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´╗┐Title: Lettice
Author: Molesworth, Mrs., 1839-1921
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Lettice" ***

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Lettice
By Mrs Molesworth
Illustrations by F. Dadd
Published by Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
This edition dated 1884.

Lettice, by Mrs Molesworth.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
LETTICE, BY MRS MOLESWORTH.

CHAPTER ONE.

"IT HAS COME."

  "...  The Faith
  ...
  Which winged quick seeds of hope beyond the
  boundary walls of death."

  Dr Walter Smith, _Hilda_.

Lettice moved to the window.  She choked down a little sob which was
beginning to rise in her throat, and by dint of resolutely gazing out at
what was before her, tried to imagine not only that she was not crying,
but that she had not, never had had, the slightest inclination to cry.

A clumsy cart laden with wood, drawn by two bullocks, came stumbling
down the hilly street.  The stupid patient creatures, having managed to
wedge their burden against some stones at the side of the road, stood
blinking sleepily, while their driver, not altogether displeased at the
momentary cessation of his labours, kept up a great appearance of energy
by the series of strange guttural sounds he emitted, in the intervals of
strenuous endeavours to light his pipe.  Two or three Spanish labourers,
looking, with their fine presence and picturesque costume, like princes
in disguise, came slowly and gravely up the hill, the brilliant sunshine
lighting up the green or scarlet sashes knotted round their waists and
hiding the shabbiness of their velveteen breeches.  One, a youth of not
more than sixteen or seventeen, happened to look up as he passed by the
window where the fair-faced, brown-haired girl was standing, and a gleam
of gentle, half-comprehending pity, such as one sees sometimes in the
expression of a great Newfoundland dog, came into his large, soft,
innocent-looking dark eyes.  Lettice started indignantly.

"What does that boy stare at me for?" she said to herself.  "Does he
think I am crying?"

But the quick movement had played her false.  Two or three unmistakable
tears dropped on to her dress.  More indignantly still, the girl brushed
them away.

"Absurd!" she half murmured to herself.  "I am too silly to take things
to heart so.  Mamma not quite herself to-day.  She is nervous and
fanciful, no doubt, like all invalids, and less clearheaded than usual.
One should not always pay attention to what an invalid says.  She is
weak, and that makes her give way to feelings she would not encourage
generally."

But just then the sound of her mother's voice--low and faint certainly,
but in no way nervous or querulous, with even a little undernote of
cheerfulness in the calm tones--reached her where she stood.  Even
Lettice, with all her power of self-deception, could not feel that it
seemed like the voice of a person who did not very well know what she
was talking about; and, with another little jerk of impatience, she drew
out her watch.

"I wish it were time to go out," she half muttered to herself.  "Nina is
so childish; I can't understand how mamma doesn't see it."  For the
snatches of talk going on about her mother's sofa had to do with nothing
more important than the grouping and placing of some lovely ferns and
wild-flowers, which eighteen-year-old Nina and Lotty, the baby of the
family, had brought in from their morning ramble.

"Yes," said the mother, with real pleasure, almost eagerness, in her
voice, "that is beautiful, Nina; I shall have the refreshment of those
ferns before me all day, without having to turn my head.  I shall be
able, _almost_, to fancy myself in the woods again."

"Why can't you come, mamma?" said Lotty's high-pitched, childish voice.
"It really isn't far, and you could have one of those nice low little
carriages _nearly_ all the way.  I don't think it _could_ tire you."

For an instant there was no reply.  Lettice felt, though she could not
see her mother, that she was striving to regain the self-control which
Lotty's innocent speeches now and then almost upset.  And tears, sadder
but less bitter than those which had preceded them, welled slowly up to
the elder sister's eyes.  Then came Nina's caressing tones, in
half-whispers, as she stooped over her mother.

"Darling?"  Lettice heard her murmur; and then, turning to Lotty, "Run
away and take off your things; mamma is going to sleep a little."

And Lettice still stood by the window, though the bullock-cart had
jerked and slid down the street and was now lost to view, and the young
Spaniard with the gentle lustrous eyes had long since passed out of
sight.  She was crying now--softly but unrestrainedly; her mood had
changed.  It would have mattered little to her present feelings though
all the world had seen her tears.

"Oh! it is so sad, so unutterably sad, for her and for us," she was
whispering to herself.  "There are times when I could almost find it in
my heart to wish it were already over.  I cannot _bear_ to think of her
suffering more."

Just then an arm was passed round her waist, and the same caressing
voice whispered, this time in _her_ ear, the same word--

"Darling!"

Lettice did not speak, but she leant for a moment against her sister in
a more clinging way than was usual with her.

"Nina," she said wearily.

"Yes, dear," said Nina.  She was always very proud, poor girl, when
Lettice seemed to turn to her for support or sympathy.

"It's so miserable, isn't it?"

"Yes, dear," said Nina again.  She would dearly have liked to add some
words of comfort, but she did not know what to say.  It was true.  It
_was_ very miserable!

"Why should _we_ be so unhappy?"  Lettice went on.  "Why should such
troubles come to us; other people go on living happy peaceful lives,
without these dreadful earthquakes of trouble?  And we have only her."

"I know," said Nina softly.

"And, as things are, we can't _even_ wish it to go on, can we?" said
Lettice, unconsciously raising her voice a little, as she spoke more
energetically.  "She suffers more and more, and--do you know, Nina?"
She hesitated.

Nina looked round anxiously.

"Come into the other room," she said.  "Bertha is in the ante-room; she
hears the slightest movement.  But I don't think mamma is very soundly
asleep, and our talking may disturb her."

"We may as well go into the garden a little," said Lettice
indifferently.

"And what was it you were going to say when I interrupted you?" asked
Nina, half timidly, when they found themselves pacing up and down a
little raised terrace walk which overlooked the street.

Lettice reflected for a moment.

"Oh, I remember," she said.  "It was about mamma.  Don't you think
sometimes, Nina, that all this suffering is weakening her mind a little?
She doesn't seem so clear about things, and it worries me.  For of
course, though I would like, after--after mamma is gone, to do exactly
as she would have wished, yet one must discriminate between what her
real wishes and advice are, or were, and the sort of weak--yielding to
feeling--I--I don't quite know what to call it--I don't mean to be
disrespectful, of course--that must have come with her long illness and
the suffering and all that.  And it makes it difficult for me, still
more difficult, to discriminate, you know.  For it is such a
responsibility on me--such a heavy responsibility!" and Lettice gave a
little sigh.

But something in the sigh seemed to say that the heavy responsibility
was not _altogether_ disagreeable to her.

Nina walked on, her blue eyes fixed on the ground, her fair face
contracted into an expression of unusual perplexity.  She could not bear
to disagree with or contradict Lettice--Lettice so clever, so unselfish,
so devoted--the heroine of all her girlish romance!  And yet--

"I don't think quite as you do about mamma," she said at last.  "I can't
say that I see any sign of--of her mind failing.  On the contrary, as
she grows bodily weaker it seems to me that her mind--her _soul_, I
would almost rather say--grows wiser and stronger, and sees the real
right and best of all things more and more clearly."

She had forgotten her fear of Lettice in the last few words, but she
soon had cause to remember it again.

"`Her mind failing,'" repeated Lettice contemptuously.  "How coarsely
you express things, Nina!  Whoever would say such a thing?  As if mamma
were an old woman in her dotage!  What's the matter?  Surely you are not
going to _cry_--for nothing!"

For Nina's face had grown very red, and she fumbled about with her
parasol in an uneasy manner.  But she was _not_ crying, and Lettice,
watching her, saw another cause for the blush and the discomfort, in the
person of a young man, who just then crossing the street raised his hat
with a shy yet eager deference, which the most scrupulous of chaperones
could not have objected to.

"That boy!" said Lettice under her breath.  "And just now when I wanted
to make Nina thoroughly sympathise with me!  It is really detestable--
one has no privacy here.  We had better go back into the house," she
said aloud.

"Hush, Lettice; he will hear you!" exclaimed Nina, some stronger feeling
overcoming even her awe of her sister.  "He is going to speak to us."

And before Lettice had time to reply, the young man came to a halt just
below where they were standing.

"Is--I hope--excuse my interrupting you," he began, for Lettice's
expression was not encouraging, to say the least.  "I was so anxious to
know if Mrs Morison is better to-day."

"Thank you," said Lettice, civilly but coldly.  "Yes, on the whole I
think she _is_ rather better to-day."

Nina, from under her parasol, darted on her sister a look half of
reproach, half of surprise.  "Better!"  Mamma any better!  How could
Lettice say so?  To her eyes it was very evident that she was daily
growing worse.  And she felt sure that Lettice saw it too.  "She won't
allow it to herself," she thought.  "But I think it is better to own the
truth.  I would like Philip Dexter to know--I like him to be sorry for
us."

And there was a depth of sadness in her eyes that found its way straight
to the young man's heart, as, without having spoken a word, she bent her
head in farewell when Mr Dexter turned to go.

"Stupid boy!" said Lettice impatiently.  "Could he not have seen we did
not want to speak to any one?  But he is kind-hearted," she went on,
relenting, as she often did, after a too hasty speech; "I dare say he
means well."

"And are you not a little--just a little--prejudiced?" said Nina.

"Perhaps I am," Lettice replied calmly; "and so, it seems to me, I and
you and all of us _should_ be.  It is just that that I am thinking of,
Nina.  You know how strongly papa felt about his relations, and till now
mamma has always seemed to feel the same."

"No," interrupted Nina; "mamma has often said to me that though she
loved papa for feeling it so, for it was for _her_ sake, she herself
could not resent it all so much."

"But that is not to say _we_ should not," exclaimed Lettice hotly.
"Mamma is an angel, and now especially,"--here, in spite of herself, the
girl's voice broke--"she has none but gentle feelings to all.  But for
_us_--that is what is troubling me so.  Mamma has actually said to me
that after she is gone she hopes we may make friends--with _them_, that
if they show any kindly disposition she hopes we will meet them
half-way.  How _could_ we do so?  Nina, it would not be right.  You
don't think it would be right?"

Nina hesitated.

"Besides," pursued Lettice, "we shall have no need of kindness or help
from them or any one.  We shall have enough to live on, with care and
management, and I understand all about that.  I have been training
myself all this time to replace mamma, and it is her greatest comfort to
know this.  I am not afraid of anything, except interference."

"But about money--you _must_ have some one to help you," said Nina.
"About investments, and interest, and dividends,--a girl _can't_ manage
all that."

"Oh, as for _that_," said Lettice airily, as if such trifling matters
were quite beneath her consideration, "of course the lawyers and
trustees can see to all that.  Our cousin Godfrey Auriol is responsible
for all that, and he must be very nice.  I don't mind him at all, for of
course he would never think of interfering; he is much too young."

"Too young!" said Nina; "why, he is not far off thirty!  Philip Dexter
told me so the other day.  He is quite five years older than--"

"Philip Dexter has no business to talk of any of our relations at all,"
said Lettice loftily.

"Not even about how old they are?" said Nina.

"No, not even that," replied Lettice, though, in spite of herself, a
little smile crept round her mouth.

Then the two girls stood still for a moment, and from the highest point
of the terrace gazed out in silence on the lovely view before them.  The
fertile valley at their feet, the gently rising ground beyond, and far
in the distance the lofty mountains, with their everlasting crown of
snow; and over all the intensity of blue sky--the blue sky of the south,
glowing and gleaming like a turquoise furnace.

"How beautiful it is!" said Nina.

"Yes," replied Lettice, "I suppose it is.  But I shall never care for
that kind of sunshine and blue sky again, Nina.  I would rather have it
grey and cloudy.  It is such a mockery.  It seems as if nature were so
heartless to smile and shine like that when we are, oh, so miserable!"

"I like clouds, too, _some_ clouds, better than that all blue," agreed
Nina.  "There is no mystery, no _behind_, in that sky.  It doesn't make
me feel nearer heaven."

And then they turned and went in again, for it was but seldom they both
together left their mother for even so short a time.

Mrs Morison was dying, and she knew it.  She had been ill for more than
a year, but only since coming to spend a winter in the south had her
malady assumed a hopeless form.  It was not consumption, for which she
was more than thankful for her children's sake.  Indeed, it had been the
result of over-exerting herself in attendance on her husband, whose
death was the consequence of an accident on horseback some years
previously.  There had been a hope that the change of climate and the
peculiarly soothing effect on the nervous system of the air of Esparto
might have at least arrested the progress of her disease; but this hope
had been of short continuance.  For herself she was resigned, and more
than resigned, to die; but, for long, the thought of leaving her
children had caused a terrible struggle.  But with decrease of physical
strength had come increase of moral force, and above all, spiritual
faith.  She could trust God for herself, why not as fully for those far
dearer to her than herself?  And slowly but surely she had learnt to do
so, thankful for such mitigation of the sorrow as had come by its
gradual approach, which gave her time to prepare her elder daughters for
what would be before them when they should have to face life without
her.  To endeavour, too, to undo certain prejudices which they had, not
unnaturally, imbibed from their father, and even at one time from
herself--prejudices which she now saw to have been exaggerated, which
she had always in her heart felt to be unchristian.

But, alas! prejudice and dislike are seeds more easily sown than
uprooted, for they grow apace, and, with a sigh, Mrs Morison realised
that, as regarded Lettice, above all, she must leave this trouble, with
many others, in wiser hands.

"I have said and done all I can for the present," she said to herself;
"I must leave it now.  I would not have our last days together disturbed
by what, after all, is not a vital matter.  Lettice is too good and true
to stand out should circumstances show her she is wrong."

For Lettice _was_ good and true, unselfish and devoted, eager to do
right, but with the eagerness and self-confidence of an untried warrior,
knowing nought of the battle and thinking she knew all, satisfied as to
the temper and perfection of the untested weapons in her possession,
full of prejudice and one-sidedness while she prided herself on her
fairness and width of judgment.

But self and its opinions were kept much in the background during the
few days that followed the morning I have been telling you of.  Very
calm and peaceful days they were, very sweet and blessed to look back
upon in afterlife; for their calm was undisturbed by any misgiving that
they might be the _last_--nay, to the sisters it was even brightened by
a faint return of hope, when they had thought all hope was past.

"If mamma keeps as well as she has been the last few days, it will be
almost impossible not to begin hoping again," said Lettice one evening,
after their mother had been comfortably settled for the night.

Nina's less impulsive nature was slower to receive impressions, yet
there was a gleam of real brightness in the smile with which she replied
to her sister.

"Yes, really," she said; "and doctors are _sometimes_ mistaken.  We must
do all we can to keep her from having the _least_ backcast now, just so
near Arthur's coming.  How happy--oh, how wonderfully happy--we should
be if she were to get even a little better, _really_ better.  Oh,
Lettice, just think of it!"

"And how she will enjoy having us all together again next week.  For
Auriol's holidays begin then too, you know, Nina; and with Arthur here
to keep him quiet, poor little boy, it will be much easier than it was
at Christmas."

And with these happy thoughts the poor girls went to bed.

They had slept the sound peaceful sleep of youth, for three or four
hours perhaps, when, with a start, they were both aroused by a soft
knocking at the door.  Half thinking it was fancy, they waited an
instant, each unwilling to disturb the other.  But again it came, and
this time more distinctly.  Trembling already so that she could scarcely
stand, Lettice opened the door.  Ah! there was no need for words.  There
stood old Bertha, her mother's maid, with white though composed face,
and eyes resolutely refusing to weep _as yet_.

"My dears," she whispered, "there is--there is a change.  You must come.
Miss Lotty, poor thing, too.  And I have sent for Master Auriol."

Lettice's face worked convulsively.  She caught hold of Nina, and for an
instant they clung together.

"_It has come_," whispered Nina.  "Let us be good for her sake, Lettice
darling."

"Yes," said Bertha, "she wants you all."

"All," repeated Nina; "but, oh, Bertha, think of poor Arthur!"

CHAPTER TWO.

A NEW-COMER.

  "Who was this gentleman-friend, and whence?"

  _Lavender Lady_.

About ten days later, a sad little group was assembled in the pretty
drawing-room of the Villa Martine.  It was a lovely evening, but the
sunshine outside was not reflected on the young faces of Lettice Morison
and her brother and sister.  Lotty and Auriol, the children of the
family, were amusing themselves quietly enough on the balcony, though
now and then a little laugh made itself heard from their direction,
causing Lettice to look up with a slight frown of disapproval on her
pale face.

"How _can_ they?" she said in a low voice, and she was moving to check
them, when Nina held her back.

"Don't be vexed with them," she said deprecatingly, "they are only
children.  _She_ would not be vexed--indeed, I think she would be glad
for them not to be too crushed down."  Lettice's eyes filled with
tears--they were never far to seek in these days--and she sank down
again in her seat with a sigh.  The boy beside her, a slight,
dark-haired fellow, with soft eyes like Nina's, put his arm caressingly
round her waist.

"Dear Lettice," he said, "I can't bear to see you looking so _very_
unhappy."

Lettice submitted to the caress, but scarcely responded to it.  "I can't
help it, Arthur," she replied.  "I do not give way to grief wrongly, for
I do not allow it to make me neglect any duty.  I have been very busy
to-day, getting in all the bills and so on that we owe here, writing to
the landlord, and all kinds of things.  You don't know all there is upon
me."

A slight glance, which Lettice did not see, passed between Nina and
Arthur.  It seemed to encourage the boy to say more.

"I know," he said.  "I have seen how busy you have been.  But are you
sure that it was necessary?  You know none of us have any legal
authority--we are all minors--and our trustees _must_ settle these
things.  And it would be so much less painful for you not to force
yourself to do it all yourself.  Godfrey Auriol will be here to-morrow;
he is coming on purpose to get all settled."

"Godfrey Auriol!" repeated Lettice with a slight tone of contempt.
"What can _he_ know about such things?  His trusteeship is merely
nominal.  Of course it was natural and right to name him, our only
relative, though not a very near one.  But I have _never_ thought of him
as really to be considered."

"You will find yourself mistaken, then, I suspect," said Arthur, a touch
of boyish love of teasing breaking through even his present subdued
mood.

Lettice drew herself away from his arm.

"How _can_ you?" she exclaimed, her tears flowing still more freely.
"Nina, speak to him.  How _can_ he?  And--and--Arthur, you can't know
what we have gone through, or you wouldn't speak so.  You weren't here;
you--"

"Oh, Lettice, don't say that to him," interrupted Nina.  "It is the not
having been here that has been the cruellest of all to him, and he has
not been selfish about it.  Still, Arthur, you shouldn't say _anything_
to hurt Lettice;" for Nina was always assailed at her weakest point, by
any approach to "appeal" on the part of her elder sister.

"I am very sorry.  I didn't mean it.  That's a stupid thing to say, but
it's true," said Arthur penitently.

"And I'm sorry too.  I didn't mean what it sounded like," said Lettice.
"I know it has been worse for you than for any of us," she went on,
looking up in Arthur's face with her tearful eyes.

Lettice was one of the few people in the world who seldom show to
greater advantage than when in tears.  Her eyes were not so fine as
Nina's and Arthur's soft brown ones; they were grey--good, sensible,
"well-opened" eyes, but in a general way with a want of depth and
tenderness in them.  And this want the tears supplied.  Her recent
sorrow, too, had, as it were, etherealised and softened her whole face
and its expression, whose real beauty was often marred by a certain
hardness which seemed to render square and angular the outlines intended
by nature to be curved and graceful.  The thought struck Nina as her
glance fell upon her.

"How _very_ sweet and lovely Lettice looks just at this moment."

And the thought, though not in quite the same form, struck another
person who just at that moment entered the room.

He had never seen her before.

"What a lovely girl!  Can that be Lettice?  I have always heard that
Nina was the beauty, but this girl is too dark to be Nina," were the
reflections that rushed through his mind in far less time than it takes
to tell them.  And in a moment his ideas were confirmed, for another
girl, whose face had been completely hidden, turned at the slight sound
of his approach, and by her exceedingly fair hair and complexion he
recognised the Nina who had been described to him.  But his eyes turned
quickly from her to her sister.

"I beg your pardon a thousand times," he said, his own face colouring a
little as he spoke.

"I rang, but as no one answered, and as the front door was open, I
ventured to come in.  You know who I am,"--for all the three young
people had started to their feet, too surprised as yet to find their
voices.  "I am Godfrey--Godfrey Auriol, your cousin, I hope I may call
myself."

By this time Lettice and the others had recovered their wits.  Lettice
came a step or two forward and held out her hand.

"Our cousin," she repeated; "yes, certainly, Mr Auriol, we should be
very sorry not to count you our cousin--you who are, I may say, our only
relation;" and at these words an expression crossed her face which
Godfrey saw but did not understand.  But it was gone before it had time
to settle there, or to spoil the first pleasing impression which he had
received.

"I was so grieved," he went on, while he shook hands with them all, "so
very grieved that I could not be in time; that it was utterly impossible
for me to come over in time for--" He stopped short, but they all knew
what he meant.

Lettice's lips quivered.

"I wish you could have come," she said softly, and again the expression
that so embellished it stole over her face.  "Indeed, that was really
the only reason for your coming so far at all; you will not find much to
see to, I think," and she smiled a little, so that Mr Auriol felt
puzzled.  Her tone was too gentle for him to suspect any assertion of
independence to be intended.  "But we all knew you could not help it,"
she added.

"You are always very busy, are you not?" said Nina, speaking for the
first time.

"Pretty well," said Godfrey, smiling.  "I lost no time on the journey,
and I was very glad to get off a day sooner than I had expected.  I came
straight here from the station, trusting to you to tell me what hotel I
had better go to."

"You came straight from the station?  Then you've had nothing to eat.
How thoughtless of us!" exclaimed Lettice, and, looking round, she saw
that Nina had already disappeared.

"There is an hotel close by," said Arthur.  "I'll go round with you if
you like, as soon as you've had some dinner."

"Thank you," said Mr Auriol.  "I'm very sorry to give you so much
trouble, but I wanted to look you up at once.  I can only stay so very
short a time: I must be back in England within the week."

"How can you talk of giving us trouble?" said Arthur; "it is you who are
giving yourself a great deal for us;" and he glanced at Lettice as if to
hint to her that she should endorse his speech.  But she said nothing;
only later in the evening, when their visitor was just about leaving,
she said to him in a quiet but somewhat studied voice--

"I hope you will be able to see something of the neighbourhood while you
are here.  There are so many pretty excursions, and in a week one can do
a good deal.  Arthur himself has not seen much; he has only been three
weeks with us all the months we have been here.  And he would enjoy
going about with you."

Godfrey Auriol was not deficient in perception, still less in quick
resolution when he saw occasion for it.  He hesitated, but for half a
second only, before he replied.

"Yes," he said calmly, "it would be very pleasant were it feasible.  But
you know, Miss Morison, it is not for _pleasure_ I have come all this
way.  There is a great deal of business to be seen to, and for some of
it I must have your attention, though I would gladly spare you all
trouble if I could.  At what hour to-morrow may I come?  It is no use
putting off what has to be done, however painful."

Lettice's colour rose high--all over her face; she felt the
mortification doubly, since it was in the presence of her younger sister
and brother.  But she did her best not to show what she felt, and to any
one not knowing her well, her emotion might have passed for what was
only natural and almost seemly under the circumstances.  And even in the
tone of her voice as she answered, it required a nice and skilled
observer to detect the latent armour of resistance in which she was
determined to clothe herself.  Unfortunately for her, her three
companions, the two younger ones thanks to their intimate knowledge of
her peculiarities, the third by dint of unusual and cultivated power of
discrimination, which she herself had raised to suspicion, were not
deceived by her words, in themselves perfectly unexceptionable.

"At any hour you like," she said.  "Of course it is best that we should
know all about our money, though I really do know already all that is
practically necessary.  But these kind of formalities must be gone
through, I suppose.  So I can be ready at any hour you like.  Will ten
o'clock do?"

"Perfectly, if it will suit you _all_?" said Mr Auriol, glancing
inquiringly at Nina and Arthur.  "I shall want you all three.  The two
little ones, of course, it would be absurd to talk to on such matters;
but you three are much in the same position.  You are all minors.
Besides, it is not _only_ about money matters I want to speak to you."

These last two or three sentences were bitter pills for Lettice to
swallow.  Arthur and Nina had the consideration not to look at her.
Once she opened her lips as if about to speak, but thought better of it
and said nothing.

"I can put all that right at the proper time," she reflected.  "No use
beginning about it now.  But it is really too absurd, Nina and Arthur
counted on a par with _me_!"

And it did seem so very absurd that she felt she could afford to smile
at it, and with this consideration her calm returned.  So that her
brother and sister, and even Mr Auriol himself, were surprised, and
somewhat impressed, by the perfectly unruffled tone in which she said
pleasantly--

"Very well, then; to-morrow morning at ten o'clock we shall _all_ be
ready."

