatever to me on the subject.

I went back to school on the Monday after my father's marriage, and the
girls had tittered and laughed and made remarks.  I had been quite
silent and gone stoically through my lessons.  Now this marriage was an
old story, but still Rita and Agnes were never tired of expatiating on
the great change for the better which had taken place in my
circumstances.  I told them that my step-mother had a great deal of
common-sense (I had not the slightest idea of giving her away to
strangers); I said that father had now been told what was necessary to
the well bringing up of his children, and accordingly things were
altered in our home.

The girls were in great spirits on this occasion, and when I met them I
suddenly resolved to enjoy myself.

"What do you think has happened to me?"  I said.

"What can it be?" said Rita.  "Oh, dear me!  Rachel, you look very
nice."

In the old days they did not pet me much, and they often told me I
looked very ugly, and I was not elated by the compliment.

"Never mind my looks," I said.  "I am quite a proud girl to-day.  I am,
in fact, almost grown-up; I have taken the first step upwards."

Now, to be grown-up was Rita's greatest ambition in all the world.  She
was four months older than I.  She would be sixteen early in January,
and I should have to wait until the beginning of May for the event.
But, of course, she would not be "out" for at least two years.

"You are not really grown-up, and you needn't suppose you will be for
ages and ages," said Agnes.  "Why, look at Rita; you have made her quite
cross."

"You do talk in such an absurd way," said Rita.  "But what is it?  Out
with it!"

"Well, I've begun to get an allowance."

"A what?" said Agnes.  "An allowance."

"You don't mean a dress allowance?" said Rita.  "Yes, that's just what I
do mean; and I've got my first quarter's money in my pocket.  What's
more, I'm as rich as Croesus; I have more money than I think any one
girl could by any possibility spend.  Now, what do you think of me?"

Agnes had been walking on Rita's other side.  She showed her estimation
of my upward step in the world's ladder by running round to my side and
placing me in the middle.

"Tell us all about it," she said, and she slipped her hand through my
arm.

"There's not much to tell.  Father thought that--or at least my
step-mother thought that I ought to have money to spend on dress, and I
have got ten pounds."

"For a year?" asked Agnes.

"No; for a quarter.  I am to have ten pounds every quarter.  Think of
it!"

Now, Agnes Swan knew quite well that when her allowance was given to her
it would not approach anything like that royal sum.  She therefore
glanced at me and said in a low, pathetic voice, "What remarkably pretty
ears you have got, Dumps!"

I made no answer.  I continued as though I had not heard her: "And I
have the money--two banknotes--in my pocket; and I am going to choose
some dresses now, and I thought perhaps you two girls would like to come
with me."

"How splendid!  Where shall we go?"

"Not to Wallis's," I said firmly.

"Why not to Wallis's?  What special hatred have you for that shop?"

"I do not wish to go there," I answered.  "I want to dress myself in
West End style."

"Then," said Agnes, "nothing can be easier.  We'll wait just here and
take the first 'bus to Oxford Street.  We'll get down there and press
our noses against the shop windows.  It's Christmas-time, and things are
so bright.  But if you want dresses now you'll have to get them
ready-made, for no shop will make your dresses in time for Christmas."

"I don't really know that I want much dress," I said.  "I have got the
money to do what I like with."

"Of course you have."  Rita looked at me anxiously.

"I must spend some of it on dress, of course, but I've got ten pounds.
It seems almost as though it could never be spent.  Oh, here's a 'bus!
Shall we go on the top?"

Rita waved her umbrella wildly.  The driver of the omnibus stopped.  We
mounted on to the roof, and sat huddled close together discussing my
brilliant prospects.

"We'd best keep one on each side of you, for a lot of money like that in
a girl's pocket makes it dangerous for her to walk about at
Christmas-time," said Agnes.

"I don't mind," I said.  "You can keep one on each side of me.  I
think," I continued after a pause, "that it would be only right to spend
some of my money on Christmas presents."

"Of course, dear; it would be only generous.  And you ought to get
something for your step-mother."

"Yes, of course I ought; and for the boys, and for father.  It will be
difficult to think of anything for father.  And then there is Hannah.
Yes, I will spend some of it on Christmas-boxes."

We got down from the roof of the omnibus at Oxford Circus, and then we
walked slowly down Regent Street and revelled in our view of the shop
windows.  I was not specially devoted to dress, but the dainty and
ravishing garments which I beheld exhibited in the windows were
certainly enough to excite the wonder and admiration of us all.

At last we decided to venture into a large shop to ask the price of a
pretty costume which took my fancy.  I liked it because it was as
different from the dark-blue with the grey fur as dress could be.  It
was a soft, glowing shade of crimson, and was smartly trimmed with
velvet of the same colour.  We all marched into the shop, and I demanded
the price of the little costume in the window.

"It will just fit you, Dumps," said Rita.

The man who served us said he would inquire, and presently he informed
us that the dress was selling off and we could have it for ten guineas.
Both Rita and Agnes raised their blows in amazement.  I coloured deeply,
and said that ten guineas was more than I wanted to pay.  He said that
he had cheaper costumes in the shop, but I would not listen.  We went
out of the shop, and we three girls once again found ourselves on the
pavement.

"I call it a perfect swindle," said Rita.  "Of course, I know that my
cousin Laura Ives gives more than that for a dress, but then she is
grown-up.  After all, ten pounds doesn't seem much for a dress
allowance.  But let us go into another shop."

But, try as we would, I could get nothing that I could really wear under
about five guineas, and as I did not choose to give more than half my
allowance for a single dress, I resolved to do without one.

"I'll tell my step-mother that father must be informed that ten pounds a
quarter is not nearly enough to spend on clothes," I said.  "Of course I
had no real ideas on the subject before."

"Of course it isn't half enough," said Rita.  "You can just spend the
money on odds and ends.  That's what I'd do."

I proceeded to follow her advice, and presently I purchased a quantity
of ribbon of different shades and colours, two or three pairs of
gloves--boots I decided I could do without, although mine were rather
shabby--some neckties of different colours, and a new hat.  The hat was
quite unsuitable, but Rita said it was remarkably stylish.

By this time I had spent three or four pounds of my allowance.

"Oh, I must have some handkerchiefs and stockings," I said suddenly.  I
thought myself most prudent and all that was wise and common-sense when
I spoke of stockings.  I bought several pairs of most expensive make,
and furnished myself with some fine lawn handkerchiefs, and lo and
behold! my first five-pound note had vanished.  Still, I had the other.

"You ought to think of the Christmas-boxes; you ought to take something
home for them all," said Rita.

The Christmas-boxes proved themselves most fascinating.  They were the
sort of things that beckoned you into a shop, and then went away, and
you could not find them.  You followed them from shop to shop, and
always exactly the very things you wanted were in another shop farther
on and yet quite near.  Oh, how difficult it was to get them!  That
knife, for instance, that Alex would like, or that pen which Charley
would condescend to write with, or that pair of soft doeskin gloves for
Hannah--Hannah was always complaining of cold hands.

In the end I gave up the knife and the pen and the gloves, and bought
fancy articles which I thought would please my family--glass and china
for my step-mother; a new sort of inkpot, which eventually proved of no
use at all, but was very expensive, for my father; and things for the
boys which I will reveal by-and-by.

I had only thirty shillings out of my ten pounds when I returned home
that afternoon, having provided presents for every one except myself;
and in addition I presented an exceedingly expensive, huge box of
chocolates each to Rita and Agnes Swan.  They called me their best
darling, and said that each moment my appearance was improving, until at
last their remarks made me so angry that I said, "If you say that again
I will never speak to you or give you sixpence-worth of chocolates as
long as I live!"

Upon this threat the two girls were silent, until at last Rita remarked,
"Well, whatever happens, she will always pass in a crowd."

"What does that mean?"  I said.

"It means that whatever you put on, you will never be anything but a
most ordinary-looking person.  Now, does that content you?"

"Better than flattering words which are false," I said stoutly.

They had conducted me home.  I was dead-tired and very hungry.  My hands
were full of parcels.  I rushed impetuously into the house.  It was time
for lunch; the morning had flown with marvellous swiftness.  Nay, more;
I was late for lunch.  Father was standing alone in the dining-room.
Marriage had wrought very little perceptible alteration in him.  It is
true he always now wore a perfectly clean collar, and his coats were
always well brushed, but each one seemed to hang upon him in just its
old, loose, aggravating fashion, being worn very high up on the nape of
the neck, which gave his back a sort of bowed appearance; and his
collars, however neat when he put them on in the morning, managed to get
finely rumpled before school-hours were over.  This was from a habit he
had of clutching his collar fiercely when in the heat of argument.
There was no laundress in the whole of London who could have made
collars stiff enough to withstand father's clutch.  But even Mrs Grant
could not persuade him to put on a clean one to go back to afternoon
school, nor could she get him to visit the barber as often as she
wished.  Therefore, on the whole, father looked much as he had always
done.  But perhaps he would not have been respected or loved as he was
loved and respected if even his outward appearance had been changed.  He
was in a deep brown study now.  He hardly saw me as I rushed into the
room.  I went up to him and took both his hands, and said, "Thank you--
thank you so much!"

"What in the world are you thanking me about, Dumps?" he said.

He seemed to wake with a start.

"Where have you been?  What is the matter?  Don't litter the place,
please; your step-mother doesn't like it."

He observed the brown-paper parcels.

"They're presents," I said.  "Don't speak about them."

He raised his hand wearily to his brow.

"I am not likely to," he said.  "Things wrapped up in brown-paper do not
interest me."

"Oh father! they interest most people.  But you must--you really must--
rouse yourself for a minute or two, for I have to thank you so greatly,
darling father."

"What for?" he muttered.

"The money--the money."

"I am unaware, child, that I have given you any money."

What could he mean?  I felt a curious damp sensation round my spirits,
which were quite high at the moment.  Then I remembered that Mrs Grant
had told me that I was not to worry father on the subject.

"She said," I continued, with great eagerness, "that you were not to be
worried, but that you had arranged it.  I am to have an allowance in
future, and she gave me the first quarter's allowance to-day--ten
pounds."

"Goodness!" said father.  "What wilful waste!  Ten pounds!  Why, it
would have bought--it would have bought that new--"

He mentioned a volume which had a long Latin name.

I understood now--or thought I understood--why my step-mother had
desired me to be silent on the subject of my allowance.  Father shook
himself.  I was roused even to a show of anger.

"Well, at any rate," I said, "it might buy you a book, but it can buy
other things as well.  I was given the money to-day--_your_ money--and I
must thank you; only please in future make it a little more, for I
cannot buy dresses with it; it isn't enough."

He stared at me wildly, and just at that moment my step-mother came in.

"Grace," said my father, turning to her, "this child seems to be in a
sad muddle.  She has been endeavouring to confuse me, which is
exceedingly wrong of her.  I trust that in future you will permit
yourself, my dear, the extreme privilege of repressing Dumps."

"Oh, oh!"  I said.

"Yes," continued father, "of repressing her.--You are, Dumps, too
exuberant, too unmannerly, too impulsive.--Keep her, my dear, from
bringing unsightly objects of that sort into my presence."

He pointed to my darling brown-paper parcels.

"And above all things, dear Grace, tell her not to thank me for what I
have not done.  She has been murmuring the most absurd rubbish into my
ears, talking about a dress allowance.  A dress allowance, indeed!  Does
she need money to spend on her outward adornment?  Tell her to learn
that hymn of Watts's, `Why should our garments, made to hide'--She had
better learn that.  Let her learn once for all that,--

  "Be she dressed fine as she will,
  Flies, worms, and moths exceed her still.

"In short, Grace, suppress the child, and tell her not to utter
falsehoods in my presence."

He went out; his wife followed him into the hall.  She came back in a
few minutes, and her cheeks were redder than was quite becoming.

"Now, Dumps dear," she said, "I told you not to speak of your dress
allowance to your father."

"Then he never gave it to me?"

"Well, dear, not exactly.  I mean that he did not give it to you in so
many words; nevertheless, it is my place to see to these things."

"But was the ten pounds father's?"  I asked stoutly.

"What is his is mine, and what is mine is his," she replied.

"Please, step-mother," I said imploringly, "answer me just for once.
Did you give me that money, or did my father?"

"My dear child, will you not understand once and for all that it is my
aim and wish to do what I can to make you happy?  If you go on trying
me, Rachel, as you have been doing lately, you will make me a very
unhappy woman."

She paused; then she said, "Never up to the present moment have I known
what real, true unhappiness is.  I, Grace Donnithorne, given by nature
so cheerful a heart, and, I think, so brave a spirit, and, I believe,
the power of looking at things on the bright side--I unhappy!"

She moved away; she stood by the fire.  I saw tears starting to her
bright, kindly, merry eyes; one rolled down her cheek.  I went up to her
and took her hand.

"I have not been trying," I said--"I will confess it--I have not been
trying to think kindly of you."

"I know it, Dumps," she said gravely, and she looked round at me.

"And I have been advising the boys not to show you any affection."

"I know it, Dumps," she said again.

"And--and I returned those clothes that you gave me when I was at
Hedgerow House."

"You did.  Why did you do it?"

"If, perhaps," I said slowly--"I don't know, but perhaps if you had told
me the truth then, that you were not being so awfully kind just because
I was a lonely little girl, but because you were going to marry my
father, I might have stood it better, and I might have acted
differently; but you deceived me.  I thought you were a very kind,
middle-aged, rather fat lady, and I liked you just awfully; but when you
deceived me--"

"Don't say any more," she remarked hastily.  "It was not my wish--I felt
all along that--"

But then, with a great effort, she resumed her usual manner.

"I see I have not won you yet," she said.  "But we must go on being
friends outwardly, and _perhaps_--you have been confirmed, have you
not?"

"Yes," I said, somewhat startled.

"Then perhaps when we kneel together at the Great Festival, the feast of
all feasts, your heart may be softened, and you may see that in all the
world no one means more kindly to you than the one whom you used to know
as Grace Donnithorne."

"Oh, if you wouldn't be quite so amiable I think I could love you
better," I said, and then I really hated myself.

"It will come, dear," she said in a patient tone.  "And now, just tell
me what you bought.  If your father isn't interested in brown-paper
parcels, I am."

"They're presents," I said shortly.

"Those delightful things on the sofa are presents?  You have spent a
little of your money on presents?  Rather extravagant of you, but I'm
not going to scold."

"That sounded such a lot of money," I said, "but it didn't turn out so
much."

"What do you mean, dear?  It is a very substantial sum for a young
schoolgirl of your age.  I am sorry you did not take me with you to
spend it; but you seemed so anxious to go alone, and I thought until
Christmas was over--"

"What is going to happen when Christmas is over?"  I said.

"I will tell you when the time comes."

"But please tell me now, step-mother--"

"I wish you wouldn't call me by that name."

"Well, I can't call you Mrs Grant; and you are my step-mother, you
know."

"It doesn't matter--call me anything you like, dear."

I wished she was not quite so accommodating; but while I looked at her I
saw there was a change in her face: there was a purpose in it, a
firmness, a sort of upper-hand look as though she did not mean that I,
Dumps, should have my own way about everything.  She asked me what I had
bought for myself, and I said nothing particular, except a few ribbons
and things like that.

"They ought to be bought last of all," she said, "but of course you
don't quite understand this time."

"Oh!"  I said.

"You want a quiet, plain dress; let me recommend you to get it the first
thing to-morrow morning.  Peter Robinson has some very nice dresses for
young girls; and Evans, just a little farther down Oxford Street, has
perhaps even smarter costumes.  You ought to get a very nice dress for
about four guineas.  It would be wrong to spend more.  A warm coat and a
nice short skirt would be the thing.  Shall we go to-morrow morning to
Evans's?"

"No, thank you," I replied.

"But, my dear child, you want a dress.  Well, perhaps you will get one
of the girls to go with you."

"I would rather," I replied.  I gathered up all my parcels in my arms
and prepared to leave the room.

"Just as you like, dear; but remember we go on the 24th to Hedgerow
House."

"On the 24th; yes, step-mother, thank you."

I went upstairs.

PART TWO, CHAPTER THREE.

CHRISTMAS IN THE COUNTRY.

After all, Christmas Eve was jolly.  You may cherish a feud against the
most innocent and good-natured person in the world with all your might
and main; but unless you are specially wicked you cannot bring it into
prominence when every one else around you is in the best of good
spirits.

It was altogether a very merry party which started off by train from
Liverpool Street _en route_ for Hedgerow House.  We seemed to have left
cares of every sort behind us.  The boys were absolutely unruly in their
mirth.  As to father, he elected to go in a smoking carriage.  This was
a very keen disappointment to Augusta.  I saw her start from her seat as
though she would accompany him; but not being invited--indeed, the
Professor did not even see her--she sank back again and solaced herself
by eating chocolates and reading a German book the whole way down.

"Don't you ever want to watch the scenery?" said Von Marlo in his slow
Dutch fashion.

"Yes, when it is worth looking at," she responded.  She glanced at him.
"You are a foreigner?"

"Yes, a Dutchman."

"I don't approve of Dutchmen."

She lapsed back into her German.  Von Marlo thought it well to change
his seat.  He came nearer to me.

Oh, I forgot to say that Hannah was also of the party.  Now, she had not
wished to come; she had objected very strongly; but my step-mother,
there was no doubt, was beginning to win Hannah over.  Hannah came to my
room that very morning when I was dressing to go, and said, "Miss Dumps,
I do hope you won't take it amiss, but--"

"Why, what is it, Hannah?"  I asked.

"Well, I'm going too."

"I'm very glad," I said.

"'Tain't that I like her a bit better than I did," said Hannah--"not a
bit.  She's a step-mother, and what's a step-mother but a sort of person
who is in league against the children of the first wife?  I've sworn to
be a friend to the first wife's children.  Didn't the poor lady come to
visit me in a dream the very night I heard of your pa's marriage, and
didn't I promise that I'd never leave you?  And didn't she come again
last night in another dream and tell me to go down to Hedgerow House--
not for my own enjoyment, but to be close to you, Miss Dumps, and the
two dear boys?  So I'm going.  Those new servants can look after this
place.  'Tain't what it was."

"Indeed it isn't, Hannah.  I am very glad you are going with us.  And to
be honest, Hannah, isn't it now, frankly, very much nicer than it was?"

"Not to my way of thinking," said Hannah.  "The house now is at that
work what I 'ates."

"The house?"  I said.  "What is the poor house doing?"

"Pushing out old memories; that's what this 'ere house is busy over.
Every room that gets decked up new is pushing out the old memories--the
memories of the time when that poor, dear shadow walked from room to
room trying to get a glimpse of sunshine.  She'll soon be gone, poor
dear!  That's what I call the behaviour of the house, so don't ask me if
I like it better, for I don't, and that's flat."

Had I been at all wise I should have talked sensibly to Hannah; but in
my heart of hearts, although knowing that she spoke the most absolute
nonsense, I could not help partly agreeing with her.

The very last thing I did before leaving was to take mother's miniature
and stuff it into the bottom of the little old horse-hair trunk which
had been unearthed from a distant garret for me.  Nothing would induce
me to take my step-mother's new trunk on this special journey.  I was
not too well dressed, either, for I could not possibly buy the smart,
warm costume which my step-mother had set her heart on, and up to the
present I had given her no reason for this.  But then I had endless
ribbons--sky-blue, pink, mauve, even green; and I had quantities of
chiffon bows and chiffon ties, and good gloves and good stockings, and
lovely handkerchiefs.  I felt that I would pass muster, and turned a
deaf ear when Mrs Grant came somewhat anxiously to my room to know if I
did not want a corner of her trunk for some of my prettiest dresses.  I
told her that the horse-hair trunk held all I required, and she went
away.

Well, at last we got off, and we were in the train.  Good-bye, dull
care!  This was Christmas-time--the time of presents, of fun and
hilarity.  I had taken good care to bring all my Christmas-boxes with
me.

When we arrived at Chelmsford Station there was a great wagonette
waiting for us, drawn by a pair of brown horses.  My step-mother
immediately took the reins.  We all scrambled in; father was huddled in
one corner occupied with his Greek Testament.  When he had nothing else
to do he always read his Greek Testament.

