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Title: Castle Blair - A Story of Youthful Days
Author: Shaw, Flora L.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Castle Blair - A Story of Youthful Days" ***

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"There is quite a lovely little book just come out about children,
'Castle Blair.'... The book is good and lovely and true, having the
best description of a noble child in it that I ever read, and nearly
the best description of the next best thing--a noble dog."--JOHN
RUSKIN.


[Illustration: "MRS. DALY'S COTTAGE."]



  CASTLE BLAIR

  A STORY OF YOUTHFUL DAYS



  BY

  FLORA L. SHAW

  AUTHOR OF "HECTOR," "PHYLLIS BROWNE," AND "A SEA CHANGE"



  WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY

  MRS. MARY A. LIVERMORE



  _ILLUSTRATED BY I. AND H. WHITNEY_



  D. C. HEATH & CO., PUBLISHERS
  BOSTON      NEW YORK      CHICAGO



  COPYRIGHT, 1902,
  BY D. C. HEATH & CO.
  1L2



INTRODUCTION.


I find "Castle Blair" a bright, breezy story for children, most
entertainingly told. The scenes are laid in Ireland. A bachelor uncle
makes a home at Castle Blair for the children of his brother in
India, in the English service, and for an orphaned niece from France,
older than her cousins, who becomes the mistress of the house. She
is educated and is altogether charming, possesses French tact and
adaptability, is very fond of children, and lives out her motto, "Peace
on earth, and good will toward men." The children from India are
utterly untrained, high-spirited, and lawless, but are good-hearted,
very capable, and innately noble. These, with the benignant bachelor
uncle, absorbed in making collections of antiques and curios, and his
disagreeable agent, Plunkett, who manages the estate, and is hard
and unlovely, are the main characters of the story. Everything ends
happily, the tone of the story is uplifting, and the young people who
read "Castle Blair" will not only be charmed with it, but will be made
happier and better for having read it.

                               MARY A. LIVERMORE.

  MELROSE,
    September 22, 1902.



               LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


  "Mrs. Daly's Cottage"

  "Rosie pushed him so violently"

  "She quickly clasped ... the Trout"

  Showing Nessa the Grounds

  "Through the Singing Children"

  "'What have you to say?'"

  "They chattered and laughed"

  "On the Other Side of the Hedge"



CASTLE BLAIR;

A STORY OF YOUTHFUL DAYS.



CHAPTER I.


Night had closed in round Castle Blair. In the park the great trees,
like giant ghosts, loomed gloomily indistinct through the dim
atmosphere. Not a sound was to be heard but the steady down-pour of
rain, and, from time to time, a long, low shudder of trees as the
night wind swept over the park. But there was one spot of light in
the landscape. The hall door of the castle stood open, and behind it,
in hospitable Irish fashion, there blazed a fire from which the warm
rays streamed out and illumined the very rain itself; for the dampness
caught the pleasant glow and reflected it back again, till all round
about the doorway there was a halo of golden mist. The stone arch was
hidden by it, but it formed a beautiful framework of light for certain
little figures, who, dark and ruddy against the glowing background,
were to be seen dancing backwards and forwards as though impatiently
waiting for something. They were only children, and there were three of
them, two fair-haired girls, and a boy.

"When will she come, I wonder?" said the elder of the girls, looking
anxiously through the darkness in the direction of the avenue. "The
train must have been ever so late."

"Of course it was!" replied the boy; "and besides it would take half
the day to get from Ballyboden in this weather. We ought to have sent a
sailing vessel for her instead of the carriage."

"I say, Murtagh, I wonder what she _will_ be like. It's very funny
having French cousins one doesn't know anything about."

"Oh, she's sure to be all right; Uncle Harry was papa's favorite
brother! But I wish Bobbo and Winnie had got in in time. Hark! what's
that?"

"That" was the sound the little listeners expected. It drew nearer and
nearer; the wet gravel crunched under the wheels, and at last out of
the darkness emerged a heavy old carriage drawn by a pair of heavy old
horses.

"I say, David, look sharp!" called Murtagh, from the doorway, and the
next instant the carriage stopped at the bottom of the steps.

The boy who had spoken dashed down to open the door, but a sudden
shyness seemed to fall upon his companions, and they shrank back into
the hall. There was, however, little to be afraid of in the girl who
in another moment stood upon the threshold. She seemed to be about
eighteen or nineteen. There was a quiet grace in the slight figure;
and the face in its setting of ruffled gold hair, was as soft as it
was sparkling. Her most remarkable feature was a pair of large, dark
gray eyes, which were looking out just now with a half-interested,
half-wistful expression, that seemed to say this was no common arriving.

And indeed for her it was not. An absolute stranger, she was arriving
for the first time at Castle Blair, to make a new home in a new country
amongst relations she did not know. She had been told she was to live
with an old bachelor uncle. She was not even aware of the children's
existence.

The elder little girl seemed quite to understand that upon her devolved
the duties of hostess, for she came forward now, and holding out her
hand, said shyly, "How do you do?"

The new-comer took the hand and kept it in hers, drawing the child
nearer to her as she answered in a sweet, clear voice: "I am very well,
thank you, only a little tired with traveling. A long journey is very
tiring."

"Yes, very," said the little girl, blushing; and there the conversation
would have been likely to stop, but the boy, having taken the
stranger's wraps from her, had now followed her into the hall and
exclaimed heartily:

"Awfully tiring, and that drive from Ballyboden is so long. You must be
very cold; come over to the fire."

As he spoke he dropped her rug and bag on the floor, and ran and pulled
forward a wooden arm-chair. "Did you see the fire as you came up?" he
added; "the door had got shut somehow, but we opened it on purpose."

"Yes, I saw it just now," she replied, as after a minute's hesitation
she seated herself in the chair. "It looked so pleasant and cheerful
through the rain, it made me wish to get to it."

"A fire's rather a jolly thing to see after a long drive in the dark,"
said the boy; "and we do know how to make fires here if we don't know
anything else."

The children evidently expected their guest to stay in the hall, so she
unfastened her gloves, and drawing them off, held out two white hands
to the blaze in quiet enjoyment of the warmth. Then, after a pause, she
turned again to the boy and said:

"We have not any one to introduce us to each other, so we must
introduce ourselves; I daresay you know my name is Adrienne. Will you
tell me your name, and the names of your sisters?"

The boy replied at once:

"I'm Murtagh. That tallest one is Rosamond Mary; Rosie we call her.
She's twelve years old."

"No, Murtagh, you always make mistakes; I'm thirteen, very nearly!"
exclaimed Rosie, suddenly forgetting her shyness.

"Oh, well! it's all the same. Of course, girls always like to be
thought old," he explained, with a funny little chuckle. "Besides, you
won't be thirteen till the winter.

"And that little thing is Eleanor Grace," he continued; "Ellie, she's
called. She's only three. Winnie's the best of them; but she and Bobbo
are out in the garden."

"Out! In this pouring rain?" said Adrienne, looking towards the open
door.

"What does that matter?" returned Murtagh. "We don't mind rain. We're
little barbarians; you needn't expect to find us like fussy French
children."

A merry twinkle woke in Adrienne's eyes. Already she was forgetting the
fear of strange bachelor uncles.

"No," she replied, with a significant glance at the disheveled state of
the children's toilettes. "I did not think you were fussy."

Murtagh blushed in spite of himself, and looked deprecatingly at the
knees of his somewhat worn knickerbockers, while his sister hastened to
excuse herself.

"It is impossible to keep tidy with the boys," she explained; "they do
pull one about so."

"Come now, the boys didn't tear that dress; you tore it yourself,
coming down a tree," said Murtagh.

A contemptuous reply from Rosie seemed likely to lead to a sharp
answer, but Adrienne interposed a question.

"Do you always live here?" she asked.

"Of course we do!" answered both the children at once. "There's nowhere
else where we could live since we came back from India."

"Are there any more of you besides Winnie and Bobbo?"

"No," said Murtagh, "that's all. And quite enough, I expect you'll
think before long," he added, looking into the fire, and suddenly
ceasing from his flippant manner.

"Who else is there in the house? Who takes care of you?"

"Oh!" said Rosie, "there's Mrs. Donegan. She takes care of everything,
and cooks the dinner and all that. Then there's Peggy Murphy. She does
the schoolroom, and mends our clothes; and there is Kate Murphy; and
there's the new housemaid, and Uncle Blair's man, Brown; and that's all
except Mr. Plunkett."

"Mr. Plunkett!" repeated Murtagh, in a tone of disgust.

"Oh, he is so horrible," continued Rosie. "He settles all about
everything, and gives us our pocket-money on Saturdays, and gives Mrs.
Donegan money to buy our clothes, and orders everybody about, and
interferes. Mrs. Plunkett says his mother was a second cousin of Uncle
Blair's mother, but I don't believe she was. But he doesn't live in
this house; he lives in a house in the park."

"He's dot such a nice ickle baby," put in Ellie, who had been following
the conversation with wide-open eyes and ears.

"Has he?" said Adrienne, encircling the child with her arm. "What is it
like?"

"It's dot two dreat big eyes and--"

"It's got a nose, Ellie, don't forget that," interrupted Murtagh,
mockingly.

Little Ellie was silenced; she flushed up, and tears came into her
eyes. But without paying any attention to her, Rosie continued:

"And that's all the people there are in the house."

"Except--Monsieur Blair," suggested Adrienne, comforting Ellie as she
spoke by hanging her watch round the child's neck.

"Oh! Uncle Blair! Yes, of course he's here, only I forgot all about
him."

"You don't see much of him?"

"No," said Murtagh, with a chuckle; "he thinks we're perfect savages.
He has breakfast with us, because he thinks he ought to; but you should
see how funny he looks. I believe he's always expecting us to set upon
him and eat him, or do something of that kind."

"Hullo, Mrs. Donegan!" he called out suddenly, as a good-humored,
shrewd-looking woman entered the hall. "There you are! and it's high
time you came, too. Here's a poor lady freezing just for want of some
one to show her to her room. Allow me to introduce Mrs. Bridget Donegan
Esquire of Tipperary."

Adrienne acknowledged the introduction with a smile, and Mrs. Donegan,
curtseying, began at once to apologize for not having met her at the
door.

"It's very sorry I am, Ma'am, that you should have been kept sitting
out here. I've been waiting this last half-hour to hear the bell go,"
she began with much respectful dignity. And then suddenly turning round
upon the children: "It's you, Master Murtagh, might ha' thought to ring
it; and where's your manners, Miss Rose, to keep Miss Blair sitting
out here in the cold instead of taking her into the drawing-room?"

"It's not very cold," said Adrienne, with a smiling glance at the fire.
And Mrs. Donegan continued: "Mr. Blair desired his compliments, Ma'am,
and he was sorry he was engaged to dine out the evening you arrived,
but he hoped the young ladies and gentlemen would make you comfortable.
And, if you please, Ma'am, I've boiled a couple of fowls for you, and
there's a nice little drop o' soup; and will you have dinner served in
the dining-room, or wouldn't it be more comfortable, if I sent it up
with the children's tea into the schoolroom?"

"Oh, I should like that much the best, please," said Adrienne.

"Then it's no use going to that smelly old drawing-room!" exclaimed
Murtagh. "Come along to the schoolroom."

He turned round as he spoke, and led the way across the hall. He told
Ellie to run on and open the door, so that there might be some light
in the passage; but her little fingers not proving strong enough to
turn the handle, the whole party had to grope their way in the dark.
At the end of a long passage Rosie threw open a door, saying: "Here's
the schoolroom! It's not particularly tidy. We did make it neat this
morning, but somehow it always gets wrong again."

It was a good-sized room, with a large window at one end and another
smaller one at the side. But the curtains were not drawn before
either of them, and one was open, letting the rain beat in upon the
carpet. The fire had burnt low, and the fender was full of ashes and
chestnut-husks. The rest of the room was so strewn with toys, books,
cooking-utensils, and rubbish of every description, that there was
some difficulty in distinguishing any article of furniture: only the
tea-table, clean and white in the midst, stood out against the general
disorder like an ark in a second deluge.

"Deed faith, it's time ye had some one to see after yez," muttered Mrs.
Donegan to herself. "Where's Miss Winnie and Master Bobbo?" she added
aloud.

"Gone to the garden to get some apples," answered Murtagh. "I wish
they'd look sharp."

"Well, when they do come in there isn't a dress for Miss Winnie to put
on. All the print dresses are gone to the wash-tub, and she soaked her
old black one through and through this morning."

"Oh, well, she can dry herself all right. Don't you bother her about
it and she won't bother you," replied Murtagh, good-humoredly, sitting
down to the piano as he spoke, and beginning to play "St. Patrick's Day
in the Morning."

"That's just the way it is with them all; there's no getting them to
listen to reason; an' it isn't that they don't have frocks enough,"
explained poor Mrs. Donegan, in despair, "but you might just every bit
as well try to keep clean pinafores on the ducks and chickens out in
the yard as try to keep them tidy."

Murtagh's only answer was to crow like a cock, and then he fell
into the more meditative quacking of ducks as he began an elaborate
variation upon his air.

Their guest began to look just a little forlorn. After traveling for
three or four days people are apt to be tired, and it did not seem to
occur to any one that she might like to be shown to a room where she
could rest a little and wash away the dust of her long journey. There
was apparently no chair disengaged either, upon which she might sit
down, so she stood leaning against the chimney-piece, while Rosie tried
hurriedly to make the room tidier, and Ellie sat down upon the floor,
delighted with the treasure that had been left hanging round her neck.

But Rosie had some idea of the duties of a hostess, and she soon
noticed how white the girl looked.

"You look dreadfully tired," she said in a voice so gentle that
Adrienne was quite surprised. "Wait a minute, here's a comfortable
chair; I'll clear the music out of it." As she spoke she tipped up an
arm-chair and wheeled it to the fireplace.

"Thank you," said Adrienne; "but if you would show me where my room
is--I am so tired."

"Oh, yes," said Rosie; "and I'll get you some--" but the end of her
sentence was lost as she ran out of the room.

The variation of "St. Patrick's Day" was growing so intricate that
Murtagh was completely absorbed by it. Mrs. Donegan was picking up
books and toys from the floor; there was nothing for Adrienne to do but
to sit down and wait.

"You do look tired, Ma'am," said Mrs. Donegan, presently, pausing with
a broken Noah's ark in her hand. "I think, Master Murtagh, I'll go and
send the tea in at once. There's no use waitin' for Miss Winnie and
Master Bobbo."

"Fire away," grunted Murtagh, from the piano. His music was very good,
and Adrienne began to think it pleasant to listen to as she lay back in
the big chair.

But in another moment the music was interrupted by a collision of some
kind, and then a confusion of voices in the hall.

"Whatever are you thinking of, Master Bobbo?" came out in Donnie's
energetic tones.

"I do wish you'd look where you're going, Donnie; you've nearly knocked
me into the middle of next week!" retorted a hearty boy's voice.

"Hurrah! here they are," cried Murtagh; and he started up and dashed
into the hall. There was some whispering outside the door; and then
Bobbo and Murtagh entered the room, followed by Winnie.

Bobbo was a pleasant, strong-looking boy, with clear eyes, rosy cheeks,
and a turned-up nose.

Winnie was a little elf-like thing; her scarlet cloak twisted all
crooked with the wind, the skirt of her brown dress gathered up to
hold the apples, her hair beaten down over her forehead by the rain,
her great dark eyes dancing, her cheeks glowing, the merry mouth ready
to break into smiles, she seemed the very incarnation of life and
brightness.

"The Queen of robin redbreasts!" flashed through Adrienne's mind, and
she sat up with revived animation to greet the new-comers.

Bobbo walked up to her and said, "How do you do?" with a decidedly
Irish intonation, retiring then behind her chair and entering into a
whispered conversation with little Ellie.

Winnie dropped all her apples upon the hearth-rug, saying, "Fetch the
dishes, Bobbo, from the pantry." Then she shook hands with Adrienne,
looking at her with clear, intelligent eyes.

"You have your apples," said Adrienne. "Your brother said you did not
mind being wet."

"Mind being wet!" said Winnie, with a bright look of amusement, "of
course we don't. Are you fond of apples?" she continued, looking down
at the rosy fruit and wet leaves. "We thought we'd have some for tea as
you were coming, so Bobbo and I went to fetch them. We meant to have
been in by the time you came, only it was so dark it made us longer.
See, here's a beauty!" she added, picking out a fine pippin. "Do try
this; I'm sure it's good."

She held it up towards Adrienne, large and rich-colored, still wet
with rain, the cluster of leaves under which it had ripened yet crisp
upon its stalk, and Adrienne could not help taking it, and answered
smilingly:

"I will have it for dessert after the chickens."

But with a sudden change of expression, forgetting all about Adrienne,
Winnie turned to Murtagh, and exclaimed eagerly:

"Oh, it has been such fun getting these; I _must_ tell you all about
it. Well, we got past Bland's cottage all safe enough; the rain and the
wind were making such a noise there wasn't a chance of our being heard."

"Bland's the gardener," explained Murtagh to Adrienne, "and he always
tries to catch us when we bag the fruit."

"But just as we were nearly in the garden," continued Winnie, "what
should we hear but Bland coming, tramp, tramp, along the gravel; and
Bobbo called out, 'I say, he's got a lantern, an' he's sure to see us.'
And, of course, that made him hear us, and it would be all up if we
couldn't get hid quick enough; so I jumped down and squeezed in under a
bush, but when Bobbo tried to get down, one of the spikes of the gate
went through his knickerbockers, and there he stuck. On came Bland,
and called out, 'Ha! ye good-for-nothing vagabones; it's caught ye are
this time!' and, lo and behold! it wasn't Bland at all, but a great big
policeman. He pulled Bobbo down off the gate, and didn't he tear a
fine hole in the back of his knickerbockers! Poor Bobbo got in such a
fright he couldn't say a word, so I jumped out from under the bush, and
I said: 'We're not stealing! we're only going to take some apples for
tea. We're ladies and gentlemen.' So he looked at the hole in Bobbo's
clothes as if he wasn't quite sure, so I said, 'You tore that, taking
him off the gate!' Bobbo did look awfully untidy though, with the light
of the lantern shining full on the raggy part of him. Then he turned
the lantern on to my face, and laughed, and said, 'I'm sure I beg your
pardon, Miss; I hadn't an idea it would be any one but ragamuffins out
o' the village about this wild night.'

"So I said, very politely, you know: 'Please _would_ you just help us
over the gate? It's so very high to climb when the bars are slippery
with rain.' So he helped us both over, and then I said: 'Would you
mind just standing about here till we come back? And if you hear Bland
coming, give a good loud whistle, will you?' So he said he would, and
we ran off and got the apples, and then he helped us back over the gate
again, and we gave him some apples, and here we are. By the bye, Bobbo,
I've left my hat up in that first apple tree. But wasn't it fun making
the policeman keep watch for us?"

"Awfully jolly!" said Murtagh. "What's his number? we'll make him do
it to-morrow night, too. No, no, Winnie; that's not the way to settle
those apples. Put the streaked one next the rosy one. So. Now put a
yellow one, and a Virginia creeper leaf. There; that's it! You've no
more eye for color than a steam-engine."

Just as Winnie stopped speaking, the schoolroom door was pushed slowly
open, and Rosie entered, carefully holding in both hands a salver with
some refreshment. "You look so tired," she said to Adrienne, "that I
thought you'd better have this without waiting for tea."

"Thank you," said Adrienne. It was just what she needed, and as she
put the glass back upon the salver, she added gratefully, "You are
accustomed to be mistress of a house, I see."

Rosie flushed with pleasure, and replied: "There's nobody but me except
when Cousin Jane's here. I'll go and see now about hurrying tea; I
can't think what they're taking such a time for."

"But my room," suggested Adrienne again; "if I might go to it first, I
am so dusty."

"Oh, yes!" said Rosie, "I'll be back in a minute;" and she departed on
her errand to the kitchen.

"I'll show you your room, if you like," said Winnie, jumping up from
the floor. "Come along!"

But the fire was drawing clouds of steam from the child's wet clothes,
and as Adrienne looked towards her she perceived it.

"Do you know," she exclaimed in dismay, "your dress must be quite
wet through? Please do not mind about my room, but go and change it
quickly."

"Oh, it doesn't hurt me being wet," laughed Winnie.

"Besides," said Murtagh, "she hasn't got anything to change into.
Didn't you hear Donnie say all her clothes were in the wash-tub?"

"Haven't you a dressing-gown?" she asked at length. "I think it must be
very bad to stay so wet as that."

"Oh, yes!" said Winnie, "I'll go and undress and put on my
dressing-gown, then I'll be ready to jump into bed; that'll be rather
fun. Do you know where my dressing-gown is, Murtagh?" she added, as
she danced off towards the door. "You had it last, the day we were
dressing up."

"I'm sure I don't know where we left it," replied Murtagh.

"Oh, well, never mind. I'll get Rosie's. Don't finish settling those
apples till I come down."

Murtagh dropped the apples which he held, and jumped up.

"Shall I show you your room?" he asked, taking a candle from the
chimney-piece and turning to Adrienne. "You really must want to get
your things off. Let me carry your umbrella. And you would like to have
your bag. We left it in the hall, I think."

He led the way, as he spoke, out again into the hall, and crossing over
to the other end began to mount a broad oak staircase.

It was dark with age, and the candle sufficed to show that in places
bits of carving had dropped or been broken from the high wainscot and
massive balustrade; doors were let into the wainscoting, and two of
them stood open, but they only disclosed dark distances that seemed to
tell of long passages or descending flights of steps.

Murtagh was quite silent at first, preceding Adrienne by a few steps,
but when they reached the corridor above he fell back so as to walk
beside her.

She said something about the house being very large.

"Yes, and it seems lonely to you now; doesn't it?" he said, in a tone
different from any he had used before. "I did feel so dreary at first
when we came from India. But you must cheer up, you know; you won't
think us so bad, I expect, when you get accustomed to us, and it's a
dear old place. There's a beautiful river full of rocks, and real wild
mountains with heather on them."

"I'm sure I shall like everything," she replied warmly.

"Well, you know," said Murtagh, thoughtfully, "we're awfully rampageous
and everything. That's why people don't like us. You see we can't help
it exactly, we're always that way." There was a half-sad undertone in
the boy's voice, and his companion turned her sweet eyes kindly upon
him as she answered, "You've been very kind to me."

He looked gratified, but he put an end to the conversation by throwing
open a door and exclaiming, "This is your room."

It was a large, comfortable room with old-fashioned, faded furniture,
and a great four-post bed; the big fire that blazed cheerily at one end
filling it all with warm light and dancing shadows.

"Have you water, and all that kind of thing?" he inquired with a look
round the room.

"Yes, thank you. Will you unfasten that little box for me?"

Murtagh, having unfastened the box and poked the fire, retired, saying
that he would come and fetch her as soon as tea was ready; and the girl
was left alone to realize that her new life had actually begun.



CHAPTER II.


At eight o'clock next morning, Murtagh and Rosie set off together from
the schoolroom to fetch their guest, both of them anxious for the glory
of introducing her to their uncle.

Adrienne had already left her room, and was standing in the strip of
sunlight that streamed through her open door, looking doubtfully down
the corridor. She wore a rough gray woolen dress, fastened at the
throat with a knot of bright blue ribbon, and in her belt she had put
two or three red leaves from the Virginia creeper that clustered round
her window. The sunlight, shining full upon her golden hair, made of
the whole a picture that was extremely satisfactory to Murtagh's eye.

"I say, Rosie!" he exclaimed, standing still in the dark end of the
corridor, "doesn't she look jolly like that?"

"Yes, isn't she pretty? I expect she's had all her clothes made in
Paris, too," Rosie replied in an enthusiastic whisper.

"Paris!" retorted Murtagh, contemptuously. But at that moment Adrienne
perceived them, and came forward with a bright "Good morning."

"I guessed that the bell meant breakfast," she continued, "and I was
wondering how I should find my way to the dining-room."

"That's why we came," said Rosie; "and then there's Uncle Blair, you
know, you haven't seen him yet."

"No," said Adrienne. "And the others," she continued after a little
pause, "where are they? Are they in the dining-room?"

"Oh, Bobbo's in bed, I think," replied Rosie, "but he'll be down in a
minute or two; and Winnie's--out," she added, letting her voice drop
mysteriously at the last word.

"Then she did go?" asked Murtagh, eagerly.

"Yes, quite early, while it was dark, about three o'clock, I think; the
stable clock struck, but I was so sleepy I couldn't count."

"Is it a secret?" asked Adrienne.

"Well, it's not exactly--at least it's a sort of a secret," replied
Rose, doubtfully.

"I think you might know," she continued. "She's gone to the Liss of
Voura to see if she can see the--Fairies." The last word came out with
a vivid blush.

"They say they dance there every morning when the sun rises. But I
daresay it's not true," she added.

"Why shouldn't it be true, I should like to know?" asked Murtagh.
But they had reached the dining-room, and Rosie gladly avoided the
necessity for answering by throwing open the door and ushering Adrienne
into the presence of Mr. Blair.

He had been sitting reading the newspaper, but as they entered he rose
and stretched out both hands to Adrienne, saying in a warm, gentle
voice, "My dear child, you are very welcome."

As Adrienne advanced, to lay her hands in his, he gazed at her with
something of surprised tenderness in his face, and murmured, "Rénée!"
Then he added aloud: "What is your name, my dear?"

"Adrienne," she answered.

"Ah, yes, yes. That was her name, too," he said dreamily to himself.
Then drawing out a chair from the table he continued, "Sit down and
make the tea; I shan't have to do it for myself any more now."

She sat down as she was bid. Her uncle stood beside her some little
time in silence, watching her movements.

"Why didn't they tell me you were so like your mother?" he asked
presently.

"My mother!" exclaimed Adrienne. "Am I like her? She died so long ago I
don't remember her at all," she added sadly.

"Yes, yes; only two years after she married him. It's a long time ago
now. How old are you, my dear?"

"I was eighteen my last birthday," replied Adrienne; but her uncle did
not seem to hear. He walked away to his place at the bottom of the
table, and his next remark was to ask Rosie where the other children
were. Rosie answered sedately that she thought they were coming
presently, all except Winnie; and breakfast proceeded in silence till
Bobbo came tumbling into the room with little Ellie following upon his
heels.

He did not speak to any one, and would have taken his place at once at
the breakfast table; but as Adrienne naturally held out her hand and
said "Good morning," he came around and shook hands with her, asking
with a hearty look out of his frank blue eyes, whether she had rested
well. Then, though the children kept up a half-whispered conversation
between themselves at their end of the table, they did not speak either
to their uncle or to Adrienne. Mr. Blair maintained complete silence,
and Adrienne devoted herself to Ellie, whose high chair was placed
beside her.

The little thing was too shy to speak much, but she looked her surprise
and delight at the nicely cut fingers of bread and butter which
Adrienne built up into castles on her blue plate, and watched with
almost solemn interest the important, and, to her, altogether novel
operation of sifting sugary snow upon the roofs of them. Then, as she
grew bolder, a little rosy finger was put out, and when some of the
snow fell upon it there came such a merry peal of baby laughter that
Adrienne laughed too, and Mr. Blair looked up in benign astonishment.

Mr. Blair had finished his breakfast, and apparently was absorbed again
in the reading of his newspaper, so Adrienne quietly prepared to follow
the children. But as she moved across the room her uncle looked up.

"You have had a sorry welcome, I am afraid, my dear," he said; "but
I hope you will be able soon to feel that, for all that, we are none
the less glad to have you amongst us." He rose, as he spoke, and
walked towards the fireplace where Adrienne stood. "You understand,
of course," he continued, "that so long as you live with me you are
mistress here. Donegan is very anxious to make you comfortable, but
I daresay she may not know everything you require. So you must order
anything you want. May I trust you to do this?"

"You are very kind," Adrienne replied gratefully. Then as she looked up
at the kind, dreamy face that was turned towards her she was encouraged
to add, "But I had a very kind welcome; the children were watching for
me, and they took charge of me."

"Ah, yes, the children," replied her uncle. "You must try and put up
with them as well as you can. Mr. Plunkett tells me that they are very
unruly; but they are the children of my brother Launcelot, and till he
sends for them they will remain here. Who knows," he added in the tone
of one struck by a sudden idea, "perhaps you will not mind having them;
they may serve as a sort of companion for you, my poor child. I am
afraid you will be very lonely here."

"Do you mean," said Adrienne, puzzled, "you thought I would not like to
have the children? Oh, but I am so glad!" And there was no questioning
the sudden lighting up of her face. "I love children very much."

"They are very lucky," said her uncle, with a glance of admiration at
the pretty figure that stood before him on the hearth-rug.

"I did not mean--" she began.

"My dear child," he interrupted, "you did not mean anything but what
was perfectly natural,--that you dreaded the dullness of living alone
with a worn-out old man. And I am right glad to find that the children
are likely to be a pleasure to you instead of a worry; indeed, I
wonder I did not think of that before, for there is only just enough
difference of age between you," he added, smiling, "to make _you_
delightful to me; while the others!--" An expression of comic despair
finished the sentence.

"But now," he continued, "you will be a Godsend to all of us. Since you
care about children, you will look after them a little for me. And now,
my dear, I will not keep you any longer."

He bent forward, as he spoke, and touched her forehead with his lips.
Then with a kindly pressure of the hand he walked to the door, and
held it open while she passed out. Adrienne, after crossing the hall
and wandering about a little among smaller passages, was guided by the
sound of voices to a door which she recognized at once, thanks to a
crooked brass handle and the letters "L. B." cut with a penknife in the
brown wood above the lock.

She opened it, and found herself straightway in the presence of all
the children. The large window at the end of the room was open wide,
and Winnie seated side-ways on the window-sill, with her head resting
against the gray stone framework, was eating a large hunch of bread.
A flock of pigeons and white ducks clamored for scraps on the terrace
outside; curled up in her lap lay four small kittens, and the big
mother cat sat sunning herself upon the window-sill; but Winnie seemed
to be paying only a mechanical attention to her pets. She was white
from want of food, and there was a general air of preoccupation and
disappointment in her attitude,--disappointment which seemed to have
communicated itself in a measure to the other children, who stood
grouped around her.

"No," she was saying as Adrienne entered; "it's just Peggy's rubbish,
and there's an end of it."

"Well, but," said Murtagh, doubtfully, "they might be there another day
and not be there to-day."

"No," returned Winnie, decidedly; "I don't believe they're ever
there. It was quite dark when I got up on the Liss, and I hid under
a bush and watched with my eyes wide open till it was blazing
light all over everywhere, and I didn't see a single thing, and
there--there's an end of it." She flung a piece of crust out on the
grass as she spoke, so that the poor ill-used ducks had to turn round
and waddle quite a journey before they got it. But perhaps even
ducks can look reproachful, for she broke almost immediately another
bit from her hunch of bread, and threw it to a fat laggard, with a
compassionate--"There, poor old Senior, that's for you." And then,
turning more gently to Murtagh, she said, "Never mind, Myrrh, you know
it wasn't any use believing it if it wasn't true."

Murtagh did not answer. But suddenly an idea crossed Bobbo's mind, and
he exclaimed, half-doubtfully, "Win, do you think--they might have
known you were coming, and perhaps they didn't choose you to see them?"

The notion seemed to find some favor with the other children. Winnie
glanced at Murtagh to see what he thought; but Murtagh, who had been
aware of Adrienne's entrance, was looking to her, so Winnie's eyes
followed his.

"No, I do not think that exactly," said Adrienne. She seated herself
on the window-sill, opposite Winnie, and began to stroke the old cat.
Then she continued in the same slow, thoughtful tone: "Once I used to
believe in fairies, as you do, and I used to want to see them, but I
never did. I used to think I did sometimes, but I never did. Then I
began to think they could not be true, and that made me very unhappy,
for I loved them so. Everything that happened to me I used to think
the fairies were there; I was all alone, and hadn't anybody but the
fairies. When it was fine I thought the fairies were in the sun; when
it rained I thought they were in the rain. I thought they were in the
flowers, in the moon,--everywhere, in everything. But still I began to
be afraid they could not be true.

"I do not know how long that lasted, but I remember the day when it was
all finished--the very last day when I ever believed in them.

"It was when I was eight years old. I had been alone nearly all day,
and I had been standing a long time by the window watching the rain
beat down upon the pavement. It was growing dark, but still I did
not go away; for I always used to think the little splashes were
water-fairies dancing, and I liked to watch them. I was thinking
about them, and half-dreaming, I think, when suddenly I seemed to
know that they were not fairies at all--nothing but water-splashes. I
felt almost frightened, and I went away from the window and sat down
on the hearth-rug in front of the fire. But then the sight of the
fire reminded me that there were no fire-fairies either; no fairies
anywhere all over the world. It seemed such a dreadful thing to know;
and I couldn't help it,--I just hid my face in the hearth-rug, and
cried like a little baby."

The children had fixed their eyes with interest and sympathy on
Adrienne, but her attention was apparently concentrated on stroking old
Griffin, who purred in the sunshine.

"I never shall forget that afternoon," she continued, "I was so very
unhappy; and it wasn't only that afternoon; for months afterwards I
couldn't bear to think of a fairy. But the reason I tell you about
it," she added, raising her eyes and looking towards the children, "is
because afterwards it went away. One of my uncles came to live with
us, and he told me about the true fairies; I mean the angels; and I
have believed in them ever since. And so you need not be disappointed
because the fairies do not really dance where Winnie went to look,
because the angels are better, and they are true. Some people don't
think the angels are all round us everywhere as the fairies were, but
I do. I think it is so beautiful to believe that they are everywhere,
in everything; sent down from heaven to make the flowers sweet, and the
fruit ripe, and to put good into us."

She looked out, as she finished speaking, to the sunny park, where the
great trees stood in all their autumn glory. The children looked out
too and were silent. Just for the moment they were all feeling, as it
were, the presence of angels.

But suddenly Bobbo was struck by another idea. "Why, you're talking
English!" he exclaimed. "But you know you're French! I'd forgotten all
about it!" He seemed quite excited by his discovery, and Adrienne began
to laugh.

"Oh, yes!" cried Winnie, "of course you are, and Murtagh and I had
got some things ready to say. Hadn't we, Murtagh? 'Comment-vous
portez-vous,' and 'Parlez-vous Anglais.'"

"I am very well, thank you," said Adrienne, with a little mock bow.
"And I speak English just as easily as I do French. We lived for years
in England, you know, and then I always had English governesses.
Grand'mère knew, of course, that I was coming here, so she paid
particular attention to my English."

"Oh!" said all the children in chorus; and then Rosie, coloring
violently, asked a question which it had evidently been agreed
beforehand that she should ask.

"What did you say your name was? Murtagh says it's _Adrenne_; but
_that_ isn't a name exactly at all, is it?"

"Yes," said Adrienne, smiling. "He is quite right; Adrienne Marie
Véronique Erstein Blair!"

"Oh!" exclaimed Bobbo, doubling himself up as though the very sound
gave him a pain. "Do you expect us to say all that every time we want
the door shut?"

The faces of the other children were so full of genuine dismay that
Adrienne laughed outright.

"Grand'mère used to call me Reine," she said, "that's a little shorter,
isn't it?"

"Yes, but," said Murtagh, doubtfully, "'Rain!' It's not pretty, or
anything. You're not a bit rainy-looking."

"Pitter, patter! Drip, drop, dropsy!" exclaimed Bobbo, his blue eyes
lighting up impudently.

"Hush, Bobbo, be quiet; you're behaving very rudely," said Rosie, with
a little anxious glance at Adrienne. "We can't call you by any of
those names," she added in her pleasantest voice; "they are not pretty
enough."

"Would you mind saying your name again, please," said Murtagh, looking
puzzled; "the first one, I mean, that we'll have to call you by."

Adrienne repeated it slowly once or twice, and the children said it
after her. But they didn't seem satisfied with their own pronunciation.

"It will never be the same as yours," exclaimed Bobbo, after two
ineffectual attempts. "I'll call you Topsy; it's much easier!"

"I'll tell you what," said Winnie, who had been silently finishing
her piece of bread. "Suppose we call her Nessa, after poor Nessa
that died." They hesitated, and a grave silence fell for a moment on
the little group. Adrienne regretted that she had been the means of
saddening them.

"Who was Nessa?" she asked at length, gently.

"She was so pretty," said Winnie, "with long soft brown hair and
beautiful big eyes."

"I think she _was_ a little bit like you," said Murtagh; "only her hair
was browner than yours."

"Oh, Murtagh!" exclaimed Rosie.

"Was she as old as I am?" asked Adrienne.

"Oh, no," said Murtagh, "she was quite young; but she did bark so
beautifully."

"She did _what_?" exclaimed Adrienne.

"Bark! bark at all the strangers that came near the place."

"Oh!" said Adrienne, completely taken aback. "Then--then--she must have
been a dog!"

"Yes," said Rosie, hurriedly. "It's ridiculous Murtagh saying she was
like you; she was only a little dog that we found in the road."

"Why, what else did you suppose she was?" asked Murtagh, in surprise.

"I--I thought," said Adrienne, blushing, and then brimming over with
laughter,--"I thought she was your elder sister."

The children greeted her speech with such peals of laughter that the
sadness connected with Nessa was effectually dispersed, and no further
hesitation was entertained as to Adrienne's name. Nothing could she be
now but "Nessa";--"Our elder sister Nessa," as Murtagh half-impudently,
half-admiringly called her.

"And it's perfect nonsense, Rosie," said Murtagh, "to say that the
other Nessa wasn't like her. Her hair was darker, and so were her eyes;
but there was a sort of likeness about them all the same,--a sort of
golden look in their faces; wasn't there, Winnie?"

"How silly you are, Murtagh!" replied Rosie, contemptuously, "just as
if a dog could be like a real grown-up person."

"Yes, they can," replied Murtagh; "and I heard papa saying one day to a
gentleman at one of the big dinner-parties, that everybody has a sort
of a likeness to some animal. There!"

"Then if they have, you're like a little black monkey," replied Rosie,
hotly and inconsequently; "but it's nonsense all the same, silly
nonsense, to say that a little brown dog out on the road is like this
Nessa!"

"But it isn't nonsense, Rosie, when I see--" began Murtagh.

Rosie contemptuously turned her back upon him, and Winnie remarked
quietly:

"It's no use arguing with Rosie, you know, Myrrh."

Murtagh paid no attention, but followed Rosie, exclaiming eagerly:
"Can't you understand if I see a likeness--" Rosie never listened to
what her opponent said. She pushed him away so violently that he lost
his balance and fell over little Ellie, who was sitting upon the floor.
The child began to scream; Adrienne sprang forward to pick her up; in
the midst of the confusion the door opened, and Peggy's voice made
itself heard, saying, "Whisht, Miss Ellie; get up, Mr. Murtagh, dear;
here's Mr. Plunkett."

[Illustration: "ROSIE PUSHED HIM SO VIOLENTLY THAT HE LOST HIS
BALANCE."]

"Hang Mr. Plunkett!" muttered Murtagh, getting up slowly, and pulling
his jacket straight. Adrienne had already picked up Ellie, and carried
her in her arms back to the window-sill, but the child had been hurt;
and, nothing abashed by the sight of the correct-looking person who
appeared in the doorway, she continued to roar with all her might,
her little red face puckered up, and bright salt tears dropping on
Adrienne's shoulder.

Mr. Plunkett stood in the doorway surveying the scene.

"Is this the best specimen, sir, that you can give Miss Blair of your
behavior?" he inquired sternly, addressing Murtagh.

Murtagh made no answer.

"And you are not content," continued Mr. Plunkett, looking at Rosie's
hot, angry face, "with displaying such unruliness yourself, but you
draw all your brothers and sisters after you."

Murtagh walked over to the piano and began to arrange the music
humming, "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe."

"Incorrigible boy!" said Mr. Plunkett, in an undertone. Then turning
to Adrienne he saluted her with a bow and a respectfully polite, "Miss
Blair, I presume."

Adrienne, engaged in soothing Ellie, replied to his remarks with a
certain gracious gentleness peculiar to her. Presently the child forgot
her grief in a sudden curiosity as to the method of buttoning and
unbuttoning Adrienne's dress, and with the tears still glistening on
her cheeks she began to smile with pleasure as she poked her little
fingers through the button-holes. Then Adrienne wiped away the tears,
and the conversation with Mr. Plunkett grew into a more animated
discussion of the beauties of the surrounding country.

"I hope," said Mr. Plunkett at length, "that you will be kind enough
to let me know if there is anything you desire. It is Mr. Blair's wish
that I should do everything in my power to make you comfortable. As
for the children, when they trouble you, pray have no hesitation in
applying to me for assistance. And I hope," he added, raising his voice
a little, and addressing the children without looking at them, "that
common hospitality will induce you to inflict as little as possible of
your wildness upon your cousin."

Adrienne thanked him, but looking across at the children, she said, "I
think we are going to be friends; aren't we?"

The children's faces, more or less expressive, showed their acceptance
of the treaty. Mr. Plunkett looked as though he felt somehow vaguely
disapprobatory; and then, turning round to Murtagh, he changed the
subject by saying severely:

"I hear, sir, that you have been at your old tricks again, stealing
fruit from the garden."

"You heard wrong, then," returned Murtagh, his brow lowering.

"Don't add untruth to your other misdeeds; you were seen by one of the
policemen. It is useless to deny it."

"_Gentlemen_ don't tell lies," returned Murtagh, with a sneering
accentuation of the words that made them nothing less than insulting.
Adrienne was shocked and astonished at the scene. From where she sat
on the window-sill behind Mr. Plunkett, she looked across at Murtagh,
while Mr. Plunkett answered angrily:

"What do you mean by speaking to me in such a manner?"

Murtagh's eyes met Adrienne's, and perhaps the expression that he found
there made some impression on him. His features relaxed a little, and
he remained silent.

Mr. Plunkett continued: "I am tired of speaking of this robbing of the
garden. I see nothing but strong measures are of any use, and I give
you fair warning that the next time any of you are caught in the garden
you shall be severely punished." Mr. Plunkett evidently intended his
words to end the conversation, but Murtagh looked blacker than ever,
and some answer as bitter as the last trembled on his lips. Before he
had time to speak, however, Adrienne exclaimed innocently:

"Why, how the time is going! Don't let me keep you all indoors. I must
unpack a little, and write a letter; but if you will go out now, I will
join you as soon as I am ready."

Murtagh looked perversely inclined to stay where he was, but an
appealing glance from Adrienne persuaded him to follow the others, who
rushed at once into the passage.

"Those children are running perfectly wild," said Mr. Plunkett; "they
make their own laws, and are the annoyance of every one in the place.
It is little short of madness to keep them here under the present
conditions; but Winnie and Murtagh suffered severely from fever in
India, and Mr. Launcelot Blair refuses to send them to school. It is
mistaken treatment. The discipline of school would be far better for
them than the riotous life they lead. But it is, of course, for their
parents to decide."

"Do they do no lessons at all?" asked Adrienne.

"They do nothing useful, Miss Blair," said Mr. Plunkett, severely. Then
changing the subject, he returned to his former measured courteous
manner; and after a little further conversation, he wished Adrienne
"Good morning," and left her to write her letters.

Whatever Mr. Plunkett might think of the children, they had, as has
been seen, no high opinion of him. On this occasion they were no
sooner well outside the schoolroom than Bobbo relieved his feelings by
exclaiming:

"Oh, that brute Plunkett! wouldn't I like to punch his head!"

"It's no good thinking about him, Myrrh," said Winnie, seeing that the
black look had not faded from Murtagh's face. "Let's do something.
Shall we go and steal some more apples? I am awfully hungry."

"Oh, no!" said Rosie, "don't let us do that; but I'll tell you what'll
be fun. Let's get some brown cake from Donnie, and go and boil potatoes
on one of the islands."

Winnie agreeing, the little girls ran off to the kitchen, and Bobbo,
left alone with Murtagh, returned to his subject.

"I say, Murtagh," he continued, "we must just do something to that old
Plunkett. He's getting worse and worse."

"I think I'll kill him some day!" burst out Murtagh, with such
concentrated passion in his voice that Bobbo looked at him quite
startled, and paused for a minute before he answered:

"I don't vote for killing, exactly. But I'd like to dip him in the
river, or do something or other that would just take him down a peg."

But Murtagh did not seem disposed to talk any more about it at that
moment. He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and slowly followed
the others to the kitchen, where Mrs. Donegan was buttering slices of
brown cake, and at the same time declaring that "she wasn't going to be
getting them into bad habits of eating between their meals."



CHAPTER III.


Adrienne's letters were very quickly written. She was anxious to go out
to the children, and to make acquaintance with the place. But when she
went to look for them they were nowhere to be found.

Enchanted with the place, which, neglected as it was, seemed to her
very beautiful, she wandered about for a time in the pleasure-ground
and shrubberies that lay at the back of the house; and then, tempted
by the lovely brightness of the morning, she set off to make further
discoveries. Land seemed to be no consideration in that part of the
world; a wide park, dotted with trees and clustering bushes, lay
stretched out on three sides of the house; a sunny avenue, winding away
between old thorns and oaks, offered a charming walk, and as Adrienne
went along she looked around her in delight.

On the left the ground sloped down to the bed of a broad, rocky stream.
To the right, undulating park-land stretched for some distance, and,
beyond the park, trees and fields and hedges seemed to grow closer
and closer together, till out of the indistinctness rose suddenly a
bold line of purple hills. In the park, soft-eyed cows were cropping
the autumn grass. Thrushes were singing in the thorns. Red haws lay
scattered in profusion under the trees. The air was pure, and the earth
smelt sweet after the rain.

  _Haw_: the fruit of the hawthorne.

Adrienne, enticed by a little side path, turned off the avenue and
came suddenly upon a child standing on tiptoe in the wet grass, and
stretching up in a vain endeavor to reach a branch of roseberries that
hung temptingly out from a clump of bushes. A sylph-like, tender little
thing, she looked as though a sudden gust of wind would blow her right
away. And then she was carefully dressed; the golden hair that hung
down to her waist was neatly brushed, and the hand stretched up to the
roseberries was cased in a warm cloth glove.

Adrienne stepped on to the grass and succeeded in reaching the branch.
Blushing and surprised the little girl thanked her with a sweet smile.
At the same moment a voice exclaimed, "Marion, Marion, for goodness'
sake come off that sopping grass!" and looking up, Adrienne perceived
a lady, in a shiny, black silk gown, who with an anxious face was
hurrying down the path.

"Let me see your feet," she continued, coming up to them and taking
Marion's hand as the child stepped obediently on to the path. "Yes,
they're soaking wet! You must come back and change at once! I beg your
pardon, Miss Blair. I know I ought to have spoken to you first, but
this child is so delicate she keeps me in a perpetual fright. How could
you think of going on the grass, Marion?"

"I'm so sorry, mother," replied the child, in her sweet little voice,
"I quite forgot."

"Well, well, come back and change as quickly as you can, and perhaps
there'll be no harm done. And you, Miss Blair, I am sure your feet must
be wet too! Will you come in, and let me have your boots dried in the
kitchen? The house is quite close. I am Mrs. Plunkett."

"Thank you," she said; "I don't think my feet are at all wet. I was
only on the grass for a moment."

"Ah! but you don't know this climate; it is most treacherous. Marion,
don't bring that litter into the house." As she spoke she pulled the
branch of roseberries out of Marion's hand and threw it away. "There's
nothing more dangerous than wet feet, I can assure you--I lost my poor
sister through nothing in the world but that,--and Mr. Plunkett's
mother often said, 'Anything else you please, James, but no wet feet, I
beg.'"

Marion looked regretfully after her pretty red branch, but she said
nothing, and Mrs. Plunkett continued to relate anecdotes of people who
had died from the consequences of wet feet, till a few more turns in
the path brought them to the back of a neat-looking house and garden.

"Pray walk in," said Mrs. Plunkett, throwing open the gate. And in a
minute or two more, Adrienne, found herself sitting without her boots
in a wicker arm-chair beside the nursery fire. A beautiful nursery it
was--beautiful, not from any special luxury of furniture, but by its
exquisite cleanliness. The white, boarded floor was as spotless as
scrubbing could make it; the brass knobs of the fireplace glittered in
the sunlight; the window-panes could not have been more brilliantly
transparent.

Two little children in white pinafores were playing with wooden bricks
on the floor. Marion, perched on a chair on the other side of the
fireplace, stretched out two little blue-stockinged feet to the blaze;
and while Nurse took the boots down-stairs, the clean fat baby was
transferred to Adrienne's lap.

Finding that Adrienne was fond of children, Mrs. Plunkett grew
confidential over the sayings and doings of her own four; and then
suddenly interrupting herself, she exclaimed in a tone half-curious,
half-confidential:

"But your cousins, Miss Blair? Have they left you alone already? I
_should_ have thought they would have liked to show you the place. Ah,
it's very sad to see children lead such lives."

"Yes," said Adrienne, "it is almost the same as though they had neither
father nor mother, poor little things."

"It is their own fault, I assure you; entirely their own fault. For
shame, baby! is that the way you treat ladies who are kind enough
to nurse you, sir? Mr. Plunkett and I were prepared to take every
interest in them," she continued, bending over Adrienne, and helping to
extricate her hair from baby's fat, rosy fingers. "We were away for our
summer trip when Murtagh and Winnie first arrived. Poor little Marion
was the only one we had then, and we were very near losing her that
same summer. When we came back we found that that poor foolish Mrs.
Donegan had already done a great deal of harm.

"The two children were making themselves ill with pining, and she
encouraging them, letting them do every mortal thing they liked, under
the pretence that they must be amused. My husband saw at once that
it was his duty to remonstrate; he was quite shocked to see the way
things were going. And I'm sure it was enough to shock any one to see
those two children, with their heads cropped after the fever, and their
wizened yellow faces, and their little sticks of arms; they were enough
to frighten one.

"They had suffered so terribly from fever that Mr. Launcelot insisted
upon their having what he called perfect rest. He said that their
brains were too active, and that the thing he most desired to hear of
them was that they were growing as ignorant as the village children.