"She must be extremely sweet-tempered," thought Godfrey, when Arthur,
having shown him to his hotel, had left him alone for the night.

"I am afraid I was rather rough to her.  Her little assumption of
independence was really only touching, poor child," he went on to
reflect, little dreaming, deluded man, of what was before him!  "And
Nina is very pretty and very attractive--I don't wonder at Dexter--
though she is not to be compared with Lettice for real beauty of feature
and expression."

Few words passed between the sisters after their guest had left them.
When Arthur came in he found Lettice sitting alone.  Nina had gone to
bed, and she too was tired and meant to follow her at once.

"And don't you like him?"  Arthur could not help saying, as he kissed
his sister for good night.

"Like him--whom?" said Lettice, as if awaking from a brown study.  "Mr
Auriol?  Oh yes, I like him very well.  He is much what I expected;" and
Arthur said no more.

Notwithstanding his long journey of the preceding days, Mr Auriol was
awake and up betimes the following morning.  It was several years since
he had been out of his own country, and the sights and sounds about him
struck him almost as freshly as if he saw and heard them for the first
time.  The early morning sunshine was softer and less monotonous than
the midday effulgence which Lettice had complained of, and seemed to add
vividness without glare to every detail of the picturesque scene on
which his windows looked out.  For it was market-day at Esparto, and the
border-land town was a meeting-place for the denizens of many widely
varying districts.

There were the country people from the near neighbourhood.  The women,
plain-looking save for their brilliant eyes, weather-beaten and
prematurely aged through hard work and exposure, their brown
leather-like skin showing harder and browner from the contrast with the
light-coloured silk kerchiefs skilfully knotted round their heads, yet
as a rule seemingly contented and cheerful enough as they chattered and
chaffered round the great ancient fountain, the centre of the "Place."
The men, far less numerous and far less energetic, handsome fellows many
of them, though less so than the gaudily attired Spanish mountaineers
lured to Esparto by the work sometimes to be had there in plenty, while
yet looking as if labour or exertion of any kind was completely beneath
their lordly selves.  And here and there, recognisable at once by those
acquainted with their peculiar type, Basques, descendants of that
mysterious race whose origin and language have so long puzzled the
learned in such subjects.  Nor were there wanting specimens of still
more remote nationalities.  Two or three negro servants were bargaining
and purchasing for their masters; and some little fair-haired English
children, who had coaxed their maids to get up extra early before it was
hot, to see the fun and bustle in the market-place; while a Russian
nurse, gorgeous in scarlet and gold embroidery, indolently surveyed the
scene from a balcony opposite.

It was picturesque in the extreme, and amusing.  But after a while,
staring out of the window being a diversion he most rarely indulged in,
Mr Auriol tired of it, and after his modest breakfast of coffee and a
roll, finding it was barely nine o'clock, he strolled out for a walk,
though his ideas were of the vaguest as to what direction he should
take.

"I have nearly an hour before they will expect me at the Villa Martine,"
he said to himself.  "I have no wish to rub Mistress Lettice the wrong
way by turning up too soon.  It strikes me she would look upon that as
almost worse than being too late.  Where shall I go?"

He was turning the corner of the street, or Place, rather, as he asked
himself this question, and before he had time to answer it he almost
knocked against a young man who was hurrying in his direction.

"Pardon," was on the lips of both, when both exchanged it for a more
friendly greeting.

"Dexter!"--"Auriol!" they respectively exclaimed, and then the new-comer
added--

"I was just going to the hotel to ask if you had come, or were coming.
Arthur Morison told me some days ago that you were expected.  I met him
accidentally."

"They did not expect me till to-day, and I came yesterday, so there has
not been time for them to tell you.  You see them sometimes, do you
not?"

"You mean, do I visit them?  Scarcely.  I used to go there sometimes
before Mrs Morison got so very ill.  _She_ was always kindness and
cordiality itself to me.  You know I had got to know the second Miss
Morison very well a year ago in England, when she was staying with some
neighbours of ours."

"Yes, I remember," said Mr Auriol.  But he spoke absently.

"And it is all that horrid family feud.  When they--at least I don't
know why I should say `they;' I believe it is only Lettice--found out my
connections, the difference was most marked, though before then they had
been quite friendly, and I had hoped to introduce them and my sister to
each other.  Those sorts of things are really too bad, carrying them
down to the younger generation."

Godfrey bent his head in acquiescence, but did not speak.

"Do you," Philip went on again after a moment's pause, and with some
little embarrassment--"do you think her as pretty as you had been told?"

"_Far_ more so.  `Pretty!'--pretty is not at all the word for her.  I
think her distinctly beautiful," Mr Auriol replied, with a sort of
burst of enthusiasm which somehow seemed rather to disconcert Philip.

"I thought you would.  That fair hair with such dark eyes is so very
uncommon," he replied quietly.  And instantly it flashed upon Mr Auriol
that they were speaking at cross purposes.  He smiled to himself, but
for reasons of his own, and being perfectly unaware of the impression
his words had made upon his companion, he decided not to explain his
mistake.

"Your sister, Mrs Leyland, is much better, I was glad to hear?" he said
courteously, thinking it just as well to change the subject.

"Oh, much better, thank you; quite well, indeed.  We shall be leaving
immediately.  In fact, we should have left already, but, to tell you the
truth, when it became evident that Mrs Morison was sinking I persuaded
Anna to stay on a little, just to see if perhaps we could be of some
service to those poor children.  They seemed so lonely."

"It was very good of you," said Godfrey warmly.

"I--I thought my uncle and aunt would have wished it, and Anna thought
so too," said Philip.

"But it was no use.  I believe Lettice would rather have applied to any
utter stranger than to us."

"Really," said Godfrey, surprised, and even a little shocked.  "I had no
idea they still felt so strongly.  Perhaps it's just as well you told
me, for I see I shall have some rather ticklish business to manage.  But
forewarned is forearmed.  I may call on Mrs Leyland some evening, I
hope?  I shall have very few here."

"Oh, certainly," said Philip.  "She will be delighted to see you."

Then the conversation drifted into general matters.  Philip escorted Mr
Auriol to one or two points of interest in the little town, and at ten
o'clock precisely the latter found himself at the gate of the Villa
Martine.

CHAPTER THREE.

THE TUG OF WAR.

  "Your courage much more than your prudence you showed."

  Burns.

Lettice received her cousin in the drawing-room.  She was, of course,
expecting him, but there was not a touch of nervousness in her manner as
she quietly shook hands with him, and in a friendly, perhaps slightly
patronising tone, as if to put him quite at his ease, hoped that he
found the hotel comfortable, that he had slept well, was not too tired
with his journey, and so on, to all of which Mr Auriol replied with
equal composure.  But he was eyeing the young lady all the time, taking
measure of her much more closely than she had any idea of.  He observed
her, too, with a certain curiosity as to her appearance.  The night
before he had seen her in a subdued light--almost, indeed, in shadow, as
the consciousness of her recent tears had made her avoid coming forward
conspicuously, and he wondered if he should find her as lovely as she
had then appeared.

"She is, and she is not," he decided.  "Her features are all that I
pictured them, but the soft sweet expression is gone.  Yes, this morning
I can believe her to be both prejudiced and self-willed."

And his glance rested with pleasure on the somewhat anxious but
thoroughly womanly and gentle expression of Nina's fair face, as she
just then entered the room, followed by Arthur.

Mr Auriol looked round him inquiringly.

"Have you any other room at liberty," he said, "where there is perhaps a
large table?  There are a number of papers I wish to show you;" and he
touched a packet which he held under his arm.

"We can go into the dining-room," said Lettice, opening a door which led
into it as she spoke; "though, really, Mr Auriol, you need not give
yourself so much trouble.  We are perfectly satisfied that our money is
in good hands.  Mamma often told me that my father had given himself
immense trouble to place it safely, so that at his death there should be
no trouble; in short, that our trustees would have nothing to do but
leave it as it was."

Mr Auriol made no reply.  But when the four were seated round the
dining-table, he deliberately undid his important-looking packet, and
drew from it paper after paper, all neatly labelled and arranged, which
he placed beside him.

"These," he said, touching two mysterious-looking documents, "are the
statements of your capital and of your income.  I have had copies made,
so that I can leave these with you, in case you ever wish to refer to
them, as you are all three of an age to understand such matters to a
certain extent.  You said just now, Miss Morison, that everything to do
with your money matters had been thoroughly seen to before your father's
death.  I _must_ explain to you that all was not as satisfactory as you
imagine.  Your father, as he constantly said himself, was not a good man
of business.  I am not afraid of your misunderstanding me when I say
this.  You cannot but know how deeply attached to him I was, and how
much gratitude I shall always feel to him for much past kindness.  I
simply state the fact, with no disparagement to him.  When he died his
affairs were exceedingly confused and involved, and I, as one of his
executors--the only one--for, you remember, Colonel Brown died suddenly
just when your father did--hardly knew what to do.  And I tell you
honestly that I never could have got things into the satisfactory state
they are now in, but for help which I cannot exaggerate, and from a
quarter where, all things considered, one could little have expected
it."

Mr Auriol paused and looked round him.  All the three young faces
expressed strong feeling.  On Lettice's there was a look of tension
painful to see.  Her lips moved as if she would have asked her cousin to
go on, but no sound came.  He understood her, however, and pitying her
heartily, he continued, his eyes fixed on the paper before him.

"That help came from your father's stepbrother, the only son of his
father by his second marriage--the merchant, Mr Ingram Morison."

There was a dead silence.  The tears were in Nina's eyes, and Arthur's
face was quivering, but Lettice's was deadly pale and stony.  And when
she spoke her voice was so unlike itself that all started.

"Did my mother know this?" she said in a tone which matched the look on
her face.

"Not at first," said Mr Auriol, still avoiding to turn his eyes in her
direction; "not till things were all in order would Mr Morison allow
her to be told anything.  He risked very large sums--of course, not so
large to him as to a less wealthy man, but still actually large--to save
your fortune.  And, thanks to his great acuteness and experience, he
succeeded most wonderfully, so that at the present time you do not
actually owe him _money_."

"Thank Heaven for that," murmured Lettice.

Mr Auriol turned upon her with a sharp movement of indignation.  But
when he went on speaking it was as if continuing his words, and not as
if addressing himself to her in particular.

"But you do owe him, what to a generous mind is never a painful burden,
an _immense_ debt of gratitude."

"Then I recall my words," burst out Lettice.  "I wish to Heaven it
_were_ money, that I could work for it--work my fingers to the bone,
till I could repay every farthing.  To owe gratitude, that can _not_ be
counted in money, to _that_ man!  Oh, it is too much!  How dared you do
it?" she flashed out to Godfrey.  "How dared you let _him_ interfere?"

"You would rather have had your mother reduced to beggary--you would
rather have had her last days tortured by anxiety for all of you?  _She_
did not resent it; she, who had far more right than any of you to be
influenced by the old quarrel, with which Ingram Morison, remember, had
no more to do than I had.  _She_ was not ashamed to be grateful and to
show her trust and confidence in him, as you will see, when at last she
knew a great part, though not the whole, of the truth."

"And why did she not tell me, then?  Oh, mamma, mamma," wailed Lettice,
forgetful of or indifferent to her cousin's presence, "why did you not
tell me?  I thought I had your whole confidence, and to find this out
_now_!"

She shook with sobs, and Godfrey's face softened.

"Lettice," he said, calling her for the first time by her name--though
none of them, himself included, noticed that he did so--"my poor child,
try to be reasonable.  Your mother did not intentionally deceive you.
It was only very lately she knew about it.  Ingram Morison acted with
the greatest delicacy--exaggerated delicacy, he wanted no one to know
what he had done, and even at the last I could only persuade him to let
me tell her part of it.  She meant to tell it to you--gradually, knowing
your strong feelings about it.  She wrote so to me.  I have the letter.
But evidently she had not time to do so, or she may have found it more
difficult than she expected."  And, as he again paused, there rose
before Lettice the remembrance of the morning when her gentle, almost
timid mother, had tried to lead to the subject of the Morison relations,
of her softened feelings towards them, and how she, Lettice, had
repulsed the attempt with decision almost approaching violence, and had
afterwards said to Nina that she thought bodily weakness must be
affecting her mother's judgment.  And then, at the last, it had been, or
had _seemed_, as it so often does, so sudden.  There had been no time or
strength for more than a whispered blessing before the smile of perfect
peace with which she closed her eyes on this world, had lighted up the
loved, worn features, and she had breathed her gentle soul away.

Lettice sobbed still, but more softly now; and Mr Auriol went on.

"Had she lived, she would, I know, have wished to know the whole, and
wished you all to know it too.  And I too confess to some personal
feeling in the matter.  I too have some family pride.  Your mother was
my cousin--of the same blood.  _I_ could not bear that so great a
service should be unrecognised.  And, before coming here, I told Mr
Morison that, unless he would consent to my stating the facts to you,
and having no mystery or concealment about it, I would try to throw up
the whole."

"And then?" said Arthur.

"Then," said Mr Auriol slowly, "if you all--though, no, I will not
insult you by supposing such a thing--but _if_ you all retained this
terrible prejudice against an innocent man, things would be still worse,
for he would be your only guardian."

Another blow for Lettice.

"Our guardian!" exclaimed Nina in surprise.

"Yes.  By your father's will your mother and I were your guardians, and
while she lived _that_ part of it was merely nominal for me.  But she
had the power to appoint another in case of her death.  And she did so.
She appointed--"

"_Him_?" exclaimed Nina.

"Yes.  Your uncle, or step-uncle, if you prefer to be quite exact--Mr
Ingram Morison," Godfrey replied simply.

Then, without waiting for further remarks, he went on to explain, as
clearly as was possible to such inexperienced ears, a number of business
details--summing up by giving them a clear idea of what money they were
sure of; of some which still remained uncertain, and by making them most
distinctly recognise that, but for their uncle's "interference," the
post of trustee of their possessions would indeed, long before this,
have been a sinecure.

"And now," he said, "there remains only one more duty before we talk
about less painful and overwhelming subjects.  I have here your mother's
last letter to me, sending me her will, which she wished me to look
over, as I did, and going on to express her last wishes.  Shall I read
it to you, or shall I leave it for you to read alone?"

"Read it now," said Lettice, rather to her brother's and sister's
surprise.  For they did not hear the words which she whispered to
herself: "Better drink the cup of bitterness to the dregs, and have it
over."

So Mr Auriol read the letter aloud.

It was a simply expressed but thoughtfully considered letter, with no
word or allusion to distress or wound any of her children.  She spoke of
her intention to explain to them these facts which had so recently come
to her knowledge, but that before doing so she would wish to know more--
the whole, in fact--that her words might have the more weight in
overcoming the prejudice which, to a certain extent, she blamed herself
for having, if not encouraged, at least not opposed.  "My husband," she
said, "resented his family's behaviour for _my_ sake.  I have a right to
do anything I choose towards breaking down the barrier, of which I fear
I was in great measure the unwilling cause.  And he, had he lived to
know his brother as I now know him, would have felt with me in this.
For, though he was hasty and impulsive, he was, when he would allow
himself to see things clearly, essentially just.  And how can any one
blame Ingram Morison for events which took place when he was a mere
child?"  Then she went on to beg Godfrey to convey to her brother-in-law
her deep sense of gratitude for what she already knew, and her hope that
he would accept the guardianship, which no one else would be so fitted
for.  She spoke of her children altogether--of the old prejudice as
shared by them all--in no way singling out Lettice as the least
reasonable or persuadable, so that, as she listened, Lettice could not
but feel in her heart that it was thanks to herself alone if she _had_
come to appear so in Mr Auriol's eyes, though it is to be feared that
but small self-blame was the result of this consciousness.  And then,
with some general expression of confidence in Godfrey, and in his good
judgment and good feeling, mingled with hopes that she might live long
enough to understand all quite clearly and to make some arrangements for
her children's future, the letter closed.

"I was going to answer this letter," said Mr Auriol--"I could not do so
till I had Mr Morison's permission to tell the whole, which caused some
delay--but I was just going to answer it when I got Arthur's telegram,
telling me of her death.  You see, the date is very recent;" and he held
out the letter to Nina, who leant eagerly forward, while Lettice held
herself stiffly aloof.  "I managed to see Mr Morison before I came
away--had I not done so, my coming would not have been of much use--and
got his answers to all I had to ask him.  And this is what he says.  He
accepts the trusteeship of your money unconditionally, for which you
cannot be too thankful.  The guardianship which he _might_ legally
decline--for he is not forced to accept what he had not first been asked
about--he accepts, too, but only to a certain extent.  He will not
interfere with you in any way disagreeable to you, unless positively
obliged to do so.  He leaves details to me: if _I_ am satisfied, he will
be so.  At the same time he earnestly _wishes_ to be to you all not only
a guardian but an uncle.  I am empowered to invite you all, as soon as
you can leave here, to go to his country house, and remain there as long
as you like--in any case till some definite arrangement can be made for
you."

"_Never_!" exclaimed Lettice, interrupting Mr Auriol.  "Nina, Arthur,
you will support me in this?"

Godfrey waited till she was silent, but then, without giving the others
time to reply, he went on.  "It is premature for you to give any answer
as yet.  Allow me to go on with what I have to say, without interrupting
me, till I have fulfilled my commission.  Mr Morison also wished me to
say that, if Arthur has any taste for business, he will give him a
position in his firm such as he would to a son of his own, if he had
one."

Arthur's colour rose, and he seemed as if about to say something, but he
checked himself.  Not so Lettice.

"Arthur is going into the army, like papa.  He is going up for Woolwich
next Christmas.  That has been decided long ago."

Again with ceremonious politeness Mr Auriol waited till she left off
speaking.  Then, without taking the slightest notice of what she had
said, he proceeded, "Or, if Arthur chooses any other career, he will do
his best to help him.  I think that is the substance of what I have to
say to you from your uncle.  You will give me an answer before I leave--
some days before, indeed--the day after to-morrow, suppose we say.  It
will be the greatest possible satisfaction to me if you accept your
uncle's invitation.  If not, there is no time to be lost in arranging
something else."

"We are quite ready to tell you what we intend doing--now at once, if
you choose," said Lettice.

"Not now.  I wish you to think it over, and consult together," he
replied.  "And I must tell you frankly that what you _intend_ doing is
not the question.  You may tell me what you _wish_, with all freedom;
and if I can, I will help you to carry out your wishes.  But if I do
_not_ approve of them, I am bound by every consideration to tell you so,
and to forbid them.  If this sounds very ungracious, I am sorry for it,
but I cannot help it.  Having undertaken a very,"--here he hesitated,
and evidently substituted a milder word for the one that had been on his
lips--"onerous task, I will carry it out to the best of my power.  But
it rests with you three to make it a painful or pleasant one."

He rose as he spoke.  Nina rose, too, and held out her hand.

"Thank you, Cousin Godfrey," she said simply, "for all your kindness."

Mr Auriol turned to Lettice.

"Will you, too, not shake hands with me, Lettice?" he said, with a tone
in his voice which touched her a little.

"Of course," she said, rousing herself as it were by an effort.  "I can
have no possible reason for _not_ shaking hands with you.  I am only
bitterly, most bitterly grieved that we should be, and have been, the
cause of such trouble to you."

"Do not be bitterly grieved, then," he said, smiling.  "Give me the
satisfaction of feeling I have been, and may be, of service to you.  I
am your kinsman; it is only natural.  Be reasonable, and try to trust
those who wish to be true friends to you."

But at these last words he felt the hand, which he had held for a moment
or two, struggle in his grasp, and with an almost inaudible sigh he
released it.

"Will you give me the names, so far as you know them, of the
tradespeople here, and your landlord, and so on?" he said gently.  "I
must make up as accurate a statement as I can.  There is a great deal
more to do at such times than you have any idea of;" and then he went on
to explain some details--of which till now she had had no idea
whatever--to the rather bewildered girl.

She replied meekly enough; and when he had got the required information,
he went out with Arthur as his guide.

CHAPTER FOUR.

AN OLD STORY AND A NEW SECRET.

  "Good nature and good sense must ever join;
  To err is human; to forgive, divine."

  Pope.

It was the last evening of the young Morisons being all together at the
Villa Martine, for Arthur was returning to England the following day.
And a fortnight or so later, the sisters and little Auriol, under the
convoy of old Bertha, were to follow him there.  Lettice had gone early
to her room.  She was worn out, though she would not allow it, with all
she had gone through during the last week or two.  And since Mr Auriol
had left, she had put less constraint on herself; she no longer felt the
necessity of calling pride to her aid.

"I am so dreadfully sorry for Lettice," said Nina, as she and Arthur
were sitting together unwilling, though it was already late, to lose any
of their few remaining hours.

"So am I," said Arthur.  "But I am sorry for ourselves too, Nina.  There
is no doubt that all our troubles are very much aggravated by Lettice."

"Arthur!" exclaimed Nina.  "What do you mean?  How could we ever get on
without her?"

"Oh, I know all that," said the boy--for boy he still was, though nearly
seventeen--weariedly.

"I know she is very good, and devoted, and clever, too; but, Nina, if
she were but less obstinate and self-willed, how much happier--at least,
how much less unhappy--we should be!  If she had taken the advice of
Godfrey Auriol, and made friends with our uncle--knowing, too, that
mother wished it!  Of course, I won't allow to Godfrey that I disagree
with her; at all costs, as you and I determined, we must keep together.
But it is a terrible pity."

"I don't, however, see that for the present it makes very much
difference, and in time Lettice may change."

"Too late, perhaps," said Arthur moodily.  "It _is_ just now that I
think it _does_ make such a miserable difference;" and as Nina looked
up, with surprise and some alarm, and was just going to ask him to
explain himself, he added hastily, as if eager to change the subject,
"Do you know the whole story, Nina--the story of the old quarrel between
my father and his family?  I have heard it, I suppose; but I have got
confused about it, though I didn't like to let Godfrey see that I was
so.  Lettice has always been so violent about it, so determined that
there was only the one way of looking at it, that it was no use asking
her.  And just these last days it has dawned upon me that I know very
little about it.  I have accepted it as a sort of legend that was not to
be questioned."

"I don't know that there is very much to tell--not of actual facts,"
said Nina.  "Of course, it was all complicated by personal feeling, as
such things always are.  Mamma told me all; and lately, as you know, she
regretted very much having not tried more to bring papa and his brother
together.  He, our uncle, was perfectly blameless, he was fifteen years
younger than papa.  Papa, you know, was grandpapa's only son by his
first marriage.  His mother died young, and he, as he often said
himself, was dreadfully spoilt.  His father married again when he was
about twelve; and though his stepmother was very good and nice, he was
determined never to like her, and set himself against whatever she said,
and fancied she influenced grandpapa very often, when very likely she
did not.  Grandpapa was in business, as, of course, you know, and very
much respected, and very successful.  He was of very respectable
ancestry.  His people had been farmers, but not at all _grand_.  And he
was the sort of man to be proud of having made his own way, and to
despise those who tried to be above their real position.  He had always
determined that papa should follow him in his business; but, as might
have been expected from a spoilt boy, papa _wouldn't_; nothing would
please him but going into the army."

"Yes, I know that part of it," said Arthur.

"There must have been stormy scenes and most miserable discussions.  Any
way, it ended in papa's running away and enlisting, which by people of
grandpapa's class was thought a terrible disgrace.  Then grandpapa vowed
he would disinherit him, and he made a will, putting his little son
Ingram entirely in papa's place, and giving papa only a very small
fortune.  And _always_ papa persisted in believing that this was his
stepmother's doing, though mamma has often told me they had no sort of
proof, not even _probability_, that it was so.  And the way she acted
afterwards certainly did not seem as if she were selfish or scheming."

"But," interrupted Arthur, "all this has nothing to do with _mamma_, and
she always said it was about her."