Augusta pushed herself into the seat exactly opposite to him; she bent
forward and stared fixedly into his face; but he never once looked at
her.  I am certain he did not see her.  Occasionally she said "Oh!" in
quite an audible tone.  I felt that Augusta would be quite enough to
keep any one from perfect bliss if she went on in such an idiotic
fashion.

"What is she doing?" whispered Charley to me.

"Oh, let her alone," I said; "she is worshipping him."

"Worshipping him?" he cried.

"Yes; don't you know?"

"I'll prick her with a pin," he said.

"Oh, you mustn't--you really mustn't!  Do let her alone, poor thing!
You see, she sees a kind of glory round father which we don't."

"My word, I should think not!" said Charley.  "Poor, dear old Professor!
Of course, he's a jolly old dad and all that sort of thing, but--"
Charley gave a low whistle.

Augusta's voice was now heard.

"You were reading that passage aloud; I heard it," she said.  "Would you
greatly mind raising your voice a little?"

The Professor lowered his book.

"Eh?" he said.

Then he dropped his glasses.  They were _pince-nez_, and as he dropped
them one of the glasses fell out.  The wagonette had to be stopped, and
we had all to search for the missing glass; and so Augusta's question
was never answered, for when the glass was found it was slipped into its
case, and father readjusted his _pince-nez_ on his nose, and went on
reading as though nothing had happened.

Augusta looked round at me.

"It would have been such a valuable help," she said, "and so very little
extra exertion to him."

"Oh, don't talk to him while he's reading," I said.  "I'll get you a
chance if you're good; but do just make an effort to keep your feelings
to yourself."

We had now reached the house, and we all tumbled out of the wagonette.
I do think there is no other way of describing the manner in which we
left that vehicle.  Mrs Grant immediately assumed the manners of
hostess.  She gave directions to the groom who had brought the carriage,
flung him the reins, and then spoke to a man who was waiting.  This man
disposed of what luggage had been brought in the carriage; the rest was
to follow in a cart.  Then we entered the house.

Its smallness, its bewitching appearance, the little drawing-room with
the stuffed birds and stuffed animals, the dear little dining-room, the
pretty bedrooms upstairs, were invaded as though by a horde of ants.
Nancy was curtsying and bobbing at the hall door.  She welcomed me as
though I were a very dear friend, and personally took me up herself to
the identical room where I had slept before.  It was just as sweet and
fresh and fragrant, and the brightest of fires burned in the grate; but
there was an extra bed in one corner, which in itself was disconcerting.

Then Augusta appeared and flung down an ugly leather valise, which she
had brought her clothes in, on the snowy white counterpane, and said,
with a sigh, "Oh, wonderful--wonderful!  Marvellous beyond words to
express!  I am here!  I am here!"

"Augusta," I said stoutly, "if you go on in that fashion you'll be a
raving lunatic before Christmas Day is over.  Now pull yourself together
and be sensible.  You'll never get father to talk to you if you keep on
staring at him and interrupting him.  We are going to have a jolly time,
and to forget heroics and `high strikes' and all the rest.  Oh, there's
the luncheon-bell, and I'm ever so hungry!"

That was a very happy evening notwithstanding the fact that the Miss
Grace Donnithorne of less than a couple of months ago was now Mrs Grant
and our step-mother.  In her own house, surrounded by her own things,
she was more difficult than ever to resist.  Indeed, I think no one
tried to do so, for she was the very soul of tact, and managed to make
us all feel that we were her guests, and as guests ought to be
particularly nice.  Alex said to me, "She is quite charming!  She is
good!  She is a dear!  I'm beginning to love her.  I don't care what you
say to the contrary."

"I like her for herself," I said.

"Then for goodness' sake prove it, Dumps, and don't wear that horridly
starched, proper face.  It's enough to drive any one cracked even to
look at you.  You were always plain, but now that you are both plain and
affected, you will be too offensive to live with before long."

"Thank you," I answered.  "I never did come to my family for
compliments, and I certainly am not getting them."

"You won't get them from me, or from Charley, or from Von Marlo while
you behave like that.  Why, I declare I'd rather be that poor, demented
Augusta Moore than go on as you are doing."

"But what am I doing?"  I asked.  "What do you mean?  I'm doing
nothing."

"Nothing, Dumps?  Be truthful with yourself.  Try and get over that
horrid feeling, and let us be really happy this Christmas."

"But there was our mother--"

"She wasn't with us last Christmas, was she?"

"She was in spirit."

"Well, if she was with us in spirit last Christmas--when we were so
jolly miserable, and I had that bad influenza, and Charley sprained his
foot, and we had hardly any Christmas dinner and no Christmas-boxes at
all except the things we managed to make with the old carpenter's tools,
and when father forgot to come home till the evening, and you began to
cry and said that he had been run over by an omnibus--if mother was with
us in spirit when we were all really wretched, don't you think she will
be twenty times more in spirit with us now when we are all jolly and
good and good-humoured?  If our mother is an angel in heaven--and I
suppose you believe she is--she must be blessing that sweet woman Grace
Donnithorne, as you used to call her, every moment of the time.  Oh,
there!  I needn't say any more.  I'll let Von Marlo have a talk with
you."

"But he sha'n't--I won't be talked to," I said.

I rushed away up to my own room.  In spite of myself, my feelings were
arrested by Alex's words.  For a moment I knelt down and said to God,
"Please let me feel kindly towards my step-mother; please let me have a
really nice Christmas Day."

After that it was wonderful how my spirits were soothed and how much
happier I felt.  Christmas Eve ended in fun and games and all sorts of
preparations for the merriest Christmas which was to follow, and we all
went to bed in high good-humour.

PART TWO, CHAPTER FOUR.

CHRISTMAS DAY.

My presents were much appreciated, although it is true that father
looked somewhat dubiously at his inkpot.  He asked me how it was opened.
I described the exact method by which he was to press the spring, and
he remarked then that it would take time.

"But," I said, "you see there is a kind of sponge with a leather cover
to it, which presses down into the bottle and prevents every scrap of
air from getting in, so that the ink keeps much longer."

"Yes; but the period it takes from one's existence!" remarked father.
Then he glanced at me.  "Never mind," he said; "you meant well.  I am
always willing to admit it when any one means well."

Now, I had actually spent a pound of my money on this inkstand of
father's--one-tenth of my quarter's allowance--and all the praise I got
was that I meant well.

Von Marlo came up to me and said, "It is a most wonderful and cleverly
constructed inkstand.  I tell you what--whenever I come over to your
house I'll see that it's dusted and kept in order.  I'll look after it
myself.  I think it's quite lovely."

I had given Von Marlo a nice little tablet for notes, which he professed
to be delighted with; and I had given my step-mother a new sort of diary
with a lock and key.  There was no one whom I had forgotten.  Even
Augusta was in raptures with the very driest book on mathematics that I
could pick up.  She said that for once she believed I was a thoroughly
sensible girl.

Then there were the gifts from the others to me.  My step-mother gave me
a lovely little narrow gold chain with a locket attached to it; and
father, for the first time since I could remember, gave me a present
simply as a present.  It consisted of a row of very curious,
sweet-scented beads, which were mounted now in gold, and could be worn
either as a necklace or as a bracelet.

"But you have had these for ages," I said.

"Yes; but my wife thought that they could be set very prettily for you,"
he said.

I was delighted, and thanked him heartily.  I had often coveted those
blue beads, for they were a wonderful greenish blue, and in some lights
looked quite opalescent.

The boys, too, gave me things very suitable and very useful.  No one had
forgotten me.  Even Augusta gave me a pin-cushion stuck full of pins
that I scratched myself with the first thing.  That was very likely, for
she had put them in so badly that several stuck out underneath, and I
had inflicted a wound before I was aware of this fact.

But the presents, after all, were nothing compared to the festive air
which pervaded the place.

We went to church, and we knelt before God's altar, and joined in the
great and glorious Festival of Divine Love.

After church we were all to go to the Aldyces' for dinner.  This
invitation had been vouchsafed to us on the occasion of my father's
marriage, and Mrs Grant said that it was quite impossible not to accept
it.

"You will like Hermione," I said to Augusta.  I thought she would.  I
thought Hermione's precise ways would rather please Augusta.  The
carriage, however, did not meet us at the church, for it was arranged
that we were to go home first and have lunch at Hedgerow House, and then
were to walk in a body the two miles which separated us from The Grange,
Squire Aldyce's beautiful old residence.

We went there in high spirits.  Everything was joyful that day.  Here
more and more presents awaited us.  Really it was marvellous.  Alex
managed to whisper to me, "Have you no eye for contrasts?"

"Contrasts?"  I asked, turning round and giving him a flashing glance.

"Between this Christmas and last," he said.

I felt annoyed.  I had been trying so very hard to keep in the best of
humours--to be good, if I, poor naughty Dumps, could really and truly be
good--and now the spirit of naughtiness was once more awakened.  Oh, of
course, this was a glorious time, and I ought to be delighted; but the
ache had returned to my heart, the longing to be in my own little room
looking at my mother's miniature, the wish for the old desolation when
she, as I said to myself, had been honoured and her memory respected.

I stood in a brown study for a minute or two, and as I stood thus
Hermione came up to me and asked me if I would not like to go away with
her to her room.  I was very glad of the reprieve.  She took my hand and
we ran upstairs.  When we found ourselves in her pretty room she made me
sit down in the cosiest chair she could find, poked the fire, and
squatted herself on the hearth-rug.  She wore a lovely dress of very
pale Liberty green silk, and looked, with her aristocratic small face
and beautiful hair, like a picture.

"Well, Dumps," she said, "and so you have solved the mystery?"

"You knew it at that time?"  I said.

"Knew it?  Of course I did!  It was the greatest amazement to me when
Miss Donnithorne said, `You are not to tell her; her father doesn't wish
it to be known.'"

"Then she did not want to have it kept a secret?"

"She?" said Hermione.  "Poor darling! it was her greatest desire to tell
you--in fact, she had quite made up her mind to do so--but she received
a most urgent letter from your father saying that he would infinitely
prefer none of you to know until after the ceremony.  You mustn't blame
her."

"I think it was exceedingly wrong to deceive me," I said.

"It was not her fault; you must not blame her."

I was silent.  On the whole, my step-mother's conduct could not seem
quite so black if she herself had been forced to act as she did.
Nevertheless, I felt uncomfortable.

Hermione glanced at me.

"You look very much better," she said.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Not that you are dressed so wonderfully well--of course, I shouldn't
dream of making any comments with regard to your dress; but then you
were quite exquisitely attired the last time you came here.  Mother said
she had never seen anything so _chic_ in all her life as that little
dark-blue costume with the grey fur; and it suited you so well."

I was wearing one of my summer dresses which my step-mother had altered
for me shortly after she came to us.  It was made of pale-blue crepon,
which had been rather ugly, but she had put on a beautiful lace tucker,
and had arranged the skirt so that my growing length of limb was not so
discernible.

"It isn't your dress," continued Hermione--"never mind about it--nobody
cares what any one else wears on Christmas Day--but it is your face."

"And what about that?"  I said.

"You are so much better-looking."

I felt myself flushing.

"I wish you wouldn't laugh at me, Hermione.  It isn't kind.  I can't
help being plain."

"No," said Hermione, putting her head a little on one side.  "Nothing
will ever give you remarkably good eyes, or much of a nose, or anything
special of a mouth; but you have got a complexion now, and your cheeks
have filled out."

"Oh, I was always fat," I said.

"Well, but they look different," she said; "I can't tell why."

I knew, but I would not enlighten her.  I knew that it was the excellent
food that I now had, and the warm rooms to live in, and the good
influence of a comfortable home.  I was not going to betray myself,
however.

"You must be having a jolly time," said Hermione.  "Oh! if anything were
to give me a step-mother, I should pine and long for a sort of Grace
Donnithorne."

"She is a dear," I said.

Hermione looked at me very gravely.

"Dumps," she said, "you don't like her in your heart."

"Hermione, how dare you say it?"

"You know you don't.  The moment I saw you I was certain of it."

"I wish you wouldn't read people like that," I said.

"I saw it, and I was sorry; for the fact is, you have only known Grace
for a little--a very little--time."

"For two months," I said.

"And I have known her ever since I have known anybody at all."

"Then, of course, it is natural that you should be fond of her."

"Not at all.  There are other people I have known, so to speak, from my
birth.  There is old Mr Chatterton, and there is Mrs Frazer.  Now, I
detest fussy Mrs Frazer, and I run away a mile from Mr Chatterton.  It
isn't the time I have known Grace, but because she is what she is."

"Well, I suppose," I said, "you are going to give me a lecture about
her?"

"No, I am not; but I am simply going to say this--that you are in rare
luck to have got the most amiable woman in the whole of Essex to be your
step-mother.  And then, Dumps dear, she is so jolly rich!  She can give
you all sorts of comforts.  And what is more, she is awfully fond of
you; she said so."

"Fond of me?  She couldn't be!"

"She is, poor darling!  She said so in such a loving and sad way just
now.  I know why she is sad; it is because you won't return her love."

"Never mind," I said, jumping to my feet.  I went over to the window and
looked out.

"Hermione," I said, "let us talk of something else."

"Of course.  For instance, how will you like your new school?"

"What new school?"

I sprang towards her; I took her by her shoulders; I turned her round.

"Oh! have I let the cat out of the bag?" said Hermione.  "Didn't you
know you were going?"

"There!"  I said; "and yet you tell me to like her.  Has she been
planning this?"

"It is awfully wrong of me to speak of it; but I thought, of course, you
knew."

"But I don't want to go."

"Oh, won't you, though?  Now look here, Dumps.  You mustn't make a fuss;
you must be patient; you must--you really must--for I am going with you.
It's to a jolly, jolly school in Paris.  We'll have a nice time--I know
we shall."

"Paris?"  I said.

Now, what London girl doesn't own to a secret hankering for Paris--Paris
the gay, the fascinating, the beautiful?  Nevertheless, after my first
shock of pleasure I was very wary.  I said after a pause, "Perhaps you
had better not say any more."

"No, I won't, as you didn't know.  It's very odd; you'll be told
probably to-morrow."

"I suppose so," I said.

There came a knock at the door.  Hermione said, "Come in;" and Augusta
intruded her face.

"It seems a great pity you should be here," she said.  "I thought I'd
tell you."

"Come in, Miss Moore; make yourself at home," said Hermione.

"Thank you so much," said Augusta, "but I couldn't come in."

"And why not?" asked Hermione.

"Because he is talking--he is lecturing downstairs.  We are all
listening.--I thought it would be such a frightful deprivation for you,
Dumps, not to hear him.  I rushed upstairs; he was blowing his nose--I
think he has a cold.  I must go back at once.  Do come down, if you
don't want to miss it.  It's about the time of Herodotus; it's most
fascinating--fascinating!"  She banged the door after her and rushed
away.

"Is that poor girl mad?" said Hermione slowly.

"I think so," I answered.  "She has conceived a violent worshipping
attachment to father.  She thinks he is the soul of genius."

"Well, he is, you know.  You, as his daughter, can really hold a most
distinguished position; and now that you have got such a step-mother as
Miss Donnithorne, and you yourself are to be sent to--oh, I forgot, that
subject is taboo.  Well, never mind; when you come out you will have
quite a good time, Dumps, I can tell you.  Your step-mother means to do
the right thing both by you and the boys.  You will have a splendid
time, so just do cheer up and be thankful for the blessings which
Providence has showered upon your head."

PART TWO, CHAPTER FIVE.

A QUIET TALK.

Christmas Day came to an end, and the very next morning, when I was
alone with my step-mother, I asked her what Hermione meant by her words.

"Oh, she has told you?" said Mrs Grant.

She was sitting by the fire in the little drawing-room; the stuffed
birds and the stuffed animals surrounded us, but the room was never
close, and it had the faint, delicious smell of cedar-wood which had
fascinated me so much on the occasion of my first visit.

"Sit down, Dumps," she said, holding out her hand to take one of mine.

"But please tell me," I said.

"Well, yes, it has been arranged.  Your father would like it, and so
would I.  You go on the 21st of January.  It is a very nice school, just
beyond the Champs Elysees.  You will be well taught, and I think the
change will do you good."

"You suggested it, didn't you?"  I said.

"Yes, naturally."

"Why naturally?  I am his child."

"My dear, you know his character; he is so absorbed in those marvellous
things which occupy his great brain that he hasn't time--"

"Oh, I know," I said bitterly; "he never had any time, this wonderful
father of ours, to attend to us, his children."

"Dear, he has given you into my care, and, believe me, I love you."

"I believe you do," I said in a gentle voice.

"Some day, Rachel, I am sure you will love me."

I was silent.

"Tell me about the school," I said.

"I know all about it, for it belongs to a very special friend of mine,
and I am certain you will be looked after and all your best interests
promoted."

"And Hermione Aldyce goes too?"

"Yes; she is a very nice girl, and a special friend of mine."

"I know."

"You will, I am sure, Dumps, do your utmost to attend to your studies.
You will soon be sixteen; my intention is that you should remain at the
French school for two years, and then come back in time to enjoy some of
the pleasures of life--some of the pleasures, dear, as well as the
responsibilities, for we never can dissever one from the other."

I was silent.  Why did I like her and yet dislike her?  I had thought
the day before when Hermione spoke of school that I should wildly rebel,
but as I sat there looking at her placid face it did not occur to me to
rebel.  I said after a minute, "Step-mother, until I love you better,
may I call you by that name?"

"I have given you leave," she said in a low tone.

"I have something to confess," I said.

"What is that?" she asked.

"I did not buy any thing useful out of the ten pounds you gave me."

"Your father's dress allowance?"

"You know it was yours."

"Your father's," she repeated.

"I will tell you how I spent it," I said; and then I described to her
all about the ribbons and the chiffons and the gloves and the stockings
and the handkerchiefs.

"The stockings were needful," she said, "and so were the gloves and
handkerchiefs.  So much ribbon was scarcely essential, but it can be
passed over.  The hat you bought was vulgar, so I trust you will not
wear it again."

"What?"  I said.  "That lovely green hat with the bird-of-Paradise in
it?"

"It is very unsuitable to a girl of your age."

"I got it in one of the smartest shops in Regent Street."

"Anything that is unsuitable is vulgar, Dumps.  I hope you will soon
understand that for yourself."

"Oh, I have a great deal to learn," I said, with sudden humility.

"You have, my dear; and when you take that fact really to heart you will
begin to learn in grave reality, and you will be all that your father
and I long to make you."

"But I'm not the least like father; he could never appreciate me, for I
am so different from him.  If, for instance, I were like Augusta--"

"I wonder, Dumps, if it would greatly distress you if Augusta also went
to the French school?"

"What?"  I said.  "Augusta!  But surely she cannot afford it?"

"I think it could be arranged.  I take an interest in her, poor child!
There is no doubt she is wonderfully clever; but just at present she is
very one-sided in all her views.  Her intellect is somewhat warped by
her having all her aspirations and desires forced into one channel."

"Then, step-mother, you are going to support her?"

"Certainly not.  It is true I may make it possible for those who could
not otherwise afford it.  I have spoken to her mother on the subject,
and perhaps her mother can be helped by some of her relations; it would
certainly be the making of Augusta."

"You are wonderfully kind," I said.

"What am I put into the world for except to help others?"

"Is it true," I asked suddenly, and I laid my hand on her lap, "that you
are very rich?"

"Who told you that?" she said, the colour coming into her face.  She
looked at me in a distressed way.

"Only I want to know."

"All I can tell you in reply to your question is this: that whatever
money God has given me is to be spent not on myself but for Him--for Him
and for those whom I am privileged to help.  I do not want to talk of
riches, for it is impossible for a child like you, with your narrow
experience, to understand that money is a great gift; it is a talent
little understood by many; nevertheless, one of the most precious of
all.  Few who have money quite know how to spend it worthily."

Alex, Charley, and Von Marlo bounded into the room.

"We can skate, if you don't mind," said Charley, "on the round pond a
mile from here.  We didn't bring our skates with us, but there are jolly
nice ones in Chelmsford.  Do you mind?" he asked.

"Certainly not, dear," said Mrs Grant; "and what is more, if there is
good skating I am going myself.  What do you say, Dumps?  Do you know
how to skate?"

"No," I answered.  "How could I?  I never learnt."

"Few girls can skate," said Charley.

"This girl shall learn," said Mrs Grant.  "Come, come, children; we'll
go off as fast as ever we can, to get the best skates to be obtained."