"But my husband was determined to do his duty by them. He spoke sharply
to Mrs. Donegan about her behavior, and there were most unpleasant
scenes between them. She came down here one evening and said the most
dreadful things. She told me myself, Miss Blair, that he ought to be
ashamed to be so hard on poor little fatherless, motherless children,
who were pining for a bit of love. I was quite upset after she went
away. But my husband never minds those things. He does his duty, and he
doesn't mind what anybody says. He spoke to Murtagh himself next day,
and told him how sinful it was to give way like that to every fanciful
feeling that came over him,--one minute pining and miserable, and the
next rampaging like wild animals all about everywhere, not minding a
word anybody said to them. But it was all no use: Murtagh wouldn't
answer a word, and from that day to this they've just gone on growing
worse and worse.

"My husband has tried severity with them; but Mr. Blair doesn't like
to hear of their being punished, and James hesitates to take the
responsibility entirely upon himself. If they were his own children,
he'd soon bring them to order.

"He worries himself about those children ten times as much as he's
ever had occasion to worry about his own. Why, their governesses alone
have given him more trouble than all his own servants put together.
What's the good of worrying about other people's children? They are not
one bit grateful. I really believe, Miss Blair, that they hate him; I
believe those children hate every one; there's never been one day's
peace since they've been here."

Mrs. Plunkett paused to take breath, and Marion said in a slow, gentle
way that seemed years older than her little self, "I don't think they
hate me, mother."

"What do you know about it, child?" asked Mrs. Plunkett.

"Because," said Marion, "I looked at them in church, and a butterfly
flew in, and went on the side of Murtagh's nose, and I laughed, and he
laughed, too, quite kind."

Adrienne could not help smiling at the earnest, half-pleading tone in
which the child spoke, but Mrs. Plunkett said: "Nonsense, Maimy, you
don't know anything about it! No; I don't believe there's any one in
this world they care one bit about, except it is little Frankie."

As Mrs. Plunkett enunciated for the second time her disbelief in the
children's powers of affection, some one called from down-stairs,
"Marion! Maimy!"

"It's father!" exclaimed the child, springing off her chair. "Back
already! Yes, father, I'm coming. Nurse, my slippers please, quick!"

But nurse had gone down-stairs to fetch the dried boots, and while
Marion went to the cupboard to find her own slippers, a firm regular
step quickly ascended the staircase, and Mr. Plunkett entered the
nursery, holding in his hand the very branch of roseberries which had
brought about all the wet feet.

Adrienne had been surprised at the voice in which Marion's name had
been called; it was scarcely to be recognized as belonging to the stern
man she had seen that morning. But she was still more surprised to see
the soft beaming welcome that broke out over little Marion's face as
her father entered the room.

She was sitting on the floor, putting on her slippers, one little blue
leg stretched out, the other doubled up to enable her to button the
strap. She did not jump up to kiss her father, but she turned her face
up towards him, with a sweet glad look in her eyes.

"Are you going to have dinner with us after all, Fardie?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied, looking down with a smile at the upturned face.
"I shall go to the farms to-morrow instead. See, I've brought you
something pretty. It was lying in the middle of the path, and I thought
it would please you."

"Why, it's my own branch! How could you know it was just what I wanted?"

The slipper was fastened by this time, so she got up from the floor,
holding the branch of roseberries in one hand, and slipped the other
into her father's. Then he perceived Adrienne. A few polite sentences
were interchanged; and Adrienne, wishing them all "Good morning,"
walked back along the avenue, her pretty golden head as full as it
would hold of thoughts about all these new people.

As she approached the house she found that the hall-door was shut, and
passing round to the back, she ventured to open what seemed to her like
a kitchen door. It was not the door of the kitchen. She found herself
on the threshold of a large, airy room, littered all over with clothes
in various stages of washing, drying, and ironing. Mrs. Donegan, with
her sleeves tucked up, was busy ironing print frocks at a large table
near the fire, and exclaimed:

"Do, for goodness' sake, shut that door, Kate. Why ever don't you stop
in the kitchen and attend to your dinner?"

"It's not Kate," said Adrienne; "I came round this way because the
hall-door was shut. May I come in?"

Mrs. Donegan looked up, and grew quite red with confusion, as she
discerned her mistake.

"Oh, Ma'am, I beg your pardon!" she exclaimed, setting down her iron
and coming forward to meet Adrienne. "I'm sure I never thought to see
you here, and the laundry in such a mess, too; of a Friday there is so
much to do. Walk in, Ma'am, if you please."

"Please don't let me disturb you," said Adrienne, as she shut the door.
"Can I get through to the house this way?"

"Yes, Ma'am," replied Mrs. Donegan; "it's always through here or
through the kitchen the children come."

"Have they come back yet?" asked Adrienne.

"Indeed, no, Ma'am! they were in the kitchen with me this morning,
getting some bits of brown cake to go off with somewhere, an' if
they're back to dinner, it's as much as they'll be."

"You can't tell me where to find them, can you?" suggested Adrienne.

"Tell you where to find them!" exclaimed Mrs. Donegan. "Maybe it's up
the mountains they are, or maybe up the river, or maybe across the
fields, five miles away by this time. But wherever it is, ye might look
for them a month o' Sundays, and never find them if ye're wanting them;
and so sure as ye're not wanting them, they'll turn up fast enough,
bless their hearts!"

"They live out of doors a great deal, don't they?" asked Adrienne,
smiling at Mrs. Donegan's description of their proceedings.

"God bless you, yes, Ma'am. They'd never be confined with stoppin' in a
house, but out and about, no matter what weather it is. They're a bit
wild like, but they're the best-hearted children ever lived. But won't
you sit down, Ma'am," added Mrs. Donegan, interrupting herself to set a
chair near the table.

"If I stay, may I help you?" asked Adrienne, attracted to the
free-spoken old woman, and very willing to stay and talk to her. "I can
_tuyauter_ these frills. I don't know what that word is in English."

She took up a pair of gauffering tongs as she spoke, and Mrs. Donegan
looked amused at the notion of her help.

"Sure, you don't know anything about such work, an' it's not so easy as
it looks. But you may try if you like, Miss," she added good-humoredly.

Adrienne, all unconscious of the greatness of the concession, laid
her hat on one side, and in another minute was sitting gauffering
pillow-case frills in so business-like a manner that Mrs. Donegan
exclaimed, after a minute or two:

"Upon my word, Miss, you do it better than I do it myself."

Adrienne laughed, and Mrs. Donegan, going back to her work, returned to
the current of her thoughts.

"I could tell you more about those children than anybody else that's
here," she continued. "But whatever you do, Miss, don't you go to
believe anything Mr. Plunkett says about them. It's not the like of
him can understand these children. Wasn't I here in the nursery in
old Mrs. Blair's time, and nursemaid to Mr. Launcelot himself? I know
what Master Launce was when his mother died, and I know what sort his
children's come of. And they're Mr. Launcelot's children to the very
backbone. Master Harry was always quieter; but you're not much like
him, Miss, except when you laugh you have a look of him about the eyes,
I think."

Mrs. Donegan liked to talk, but after her own fashion, so before
Adrienne could hear anything about the children she had to listen to a
panegyric upon their father, which wound up with an account of how he
married Mrs. Launcelot, a perfect lady; "Mr. Launcelot wouldn't have
married none other, but a gentle, delicate bit of a thing, who had a
French maid to look after her, and let the children do whatever they
pleased."

Then Adrienne was told that Mr. and Mrs. Launcelot had been in India
now nearly seven years, and Winnie and Murtagh had been sent home
four years ago. "Mr. Launcelot wrote me a letter with his own hand,"
added Donnie, "asking me to take care of his two little orphans till
he came himself to fetch them; and he told me to 'mother them, when
they were lonely, the way I'd mothered him long ago when he needed
it.' Those were his very words. Many an' many a time I've read the
letter. And when I saw the poor little things drooping and pining, I
used to think o' the night, thirty-two years ago, when the poor missis
died, an' I crep' into the nursery after the old nurse was asleep, an'
Master Launce was sobbing in his bed; and when I tried to comfort him,
he knelt in his little nightgown an' put his two arms round about my
neck,--and, 'Oh, Biddy,' says he, 'what _shall_ I do now?'" Donnie's
tears were running down at the remembrance.

"And he laid his head upon my shoulder, and he was that tired out
with crying after a bit he fell asleep kneeling up against me; an' I
carried him away into my own bed, and kept him warm till the morning.
And then," she continued, indignantly sniffing away her tears, "tell me
I don't know what I'm doing with his children. 'Deed, faith, I know a
deal better than them as tells me such nonsense."

"They were very lonely when they first came, were they not?" said
Adrienne, remembering Murtagh's words of the evening before.

"'Deed they were! poor little lambs, sick and lonely enough; they
scarce cared to do anything, and I never could get them off my mind.
Then after a bit, when the summer came, they used to go off whole days
up the mountains; and when I saw that pleased them I used to give them
their dinner to take with them, and then they took to rampaging about,
and I began to grow easier.

"When Miss Rose and Master Bobbo were sent over with the baby--they
were every bit as yellow and skinny as Master Murtagh and Miss Winnie;
and where would you see finer, heartier-looking children now than the
four of them? I'm not for cosseting children too much. Give 'em plenty
of good fresh air, and plenty o' good food, and let 'em alone, that's
what I say."

"But don't you think," said Adrienne, looking up with a smile, "that
now they have had the fresh air and the food, they might have just a
little learning, too, without doing them any harm?"

"Well," replied Donnie, "I don't say but what they might have a
governess, and let them do a bit of learning every day. But when they
first came Mr. Launcelot said they wasn't to be allowed to see a book
at all, but running about wild in the good mountain air; and quite
right he was, too. And since then they begged so hard not to have a
governess in the house, that Mr. Blair giv' in to them, and got them
governesses from Ballyboden.

"But what with one thing and another they never stay. One says it's too
far to come every day, and another says she can't manage the children,
an' the last went away close upon three months ago because Mr. Murtagh
slipped a handful of hailstones down her back. But it doesn't signify;
they weren't any good, when they did come; they hadn't got the wit to
teach these children.

"They tell me there'll be a real clever German governess next year,
when the young gentlemen go to school. If they never got a governess at
all, there's no fear but what Mr. Launcelot's children would be clever
enough. They may be a bit wild like, but if they've got the good blood
in them, they'll never go far wrong. I'm old, and I've seen a lot o'
people, an' I tell you, Miss, you may always let the good blood have
its way; it's only the half-and-half folks take such a deal o' looking
after.

"Then it isn't every one can understand that, and that's where the
trouble is. With these children, now, ye can manage them with a crick
o' your little finger, if you take them the right way. They'd give you
the coats off o' their backs, and the bit out o' their mouths, if they
thought you wanted it. But they won't be driven. There's nothing but
gentleness is a bit o' good with them, and that's where it is them and
Mr. Plunkett is such enemies."

Such were Donnie's opinions, and she descanted upon them at length,
till Kate came to say that she had sent up Miss Blair's luncheon to the
dining-room.

Mr. Blair did not take luncheon, so Adrienne sat alone at the head
of the big table. She spent her afternoon alone, too, and had plenty
of leisure to decide that Murtagh was right,--the drawing-room was a
musty-smelling old room. She opened the windows wide, and filled the
old china bowls and vases with flowers, and pushed the furniture about
till the room looked more habitable. Then she unpacked her needlework
and her music, and tried to occupy herself; but finally she was very
glad when at half-past five Brown came to inform her that six o'clock
was the dinner hour--an intimation which she took as a respectful hint
that in Brown's opinion it was now time for her to dress.



CHAPTER IV.


The children meanwhile had completely forgotten the existence of their
new cousin. The morning was deliciously bright; there was a fresh
scent in the air that made them all feel inclined to caper about
without exactly knowing why. Even Murtagh forgot his troubles with Mr.
Plunkett, and raced and shouted with the others.

Their river was a branch of a broad mountain stream. It came trickling,
sparkling, dancing between the great bits of moss-grown rock that
strewed its course, tumbling unexpectedly from time to time head over
heels down the side of a big stone, and then lying still and clear
in pools sheltered by the rocks. In the very middle the water flowed
swiftly along in uneven ripples, slapping up against obtrusive rocks
with a ruffle of white spray that made the delight of the children.

But what was not a delight in that river? There was the water to splash
and paddle in, with stones for those who liked to practice hardening
their feet, and patches of sand where one could enjoy that delicious
half-tickling sensation of feet sinking and sand oozing up between
all one's toes; then there were the pools for sailing boats; and the
current in the middle for floating hats, with all the fun of not being
quite sure whether they could be caught in time.

The rocks covered over with thick sunny moss for warming cold feet, and
all the wonderful things that were to be found in the river,--things
that came floating down, things that grew, and things that had got
there somehow. Then there were the islands; the trout and the minnows.

It was to one of the islands that the children were going, and when
they got down upon the beach they found their beloved river fuller and
rather more energetic, but just as bright and tempting as it always
was on these lovely autumn mornings. The water looked like clear brown
crystal in the sunlight, and soon everything was forgotten in the
excitement of looking for trout. Not a fish did they see this morning,
till, just as they were crossing the stepping-stones to a little
island, Winnie pulled Murtagh's jacket, and pointed silently to where a
great fellow lay under a rock, the sun shining on his spotted side.

"Ah!" whispered Murtagh, "isn't he a beauty?"

They stood a minute watching, but the trout scarcely moved.

"How still he keeps," whispered Winnie; "I believe I could catch him in
my hands."

In a minute she had set her saucepan down on the stone, pulled off
her shoes and stockings, and was cautiously stepping into the water.
The icy cold of it made her screw up her eyes, but on she went trying
to make as little splash as possible. Still the trout never moved.
Murtagh's interest was intense; he could scarcely refrain from giving a
shout. Winnie could hardly believe her own good fortune. She got close
up behind the trout; she bent down; her hands were just closing on it,
when--there was a tremendous splash behind her, and in an instant the
trout had whisked far away out of sight. She closed her hands with a
convulsive grasp at its tail, but it was no use,--it was clean gone.

"You little idiot, Murtagh! you _might_ have waited till I'd caught
him," she said angrily.

"I beg your pardon awfully, Winnie," said Murtagh, a picture of abject
penitence; "I didn't do it on purpose. I didn't see I was come to the
edge of the stone."

"Who said you did it on purpose?" replied Winnie. "You might have
looked where you were going."

"I'm awfully sorry," repeated Murtagh.

But Winnie didn't feel as if she could forgive him yet. She turned away
in silence, and occupied herself with rescuing from the water her boots
and stockings, which had been kicked off the stone when Murtagh slipped.

By the time she had done that, she turned round again and said with
something very like a twinkle in her eye:

"As you threw it in you may fetch it out."

She pointed to where the saucepan lay on the bottom of the pool.
Murtagh, having taken off his wet boots and stockings, hooked it out
cleverly with his foot; then Winnie slung all on a garter round her
neck, and tucking up her frock said cheerily:

"Never mind; come along, and let's see if we can't catch him somewhere
else."

Just at that moment a shout arose from the other side of the island,
and Bobbo, bursting through the bushes, exclaimed in breathless delight
that Rosie had caught a trout "in her hands in the water." Winnie told
her of her disappointment.

"What's up with the trout, I wonder?" said Bobbo. "Generally they're
off like lightning if you so much as look at them. There's another!"
he added, beginning to take off his shoes and stockings, while Murtagh
practically suggested that some one had been throwing lime into the
water.

But Winnie's sharp eyes saw the trout as soon as Bobbo, and she had the
start of him, being already in the water; so, signing to the others to
be quiet, she advanced cautiously up stream till she got close behind
it, Bobbo pausing meanwhile with one boot in his hand to watch her
success. Then, bending down, she quickly clasped her little brown hands
under the trout, and with a successful jerk threw it high and dry on to
a bit of rock.

[Illustration: "SHE QUICKLY CLASPED HER LITTLE HANDS UNDER THE TROUT."]

"Hurrah!" shouted Murtagh. "She's got it. Come along, Bobbo; off with
your other boot, and let's go up the river and try for some more."

"What shall we do with Ellie?" asked Rose. "There's no beach a little
higher up where the river gets narrower, and she'll never be able to
jump from one rock to another."

"Oh, she must manage somehow!" said Winnie. "Pull off your boots and
socks, Ellie, and don't be afraid of the water, it won't hurt you."

Ellie looked very doubtfully at her feet, and then at the water, as if
she did not at all like the prospect; however, Rosie didn't wait for
her to make objections, but, pulling off the little boots, lifted her
down into the stream, and then waded off herself after the others.

Ellie had her own ideas of duty, and knew what was expected of her when
she was out with people bigger and stronger than herself; so after one
shuddering exclamation, she tried bravely to do as the others did.

But she found it very hard work. The water was bitterly cold, and
nearly up to her knees. She saw that the others twisted up their
frocks, so she tried to twist hers up too, but could only get up
one little bit at a time, and the rest dabbled against her legs.
Soon the hem, and her petticoats, and the frills of her little white
knickerbockers were wet. She was cold all over. The pebbles at the
bottom hurt her feet. And then she didn't seem to get along one bit.

For a while she held tight on to the bit of frock that she was lifting
up, and tried to encourage herself by saying half-aloud, "Ellie can
walk in the river, too, Ellie can;" but the big blue eyes often filled
with tears, and her little stock of heroism began to melt away.

At last there came a bend in the river; the water grew deeper; and
Ellie, getting into a place where there was a slight current, was very
nearly taken off her legs. She saved herself by catching at a rock, but
when she looked up to call one of the others to help her she found that
they were out of sight.

That was more than she could bear. She was all lost now, and never
would be able to get out of the river, and it was no good trying to be
brave, so she gave it all up, and sobbing out, "Oh, me is so told! me
is so told!" she laid her head down on the rock and began to cry at the
very top of her voice.

The others meanwhile had completely forgotten her. The fish were, as
Murtagh thought, stupefied with lime, but not so as to be incapable of
trying to save themselves from pursuing hands.

Not a soul did the children pass, except one disconsolate-looking
little girl sitting upon the bank. But, bare-legged and bare-armed,
their hats hanging down upon their backs, their hair blown wildly
about, they splashed along in the bright cold water, or jumped from
rock to rock, oblivious of everything save the speckled trout for which
they looked so eagerly in the clear brown pools. Fortunately for Ellie,
however, the thought of her flashed through Murtagh's mind.

"Why, Rosie," he exclaimed, "what's become of Ellie? she's not in
sight."

The reflection caused some dismay among the children; but Bobbo
volunteered to go back and fetch her, so they concluded that it
was all right, and troubled themselves no further. Back he went
accordingly, and Ellie's loud-voiced grief soon guided him to where
she stood. But when he had comforted her, and rubbed her chilled legs
warm, and wrung the water out of her skirt, and rolled up her damp
knickerbockers, he found that she had had enough of trying to be
heroic, and nothing would induce her to enter the water again.

There was no getting over it,--coaxing and scolding were alike in
vain. Good-natured as he was, he was not going to lose his share in
the fishing; so, putting her on his back, he just waded to shore, and
trotted along the bank till he overtook the other children. They could
settle together what was to be done with her.

He found them in a state of wild excitement. Winnie had that instant
caught another fish, and Rosie displayed three shining trout caught by
herself and Murtagh.

"That's five altogether!" shouted Murtagh. "And we're going up to Long
Island, and light a fire and cook them. Rosie's got the cake tied up in
her hat, so it's not a bit wet, and that'll be loads for our dinner."

"Oh, that will be glorious!" cried Bobbo. "But what'll we do with
Ellie? she can't get along a bit in the water."

"Couldn't you take her through the woods?" suggested Rosie.

"And miss all the fishing!" replied Bobbo. "Thank you, I've missed
enough already. I think it's your turn now."

"Oh, no, indeed it isn't," replied Rosie. "I have her all day long.
It's only fair that you boys should have the trouble of her sometimes."

"It's always women who look after the babies," said Murtagh.

"Well, I'm not going to this time," said Rosie, decidedly. "Our
pleasure is always spoilt with having to think about that tiresome
child."

Little Ellie's head began to droop on to Bobbo's shoulder, as she
looked anxiously at the children's faces. Still, though she was
accustomed to be called tiresome, she did not like it; and besides, a
terrible fear was arising in her mind that Rosie would make them leave
her alone. The question was perplexing. The children knew that they
couldn't leave her there alone; but then they could not give up their
delightful expedition, and none of them were inclined to start off
alone with her through the woods. What was to be done?

Suddenly a brilliant idea struck Winnie.

"That girl we saw sitting on the bank!" she exclaimed. "I think she
comes out of one of our cottages. Let's get her to take Ellie through
the woods. We'll give her some of our dinner, and it'll be great fun
for her."

Springing lightly from rock to rock Winnie quickly disappeared in the
direction she had pointed out.



CHAPTER V.


She reached the spot, and finding the girl still sitting there plunged
at once into conversation by saying:

"I think you live in one of our cottages, don't you? What's your name,
please?"

But the answer, "Theresa Curran," was given in such a miserable voice
that Winnie paused and looked at her with some attention.

The girl did not look up, but remained sitting with her elbows on her
knees, and her face supported on her hands, staring in front of her as
though Winnie were not there. Her face was tear-stained, her eyelids
swollen with crying, and there was a look of despairing wretchedness
in her face which made Winnie feel that she could not go on with her
message. So after standing beside her for a moment or two in silence
she said, "Is there anything the matter?"

The girl did not answer; and Winnie repeated, "What's the matter?"

"I dunno what to do at all at all," replied the child, drearily.

"Why?" said Winnie, "what has happened?"

Then, as though she couldn't keep it to herself any longer, the girl's
grief burst forth in a passionate wail, and she sobbed out: "Oh,
whatever will I do, whatever will I do? He'll kill me if I go home
again."

"What is it?" said Winnie, somewhat awe-stricken. "Who is it will kill
you?"

"Oh, it's the rent!" sobbed the child, "and mother so sick and all, and
he so savage at givin' it. He'll kill me; I know he will. He said he
would."

"Have you lost it?" asked Winnie.

But the child's grief seemed too overpowering for her to give any
answer; she only rocked herself backwards and forwards, sobbing as if
her heart would break.

Winnie stood looking at her for a moment, not quite knowing what to do;
then to her great relief Murtagh appeared at her side.

"What's the matter?" he whispered.

"I don't exactly know; somebody's going to kill her," returned Winnie.
She climbed up the bank, and knelt down beside the girl, saying:

"Look here, don't cry like that. Here's my brother and there are some
more of us down there, and we won't let anybody kill you."

"Yes, he will," replied the girl. "He always does what he says."

"But," said Murtagh, "he'll be put in prison, and hanged if he does."
The child sobbed on, giving no heed to Murtagh's words.

"What's he going to kill you for?" asked Murtagh.

"When I lost the goat he said he'd kill me next time," replied the
child. "Look here," she continued, rapidly unfastening her frock,
and displaying her bare neck and shoulder. "That's what he did to me
yesterday."

The little thin shoulder was covered with a great bruise. The skin was
broken in a long zigzag crack; the rapid movement of throwing off her
dress had caused the blood to ooze out, and Winnie and Murtagh stood
transfixed with pity and horror.

"Oh, Win," said Murtagh, "what can we do?"

Winnie went to the bank, and tried to scoop up some water in her hat.

Rosie and Bobbo, seeing that something was the matter, came up.

"Just give me my hat full of water, will you?" said Winnie, "and have
either of you a pocket-handkerchief?"

"What's the matter?" inquired Rosie, filling Winnie's hat.

Winnie didn't trouble herself to answer; and Rosie and Bobbo, climbing
up the bank, stood silent when they saw the wound on Theresa's shoulder.

Winnie dipped the handkerchief in water and gently bathed the bruise.

"How horrible!" said Rosie, presently.

"Great cowardly scoundrel," ejaculated Murtagh.

"That's nothing," said the girl. "He nearly broke me all to pieces the
day I lost the goat, and he said he'd kill me downright next time. Oh!
there's mother!" she added, her tears bursting forth again. "Whatever
will she do? and I daren't go back. I know it's with that great stick
he'll kill me, and I can't bear to be killed; I can't bear it."

"Don't cry," said Murtagh. "You shan't be killed. We'll protect her;
won't we?" he added, turning confidently to the others.

"That we will," said Winnie. "Why, you live on our land, don't you? So
we're bound to protect you even if we didn't want to."

"Yez won't be able," replied the girl. "He'd kill every one of you if
ye came between us."

"What an awful man!" ejaculated Rosie, in a tone of horror.

"I don't care if he does," said Murtagh; "you'll just see if we can't
prevent him touching you."

"Because you don't know," said Winnie, eagerly. "We're bound up in a
tribe, and we always settled we'd protect everybody against people who
wanted to prevent them being free; and then, you live on our land; that
makes you one of the followers of our tribe, and you'll just see if we
let him touch you."

"How can yez help it?" said the girl, in spite of herself half
convinced.

"Oh!" began Winnie, confidently. She consulted the others with her
eyes, but confronted with the practical difficulty, no one was able
immediately to propose a plan.

"Ye don't know what he's like," said Theresa, the momentary flash of
hope dying out of her white face.

"Who is he?" asked Rose. "Is he your father?"

"It's my stepfather, and mother had such work to get the rent from him.
And now we'll be turned out all the same, and he'll be that mad he
won't know what he's doing. And it'll just break mother's heart, an'
finish her off altogether, so it will! O dear, O dear, O dear! whatever
will I do?"

The children looked at her in silence for a little while, then Rosie
asked, "Have you lost the rent?"

"Yes, down there," she answered, raising her head. "I was jumpin' over
the stones goin' across to the little house to pay it, an' I'd got
the two sovereigns in my hand when my foot slipped, and they flew out
before ever I knew they were gone at all. Just in the very middle,
where the water's runnin' fast, and it swept them clean away."

"I'll tell you what!" exclaimed Murtagh, who had been thinking deeply,
"we'll take her up to the island and hide her there; then afterwards
we'll manage."

"Yes! yes!" cried Winnie; "that's the plan. How stupid of me not to
think of that! Let's go up at once for fear he might come and catch
her here. No one'll be able to touch you there," she added, turning
to Theresa; "it's beautifully hidden, you'll see. And we can take you
up provisions every day, and keep you as long as ever we like. Oh,
Murtagh, what a splendid idea!"

"Spiffing!" exclaimed Bobbo. "Come along; let us be moving up. We've
got a jolly lot of fish here," he explained to Theresa, "and we'll all
have dinner together."

The children were so charmed with the notion that Theresa could not
help being cheered. She still demurred, wondering what would become of
her sick mother; but the children overbore her objections, and in a few
minutes they were all going up the river's bank together.

After a time the immediate bank of the river became impassable. Theresa
and Ellie then struck across the woods together. The others returned to
the bed of the river. Bobbo suddenly caught sight of another trout; the
interest in the day's amusement was renewed; and so by the time they
all met together again at Long Island not one of the whole party gave
a thought to anything but the fun of being on a desert island, and of
getting their own dinner.



CHAPTER VI.


Long Island was one of the largest of the little islands round which
the river flowed. The river at this part was more considerable, and
even now, at the end of the dry season, it required no little agility
to ford it. The island was so thickly overgrown with trees and bushes
that from the banks it seemed to be only an impenetrable mass of
foliage. But the children knew better. In the centre was a little
cleared spot, and on that clearance their father had, many years ago,
built a hut.

The difficulty of approach, and the delightful loneliness of the place,
formed a great attraction for the children; but the charm of charms was
this hut. Completely hidden as it was, approachable only by two narrow
openings in the bushes, never entered except by themselves, there was a
delicious mystery about it that heightened the pleasures of possession;
and then, it was their very own, built by their father when he was
a child like them, and begged for them by him from their uncle, who
was scarcely aware of its existence. It was their castle, to do with
absolutely as they pleased.

There was no place in the world where the children more enjoyed
playing. Its walls were built of stones cemented with mud; a square
opening on one side served as a window, but in the doorway there was
still the remains of a door, which Murtagh and Bobbo had mended so that
it could shut, fastened on the inside.

Opposite the window was a chimney, and in one of the walls a cupboard
where Rosie and Winnie kept a wooden bowl, four or five broken plates,
two cups, and an old knife. Besides these they had an empty box that
they used as a table, and five flower-pots that served as chairs; also
a piece of soap, an old scrubbing-brush, a lot of raw potatoes, and a
broom which they had made for themselves.

The only drawback was that this island was too far off. There was
a shorter way by the road, but the children always came along the
river-bed, and though the distance was really far less than they
imagined, the high, wooded banks, the desolate fields through which the
river wound, made the course of it so lonely that they always felt as
if they were on an expedition into the depths of a wild country.

This very seclusion, however, made it all the more suitable to their
present purpose, and to-day their sense of proprietorship was perhaps
more delightful than it had ever been before.

For the moment, however, the important matter was to get dinner ready,
and they set to work to collect wood for the fire.

Then the hut had to be cleaned, for it was more than a month since
they had last been here, and cobwebs and dust abounded; so while Rosie
prepared to light the fire, the boys went with the bowl and saucepan to
bring up water from the river, Winnie swept out the hut, and to Theresa
was intrusted the business of getting the fish ready for cooking. Ellie
was sent to pick laurel leaves to strew the floor. "For," remarked
Murtagh, "to-day's a grand festival day, and our floor must be strewed
with rushes like the ancient Britons. I'll be lord of the castle and,
Winnie, you shall be lady."

"I don't know what to do with this fire, Murtagh!" exclaimed Rose. "The
three matches we had left are every one of them damp; I can't strike
them."

"What a sell if we can't have a fire at all!" ejaculated Bobbo. "What's
to be done?"

"Go down to the mill, of course, and get some matches from one of the
men," dictated Winnie, in her bright, decided way.

"Well done, my Lady Winifreda! right as usual," exclaimed Murtagh.
"Be off, you varlet!" he continued in a grandiloquent tone of voice,
turning to Bobbo, "and--" he paused a moment to find proper words,
but fine language running short, the end of his sentence collapsed
miserably into, "look sharp back again."

"Bring a dictionary next time," laughed Bobbo, as he started off to
fetch the matches.

Scrubbing, sweeping, and dusting went on vigorously, till Bobbo came
back from the mill bringing with him not only a whole box of matches
but also a can of buttermilk, which the good-natured miller's wife had
given him.

How the children enjoyed that cleaning! How they rubbed, and scrubbed,
and splashed the water about! They forgot all about being hungry. Any
one might have supposed that they were the most orderly little mortals
in existence.

Even Ellie had her share. With the skirt of her frock pinned back,
and her little sleeves rolled up, she knelt upon the floor arranging
laurel leaves, with the shiny sides uppermost, as though her very life
depended on the completeness of the operation.

At last all began to look a little more clean and tidy, as Rose and
Winnie observed with pride. The fire was lighted, the potatoes were
boiling, the fish ready to cook, and now arose the great question,
"How were the fish to be cooked?" The children had often seen Donnie
cooking fish, but then it was always in a frying-pan, and they had
none. Murtagh was equal to the occasion. He thought he had heard
somewhere that down at Killarney trout used to be grilled over a wood
fire on a kind of gridiron of arbutus twigs; and there was a splendid
arbutus tree on the island.

"All right," said Winnie; "I daresay it's as good a plan as another;
anyhow, let's try."

The boys went out to cut the twigs, and she prepared a little wall of
stones on either side of the fire, so that the sticks might be laid
across, and support the fish nicely over the red mass of glowing wood,
without letting them get burned. Everything was ready except the trout.
The children began to realize how hungry they were; and the boys coming
quickly back with their bundles of rods, every one gathered round the
fire, absorbed in the interest of watching the experiment.

Winnie's plan for making the gridiron answered perfectly, and in a
minute six trout lay sputtering side by side upon it.

"Doesn't it make one hungry to look at them?" cried Bobbo, in delight.

Rosie appealed anxiously to Winnie to know how long she thought they
ought to take cooking.

"I don't know exactly," said Winnie. "We must just guess!" And so well
did they guess that when the six trout were all served up together
in the flat wooden bowl, decorated with sprays of arbutus leaves and
berries, the children decided that they had never sat down to such a
jolly dinner.

They were as hungry as hungry could be. The fish and brown cake were
delicious; the hut was most cosy with its carpet of green leaves
and its blazing fire, and even Theresa could not help being gay and
light-hearted.

By the time dinner was over, however, the short October afternoon was
reminding them that, even taking the shortest way home by the road,
they had some little distance to go, and nothing had yet been quite
settled about Theresa.

"Now, listen, and I'll tell you what my plan is," said Murtagh. "This
hut is a very nice place to live, and I vote Theresa stays here. There
are three fish left, and a bit of cake. That'll do for her supper and
breakfast. We can collect a lot of wood; then she can fasten the door
inside and keep herself warm with a jolly big fire all night; not a
soul will ever know she's here, and to-morrow--"

"Well, but, Murtagh," interrupted Rosie, "we can't--!"

"Stop a minute," said Murtagh, "I thought all about it on the way
up here. To-morrow we must make up our minds to ask old Plunkett
something. It's not very nice, but then, you know, it's not the same as
if it was for ourselves. We'll just tell him all about it; how the rent
was lost, and then, though he is such a--what he is--he'll let them
off paying after an accident like that. Then, Theresa, we'll all go
home with you, and your mother'll be so awfully glad to see you, after
thinking you're lost, that she won't think a word about anything except
kissing, and of course when the rent's all right your stepfather won't
touch you."

"What a splendid plan!" cried Winnie and Bobbo together, as Murtagh
looked round for admiration.

The notion was by no means so agreeable to Theresa; but at the thought
of going home the terror of her stepfather came over her again. She
dared not face him without the rent; the remembrance of her last
beating was too fresh in her mind.

"I think I'd better drown myself and have done with it!" she exclaimed,
relapsing into her former state of despair.

"What in the world should you drown yourself for?" asked Winnie. "You
have nothing to do except to stay here; then we'll come up with the
rent, and we'll all go home to your house together; the night goes
quite quickly when you're asleep."

Winnie's words made the affair seem certainly much simpler. Theresa
felt ashamed of her ingratitude.

"I'm sure I ask yer pardon. It's much too good ye are to me," she
replied warmly. Then with a sudden doubt, "Ye're sure ye'll bring it up
in the morning?"

"Oh, yes!" cried Bobbo and Winnie together. "We'll come up the very
first thing after we've got it," said Murtagh. "You know he won't
actually give us two sovereigns, but he'll say you needn't pay your
rent; that's just the same thing."

"But," suggested Rosie, who understood better what Theresa meant,
"supposing he won't let them off paying."

"Oh, of course he'll let them off!" returned the others, confidently.

"Why," said Winnie, "just think, what's two sovereigns in all the
hundreds of pounds he has paid to him!"

"Why," added Murtagh, "he has more hundreds of pounds every year than
we have halfpennies, all five of us put together."

"So it would be just the same," continued Winnie, "as if some one asked
us to give two halfpennies between us, and we would have to be pretty
mean if we wouldn't do that."

"Yes," said Rosie, "then I think it'll be all right. He couldn't
possibly refuse that."

"I should rather think not!" answered Bobbo.

"There's only one thing more," said Murtagh. "About your mother,
Theresa; is that what you're thinking about? Are you afraid she'll be
frightened at your not going home?"

"Oh, Murtagh, we can't help that!" said Winnie. "We must keep it all
secret, or half the fun will be gone!"

Theresa replied dolefully that "She didn't know what her mother would
do. She thought maybe it would kill her."

"I'm sure it won't," said Bobbo, "and just think how jolly it'll be to
see her face when we take you back to-morrow."

"If once we let out the secret of the hut, we'll never have any peace
here again," urged Winnie.

"Now do just listen to me," said Murtagh. "Nobody's going to let out
the secret of the hut. Of course we can't tell your mother, because it
would never do to let anybody know where you are; but we might write
something on a piece of paper, just to let her know you're safe, and
poke it under the door. We can do it on the way home, when it's too
dark for any one to see us."

"Oh, Murtagh!" cried Bobbo, in delight. "How ever do things get into
your head?"

Murtagh tried not to look too proud of himself, but he began to feel
really elated at his own genius for arranging details.

"Who's got a pencil?" he continued, producing a bit of dirty paper from
his pocket.

None of them possessed such a thing; but a stick blackened in the fire
and then dipped in buttermilk answered fairly well for a pen. It was
found dreadfully difficult to write with; so Rose, who was the best
scribe of the party, was directed to write only these words: "Theresa
is safe,"--that being the very shortest message they could think of.
Then Murtagh put the letter in his pocket, and they all set to work to
collect fire wood.

Left alone, Theresa dared not move even to bolt the door which the
children had closed behind them, but turning the skirt of her dress
over her head, she sank down in the corner of the hut with her face to
the wall, and quivering with fear lay still and listened.

Nothing came, and before long the perfect stillness of her position
produced its own effect; she fell into a short, troubled sleep. But
her dreams were of terrible things, and she awoke suddenly a few hours
later convinced that she had heard something, she was too agitated to
attempt to define what. She gave one scream, and then sitting up she
held her breath and listened. A gentle wind had arisen, the branches
of the trees were swaying, and she imagined she heard a sound as of
ghostly footsteps.

Trembling greatly she crept across the hut. The moon was up now, and
the first object that met her eyes was a great white shimmering thing
that seemed to be coming towards her, waving its arms as it approached.
She stood still a moment transfixed with fright; two long white arms
were raised as if to seize her, and she could bear it no longer.
Shrieking at the top of her voice she fled blindly, out of the hut down
to the river's edge. The sight of the shining water recalled her just
sufficiently to her senses to prevent her from attempting to cross the
river; but still screaming she turned and rushed--right into the arms
of the ghost itself, where she fell exhausted and terrified among the
straggling branches of a tall laurel.

For a moment she lay shuddering with closed eyes; but presently,
venturing to look around her, she found that the ghost had vanished;
that the moon was shining peaceably on the white backs of the laurel
leaves as they fluttered on the swaying branches; and after the first
moment of astonishment, she began to understand that all her fright had
been caused by nothing more nor less than a big bush.

Poor little Theresa! She had sense enough left to feel ashamed of
herself, so she went quietly into the hut. This time she barricaded
the window and bolted the door, then blowing the fire into a blaze she
ate some supper, and lying down once more fell soon into a peaceable
slumber.

The children, meanwhile, had trotted in the deepening gloom along the
road till they came to the Dalys' cottage, standing back in a little
garden. But alas for Murtagh's plan. The door was wide open, and
opposite to it, near the fire, a man stood smoking.

"What's to be done now?" whispered Rose. "We'd better go away."

"Hold your tongue," returned Murtagh. "He can't see us because we're in
the dark, but he'll hear us if you don't mind."

Rose was silenced, and Murtagh stood a minute thinking.

"We'll hide in the ditch," whispered Winnie. "You wrap it round a
stone, then shy it in and hide; don't run away."

Murtagh nodded; and while he looked for a stone the four others
concealed themselves in the ditch. Standing a little on one side of the
door he flung in his note. The children saw the little white thing fall
at the man's feet. He started, looked round, and picked it up. As he
opened it they heard him say something in a low, thick voice. There was
a shrill cry of "Peter, what is it?" He seemed to answer; took a great
stick from the chimney corner, came to the door, and looked out. They
heard the woman's voice say, "Oh, Peter, catch the villains!" and their
hearts began to beat a little faster.

To their intense relief, however, he exclaimed with a drunken laugh,
"May old Nick fly away with 'em. I'm well rid of her." Then the door
was shut to with a bang. They scampered away home, not feeling quite
sure he wasn't after them till they were safe inside the house.

They rushed along the passages, slamming the doors behind them, till at
the drawing-room door they were brought to a full stop by Adrienne, who
hearing the noise came out to meet them.

"How late you are!" she said. "Come in here and warm yourselves while
they are getting your tea ready."

The drawing-room behind was bright with lamp and firelight. In her
white dress, her face a little flushed with bending over the fire,
she seemed to the children almost like a being from some other world.
Murtagh looked doubtfully at his muddy boots before he followed her.
The room smelt of flowers, a low chair was drawn up to the fire, and
on a small table beside it was a bit of needlework and a china bowl
full of ivy and late roses. The "mustiness" of the old room had somehow
disappeared, as if by enchantment.

Adrienne knelt down upon the hearth-rug, and taking Ellie's hands in
hers rubbed them to bring back the heat.

"Where have you been?" she asked. "You must be very hungry."

"Don't!" burst out Murtagh, who was apparently fascinated by the
contrast between Ellie's dirty little fingers and the hands in which
they lay. "They are so fishy; you'd better let them alone. Ellie can
warm them herself at the fire."

"Ellie is so tired," said Ellie, plaintively, leaning her little body
against Adrienne. Adrienne sat down on the floor and took the child
into her lap.

"Poor little thing!" she said, looking up at the others. "Have you been
fishing? I think you have been rather too far for her."

"I should rather think we have," replied Bobbo, enthusiastically. "And
we found something else besides fish; didn't we, Myrrh?"

An admonitory kick from Winnie, accompanied by a _sotto voce_ "Hold
your tongue, little donkey," warned him to be quiet, and Rosie hastily
covered his abrupt silence by remarking, "We caught nine trout, and
four of them were the very biggest I have ever seen."

Adrienne was all attention and interest, and without mentioning Theresa
the children had plenty to tell. Lolling in easy-chairs by the fire,
they were so warm and comfortable that they paid no attention to
Peggy's announcement that tea was ready, and presently Mr. Blair's step
was heard coming along the hall. Then Adrienne looked up quickly, and
said with a little hesitation:

"Hadn't you better go and take your tea now? I think that is Uncle
Blair, and you are not quite dressed for the drawing-room."

The children started out of their chairs. Murtagh contented himself
with one of his queer, significant glances, embracing the whole group
that stood upon the hearth-rug. Rosie blushed, and explained that,
"When we were with mamma, we always dressed for the evening."

Adrienne, without answering, led sleepy little Ellie to the door. The
children vanished promptly through one door as their uncle entered by
the other.

The schoolroom was cold, and as untidy as usual. The door was standing
open, and the flame of the candle which lighted the tea-table flickered
in the draught. As they surveyed it, and heard in the distance the
drawing-room door shut behind them, the children had a vague shut-out
sort of feeling.

"What a set of dirty vagabonds we do look," said Murtagh, shivering.
"Shut the door, Bobbo; the candle's running down one side on to the
table-cloth."



CHAPTER VII.


Next morning Brown entered the dining-room, and said Mr. Plunkett was
in the study, and wished to see Mr. Blair.

"Ask him to come in here, Brown," said Mr. Blair.

"Take a cup of tea, and tell me your business now, Plunkett," he said,
as Mr. Plunkett was ushered in. "I have promised Mr. Dalrymple to look
at his moss agates at ten, so I have not a moment to give you after
breakfast."

"And I shall be gone to the outlying farms by the time you come back,"
returned Mr. Plunkett, without seating himself. "A most unpleasant
event has occurred, and I consider it my duty to inform you of it
without delay. Peter Daly has just been with me.

"And it appears, from his confused account, that yesterday morning his
stepdaughter, Theresa Curran, was sent to my house with the amount
due for half a year's rent. The money was not paid, and the girl
has disappeared. Her mother became anxious yesterday afternoon, and
despatched a boy to make inquiries in the village. The girl had not
been seen, and what gives the affair a serious aspect is this."

Here Mr. Plunkett drew out a pocket-book, and began to search among the
papers; selecting one, he laid it before Mr. Blair, and continued:

"Yesterday evening, after dark, this paper was thrown into the cottage,
and though it is meant to be of a reassuring character, it points to
the conclusion that the girl has been forcibly abducted for the sake
of the money in her possession."

Murtagh held his breath, and sat most unnaturally still for fear of
betraying himself as he recognized his piece of paper.

Mr. Plunkett went on, "The writer is evidently a person of very little
education; out of those three words two are wrongly spelt." Winnie's
eyes sparkled with suppressed laughter, and she glanced at Rose.

"And," said Adrienne, who had risen, and was looking over her uncle's
shoulder, "it has not even been written with a pen and ink."

The children began to lose all command of their countenances. They
longed to be out of the room, but a sort of fascination kept them
silent in their chairs. It did not occur to one of them that the
simplest thing to do was to tell their story, and ask for the rent then
and there.

"Everything," replied Mr. Plunkett, "tends to demonstrate that the
offence has been perpetrated by members of the lowest class of society.
But I permit myself to hope that it may yet prove less serious than at
first sight it appears."

"Go down to the cottage, Plunkett, if you have time, and I should not
be at all surprised if you find her sitting quietly by the fire," said
Mr. Blair. "My countrymen have a wonderful aptitude for all that savors
of romance."

"I have been down, sir," said Mr. Plunkett, "and the fact is that the
girl and the rent have disappeared. The romance is not wanting. Mrs.
Daly has got it into her head that a man, Patrick Foy by name, who has
a grudge against her for marrying Daly, has killed the girl, and sent
this letter to hinder any search being made till he has had time to
leave the country."

Adrienne's eyes opened wide with mixed astonishment and incredulity.

"It is quite possible, Miss Blair," said Mr. Plunkett. "The folly and
passion of these people is beyond all reasonable comprehension; you
perceive," he continued, turning to Mr. Blair, "that is it advisable to
put the matter at once into the hands of the police."

A sort of gasp from Bobbo made Mr. Plunkett turn his head; but Mr.
Blair, suddenly remembering the moss agates, pushed out his chair,
saying with a smile:

"Well, well, Plunkett, you know I am one with you in your crusade
against these barbarians; if it turns out to be serious," he added more
gravely, "don't let any question of expense weigh with you. The poor
girl must be found."

"I shall institute proceedings at once," replied Mr. Plunkett, "and if
there is evidence to confirm the mother's notion we will, of course,
have Pat Foy taken up."

The two gentlemen walked away down the passage, and the children were
at last able to escape.

"I say," exclaimed Bobbo, "here's a pretty go!"

"Hadn't we better say where she is at once?" said Rose, anxiously;
"somehow policemen--"

"You'd better look out, Rose," said Murtagh, mockingly; "you'll be
taken up before you know where you are and clapped into prison. You're
the eldest of us, you know."

Though Murtagh could not resist the temptation to laugh at Rose, he was
serious enough when he turned to Winnie and asked:

"What's to be done now? How shall we ask him for the rent?"

Winnie thought deeply for a minute or two; then she burst out
ecstatically with: "Oh, Murtagh, wouldn't it be fun to keep her
hidden, and have all the policemen and people searching, and Mr.
Plunkett fidgeting and worrying! It would pay him out, and that
policeman, too, for telling about me and Bobbo."

"No, no, Murtagh!" cried Rosie. "We'll be getting into an awful scrape."

"I don't think Theresa would think it much fun, Win," said Murtagh,
shaking his head. "I think we'd better get the rent. The thing is--I
say! isn't that old Plunkett himself on Black Shandy?"

He pointed to the avenue, where some one on a black horse was trotting
away from the house.

"It is," replied Bobbo. "He's off to the farms now!"

It was useless to run after him; what was to be done? The children
looked blankly at one another. Then Rose exclaimed vehemently: "Why
didn't you ask him before he went, Murtagh? It was all your plan, and
now what shall we do?"

"Ask him this evening instead," replied Winnie, coolly, while Murtagh
looked troubled. "Never mind, Myrrh, it'll all come right in the end,
because things always do. As we can't ask him now the first thing we
had better do is just to get something from Donnie that will do for
Theresa's dinner, and then go up and tell her."

"Poor Theresa!" said Murtagh, "she'll be awfully disappointed."

"I wish we'd never had anything to do with her," sighed Rose.

"No," said Murtagh; "because, you know, if she hadn't met us, perhaps
she'd have gone home and been killed; so, of course, it's better this
way."

"Yes, but supposing we don't get the rent!" suggested Rose, dolefully.

"Oh, we must get that. Nobody could refuse it after thinking she's dead
and everything. If they don't find out before to-morrow, it will be all
right."

"I wish to goodness to-morrow was come then!" ejaculated Bobbo, who
remembered how very unpleasant the policeman's hand had felt on his
shoulder that evening on the garden gate.

In this gloomy frame of mind they reached the island. Theresa had
recovered from her terrors of the night before, and now feared only her
stepfather.

It was impossible to comfort her, and notwithstanding Winnie's and
Murtagh's confident assurances that everything would be settled on the
morrow, the little party that dined on the island that day was very
dreary and dismal.

The children stayed as long as they could to keep poor Theresa company,
but towards four o'clock they thought it best to go and begin their
watch for Mr. Plunkett.

"You mustn't expect us early to-morrow, Theresa," said Winnie; "on
Sunday morning we can't get out before breakfast, because Donnie always
comes and pomatums all our heads. Then we're dressed for church; then
there's church; then there's dinner--oh, dear! I wish Sunday didn't
come so often; we shan't be able to get up till the afternoon."

"Mornin' or evenin' it don't matter; I don't believe yez'll ever be
able to get the rent," replied Theresa, disconsolately; and in that
desponding condition they were obliged to leave her.

They wandered about down in the park, listening anxiously for the
sound of Black Shandy's hoofs. The wind was very cold, and towards six
o'clock the evening closed in dark and wet. Their teeth chattered and
their clothes were soon soaked with rain. Still it was no use going
home till they had seen Mr. Plunkett.

At last there was a sound of footsteps. The children ran eagerly
forward in the hope that it might be Mr. Plunkett for some reason
returning on foot, but it turned out to be a laborer going home from
his work.

"Whatever are ye doing out here in the rain?" he exclaimed in surprise.

"We're waiting for Mr. Plunkett," replied Murtagh; "we want to speak to
him."

"Ye won't speak to him to-night, then," returned the man. "He came home
in the doctor's trap hours ago. Haven't ye heard the news?"

"What news?" exclaimed Murtagh.

"The news o' the shooting. He was shot at out o' the little wood across
at the back o' Dolan's fields, an' he never was touched at all; only
Black Shandy killed dead as a stone,--worse luck!"

The "worse luck" may have been meant as a lamentation for Black Shandy,
but the tone in which it was uttered gave it an uncommonly different
signification.

"Shot at!" exclaimed the children, excitedly.

"What an awful lot of funny things are happening!" said Murtagh. "Who
shot at him?"

"Them as thought we've had enough o' him and his ways, I s'pose,"
replied the man. "And that's not a few. Good evening to yez; ye'd
better be runnin' in out o' the rain."

"Yes, but look here," said Winnie. "Did they want to shoot him dead?"

"What d'ye suppose I know about it? Maybe it was only a bit o' fun,
just to see whether they could hit a man or no when they tried," he
replied, with a curious kind of laugh.

"Was he hurt? Were they caught?" inquired Bobbo.