"Well, listen," said Nina.  "Time went on.  Papa behaved splendidly, and
as soon as it was _possible_ he got a commission.  And a year or two
after that, he became engaged to mamma, who was the daughter of a very
poor and very proud captain in the regiment.  Captain Auriol, our other
grandfather, liked _papa_, but could not bear his being connected with
any one in trade; and when he gave his consent to the marriage, he said,
I believe, that he would not have done so had papa been in his father's
business, and that he liked him all the better for being no longer his
father's heir.  Somehow papa's stepmother got to hear of this
engagement, and, knowing how poor mamma was, and thinking papa would be
feeling softened and anxious about his future, she tried to bring about
a reconciliation.  Mamma, before she died, had come to feel sure the
poor woman did her best.  She got grandpapa--Grandpapa Morison--to write
to papa, recognising his bravery as a soldier, and speaking of his
engagement, and offering to reinstate him in his old position if he
would now allow that he had had enough of soldiering, and would enter
the business.  He even said that, if he would _not_ do so, he would
still receive him again--him and his wife when he should be married--and
make better provision for him if he would express sorrow for the grief
and disappointment he had caused him in the past.  This part of the
letter must have been injudiciously worded.  _Something_ was said of
mamma's poverty, which her father and she herself took offence at, when
papa showed it them, and consulted them about it--not that he for a
moment dreamt of giving up his profession; but he _was_ softened, and
would have been glad to be friends again.  Only, unfortunately, they
took it the other way, and he wrote back a letter, under Grandpapa
Auriol's direction, which offended his father so deeply that things were
far worse than before.  And it was for this that poor mamma always
blamed herself, and this was why she said it was for her sake papa had
quarrelled with his family.  It came to be true, to some extent; for
Grandpapa Morison after that always put all the blame on her, and spoke
of her very unkindly, which came to papa's ears, and made him furious.
And when his father died, a few years afterwards, he was surprised to
find that even a small portion had still been left to him; and I don't
believe he would ever have taken it, poor as he was, but for a message
that was sent him with the news of his father's death, that poor
grandpapa had left him his blessing before he died.  _I_ believe that he
had to thank his stepmother for this, though she did not appear in it.
She must have been frightened, poor thing, and no wonder.  So the only
communication was through the lawyer.  And that, I think," said Nina,
with a sigh, "is about all there is to tell."

"Thank you," said Arthur.  "Nina," he went on, after a moment's
consideration, "do you think Lettice knows it all as clearly as you do?"

"It is her own fault if she doesn't," said Nina, which for her was an
unusually bitter speech.

"She has had just as much opportunity as I have had for hearing the
whole, except that, perhaps,"--and she hesitated a moment--"perhaps that
from Philip Dexter I have heard more than she about how good Uncle
Ingram is, through Uncle Ingram's having married his aunt, you know.
But, Arthur, if people _will_ see things only one way--and Lettice can
turn it so, when she talks about it she almost makes me feel as if it
would be wrong and _mean_ to look at it any other way."

"I know," said Arthur, with a still deeper sigh than Nina's had been.
And, indeed, poor boy, he _did_ know.  His next remark surprised his
sister.  "I wonder," he said, "I wonder papa disliked the idea of
business."

"_Arthur_!" she exclaimed.

"I do.  I'm in earnest.  There is nothing I should like so much.  Nina,
promise, swear you won't tell any one," he went on boyishly but
earnestly, "if I tell you the truth.  I would have given _anything_ to
accept that offer.  I have no wish to go into the army.  I don't think
I'm a coward, but the life has no attraction for me.  I've seen so much
of the other side of it.  I used to think, when papa was alive, I should
like it.  But now--I'm not clever, Nina.  I'm awfully behind-hand in
several of the subjects I shall have to be examined in; and oh, Nina,
the very thought of an examination makes my blood run cold.  I _know_ I
shall fail, and--"

"But why--oh, why, Arthur, did you not say all this before?" cried Nina,
pale with distress.

"I _dared_ not, that's the truth.  I'm a moral coward, if you like.  I
did not realise it so strongly till Godfrey told me of Uncle Ingram's
offer, and then I felt how I should like business.  I think I have a
_sort_ of cleverness that would suit it.  I am what is called practical
and methodical, and I should like the intercourse with different
countries, and the _interest_ of it.  I suppose Grandfather Morison's
tastes have come out in me.  And I should like making money for all of
you and for Auriol, who is sure to be a soldier.  But, Nina, I _dare_
not tell Lettice.  Think of all she would say--that I was false to papa,
that I was throwing away the expensive education that has been so
difficult to manage; all sorts of bitter things.  No, I _dare_ not.  I
have tried, and even at the least hint of misgiving, that I was not fit
for the army--oh, Nina, I saw what it would be.  No, I must go through
with it till the day that I go up for the examination, and am--"

"What?" said Nina.

"Spun, hopelessly."

"But you will have other chances?"

"I can't face them.  I _feel_ that I could never face it again.  Even
now I dream of it with a sort of horror," said the poor boy, raising his
delicate, haggard face.  "And _if_ I fail.  Oh, Nina, sometimes I think
I shall drown myself."

"Arthur, Arthur, don't speak like that," said Nina imploringly.  "Shall
_I_ tell Lettice?  I will if you like--if you are sure, quite sure of
what you say."

Arthur laid his hand on her arm.  "No, no, Nina.  You must promise to
tell no one.  I must see.  Perhaps I may get on better.  Mr Downe
thinks I should pass if only I were less nervous.  Any way, we must wait
a while.  If it gets _too_ bad I will tell you first of all, and ask you
to tell Lettice."

"And we shall see you again soon.  It is April now.  You will be with us
all the summer.  Oh, Arthur, I do hope things will go on quietly, and
that Lettice will not oppose Godfrey any more.  They are both so
determined."

"But he has right on his side."

"Yes, I know.  But you know, Arthur, she will be of age in less than a
year, and then if she chooses to defy our guardians it may come to our
being all separated.  For think how many years it will be before the
little ones are of age."

"Lettice would never do that," said Arthur.  "In the bottom of her heart
she knows she must give in.  And she loves us all too much to go too
far."

"Of course I know how she loves us.  Only too much," said Nina.  "I
wonder if it would not have been better if we had had no guardians?  We
should have got on very well, I dare say."

"Nina," said Arthur solemnly, "mark my words.  If there had been no one
to keep her in check, Lettice would have grown more and more
self-willed, and I don't know what would have become of us.  Better far
have all the discomfort of the last week or two than have risked
anything like that."

"If I thought it were over!" said Nina.  "But you don't know how I dread
our life at Faxleham, and still worse that lady.  I don't know what to
call her, for she can't be called our governess."

"Chaperone," suggested Arthur.

"I suppose so.  But isn't it awful to think of her?"

Arthur could scarcely keep from laughing.

"I think that part of it would be rather fun," he said.  "I hope--though
I'm by no means sure of it, mind you--but I hope she'll still be there
when I come, that I may see the skirmishing between her and Lettice."

"If it isn't she, it'll be some one else," said Nina in a depressed
tone.  "Godfrey Auriol said it would be impossible--absolutely unheard
of--for us to live alone as Lettice wanted.  Oh, Arthur, I wish you
weren't going away;" and poor Nina, allowing herself for once the
indulgence of giving way to her own feelings regardless of those of
others, threw her arms round her boy-brother's neck and burst into
tears.  And though Arthur did his best to console her, it was, though
not precisely from the same cause, with sad enough hearts that the
brother and sister lay down to sleep that night.

There had been much to try them since the day that Godfrey Auriol, with
nothing but good will in his heart to his young relatives, had left his
smoke-dried chambers in Lincoln's Inn, where frost and fog were still
having it their own way, and came "over the sea" to the sunny brilliant
south, intent on advising and assisting the sad little group.  He had
found things very different from what he expected, and he had gone back
again depressed and dispirited, doubtful, though he had manfully stood
out for victory, if he had gone the right way about it, more perplexed
and disgusted with himself than he ever remembered to have been before.
For he was in every sense of the word a very successful man.  Starting
in life with little but a good old name and a clear and well-stocked
head, he was already far on the way to competency.  He was made much of
in whatever society he entered; he was used to being looked up to and
having his opinion and advice asked.  He had not married, had scarcely
ever been in love--never to a fatal extent--and had acquired a habit of
thinking that women were not to be too seriously considered one way or
the other.  "Take them the right way," and there was never any trouble
to be feared.  And now when it came to the test he had ignominiously
failed.  For though Lettice had been obliged to give in, it had been, as
she took care to tell him, only to the extent to which she _was_ obliged
to do so--not a jot further.  And he had an uncomfortable, an
exaggerated idea that he had been rough--what the French call "brutal"--
to her.

"To her, my own cousin, and an orphan, too, whom I was prepared to care
for like a sister--yes, like a sister, that first night when she seemed
so sweet and gentle.  And to think of the things we have said to each
other since!" thought poor Godfrey, during his long solitary journey
back again to whence he had come.

If Lettice could have seen into his heart I think she would have been
moved to regret.  And she had been very unreasonable.  The "intentions"
of which she had spoken no relation or guardian in the world could have
approved of.

"We do not wish to return to England," she told Godfrey calmly.  "I want
to spend the summer, while it is too hot here, in travelling about, and
next winter we shall come back here again."

"And under whose care?"  Mr Auriol asked quietly.

"_Mine_," said Lettice, rearing her head.  "Of course we have old
Bertha, who will never leave us.  But I am quite old enough to take care
of my brothers and sisters."

"_You_ may think so.  _I_ don't," he replied drily.  "Besides, it is not
altogether a question of age.  If you were married--"

"I shall never marry."

"Indeed!"  Mr Auriol observed with the utmost politeness.  "But that,
excuse me, is a matter for your private consideration, in no way
interfering with what I was saying.  If, for supposition's sake, you, or
let us say Nina, who is still younger,"--and he turned to Nina with a
smile which somehow made the colour rise in her cheeks--"if _Nina_ were
married to a reliable sort of man, there would be nothing against your
all living together if you chose."

"Provided the brother-in-law approved, which, in his place, _I_
wouldn't," observed Arthur, in an aside.

"But as things are, why, five, ten years hence even, you could not keep
house without a chaperone," said Mr Auriol in conclusion, as if the
matter were not open to a question.

A very short time before he left, Godfrey told them what he proposed as
to their future home.

"I have a letter I should like to read to you," he said to Lettice.  His
tone and manner seemed to her exceedingly cold; the truth was that he
was most uncomfortably constrained.

"Certainly," she replied.  "Do you wish me to call Nina?"

"Perhaps it would be as well," said Mr Auriol.

And when Nina came he read to them the description that had been sent to
him of a small house a few hours' distance from town, which seemed to
him just what was wanted.

"The neighbourhood is very pretty, and there is an excellent school for
Auriol, in the small town of Garford, at half-an-hour's distance.  And
there are some nice families in the neighbourhood to whom I--to whom
introductions could easily be got."

"In our deep mourning," said Lettice icily, "nothing of that kind need
be taken into consideration.  Besides," she added, "if you think us so
exceedingly childish and unreasonable, I should say the fewer
acquaintances we make the better."

"Lettice, oh, please don't," said Nina imploringly.

But Lettice had "hardened her heart."

"We _must go_ to that place," she said afterwards to Nina; "we cannot
help ourselves.  For my part I feel perfectly indifferent as to where we
live.  It is like a choice of prisons--simple endurance for the time
being.  It is like taking medicine.  I will take it because I _must_;
but I'm not going to have it dressed up with sugar-plums and pretend
it's nice."

"But what do you mean by `for the time being'?" asked Nina timidly.

To this Lettice would not reply; perhaps, though she would not own it,
her ideas were really vague on the subject.

Arthur had to be up early the morning he left; and, thanks to their late
talk the night before, Nina overslept herself, and Lettice, seeing her
looking so tired and pale, had not the heart to wake her.  She looked
pale and heavy-eyed herself when Arthur found her waiting to give him
his breakfast, and he felt sorry for her, and perhaps a little
conscience-smitten for some of the things he had said of her.

"We shall see you again before _very_ long," she said; "for surely no
difficulty will be put in the way of your spending your holidays with
us."

"Of course not.  Who would dream of such a thing?" he said.

"I don't know," replied Lettice wearily; "everything has gone so
strangely.  I ask myself what next?"

"Lettice," said Arthur simply, "don't exaggerate; but, to make sure, I
will speak of it to Godfrey."

"Better you than I, certainly."

"He likes Nina very much," went on Arthur innocently, almost as if
thinking aloud.  "And he thinks her so very pretty."

"Does he?  Did he say so?" said Lettice quickly; and a curious
expression, which Arthur did not observe, passed over her face.

"Oh, ever so many times.  He thinks her almost an angel, I believe;" and
Lettice would have liked to hear more, but there was no time.

"Arthur, you will do your best, will you not?" were her last whispered
words to her brother.  "Remember, if you don't succeed, it will break my
heart; and I believe," in a still lower voice, "it would have broken
papa's and mamma's."

A look of intense pain came into the poor boy's eyes, and he did not
speak.  Then with sudden resolution he turned to his sister.

"Yes," he said, though his voice was unlike itself, "I will do _my
best_."

CHAPTER FIVE.

A CHANGE IN THE BAROMETER.

  "Give her a word, good or bad, and she'd spin such a web from the
  hint,
  And colour a meaningless phrase with so vivid a lint."

  _Hilda_.

It was a lovely evening when the little party arrived at their
destination.  Many people had noticed them during their long journey,
the two pretty sisters and the children, with no one but their old
servant to take care of them; for their deep mourning told its own
story.  Many a kindly heart thought pityingly of them, and sent silent
good wishes with them on their way.

There had been some talk of their staying a day or two in London, in
which case Mr Auriol would have met them.  But this Lettice, the ruling
spirit, vetoed.

"Let us get straight to that place," she said, "and have it over."

What she meant Nina did not very well understand.  She supposed her to
refer to the meeting with Miss Branksome, the lady-companion, or
"chaperone," whom Mr Auriol had engaged, and who was to await them at
Faxleham Cottage.  Nina herself was not without some anticipatory awe of
this person, but it was tempered by a strong feeling of pity.  And once,
when she alluded to her in speaking to Lettice, she was almost amazed to
find that her sister shared the latter.

"Poor woman!" said Lettice gravely, "she has undertaken a hard task.  I
could almost find it in my heart to be sorry for her."

Nina could not help smiling as she replied, "But it need not be a hard
task, Lettice; not--not unless _we_ make it so for her."

"False positions are always hard," said Lettice oracularly.  "She is
coming to take care of us, and we don't want or need to be taken care
of."

Then, a moment after, she surprised Nina by asking her to write to Mr
Auriol to tell him when they were starting, and when they expected to
reach Faxleham, as she had promised to let him know.

"I am so tired," she said, which was an unusual confession, "and I
should be so glad if you would do it for me.  Besides, he likes you so
much better than me; he will be pleased to get a letter from you."

"I don't think he really likes me better," said Nina innocently.  "I am
not clever enough for him.  If he had met you--differently--I am sure he
would have liked you best."

Lettice did not answer.  But a moment or two later, as she was leaving
the room, she spoke again on the same subject.

"You'll let me see your letter before you send it, won't you?" she said.
"Don't be afraid that I shall be vexed if you write cordially.  I don't
want him to think us ungrateful.  It isn't _his_ fault."

Nina could scarcely believe her ears.  What could be coming ever
Lettice?  She wished Arthur were at hand to talk over this wonderful
change, which she felt completely unable to explain.  But it was not
Nina's "way" to trouble or perplex herself about problems which, as she
said to herself, would probably sooner or later solve themselves.  In
this, as in most other characteristics, she was a complete contrast to
her sister.

She wrote the letter--a pretty, girlish, almost affectionate little
letter it was--and brought it to Lettice for approval.  The elder sister
read it, smiling once or twice in a manner that would have puzzled Nina
had she been given to puzzling.

"Yes," said Lettice, "it will do very well;" and she was turning away,
when Nina stopped her.

"Lettice," she began.

"Well?"

"I wanted to tell you--yesterday, when I was out with Bertha, we--I--met
Mr Dexter.  It is the first time I have seen him since our--our
mourning."

"I think it was very inconsiderate of him to speak to you in the
street," said Lettice.  "Here, too, where everything one does is
observed."

"It was only for one instant," said Nina, appealingly.  "He asked me to
tell you--they are leaving to-morrow morning--to tell you that he will
call this evening to say good-bye, and he hopes he may see us."

Lettice's face had grown harder.

"I thought they were already gone," she said, as if speaking to herself.
Then second thoughts intervened.  "I suppose we must see him.  I don't
want to be rude.  Besides, he is a friend of Godfrey's.  Yes; perhaps
you had better tell Marianne that if he calls she can let him in."

The permission was not too gracious, but it was more than Nina had hoped
for.

"It is evidently for Godfrey's sake," she reflected.  "And yet, when he
was here, Lettice was so seldom the least pleasant to him."

Philip did call.  He was nervous, and yet with a certain determination
about him that impressed Lettice in spite of herself, and she felt
exceedingly glad to hear him repeat that he and his sister were leaving
the next morning.

"I shall look forward to seeing you again, before very long, in
England," he said manfully, as he got up to go.

"I don't know much about our plans," said Lettice, and her tone was not
encouraging.  "We have only taken a house for the summer.  I don't know
what we shall do then."

"Faxleham is not so very far from my part of the country," said Philip.

"Is it not?" said Lettice suspiciously; and she looked at Mr Dexter in
a way that made the young man's face flush slightly.  He was one of
those fair-complexioned men who change colour almost as quickly as a
girl, and whose good looks are to themselves entirely destroyed by their
persistent boyishness.  At five and twenty he looked little more than
nineteen.

"But I am not likely to be there for the next twelve months," he
continued coldly, and with a certain dignity.  "My place has been let
for some years, and the lease will not expire till the spring.  No; if I
see you at Faxleham or elsewhere I must come expressly."

He looked at Lettice and she at him.  It was a tacit throwing down of
the gauntlet on his part, and angry as she felt, it yet made her respect
the young man whom hitherto she had spoken of so contemptuously as a
boy.  She bade him good-bye with courtesy, not to say friendliness, much
to Nina's relief, and even carried her attention so far as to accompany
him to the door, talking busily all the time of the details of his
journey, so that, as she flattered herself, there was no opportunity for
any last words between him and her sister.  And as she went upstairs,
where Bertha was already beginning the packing--such a sad packing! the
hundred and one little possessions of their mother to cry over and
wonder what to do with--all the bright-coloured belongings with which,
full of the hopefulness of inexperienced youth, they had left England in
the autumn, to consign to the bottom of the trunks and wish they could
be put out of sight for ever--she said to herself, not without
self-congratulation at her perspicacity, that it was evidently time for
_that_ to be put a stop to.  And she would have been strengthened in her
opinion had she known that at that very moment Nina, leaning sadly on
the balcony--_she_ had not gone to the door with Philip--was cheered by
the sight of his face, as, passing up the street instead of down,
certainly not the nearest way to his home, he stood still for a moment
on the chance of seeing her again, and, lifting his hat, called out
softly, not "goodbye" but "au revoir."

Lettice wondered at Nina's good spirits that evening.

"Evidently she does not, as yet, care much about him.  She was so very
young when she first met him--how unfortunate it was!--and was, no
doubt, flattered by his attention.  But she _cannot_ but see how
superior Godfrey Auriol is--how much more of a _man_--and then by-and-by
it will be easy to suggest how mother would have liked it.  One of her
own name, and altogether so closely connected with her!"

And the imaginary castle in the air which Lettice had constructed for
her sister's happiness assumed more and more imposing and attractive
proportions.  Lettice had such faith in herself as an architect; she
knew so much better than people themselves the sort of castle they
_should_ live and be happy in.

So that, on _her_ side, Nina wondered at Lettice's improved spirits
during the last few days at Esparto, and even through the journey.  For,
besides the other recommendations of the project she had built upon such
slender foundations, Lettice felt that there was a good deal of
magnanimity in herself for approving of and encouraging such an idea.

"It shows I am _not_ prejudiced," she said to herself with satisfaction.
"And if dear mamma could but know it, she would see how ready I am to
sacrifice any personal feelings of mine when _hers_ would have been
concerned.  For, of course, though Godfrey is not actually connected
with the Morisons, he has entirely ranged himself on their side."

We have wandered a long way from the evening of the arrival at Faxleham,
but perhaps it was necessary to explain how it came to pass that the
outer sunshine was matched by greater inward serenity than might, all
things considered, have been expected.

It was, as I said, a most lovely evening.  The drive from the station at
Garford was through pretty country lanes, where the hedges were at their
freshest, untouched as yet by summer dust, and the wild roses and
honeysuckle were already in bud, giving promise of their later beauty.
And to the young travellers, after their several months' absence in
different scenery, the sweet, homely beauty of their own country was
very attractive.

"Is it not pretty?  So peaceful and yet bright!  Just think how mamma
would have liked it!" exclaimed Nina; and, though Lettice did not speak,
she pressed her sister's hand sympathisingly.

The children, of course, were in ecstasies, though once or twice they
glanced up at Lettice, half ashamed of their own delight; but she smiled
back at them so kindly that they were quickly reassured; and a whisper
which she overheard of Lotty's gave her greater pleasure than she could
have expressed.

"Lettice is getting like mamma," the child said.  "When she is so kind,
she always makes me think of mamma."

And Lettice always was kind when she felt thoroughly pleased with
herself, as she did just now.  If only her foundation had been the rock
of real principle, and not the sands of passing moods and impulses!

"Don't you think, Lettice," said Nina, in a low voice, venturing a
little further--"don't you think we are going to be happy--at least,
peaceful--here?"

Lettice had not the heart to repulse her.

"I shall be very glad, dear, if you feel so," she said, "and I am sure I
want to make the best of things.  If--if there were not that unhappy
Miss Branksome looming in the distance--in the nearness, rather!  I know
exactly what she will be like.  I know those decayed gentlewomen so
well.  Tall and lank and starved-looking, always having headaches and
nerves, and tears in her eyes for nothing, and yet everlastingly
interfering.  Of course, she must interfere.  It's her business; it's
what she's there for."

But before Nina had time to reply, the carriage stopped.  They had
reached their destination.

Faxleham Cottage was what its name implied--a real cottage.  It had no
drive or "approach," save the simple, old-fashioned little footpath,
leading from the garden-gate to the wide, low porch entrance.  But
unpretending as it was, an exclamation of pleasure broke involuntarily
from the lips of its new tenants, as they stepped out of the carriage
and entered the sweet, trim, and yet luxuriant little garden, gay with
early flowers, not a weed to be seen, bright and smiling in the soft
evening sunlight.

Lettice, too, felt the pleasant influence.

"How I wish mamma could see it!" was her unspoken thought.  "If it were
_she_ who was to welcome us instead of--" And as she went forward she
glanced before her apprehensively, half expecting to see realised the
unattractive personage she had ingeniously constructed in her
imagination.

A lady was standing in the porch, and, as the new-comers came forward,
she stepped out to meet them.

"I am so glad to see you all safe," she said in a bright, pleasant
voice.  "I must introduce myself, but you know who I am?"

"Miss Branksome," said Nina, always the ready one on such occasions,
probably because her mind was never over occupied with herself or her
own concerns.  But, with her usual tact, she stepped back a very little,
leaving Lettice, as the eldest, to shake hands first with the
lady-companion.

And Lettice, to her own surprise as she did so, found herself thinking,
"How pretty she is!  She is certainly _not_ like a decayed gentlewoman."

Miss Branksome was very pretty; some people might think it better to say
"had been," for she was more than middle-aged; she was almost elderly.
Her hair was perfectly white, and her soft face had the faint delicate
pink flush that comes to fair complexions with age, so different from
the brilliant roses of youth.  Her eyes were bright, but very gentle in
expression, and her figure was daintily small.

"She looks like an old fairy," Nina said afterwards, and the description
was not a bad one.

Everything that genuine kindliness, based on thorough good principle,
and aided by great natural tact, could do to make the orphans feel as
happy in their new home as was possible for them, was done by Miss
Branksome that first evening.  Even Lettice succumbed to the pleasant
influence.  It was new for her to be taken care of, even, as it were,
petted, and it came so naturally to the bright, kind-hearted, active
little woman to make everybody about her happy, or at least comfortable,
that she could not help trying her hand on even the redoubtable Miss
Morison, as to whom Mr Auriol had given her some salutary warning.

"You must be so tired, my dears," she said, with the smiles and tears
struggling together at the same time, "I thought you would like tea
better than anything; and perhaps--this first evening--would you like me
to pour it out?"

It was perfectly impossible to stand on one's dignity or to keep up any
prejudice with one so genuine and single-minded; and Nina's heart was
relieved of an immense weight when they all went to bed that night.

For some time everything went better than could have been hoped.  By
dint of her simple goodness, by dint, perhaps, of in no way planning or
scheming to get it, Miss Branksome unconsciously gained Lettice's
confidence; and when Mr Auriol came down to see his young charges two
or three weeks after their arrival, he was most agreeably surprised by
the happy state of things.  Not being above human weakness, he could not
help congratulating himself on the skill which he had displayed in an
undoubtedly awkward situation, though, at the same time, he was only too
ready to give credit to all concerned.

"You have done marvels," he said to Miss Branksome, who had been a
friend of his from his childhood.  "They all seem as fond of you as
possible.  Not that I had any fear for Nina or the little ones; only
for--Lettice."