PART TWO, CHAPTER SIX.

LEARNING TO SKATE.

Certainly my step-mother was a patient teacher, and certainly also there
were few more awkward girls than I, Rachel Grant, on that afternoon.
The stumbles I made, the way I sprawled my legs, the many falls I had,
notwithstanding my step-mother's care!  Both Alex and Charley laughed
immoderately.  It was Von Marlo, however, who in the end came to the
rescue.

"Mrs Grant," he said, "you are dead-tired.  I have been able to skate
ever since I was able to walk.  May I take Miss Dumps right round the
pond?  Will you trust her to me?"

"Oh yes, do let him!"  I said.

My step-mother agreed, and a minute later she was flying away herself as
though on wings, with Charley on one side of her and Alex on the other.
Notwithstanding that she was a stout person, she looked very graceful on
the ice.  She could cut figures, and she set herself to teach the boys
how to manage these exquisite and bird-like movements.

Meanwhile Von Marlo and I skated away after a time with a certain amount
of success.  He was taller and stronger than my step-mother, and he
taught me a Dutch way of managing the business; and after a time I was
able to go forward with the help of his strong hand, and so the
afternoon did not turn out so very disastrous after all.

As we were going home Von Marlo asked if he might walk with me.  Mrs
Grant was standing near; she said "Certainly," and we started off
together.

"Not that way," he said; "I don't want to go straight back.  We have
nearly two hours before dinner, and I want you to take me a very long
way round."

"But I don't know Chelmsford specially well," I replied.

"Oh, I've been poking about a bit by myself," he answered.  "We'll just
walk up this road to the left, then plunge into the woods; they look so
perfect with the snow on the ground."

I took his hand, and we walked along bravely.  I was warmed with the
skating; my cheeks were cold; my heart was beating heartily; I felt a
curious exhilaration which snowy air and even most badly executed
skating gives to every one.

When we entered the woods Von Marlo slackened his steps and looked full
at me.

"You are as happy as the day is long," he said.

I made no reply.

"If you are not you ought to be so," was his next remark.

I turned then and stood quite still and faced him.

"You make too much fuss," I said.  "If you and Alex and Charley would
leave the subject alone I might get on better with her.  But you never
will leave the subject alone.  When I speak to her you all three look at
me."

"I didn't know that the others looked; I couldn't help it, you know,"
said Von Marlo.

"But why should you do it?  After all, you know much less than the
others do."

"That doesn't matter."  Von Marlo held out his hand and took mine.  "I
want to say something to you, Dumps.  You are quite the nicest and
pluckiest girl I have ever come across.  I know lots of girls at The
Hague, and they are pretty in their way; but I never saw anybody quite
so pretty as you are."

"Oh Von!"  I said, and I burst out laughing.  "I do wish you wouldn't
talk rubbish like that.  Why, you know that I am very--very--downright
ugly."

"I know nothing of the sort," he replied.  "To me, a face like yours, so
round, and eyes so grey, and--well, I think you are beautiful."

I saw at last that he was speaking the truth.  Perhaps I was the Dutch
style.  I knew I should never certainly be the English style.  After a
moment his words were soothing.  It was well if even a Dutchman could
think me nice.

"And you are so brave," he continued.  "Looks don't matter very much, of
course.  They do a little, but you are so plucky, and you have always
been so good at home, although now you are just having a rare chance of
turning yourself into--"

"Well?"  I said, for he stopped.

"Into a vixen."

"Oh dear!"  I cried.

"Yes; you know you are not what you used to be, and it is because of the
best woman in the world.  So I do want you to try--"

"Stop!"  I said.  "I won't do what you want, so now let us change the
subject."

The colour came into his face.

"Perhaps," he said, "the best thing I can do is to tell you about my own
step-mother."

"Have you one?"  I asked.

I looked at him with very keen interest.  "Yes.  I do not remember
anybody else.  I don't remember my own mother."

"Oh, well, that is different."

"I do not think it is so different, for in some ways it is harder for me
than for you."

"Isn't she nice.  Von?"  I asked.

"She means to be," he said; "but she is severe.  She doesn't love me as
English school because I am not wanted at home."

"Poor Von!"  I said.  "And have you ever been rude to her?"

"Oh no," he answered; "I couldn't be that--my father wouldn't allow it."

He was silent for a bit, and so was I silent.  "What is she like, Von?"
I asked.

"She is what you English would call plain.  She is very stout, with a
good figure, a high colour, and black eyes, only they're rather small.
She is an excellent housewife, and makes good dinners, and sees to the
house and the linen and the servants.  My father thinks a great deal of
her."

"And you have brothers and sisters--half brothers and sisters?"  I said.

"Oh yes; a great many.  My step-mother loves them best, of course, but
that cannot be wondered at."

"No," I answered, "And, Von Marlo," I continued, "what do you call her?"

"Mamma," he replied.

"How can you?"

"I couldn't say anything else.  I have known her since I was a tiny
boy."

"With you it is different--it is truly," I repeated.  "I am never going
to call my step-mother mamma or mother, nor anything which would give
her the place of my own mother."

"I do not believe a name matters," said Von Marlo; "but you ought to be
good to her, for she is wonderfully good to you."

We finished our walk.  I liked him and yet I did not like him.  I felt
annoyed with the boys.  I saw during dinner that they were watching me
when I spoke to my step-mother.  Alex would raise his head and glance in
her direction, and once when I forgot to reply to her Charley gave me a
kick under the table.  As to Von Marlo, he seemed to have done his part
when he had that walk with me, for he did not take much notice of me,
although I was certain he was listening.

Now, this was the sort of thing to fret a girl.  How could I be good
when I was certain that I was surrounded by spies?  I thought my
father's abstracted manner quite refreshing beside the intent and
watchful ways of the three boys.  And as to Augusta, I almost learned to
love her.  She saw nothing wrong in my step-mother for the very reason
that she did not see her at all.  Whenever she raised her eyes, those
deep-set dark eyes of hers would fly to the Professor.  When he spoke
she bent eagerly forward.  Once he began one of his endless
dissertations; the boys were talking about something else.  Augusta said
"Hush!" in a most peremptory manner, and my father stopped.

"Thank you," he said, and he gave her a gracious bow.  I really thought
for a moment I was at school, and that one of the prefects was calling
the class to order.  "Thank you, Miss--"

"Augusta Moore is my name."

She uttered it quickly, and with a sort of sob in her voice.

"Oh, go on, please--go on!  It is of the utmost importance."

"Indeed!" he replied, colouring.  "I should not have thought you
understood."

"Oh, I do, sir--I do!  I love the great Herodotus--the father of all
history, is he not?"

"Yes, child."

Really I believe, for the first time in his whole life, my father was
aware of Augusta's society; he now addressed his remarks to her,
evidently thinking the rest of us of no importance.  He put questions to
her which she answered; he drew her out; she had an immense amount of
miscellaneous knowledge with regard to the old classics.  Her hour had
come; her cheeks blazed; her eyes were bright; she was lifted off her
feet, metaphorically, by my father's appreciation of her talents.

"A remarkable girl," he said afterwards when I was alone in the room.
"A friend of yours, Dumps?"

"One of my schoolfellows," I said.

Then I took hold of his hands.

"Father!"

"Well, Dumps?"

"I want to speak to you."

"Yes, my dear."

"It was very good of you to do what you did for me, and now you are
going to send me to a school in Paris."

"Indeed I am not," said my father.

"You are," I replied; "it is all arranged.  My step-mother said so."

"Grace, bless her!  She has a great many schemes on hand.  But I think
you will have discovered for yourself, Dumps, that I cannot possibly do
such a thing.  Indeed, I don't particularly care for the French mode of
education.  If you must go abroad, go to Germany.  In Germany we find
the greatest thinkers of the last three centuries.  Put yourself under
them, my dear, and it is possible you may come back an intelligent
woman."

I did not say much more.  By-and-by I went up to my room.  Augusta had
not come upstairs.  I had a few moments to myself.  I locked the door
and flung myself on my bed.  Oh, what a silly, silly Dumps I was! for I
cried as though my heart would break.  It was not father who was sending
me to the school in Paris; it was my new mother--my step-mother.  Was I
beholden to her for everything?  Of course, she had bought me the
clothes, and she had provided all the new and delightful things in the
house.  Could I take her gifts and stand aloof from her?  It seemed
impossible.

"I cannot love her," I said to myself.  "She is nice, but she ever and
ever stands between me and my own mother.  I cannot--cannot love her."

"Then if you don't love her," said a voice--an inward voice--"you ought
not to take her gifts.  The two things are incompatible.  Either love
her with all your heart, and take without grudging what she bestows upon
you, or refuse her gifts."

I was making up my mind.  I sat up on my elbow and thought out the whole
problem.  Yes, I must--I would refuse.  I would find father some day
when he was alone, and tell him that I, Rachel, intended to live on the
little money he could spare me; that I would still go to the old school,
and wear shabby dresses.  Anything else would be a slight on my own
mother, I thought.

PART TWO, CHAPTER SEVEN.

A NEW REGIME.

Little did I know, however, of the changes that were ahead.  Hitherto my
step-mother had been all that was sweetly kind and lovingly indulgent;
no doubt she was still kind, and in her heart of hearts still indulgent;
but when we returned home after our pleasant few days at Hedgerow House
her manner altered.  She took the reins of government with a new sort of
decision; she ordered changes in the household management without
consulting me about them; she got in even more servants, and added to
the luxuries of the house.  She invited friends to call, and went
herself to pay visits.  She ordered a neat brougham, which came for her
every day, and in which she asked me to accompany her to visit friends
and relatives of her own.  I refused in my own blunt fashion.

"I am sorry, step-mother," I said; "I am particularly busy this
afternoon, and I am going to tea with the Swans."

"Is that an old engagement, Rachel?" she inquired.

"Yes," I said; but I blushed a little as I spoke, for in truth that
morning I had all but refused Rita Swan's urgent entreaty to go and have
tea with them.  Now I seized upon the whole idea as an excuse.

Mrs Grant stood silent for a minute.  How handsome and bright and
energetic she looked!  She was becomingly dressed, and the carriage with
its nice horse and well-appointed coachman was waiting at the door.  She
said after a minute's pause, "Very well, Dumps, you needn't come to-day;
but please understand that I shall want you to go out with me to-morrow
morning, and again in the afternoon.  Don't make any engagement for
to-morrow."

Before I had time to reply she had swept down the hall, the door was
flung open for her by the neat parlour-maid, she stepped into her
carriage, and was borne away.

Was this indeed the same desolate house where I had lived ever since my
mother died?

I had a somewhat dull tea with the Swans; I was thinking all the time of
my step-mother.  They twitted me one moment on my melancholy, and the
next they began to praise me.  I was not a particularly shrewd girl, but
somehow after a time I began to suspect that the news of my
step-mother's wealth had got to their ears.  If that was so, it would
account for their complete change of front.  Doubtless my step-mother
was right when she decided to take me from a school where I might have
companions of the Swan sort.  The next day I came downstairs determined,
if possible, to have my own way and not to go out with Mrs Grant.  She
was at breakfast when I entered.

"You are a little late, Rachel," she said.  "The hour for breakfast is
half-past eight."

"But--but--" I began.

"You needn't excuse yourself, dear.  Sit down.  To-morrow morning I
shall expect you to be in time."  She spoke very sweetly, poured out a
cup of delicious coffee for me, and asked whether I would prefer ham or
eggs to eat with it.  I looked out at the street.  The worst January
weather was on us; there was a drizzling sleet falling from the sky.

"We sha'n't have a very pleasant day for our shopping," said Mrs Grant.

"Are we going shopping?"  I asked.

"Yes; I am going to take you shopping to-day.  You will want your school
outfit."

I felt myself turning first red and then pale.

"Oh, but, please--" I began.

She stopped helping herself to marmalade and looked at me.  She and I
were alone; the Professor and the boys were all at the college.

"But?" she said.  "What is it, dear?"

"I don't want to go."

"I am sorry, but we have very little time to lose.  I have ordered the
carriage to be here at ten o'clock."

"But--" I said, faltering somewhat in my speech, for her manner was
beginning to tell on me.  I was struggling and struggling against it,
but struggling as the swimmer does who knows that time and tide are
against him.

"Yes?" she said.

"I want to go for a walk.  I hate driving."

"To walk on such a day, Rachel?  I should think you would be glad to
have the comfort of our carriage."

She was always careful never to call anything hers; she always said
"ours."

I flushed angrily.

"I hate driving," I repeated.

"I am sorry, dear.  Well, we will get the things you hate over as
quickly as possible.  You must get your school outfit, you see, as you
are going to Paris on the 21st.  Now run upstairs and get your hat and
jacket on."

Was there ever a girl so bullied before?  I went unwillingly upstairs.
On the second floor, where I now slept, I saw Hannah coming downstairs.
I ran up to her and took one of her hands.

"What have you been doing?"  I asked.

"Doing?" said Hannah.  "Doing?  What's the matter with you, Dumps?"

"She's going to send me away, Hannah."

"Don't talk to me," replied Hannah.

"Hannah, I must I'm just stifling."

"I can't talk to you now--not now.  She's everywhere, and she has her
spies about--all them new servants; they're hand in glove with her--
eating her food and taking her wages."

"But, Hannah, we eat her food and take her wages."

"Well, I must confess I thought there was a time when I could put up
with it, but if you go I go too.  There!"

I clutched her hand.  There came a rustling sound of a silk dress up the
stairs.  No, it was not a silk dress; it was a woollen one of good
material, but Mrs Grant had all her dresses lined with silk.

"I hate going," I had just time to whisper.

"I'll come to your bedroom to-night, and we'll talk this thing out,"
said Hannah.

But how small I felt myself, condescending to talk even to poor old
Hannah about my step-mother!

"Come, dear," cried the pleasant voice, "are you ready?  The carriage is
at the door."

I rushed into my bedroom, got into my hat and jacket, and was downstairs
in a trice.  Mrs Grant came up to me.

"Not tidily put on, Rachel," she said.  She dragged my tie into a
straight position, and straightened my hat; then she said approvingly,
"Ah! gloves are nice, and so are the boots.  Always remember, Rachel,
that a lady is known by her good gloves and good boots.  Now then,
come."

She stepped into the carriage first, and I followed.  She gave orders.
We stopped at a large shop, where we bought a quantity of things--or
rather she bought them--underclothing of every sort and description,
more stockings than I thought I could ever use in the whole course of my
life, a lot more handkerchiefs, embroidered petticoats, dark petticoats;
then gloves--walking gloves and evening gloves and afternoon gloves; and
by-and-by we went into the region where pretty things were to be found.
Such a sweetly becoming costume was got for me--dark-blue again, but now
trimmed richly with velvet which was embroidered in a strange and
mystical sort of pattern.  In my heart of hearts I adored it, but all
the time I stood gloomy and silent and without a smile on my face.

"Come," said Mrs Grant when the purchases were nearly finished, "you
must, my dear child, put on a slightly more agreeable face, for we are
going to the millinery department, and I cannot choose a hat which will
suit you while you look like that."

I tried to smile, but instead I burst into a sort of hysterical
laughter.

"I wish you wouldn't," I said.

She took my hand and squeezed it.

"You wish I wouldn't?  But I wish I could do a thousand times more for
you.  Come, darling, come."  The word "darling," after all the calm
insistence of having her own way all the morning, broke on my heart with
a feverish desire to respond to it, but I would not.  No, I would not be
conquered.

Oh, how particular my step-mother was about that hat!  As if it mattered
after all.  It was the quietest and most expensive hat I had ever seen.
As to the feathers, she took them to the light, examined them and pulled
them about, and saw that they were exactly the right shade, until I
scarcely knew how to contain myself.  I could not help murmuring under
my breath, "I shall become a sort of Augusta if this goes on.  I shall
loathe clothes if this continues."

Finally a dark-blue hat was chosen to suit the dark-blue costume, and
then a grey hat with a long grey feather was also bought for best
occasions; and afterwards I was supplied with a perfectly fascinating
set of chinchilla furs, chinchilla for my neck and a darling little muff
to match.

"You shall wear this hat with these chinchillas," said my step-mother;
"and I will get you a very good brown fur for everyday wear--fox.  You
must wear your chinchillas when you want to be extra smart."

At last all the list of things that Mrs Grant considered necessary for
a young lady's entrance into the fashionable Parisian school were
obtained.

"We have done a good morning's work," she said, and she desired the
coachman to take us home.

"At least I shall have the afternoon to myself," I thought.

Now, if the truth must be known, hateful as the morning had been, there
had also been a sort of feeling of enjoyment.  The things that had been
bought were good, and I was to be no longer a shabby girl.  When I
remembered the dark-brown skirt of uncertain make and by no means
uncertain length, with the brick-red blouse which had been my proud
possession such a very short time ago, I could not help smiling to
myself at the vastness of the contrast.  But, alas and alack! why was I
so perverse that I thought I would welcome that skirt and hideous blouse
if only I might be back again in the old days?  But would I?  Could I
have this afternoon to myself, I should have a certain satisfaction in
going to see the Swans, and inviting them back to tea, which I was
always permitted to do, and giving them an account of my ravishing
chinchilla, my beautiful fox, my dark-blue costume, and my new hats.
What would they not feel?  I fairly believed that they would begin to
see beauty in my small and insignificant eyes, in my _retrousse_ nose,
in my somewhat wide mouth.

"Oh, riches, riches!"  I muttered under my breath.

"As you did not get the dress I expected you to get before Christmas,
Rachel," said my step-mother during lunch-time, "I have ordered the
dark-blue costume and the grey hat and the grey furs to be sent home
immediately, for I am going to visit some special friends of mine this
afternoon, and I want you to accompany me."

"Oh, but twice in the carriage!"  I said.

"I am sorry.  To-morrow we will do a lot of walking.  I have heaps to
do, and I love a tramp on my feet, as you know.  I won't have the
carriage at all to-morrow; we'll walk until we are fit to drop.  But go
and amuse yourself, dear, for the carriage will not be round again until
four o'clock."

I went away to my room.  The little gas-stove was alight and the room
was warm and comfortable.  I went and stood by the window and looked
round the apartment.  It had been made so elegant, so sweet, so fresh
for me.  Then I glanced at the bed; it was covered with parcels--great
big boxes, small boxes, parcels made up in brown-paper.  What girl can
resist an unopened parcel?  Not even Rachel Grant.  I began to take out
my wonderful possessions, to look at them, to examine them.  In
themselves they were fascinating, but the sting lay in the fact that
they had been given me by her.  They all seemed to be witnesses against
the miniature--the dear miniature which was fading and fading out of
every one's memory.

"The only person in this house," I said to myself, "who has a grain of
sense is poor old Hannah."

Just as the thought floated through my brain the door was opened and
Hannah came in.

"I had a few minutes to spare, and I thought I'd just steal in and have
a talk with you now.  She's downstairs talking to a visitor--drat her!
say I.  Now then, Miss Dumps, what is it?  You tell me, and as quick as
you can."

Hannah was the cook of the establishment, and I must say an excellent
cook she made.

"Why, Hannah," I said, "I can't imagine how you manage to leave the
kitchen just now."

"Oh, I can manage," said Hannah.  "I get as much help as I want."

"And you are such a good cook, Hannah; you take to the new life as
kindly as I do."

"Much chance I have of not taking to it.  It's do your work or go;
that's the rule of rules in this house.  If you are kept to cook, cook
you must; if you don't cook, out you go, and some one else comes in who
can cook.  That's the way.  Now, Miss Rachel, you've got to be made into
a fashionable young lady, magnificently dressed, and educated in one of
the 'orrid French schools."

Hannah threw a world of contempt into the adjective she bestowed upon
the Parisian school.

"In one of them 'orrid French schools," she said; "and if you don't
submit, why, out you goes too."

"Why, Hannah, how could I go out?  I often wish I could."

"Poor child!" said Hannah.  "Well, now--oh, my word! what are all
those?"

She had not noticed the parcels before.  She now sprang on them and
began to examine them.  In spite of herself she was impressed by the
goodly array of garments.

"My word!" she said, "no one can accuse her of being stingy."

"And no one can accuse her," I said with feeling, "of being mean in any
sense of the word.  She does her best for us all."

"Well, she has her object," said Hannah.  "A-pushing of _her_ out--
a-pushing of her out.  She's a'most gone, poor thing!  Killed she were,
but still her spirit seems to linger; now she's a'most gone."