"I don't know the rights of it, but there's nothing serious. Old
Nick'll always take care of his own. He fell down with the horse, and
they took him up, an' carried him into the farm; then the doctor was
sent for, and after a bit the two o' them drove back here together.
That's all I know about it. It's up at the house ye'll hear the whole
story. But my old woman'll be looking out for me. Good night to yez."
And this time he moved off quickly.

"Isn't it lucky he wasn't killed!" said Rosie. "We'd never have been
able to get the rent then."

"I wonder why they always shoot people," said Winnie. "Last year when
Mr. Dalrymple was in Italy they shot Mr. Williams, and now they've
tried to shoot old Plunkett."

"Because they're agents," replied Murtagh, promptly. "And I don't
exactly know what agents are, but it's something very bad. They're
tyrants, and they oppress everybody. That man that was fishing with me
and Pat O'Toole said Ireland would never be free till all the agents
were killed."

"Are you quite _sure_ old Plunkett's an agent?" asked Bobbo, with
interest.

"Quite sure," replied Murtagh, "because they said so; and besides,
can't we see he is ourselves? Isn't he always oppressing people?"

"Why doesn't the Queen banish them all out of Ireland?" said Winnie.
"That's what I'd do if I were her."

"Oh, I say!" exclaimed Bobbo, laughing, "wouldn't it be a jolly lark if
she banished old Plunkett?"

"Yes; but, Murtagh," said Rosie, "how are we going to get the rent?
It's all very fine talking, but we never seem to get one bit nearer to
it."

"And we're not likely to get a bit nearer to it, to-night," said
Murtagh, with a sigh. "We've just got to wait till to-morrow morning.
It's no use thinking about it. Here goes, Winnie; I'll race you to the
house!"

They had some idea of staying up in their rooms till the dinner-bell
rang; they did not feel in the mood to meet people and be asked
questions about what they had been doing. But they had neither fires
nor candles; they were cold and uncomfortable; and Murtagh soon
remarked that he thought it was awful stuff staying up there in the
cold.

"What's the good of it? We've often been in a row before, and, after
all, people can't guess just by looking at us that we know where
Theresa is."

"All right then," said Rosie; "let's go down. But don't let us seem to
be cold or anything. Let's look as if nothing had happened." And she
ran down-stairs as she spoke, gaily talking and laughing.

The other two children admired her plan, but they did not second it,
and it was a very cold, hungry, dispirited-looking set of little
people, who in another minute stood outside the schoolroom door.

"I hope the fire's not out," said Murtagh, as he groped for the handle.

He opened the door as he spoke, and disclosed to the children's
somewhat astonished eyes a schoolroom looking so different from their
ordinary place of refuge that it was hardly to be recognized. Not only
was a bright fire blazing in the grate, but the whole room was in
perfect order. The crimson window-curtains were drawn, the tea-table
was decorated with a bouquet of fresh flowers; the books had got into
the bookcases; the music into the music-stand; the more comfortable and
respectable of the arm-chairs were disposed within reach of the fire;
the brown moreen sofa had been dragged from its corner to occupy the
place of honor at one end of the hearth-rug; and Nessa herself, in her
pretty evening dress, was sitting on the sofa reading.

An undefined sensation of comfort crept over the children, but with
it the elder ones had an unpleasant consciousness that somehow their
wildness seemed suddenly out of place. They didn't feel quite as if
they were in their own schoolroom, and they hesitated an instant in
the doorway, wondering half-uncomfortably what Nessa would say to
them. They were very quickly at their ease, however, for she looked up
brightly as they entered, and exclaimed:

"Oh, there you are! I am so glad. I was expecting the dinner-bell to
ring every minute, and I wanted to be here when you arrived. What do
you think of it? Peggy and I have been working the whole afternoon."

"Awfully jolly!" said Murtagh, taking up a position on the hearth-rug,
and surveying the room with a satisfied expression.

"How pretty you have made it look!" said Rosie. "What did you do to it?"

"What did we not do?" said Nessa. "Peggy scrubbed and brushed and
polished, and I dusted and arranged, and pushed the furniture about.
First I was going to settle it a little by myself, and then Mrs.
Donegan came up and sent Peggy to help me."

"Well, I call this very jolly," said Winnie, who had thrown herself
into a chair, and was looking round with a beaming countenance.
"Doesn't it seem to you just a little bit like when we were at home,
Murtagh?"

"Yes," said Murtagh, slowly. "Only it isn't papa, you know."

"That reminds me," said Nessa, as she rang the bell for tea. "Who are
Cousin Jane and Emma, or Emily and Frankie? because I saw Uncle Blair
for a minute at lunch time, and he said they were coming to stay here."

"Frankie coming!" exclaimed the children in delight.

"Oh, I am so glad!" continued Winnie. "He is such a dear little fellow,
only he is so delicate; he is as old as Murtagh, really, but you
wouldn't think he is more than seven or eight years old, and he's not a
bit strong. Often we have to carry him just like Ellie; two of us put
our hands together, you know."

"He's just the very best little fellow that ever was," said Murtagh,
warmly. "Now he really is good. I don't know how he manages; he never
even wants to do anything--I mean things he oughtn't to. I suppose he
was just born so."

"I wish he was coming alone," said Bobbo.

"Why?" asked Nessa.

"Oh!" replied Murtagh, "because Emma's a prig, and Cousin Jane--well,
Cousin Jane _is_ a nuisance. Isn't she now, Rosie?"

"Oh, yes," replied Rosie. "You know she laughs at us; and she always
teases us because we're so funnily dressed, and that isn't our fault.
Donnie and Mrs. Plunkett settle all about that, and I'm sure I don't
like being dressed as we are one bit; I often feel ashamed to go into
church with all the funny colors we have to wear; and there's another
thing, Emma hasn't half such pretty things as we used to have when we
were with mamma!"

Rosie grew quite pink with indignation at the remembrance of what she
had suffered by reason of Donnie's uneducated taste; and Nessa agreed
that it was aggravating to have to wear clothes that one didn't like,
and then be made fun of into the bargain.

"But tell me something," she continued; "are they all my cousins, too?"

"Oh, yes," cried Winnie, "so they are! _Our_ cousins; doesn't that
sound nice?"

"What's funny," said Murtagh, "is about Cousin Jane. She's our cousin,
and Emma and Frankie are our cousins, too, because--Uncle William had a
son. Oh, I never can remember that rigmarole; Rosie knows. Explain all
about it, Rosie."

"You always begin wrong, Murtagh. That's why you can't remember,"
replied Rosie. "Uncle William was Uncle Blair's twin brother. Uncle
William died and had a son."

"Had a son and died, you mean," cried Murtagh, "and the son married
cousin Jane, and had another son called 'little Frankie,' and then he
died too, and--"

"That means Frankie died," interrupted Winnie; "you're as bad as Rosie,
Murtagh!"

"Well, but I couldn't say it any other way," replied Murtagh. "If I
said, then he died too and had a son called Frankie, that would mean he
had Frankie after he died. Perhaps he did; I'm sure I don't know; he's
been dead a very long time, that's all I know about it, and Frankie's
the very jolliest little son any one could ever have!"

"Uncle Blair said," Nessa continued, rising, "that they were making a
driving tour through the hills, and that they would end here."

"What a pity you have to go," said Rosie; "it is so nice talking."

"Would you like to come to the drawing-room after dinner?" said Nessa.
"Uncle Blair does not come till nine o'clock."

"Don't you mind us coming?" asked Murtagh. "Emma always said we're such
a nuisance!"

"Oh, no; indeed you are not to me!" replied Nessa, with an earnest
warmth that made the children look up at her with pleased faces.

"When we've finished tea," said Rosie, as the door closed behind Nessa,
"we might get some hot water and wash our hands and faces, don't you
think, Murtagh?"

"All right!" said Murtagh, nodding his head.

The result of their resolution was that Nessa found in the drawing-room
four shiny little faces reflecting the lamplight, four tightly
brushed heads, and four pairs of hands as beautifully clean as such
weather-beaten little hands could be.

The children had, in fact, made themselves so clean that they felt
half-ashamed, but Nessa appreciated their little attention.

"How nice you all look!" she said kindly, and then she sat down amongst
them, and they spent a very happy hour chatting round the fire. It was
so nice talking, as Rosie said, and they were very happy to be thus
possessed of Nessa's undivided attention. So when bed-time came they
ran gaily enough up their little staircase, and as they separated on
the landing Murtagh exclaimed:

"You were quite right, Win, things always do come right in the end;
only to-morrow morning and all our troubles'll be over!"



CHAPTER VIII.


Murtagh woke next day with a glad feeling that something pleasant
was to happen; he sprang out of bed with a shout of--"Hurrah, Bobbo,
to-morrow has come, and we'll be all right now!" Careering across the
landing, he awoke Rosie and Winnie to remind them of the same fact, and
they all rejoiced together, planning what they would say to Theresa's
mother, and anticipating how "awfully" pleased she would look when she
knew that Theresa wasn't dead, and that the money was all right.

"I'm very glad we met her, after all," reflected Murtagh, as he
returned to his own room to put on some garments more suitable to the
breakfast table. "Even if the police had got hold of us, it would have
been something to have saved her, and this way it's jolly."

They expected to see Mr. Plunkett at ten o'clock. It was his custom to
walk through the greenhouses at that hour on Sunday mornings. But alas
for their joyful expectations! Ten o'clock struck, and eleven too, and
no Mr. Plunkett made his appearance.

Ballyboden fashion was to begin morning service at twelve o'clock, and
at half-past eleven the carriage came to the door. Clearly, all hope
of seeing Mr. Plunkett before church must be given up, and the mood in
which the children started was anything but devotional.

It must be confessed that they were not agreeable companions in church
that day.

They meant to be quiet, but they yawned till the tears ran down their
cheeks, and not only did they change their position every five minutes,
but by a painful fatality they rarely succeeded in effecting the change
without administering an unintentional but resounding kick to the
woodwork of the old pew. At last came the final prayer, and Winnie went
down on her knees with such alacrity that more than one respectable old
lady turned her head, and seemed reproachfully to ask an explanation
from Nessa. Oh! why are old pews constructed on the principles of a
sounding-board?

But it was over; service and sermon had come to an end; and the
congregation poured out into the churchyard.

There the children learnt that Mr. Plunkett had been, this morning,
unable to leave his bed. "It was likely," said the young doctor, who
gave them the news, "that he would be confined to the house for several
days."

Nessa was astonished at the faces of dismay with which the children
received the information.

"Are you sure?" Rosie ventured to ask. "Are you sure he won't be able
to get out for several days?"

"Well, I really can't tell you that, Miss Rose," replied the doctor.
"But he's not very bad,--not very bad."

"Would you like to go round by the Red House, and inquire there how he
is?" Nessa suggested, feeling quite sorry for the children's needless
anxiety.

Murtagh felt doubtful of the utility of that proceeding, but a nudge
from Winnie, and an expressive glance from Rosie, made him accept the
proposal. Winnie had conceived the bold design of seeing Mr. Plunkett
in his own house, and of asking him without more delay; but, arrived at
the Red House, she found that her hopes were vain.

"Mr. Plunkett was in his own room," Mrs. Plunkett said, "and did not
know when he expected to leave it."

"Mightn't we go up and see him?" suggested Winnie, undauntedly, but
Mrs. Plunkett answered in horror: "My dear Winnie, I wouldn't let one
of you inside his room for anything in the world. Why, he won't even
have one of his own children in except Marion, and she's more like a
mouse than a child."

They drove away feeling more than ever puzzled as to what was to be
done. Poor Theresa! They scarcely dared to think of going up to her
with the news that she must wait again, till they did not know when.

Their heads were so full of Theresa's troubles that dinner was torment
to them. They could not eat; they were longing for the meal to be
finished in order that they might get away and consult together. What,
therefore, was their confusion, when Nessa innocently suggested that
they should pay a visit to the poor woman whose little girl had been
lost.

"Uncle Blair said it would be kind of us," she said.

"We--we can't," replied Murtagh. "We have to go--I mean," he said,
recovering himself, "we have something else to do."

"Look here, Murtagh, I don't see a bit of use all of us going,"
exclaimed Rosie, gaining a sort of desperate courage from Nessa's
presence; "and I'm not, for one."

"Do you mean," exclaimed Murtagh, astonished, "that you're not coming
up to--" He stopped short, growing scarlet at the thought of how nearly
he had betrayed himself.

Nessa looked at him in surprise, while Rosie answered stoutly, "No, I'm
not."

"Couldn't your business wait till to-morrow?" Nessa asked gently.

"No," said Murtagh, with a sort of shutting of himself up that made
further questions impossible.

There was a minute's silence; then Nessa asked whether she knew the way
to Mrs. Daly's cottage, and if it would be too far for Ellie to walk.

"I tell you what," said Winnie, presently, "if you'll wait for us at
the cottage, we'll come there after; that's the way we'll come home.
Rosie can go with you if she likes," she added contemptuously.

Dinner over, the children went to prepare for their walk.

"What is to be done, Murtagh?" asked Rosie, as they mounted the little
staircase. "Goodness knows when that stupid Mr. Plunkett will get well
again! I think much the best plan is to give up the whole thing, and
tell Mrs. Daly now all about Theresa. We can't possibly keep her there
forever, and we shall be getting into an awful row, for the police
always find things out."

"What is the good of talking like that, Rosie?" interrupted Winnie,
impatiently. "Just as if we didn't know as well as you that we're
getting into an awful row. You keep on telling us the same thing over
and over again, as if that would help us out of it."

"Well, but I do tell you a way out of it," replied Rose.

"Yes, just like a sneaking woman's way," said Murtagh. "Of course,
you're never to stick to any one when it gets to be any trouble."

"Well, I'm sure I don't see much good sticking to people when you can't
do any good by it," returned Rose, reddening; "and besides, you're sure
to let it all out before long."

"Come now, Rosie, you're a great deal worse than Murtagh," remarked
Bobbo, and a pitched battle of tongues was imminent, when Winnie again
interrupted:

"Do hold your tongues, and let's settle what's to be done."

But talking about it was very little use, and soon Nessa's voice was
heard at the bottom of the stairs calling out to know if Rosie and
Ellie were ready.

Great indeed, as the children expected, was poor Theresa's trouble when
she heard the news they brought; it was impossible to console her.
Nothing but the terror of going home, which grew in proportion with the
efforts made to save her from that dreaded contingency, kept her upon
the island.

In answer to her tears the children could say nothing but promise to
make it all right somehow, if only she would wait patiently; and after
they had done their little best to comfort her they went away promising
to come up the very first thing before breakfast and bring with them
news of her mother.

The hour they had spent with her had made them more than ever
downspirited. They had exhausted all their courage in trying to comfort
her, and the three little hearts were very heavy as they walked along
the road that led to the cottage. It was Winnie as usual who brightened
up a little at last.

"Never mind, Myrrh," she said, as they reached the cottage door. "We'll
do it somehow, you know, if we hold out long enough." And she seemed so
sure that the boys felt surer too.

Nessa's voice within, speaking to Rose, emboldened them to lift
the latch. The cottage was much like many another, but bare and
neglected-looking. It felt cold, like an uninhabited place. A mud
floor; at one end a cupboard; at the other a bed; a table, a couple
of broken chairs; and in the smoke-stained fireplace a newly lit fire
trying to burn; that was what the children saw. Rose, at the fire, was
stirring something in a saucepan; Nessa was sitting beside the bed with
her back turned to the door. There seemed at first to be no one else
in the cottage except little Ellie, who was leaning against Nessa's
knees; but as the children's eyes became used to the obscurity they
distinguished on the pillow the white, wasted face of a sick woman.

Rosie looked up as they entered.

"There you are!" she exclaimed in a half-whisper. "Oh, it was such
a good thing we came. Do you know she had nothing to eat, and there
was no fire, and the door was open, and the pig had got in, and the
chickens were pecking her oatmeal, and oh! everything was so miserably
uncomfortable; but we've settled her bed, and now we're making some
gruel."

Nessa looked round at the sound of their entry. Her face wore a
saddened expression not usual to it.

"These are my little cousins," she said to Mrs. Daly; "but we did not
know how ill you were when we agreed to come all together."

"They're very welcome, Ma'am," replied the poor woman, with a trace
of cordial hospitality still left in her faint voice. "Ye're kindly
welcome, my dears; will yez please to sit down?"

"Thank you," said Murtagh, and they sat down at once round the fire.

"Isn't there anything we can do?" whispered Murtagh, after a time.

"Oh, no," replied Rose. "We've done everything. We made the room tidy,
and we lit the fire, and there was scarcely any wood, and she has
hardly any covering on her bed, and there isn't a single thing to eat
except a little oatmeal and some scraps of hard bread."

"What's in the saucepan?" asked Winnie.

"Gruel," replied Rosie. "It's got to be stirred all the time, and then
Nessa's going to toast the scraps of bread when the fire gets brighter."

After that the children employed themselves with poking bits of wood
into the blaze, and listened at first almost mechanically to what Mrs.
Daly was saying.

"He was as kind as a body could want yesterday morning," she said,
"and went up to Mr. Plunkett's to tell about the child being gone; but
now I suppose it's in with some of his bad companions he is, for he's
never been back since. And then, Ma'am, it's not like as if Theresa was
his own child. Of course, he hasn't the feelings for her that a father
might have, an' she makes him mad with her flighty ways, till what with
the drink an' the anger he beats her sometimes till she can scarce
stan' up on her legs.

"She lost the goat up on the mountains, an' he nearly murthered her
entirely. She lay moanin' there on the straw all night fit to make your
heart bleed. But for all that he's a very kind man; by nature I mean,
Ma'am. It's all for her good he thinks he's doing it, and with the
drink--"

All this was said in detached sentences, interrupted often by a cough,
or a few words from Nessa.

The children scarcely dared even to look at one another. They strained
their ears to catch every word. Poor Theresa! it seemed to them
that she might almost as well live with a wild beast as with such a
stepfather. No wonder she was afraid to come home.

But talking exhausted Mrs. Daly, and Nessa came soon to the fire to see
if the gruel were ready. Then the bread had to be toasted, and a cup
and plate and spoon had to be found and washed. In a very few minutes
Mrs. Daly, propped up in her bed, was partaking of the most comfortable
meal she had tasted for days.

Nessa would not let her speak any more, but in order that she might
not feel hurried over her gruel began to talk herself, and amuse
the children as much as Mrs. Daly by an account of her journey from
Brittany to Ballyboden.

Mrs. Daly was cheered by the pleasant chatter, and the children were
quite sorry when the gruel was finished. But it was time to go home,
and after asking if Mrs. Daly would like her to come again to-morrow,
Nessa took her leave.

As they passed out of the gate a man evidently the worse for drink
rolled in, and staggering up the little path noisily entered the
cottage.

Nessa turned quite white.

"Are you afraid?" asked Bobbo.

"I--I can't bear people who drink," she replied, recovering herself.

"Mustn't it be dreadful to live with him?" said Rosie, as they walked
on.

No one answered her. The children were inclined to be very silent. This
life of Theresa's seemed to them something that could not be true. They
had often been in and out of cottages; they had seen men tipsy in the
village; but they had never realized before what it meant.

"How kind you are!" said Rosie, gently, coming close to Nessa, after
they walked about half a mile. "Mustn't Mrs. Daly be very glad we went?"

"Poor woman!" said Nessa, her eyes filling suddenly with tears. "She is
very good. I wonder why God made us so happy."

"Yes," said Murtagh, who had been considering Rosie's words. "I think
you're very kind; I think you like helping people."

"When I was little," replied Nessa, turning to him with a smile, and
falling into the children's train of thought, "I had a nurse called
Aimée. She used to be very unhappy because I could not go to her
church, and on Sunday afternoons she always took me to try and help
some one. She used to tell me that that was my way to heaven. Wasn't it
a pretty thought?"

"I think you must have been quite a different sort of girl from us,"
said Winnie. "We never thought about helping people, and that kind of
thing."



CHAPTER IX.


Nessa next morning expressed her wish to go and see Mrs. Daly again,
and Rosie again volunteered to accompany her.

"What's the use of my going to the island?" she said in answer to the
other children's reproaches afterwards. "I can't do Theresa a bit of
good, and I hate going there. It makes me miserable. Soon the police'll
find out all about it; and we'll just be put in prison."

She went away as she spoke; she didn't want to talk about the affair.
She would like to have forgotten it if she could, and she kept close to
Nessa all day in order to prevent the others from having an opportunity
of reminding her of it.

Her gloomy view depressed the other children not a little, and Rosie's
conviction that the police would interfere before long affected them in
spite of themselves.

Winnie said, "She didn't believe ladies and gentlemen were ever put in
prison, but she was not at all sure."

"Isn't it dreadful?" she said, "waking up in the morning and thinking
of it first thing."

"Yes," said Murtagh; "and all day long, too; I can't manage to forget
it at all, but we've just got to hold on. We must be able to see old
Plunkett soon now, and as for feeding her, we can always manage that
somehow. It's no use thinking about the police. If they're going to
come, why, they'll have to come, that's all."

So they cheered each other as best they could till Winnie suddenly
exclaimed: "Oh, yes, Myrrh, and I'd nearly forgotten. I thought of such
a good plan for Theresa to do while she has to stay there. You know her
mother's ill with compunction, or some name like that, and she ought to
be kept very warm; so I thought supposing Theresa made her some flannel
jackets while she's up there. I know how to cut one out, and we can get
the needles and thread and things out of Donnie's basket."

"Where are you going to get your flannel?" asked Murtagh, laughing.
"Because they'll be rather queer jackets if they're made of needles and
thread."

"I've thought of that, too," replied Winnie, triumphantly. "Come
along;" and she jumped up from the staircase where she was sitting and
danced into the boys' room.

"We'll have two of your flannel shirts," she explained, as she went
down on her knees before a great chest of drawers and began to pull at
the handles of the linen drawer.

"Well done, Winnie, you are a brick; I never knew any one like you for
thinking of things!" exclaimed Murtagh, heartily, helping her to get
the drawer open. "Here, take these two new scarlet ones; they're the
biggest; and besides, all the others are in rags. Now for the needles;
you fetch them, and I'll run out with these for fear Donnie catches us.
Won't she be in a temper when she finds out they're gone?"

"Oh, she'll never miss them," replied Winnie; "and besides, we're only
taking them for a poor person, so of course it's all right."

Right or wrong the shirts were speedily conveyed to the hut; and, busy
with her work, Theresa was happier when the children left her for the
night than she had been since the day of their meeting.

Thus another day went by. In vain the children hung round the Red
House; Mr. Plunkett did not appear. But the end of their adventure came
upon them more suddenly than they expected. On Wednesday morning they
had for very idleness sauntered into the drawing-room where Nessa was
engaged in rearranging the flowers, and, congregated round a little
table by the window, they were watching her operations, when Donnie
appeared in the doorway.

"I've brought you up the drop of soup I promised you, Miss Nessa. But
the poor woman won't care much about soup this day, for it's all out
about the child. The police have gone up now to search the place."

The words fell like a bomb among the children.

"What!" exclaimed Murtagh. Rosie flushed to the roots of her hair,
and stooped to pick up some fallen leaves. Winnie, with two bright
red spots in her cheeks, started from her seat, while Donnie, without
waiting for any questions, continued:

"The miller from the mill up there by Armaghbaeg came down this
mornin', and he'd never heard a word about it before. But directly he
heard what all the people are saying he went straight off and gave his
evidence at the police office; how last Friday night--the very day she
was missing--he heard a most awful shrieking and screaming coming from
somewhere about the island up there in the river. He and his wife heard
it together, an' made their blood run cold in the bed; and he said to
his wife, 'Kitty,' says he, 'I'd better be going to see what it is;'
and she laid her hand on him, an' says she, ''Deed an' ye will not.
If there's base people about, you'd better stop an' take care o' them
that belong to you.' So he stopped with her, and sure enough it must
have been Theresa they heard. So one lot of the police are going to
take up Pat Foy, and there's more going up to search in the island and
thereabouts."

"But they haven't found Theresa, then!" exclaimed Winnie, catching at
the hope.

"Found her!" echoed Mrs. Donegan, shaking her head. "Poor child, it's
little they'll ever find of her again! That's my belief."

"Oh, we must go out!" exclaimed Winnie, unable any longer to hide her
excitement. "Come along." And before either Nessa or Donnie could ask
them a question they were running quickly across the lawn and down the
avenue. Once pausing for breath, Winnie said, "We shall get there first
if they didn't start till Donnie told us!" But no one answered; they
wanted all their breath for running.

They went down through the village, for the road was the shortest
way. People were standing about in knots talking, but the children
did not dare to ask if the police had started yet. As they passed the
police-station they glanced hastily in, but naturally they saw nothing
that could tell them whether they were or were not in time.

Bobbo felt his legs tremble as he thought that perhaps before evening
he would be locked up there. He did not exactly know why it was such a
dreadful thing to have hidden Theresa, but only felt that if the police
found her something awful would happen to them. The prospect seemed to
him very unpleasant.

"Oh, Murtagh!" he exclaimed, with tears starting to his eyes, but
Murtagh answered without looking round: "Come on; let's keep together,"
and quickened his own pace as he spoke.

Bobbo swallowed his tears, and after that the four pairs of legs went
steadily, patter, patter, along the road, and not another word was
spoken.

Turn after turn was passed. No police yet. At last the island was in
sight, and the ground lay clear between them and it.

"In time!" exclaimed Murtagh.

But they were not sure yet; they might be altogether too late, and find
the island empty. They dashed through the little wood, scrambled down
the bank, crossed the river, and stood at last before the door of the
hut. Theresa was there, sitting quietly working at the flannel jacket.

"Holy Virgin! what has happened?" she exclaimed. "Mr. Murtagh, Miss
Winnie? What is it? Is me mother dead? Will one of you tell me?"

But the relief of finding her safe was too great for words to be
possible. Murtagh and Winnie stood trembling, while Rose fairly burst
into tears.

"Ah, what is it? Will one of you tell me?" implored Theresa, wringing
her hands. "It's me mother; I know it is! Oh, whatever did I ever come
up here for? Let me go to her!" And she started up to go.

Murtagh shook his head, and stretched out his hand to prevent her.

"Can't one of ye speak?" cried Theresa, passionately. "Miss Rose, tell
me; what is it?" And Rose thus appealed to dried her tears, and found
words to tell that the police would be up there in a few minutes.

Winnie recovered herself, and added: "So we mustn't stay here. Now
then, Murtagh, wake up, and think what we are to do next."

Murtagh took up the wooden bowl that stood half-full of water upon the
table and drank; then quite himself again, he said:

"Yes, the first thing to be done is to get away from here into one of
the shrubberies; we shan't meet any one that way."

On hearing that her mother was as well as usual, Theresa was so
relieved that she did not seem to think of anything else; but gathering
up her work, she followed Murtagh and Winnie without question or
objection.

Though Murtagh had said they would meet no one this way they did not
feel safe, and hurried along in silence. Murtagh and Winnie were
turning over plans in their heads of what was next to be done.

Bobbo, ashamed of his momentary weakness, began to recover his usual
faith in Murtagh. But Rosie could find no comfort anywhere. Tears
rolled over her cheeks as she followed the others, and she could
think of nothing but the court-house as she had once seen it, with
a grave-looking judge on the bench, policemen standing about, women
crying, people staring and whispering. Only instead of the prisoner
she had seen at the bar she imagined herself, and Murtagh, and Winnie,
and Bobbo crowded in together, and her uncle and Nessa looking
shocked, and Donnie talking about them. Then Mr. Plunkett would look
so disagreeable, and Mrs. Plunkett too, and Cousin Jane would laugh at
them, and perhaps they would be shut up in prison all their lives. One
thing after another crowded into her mind, and the more she thought the
more she cried. They must be found out some day soon.

"After all," said Bobbo, trying to feel brave in order to console her,
"perhaps it isn't so bad. I expect Winnie and Murtagh will get us out
of it somehow."

"They can't prevent the policemen taking us," returned Rose, dolefully.

"Even if we did get put in prison, I believe Murtagh would get us out
somehow," said Bobbo, trying hard to feel really sure of it in his
heart.

"Don't talk such nonsense!" replied Rose, crossly, "Murtagh's only a
little boy." But she was somewhat consoled nevertheless, and by degrees
stopped crying.

In the meantime they had left the river, and passing through a wood
came now to the shrubbery where Winnie and Murtagh had arranged
together that they might hide, and talk over plans, in a great
Portuguese laurel.

"Now," said Winnie, when they were all safely in, "have you thought of
anything, Murtagh?"

"I don't exactly know," replied Murtagh, slowly. "There's the
mountains, but it would be awfully difficult to manage about her food."

"I won't do another single thing," interrupted Rose. "I told you long
ago you ought to have told Mrs. Daly on Sunday. Then we'd never have
got into all this dreadful scrape."

"Well, but, Rose," said Murtagh, in a supernaturally gentle voice that
he sometimes used when Rosie seemed to him quite unreasonable, "you
know we couldn't tell on Sunday when we hadn't got the rent. It would
have been worse to let her go home then than on Friday."

"I don't know anything about the rent," returned Rose. "All I know is,
it would have been much better if you'd done what I said; then we'd
never have been so miserable."

"Don't talk like a fool!" ejaculated Winnie, impatiently, while Murtagh
said:

"But don't you see, Rose, that would have been as bad as murder, if
we'd let her be killed."

"I don't see anything," answered Rose. "I only think this is the most
dreadful thing we ever had, and I wish to goodness _anything_ would
happen, I'm so wretched. And I think it's very silly of you and Winnie
ever doing it. You're only little children, and if people are going to
be killed, children can't prevent it."

Here Rose began to cry again and Murtagh turned to Winnie with a
despairing--"What shall we do? It's so awfully difficult to settle. I
keep on thinking of plans, but--O dear! when will that tiresome Mr.
Plunkett get well! Bobbo, did you go and ask about him this morning?"

"Yes; they said he was coming down-stairs this afternoon, but I asked
when we'd be able to see him again, and Biddy only grinned, and said,
'Maybe a month o' Sundays, and maybe next week.'"

"O dear!" sighed Winnie, really for once in her life at her wit's end.
"What can we do? Can you say any plan, Murtagh?"

"The only thing we can do," said Rose, suddenly stopping her tears, "is
just to take Theresa back to Mrs. Daly's now, and tell her all about
it. I'm sure it's much the best plan. We haven't got anywhere to put
Theresa. She can't stay here in the laurel all night. Soon Donnie'll be
asking what we do with all the scraps she gives us, and I don't believe
if we keep her here till doomsday that we'll ever get the money from
Mr. Plunkett."

"Oh, Mr. Murtagh!" exclaimed Theresa, piteously, "ye won't be sending
me home now without the rent."

Murtagh gave no answer but a puzzled sigh, while Rose continued: "It's
just every bit as unkind to Theresa keeping her here as it is to us.
You can't do her one scrap of good. You'll only make her stepfather
angrier and angrier when she goes home for every day you keep her
here--and there isn't a bit of sense keeping her here when there's
nothing to keep her for.

"Don't you see, it would be silly of us if we went on keeping her here?
It would take us years and years before we saved up two pounds out of
our Saturday money, and we couldn't possibly hide her for years and
years. So what is the good of keeping her any longer? If her stepfather
is really going to beat her, he'll only do it worse for her staying
away. He daren't kill her. If he does, we'll tell the police about him;
besides, I'm quite sure he won't. And then it is so dreadful hiding
her. I'm quite certain the police will find out about it soon, and
they'll come and take us and put us into prison, and perhaps it will be
us will be killed." At the thought Rosie's tears began to flow again.
"It is so dreadful going to prison. I can't bear it; and if we could
get her back to Mrs. Daly's now, before the police find out anything,
it would be all right."

Theresa had listened intently to every word, and now with a white face,
and a wild, resolute look in her eyes, she stood up and said:

"I'm going home. Will ye let me pass, if ye please, Miss Rose?"

Rose eagerly stood on one side and held back the branches, but Winnie
sprang from the seat and caught Theresa's dress, while Murtagh
exclaimed:

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," said Theresa, "I'd rather go home. It don't matter what
happens to the likes of me."

"It does matter," returned Murtagh, vehemently. "You shan't go home."

"I don't want to be havin' yez taken to prison for a poor omadhaun like
me," repeated Theresa, trying to tear her dress away from Winnie's firm
hold.

"I don't care what you want; you shall stay where you are till we can
do something to help you," returned Murtagh, pulling her into the
centre of the bush again, while Winnie, turning to Rose, said with
flashing eyes:

"I think you're a selfish coward, with your sneaking plans, and I wish
with all my heart that you weren't my sister, so I do."

"I don't believe you are our sister," added Murtagh, passionately. "If
papa heard you, he'd never speak to you again all the days of your
life. And look here--if you do turn traitor, and let out one single
word of what we do, I'll--" He stopped himself suddenly, and Theresa,
frightened at the storm she seemed to have raised, put her hand on his
arm with an imploring, "Mr. Murtagh, dear."

Rosie burst into tears again, and sobbed out that they were very
unkind. After that no one spoke. For some minutes Rosie's sobs were the
only sound. Then Winnie said: "I have a plan, Murtagh. How do you think
this would do? Supposing we were to hide her in one of the empty rooms
of the house just for the present, and then go this afternoon and get
to see Mr. Plunkett somehow, and get the rent?"

"Yes, that's the best," said Murtagh, glad to seize any chance of
bringing the affair to an end without deserting Theresa.

"Come then," said Winnie, making her way out of the bush. "Run on in
front, Bobbo, and see if the road's clear."

"There now," said Bobbo, turning to Rose, "I think that's a good plan;
don't you? It'll soon be all over now."

"It would be much better if they took her to Mrs. Daly," replied Rose,
sulkily, turning her back upon them all, and beginning to move slowly
towards the house.

They managed to smuggle poor Theresa into an empty room, close to their
own bedrooms, and having done that they had next to summon up all their
courage for the meeting with Mr. Plunkett.

"What shall we say to him, Win?" asked Murtagh, sitting on the
banisters of the stairs leading down from their rooms.

"I don't know exactly," said Winnie; "Rosie always talks to him best."

"I hate talking civilly to him," remarked Murtagh, meditatively.

"Let Rosie do it," suggested Bobbo.

"I don't suppose she will," returned Murtagh, with a glance towards the
girls' room where Rosie had remained. "Besides--"

"She may just as well be of some use," said Winnie. "It's all because
of her that we have to do it in such a hurry." Then raising her voice,
she called--"Rosie!"

"Well?" returned Rosie from the bedroom.

Winnie waited for Rosie to come, but seeing that she did not, she
called again--"Look here!"

"Well, what do you want?" returned Rosie, without moving.

"Come out here. We can't go shouting secrets all over the house."

"I don't want to have any secrets," replied Rosie.

"All right; don't then," answered Winnie.

Murtagh muttered--"Little brute," adding after a pause, "Which of us
two is the best for talking?"

"I will, if you like," said Winnie. "After all, I don't care. He's an
old nuisance, and it's no use bothering our heads what to say to him.
Let's say whatever comes to our tongues."

"It would be a queer saying I'd say if I did that," returned Murtagh.
"However, let's go."

But Bobbo never could make up his mind to feel quite comfortable while
a quarrel was going on.

"I'll just see again if Rosie won't come," he said. "We had much better
keep together."

Though Rosie pretended not to care what Winnie and Murtagh thought of
her, she really cared a great deal, and was crying, wishing she had
never said anything about taking Theresa home. However, when Bobbo put
his head in at the door and began--"I say, Rosie--" she hastily dried
her eyes, and her answer "Well?" was as grumpy as ever. She didn't want
to make them dislike her more, but she could not help feeling sulky the
minute any one spoke to her. Bobbo came into the room, and continued:

"I say, Ro, I wish you'd come, too; you blarney old Plunkett much
better than any of us."

"I don't want to go where I'm not wanted," returned Rosie. "Murtagh and
Winnie don't like me helping, so I'd rather stay here."

To all Bobbo's persuasions she continued to give the same answer, till
at last he took hold of the handle of the door, saying: "Don't be a
donkey, Ro; Murtagh and Winnie are different, you know. They don't
understand about people being afraid. They think it's so awfully sneaky
to be afraid. You'd much better come."

The door-handle had more effect than all Bobbo's eloquence, and Rosie
moved away from the window as she answered again, "I don't want to go
where I'm not wanted."

"Don't be a duffer. Come along: you'll get round old Plunkett better
than any of us," and Bobbo, seeing that he had gained his point, began
to walk away.

"I'm sure I want to help Theresa just as much as any one," said
Rosie, as she followed him, "but Winnie and Murtagh don't like me to
interfere."

"I hope to goodness there will be no women in heaven," ejaculated
Murtagh.

"Except me, Myrrh," said Winnie, and then they all went clattering down
the staircase.



CHAPTER X.


But as they reached _terra firma_ the first bell rang for dinner,
reminding them that it would be useless to go yet to the Red House. Mr.
Plunkett would not be down-stairs till the afternoon.

They had nothing to give Theresa to eat, so Winnie and Bobbo went off
to the garden to get her some apples, while Murtagh and Rosie returned
to the schoolroom. There they found Nessa waiting anxiously for news.

During their absence the wildest reports had come up from the village.
The child's disappearance had naturally caused a great sensation in the
little place. It had been the topic of all conversation for several
days. In many minds it had been vaguely connected with the attempt upon
Mr. Plunkett's life, and if some of the inhabitants of the village
were better informed as to the latter event, there was a very general
impression that "there were terrible things going about."

Cabins were left unswept, dinners uncooked, pigs unfed. The whole
population of the little village turned out into the street, and
wondered, and conjectured, and shook their heads, and had a little
drink at the shop at the corner just to keep up their spirits; till
from one cause or another they had worked themselves into a state
of mind in which accuracy was far from being one of the predominant
qualities.

Rumors and conjectures spread like wild-fire. In vain Mrs. Donegan
and Nessa tried to find out the truth. Some said one thing and some
another, and poor old Donnie so implicitly believed always the worst
account, that Nessa grew thoroughly confused, and felt half-terrified
at the barbarism of a place where every one seemed to think it quite
natural and probable that a little girl should be carried off and
murdered in order to annoy her mother.

"Oh, I am so glad you have come back!" she exclaimed, as Murtagh and
Rosie entered the schoolroom. "Tell me what is true about Mrs. Daly's
little girl. Your countrymen talk so wildly I really cannot understand
them."

"If you can't understand Irishmen you can't understand me," replied
Murtagh, throwing himself into an arm-chair.

His tone was almost rude. Nessa flushed a little, and turning to Rosie
she continued:

"They told us such dreadful stories. They said--they said--the floor of
the hut was covered with blood; but one said one thing and one another
till it was not possible to understand. It is not true, is it? It
cannot be true."

It was too much; Rosie could not bear it. Her only answer was a burst
of tears.

"Oh, _Mon Dieu_!" said Nessa. "Her poor mother! Is it so bad as that?
Is she really dead?"

"No more dead than I am!" exclaimed Murtagh, springing from the chair
and walking impatiently to the window.

Rosie sobbed on, and Nessa, now utterly bewildered, put her arms round
her, and asked soothingly, "What is it that makes you cry?"

Rosie twisted herself out of Nessa's arms and made no answer. Nessa
looked inquiringly towards Murtagh, but he was standing with his back
turned to her, staring out of the window, and almost counting every sob
of Rosie's.

At last he turned and said quietly, "Don't you think you had better go
up-stairs, Rose?"

Without stopping her tears Rosie went slowly out of the room, and they
heard her sobs growing fainter and fainter as she walked away down the
long passage.

"What is it?" asked Nessa, half-timidly, as the sound of the last sob
died away. "Is it something about the little girl, or have you--" She
stopped, fearing to offend Murtagh by suggesting that they might have
quarrelled.

Poor Murtagh was at his wit's end. In despair he turned round to his
cousin with a mute pleading look that said more than words. There were
no tears in his eyes. They were like the eyes of some dumb animal in
pain; they did not ask for help--they seemed only to implore a little
patience. Nessa had never seen a child look like that; she felt as
though she were in the presence of a real trouble.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," she exclaimed almost involuntarily, and then
remembering that Murtagh was only a little fellow she put her arms
round his neck and kissed him.

"Don't be so sad," she said.

Murtagh's heart bounded at her kindness. It was nearly five years since
any one had caressed him so. He kissed her warmly back again, tears
that had not been there before springing to his eyes.

The luncheon-bell ringing loudly, they all moved away together to the
dining-room.

Ellie was in high spirits, and Murtagh and Nessa devoted themselves to
the little lady, till towards the middle of dinner Winnie and Bobbo
came in from the garden.

"You are rather late," said Nessa.

"Yes," replied Winnie; "we were getting apples, and Bland nearly
caught us, so we had to run round the long way. He did catch me, but
I wriggled away from him. We brought the apples all safe," she added,
turning to Murtagh.

"All right," said Murtagh, shortly.

Winnie glanced quickly from him to Nessa, and then subsided into
silence.

"I thought you ought not to take the apples," said Nessa.

"No," replied Bobbo, "but we had to; we wanted them."

The children were bad actors. Nessa wondered what was the matter, and
wondered why none of them made the slightest allusion to the event
which had apparently been so deeply interesting to them in the morning.

After luncheon she was standing before the drawing-room fire, when the
door opened and Murtagh ran in. To her surprise he threw his arms round
her and kissed her. Then, blushing a little at what he had done, he
said earnestly:

"You're awfully kind. I'll tell you about everything this evening," and
without waiting for her to answer he ran away again.

Rosie was with them, and having completely recovered from her fit of
crying she was very anxious now to regain her place in Winnie's and
Murtagh's esteem.

All the time that the others had been at dinner she had spent in
thinking. She felt really sorry for having broken down and cried
before Nessa. If Murtagh and Winnie had been angry with her for that,
she could have understood them much better. That did deserve their
contempt. "It was very hard, too," she thought, "just at the end, when
they were going to get the rent and have all the happy part of taking
Theresa home, that she should be separated from them, as it were, and
lose her share in the pleasure." Above all, she could not bear to be
thought cowardly and stupid. She liked people to be fond of her. The
result of her thinking was that she determined to do her best to coax
Mr. Plunkett to give them the rent. "For if I get the rent for them,"
she thought, "then they can't say I didn't do as much for Theresa as
any one."

Consequently she was in one of her very pleasantest humors as she
walked across the park, and Winnie and Murtagh wondered at her as
she talked brightly about what she was going to say to Mr. Plunkett,
sketched little scenes of Mrs. Daly's delight when Theresa was given
back to her, and dwelt pleasantly upon how "jolly" they would all feel
afterwards for having saved Theresa.

But though they wondered, they were certainly cheered, and felt far
bolder when they arrived at the Red House than they had done for some
time past.

"We want to see Mr. Plunkett, please, Biddy," said Rose to the servant,
who was hanging out clothes to dry.

"Faix it's roses at Christmas-time we'll be havin' soon," returned
Biddy, with a good-natured laugh. But the children were in no mood for
joking, so they walked soberly up to the door, while Rose asked what
room he was in.

"Ye're joking, Miss Rose," replied Biddy. "You wouldn't be goin' in to
him in rale earnest. Why, it's like a mad bull in a china shop he is
to-day, with the polis comin' in an' out, and one thing an' another."

"But we must go in," said Murtagh. "We have some business that we must
speak to him about."

"Sure, Mr. Murtagh, honey, is it going to be married ye are, and come
for him to draw out the dockiments?" answered Biddy, laughing outright.

"Stop being a donkey, Biddy," said Winnie, decidedly, "and tell us
where he is."

"Where is he? By St. Patrick, if he was where I'd like him to be, it's
the fardest end o' the pole from Biddy Connolly."

"Shut up your tomfoolery," said Bobbo, impatiently, while Winnie
exclaimed:

"Come along; let us go in without her."

But at that Biddy dropped the wet clothes she held into the basket, and
ran to the doorway.

"Is it mad ye are, Miss Rose? Ye can't go in there. The missus'd be out
upon me in a minnit if I let yez in."

"Do let us in," said Rose, coaxingly. "We've got business."

"I can't, Miss Rose. 'Deed I cannot. You don't know the bother he'd
kick up!"

"Oh, nonsense!" exclaimed Winnie, pushing past; "we can't help it;
perhaps it'll bother him well again."

And so with a little more insistence, and more expostulations from
Biddy, they made their way to the parlor and knocked at the door.

"Come in," called Mr. Plunkett.

"If ye will, ye will, an' I can't help yez," remarked Biddy, shaking
her head compassionately as the children went into the room.

Mr. Plunkett was sitting in an arm-chair next the window, with his
back turned to the door. There was no one else in the room, and having
entered, the children stood hesitating for a moment near the door where
he could not see them. Now that they were actually in his room their
courage seemed all to have vanished. Their hearts were beating fast,
they had a queer sensation in their throats, and not one of them could
have spoken a word just then.

"Is that you, Marion?" inquired Mr. Plunkett, in a voice so gentle
that the children could scarcely believe it was Mr. Plunkett who was
speaking.

"No," faltered Rosie. Then plucking up courage she advanced towards
his chair, and said in her most winning manner: "I hope you're feeling
better now. It was so unlucky, wasn't it, that you fell under poor
Black Shandy?"

"Thank you; I am somewhat recovered," replied Mr. Plunkett in his usual
severe voice, and the children no longer doubted their ears.

"Did it hurt you very much?" inquired Rosie.

"I suffered considerably."

"I'm so sorry," said Rosie. "I do hate being hurt so." After a little
pause she continued, the color mounting to her cheeks, "We have come to
ask you a favor, and we do hope you'll grant it." Murtagh, Winnie, and
Bobbo came slowly into view, and Mr. Plunkett's face on seeing them did
not look as though he were going to grant a favor.

"By what door did you come in?" he inquired sharply.

"We came in together by the back door," answered Winnie.

"I should like to know where Bridget was. These Irish servants are all
alike, careless and gossiping. I suppose her mind is too much taken up
by the village mystery to allow her to pay any attention to work."

"I'd rather have one Irish than--" began Murtagh, indignantly, his
temper rising as usual in Mr. Plunkett's presence, but Winnie trod on
his foot and reduced him to silence.

"We all know, sir, that you would rather anything which gives you an
opportunity for contradiction," returned Mr. Plunkett, severely.
"Perhaps if you had had as much trouble as I have had about the
disappearance of this girl, you would prefer not to have the additional
one of seeing your servants abandon their work and leave your house
open to whoever chooses to enter."

Winnie nudged Murtagh again as a hint to remain silent, but a sense of
justice to Biddy made him answer:

"Biddy didn't run away from her work. She didn't want us to come in."

"And I suppose you thought my house was like your uncle's garden, to be
broken into at pleasure when you want something out of it. Bland has
just been with me, and he tells me you have been taking apples again.
If it were not for this unfortunate accident, I can assure you you
should be punished as you deserve."

Murtagh made no answer. After a short silence Mr. Plunkett turned to
Rosie and said, "Well, and what is the favor I am expected to grant?"

Poor Rosie felt that it was almost impossible now to ask it. She
blushed and stammered, "I--I--at least--we--I mean--"

"Be so kind as to speak plainly. I do not understand what you are
asking," said Mr. Plunkett.

Rosie looked as if she were going to cry, but Winnie in her clear voice
said:

"We want you, please, to let Mrs. Daly off paying the two sovereigns
she owes for her rent."

Now that it was out the children all breathed more freely. Rose
recovered herself, and they stood waiting anxiously for Mr. Plunkett's
reply.

He was surprised. He had expected them to ask something for themselves,
and he was fully prepared to refuse, but this request astonished him
so much that he paused. Though a hard man he was not at heart so
disagreeable as the children imagined. To them he could not speak
kindly, for he honestly believed them to be bad, but he spoke kindly to
his own well-brought-up children, and he had in his way felt sorry for
poor Mrs. Daly in her trouble.

For a moment he felt almost inclined to say yes. But then he considered
that there would be no necessity for the interference of the children,
and he felt in no way disposed to give them a gratification.

The children stood like little statues while he thought. It seemed a
good sign that he should take so long about it. At last the answer came:

"The paying of rent is a business transaction which does not in any way
concern you. You may be quite sure that as your uncle's representative
I will do whatever is right in the matter. And now, will you allow me
to beg that at another time you will not force your way into my house
when my servants tell you that it is contrary to my orders for any one
to be admitted." And Mr. Plunkett taking up a newspaper began to read.

"But are you going to let her off paying?" inquired Winnie; "we want to
know awfully badly."

"I shall do what I consider right after consulting with your uncle."

"Oh, I know Uncle Blair will say 'Give it to her,'" said Rosie; "and if
you would say 'Yes' now, we would be so very much obliged. We have a
most particular reason for wanting it."

"It will be quite time enough to consider such matters when something
more certain is known of the fate of the poor woman's daughter,"
returned Mr. Plunkett.

"Oh, but," said Rose, not feeling quite sure how much to tell, "perhaps
if it was quite certain about the money, then there would be some more
known about Theresa. You know," she added coaxingly, "there are such
wonderful little fairies in the world that know all about everything."

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Mr. Plunkett, sitting up straight in his
chair. "You can't mean to say!--" But there his feelings seemed to
become too strong for words, and he paused, looking at Murtagh.

"We mean to say," said Rose, in a pleasant voice, rapidly determining
that whatever happened she would not go away without letting him know
that they had Theresa, "that if you'll give us the rent for Mrs. Daly,
perhaps we'll find Theresa and bring her back all safe and sound. Don't
we, Murtagh?"

"But we mean to say, too," said Murtagh, grimly, looking at Rose, "that
we can't possibly find out anything about her, nor say a single word
more, unless we do get the rent."

"This is too much!" exclaimed Mr. Plunkett. "Do you mean to tell me,
you graceless young scoundrel, that your pranks are at the bottom of
all the trouble and worry we have had? Do you mean to say that for
your own amusement you have given me all this trouble with the police,
turned a whole village upside down for a week, and nearly killed a poor
suffering woman with anxiety for her lost child! I have no language to
express my opinion of you, sir."

"My dear James!" exclaimed Mrs. Plunkett, coming into the room at that
moment. "What is the matter? Rosie! Bobbo! Winnie! _and_ Murtagh!" she
added in astonishment. "How in the world did you get into this room?
Did you send for them, James? What have they been doing? You know,
dear, the doctors said you were not to be excited."