"And yet of all, she, I think, has most gained my heart," said the
little lady.  "She is so thorough; there is nothing small or ungenerous
about her.  Nina is very sweet; but if there is any triumph for me, or
satisfaction rather, it is certainly with regard to Lettice.  I feel so
sure of her.  I cannot quite understand your having found her what you
described.  Are you sure--forgive me now, Godfrey--are you sure there
was no sort of prejudice on _your_ side?"  Godfrey's face flushed.

"None whatever," he exclaimed.  "I met her as free from prejudice, from
any preconceived idea even, as was possible.  And the first time I saw
her I thought her as charming and gentle as she is personally
attractive.  It all came out when the question of the Morison feud was
raised.  It seemed to change her very nature.  You have not come upon
that as yet, I suppose?"

"Not in the least.  Of course I have no right to do so, unless she does;
but she knows that I do not know her uncle and aunt, and that they do
not know me.  I think that has given me an advantage with her.  At first
I fancied she suspected, or was ready to suspect, that Mr and Mrs
Morison had had to do with my being chosen, and I was glad to be able,
indirectly, to let her see they had not."

Mr Auriol seemed lost in reflection.

"I wonder when I should speak to her--to them all--about their uncle
again," he said at last.  "He is so very anxious for some happier state
of things, and he trusts to me to bring it about.  Lettice could not be
pleasanter than she is now, just like what she was at the very first.  I
wonder if I dare risk it?"

"Not yet," said Miss Branksome.  "At least, that is my impression.  Let
her not think that you came down this time with any purpose except to
see how they all are.  Leave it all a little longer to her own good
sense.  She might commit herself to some decision she would afterwards
be ashamed to withdraw from, if you spoke of it all again before she has
had time thoroughly to consider it."

Mr Auriol shrugged his shoulders.

"She has had time enough, it seems to me," he said.  "However, I know
you are wiser than I."

Just at that moment Lettice and Nina joined them in the garden.

"We are going to fetch Auriol home from school," said Lettice.  "Would
you come with us?" she added, looking up at her cousin.

"Certainly, with the greatest pleasure," he said; and the three set off.

But they had not gone far when Lettice stopped and hesitated.

"If you won't think me rude for changing my mind," she said, "I think I
would rather not go to-day.  I want to write to Arthur."

Nina looked at her in surprise, and a slight look of annoyance crossed
Mr Auriol's face.  But Lettice did not see it.

"Of course it doesn't matter," said Nina good-naturedly.  "But I don't
think you need be in such a very great hurry about writing to Arthur."

"I want to write to-night," Lettice repeated, "and I know Mr Auriol
won't mind;" and she smiled so pleasantly that the annoyance left his
face.

"She is an odd girl," he thought to himself.  "However, it is as well
perhaps that my walk is to be _tete-a-tete_ with Nina and not with her.
I might have been tempted to try the ground again in spite of Miss
Branksome's advice, and might have done more harm than good.  With Nina
I am quite safe."

And, so far as Nina was concerned, the result of their talk was
perfectly satisfactory.  It was with a more hopeful feeling than he had
yet had on the subject that Mr Auriol re-entered the cottage on their
return from the walk to Gardon.  He and Nina stood for a moment in the
porch--they did not notice that Lettice was at an open window above,
whence she could clearly see them, and for a moment or two Godfrey stood
with Nina's hand in his, her fair face, in which was more colour than
usual, raised towards him.

"You may depend on me," she said softly, "to do all I can.  There is
nothing--really nothing almost, that I wish so earnestly."

"I am sure of it," said Godfrey.  "Perhaps, indeed," he added with a
little hesitation, "I understand more about what you feel than you
think.  Not that I think you are selfish, dear Nina.  I think you one of
the most unselfish people I ever knew, and,"--he hesitated still more
this time--"he will be a happy man who wins you."

Nina's face was crimson by now.  But she stood by her cousin a moment
longer.  He was leaving the next morning, and it might be her last
chance of seeing him alone.

"Then I am to do what I can, and, in a sort of way, to report progress.
You will come down again in two or three weeks?"

"Yes, and in the meantime I shall see Arthur;" and then he released her
hand and she ran upstairs to take off her hat.

"Have you had a nice walk, dear?" said Lettice, who was waiting in their
room.

"_Very_," said Nina heartily.

"I think you and Godfrey are getting to understand each other
wonderfully," lattice remarked.

"Yes?" said Nina, with a happy little laugh.

"I almost think so too;" and Lettice, observing the flush on her face,
congratulated herself on her generalship.

"She is evidently forgetting all about Philip Dexter," she thought.
"How pretty she looks!  How nice it must be to be so sweet and
attractive; not hard, and cold, and repellent, like me.  But it is
_forced_ on me."

And though she told herself things were going just as she wished, there
was a little sigh in her heart as she kissed her sister on their way
downstairs.

CHAPTER SIX.

A CAVALIER RECEPTION.

  "Fell his warm wishes chilled by wintry fear,
  And resolution sicken at the view:
  As near the moment of decision drew."

  _Trans. of_ Dante.

But things seldom turn out as even the most reasonable people expect.
Much more than two or three weeks elapsed before Godfrey Auriol came
down to Faxleham again.  This was owing to a complication of
circumstances--unusual pressure of business on him, for one thing, Lotty
Morison's catching the measles for another; and the difficulties in the
way were yielded to more easily than might have been the case had the
same urgency existed for bringing matters to a decision.  But Mr Ingram
Morison and his wife were early in the summer obliged to go for several
months to an out-of-the-way part of Ireland, where some of Mrs
Morison's family lived, on account of sudden and serious trouble among
them.  So the question he, and, indeed, she, too, had so much at heart,
was left dormant for the time, and Nina heard no more, except a few
words of explanation which Godfrey enclosed to her in a letter to Miss
Branksome.

It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.  Perhaps, had he known it,
Godfrey did not lose in the good graces of his cousins during these
rather dull and monotonous weeks.  Nina, for more reasons than one,
longed to see him, and would have made him most heartily welcome had he
appeared.  And even Lettice, though she had sturdily refused all offers
of introductions to any families in the neighbourhood, would in her
heart have been glad of some break in the tranquil round of their daily
life.

She was disappointed, too, that Godfrey did not seem more eager to see
Nina again, and there were times when Nina's rather troubled and anxious
expression made her tremble for the success of her scheme.

"If that Philip Dexter were to appear just now, there is no saying what
influence he might again acquire over her," she said to herself.  "It is
very stupid of Godfrey."

But he came at last, though not till Arthur's holidays were more than
half over, and the lanes were no longer without their summer coating of
dust, for it was an unusually dry season.  The rain could not be far
off, however, for the law of average required that the drought should be
compensated for.

"There must be a break in the weather soon," said Mr Auriol, the
evening of his arrival, "and I suppose rain will be welcome when it
comes.  But, if it is not _too_ selfish, I hope it will hold off for two
days.  I have _never_ felt so tired of London in my life as during the
last three weeks; and I do want to enjoy my breath of country air."

"I am afraid you won't get much air even here," remarked Arthur
cheerfully.  "It has been stifling these two or three days."

Something in the tone of his voice struck his cousin, and he glanced up
at him.

"You don't look very bright yourself, my boy," he said.  "You've not
been working too hard, I hope?"

"He _has_ been working rather hard even during the holidays," said
Lettice, though not without a certain complacence in her tone.  "You
know, Arthur is not merely to _get through_, cousin Godfrey, he is to
come off with flying colours."

"But in the meantime the colour is all flying out of his face," said
Godfrey kindly, and with concern.  "That won't do;" and Nina, whose own
face had grown paler during this conversation, was startled on looking
at her brother to see how white, almost ghastly he had grown.  She was
helping Lettice with afternoon tea, which in these fine days they were
fond of having under a big tree on the little lawn, and she made some
excuse for sending Arthur to the house on an errand.

"They will all think there is something the matter," she whispered to
him, "if you look like that;" though in her heart she would scarcely
have regretted anything which would have brought to an end the
unhappiness which she felt convinced Arthur was enduring, though she had
not succeeded in getting him again to confide in her as he had done that
last evening at Esparto.

"Arthur is really looking ill," Godfrey went on.  "And he seems so dull
and quiet.  Of course I have seen too little of him to judge, and the
last time there was every reason for his looking very depressed--but
even then he had not the same dull, hopeless look.  He must either be
ill, or--But that is impossible!"

"What?" said Lettice coldly.

"I was going to say he looks as if he had something on his mind."

Lettice smiled with a sort of contemptuous superiority.  "He _has_
something on his mind," she said, "as every one might understand.  He is
exceedingly anxious to do more than well at his examination, and he is
perhaps working a _little_ too hard."

Mr Auriol was silent for a moment.  When he spoke again he did not seem
to be addressing any one in particular.

"I don't feel satisfied about him," he said shortly.

Lettice's face flushed.

"I do not see, Mr Auriol, that you need feel uneasy about him if _we_
do not," she said.  "It is impossible to judge of any one you know so
little.  Of course, naturally, Arthur is unusually anxious to do well.
He knows it would half break _my_ heart if he failed.  He knows, what
matters far more, that it would have been a most bitter disappointment
to my father and mother.  It is enough to make him serious."

Mr Auriol glanced up quickly.

"Were they--were your father and mother so very desirous that he should
go into the army?" he said.  "I should rather have thought--"

But here he stopped.

"I wish you would say all you mean," said Lettice curtly.

"I have no objection whatever to doing so, except the fear of annoying
_you_," he replied.  "I was going to say that, remembering his own
experience I should have thought your father the very last man to force,
or even advise a profession unless the lad himself thoroughly liked it."

"_Force_ it?" exclaimed Lettice, really surprised, and Nina added
hastily--

"Oh no, while papa was alive there was no question but that Arthur
wished it."

"While papa was alive, Nina," repeated Lettice.  "What do you mean?  You
speak as if Arthur did not wish it _now_."

Nina blushed painfully, and seemed at a loss for an answer.

"I did not mean to say that," she said at last.  And Lettice, too
prepossessed by her own wishes and beliefs to take in the possibility of
any others, thought no more of Nina's agitation.  But Mr Auriol did not
forget it.

He was, however, painfully anxious to come to an understanding with his
cousins as to their relations with their uncle.  Mr Morison was now at
home again, and eager to receive his nephews and nieces and to discuss
with them the best arrangements for a permanent home, which he and his
wife earnestly hoped would be, if not with, at least near them.

But though he had plenty of opportunities for talks with Nina, he tried
in vain to have any uninterrupted conversation with Lettice.  She almost
seemed to avoid it purposely, and he disliked to ask for it in any
formal and ceremonious way.

"Though I shall be forced to do so," he said to Nina one day, when, as
usual, he found himself alone with her, Lettice having made some excuse
at the last minute for not going out with them.  "Do you think she
avoids me on purpose, Nina?" he asked, with some irritation.

"I really do not know," said Nina.  "Sometimes I do not understand
Lettice at all."

"I fear I rubbed her the wrong way that first day by the way I spoke of
Arthur," said Godfrey reflectively.  "And Arthur, too, baffles me.  I
have tried to talk to him and to lead him on to confide in me if he has
anything on his mind, but it is no use.  So I must just leave him for
the present.  But about this other matter I must do and say something.
It is not my own concern.  I have promised to see about it."

Nina listened with great sympathy and great anxiety.

"I wish I could do anything," she said.  "But I, too, have tried in
vain.  Lettice seems to avoid the subject."

"Well, then there is nothing for it but to meet it formally.  I must ask
Lettice to give me half an hour, and I will read her your uncle's last
letter.  There she is," he added hurriedly, pointing to a figure which
suddenly appeared in the lane a short way before them.  "So she has been
out, after all."

"Where have you been, Lettice?" asked Nina, as they came up with her,
for she was walking slowly.  "I thought you were not coming out."

"I changed my mind," said Lettice.  "I have been some little way on the
Garford road."

The words were slightly defiant, but the tone was subdued, and Nina,
looking at her sister, was struck by the curious expression of her face.
It had a distressed, almost a frightened look.  What could it be?

Mr Auriol, intent on his own ideas, did not notice it.

"Lettice," he began, "I never seem to see you at leisure, and I must
leave the day after to-morrow.  When can you give me half an hour?"

"Any time you like--any time to-morrow, I mean," said Lettice.  "It is
too late this evening."

"Very well," he said; "just as you like."

Lettice was longing to get away--to be alone in her own room to think
over what had happened, and what she had done that afternoon.

She had not meant to go out after refusing to walk with Nina and her
cousin.  But Lotty had come to ask her advice about a little garden she
was making; and, after this important business was settled, Lettice,
feeling at a loss what to do with herself, strolled a short way down the
road.  It was too soon to meet Nina and Mr Auriol; they would not be
back for an hour at least, and Arthur was as usual shut up in his own
room with his books.  Who, then, could the figure be whom she saw, when
about a quarter of a mile from the house, coming quickly up the road?
It was not Godfrey, nor Arthur, and yet it was but seldom that any one
not making for the cottage came along this road, which for half a mile
or so was almost like a private one.  And then, too--yes, it did seem to
Lettice that there was something familiar about the walk and carriage of
the gentleman she now clearly perceived to be such, though he was still
too far off for her to distinguish his features.  Another moment or two
and she no longer hesitated.  It was--there could be no doubt about it--
it was the person whom of all others she most dreaded to see--Philip
Dexter!

And yet there was nothing very alarming in the young man's appearance
as, on catching sight of her, he hastened his steps and came on
hurriedly, his features lit up with eagerness, while Lettice walked more
and more slowly, at every step growing more dignified and icy.  The
smile faded from Philip's face as he distinguished her clearly.

"Miss Morison!" he exclaimed.  "I saw you some way off, but I was not
sure--I thought--"

"You thought I was my sister, probably," said Lettice calmly, as she
held out her hand.  "I, too, saw you some way off, Mr Dexter, and at
first I could scarcely believe my eyes.  Are you staying anywhere near
here?"

"No," said Philip, braced by her coldness to an equal composure; "I have
no acquaintances close to this.  I came by rail to Garford, and left my
portmanteau at the hotel there, and walked on here.  I have come, Miss
Morison, on purpose to see--you."

"Not me, personally?" said Lettice, raising her eyebrows.

"Yes, you, personally, though not _only_ you.  I am, I think, glad to
have met you alone.  If that is your house,"--for they were approaching
the cottage--"will you turn and walk back a little?  I would rather talk
to you a little first, before any one knows I am here."

With the greatest readiness, though she strove to conceal it, Lettice
agreed.  They retraced their steps down the road, and then she led him
along a lane to the left, also in the Garford direction, though she knew
that by it Mr Auriol and Nina could _not_ return.

"I will not beat about the bush, Miss Morison," said Philip.  "I have
come to see Nina--to ask her to marry me.  I would have done so
already--last winter at Esparto--but your mother's illness, the
difficulty of seeing any of you the latter part of the time, interfered,
and I thought it, for other reasons too, better to wait.  Nina has no
father and mother--you are not much older, but you _are_ the eldest, and
I know you have immense influence over her.  Before seeing her, I should
like to know my ground with you.  Do you wish me well?"

In face of this straightforward address Lettice felt, for a moment, off
her guard.

"You have never consulted me hitherto," she said evasively.

"That is not the question now," said Philip.  "Tell me, do you wish me
well, and, still more, do you--do you think I am likely to succeed?"  At
this Lettice looked up at him.

"I don't know," she said, and she spoke honestly.  "Almost the only
thing I am sure of is that I wish you had not thought of it--not come
here."

Philip's bright, handsome face fell; he looked in a moment years older.

"You think there is something in the way, I see," he said.  "Ah! well,
there is nothing for it but to make sure.  I must see Nina herself.
Where is she?"

"She is out," said Lettice, and her face flushed.  "She is out walking
with Godfrey Auriol."  Something in her tone and expression made Philip
stop short and look at her sharply.  She bore his look unflinchingly,
and that perhaps impressed him more than her words.  She was able to do
so, for she was not conscious of deceiving him.  She deceived herself;
her determined prejudice and self-will blinded her to all but their own
tendencies and conclusions.  Mr Dexter's eyes dropped.  At this same
moment there flashed before his memory the strangely enthusiastic tone
with which Godfrey had spoken of--as Philip thought--_Nina_, that first
morning at Esparto.  His face was very pale when he looked up again.

"Miss Morison--Lettice," he said, "you do not like me, but you are
incapable of misleading me.  You think there is something between Nina
and Mr Auriol?"

"He is very fond of her," said Lettice.  "I do not know exactly, but I
think--"

"You think she returns it?"

Lettice bowed her head in agreement.  "Then I will go--as I came--and no
one need know anything about my having been," said Philip.  "You will
tell no one?"

"Not if you wish me not to do so; certainly not," she replied, only too
delighted to be, as she said to herself, _obliged_ to conceal his visit.
"I very earnestly beg you not to tell of it," he said; "it could serve
no purpose, things being as you say they are."

Lettice made a little movement as if she would have interrupted him.
Then she hesitated.  At last--

"I did not--exactly--" was all she got out.

"No, you did not exactly in so many words say, `Nina is engaged, or just
going to be, to Godfrey Auriol.'  But you have said all you _could_, and
I thank you for your honesty.  It must have been difficult for you,
disliking me, and knowing that I _know_ you dislike me, to have been
honest."  Philip spoke slowly, as if weighing every word.  Something in
his manner, in his white, almost ghastly face, appalled Lettice.

"Mr Dexter," she exclaimed, involuntarily laying her hand on his arm,
"I don't think I do dislike you, _personally_;" and she felt that never
before had she been so near liking, and certainly respecting, the young
man.  "But you know all the feelings involved.  I am very, very sorry it
should have gone so far with you.  Yet I could not have warned you
sooner last winter; it would have been impossible.  I had no reason to
think there was anything so serious."

"Last winter," repeated Philip.  "I don't understand you.  There was no
_reason_ to warn me off then.  Before she had ever seen him?  I had all
the field to myself.  You don't suppose I am giving it up now out of
deference to that shameful, wicked nonsense of prejudice and dig like to
the best man in the world--your uncle, and mine, as I am proud to call
him?"  And Philip gave a bitter and contemptuous laugh.  "I am going
away because I see I have no chance.  I esteem and admire Godfrey Auriol
too much to enter into useless rivalry with him.  He is not likely to
care for any woman in vain.  But if I had not been so afraid of hurting
you last winter, if I had thrown all the prejudice to the winds, I
believe I might have won her.  Godfrey would _never_ have come between
us had he had any idea of how it was with me.  So, after all, it _is_
that wicked, unchristian nonsense that has done it all.  You may think
it is right; you cannot expect _me_ to agree with you.  At the same
time, I repeat that I thank you for your honesty.  Good-bye.  Can I
reach Garford by this way?" and Philip, in a white fever of indignation
and most bitter disappointment, turned to go.

Lettice had never perhaps in all her life felt more discomposed.

"Mr Dexter," she said, "don't leave me like this; don't be so angry
with me.  I have tried to do rightly--by you, too."

"I have not denied it; but I cannot stand and discuss it as if it were
anything else.  I am only human.  I must go.  I am afraid of--of meeting
_them_.  Tell me, is this the right way?"

"Yes," replied Lettice mechanically; "straight on brings you out on the
road again.  It is a short cut."

Philip raised his hat; and before Lettice had time for another word, had
she indeed known what to say, he was gone.  She stood and looked after
him for some moments with a blank, half-scared expression; and then,
retracing her steps, she walked slowly back, and thus came to be
observed by her sister and Godfrey returning in the other direction.

It was not a happy moment for Mr Auriol to choose for his renewed
attempt.  Lettice slept badly, and woke in the morning feverish and
excited; but, by way perhaps of shifting the misgiving and self-reproach
which _would_ insinuate themselves, more blindly determined than ever to
stand to her colours.  She listened to her uncle's letter and to all Mr
Auriol had to say, and then quietly announced her decision.  Nothing
could induce her to regard as a relation the man who had supplanted her
father, the representative of the unnatural family who had treated him
all his life long as a pariah and an outcast, and had been the cause of
sorrows and trials without end to him and her mother.

"I am the eldest," she said.  "I can remember more distinctly than the
others the privations and trials they went through--at the very time
when my father's father and brother were rolling in riches, some part of
which _surely_, by every natural law, should have been his."

"And some part of which _was_ his," said Godfrey.  "Everything he had
came from his father.  And why it was not more was his own fault.  He
would not take it."

"Neither will I," said Lettice, crimsoning.  "What my father accepted
and left to us I considers ours; but I will take no more in any shape,
directly or indirectly."

"Then," said Godfrey, also losing his self-control, "you had better give
up all you have.  For, is surely as I stand here, you would not, as I
have already explained to you, have had one farthing left but for what
Ingram Morison did and risked.  You owe _all_ to him."

Lettice turned upon him, very pale now.

"You may some day repent taunting me so cruelly with what I am in no way
responsible for," she said.

Godfrey, recognising the truth of this, tried to make her better
understand him; but it was useless.

"I must bear it for the present," was all she would say; and Nina heard
her mutter something to herself about "once I am of age," which made her
still more uneasy.

"I have done more harm than good," said Godfrey at last.  "There is no
more to be said."

He glanced at Nina and Arthur, but neither spoke.  Lettice saw the
glance.

"We are all of one mind," she said proudly.  "Are we not, Nina?  Are we
not, Arthur?"

Nina's eyes filled with tears; Arthur was very pale.

"You know, Lettice," said Nina, "at all costs we must cling together;"
and Lettice preferred not to press her more closely.

And Godfrey Auriol returned to town the next morning.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

A TRAMP IN THE SNOW.

  "There is no dearth of kindness
  In this world of ours,
  Only in our blindness
  We gather thorns for flowers!"

  Gerald Massey.

A very cold winter morning, colder than is often the case before
Christmas, and Christmas was still some days off.  Snow had fallen in
the night; and while some weather optimists were maintaining that on
this account it would feel warmer now, others, more experienced, if less
hopeful, were prophesying a much heavier fall before night--what lay on
the ground was but the precursor of much more.

The family party round the breakfast table in the pretty Rectory of
Thorncroft were discussing the question from various points of view.

"If it would stop snowing now, and go on freezing _hard_ till the end of
the holidays, so that we could have skating all the time, then I don't
care what it does after," said Tom, a typical youth of fourteen, to be
met with, it seems to me, in at least six of every seven English country
families.

"No," said Ralph, his younger brother, "I'd rather it'd go on snowing
for about a week, so that we could have lots of snow-balling.  I like
that better than skating."

"There wouldn't be much of you or Tom left to skate or snowball either,
if it went on snowing for a week.  We'd be snowed up bodily," remarked
their father.  "Have you forgotten grandpapa's stories?"  For Thorncroft
was in an out-of-the-way part of the country, all hills and valleys,
where snowings-up were not altogether legend.  "But, independently of
that, I don't like you to talk quite so thoughtlessly.  Either heavy
snow or hard frost long prolonged brings terrible suffering."  And the
kind-hearted clergyman sighed, as he rose from the table and walked over
to the window, where he stood looking out for a few moments without
speaking.

"I must tell cook to begin the winter soup at once," said the mother,
speaking to her eldest daughter.  For in this family there was a sort of
private soup kitchen in severe weather--independently of charity to
their own parishioners--for the benefit of poor, storm-driven waifs and
strays, many of whom passed this way on their tramp to the northern
towns, which they were too poor to attain by the railway.  It was an old
custom, and had never been found productive of abuse.

"Yes," replied the young girl; "for I am sure the weather is going to be
dreadful.  Shall I go and speak about it, mamma?"

"Do, dear; your father may want me for a few minutes."

Daisy left the room, but only to reappear again very shortly with a
troubled face.

"Papa, mamma," she said, "there is a tramp at the door now.  He seems
nearly fainting, and cook says he must have been out in the snow all
night.  There is no soup ready; might I have a cup of tea for him?"

"Certainly," said her mother.  "Run, one of you boys, for a kitchen cup;
it will taste just as good, and I don't like to risk one of my dear old
china ones."

"Mamma," said Daisy, in a low voice--she was always a little afraid of
the boys laughing at her--"I don't think it would have mattered about
the cup.  Do you know, he looks quite like a gentleman?"

Her father, who was standing near, overheard the last words.  He had
been reading a letter, which he threw aside.

"There is nothing from Ingram," he remarked to his wife.  "I had hoped
for a letter.  I am so sorry for him, just at Christmas time again the
old disappointment.  But what is Daisy saying?"  The young girl repeated
what she had told her mother, and Ralph just then appearing with a
substantial cup and saucer, Mrs Winthrop poured out the tea, and Daisy,
carrying it, went off with her father to the kitchen door.