"Hannah, when you talk like that I sometimes hate you," I said.

Hannah looked at me in astonishment.

"How queer you are, Dumps!" she said.  "I don't know that I didn't like
you twice as well in the old times, though you have plumped out like
anything.  You were a very plain little creature, I will say that.  But
there! handsome is that handsome does."

"And did I behave so handsomely, Hannah?  You were always finding fault
with me then."

"Drat you!" said Hannah, "you were a bit of a caution--you and them
boys.  Oh dear me! don't I remember the darkness in the old times?  And
now it's just a blaze of light--gas every where, big fires, big j'ints,
poultry, game, fish.  My word! and the sweets are enough to make your
mouth water.  And I has to superintend, and it's `Mrs Joyce' here and
`Mrs Joyce' there.  My word!  My word!"

"Do they call you Mrs Joyce?"

"Of course they do.  I wouldn't allow anything else.  But there, child,
I must be off.  It's a'most time for us to sit down to our dinner;
nothing less, I can assure you, than veal and ham pie, and
apple-dumplings afterwards."

"But, Hannah, you never were good at apple-dumplings, you know."

"I am now.  I have everything to make them with--that's what I have; and
I had nothing afore.  Oh, my word!"

"Yes, Hannah, you used to feed us very badly.  Do you remember that leg
of mutton?"

Hannah laughed.

"I do," she said.  "'Ot Sunday, cold Monday, cold again Tuesday, turned
upside down Wednesday, hashed Thursday, bone made into soup Friday--
couldn't do more with it if I tried."

"You certainly couldn't."

"Well, child, well, all I can say is this--if you go, and she puts more
on me, out I go too.  And if ever you want a home, I'll give it to you.
I have a bit of money put by--more than you think on.  You shall have my
address before you go to that school in Paris."

I kissed the poor old thing.  Hannah was neatly dressed herself now, and
looked a new sort of person altogether.  She no longer wore cotton-wool
in her ears; she did not need to, she said, for she was never expected
to answer any bell of any sort.

"I've enough in the kitchen to keep me agoin'," was her remark.

Hannah disappeared.  It was soon time to dress.  I put on my beautiful
blue dress, which fitted me perfectly--that is, as well as it was
necessary to fit a girl of my age.  The short, smart little coat had not
a wrinkle in it anywhere.  Over the dress I tried first the fox.  It was
Russian fox, and, I thought, terribly expensive; but what was that to
the lovely chinchilla?  The chinchilla must go on.

I forgot my step-mother in my excitement.  The blue hat?  Yes, the blue
hat was perfect; but the grey hat, which exactly toned with the
chinchilla, was still better.  I found that my cheeks were flushed, and
the softness of the grey hat seemed exactly to suit the tone of my
complexion.  I made my hair look as thick and important as I could.  I
put on the hat; I fastened the chinchilla fur round my neck.  How
delicious it was!  Just as though a number of soft kittens were pressing
against my cheeks.  I had grey gloves on my hands, and the little muff
was seized, and--oh yes, I kissed it.  I was a new Dumps altogether.  I
looked in the long glass in my bedroom, and saw an almost slender Dumps
in an elegant costume.  Never mind the plain face; the whole appearance
was good, and very lady-like.  And _she_ had done it all.  Where was the
girl whose dress was outgrown, whose hats had often not the semblance of
respectability about them?  The girl who was always in despair about the
possibility of mending her old stockings any longer, whose gloves had
mostly holes in the fingers?  Where was this girl, with her hungry eyes,
her shivering body?  She had vanished; she belonged to the attic
upstairs, the bare attic which contained--oh, just memories of the past.

Again I kissed the little muff; then I ran down into the hall.  My
step-mother was very anxious to see the effect of the costume; she took
me into the parlour and made me turn round and round.

"It is nice!"  I said.

My tone of approbation seemed to give her immense satisfaction.  She
kissed me, then said, "There's the carriage--we are just in time."

We entered, and off we went.  Mrs Grant looked her very best.  I cannot
remember what she wore; when a person is always well dressed you take it
as a matter of course and do not notice.  I kept on feeling the
delicious softness of the pussy-cat fur round my neck, and if my
step-mother had not been present I should have kissed the little muff
again.

We stopped at a house; the footman got down and came to the door.  I had
not noticed before that there were two men on the box.

"Why, step-mother," I said, "we are grand!"

She gave a smile as though she had not heard me; then, bending forward,
she told the man to inquire if Lady Anne Churton was within.  He ran up
the steps, pulled the bell, and a powdered footman in livery opened the
door.  A minute later we found ourselves in the hall.

We went upstairs; Mrs Grant, of course, going first, I following.  It
was a smart-looking house, but it seemed dull and heavy to me; the air
was so hot, too.  I was certain that I should have to part with my
beloved pussy-cat fur when once I entered whatever room we were being
conveyed to.

A door was flung open by the man who had preceded us upstairs; our names
were called out, and a lady, who must have been between fifty and sixty
years of age, came to meet us.

"Now this is good, Grace," she said.  "How sweet of you to come!  You
are not a bit formal.  Oh, this is your--"

"My daughter," said Mrs Grant.--"Rachel, this is my very great friend,
Lady Anne Churton."

A hand jewelled with many valuable rings was held out to me.  I was
asked to come near the fire.  I followed my step-mother and Lady Anne
across the room.  It was a very large room, and absolutely crowded with
furniture.  Wherever you turned you saw a little table; and where a
table was not, there was a little chair; and every chair was different
from its neighbour, and each table was also of a different shape from
the one next it.  The tables were laden with what my step-mother called
_bric-a-brac_ and curios of all sorts and descriptions.  The nearest
table to me was covered with old-fashioned articles of silver.

Lady Anne and my step-mother began to talk earnestly together in low
tones.  I got up and went nearer to the silver table to examine it.
But, alack and alas! notwithstanding my beautiful dark-blue costume, my
chinchilla furs, and all the rest, I was awkward.  I was carried off my
feet into this new region of soft things and little tables and
_bric-a-brac_ and every kind of luxury.  I stumbled and knocked over a
still smaller table which contained but one priceless treasure, a piece
of glass of most wondrous make.  I had meant to examine that glass when
I had done looking at the silver, for it had the power of taking on
every imaginable ray of colour.  But it existed no longer; it lay in
fragments on the ground.

My step-mother came at once to the rescue.  Lady Anne said in the
calmest voice, "Fray don't trouble.  Miss Grant; it was a mere accident.
Come a little nearer to me, won't you?"

Then she rang the bell.  When the footman appeared he was told to remove
the broken glass.  Everything was done quietly; there was not the
faintest trace of displeasure on Lady Anne's face; but any girl who
reads this can well imagine my feelings.  Talk of being hot!  I thought
I should never need furs again as long as I lived.  The soft pussy-cats,
dear pets, no longer comforted me.  I removed the chinchilla, and sat
with blazing cheeks gazing straight before me.  But Lady Anne was
nothing if she was not kind.

"So you are going to school next week?" she said.  "And to Paris?  You
will enjoy that."

"Oh yes," I murmured.  I really had not a vestige of character left; I
could only mutter--I, who felt myself to be a person of great energy and
determination and force of speech.

"It was very kind of Mrs Grant to arrange it all for you."

"Very kind," I said, loathing Mrs Grant as I uttered the words.

Lady Anne stared at me.  Her eyebrows went up the very least bit in the
world.

"Ah! here comes tea," she said.

A footman appeared with a tray.  A little table opened of its own accord
in some extraordinary way.  It had looked like a harmless bundle of
sticks leaning against one of the walls.  The tray, one of rarest china,
was placed upon it.  Lady Anne poured thimblefuls of weak tea into cups
of matchless china.  I was trembling all over.  I was actually so
nervous that I was sure I should break one of those cups if I touched
it.  But I did take it, nevertheless; I took this terrible thimbleful in
its beautiful little saucer in my gloved hand, and sat down and received
a plate of the same type to rest on my lap with an infinitesimal morsel
of wafery bread-and-butter.  The tea was scalding hot, and it brought
tears to my eyes.  I felt so bewildered and upset that it was with
difficulty I could keep myself from making an ignominious bolt from the
room.  But worse was to follow.

Lady Anne and my step-mother continued to talk as placidly together as
though nothing whatever had happened, as though I had not disgraced
myself for ever and ever, when the door was flung open and a perfect
swarm of gaily dressed ladies appeared.  I think there were five of
them.  They made the silent room alive all at once, each talking a
little higher and more rapidly than the other.  One rushed up to Lady
Anne and called her an old dear, and kissed her and patted her cheek;
another tapped her with her lorgnette and said, "You naughty old thing,
why weren't you at the bazaar yesterday?  Oh, we had such fun!"

Then they all sat down, spreading out their garments and seeming to
preen themselves like lovely tropical birds.  I pushed my chair a little
farther from the fire, which had caught my cheeks and made them burn in
a most terrible manner.  When would my step-mother go?  But no, she had
no intention of stirring.  She knew these people; they were quite
interested on seeing her.

"Oh, how do you get on?  How nice to see you again!  But what an
extraordinary thing you have done, Grace!  And you have step-children,
too.  Horrors, no doubt!"

The words reached my ears.  I could scarcely bear myself.  Mrs Grant
said something, and there was an apologetic, almost frightened look on
the lady's face.

The next minute a girl, doubtless about my own age, but who had all the
_savoir-faire_ which I did not possess, came swiftly forward and dropped
into a low chair near me.

"I must introduce myself, Miss Grant," she said.  "I know you are Miss
Grant.  I am Lilian St Leger.  I am so glad you are here; all the
others are so terribly old, you know.  Where shall we go to have a nice
little talk all to ourselves?  Into the back drawing-room?  Oh, but have
you had enough tea?"

"Quite," I replied.

Now, if there was an absolutely radiant-looking creature on this earth,
it was Lilian St Leger.  I won't attempt to describe her, for I have no
words.  I don't suppose if I were to take her features separately I
should be able for a single moment to pronounce them perfect; but it was
her sweetness and tact, and the way she seemed to envelop me with her
bright presence, which was as cold water to a thirsty person.

"I have had quite enough tea," I said.

"And I hate tea in drawing-rooms; it is always so weak, and you can only
snatch a mouthful of food at a time," said Lilian.  "Come along, then."

She held out her tiny hand and clasped mine.  I felt vulgar and rough
and commonplace beside her; but she steered me right past the numerous
tables until we got into a room which was comparatively cool, and we
sank down together on a sofa.

"This is better.  Oh, you do look hot!  Have you been sitting by the
fire?"

"Yes, Miss St Leger, I have; but I've also done such an awful thing."

"I am sure awful things have been done to you.  You heard, of course,
what mother said.  She didn't mean it; she couldn't have meant it if she
had seen you."

"If she had seen me she would have meant it in very truth," I replied,
"if she had witnessed me a few minutes ago."

"Oh! what happened?  Tell me everything.  It would be lovely if you
broke the proprieties of that drawing-room."

Lilian was wearing a black velvet hat, which had a great plume of
feathers that drooped a little over her face.  Her hair was golden, and
very thick and very shining.  It was not, like mine, hanging down her
back, but fastened in a thick knot very low on her neck.

"What did you do?" she said, and she clasped my hand and gave it a
squeeze.

"I knocked over a small table; there was a solitary glass ornament in
the middle."

"What!  Not the Salviati?"

"It was glass, not Salviati," I said.

She laughed.

"Salviati is the maker of some of the most perfect opalescent glass in
the world, and this was one of his oldest and most perfect creations.
But you saved it?"

"I didn't, Miss St Leger.  It is in pieces.  It was taken away in
something that a footman brought in; it doesn't exist any longer.  I
have smashed it."

"What happened?"

"I don't know what happened; nothing, I think.  There was a kind of icy
breath all over the room, and I thought my heart would stop.  But Lady
Anne's voice was as cool as--oh! cool as snow, if snow could speak.
Afterwards I got burning hot; the ice went and the fire came, and--and I
have done it!"

Lilian looked perplexed.  She turned round and gazed at me; then she
burst into a peal of merriest laughter.

"Oh, you funny girl!" she said.  "Just to think of you--the horror, as
mother called you--calmly breaking dear Lady Anne's sacred Salviati, and
Oh, you don't _half_ know the heinousness of your crime!"

"You are rubbing it in pretty hard," I said.

She laughed again immoderately; she could not stop laughing.

"Oh!  I could kiss you," she said; "I could hug you.  I hate that room
and those tables and curios; it is wicked--it is wrong for any one to
make her room exactly like a curiosity shop, and that is what Lady Anne
does.  But then it's her hobby.  Well, you have knocked over one of her
idols, and she'll never forgive you."

"If she never expects me to come to see her again I shall certainly
survive," I said.  "But please don't laugh at me any more."

"Oh, I admire you so much," said Lilian; "you have such courage!"

"But you don't think I did it on purpose, do you?"

"Of course not You just did it because you are accustomed to space, and
there is no space allowed in Lady Anne's drawing-room.  Oh!  I shall
tell Dick to-night, and Guy."

"Who are they, please?"

"My brothers.  Won't they roar?  Well, my dear, she'll never say a word
to you or your step-mother; she'll never say a word to anybody; but I
shouldn't be a bit surprised if the doctor was summoned to-night.  She
has had a sort of shock; but she won't show it, for it's considered
underbred for any one to show anything."

"Oh, what an appalling life to lead!"

"I lead it--at least I generally do; it is only now and then that I can
give myself away.  You dear, refreshing young soul, how you have cheered
me up!  I was so loathing the thought of this afternoon of visits.  But
now, do tell me something more!  Are you _always_ doing _outre_ things?
If I could only convey you to our house and send you sprawling round, it
would be such fun!"

"I know you are laughing at me," I said.

"Well, yes, I am and I am not.  But there! tell me about yourself."

"I have nothing to tell; I am just a plain girl."

"However plain, you are delicious--delicious!  How old are you?"

"I shall be sixteen in May."

"Well, I was seventeen a month ago, so I have put up my hair.  How do
you like it?"

"It is lovely," I said.

"My maid thinks it is.  I don't much bother about it.  I have one great
desire in life.  I long for the unattainable."

"I should think anything could be attained by you."

"Not a bit of it.  The thing that I want I can't attain to."

"What do you want?"

"To be very, very plain, to have a free time, to do exactly what I
like--to knock over tables, to skim about the country at my own sweet
will unchaperoned and unstared at; never to be expected to make a great
match; never to have any one say, `If Lilian doesn't do something
wonderful we shall be disappointed.'"

"Oh, well, you never will get those things," I said.  After a time I
continued--for she kept on looking at me--"Would you change with me if
you could?"

"I shouldn't like to give up mamma--dear mamma _is_ a darling; she
really is, although she is always putting her foot into it.  She put her
foot into it now; but, you see, it was rather good after all, for I saw
you and I noticed that you had heard what mamma said.  Now, mother never
does _outre_ things with her body, but with her lips she is always
giving herself away.  I couldn't leave her even to change with you."

"Well, I'm plain enough."

"Thank Providence for that.  You are plain; I quite admit it.  But I
will tell you something else.  Your step-mother is the most delightful
woman--"

"Oh, you have been very nice, Miss St Leger--"

"They call me Lady Lilian," she interrupted.

"Oh, but that is rather too terrible."

"Why should the fact of being an earl's daughter make me a scrap better
than you, who are the daughter of a very great professor?  But, anyhow,
you may call me Lilian; you may drop the Lady.  Now go on."

"I wish you wouldn't begin to praise _her_."

"Oh, then, you don't like her?  You are one of those naughty little
girls who won't take to her dear step-mother.  Dear, dear!"

"She is as good as gold," I said.

"I see what it is," said Lady Lilian; "you and I must have a long talk.
We must be friends.  Have we not talked together over the lost Salviati?
Have we not both sighed over the _mal-a-propos_ remarks of my dear
mamma?  We ought to be friends.  Don't I wish to have your looks?  And
doubtless you wish to have mine?  Why shouldn't we be friends?"

"Let us," I said.  I was bewitched, charmed.  I had forgotten my shyness
and felt quite at home with her.  In fact, as Lady Lilian went on
talking I felt rather superior to her.  It was the first time in all my
life I had regarded my plainness as a distinct and most valuable
acquisition.

"That's all right.  I'll introduce you to mamma.  Come along now this
very minute; she is rising to go."

"But I sha'n't see much of you, for I am going to school on the 21st."

"To school!  Heavens!  Why?"

"My step-mother wishes it."

"Poor little thing!  I see.  And where?"

I mentioned the school.  Her eyes brightened.

"Oh, you are going there?" she said.  "Then I don't think I do pity you.
I was there for a year; it's an awfully nice place, and there are some
of my own friends there.  I'll write and tell them about you.  Oh! come
along; there is mamma at the door."

She took my hand.  The Countess of Derwent was just saying adieu to
another intimate acquaintance who had entered the room as soon as Lilian
and I had betaken ourselves into the back drawing-room.  She turned when
she saw her daughter.

"Come, Lilian.  I am going.  Say good-bye to Lady Anne."

"First," said Lilian in her calmest voice, "let me introduce you to the
Horror."

She drew me forward.  The poor Countess's face became crimson.

"The what?" she said.

"Oh, you called her that yourself when you were congratulating dear
Grace on having a husband and ready-made children.  Well, this is the
girl, and she is a perfect darling, a deliverer for me out of my worst
fit of the dumps."

"Oh, but they call me Dumps," I could not help saying.

"Better and better," said Lady Lilian.--"Now, mother, here she is; judge
for yourself."

"I must really apologise, Miss Grant," said the Countess.  "I must
apologise most humbly.  I had no idea you were in the room."

"There's nothing to apologise for," I answered.  "I am awfully obliged
to you, for Lady Lilian wouldn't have spoken to me but for your saying
that.  And you had a right to say it, for I expect I am a horror."

"I am sure you are nothing of the sort--Lilian, my dear Lilian."

Lady Lilian tripped back.

"Ask this child to tea to-morrow.--Come, won't you, Miss--Grant?  Now
good-bye, my dear; you are a very nice, forgiving sort of girl.
Good-bye.--Come, Lilian--come!"

PART TWO, CHAPTER EIGHT.

GOING TO SCHOOL.

All the preparations for school had been made, and it was the day before
I was to leave.  My trunks--I had several now--were packed.  Augusta was
coming too, and so was Hermione.  Hermione had come to spend the last
evening with us in the old house behind the great college.  She was very
much interested and highly pleased.

The last fortnight of my time at home had gone on wings.  Lady Lilian
St Leger had lifted me into a new world.  She was a daring, bright,
true-hearted girl.  She did not mind treating me with a sort of playful
lightness which was very refreshing after the stifling time I had spent
in that awful drawing-room; but she also had said good-bye.

"We shall meet in the holidays," she said.  "I shall see you sometimes.
I am to come out as soon as ever I am presented, and I'll be presented
at the first Drawing-room.  After that it will be nothing but rush and
tumult; I'll be wishing myself dead all the time, for there will be no
hope of anything.  I am going to make up my mind to accept the first man
who proposes for me."

"Oh, but you won't do that!"  I said, for I had very primitive and very
sacred ideas on such topics.

"Oh, just to get rid of the thing!  I only trust he'll be young and poor
and ugly.  If he is young and poor and ugly, and I fall madly in love
with him, there'll be such a rumpus, and that would be a rare bit of
fun.  But dear, darling mamma will have to give way, because I can
always make her do what I like."

"But your father?"  I said.

"Oh, I'll manage him too."

Thus she talked and chattered; but she was not out yet.  She was very
good-natured, and told me a great deal about the school.

"I do envy your going there," she said.  "I wish I was fifteen.  And you
are so jolly honest-looking and so downright plain.  I do think you are
unfairly equipped for this life, Dumps."

She would never call me anything else now; I was Dumps to her--her
darling, plain, practical, jolly Dumps.  That was how she spoke of me.
She had written to the girls whom she knew at the school, and had told
me to be sure to introduce myself as her very dearest friend, as her
newest and dearest.

"They will embrace you; they will take you into their bosoms for my
sake," she said.

I am afraid I was very much enamoured of Lady Lilian; she was the type
of girl who would excite the admiration of any one.  Even Hermione, who
knew her quite well, and whom I had liked in many ways until I met Lady
Lilian, seemed commonplace and spiritless beside her.