"It is of little use for doctors or for any one to lay down rules while
such children as these are allowed to run wild," replied Mr. Plunkett.

"Though you have confessed it yourselves," he continued, turning to
Murtagh, "I can scarcely believe that you can have behaved in a manner
so totally devoid of all Christian feeling. But it is the old story:
mischief is your god. So long as you can have the excitement of a bit
of mischief you care nothing at all for the feelings of others; and I
have no doubt it seems to you an excellent joke to persuade a dying
woman's child to run away, and to embitter the last days of a poor
mother's life.

"I suppose that between you, you have lost, or perhaps spent, the
money intrusted to the child, and now you think that to take it out
of your uncle's pocket will be an easy way of paying it back. It does
not surprise me in you, Murtagh; but was there not one among you," he
added, looking at the other three, "who could have remembered that you
hold the position of young ladies and gentlemen?"

"You see you set us such a good example of forgetting what a gentleman
is like, that we really couldn't be expected to remember," replied
Murtagh, coolly.

"When you come to my house I must beg that you will not be insolent,
sir," replied Mr. Plunkett, angrily.

"Come along, Myrrh; don't be silly," said Winnie, moving towards the
door. "How could he know why gentlemen do things?"

"Winnie," exclaimed Mrs. Plunkett, "how can you talk in such a way?"

"Mr. Plunkett shouldn't be so impertinent to Murtagh," returned Winnie,
who had two hot red spots in her cheeks.

"I never saw such children in my life. I'm sure I pity that poor young
girl who has to live amongst you," said Mrs. Plunkett, half crying. "To
speak of my husband in such a manner!"

"Serves him right!" ejaculated Bobbo.

"You deserve, every one of you, to have your ears boxed," exclaimed
Mrs. Plunkett.

"Catch us first," laughed Winnie. "Come along, Bobbo." She led the way
down the passage as she spoke, and in another minute they were far on
their way across the park, their cause hopelessly and irretrievably
lost.



CHAPTER XI.


"I'll tell you what," said Murtagh, when they were once more at home.
"I told Nessa I'd tell her everything this evening. You see, I thought
it would be all right by then; and supposing we went down and told her
now, and got her to help us."

The others were silent; it was rather a bold proposal.

"She'd like us to, you know," suggested Murtagh. "I think she'd
understand about things."

"All right," said Winnie, after considering a minute. "I think that's
best. She might know of some plan."

"Let us go, then," said Murtagh. "Whatever we do we ought to be quick
about."

It was easy to be quick about getting to the drawing-room door, but
there they paused. Then taking their courage in their two hands they
somewhat shamefacedly entered the room. Nessa, with a big dictionary in
her lap, was sitting reading Italian by the fire, and she paid little
attention to their entry.

They none of them knew how to begin, but stood upon the hearth-rug
alternately looking at her and glancing inquiringly at each other. The
longer the silence lasted the more impossible did it seem to break it.
At last Winnie began to poke the fire, and that gave Murtagh courage.

"I say," he began. But then Winnie stopped poking to listen to him, and
the dead silence was too disconcerting; he stopped short as suddenly as
he had begun.

"What were you going to say?" asked Nessa, raising her eyes from her
book. And then in sudden surprise at the perturbed countenances of the
children, she exclaimed, "Why, what is the matter?"

"Well," said Murtagh, plunging without further hesitation into his
subject, "we don't know what to do, and we want to talk to you.
We've been thinking about you, and we thought, you know, that you're
different somehow. I mean we thought you'd think true about things
instead of only about 'Christian' and 'mischief,' and 'young ladies
and gentlemen.' I mean," he continued, contracting his forehead as he
puzzled himself with his own attempt to explain, "it's so queer the
way people are. If things are kind, or brave, or anything, then they
talk about young ladies and gentlemen; and the things seem all wrong,
somehow--but they aren't really wrong, you know, all the time; only it
makes me get in such a rage."

"I--I don't think I quite understand," said Nessa, fairly bewildered in
her attempt to follow the meaning of his somewhat complicated preamble.

"Well, I mean--" said Murtagh. "We've got Theresa, you know."

"You have what?" exclaimed Nessa, more puzzled than ever.

"I beg your pardon. It's very stupid of me," she said apologetically;
"but I really don't understand. It must be some English I don't know."

"No, no," said Murtagh. "You'll be able to understand quite well. We'll
tell you how it happened, and then you'll see. It was the day after you
came. We were going up the river fishing; and Ellie couldn't--Win, you
tell it; you'll tell it better than me."

Nessa's amazement, when she began to understand, was unbounded. She
did not know children ever did things like that. But before the end of
the story her warmest sympathies were enlisted in their cause.

"You see," said Murtagh, when Winnie had described the way in which Mr.
Plunkett had received their request, "we never thought about anything
except that horrible stepfather, and how nice it would be taking her
back with the rent and all. And you remember the way Mrs. Daly talked
about her husband on Sunday. Well, of course, that only made us think
of it more. But Mr. Plunkett always manages to make everything seem
wicked, and he makes me wicked in reality. The very feel of him in the
air makes me angry before he speaks a word. I do hate him so!"

"Yes," said Nessa, looking troubled. "It is wicked to hate. I wish you
would not feel like that, because then you are wrong, too. And listen,"
she continued, "I am sure the reason why he is so disagreeable is only
because he does not understand."

"He never does understand," returned Murtagh, vehemently. "He doesn't
choose to understand; he likes to be unjust!"

With a sudden impulsive movement she threw her arms round his neck.
"Don't be like that," she said in her sweet, pleading voice; "please
don't. It is such a pity."

Murtagh had drawn himself up in his anger. At Nessa's caress his
muscles relaxed, his face lightened with a slow trembling. Then,
possessing himself of one of her hands, he kissed it without a word.

It was not in the least like a child's answer. For the second time
that day Nessa felt as though Murtagh were somehow older than she.
She looked at him with a sort of surprise, but the strange expression
was already gone, and the face he turned up to her was full of
affectionate gratitude.

"And now," she said, "let us count our resources." She drew a little
green leather purse from her pocket, and emptied its contents. "But I
have not enough," she added, looking up almost apologetically. "How
much money have you?"

"I've got a shilling," said Rosie.

"I've only twopence," said Winnie; "Bobbo has a penny halfpenny."

"I haven't any," said Murtagh, shaking his head.

Little Ellie, who had been sitting on the rug, gazed attentively at
Nessa and the money, and then got up and trotted silently out of the
room.

"Well, that is all," said Nessa, "we must do the best we can with it."

"Yes, but," said Murtagh, "we don't want to take your money. It isn't
right you should give it."

"You see it is a good thing to have an elder sister," replied Nessa.

"And besides, Murtagh," said Rosie, "if you won't take Theresa home
without the rent, it really is the only way. I don't like taking your
money either," she added, coloring and turning towards Nessa, "but what
can we do? We haven't got any except one and twopence halfpenny."

"I should think you very unkind," said Nessa, seriously. "But," she
added, "even with your money we have not enough."

"Well, then," exclaimed Murtagh, decidedly, "we can't take her back
without the whole rent. We must just hide her up in the mountains, in
some safe place, and nobody on earth can make us say where she is if we
don't choose."

"Oh, Murtagh!" exclaimed Nessa, "you don't know what you are saying.
It would be enough to kill Mrs. Daly. Even if you had not a sou, you
must take Theresa back at once. You don't know--" Nessa's voice was
choked, she could not finish her sentence. She had witnessed the grief
of the patient desolate mother. Only yesterday the poor woman had said
to her with quiet hopelessness, "Yes, Ma'am, I'm dying--thank God."

And they could talk of prolonging the pain.

"You don't know," she said. "You meant to be kind, and you did do all
you could. But--Mrs. Daly loves Theresa."

She did not trust herself to say any more. Murtagh was looking at her
in consternation. Then all they had done had been a mistake. His eyes
sought Winnie's. Poor children, they were sorely disappointed!

But Nessa had hardly finished speaking when the door was pushed open,
and little Ellie rushed into the room shaking a tin money-box up and
down.

"Ellie's dold money! Ellie's dold money!" she exclaimed triumphantly.
Her little face was beaming with excitement, and running up to Murtagh
she thrust the money-box into his hands.

"Ellie'll dive the money; det it out with the scissors," she said.

"Dear little Ellie!" exclaimed Nessa, taking the child in her arms,
while Murtagh tried with a pair of scissors to extract the money from
the box.

"It's her half-sovereign that Cousin Jane gave her last Christmas,"
exclaimed Winnie. "Donnie's kept it for her all this time."

"It's Ellie's own dold money," said Ellie, with her arms tight round
Nessa's neck.

"Three cheers for Ellie," Murtagh cried, tossing the money-box up to
the ceiling as a glittering half-sovereign fell out upon the table.
"It's just right now."

"We want one halfpenny more," said practical Winnie.

"Ellie's dot a ha'penny, too," exclaimed the child, in delight,
wriggling herself down on the floor, "out in the darden."

"That's a rum place for halfpennies," remarked Bobbo.

"It's planted," said Ellie. "For seed," she added gravely, seeing the
others inclined to smile.

The children all began to laugh, and Rosie exclaimed, "You little
silly! you don't suppose money grows from seed, do you?"

"Me thought ha'pennies might," she murmured, and hid away behind Nessa.

"I think it is true," said Nessa. "We do plant money for seed,
sometimes. Only not exactly in the garden," she added, smiling as she
kissed little Ellie.

And now there lay the much-wished-for two pounds on the table, and
the children were free to take Theresa home that minute. A load was
off their minds, and the relief was so great that at first they could
hardly realize it, but they did not feel happy as they had expected.

They did not know how it was; it did not seem to be their fault; but
glad as they were to be so near the end of their troubles, it was
without any feeling of pleasurable excitement that they gathered the
money and went to set Theresa free.

Theresa, however, felt nothing but the wildest delight. Bobbo burst
into the room where she was hidden, exclaiming, "We've got it, Theresa;
we've got it." Then Rose followed rattling the money in her hands, and
Theresa, who could hardly believe the news at first, saw that it was
really true.

"God bless yez all!" she exclaimed, seizing hold of Murtagh's hands.
Half-laughing, half-crying with excitement, she tried to get out some
more words of thanks, but could say nothing. Then exclaiming, "Glory be
to God," she suddenly sank down upon her knees and burst into tears.

But they were tears of gladness and were over quickly. Drying her eyes
with her apron, she sprang up again and ran towards the door, saying
delightedly, "My mother! Let's run down to her quick. Ah, sure, won't
she be glad to see us!"

The children followed with pleased faces, and as they trooped down the
stairs Theresa poured out expressions of her thanks and of her delight
at getting home.

"Ah, I'll never be able to thank yez right. Let us go on a bit
quicker," she was exclaiming, when they rushed round a corner of the
passage and nearly knocked Mrs. Donegan off her legs as she was coming
slowly along, carrying a cup of tea for Nessa.

"By all the blessed saints and martyrs, and is that you, Theresa
Curran?" she exclaimed. "Riz up from the dead, with the police after
you, and the master himself payin' your expenses, an' all."

"Take a good look at her, Donnie, while you're about it. It'll be a
long time before you see any one else risen up from the dead, with
the police after them, and the master paying their expenses," laughed
Murtagh.

The children, without waiting for more, carried her off like a
whirlwind towards the drawing-room.

Donnie followed close upon their heels. "Miss Nessa, did ye ever hear
of such a thing?" she exclaimed, as the children presented Theresa with
an unceremonious "Here she is."

Theresa stood blushing with such a supremely happy face, and the
children around her were all so radiant, that the infection spread to
Nessa, who laughed like a child as she answered in the words Donnie was
so fond of using, "They're wonderful children."

"What is it?" inquired Mrs. Donegan. "Did they find her when the police
couldn't?"

"That's it exactly, Donnie," laughed Winnie. "Nessa, don't stand
palavering with Donnie, or we shan't get to Mrs. Daly's till midnight."

"Tum 'long," urged Ellie, pulling Nessa's hand.

"It's wonderful we are _en_tirely," said Murtagh, for a last mock at
Donnie as they went out of the room.

"Mr. Launcelot's to the backbone," muttered Donnie, lifting up her
hands. She stood a minute or two, murmuring, "Well, it's wonderful to
think of," then hurried away to the kitchen to tell the great piece of
news that Theresa was found, that the children were cleverer than all
the police, and found her themselves in no time when once they went to
look for her.



CHAPTER XII.


Theresa and Mrs. Donegan had between them put the children into the
brightest of moods, and they completely forgot all the wrong side of
their adventure and their misgivings about meeting Mrs. Daly.

At the gates some of the lodge-keeper's children were playing. The
instant they saw Theresa, one ran in shouting the news to his mother,
and the others set off like deer to the village calling out to every
one they met that the young ladies and gentlemen were coming down the
road bringing Theresa along with them.

"What a nuisance!" said Rosie. "Now we shan't be the first to tell Mrs.
Daly."

"Pat! Mick! Biddy!" shouted Bobbo. "Come back, will you!" But it was no
use; they were too far down the road to pay any attention.

"Perhaps that is better," said Nessa. "She is too weak for a great
surprise."

But Nessa was not prepared for the effect of having the news spread
before them.

Every one, who heard it, first refused to believe, and then were told
to go and see for himself; so by the time Theresa and her escort
reached the village they were surrounded by a miscellaneous crowd, the
members of which, not all quite sober, were wanting to get near Theresa
to see if she were there in "real earnest."

With each addition to their party the children's spirits rose higher
and higher. They were determined not to satisfy any one's curiosity,
and to every question they responded with some bit of nonsense. They
knew every one's private history, and bandied jokes with each new-comer
till their progress along the road was accompanied by continuous roars
of laughter interspersed with a sort of hail of questions.

"Ah, now tell us! How was it ye outwitted the polis an' found her when
they couldn't?" called one.

"Outwitted the police!" returned Winnie. "Have you come to your age,
Kitty, and don't know yet that the police have got no wits to put out?"

"Thrue for ye, Miss Winnie, asthore; it's me own wits are out to ask
such a question!"

"But where did yez find her?" asked another, pushing Kitty aside.

"Why, where the police didn't find her, of course!" laughed Murtagh.

"Then it's plenty o' places ye had to choose from; but tell us now, Mr.
Murtagh, honey, how did yez find her? How was she?"

"Pining for a sight of you, Mrs. Malachy," replied Murtagh, turning to
the village schoolmistress.

"Sure, Theresa! Is it yer own self come back?" cried a woman from the
edge of the crowd. "Tell out now; who was it spirited ye away?"

"The fairies--the good people," cried Rose and Winnie together, while
Theresa blushed and laughed.

"Ah, Mr. Murtagh, my jewel, give over jokin' and tell us where ye found
her," called Kitty again, having elbowed her way back close to them.

"Wouldn't any one know you're a woman, Kitty?" began Murtagh, when a
man on the other side of him interrupted in a heavy voice:

"Don't tell her a word, Mr. Murtagh; she's the curiousest woman in the
place."

"And you'd like me to tell you instead," said Murtagh, looking up with
a merry twinkle. "Ah, well, if you want to know, it was Miss Winnie's
bright eyes did the business."

"But however was it she did it?" asked the man.

"For shame, Phelim. Were you born on April fool's day not to know
that?" laughed Murtagh.

"Go to Shuna Toolin an' get her to teach ye," called out several voices
amid fresh derisive laughter.

"Tell us round here, Master Bobbo, honey, that niver asked a question,"
cried a woman, persuasively.

"Well, it was up there by the river, if you want to know so badly,"
returned Bobbo.

"Up by the river! Why, sure, that's where the police looked and niver
found a bit of her!" cried several voices together.

"Don't be insulting us comparing us to those omadhauns of police, that
don't know a whisky press when they see one," called Murtagh.

Roars of laughter interspersed with "Arrah whisht, Mr. Murtagh,"
greeted that remark. Then some one cried out, "Three cheers for the
young ladies and gentlemen," and Nessa's bewildered ears were deafened
with three loud "Hurrahs."

"Three groans for the polis!" called another.

In the midst of the hearty groan with which he responded to the
invitation, Murtagh caught sight of Nessa trying to lift little Ellie
out of the crush.

"Carry Miss Ellie, will you, Pat Molony?" he called. Thrusting out
two dirty, kindly arms from behind her, Pat Molony lifted Ellie over
Nessa's head, saying gallantly: "It's not fit for the likes o' you,
Miss, to be carrying childer. It's more like a white lily ye are;" and
when Nessa looked round to thank him she saw Ellie contentedly sitting
on his shoulder, with one arm round his dirty neck.

In this fashion, joking and laughing, they passed through the village
and out on the road close to Mrs. Daly's cabin. Then some ran on to
tell her they were coming. At the garden gate Theresa passed them all,
and rushed into the cottage alone.

Murtagh and Winnie were close behind her. They overheard a smothered
cry, then--"Oh, my darlint! my darlint! is it you yourself?" and there
was something in the intensity of the voice that made them suddenly
stop short. The laughter died from their faces, and they stood
looking at each other. A strange awe had fallen upon them. The noisy
laughing crowd seemed far away; they heard only the kisses that were
being exchanged in the dark cottage, and children as they were, they
understood suddenly something of what the mother had suffered.

They did not think of entering the cottage, and the crowd, seeing them
stand still, stood still too. A fear ran through it that they were too
late,--that Mrs. Daly had died without seeing her daughter. The noise
and laughter were suddenly hushed. Some one said, "What's happened?"
Faces were turned anxiously towards the door. While Winnie and Murtagh
stood gazing into each other's eyes, there was a dead silence. They
neither of them ever forgot that strange hush and the bewildering
thoughts that filled it.

The silence was broken by Mrs. Daly's voice saying, "An' where are they
till I thank them?"

Then Theresa ran to the door to call them in, and the crowd, seeing
that all was right, trooped into the cottage after the children.

Mrs. Daly was sitting up in the bed; Theresa knelt beside her with her
arms around her neck.

"I'll never be able to thank yez right," said Mrs. Daly; "but if ye
care for a poor woman's blessing, may it follow ye to the end of your
days. And may none of ye ever feel the hundredth part of the sorra I've
had since she's been gone from me."

"True for ye, Mrs. Daly. May they have peace and happiness all the days
of their life for the good turn they've done to the poor this day,"
cried some from behind with a ring of feeling in their voices.

"But we didn't," said Murtagh to Mrs. Daly--"I mean, we didn't find
her to-day. We knew where she was; we helped her to hide from her
stepfather when she lost the rent; but she's got it now." He spoke with
difficulty, and he was glad to have got it all out.

Mrs. Daly hardly seemed to pay attention to the sense of the words. She
had got her arms round Theresa and was thinking only of her.

"It's all one," she answered. "You've brought her back alive, an' I
thought she was dead."

A few minutes more and the children had left the cottage. The crowd
stayed behind anxious to hear at last Theresa's story, and they walked
soberly along the road with Nessa.

"Isn't it delightful," said Rosie, "to think that it's all so well
over?"

"Berry belightful," returned Ellie, so emphatically that she made them
all laugh. But then she wanted to know--"What for all the people were
laughin'?" and while Rose explained, the other children walked on
silently.



CHAPTER XIII.


In the meantime Mr. Blair had heard from Mr. Plunkett an account of the
children's behavior, and at dinner that evening he spoke about it to
Nessa.

"Mr. Plunkett does not know how to manage people," she said, after she
had explained the story from the children's point of view. "It is a
pity."

"Ah!" said her uncle, amused at the quaint gravity with which she
announced her opinion.

"I do not like him," she continued. "He is hard. He is bad for the
children."

"What! have you been thinking about it?" said her uncle. "You astonish
me. I thought he was wonderfully good for the children."

"No," said Nessa, "because he does not understand them, and he does
not like them. He makes them angry. I do not think it would be very
difficult for these children to be good. Mr. Plunkett thinks that all
they do is wrong; other people think that all is right. It is very bad
for them to be so much scolded, and it is bad for them to be so much
flattered."

"So Plunkett thinks all is wrong, does he?" asked Mr. Blair.

"Yes," said Nessa; "he does not see anything but the wrong, and he
scolds the children. He makes them proud and angry; and then I think
they _like_ to do what he does not want."

"But, my dear child, they always like to do what I don't want," said
her uncle. "Why do they always bang the doors? Why do they shout under
my windows? Why do they get up at six o'clock and clatter up and down
the passage when I am enjoying my soundest sleep? Answer me all these
questions, little advocate."

"They bang the doors because they are always in a hurry," said Nessa,
smiling. "They shout because they are happy. They get up early--well,
the birds get up early, too."

"Well, well," replied her uncle, laughing, "have it your own way. But
you must learn to appreciate Plunkett's other qualities. He saves me
more trouble than twenty other men would do in his place."

"Perhaps he is very useful," said Nessa, "but he is not interesting."

"He is most interesting to me," returned Mr. Blair. "I have twenty
pounds now for every ten I used to have, and he has succeeded in making
the cottagers keep roofs on their houses, and conform to a few other
customs of civilization. He has done it at the risk of his life, too,"
he continued, in a more serious tone. "More than one of the men about
here would think it a praiseworthy action to shoot him some dark night.
Plunkett knows it, and after all, your martyrs of the middle ages did
not do so very much more than persevere in their duty when they knew it
might cost them their life."

"Yes, that is brave," said Nessa, looking up.

Her uncle's words made Mr. Plunkett's character appear to her in a new
light, but they gave her an unpleasant creeping sensation. She was
beginning to think that Ireland was a very unsafe place to live in.

"Well," said her uncle, as they rose to leave the dining-room, "are you
convinced now of Plunkett's excellent qualities?"

"Yes," replied Nessa, "but--"

"But what?"

"I do not think I could like him; he is not kind."

"Ah, you true woman!" replied Mr. Blair. "You won't acknowledge
yourself beaten; but ask his little daughter Marion if he is not kind."

Instead of going to the drawing-room Nessa went straight to the
schoolroom, but she found it empty. Soon the door of the schoolroom
slowly opened, and Winnie entered singing, followed by Murtagh, who was
playing the violin and singing too.

They did not see Nessa, who had withdrawn into the shadow of the
curtain, but stood still together in a broad strip of moonlight near
the table singing as though their whole souls were in a song. Winnie's
head was thrown back, her face looked white, her eyes unnaturally large
and dark in the strange light. Murtagh had bent his head to one side
over the violin, and his face was in shadow.

Nessa stood entranced, watching the weird little figures. But as their
voices rose to a strange sweet wail that formed the refrain, Murtagh's
hand slipped. A sudden shriek of wrong notes was the result; both the
children stopped singing, and he impatiently flung the violin on the
table, exclaiming, "That's always the way when I'm just getting it
best."

"There's a string gone, and that'll be sixpence to save up before we
can have another singing night," remarked Winnie, ruefully, as a slight
snap from the violin announced the mischief that had been done.

Nessa advanced from the window, and suggested that perhaps the string
would be long enough to be used again.

"Are you there?" exclaimed Winnie, taking up the violin. "No; it's the
same string that broke last time. Myrrh, I do wish you wouldn't pitch
the violin about so; couldn't you remember to give it to me every time
instead of throwing it down?"

"Especially," remarked Rosie, who had come in with Bobbo, "when it's
all your fault. If you practised every day the way you promised mamma,
you'd never make those horrid squeaks."

"Shut up!" said Murtagh, flinging himself down on the hearth-rug.

Winnie hovered about, watching Nessa's useless endeavors to make a
short string long enough, and finally settled down upon the hearth-rug;
while Rosie remarked that she was going to bed, and went away.

"You'll be throwing it in the river by mistake some of these nights,
Murtagh," said Bobbo, "and that'll be an awful nuisance."

"Don't bother him!" said Winnie. "We are so tired."

"I'm sick and tired of everything," exclaimed Murtagh, presently.
"Everything's wrong, whatever you do; I think I'd like to be nice and
quietly dead, then things wouldn't be all so puzzling."

"I'm so tired now," said Winnie, wearily laying her head on a
footstool, "that I think I'd like to be dead or anything where you
don't feel."

"Poor children!" said Nessa, "you are tired out."

"It isn't being tired I mind," said Murtagh, "but it's so dreadfully
difficult all about what's right and what's wrong. I cannot understand,
and I wish--yes, I really do wish I was dead."

"But that is not brave," said Nessa, gently. "I do not think we need
be afraid of our lives, because there is always so much good that we
don't know of. I felt afraid when I had to come here, and now I am very
happy after all."

"Yes, but," said Murtagh, "it isn't like that; only it does puzzle me
so about the wrong sides of things. We were so wretched all the week
trying to keep Theresa, and we couldn't laugh at anything, and when we
woke up in the morning we thought about her the first thing. But then
we thought we ought to keep her; we thought Rosie was talking nonsense.
Well, afterwards, all of a sudden, we find out we were all wrong
somehow!"

"Oh, no," said Nessa, "you were not all wrong. How can you say that
when you were so kind and so brave?"

Murtagh's face brightened for a moment, but then he said: "Yes; but
Winnie and I have been thinking, and it came right in the end because
you helped us; but we didn't bring it right. We only made Mrs. Daly
miserable, and Theresa miserable, and ourselves miserable. We wouldn't
desert her because we always thought it was mean deserting people, and
all the time Rosie was right; and it is very funny, being brave is
worse than being cowardly."

"Ah," said Nessa, "but you are mistaking the part that was wrong. If
you had been older, you would not have hidden Theresa in the island at
all, because you would have known all the trouble it would bring; you
would have come at once to Uncle Blair. But then you couldn't help not
being older, and when you had hidden her there, much the best thing you
could do was to be brave. If you had taken her back at first, you would
never have got the money."

The explanation satisfied Murtagh for a moment, but then he said: "It
wasn't our keeping her that got the money. If you hadn't been here, we
could never have got it. And supposing it had done what Mr. Plunkett
said; supposing it had killed Mrs. Daly?"

"I don't know how to explain," she said, "but I know I love you for
doing as you did."

Bobbo sitting nearest her gave her hand a fervent squeeze. It was new
and pleasant to them to be loved.

"And wait one moment," she continued; "I think now I can explain a
little, too. You know we are not perfect, and the thing we have to do
is to try and be as good as we can. We are quite sure to make mistakes,
but I think we ought to be brave enough to go on trying, and then God
_is_ kind; he will let us have done most good by the time we have to
stop. Don't you think so?"

"I think if you were always here, we should always do most good," said
Murtagh, warmly.

And Nessa, changing her manner, laughed and kissed his forehead,
saying: "Ah, you mad fellow, if I were always with you, I would not let
you do so many foolish things, and you would wish me very far away."



CHAPTER XIV.


The children's waking on the following day was a very happy one. For
the last week the remembrance of Theresa had fallen like a cloud
upon them the instant they opened their eyes, but this morning they
sprang with light hearts from their beds. It was the day for Indian
letters too, the day that they all loved best in the fortnight. Out of
doors the sun shone, the wind was warm, birds were singing among the
reddening leaves, the river sparkled and flashed invitingly. It was
more like a day in August than October, and the children resolved to
enjoy it.

They danced with joyous faces into the dining-room. Their uncle was
not there, and the post-bag lying by his plate was locked. Murtagh
might peep as much as he pleased, his anxiety had to remain unsatisfied
till Mr. Blair made his appearance. But then, could anything be more
delightful?--a nice fat letter from papa for Murtagh, and one from
mamma for Rosie.

No sooner was Murtagh's handed to him than he bounded with it out of
the window. There Nessa saw him kiss it, turn head over heels three or
four times on the grass, and then tear away at full speed round the
corner of the house. Breakfast was nearly over when he returned, with a
radiant face, and handed the letter to Winnie to read, remarking, "It's
awfully nice."

"Yes; and isn't it nice that you are to have half a sovereign for your
birthday?" said Rosie.

"Oh, yes. Papa says I am to have one from Mr. Plunkett. Does he tell
you?"

"Yes," said Mr. Blair. "When is your birthday?"

"Wednesday week," replied Murtagh. "Come along out," he exclaimed,
after devoting about three minutes to his breakfast, "and let us read
what the pretty mother says. You come, too, Nessa. We'll go to the big
chestnut tree; that's where we always read their letters aloud." And
taking a bit of bread to supplement his hasty meal, he rose from the
table and led the way out.

"We get up in the branches," said Rosie, "and sometimes we pretend it's
a sort of church."

"Only, last letter day," said Winnie, "we pretended we were a family
of squirrels, and mamma's letter was a dear little white dove flown
over the seas to tell us not to steal nuts and apples from the other
squirrels. It's such fun pretending, and then we put little pieces in
the letters."

"And then we went off to Nut Wood to get ourselves some instead of
stealing," said Bobbo, "and when Winnie was up in the very top branch
of the bull's-eye tree, Mr. Plunkett came past and saw her, and called
out, 'What are you stealing those nuts for?'"

"And I thought about him being a squirrel, and running up and down the
trees whisking his tail," interrupted Winnie, "and I laughed so much I
tumbled off the tree, and gave myself such a whack I haven't quite got
well yet."

"And another day we were just Irish kings and queens, and papa's letter
was some river fairies come down to warn us about some scoundrelly
English taking our chief palace--that's the island. We rushed up there
at once, and lo and behold! that old piggamy, Mr. Plunkett, had chopped
down our watch-tower, a splendid old oak tree that had its branches
blasted with lightning, the only one on the island. So the English had
been there, true enough."

[Illustration: THE CHILDREN SHOWING NESSA THE GROUNDS.]

They chattered on in this fashion till the big chestnut was reached.
In a moment the children were in it, looking indeed not unlike a family
of squirrels as they scrambled about and peeped at Nessa through the
clusters of pointed leaves.

"Will it be difficult to get up there?" she asked, indicating a place
about four or five feet from the ground where the trunk spread out into
three great branches.

"Oh, no, no," exclaimed the children, "as easy as possible. Here, take
hold of our hands, and set your foot on that sort of bump lower down,
then you can walk up like going up-stairs."

They stretched out their hands, and in a moment Nessa was seated in the
tree.

"Shamrocks and Shillelaghs! There's Mr. Plunkett out again, and he's
seen you, Nessa," cried Winnie, in delight, "and oh, he does look so
jolly shocked!"

Nessa was enchanted with her novel position. "Never mind Mr. Plunkett,"
she said gaily. "Let us read the letters now."

"What shall we be to-day?" said Winnie. "Nessa couldn't be a squirrel
exactly, you know."

"We'll be Irish kings and queens," said Murtagh, "and Nessa will be a
stranger who has brought us these letters from a far-away king."

"Oh, yes," said Winnie. "And you'll live with us, and we'll discover
you're an Irish princess who was stolen away when she was a baby."

"Now," said Murtagh, when the letters were quite finished, "come along
with us, and we'll show you our dominions."

"Yes," said Rosie. "It's too bad; she's been here a whole week,
and we've never shown her our islands, nor nut-wood, nor the
mushroom-field, nor the mountains."

"I'll tell you what, Myrrh," exclaimed Winnie, struck by a sudden
inspiration, "we'll have a picnic up the mountains on your birthday.
What do you think of that?"

"Yes," said Murtagh, "and oh, Win, a plan has just come into my head.
Such a beauty! I'll tell you presently."

"Is it a secret?" asked Rosie.

"Yes. But I'll tell you too, by and by. Oh, it is so jolly; you'll
go crazy when you hear it." And being unable to turn head over heels
Murtagh relieved his feelings by springing to the ground.

Having once got into the tree, Nessa would gladly have spent the
morning there. But the children had no notion of allowing the
appreciation of their roost to take that form, and for the next two or
three hours she was trotted backwards and forwards from one favorite
place to another, till when twelve o'clock came she was glad to go with
the children to the back door and receive at Donnie's hands a glass of
milk and a slice of brown cake. Then, leaving Nessa to enter the house
alone, they merrily scampered back to the chestnut tree to hold their
consultation.

Their wonderful plan was simply this: that they were to discover Nessa
to be the real princess of their tribe, and on Murtagh's birthday
they were to have on the mountains the grand ceremony of crowning and
receiving her into the tribe. It was the details of the plan that were
so specially delightful, Murtagh said; particularly one.

"Now then, listen," he said; "it's all been floating into my head the
whole of this morning, and I'll tell you just how I've planned it.
We'll have a regular grand--what d'ye call it? like when the Lord
Lieutenant was made Knight of St. Patrick, up--"

"Ceremony," interpolated Winnie.

"Yes, ceremony, up in the ruins. We'll make a throne of stones in
the middle of the court-yard, and decorate it with green branches.
Then we'll have garlands of evergreens and hollyhocks, and loop them
up on the walls all round, and we'll have a green ribbon and a wreath
of shamrocks. And I'll be sitting on the throne, and all the followers
standing round. Then you four will bring her up the mountain, and as
soon as she comes near, the followers will run forward and scatter
shamrocks on the ground for her to walk over, and she'll be led up to
the throne. Then I'll get down off the throne, and I'll say, 'Will you
reign over us, our princess? and will you promise to be true to our
tribe?' or something like that, and she'll say, 'Yes,' and I'll tie the
green ribbon round her arm. Then comes the beautiful part of the plan!
I'll make her promise to hate Mr. Plunkett and to defend us against
him."

"Oh, Murtagh!" exclaimed Rosie. "You won't be able to do that. You know
she's grown up, and she would never promise that."

"Yes, but you don't know how I'm going to do it," returned Murtagh,
triumphantly. "After I've put on the ribbon I'll take up the shamrock
wreath, and say: 'Kneel down, and promise to hate the Agents, and
defend your tribe against them.' She won't know, you see, about Mr.
Plunkett being an Agent; she'll only know about them being something
very bad, and so she'll say, 'Yes.'"

"Then she'll be bound to help us when we get into scrapes with him;
won't she?" asked Bobbo.

"Of course she will," returned Murtagh. "She'll be as much one of the
tribe as you are, then."

"Oh, I say, Myrrh," cried Winnie, clapping her hands, "it's perfectly
delicious. And look here, Myrrh, you must get a string for the violin
with sixpence of your birthday money, and we'll teach all the children
to sing some songs--'The Wearing of the Green,' and 'The Shan Van
Vaugh,' and--"

"Yes," said Murtagh, "but I haven't told you yet what we're going to do
with the rest of the money. We'll buy buns and things for the followers
to eat, and Donnie'll give us a lot of tea, so they'll have a kind of
school-feast after the ceremony; because, you know, they'll be awfully
hungry, and they will be so pleased.

"Isn't papa a dear old blessing of a father, remembering about my
birthday all that way off, and sending me half a sovereign?" exclaimed
Murtagh, gratefully pulling his letter out of his pocket and looking at
it. "I never knew any one like him in all my life, he does think about
things so. I wonder if he knew what a lot of fun we should have with
it!"

"Oh, and I'll tell you what we must do, Myrrh!" exclaimed Winnie.
"Every one of the followers must have a large green branch in his hand,
like Birnam wood in the theatre. You remember about Macbeth in the
theatre," she explained, seeing Rosie looked puzzled.

"Oh, yes, of course," replied Rosie, who didn't remember a bit. "We'll
get a lot of apples for the feast. They'll be nearly as great a treat
as cakes for the followers, because they never have any."

"Yes, yes," cried Bobbo. But Murtagh objected.

"No," he said decidedly, poking his letter into his pocket again. "We
won't."

"Hullo!" remarked Bobbo. "Why not?"

"Well," said Murtagh, looking at Winnie in hopes of support, "I don't
want to have anything wrong at all in this plan. It's just to be a bit
of fun."

"Oh, stuff!" said Rosie. "Apples are nothing."

"Yes, but," replied Murtagh, "papa gave us the money, and the grown-up
people would all say we oughtn't to take them, so I vote we leave the
things alone. He's sure to make it an excuse for talking to us."

It was Murtagh's plan, and Murtagh's birthday, so he had a right to
decide. But when the question of the apples was settled a thousand
other questions arose, and they were far from being all decided when
the second dinner-bell summoned the children to the house.

But the village children had to be made acquainted as soon as possible
with the fact that their services would be required, and as the tribe
that the children were so fond of talking about consisted exclusively
of their five selves, they felt that there was some difficulty about
calling together the honorary members upon whom they had so recently
conferred the rank and title of followers.

However, there was Pat O'Toole, a young friend and favorite of
Murtagh's, to whom they had once confided their notion of enrolling
themselves into a tribe, and there was Theresa Curran, who might fairly
now be said to belong to it, and with these two to help they would
easily be able to organize their festival.

It was all even more easy to arrange than the children had expected.
Pat and Theresa charged themselves with collecting the "followers,"
and Murtagh gleefully gave orders that they were to assemble that very
afternoon for a first singing practice on one of the little islands.

The children came dancing home, elated and happy. What a pity all days
were not like this day! Everything went well, and they felt so good and
bright as they raced and capered about the lawns.

Nessa went indoors on her return from the village, but they never went
in till evening, and to-day of all days it was impossible to sit still.

Alas! their little active feet were always tripping into mischief. They
took it into their heads to go and prepare the island for the singing
meeting. Unfortunately, they came upon Bland driving a horse and cart
through the river. The horse had refused to cross the bridge, which was
without a parapet; and as the children came up they found that Bland
had taken out the lading of the cart before driving through the water.
Large baskets of apples stood ranged side by side upon the bridge.

"Ha, ha!" cried Bland, as he landed the cart safely and began to load
it again. "We've conquered you at last, my young gentlemen. You'll have
to do without apples now whether you like it or not. Every one in the
garden was picked this morning by Mr. Plunkett's orders."

"I'm sure I don't care," replied Murtagh.

"Sour grapes, young gentleman!" replied Bland, chuckling. "I daresay
you were on your way to the garden now, if the truth were known."

"We weren't anything of the sort, as it happens," said Bobbo.

"We'd made up our minds this very morning not to take any," added Rosie.

"Easy talking. Words don't cost much; but I'd have been sorry to trust
you under a tree of ripe apples," returned Bland.

"Shut up your impudence," said Murtagh, "or I'll just turn one of these
baskets into the river, to show you how little we care for your old
garden stuff."

"Oh, ay. It's not so pleasant being circumvented. I don't wonder you
don't like it. But here's an end of your apple-eating for this winter.
In another hour every apple that was in the garden this morning will
be safe in the apple-room, and the key in Mr. Plunkett's pocket."

"Here, Myrrh," said Winnie, laughing, and pushing one of the heavy
baskets, "help me to give it a shove, and we'll teach them not to crow
before they're out of the bush. Hurrah, there it goes! What do you
think of that, Mr. Bland?" she cried triumphantly, as with the help
of a hearty push from Bobbo and Murtagh the basket toppled over into
the river, and a bushel of rosy-cheeked apples bobbed up and down in
the rapid current. Then, without waiting for any answer from indignant
Bland, the children all ran away, leaving him to finish loading his
cart, and to go to Mr. Plunkett with another complaint of their
unruliness.

"What a pity I did it, though, Myrrh! I'm very sorry," said Winnie,
with a queer twinkle in her eyes, as they stopped on the hall-door
steps.

"I'd like to see Mr. Plunkett's face when Bland tells him," said Bobbo,
laughing. "Why, we took more apples that way than we'd have taken in
two months just for eating!"

"I'm sorry all the same," returned Winnie, laughing in spite of herself.

"You don't look very bad," answered Murtagh. "Still, if you want to
cry, I'll run and get you a pocket-handkerchief."

Just then they overheard Nessa's voice through the open drawing-room
door, saying: "Have you asked Master Murtagh? He might possibly know
what has become of them."

"Master Murtagh's not far off, and if it's anything important, I've no
objection to go and ask his opinion," exclaimed Murtagh, confronting
Mrs. Donegan as she made her appearance through a doorway.

"'Deed, Master Murtagh," returned Donnie, "it's no matter for joking.
The only two decent shirts you have in the world have gone clean out of
your linen drawer. I've hunted for them high and low, and you'll have
to go to church to-morrow without a rag to your back."

Murtagh and Winnie burst out laughing, and Bobbo called out, "It wasn't
your shirts she had, was it?"

"Yes," ejaculated Winnie, through her laughter. "Oh, Donnie, for
goodness' sake, don't look so funny; you'll kill me with laughing. Look
here," she continued, "you needn't look so astonished; she wanted them
a great deal worse than Murtagh, and she hadn't got any money to buy
some."

"Do you suppose, I'd like to know, that I hemmed and stitched at them
shirts for you to give 'em away?" returned Mrs. Donegan, indignantly.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Miss, to go and leave your
brother without a thing to go to church in."

"I have a splendid new flannel petticoat," laughed Winnie, "and I'll
lend it to him with all the pleasure in life."

"It's time such doings were put a stop to," returned Mrs. Donegan. "Mr.
Murtagh, how could ye think of doing such a thing?"

"I've been to Mr. Murtagh," returned Murtagh, gravely, "and he says he
can't give any opinion on the matter."

"Then you may tell him from me he ought to be ashamed of himself, an'
it would be a good thing if he'd given his opinion before now. I'm sure
I have more bother than enough with him," returned Mrs. Donegan, for
once quite out of temper; "and now I'll have to stand and argufy half
an hour with Mr. Plunkett before I get the money for some new ones."

"Did you know where they were, Murtagh?" asked Nessa, coming to the
drawing-room door.

"Yes," replied Murtagh. And then Winnie explained how they had gone.

"Ye'd make a mighty generous churchwarden," remarked Donnie, as she
walked off in high dudgeon to the kitchen.



CHAPTER XV.


"I never heard of such a shame in my life. It's my own money, and I
don't care what you say. I will have it. It's downright cheating."

Murtagh's white face and angry flashing eyes added vehemence to his
words. He was standing opposite Mr. Plunkett, his little figure drawn
up to its full height, one foot slightly advanced, one hand resting on
a corner of the table, his hair tossed, his clothes untidy as usual,
his whole attitude breathing indignation and defiance.

The other children stood in a group behind him casting hot indignant
glances at Mr. Plunkett, who was determined not to let himself be
provoked into losing his temper, and now replied to Murtagh's words:

"To take new clothes for which your father had paid, and give them
away without his permission, resembles stealing. You thought it would
cost you nothing, and it is perfectly just that you should bear the
consequences."

"It is not right. It is not just," returned Murtagh. "Papa said I was
to have that half-sovereign as a birthday present, and nobody has a
right to keep it from me."

"Besides," burst out Winnie, "Murtagh didn't take the shirts; I took
them. I threw the apples in the river too, only you always like to fix
everything on him."

"It was just the same thing," replied Mr. Plunkett. "Murtagh should
not have allowed them to be taken. You don't seem to understand that
in this world if you take what does not belong to you, you must
pay for it. I am the steward of your father's money and in his
interest I intend that you shall pay him back for the shirts you
chose to give away. Had your general conduct been such as to justify
me in overlooking this offence, I should have taken upon myself the
responsibility of paying for your new shirts with his money."

"It's not in papa's interest, you know it isn't. Just as if he would
care for two shirts. You're doing it because you like to plague us,
and oppress us, and drive us into being wicked," replied Murtagh,
passionately.

"I tell you what, young gentleman, if you were my son for just ten
minutes, I would teach you not to use such impertinent language to your
elders," returned Mr. Plunkett.

"If you don't want me to talk to you like that, you shouldn't behave
so. It's my own money, that papa gave me to enjoy ourselves with."

"I thought you might have listened to reason," replied Mr. Plunkett,
coldly, "but since you chose to behave like an infant, you shall be
treated like an infant. I have the money and I shall keep it. If there
is any over when your shirts have been paid for, it shall be returned
to you."

"I _will_ have it all," said Murtagh. "I don't care so much about the
money, but you have no right to keep it when it's my own that papa gave
me."

Mr. Plunkett left the room without making any answer. But Winnie's
indignation now burst beyond all bounds, and dashing to the door she
called after him: "He shall have every penny of it. If you steal it,
I'll steal some of yours. So there, now. You have fair warning."

Nessa happened to be coming down the passage just at that moment, and
she overheard the speech.

"What is the matter?" she asked, looking round at the angry faces.

"Oh, it's too bad," said Winnie; "he's going to steal Murtagh's
half-sovereign. He's always perfectly delighted to get a chance of
plaguing us, and he thinks just because he's the strongest that he'll
conquer this time, but he shan't."

"What do you mean?" said Nessa. "Steal Murtagh's half-sovereign!"

"He says he won't give it to him," replied Winnie. "He's going to keep
it to pay for the shirts we gave Theresa, and it was my plan about
cutting them up, and I took them out of the drawer. He has no right to
take Murtagh's money to pay for what I did."

"And now we can't have anything," said Rosie, "and we've asked all the
children. What shall we do? We can't tell them not to come."

Murtagh was too angry to speak a word.

Nessa looked at him regretfully; and then she asked Winnie in a tone
almost as disappointed as Rosie's, "How is it that you did not know
till now?"

"I don't know," said Winnie. "He never said a single word till just
now we asked him to give us the money to-day instead of the day after
to-morrow, and he said: 'I have no money to give you.' First we thought
he had forgotten, and we reminded him about the half-sovereign. Then
he said: 'You spent that some time ago;' and he told us we were not
to have it because of the shirts. Oh! he does do things in such a
disagreeable way. You don't know what he's like."

"I am so sorry," said Nessa, full of unlawful sympathy. "What can we
do?"

"We can't do anything," replied Rosie. "We'll just have to disappoint
everybody and do without our feast, and it was such a beautiful plan.
You didn't know half of it."

"He has no right to Murtagh's money, and he shan't keep it," said
Bobbo, marching indignantly out of the room as he spoke. The other
children followed him away out of doors; and whatever she might feel
for their disappointment, Nessa had no further opportunity of trying to
console them, for she saw no more of them all day.

No further opportunity of trying to console them with words, that is to
say; but what would Mr. Plunkett have thought had he seen her a little
later that afternoon?

Suddenly a brilliant idea crossed her mind. She laughed aloud a merry
little laugh; then jumping up she marched straightway to the kitchen.
There dear old Donnie was taken into counsel, and with small regard for
principles of justice they hatched between them a plot--well, a plot
for which the best excuse they could find was, that, as Nessa said, "It
was such a pity not to be happy on a birthday."

"Never you fear, Miss Nessa," replied Mrs. Donegan. "It's me is
housekeeper here, thank the Lord, and not Mr. Plunkett; and the
children shall have a better feast than ever they'd buy with their poor
little bit of money. Bless their hearts! they don't know the value
of things. Whatever does he want, plaguing and worritting them for a
couple o' little shirts, as if children won't be children all the world
over!"

Nessa discreetly "supposed that Mr. Plunkett had his reasons;" but her
eyes sparkled merrily as she added that she thought there could be no
harm in giving the children a picnic to celebrate the birthday.

"'Deed and, Miss Nessa, if you want to know the truth of it, shadow
a bit I care whether it's harm or no," replied old Donnie, laughing
outright. "If the children have the fancy to feast all them dirty
little vagabones out of the village, why, they shall feast them for
all the Mr. Plunketts ever lived between this and Limerick. An' it's a
pleasure to me to have the crossing of him for once, so it is."

"Well, don't tell that to the children, you wicked old thing," replied
Nessa, laughing; and away she went singing along the passages without
one pang of conscience for what she had done.

That evening she gleefully recounted her misdoings to her uncle, but
the children gave her no opportunity of announcing to them the plan
that had been arranged during their absence; they did not return to the
house during the afternoon, and in the evening when Nessa went to look
for them they were not in the schoolroom.

After she was in bed the idea occurred to her that perhaps they had
not come in. It would be just like them to start away up the mountains
after tea, and not come home till the servants were in bed. Nothing
would have surprised her; she believed them quite capable of spending
the night on the wet grass under the chestnut tree if they happened to
find the doors locked.

She told herself that the idea was foolish, but having once got it into
her head, she could not get it out again. And so, after turning and
twisting two or three times upon her pillow, she decided that the best
thing she could do was to go and see for herself if they were really
and truly in their beds.

Slipping on her warm white dressing-gown she set off on her journey
across the house; and great was her satisfaction as she softly opened
the door of the little girls' bedroom, to hear through the darkness
a sound of regular breathing which announced that its rightful
inhabitants were not only in possession but were sound asleep.

Her mind was relieved, and she thought herself very foolish for her
pains as she crossed the passage and looked also into the boys' room.
Two little beds gleamed white in the far corners, but the lights and
shadows were so disposed that Nessa was doubtful for a moment whether
they were occupied. She advanced to the side of one of them, and while
she stood contemplating Master Bobbo, whom she found safely enough
tucked up in the bedclothes, a low "Nessa, is that you?" came from the
other corner of the room.

She turned and saw Murtagh's dark eyes fixed upon her. "Yes," she
replied, moving to his side of the room. "I hope I did not wake you?"

He looked at her for a moment, then he said in the same low voice:
"We've got the money. Bobbo got it, and I can't go to sleep; I don't
know what to do."

"How did you get it?" asked Nessa. "What made Mr. Plunkett change his
mind?"

"Mr. Plunkett didn't change his mind; Bobbo got it the way Winnie said,
while Mr. Plunkett was down at supper."

"Do you mean he _stole_ it?" asked Nessa, in dismay.

"Yes," replied Murtagh. "At least I mean, it isn't stealing really. It
couldn't be stealing, because it's only our own money; papa said we
were to have it."

"Oh, Murtagh, I am so sorry you have done that!" said Nessa, greatly
troubled. "It _is_ stealing."

"It's our own money, though," said Murtagh. "Papa said we were to have
one half-sovereign from Mr. Plunkett, and this will be only one; only
Winnie and I thought we didn't care about spending it now any more;
we thought we'd like to bury it in the island or somewhere. Then we
wouldn't have submitted to him tyrannizing; but nobody could say we'd
regularly--You don't think it could be _real_ stealing, do you?" he
asked, breaking off the other sentence, as though he shrank from saying
the ugly sounding word.

"Yes, I do," said Nessa. "But you will give it back because, listen,
Murtagh--"

"There's Winnie," said Murtagh, who was lying with his face turned to
the door.

Nessa turned and saw a little barefooted white figure standing in the
middle of the room. It was Winnie, who had overheard Nessa's last words.

"It can't be stealing," she said, coming up to the bedside. "I've been
thinking about it ever since we went to bed, and it's our own."