"A _gentleman_, you say, Daisy?" he repeated.

"Yes, papa, and quite young.  Cook says she is sure he is a gentleman."

"And _begging_?" added her father.

"Oh no--at least, I don't think so.  He just knocked at the door and
asked if he might warm himself at the fire.  And she said he looks so
ill.  I did not quite see him.  I just peeped in."

"Well, wait a moment, I'll speak to him first," said her father; for by
this time they had traversed the long passage which led to the kitchen
and offices--the Rectory at Thorncroft was a large roomy old house, and
the Winthrops were rich--and so saying the clergyman went in to have a
look at the stranger.

Almost immediately, Daisy, waiting at the door, heard herself called.

"Quick, my child--the hot tea.  He is nearly fainting, poor fellow!"

And Daisy, hurrying in, saw her father half lifting on to a chair a tall
thin figure with white face and closed eyes; while cook stood by looking
very frightened, and perhaps not altogether pleased at this desecration
of her spotless kitchen.  For the snow, melted by the heat, was running
off the stranger in little rivulets.

He was only half-fainting, however.  They made him swallow the tea, and
sent for another cup, into which Mrs Winthrop put a spoonful of brandy.
Then the young man sat up and looked about him confusedly.  Recognising
that he was among strangers, he thanked them earnestly for their
kindness, and struggling to his feet said that he must be going on.

"Going on, my good fellow!" said Mr Winthrop.  "You are not fit for it.
You must stay here an hour or two at least, and get dried and have
something to eat.  Have you far to go to-day?"

The young man coloured.

"I wanted to get to Clough," he said.  "It is ten days since I started.
I got on well enough, though it has been horribly cold," and he shivered
as he thought of it, "till last night."

"Were you out in the snow?" asked the rector compassionately.

"Not all night.  Oh no; I sheltered in a barn till early this morning.
Then it looked as if it were clearing, and I set off again.  I was
anxious to get on as far as I could before it came on again; but I lost
my way, I think; there was moonlight at first, but since daylight I have
been wandering about, not able to find the road.  Am I far from the
high-road to Clough?"

"Not very; you must have taken the wrong turn a couple of miles off.  We
are accustomed to--people,"--"tramps," he was going to have said, but he
changed the word in time--"making that mistake.  Now you had better take
off your wet things and get them dried, and have something to eat; and,
if you must go on, we will set you on your way.  And,"--here the good
rector hesitated--"you seem very young," he went on; "if I can give you
any counsel, remember, it is my business to do so."

The young fellow coloured up again painfully.  "You are very kind, sir,"
he said.

"Think it over.  I will see you again.  Peters," he called, and a
man-servant, brimful of curiosity appeared, "this,"--again an instant's
almost imperceptible hesitation--"this young gentleman has lost his way.
Take him to Master Tom's old room and help him to change his things.
We must find you a change while they are drying," he went on.  But the
young fellow held up a small bag he had been carrying.  "I have other
things, thank you," he said.  "But I should be most thankful to have
these dried."

Mr Winthrop rejoined Daisy and her mother.

"He is a gentleman, is he not, papa?" said the former eagerly.

"He strikes me as more of a schoolboy than anything else.  I hope he has
not run away in any sort of disgrace.  Still, whatever it is, one must
be kind to him, poor boy.  He is evidently not accustomed to roughing
it, and as far as one could see through the plight he was in, he seemed
well dressed.  I hope he will tell me something about himself."

The worst of the weather-prophets' predictions were realised.  Before
noon the snow came down again, this time in most sober earnest, and long
before dark Mr Winthrop, becoming convinced that they "were in for it,"
began to take some necessary precautions.  It was out of the question
for the young stranger to pursue his foot-journey.  His kind host
insisted on his remaining where he was for the night, though somewhat
embarrassed as to how to treat him.

"I cannot bring a complete stranger in among our own children," he said
to his wife, "and yet it seems impossible to tell him to sit with the
servants."

But the difficulty was solved by the young man's unfitness to leave his
room.  He had caught a chill, and was, besides, suffering from
exhaustion, both nervous and physical.

"Seems to me to have had a shock of some kind, and evidently very little
food for some days past," said the doctor whom Mr Winthrop was obliged
to send for the next morning.  "It may go on to rheumatic fever, or he
may--being young and healthy enough--fight it off.  But any way, you've
got him on your hands for two or three days, unless you like to get a
vehicle of some kind and send him to the hospital at Clough," said the
doctor, pitying the inconvenience to Mrs Winthrop.

"It would be a great risk, would it not?" said the rector.

"Yes, certainly it would be a risk.  Still you are not obliged to give
house-room to every benighted wanderer," said the doctor, smiling.

But Mr Winthrop felt certain this was no common case, and his kindness
was rewarded.  Thanks to the care and nursing he received, the dreaded
illness was warded off, and by the fourth day the young stranger was
well enough to pursue his journey.

"I can never thank you enough for your goodness to me, an utter
stranger," he said to his host, with the tears in his eyes.  "And I feel
so ashamed, so--" But here he broke down altogether.

"My poor boy," said the rector, "can you not give me your confidence?
Why are you wandering about the world alone like this?  I cannot believe
you have done anything wrong--at least, seriously wrong.  If you have
left your friends hastily for some half-considered reason, it may not be
too late to return.  Can I do anything to help you?  Can I write to your
father so as to put things straight again?"

"I have no father and no mother," said the lad.

"No, I have done nothing wrong; nothing disgraceful, in the usual sense,
I mean.  But I have done wrong in another way.  I have disappointed
every hope and effort that had been made for me, and I cannot face the
result I cannot tell you all, for if I did, you would probably think it
your duty to interfere--it is all so complicated and confused.  All I
can tell you is that I am going off like Whittington," he added with a
faint smile, "to seek my fortune.  And if I find it, it will not be
mine.  I owe it to others, that is the worst of it."

"And where do you think of going in the first place?" asked Mr
Winthrop.

"To Hexton," said the young man, naming the town he had been making for,
before his misadventure, "and from there to Liverpool.  I thought I
would try in Liverpool to get something to do, and if I did not succeed,
I thought perhaps I would go to America."

"And how would you get there?  Have you money?"

"I have a little that I left behind me in the charge of a friend to send
after me with my clothes when I get to Liverpool.  I thought it better
not to carry it with me; I might have been robbed, or,"--and here he
smiled again the same wintry little smile that seemed so pathetic on his
thin young face--"tempted to spend it, perhaps."

"And have you any one to go to at Liverpool--any introductions of any
kind?"

"No one--none, whatever," answered the poor boy sadly.

Mr Winthrop reflected a moment.

"I may be able to be of a little use to you in that way; at least, I
might be if I knew even a little more about you.  You cannot tell me
your name?"

The young man coloured and looked down.

"I cannot," he said.  "I thought it all over, and I determined that my
only chance was to tell nothing.  No, sir, you cannot help me; but I
thank you as much as if you had."

And thus Mr Winthrop was forced to let him go.  At the last moment an
idea struck him.  He gave the boy a few words of introduction to an old
friend of his in Liverpool--a friend, though in a different rank of
life--the son of a farmer in the neighbourhood, now holding a
respectable position in a business house there, telling him all, or
rather the exceedingly little, he knew of the stranger who had been
three days his guest, and asking him if under the circumstances he could
do anything to help, to do it.

"At the same time," he said to the young man, "I really do not know that
this will be of any service.  I cannot ask Mr Simcox to take any
responsibility in the matter.  You have not even told me your name."

"I know that," replied the youth dejectedly, "but I cannot help it.  I
cannot expect others to take me on trust as generously as you have
done."  And so saying he set off on his lonely journey, with kindly
words from Daisy and her mother, the two boys accompanying him to the
high-road.

The snow still lay on the ground, and Tom's wish for a prolonged frost
seemed likely to be fulfilled.

"We shall have splendid skating in a day or two," he remarked to "the
gentleman tramp," as he and Ralph had dubbed the stranger.  "Our pond
isn't very big, but it's very good ice generally.  You should see the
lake at Uncle Ingram's; _that's_ the best place, I know, for skating in
England."

The young man started at the name Tom mentioned.

"_Where_ did you say?" he asked.

"At my uncle Ingram's--Mr Morison's," said Tom.  "It's a long way from
here."

"But your name isn't Morison.  How can he be your uncle?"

"Why, his wife is our aunt.  He married mamma's sister.  Uncles are
often uncles that way," said Tom with an air of superior wisdom.

"Of course," said the young man; "how stupid of me."

"Well, don't be stupid about losing your way again," said the boy
patronisingly.  "Look here now, here's the high-road; you've nothing to
do but go straight on for some hours--two or three--and when you come to
a place where four roads meet, you'll see `Clough' marked on a
finger-post.  You can easily get there to-night."

"Thank you; thank you _very_ much," said the stranger; and, as the boys
turned from him, "Please thank your father and mother again for me," he
called out after them.

"He must be a gentleman," said Ralph.  "He speaks quite like one."

"Of course he is," said Tom.  "But he's rather queer.  He was so stupid
about Uncle Ingram.  I wonder what he's left his friends for."

"P'raps," said Ralph sagely, "he'd got a cruel stepmother that starved
and beat him, like Hop-o'-my-Thumb, you know."

"Nonsense," reproved Tom.  "That's all fairy story rubbish; and you know
papa says it's very wrong to talk about cruel stepmothers, and that
you're not to read any more fairy stories if you mix them up with real."

"Or," pursued Ralph, sublimely indifferent to this elder-brotherly
reproof, "it might have been a cruel uncle, like the babes in the wood's
uncle.  And _that's_ not a fairy story--_there_," he threw at Tom
triumphantly.

Many a true word is spoken in jest!

Little thought the two light-hearted boys as they made their way back
over the crisp, glittering snow to the happy, cheerful Rectory, how the
words "uncle," "my uncle Ingram," kept ringing in the ears of the
solitary traveller, but little older than they, as he pursued his weary
journey.  For in a sense it was truly from an uncle, or the distorted
image of one, that he was fleeing.

"Uncle Ingram to be _their_ uncle.  How extraordinary!" he kept saying
to himself.  "And how near I was more than once to telling my name.  If
I had--supposing I had got very ill and delirious and had told it--it
would all have come out.  It would not have been my fault _then_.
Lettice could not have reproached me, or written me any more of those
dreadful letters;" and a sigh, almost a shiver, of suffering went
through him as he thought of them.  "If I had died, they would have had
to hunt among my things, and they would have found my name.  I think it
would have been better.  Perhaps Lettice would have been sorry; any way,
it would have come to an end, and poor Nina would have been happier.
Lettice could not speak to her as she has done to me.  But I must not
begin thinking.  I must go on with it now."

He had no misadventures that day, and reached the town he was bound for
by the evening.  There he looked about till he saw a modest little inn,
where he put up for the night, remembering Mr Winthrop's advice to play
no tricks with himself in such severe weather, and when still not fully
recovered from his exposure to the snowstorm.

It was the day but one before Christmas.  Poor Arthur's eyes filled with
tears as he sat trying to warm himself on a bench at some little
distance from the fire in the rough room of the inn, where a motley
enough company of passers-by--small farmers from the neighbourhood, some
of the inferior grades of commercial travellers, one or two nondescript
figures, looking like wandering showmen, and a few others, were
assembled, some talking, some silent, mostly smoking, and all getting as
near the fire as they could, for it was again bitterly cold.  What a
contrast from last Christmas!  Then, ill though their mother was, she
had not seemed much worse than she had been for long, and had done her
utmost to be cheerful for her children's sake.  Arthur recalled the
pleasant little drawing-room at the Villa Martine, the bright sunshine
and lovely blue sky--for the short, though often even in those climates
sharp, winter had not set in till January--which almost seemed to laugh
at the usual associations of Christmas.  His brighter hopes, too, for he
had not yet realised his distaste and unfitness for his chosen
profession, and even if misgiving had now and then crossed his mind,
there was his mother to confide in, should it ever take form.

"I _can't_ believe mamma would have been so hard on me," he said to
himself.  "She might have been disappointed, but she wouldn't have
thought me disgraced for life.  Oh, why did she not live till this was
past?  She would have been sorry for me; she would not have blamed me
so--but then, she did not know all about the money.  To think, as
Lettice says, that all my education, _everything_, has in reality been
paid for by the man we can't--or won't--be even commonly civil to!  It
is the most miserable complication.  Not that it matters now to _me_.
He wouldn't be so ready to treat me as his son now that I've turned out
such a fool, and worse than a fool.  Lots of fools get on well enough,
and nobody finds out they are fools; but _I_ must needs go and make an
exhibition of myself and my folly;" and he positively writhed at the
remembrance.  "However, that part of it is at an end.  I'll use no more
of his money, and, if I live to make any of my own, the first thing I'll
do will be to repay what I have used, though without the least idea of
all this."

Then his thoughts wandered off again to the happy family he had just
left.  How kind they had been to him!  How gladly, had they had the
slightest notion of who he was, would they have made him welcome to pass
his Christmas among them!  Mrs Winthrop especially, whom, as his aunt's
sister, he thought of with a peculiar interest.  How gentle and motherly
she was, and, doubtless, his aunt was just the same.

"Ah!" sighed Arthur again, "if Lettice could but have seen things
differently, I would not have been where I am to-day.  I might have
given up the attempt in time, before I had disgraced myself.  I might--"

But his further reflections were cut short by a voice beside him.  It
came from a burly personage who had, without Arthur's noticing, so
absorbed had he been in his reflections, installed himself on the bench
at his side, puffing away busily and contentedly at a clay pipe.  He had
not hitherto spoken, but had sat still, looking about him with a pair of
shrewd but not unkindly eyes.

"And whur,"--with a broad accent--"may you be boun', young man?" he
inquired good-naturedly.  "Better bide at home, say I, by such weather,
if so be as one's not forced to be on the roads."

CHAPTER EIGHT.

A FRIEND IN NEED.

  "I'm sure it's winter fairly."

  Burns.

Arthur started.  He brushed hastily away the tears that lingered in his
eyes, hoping that the new-comer had not observed them.

"I--I--" he began, then hesitated a little, "I'm on my way to Liverpool.
I want to go to America."

"Ameriky," said the old man; "that's a long way.  Have ye friends
there?"

Arthur shook his head.  He did not care about this cross-questioning,
and, had he reflected a little, he would not perhaps have answered so
openly.  But he was inexperienced, and unaccustomed to be on his guard.
He tried to think of some observation to make which would turn the
conversation, but nothing came into his head except the subject which
never fails--the weather.

"Do you think it is going to snow again?" he said timidly, glancing up
at his companion.  He looked something like a farmer of the humbler
class--farmers were always interested in the weather.

The man raised his head quickly, as if to look up, forgetting seemingly
that he was not in the open air.  Then he smiled a little.

"Can't say," he replied.  "But I rather think we've had the worst of it
for a while.  And so ye're off to Ameriky, young man?  You don't look so
fit for it nayther."

"I'm going to Liverpool first," said Arthur.  "Perhaps I'll stay there.
I have--" "an introduction there," he was going on to say, but the words
stopped on his lips.  They sounded far too important under the
circumstances.  Besides, and for the first time this new difficulty
struck him, he dare not avail himself of Mr Winthrop's letter, which he
had been so glad of!  The person to whom it was addressed was pretty
sure to be in some way connected, directly or indirectly, with his
uncle's business, and, even if not so, when Mr Winthrop came to hear of
his, Arthur's, disappearance, he might identify him with the traveller
they had so kindly received, and trace him through this very
introduction.  And as all this went through his mind, his face fell.
His companion, who was watching him, saw the change of expression.

"You have, you were saying, you have friends at Liverpool?" he said.

Arthur began to feel irritated at his pertinacity; he had not had much
experience of the curiosity of many whose quiet uneventful lives force
them into gossip as their only attainable excitement; but, looking up at
the good-humoured face beside him, his annoyance disappeared, and in its
place came a sudden impulse of confidence.

"No," he said bluntly; "I have no friends there, nor indeed anywhere,
whom I can ask for help.  I have neither father nor mother.  I want to
earn my living, and in time, if I can, to do more than that.  And I'm
not proud.  I'd do anything, and I'd be more grateful than I can say to
any one who'd put me in the way of something."

The farmer sat silent.  He puffed away at his pipe, and between the
puffs he took a good look now and again at his companion.  The rather
thin young face was flushed now; the beautiful brown eyes sparkled with
excitement.  It was a very attractive face.

"Very genteel-looking; no doubt of that.  And James and Eliza think a
deal o' that," he murmured to himself.

But Arthur did not catch the words.  He sat without speaking.  He had no
idea of help coming from his present companion; he had no notion of what
was passing in his mind.  His thoughts were wandering far away, and he
started when the farmer, with a preliminary cough to attract his
attention, again spoke to him.

"You're set on Liverpool, I'm thinking?" he began.

Arthur did not at once understand his meaning.

"I'm going to Liverpool.  I intend to go there," he said.

"And you're _set_ on it?" the farmer repeated.  "No other place'd be to
your fancy, I suppose?"

"Oh," said Arthur, taking in his meaning.

"No; I don't particularly care about Liverpool.  Indeed, I rather think
I should like anywhere else better."  For he realised that through the
information which might not improbably be got sooner or later from Mr
Winthrop, Liverpool would be the first place in which he would be
sought.

"_In_deed," said the farmer.

"I had no reason for choosing Liverpool," Arthur went on.  "It was on
the way to America; I suppose that was why I thought of it," he added
innocently.

"Just so," ejaculated his companion.  Then, after a few more puffs at
his pipe and a few more scrutinising glances at Arthur between times, he
proceeded with what he had to say.  He had a daughter, it appeared,
married to a draper, _the_ draper of the little town of Greenwell, not
many miles off.  She, or her husband, or both of them, were in search of
a young man to help in the shop, and they had confided their anxieties
to their father, knowing that he had a journey of some days to make, and
there was no saying but what he might come across the person they were
looking for.

"Eliza, she won't have none of the lads thereabouts," he explained.
"They're roughish-like, and Eliza she thinks a deal o' genteelness, does
Eliza.  It strikes me, young man, you'd please her for that.  And it'd
be a good home, if you were honest and industrious."  Here he stopped
and looked at his companion.

Arthur's face was still redder than before.

"A shop-boy," he said to himself--"a shop-boy!"  But aloud he only said
quietly--

"I don't know anything whatever of the sort of work it would be.  Does
not your son-in-law need some one who knows something about it?"  The
farmer scratched his head.

"You can write a good hand, I'm thinking," he said; "and you can soon
learn how to make out the accounts.  It's not that; it's who's to speak
for you;" and he looked up again more scrutinisingly than heretofore in
Arthur's face.  It did not grow the less red on that account.  "I have
no one to speak for me," he replied haughtily; "so there's no use
thinking about it.  All the same," he went on, recollecting himself, I
thank you very much, very much indeed.  I'm very tired, and I think I'll
go to bed and, rising, he held out his hand, with the gentle courtesy
innate in him, to the farmer, who grasped it heartily in his horny palm,
with a friendly "Good night."

"I'll see ye in the mornin', mebbe," he said.

"It's not the weather, nor yet the time o' year, for too early a start."

"It's something to have any one to say: `Good night' to," thought
Arthur, as he mounted the narrow staircase to the stuffy little bedroom
he had with some difficulty secured to himself for the night, and the
tears again welled up, though he tried hard to ignore them.

He slept soundly for some hours, for he was thoroughly tired; but he
woke early, and lay anxiously turning over things in his mind.  Should
he try for the situation the farmer had spoken of?  True, there was the
difficulty of "no references;" but Arthur's practical sense had thought
of a way out of that.  He had some money--very little with him--but a
few pounds he had left with his clothes and other small possessions in
the safe keeping of a young man, whom he knew he could depend upon to
keep secret.  This was a former servant in the family of Arthur's tutor;
and when obliged through an accident to leave his place, some kindness
young Morison had shown him had completely gained his heart.

"I could write to Dawson to send my box on to Greenwell, or whatever's
the name of the place," he said to himself.  "Then I could give the
genteel Eliza some money to keep as a sort of guaranty, to be given back
to me when they were satisfied I was not a thief;" and Arthur laughed,
perhaps because it was better than crying.  "I believe that would do
away with all difficulties.  And once I am settled, it would be
something to be able to write to Lettice, and tell her that, disgraced
as I am, I have still found something to do, and that I _am_ earning my
own livelihood already."

His face flushed, though with honest pride this time.

"I should have preferred her to think me in America," his thoughts went
on; "but it would be wrong to leave them in anxiety so long.  At least,
if they still think me worth being anxious about!  Any way, they will be
glad to know I am alive and well."

He had already since his flight written twice to his sisters, twice
since the terrible day when, morally convinced of his failure, he had
altogether lost heart and fainted in his place among the candidates,
though the examination was but half over.  He had written, confessing
the whole--his nervous terror of the ordeal, his utter incapacity to
face more, his thorough unfitness for the profession he had no wish to
enter, and announcing, at the same time, his determination henceforth to
depend on himself alone, and to work till he could repay the obligation
to their uncle, of which Lettice, in her mistaken idea of keeping up his
spirit, had so often reminded him.

"I am not a coward," he had said in one of these letters, "though
Lettice may say I am.  I have only been a coward in one thing--in my
fear of telling the truth, which I thought would so horribly distress
her.  I dreaded her reproaches, and I still dread them; but I shall no
longer deserve them.  I, at least, will make my own way, and some day I
may be able to do something for all of you, and, in the meantime, you
will all be better and happier without the brother who has disappointed
you so sadly."

And these letters he had sent through the same agency, that of poor
Dawson, so that there was no post-mark or mark of any kind to betray his
present quarters.

And so his thoughts went on that dreary morning in the little stuffy
bedroom.  If he did not accept the chance so unexpectedly thrown in his
way, what was he to do?  He dared not make use of his letter to Mr
Winthrop's friend; he dared hardly go to Liverpool.  For he was
beginning to gain experience.  He saw that without references of any
kind he might get into awkward predicaments, might be suspected of
having run away in disgrace of some very different kind from the failure
which he himself judged so severely.

"And that would be _too_ horrible," thought the poor boy; "to be taken
up as a suspicious character, and a scandal about it, and to have to go
home and go on living on Uncle Ingram's money after all, and feel that
every one connected with me was ashamed of me!  No; I must see what that
old fellow has to say, if he hasn't thought better of it.  He's a good
old chap, I'm sure."

His resolution had not time to cool, for the farmer had "slept upon it"
to some purpose.  He greeted Arthur with friendly good nature, and,
without his needing to broach the subject, started it himself again.  He
was on his way home, and had promised to "stop with Eliza and James over
Christmas," as Greenwell was only a few hours from his own village, and
he proposed to Arthur to accompany him, "to take a look at the place
like, so being as he had naught better to do with hisself."

"And to let them take a look at me," added Arthur, smiling.  "It's very
good of you indeed.  It's more than good of you," he added, "to trust a
perfect stranger, and one that can't tell you all about himself either.
It was family troubles that have made me leave my home, but that's all I
can say."

"There's no lack o' troubles nowheer," said the farmer; "and there's no
need o' telling what's no one's business but one's own."

"But," continued Arthur, "if your son-in-law, Mr--I don't think you
told me his name?"

"Lamb, James Lamb," replied the old man.

"If Mr Lamb engages me, I can give him a sort of a pledge for my
honesty, any way.  I have a little money I can send for, and I could
give it into his keeping for a while."

The farmer's face cleared.

"That's not a bad idea," he said.  "Not but what I knows an honest face
when I sees one, but James--he might think me soft-like.  I had a lad o'
my own onst," he went on, with an unusual gentleness in his voice, "and
I lost him many years ago now--Eliza she were the daughter o' my wife
that is--just about thy age, my lad," relapsing into the second person
singular as he grew more at ease, "seems to me he favoured thee a bit.
But Eliza and James they'd mebbe laugh at me for an old fool, so I'm
mighty glad about the money."

"I won't write for it yet," said Arthur.  "I'd better wait till we get
to Greenwell, and see how things turn out I left it with my clothes and
other things with a friend to send after me."

"Just so," said the farmer.  "Oh, as for that, it'll be time enough."

An hour or two later saw Arthur, in company with his new friend, mounted
in the light box-cart of the latter, and driving, though at a sober
pace, for the roads were very slippery, in the direction of the little
town of Greenwell.  It was a long drive.  They stopped towards midday at
a little roadside inn for some refreshment in the shape of
bread-and-cheese and beer, and then jogged on again.  It was not a
luxurious mode of travelling; still, it was much better than tramping
through the snow, and Arthur's days of roughing it had taught him the
useful lesson of being thankful for small boons.  But as the early
winter dusk fell it grew colder and colder, and Arthur shivered, though
he had a good thick coat, and the farmer had given him a plentiful share
of the rough horse-cloth, which did duty for a carriage rug.