But Hermione, Augusta, and I were to go to school together.  Of course
we would be friends.  A lady, a special chaperon, was to take us across
the Channel; we would start on the following morning, and should arrive
in Paris in the evening.  I was excited now it came to the point Hannah
met me on the last evening as I was going upstairs.  She was standing
just beside a corner of my own landing.  She sprang out on me.

"Hannah," I said, "you did give me a start."

She laid her hand on my arm.

"Let me come into your room with you," she said.

I asked her to do so.  She came up and spoke to me emphatically.

"You are going.  When you go she will go too."

"She?"

"Your own mother.  She won't stay another minute.  The house will belong
to the new queen; but Hannah won't put up with it.  I gave her notice
this morning."

"Hannah, you didn't."

"I did, my dear--I did.  I said, `You are turning the child out, and the
old woman goes too.'"

"Then you won't stay for the sake of the boys?"

"No, I won't; they can manage for themselves, even Master Charley and
even beautiful Master Alex.  I will say, anyhow, she wasn't a bit
unkind.  She was very nice; I will say that for her.  She's a very nice
woman, and under other circumstances I'd be inclined to like her.  But
there! she's the new queen, and my heart is with the old one."

Poor Hannah burst into tears; I had never seen her so overcome before.

"You will come back belonging to the house as it will be in the future.
You are too young not to grow up in the new house; but I'm too old,
child.  I'll never forget the old ways."

"Hannah, fudge!" said a voice behind; and turning round, I was amazed,
and I must say rather disgusted, to see my brother Charley.

"Look here," he said, "this is all stuff and nonsense.  We are as jolly
as we can be, and our step-mother is as good as gold, and why should we
make mischief?  As to the old times--now I'll tell you what it is,
Hannah, they were detestable."

Charley made his bow, winking at me and vanishing.

"Just like him," said Hannah.

"There's a good deal of truth in what he says, Hannah."

"Well, I like the old ways best," said Hannah.

Poor old thing, I could not but pet her and comfort her.  She gave me
her address.  She was going to live with a cousin, and if ever I wanted
a home, and was disposed to quarrel with my step-mother, she would take
me in--that she would.  As I had no intention of quarrelling with my
step-mother--for it is quite impossible for any one to have a completely
one-sided quarrel--I told Hannah that all I could hope to do in the
future was to visit her a good deal.  In the end I told her that I would
write her long letters from Paris, which quieted her a good bit.  She
kissed me, and when she went away I did feel, somehow, that the old life
was really gone.

The old life!  It quite went the next morning when I found myself on
board the steamer which was to convey me from Dover to Calais.  I stood
with Hermione on one side and Augusta on the other, looking at the
fast-receding waves as the gallant boat plied its way through them.  Our
chaperon, a dull, quiet-looking woman, who only spoke broken English,
took little or no notice of us.  Augusta's eyes were fixed on the
distant horizon.  Occasionally I heard her murmuring lines of verse to
herself.  Once she glanced at me, and I saw that her eyes were full of
tears.

"What is it?"  I said.

She immediately repeated with great emphasis:

  "_And where are they_?  And where art thou,
  My country?"

"Oh," I cried, "don't say any more!  We are not in the humour for
poetry."

"Of course we're not," said Hermione, glancing at her.

"I was quoting," said Augusta.  "I was thinking, not about what Lord
Byron thought when he spoke of ancient Greece, but of all that I was
leaving behind in London."

"And what are you leaving behind that is so specially valuable,
Augusta?"  I asked.

"Your father's lectures," she replied.  She turned once more and looked
at the horizon.

"Don't worry her," said Hermione in a low tone to me.

"I wonder if she'll ever get over it," I said.

Hermione and I began to pace slowly up and down the deck.

"I cannot imagine why my step-mother was so anxious that she should come
with us," I said.

"Because she felt that it was absolutely essential that Augusta should
see another side of life.  Dear, dear, I do feel excited!  I wonder how
we shall like the life.  Don't frown, Dumps; you surely needn't worry
about Augusta.  She has made a kind of king of your father.  She
believes him to be all that is heroic and noble and majestic in life.
It is really a most innocent admiration; let her keep it."

"Yes, of course, if she likes," I said.

The air was cold.  I wrapped the warm fur cloak which my step-mother had
insisted upon giving me for the voyage tightly round me, and sat down on
one of the deck-seats.  By-and-by Augusta tottered forward.

"It is strange how difficult it is to use your sea-legs," she said.

She sprawled on to the seat by my side.  Suddenly the vessel gave a
lurch, and she found herself lying on the deck.  A sailor rushed
forward, picked her up, and advised the young lady to sit down; the wind
was a little fresher and the vessel would sway a trifle.  He brought a
tarpaulin and wrapped it round us three.  Augusta was on one side of me.
Presently she pressed my hand.

"You are the _next_ best," she said, gazing at me with pathetic eyes.

"Next what?"  I said.

"You are his daughter."

"I will try and be friendly with you, Augusta; but I do bar one thing,"
was my immediate comment.

"And what is that?"

"Nonsense.  You must try and talk sense."

She smiled very gently, and taking my hand within her own, stroked it.

"He also," she said after a pause, "is very determined.  In fact, I
cannot with truth say that he has ever in his life given me what I could
call a civil word.  Now, you are like him; you are exceedingly blunt.
The blunter you are, the more you resemble him."

"Oh, good gracious! then I suppose I shall have to be civil."

"I beseech of you, don't; keep as like him as you can."

"If you mean for a single moment that Dumps is like her father in
appearance, you are much mistaken," said Hermione, bending across me to
speak to Augusta.

"She is like him neither in body nor in mind."

"But she has a trifle of his moral force," replied Augusta, with great
majesty; and then, finding that neither Hermione nor I was at all in
sympathy with her, she satisfied herself with remaining silent and
leaning against my shoulder.  Perhaps she thought I was imparting to her
some of my moral force.  I really felt a savage desire to push her away.

At last we landed, and found ourselves in a first-class compartment in
the Paris train, and a few minutes afterwards we were on our journey.
We arrived there in the evening.  Then we found ourselves in an omnibus
which was sent to meet us from the school, and were on our way to that
home of all the virtues just beyond the Champs Elysees.  My heart was
beating high.  I was full of suppressed anxiety.  Hermione once or twice
touched my hand.  She was also very excited; she was wondering what sort
of life lay before her.  Augusta, on the other hand, was utterly
irresponsive.  She did not make one remark with regard to gay,
beautiful, brilliant Paris, which looked, as it always does at this
hour, full of marvellous witchery, so brilliantly lighted up were the
broad streets, so altogether exhilarating was the tone of the bracing
air.

Augusta sat huddled up in one corner of the omnibus, while Hermione and
I got as close to the door as we could, and gazed out of the window,
which was wide-open, exclaiming at each turn as we drove along.  The
Champs Elysees flashed into view; we drove on, and presently turned into
a very broad street, and pulled up with a jerk before a house which
seemed to have a balcony to each window, and which was brilliantly lit
from attic to cellar.

Our companion, the lady who had brought us, now said something in
excellent French, and we got out of the omnibus and followed her up a
paved path and through an open doorway into a wide hall.  Here a servant
appeared, who was told to take us to our rooms.  We followed her up some
stairs, which were white marble and were uncarpeted.  We passed a wide
landing where there were some marble figures in the corners, and large
palm-trees standing beside them; then again past folding-doors, and
through a landing with more marble figures and more palms, until at last
we entered through two doors, which were flung open wide, into a pretty
little sitting-room.  Why do I say little?  The room was lofty, and was
so simply furnished that it looked much larger than it was.  The floor
was covered with oak parquetry, and was polished to the most slippery
degree.  There were a couple of rugs here and there, but no carpet.  In
the centre of the room was a table covered with a white cloth, and
containing knives, forks, glasses, and a bunch of flowers rather
carelessly arranged in a vase in the middle.  There were heavy chairs in
the Louis-Quinze style, with a great deal of gilt about them, and a huge
mirror, also with gilt, let into the wall at one side; and exactly
opposite the wall was a door, which led into three small bedrooms, all
communicating each with the other.

"These are your apartments, young ladies," said the governess who had
taken us upstairs.  "This is your sitting-room, where to-night you will
have your supper.  You will not see your companions--or I think not--
until the morning.  You will be glad to retire to rest, doubtless, as
you must have had a long journey.  Your supper will come up in a moment
or two.  If you give your trunks to Justine she will unpack them and put
your things away.  Ah! here is the bell; if you will ring it when you
want anything, Justine, who is the maid whose special duty it is to wait
on you, will attend the summons."

The governess turned to go away.

"But, please," called out Hermione as she was closing the door, "what
are we to call you?"

"Mademoiselle Wrex."

We thanked her, and she vanished.  Augusta stood in the middle of the
room and clasped her hands.

"Well, now, I call this jolly!"  I said.

"Delightful!  And how quaint!" said Hermione.  "I never thought we
should have a sitting-room."

"But there isn't a book," remarked Augusta.

"Oh, we don't want books to-night, Augusta.  Now, do lean on my moral
strength and forget everything unpleasant," I said.

"Oh! do look out of the window; here's a balcony," cried Hermione.  "Let
us go out on it when we have had supper."

She pushed back the curtains, opened the window, and the next minute she
was standing on the little balcony looking down into the crowded street.

"Oh! and that house opposite; we can see right into its rooms.  What
fun!  What fun!  I do call this life!" cried the girl.

"We had better go and unlock our trunks; remember we are at school," I
said.

"How unlike you, Dumps, to think of anything sensible!" was Hermione's
remark.

We went into our rooms.

"I am going to ring the bell for Justine," said Hermione.

She did so, and a very pretty girl dressed in French style appeared.
She could not speak English, but our home-made French was sufficient for
the occasion.  We managed to convey to her what we wanted, and she
supplied us with hot water, took our keys, and immediately began to
unpack our trunks and to put away our belongings.

"You shall have the room next to the sitting-room," I said to Hermione.

"Very well," she answered.

"I will take the next," I said; "and, Augusta, will you have that one?"

"It's all the same to me," said Augusta.

In less than half-an-hour we felt ourselves more or less established in
our new quarters.

"Now," said Justine, becoming much animated, "you will want, you _pauvre
petites_, some of the so necessaire refreshment."

She rang the bell with energy, and a man appeared bearing chocolate,
cakes of different descriptions, and sandwiches.  We sat down and made a
merry meal.  Even Augusta was pleased.  She forgot the absence of books;
she even forgot how far she was from the Professor.  As to her poor
mother, I do not think she even gave her a serious thought Hermione and
I laughed and chatted.  Finally we went and stood on the balcony, and
Augusta retired to her own room.

"Now this is a new era; what will it do for us both?" said Hermione.

"I don't know," I said.

"Aren't you happy, Dumps?"

"Yes, I am a little; but I don't suppose I am expected to take things
very seriously."

"It is a great change for me," said Hermione, "from the regularity of
the life at home."

"I suppose it is," I said; but then I added, "You cannot expect me to
feel about it in that way."

"Why so?"

"It seems to me," I continued, "that I have been for the last few months
taken off my feet and whirled into all sorts of new conditions.  We were
so poor, so straitened; we seemed to have none of what you would call
the good things of life.  Then all of a sudden Fortune's wheel turned
and we were--I suppose--rich.  But still--"

"Don't say you prefer the old life."

"No--not really.  I know she is so good; but you must admit that it is a
great change for me."

"I know it is; but you ought to be thankful."

"That is it; I don't think I am.  And what is more," I continued, "I
don't think this is the right school for Augusta.  There is just a
possibility that I may be shaped and moulded and twisted into a sort of
fine lady; but nothing will ever make Augusta commonplace, nor will
anything make you commonplace.  Oh dear! there is some one knocking at
the door."

The knock was repeated.  We said, "Come in!" and a girl with a very
curly head of dark hair, bright eyes to match, and a radiant face, first
peeped at us, then entered, shut the door with a noisy vehemence, and
came towards as with both her hands extended.

Half-way across the room she deliberately shut her eyes.

"Now, I wonder which of you I shall feel first.  One is Dumps and the
other Hermione.  I am expected to adore Dumps because she is so jolly
and plain and sensible and--and awkward; and I am expected to worship
Hermione because she is exactly the reverse.  Now--ah!  I know--this is
Hermione!"

She clasped her arms round my somewhat stout waist.

"Wrong--wrong!"  I cried.

She opened her eyes and uttered a merry laugh.

"I have been introduced to you," she said, "by special letter from my
friend Lilian St Leger.  And you _are_ Dumps?"

"Of course," I said.

"Good!  You do look jolly.  I am Rosalind Mayhew.  I am a great friend
of Lilian's.  Of course, I am younger than she is--I am a year younger--
and I am going to be at school for another year, so I'll see you
through, Dumps; Lilian has asked me to."

"Sit down and tell us about every thing," I said.  "You know we are such
strangers."

"Washed up on this inhospitable shore, we scarcely know what we are to
do with ourselves, or what savages we are to meet," said Hermione very
merrily.

"Then I'll just tell you everything I can.  You know, Mademoiselle Wrex
would be wild if she knew that I had come up to see you this evening.
She said I was not to do so, but to leave you in peace.  Well, I could
not help myself.  I slipped out to come here, and I told Elfreda and
Riki and Fhemie and Hortense that I could not resist it any longer."

"What queer names!"  I said.

"Oh, Riki--she's a German comtesse; and Elfreda is a baroness; but we
always call them just Riki and Elfreda.  They are very jolly girls.
Then as to Fhemie, she is more English than I am; and Hortense is French
of the French.  There are all sorts of girls at our school.  The Dutch
girls are some of the nicest.  I will introduce you to them.  Then there
are Swedes, and several Americans.  The Americans are very racy."

"How many girls are there altogether at the school?"  I asked.

"Well, between twenty and thirty.  You see, the Baroness Gablestein is
exceedingly particular."

"Who is she?"

"My dear Dumps!  You don't mean to say that you have come to this school
without knowing the name of our head-mistress?"

"A baroness?  Gablestein?"  I exclaimed.

"Yes; she really represents a sort of all-round nationality.  To begin
with, she is an Englishwoman herself by birth--that is, on one side.
Her mother was English, but her father was French.  Then she married a
German baron, whose mother was a Dutchwoman, and whose grandmother was
Italian.  Her husband died, and she found, poor baroness! that she had
not quite enough to live on, and so, as she was exceedingly well
educated and had many aristocratic connections, she thought she would
start a school.  Her name in full is Baroness von Gablestein.  She is
most charming.  She talks excellent English, but she also talks French
and German and Italian like a native.  She has a fair idea of the Dutch
tongue, and is exceedingly kind to her Dutch connections; but I think
her most valued pupils hail from the island home.  But there!  I don't
think I ought to stay any longer to-night.  I don't want Comtesse Riki
to become curious and to poke her aristocratic little nose in here.  She
is a very jolly girl, and as nice as ever she can be; still, she is not
English, you know.  Oh, you'll find all sides of character here.  I
can't tell you how funny it is, particularly with regard to the French
and German girls; they are so interested about their _dot_ and their
future husbands and all the rest.  I tell you it _is_ life in this
place!  We do have good times; it isn't a bit like a regular school.
You see all sorts and conditions--good, bad, and indifferent; but I
suppose the good preponderate.  Now kiss me, Dumps.  You will be quite a
fresh variety.  I believe you are blunt and honest--but, oh, don't break
the Salviati glass!"

"How very wrong of Lilian to have told you that story!"  I said.

"My dear good creature, do you think that Lilian St Leger could keep
anything to herself?  She is about the maddest young woman I ever came
across; but we do miss her at school.  Her name will be `Open sesame' to
you to every heart in the place.  She is just the nicest and most
bewitching of creatures.  I only wish she was back."

"She is coming out in about a month," I said.

"Poor thing, how she always did hate the idea!"

"She won't when the time comes," said Hermione.

"Once she is plunged into that fun she will enjoy it as well as
another."

"I never should," I said.

Rosalind glanced at me and laughed.

"Oh, perhaps you'll change too," she said.  "Well, you look awfully
nice.  Your breakfast will be brought to your rooms to-morrow morning
sharp at seven o'clock.  We have _dejeuner_ at twelve, afternoon tea at
four, dinner at seven.  The rest of the day is divided up into all sorts
of strange and odd patterns, totally different from English life.  But,
of course, the meals are all-important."

"Why," I said, "I did not think you were so greedy."

"Nor are we; but you see, dear, during meals we each speak the language
of our native country, and I can tell you there is a babel sometimes
when the Baroness is not at the head of her table.  All the rest of the
time the English girls _must_ talk French, German, or Italian; and the
French ones must talk English, German, or Italian; and the German girls
must talk French, English, or Italian; and so on, and so on."

"Oh, you confuse me," I said.  "How can any one girl talk three
languages at once?"

"Day about, or week about--I forget which," said Rosalind.  "Now,
good-night, good-night."

She vanished.

"I declare I am dead-tired," I said, and I sank down on the sofa.

"What a good thing Augusta wasn't here!" said Hermione.

"Yes; she wouldn't have understood a bit," I said.

I went to Augusta's room that night before I lay down to rest.  She was
sound asleep in the dress she had travelled in.  She had not even taken
the trouble to put a wrap over her.  She looked tired, and was murmuring
Latin verses in her sleep.

"It is not the right place for her; she will never, never get on with
these baronesses and comtesses, and all this medley of foreign life," I
could not help saying to myself.

I covered her up, but did not attempt to awake her; and then I went to
my own room, got into bed, and went to sleep with a whirl of emotion and
wonder filling my brain.

PART TWO, CHAPTER NINE.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS.

It seemed to me that I had hardly closed my eyes in sleep before I was
awakened again by seeing Justine standing by my bedside with a tray of
very appetising food in her hand.

"Here are your rolls and coffee, mademoiselle," she said.

As she spoke she laid the little tray on a small table by the side of my
bed, evidently put there for the purpose; and taking a dressing-jacket
from the wardrobe, she made me put it on, and admonished me to eat my
breakfast quickly, as I must rise and attend prayers in the space of
three-quarters of an hour.

Here was hurry indeed.  I munched my delicious rolls, and sipped my
coffee, and thought of the new life which was before me, and then I got
up with energy and washed and dressed.  When I had completed my toilet I
went into the sitting-room, for although our rooms opened one into the
other, there were other doors on to an adjoining landing.  Here I found
Hermione waiting for me.

"Where's Augusta?"  I said.

"I don't know--surely she is dressed."

"I'll go to her room and find out," I said.

I went and knocked at the door.  A heavy voice said "Come in," and I
entered.  Augusta was now lying well wrapped up in the bedclothes.  She
had not touched either her coffee or her rolls.

"Aren't you getting up?"  I said.  "The bell will ring in a moment for
prayers.  We are expected to go down."

"I have a headache," said Augusta.

"Are you really ill, Augusta?  I am sorry."

"I am not ill, but I have a headache.  I had bad dreams last night."

"And you never got into bed at all."

"I fell asleep, and my dreams were troublesome.  I can't get up yet.
No, I won't have any breakfast.  I wish I hadn't come; I don't like this
place."

I knelt down by the bed and took her hand.

"You know that your mother and your uncle wouldn't have made such an
effort to send you here if they didn't think it would be for your good,"
I said.  "Do try and like it."

There was a new tone in my voice.  I really felt sorry for her.  She
raised her head and fixed her dark eyes on my face.

"Do you think your father would like it?"

"I am sure he would, Augusta," I said; and an idea flashed through my
brain.  I would write that very day to my step-mother and beg her to get
my father to send Augusta a message.  The slightest word from him would
control her life; she would work hard at her French, her German, hard at
manners, refinement--at everything--if only he would give her the clue.
Surely my step-mother would manage it.

I flashed a bright glance at her now.

"I know that my father would like it.  I'll tell the Baroness you are
not well and cannot come down this morning."

"The Baroness?  What did you say?" said Augusta.

"Our head-mistress; her name is Baroness von Gablestein."

Augusta closed her eyes and shivered.

"To this we have sunk," I heard her mutter, and then she turned her face
to the wall.

A great bell, musical and dear, sounded all over the house.

"That is our summons," I said.  "Mademoiselle Wrex will meet us on the
next landing, and I will come to you as soon as I can."

I left the room.