"No," replied Nessa, lifting up one side of her dressing-gown for the
little shivering figure to creep under. "It's not your own. You are
mistaken. You are doing something that will not be honorable. Listen,
I can explain it to you quite plainly. Two new shirts will cost about
seven shillings and sixpence, so you gave seven and sixpence to
Theresa. That is, you spent seven and sixpence, and now you have only
half-a-crown. You have not got a whole half-sovereign; it would be just
common stealing to take it. And then, another thing," she continued
warmly, "even if it was your own, I don't think it is honorable to
creep into a person's house to take something when his back is turned;
it would be better to lose twenty half-sovereigns. It does not matter
if a gentleman loses his rights, but it does matter very much if he
stoops to get them back by deceit."

This view was new to the children. They were too firmly entrenched in
their own opinion to be convinced in a moment, but their rights began
somehow to seem to them small things after all. They tried to reproduce
the arguments with which they had convinced themselves; but reasons,
excellent before, sounded weak and empty now, and after a faint attempt
to defend themselves they accepted Nessa's view.

"Well, we'll give it back to him to-morrow morning," said Murtagh,
finally. "But if I live to be a hundred years old," he added, "I shall
always hate him. He's spoiled every bit of our pleasure; it may be
just, but he wouldn't have done it if he hadn't wanted to spite us for
throwing the apples in the river."

"Did you throw apples in the river?" asked Nessa. "You see it is such a
pity you are naughty. You vex Mr. Plunkett and he vexes you. Couldn't
you try to be good?"

"No," said Murtagh, "I can't be good, because as soon as I do try, he
does something that makes us bad again, worse than ever."

"There's one good thing," remarked Winnie. "He'll know now that we
could have had the money if we had chosen to keep it."

Nessa said that she thought it was a great pity not to be friends with
people. Then she said "Good night" to Murtagh, and under the shelter of
her dressing-gown conveyed Winnie back to her little bed.

Murtagh and Winnie apparently broke to the others early next morning
the news of the intended restitution, for when Nessa met them at the
breakfast-table, Bobbo said to her good-humoredly:

"All right; I don't mind; I only said he shouldn't keep it, so I just
took it to show him he shouldn't; this way will do just as well."

Rosie was the one who disapproved most highly, for she very much
disliked the prospect of giving up their delightful birthday plan.
Her anger was all directed against Mr. Plunkett. Since Nessa said it
would be real stealing to keep the half-sovereign, she was willing that
it should be given back. She had taken a great fancy to Nessa, and
was anxious to stand well in her esteem. But as for Mr. Plunkett, no
words could be bad enough for him, she thought. It was all humbug and
nonsense about it being just. He was doing it to spite them and nothing
else. So Rosie said to Mrs. Donegan, as the children dawdled through
the kitchen after breakfast:

"And how can we manage about the feast?" she lamented. "It's so
dreadful to ask people to come, and then tell them they mustn't because
we have no money."

"If Mr. Plunkett thinks I'm going to stand by quiet and see such a
slight put on Mr. Launcelot's children, he's mighty mistaken," returned
Donnie, her indignation flaming out anew. "Never you fear, but ye shall
have a feast, and a better one than ever came out of a confectioner's
shop. If that's all ye were going to spend your money on, ye shall have
yer money's worth. It was Miss Nessa herself came to the kitchen and
settled it wid me yesterday."

"Oh, Donnie!" exclaimed the children in delight, "do you mean you'll
give us the things to eat?"

"Just settle amongst yourselves what yez want, and let me know by
dinner-time. I'll hurry through with my work this morning, and all ye
need trouble yourselves is to bring the cart round to-morrow to the
kitchen door."

"You darling old Honey-donnie! Won't it be a sell for Mr. Plunkett?"
exclaimed Bobbo, while Murtagh's face lit up joyously, and the little
girls began to arrange what they would want.

"Apple-pie and custards I vote for!" exclaimed Murtagh, breaking in
upon their discussion; "only let's look sharp about arranging, because
Nessa has sent to ask Mr. Plunkett to come to the drawing-room."

"Ye won't let on a word to Mr. Plunkett?" said Donnie, who in her
secret heart was as much afraid of him as anybody.

"You needn't be afraid. We're not likely to have much conversation with
him," returned Murtagh, with a scornful intonation. "But did Nessa
really think about that yesterday?"

"She did so," replied Donnie. "She came in, and I was whipping the
cream here by the table, and 'Donnie,' says she, with her sweet way,
'the poor children have got into a great scrape;' and then she told me
all about it, and we put our heads together."

"How awfully jolly of her!" exclaimed Murtagh; "come along off to the
drawing-room, and let's thank her before old Plunkett arrives."

They were in full flow of enthusiastic thanks and merry plan-making
when Mr. Plunkett's step was heard.

"Whisht!" cried Murtagh. "Here comes the man-eater! where's his pill?"
Bobbo exploded with laughter, and Murtagh desperately hunting in all
his pockets had but just time to find the half-sovereign before Mr.
Plunkett entered the room. Nessa feared for a moment that the children
were going to turn the whole affair into a joke, but at sight of Mr.
Plunkett every sign of laughter vanished from their faces.

Mr. Plunkett turned to Nessa and inquired politely what she wished to
speak to him about.

"It is Murtagh who wishes to speak to you," she replied. Murtagh,
without any apparent bashfulness, advanced and said with a grave
dignity of manner that astonished Nessa:

"I wanted to give you back this. We took it yesterday because we
thought you had no right to keep it from us; but now we have been
thinking, and you are just, though you needn't have done it." As he
spoke he handed the half-sovereign to Mr. Plunkett, and then left the
room.

"I do not understand," said Mr. Plunkett, looking at the coin. "I never
heard of such a thing! What does the boy mean? Did he steal it?"

"No," said Bobbo, turning very red and stammering, "I took it because
it was Murtagh's own, and it's a horrid shame the way you plague him!"

"Bobbo," said Nessa, reproachfully, "you are not polite!"

"Polite! Miss Blair," said Mr. Plunkett, "neither he nor his brother
ever are polite. But this," he continued, looking down again at the
half-sovereign, "is more than I expected even from them! I did think
they would have hesitated before taking money that does not belong to
them. Since it is not so, why I shall for the future be careful to lock
up my purse. They are certainly charming young gentlemen!"

The scornful accentuation of the last word flushed the children's
cheeks with anger, but for once they controlled themselves, and without
speaking went out to rejoin Murtagh.

"Do not be too hard on them," pleaded Nessa. "They thought they had a
right to take it. You see how they give it back to you now."

"I do not pretend to be acquainted with their thoughts, Miss Blair, but
in my eyes nothing can excuse a downright theft," replied Mr. Plunkett,
and he bowed and left the room.

"Ah!" sighed Murtagh, on the terrace, as the children, joining him,
repeated Mr. Plunkett's every word and gesture. "It is too bad the way
every plan we have gets spoilt; I did think this one was going to be
all right!"

"Well, you know," said Winnie, "it has been all right really. About the
shirts was our last plan; and we gave back the money when we thought
that part wasn't right."

"Yes; but it's all the same, the way things get mixed up. You do one
little thing, and then that makes you have to do a lot more. First
we took Theresa, that made us want the money; then wanting the money
made us give Theresa the shirts to make her happy. Then giving her the
shirts made old Plunkett take our money, and that made us take his,
and that made us all in a rage, and I don't care about the ceremony or
anything now."

"Never mind, Myrrh," exclaimed Winnie. "It's no good making ourselves
miserable now. Put it out of your head. That's what I do. I always keep
some awfully jolly thing in my mind for thinking about, and then when
I have any troubles I think of it instead. My thing now is what the
followers will look like when they see the feast spread out. Can't you
imagine?--their eyes will get so big, and their faces red all over."

"Oh, yes," said Murtagh, "and we must lay it out on the other side of
the court-yard wall, so that they mayn't see it at first, because they
will be so surprised."

And then forgetting their anger the children talked merrily on, till
twelve o'clock ringing out from the stables reminded them that they
were hungry.

With the half-crown that remained from Murtagh's money they bought
the green ribbon which they considered indispensable to the proper
celebration of the ceremony; and having employed every spare minute
of the day in making evergreen wreaths, they had a last grand singing
practice on the island, and went to bed early, so as to make the morrow
come quicker.



CHAPTER XVI.


"I say, Winnie," called Murtagh dolefully the next morning, "it's dull
and dark, and cold, too. What is to be done?"

"Oh, Myrrh, what a pity!" returned Winnie, getting out of bed and
rubbing her sleepy eyes. "Yes," she continued, coming into the passage
and climbing on to the high window-sill to look out, "so it is; quite
cloudy. Well, we had better not stand here in our nightgowns. Let us
get dressed quickly; perhaps it will look better out of doors. My teeth
are chattering." With a little shiver she vanished into her bedroom,
but putting her head out again to exclaim: "Many happy returns of the
day! Mind, I was first!" and the next minute an "Ugh! How cold it is!"
accompanied by a sound of vigorous splashing, announced that she was in
her bath.

In another quarter of an hour all four children were coming down the
stairs, their footsteps echoing through the stillness of the house.

"What a lazy pig that Peggy is!" exclaimed Murtagh, as he opened the
door of the schoolroom and found the shutters still closed. "Not a
single one of the down-stair windows open yet, and no fire. Let us go
and warm ourselves in the kitchen."

"I wonder what time it is," said Rosie, with a yawn. It was too dark to
see the clock as they crossed the hall, but in the kitchen they found
the smoldering embers of yesterday's fire, and with the aid of a log of
wood and the bellows they soon had a roaring blaze. Then Rosie spied
the coffee-pot with some remains of coffee; and Bobbo, who had been to
the servants' hall to see if Donnie were there, returned with a loaf
of bread and some butter. Winnie climbed on the dresser and peeped
into jugs and bowls till she found milk and sugar, and then they all
sat round the fire and made toast and sipped hot coffee till they felt
thoroughly warm and comfortable.

"There," said Winnie. "Now let us go out and get our wreaths packed in
the cart. We've got a tremendous lot to do."

"All right," said Bobbo. "I feel very jolly now; only, when first I got
up I did feel so queer. I thought I was going to be ill."

"So did I," replied Winnie. "How funny! I wonder what it was! Did you
feel anything queer, Rosie?"

But Rosie had laid her head down on a log of wood and was sound asleep.

"I say, Rosie! Wake up; what in the world are you going to sleep for?
We must set to work if we want to be ready in time," exclaimed Murtagh,
and with a push and shake Rosie was wakened again.

Crossing the kitchen the children unbarred the door and went out into
the yard. The cold, gray light was barely sufficient to enable them to
see their way, and the air was very keen.

Murtagh, sniffing it, said: "I suppose it's pretty early. How nice and
fresh everything always smells at this time of the day."

They took out the cart and loaded it with their evergreen wreaths and
sheaves of hollyhocks. The wreaths had been soaking in a sheltered
harbor of the river, and now, fresh and glistening, they looked so
pretty the children unanimously decided to make some more.

"Only let us do it indoors," said Rosie, "I am dreadfully cold." So
they carried bundles of flowers and evergreens into the kitchen. The
fire was blazing up splendidly, and they sat down upon the hearth
in the pleasant warmth. At first the garlands got on fast, but soon
Rosie's head went down, and the flowers dropped out of her hands. Then
Bobbo thought he could work much more comfortably lying down; presently
his heavy eyelids drooped over his eyes, and though one hand kept tight
hold of his wreath the other got somehow under his head for a pillow.

"Never mind," said Murtagh, "let them sleep; you and I must work
double."

"What's that striking?" asked Winnie, as a stroke rang out from the
hall clock.

"One, two, three, four," counted Murtagh. "Oh, we are in very good
time."

Notwithstanding, Winnie's head began to droop, and she woke with a
start presently, only to see that Murtagh was curled up in a ball sound
asleep. She continued to tie pink and white hollyhocks in among the
laurel leaves, proud to be the only one awake. Soon, however, one of
the hollyhock blossoms began to grow larger and larger till it turned
into a fairy palace built of rainbows and precious stones, where
extraordinary things began to happen; the end of it all was that when
Mrs. Donegan came down at six o'clock she found four children sound
asleep among the evergreens.

"Bless their little hearts!" she murmured, looking down at them. "May
your sleep always be as light-hearted, ye innocent lambs!" Then for
fear they might be disturbed she would not let the maids into the
kitchen, but moved about on tiptoe doing herself whatever was to be
done.

Murtagh woke first; he sat up and rubbed his eyes. The bright morning
sun was pouring in at the big windows. At first he could not understand
how he came down there, then sprang to his feet with a joyous bound,
exclaiming:

"Wake up! Hurrah! it's a glorious day after all!"

"How jolly!" returned Winnie, waking at once but dazzled with the glare
of light.

"Why," said Bobbo, sitting up in his turn and rubbing his eyes,
"however did it get so sunny?"

"The sun has been lighting the lamps while you were asleep, Master
Bobbo, honey," replied Donnie.

"But I've only just been asleep a minute; I just shut my eyes
because--" The others began to laugh; but Bobbo insisted, and was
getting into hot argument, when the breakfast bell announced that
anyhow it was eight o'clock now.

"Never mind, Bobbo, you've only been asleep two minutes, if you like!"
exclaimed Murtagh. "I feel a great deal too jolly to care twopence;"
and the next minute they were all entering the dining-room; where,
finding it empty, Murtagh entertained them with an impromptu farce,
entitled--"The benefits of early rising."

They did not dawdle long over breakfast that day, but were soon out on
their way to the barn-yard. The followers were eagerly expecting them,
and they were received with a shout of welcome.

"Long life to you, Master Murtagh!" burst from about twenty lusty
throats. "May ye live to see many another birthday, and each one be
happier than the last!"

"Thank you!" returned Murtagh, heartily. "But I don't think any
birthday could be happier than this. Did you ever see such a glorious
day?"

"It's not likely the sun'd be behindhand in wishin' you good luck,"
returned Pat O'Toole.

But time was too precious to be wasted in compliments.

"We're all here, aren't we?" said Murtagh. "So now let us get the horse
into the cart and be off." Very soon the horse was harnessed to the
cart.

"Now then," said Murtagh. "In you get, as many as will fit without
squashing the evergreens, and let us be off. Gee up, Tommie. Those who
can't get in must run behind." And with a crack of the whip, and a
shake of the reins they started.

Golden stubble, dark hedges crossing and recrossing each other, patches
of nut-trees here and there, low stone walls overgrown with moss and
fern, and tufts of foxglove; all were equally delightful to them. They
passed through picturesque tumbledown villages, where ragged babies
were playing among the pigs and donkeys on the strip of grass by the
roadside; and people came out of the cabins and wished them good luck,
and gave them many a "God bless ye."

Jokes, laughter, cheers, and nonsense abounded. Before they had
gone far Winnie and Rosie had both been presented with bouquets of
wild flowers; dirty hands had robbed the hedges of rich clusters of
blackberries, dirty lips were smeared with the crimson juice. But no
king ever felt more proud of his dominion than Murtagh of his tribe;
and truly if loving devotion is to be gloried in, Murtagh was right.

The air was exhilarating, and as they went higher they got among the
heathery tops of the hills. Then looking back they could see the sea
eight or nine miles off, with a silver mist upon it that gleamed
freshly in the morning sun.

"Look back, Winnie! Look back now!" cried Murtagh, as they reached a
hilltop from which the view was specially clear. "Did you ever see
anything so lovely? See all this purple and gold at our feet, and the
sparkling silver away there."

"Yes," said Winnie, turning round and taking a long look. "And to
think," she added, with a little sigh, "that papa and mamma are really
and truly away over there if only we could see far enough."

"Don't you feel as if you smelt the sea?" said Murtagh, throwing his
head back to draw in the air better.

"Yes, and the heather," said Winnie, "doesn't it get into you and make
you feel free? Oh, wouldn't it be glorious if we could live up here
really with our tribe, and race over the mountains all day, and live
on blackberries, and fraughans, and nuts? To be perfectly free! Oh,
Murtagh, just think what a life it would be! We'd have ponies, and ride
about, and we'd have a secret hiding-place, and be like good fairies to
all the villages round. If any one was in trouble, we would carry them
off and hide them and feed them till the trouble was over, and some day
we would rise and set Ireland free. Oh, I would like to be queen of a
tribe, lead them into battle, and shout 'For Ireland and Liberty!'"

At first no one had paid attention to what Winnie and Murtagh were
saying, but as Winnie grew excited she spoke louder, and her last words
were received with a general cheer. The children's spirits were rising
to such a pitch that they were glad of any excuse for making a noise.

"And we'd follow you to the death, Miss Winnie," cried Pat O'Toole.

"That would we," exclaimed the others, enthusiastically. But at
this moment their excitement was turned into another channel by an
exclamation of "Hurrah, there's our tower!" which came from Bobbo, who
was sitting on the shaft driving.

"Our tower" was a very old gray ruin of which scarcely anything
remained. There was an enormously thick wall with an archway in it, and
a worn flight of steps leading up through the thickness of the wall to
a little room above the archway; and that, with the crumbling remains
of walls which had once enclosed court-yards, on either side of the
archway, formed the whole tower.

"Hurrah!" echoed the others as the cart stopped at the bottom of the
slope. "Now then, out with us and to work as fast as we can!"

"You dear, dear old mountains, how I do love you!" cried Winnie,
throwing herself flat upon the heather, whilst the others were
descending from the cart. In another minute the cart was unyoked.
Tommie was tethered to a tree, and the children, with their arms full
of evergreens, swarmed up the slope and into the tower.

One wild scamper over the heather, a few rolls down the tower slope
into the mossy ditch that divided it from the road, a thorough
inspection of the tower to see that all was right, and then they set to
work in earnest.

Many hands make light work, and soon the old gray walls began to smile
under the garlands of pink, and white, and green, with which the
children decorated them. Rosie was most useful. She had helped Cousin
Jane last Christmas to decorate the parish church, and she had besides
a natural gift for such work.

The work went on merrily until the last garland was arranged upon the
throne they had erected in the centre of the court-yard. Then Murtagh
drew Rosie aside to inquire if she didn't think it was time now "to
go back to fetch Nessa and the feastables." Rosie thought it was.
Everything was ready except the feast, and so with many rejoicings over
this most delightful of birthdays, they got into the cart again and
rattled home to fetch Nessa.

"Three cheers!" cried Murtagh, tossing his hat into the air. "I can
hardly believe the time is really come. It seems too good to be true. I
don't know which I like best, the ceremony or the feast."

"One's as good as the other, and they're both the most deliciousest
plans that ever were invented," said Winnie in ecstasy. "And such
a glorious day as we've got! Hurrah for the sun! Hurrah for the
mountains! and hurrah for being happy and free!"

"And just think of that old brute, Mr. Plunkett, wanting to prevent us
having it," chimed in Bobbo. "What harm does it do him, I'd like to
know?"

But Rosie hated to think of disagreeable subjects when she was happy,
so she said brightly: "Doesn't the tower look lovely? I never thought
we should be able to make it so nice." The conversation went back to
its happy strain, and Mr. Plunkett was forgotten.

They drove straight to the kitchen door and entered, calling out: "Here
we are, Donnie; out with the goodies, and let us be off again."

The goodies, as they called them, were out already; and indeed Donnie
had fulfilled her promise of giving them enough and to spare. Luckily
for them she had more substantial notions than Murtagh of children's
appetites, and in addition to the apple-pie and custards there were
meat-pies and puddings, cakes and tarts. Donnie herself was bending
over a saucepan at the fire, but she did not look round or make any
answer to the children's salutation.

"Donnie, you are a brick!" exclaimed Winnie and Murtagh,
simultaneously, at sight of the well-covered kitchen table.

"But how in the world are we going to get all those things packed to
take with us?" added Murtagh. "It would be an awful pity to spoil them
after you've made them look so nice."

"If you can't pack 'em, ye'd better leave them," returned Donnie,
crossly. "But whatever ye're going to do ye'd better make haste and be
out o' this. I can't be having the place overrun with children from
mornin' to night."

"Hallo! Below! What's the matter?" inquired Bobbo.

"Matter! Don't be bothering me asking questions about everything. A
body can't so much as sneeze but ye'll be asking why she did it. Here,
put them in there," she added, coming over to the table and pulling out
from under it a large white wicker hamper.

The children knew better than to say much to Donnie when she was in her
present mood, so Rosie and Winnie began in silence to put some of the
dishes into the hamper. However, they had not gone far in their packing
before Mrs. Donegan burst out again:

"My good Lord, Miss Rosie! where do you suppose that pie-crust'll be
by the time you get up the mountains if you go putting the things one
on top of another in that fashion? Here, get out o' this wid yez! I'd
rather do it myself." And down she went on her knees beside the hamper.

"Well, I don't know anything about packing. How could I?" replied
Rosie, rather aggrieved. But Winnie was in too high spirits to stay
quiet long. Suddenly snatching off Donnie's cap she transferred it to
her own head, and began with a broad imitation of Donnie's brogue to
scold the children all round and tell them to "get out o' this."

"Give me back my cap this minute, Miss Winnie! How dare ye behave in
such a way?" exclaimed Mrs. Donegan. But Winnie detected a twinkle in
her eye that showed she was near laughing, and returned audaciously:

"Well, you just stop being so grumpy, and tell us what's the matter.
Here you are!" handing her back her cap. "Cover up your poor old head,
and tell us now, what made you turn so sour?"

"Sour, indeed! Ye'd be sour enough yerself, too, if you were worritted
and bothered the way I am with people writing and sayin', 'We'll be
with you to-night,' as if the place was an hotel and a body hadn't
enough to do without gettin' dinners and beds ready for all the rabble
o' maids and fallalls they'll be bringing along with 'em. Why can't
they give proper notice?"

"Cousin Jane!" exclaimed the children, in voices of consternation. "It
can't be any one else, because you always get in this kind of a temper
when she's coming."

"Yes; it is your cousin Jane, and poor little Master Frankie, and Miss
Emma, and the Lord knows how many ladies' maids, and governesses, and
sich like after them. And they can't give a word of notice; but they're
driven across through the mountains for Miss Emma and the governess to
be sketching; and they'll be with us to-night. 'Deed they might ha'
stopped without us, and there'd ha' been no tears spilled."

"Oh, but Frankie!" cried Winnie, in delight. "How jolly! Why, yes, of
course, Nessa told us ever so long ago that they were coming."

"Poor little Master Frankie! He's the only one o' the lot that's worth
burying," replied Donnie, softening a little.

"He'll be here to-night, did you say?" said Winnie. "What a pity he
didn't come yesterday. He _would_ have enjoyed seeing the ceremony.
Wouldn't he, Myrrh?"

"Yes," said Murtagh. "And isn't it a pity he can't ever come alone? As
for the others--" An expressive shake of the head finished his sentence.

"Never mind them now," cried Rosie; "let us get Nessa and Ellie, and be
off."

"You are a jolly old Donnie!" said Murtagh; "and we're having such fun!
Won't they all open their eyes just when they see what we've got for
them!"

"It's lucky you've got the things, I can tell you, for of course Mr.
Plunkett must walk in to tell me about this nice little treat of Mrs.
William coming, and he couldn't choose any minute of the day but just
when I'd got them all laid out here on the table. However, ye've got
'em now, so be off with you," she added, laughing. "Here, Peggy, give
me a hand with the hampers."

The hampers were heavy, but with assistance from Peggy and the children
they were got safely into the cart. A chair was put in for Nessa to sit
upon, then the cart was taken round in state to the hall door. Nessa
and Ellie were handed in, and away Tommie started once more.

Nessa had not yet been among the hills, so she enjoyed the drive
immensely, laughing like a child at the queer equipage and the jolts
that threatened at every instant to upset both her and her chair. As
they drew nearer to the last turn in the road which hid the tower from
their sight, the children's excitement became almost uncontrollable.
They had invented an ingenious reason for leaving Nessa at a pretty
little spot they knew of, just out of sight of the tower, in order
that all might burst upon her as a surprise when they led her up to
be crowned; but when they reached the place all their reasons went
out of their heads, and they landed her and her chair with no further
explanation than an imperious command to "stay here till we come, and
be sure not to stir."

"Whatever you do, you mustn't peep!" said the children. "We'll be
as quick as _ever_ we can." And with happy, excited faces they ran
forward, patient Tommie trotting after them.



CHAPTER XVII.


At the tower the followers were eagerly expecting the return of their
little chiefs. While the children had been away they had rambled about
under Pat O'Toole's direction, and had each brought a beautiful branch
of mountain-ash, loaded with scarlet berries, to hold in their hands,
and had gathered bunches of white heather. They had added, too, to
the decorations by fixing branches of mountain-ash wherever one of
the festoons was looped, and they were most anxious to know whether
Rosie would approve their taste. She did heartily, and the broad,
good-humored faces beamed with delight at her thanks.

A white table-cloth was hastily thrown over the hampers, and the
followers were told to wash their feet and hurry on their clean
pinafores, which latter had been wisely put on one side in the early
part of the day. Ellie was to be the messenger who was to summon Nessa,
and her shabby green frock was far from suitable to such an occasion.
Rosie looked at her in despair for a moment.

"Quick, quick, Winnie, the needles and thread," she said; and then
she and Winnie tacked a garland of white heather round the hem of the
frock, looped it up over the short, scarlet linsey petticoat, and
placed bunches of white heather on the breast and shoulders with such
effect that when Murtagh crowned the child's golden head with a wreath
of the same white flowers, Winnie cried in delight, "Oh, Ellie, you do
look like a little fairy, so you do."

"All but the boots and stockings," returned Murtagh.

"Tate 'em off," said Ellie, eagerly holding up one foot. "Ellie want to
be a fairy."

"The grass'll prick," said Winnie. But Ellie replied: "Me don't mind.
Ellie be a fairy then, and look so pretty."

So they pulled off the clumsy boots, and she danced gleefully over the
grass, her golden curls falling over her dimpled shoulders, her little
white feet and legs twinkling in the sunlight.

"'Deed it's like an angel right down from heaven she is!" exclaimed
more than one of the followers, while Rose, with anxiety said: "Take
care, Ellie; don't shake off your wreath. Now you're to come with us
where Nessa is behind the rock, and you're to tell her--What shall we
say, Murtagh?"

"Tell her to come and be one of us," replied Murtagh, grandiloquently.
"You lead Ellie down, Rosie. All you followers follow, and as soon as
Miss Nessa comes round the rock, form into two lines for her to pass
through, and scatter your flowers. Now begin to sing."

He touched his violin. Winnie's clear voice rose first, then all the
others joined in, and the music swelled in harmony as the little
procession moved down the slope.

Notwithstanding the sunlight, the flowers, and the gay dresses of the
children, there was a something almost solemn in their voices.

"Now go," said Rosie, loosing the child's hand as the singing began
gently to die away.

With flushed cheeks and the same wondering look still in her eyes,
Ellie sprang round the rock, and holding out her hand to Nessa, she
cried earnestly:

"Oor to tum and be a fairy. Ellie's not frightened. It doesn' hurt."

"No, dear," replied Nessa, taking hold of the little hot hand. "Only
fun for Nessa and Ellie together."

"Yes, _only_ fun," said Ellie. They came out from behind the rock, and
were received with a cheer ending in a burst of music.

"How very, very pretty!" exclaimed Nessa, taking in the whole scene at
a glance and standing still in admiration.

Almost opposite to them rose the grassy slope with the irregular
double file of followers winding down its side. Through their ranks
Nessa could see Murtagh playing his violin. Behind rose the gray ruin
wreathed in flowers, and above and beyond all, clear blue sky flecked
with sunny clouds spread over the purple hilltops as far as the eye
could reach.

"Tum," said Ellie, pulling her hand; and through the singing children
Nessa walked slowly towards the throne. But now Ellie was not the only
one who felt solemnity underlying the play. The children could not
have told how much they were in earnest; their hearts were beating
fast, they scarcely knew why, and there was a tone in their voices that
filled Nessa with emotion.

[Illustration: "THROUGH THE SINGING CHILDREN NESSA WALKED."]

When Nessa was quite close the music ceased. Murtagh descended from
his seat, and with the followers pressing eagerly round to see, Nessa
was with due form received into the tribe, and the green ribbon was
tied about her arm. Then came the moment for her to promise to hate
the "Agents." It was the interesting point, the crisis as it were of
the whole ceremony; and there was an almost breathless silence while
Murtagh, his voice shaking a little with excitement, said to her, "Will
you promise faithfully to hate the 'Agents,' and to defend your tribe
against them?"

She looked round the listening circle with a sort of troubled
astonishment, and then turning to Murtagh she answered quite gravely:

"No. I do not like hating."

A burst of expressive lament escaped from the crowd. Murtagh looked
puzzled and disappointed.

"What shall we do?" he asked at length, turning to the followers.

"Make her princess over us, anyhow, Mr. Murtagh. It can't be helped,"
cried Pat O'Toole, magnanimously, and the other followers by their
acclamations seconded his request.

"Yes, do! yes, do!" cried Winnie, Bobbo, and Rosie.

Murtagh took the wreath of shamrocks and would have placed it on
Nessa's head; but she drew back and said, "No; I do not think I can be
your princess."

Murtagh paused with the wreath in his hands too much astonished to
speak.

"Have you promised what you wanted me to promise?" asked Nessa.

"That we have; _sworn_ it!" cried the children, eagerly, regaining
their voices.

"That was what I thought," said Nessa, beginning to unfasten the ribbon
from her arm. "That is why I cannot be one of your tribe."

"Oh, stop a minute! stop a minute!" cried Rosie and the children, while
Murtagh asked, "What do you want us to do?"

"I want you to undo the promise you have made, and to try never to hate
any one," said Nessa, resolutely, her cheeks flushing a little, and her
eyes dark and bright. "Do you not feel wicked when you hate?"

There was a pause; but for the moment Nessa had the little crowd in her
power. Pat O'Toole was the first to speak.

"'Deed and she's right," he exclaimed. "When my paddy's up, it's little
I care what I do."

"Faix, and it's little good we get by hating them," remarked another of
the elder followers.

But to Murtagh himself the question was a more personal one. He was
thinking deeply. Then, his whole countenance opening out into a sunny
smile, he turned to Nessa and said, "I'll try."

That was all that was needed.

"So will I," said Winnie; and more or less earnestly the promise was
echoed by the crowd.

"Then I will be your princess if you will have me," said Nessa. "And
shall I give you a _device_,--a motto for the tribe?" she added.

"Yes, yes," cried Murtagh. "What is it?"

"'Peace on earth, goodwill towards men.' Will you have that?"

She looked round with a gentle pleading in her eyes, and then taking
off her hat knelt down on the grass before Murtagh.

"God bless her!" cried the followers, and Murtagh's face was white, and
his hands trembling, as he laid the wreath upon her head.

In the midst of the echoing hurrahs Murtagh led her up the steps of the
throne. The excitement of the children had been growing greater and
greater. During the ceremony they had been obliged to keep it down, but
now it burst forth without restraint.

They danced and shouted round the throne like mad creatures. At last
Murtagh struck the first notes of the "Shan van Vaugh," and every one
found relief in spending upon that the force of their lungs. How they
did sing! Their voices rang through the mountain rocks; even little
Ellie, standing on the throne beside Nessa, sang diligently all the
time the only words she knew, "Says de Shan van Vaugh; says de Shan van
Vaugh;" and when with a last triumphant burst came the ending lines:

    "We'll pluck the laurel tree,
    And we'll call it Liberty,
    For our country _shall_ be free,
      Says the Shan van Vaugh"--

Nessa clapped her hands and cried in delight: "Oh, how pretty it is out
of doors! How pretty it all is!"

Almost as she did so a strange voice exclaimed, "Well, children, are
you holding a Fenian meeting?" The words were accompanied by a little
laugh, but they had the effect of putting a complete stop to the
children's mirth.

Nessa looked round, and standing by the low wall she perceived a lady.
By her side stood a fashionably dressed girl of sixteen, whose face
wore an expression of amused contempt.

"Or have you quite given up civilized life," continued the lady, with a
series of little laughs, "and resolved to live up here with your select
circle of friends? I thought you were to have some one to take care of
you. How do you get on with the new cousin, eh, Murtagh? Oh, I'm sure I
beg your pardon," she added, suddenly perceiving Nessa, and making up
for her first oversight by a fixed and deliberate stare.

The color deepened in Nessa's cheeks as she bowed.

"So you have a new playfellow, children. That must be very nice for
you. You have good strong nerves, I suppose, and don't mind noise,"
she added, addressing Nessa. "Well, you are quite right; it's no good
having delicate ways and ideas when you have to live with a big
family. Those things do well enough where there's only one or two."

At this point Murtagh seemed to think that she had monopolized the
conversation long enough, for he now walked up to her, and holding out
his hand said gravely:

"How do you do, Cousin Jane? How do you do, Emma?"

The three other children followed his example with automatic
regularity, and no social extinguisher could have been more effective.
Cousin Jane was completely silenced.

"It is no use our staying here any longer, mamma," exclaimed Emma.
"We shall see them all when they are quiet and tidy in the house this
evening. We could not imagine," she said, turning politely to Nessa,
"what all the noise was. That is why we came up."

"It is a birthday," said Nessa, smiling, as she glanced at the groups
of followers, "and we are _en grande fête_."

"We've got a jolly good feast for them, too," said Bobbo,
confidentially.

"A feast, have you?" exclaimed Cousin Jane. "Oh, well, there's a lot of
fruit and cakes in the carriage. You'd like them, now, I daresay, as
well as any other time. Here, you little one," turning to one of the
followers; "do you know how to eat sweeties?"

The little girl addressed put her finger sheepishly in her mouth, and
Cousin Jane pulled out of her pocket a large paper of sweeties, which
she proceeded good-humoredly to distribute, while Emma, turning to
Nessa, asked if such a noise did not make her head ache?

"No!" said Nessa; "it amuses me very much."

"And I dare say you've been accustomed to it," added Cousin Jane. "But
I wonder what Ma'mselle would say to such lessons; eh, Emma?"

Emma laughed contemptuously, and Cousin Jane, dropping her voice to a
confidential tone, continued: "You know I'm the only lady they have to
look after them, so we must have some talks about them. The idea of
allowing them to come up here with that pack of dirty children. Nobody
in the world but John would do such a thing. But he's so wrapped up in
books, and stones, and pictures, he puts all his duties on one side.
If it wasn't for Mr. Plunkett, I don't know what would become of the
place; that man is the salvation of the estate."

This seemed a fruitful subject to Cousin Jane, for she continued to
talk without interruption till the carriage was reached.

Nessa found nothing to say, and was only glad that the children had
careered on in front. Frankie was not in the carriage; he had preferred
to drive in the dog-cart with a servant; so it was the affair of a few
minutes only to find the basket Cousin Jane destined for the children;
and then, it must be confessed to the relief of every one, the carriage
drove on towards Castle Blair.

"Wait till you see Frankie," said Murtagh. "_He's_ not a bit like that."

"I say, Murtagh," called Bobbo, "come and wash your hands, and let
us see about unpacking the grub." A hatful of water flung after the
invitation proved irresistible; in another minute Murtagh was taking
his revenge, and water was flying in every direction.

Suddenly in the midst of the fun a splendid Newfoundland dog bounded
through the hedge, fairly upsetting Winnie, and splashing the water
over them all.

"In the name of all that's wonderful, where do you come from?"
exclaimed Murtagh.

A low, rippling laugh made both Nessa and Murtagh look round, and in
a dog-cart on the other side of the hedge they saw a delicate-looking
little boy sitting watching Winnie with delight.

"Frankie!" exclaimed Murtagh, springing forward.

"Yes," said Frankie. "How do you do? What are you doing? Was it you
making that jolly noise? Have you heard why we've come here? There is
such a splendid plan. The doctors say I am to go to the seaside, and
some of you are to come."

Murtagh was busy climbing through the hedge and into the dog-cart,
exclaiming: "How are you, old fellow? Are you any better? Where did you
get him? He is such a beauty!" The last words referred, of course, to
the dog, whom Winnie had caught, and was now leading back to the stream.

The servant who accompanied him began to assure Murtagh that Mr. Frank
was much better, and would soon be quite well now; but Frankie seemed
to wish to change the subject, and said hurriedly: "Yes, isn't he
splendid! He was given to me, but I've been training him for Winnie.
He's no good to me, you know; if he knocks me over, I don't get my
breath back for a week. But I thought she'd like him. He's as quiet as
a lamb unless you set him at anybody, and then he goes at them like--"

"Like an Irishman," suggested Murtagh; but though his words were meant
for a joke he looked wistfully at his cousin, wishing to ask more
questions about his health. He was very fond of Frankie, and it made
him sorry to see the sunken cheeks and wasted hands that told even to
childish eyes how ill the boy was.

Frankie nodded and sat silently looking at Winnie and the dog, with a
pleased smile playing round his mouth.

Winnie had not yet perceived him, and her attention was entirely
absorbed by the dog. Both her arms were round its neck, and as she
walked along by its side, bending down, she showered upon it every
endearing epithet she could think of.

"Perhaps you're lost, and perhaps we won't be able to find your master,
however hard we look, and then you'll stay with us; won't you, my
beauty?" she was saying, when she glanced up and saw Frankie.

Instantly the dog was forgotten, and she flew towards the road,
exclaiming: "Frankie! How jolly!"

Frankie laughed again his low, pleased laugh; but did not attempt to
say more than, "Yes; here I am," as Winnie climbed up on the wheel of
the dog-cart and pulled down his face to be kissed.

"We're having such fun!" she continued; "get down, and come up to the
tower with us."

"No, I mustn't do that," replied Frankie, looking wistfully at the
tower and then smiling again as his eyes fell to the dog standing by
Winnie's side. "I only stopped to see what you'd think of Royal."

"You don't mean to say that this beautiful dog is yours!" exclaimed
Winnie. "Oh, Frankie, you are a lucky boy!"

"Yes, it is," said Murtagh.

"Your very, very own?" inquired Winnie, doubtful whether it were
possible for any child to possess such a treasure.

"No," said Frankie; "he isn't mine, he is yours."

"Wha--what do you mean?" asked Winnie, astonished, the color deepening
a little in her cheeks.

"I mean what I say," repeated Frankie, his face beaming. "He is your
very own dog; I have been training him for you, and I've brought him
here for you!"

Winnie did not seem able to take it in. The color spread over her
cheeks and mounted to her forehead. Her big eyes grew round and bigger,
but she did not dare to believe such a thing could be till Murtagh
exclaimed:

"Frankie's given him to you. He's your very own, as own as own can be!"

Then a light broke over her face, and tightening the grasp of her arms
round Royal's neck she half strangled him in an embrace, while all she
could say was, "Oh, Frankie!"

Frankie seemed well satisfied with her thanks.

Murtagh laughed and said, "She doesn't believe it now."

"Yes, I do," said Winnie, "only it's too good! I can't seem to know it.
Oh, Frankie, I think I shall go crazy with gladness!" Suddenly she tore
up the hill, calling to Royal to follow, and burst upon the assembled
children, exclaiming: "He's mine! He's my very own! Frankie's just
given him to me!" Then she raced down again like some mad thing, and
ran away at full speed over the heather with Royal at her heels.

Frankie stayed only to display some of Royal's accomplishments and
to show Winnie's name engraved upon the collar. Then he drove away,
leaving their new treasure with the children.

But it was getting to be quite afternoon by this time, and nobody had
had any dinner yet, so Murtagh careered up the hill, crying: "Come
along now, and let's have scene number two in the entertainment. I feel
as if I was quite ready. How are you, Winnie?"

Winnie's answer was more expressive than elegant. In a very few moments
the cloth was spread upon the ground and covered with Mrs. Donegan's
dainties. The children were in no way disappointed in the pleasure of
watching the queer expressions of the faces as dish after dish came
out of the hampers. Poor hungry followers! they had had nothing to eat
since an early hour that morning, and few of them had ever even seen
such things as Mrs. Donegan had prepared.

Winnie was in ecstasy over their pleasure. At first they were too
shy to help themselves to anything, but she jumped up and had soon
piled some of their plates. Rosie and the boys did the same, and the
followers quickly recovered themselves sufficiently to talk, and eat,
and laugh.

"Now, whatever more you want you must really help yourselves," cried
Murtagh, returning to his place, after having gone once round. "I'm so
starving that if I don't get something soon, I shall eat one of you."

Royal had waited like a perfect gentleman, as he was, till all were
helped; but now he gravely poked his black muzzle into Winnie's hand
in a manner that said as plainly as any words, "Give me a little cold
pie, if you please." He had not to ask twice. Winnie gave him a great
plateful of miscellaneous food, and a constant cry of, "Here, Royal!
Royal!" kept him racing round the table-cloth. One little girl wished
to be very polite, and as he was Winnie's dog thought it better to call
him Master Royal. That made the others ashamed of their bad manners,
but they soon corrected themselves, and from that day forth he was
Master Royal to the followers.

At first there was not very much talking, for all were so hungry they
were glad to eat. But when once the edge was taken off their appetites
the Irish tongues got loose; and then they chattered, they laughed,
they sang snatches of songs, they drank healths in water, and made mock
speeches each more ludicrous than the last, till everybody was half
incapacitated with laughter. Murtagh was the soul of the party. Nessa
wondered where his words and ideas came from. Seated in state at the
head of the table she was very gay and happy. She was unusually amused
by this wild, merry crew, and such spirits as theirs were infectious.

The feast over, Royal was with much mock solemnity received into the
tribe, a ceremony which he disrespectfully brought to an abrupt ending
by knocking over four or five of his sponsors. They then divided into
parties, and played robber games among the hills, till the fading light
warned them that even the pleasantest of days _will_ come to an end.
The remains of the feast were divided between the followers. Tommie was
yoked into the cart again, and his willing head turned homewards.

But even then the children were not tired. It was wonderful to see how
they caracoled round the cart, and sang and laughed the whole way home;
and when, finally, they drove up in state and deposited Nessa upon the
hall door-steps, the last cheer they gave her was as hearty as any they
had uttered that day.



CHAPTER XVIII.


While the "tribe" trotted off in just the same wild spirits to return
the cart and horse, Nessa entered the house with a sudden and not
pleasant recollection that Cousin Jane was there, and would have to be
talked to all the evening.

There was scarcely time to do more than dress for dinner, but she
went to the schoolroom as usual before going up-stairs to see if the
curtains were drawn and the fire bright for the children. To her
dismay she found it full of people. Cousin Jane was sitting by the
fire talking to Mr. Plunkett. Emma had taken down some of the lesson
books from the bookcase, and was showing them to Mademoiselle; Frankie,
looking tired and excited, was curled up in an arm-chair by the window.

"Well, you see we have lost no time," exclaimed Cousin Jane, as Nessa
entered. "I found Mr. Plunkett, and I have just been talking to him
about those children. For poor Launcelot's sake it really goes to my
heart to see the state they are in. To think of children of their
family and position being allowed to run wild with little beggars and
vagabonds! I have been telling Mr. Plunkett he should keep them a
little more strictly. If it were known what associates they have, it
would be very unpleasant for Emma."

Nessa felt very sorry for the children. What Cousin Jane said was
perfectly true, it was time for some one to look after them; but
instinctively Nessa felt that Cousin Jane and Mr. Plunkett together
were likely to prove worse than no one.

"Have they returned from their expedition?" inquired Mr. Plunkett.

"Yes; they have gone to take back the horse and the cart to the
stable," replied Nessa, innocently.

"I will go to them at once," said Mr. Plunkett, turning to Cousin
Jane, "and hear what they mean by taking the horse and cart without
my permission; and I will make that ragamuffin crew of theirs clearly
understand for the future that if they are found trespassing on these
grounds they will be taken up. And, indeed, you cannot feel more
strongly than I do the necessity of breaking off the undesirable
friendships that exist between these children and the vagabonds of the
village. Something should be done. I feel unfortunately my personal
authority to be so vague that I hesitate to act alone, but armed with
your permission there are several steps which I should like to take."

Mr. Plunkett had evidently had a long talk with Cousin Jane, and seemed
to have thawed a little under the influence of her sympathy.

"We must talk it over," replied Cousin Jane. "If they are to spend
months with Frankie, they must mend their ways. They will find they
can't have twenty or thirty dirty followers hanging about my house."

"I feel assured," said Mr. Plunkett, "that stricter measures are
necessary, and separated from their disreputable associates you will
find that much can be effected."

"I'm sure I don't know what is to be done," said Cousin Jane. "All I
know is that I should be ashamed for any of our friends to know that
there are such children in the family."

"Well, I will go now and have an explanation of their present conduct,"
returned Mr. Plunkett.

"Oh, Mr. Plunkett, not now!" exclaimed Nessa. "They are all so excited
now," she added, turning to Cousin Jane, "and when they are, they do
not know what they say--Will you not wait till to-morrow?"

"I'm sure I don't know, my dear. Let Mr. Plunkett do as he likes."

Mr. Plunkett had stood with his hand on the door while Nessa spoke,
but as Cousin Jane answered for him he bowed, said a general "Good
evening," and left the room.

He knew the children would be in the barn-yard, and he walked briskly
in that direction. For a minute or two he had debated in his mind
whether perhaps it would not be better to leave the matter, as Nessa
suggested, till the next day. But he had quickly decided to keep to
his own plan. Murtagh's spirit required to be broken. He ought to
be humiliated, to be shown that his independent ways could not be
tolerated. Nothing short of that would reduce him to submission, and
how would he ever learn to bear the discipline of life if he were
not taught now to obey? "I am the only person who is in any sort of
authority over him," thought Mr. Plunkett, "and if the boy will defy me
in this open manner, I must show him openly that I am stronger than he."

No better opportunity than this would be likely to present itself for
a long time. He would speak to Murtagh before the whole crew, and he
would make the village children understand that he would not have them
hanging about the place. His position in the village as well as in the
immediate household was affected; and in defense of his own authority
it was absolutely necessary for him to show that he was not to be
trifled with.

In this frame of mind he arrived within earshot of the barn-yard.
Scraps of song, shouts, and laughter reached him; some piece of fun was
evidently going on.

The sound of the merriment only strengthened his resolution, and his
anger was in no way abated when he stood at the gate of the barn-yard
by seeing Murtagh and Winnie with stable lanterns in their hands
standing up together on Tommie's back. They were performing some kind
of circus entertainment for the amusement of the assembled crowd; and
Royal, as much excited as the children, was apparently endeavoring to
leap on the horse's back.

They had collected a quantity of straw lying about the barn-yard, and
spread it upon the ground in order that they might "fall soft," but
at the first glance Mr. Plunkett imagined that they had knocked down
part of a corn rick for the purpose, and he advanced at once towards
Murtagh, saying sternly:

"Stop this tomfoolery, sir, and tell me what you mean by destroying
your uncle's property in this wanton manner!"

"Destroy my uncle's granny's fiddlesticks!" retorted Winnie, with a
merry peal of laughter. "We're not destroying anything except our own
bones. Look out, Murtagh, I'm slipping again." As she spoke she slipped
to a sitting position, but Murtagh remained standing, and steadied
himself against her shoulder while a smothered laugh burst from the
crowd, and one incautious--"It's like his impudence," was distinctly
heard.

"I tell you what it is, young gentleman," returned Mr. Plunkett, now
thoroughly angry, "your disobedience and impertinence have gone on too
long. It is time such behavior was stopped, and stopped it shall be in
one way or another. Were you aware when you took that horse and the
cart that I had given orders for them to be employed elsewhere?"

Murtagh surveyed Mr. Plunkett for a minute, and then replied coolly:

"Perfectly aware."

Again an irritating titter ran through the crowd, and Mr. Plunkett
answered hotly:

"Let me tell you, for the future, when you are aware of my commands,
you will be wise if you obey them. I have forgiven you often enough,
and henceforth every disobedience shall be punished as it deserves.
Little boys seldom gain much by setting themselves up in rebellion
against their elders."

He paused. Murtagh's face had grown blacker, but he only twirled a
straw between his lips, and without speaking looked straight at Mr.
Plunkett.

Dead silence reigned for a minute, then Winnie gave a provoking little
laugh. Her face was as distinctly visible as Murtagh's for her lantern
rested upon her knee; her eyes were sparkling, her mouth ready to break
again into laughter; she seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the scene.

At the sound of her laughter Mr. Plunkett continued:

"But I should have thought that even you would have known better than
to drag your sisters into such companionship as this.

"If you choose to pick your own companions from among the rabble of
the village, you might at least have sufficient gentlemanly feeling to
induce you to shield your sisters."

"Well, you are polite," laughed Winnie, while Murtagh replied, with an
angry tone in his voice:

"Don't talk about my friends, if you please, unless you can talk more
civilly."

"Friends!" returned Mr. Plunkett. "They are certainly charming friends
for a young gentleman of your position! But till you learn to choose
your society from a different rank you must hold your entertainments
somewhere else. I give you all fair warning," he continued, turning to
the group of children, "that the next time I catch one of you hanging
about here, I send you off to prison for trespassing."

"You shall do nothing of the sort," retorted Murtagh. "They _are_ my
friends; real, true friends, who love me, and who would do anything I
told them to. Aren't you?" he added, appealing to the followers.

"That are we so!" they cried with one voice, while Murtagh continued:

"I am proud of them; they are honest and real. They love me, and I love
them. What do we care about positions? They shall come here when they
please, and you are not to insult them."

He drew his figure up to its full height, and delivered the last words
with authority. They were received with a hearty shout by the excited
followers; and as soon as Mr. Plunkett's voice could be heard above the
noise, he replied with some irritation:

"Don't talk to me in such a ridiculous manner, sir. I shall do whatever
seems to me to be proper; and I am not joking about this matter. If
I ever again find such a dirty, disreputable crowd assembled on your
uncle's premises, every member of it shall be taken up for trespassing.
Whether you are invited by Mr. Murtagh or not," he added, turning again
to the crowd. "And further, unless you wish me to call a policeman now,
you had better go away to your homes as fast as you can."

The followers huddled silently together, not knowing what to do, but
Murtagh burst out angrily:

"How dare you? Do you know what you are doing? Do you know that if I
chose to tell them, they would take you and duck you in the stable
pond?"

At the words there rang through the crowd an eager movement which made
Mr. Plunkett remember thankfully that he had on one of his oldest
coats; however, he answered coldly:

"When you speak to me in such a manner you forget the difference of
age between us, and the position in which I stand towards you. Such
unseemly outbursts only serve to prove that the society you have chosen
is not likely to fit you for the career of a gentleman, and leave me
no alternative but to take by force the obedience you will not render
willingly. I give you two minutes to clear this barn-yard. If it is
not empty at the end of that time, you and your sisters shall be taken
home, and I will settle the matter my own way with this rabble."