"Christmas Eve," he said, after a long silence, hardly aware that he was
speaking aloud.

"Ay so," said his companion, "the years they comes, and the years they
goes.  'Tis many a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as I mind.  `Peace on
earth, goodwill to men,' parson tells us.  They've been a-tellin' it a
sight o' Christmases, seems to me, but we're a long way off it still,
I'm afeard."

"I'm afraid so," said Arthur with a sigh.

And then his thoughts wandered off again to his home.  Lettice would
hear those same words to-morrow morning.  How would they strike her?
Was she not wrong, _quite_ wrong? was the question that came over and
over again for the thousandth time in his mind.  Could it be showing
true honour to their dead parents to persist in the course she was
doing--a course setting at defiance the Divine injunction?  Nay, even
allowing they, or their father rather, had been injured, unfairly
treated, was there not Divine command for such cases, too?  "Forgive, as
ye would be forgiven," "unto seventy times seven," were the words that
floated about before the boy's eyes, illuminated, as it were, on the
ever-darkening sky in front of him.  And who was it they were refusing
to forgive?  One who had never injured them, one who had generously
taken upon him responsibilities and risks he was in no way called upon
to trouble himself with.

"Ah, yes," thought Arthur sadly, "that has been his crime in her eyes--
his very goodness."  And somehow he felt less unhappy and perplexed when
he allowed himself to recognise this than when he strove, as he had
thought himself bound to do, against his better judgment, to think
Lettice right, to accept the arguments she had so plausibly brought to
bear upon him.

"She must be wrong," he thought.  "And if I had been older and wiser,
or, at least, more courageous, I might have made her care to see it.
But what right have I to speak, miserable failure that I am?  I can only
do what I am doing--be faithful and loyal to her, even if she is
mistaken, and do my utmost to lessen the burden;" and, with another
sigh, Arthur shook himself out of his reverie.

_How_ cold it was growing!

"Are we near there?" he inquired.

"Not so far now," said the old man cheerily.  "'Twill be good seeing a
bright fire and a bite of supper.  The old woman--that's my wife, none
so very old nayther--will be lookin' out for us.  She were to come to
Eliza's to-day like, so as we might have our Christmas together.  The
plum-pudding will have been ready this three weeks, I make no doubt.
She's a rare housekeeper, is my Eliza, though I says it as shouldn't."

And Arthur was boy enough to feel considerable satisfaction in the
prospect of plum-pudding, even though served in homely guise.  It was a
long way better than Christmas Day on the road, or in some poor lodging
in loneliness and dreariness!

In a few minutes more the farmer turned off the road they had for some
time been following, and shortly after this, twinkling lights began to
be visible in the distance.  There were not many travellers of any kind
about; it was too cold for all not forced to do so to expose themselves
to the open air; and when at last, after rattling over the stones of an
old-fashioned street, the farmer drew up at a door, evidently the
private entrance to a shuttered shop next it, Arthur really felt that he
could hardly have endured a quarter of an hour more of it.  The mere
thought of a fire was felicity, and he did not need twice bidding to
jump down and knock lustily at the door.  But before it was opened a
misgiving seized him.

"Had I not better go somewhere else for the night?" he asked his old
friend.  "They're not expecting me.  I dare say I can get a bed
somewhere near; and then, by the morning you will have told them about
me."

The farmer ejaculated something, which was evidently meant as an
equivalent to "nonsense."

"D'ye think now, James or Eliza'd turn a dog to the door such a night as
this, much less a Christian?" he replied reassuringly.  "Seein', too,
that it's _me_ as brings you," he added, just as the door opened.

For the next minute or two there was a chatter of rather noisy welcome,
questions made and asked, women's voices, and men's laughter.  Then
Arthur, feeling himself confused and dazed, conscious of almost nothing
but the numbing cold--for he was not yet as strong as usual--found
himself in a large, comfortable, though plainly furnished room, with a
great old-fashioned fireplace at one end, in which a great old-fashioned
fire was burning.  He still heard the voices going on about him, though
at a little distance, and he had an instinctive feeling that they were
talking about him.  He stood irresolute, uncertain whether to turn back
or go forward, when a kindly voice caught his ear.

"Come near the fire.  I'm sure you're freezing cold.  Eliza's that
pleased to see her father again, she sees no one else.  James, you've
not shook hands with--but, to be sure, my old man's not told us your
name yet."

Arthur smiled.  It would not have been easy for the farmer to tell his
name when he had never heard it himself.  He tried to collect his
thoughts, but he still felt very light-headed and strange.

"My name," he began, "is John--John Morris," which, so far as it went,
was true.  "I wish you would call me John."

"Surely," replied "James," as in response to his mother-in-law's hint he
shook hands, so heartily as to make him wince, with the young stranger.
"You're kindly welcome, and, if so be as it suits you to stay on with
us, I don't doubt but as we'll pull together."

But he confided to his Eliza afterwards that, though there was no doubt
as to his having a very "genteel" appearance, he was by no means sure
that this young fellow whom her father had picked up would be strong
enough for the place.

"Nevertheless, we'll give him a good Christmas dinner, and cheer him up
a bit.  He looks sadly pulled down like, poor fellow!"

CHAPTER NINE.

A CAB AND A CARRIAGE.

  "Life, believe, is not a dream
  So dark as sages say;
  Oft a little morning rain
  Foretells a pleasant day."

  Charlotte Bronte.

About a week before the cold evening of Arthur's drive with the old
farmer in his cart to Greenwell, late one afternoon, a young lady in
deep mourning might have been seen getting out of the train at a certain
station in London.  She was alone, and she had no luggage, except a
little bag which she carried; and yet, as the train was an express one,
not stopping at stations near at hand, it was clear that she had come
from some distance.  A porter, on the alert for embarrassed lady
travellers, quickly called a cab for her, looking disappointed at no
trunks being forthcoming, but needlessly so, as he received a liberal
amount of coppers for the small service he had rendered.  This rather
unusual generosity made him give more attention than he generally had
time to bestow on travellers, to the tall, slight, black-shrouded
figure.  The thick veil which she wore blew aside for an instant as she
got into the cab, and he saw that she was very young, very pretty, and
evidently in trouble, for her eyes showed traces of recent tears.

"Poor thing!" said the porter to himself.  "A suddint summins, no
doubt--wired for--started at onst--no luggage--no time to think of
nothink;" and being a rather tender-hearted porter, he could hardly
refrain, as he stood with his hand on the cab door waiting for the
address, from adding paternally, "Hope you won't find things so bad as
you anticerpate, miss;" but before he had time to make up his mind
whether he should or should not express these kindly feelings, he was
startled by her saying rapidly, though in a low voice--

"Ask him to drive quickly, please, as quickly as possible;" and then she
gave the address, which, rather to the porter's surprise, was in that
part of London where no one but lawyers, and lawyers in their official
capacity solely, are to be heard of, which circumstance gave the porter
matter for reflection for fully one minute and a half, till the next
train came in or went out, and he relapsed into his normal condition.

Whether the cabman drove quickly or not, it did not appear so to the
unhappy girl seated in his cab.  It seemed hours to her, till he at last
drew up, in a dingy, smoke-dried, but respectable locality, where she
had never been before in her life.  She jumped out of the cab, hardly
replying to the driver's inquiry as to whether he was to wait--which,
however, as she had not paid him, he naturally decided to do--and only
stopping to read the lists of names inscribed at each side of the open
doorway, leading to the staircase common to all the tenants of the
house, she hurried in, and was lost to sight in its solemnly gloomy
recesses.  Five minutes later she was back again, extreme dejection
visible in her whole bearing to any one observing her with attention,
even without the sight of the pale, agitated face which her veil
concealed.  But the cabman was not observing her; he was tired, and
inclined to be drowsy, in spite of the cold weather, and Lettice stood
still for a moment or two before getting into the cab again.

"Godfrey away, for a fortnight, at least.  What _shall_ I do?--oh, what
_shall_ I do?" she said to herself, pressing her hands together in
agony.  "If I only knew where he was!"  But at his chambers they had
refused, though quite civilly, to give her his address, contenting
themselves with assuring her that any letters would be forwarded to him
at once.  "He may be abroad; he may be ever so far away.  He _might_
have let us know he was going;" but here her conscience reproached her.
How could she expect him to have done anything of the sort when she
remembered how they had last parted the cold contempt with which she had
received his kind and reasonable remonstrances, till at last, stung into
indignation, he had declared that henceforth he would leave her to
herself, merely interfering with advice and direction when he saw it
absolutely necessary to do so?  And that was now three or four months
ago.  Since then he had only written on strictly business matters--about
having taken on Faxleham Cottage for six months longer, directions about
Auriol's schooling, and so on.  And these three or four months had been
among the dreariest and most anxious Lettice had ever known.  Nina was
pale and drooping; Arthur's letters were rare and unsatisfactory; the
autumn had been an unusually rainy and depressing season, and they had
absolutely no friends.  But for Miss Branksome's unfailing cheerfulness,
Nina and the younger ones would, indeed, have been to be pitied, though
less than Lettice herself.

For, far as she was from owning herself to be the cause of all this
unhappiness, her conscience was not at rest, and misgivings from time to
time made themselves felt, though she stifled them by exaggerating to
herself the soundness of her motives.  And this very exaggeration made
her write to poor Arthur the letters which, in his overstrained state,
had had so disastrous a result.

Towards Nina, too, she knew, at the bottom of her heart, that she had
not acted fairly, though the reserve that had gradually grown up between
them, had prevented her thoroughly understanding her younger sister.
For what--for whom, rather--was poor Nina pining?

"_Does_ she care for Godfrey?"  Lettice asked herself, feeling that if
Nina had learnt to do so it was thanks to _her_ influence, and no other.
And as time went on, and Lettice began to own to herself that it did
_not_ seem as if Godfrey were in love with Nina--"had it been so," she
reflected, "he is far too resolute to have been kept back by his quarrel
with _me_,"--she almost came to hope that on both sides the dream had
been the creation of her own fancy--her own self-will she would not call
it.

Though even in this hope she found small rest for her troubled spirit.
If it were not about Godfrey that Nina was fretting away, though
patiently and uncomplainingly, the brightness from her pretty eyes, the
roses from her young cheeks, about whom and what was it?  And a certain
afternoon last August, and a certain conversation with a fair-faced,
honest young gentleman, who had come to plead his cause with manly
straightforwardness; who had gone away looking ten years older, though
with courteous and grateful words to herself on his lips, rose up before
Lettice's remembrance with reproachful eyes.

And all these memories--as in the so often quoted case of a drowning
person--rushed through Lettice's mind in the half-minute during which
she stood there in her distress and desolation, while her lips repeated
the same murmur--"What shall--oh, what _shall_ I do?  Every moment of
time that I am losing here may be of the most vital importance."

Once she turned and made a step or two towards the door again, in a
half-formed resolution to inquire if Mr Auriol's clerk could give her
the address of Philip Dexter.  But from this she shrank with the
strongest feelings of her nature.

"To go to _him_--to appeal to _him_ to help me," she reflected.  "It
would be like begging him on again for Nina.  It would be owning that it
was all nonsense about Godfrey's caring for her--and for Arthur's sake,
too.  Why should I publish his humiliation to any but those who _must_
know it?"

And again she stood irresolute and altogether wretched.  And cabby,
beginning to wake up and giving signs of being about to begin wondering
what queer sort of a "fare, as didn't know its own mind, he had got hold
of," doubled and trebled the girl's embarrassment.

"I must go to some hotel for the night, I suppose," she said to herself.
"And oh! the horror of sitting there all the evening doing nothing, and
lying there all night doing nothing--and Arthur, my darling brother,
setting sail for America, before we can stop him; or perhaps--worse and
worse--tossing in some miserable place among strangers, in a brain
fever, where he may die--_die_, without having forgiven me!"

Nearly driven frantic by her own imaginings, she looked round her with a
vague, altogether unreasonable appeal for help or guidance.

"What _shall_ I do?" she ejaculated for the twentieth time, when just at
that moment a carriage drew up--cabby rousing himself to move on so as
to make room for it, for it was an unmistakable carriage, a small but
thoroughly well-appointed brougham, quite capable of commanding his
respectful deference--before the door where Lettice was standing, and a
gentleman got out and came slowly over the pavement towards the house.
The pavement, or the space between the houses and the real pavement, was
wide there.  It looked as if in far-off times there might have been a
grass-plot or a flowerbed or two in front; and as the new-comer
approached, Lettice had time to see him clearly.  She looked at him--at
the first glance a wild idea had struck her that possibly he might be
Godfrey Auriol returned unexpectedly--with a sort of half-bewildered
curiosity, but gradually a vague feeling came over her that he was not
altogether unknown to her, that somewhere she had seen him before, or
else that he resembled some one she had once known.  But as he passed
by, she recollected herself and turned sharply away.  What was it to her
what or who this stranger was?  What was she made of to be standing
there losing the precious moments in idle conjecture?  And again the
whole force of her mind became concentrated on the absorbing question--
what _was_ she to do?

She was turning at last to the cab, in a desperate resolution to go
_somewhere_, when a quick step behind her made her look round.  To her
surprise there stood facing her the gentleman who a moment before had
passed her to enter the house.  He raised his hat, and she, looking at
him, was again struck by his strange indefinite likeness to _some one_.
He was slightly above the middle height, his dark hair already a very
little hazed with grey.  He looked a man of about forty, though in
reality he was some years younger; his expression was gentle but rather
piercing.  There was great power, moral and intellectual, in his
well-shaped forehead.

"Excuse me for addressing you," he said.  "But you seemed to me to be at
a loss.  Perhaps you are inquiring for some one you cannot find?  I know
this neighbourhood well.  Can I help you?"

Lettice looked at him again.  The gentleman's tone was so respectful as
well as kind, that the most timorous of maidens could scarcely have
failed to feel confidence in him.  And Lettice was the reverse of
timorous; she was fearless to a fault, and her inexperience suggested no
misgiving.

"Do you perhaps," she began, "do you happen to know any one here--in
this house?  I am so disappointed at finding the friend, the gentleman I
came to see, on _most_ urgent business, away from home.  And they won't
even give me his address?" she added girlishly, the tears welling up
again as she spoke.

A curious look came into the kindly eyes that were regarding her, and
the stranger made a very slight involuntary movement, almost as if he
were going to lay his hand on her arm to console her as one would do to
a troubled child.  But he checked himself.

"I know Mr Auriol, Mr Godfrey Auriol, whose office is in this house,"
he said.

"That is he," exclaimed Lettice with delighted eagerness.  "Oh, how
fortunate that I should have met you!  If you could, oh, if you could
but get them to give me his address, I might telegraph to him.  It would
save ever so much time.  Perhaps, I should tell you," she went on, "I
have a right to ask for his address; he is my--our guardian.  My name is
Morison."

There was no visible change of expression in the stranger's face, but
one knowing him well would have seen a light in his eyes that was not
there before.  And his lips moved, though no sound was heard.  "Thank
God for this," were the inaudible words.

"I can easily get you his address," he said.  "I was just going in to
ask if they had any definite news of his return.  I want to see him as
soon as he comes back.  Will you wait here a moment?  It is very cold,"
he added, looking round.  "Is that your cab waiting?"

"Yes," said Lettice.

The gentleman glanced at the cab, with its ill-fitting doors and
windows, and the inevitable damp and chilly straw on the floor.

"I doubt if you would be much warmer there," he said with a smile.
"Would you--will you do me the favour to get into my brougham while I go
upstairs?  There is a hot-water footstool--and rugs--for I have just
taken my wife home.  You don't think me very presuming?" he added.
"Remember, I am a friend of Godfrey's."

There was something reassuring in the simple way in which he spoke of
Mr Auriol by his Christian name, even had Lettice wanted reassuring,
which she did not.  She looked up again in the stranger's face and said,
with an abruptness that sometimes characterised her--

"Are you a doctor?"

He smiled.  "No, I am not.  I am sorry for it if it would have given you
more confidence in me.  Though I hope," he added with real anxiety,
"that it is not to hear of a doctor that you are here.  None of you are
ill?  _That_ isn't the urgent business, I trust?"

"No," replied Lettice, surprised at his way of speaking.  "He must have
heard about us from Godfrey," she decided.  "At least, I hope not," she
added, as her terrible picture of Arthur in a brain fever came before
her eyes.  "I _hope_ not.  But I don't know what I think or fear.  You
won't be long?" she said appealingly, for by this time her new friend
had handed her into the snug little carriage.

"Two minutes at most," he replied.

And Lettice sat there, grateful in a sort of childish way for the
cushioned warmth and comfort, though till then she had thought nothing
about how cold she was, gazing before her in a vague, half-dazed way,
feeling almost as if she would fall asleep if she were left there long,
but in some indefinite way undoubtedly many degrees less miserable and
desolate than before the apparition of the brougham.

Its owner was as good as his word Two minutes had barely elapsed before
he was back again.

"I have his present address," he said.  "But he is a long way off.  He
is in Scotland, and is not expected back for a fortnight.  He is away on
professional business, but he had hoped not to have to go so far.  He
had hoped to be back to spend Christmas with us down in the country.
Now," he continued, "what is to be done?  You can telegraph to him, but
I doubt if it would be _possible_ for him to come back, and it is an
out-of-the-way place where he is.  You said there was no time to be
lost?  Have you no one else, no other friend or--or relative?"  Here his
voice faltered as he looked anxiously into the girl's face, so pale and
drawn and careworn as it had again become.

She roused herself with a sort of effort.

"I don't know what to do," she repeated.

"Can you not, though I am a stranger, can you not make up your mind--we
have been brought together so strangely--can you not tell me what is the
matter?" he said, beseechingly almost.

All this time he was standing with his hand on the carriage door.

"If you would let me take you home--to my wife," he continued, "you
would see how kind and sympathising she is.  Could you tell _her_,
better?"

"Oh no, thank you," said Lettice.  "I could tell you just as well.  The
trouble is about--my brother."

"Your brother--Arthur?  God forbid!" he exclaimed.  "Is it anything very
serious?"

"I fear so, but I don't know," she replied, shaking her head.  And at
the moment it did not strike her, so impressed was she with the
magnitude of her overwhelming anxiety, how curious it was that a
complete stranger should be so affected by her troubles!  Yet his naming
her brother by name caught her attention.  "You know about us.  I
suppose from Mr Auriol?" she said.

"Yes," he replied, but in an absent way.

And still Lettice sat gazing before her, as if she were half-stunned.
Then suddenly, raising her eyes--

"Arthur has run away," she said.  "At least, he has _gone_ away.  He
wrote that he would try to go to America, but we were afraid, Nina and
I--we got his letter last night, and I came off by the first train this
morning.  Nina and Miss Branksome wanted me to wait and to telegraph
first, so I came away without telling them.  I could not bear waiting--
we were afraid that he might have fallen ill somewhere.  He has not been
well lately, and the shock of his disgrace--"

"Disgrace!  What disgrace?" exclaimed the gentleman.

"He has failed--at least, he saw that he was going to fail--in his
examination, and he would not face the rest of it," said Lettice, the
crimson rising to her face.

The stranger could hardly repress a smile.

"But why use such terribly strong words about it?  Failing in his
examination a disgrace!  You startled me," he said with evident and
immense relief.

"_He_ took it so," said Lettice, a little nettled.

"And I--I used to think I would feel it so too, but I don't seem to mind
now.  I would mind nothing if we could find him."

"Have you any trace?  Can you tell me all the particulars?"

"Yes," said Lettice, feeling in her pocket for Arthur's letter.  But the
stranger interrupted her.

"Now that you have told me so much, you will not refuse to let me tell
you something--make some explanations to you.  You will let me send away
your cab, and take you home to my wife?  I think I can promise to help
you, but you must give me all particulars, and in a circumstantial
manner.  That will take time.  But first, Lettice, it is not fair to you
not to tell you who I am.  I am not only Godfrey Auriol's friend; I am--
do not be startled, my child--I am your uncle, Ingram Morison."

He turned away after saying these words.  He would not look at her face,
half out of pity for her, half out of an almost childish terror of the
deep disappointment to himself, should he see its expression turn into
hard resentment.  He walked up and down in the cold for a moment or two,
then hearing, or fancying he heard, a low, half-stifled call--to his
ears it took the sound of the words he had so often longed to hear,
"Uncle Ingram"--he turned back again.  She was looking out of the
brougham window, the glass was down, her face was paler than one could
almost believe it possible for a young, healthy face to be, her lips
were quivering, there was a look of suffering and humiliation almost,
but there was no hardness or resentment.

"Lettice," he said gently.  "_May_ I send away your cab?"

There was great tact in the tone and manner of the simple question.
Lettice's eyes filled with tears.  She did not speak, but she bent her
head in assent.

CHAPTER TEN.

NEW-FOUND RELATIONS.

  "Speak of me as I am: nothing extemporate."

  Shakespeare.

The drowsy cabman was aroused from his slumbers to be, rather to his
surprise, paid and dismissed, but paid so handsomely that he went off
thinking himself for once in the way of good luck.  Then Mr Morison
said a few words to his coachman and, getting into the brougham, took
his seat beside his niece.

"Lettice," he said quietly, speaking at once to relieve her
embarrassment, "I have told the coachman to drive round a quiet way
before we go home, to give you time to tell me all you can, every
detail, about Arthur, so that we may not lose an hour.  Will you now
give me the whole particulars?"

Calmed by his quiet, almost matter-of-fact manner, Lettice did so,
though the recital led her into much painful to relate.  For now that,
thanks to the terrible anxiety through which she was passing, the scales
had fallen from her eyes, she saw in its true light, even perhaps with
exaggerated harshness--for Lettice was never one to do things by
halves--her own wilful blindness, her own prejudice, unreason, and
self-will.  And when she came to tell her uncle how she had written to
Arthur, she altogether broke down.

"I had better show you his letter," she said, amidst her tears; "it will
make you understand him.  He _has_ exaggerated, has he not?" she said,
looking up wistfully.  "If he had not been overstrained and morbid, he
would not have taken it up so, would he?"

She sat quietly waiting till Mr Morison had read the letter.  His face
was very grave as he handed it back to Lettice.  But it was grave with
anxiety not with indignation.

"He was certainly in a very excited and morbid state when he wrote
this," he said.  "He has been overworking himself probably.  No one in
possession of their senses would do anything but laugh at his imagining
himself disgraced for life by having failed in his first attempt at
passing for Woolwich;" and Mr Morison could not help smiling.

"I am afraid I helped him to think so," said Lettice; "you see, he
refers to what I wrote.  I could not understand his seeming so much less
in earnest than he used to be, and so spiritless, and I wrote meaning to
rouse him.  I did _not_ know, that is my only excuse--indeed, I did
_not_ know till now, what explains it all--the dislike he had taken to
his intended profession," she added earnestly.

"My dear child," said her uncle, kindly patting the hand she had
involuntarily laid on his arm, "do not plead so piteously as if I were
constituting myself a judge over you.  What you say seems to me to have
been the principal point--the only point--on which Arthur is really to
blame.  Why did he not tell you that he no longer felt any liking for
the service?"

"Ah," said Lettice, "I fear that was my influence again.  I think he was
afraid of telling it, afraid of how I should take it."

"But that was cowardice, _moral_ cowardice," for he felt that Lettice
winced at the strong, expression.  "I am very plain-spoken, Lettice," he
added, though looking at her so kindly that the words had no harshness
in them.  "When I see Arthur, I shall try to make him understand where
he was wrong, and I think he will agree with me.  But he has got false
notions on other points, I see.  What is all this about independence,
repaying what he would never have used had he understood the whole,
working in the hopes of some day doing so, etcetera?"

"It was what Godfrey told us," said Lettice in a low voice, "about--
about all you had done and risked to save our money."

For the first time Mr Morison's face darkened, and Lettice realised
that, though gentle, he could also make his anger felt.

"Auriol!" he exclaimed.  "How could he have so represented, or
misrepresented, things?  There was no need for anything to be said about
it.  I, very reluctantly, gave him leave to tell you, or your mother
rather, that I had done what I could at a critical time.  But it was
_solely_ to show her how ready, how _eager_ I was to be of use.  But as
to its calling forth any other feeling--"

"Gratitude, at least," said Lettice timidly.

"No, not gratitude even.  It was nothing but natural, purely and
thoroughly natural.  And to think of Auriol's having stated it so as to
give you any painful sense of obligation--how can he have done so?"

Lettice hesitated.  Her cup of self-abasement was to be drunk to the
dregs, it seemed.  She turned round, with a look of determination on her
face.