"What's the matter?" said Hermione.

"She says she has a headache, but I think she is mostly sulking," I
replied.  "I am going to write to my step-mother; I think I know how to
manage her."

"Dumps, how bright you look--and how happy!"  Yes, I was happy; I was
feeling in my heart of hearts that I really meant to do my very best.

On the next landing we met Mademoiselle Wrex.  See looked approvingly at
us.  I told her about Augusta, and she said she would see to the young
lady, but in the meantime we must follow her downstairs.  We went down
and down.  How airy and fresh, and I must say how cold also, the house
felt!  I had always imagined that French houses were warm.  When we
arrived on the ground _etage_ we turned to our left and entered a very
large room.  Like all the other rooms in the house, it was bare of
carpet.  On a sort of dais at the top of the room there stood the
Baroness von Gablestein.  She was one of the handsomest and most
distinguished-looking women I had ever seen.  She was not young; she
must have been between forty and fifty years of age.  Her hair was dark
by nature, but was now very much mixed with grey.  She had dark and very
thick eyebrows, and a broad and massive forehead.  She wore her hair on
a high cushion rolled back from her face.  The rest of her features were
regular and very clearly cut.  Her lips were sweet but firm, and her
eyes dark and very penetrating.  But it was not her mere features, it
was the clear, energetic, and yet joyous expression of her face which so
captivated me that I, Dumps, stood perfectly still when I saw her, and
did not move for the space of two or three seconds.  I felt some one
poke me in the back, and a voice in broken English said, "But stare not
so.  Go right forward."

I turned, and saw a girl much shorter than myself, and much more podgy,
who glanced at me, smiled, and pointed to a bench where I was to sit.

The Baroness read a few verses of Scripture in the French tongue, and
then we all knelt down and a collect for the day was read, also in
French, and then we were desired to join our different classes in the
schoolroom.  I stood still, and so did Hermione.  The Baroness seemed to
observe us for the first time, and raised her brows.

Mademoiselle Wrex came up and said something to her.

"Ah, yes," I heard her say in very sweet, clear English.  "The dear
children!  But certainly I will speak with them."

She went down two or three steps and came to meet us.

"You are Rachel Grant," she said.  "Welcome to our school.--And you are
Hermione Aldyce.  Welcome to our school."

She had a sort of regal manner; she bent and kissed me on the centre of
my forehead, and she did the same to Hermione.

"I trust you will enjoy your life here.  I trust you will in all
respects be worthy of the reputation of our school; and I trust, also,
that we shall do our utmost to make you happy and wise."

She paused for a minute.

"My dear children," she said then, "this is a very busy hour for me, and
I will see you later; in the meantime I leave you in the care of
Mademoiselle Wrex, who will take you to those teachers who will
superintend your studies."

I felt my cheeks growing very red.  Hermione was cool and composed.  We
followed Mademoiselle Wrex through several rooms into the schoolroom,
and there we were examined by a German lady, who put us in a very low
form as regarded that language.  We were next questioned by a French
mademoiselle, who did likewise; but an English lady, with a
matter-of-fact and very quiet face, rescued us from the ignominious
position in which we found ourselves with regard to German and French by
discovering that our attainments in our mother-tongue were by no means
contemptible.

In the end we found, so to speak, our level, and our school life began
right merrily.

Late that evening I found time to write a few words to my step-mother.

  "I will tell you all about the school later on," I began.  "At present
  I feel topsy-turvy and whirly-whirly; I don't know where I am, nor
  what has happened to me.  I dare say I shall like it very much, but I
  will keep my long letter for Sunday; we have all the time we want for
  ourselves on Sunday; no one interferes, and we are allowed to talk in
  our own tongue--that is, if we wish to do so.  What I am specially
  writing to you about now is Augusta.  She is taking the change in her
  circumstances very badly, I must say, my dear step-mother; she is not
  reconciled.  She would not get up this morning, nor would she undress
  last night.  She pleads a headache, and will not eat.  But, at the
  same time, Mademoiselle Wrex, who has the charge of our department,
  cannot find anything special the matter with her.  I think it is a
  case of homesickness, but not the ordinary sort, for she is certainly
  not pining for her mother.  It really is a case of grieving because
  she cannot attend my father's lectures.  She does think a great deal
  of him, and seems to have set her whole life by his example.  Now, if
  you could get him to send her the tiniest little note, just the merest
  line, to say he hopes she will do well and like her French and
  German--oh, anything will do--she will do her duty and will be as
  happy as the day is long.  You are so clever, I know you can manage
  it.  I haven't time for another word.--Your affectionate
  step-daughter, Rachel Grant."

PART TWO, CHAPTER TEN.

THE PROFESSOR'S LETTER.

I cannot give all the particulars with regard to my life at the school,
which was called Villa Bella Vista, although I cannot tell why; perhaps
because from the upper windows you could catch a glimpse of the Champs
Elysees.  Be that as it may, it was in some ways a Bella Vista for me, a
very great change from my old life in the dark house near the ancient
college, from poverty to luxury, from dullness to sunshine, from the
commonplace school to one which was the best that it was possible for a
school to be.  The Baroness von Gablestein was a woman of great
integrity of mind and great uprightness of bearing, and her strong
personality she managed more or less to impress on all the girls.  Of
course, there were black sheep in this fold, as there must be black
sheep in every fold; but Hermione and I soon found our niche, and made
friends with some of the nicest girls.  We liked our lessons; we took
kindly to French and German; Italian would follow presently.  French and
German were now the order of the day.  In short, we were contented.

We had not been a fortnight at the school Bella Vista before we began to
feel that we had always lived there.  Were we not part and parcel of the
house?  Were not its interests ours, the girls who lived there our
friends, and the life we lived the only one worth living?  We did not
acknowledge to ourselves that we felt like this, but nevertheless we
did.

As to Augusta--well, for the first few days she was as grumpy and
unsociable as girl could be.  Then there came a change over her, and I
knew quite well what had caused it.  The post was delivered in the
evening, and there was a letter addressed to Augusta.  She took it up
languidly.  She seemed to feel no interest whatever in anything.  I
watched her without daring to appear to do so.  We were in our own
little sitting-room at that time, and Rosalind Mayhew was having supper
with us.  This treat was always allowed on Saturday evenings.  The girls
could ask one another to have supper, only giving directions downstairs
with regard to the transference of the food to the different rooms.
Rosalind was our guest on this occasion.

Augusta laid her letter by her plate; she put one hand on the table, and
presently took up the letter and glanced at it again.  I did not dare to
say, "Won't you read it?" for had I done so that would have provoked her
into putting it into her pocket, and not glancing at it perhaps until
the following morning, or goodness knows when.  So, glancing at
Hermione, I proposed that those who had finished supper should go and
stand on the balcony for a little.  We all went except Augusta, who
remained behind.  I kept one ear listening while I chatted with my
companions.  It seemed to me that I certainly _did_ hear the rustle of
paper--the sort of rustle that somewhat stiff paper would make when it
is taken out of its envelope.  Then there was utter stillness, and
afterwards a wild rush and a door slammed.  I looked into the
sitting-room.  It was empty.

"She has read it, has she not?" said Hermione.

"Oh, hush, hush!"  I whispered.  "Don't say a word."

"Are you talking about that queer, half-mad girl?" said Rosalind.

"Oh, I'm sure she will be all right in the future," I said.

Rosalind changed the conversation to something else.

"By the way, Dumps, Comtesse Riki has taken a most violent fancy to
you."

"What! to me?"  I asked.

"Yes; and the Baroness Elfreda to Hermione."

Now, Comtesse Riki was a very delicately made, exquisitely pretty girl,
of the fairest German type.  Elfreda, on the contrary, was short and
exceedingly fat, with a perfectly square face, high cheek-bones, and a
quantity of hay-coloured hair which she wore in two very tight plaits
strained back from her face.

Hermione shrugged her shoulders.

"They're both awfully nice; don't you think so?" said Rosalind.

"I have scarcely given them a thought," I answered.

My mind was still dwelling on the letter which Augusta had received.
Presently Rosalind left us, and Hermione and I wondered what the result
would be.

"Go to her door and knock, and see if she will come out and tell us;
won't you, Dumps?" said Hermione.

I did go and knock.

"Yes, dear?" said Augusta's voice.  It was quite bright and absolutely
changed.

"Aren't you coming out to stand on the balcony a little, and to chat?
Do come, please."

"Not to-night, dear; I am very busy."

Still that new, wonderful, exceedingly cheerful voice.

"The spell has worked," I said to Hermione when I returned to her.

We neither of us saw Augusta again until the next morning, and then
there was a marvellous change in her.  She did not tell us what had
caused it.  To begin with, she was neatly dressed; to follow, she ate an
excellent breakfast; and again, wonder of wonders! she applied herself
with extreme and passionate diligence to her French and German lessons.
She looked up when her mistress spoke; she no longer indulged in silence
broken only by rhapsodies of passionate snatches of verse from her
favourite authors.  She was altogether a changed Augusta.  I did not say
a word to her on the subject, and I cautioned Hermione not to breathe
what I had done.

"If she thinks father has written to her on his own account the spell
will work, and she will be saved," I said.

It was not until a fortnight later that Augusta said to me in a very
gentle tone, "I see daylight.  How very naughty I was when I first came!
How badly I did behave!  But now a guiding hand has been stretched out,
and I know what I am expected to do."

I jumped up and kissed her.

"I am glad," I said.

"You cannot be as glad as I am," she answered; and she took both my
hands in one of hers and looked into my face, while tears rose to her
bright, rather sunken eyes.  "To think that _he_ should take the trouble
to write!"

I ran away.  I did not want to be unkind, and truly did not mean to; but
Augusta's manner, notwithstanding the reform in her character, was
almost past bearing.

"Poor, dear old father!"  I said afterwards to Hermione, "he can little
realise what a fearful responsibility he has in life--the whole of
Augusta's future--and just because he is a clever lecturer.  I really
cannot understand it."

"Nor I," said Hermione.  "I myself think his speeches are rather dull;
but I suppose I have a different order of mind."

I remember quite well that on that occasion we girls were permitted to
go for a delightful walk into the Bois de Boulogne.  We went, of course,
with some of the governesses; but when we got there we were allowed a
certain amount of freedom--for instance, we could choose our own
companions and walk with whom we pleased.  We were just leaving the
house on this occasion when Comtesse Riki came up to me and asked if I
would walk with her.  I acceded at once, although I had hoped for a long
walk with Hermione, as I had received a budget of home news on that day,
and I wanted to talk it over with her; last, but not least, there had
come a voluminous letter from Lilian St Leger.  It was a little
provoking, but Riki's very pretty blue eyes, her pathetic mouth, and
sweet smile conquered.  At the same instant Baroness Elfreda flew up to
Hermione and tucked her podgy hand inside the girl's arm.

"I couldn't walk with you, Dumps," she said, "for a dumpy girl couldn't
walk with another dumpy girl--so I want to be your friend, a sweet,
slight, graceful English girl."

Hermione consented with what patience she could, and we started off on
our walk.  While we were in the town we had, of course, to walk two by
two; but presently, in a special and rather retired part of the gardens,
the governesses were less particular, and each couple was allowed to
keep a little away from the other.

"Now, that's a comfort," said Riki.  "I have so much I want to ask you."

"What about?"  I said.

"About your so delightful English ways.  You have much of the freedom,
have you not?"

"I don't know," I replied.

"Oh, but you must!  Think now; no girl here, nor in my country, nor in
any other, I think, on the Continent, would be allowed to go about
unattended--not at least before her marriage."

"But," I answered, "we don't think about getting married at all in
England--I mean girls of my age."

"If you don't think it impertinent, would you tell me what your age may
be?"

I said I should be sixteen in May.

"But surely you will think of your marriage within about a year or two,
will you not?"

I laughed.

"What are you talking about?"  I said.  "Really, Comtesse, I cannot
understand you."

"Fray don't call me that; call me Riki.  I like you so very much; you
are different from others."

"Every one tells me that," I answered, a little bitterness in my tone.

"You have the goodness within--you perhaps have not the beauty without;
but what does that matter when goodness within is more valuable?  It is
but to look at you to know that you have got that."

"If you were really to see into my heart, Riki, you would perceive that
I am an exceedingly selfish and very ungrateful girl."

"Oh dear!" said the Comtesse Riki, "what is it to be what you call
ungrateful?"

"Not to be thankful for the blessings that are given you," I made
answer.

She glanced at me in a puzzled way.

"Some day, perhaps," I said, "you will visit our England and see for
yourself what the life is like."

"I should like it," she replied--"that is, after my nuptials."

"But you are only a child yourself."

"Not a child--I am sixteen; I shall be seventeen in a year; then I shall
leave school and go home, and--and--"

"Begin your fun," I said.

"Oh no," she answered--"not exactly.  I may go to a few of the dances
and take a _tour_ [dance] with the young men--I should, of course, have
many partners; but what is that?  Then I shall become affianced, and my
betrothal will be a very great event; and afterwards there will be my
trousseau, and the preparing for my home, and then my marriage with the
husband whom my parents have chosen for me."

"And you look forward to that?"  I said.

"Of course; what else does any girl look forward to?"

I could not speak at all for a minute; then I said, "I am truly thankful
I am not a German."

She smiled.

"If we," she said slowly, "have one thing to be more--what you call
grateful for--than another, it is that we don't belong to your so
strange country of England.  Your coldness, and your long time of
remaining without your _dot_ and your betrothal and your so necessaire
husband, is too terrible for any girl in the Fatherland even to
contemplate the pain."

"Oh!"  I said, feeling quite angry, "we pity _you_.  You see, Comtesse,
you and I can never agree."

She smiled and shook her little head.

"But what would you do," she said a few minutes afterwards, "if these
things were not arranged?  You might reach, say, twenty, or even
twenty-one or twenty-two, and--"

"Well, suppose I did reach twenty-one or twenty-two; surely those years
are not so awful?"

"But to be unbetrothed at twenty-one or twenty-two," she continued.
"Why, do you not know that at twenty-five a girl--why, she is lost."

"Lost?"  I cried.

"Well, what we call put aside--of no account.  She doesn't go to dances.
She stays at home with the old parents.  The young sister supersedes
her; she goes out all shining and beautiful, and the adored one comes
her way, and she is betrothed, and gets presents and the _dot_ and the
beautiful wedding, and the home where the house linen is so marvellous
and the furniture so good.  Then for the rest of her days she is a good
housewife, and looks after the comforts of the lord of the house."

"The lord of the house?"  I gasped.

"Her husband.  Surely it is her one and only desire to think of his
comforts.  What is she but second to him?  Oh! the chosen wife is happy,
and fulfils her mission.  But the unfortunate maiden who reaches the age
of twenty-five, why, there is nothing for her--nothing!"

The Comtesses pretty checks were flushed with vivid rose; her blue eyes
darkened with horror.

"Poor maiden of twenty-five!"  I said.  "Why, in England you are only
supposed to be properly grown-up about then."

"But surely," said the Comtesse, glancing at me and shrugging her
shoulders--"you surely do not mean to say that at that advanced age
marriages take place?"

"Much more than before a girl is twenty-five.  But really," I added, "I
don't want to talk about marriages and _dots_; I am only a schoolgirl."

The Comtesse laughed.

"Why will you so speak?  What else has a girl of my great nation to
think of and talk of?  And the mademoiselles here--what have they to
think of and to talk of?  Oh! it is all the same; we live for it--our
_dot_, and our future husbands, and the home where he is lord and we his
humble servant."

"It doesn't sound at all interesting," I said; and after that my
conversation with Comtesse Riki languished a little.

A few days afterwards this same girl came to me when I was preparing a
letter for home.  I was writing in our sitting-room when she entered.
She glanced quickly round her.

"It is you who have the sympathy," she said.

"I hope so," I answered.  "What is the matter, Riki?"  Her eyes were
full of tears; she hastily put up her handkerchief and wiped them away.

"There is no doubt," she said, "that you English are allowed liberties
unheard-of for a German girl like me.  I would beg of you to do me a
great favour.  I have been thinking of what you said the other day about
this so great liberty of the English maidens, and the great extension of
years which to them is permitted."

"Yes, yes?"  I said, and as I spoke I glanced at the gilt clock on the
chiffonier.

"You are in so great a hurry, are you not?" asked Riki.

"I want to finish my letter."

"And you will perhaps post it; is it not so?"

"Yes; I am going out with Hermione and Mademoiselle Wrex."

"You are going, perhaps, to shops to buy things?"

"Yes.  Do you want me to bring you in some chocolates?"

"Oh! that would be vare nice; but if you would, with your own letter,
put this into the post also?"

As she spoke she gave me a letter addressed in the somewhat thin and
pointed hand which most German girls use, and which I so cordially
detested.

"It is to Heinrich," she said.  "I wouldn't ask you; but your heart is
warm, and--he suffers."

"But why should I post it?  Will you not take it downstairs and put it
with the other letters in the letter-box?"

The delicate colour flew to her cheeks; her eyes were brighter than
usual.

"Heinrich would not then receive it," she answered.  "You will post it--
it is necessaire for him that he gets it soon; he is in need of comfort.
You will, will you not?"

I really hardly thought about the matter.  I did not know why, but it
did not occur to me that Riki was asking me to do anything underhand or
outside the rules.  She laid the letter on the table and flew away.  I
had just finished my own; I put it into an envelope and addressed it,
and taking Riki's letter also, I put on my outdoor things and went
downstairs to meet Hermione and Mademoiselle Wrex.

It was now a very bitter day in March.  We had been at school for two
months.  The time had flown.  I was a healthy and very happy girl.

Mademoiselle Wrex said, "We must walk quickly to keep ourselves warm in
this so bitter north-east wind."

We all walked quickly, with our hands in our muffs, and as we were
passing a pillar-box I dropped the letters in.

"Now that is off my mind," I thought, with a sigh of relief.

"How did you manage to write two letters?" asked Hermione.  "You were in
such a fearful fuss getting through your one!"

I made no answer.  Something the next moment distracted our attention,
and we absolutely forgot the circumstance.

It was not until about a week afterwards that I observed a change in
Comtesse Riki.  She was very pale, and coughed now and then.  She no
longer took interest in her work, and often sat for a long time pensive
and melancholy, her eyes fixed on my face.  One bitterly cold day I
found her alone in the _salon_, where we seldom sat; for although there
was what was called central heating all over the house, it was not often
put on to any great extent in the _salon_.  Riki had flung herself into
a chair which was the reverse of comfortable.  She started up when she
saw me.

"Oh, you will sympathise with me in my trouble!"

"What is the matter?"  I asked.

"If we might go for a little walk together."

"But why so?"  I asked.  "You are not fit to go out to-day, it is so
cold."

"But the cold will revive me.  Feel my hand; my pulse beats so fast."

I took her hand; her little pulse was bounding in her slender wrist.

"I am sure you ought not to go out; indeed, you can't."  She looked up
at me imploringly.  Suddenly she burst out crying.

"Oh Riki," I said, "what is the matter?"

"If you don't help me I shall be the most miserable girl in all the
world," she said.  "And it is all your fault, too."

"My fault?"  I cried.  "Why, Riki, you must be mad.  Whatever have I
done?"

"Well, you have told me about your so wonderful English customs, and I
have been taking them to my heart; and there is Heinrich--"

"Who is Heinrich--your brother?"

She stared at me, but made no reply.

"He was the person you wrote to, was he not?"

"Oh, hush, hush!  Raise not your voice to that point; some one may come
in and hear."

"And why should not people hear?  I must say English girls have secrets,
but not that sort," I said, with great indignation.

"You are so bitter and so proud," she said; "but you know not the
heart-hunger."

"Oh yes, I do!"  I answered.  I was thinking of my mother and her
miniature, and the fading image of that loved memory in the old home.  I
also thought of the new step-mother.  Yes, yes, I knew what heart-hunger
was.  My tone changed to one of pity.

"I have felt it," I said.

"Oh, then, you have had your beloved one?"

"Indeed, yes."

"Did I not say that of all the school it was natural I should select you
to be to me a companion?"

"Can I help you?"  I said.

"You can.  Will you, as I am not allowed to go out, take this and put it
into a letter-box?"

"But I cannot make out why there should be any trouble."

"It is so easy, and Heinrich--the poor, the sad, the inconsolable--wants
to get it at once."