As it happened two of the night police walked up to the gate while he
was speaking and looked into the yard. Mr. Plunkett signed to them to
enter, and continued significantly: "You see my words are not vain; I
mean what I say. Choose your own course."

Murtagh saw that he was overpowered. The sense of being baffled and
defeated by mere armed force was very bitter, and all the roused
passion within him burst forth as he answered:

"Yes; you have conquered this time, because you have got grown-up men
to help you. But you shall see I _will_ be free. If you fight with me,
you will get the worst of it. I will receive my friends wherever I
please, and you had better not dare to interfere with me again. I tell
you when you do it, it makes me feel as if I could kill you."

"That's right, Mr. Murtagh; an' it would be a good riddance to the
country the day ye did it," shouted hot-headed Pat O'Toole, who could
no longer contain his indignation.

Almost before the words were out of the boy's mouth Mr. Plunkett's hand
was on his collar, and some sharp blows from Mr. Plunkett's cane repaid
the speech. An angry murmur ran through the crowd. Murtagh sprang from
the horse's back and threw himself between them, receiving upon his
face and head a part of the swiftly descending shower of blows. For a
moment there was a confused struggle. Bobbo tried to make his way to
the rescue. Winnie had risen to her feet, and with flashing eyes she
called, "At him, Royal; at him!"

The great dog bounded forward, seized Mr. Plunkett's coat-sleeve in his
teeth, and the next minute Murtagh and Pat were standing side by side
defiantly facing Mr. Plunkett.

Murtagh's face was even whiter than usual, and across one cheek a dark
red stripe showed where the cane had struck him.

"Come," he said, turning to the tribe. He led the way to the gate, and
they followed him slowly, the dog holding Mr. Plunkett immovable the
while.

Only Pat O'Toole did not stir. He stood facing Mr. Plunkett. From the
gate Murtagh called to him. Then he turned and followed the others,
but before leaving the yard he stopped, and shaking his fist at Mr.
Plunkett, he exclaimed passionately:

"You shall repent this evening's work; ye haven't struck Pat O'Toole
for nothing."

"Come, Royal; loose him, good dog!" cried Winnie. The dog trotted after
them, and the whole troop of children disappeared into the darkness.



CHAPTER XIX.


That evening Cousin Jane's proposal to take Winnie and Murtagh with
her to the south of England was discussed, and of course accepted. She
intended to spend a few days at Castle Blair, and to start on the first
of November.

Frankie was in a state of exceeding delight at the prospect, and was
eager to talk over the plan with his little cousins. But the bright
red spots upon his cheeks and the feverish brilliancy of his eyes drew
many anxious glances from his mother, and she coaxed him not to wait
up for them. "Every one was tired with traveling," she said; so the
drawing-room party dispersed at an early hour.

Nessa was glad to be free. She went at once to the schoolroom and found
that the children had had their tea. Rosie and Bobbo were lolling by
the fire discussing the events of the day. Royal was lying curled up on
the hearth-rug, and Winnie had made a pillow of his body, but she was
silent. Murtagh was at the piano composing a battle piece.

He ceased as Nessa entered, and threw himself near her chair.

"Have you seen Mr. Plunkett?" she asked.

"Yes," said Murtagh, in a tone that meant he was not going to say any
more.

"And he was just as impudent as usual," added Winnie. "But he got the
worst of it this time, thanks to Royal."

"Oh, Winnie, what have you done?" asked Nessa.

"Well, we were only amusing ourselves and not hurting anybody, and he
came up and began worrying," returned Winnie, somewhat defiantly. "And
besides, he had no business to talk like that before all the followers."

Murtagh's face softened a little as he looked at Nessa's. "Tell her
just what we did if she wants to know," he said.

"Oh, dear!" sighed Winnie. "What _is_ the good of going all over it
again?"

"Well, but it served him right," said Bobbo; "I only just wish Royal
had given him a good bite." And beginning at the beginning Winnie told
the whole story. Murtagh watched Nessa's face to see what she thought
of it. She did not look at him, and she listened in perfect silence
till Winnie ended her recital.

"Oh, I am so sorry," she said; "so very, very sorry. How could you do
it?"

"Why shouldn't we do it?" asked Winnie. "He had no business to talk to
us like that."

"You will only make him more and more angry with you now," said Nessa,
regretfully. "And then," she added, "it is very wrong; you must not be
angry with me for telling you so, for it is only true, and makes me so
sorry."

The children were silent for a moment, and then Murtagh said:

"But I can't help it. He puts me in such a rage."

"Yes," said Nessa; "but I think you ought not to let yourself be put so
easily in a rage. It is not worthy of you. When we were on the mountain
you promised to try to be gentle and kind. You promised all together.
And the chief ought to watch over his followers, oughtn't he? He ought
to see that they keep their promises, and he ought to try to keep
them out of trouble. But you did not do that; you came down from the
mountain where you promised, and you broke the promise yourself, and
you made all the others break it, too. Now Mr. Plunkett will be angry
with them, and Pat O'Toole will be in trouble."

The defiant look faded out of Winnie's face, and Murtagh looked abashed
as for the first time he remembered the promise he had made.

"I quite forgot," he murmured.

"I did not think you would have forgotten so soon," said Nessa.

The quiet reproach was more bitter to Murtagh than any scolding.

"I did mean to remember it always--always," he said. "But he makes me
forget everything. Oh, how I hate him!"

"I don't think that's having 'Peace and goodwill,'" remarked Rosie.

"I _can't_ help it," said Murtagh, in despair, looking up at Nessa;
"that's just how it always comes. But I will do anything you tell me. I
will--beg his pardon, if you like, because I was in earnest. I did mean
to remember."

"Oh, Myrrh!" remonstrated Winnie, who thought that his repentance was
really carrying him beyond all reasonable bounds.

Nessa looked at him compassionately. She felt as if she loved Murtagh
very much just then in spite of all his faults.

"Poor Murtagh!" she said. "Perhaps it will not always be so difficult."

Murtagh looked at her with a sad, wistful expression, then he dropped
back again into the dark corner beside her chair.

No one spoke for a minute or two. Then Winnie returned to the subject
that seemed to have disturbed her. "But you don't want Murtagh to beg
his pardon?" she said. "Because you know he couldn't really."

"Yes, I can," came in a low, resolute voice from Murtagh's corner.

"Can you really?" asked Nessa. To tell the truth she would not have
liked to do it herself.

Bobbo and Rosie looked with eager curiosity towards Murtagh. But Winnie
burst out again: "Myrrh, you don't know what you're saying. That old
scurmudgeon who has always worried us from the very first day we came
here!"

No words can convey the opprobrium that Winnie contrived to throw
into her pronunciation of curmudgeon; the one letter she added to
it expressed more than a whole volume of epithets. After a moment's
silence he said steadily, "Yes, I am almost sure I can."

"If you can," said Nessa, "it's the very best thing you could do.
Because," she continued, "it is not only for you; it is for your friend
Pat. Uncle Blair has told me such dreadful things of the people about
here. And perhaps it is very foolish of me, but Pat is a big boy,
and if he does not forgive Mr. Plunkett, he might really try to be
revenged, and then if--if anything dreadful happened, it would be your
fault, too."

"If Murtagh does it, I'll do it too," said Winnie, reflectively. "I'm
not going to let him do it alone. But I don't think we can, all the
same."

The next morning, however, just as Nessa had finished dressing, there
came a knock at her door, and Murtagh and Winnie entered.

"We've come to tell you," said Murtagh, "that we will do what we said."

"Oh! I am so glad!" she cried joyfully. Then as she kissed them she
added, "Good morning; I think it is very good of you."

"Then after, I'll go and find Pat and make him apologize too," said
Murtagh.

"Yes, do," said Nessa, greatly relieved, for her night's reflection
had not in the least diminished her nervous fears. At that moment the
breakfast bell ringing loudly summoned them to the dining-room, and
in the corridor they were met by Cousin Jane. Her arms were full of
presents, and while she was displaying them Frankie came out of his
room. He began eagerly to tell of the seaside plan; the children were
perfectly delighted at the prospect, Cousin Jane was pleased with their
pleasure, and they were all entering the dining-room in a merry mood,
when Brown, with a solemn face, informed Murtagh that Mr. Blair desired
he would step into the study.

"What's up? What's the matter?" cried Murtagh and Frankie together, and
Cousin Jane also asked, "Has anything happened, Brown?"

"Yes, Madam," returned Brown, who evidently desired nothing better than
to tell the news. "The Red House was set fire to last night, and one of
the children nearly killed. The flames were put out quickly. But it was
no accident, Ma'am. It began in the hay-yard, and when the flames burst
out Mrs. Plunkett jumped out of bed to see what it was, and there was a
boy,"--here Brown hesitated a little and glanced at Murtagh,--"about as
big as Master Murtagh, standing in the road, but the minute she came to
the window he turned and ran."

A smothered exclamation from Murtagh caused them all to glance at him.
He and Winnie were looking at each other in dismay; the same thought
was in both their minds. "Had Pat already taken his revenge? If he
had, it was all their fault." Murtagh tried to recover himself; Winnie
slipped her hand into his, and endeavored also to look unconcerned.
But Mr. Plunkett could not have chosen a worse moment to make his
appearance.

Before any one else could speak his voice was heard, strangely hollow,
and yet more stern than usual, saying, "Be so kind as to come this way
at once, sir."

Winnie did not let go Murtagh's hand. Cousin Jane's curiosity was
aroused, and she made no scruple of pressing in with Frankie, so Nessa
entered with the rest.

Mrs. Plunkett was there. Mr. Blair was sitting by the writing-table,
looking graver than Nessa had ever seen him. He seemed not to see any
one but Murtagh and Winnie. As they approached his chair he fixed his
eyes upon Murtagh, and said:

"Tell me, Murtagh, all that you know about the burning of the Red
House."

Murtagh was still very white, but he answered straight-forwardly:

"I do not know anything at all except what Brown has just told us."

"What did he tell you?" inquired Mr. Blair.

"That Mr. Plunkett's hay-barn was burnt, and the fire spread to the
house, and one of the children was hurt, and--" But here Murtagh's
voice faltered and he stopped.

Cousin Jane began to have an inkling of what was the matter.

"Tell the truth, Murtagh," she exclaimed. "What else did he tell you?"

Murtagh glanced at Mr. Blair in hopes that he was satisfied, but his
face wore an expression of stern expectancy that compelled Murtagh to
continue. "And," he said, "that when Mrs. Plunkett looked out of the
window, she saw a boy standing in the road."

"And did he tell you nothing else?" inquired Mr. Blair.

"No," said Murtagh, beginning to feel really puzzled at his uncle's
strange manner.

"He did not tell you who that boy was," continued Mr. Blair.

"No," exclaimed Murtagh, with eager interest.

"Murtagh, it is useless to keep up this deception any longer. Mrs.
Plunkett says _you_ are the boy she saw."

Murtagh's nerves were already strained, and for one instant he was
completely overcome by so unexpected an accusation. The color rushed
to his cheeks, and his eyes filled with tears; but in a moment he was
himself again, and raising his head proudly, he replied:

"Mrs. Plunkett is mistaken. I was not there, and I know nothing
whatever about the fire."

Then he turned and would have left the room as was his fashion when
offended with Mr. Plunkett. But his uncle said, "Stay, Murtagh, this
is a very serious matter, and it is better for you to hear all the
evidence against you." There was a kinder tone now, however, in Mr.
Blair's voice, and the proud look died a little out of Murtagh's face
as he again took up his place by the corner of his uncle's table.

Mr. Blair paused, and while the silence lasted Murtagh's eyes sought
Nessa's. Such a look of trust and encouragement beamed upon him that
for a moment he almost forgot his trouble in the pleasure of receiving
it.

"Mrs. Plunkett," said Mr. Blair, "will you tell us exactly what you saw
when the flames first wakened you?"

"I saw just what I told you," began Mrs. Plunkett; "the hay-barn all
in flames, and on the road Murtagh was standing. You know you were,
Murtagh. It's no use denying it; you had on that very gray jacket you
have on now, and when you saw me, you turned and ran away as fast as
you could. And then I woke Mr. Plunkett, and all the servants, and he
went down to see what could be done, and out on the road he found this;
but perhaps Murtagh will deny that this is his name." As she spoke she
took up a dirty pocket-handkerchief which lay on the table beside Mr.
Blair, and showed "Murtagh Blair" written in clear letters in one of
its corners.

At Mrs. Plunkett's mention of the gray jacket Winnie and Murtagh
mechanically turned their eyes to Murtagh's coat, and as they did so
a remembrance suddenly flashed across them that yesterday Pat O'Toole
had worn a gray jacket which was not at all unlike Murtagh's. Each
looked at the other; the truth was becoming too clear to be doubted
any longer; and the sight of the handkerchief only confirmed their
fears. It had been used as a towel yesterday by the followers, and
had probably remained in Pat's pocket. Murtagh saw that Winnie had no
longer any doubt, and the knowledge of her conviction made his own only
the more certain.

What was to be done? It was all his temper that had brought Pat into
this scrape, and now every word he said in his own defense would be a
means of preventing the boy from escaping the consequences. To shield
Pat now was all that he could do. And yet he had to fight hard with the
proud indignation stirred up in him by being falsely accused. It was
not pleasant to let Mr. Plunkett triumph.

He stood in silence, struggling with his thoughts, till his uncle
asked, "What have you to say in answer to Mrs. Plunkett?"

[Illustration: "'WHAT HAVE YOU TO SAY IN ANSWER TO MRS. PLUNKETT?'"]

Then a rush of anger almost overwhelmed every other feeling, and though
he squeezed Winnie's hand as a signal to her not to speak, he answered
with sullen pride, "I said before I was not there."

His evident perplexity, his glances at Winnie, his anger, were all
against him, and Mr. Blair replied coldly: "I shall be more glad than
I can tell you if you can clear yourself from this charge. But if you
cannot, at least make a manly confession; this flat denial is childish."

Murtagh remained silent. Winnie's cheeks flushed, and words trembled on
her lips. She could not bear Murtagh to be treated in this manner. But
again the warning hand squeezed hers. If only she had had nothing to do
with exciting Pat, then she might have spoken. As it was, she felt that
she had no more right than Murtagh to say a word, and though she could
have cried with perplexity and vexation, she was forced to be silent.

Her uncle saw her half-movement, and said sadly, "Can you tell us
anything of this matter, Winnie?"

Winnie bit her lips, and looked straight in front of her, but she only
shook her head.

Cousin Jane's patience could bear no more.

"Really, John," she exclaimed, "I don't know how you can go on bearing
with the sulkiness of those children. Make them tell what they know.
It's plain that they are guilty, and if they have anything to say for
themselves, let them say it."

An expression of annoyance passed quickly over Mr. Blair's countenance,
but he replied very gently:

"You must let me manage this matter in my own way, Jane."

"Mr. Plunkett," he continued, as Cousin Jane relapsed into indignant
silence, "tell us now, if you please, before Murtagh, what you have
already told me of his behavior yesterday evening."

Mr. Plunkett gave a short, business-like account of what had happened
in the barn-yard the evening before. It was perfectly accurate. He said
that he regretted the blows which had been meant more for one of the
ragamuffins than for Murtagh; and somehow even that, which every one
felt Mr. Plunkett had no right to inflict, told against Murtagh, for
it furnished an additional motive for his revenge. The dark red mark
was plainly visible across his cheek, and it seemed, indeed, a blow
which a high-spirited boy was not likely to have received quietly. Only
one thing in the story was omitted. Mr. Plunkett had forgotten Pat
O'Toole's threat.

"Can you deny any of this?" asked Mr. Blair, as Mr. Plunkett ceased.

"No," replied Murtagh; "it is all quite true."

"But," said Winnie, eagerly, "it shows Murtagh couldn't have set fire
to the place, because we were very sorry after, and Murtagh was to have
told Mr. Plunkett so this morning."

"Were you, Murtagh?" said Mr. Blair.

"Yes," said Murtagh, shortly.

Mr. Blair looked towards Mr. Plunkett to see what he thought of that,
and Mr. Plunkett replied drily:

"Murtagh has never done such a thing in his life. I must be excused if
I do not believe him."

The angry black look that Nessa had so often seen spread over Murtagh's
countenance. He made no answer, but Nessa said at once, "I know he was
going to do that."

Her words seemed to strengthen a pleasant conviction that was growing
in Mr. Blair's mind, the sound of her voice brought a quiet little
smile to his lips which did not altogether die away again.

Mr. Plunkett replied in the same dry tones, "The main point of evidence
against Murtagh is the fact that Mrs. Plunkett saw him at the time of
the fire."

"You are quite sure that it was Murtagh?" asked Mr. Blair, turning to
Mrs. Plunkett.

"I'm quite sure," she replied. "I saw his black hair and his gray
jacket as plain as I do now."

"But not his face," suggested Mr. Blair. "If he turned and ran away
so quickly, you could hardly in that uncertain light make sure of the
face."

"If I was on my dying bed, I'd swear it was Murtagh," returned Mrs.
Plunkett, almost in tears.

"And this handkerchief," said Mr. Plunkett, "how did it come in such a
place?"

"Yes, Murtagh," said Mr. Blair. "How do you account for this?"

Again Winnie found the temptation to speak almost too strong for her,
but Murtagh's hand was holding hers like a vice. Her own sense of right
told her she must not, and she only looked more blankly than ever in
front of her as Murtagh answered, "I don't know."

His uncle looked puzzled and displeased. Cousin Jane exclaimed: "I told
you so; the truth's plain enough to any one who chooses to see it."

Mr. Plunkett felt quietly triumphant. But Nessa had guessed the truth
from the beginning, and it was now her turn to speak.

"Uncle Blair," she said, "I am quite sure Murtagh has not done this. I
think it is another person."

Her uncle looked towards her with surprise. An expression of impatience
crossed Mr. Plunkett's countenance.

"Why, my child," said Mr. Blair, "what can you know about it?"

"Do you not remember," she said, turning to Mr. Plunkett, "at the end,
before they went away, Pat O'Toole said he would be revenged, because
you struck him?"

"Pat O'Toole!" exclaimed Mr. Blair. "Why, Plunkett, you forgot to
mention this."

"I am sorry," replied Mr. Plunkett, feeling annoyed with himself for
not having been strictly business-like. "I mentioned that I thrashed a
boy, but I did not know his name, and I paid little attention to the
threat."

"But," said Nessa, "this boy does not look much bigger than Murtagh; he
has black hair, too, and I think he had a gray jacket yesterday. Mrs.
Plunkett might easily have been mistaken. And, besides," she continued,
"Murtagh could not have done it. Only one of those people would have
done a thing so cowardly and so cruel."

"I think you are right, my dear," said her uncle, gravely. "Plunkett,
this alters the affair," he said, turning to Mr. Plunkett. "I can do no
more till I see this boy. Will you send for him? I should like to speak
to him after breakfast. You may go now," he added, speaking to Murtagh.
"I shall want you again. You are of my opinion, are you not, Plunkett?"

"No, sir," replied Mr. Plunkett, firmly. "My opinion is in no way
altered."

Murtagh was in despair at the new turn affairs were taking.

"But Pat's four years older than me," he stammered, "and he's not a bit
like me; is he, Winnie?"

Mr. Plunkett was looking at him coldly. "I quite agree with you," he
said.

As they left the room Frankie hurried to seize Murtagh's arm,
exclaiming, "I say, Myrrh, old fellow, what a shame!" But his mother
contradicted him flatly.

"You don't know anything about the matter, Frankie," she said. "I'm
sure if you were as naughty as your cousins, it would break my heart.
But, indeed, it is no wonder," she continued, "considering the way that
Mr. Blair treats them."

The remark was uttered on the threshold of the study, so Mr. Blair
heard it; but he only looked at Nessa with one of his quaint smiles,
and asked her to come to him after breakfast.



CHAPTER XX.


The news of the fire had by this time spread, and Rosie and Bobbo were
waiting in the passage, eager to know what was happening in the study.
They seized upon Murtagh the instant the door was shut, and inquired,
but while Frankie answered them Murtagh whispered something to Winnie.

"I'll come, too!" she exclaimed, and they ran away together.

"It will all come out now," said Murtagh, despondingly; "the only thing
to be done is just to let him know what's coming."

"Yes," said Winnie, with a sigh, and then they ran in silence till the
O'Tooles' cabin came in sight.

"I say, what do you think they'll do to him?" asked Murtagh, stopping
to take breath.

"I don't know," replied Winnie; "something dreadful, I expect, because
you see the fire spread to the house, and it's burnt, too. I wonder
which of the children it is. Supposing it was to die!"

"And it is all our fault!" said Murtagh.

They looked at each other for a moment in silence, then quickening
their footsteps they soon stood within the cottage.

Mrs. O'Toole was crouching over the fire, but she started up on their
entrance, and they asked at once for Pat.

"What is it ye want with Pat?" she inquired.

"We want to talk to him about something," replied Murtagh.

"Sure ye can leave your message with me. Is it about them night-lines
he was settlin' for yez?"

"No, no," returned Murtagh, impatiently; "I must see himself. Is he
inside?"

"Sit down, yer honor, and have a bit of griddle-cake," said Mrs.
O'Toole, wiping a stool with her apron; "maybe he'd be in in a minnit.
It's the whitest flour I've had this long time."

"No, thanks," replied Murtagh, "we can't wait; we must go and try to
find him."

They went, accordingly, to the village, where he was generally to
be found lolling on the grass by the roadside, minding the goat and
playing marbles. They searched a long time, but they could not find
him, and one of his playmates at last volunteered the information that
Pat had not been out this morning. Mrs. O'Toole had been down herself
to milk the goat, and she told them that Pat was ill in bed.

"Ill in bed!" exclaimed Murtagh. "Then, perhaps--Oh, Winnie; we'd
better go back."

"Mrs. O'Toole!" he exclaimed, as they once more entered the cottage,
"what made you tell us Pat was out when he's ill in bed?"

"Sure, Mr. Murtagh, honey, I never said he was out; Heaven forbid! I
only said maybe he'd be in in a minnit."

Murtagh crossed over without ceremony to the door of the little inner
room. But Mrs. O'Toole started up and threw herself between him and it,
exclaiming:

"Ye can't go in there, Mr. Murtagh! The place is not cleaned up at all.
It's not fit for a gentleman like ye!"

"I tell you I must speak to Pat!" persisted Murtagh, with his hand on
the latch.

"But ye mustn't, Mr. Murtagh, dear!" cried Mrs. O'Toole, her voice
growing strangely eager and imploring. "I tell ye ye mustn't, he's down
with the small-pox!"

"As if I cared twopence for the small-pox," replied Murtagh,
impetuously bursting open the door as he spoke, and springing towards
the press bed where Pat generally slept.

But the room was empty! and the bed had not been slept in that night.

The poor woman, seeing that no concealment was possible, had thrown her
apron over her head and was rocking herself backwards and forwards in
an agony of tears.

Tears came to Winnie's eyes, too, as she stood and looked at her. There
was no need to ask any question; but after a minute Murtagh said,
half-reproachfully, "You needn't have told any lies to _me_, Mrs.
O'Toole."

"Oh, Mr. Murtagh, asthore, don't betray us!" was her only answer. "It's
my only son; the only one ever I had!"

"Where is he?" asked Murtagh, in a choked voice.

"He's gone away!" replied Mrs. O'Toole, drawing a bit of paper from her
breast. "Oh, Pat, my darlint, whatever made you do it?"

Murtagh took the bit of paper in silence, and Winnie looking over his
shoulder read: "Mother, I've done it, and I'm gone away for ever!
Good-by; God bless ye!"

"For ever! an' he was the only one I had," repeated the poor woman.
"They say he bate the boy last night. He's been a blight upon the
country since the day he first set foot in it; but I pray it may come
back upon his own head."

"Oh, don't," said Murtagh; "it was all us. Do you know one of Mr.
Plunkett's children was hurt in the fire, too?"

"Know, ay, I know," she replied fiercely. "It's his eldest, too; the
one they say he do care for; I've been prayin' ever since it may die,
an' let him feel what it is to be robbed o' your child."

"Listen," said Murtagh, in the greatest distress. "Let us think what we
are to do. He's going to be sent for in a minute to be examined. That's
what we came down to tell him."

"Is it discovered already he is?" she cried, full of a new fear. "Oh,
if they catch him and bring him back to prison! Mr. Murtagh, ye won't
betray us; Miss Winnie, asthore? Ye're only children, but ye won't say
a word?"

"You needn't be afraid," cried Winnie and Murtagh together. "They won't
get a word out of us."

"But," continued Murtagh, "how will you manage?"

"God bless yez, God bless yez," she answered warmly. And then in a
different tone: "Let me alone for bamboozling the polis if they come
here after him. All he'll want will be a couple of hours. If he gets
till this evening, never a man o' the polis will lay a hand on him."

The words were scarcely out of her mouth when a shaking of the rickety
garden gate told that some one was coming. The next instant Mr.
Plunkett himself stood upon the threshold.

The children glanced in despair round the room. But as if by magic, the
bedroom door was shut, Mrs. O'Toole's cap put straight, and she was
bending over the fire stirring something in a saucepan. The children
alone were confused; Mrs. O'Toole said calmly:

"I tell you, Mr. Murtagh, honey, he went out early to the bog with his
father to cut peat, an' the father said maybe they'd be in to dinner
and maybe they wouldn't."

"Are you speaking of your son?" inquired Mr. Plunkett, looking with
suspicion at Murtagh and Winnie.

Mrs. O'Toole turned round in well-feigned astonishment at the new
voice. She dropped a respectful courtesy as she answered:

"I am, yer honor."

She had been off her guard when the children came; but now Pat was out
with his father sure enough, and she had such a bad recollection for
names, she could not rightly call to mind whether it was out Ballybrae
way he was, or up past Armaghbaeg, or maybe it wasn't there at all but
up over the hills. But anyway he'd very likely be in to dinner, so it
wouldn't be worth sending for him yet awhile, till they saw whether
he'd be coming.

Mr. Plunkett never for a moment supposed Pat guilty, but placed ready
faith in Mrs. O'Toole's apparent nonchalance. At the same time,
however, he considered it his duty to take Pat to Mr. Blair without
delay; so he said the boy must be sent for at once.

Mrs. O'Toole was quite equal to the emergency. "There were plenty of
idle gossoons in the village," she said, "who would be glad of a run;"
and two or three lads were sent in different directions with orders
from Mr. Plunkett to bring Pat home directly.

They received private instruction from Mrs. O'Toole to wink both eyes
if they saw Pat, and if they met O'Toole to tell him to keep himself
out of the way; and it is needless to say whose orders they obeyed.
Murtagh added that they might take as long as they liked to look for
him; and before the afternoon the whole village knew that some mystery
was on foot. It was the general opinion that Murtagh and Pat had
between them burnt down the contents of Mr. Plunkett's hay-barn, and
that anyhow no one was to know a word about Pat O'Toole. Sympathy was
all on the boys' side. And though in the course of the morning several
of the villagers were examined by Mr. Plunkett, nothing could be drawn
from them.

At Murtagh's suggestion Winnie went, after a time, to try and get Nessa
by herself to warn her against betraying Pat. But first Nessa was in
the study with Mr. Blair, and then just as Winnie was going to catch
her in the passage, Cousin Jane came to the drawing-room door with a
face full of dismay and beckoned. Winnie caught the words, "doctor,"
"terrible," "send at once." Nessa's face became very grave; then the
door shut upon them both, and the child was left outside full of
wondering trouble.

At last Nessa came out of the house and began to walk across the park.
The children hailed her appearance with relief; at least they were not
afraid of her; and running up to her they asked what was the matter;
was Frankie ill?

"Frankie is ill," replied Nessa; "Cousin Jane says excitement always
makes him ill. But we have sent for the doctor for Mr. Plunkett's
child; they say she is dying. That pretty golden-haired little
girl--the eldest of them." Nessa's voice was trembling; she remembered
so well the transparent beauty of the child, and the loving looks of
both father and mother. "It seems a piece of wood fell upon her head
when they were taking her out of the burning nursery," she continued.

"First she fainted, then she seemed quite, quite well, and now the
servant who came to find Mr. Plunkett says she is dying."

A sudden awe fell upon the children. "Dying!" They could scarcely
believe it. No one had ever died in their experience.

"Oh, Nessa!" exclaimed Rosie, but the others were all silent.

"Will you come with me?" said Nessa, looking at their white shocked
faces. "You need not come into the house, but you will know. And
perhaps you may be of use if there are messages."

At a short distance from the Red House they were overtaken by Mr.
Plunkett, who with an anxious face was walking up swiftly from the
village.

"David himself has gone for the doctor," said Nessa, "and if he does
not find yours, he will ride on at once to Ballyboden; he will not come
back without one." Her voice conveyed all the sympathy that she felt.
It was not a moment to put it into words.

But evidently Mr. Plunkett did not yet know of his child's danger.

"What?" he said hoarsely, trying to seem unmoved.

"You have not heard--that she is rather worse?" asked Nessa, steadying
her voice in order to break the news as gently as possible.

But Mr. Plunkett was not a man to have news broken to him. A sort of
gray color spread over his face. Standing quite still before Nessa he
seemed to pierce her through with his eyes.

"Is she dying?" he asked. He stood erect as usual. He tried to keep his
face in the same unrelaxed mold. For all his pain he could not bear
that these strangers should see him suffer. But the cold, stern voice
was strangely broken; in spite of himself such a dumb agony of suspense
was in his eyes that Nessa, not daring to speak untruly, was moved with
sudden sympathy to put her hand in his. The touch of her fingers, the
sorrow in her face, conveyed the answer she could not have framed in
words.

"Not dead?" he forced his lips to say, while almost unconsciously his
hand closed tightly upon hers.

"No; oh, no," she answered quickly, "and the doctor will soon be here,
perhaps--"

But he waited for no more. With a few rapid strides he was in the
house, and Nessa, not liking just then to enter, remained with the
children where he had left her.

A sudden sound of one of the little Plunketts crying helped her to
collect her thoughts. Telling the children to wait, she went quietly
through the blackened doorway, and found, as she had expected, the
three Plunkett babies alone. Their nursery had been burnt, and they
were drearily trying to play in an empty kitchen. They were so hungry,
the eldest said, and nobody came with their dinner.

After a few words with the nurse, who passed up the stairs and gave
her some details of Marion's condition, Nessa took the children out,
and told Rosie and Winnie to take them home with them. Then she told
the boys they must get some ice. "I am sure when the doctor comes he
will order ice for her head," she said, "and it will be good to have it
here."

Humbly thankful they were to have something to do. Murtagh was too
miserable now for words, for he had had time to remember that this also
was his fault. They found out from Donnie where they were to go for the
ice, and then they went to the barn-yard to get the horse and cart.

The way was long; and it was getting late in the afternoon when the
boys returned to the Red House with the ice. They had had no dinner,
but they cared little for that, and only asked with anxious faces if
there was nothing else they could do. Nessa understood, and set them to
work at once in the garden to pound the ice as nearly as possible into
powder.

It was greatly wanted. The doctor had not yet arrived, and during the
afternoon little Marion became worse and worse. Mrs. Plunkett was able
to do nothing, but stood at the bottom of the bed and wept, while Mr.
Plunkett sat with a face of unnatural calm, and tried to soothe the
poor child's ravings with tender words. At last Nessa had gone up and
had succeeded in quieting her a little by laying wet cloths upon her
head. So now with new hope they were waiting for the ice.

Long after it grew dark, though the wind was bitterly cold, the two
boys still sat in the garden pounding the ice, and Nessa came backwards
and forwards from the house to fetch a bowlful of it as it was wanted,
comforting their hearts with an account of how little Marion grew
quieter and quieter as each clothful of the cold powder was laid upon
her head.

They could not go into the house, for the sound of the pounding would
have echoed through all the rooms; but they worked on, never thinking
of the cold or the darkness. They felt able to do anything now they had
a spark of hope.

After a time Winnie joined them with Royal. Mrs. Donegan had put the
little Plunketts to bed at the house, she said, and she didn't know
where Murtagh was or what he was doing, so she had come out to look for
him. She seemed very disconsolate, but the boys were cheered now with
their work and the better accounts of Marion; so they told what they
were doing, and Bobbo groped about till he found a big stone for her to
pound with too. Then she knelt down beside them and worked away, while
Royal, with some wonderful instinct of their trouble, stretched himself
out upon the ground and lay patiently watching the three children.

So the evening wore away, till at last the rumble of wheels announced
that the doctor was coming. Royal was the first to hear the welcome
sound, and a low growl from him announced it to the children.

"Now we shall know," said Murtagh; and with eager expectation they
watched the doctor walk up the path. Winnie ran to the door and begged
Nessa to let them know quickly what he said, but it seemed to them a
long, long time before any one came.

They could see three dark shadows sometimes on the blind of the room
where Marion lay, and though they tried to go on with their work, the
ice often numbed their fingers as they absently held a lump in their
hands and gazed up for some sign of Nessa coming. After one of those
long looks Murtagh had just begun pounding again, when suddenly the
door opened, and the doctor's voice called cheerily from the blaze
of light that streamed out over the steps: "Where are you, my young
workers? Your ice has saved her life."

Till those words lifted the load off their hearts, the children
scarcely knew how heavy it had been.

"She won't die?" said Murtagh, eagerly springing to the bottom of the
steps.

"No, no," replied the doctor; "not now, if she has the same nursing
through the night."

Then Nessa appeared behind the doctor, and joined her assurance to his.

She was to stay and spend the night with Marion, but the doctor
insisted on driving the children home in his gig. He was a
tender-hearted man, who had a lot of merry little brothers and sisters
at home, and the idea of children being so troubled as these was to
him unnatural. It would have disturbed him to think of them after he
got home, so as they drove along he made light of Marion's danger, and
talked and laughed with them, till by the time they reached the house
they were in quite a bright mood.

After the doctor left them they stopped on the steps to bid Royal good
night, and kneeling down beside him, Winnie said:

"We've been very miserable to-day, Royal--very miserable; but it is
wonderful how things always come right after. They always do, Royal; so
if ever you're miserable, you can remember that."

Royal looked solemnly at her as though he understood every word, but
as she finished he put a paw upon each of her shoulders, and by way of
answer gravely licked her face.

Bobbo burst out laughing, and the others followed his example.

"Oh, Royal dear, you are a darling!" cried Winnie. And Cousin Jane,
passing through the hall to bed, overheard them, and remarked to Emma
that she never would have believed children could be so heartless as to
be laughing and playing with the dog, when that poor little girl might
be lying dead through their wickedness.



CHAPTER XXI.


Murtagh slept late next morning, and was wakened by Winnie who wanted
him to get up and come and inquire about Pat. Anxiety about Marion had
made him completely forget Pat, but now that trouble returned upon him
in full force. He got up and went with Winnie to see Mrs. O'Toole.
But nothing had been heard of Pat, and between her longing to see
the boy and dread least the police should find him, Mrs. O'Toole was
in terrible grief. The children could give her no comfort, and they
wandered sadly back to the house.

Frankie was in bed, but Cousin Jane came and told them they might go
in and see him. He had set his heart upon seeing them, and she could
not refuse when he was ill. She begged they would not put any of their
hardened notions into his head, but they were too glad of being able to
see Frankie to care for anything Cousin Jane said.

He welcomed them delightedly, eager to know what they had done
yesterday.

There was something very touching in the almost worshipful admiration
with which he regarded them. He thought them nearly perfect, and if he
had ever had a dream for himself it would have been to be like Murtagh,
and to do the things Murtagh did. Only he never dreamt anything for
himself; perhaps, poor little fellow, it did not seem to him worth
while. He would lie for hours upon the sofa, picturing to himself
Murtagh walking up before assembled rows of schoolboys to receive
impossible numbers of first prizes; Murtagh winning cricket-matches,
or Murtagh leading troops to battle. There was no wonderful feat in
history that Murtagh had not outdone many a time in Frankie's ambitious
imagination.

Troubled as Murtagh and Winnie were at their share in this misfortune,
it was very soothing to their sore consciences to talk with Frankie.
His ideas of right and wrong used to become very confused where Winnie
and Murtagh were concerned. All he thought about was how best to
comfort them, and in the end he invariably succeeded in proving, to his
own satisfaction at least, that they had been perfectly right.

They used to talk more of what they really thought with Frankie than
they did even to one another; and they confided to him now, in their
own odd scrappy fashion, the sore regrets by which they were assailed.

With all his goodwill, even Frankie was puzzled to reconcile their
resolutions on the mountain with the scene in the barn-yard that
so closely followed them. But then he said that Mr. Plunkett was
so nasty nobody could help being rude to him; and, of course, they
couldn't possibly know that one of the followers would set fire to his
haystacks. The whole misfortune, he finally declared, was as much owing
to Mr. Plunkett as to them. He would go out and be disagreeable when
Nessa told him they were excited. It was all his own fault; and then he
could not be contented without making false accusations, and trying to
get Murtagh into trouble.

Murtagh was not easily to be comforted, and Frankie exerted himself to
divert Murtagh's thoughts into another channel.

"Never mind, Myrrh, dear," he said, "Marion will soon be well now, and
I daresay they'll never find out which of your followers did it. Next
week we shall all three be down at the seaside, where you'll never see
Mr. Plunkett nor be worried with his rules. There will be nobody to
order you about there. We will all do just whatever we please, and this
whole affair will be forgotten by the time you come back."

After a time they called in Royal, and Frankie made him display his
various accomplishments. Bobbo and Rosie joined them later in the day,
and so they forgot to be unhappy for nearly the whole afternoon. Nessa,
in the meantime, had spent her day at the Red House, but Marion was now
quite out of danger, and towards four o'clock she prepared to return
home.

Mr. Plunkett would not let her walk alone, and as they went together
across the park he took the opportunity of thanking her warmly for all
that she had done. The doctor had told him that without her timely help
Marion might have died, and he was not a man to be ungrateful for any
real obligation.

It was one of those moments of unreserve that come sometimes after a
heavy strain.

"You may think me hard and cold," he said, "but Marion is to me more--"
Then strong as he was his voice faltered. Instead of words there came
only an inarticulate choking sound. He recovered himself immediately,
but he did not try to finish his sentence. Then he allowed himself to
be drawn on by Nessa's genuine admiration of his child to talk of her,
till Nessa found herself wondering how she could ever have thought him
so very disagreeable.

But as they emerged from under the trees and came in sight of the house
his voice suddenly changed, and he exclaimed:

"Can you wonder, then, that I am determined to punish to the uttermost
the heartless spite that in revenge for a just rebuke could imperil
such innocent lives? You, Miss Blair, a stranger, can have little
conception of all that we have been forced to suffer from Murtagh and
his brother and sisters, but now it passes a matter of inconvenience.
Impertinence and annoyance I could and would have endured, but to have
my child hurt, to have her life, her reason endangered, to gratify the
caprice of an insolent boy--"

He was transformed; he was no longer the correct Mr. Plunkett that
Nessa knew. His face was pale, his eyes full of a strange light; he was
a man,--a man struggling with a violent emotion.

"But you cannot think still that Murtagh set fire to your house?" she
exclaimed, standing still and looking up anxiously into his face. "It
was not Murtagh; I know it was not."

"You think you know, Miss Blair, but you are mistaken. I have known the
boy longer than you, and I tell you he is guilty."

"You did not see him on Wednesday evening after that scene with you,"
said Nessa, "and you did not see him yesterday, or you could not think
that. He was so sorry for you yesterday, and so anxious to help. If you
had seen his white sad face, you could not think it was a pretense.
Examine that other boy, and you will see that Murtagh is not guilty."

He replied quietly: "I cannot agree with you, Miss Blair; I am
perfectly willing that young O'Toole should be examined, but you have
only to count up the evidences of Murtagh's guilt to be yourself
convinced of the uselessness of the proceeding; his presence at the
fire; his confusion on finding himself discovered; his inability to
answer any of the charges made against him. Directly he left his
uncle's presence he rushed off to O'Toole's cottage. What could he
have wanted there if not to beg Pat to keep his secret safe? His very
anxiety about my poor child is only another reason for believing him
guilty. He dislikes me; he has no affection for her; and I cannot
believe he would have displayed such excessive anxiety had he not been
smitten with remorse and terror at the consequences of his act. If he
had come forward and confessed openly, instead of allowing the blame
to be half-shifted on to another, I might have entertained some softer
feeling towards him, but, as it is, I feel nothing but a just anger and
contempt. He has shown himself not only revengeful but cowardly and
dishonorable."

In vain Nessa pleaded Murtagh's cause. Mr. Plunkett had covered himself
again with his usual shell, and words had no effect.

At last she appealed to justice. "You ought to believe he is speaking
the truth till you are quite sure he is not," she said. "You have not
yet made any search among the people in the country."

"I am willing that every inquiry should be made, but I am perfectly
convinced of his guilt, and so long as he remains hardened in denial,
he must expect nothing but the utmost severity from me."

They had reached the gravel sweep that divided the park from the house,
and he bowed and left her. As she entered the hall she met Murtagh, who
had been watching her from Frankie's window, and who now came running
down to know how little Marion was.

"Better," said Nessa, "much better."

"You're dreadfully tired, aren't you?" said Murtagh.

"Yes," said Winnie, "of course she must be after being up all night.
Come along, Myrrh, we'll get her some tea. And you go and lie down in
your room," she added.

"Thank you," said Nessa, stooping to kiss the little brown forehead.
"Yes, I should like some tea." And as the two children ran away to the
kitchen she passed up the stairs.

A few minutes later they appeared in her room with their little tray.
They had arranged it after their own fashion, with a white napkin and
a tiny blue vase full of flowers. Winnie's cheeks were rosy with the
making of toast, and while Nessa drank her tea and admired the flowers
the two children watched her radiantly.

"We made it all ourselves," exclaimed Winnie, when the first cup was
nearly finished. "Donnie wasn't there, but we knew the water was
boiling, because the top of the kettle was bobbing up and down." Nessa
asked for a second cup, and the delighted children were as happy as
little kings because she found their tea so good.



CHAPTER XXII.


Mr. Plunkett meant what he had said to Nessa. Next day, therefore, he
begged Mr. Blair to continue his investigation. Poor Mr. Blair, who had
completely accepted Nessa's view, took no longer the slightest interest
in the affair. Provided it was not Murtagh, he did not care who was
guilty. All he desired was to be left in peace.

However, since Mr. Plunkett was not satisfied, and had a strong will
to which Mr. Blair was accustomed to yield, there was nothing but to
send for Pat O'Toole and sift the matter to the bottom. Mr. Plunkett
sent a message to him to appear; Mrs. O'Toole put off the inevitable
announcement of his flight to the last moment; and it was not till
every one else was assembled in the study that it became known that he
was gone.

The news was received by Mr. Blair and Nessa as a simple proof of
Murtagh's innocence. But Mr. Plunkett held his own opinion much too
firmly to be easily shaken in it.

He believed that his wife had seen Murtagh at the fire, and Murtagh's
innocence was not established. The two boys were known to be friends,
and what was more likely than that Murtagh should have chosen Pat as an
accomplice? It was evident that they had some secret together, since
Murtagh's first action after the news of the fire had been made known
was to run away to the O'Tooles' cottage.

When the news of Pat's flight had arrived Murtagh had felt a grim
satisfaction at the prospect of Mr. Plunkett's discomfiture, thinking
as Nessa did that his own innocence was now fully established. Now as
he stood listening to the array of evidence brought forward to prove
his guilt, a turmoil of bitter indignation raged within him, and every
bit of sorrow for his own fault was swallowed up in angry rebellion
against what seemed to him wilful injustice. Stung to the quick, he
took a proud, unreasoning determination to say not one word in his
own defense, and after the first stormy flash that overspread his
countenance, he stood with eyes cast down and a white obdurate face
that defied all questioning.

It was not so with Winnie. Through her indignation and disgust a dim
suspicion, which she had herself rejected before, flashed suddenly into
belief. Mr. Plunkett was doing it on purpose. He did not really believe
Murtagh guilty, but he had a spite against him for what had happened in
the barn-yard, and this was his mean way of revenging himself.

Her cheeks flamed, and her eyes flashed with indignation; she clasped
her hands on the back of her head, and waited till Mr. Plunkett wound
up a somewhat elaborate argument by asking every one in the room to
decide whether he had not good grounds for believing Murtagh to be
guilty.

Then before any one could answer, she said in a cool, aggravating voice:

"Yes, I daresay, if we didn't all know you're doing this just because
you have a spite against Murtagh."

"Well!" exclaimed Cousin Jane, "these children are allowed to talk in
the funniest way I ever heard."

"I don't see why things shouldn't be fair," returned Winnie. "Mr.
Plunkett keeps on telling us we are telling lies, and why mayn't we
tell him the same? If you won't believe what Murtagh says, I don't
see why you should believe what Mr. Plunkett says. Mr. Plunkett says
Murtagh did this because of what happened in the barn-yard, but it's a
_great deal_ more likely Mr. Plunkett's trying to get Murtagh into a
scrape to revenge himself for what happened. Just as if Murtagh would
ever bother his head to be revenged on anybody like him!"

The supreme scorn of the last words was unmistakable, and Mr. Blair,
in some astonishment, said with quiet dignity: "Winnie, that seems a
strange way to speak to Mr. Plunkett. Every one who knows him knows
that nothing could be more impossible to him."

"The idea of children talking like that to a grown-up person!" remarked
Cousin Jane.

"That's always the way," cried Winnie, her pent-up wrath bursting forth
at last. "Just because we are children, we're to hold our tongues
and let people say what they like to us, and tell all sorts of lies
about our doing things we didn't do; and then if we say a word about
them doing a thousand times worse things, we're told to be quiet. But
I don't care what five hundred million grown-up people say, Murtagh
didn't do this, and Mr. Plunkett knows he didn't just as well as I do."

Mr. Blair looked at her in still greater surprise. At last, with a sort
of instinct that it would be safest to have her near Nessa, he said:

"You may go and sit down, now, my dear; Nessa will make room for you, I
daresay, on the sofa beside her."

He glanced over at Nessa as he spoke with such a comical expression
of despair that they both nearly laughed, to Cousin Jane's intense
indignation.

Mr. Blair, however, became grave again at once, and turned to Mr.
Plunkett to listen to all the reasons he was urging in favor of some
serious punishment being inflicted upon Murtagh. Too courteous to
interrupt, Mr. Blair listened patiently till he had ceased speaking.
But then instead of at once answering Mr. Plunkett, he turned to
Murtagh and said:

"Murtagh, will you give me your word of honor that you were not at this
fire, and that you did not in any way wilfully cause it?"

Murtagh had stood immovable while Mr. Plunkett was speaking; but his
anger was at all times easy to melt, and there was a ring of trust and
friendliness in his uncle's tone which made him look up straight into
Mr. Blair's face with bright, fearless eyes and answer at once:

"Yes; I give you my word of honor."

"I believe you, my boy!" replied Mr. Blair.

The clouds vanished from Murtagh's face, and with a clear, sunny smile
he looked across to Nessa for her congratulations.

"Plunkett," said Mr. Blair, "I feel how much truth there is in all
you say, and if I could for a moment believe Murtagh guilty, I would
leave it to you to decide his punishment. But though you have certainly
evidence enough to justify an opinion, you do not prove his guilt, and
I cannot help thinking that the presumptive evidence on the other side
is strong enough to make it only just to Murtagh that we should believe
him when he assures us on his word of honor that he is innocent." Mr.
Plunkett was too much annoyed to be able altogether to retain his calm
demeanor.

"Well," he replied, "I have nothing more to say. I believe him
to be guilty, and that I shall continue so to do till some other
person confesses to having committed the crime, without his help or
instigation."

"Believe away!" retorted Winnie. "Nobody cares in the least what you
think!"

"Winnie," said her uncle, "Mr. Plunkett is an old and respected friend
of mine."

Mr. Blair so seldom spoke to one of the children that even Winnie's
audacious tongue was silenced by the reproof.

"I am very sorry, Plunkett," continued Mr. Blair, "that we cannot
persuade you, but still I can't help hoping that when you think the
matter over, you will come round to our opinion."

"Nothing ever will persuade me," returned Mr. Plunkett, "and Murtagh's
guilty conscience can best tell him the reason why."

With those words he took up his hat and left the room.

The children were very little disturbed by his opinion. Murtagh's
innocence was established, and that was all they cared about. They
flocked round Murtagh, and carried him off with many expressions of
pleasure.

Nessa and Royal and the children spent a happy afternoon together.
Frankie was better again that day, and was able to be out with them;
all their troubles were over and gone--gone so completely that they
even seemed not to remember them as they raced and romped upon the
grass with Royal. He was a splendid dog,--big and broad-chested, but
agile as Winnie herself. And he enjoyed the fun of playing. When
he rolled the children over on the grass, and their peals of happy
laughter shook the air, you could almost fancy he was laughing too.
He sprang backwards and forwards from one child to another, his great
black tail whisking about in the air; but though he rolled them over
without ceremony he was thoroughly gentle; he would not have hurt them
for all the world. Even little Ellie, after a first terrified rush
into Nessa's arms, soon discovered that "she wasn't afraid."

They chattered and laughed all the afternoon, and fed Royal, and the
ducks, and the pigeons too, who came cooing and pluming themselves, and
walked about in such a dignified fuss, picking all manner of scraps
out of the grass. And when, for Frankie's sake, they had to go in,
though Nessa left them to rejoin Cousin Jane, they gathered round the
schoolroom fire and chattered and laughed all the same, and laid plans
for what they would do when they got away to Torquay with Frankie.

[Illustration: "THEY CHATTERED AND LAUGHED ALL THE AFTERNOON."]

He was so happy in the prospect, poor little fellow! He had not played
to-day; he had lain on the rug beside Nessa; but he quite forgot that.
He felt as though he had been playing too, and with faintly flushed
cheeks and sparkling eyes he sat curled up on the sofa listening in
delight.

"Why, of course, you'll be able to swim like two fishes before you come
back," he was acquiescing in answer to a remark of Murtagh's, when the
door opened and Emma came in. The room was dark now, and the children
thought it was Nessa.

"Do you hear, Nessa?" cried Winnie. "We intend to learn to swim at
Torquay, and to swim all about the sea into the caves and places where
nobody has ever been before."