"Uncle Ingram," she began, and in the pleasure of hearing himself so
addressed by her, Mr Morison's face relaxed, "I will try to explain
all; I will not spare myself.  It was not Mr Auriol's fault.  He did
tell it us just as you would have wished.  He wanted to soften me, to
make me reasonable.  But I repelled him.  I made him angry.  I lost my
temper, and made him, a little, I think, lose his, too,"--and Lettice
was too absorbed by her own recital to see what perhaps it was as well
she did not observe, a slight smile of amusement which here crossed her
uncle's face--"and then he said what was true--that we owed you
gratitude we could never repay.  It _is_ true, Uncle Ingram, and _now_ I
don't mind it.  But, don't you see, that while we--I--was resisting you,
refusing to count you our uncle, it _was_ a painful obligation?"

"And if fate, or something better than fate," said Mr Morison, "had not
brought us together to-day, it would--would it, Lettice--have remained
so?"

"I don't know," said Lettice in a low voice; "I can't think so _now_.
But--"

"But what?"

"I had no idea you would be like what you are.  I could not have
imagined any one being so generous."

Mr Morison turned his face away for a moment.  When he spoke again, it
was with a little effort.

"Lettice," he said, "I am always considered a very practical and prosaic
person.  Even my wife thinks I was born with very little romance in me.
But, do you know, I have had one romance, one dream in my life, and that
has been to do something to make up to my brother's children for my
having been put in his place."  Here Lettice seemed as if she was going
to speak, but he made a little sign for her to wait.  "I know you are
going to say it was not my fault, but I want you to understand the
_feeling_, the sentiment I have always associated with it.  I hardly
remember my brother--that is to say, in reality I scarcely knew him.
But the few times I saw him as a child made the most vivid impression on
me.  He was to me a perfect hero of romance.  His appearance, his bright
manly beauty, his charm of manners--all left a picture on my mind that I
shall never forget, and the bitterest tears I ever shed as a boy were
when, after glorying in the honours he had won, and dreaming of his
return to us, I was told one day by my father that I was never to
mention his name again.  I resented it bitterly.  I thought my father
cruel and unjust, and later I told him so, not once, but often; first
with a boy's impetuosity, afterwards, as a man, more deliberately,
though more respectfully.  But it was no use.  It was the only
disagreement we ever had, my poor father and I.  Only, as you know, on
his deathbed he left his blessing for your father, and it was to me he
confided it.  But," he went on in a different tone, "we must come back
to the present.  About Arthur--I will be quite frank with you--my great
fear is that he may have fallen ill from the reaction, from the
overstrained state he has evidently been in.  I think the first thing to
do is for me to see his tutor.  It is only an hour from town.  I know
the place.  I will go down there at once."

"May I go with you?" said Lettice eagerly.

"I see no use in your doing so," replied her uncle.  "He is not _there_,
that is about all we are sure of.  I cannot understand Mr Downe's not
having written or telegraphed to you already."

"He would not send to _us_," said Lettice; "he would naturally send to
Mr Auriol, and he, you know, is away."

"To be sure," said Mr Morison.  "That must be it.  Well, any way, the
first thing to do is to see Mr Downe, and get all additional
particulars from him.  And, in the meantime, you must keep up your
spirits and rest yourself.  Your aunt will do her best to cheer you."

"My aunt?" repeated Lettice.

"Yes, of course.  Your aunt Gertrude, my wife," he said, with a smile.

"I have never had an aunt before," said Lettice apologetically.

"Well, you will have one now worthy of the name, though I shouldn't
praise my own belongings," he said brightly.

In another minute or two the carriage stopped before the door of a
handsome house.  Mr Morison turned to Lettice.

"Will you wait here, while I go in to explain to your aunt?" he said.

And Lettice, her heart beating more quickly than usual at the thought of
this unknown relation, gladly consented.

The explanation must have been quickly made.  Before Lettice could have
thought it possible, her uncle was back again.  There was an orange
coloured envelope in his hand.

"This is from Auriol," he said, taking out its pink paper enclosure,
which was as follows: "Bad news of Arthur.  Impossible to get away.  Beg
you to see Downe at once, and decide what to do."  "So, you see,"
continued Mr Morison, "my credentials are now _quite_ complete, are
they not?  Come in, my dear child.  There is Gertrude at the door; she
is so eager to see you."

Lettice had no time to feel embarrassed before she felt herself warmly
kissed by the lady in mourning, who was waiting to receive her in the
hall.

"My dear Lettice," she said simply, but with a ring of true cordiality,
"I am _so_ happy to see you.  How cold you must be!  Tea is waiting.
Ingram," as she led her newly found niece into the pretty drawing-room,
"you have time for a cup of tea before you go?"

"Hardly," he said; "I would rather not risk it.  Now Lettice is in good
hands, I would rather be off at once.  If I am not back by eight or nine
o'clock, don't expect me to-night.  But in that case I shall telegraph."

"Uncle Ingram," said Lettice, as he was hurrying off, "will you do one
thing more?  Will you telegraph to poor Nina that--that I am all right,
and with you, and that you are doing all possible about Arthur?"

"Certainly, I will.  I know the address," he added, smiling.  "And,
Lettice, will you do one thing for me?"

"Of course.  What is it?" she said eagerly.

She was standing close beside him at the moment.

"Give me a kiss, as a sign of--" He hesitated.

"Of gratitude to you for forgiving me," she half whispered.

"Of better than that: of your accepting me from now as your uncle--your
uncle who has always loved you, as your dear father's brother, who longs
to supply his place to you as well as he can."

"Uncle Ingram," said Lettice as she kissed him, "you are like papa.  I
understand now what made me look at you so when I first caught sight of
you."

A pleased expression came into Mr Morison's face, though he said
nothing.  But when he had left them Mrs Morison turned to Lettice with
a smile.

"You could not have said anything to please him as much;" and Lettice
answered simply as she felt--

"I am so glad."

It was like a dream to her.  The finding herself in the comfortable
house, where everything was in perfect taste, though nothing overdone,
tended and caressed by the pretty aunt, of whose existence almost she
had twelve hours before been in ignorance.  And her uncle!  Nothing had
ever touched Lettice as much as his way of talking of her father.  To
think that he, of all men, should have cherished such tender admiration
of him, went to her very heart.  And her cheeks burned with wholesome
shame when she recalled the way in which she had spoken of him--the
absurd as well as unworthy prejudice in which she had indulged.  No
wonder that Godfrey Auriol had lost patience with her; no wonder he had
resolved on leaving her henceforth to herself.  She only felt now that
she would be ashamed ever to look him in the face again.

But if that were all--if her own humiliation and punishment were all,
Lettice felt she could have borne it.  But alas! how much more was
involved!  Arthur, poor Arthur, of whom she had hardly courage to think,
and Nina.  And as she thought of Nina again, that afternoon's
conversation with Philip Dexter returned to her mind.  She had meant to
do right; why had she always done wrong?  She had honestly thought that
Godfrey would be a much more desirable husband for Nina than Philip, and
she had acted accordingly, forgetting, or trying to ignore, that in such
matters somebody else's "thinking" has very little to do with it, and
that interference, save where urgently called for on the part of parent
or guardian, is wholly unjustifiable.  She had, she confessed to
herself, possibly, probably even, ruined the happiness of two lives
through her own prejudice and self-will.  And when she came to this part
of her reflections she sighed so deeply that her aunt looked at her with
real anxiety.

"My dear Lettice," she said, "you _must_ try to be hopeful.  Your uncle
or a telegram is sure to be here within an hour.  Do try, dear."

Lettice looked up dejectedly.

"It isn't only that; it isn't only Arthur I'm thinking of, Aunt
Gertrude," she said.  "It is everything.  I have done so many wrong
things.  I have made such dreadful mistakes, and I don't see--though I
would do anything--_anything_--how they can ever be put right again."

Mrs Morison sat down beside her and took her hand in hers.

"Who knows, dear?" she said gently.  "After a while, when your mind is
less disturbed, and you feel more at rest, perhaps you may tell me some
of these troubles, and perhaps--you may be sure I shall do my best--
perhaps I may be able to help you."

And just then it flashed into Lettice's mind, what in the confusion and
disturbance of the day she had forgotten, her aunt Gertrude was Philip
Dexter's aunt too.  And with this remembrance came a little ray of light
and hope.

She had need of it, for when a few minutes later, her uncle returned, he
had no very good news to give.  He had seen Mr Downe, Arthur's tutor,
and heard all particulars.  Arthur's state of health had not seemed
satisfactory for some time; he was nervous and feverishly excitable, and
his tutor had suggested his deferring going up for his examination for
six months, but the young man would not hear of it.  But even before the
end of the first day he had been forced to give in, having fainted in
his place among the candidates.  Mr Downe had sent him home at once,
but on his return later in the evening, had been much alarmed at finding
him gone, and had telegraphed to Mr Auriol.  That had, in fact, been
all he knew, and till Mr Morison's visit he had been in hopes that the
young man had gone to his own home.

"He is, of course, very sorry and anxious," continued Mr Morison, "but
only for fear of Arthur's having fallen ill.  As for his doing anything
wrong, or even reckless, he is sure we need not be uneasy.  He speaks of
him in the very highest terms, and he says, too, that he has plenty of
good sense.  But he had begun to guess the truth--that Arthur had no
liking or inclination for a military life, and that, hard as he has been
working, it has been altogether against the grain."

Here a deep sigh from Lettice interrupted him.  "And what is to be
done?" asked Mrs Morison.

"We have already set on foot in a quiet way fill the inquiries possible.
But Mr Downe, and I agree with him, is much against employing
detectives, or anything of that sort."

"Oh yes," said Lettice.  "Arthur would _never_ get over it."

"Besides," said Mr Morison, "he promises in his letter to Lettice to
write again in a day or two.  I think we must wait for another letter
before resorting to extreme measures.  Unless, of course, no letter
comes.  Downe does not much believe in the America idea; he thinks
Arthur will cool down before that.  But we have taken measures that he
need never know of to prevent his leaving Liverpool for America.  That
_was_ necessary.  And now, my child, you must go to bed and try to
sleep.  To-morrow I have to ask your advice on a number of things."

"_My_ advice?" said Lettice humbly.  "Uncle, you are too good to me."

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

HOME-SICK.

  "Slight withal may be the things which bring
  Back on the heart the weight which it would fling
  Aside for ever: it may be a sound,
  A tone of music--summer's eve, or spring--
  A flower--the wind--the ocean."

  Byron.

And so things went on for a day or two.  As regards Arthur, that is to
say.  As regarded the anxious little party at Faxleham Cottage, Mr
Morison took immediate steps.  He went down there the following day to
give them news of Lettice, and to arrange for their all coming to spend
Christmas with him and his wife.  Lettice would gladly have accompanied
him, but the morning had found her completely knocked up, and in her now
thoroughly awakened fear of her own self-will, she gave in without a
murmur to her uncle and aunt's decision that she must stay where she
was.  Nor was she the only one to exercise self-denial.  Mr and Mrs
Morison, quite against their custom, determined to stay in London for
Christmas, so that they should be nearer at hand for any news of Arthur,
or to take further steps, should such be necessary.

Lettice was overwhelmed with gratitude.  She was satisfied, too, that
all that could be done was being done.  She was gentle to a fault.  But
her punishment was of the severest.

"If they--if you--reproached me," she said to Nina, weeping in her arms,
the evening of their arrival, "I could, I think, better bear it.  But to
have nothing but kindness, nothing but constant proofs of affection that
I don't deserve.  Oh, Nina, it humiliates me."

"But it _should_ not," said Nina.  "For one thing, Lettice, do you not
owe it to our uncle and aunt to try to seem a little less wretched?  Is
it not selfish to think of nothing but our anxiety?  Are you not in
danger, perhaps, of exaggerating things now the other way--blaming
yourself _too_ much, and making those about you unhappy from your very
sorrow for having done so in the past?"

A very short time ago Nina would not have dared to speak thus to her
sister, and even now she felt that Lettice shrank back a little from
her, as she listened.

"It may be so," she said wearily, and with a shade of bitterness in her
tone.  "No doubt I am bad and wrong every way.  I can't think what God
lets me live for."

"Oh, Lettice!" said Nina with deep reproach.  And the fit of petulance
was over in a moment.  "I know I shouldn't speak so.  Forgive me again,
Nina.  I will try."

"And you know we have some reason for cheerfulness.  Think how glad we
should be of that other letter of Arthur's, showing at least that he is
well, and certainly not off to America as yet."

For the second letter, which has been referred to, had been received
from Arthur.  It told them of his well-being, but gave no trace of his
whereabouts--the faithful Dawson, through ways and means best known to
himself, managing to post each letter sent him to forward, in a
different part of London.  So that for the moment, beyond putting
advertisements in some of the leading papers, there seemed nothing else
to do.  For Arthur's sake, when he _should_ return, his uncle was
determined to avoid all possible hue and cry, and so long as they knew
that he was safe and well, his sisters thoroughly joined in this
feeling.  Still, it was weary work waiting.

"I feel sure we shall have another letter this week," continued Nina.
"He is certain to write to us at or about Christmas."

"Yes, I think he will," agreed Lettice.  "I have no doubt he will keep
on writing regularly.  But what good does that do?  It relieves, so far,
our anxiety, but so long as we cannot communicate with him, what hope
have we of his returning?  How can we make him understand how we long
for him?  That he would be in no way reproached, and would be as free as
air to choose the future he best likes."

"I don't know how it will come," said Nina, "but I feel sure some way
will offer itself.  For one thing, I think after a while he will long
for news of us, and will propose some way for us to write to him.  Uncle
Ingram has written it all to Aunt Gertrude's brother, Mr Winthrop.  He
lives somewhere in the north, not so very far from Liverpool, and Uncle
Ingram is sure he would go there if we like, and look about--where the
docks are, you know.  Arthur may be in Liverpool, and may sometimes go
about them, if he has any idea of America still."

"But he, Mr Winthrop, he does not even know Arthur by sight," objected
Lettice.

"No, but--Aunt Gertrude has an idea, she was speaking of it this
evening--Philip Dexter is at the Winthrops' for Christmas.  Aunt
Gertrude was saying if _he_ went with Mr Winthrop."

It was a good idea, though very distasteful to Lettice.  She would have
done anything to prevent Philip's hearing of their trouble about Arthur,
for she had a fear that he would in some way blame her for it.  But she
checked herself.

"I must bear what I have brought on myself," she reflected.  "I would
give anything never to see Philip again, for he can never either like or
respect me.  He will not believe I even meant to speak the truth.  But
if he cares for Nina, and she for him, I have less right than ever to
interfere.  There is only one comfort--Godfrey Auriol never can know
anything about _that_, and I'm certainly not bound to confess to _hint_.
Indeed, it would be indelicate to Nina to do so."

It was a relief to her that he was still in Scotland, and not to be back
for Christmas.  Her pride rose rampant at the thought of seeing him
again, and at the triumph over her which she imagined he would feel.
But she comforted herself somewhat with the reflection that for the
future she need see very little of him, much less than heretofore, as
her uncle, now really in his right position as their guardian, would be
the one they would naturally consult.

And thus they spent Christmas Day.  Some among them so thankful for the
unexpected lifting of the clouds that they could not but be hopeful for
the future--poor Lettice, though grateful and humble, yet feeling that
it was the saddest Christmas she had ever spent.

Though Christmas Eve had brought some unexpected news, which seemed to
throw a little light on the matter of which all their hearts were full.
This was a letter from Mr Winthrop, in answer to the one telling him of
Arthur Morison's disappearance, and asking his advice or help if he saw
any way of giving either.  He had at once caught up the idea that "the
gentleman tramp" and Arthur were one and the same, and wrote giving all
details of the two or three days during which he took refuge at the
rectory, of his personal appearance, what he had said and refused to
say, and everything there was to tell.

"When Philip comes--we expect him to-morrow," he wrote--"I will get him
to go with me to Liverpool.  There I shall at once see Simcox, for whom
I gave Arthur, if it was he, a letter, and I have very little doubt but
that we shall there hear of him.  He was so _completely_ ignorant of my
being in any way connected with his family, that he will have had no
fear as to availing himself of my introduction."

For the good rector had no knowledge of the conversation between the
boys and Arthur when they accompanied him "a bit of the way" on his
road.  And Tom and Ralph were far too careless and unobservant to have
noticed the start with which the young man had heard them speak of their
"Uncle Ingram," or the questions he had put to them.

And Arthur himself, for whom so many hearts were aching and anxious, how
did he spend this strange Christmas far from all he cared for, in such
an entirely different atmosphere from any he had ever known?

Nothing could have been kinder, considering the circumstances in which
he had come among them, than the way he was received and treated by the
old farmer's family.  Till Christmas was over he was to be a guest and
nothing more.

"There's a time for all things," said James, who was jovially inclined--
rather too much so sometimes for his Eliza's tastes.  "Let business lay
by till Christmas is over, any way, and then we'll see about it;" and he
was profoundly distressed that no persuasions would make "John" drink a
glass of wine, or even taste the bowl of punch with which they wound up,
though in no unseemly fashion, the yearly festivities; while Eliza, on
the other hand, was inclined to look upon it as a sign of his gentility.

The Christmas dinner was a dinner and no mistake.  It began as soon as
they had all got home from church in the morning; for James was a
churchwarden, and would have been greatly scandalised had any one of the
family played truant.  So Eliza and her mother had to smother their
anxieties as to the goose and the roast beef, the plum-pudding and
mince-pies, in their housewifely bosoms, and their self-control was
rewarded by finding all had prospered under the care of the little
maid-of-all-work, in their absence.

On Christmas evening, when all the good cheer had been done justice to,
and the draper and his family, with a few friends who had come in to
taste the punch, were comfortably ensconced round the fire, Arthur
managed to steal up to his room, to sit there quietly for a few minutes'
thought.  It was a small room, with a sloping roof and a dormer window,
through which he could see the twinkling lights of the little town
below, and the purer radiance of the innumerable stars above.  For it
was a most beautiful winter night.  Not a cloud obscured the sky, but it
was bitterly cold.  Arthur got down his great-coat from the peg where it
was hanging, and wrapped it round him, for he felt still colder from the
contrast with the warmth of the room downstairs.  And then he sat gazing
out of the little window, feeling as absolutely cut off from all he had
known and cared for, as if the sea already rolled between them!  Some of
the excitement which had led to the step he had taken had worn off.  He
no longer felt quite so sure that it had been the best and most
unselfish thing to do, and there were times even, when he began to fancy
that perhaps he, as well as Lettice, had exaggerated the consequences of
his failure.  But with this reflection, in his calmer state of mind,
came another.  Was not the present state of things, had not all his
troubles been brought about by his want of moral courage?  It was all
very well to call it his consideration for Lettice's feelings; he was
far too right-judging not to know that consideration of that kind
carried too far, becomes insincerity, and foolish, wrong self-sacrifice.
He knew, too, at the bottom of his heart, that for all the stress
Lettice had laid on his dead father's and mother's wishes, they would
have been the last to have urged upon him a profession which he had no
taste for.

"They might have been _disappointed_," he said to himself, "but I can't
think that they would have been angry.  Not at least, if I had been
frank with them."  And words of his father's, which he had been too
young at the time fully to understand, came back to his mind.  "Don't be
in too great a hurry, my boy.  I have suffered too much from other
people deciding my course in life for me before I was old enough to know
my own mind.  I _hope_ you will be a soldier, but don't be in a hurry."

Why had this never come back to his memory before?  He remembered it now
so clearly.  They were standing, his father and he, by a window--where
was it?--somewhere from whence a wide expanse of sky was visible, and it
must have been at night.  "Yes, the stars were sparkling brightly, it
was cold and clear."  It must have been the association of these outward
circumstances as well as the direction of his thoughts, that had revived
the remembrance.  But Arthur sighed deeply as he went on to reflect that
it was now too late, the die was cast, he must go on with what he had
begun, desolate and dreary though it now looked to him.  The best he
could hope for was by working hard and faithfully in this situation
which had so unexpectedly offered itself, to earn enough money, joined
to what he had, to take him to America, where, with a good
recommendation, he might, it seemed to him, have a chance of something
better.  But even then, how many years must pass before he could hope to
do more than maintain himself?  He might, probably would, be a
middle-aged man before he could begin to do anything towards repaying
what his uncle had done.  And all these years, to have no tidings of his
sisters and brother!--for he had recognised that only by cutting himself
thus adrift, could he go on with what he had begun.  It was too terrible
to think of.  And he set to work, as Nina had foreseen, to plan how he
could manage to hear of them without revealing where he was.

"I don't want them to write to me, for Nina and the little ones would be
entreating me to come back, and I could not bear it.  And, Lettice, even
though it is in a sense her doing, is sure not to see it as I do.  _She_
would want me to try again to pass;" and Arthur shivered at the thought.
"No, I dare not ask them to write to me.  What can I do?  How can I
hear of them?"

He had not let Christmas Day pass without writing to them.  It was
strange to think that in a day or two they would have his letter, and
know that he was safe and well, while he could hear nothing of them.
The idea began to haunt him, so that at last he got up, took off his
coat, and went downstairs again to the chatter and warmth of the
draper's best parlour.

How different to the Christmases he could remember!  How different from
last Christmas at Esparto!  How different to the Christmas evening they
would, so he imagined, be spending at Faxleham Cottage!  Instead of the
simple refinement, the low voices of his sisters, here were Eliza and
her friends decked out in brilliant colours, laughing loudly at the
jokes of their husbands and brothers, and little able to understand the
new-comer's not joining in the fun.  He was very "genteel," no doubt,
the young ladies of the company agreed, but rather "stuck-up," they
should say, "for a young man as had his way to make in the world."  And
Arthur, overhearing some of these remarks, wished that the fates had
thrown him into the household of the old farmer and his wife rather than
into that of their daughter.  For, in their perfect simplicity and
unpretentiousness, there was nothing to grate on him, and, as they sat
rather apart from the rest, dutifully admiring all that was said and
done, though perhaps wishing themselves back in their own quiet
farmhouse, he felt that when they went away the next day things would
seem still more uncongenial.

"I wish I knew anything about farming," he said to his old friend, when
he was sitting quietly by him; "I'd have asked you to take me on your
farm."

"And I'd have been glad to do it, my lad," said the old man, whose
liking for the young stranger had steadily increased, and whose thoughts
this Christmas evening were softened by the remembrance of the son whom
he fancied he "favoured;" "but thou'rt not made for farming.  It takes a
tougher sort than thee.  And, what's more, as it's making money thou'st
got in thy head, don't go for to fancy as people make fortunes nowadays
by farming.  Better stick to James.  He's a bit short-like at first; but
if you get into one another's ways, you'll find him a good master."

The next day the draper had a long talk with his guest.  He explained to
him some part of the work, and told him he would by degrees teach him
the whole.

"But, first," he said, "I must tell you that before I show you the whole
of my business, or even as much of it as you should know, which would
take some time, and give me a good deal of trouble, as, of course, it's
all perfectly new to you, I should like to have some sort of security."

Here Arthur interrupted him.  "I can get some money," he said.  "Did Mr
Felshaw,"--Mr Felshaw was the old farmer--"did he not tell you?  I have
some money I can give you as surety for my honesty;" and his face got
red as he said it.

"No, no," James replied.  "It's not security of that kind I mean.  I'm
not afraid of your honesty, somehow.  I'd rather risk it.  I think I
know an honest face when I see one.  What I was going to say was that
I'd like some security that you'd stay, not be throwing it up at the end
of a three months or so, and saying as how you were tired of it, or
maybe,"--and here the draper hesitated a little--"it's not likely now,
is it, that any of your fine friends might be coming after you, and
saying as you weren't to stay?  You're not of age yet by a long way, I
should say."

"No," said Arthur; "I'm not quite eighteen."

"That's three years off still, then," said James.  "But," continued
Arthur, "my friends are not likely to interfere, as they don't know
where I am."

James raised his eyebrows.

"Are they likely to try to find out?" he said.  "It's not difficult to
track any one nowadays.  But you've no father and mother living Mr
Felshaw told me."

"No," said Arthur; and then he hesitated.  "My friends have not tried to
find me yet," he said.

"But," continued James, "before you engage yourself to me, for a year
say, mightn't it be best to have it all clear and straightforward, and
see as no one who has any right to interfere is likely to do so?
Couldn't you write and ask?"  Arthur shook his head.

"I don't want to give them any trouble about me," he said.  "I've done
nothing wrong; but I've had a great deal of trouble and difficulty, and
I want to show that I can manage for myself."