Again I was a remarkably silly girl; but I took Riki's letter and posted
it for her.  She devoured me with kisses, and immediately recovered her
spirits.

The next day she was better and able to go out, and when she returned
home she presented me with a magnificent box of French bonbons.  Now, I
was exceedingly partial to those sweets.  Riki often came into our
little sitting-room, and all the girls began to remark on our
friendship.

"It is so unlike the Comtesse Riki to take up passionately with any one
girl!" said Rosalind when this sort of thing had been going on for a few
weeks and we were all talking of the Easter holidays.

The great point of whether I was to go home or not had not yet been
decided.  Hermione knew she must remain at the school; Augusta would
probably do likewise.

Rosalind went on commenting on my friendship with Riki.  After a pause
she said, "Of course, she has been at the school for some time; she
leaves in the summer."

"Oh!"  I answered; "she told me that she would be here for another
year."

"I think it has been changed.  She is not contented; the Baroness will
not keep a pupil in the school who shows discontent."

"But surely she is quite a nice girl?"

Rosalind was silent for a minute; then she said, "Perhaps I ought just
to warn you, Dumps.  I wouldn't trouble myself to do so--for I make a
point of never interfering between one girl and another--but as you are
Lilian St Leger's friend, and have been specially introduced to me
through her, it is but fair to say that you ought to regard the German
girl from a different standpoint from the English one."

"Certainly the German girl is different," I said; and I laughingly
repeated some of Riki's conversation with me in the Bois de Boulogne.

"Think of any girl talking of _dots_, and being betrothed, and getting
married at her age!"  I said.

"Oh, that isn't a bit strange," replied Rosalind; "they all do it.
These German girls get married very young, and the marriages are
arranged for them by their parents; they never have anything to say to
them themselves."

"Well, it is horrible," I said, "and I told her so."

"Did you?" said Rosalind very slowly.  "Well, perhaps that accounts."
She looked very grave.  After a minute she bent towards me and said in a
low tone--too low even for Hermione to hear--"Whatever you do, don't
post letters for her."

I started and felt myself turning very white.

"You won't, will you?" said Rosalind, giving my arm a little squeeze.

I made no reply.

"It will be madness if you do.  You cannot possibly tell what it means,
Dumps."

"Why, is there anything very dreadful in it?"

"Dreadful?  Why, the Baroness has all the letters put into a box in the
hall--I mean all the foreigners' letters--and she herself keeps the key.
She opens the box to take out the letters both for the post and when
they have arrived, and distributes them amongst the girls."

"And she doesn't do that for the English girls?"

"No--not for a few.  With the consent of their parents, they are allowed
to have a free correspondence."  I sat very still and quiet.  One or two
things were being made plain to me.  After a pause I said, "I can tell
you nothing, Rosalind, but I thank you very much."

On the next day I myself was seized with the first severe cold I had had
that winter; it was very bad and kept me in bed.  I had been in bed all
day, not feeling exactly ill, but glad of the warmth and comfort of my
snug little room.  Towards evening Augusta came in and asked me if I
would like any friends to visit me.

"Oh, I don't know," I answered.  "Of course, Hermione or you; but the
others--I think not."

"There's that stupid girl, that pale-faced Comtesse--Riki, I think you
call her--she is very anxious to come and have a chat with you."

Now, to tell the truth, I had been feeling uncomfortable enough ever
since Rosalind had spoken to me about the rule with regard to the
foreign girls' letters.  The Baroness von Gablestein had every right to
make what rules she liked in her own school, but I could not help
thinking that it was hardly wise that such a marked distinction should
be made between girls of one nationality and another.  I now understood
that all foreign girls' letters were pot into the post-box in the hall,
and the Baroness looked them over before they were posted.  But the
affair was not mine, and I should have forgotten all about it but for
the very uncomfortable feeling that I myself, unwittingly, had twice
broken this most solemn rule of the house, and had twice posted a letter
for Riki von Kronenfel.

Now, it seemed to me that this might be a good opportunity for me to
expostulate with her on the whole position, and to tell her that she had
done very wrong to allow me innocently to break the rule of the house,
and to assure her that under no circumstances should I be guilty of such
an indiscretion again.

Augusta meanwhile seated herself comfortably by my bedside.

"Horrible," she said--"horrible! but for the prospect of pleasing him--"

I did not pretend to misunderstand her.

"But you are really getting on splendidly, Augusta," I said.

"Ah, yes!  I should be a brute indeed did I do otherwise.  And perhaps
when I am sufficiently acquainted with the German tongue I may find out
some of its beauties--or, rather, the beauties of its literature, for
the language itself is all guttural and horrible--worse than French."

"But surely French is very dainty?"  I said.

"Dainty!" said Augusta, with scorn.  "What one wants is a language of
thought--a language that will show sentiment, that will reveal the depth
of nature; and how, I ask you, can you find it in that frippery the
French tongue?"

"I do not know," I answered somewhat wearily.

"I like Moliere and the writings of some of the other great French poets
very much indeed."

"Well," said Augusta, "I have got to study a great quantity of German
for to-morrow morning.  I must go into my room and tackle it.  The
Professor said I was not to write to him, but I keep his treasured
letter near my heart; but if you are writing home you might say that
Augusta is not ungrateful.  Do you ever have the great privilege of
writing direct to your father?"

"I could, of course, write to father any day," I said; "but as a matter
of fact I don't."

"But why not?"

"It would worry the poor man."

"But you might write just once to give him my message."

"I will, Augusta, if you will leave me now."

"But why do you want to get rid of me?  How like you are to him!  You
have just that same bluntness and the same determination.  You interest
me at times profoundly."

"Well," I said, "if I interest you to the extent of getting you to start
your German it would be better."

"All right; but what am I to say to that silly Comtesse?"

"Tell her that I will see her by-and-by."

"You had much better not.  She is not worth a grain of salt.  A little
piece of conceit!"

Augusta left the room.  She had not been gone many minutes before there
came a tap at the door, and the Comtesse, dressed in the palest blue and
looking remarkably pretty, entered.

"Ah!" she said, "you have caught cold from me, you poor English girl,
and I am so disconsolate."

She sank down at the foot of the bed and fixed her bright eyes on my
face.

"You are much better," I said.

"Ah, yes, that is so.  I am what is called more spirited, and it is
because of you; but for you I should be indeed disconsolate.  I might
have chosen the stupid, the so weary life of the good German housewife,
instead of--"

"What do you mean?"  I said.

"I cannot say more.  There are secrets which can be guessed but which
must not be spoken."

"Riki," I said, "I do wish you would give me a right good lesson in
talking German."

"Oh, but I couldn't--to give you a lesson.  But why should I thus
discompose myself?"

"It would be a good and worthy object for one girl to help another."

"I want not to think of objects good and worthy.  Why should I?  That
isn't my aim; that is not what is called my _metier_ in life."

I sighed.

"You have made me so happy that I should be happy to do what I could to
please _you_, and to bring that one very slow smile to your so grave
face, and to let your eyes open wide and look into my face so that I
should see the lurking goodness within, but it is too troublesome."

"Riki, there is something I must say to you."

"Why that tone of suffering?  I hope it isn't of the so disagreeable
nature."

"I can't help it if it is.  Do you know that you have done something
very wrong?"

She clasped her hands and looked at me with sad pathos.

"Why speak of that?" she said.  "Is it to be expected that I should
always do what we call right?"

"Not always; but it is expected of _every_ one to be straight and
upright and above anything mean.  A girl of honour always expects to be
that."

"Would you mind very much if you were to repeat once more your so
difficult remark?"

I did repeat it.

"But straight," said Riki--"straight?  That means a line.  I make it
difficult in my drawing.  My line is always what you call wobbly."

I could not help laughing.

"There, now, you are much more of the agreeable.  What would you say to
me?"

I felt that I must indeed speak very plainly to this girl.

"Listen," I said.  "You know the rules with regard to letter-writing."

She understood me well enough now.  The colour left her cheeks and
fluttered back again like a waving flag; her lips were slightly parted;
she looked at me with wide-open eyes.

"You know the rules," I said.  "No girl--no German girl, or Italian
girl, or French girl, or Dutch girl, or any girl in the school--without
the consent of her parents, or the special leave of the Baroness, is
allowed to post letters except through the post-box in the hall."

"Oh, that is very nice," she said--"very nice."

She waited expectantly.

"You know what I mean."

"But I don't post letters except in the way that is what is called
legitimate."

"Riki, where is the good of prevaricating?"

"I know not what you call pre-vare-cating.  I never heard the word."

"Listen to me," I said.  "You had no right to ask me to post the letters
for you."

"What would poor, poor Heinrich do if you had not?" she said.  "What do
we not owe you, you kind English girl, with the so kind, good face?  You
have our great gratitude."

"I don't want your gratitude," I said.  "You did wrong to ask me.  I
would not do wrong for all the world--I mean wrong like this--quite
wrong; and it was wrong of you to tempt me.  I did not know; I was
unaware of the rule; but even so, I was silly, and you will quite
understand that I will not do it any more."

She took my hand and stroked it very gently.  After a silence of two or
three minutes, during which I hoped to get a full explanation from her,
she raised her eyes and said very gently:

"What about the great prizes on the great day of the break-up, and the
beautiful Easter lilies that we are each presented with before the
Easter services?  Think you not that will be a very beautiful occasion
for us all?"

"I don't know," I answered.  "I may not be here for Easter."

She looked at me with a startled expression.  After a minute's pause she
began again in a very inconsequent way to rattle off some news with
regard to the school.  It was not until her visit was very nearly over
that she said:

"Once is good, twice is better, but the third is best.  If your friend,
the kind and gracious Hermione, goes out, will she not drop this letter
into the post-box?"

"She will not," I replied.

"And why?  It is only to poor Heinrich.  May he not receive this letter,
this note of so true feeling from one he regards?  May it not be put
into the box?"

"There is no reason why Heinrich, whoever he is, should not hear from
you twice every day as far as I am concerned," I said; "but I will not
post it, nor will Hermione."

"I know; but you cannot tell the mind of your friend."

"I know she will not do it, Riki."

Riki considered for a minute; then she put the note again into her
pocket.

"Very well," she said.  "I little guessed that you would have a heart so
hard, instead of soft and overflowing with the love for the German
Fatherland."

PART TWO, CHAPTER ELEVEN.

CONSEQUENCES.

The next day I did not see Comtesse Riki at all.  My cold was rather
worse; but the day after I was able to sit up in my room, and she came
to me with two or three other girls in the evening.  She was shy,
however, and had none of her old warm manner.  Baroness Elfreda made
herself more agreeable on that occasion, and a plump little German girl
of the name of Fraulein Schott took my fancy by her blunt,
good-humoured, pleasant manner.  There were also some Dutch girls and a
French girl, who all crowded into our sitting-room to congratulate me,
to chatter to one another, to flock to the window and gaze longingly at
the balcony.

"You are what is called of the lucky," said Elfreda presently.

"But why?"  I asked.  "I don't think I am specially lucky; I have been
two whole days in my room with this horrid cold."

"I make no thought for the cold," said Elfreda.  "I do consider that you
are of the lucky type because your room looks upon this so gay street."

On further questioning, I found that both she and the Comtesse had rooms
at the back of the house.  After a time Hermione came in and chased my
visitors away.  When they were gone she sat down near me.  She looked
very grave.

"Did you," she said, "notice anything special about Riki?"

"No," I answered; "except, perhaps, that she was more silent than
usual."

"I do not like what is going on," said Hermione after a pause.  "I did
not want to worry you when you were ill, but Riki came to me on that
evening and asked me if I was going out; and then she begged me to post
a letter for her."

"Oh yes," I said.  I trembled slightly.  "And you--what did you do?"

"Do?" said Hermione--"do?  I asked her to read the rules in her
bedroom."

"The rules in her bedroom?"  I said.

"My dear Dumps, wherever are your eyes?  There are rules written in four
languages in every bedroom in the house.  Have you never read those in
your room?"

"I have glanced at them."

"Well, in the German and French and Italian sections the very strictest
rule of all is that no letters of any sort whatsoever are to be posted
by girls of those nationalities except in the post-box in the hall, and
any girl helping another to get letters in any other fashion into the
post will be most severely punished."

"I did not notice it."

"Well, notice it the next time you go into your bedroom.  But don't look
so white; it doesn't matter to us, surely!"

"Of course not," I said in a faint voice.  After a pause I said, "But
why are you anxious about her now?"

"She is underhand; she is not quite open.  Now, Elfreda is a dull girl;
I never could get anything amusing out of her; but she is quite
different from Riki.  Riki is supposed to be pretty, and will probably
be much admired when she leaves school; but it is her want of openness
that I cannot stand."

"The whole system is wrong," I said with some vigour.  "I cannot imagine
how any German girl grows up really nice."

"But heaps of them do, and you won't be long at the school before you
find that there are as nice German girls as English.  You must not take
Riki von Kronenfel as a specimen."

I said nothing more, and after a time Hermione continued, "Now let us
turn to something else.  I had a letter from my father to-day; I am not
to go home for Easter."

"Oh dear!  Easter will be here in a fortnight now," I said.  "I do not
suppose for a single moment that I shall have a chance of getting back."

"But have you heard definitely?"

"No."

At this moment there was a tap at our door, and Justine entered with
some letters.  Of course, we both fell upon them as girls will all over
the world, and the next minute we were eagerly sorting our different
letters from a pile which Justine, with her most gracious French manner,
had laid on the table--two for Hermione, one for me, and one for
Augusta.

"From my step-mother," I said, and I sank into a chair and opened it.

Far away from home Mrs Grant seemed like a very beneficent and kind
presence; her letters were charming, as they told me every single thing
I wanted to know; nothing was forgotten, nothing left out.  I opened the
letter now.  To my surprise, I saw that it was quite short.

  "My dear Dumps,--I cannot write as much as I would to-day, for I am
  sorry to say your father is not quite himself."

I started.  There seemed to come a little prick at my heart--not a very
big prick, just a momentary sense of uneasiness.

  "He has a severe chill--not an ordinary cold--and he is in bed."

The Professor in bed!  I laid down my letter and looked up at Hermione
with startled eyes.

"What is it?" she said.

"Father is in bed," I replied.

"Good gracious, how you made me jump!  And why shouldn't he be in bed?"

"You don't understand.  Why, I never remember his staying in bed.  He is
never ill, except with those fearful headaches."

"He hadn't a good, careful woman like Grace Donnithorne to look after
him in the past," replied Hermione in an indifferent tone.  "For
goodness' sake don't be anxious!"

Just at this moment the door opened and Augusta entered.

"A letter for you," said Hermione.

She glanced at me as she spoke, and her eyes evidently implored me to
keep my news to myself.  But Augusta had seen my face.

"Is anything wrong?"

"Nothing--nothing," said Hermione, with impatience.  "For goodness' sake
don't worry her, Augusta; she has not quite got over her cold.  Fancy
any girl being nervous because her father is in bed for a day or two!"

"The Professor ill?" said Augusta.

"Oh no," I answered.

Her tone was like a tonic to me.  If she was anxious, surely I needn't
be.

"That is," I continued, glancing down at my step-mother's letter, "he is
not very well, that's all."

"I knew he was too good," said Augusta.

She took up her letter and walked out of the room, slamming the door
after her.

"It really is provoking," I said, "when your friend feels more about
your father than you do yourself."

I went on reading my step-mother's letter.  She said that if all went
well she would like me to return home for one week at Easter.

"By that time we can move your father down to Hedgerow House," she said.
"The fresh country air will do him good.  He has been working for years
far beyond his strength, and this is the result.  I should like to have
you with the boys and myself to spend our first Easter together, dear;
so, although few of your companions will be leaving Bella Vista at that
season, I hope to have you.  I will write about it later on, and give
you particulars with regard to your journey."

I do not exactly know why this letter made me feel depressed.  To have
my father a little ill was not the sort of thing that would put an
ordinary girl into a state of keen anxiety; but anxious I was, and
depressed.  Perhaps this was caused by my own state of weakness, for my
cold had left me far less strong than I had been.

The next day, however, something occurred which put all thoughts of home
and home life out of my head.  Soon after breakfast Mademoiselle Wrex
came upstairs and asked me to follow her to the Baroness's private
sitting-room.

"But why am I to go there?"  I said.

Mademoiselle Wrex looked at me kindly.  She came up to me and took my
hand.

"I trust," she said after a pause, "that when questioned you will tell
the simple truth.  A very painful thing has occurred.  Fortunately the
Baroness is able to nip it in the bud.  It seems that you are
suspected."

I guessed what was coming, and I felt a cold chill at my heart.  How
silly I had been!  How worse than silly--how wrong!

"I will follow you in a minute, mademoiselle," I said.

"Put a warm shawl round you, dear, though the house is not cold; for
since so many girls have been suffering from this sort of slight form of
influenza, all the passages have been heated much more than they were."

Mademoiselle left the room.  I flew immediately to the table of rules
which was pinned against my wall.  There was no doubt whatever that the
rule in question was there.  I had broken it; there was no excuse for
me.  I wrapped a white shawl round my shoulders and ran downstairs.  As
I passed through the wide hall I peeped into the schoolroom, which
opened directly into it.  I saw Baroness Elfreda glancing out at me with
an intense and frightened expression on her face.  Immediately several
other girls looked out also, and then a whisper ran round the room.  I
felt it more than heard it, and my misery and distress grew worse.  I
had never before been mixed up with a dreadful thing of this sort.  But
Mademoiselle Wrex was standing by the Baroness's sitting-room door.  She
said, "Vite! vite, mon enfant!" and we found ourselves the next minute
at the other side of a thick pair of velvet curtains.

The Baroness was standing by a bright fire made of logs of wood.  This
was the only room in the house which had the privilege of a fire.  The
fire gave it all of a sudden a sort of English look.  A smarting pain
came at the back of my eyes.

"I trust you are better, my child," said the Baroness.

She came up to me quite kindly, took my hand, and led me to a seat which
exactly faced the very bright light which came through two tall windows.
She then rang the bell.

"Request Comtesse Riki von Kronenfel to attend here immediately," was
her remark to the servant.

The servant withdrew; there was a dead pause in the room.  The Baroness
was turning over some papers, and did not take the slightest notice of
me.

As soon as Riki entered she glanced nervously round her.  When she saw
me she turned first red, then very white; then, being evidently quite
satisfied that I had betrayed her, she went to the extreme end of the
room and sat there with her hands folded.

"You sent for me, my Baroness?" she said in the prettiest tone
imaginable, and looking up with pleading blue eyes at the face of her
mistress.

The Baroness returned her glance with one full, dark, swift, and
indignant.

"Riki," she said, "I have had the good fortune to intercept a letter
addressed to you."

"But how?  I understand not," said the girl.

"It was addressed to you, and got, doubtless by mistake, into the
post-box this morning."

As the Baroness spoke she laid the letter on the table.  Riki came
forward as though to pounce on it.  "Permit me," said the Baroness.  She
took it up and held it firmly in her own hand.

"But it is open," said Riki.

"I opened it," said the Baroness.

Riki then stood very still; it seemed to me I could almost hear her
heart beat.

"I have read the letter," said the Baroness; "and now I will read it
aloud.  I will read it in English, so that both you and this young girl,
Rachel Grant, may hear."  The Baroness then began:

  "My own One, Angel of Love and Light,--I have received your two most
  precious letters quite safely.  I pine to get still more news from
  you.  I don't think it possible that I can exist until the summer
  without seeing you, and I propose, during the Easter recess, to get my
  father to allow me to visit Paris.  There, I make no doubt, we can
  arrange a meeting, if the some kind English girl,"--("Horrors!"  I
  said to myself)--"will again help us by putting your communications to
  me into the post-box _outside_ the house where that dragon of
  propriety, the Baroness von Gablestein, resides.--Your most faithful
  and devoted lover,--

  "Heinrich."

This letter, read aloud in the smooth tones of the Baroness, without a
scrap of emotion, just as though she were repeating one of her pupils'
daily lessons, fell truly like a bomb-shell into the little room.

"I must have other witnesses to this transaction," she said.

Again she rang the bell.  Riki darted blue fire of indignation towards
me.  I did not speak; I believe I looked a greater culprit than she did
at this moment.