"It's time for you to come and dress for dinner, Frankie," replied
Emma's voice; "and," she added, with some primness, as Frankie rose
reluctantly from the sofa, "you had better not make too many plans for
Torquay."

She turned and left the room as she spoke, but Frankie sprang after
her, exclaiming, "Emma, what do you mean about Torquay?" and her
answer was quite audible as she walked down the passage.

"I mean that of course mamma will not allow Murtagh to be your only
playmate for so many months if he persists in telling such stories.
There is no knowing what he might teach you."

Murtagh's cheek flushed as he heard the words, and from the other
children arose a chorus of:

"What a shame!"

"It can't be true!"

"There's something else we have to thank Mr. Plunkett for!"

"It's wicked and unjust," cried Winnie. "He knows as well as I do that
you didn't do it. I don't know how he can dare to pretend he doesn't.
It's enough to drive one mad; but there's one thing, Myrrh, if you
don't go, I won't; Cousin Jane needn't think I will."

"It's not true; it's only Emma's rubbish," decided Bobbo.

"Let us go and ask Nessa," said Murtagh, with a curious kind of
quietness in his voice, and while the others dashed off impatiently to
Nessa's room, he, thrusting his hands into his pockets, walked slowly
after them.



CHAPTER XXIII.


It was only too true. It was difficult to say with whom the idea had
first originated, but after much talking with Emma and Mr. Plunkett,
Cousin Jane had announced that she could not take Murtagh with her
unless he were ready to confess his guilt. Mr. Blair was annoyed,
but there was no help for it. It was true that Murtagh had not been
altogether proved innocent. He could not be till Pat was found, and
till he was, everybody had, of course, a right to their own opinion.

The children were bitterly indignant, but Murtagh still said nothing.
The injustice seemed to him at first too impossible to be true; and
when he realized that it was true, the feelings it roused against Mr.
Plunkett were such he would have found it difficult to express. A sort
of astonished contempt filled his mind. He had not thought before that
Mr. Plunkett could be so bad as that, and if at times the thought of
his disappointment roused in him hot indignation, this new feeling of
sheer disgust made him shrink from even thinking much of Mr. Plunkett.

Frankie's disappointment was beyond expression. For perhaps the first
time in his life he behaved like the spoilt child he was. He would not
go to the sea at all, he said, or if he did, he wouldn't take a bit of
trouble to get well. He had set his heart on having his cousin with
him, and his mother vainly proposed instead companion after companion.
He didn't care for any of them, he said, and all the pleasure of his
winter was gone.

Cousin Jane had intended to punish Murtagh, not Frankie, and it had
seemed to her quite simple to take Bobbo in Murtagh's place. But Bobbo
and Winnie declared at once that they would not go anywhere with
people who said Murtagh told stories, and when Cousin Jane appealed to
Mr. Blair, he replied that he thought they had a right to decide for
themselves.

In despair at her son's trouble, Cousin Jane would have been glad to
change her mind and say that Murtagh might come, but Mr. Plunkett and
Emma both urged her to be firm. Mr. Plunkett alone would not perhaps
have had sufficient influence, but she was accustomed to be ruled by
Emma, and Emma was very determined.

Frankie locked himself into his room and would not see anybody. His
poor bewildered mother made herself wretched with thinking how ill he
would be after such excitement, and finally retired, almost in tears,
to her own room, declaring that she had never met such children, and
that she wished she had never come to Castle Blair to be mixed up in
all this trouble. Every one felt dreary and uncomfortable, and the
children wandered disconsolately about the house, muttering their
opinions of Mr. Plunkett, and wishing aloud that it wasn't Sunday, till
Nessa suggested that they should go and pay their weekly visit to Mrs.
Daly.

Nessa and Mrs. Donegan had been concocting certain plans for the
benefit of Mrs. Daly and one or two other people in the village, and
Nessa communicated them to the children. Falling readily into their
notion of being bound up into a tribe, she suggested how nice it would
be if the tribe could be of real use in the village, and the children,
delighted to see a grown-up person entering seriously into a project
which they had tried hard to persuade themselves was serious, were
hearty in their acceptance of her proposals.

Wild, fierce little things as they seemed, they were something like
lambs in lion's clothing. They were up in arms directly, and stormed
like stanch little Home Rulers, as they were, at anything they
considered unjust, but the slightest appeal to their sympathy was
enough to make them forget all about themselves.

The walk was quite pleasant, and it was delightful to find Mrs. Daly
sitting up, looking already much better for the wholesome dinner with
which Nessa and Donnie provided her every day. After that, they went to
see Mrs. O'Toole. The poor woman was in bitter grief, and she could not
be comforted. An inadvertent mention of Mr. Plunkett's name suddenly
roused a storm of rage that made Nessa turn pale and tremble, but the
passionate abandonment of grief that followed would have moved to tears
a harder heart than hers. Her sweet words of comfort were of little
use. When the children spoke hopefully of Pat being found and coming
back, the poor mother cried out with a despairing wail, "An' that'll be
the worst of all; oh, my heart's broken! my heart's broken!"

They had forgotten for the moment that if he came back, it would be
to go to prison. So they had to leave her in her desolation, and very
sadly, very wearily the children went back to the house. How much of it
all was their fault?

But Nessa had promised Mrs. Plunkett to go to the Red House that
afternoon to see little Marion, so she left them to pay her visit.

She was not the only visitor. Cousin Jane was there, and for no less a
purpose than to see with Mr. Plunkett whether after all she could not
take Murtagh with her.

Her mind was so divided between two opinions that she could not remain
firm in either. Accustomed for years to use Emma as her brain, she was
in the habit of taking for granted that Emma's opinion was right, and
with a simplicity and abnegation of self that would have been touching
had they not been so fraught with mischief, she did always what Emma
told her.

But though she was devoted to both her children, Frankie was the
darling of her heart. She was almost ashamed sometimes of loving him so
much.

Her love for Frankie had never before led her to contradict Emma, and
she really dared not. She would rather contradict Frankie himself, for
she was not afraid of him. He would love her all the same, and after a
time would understand and forgive her. But for all that she could not
bear to think of Frankie's winter being spoilt, and with a great effort
she had resolved that if Mr. Plunkett would support her, she would for
once oppose Emma and let Frankie have Murtagh.

This resolve had cost her four or five hours' fighting with herself in
the solitude of her own room. Nothing but the remembrance of Frankie's
locked door, and the dread that he might get ill and yet not let her
in to nurse him, would finally have prevailed; but at last, as picture
after picture passed before her mind of the terrible things he might
do if he were ill, and she not sitting by his bedside, she could bear
it no longer, and with sudden determination had started up and gone to
consult Mr. Plunkett.

She reached the Red House without adventure, and finding herself
thus far so brave, her hopes were raised quite high. But the little
effervescing spirit of courage died quickly away under the influence of
Mr. Plunkett's cold tones and grave looks.

In answer to her half-nervous, half-vehement suggestions he urged, with
a calm propriety of just determination, the necessity for Murtagh's
sake of some punishment being inflicted.

Still, though the arguments did not in the slightest degree change her
wish to take Murtagh with her, they had their effect in this way. She
felt that they ought to have changed it; that every one would expect
them to change it. They were unanswerable, and when Emma used them she
would have nothing to urge against them. All the reason was against
her. Her little bit of courage vanished. She could not possibly face
Emma unless some one would help her, and she dolefully resigned herself
and Frankie to the will of the stronger powers.

The matter was not quite settled when Nessa entered. Quickly gathering
the subject of the conversation, she ranged herself at once on Cousin
Jane's side. But that, by some strange contradiction, had more effect
than all Mr. Plunkett's arguments. Cousin Jane had been a little
offended by seeing Nessa installed as mistress at Castle Blair. And
directly Nessa advocated Murtagh's departure, Cousin Jane began to
understand the truth of all Mr. Plunkett urged against it.

She was scarcely conscious of what worked the change in her mind. It
was just an effect which people she did not like always had upon her;
and while Nessa was pleading Murtagh's cause with Mr. Plunkett, she
found herself growing almost reconciled to leaving him behind.

At length she stood up to go, saying to Mr. Plunkett:

"Well, I shall tell them it is your doing. I'm sure I would never have
the heart to do it by myself."

Mr. Plunkett was rather pleased that the children should know the
punishment came through him, and he assented willingly. It was a great
relief to Cousin Jane to find any one upon whom she could lay her
responsibility, and on her return she took refuge in saying that she
could not help it. Mr. Plunkett was determined they should not go. She
had been down to him to ask him again, and she could not do any more.

Of all the children Frankie seemed to feel most keenly the slight put
upon Murtagh, though after the first indignant outburst he avoided
with a kind of shrinking pain any allusion to his departure. Unable
to remain outside the heart of any one he loved, he understood and
forgave his mother, and by his redoubled tenderness to Murtagh, and the
wistful, yearning looks with which he followed him about, he seemed to
ask Murtagh to forgive her, too.

Greatly distressed by Frankie's trouble, Murtagh tried to console him,
showing himself perfectly cordial with Cousin Jane, and pretending
that he did not care so very much for the disappointment. Winnie, too,
did her very best, but Frankie was not to be comforted. He seemed to
have some secret reason for his depression, and though he followed
their footsteps like a shadow, he paid no heed to their attempts at
consolation.

The natural result of his trouble was that he became ill, and his
mother in despair was twenty times on the point of changing her mind.
But Emma told her that that was nonsense; as for Frankie's health, the
best thing she could do was to get him away to the sea at once.

So Cousin Jane, notwithstanding many tears and protestations of
affection to Frankie, held to her resolution, and the day of their
departure drew near.

But Frankie grew more and more ill, and the sight of his grief rendered
his little cousins more determinedly and bitterly indignant against Mr.
Plunkett. There was no reason why they should not express as openly as
they pleased their opinions of his conduct, and they railed against him
in turn, as with each day their angry resentment of the injustice grew
stronger.

Nessa was so troubled by their state of mind that she asked Mr. Blair
to interfere so far at least as to establish a clear understanding that
Cousin Jane might take the children if she chose. But he was tired of
children and their concerns, and he only laughed at her a little, and
told her that when people are in Ireland they must do as the Irish
do--leave things to take care of themselves. It would all come right as
soon as Cousin Jane was gone.

Royal was the only refuge. He was always good-humored, always ready
to entice the children to play. He seemed to understand quite well
that they were in trouble, and to want to comfort them. When they were
talking angrily he would stand looking up into their faces with a
sort of half-puzzled, half-coaxing expression, that seemed to say: "I
can't understand a single word. What is the good of it all? Come and
play with me," and his invitation was almost always successful. Winnie
seldom could resist him long.

The moment he saw signs of relaxing in her face he would wag his tail
and bound away, looking back to see if she were coming. Then, if
she did not come at once, he would stop suddenly and stand with his
forepaws spread wide apart, his head down and his tail up, saying as
plainly as action could say it, "You can't catch me; now just try if
you can."

That invitation was always irresistible; the children would rush after
him in a body, and generally dog and children were in another moment
rolling over together in a heap. Then Royal would shake himself free,
and bound off again to have the same rolling repeated further on, till
the children forgot their troubles in a sheer romp.

The day before Cousin Jane's departure especially his success was
unbounded. Nessa was sitting in the schoolroom window watching the
children on the lawn, and she saw him try his process of consolation.

The children were talking together apparently about Frankie's going,
for they looked exceedingly gloomy. Royal gamboled round the group
trying to coax first one and then another to play with him. Winnie
at last knelt down, and throwing one arm round his neck seemed to be
telling him their troubles. He stood quite still for a moment looking
into her face. Then he sprang away, and stood wagging his tail and
looking back so roguishly that Winnie was proof against him no longer.

She bounded after him, and in another minute was lying on the ground
with Royal standing over her, playfully hitting him with her little
brown fists, while he rolled her from side to side with his muzzle.
The others rushed forward, and Royal in his turn was rolled over on
the grass. He was up in a minute, and ready to revenge himself. The
children's grievance was forgotten, and with merry peals of laughter
they raced from side to side of the lawn, over the empty flower-beds,
up to the house, down to the river's edge,--one minute attacking, the
next running away from the dog.

But suddenly in the midst of the laughter there came a great splash in
the river, and a sharp cry arose from three or four of the children:

"Fetch her, Royal; fetch her!"

Nessa knew that the river was not very deep; but the children were
excited, and in one of the pools, if they lost their heads--In an
instant she was on the bank. Quick as she was, Royal was quicker. By
the time she reached the children Winnie was standing dripping upon the
grass--laughing, panting, sputtering the water out of her mouth, and
rubbing it out of her eyes, while the others crowded round Royal with
many exclamations of delight.

Nessa's anxious face was received with peals of laughter. She asked
Winnie if she were hurt, but at that Winnie only laughed the more, till
at last Rosie explained:

"She didn't tumble in; she did it on purpose. We wanted to see whether
Royal would fetch her out."

"And then he did!"

"Isn't he a beauty! Did you ever know such a perfect dog?"

"It's just the same as if he had saved her life, because he thought
she'd tumbled in by accident!"

"Murtagh said Newfoundland dogs would! Oh, Winnie, you are lucky to
have him for your own."

"There, now, Miss Rosie; who was right, you or Murtagh?"

"Did he bite, Winnie?"

All the children were speaking at once, pouring out a volley of
cross-questions and remarks, interspersed with laughter and caresses of
Royal. But they managed to hear Nessa, as trying to forget fright she
replied laughingly:

"You are a set of reckless monkeys; come in and do penance now by
changing your clothes."

It was, however, only a transient gleam of brightness. They went out
again after tea while Frankie was at dinner, but they found the merry
fit was over. The gloom of Frankie's approaching departure surrounded
them. Their attempt at a game was a failure, and they soon wandered in
again to watch for him as he came out of the dining-room.

The evening passed sadly. Frankie was tired and depressed; Cousin
Jane reproaching herself for having waited till so late in the season
to take Frankie to Torquay, and unable to conceal her anxiety at
the prospect of the approaching voyage; the children were gloomily
indignant.

By reason of the inconvenient hours of the trains the traveling party
was obliged to start at an early hour in the morning, and at six
o'clock the children were up to see it off.

The hall fire had not yet been made up for the day: yesterday's gray
embers smoldered in the hearth; and in the dreary light of the one
lamp Brown had put in the hall, they stood and watched the boxes being
brought down.

The door was open, outside it was still dark, and a fine rain was
falling which made the raw morning air damp and unpleasantly cold.

The children shivered as they waited, but Cousin Jane did not keep them
long. She came down first with Frankie to let him say good-by to his
cousins while Emma was occupied with last preparations. Poor Cousin
Jane's natural good nature triumphed at the last moment. She seemed to
have provided herself with half-crowns innumerable, and as she kissed
all the children she insisted on shoveling big silver pieces into their
hands. She said she hoped at all events to bring Frankie back for a
long visit in the spring, and as she bade Murtagh good-by, she added
warmly:

"I am very sorry you're not coming with us, Murtagh, and I'm sure
Frankie's as sorry as you are. Well, it's not my fault; I'd a great
deal rather have taken you than have you all disappointed."

The last words were perhaps more true than judicious, but at the moment
Emma came down, and Cousin Jane went to arrange the carriage for
Frankie.

It turned out to be a long process, and while the others gathered round
the carriage Frankie stood with Murtagh and Winnie in the deep window
recess, silently looking out at the wet steps and the dark figures
faintly illuminated by the yellow light of the carriage lamps.

The three little hearts were very full, but not a word was spoken till
at last Cousin Jane called, "Come now, sonnie! we're nearly ready."

At the sound of her voice Frankie turned slowly away from the
window; then, throwing his arms round Murtagh's neck, he kissed him
passionately three or four times. "Good-by," he whispered, "good-by!"
But there seemed to be something else he wanted to say. His deep
brown eyes were fixed upon Murtagh's face with a wistful, yearning
earnestness that made Murtagh, with one of his sudden impulses of
tenderness, pass his arm round Frankie's neck and whisper, "Never mind,
you'll soon come back!"

Winnie, who had been watching the preparations with a half-angry
feeling, suddenly felt a choking lump rise in her throat. She took one
of Frankie's hands, but Frankie seemed scarcely to notice her, and,
drawing a long breath, he continued in a rapid whisper:

"Myrrh, I must tell you now, because perhaps this is the last. I think
I'm dying; and I'm very glad, because you'll be much richer. They told
me about it when they wanted me to get well. And if I die before I come
back, you're to have my pony, and Winnie has Royal. And--and you won't
forget all about me, because I do love you so!" His voice faltered, and
neither Winnie nor Murtagh could speak. "I will always remember you
there," he added in a still lower whisper; "being dead can't make me
forget."

One last silent kiss from both the children, and he went slowly
towards the carriage trying to hide his emotion from his mother and
sister. Murtagh and Winnie forgot that any one was there, and tears
trickled unheeded over their cheeks as they stood together on the
threshold watching the little wasted figure descend the steps.

Royal was standing by the carriage. He understood the meaning of the
boxes, and looked wistfully from his little master to Winnie as if
uncertain which to forsake. Frankie stooped and kissed him. "Good-by,
Royal," he said; "you are hers now; mind you take good care of her.
Winnie," with a faint attempt to smile as he turned again to his
cousins, "I know you'll take good care of him."

The carriages drove away, and Brown not noticing the two children, shut
the hall door. They stood on the wet steps looking through the darkness
at the swiftly disappearing lights. They were too shocked and, as it
were, stunned by Frankie's words to be able to realize all at once what
they meant; but slowly, slowly, the full meaning dawned upon them.
They were never to see little Frankie again. They had said their last
good-by.

"Win, it can't be true! it can't be true!" exclaimed Murtagh.

"Oh, Myrrh, isn't it _dreadful_ being children?" cried Winnie. "We
can't go with him. Oh, I do hate Mr. Plunkett. I do hate him, so I do!"
And Winnie, who seldom cried, threw herself down on the steps in a
passion of tears.



CHAPTER XXIV.


The end was nearer than even the doctors had expected. Frankie caught
cold on the journey, and two or three days after his departure a
broken-hearted letter came from his poor mother saying that they were
at an hotel in Dublin; they could get no further, for Frankie was
dangerously ill. It was the first time she had ever admitted that there
was danger in his illness, and when Mr. Blair gave the letter to Nessa
to read, he said: "It was a matter of months before, now I am afraid it
is a matter of days. Poor Jane!"

Poor Jane, indeed! Even while Mr. Blair was speaking, she was sitting
in dumb despair in the darkened hotel bedroom holding her dead son's
hand in hers. But at Castle Blair they did not yet know this, and
neither Mr. Blair nor Nessa had thought it necessary to communicate
to the children the bad news they had received of little Frankie's
state. On the contrary, Nessa kindly devoted herself to cheering and
amusing them in order that they might feel as little as possible the
disappointment of not accompanying their cousin.

In this instance she succeeded marvelously. Winnie and Murtagh began
to forget the trouble into which Frankie's words had thrown them. When
they were alone and quiet it came back to them, but they had repeated
to no one what he had said, and somehow in the midst of all their
occupations the words began to seem unreal.

So it happened that three or four days after Frankie's departure, the
children, having been with Nessa and Royal for a scramble across the
fields, came in quite rosy with racing, and in a mood to think of some
improvements that they desired to make in the fireplace of the island
hut.

"There's no time like the present," said Murtagh, and as the others
were of his opinion they left Nessa to enter the house alone, and
started off with Royal to spend the rest of the afternoon upon the
island.

Nessa was glad to be alone. Good-natured as she was, she was too little
accustomed to children's society not to be a little fatigued by it, and
to-day, especially, for though she had not chosen to seem one bit less
bright, she had thought often of Cousin Jane's sad letter about little
Frankie.

She was thinking of it again now as she stood by the schoolroom window.
But Nessa did not pay much attention to the landscape. She was thinking
of the bright, gentle little boy who had so lately been with them, and
she, too, felt awed at the thought of death. But she could not believe
that he would die; it seemed impossible.

No, no, it would not be; he would get well; he could not die when his
mother loved him so. So she persuaded herself; but when, after standing
a long while by the window, she happened to look out, the gray dampness
of the landscape made her shudder, she did not quite know why, and with
a sudden impulsive movement she pulled down the blind. She came over
to the fire and poked it into a blaze. Poor little fellow! But, yes,
she felt certain he would get well. In Dublin he would be near the best
doctors.

She rang for Peggy to put the room in order, and went up-stairs to take
her things off and to fetch a book. A quarter of an hour later she was
comfortably established on the big brown sofa by the fire, and her
unpleasant impressions were forgotten in a book that interested her
immensely.

But as she was coming to the very climax of the story she was startled
out of her abstraction by Peggy's entrance with a tray of rattling
tea-things.

"It wants ten minutes of dinner-time, Miss," remarked that maiden in a
tone of respectful admonition.

"What!" exclaimed Nessa. "The whole afternoon gone already! And the
children, too; they have not come in!"

But there was no time for exclamations; climax or no climax, the nine
pages that remained of her book had to be left till after dinner; and,
as it was, her evening toilette had to be made with a truly fairylike
rapidity.

When after dinner she returned to the schoolroom and found tea still
untouched, she only concluded that their fireplace had taken longer to
build than they had expected.

Her mind was still full of her book, and having piled fresh wood upon
the fire, she settled down contentedly to finish it.

The children left her just time. She was reading the last lines, when
a banging of doors, a sudden clatter of little feet across the hall, a
confusion of voices and laughter mixed with the short, playful barks
of a dog, announced that they were coming. The next minute Bobbo burst
open the schoolroom door and rushed in, followed by the two girls, all
rosy--laughing, panting, and all trying to talk at the same time. Royal
jumped round them and barked in chorus, till the sounds became so mixed
that it was difficult to say who was barking and who was talking.

"Down, Royal; be quiet, my beauty!" cried Winnie, at last, while
Bobbo exclaimed: "Oh, Nessa, we've had such fun, and Royal behaved
so splendidly. You never saw such a dog. He does every single thing
Winnie tells. He's the best king of our tribe we could possibly have;
he flew at them like--Oh, it was glorious to see how they ran!"

Here all the children again tried to tell what had happened, and
Bobbo's voice was lost in the Babel that ensued.

Nessa had shut up her book on their entrance, and laughingly put her
hands to her ears.

"How can I hear a single word," she exclaimed, "if you all talk at
once?"

"All right; give me something to eat, and I'll be as quiet as a lamb,"
cried Bobbo, sitting down to the tea-table as he spoke, and seizing
upon some bread and butter. "I _am_ starving."

"But do just listen," cried Winnie. "It was such fun to see them.
You'd have thought Royal was a wild bea--Oh, where's the milk?" she
exclaimed, suddenly interrupting herself. "He must have some supper."

"Here's the milk," said Nessa. "And where is Murtagh? And what is it
that Royal has done?"

"Oh, Murtagh! He'll be here in a minute. Well, we were on the island,
and we'd got some big stones out of the river, and we were building
away when we heard some one coming. First we thought it was you, and
we thought that was jolly, so we called out: 'Here we are, awfully
busy. Are you going to help us?' But then Royal jumped up and began to
growl, and a man called back again: 'I think we'll help ye with the
wrong sides of our shovels;' and lo and behold! there were two of the
men--Hickey and that red-headed donkey, Phelim--with picks and shovels
on their shoulders, and would you like to know what they wanted?"

Nessa looked her surprise and attention, but did not even attempt to
guess the preposterous design.

"To pull down our hut!" shouted all the children together. "Our own
very hut that we've had ever since we came here!"

Bobbo opportunely choked over a mouthful of toast, and Rosie patted
his back, while Winnie continued: "Did you ever hear of such a thing
in your life? There was a wall to be mended somewhere, they said, and
Mr. Plunkett had told them to take the stones from our hut. But we soon
let them see their mistake. We told them they might go to London for
their stones if they liked, but they weren't going to have one of ours.
Phelim began to laugh in his stupid, aggravating way, and he said: 'Oh,
ay, we've found our master now, you know, and what he says has got to
be. The quality is no account at all now alongside o' the agents.'

"So then Murtagh started up from the fireplace and he came to the door,
and he said: 'All the agents in Ireland may go to the bottom of the
sea for all I care. But if you touch one stone of the hut, I'll set
the dog upon you.' And Royal knew quite well what Murtagh was saying,
for he wagged his tail and looked as pleased as possible. Phelim was
frightened; but Hickey said he couldn't help it, and he came up nearer
to the hut; and Murtagh called out to him to stay where he was. And
Royal growled; he growled just like a _bear_, so he did. And Hickey
would come on. So then Murtagh and me called out, 'At them, Royal; good
dog!' and he sprang straight at them.

"They both turned and ran; but just as they got to the edge of the
island he seized Phelim, and down he went with him into the river.
Oh, Nessa, if you could have seen Phelim!" continued Winnie, with a
merry peal of laughter. "His great red head went down and his heels
went up; there was a tremendous splashing and gurgling, and then he
roared! he roared just like a child, at the very top of his voice,
and Royal--Royal laughed at him! he did, really, upon my word; we all
saw him; he regularly shook himself with laughing; because he got out
of the water and stood on the bank, and Phelim sat there in the river
just roaring till--till--" But the remembrance of the scene made Winnie
laugh so much that her words became incoherent.

"Till Hickey pulled him out, and they both took themselves off," said
Murtagh's voice behind her.

"And Royal?" said Nessa, laughing.

"Oh," said Winnie, recovering herself, "Royal was too much of a
gentleman to have anything more to say to him; only when Hickey was
going to help him up, Royal ran at Hickey; so then Hickey took to his
heels, and so did Phelim, and Royal just stood on the shore and barked
and barked as much as to say, 'You know what you have to expect if you
come worrying my tribe.' Didn't you, my beauty?" and Winnie's story
ended with a hug to Royal as she knelt down before him with his supper.

"But you had better take care," said Nessa, "or you will be getting
Royal into trouble."

"Oh," said Winnie, "that doesn't matter. You're my precious one, and
nobody can touch you without my leave."

While Winnie continued to speak, Murtagh had flung himself silently
into a great arm-chair by the window, and Nessa saw by his face and
manner that he was in one of his proud, angry moods. She attended
to the wants of the other children, who were ravenously hungry, and
then seeing that he did not stir, she said, "Your tea is poured out,
Murtagh."

"I don't want any tea, thank you," replied Murtagh, from the depths of
his arm-chair.

Then ashamed, perhaps, of the tone in which he had spoken, he sprang up
and came to the table.

"But let me cut the bread and butter for them," he said, taking the
loaf from her; "see what red marks the knife makes on your hands." He
looked up as he spoke with a pleasant smile.

"Did you ever know any one like Mr. Plunkett?" remarked Rosie. "Just
imagine him wanting to take the stones of our hut!"

"He's not going to get them," said Murtagh, shortly, his brow clouding
over again.

"It's the most ridiculous idea I ever heard in my life!" exclaimed
Winnie,--"knock down our hut that we've had ever since we've been here,
to mend some silly old wall. They'll be knocking down this house next
to build up Mr. Plunkett's. I think they've all gone mad."

"And besides," said Murtagh, "papa built that hut with his own hands
when he was a little boy. He told us all about it before we came here.
Pat O'Toole's father helped him, and they collected every single stone
that's in it one by one out of the river. It took them more than six
months getting all the stones, and building."

"Why don't you tell that to Uncle Blair?" said Nessa. "You may be quite
sure nobody remembers who built it, or they would not pull it down
to mend a wall. Shall I tell him for you this evening and ask him to
explain to Mr. Plunkett?"

Murtagh's face relaxed a little, and Rosie exclaimed:

"Oh, yes, do. I think it's much nicer to be a peaceful tribe. It is so
like savages, fighting and fighting."

"Listen to Rosie talking good!" burst out Winnie, contemptuously. "Do
you suppose Nessa means we ought to try and not fight, just to make
ourselves more comfortable?"

Rosie reddened, but made some sharp reply, and then ensued one of their
ordinary sparring matches, while Nessa, paying no attention to them,
was busy at the fire toasting a slice of bread.

The sparring passed into a din of continuous remarks which every one
made and nobody listened to; but Murtagh stood silent cutting bread,
till Nessa returned from the fire, and a plate of buttered toast was
laid on the table beside him, with a smiling, "After all, I believe you
are hungry, Murtagh." Then he took a bit of toast, and continued in the
same tone as his last remark:

"Papa knows the shape of every one of the biggest stones. He made a
picture for us once, of the inside of the hut, and he used to tell us
stories in the evenings when there wasn't any one there, about his
adventures when he went in the river looking for stones."

"And you know that three-cornered white one, just a little bit on the
right-hand side, inside the door!" cried Winnie. "Well, he was nearly
drowned getting that. They thought he was drowned first, only Grannie
O'Toole got him round (she's dead now, you know), and they never told
papa's papa and mamma, for fear they mightn't let him go in the river
for any more."

"And then," said Murtagh, his anger rising again at the remembrance,
"they think they're going to get it to put in some beastly wall. But
Mr. Plunkett's greatly mistaken if he supposes I'm going to let him
touch a single one of papa's stones."

"Not while we have Royal to protect us," said Winnie. "I'd rather stay
up there day and night."

"There's one thing," put in Bobbo, "even if he did get the stones, we
could knock the wall down and take them back and hide them."

"He'll get a good many duckings from Royal before he gets a stone out
of the hut," returned Murtagh, fiercely. "And if he's held under a
little too long by mistake, it would be a good riddance," he added,
half under his breath.

"Murtagh!" exclaimed Nessa, almost involuntary, but in a tone that
expressed her dismay.

"I _can't_ help it," returned Murtagh, "he makes me feel--" And the
tone of Murtagh's voice finished his sentence for him.

"Come and sit by the fire, and let us try and forget all about him
just for the present. It is no use to talk about him, is it?" she said
kindly.

"Do you know what I have been doing all this afternoon?" she remarked
presently. "I have been reading the most wonderful--But no, you shall
just guess. Guess what it was about."

"Easy to guess," said Winnie, "if you got it out of the library. Some
horrible dry stuff or other, out of a book a yard long."

"No, it wasn't," said Nessa. "The book was not bigger than one of your
story-books, and--"

"Horrid squinny little print, then, and yellow paper all over stains,"
replied Winnie, laughing. "_I_ know Uncle Blair's books; they make one
feel dusty to look at them."

"No, it wasn't," replied Nessa, shaking her head. "It had--well, yes,
it had a dreadfully ugly binding, but lovely white paper."

"Long _s_'s," suggested Murtagh.

"Oh, yes, yes," cried Winnie. "Long _s_'s, and funny little pictures
of girls with parasols over their heads and trousers down to their
boots. Now wasn't it, Nessa?"

"No," said Nessa, laughing, "not one single long _s_, and the pictures
were all of robber castles in the mountains, and men fighting, and
women fainting, and shipwrecks, and dungeons."

"Oh, I say, how jolly!" exclaimed Bobbo. "That's something like a book.
What was it all about?"

"Couldn't you tell us some of it?" said Rosie. "It's so nice being told
stories."

"Oh, yes," cried Winnie. "If it's something dreadful, do please tell
us. I feel just in the very humor to put out the candles and poke
up the fire, and have something--something that'll make our flesh
regularly creep and our hair stand up."

Nessa was not accustomed to story-telling, but she acquitted herself
wonderfully well. Sure that the subject would charm the children, she
was delighted to find something which would take them completely out of
their everyday troubles.

Murtagh alone paid little attention. His thoughts were full of his
own troubles, and he lay on the hearth-rug brooding over them with
a bitterness that excluded every other feeling. Soon, however, some
sentences that he overheard aroused his interest. He began to listen,
and before she had gone very far, he had rolled himself over and was
lying stretched out at her feet, his elbows planted firmly on the
ground, his chin resting on his hands, and his burning black eyes fixed
upon her face with an expression that might well have startled her had
she seen it.

Murtagh's face as she proceeded was a curious study. It seemed at first
with restless indignation to reflect every passion she described, but
when she began to speak of John of Procida, and entered upon his
resolute and devoted efforts for the freedom of his country, there
came over it an eager, exalted look, a look of fixed and passionate
sympathy, that never faded till she brought the story to its climax.

"I would rather read you the end," she said, pausing to look down at
their flushed faces, and eager eyes, and tousled heads, ruddy in the
firelight. "The book will tell it better than I can."

The book was still on the sofa; she had only to open it. The children,
all wondering what was to come next, were too much interested to speak,
and she read:

"In the year 1282, Easter Monday fell on the 30th of March. The people
of Palermo, according to their custom on holidays, flocked out in
hundreds to the meadows in the direction of the church of Montreal,
intending to hear vespers and to witness also the marriage of a
beautiful young girl, the daughter of one Roger Mastrangelo.

"Mixed among the crowd of Sicilians were many Frenchmen who had come
out to see the marriage and to join in the games that were to fill
the evening. But, as usual, the French were behaving roughly to the
Sicilian men and impudently to the women, causing the Sicilian faces to
look black and angry.

"It was one of the vexatious laws of the French that no Sicilian should
carry arms, and presently a Frenchman cried out:

"'These rebellious Paterins must have arms hidden upon them or they
would never dare to look so sulky. Let us search them.'

"The idea was instantly caught up, and in another moment the festival
would have been disturbed by a general search, when an admiring murmur
running through the crowd turned all thoughts to another direction.
The bride was coming, and every one turned to look.

"Dressed in her pretty wedding finery, her gold ornaments glinting in
the sunlight, she leaned upon her father's arm, while her lover and
the friends who were asked to the wedding walked behind; blushing and
smiling she advanced towards the church. Suddenly a Frenchman stepped
out of the crowd, and crying out with a coarse laugh, 'I daresay she
has got arms hidden about her somewhere,' he tore open her dress and
thrust his hand into her bosom. Terrified and insulted the poor girl
fainted into her lover's arms, but her father sprang upon the offender,
and tearing his sword from him stabbed him with it, crying as he did
so, 'Let the French die.'

"Then every Sicilian in the place echoed the shout, 'Let the French
die.' They had broken at last from their slavery, and more like wild
beasts than men they took their revenge. In a moment the French were
overpowered. Their arms were dragged from them and they were killed
with their own swords. Back into the town went the Sicilians shouting
everywhere, 'Let the French die,' and before they laid down their arms
that evening they had killed four thousand."

Murtagh's eyes were fixed eagerly upon Nessa, and as her voice ceased
he drew himself up suddenly on to his knees and exclaimed:

"Oh, how I wish I had been there! I _would_ have fought with all my
might and main against those mean French thieves. Did John of Procida
succeed in the end?"

"Yes," said Nessa. As she answered she looked at him and was startled
by the almost feverish interest of his face. His cheeks were flushed,
his eyes bright, and he continued with rapid, passionate utterance:

"How could they bear it so long? How could they live not free in their
own beautiful country? But John of Procida was true, he was brave; he
knew that it is better to die than to live like slaves."

The other children looked at him in surprise; his enthusiasm had
astonished them too.

"Why, Murtagh," said Rosie, "how awfully hot you look! your cheeks are
as red as fire."

"Yes," said Nessa, bending forward and arranging his hair that was
standing up on end, "I think you are quite excited by my story."

"If you please, Miss," said Brown, at the door, "tea has been in the
drawing-room for a quarter of an hour, and Mr. Blair desired me to let
you know."

Murtagh started up.

"Why, Nessa, I had no idea it was so late!" he said, with a certain
amount of ordinary surprise in his voice, but his eyes still full of
suppressed excitement. "Good night," and without more words he went.

His abrupt departure disturbed Nessa; she feared that with the
intention of distracting his thoughts she had really excited him too
much.

Her disquietude would not have lessened if she had been able to see
into Murtagh's mind.

He had entered the schoolroom in a tumult of rage, indignation, and
rebellion. Bitterly repentant for the scene in the barn-yard which
had caused so much unhappiness, he believed that it was nothing but
deliberate persecution on Mr. Plunkett's part to pretend still to
consider him guilty.

With his wild little heart stirred to these depths he had listened
to Nessa's story. The barbaric independence, the despairing savage
struggle for freedom of the oppressed and devoted Sicilians, had
appealed to his imagination in a way that it would have done at no
other time. His own spirit seemed to be put in action; his wrongs were
somehow merged in theirs; and in the tempest of their vengeance he was
whirled along, feeling almost as though he too were at last taking just
revenge for all the injuries that rankled in his mind.

Alone in his room he walked up and down in the darkness, absently
undressing, and dropping the various articles of his clothing upon
the floor. Absorbed as he was he could not have told his thoughts;
they scarcely were thoughts at all; his mind was carried along by some
stronger power. Nessa's story possessed him; he was living in that, and
confusedly mixed up with it was the indignant remembrance of his own
troubles.

At last he threw himself upon his bed, but too excited to sleep he
tossed and turned for hours, seeing over and over again in the darkness
all the details of the story. Unconsciously he fell into imagining
himself the leader of the Sicilians; he felt the enthusiasm and the
savage joy that must have burned in them. His cheeks grew hot, his eyes
flashed, as with vivid fancy he saw the fighting round him; the only
thing worth doing in this world seemed to be to die for freedom, and
through all the excitement there flashed across his mind, from time to
time, a feeling of something like impatient despair at the thought that
there was nothing for him to do.



CHAPTER XXV.


Towards morning Murtagh fell into a disturbed sleep; but almost before
daybreak he was awakened by Bobbo, who exclaimed as he shook him by the
shoulder:

"Get up, Myrrh! We'd better be on the island early if we want to save
the hut."

In an instant Murtagh was out of bed. Save the hut! whatever else he
might give in about he would never relinquish that,--their father's hut.

The passionate thoughts of the night before had now assumed the form of
a dogged determination to resist Mr. Plunkett, and a pleasant sense of
anticipated triumph tingled through his veins as he hurriedly dressed
himself. All the miserable abasement of yesterday's anger was gone. He
was going to fight now!

With his head thrown back and a confident, determined look upon his
face he ran down the stairs, saying to Bobbo: "Call the girls, while I
fetch Royal. We shall see who'll be master this time!"

"But what are you going to do, Murtagh?" inquired Rosie, with a note of
fretful disappointment in her voice. It really was an unkind fate which
had made her the sister of such a brother. She had not the least taste
for adventures.

"You'll see when the time comes," replied Murtagh, whose ideas were in
truth very vague. He felt only sure of one thing, which was that he
meant to do something.

"I don't mind what it is," said Winnie; "I'm ready for anything!"

"So am I," said Bobbo; "only I vote we don't hurt the poor beggars if
we can help it."

"No; because it's not their fault you know, Myrrh," decided Winnie.

"No; but we can't let them land here!" replied Murtagh, determinately.
"If they will get hurt, we can't help it. Now look here, we had better
collect a lot of bits of wood, and clods, and things, and pile them up
in front here, where we can get at them easily. They are sure to come
up this front way."

"Oh," cried Winnie, in delight, "you're going to pelt them! Then let us
get some of that stiff yellow mud from the bank. It will do gloriously!"

"Here they come!" cried Murtagh, springing from his seat by the fire
and hurrying out to reconnoitre.

The others hastily followed. Through a gap in the bushes they saw two
empty carts coming down the road. The driver of each was seated on the
shaft smoking a short pipe, and in the corner of one of the carts were
visible the handles of picks and mallets.

"Yes," exclaimed Murtagh, "it's them! Now we're in for it! Royal, old
boy, are you ready?"

The faces of the other children beamed with excitement. Royal
understood well enough that something unusual was the matter, for he
answered Murtagh's appeal by a short yap and a pricking up of his ears
which meant business. Even Rosie was so carried away by the excitement
of the approaching battle as to exclaim in sympathy with Winnie's
dancing eyes, "Isn't it jolly?"

The carts stopped on the road, and the men taking their tools began
leisurely to descend through the little wood into the bed of the river.

"Now then, steady!" said Murtagh. "I'll talk to them first." He
advanced as he spoke along the little path, and standing at the edge of
the river he called out in a loud firm voice to know what they wanted.

The men were evidently somewhat discomfited at finding the island
already occupied, and Hickey replied evasively, "Sure, Mr. Murtagh, we
didn't expect to find you up here."

"What do you want here?" repeated Murtagh.

"Well, Mr. Plunkett's sent us for a load o' them stones, and you know
orders is orders, so you'll let us have them quiet, like a good young
gentleman, won't you, now? Ye've had yer bit o' play yesterday evenin',
and there's no gettin' on with work when ye're hindered that way!"

"I told you yesterday that you shouldn't touch our hut," replied
Murtagh, "and you shan't! Mr. Plunkett may get his stones from the
quarry."

"It's no good standin' blathering here!" exclaimed Phelim, roughly.
"We've got to have the stones, and there's an end of it! Come on,
Hickey. We got the measure of Mr. Plunkett's tongue last night, and I
don't want no more of it!"

"Take that for your impudence!" cried Bobbo, who without waiting
for more snatched a stick from the heap of missiles and flung it at
Phelim's head.

The stick flew harmlessly past, but a shout from the other children
echoed Bobbo's words, and a rapid volley of mud-balls, sticks, and
clods of earth saluted the onward advance of the men. So true was the
aim, and so hard and fast did the children pelt, that Hickey and Phelim
ran for shelter round the point of the island, and tried to effect a
landing on the other side.

But on the other side the water was deeper, and the only standing-room
was on a belt of shingle close to the shore of the island. The children
knew this well, and when the men emerged upon it from behind the
protecting screen of bushes they were greeted with such a shower of
missiles, that Phelim, whose courage had been considerably undermined
by the sound of Royal's excited barking, turned and fled blindly into
the water.

As he lost his footing and rolled over in the water deep enough
to souse him completely, the children raised a prolonged shout of
triumph, and redoubled their efforts to dislodge Hickey, who, while
returning their attack with whatever he could lay his hands on, was
good-humoredly swearing at them and imploring them to stop their fun.

Suddenly in the midst of all the hubbub, over the noise of the
children's shouting, Royal's barking, Hickey's swearing, Phelim's
lamenting, a stern--"What's the meaning of all this uproar?" made
itself heard, and Mr. Plunkett in shooting costume burst through the
bushes on the right bank of the river.

Missiles were flying in every direction, and the only immediate
answer to Mr. Plunkett's question was a mud-ball which hit him on the
forehead, and a stick that carried away his hat.

He put his hand angrily to his head, and losing all his habitual
command of language, exclaimed, "What the devil do you mean by this?"

"We mean," cried Murtagh, who was perfectly wild with excitement, "that
we won't have our rights interfered with, and you may just as well
know, once for all, that we won't have this hut touched if all the
walls in Ireland go unmended."

"Don't be impertinent to me, sir; you'll have whatever you are told to
have," returned Mr. Plunkett, hotly.

"Where are you going?" he inquired of the men, who, taking advantage
of the cessation of active hostilities, were slinking off towards the
carts.

"Please, sir, them stones is no good at all at all," Hickey ventured in
answer; "they're all rubbish, every one of them, not worth the carting."

"I didn't ask your opinion of the stones. I told you to fetch them. A
set of lazy scoundrels! I believe you're every one of you in league to
prevent anything being decently done," exclaimed Mr. Plunkett.

"League or no league, the hut shall not be touched!" reiterated Murtagh.

"We shall very soon see that," returned Mr. Plunkett. "Go on to the
island, and pull it down at once," he added, turning to the men. "I
stand here till the work is begun."

"I'll set the dog on the first one of you who attempts to land," said
Murtagh, resolutely.

"Do you hear what I say to you?" demanded Mr. Plunkett, as the men
stood doubtfully eying Royal, who was furiously barking.

"Please, sir, the dog's very savage; he nearly killed Phelim last
night," said Hickey, apologetically.

"You pair of cowards! do you mean to tell me you are afraid of the
dog?" exclaimed Mr. Plunkett, contemptuously.

The men did not answer.

"Do you wish me to begin it myself?" demanded Mr. Plunkett, angrily. "I
tell you that hut has to be pulled down before I leave this spot."

He moved along the bank, and prepared to jump on to a little island of
shingle that lay in the bed of the stream.

"If you come one step nearer, I'll set Royal upon you," cried Murtagh,
roused to the last pitch of defiance.

He and Winnie were both of them holding on to Royal's collar, and it
was only with difficulty that they could restrain the dog.

"If you set your wild dog upon me, I give you fair warning that I will
shoot him," retorted Mr. Plunkett.

"As if you dare!" cried Winnie, incredulously.

Mr. Plunkett's only answer was to spring on to the shingle.

"At him, Royal!" cried Winnie and Murtagh, in a breath, loosing their
hold as they spoke. With a furious growl Royal bounded into the river.
Almost instantaneously Mr. Plunkett raised his gun. There was a loud
report, then a piteous whine; the little cloud of smoke cleared away;
there was a broad red streak in the water; and Royal turned his dying
eyes reproachfully to Winnie.

"Oh, Murtagh! He's done it, he's done it!" she cried, with a beseeching
disbelief in her voice that went even to Mr. Plunkett's heart, and
though the water was over her ankles she dashed across to the shingle
bank.

"Help me to take him out, Murtagh. Don't you see the water's carrying
him down? He can't help himself. Royal, darling, I didn't mean it; I
didn't think he would. Where are you hurt? oh, why can't you speak?"

The current swept the dog towards her, she managed to throw her arms
round his neck and to get his head rested upon her shoulder, while
Bobbo and Murtagh going in to her assistance tried to lift his body.
But he groaned so piteously at their somewhat clumsy attempt that they
stopped, and all three stood still, and in speechless dismay watched
the wounded dog. Royal seemed more content, and from his resting-place
on Winnie's shoulder licked away the tears that were rolling down her
face. But after a time the children's wet feet began to grow numb, and
Winnie looked up and signed to Murtagh to try and move him now.

He groaned again. For a moment he seemed to struggle convulsively, his
head fell off Winnie's shoulder, his eyes looked up appealingly to
hers, his limbs suddenly straightened, and then he was quite quiet as
the children supported him through the water, and tried tenderly to
lift him on to the bank. He was too heavy for them, and Mr. Plunkett,
his hot anger past, came forward saying, almost humbly, "Let me help
you;" but though the children none of them answered, they turned their
faces from him in such an unmistakable manner that he fell back and
signed to one of the men to go and help them in his place.

Thus Royal was lifted on to the right bank of the river; and Winnie,
sitting on the ground, took his head into her lap. But he never moved
nor groaned; he was so unnaturally still that a dim terror entered into
the children's minds. Winnie stooped down to kiss him; as she did so
her fear became a certainty.

"Murtagh," she said, raising a white frightened face, "he--he's killed
him."

Murtagh made no answer, but falling on his knees beside Royal, he laid
his cheek against the dog's muzzle to feel if there were any breath.
Then his mournful eyes and sad shake of the head confirmed Winnie's
words. Mr. Plunkett and the two men had known it for some minutes; but
as Mr. Plunkett stood watching the group of children he felt a strange,
unusual moisture rising to his eyes, and he turned and walked away.

As they realized that the dog was dead, Rosie and Bobbo began to cry;
the other two sat dry-eyed, gazing at Royal.

The men stood one side for a few moments, but then they came forward
and began to make remarks and offer consolation.

"He was a beautiful creathure," said Hickey, "and indeed it would serve
old Plunkett right if he got shot with the very same gun. But there,
don't take on so, bless yer hearts; the master'll get yez another dog
as fine as ever this was."

While Pat was speaking Phelim stooped down, and idly taking one of
Royal's paws, shook it slowly backwards and forwards. Winnie put out
her hand to prevent the sacrilege, and looking up at Murtagh said,
"Take them away, Murtagh, all of them."

"We'd better take the dog with us and bury him," said Phelim; "a big
dog like that'll want buryin'."

"No, no," cried Murtagh, with a quick glance towards Winnie, which
seemed to say he would have protected her from the words if he could.
"Come away, all of you, and leave her alone."

And so Winnie was left sitting on the ground with her dead dog's head
resting on her lap. Bobbo and Rosie returned to the house to tell the
sad news to Nessa. The two men went to find Mr. Plunkett, but Murtagh
wandered away by himself into the woods higher up the river.

The men having found Mr. Plunkett at home inquired what they were to do
about the hut. Was it to be taken down?

"Yes, of course."



CHAPTER XXVI.


Murtagh in the meantime wandered alone through the woods above the
island. The defense of the hut was quite forgotten, and every other
feeling was cut short by horror. The shock of Royal's death had been
so sudden, so totally inconceivable beforehand, that it was only with
great difficulty he could realize it now. His mind seemed in a measure
benumbed. He went backwards and forwards through the woods with his
hands thrust deep into his pockets. Dead leaves fluttered down upon
his bare head and lay in golden drift on either side as his feet cut
furrows through the gathered layers, sunlight glinted through the
branches, a few birds were singing in the clear air; but it might have
been snowing for all Murtagh knew to the contrary.

A kind of instinct to be with Winnie in her trouble led his footsteps
after a time back to where she had been left, and the first outward
sounds which woke him from his abstraction were her violent sobs. A
thin screen of branches had prevented him from seeing her as he came
up, but now he looked through it and saw her lying upon the ground, her
arms thrown round Royal, her face buried in his dark curly coat, and
her whole body shaken with emotion.

"Royal, darling, you're not dead! You can't be dead, really!" she cried
passionately. Then, as her own sobs were the only sound and Royal lay
stiff and cold beneath them, she wailed out, "How could he do it? How
could he murder you?"

"Don't cry so, Win," he said, laying his face down on her head.

After a minute Winnie replied between her sobs: "Go away, please. I'd
rather be here. You can't ever make him alive again!"

For one moment she raised a face so swollen and tear-stained that
Murtagh was startled at the sight of it; but shaking back her hair she
dropped again into her former position with such evident desire to be
alone that Murtagh got up and went slowly into the wood.

He never remembered to have seen Winnie cry so and he could not bear to
think of her alone there without any comfort. He did not venture back
to her again, but he wandered about near where she lay, trying to think
of something to do to comfort her. At last he could bear it no longer,
and after watching her for a long time he called almost timidly:

"Win!"

She did not move. He called her a little louder, then a third and a
fourth time, but still she gave no kind of answer. His heart stood
still with a vague fear, and, scarcely knowing what he expected to see,
he went close and gently lifted some of the brown hair that fell in
confusion over her shoulder. She was fast asleep. Her head still rested
upon Royal's shaggy curls, one arm was thrown round him, and the little
face looked so white upon its rough black pillow that Murtagh bent very
close before he could feel sure that she was only asleep. Then he could
hardly have explained the relief that he felt. He thought he would go
and get Nessa to come before she wakened again, so he left her and went
towards the house.