"Well, well," said James, "think it over, my lad.  You can just go on
for a while quietly, doing what you can.  And then, when you have tried
it a bit, and we see how we suit each other, if so be as you feel
disposed to engage yourself for a year, I'll put you in the way of
things.  You can employ yourself this morning in measuring off these
bales of merino and alpaca, and marking the lengths of each.  I'll be in
the front shop, and, if I want you, I'll call you, just for you to begin
to get used to it like."

"Thank you very much indeed," said Arthur.  "I'll think it over, and
give you an answer as soon as I can."

For even to his inexperience it was clear that he was being treated with
unusual kindness and consideration.  He did not overhear what James said
to his wife that evening.

"You take my word for it, he'll not be with us long," he said.  "He's
not in his place, and he'll never take to it.  He blushed up scarlet
every time I called him, even though it was only old mother Green
wanting grey flannel for a best jacket, or Miss Snippers' apprentice for
some hooks and needles.  If it had been any of the quality, I believe
he'd have turned tail altogether.  You'll see his friends'll be fetching
him away.  But if he likes to stay for a bit, he's welcome.  I like a
lad with a spirit of his own."

"And there's no doubt he has a very genteel appearance," observed Eliza
complacently.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

ENDING WELL.

  "Wondrous it is to see in diverse mindes
  How diversely Love doth his pageant play,
  And shows his power in variable kindes."

  Spenser.

The days went on.  It was nearly a fortnight past the New Year, and
nothing of moment had happened.  Arthur's letter, written on Christmas
Day, had been duly received, but it, any more than its predecessors,
gave no clue to his present quarters.  But to his sisters--to Nina
especially--there was a softer tone in it; it was less bitter and yet
less morbid.  He wrote of his intense wish to see them, of his _hope_
that he had acted rightly, of his earnest trust that some day they
would, Lettice above all, learn to think of him as no longer one to be
ashamed of, as a poor miserable failure.  In all this there was comfort
to Nina, but not to Lettice.

"I am sure, I can see he is getting into a healthier state of mind,"
said the younger sister eagerly.  "If we could but write to him and tell
him all we feel, I am sure he would come back, and we should all be
happy again."

But Lettice shook her head.

"It is I," she said.  "It is always I.  Don't you see, Nina?  It is I
that he is afraid of.  But for me I dare say he would come back; but for
me he would never have gone away."

Godfrey Auriol had not yet returned.  All this time Mr Morison was
looking forward to his coming back as to a sort of goal.

"He is so quick-witted and alert," he said to Nina, for to Lettice he
seldom spoke of his fellow-guardian--it was easy to see that the mention
of his name always was met by her with shrinking and reluctance.  "He is
so energetic and clever, and he knows Arthur personally.  I cannot help
thinking that when he returns he will suggest something.  Hitherto
certainly everything has lamentably failed!"

For Mr Winthrop and Philip had been to Liverpool, had seen Mr Simcox,
who could only assure them that no one in the least answering to the
description of Arthur, or "the gentleman tramp," had applied to him, and
that he had never received the letter of introduction; they had
inquired, so far as they dared without transgressing Mr Morison's
injunctions of privacy, in every part of the town, but without any
result.  There was even, after all, some amount of uncertainty as to
whether the young man who had been so kindly received at the rectory
_had_ been Arthur Morison; though whether he were, or were not, Mr
Winthrop was equally at a loss to explain his never having made use of
the introduction he had so thankfully received.

"I wonder Philip has not come back to town, when he knows we are all
here together," said Mrs Morison one evening.  "I never knew him stay
so long at the Winthrops' before."

"There may be some attraction," said Mr Morison.  "You forget, my dear
Gertrude, that your niece Daisy is seventeen now, and she bade fair to
be a very pretty girl."

Nina was sitting at the piano.  She had been playing, and had turned
half carelessly on the stool, to join in the conversation going on.
Suddenly she wheeled round and began playing again, more loudly and
energetically than was her wont.  Lettice, on her side, who was helping
her aunt to pour out the tea, grew so pale that Mrs Morison was on the
point of asking her what was the matter, when a slight warning touch of
the girl's hand on her arm restrained her.

"I must warn Ingram," thought Mrs Morison, some vague remembrance
returning to her of having heard or been told by some one of her nephew
Philip's having greatly admired one of her husband's nieces.  Lettice or
Nina, which was it?  Oh, Nina it must have been, that time she was
staying with the Curries near Philip's home.  And she stole a glance of
sympathy at the girl at the piano, who continued to play, more softly
now and with an undertone of sadness in her touch which seemed to appeal
to her aunt's kind heart.

"Poor little thing," she thought.  "But if there _is_ anything in it, it
will not be difficult to put it right."

She turned to look for Lettice, with some vague idea of seeking her
confidence on the subject.  Lettice was sitting quietly at a little
distance, with a book open before her.  Mrs Morison was crossing the
room to sit down beside her, when a ring at the bell made them all
start.  Not that rings at the bell are so uncommon an occurrence in a
London house, but it was getting late, no visitor was expected, and the
ring had a decided and slightly authoritative sound.

"It is like Auriol's ring," said Mr Morison; and the words were
scarcely out of his mouth when the door was thrown open, and Mr Auriol
was announced.

Every one jumped up.  For a few minutes there was a bustle of surprise
and welcome, questions asked and answered, so that Lettice's quiet
greeting passed among the rest, without any one specially remarking it.
She was inexpressibly thankful when it was over, and in her heart
grateful to Godfrey for making this first meeting under the so strangely
altered circumstances pass so easily.

"I have only just got back," he said when the hubbub had subsided, and
Mrs Morrison had rung for fresh tea.  "I came on here as soon as I had
changed my clothes.  I have been travelling all day.  That last place
where I was at is so frightfully out of the way, but I stayed a night at
the Winthrops'."

He spoke faster than usual, and it was not difficult for any one used to
him to detect some underlying excitement Lettice, at least, did so, and
sympathised in it, as for the first time it struck her that this meeting
was for him, too, difficult and trying.  She said nothing, but when her
aunt exclaimed, "Travelling all to-day?  Dear me!  You must be tired,"
she murmured gently, "Yes, indeed;" and Godfrey caught her words, faint
as they were, and looked pleased.

"I was so anxious to hear if--if you had heard anything more," he said;
and though he did not name Arthur, every one knew that was what he
meant.

"Nothing more," said Mr Morison, for the last letter, bearing date now
nearly a fortnight ago, had been communicated to Mr Auriol.  "I must
have a long talk with you about it all, Auriol.  I think it is about
time to be doing something more energetic, and yet we have all agreed in
feeling very reluctant to making any `to-do' that could possibly be
avoided."

"Oh yes," said Nina fervently, clasping her hands.

Mr Auriol sat silent for a moment or two.  Then he looked up and said--

"You have no idea, I suppose, who it is that posts his letters for him?"

Mr Morison looked a little bewildered.

"They are all posted in London, I think you told me?" added Mr Auriol.

"To be sure," said Mr Morison.  "Yes.  I have once or twice wondered
who does it, unless it is himself?  No, by-the-by, he has distinctly
said he is not in London.  I _have_ thought of it, but not very much.  I
fancied it so hopeless to get any clue in that way."

"But it must be some one in his confidence, some one, I should almost
say, whom he had a claim on," said Godfrey.  "For there is a certain
amount of risk in doing it; the person might be blamed for having taken
any part in it.  Is there no one any of you have ever heard of who would
be likely to agree to do Arthur a service of the kind?"  He looked
round, but his glance seemed to rest on Lettice.  No one spoke.

"You must all think it over," he said.  "It's only a suggestion, but
something may come of it."  And soon after, allowing that he _was_ very
tired, he said "Good night," and went away.

Lettice, in the quiet of her own room, realised how kindly and
considerately he had behaved.  His matter-of-fact manner had been the
greatest relief, and nothing that he could have said could have been so
full of tact and delicacy as his saying nothing.

"I do believe," thought the girl, her impulsive nature aglow again, "I
do believe he hurried out here to-night as much for my sake as on
account of his anxiety.  He knew his coming in that sudden unlooked-for
way would carry off the awkwardness.  It is very generous of him."  Then
her thoughts reverted to what he had suggested.  _Did_ she know any one
standing in such a position to Arthur?  She sat long thinking, asking
herself the question, when suddenly, by that curious process by which it
sometimes seems as if the machinery of our brain obeyed our orders
unconsciously to ourselves--there dashed into her memory a name, a
sentence she had heard Arthur utter.  The name was "Dawson," and as she
repeated it to herself, she seemed to hear her brother's voice saying
thoughtfully--

"Yes, I do believe there's one person in the world who'd do anything for
me.  It's that fellow Dawson.  I've told you about him, Lettice?"  Yes,
he had told her about him, though he probably had forgotten doing so,
just as she, till this moment, had forgotten having heard it.  Now, by
slow degrees, it came back to her.  Dawson had been a young servant in
Mr Downe's service, and by a fall from a ladder had broken his leg.
Being naturally delicate, this accident had altogether ruined his
health; he was pronounced incurably lame, and Arthur had done his utmost
to help and comfort the poor boy.  I do not know that Lettice remembered
all these details so clearly, but they were the facts, and she recalled
enough to make her sure that Dawson was worth looking up.  She knew he
_had_ been living at the little town near to which was Mr Downe's
"cramming" establishment; she felt almost sure his home was there.  In
any case, it was more than probable he would there be heard of; and
surely, surely it was worth trying!

Whatever were Lettice Morison's faults and failings, want of courage and
determination were not among them.  Her plans were soon made.

It was but little sleep that fell to her share that night.

"I must go alone," she said to herself.  "If I have discovered Arthur's
secret I have no right to share it with any other till I know what he
himself wishes.  Besides, it is I who am to blame for his having been
driven away; it is I who should bring him back."

She quickly made her arrangements.  For the second time in the course of
but a few weeks, she wrote a note for Nina to find after she should have
left--a note to some extent explaining what she was about.

"I think I have got a clue, dearest Nina," she said.  "But I must follow
it up alone.  Do not be the least uneasy about me.  I shall probably be
back in a few hours; if not, I will telegraph in the course of the day."

This was about all that Nina had to show to her uncle, when at
breakfast-time that morning she rushed downstairs with the tidings of
Lettice's disappearance.  Mr Morison looked, and was, terribly put out.
For the first time, his patience seemed about to desert him.

"It is really too bad," he said.  "What have I done or left undone that
Lettice should meet me with so little confidence?  It is all nonsense
about her being the only person who could act, if indeed there is
anything to act about.  It is too bad!"  And then, catching sight of the
excessive distress in Nina's gentle face, his kind heart smote him for
adding to it.

"After all," he said, more cheerfully than he felt, "I do not know that
there is anything to be really uneasy about I quite expect her back by
luncheon.  We let her off too easily the last time, eh, Nina?  Poor
child!  What a child she is, to do things in this silly, ill-considered
way!"

They went in to breakfast, and Nina tried to follow her uncle's example,
and to believe that there was nothing to be seriously alarmed about.
But neither Mr nor Mrs Morison eat anything, and seemed eager to leave
the table, in order, no doubt, to discuss what steps to take.

"Dear me," thought poor Nina, her eyes filling with tears, "_what_
trouble, from first to last, we have caused them!"

Just as the mockery of a breakfast was over--Miss Branksome and the
younger children had had theirs earlier--and the three were rising from
the table, there came, as the evening before, a short, sharp,
authoritative ring at the door-bell.

"That sounds like Auriol again," said Mr Morison, smiling at his own
fancifulness, "though of course it can't be at this time of the
morning."  But he was mistaken.  It _was_ Mr Auriol.  In he hurried,
not waiting for the footman to announce him, a bright, eager expression
on his face, an opened envelope in his hand.

"Good news!" he cried.  "I have a letter from Arthur, giving an address
to which I may write, if I have good news for _him_.  I could not rest
till I told you of it, so I rushed up here at once.  Will you give me a
cup of tea, Mrs Morison?  The letter was to be private _unless_ I could
guarantee _all_ of you feeling--as I know you do about it, Lettice
especially.  It all hangs on her, but I know she will be only too ready.
Where is she--not down yet?"

The three others looked at each other--for a moment forgetting their own
trouble in honest reluctance to chill poor Godfrey's evident delight.
Nina was the first to speak.

"Oh!" she said, and the exclamation came from the very bottom of her
heart, "if Lettice had but waited till breakfast-time!"

He looked up in bewildered amazement.  Then all had to be told, and
Lettice's letter shown.  Godfrey bit his lips till it made Nina nervous
to watch him, as he read it.

"What is the meaning of it?  Is it my fault again?  Have I frightened
her away?" he said almost piteously.

At which, of course, they all exclaimed, though he seemed hardly
convinced by what they said.  Then he told them about Arthur's letter.
It had been drawn forth by the terrible home-sickness which had began to
prey upon him, and by the necessity of his coming to a decision about
binding himself to his present employer for a considerable time.  He
gave no particulars as to where he was, or how employed, but spoke of
his misery at being without any tidings of all at home, and how at last
the idea had come to him of confiding in Godfrey.  "I trust you
implicitly, even though you are my guardian," he said naively, "not to
speak of this letter, not to endeavour to find me, unless you are
assured that they all want me to come back; that they will not be,
Lettice especially, ashamed of me; that Lettice will not insist on my
trying again when I know I should again fail.  All depends on Lettice."

Then he gave the address to which Mr Auriol was to write, but entreated
him not to let the person living at that address be blamed, or fall into
any trouble on his account.  "He has been a faithful friend," Arthur
wrote; "but for him I could not have written home at all."

"Who is it?" asked Mr Morison.

"I have no idea," said Godfrey.  "I saw no necessity for inquiring.  I
meant just to write, and to ask his sisters to do so," he went on.  "I
felt sure they, Miss Morison especially, would know how to write so as
to bring him back at once.  But now--there is no use writing till we
know where she is, and what she is doing; and yet," he glanced at the
envelope, "he will be already wondering at my silence.  This letter has
been following me about for more than a week."

"Mr Auriol," said Nina suddenly, "do you remember what you asked us
last night?  To try to think of any one whom Arthur may have employed to
post his letters.  That may have put something in Lettice's head; she
may have thought of some one.  I have a vague idea of some young man,
some boy, living near Mr Downe's, whom Arthur was kind to."

"This may be he," said Mr Auriol.  "The letter is to be sent under
cover to `T.  Dawson,' in a village near Fretcham, where Mr Downe's
is."

"I believe that is where she has gone.  She must have remembered it,"
said Mr Morison.  "What shall we do?"

"I shall start at once," said Godfrey.  "`T.  Dawson,' whoever he is,
will not be so startled by me as by any one else, as he has sent on this
letter to me.  And of course there will be no treachery to Arthur in his
telling me if Miss Morison has been there."

"Perhaps it is the best thing to do," said Mr Morison, "though I would
gladly have gone myself."

"And I do _so_ hope you will bring Lettice back with you," said Nina.

And almost before they had realised his apparition among them, he was
gone.

"Another long miserable day of waiting for telegrams," said poor Nina
piteously.  And then determining to follow sensible Miss Branksome's
advice, she went in search of her, to beg her to suggest some employment
to make the time of suspense pass more quickly.

"Give me some piece of hard work, please.  A very difficult German
translation might do, or a piece of very fine old lace to mend."  And
poor Miss Branksome was cudgelling her brains as to what to propose,
when Mrs Morison's voice, calling Nina, interrupted them.

"Nina, I want you," said her aunt.  "Will you help me to write some
notes and to attend to several little things I want done quickly?  For I
have just had a word from Philip Dexter.  He has come back, and is to be
here at luncheon, and I should not like to be busy the first time he
comes after so long."

Thus occupation was found both for Nina's fingers and thoughts.

Late, very late that evening, a lady in mourning got out of the train at
a junction far away in the north.

"This is Merton Junction, is it not?" she said timidly.  "It is here
that one changes for Greenwell, is it not?"

"Greenwell," said the porter questioningly; "that is on the other side
of Middleham, is it not?"  For Greenwell was a very little town.

"I don't know," said Lettice--for Lettice of course it was--"I thought
everybody would know it here.  They told me in London to take my ticket
to Merton, and then get another."

The porter looked confused and rather bothered.  He was on the point of
leaving the station for the night.  There were no more trains for an
hour or two.  He did not know what to do with this unfortunate
traveller, and yet, not being of a surly nature, did not like to throw
her off.

It ended in the poor man's giving himself a good deal of trouble to find
out that there was no train for Greenwell till four o'clock in the
morning.  There was nothing for it but for Lettice to spend the night in
the desolate waiting-room of the station, for the junction was some
distance from the small town of the name.  Even had she felt able to
walk there, Lettice could hardly have had a couple of hours' sleep
before she would have had to come back again.

It was not a cheerful prospect--four or five hours at a railway station
in the middle of the night in January.  The porter poked up the fire,
and told her she'd no need to be "afeard;" he would speak to the
night-porters, there'd be a couple of them there, and at four o'clock
there'd be some one to give her her ticket.  And with a friendly "good
night," none the less so for the fee which Lettice gave him, he went
off.

She _was_ a little frightened.  In vain she told herself she had no need
to be so.  All the horrible stories she had ever heard of in such
circumstances returned to her mind.  She tried to sleep on the hard
horsehair sofa, and succeeded in dozing uncomfortably, to be startled
awake by one of the night-porters coming in to stir up the fire.  Then
she dozed again, to wake shivering with cold, the fire out, the faint
gaslight sufficing but to make darkness visible.  She started up; there
was light enough to see the time by her watch.  With the greatest
relief, she saw that it was half-past three!

Half an hour later, she had got her ticket, and was stepping into a
first-class carriage of the train, which had come in from the south, and
was going on to Middleham.

"Now at last," thought Lettice, "my troubles are over.  In a few hours
more I shall be with Arthur."

As she settled herself in her place, she saw by the feeble lamp-light
that there were two other persons in the carriage--two gentlemen.  She
glanced at them, but with no interest curiosity, and she distinguished
neither of their faces.  One, an elderly man, got out at the first
station they stopped at.  The little bustle of handing him some of his
belongings brought Lettice face to face with the remaining passenger.
Both started, both gave vent to an exclamation; but Lettice's was of
dismay, her companion's of relief.

"Mr Auriol!"

"Lettice--Miss Morison, how thankful I am to have found you!"

Lettice's face, cold as it was, burned.

"Found me!" she repeated.  "Have you been sent after me to look for me?
There was no need for anything of the kind.  I telegraphed yesterday to
say I was coming on to--" She hesitated, not sure if she would, to
_him_, say whither she was bound.  But her tone was full of resentment.

Godfrey gave a sigh that was half a groan, of something very like
despair.

"Will you _always_ misunderstand me?" he said.

"What can I say?  What can I do?  You seem to think I have a mission in
life of annoying and insulting you.  What can a man do to prove that he
does not deserve to be so thought of?"

Lettice looked at him in amazement, not unmixed with compunction.  Was
this the calm, stately Mr Auriol?  Did he so care for her opinion?  She
could hardly take it in; and then, by a quick revulsion, she remembered
how only the night before she had called him, and felt that he deserved
to be called, generous.

"I am sorry for being so hasty," she said.  "But I don't see why you or
any one need have followed me.  I wanted," she went on, and her eyes
filled with tears--"I wanted to have done it all myself.  It--it was my
fault Arthur went away; I wanted to be the one to bring him back."

Godfrey moved away.  He could hardly help smiling, and yet he was so
sorry for her.  What a child she was!  What a mixture of gentleness and
obstinacy, of generosity and devotion and self-will!

"Lettice," he said very, very gently, but very seriously nevertheless,
"there are some things in which you _must_ yield to those older and more
experienced than you.  It is _not_ right for a young creature like you--
so--now, you must not be angry--so lovely, and so sure to be remarked,
to go running about the country, however good your motive may be.  You
don't know, you can hardly imagine, the anxiety they--we have all been
in!"--and he hesitated--"I, I do believe, the most of all."

"_You_," said Lettice, and the tears in her eyes began slowly to trickle
down her face.  "You hate me, I know.  Why should you mind what I do?
It is I that have caused you all the trouble."

"I hate you?" he repeated.  "Lettice, are you saying that on purpose?
Yes, you have caused me more trouble than any one else has ever done,
because, from the first moment I ever saw you, from that first evening
at Esparto, I have _loved_ you, Lettice.  And everything has been
against me.  I am mad to tell you this; I meant never to have let it
pass my lips."

Lettice's face was burning, but not with anger.  She herself could not
have defined her own feelings.  She tried to speak, but the words were
all but inaudible.

"You make me ashamed," she said.  "I can't understand it."

But at that moment the train slackened.  The faint morning light was
struggling in the cold wintry sky.  Mr Auriol sprang from his seat.

"We get out here," he said.  "This is Middleham;" and, submissive at
last, Lettice allowed him to help her out of the carriage.  He took her
at once to the best hotel of the place, and then, having ordered some
breakfast, of which she was sorely in need, for she had eaten almost
nothing the day before, he gave her Arthur's letter to read, and
explained to her what he intended to do.  _Her_ plans had been of the
simplest.

"I meant just to go to the address at Greenwell and ask for him," she
said; and she quickly saw that Mr Auriol's intention of telegraphing to
Arthur at once to come over to see him at Middleham was much better.

"It will involve him in no awkwardness," he said, "nor will it lead to
his blaming Dawson, poor fellow.  For I," he added, with a smile, "am
armed with his own credentials;" and he touched the letter as he spoke.

"You don't think Arthur will be angry with Dawson," said Lettice, "or,"
she went on, and the idea struck Mr Auriol as very comical, "with _me_?
I _made_ Dawson tell me."

An hour later Mr Auriol returned to the sitting-room, where he had left
Lettice, with an open telegram in his hand.

"This is from Arthur," he said, "or rather from `John Morris,'" he
added, with a slight smile, as he handed it to Lettice.

"Thousand thanks.  Will be with you by twelve," was the telegram.

"I don't think there is much fear of his being angry with anybody,"
observed Mr Auriol.

"Thanks to you.  It was so much better to send for him than to go
there," said Lettice impulsively.

Godfrey's face flushed.  He half turned away; then, taking courage, he
came nearer again.

"Lettice," he said, "are you not angry with _me_?  I forgot myself.  It
is very good of you not to resent it."

"Resent it!" said Lettice simply.  "How _could_ I do so?  I can't quite
believe that you knew what you were saying.  I think you must be so
sorry for me, for all the trouble I have brought on myself and on other
people, that--that--just that you are very sorry for me.  For one
thing," and her voice grew very low and her face very red, "I thought
you cared for Nina."

"You, too!" he exclaimed.  "How extraordinary!  It is a good thing I do
not, not in that way, for I should have had no chance of success.  I met
Philip Dexter at the Winthrops', where I stayed a night; and--I think he
would not mind my telling you--in talking together rather
confidentially, I found out that he, too, has had that idea, and has
been very unhappy.  But I put it all right, and he's back in London by
this time.  We may hear some news on our return."

"Did he tell you what gave him the idea?" asked Lettice, almost in a
whisper.

"Some chance words of mine at Esparto," said Godfrey.

"It is very generous of him to have said so.  But it was not only that,"
said Lettice, her eyes filling with tears.

But, somehow or other, the confession she made of this new offence did
not lower her in Mr Auriol's eyes as hopelessly as she had expected.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

A few days later a happily reunited family were assembled in Mr
Morison's house.  How easy it was for Lettice to convince Arthur of the
complete change in her feelings, when she told him of the
little-hoped-for reconciliation with their uncle, may be imagined!  How
more than ready to forgive her unfortunate influence in their affairs
she found Philip and Nina!  How her uncle and aunt promised to forget
the anxiety she had caused them, on condition of her never again thus
setting aside the judgment and experience of her natural protectors!
How more than amazed was everybody when, a few weeks later, by which
time Lettice had learnt to believe that Godfrey Auriol _did_ mean what
he said, her engagement to him was announced!  All these "hows" I must
also leave to my reader's imagination.

The old farmer and his family, whose honest kindliness had so
fortunately intervened to save poor Arthur from taking some really
foolish step, were not forgotten.  And in after-days, when his wish was
fulfilled, and he had replaced his uncle at the head of his firm, he
would sometimes recall with a smile the days when he had measured grey
flannel and wrapped up parcels of tapes and ribbons for the dames of
Greenwell.

There are many ways in which life's lessons are taught.  Some have to go
through hard and sorrowful experiences--harder, it often seems, than
they merit; others, like Lettice, learn true humility and sacrifice of
self-will by gentler discipline.  As she often said to herself--

"How can I ever be good enough to show my gratitude?  How little have I
deserved such happiness--I who might have ruined not merely my own life,
but those of others, by my foolish obstinacy!"

And "prejudice" was a word and a sentiment which Lettice Auriol's
children were never allowed to know the meaning of.





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+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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