"Request Mademoiselle Wrex and Fraulein Schumacher to come here
immediately," said the Baroness, her tone now one of great
imperiousness.  The servant withdrew, and the French and German
governesses made their appearance.  The Baroness handed the letter in
question to each in turn.

"Do not speak," she said; "I only want you to witness exactly what will
immediately take place.--Comtesse, will you have the goodness to tell me
the name of the individual who calls himself Heinrich?"

Silence on the part of the Comtesse.

"If there is such reluctance to your making a full confession of your
disgraceful conduct, I shall be forced to send a telegram to your
father, the Count Kronenfel, and request him to attend here in order
that he may take his daughter away in disgrace from my establishment."

This threat had a due effect on Riki, and she now, in a very nervous
voice, confessed that the name of the youth who called himself Heinrich
was Holgarten.  Further investigation proved that Holgarten was a boy at
a large school near Riki's native place, that he and she had met two or
three times, and that the idea of a correspondence had started between
them.  She did not wish, she said, to enter into a forced marriage.
Here she burst into tears.

"It is not the English way," she said.

"And pray, Comtesse, what have you to do with the English way?  You are
a German girl."

"I--I love Heinrich," she said.

She threw herself down on the sofa, regardless of proprieties, and burst
into sobs.

"You will have the goodness in a minute or two to leave the room.  Your
punishment, which will be a severe one, will be meted out to you when I
have considered all the circumstances.  I now wish to ask you the name
of the English girl who posted your letters."

There was no answer from Riki; again she glanced at me.  Again she
lowered her eyes and twisted her hands in distress.

"A full confession, Comtesse; in no other way will you escape the just
anger of your noble father."

Before she could speak I sprang to my feet.

"You need not ask her," I said.  "I did very wrong.  I posted the
letters."

"That will do," said the Baroness.  A relieved look passed over her
features.  "Riki, stop crying.  Your conduct has been beyond words, but
I will not say any more to blame you just now.--Fraulein Schumacher,
conduct the Comtesse to her room, and see that she does not leave it;
stay with her there, for I cannot trust her alone."

The German governess immediately conveyed the weeping girl from the
room, and I found myself the one culprit who was now to be dealt with.

"I must ask you," said the Baroness in her very bitterest tone, "why
you, an English girl, brought up without the terribly circumscribed pale
of the German girl, dared to help her to convey letters from this
house."

"I did it without thinking," I said.

"The rule on the subject of letters was in your bedroom."

"I know."

"You had read the rules?"

"That is true; but they did not make any impression on me; I did not
remember any of them."

"You must tell me exactly what occurred; also on what dates you posted
the letters."

Gradually, piece by piece, the Baroness got the information from me.  My
conduct seemed to grow blacker and blacker in my own eyes.  The Baroness
evidently thought very badly of me.  After a time she said:

"I shall be forced to make a distinction between you and the other
girls.  It must be known amongst the English girls--and we have six or
seven in this establishment--that their letters will still be unread,
that their correspondence will still be unmolested, with the exception
of the correspondence and letters of one girl--Rachel Grant.  In future
you must post every letter in the box in the hall, and each letter you
receive must be first of all opened and read by me before it is handed
to you.  That is your just punishment.  I could do much more severe
things, but I will to a certain extent overlook your inexperience."

I left the room feeling as though the very floor would open to receive
me.  I went upstairs with my cheeks on fire.  How was I to live?  How
was I to endure this?

Presently Mademoiselle Wrex followed me.

"Oh mademoiselle, I cannot bear this!"  I exclaimed.  "I must go away."

"Go away?" she said.

"Yes; how can I bear to stay at the school when I am disgraced?"

"But your punishment is not very great," said the French teacher.

"But to let the others know, and to have my freedom as an English girl
taken away from me!"

"It will be restored again, I am sure, if you bear your punishment with
meekness," said Mademoiselle; "but if you rebel and make a fuss the
Baroness will keep up her indignation."

"And will she tell my people at home?"

"I do not think she will do that if you bear your punishment with all
due patience.  You did wrong."

"I did wrong, but not such a dreadful sin as you give me credit for.  I
did wrong in ignorance.  There is a great, great difference between
doing a thing you know is wrong and doing a thing that is wrong without
knowing it."

A slight smile played round the lips of Mademoiselle.  She was, as a
rule, kindly; but she could not quite understand my nice distinction.

"The effect is the same," she said.  "Do you not know that for a young
lady in this school to have a correspondence with a schoolboy, as the
Comtesse Riki has done, is quite scandalous?  It would ruin the school.
The Comtesse must be made an example of."

"Oh, what are they going to do with her, poor thing?"

"She will not be dismissed; that would be too disgraceful; but she is
for a whole week to be confined to her own room, and no girl in the
school will be allowed to speak to her.  At the end of that time she
will be restored to a certain amount of liberty; but her actions will be
most carefully watched."

"And Heinrich?"  I said.

"Heinrich?" said Mademoiselle, with a start.  "You are not interested in
him, I hope?"

"Oh no, no!"

"He will receive one short letter from the Baroness, and his master at
the school will receive another.  I do not think anybody in the future
need trouble themselves about Heinrich."

Nothing could exceed the contempt which she threw into the word.  After
a time she left me.

The scene of the morning had certainly not made my cold better; but when
Hermione came up I confided my troubles to her.  She said she thought
that I was lucky to have got off as cheaply as I had.

"Rosalind has been telling me of another girl, an English girl, who
helped some Russians to get their communications into the post, and she
was dismissed--sent back to England within twenty-four hours.  The only
reason you are not treated as harshly is because the Baroness really
believes that you did what you did unwittingly."

"I did," I said.  "Oh, I hate this school!  I was never meant to be a
French or German girl.  I have lived such a free life, I shall die in
this cage."

"No, you won't, you silly girl.  As to your thinking that we English
girls will think any the less of you, you may be certain we won't."

But, after all, the punishment which was so severe, which I so dreaded,
which seemed to shake my nature to its very depths and to turn me at
once from a happy, interested, contented girl into a mass of sulkiness
and misery, was, for the time at least, to be averted--averted in a very
fearful way--for that evening there came a telegram from my step-mother:

"Your father very ill; one of the teachers must bring you back
immediately."

Mademoiselle Wrex was the lady who had the task of conveying me home.
There was a great fuss and bustle and distress in the school when the
telegram reached me.  I scarcely knew what to do with myself.  Augusta
was speechless with misery.  She begged and implored me to take her with
me.

"But I can't," I said.  "And why should I?  He is not your father."

"No," said the poor thing--"no."

I really pitied her.  She sank back on the sofa in our little
sitting-room with a face like death.

"If you see him, can you just tell him how he has helped me?"

"I will," I said.  I pitied her now.  What had seemed silly and
unreasonable when the Professor was in health assumed quite a different
aspect when the dear Professor was dangerously ill.

My feelings were torn between the misery of the morning and my relief at
not being publicly disgraced before the other girls, and the terror and
fear of returning to my home to find my father very ill.

Hermione was a host in herself.  She superintended my packing; it was
she who saw that I had plenty of sandwiches to eat on the journey, she
who brought my fur cloak for me to wear on the steamer.  Even the
Baroness was very kind.  She came into the hall and saw that I was
warmly wrapped up.

"We will hope for the best, Rachel," she said.

I raised my eyes to her face and wondered if I should ever see her
again--if this little flash of school life was all I was to be permitted
to enjoy.  But had I enjoyed it?  I did not know.  I could scarcely tell
what my own sensations were.

A minute later I was in the cab.  Hermione's face was no longer visible
from the doorway; Augusta, who was standing on the balcony of our
sitting-room and waving frantically, was lost to view: the school, with
its brightness, its life, its strange spirit of intrigue, its curious
un-English customs, seemed to vanish for ever.  I flung myself back in
the cab and cried as though my heart would break.

PART TWO, CHAPTER TWELVE.

THE PROFESSOR'S ILLNESS.

There are two ways of taking a journey.  I had come to the school with
expectations bright and rosy.  I had been there for a little over two
months, and I was returning home close on the Easter holidays with very
different feelings.  As I was whirled through the darkness by the
night-express which was to convey me to Calais I could not help thinking
of all that had occurred.  I was a totally different girl from what I
had been when I started on that journey.  I had seen a great deal of
fresh life; I had lived in a new atmosphere; I had made new friends; I
had found that the world was a larger place than even big London; that
there were all sorts of different experiences; and even so, that I
myself was only on the threshold of life.  Could I ever regret the
narrow time when my principal friends were the Swan girls, when a
scolding from old Hannah was the worst thing that could occur to me,
after what I had lately lived through?

But then the occurrence of that very morning came over me with a flash
of intolerable shame.  I was thinking more of my school than of my
father; but, of course, all the time he was in the background.

We arrived at Calais, and the passage across the Channel was without
incident of any sort, and we found ourselves at Victoria Station at an
early hour on the following morning.  It was a dreary, cold, and foggy
day, and I shivered as I stood in my fur cloak on the platform while
Mademoiselle ran wildly about, collecting the luggage, and trying to
find a porter to convey it to the Customs.  Mademoiselle evidently did
not appreciate England, and I felt that the air was more bitingly cold
than in Paris.  We got into a cab and were driven as fast as possible
through the West End towards that dreary part of the town where the old
house stood.

Yes, the old house was there; I had almost expected to see that it too
had slipped away into the past with all the rest, that the shadowy house
as well as the shadowy times had vanished into illimitable space.  But
it stood firm, and there on the steps was Charley.  He had opened the
door as soon as ever he heard the sound of wheels drawing up on the
pavement, and now he rushed down to greet me.  His face was red as
though he had been crying a great deal.  He said:

"I thought you'd be coming about now.  There's coffee in the
dining-room.  Come along at once."

"But how is the good gentleman?" said Mademoiselle.

Charley started and turned crimson at the sound of her voice.  I
introduced him as my brother, and Mademoiselle as Mademoiselle Wrex, a
French teacher at our school.  Charley mumbled something.  I think he
longed for Von Marlo's presence, for Von Marlo never lost his head on
any occasion whatever.

The next instant I did see his rather uncouth figure and kindly, plain
face advancing through the hall to meet me.

"Now, I said you'd come; I knew you'd come without delaying one minute.
How do you do.  Miss Rachel?"

Mademoiselle looked at him and uttered a little cry.

"Why, Max!" she cried.  "Max!"

Then she held out both her hands, and they were both engrossed with one
another; they were doubtless old friends.  Charley dragged me into the
dining-room.

"How is father?"  I said.

"Oh, he is rather bad; but there are plenty of doctors, and we hope to
pull him through."

"And my step-mother?"

"Rachel, she is a brick!  She is about the best and dearest woman in all
the world.  I never knew her like.  She has been up with him all the
week, and never thinks of herself at all."

"But, oh, here comes Alex--dear Alex!"

Alex came up to me.  In this moment of universal anxiety he was
delighted to see me again; he kissed me several times.

"Why, you have grown," he said, "and you look so--"

"She looks awfully nice," said Von Marlo.

He had come in dragging Mademoiselle with him.

"Mademoiselle Wrex is my mother's cousin," he said.  "I am delighted to
see her."

Mademoiselle was also all enthusiasm.

"Why, the dear, dear boy," she said, "it is indeed a pleasure to see him
in this so desolate country.  It is a joy of the inconceivable."

Her broken English made both Charley and Alex laugh; but then Alex
pulled the bell, and our neat parlour-maid brought in our breakfast.  I
sat down to eat.  I felt still as though in a dream.  Was I in Paris, or
in the old house, or in altogether new surroundings?  I rubbed my eyes.

"You're dead-tired," said Von Marlo.

"I am bewildered," I said.

"But I must catch the next train back," said Mademoiselle.

This roused the boys from any present thought of me.  They were all
bustle and activity, seeing to Mademoiselle's wants.  She had very
little time to spare.  She would take the ten o'clock express from
Victoria, and be back in Paris in less than twenty-four hours after she
had left it.

As I bade her good-bye it seemed to me that I was slipping more and more
from the old landmarks.

"Give my love to Hermione and Augusta," I said.

"And to, perhaps, poor Riki?" said Mademoiselle.

"Yes, if she will have it," I answered.

"Things will go well with you now, and when you return there will be
rejoicing," said Mademoiselle.

But I did not think, somehow, that I should ever return; and
Mademoiselle got into the cab and was whirled away.

It was not until I saw my step-mother that I fully realised what the
real threshold of the place where I was standing really meant; for in
that house, with its comforts, its proprieties, its almost luxuries--
that house so well furnished, with such good servants, with every
comfort that life could give--there was, we knew, a visitor hourly and
momentarily expected: that grim and solemn visitor who goes by the name
of Death.  Kindly Death he is to some, terrible to others; a gentle and
beloved friend to those who are worn-out with misery--a rest for the
weary.  But there are times when Death is not longed for, and this was
one of those times.  We children felt as we sat huddled together in the
parlour, now such a comfortable room, that we had never wanted the
Professor as we did then.  He was a man in the prime of life, and great
were his attainments.

"It is wonderful what he is thought of," Alex kept repeating, and he
kept on telling me and telling me all about father and what people said
of him.

But, indeed, I was learning that myself for the first time that day, for
the carriages that drew softly up over the straw in the street to look
at the bulletin on the door might have told me what the great world
thought of him; and the boys who came up each moment to glance at the
solemn message might have told me what his scholars thought of him; and
many poor people whom he had helped were seen crossing the street to
glance at the writing.  I stood fascinated behind the window-curtain,
where I could see without being seen, and it seemed to me that all these
people were repeating in a marvellous fashion the true meaning of my
father's life.  To me he had hardly ever been a true father in any
sense; but these people had regarded him as a great light, as a teacher,
as one whom they must ever respect.

"He will be a loss to the world," said Alex--"a great, great loss to the
world!"

"There will be his life in all the papers," said Charley; and then the
two poor boys put their arms round each other and burst into sobs.  I
sobbed with them, and wished for old Hannah.  And hardly had the wish
come to me before she entered the room very quietly and stood beside us;
and when she saw us all crying she said, "Oh, you poor dears--you poor
dears!" and she sobbed and cried herself.  Really it was quite dreadful.
I hardly knew how to bear my pain.

But when Mrs Grant came down just in the dusk of the evening, and
entered the room very quietly and sat down near us, I went up to her.

"May I see father?"  I asked.

She looked at me, and then said:

"Dumps, if he gets worse, if the doctor on his next visit says there is
no hope, then you shall see him.  The doctor is coming here at eight
o'clock with Dr Robinson, the very greatest authority in London.  If he
gives no hope you must all see him to say good-bye; but not otherwise,
for any excitement is bad for him now."

"I don't think I should excite father," I said.

Perhaps there was reproach in my tones, but I did not mean it.

Then my step-mother went away.

"She will feel it awfully; she is just devoted to him," said Alex.

PART TWO, CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

WAITING TO BE CALLED.

We sat on and on in the dusk.  After a time Hannah went away.  We
scarcely noticed her when she got up.  She stooped and kissed us, and
said, "Poor children!" and it seemed to me as she left the room as
though she were our old nurse back again, caring for us as she used to
do when we were motherless and too young to see after ourselves.  But
she went, and she had scarcely disappeared through the door before we
forgot her, we were so absorbed waiting for the message which might come
to us any moment from upstairs.

Hannah had not been gone ten minutes before we heard a carriage with a
pair of horses dash up to the door.  It stopped.  We heard the muffled
thud of the wheels on the thick straw outside, and we heard the door of
the carriage being opened, and two men got out.  They were not kept
waiting an instant at the door.  Muriel, our parlour-maid, must have
been expecting them.  We heard them enter, and they went upstairs quite
softly, making little sound on the thick carpets.

Then there was silence.  Alex clasped my hand and squeezed it very hard;
and as to Charley, he rumpled up his hair and finally buried his head in
my lap and began to sob afresh.  I was glad to be with them both; I felt
very close to them.  All else was forgotten except the two boys who
belonged to me, who were my very, very own, and the father who might be
dying upstairs.

By-and-by the doctors went away; the carriage disappeared, and there was
silence again in the house, only the muffled sound of carts and
carriages going over the street outside; but nobody came near us.

"It looks bad," said Alex.

He raised his face.  The room was quite dark.  Muriel had not come in to
turn on the gas or to build up the fire.  We were glad she had not done
so.  We thought it kind of her.  A piece of coal fell into a great chasm
of red now, and broke into a flame, and I saw Alex's face; it was
ghastly white.

"It is quite awful, isn't it?" he said.

"She certainly said she would come down if there was no hope," I said.

"But oughtn't she to let us know, Dumps?"

"She would certainly come if she could," I answered.

After a time my cramped limbs compelled me to rise.  I stood up, and the
two boys looked at me reflectively.

"Where are you going, Rachel?  Where are you going?"

"I can't stand it any longer," I said.  "I am his daughter, and you are
his sons, and I think we ought to be there.  I do--I do."

"No," said Alex firmly; "I am not going against _her_.  She has managed
him all along.  It would be frightfully unkind to do anything to risk
giving him a start or anything of that sort.  She said she'd bring us to
him if it were necessary.  I am not going to stir."

"Will you come, Charley?"  I said.

"No; I'll stick to Alex," he responded.

He went closer to his brother as he spoke, and flung his arm round him
with all the abandon of one who was altogether carried out of himself.

I did not speak.  I felt alone again, outside my brothers and their
love; but just because I was so alone I thought more than ever of my
father.  I had rushed away from Paris to be in time; I would see him
again.  I left the room and crept softly upstairs.  All day long I had
been wearing my travelling-boots; it did not seem worth while to take
them off; nobody had given me a thought.  For the first time since my
step-mother came I had been neglected in our now comfortable home.

When I reached the landing where the great, desolate room which had been
made so comfortable by my step-mother was situated, I took off my shoes
and stood very quiet.  I saw that the door of my father's room was
slightly ajar.  Inside there was the flickering light of a fire--not a
very big fire; there was a screen round the bed.  I felt more and more a
keen and passionate desire to enter the room.  I could bear it no
longer.  I crept inside the door and round by the screen.  Then I saw
that the room had been changed since I had noticed it last.  The great
four-poster was removed, and a man was lying on a little iron bedstead
drawn out almost into the middle of the room.  There was a woman seated
close to him.  She sat very still; she did not seem to move.  The man
also, who was lying on his back, was motionless.  A wild terror seized
me.  Was he dead?  Oh!  I feared death at that moment, but still that
impulse, uncontrollable, growing stronger each moment, compelled me
forward, and still more forward, and at last I came very near the woman.
She roused herself when she saw me.  There was no reproach of any sort
on her face.  It was very white, but her eyes had never looked sweeter.

Just for an instant I wondered if she would rise and take me by the hand
and lead me from the room; but, instead of that, she held out her hand
to me and drew me close, and motioned to me to kneel by the bed.  I did
kneel.  I heard the quick breathing, and noticed the cadaverous, worn
face, the dark lashes lying on the cheeks, the hair tossed back from the
lofty and magnificent brow.  Something seemed to clutch at my heart;
then my step-mother's voice sounded in my ears:

"You and I will watch by him together."

After that I felt that nothing really mattered; and I knew also that the
barrier between my step-mother's heart and mine had vanished.  I looked
at her; my eyes were full; I took her hand and, stooping, kissed it
several times.  Then she too dropped on her knees, and we remained
motionless together.

All night long we knelt by the Professor's side, and all night long he
slept.  It was about five in the morning when he opened his eyes.  Dr
Robinson was standing by the other side of the bed; he was holding his
hand and feeling his pulse.

"Come," said the doctor in a cheerful tone, "you have had a famous
sleep.  You are better; and now you must take this;" and he put a strong
restorative between my father's white lips.

"Take me away--_mother_!"  I said.

I could not contain myself.  She led me as far as the door.  I do not
think she said a word; but she herself returned to the room.  I rushed
up to my own room, and there I flung myself on my bed and cried as
though my very heart would break.

Oh, shadow, shadow of my own mother, were you really angry with me then?
Or did you, in the light of God's Presence, understand too well what
love really meant ever to be angry any more?  For everything that was
not love, that was not gratitude towards the new mother who had come
into my life, had vanished for ever and ever while I knelt that night by
my father's bedside.

By-and-by, in the course of that day, I kissed her and told her
something of what I felt.  She understood, as I think she always did
understand even my thoughts before they were uttered.

And so I turned over a new page in life, and my father was spared to us
after all.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The End.





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