But the day was far from finished yet; there was worse to come.

As he got down into the pleasure ground he was met by Rosie, her face
swollen and stained with crying.

"Oh, Murtagh!" she exclaimed. "Where have you been all day? I've been
hunting for you everywhere to tell you. Poor Frankie's dead; it came by
the telegraph to-day."

She burst out crying again as she spoke, but Murtagh did not. He looked
at her blankly as though he did not take in the sense of the words, and
then he said, "What?"

"Frankie's dead," she repeated, "and they never thought it would be so
sudden."

"Where's Nessa?" said poor Murtagh, with a confused, bewildered feeling
that she would somehow contradict this.

"In the drawing-room," replied Rosie, and she turned and followed
Murtagh.

"Don't you want to cry, Murtagh?" she asked curiously, after a minute.
"Bobbo is crying so, poor fellow, up in his own room. It is so
dreadful, too, isn't it, to think--" Here her tears overpowered her
again and she spoke no more.

At the drawing-room door Murtagh was met by Nessa. He could not speak,
and she, seeing that he knew all, just put her arms round him and
kissed him tenderly.

For an instant he clung to her, and a great sob shook his body, but
then he disengaged himself and looked up still dry-eyed.

"Winnie," he said; "come to her while she's asleep. And--and don't tell
her, or she won't come away all night."

"You'll be cold. I'll go and fetch your--" He put his hands up to
his temples with a dazed kind of expression as though he could not
remember the words he wanted, and added with an effort--"your coat and
things."

He rushed up the stairs and returned with Nessa's hat and jacket. He
helped her into them, and then they set off together for the wood.
Nessa stretched out her hand for his, and they went hand in hand the
whole way, but something in Murtagh's manner prevented a word from
being spoken.

It was almost dark when they reached the spot where Royal lay. They
found Winnie still lying beside him, but she was awake now and seemed
calmer. She sat up when she saw them; Nessa knelt down beside her and
kissed her; and though her tears began to flow again they were quieter
and more natural.

"You must come home now, dear," said Nessa after a little time, gently
laying her cheek against the troubled face that rested upon her
shoulder, and almost unconsciously tightening the clasp of her arms as
she thought of the new trouble waiting at home.

Murtagh had stood watching them in silence, and now he only said, "We
will cover him with branches." He picked a branch of fir as he spoke
and gently laid it upon Royal's body. But there was in his tone such
resolute putting on one side of his own grief, such perfect patient
tenderness for Winnie, that Nessa could contain her tears no longer,
and she fairly sobbed.

She recovered herself immediately, and her tears served to compose
Winnie, who kissed her and got up and helped Murtagh to put the
covering upon Royal. The last branch was soon laid upon his head, and
then Winnie went slowly away with Nessa. But Murtagh stayed behind
and plunged again into the wood, where flinging himself upon the
ground, he gave way to all his grief. It was not only grief for Frankie
which brought those short fierce sobs and then the long bursts of
tears--tears that ran down unheeded into the ground on which he lay. It
was everything altogether that made the child so supremely miserable.

How long he lay there he did not know, but night had come when at last
sick and exhausted he sat up and leaned against a tree.

It was time to be going home, but he could not face the schoolroom
full of children. He would sleep there, he thought; and he was lying
down again at the foot of the tree, when it occurred to him that the
hut would be a better place. So he got up, and with some difficulty,
because of the darkness, he crossed the river and groped his way to
where the little island path made an opening in the thick brushwood.
He drew himself up the bank and advanced slowly, stretching out his
hands to feel for the door. He groped about unable, of course, to find
it, till presently his foot struck against something, a covered fire
apparently, for a shower of sparks flew upwards. He jumped to one side,
and a bright blaze flaming out displayed to his astounded eyes the
scattered rubbish, which was all that remained of their beloved hut.
The stones had been taken away, but the door and broken pieces of the
roof lay there upon the ground.

"The coward! he has taken advantage of--"

"Ay, and it isn't only your little play-place he's turned you out
of," said a familiar voice behind him in the bushes, "but my father
and mother's to be turned out of the place they've held backwards and
forwards this hundred years, because they can't pay the rent since it's
riz upon them last Michaelmas."

Murtagh started and turned round to see Pat O'Toole standing in the
full blaze of the firelight.

"Oh, Pat, Pat," he cried, springing towards him, "you've come back at
last!"

"I couldn't stop away at all," he replied. "I was up in the mountains,
and one and another of the boys gave me food, but I used to come down
o' nights, an' one night my mother was out fetching the goat, and the
tears were running down as she walked along, and so I couldn't help
it at all, but I just up and told her I was there. And look here, Mr.
Murtagh," he continued, dropping his voice and coming closer, "the boys
say he isn't a bit o' good, and now he's riz the rents there's the
Dalys'll have to go out, an' the Cannons; and there's many'll die o'
distress with the winter coming on, and the bad potatoes an' all; an'
I've been watchin' for you because I thought ye'd help me. And look
here, Mr. Murtagh, if ye'll get me a gun some way, I'll shoot him and
ha' done with it."

Pat's voice sank into a fierce, hoarse whisper as he ended, and his
face was bent down close to Murtagh's. Murtagh did not answer at once;
he could hardly believe that he was not dreaming, and Pat continued:
"It's a benefactor you'll be to the country. There's many and many a
one'll bless you far an' wide. There's Jim Cannon, brother to Cannon
down beyant there, has his wife and children in the Union, and he's
wanderin' about, daren't come home and do a bit o' decent work because
Plunkett's informed against him for a Fenian.

"And there's Mike Coyle and his wife and children had to turn out and
shift for themselves, because he wouldn't let the old man keep them
with him at home in his own place. And there's my mother and father
turned out of a place we've had from one to another this hundred year;
and Johnny Worsted taken from his work, and his old father and mother
dependin' upon him, and sent to prison, for nothing in the world but
knocking over a couple o' little hares. And look now, Mr. Murtagh,"
he added, dropping his voice again to a cautious whisper, "if he was
killed out o' the way it'd all come right, and I told the boys how
we were bound together in a tribe like, and you'd never fail us in
a pinch. There's many and many a heart'll be made glad through the
country. Isn't he oppressin' every one of us, and changin' all the old
ways that was good enough for them as was better than him? And look at
yerselves; isn't it just the same way with yez? Isn't he tyrannizin'
over yez, and doesn't mind a word anybody spakes to him, but only
havin' everything his own way? He doesn't care for any one's feelin's!
Just look at the way he massacrated Miss Winnie's beautiful dog this
mornin', and she nearly cried her heart out over it. But he don't
care, he'd do it again to-morrow; and only took advantage of ye bein'
thinkin' o' that, to come and pull down your hut that was built before
ever he came here."

Pat's words stirred up all the fierce passion of last night, and the
feelings with which he had heard Nessa's story surged up again in his
heart. As he listened the blood went coursing swiftly through his
veins. Was not this a way to end it all? All the country round was
suffering as they were. The people looked to him to help them; would
not this be doing something indeed for freedom? He never in the least
realized what it was; how could he, a child of eleven? But it presented
itself vaguely to him as a grand and terrible action. Something in him
spoke loudly against Pat's reasoning, but so thoroughly was his whole
nature warped by the excitement of the last month that he mistook his
true instinct for cowardice, asking himself if John of Procida would
have hesitated so.

And while his decision was hanging thus in the balance, Pat brought
before him the picture of Winnie's grief and Mr. Plunkett's
indifference. The remembrance flashed through his mind of Hickey's
words in the morning--"It would serve old Plunkett right to be shot
with the very same gun," and with a sudden gust of passion he decided.

"Yes," he said, "I'll do it! You shall have the very gun he shot Royal
with."

"I knew ye'd help us!" replied Pat, exultingly. "I told the boys you
wouldn't fail us; ye have too much o' the real old spirit in ye."

It was done; he had given his promise; but if he had only hesitated one
minute longer all might have been different. Pat had only just answered
when a sound of scrambling on the other bank made Murtagh exclaim in a
hurried whisper, "Hide!" and there was barely time for Pat to conceal
himself in the bushes before Bobbo appeared followed by Nessa.

Poor little Nessa looked very white and tired, and a faint struggle to
smile died away in the attempt.

"I was nervous," she said; "I could not go to bed while you were out,
so Bobbo came with me. He thought you would be here. Will you not come
in now?"

"Yes," said Murtagh, "I'll come; you go on first."

Nessa looked at him in some surprise. She had expected to find him
prostrated with grief in some out-of-the-way corner, but here he was
standing up by a blazing fire, his cheeks flushed, and his eyes bright
with excitement. He really was incomprehensible.

"Our hut gone!" exclaimed Bobbo in dismay, standing still and surveying
the ruins. "He can't have been so mean--To take it to-day!" And with
the remembrance of all the day's troubles the tears came into his eyes.

"Yes," said Murtagh. Then in a hurried loud voice he continued: "Never
mind; let us go home. Get on the stones and help Nessa down."

His manner half frightened Nessa; she wondered whether he were ill. She
followed Bobbo, however, and Pat, putting his head out from his place
of concealment, whispered to Murtagh:

"To-morrow night, here."

"All right, here!" Murtagh replied, and he hastened after the others.

Nessa put her hand through his arm as they walked along. Murtagh knew
that she meant it partly as a caress, and he almost wished she would
not. He was in no mood for caresses. They spoke little. Murtagh asked
what time it was, and was told it must be eleven now. They had waited
till ten, Nessa said, before they started to look for him.

As they were nearing home, Murtagh roused himself with an effort from
his thoughts.

"Poor Nessa!" he said; "you must be nearly dead tramping about like
this. Why did you come for me?--I'd have done very well out there."

"I couldn't have you out there. I did not know where you were; I was
frightened." And there was a little tremble in Nessa's voice that
melted away a good deal of Murtagh's excitement.

In the schoolroom he found a little table prepared for supper.

"You have eaten nothing all day," said Nessa, and she insisted upon his
sitting down and trying to eat while she made some tea from a kettle
that stood boiling on the hob.

To please her he tried to eat, and under the influence of her gentle
ways and little tender cares he grew quieter and quieter. At last he
asked hesitatingly "if she had told Winnie yet?"

"Yes," she replied. "It was no use to keep it for the poor child to
hear in the morning. When she was in bed, I told her."

Murtagh sat looking into the fire for a few minutes with tears
glistening in his eyes, and then he asked:

"What did she--"

"Poor little thing!--she could not believe it at first, and then, then
it was very sad. She seemed to feel so much about Frankie having given
her Royal; it made it worse for her. She has cried herself to sleep
again now. I went in to look at her before we came out."

"I think I'll go to bed," he said in a choked voice.

"Good night, dear!" and she held him tight in her arms for a moment as
she kissed him.

Her tenderness brought back all the soft natural grief for his cousin,
and he cried himself to sleep with his mind full of thoughts of
Frankie's dear loving ways.



CHAPTER XXVII.


Next morning poor Royal was buried.

With many tears he was taken across the river and laid in his last
resting-place. The sobs that escaped from Winnie as the earth was
thrown in upon him shook Murtagh's heart and stirred up again his
bitter indignation against Mr. Plunkett, but he stood silent beside
her till the last shovelful of earth was patted down into its place.
Good-natured Hickey had begged a rose-tree from Bland, which he
planted for them at the head of the grave; then he took his tools and
trudged away, telling them not to fret. Bobbo called Rosie to see the
desolation of the hut, and Winnie and Murtagh were left standing by the
grave alone.

"Don't stay here, Win," said Murtagh, putting his arm round her neck.
"It will make you so dreadfully miserable. Come away into the wood,
and let us be together. And look here, Win," he added, the indignation
breaking out at last. "There's one thing, you'll be well paid out. He's
going to get what he deserves at last."

"That won't do any good," returned Winnie, disconsolately. "But I hope
he will," she added with sudden anger. "It will serve him right. Oh,
Murtagh, how could any one be so cowardly and so cruel to shoot at
him when he was in the water like that?--so close to him he couldn't
possibly miss. And then--then Royal looked as if he thought I'd sent
him in on purpose, and he couldn't understand when I told him we
didn't; and--and Frankie said he knew I'd never let any one hurt him;
and now Frankie's dead, and I can't tell him about it, either; and oh,
Myrrh, doesn't it seem as if everybody was dying?" The end of Winnie's
sentence was almost lost in tears.

The two children spent the rest of the morning walking up and down
together, their conversation a confused medley of grief, anger, and
sad, loving recollections of the doings of their two dead.

Towards the end anger predominated. Murtagh repeated to Winnie all that
Pat had told him of the sufferings of the people about. He told her,
too, that Pat was in hiding at home; that he was going to be revenged
on Mr. Plunkett, and that he (Murtagh) was going to help him. He did
not tell her exactly what he was going to do, something within him
prevented him from speaking of that. Winnie listened eagerly.

"I do hope he will succeed," she said; "and just fancy, Myrrh, if he
does set all the people free, he will be just like John of Procida that
Nessa was telling us about."

And for the moment Murtagh wished that he were himself the one who was
to shoot Mr. Plunkett.

Theresa Curran, coming up to the Castle on a message, met them in the
avenue, and courtesying deeply told them that "they down at the village
was all very glad to think it was Mr. Murtagh now would be master over
them some day."

Murtagh did not understand what she meant, and when she explained
that "sure, after the master, it'll belong to you and yours now," he
exclaimed in angry surprise:

"You mean that you're glad! Aren't you ashamed to be so cruel and
unkind?"

Theresa saw that she had made a mistake, and replied in some
confusion: "'Deed, an' we're all very sorry for him, poor little
gentleman, but we'll be very glad to have you reign over us, Mr.
Murtagh, dear. There'll be a stop put then, maybe, to some o' the
doings goes on now. Every one hunted out o' their homes, and no more
account made of it than if they was wild animals."

"There!" said Murtagh; "they all say just the same thing."

"And I don't wonder," replied Bobbo; "when he could do what he did
yesterday, he could do anything. Why, if it wasn't for him being so
unjust, poor Royal would be safe away with you, instead of--"

"I don't think he has ever done anything but make people unhappy all
his life!" said Winnie, her tears overflowing again as she spoke. "Even
poor little Frankie, he made him miserable the last time he was here,
and if it hadn't been for him, we might have been there at least to say
good-by."

Still an hour afterwards, when Winnie and Bobbo, feeling that they must
do something, went to see the cows milked, and Murtagh was left alone,
misgivings, which took the form of a natural shrinking from what he was
going to do, assailed his mind. He tried to combat his doubts. This was
a right and a great thing to do. It was a just retribution that Mr.
Plunkett should be shot with the very gun he had used against Royal.
All the people would be able to spend this winter in their homes. If
Frankie could know things, he would be glad.

Instinctive right was strong enough within him, however, to make it
impossible for him to feel quite clear, and it was with a sense of
relief that he saw the carriage coming up the avenue, and ran to the
hall door to meet it.

There were a great many parcels to be taken out, and before they were
all disposed of Winnie and Bobbo made their appearance.

"Oh, Winnie!" cried Rosie, "Nessa has chosen such pretty hats for us!
Ellie is to have a little round one, but we are to have felts turned up
at one side, with a long black feather going right down over our hair."

Winnie looked at her in astonishment. "I do believe," she began
contemptuously; but whatever she had been going to say was apparently
too bitter, for she broke off suddenly and turned away while her eyes
filled with tears.

Rosie reddened so painfully that Nessa felt quite sorry for her, and
giving her some parcels asked her to take them to her bedroom; Rosie
escaped up-stairs, and Nessa soon followed to take off her things.

Murtagh had decided yesterday evening that the time to possess himself
of the gun would be while Mr. Plunkett was down at supper. And as that
hour approached all doubts were thrown aside, and his heart beat high
in anticipation.

It was already dusk, so he went out into the park, and hovered about
near the Red House till the ringing of the supper bell announced that
his time had come. Then it was the work of a minute to climb on the
roof of the dairy, and from thence into Mr. Plunkett's dressing-room,
the window of which was shutterless. He knew the gun was kept in a
cupboard in the corner among walking-sticks and fishing-tackle. He
found it in its usual place, also the cartridges belonging to it,
possessed himself of both, and noiselessly let himself down again on
to the dairy roof. In another minute he was safe outside the garden,
hurrying away towards the island.

It was the first time in his life that he had held a gun in his hands,
and the touch of the steel barrel made him shudder. He was not quite
free from doubt either as to whether it would not go off, but he was
burning with excitement; and soon he stood amongst the ruins of the hut
where, by the light of a more cautious fire than the one he had kicked
into flames the night before, Pat sat waiting for him.

"There," he cried, putting the gun into Pat's hands. "Now when are you
going to do it?"

"To-morrow evening'll be my chance. He's going to dine up at the Castle
to-morrow, and on his way home is when I'm to do it," replied Pat.
"Then I'm to throw the gun down beside him and go straight away off
again, and being his own gun there's no one will be suspected."

"Oh, no, Pat," he exclaimed, "I don't like that. Do it out in the field
in the morning, and let him know what it's for. Couldn't you show me
how to do it?"

"Whisht, sir; ye don't know anything about it," replied Pat, grasping
the gun. "Leave it to me, and I'll settle it right enough."

"Yes, but, Pat, you mustn't do it that cowardly way," persisted Murtagh.

"Now, Mr. Murtagh, ye're talking foolish," said Pat. "Whatever way we
do it, mustn't we do it sure an' certain? and if it's me's to do it,
mustn't I do it my own way? What good would it do ye for the polis to
take me? Leave it to me, and he'll know what it's for, sure enough. Ye
don't want to be goin' back of your word, do ye?"

"No, indeed, I don't!" cried Murtagh, with vivid recollection of
Winnie's grief and Theresa's stories.

"They said I'd never be able to do it right," pursued Pat; "but gettin'
a gun was the only thing that bothered me; now my mother'll stop where
she is and die in the old home; and it isn't only her--there's many'll
say a prayer for ye for this evening's work, Mr. Murtagh. They say
what he wants is to turn us all out and get foreigners in bit by bit.
It's an Englishman he's put into Dolan's farm. But if we mayn't live
at home in our own place, where is it we'll live at all? We're made no
more account of than if we was rats and mice."

Then followed detail after detail that only served to inflame Murtagh's
heated brain the more. Neither of them really knew anything of what he
was talking about. They only heard that people had to pay more than
they had ever paid before for their homes, and that in some cases
they were turned out of them altogether. They did not hear that where
rents had been raised it was in consequence of expensive and necessary
improvements; where tenants had been turned out it was always for a
solid reason. But the people did not like such ways, and Pat repeated
to Murtagh the grumblings of the worst and most discontented among them.

So after a time Murtagh bade Pat good night and hurried homewards.
In his present state of excitement he could not venture into the
schoolroom, but sending Peggy in to say that he had gone to bed, he
went straight to his own room.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


He tossed and tumbled all night long, wakening Bobbo sometimes, and
frightening him by the wild things he called out in his sleep, and
next morning when he woke he was in such a state of nervous exaltation
as made even Bobbo's companionship almost too painful to be borne.
Only now did he fully realize that his share in this enterprise was
done, and the greatness of the catastrophe he was helping to bring
about seemed to begin to dawn upon him as the time for its fulfilment
approached. His heart thumped against his side; his lips and hands were
hot and dry. How was he to spend his day in the companionship of the
others without betraying himself?

He knew that he could not keep away from them all day without causing
remark and perhaps search; so he tried to force himself to feel calmer,
and when the breakfast bell summoned him to the dining-room, he went in
and took his usual seat at the table.

But so startling was his appearance that Nessa exclaimed anxiously,
"Murtagh dear, you are ill!"

His uncle looked up, and was shocked, too, at the face that his eyes
rested upon.

"Why, my boy," he said kindly, "what is the matter with you? Do you
feel pain anywhere?"

"I am quite well, thank you," said Murtagh. His uncle continued to look
anxiously at him. Nessa said no more, but put a cup of tea beside his
plate, laying her hand for one instant on his head as she passed back
to her own seat. Her touch thrilled through him in a way that was
almost pain. He drank some of the tea, and then his heart began to beat
less rapidly; so that when his uncle asked him if he had slept well, he
was able to answer more naturally, "Yes, thank you."

"Awfully queerly!" said Bobbo; "you were shouting out all sorts of
things all the time!"

His uncle made no remark, and breakfast proceeded in silence. But when
it was over Mr. Blair called Nessa back and told her that she had
better send for the doctor and let him see Murtagh.

"It can do no harm, at all events," he said, "and the child looks ill."

Breakfast had done Murtagh good, but he was in a state of feverish
unrest.

Every distant banging of a door, every step in the passage, every
sudden raising of voices, caused his heart almost to stand still with
expectation, for in his excitement yesterday evening he had not quite
clearly understood whether Pat did or did not intend to change the
plan of action he had described. All he knew was that he had done his
share, he had given the gun, and now at any moment Mr. Plunkett might
be killed with it.

He did not shrink, but as the time approached his mind had become so
filled with the horror of the deed that he felt not one grain of the
exultation he had expected. There came once or twice underneath all a
pricking doubt which for the moment turned his state of expectation
into agony.

Could it be that he was all wrong? Yesterday evening Pat had crushed
the dawning of this thought by the assertion that it was a doubt only
worthy of a child, and by the tales of injustice with which he had so
adroitly proceeded to fill Murtagh's mind. But it was impossible,
quite, to shake off the conviction that it must be cowardly to shoot at
a man in the dark when he suspects no danger.

Twice during the morning this conviction grew so strong as almost to
make the whole truth flash upon Murtagh, but he rejected it. Pat's way
of doing it might be cowardly, but the deed itself must be great.

The morning passed away; the terrible news that Murtagh was expecting
did not come; and it was just luncheon time when Rosie, returning from
a message to Nessa's room, remarked that Mr. Plunkett had been looking
over papers in the study all day, and that some lunch had just gone up
for him on Uncle Blair's tray. Then it had not happened yet, and it
could not happen for some time to come. Murtagh scarcely knew if he
were relieved to hear it, but the strain of momentary expectation was
gone, and he began to feel tolerably sure now that Pat intended to keep
to the plan he had described.

After a time, Murtagh, who had remained standing by the drawing-room
window, heard through the open door the sound of Mr. Plunkett's voice
and Mr. Blair's as they advanced towards the hall door. They were not
thinking of him apparently, for they were talking of some business
matter. Mr. Plunkett went out, and Mr. Blair called after him, "Seven
o'clock dinner, remember, Plunkett."

As Murtagh stood watching Mr. Plunkett walk briskly away over the
grass, all his horror of the way Pat had chosen for the execution of
his plan came back upon him in full force. Surely, surely, it was
treacherous to kill a man in the dark, when he was on the way home
from your very own house. He stood immovable, his eyes fixed upon
Mr. Plunkett, his head feeling as though it were really turning with
conflicting thoughts. Then some words of his uncle's fell upon his
ears. He was talking to Nessa in the hall.

"Yes, all things considered," he was saying, "it is strange, isn't it,
little one, that that man should be risking his life every day for
Murtagh's benefit?"

"How do you mean for Murtagh?" she asked.

"I thought I had told you how he constantly receives threatening
letters in consequence of the improvements he is making in the estate.
Many of these improvements will bear no fruit till long after my time,
and now that poor little Frankie is gone, Murtagh is the person who
will profit by them. I remarked that to Plunkett to-day, when he was
talking to me about this ejectment business, and I asked him why he
went on with it. He said, 'It is my duty, sir.'" Mr. Blair had spoken
slowly, and he ended with a little sigh.

"But surely, Uncle Blair," asked Nessa, "they could never really shoot
him?"

"I believe," replied Mr. Blair, "that if it were not well known that he
always carries a loaded pistol, he would be shot at to-morrow. Now the
risk is too great, for they know that if they miss him he is not likely
to miss them. His perfect fearlessness is greatly in his favor."

"O dear, what a terrible, dreadful, place!" sighed Nessa.

On his side of the drawing-room door, Murtagh stood horror-stricken at
the revelation that Mr. Plunkett was deliberately risking his life for
his benefit at the time that he was consenting to a plot to kill Mr.
Plunkett. He understood only in the vaguest manner how it came about
that it was for his benefit; still the mere fact that Mr. Plunkett knew
the danger and braved it deliberately, was in itself enough to arouse
in that impulsive little heart something akin to sympathy. Every
generous feeling in him was set at war with what Pat was going to do,
but still he felt with an acuteness of suffering beyond his years that
the cause of the people was just the same. If it had been right before
that Mr. Plunkett should die, it was right now. It had become odious
in him to have helped Pat, but Pat was just as right as ever, and in
passionate defense of him he entered the hall, exclaiming:

"Nessa, you and Uncle Blair don't know how he does things. You don't
know how he turns the people out of their houses, and sends them to
prison for nothing, and sees them starving in the winter-time and
doesn't care. No wonder they hate him. No wonder they want to kill him!
Every one says if Uncle Blair would go about himself, things would be
very different. He may make money, but oh! I wish it could never be for
me. I would rather starve than have that money that's robbed from them."

"He is not robbing them!" exclaimed Nessa, opening her great gray eyes
indignantly; "and even if he were, it's too dreadful hating like that
and watching to kill people. I'd rather be oppressed all my life than
be guilty of a cowardly murder."

"It's only what the Sicilians did," answered Murtagh. "It's not right
that a tyrant should go on doing what he pleases."

"It's not what the Sicilians did," returned Nessa; "they fought a brave
hand-to-hand struggle; they did not secretly murder a man who was going
fearlessly about amongst them; and what they did do they did only after
having tried every other means in their power. Besides, they fought
against real tyranny, and Mr. Plunkett is not tyrannizing over these
people; I know he is not, Murtagh. Uncle Blair has told me about it
lots of times. He's trying all he can to make things better for the
people, only they are so unreasonable; they expect to have everything
done for them, and they don't want to give anything in exchange. It is
quite fair when a lot of expensive improvements have been made that the
rent should be raised; and then when people are drunken and worthless
and won't take care of their land, of course they _have_ to be turned
out. Mr. Plunkett may be disagreeable," she added, "but I don't see why
they need hate him for that. We hate people, I suppose, when they are
wicked; but he isn't wicked; they are wicked when they can think for
one minute of such mean, cowardly revenge."

"You don't know, Nessa. He is wicked. He must be wicked. You'll drive
me perfectly mad if you talk like that. I believe everything's all
wrong together and nothing ever can be right."

And with this confused utterance of the despair that was fast
possessing him Murtagh would have rushed away out of doors, but Nessa
caught him in her arms, and thinking that her indignation had hurt him,
exclaimed penitently:

"Murtagh dear, I didn't mean you. Of course I never meant that for one
minute. I know very well that whatever else you are, you could never be
cruel and cowardly."

He did not speak; he had no right to her faith, no right to her love.
He disengaged himself as quickly as he could and rushed away, he didn't
care where--anywhere, anywhere to escape from the thoughts that came
hurrying upon him now.

If only he had had the slightest idea where Pat was to be found he
would have gone to him, and insisted that it should be done openly. But
he had not. He only knew that he was not to be on the island.

Scarcely knowing where he went, Murtagh nevertheless kept near the Red
House, declaring to himself that things must now take their course, but
at the same time feeling as though he in some measure protected Mr.
Plunkett by keeping close to him.

At last he threw himself upon the ground under a hedge, and he had not
been there many minutes when steps and voices on the other side roused
him from his miserable struggle.

He sat up, discovered that he was sitting under the hedge of Mr.
Plunkett's back garden, and as he began to take note of external
things, he became aware that Mr. Plunkett was walking along the path on
the other side of the hedge, carrying his little daughter in his arms.
There were gaps in the thickness of the hedge, and Murtagh could see
the pair quite distinctly. The child's head rested lovingly upon her
father's shoulder, the golden hair scattered a little over his sleeve.
One arm was round his neck, and the delicate little face was illumined
by that look of perfect contentment which is almost more beautiful than
a smile.

[Illustration: "MR. PLUNKETT WAS WALKING ALONG THE PATH ON THE OTHER
SIDE OF THE HEDGE."]

"How nice it is that you are so strong, Fardie," she said caressingly,
as they passed close by Murtagh.

"Are you comfortable, dear?" asked Mr. Plunkett.

"Yes, very," she replied, with a little sigh of pleasure.

They took one turn in silence down the path and back again. Then little
Marion spoke again, but this time there was a troubled sound in her
voice.

"Don't be late to-night, father, will you?"

"Not very, my pet," replied Mr. Plunkett; "but you must be sound asleep
long before I come."

"I'll shut up my eyes and try, Fardie, but I can't go to sleep when
you're out because--" And here the little voice trembled and stopped
short.

"Because what, dear?" said Mr. Plunkett, bending his head a little so
that his cheek touched her forehead.

"Because I think such dreadful things when I'm in the dark, and I get
so dreadfully, dreadfully frightened, Fardie, lest those wicked men
might kill you!"

The last words came out in a low tone, as though she feared that
uttering them might make what she dreaded more probable, and putting
her other arm up round her father's neck she clung to him tightly.

"Who let you hear of such things?" exclaimed Mr. Plunkett, in the stern
voice that Murtagh knew well.

"Mother often cries when you're out," said Marion; "and she says
perhaps you'll be brought in dead! But, Fardie, you mustn't, because I
_couldn't_ bear it!"

Mr. Plunkett did not speak immediately; then he said:

"My little daughter, you mustn't mind everything you hear people say,
but if such a thing ever did happen, you will be my own brave child,
won't you?--and you will like to think afterwards that your father died
at his work!"

"No, no, Fardie, I couldn't be brave then!" cried Marion. "I couldn't
stay alive with only mother! You won't let them do it? Promise, father!"

At that moment "mother's" voice made itself heard, calling: "Marion,
Marion, come in! How could you keep her out so late, James?"

"No, no, my pet; they shan't do it if I can help it!" replied Mr.
Plunkett, kissing her and hastily setting her down. "Now put all such
ideas out of your head, and run in to your mother; she's calling you."

The child went slowly away and Mr. Plunkett looking after her said
sadly:

"My poor little one, I suppose it will come upon you some day soon; and
yet, God knows, I am doing the best I can for them!"

He spoke to himself, but the words were loud enough to reach Murtagh's
ears, and they told him more than years of explanations could have done.

For the moment he felt as if he could almost have loved Mr. Plunkett.
He dashed out of the ditch and away across the park. Find Pat he must
and would. He saw it all in its true light now! How could he have
helped in such a fiendish plan?

It was easier to determine to find Pat than to find him. In the woods
by the island, on every island in their part of the river, in the
shrubberies, in every clump of trees that dotted the park, he searched
but searched in vain; and while he looked it grew dark.

But though he hurried from place to place he was comparatively calm
now. He had quite made up his mind what to do, and his energy was the
energy of resolution. He was not going to betray Pat by warning Mr.
Plunkett if he could help it, and having thoroughly searched the park,
he watched Mr. Plunkett without any fear as he crossed it on his way to
dinner.

Then he entered the house, and fetching himself a cup of milk and some
bread from the servants' hall he sat quietly enough upon the door-step
while he ate it. Mr. Plunkett would not return home till ten o'clock,
so there was a long anxious time to wait before Pat was likely to be
found, and as Murtagh sat upon the step he planned with an almost
curious calmness all that must come after.

Pat must be helped somehow. The only way would be, Murtagh thought, to
tell his uncle all. Then he hoped things would be put properly right
for Pat, and it was with a lighter heart than he had had for a long
time that he got up to continue his search.

But the night was pitch dark, and towards half-past nine he was still
unsuccessful. He was keeping careful watch upon the time, and the
suspense now grew painfully intense, for he knew that if he had not
discovered Pat when the stable clock rung out a quarter to ten, there
would be nothing for it but to warn Mr. Plunkett. Was Pat not coming at
all? and if not, where and how should he ever find him?

At last he began to call gently, "Pat, Pat!" and after a minute a
cautious, "Whisht, sir!" from some bushes on his right told him that
Pat was there.

He bounded forward. "I began to think that I should never find you!" he
exclaimed. "Here, give me the gun! Oh, Pat, to think how awfully near
we were doing it!"

But Pat started back, holding the gun tightly, and asked in a tone
different from any he had ever used to Murtagh before, "What is it
you're meaning?"

"We were dreadfully wicked, really; he's not half so bad as we thought,
and it would have been just a cowardly murder," said Murtagh, his voice
conveying the horror that he felt.

"I don't care what it is," said Pat. "I'm going to do it this night."

"You shan't touch him," replied Murtagh. "You don't understand. He
isn't half so bad as we thought. This isn't the way; give me the gun."

"Look here, Mr. Murtagh, I don't want to hurt ye," replied Pat, in a
fierce whisper, "but if ye offer to touch that gun, I'll have to give
ye a knock that'll keep you quiet till it's all over."

"Are you mad, Pat? I tell you we were all wrong." And Murtagh stretched
out his hand for the gun.

"Right or wrong, it's all one to me. I won't stir out o' this till he's
as dead as a door-nail."

"You shan't touch him with that gun; I got it, and I'll have it back,"
replied Murtagh. As he spoke he seized the gun, and half succeeded in
wrenching it from Pat's grasp. Pat struck out at him a blow that made
him reel back and loose his hold for a moment, but he sprang forward
and seized the gun again. Pat tried to wrench it from him. Murtagh hung
on with all his strength; the gun went off in the struggle. Almost
instantaneously there was a second report. Something whizzed through
the bushes, and before Murtagh had time to realize what had happened
Pat had fled and he was standing alone with the gun in his hands, a
curious stiff sensation numbing his left arm. He stood there for a few
seconds; then he sprang out of the bushes and hurried towards the house.

The hall was full of light and commotion. The children were out upon
the steps, the servants had come from the kitchen, Nessa and Mr. Blair
stood by Mr. Plunkett, who in a perfectly calm voice was desiring Brown
to bring him a lantern.

"I heard no sound after I fired," he added, turning to Mr. Blair, "but
if any one is wounded, we must get a doctor for him, and if--if it
should be worse--"

"I trust it is not, I trust it is not," interrupted Mr. Blair; "but if
it should be so, Plunkett, remember we were fully agreed beforehand
that what you have done was the right thing to do."

"It is all right," cried Murtagh; "you haven't hurt him, and here's
your gun; you're quite safe now."

His arm was hurting, and his head swam, so that he staggered and
almost fell as he held out the gun to Mr. Plunkett.

"And he never fired at you at all; it was when I was trying to get the
gun from him that it went off. But oh, do be _kinder_ to the people.
They don't know anything about just; and he doesn't understand now;
they _can't_ understand."

And the tension of that awful day over at last, the excitement died
suddenly out of Murtagh's face, and Mr. Plunkett had just time to catch
him in his arms as he fell fainting to the floor.



CHAPTER XXIX.


He recovered consciousness to find himself on the drawing-room sofa,
with Nessa and Mrs. Donegan anxiously applying restoratives, while Mr.
Blair and the children stood round. The moment the wound in his arm had
been perceived, Mr. Plunkett had himself saddled a horse and gone to
fetch a doctor.

"Go away, please, all of you," said Murtagh, as soon as he could speak.
"I want to speak to Uncle Blair. Nessa may stay."

Mr. Blair turned them all out except Winnie. She was sitting curled up
on a footstool by the head of the sofa, and she did not stir.

"Murtagh and me's the same," she said. "I know what he's going to say."
And as Murtagh put out his hand to keep her, Uncle Blair shut the door.

"Please promise first," said Murtagh, "that you won't tell anybody
else."

"If it's about the man who made this attempt to-night, Murtagh, I'm
afraid I can't promise," replied Mr. Blair. "He must be prosecuted; you
yourself will, I fear, be obliged to answer questions in a court of
justice."

"But you _must_ promise," said Murtagh, a feverish flush spreading over
his cheek. "Make him promise, Nessa. I know I have no right, but it's
the only way. It can't possibly be put right if he doesn't."

"Do promise him," said Nessa, looking entreatingly at her uncle, and
then glancing anxiously at Murtagh. "Surely you can manage somehow."
And most unconstitutionally Mr. Blair did manage.

"It was more my fault than his, because he couldn't have done it if
I hadn't got him the gun yesterday," began Murtagh. But he suddenly
closed his eyes, unable to proceed. Nessa put a spoonful of brandy
between his lips and he revived a little.

"Don't say anything more, my boy," said his uncle, astonishment at
Murtagh's statement entirely swallowed up in anxiety; "I understand you
don't want him punished."

"I can't tell you now," continued Murtagh, "I feel so funny; but you
must help him soon, or he'll do it again. He doesn't understand. He's
hiding now. His mother--I--I can't remember; Winnie'll know."

He looked anxiously at Winnie, and his eyes closed again, but he was
not unconscious; and Nessa, while she attended to him, said almost
impatiently:

"Tell us what it is, Winnie. This excitement is very bad for him."

"I don't quite know," said Winnie, taking hold of Murtagh's hand and
looking up at her uncle; "but I think what he means is he wants you to
help Pat O'Toole. He's been in hiding ever since the fire, you know,
and I suppose--" here Winnie hesitated a little--"I suppose he has
tried to do this, and that's why Murtagh doesn't want the others to
know; and his mother knows where he is. And I expect Murtagh means if
you could help him regularly, get him some work or something, and make
him come back."

"Yes," said Murtagh, opening his eyes suddenly, and looking feverish
and excited again; "only quick, quick, or he'll do it again. He doesn't
understand, he doesn't understand, and it's all my fault. Nessa said it
was; didn't she, Winnie?" His voice was loud, and he evidently did not
quite know what he was saying.

"Hush, hush, my boy," said his uncle. "It shall be all right; I promise
you I will go myself to Mrs. O'Toole to-morrow." Murtagh seemed to hear
what his uncle said, for he looked content, and dropped back on the
pillow from which he had been attempting to rise; but then he fainted
again, and though proper remedies soon revived him, the coming of the
doctor was anxiously watched for.

He came and examined first the wound in Murtagh's arm. Mr. Plunkett's
bullet had passed through the fleshy part of the arm, and though the
loss of blood had been considerable, the wound was not important. But
the exposure and excitement of the last three days had brought more
serious effects in their train, and the doctor looked very grave, when,
after examining the boy, he began to give careful directions to Nessa.

He would come early next day, he said, and all might be well, but he
feared it was his duty to warn them that the case might be a very
serious one.

His fears were but too well founded, and not many days later a telegram
went from Mr. Blair to his brother Launcelot telling him that Murtagh
was dangerously stricken with brain fever.

       *       *       *       *       *

But he was not to die. November, December, and January passed away,
and one mild day early in February he was well enough to sit in the
big arm-chair by the open schoolroom window, while Winnie sat on the
window-sill, swinging her legs outside, and fed her ducks once more
with a merry heart. It had been a sad winter for her and Rosie and
Bobbo, but their independent ways had proved of some use, and they had
given real help in the long time of anxious nursing. Mr. Plunkett had
taken his turn of sitting up at night, and had shown himself a valuable
nurse. And all smaller sorrows had been merged in the one great trouble.

With Murtagh ill the children could think of little else; but Mr. Blair
had been roused by the events preceding the boy's illness to act for
once with energy. He had kept his promise of going without delay to
Mrs. O'Toole, and he had known how to draw from her the information she
had refused to Murtagh. Pat had been produced, and Mr. Blair, knowing
Mr. Plunkett well, had trusted him with the whole story.

Mr. Plunkett justified the trust. Honor would have forbidden any
attempt to punish the boy, and Mr. Blair saw that in this instance the
ends of policy also would be better served by generous treatment; but
it was neither policy nor the strict requirements of honor alone which
moved Mr. Plunkett to take the tone he did when he talked with Mr.
Blair, and to listen with unwonted gentleness even to Nessa when she
suggested that one of the best ways of saving Pat from further mischief
would be to find work for him elsewhere.

It was not the effect of the danger from which he had escaped; that
would probably have made him simply hard and indignant; but Pat's
confession had opened his eyes to many things. Unexpected kindness,
together with Murtagh's dangerous illness, had filled Pat with remorse.
He had confessed not only his full share in this last enterprise, but
his unaided burning of Mr. Plunkett's hay-ricks; and it was in hearing
of Murtagh's entire innocence with respect to that misfortune that
Mr. Plunkett's self-confidence received a shock of which the effect
was to him considerable. The fact that it was only a child whom he
had misjudged and unfairly tried to punish, did not make a difference
to him as it would have done to most people. He had been unjust; and
whether the injustice had been committed towards a child, a man, or a
chimpanzee, had, according to his way of looking at it, nothing to do
with the question.

He was accustomed to respect himself, to think himself right, and
now he found that he had been wrong,--more wrong than the child he
had despised. He may have been proud, but he was not a man to shirk
anything. He vividly realized the ruin into which the two boys had
nearly rushed, and while he made no attempt even in his own mind to
exculpate them altogether, he remembered that they were children, and
blamed himself unsparingly for the treatment which had roused them to
such a pitch of passion.

He had nothing to reproach himself with so far as Pat was concerned. At
any other time he would have said the boy had only got what he deserved
when he was caned for an impertinence. But the revelation of his
injustice to Murtagh had strangely shaken his trust in himself. He had
been wrong with him, perhaps he had often been wrong with other people,
too.

Looking back over his feelings he was forced to acknowledge to himself
that he had never for a moment felt forgivingly towards Murtagh. The
child had been greater than he; he freely and humbly acknowledged it.
He did not know that he owed his life to little Marion's love, but he
turned to it in his trouble. Whatever he had done to others he had
never judged her too harshly, and her clinging arms about his neck
comforted him now when, though even Marion scarcely knew it, he was
in need of comfort. And perhaps the gentle little spirit upon which
at this time he was leaning influenced his actions more than either
of them knew, for he certainly could not have been expected to feel
particularly tender towards Pat; and yet Nessa was surprised by the
kindness with which he entered into their plans for him, and relieved
them of making arrangements.

He advised Mr. Blair to apprentice the lad to a trade in Dublin, where
he would be removed from the influence of his bad companions, and he
himself took the trouble to find a respectable household in which
the boy might live; so that when the cloud of delirium passed from
Murtagh's brain and he asked with almost his first connected words for
Pat O'Toole, Nessa was able to tell him truly that Pat was quite safe
and was doing well.

He had spent more than one day in the big arm-chair, looking out with
all an invalid's pleasure at the returning life which the spring
sunshine was bringing to the land; and as he sat and watched the purple
shadows of the trees and hedges contrasting with the faint green of the
winter grass, he had many thoughts that he would have found it hard
to express to any one. Never had the crocuses seemed so bright or the
snowdrops so beautiful as they seemed this year; and when one day the
children brought him in a spray of bursting hawthorn and a bunch of
lord and lady leaves from the hedges, tears of pleasure came into his
eyes at the sight.

Life was very peaceful and beautiful in those early spring days.
Nessa's presence seemed to have brought a spring of gentleness to the
children's hearts, and the joy in Murtagh's recovery shed sunshine
through the house. The boys, too, were near the realization of one
of their chief hopes. They were to go to school. For Mr. Launcelot
Blair, on hearing from his brother an account of all that happened, had
written to say that he was coming home on leave, and that one of his
first cares should be to find a private tutor to whom Murtagh and Bobbo
might go to be prepared for being sent next year to Eton.

"From all that you tell me of them," he wrote, "I believe that the
discipline of a public school is what they want. They have been so left
to themselves that they judge nothing by an ordinary standard, and a
lot of rough schoolboys will knock common sense into them a great deal
faster than you or I could do it."

To-day Murtagh was to see Mr. Plunkett for the first time since his
recovery. He felt some natural nervousness at the prospect of the
interview, but convinced of his fault, he had looked forward anxiously
to making the only reparation in his power.

And now, while King and Senior squabbled over a tempting piece of brown
bread too large for either of them to swallow, and Murtagh lay back
in the chair, amused but scarcely taking the trouble to laugh, a big
Newfoundland poked his black muzzle between and carried off the morsel.

"Why, Win!" exclaimed Murtagh, roused by the sudden apparition to a
more energetic display of interest, "where did he come from? Did papa
get him for you?"

Winnie did what Murtagh never expected to see her do when anything
touched, however remotely, upon Royal,--began to laugh.

"No," she said. "Guess who did."

"I don't know," replied Murtagh.

"No, and you never would guess if you tried till Doomsday, so I may as
well tell you. Old Plunkett! And, Murtagh," she added, with a sudden
change of manner, "he was really sorry. He told me all about it, how it
was because he was so very angry. And I thought about you getting in
such rages, and--" Winnie paused as though she were fighting out again
the struggle to accept the dog.

"What's his name?" asked Murtagh.

"Jim," replied Winnie. "I thought I ought to call him after him, you
know; but I really _couldn't_ call him 'James dear.' And besides," she
added, dropping her voice, "I didn't want it to be a bit like--" She
stopped short and her eyes filled with tears.

At that moment steps were heard advancing along the passage; Winnie
dashed the tears out of her eyes, and as she glanced up at Murtagh she
saw by the faint flush upon his cheek that he guessed who was coming.

"Are you going to say anything to him about--"

Murtagh nodded.

"Then I'll be off," she replied, jumping, as she spoke, from the
window-sill to the flower-border beneath. "Come along, Guck, Guck,
Guck." And the harsh sound of her duck-call filled the air as she
walked away, the white flock waddling after her.

Murtagh was glad of it. It seemed to cover his nervousness a little as
the door opened and Mr. Plunkett entered alone. Poor child!--he was
very weak still, and his heart beat fast and his hands trembled as he
watched Mr. Plunkett advance across the long room. But it was only for
a moment. When Mr. Plunkett took one of the wasted hands in his, and
asked him kindly how he was, he recovered himself and answered, "Oh,
much better, thank you; they are all so kind, they make me well."

Then after a little pause, the flush mounting again to his cheek, "I
wanted to see you because I wanted to tell you I am very, very sorry I
was so near--being so dreadfully wicked." And the effort to speak of it
brought tears to his eyes. They were driven back again at once, but
Mr. Plunkett saw them. He had not expected any apology; he had been
thinking how wasted and shadowy the boy still looked. He was taken by
surprise, and he suddenly flushed and looked more confused than Murtagh.

Not that he did not think an apology was owing to him; but Murtagh had
scarcely ever spoken even civilly to him before, and the brown eyes
raised to his looked so humble and beseeching through their shimmering
veil of tears, that he found himself remembering only all the hard
things he had said and done to the boy.

"Don't say anything more," he said, looking straight before him out of
the window; "perhaps there were faults on both sides."

"I didn't know how wicked it was. I thought it would be a great thing
to do, because I thought--" he hesitated a little, not quite sure
how much Mr. Plunkett would bear--"I thought you were oppressing the
people, and it would set them free. And then Nessa said you weren't,
and then little Marion--It was so dreadful; I knew about how wicked it
was then, but I never, never would have tried if I'd known at first."

"Marion!" said Mr. Plunkett, turning his head, "what had she to do with
it?"

"I was in the ditch near your garden, and you were carrying her,
and she had her arms round you, and she seemed to love you so. It
seemed almost like papa," said Murtagh, his voice dropping at the
recollection. "It would have been so dreadful if anything happened to
you then. And then you said, 'God knew you were doing the best you
could for the people;' and I felt quite sure you were speaking the
truth, and you really were trying, and you were only just making
mistakes; and it seems so cruel people getting hurt for making
mistakes."

Mr. Plunkett did not speak at once. After a moment he turned and said:

"I have made mistakes with you; but we must start fresh, and perhaps we
shall get on better now."

And before Murtagh had recovered from his surprise Mr. Plunkett had
wrung his hand and left the room. For a moment or two Murtagh was too
much astonished to understand. Then he felt that he was forgiven, as he
had never expected to be. The old life was wiped out; with a rush of
happy exultation he realized that this was indeed a fresh start.

Nessa entered the room with a bunch of white crocuses and some ivy
leaves that she had just brought in from the garden.

"Oh, Nessa," he exclaimed, "I am so happy!"

"Are you, dear?" she said, with a glad smile, kneeling down beside him
and laying the crocuses on his knees.

"Yes," he said. "Everything seems so good and bright. Only when I
look at it at all," he added slowly, "I wonder how I could ever--have
thought like I used to think." Nessa did not answer. She wondered,
too, as she gazed out across the sunny grass to the bridge. Winnie
was standing on the ivy-covered parapet, with one hand swinging her
hat, and with the other supporting a pigeon which she was feeding with
bits of bread from between her lips; Jim sat patient on the gravel;
the white ducks clamored round her; and another pigeon was spreading
his tail and pluming himself upon the parapet at her feet. The water
sparkled; the sky beyond was blue; the voices of the other children
playing somewhere out of sight floated in happy bursts upon the air.
It was all beautiful enough to make anybody wonder how wickedness could
be.

Murtagh's eyes followed Nessa's. They both looked at Winnie in silence
for a moment, and then he continued, turning to Nessa:

"But I am glad I have been ill. It has made me seem to understand
things better. I have been thinking and thinking, often when you didn't
think I was thinking of anything. And I seem to feel now,"--he blushed
a little, but went on firmly,--"that even if people are wicked and
disagreeable, it can't do one bit of good hating them. I mean," he
said, fixing his eyes with a fervent, earnest look upon hers, "I feel
it so that I don't think I ever can forget it."

"Yes," said Nessa, softly. "If God were to hate us even when we are
wicked, what should we do? It often comes over me with a sort of rush
of gladness, how that when we make mistakes, and get tired, and go
wrong, He is still there watching over us, loving us all the time,
never getting impatient. And you know," she added a little shyly, "we
are told to try and be as like God as we can."


THE END.



NOTE.


The character and doings of Mr. Plunkett, the landowner's agent, and
the condition of country-side life in Ireland as described in this
book, give a very fair picture of what happened when that country was
passing through one of its often recurring periods of trouble between
the landowners and the peasant classes.

The author contrives very skilfully to show both sides of the
question which has led to Ireland's troubles, and leaves the reader
with the impression, which is doubtless a true one, that sympathetic
acquaintance with the people on the part of the agents and landowners,
and greater and fuller knowledge of their aims on the part of the
peasant farming classes, would have prevented many distressing
outbreaks such as are related in this story.

  C. W.

       *       *       *       *       *



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       *       *       *       *       *
TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:

Obvious typesetting errors and inconsistencies in spelling,
punctuation and hyphenation have been corrected.





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