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Title: Hazelhurst
Author: Hunt, Enid Leigh
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 "Hazelhurst" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Illustration: GERALD CARVED THE MUTTON, TEDDIE SERVED THE VEGETABLES
(_p._ 248)]



                              *HAZELHURST*


                                   BY

                            ENID LEIGH HUNT

                      (MRS. DEREK EDWARD THORNTON)

                               AUTHOR OF
                         "THE ADVENT OF ARTHUR"



                                 LONDON
                   SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON AND CO., LTD.
                                  1908



                  MADE AND PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
            PURNELL AND SONS, PAULTON (SOMERSET) AND LONDON



                              *HAZELHURST*


                               *PROLOGUE*


The present generation of the Le Mesuriers were possessed of powerful
lungs, the same being a heritage.

It is true that many of the great vaulted rooms and galleries of
Hazelhurst, which had rung to the clear tones of the Le Mesurier voice
for some three or four hundred years, were now so empty of furniture, so
devoid of thick hangings and tapestries—the very floors being stripped
bare of the covering natural to well-appointed floors—so denuded, in
short, of everything wherein, and behind which, the rich quality of the
Le Mesurier voice might lurk and muffle itself, to ring on thinned while
suffering no loss of compass, that this might, in some measure, make
explanation of the seemingly exceptional strength of their vocal
capacity; nay, further, might exonerate them from all charge of
exceptionality, but for the fact that as children the Le Mesuriers had
shouted with precisely the same lusty vigour and resonance from the lap
of luxury.  For it was but seven years since that the feet of the five
Le Mesurier boys, with the pair belonging to the one Le Mesurier girl,
had stridden or trotted, according to their respective length of limb,
over deep-piled carpets, from one magnificently furnished apartment to
another.  They had been seated in the great oak-panelled dining-room, at
a table groaning under its weight of massive silver, to feast upon the
daintiest fat of the land, tended by noiseless human machines in the Le
Mesurier livery.  So that if, when sitting deep and well covered in the
lap of luxury, the Le Mesurier voice was acknowledgedly sonorous, it is
unreasonable to suppose now that it was only seemingly so, under the
condition of over-much empty space wherein to resound.  Besides, if
further proof be needed: five-and-twenty years ago, when the first of
the five Le Mesurier boys was born, Doctor Dash, a most eminent
authority from London, had remarked upon the voice, and the nurses had
declared they had never heard anything like it.  It was further agreed
to be a very beautiful voice when not raised in grief; even then its
beauty remained for the mother; and each new Le Mesurier baby commanded
a most interested and attentive audience, the more flattering in their
attendance that they came in the full cognisance that no gracious words
were to be expected, but solely in the keenness of their desire to learn
whether or not the newcomer was possessed of the widely appreciated and
justly valued constituent of the Le Mesurier personality.

The sixth and last baby, a girl, in no wise shamed her family nor
disappointed those who attended her first summons by any deterioration
in lungs.  The voice, in its infancy certainly, like the rest of her,
was undeniably present, clear, authoritative, cultured, albeit
softer-toned than her brothers’, as was seemly in a girl.

This last-born Le Mesurier, last-born at least in the direct descent, if
not of the generation, while being neither a disappointment nor a
disgrace, was an immense surprise.  No guard left the side of the white
satin-hung cradle whilst she slept, nor the little silver tub wherein
she splashed, nor the soft white carpet spread over a portion of the
nursery floor whereon she took her exercise, on her back, kicking, ever
and anon deeming it advisable to expand the famous lungs in cooings and
trills and, on occasion, exerting more lustiness in other sounds,
pertaining to babyhood.  I repeat, no guard left her until relieved by
one equally vigilant.  But for the voice, she would, despite this fact,
have created serious doubts in the minds of the respective members of
her family, and all connected with it, as to whether some changeling was
not usurping the cradle, the tub, and the exercise ground of the
rightful Le Mesurier girl.

For the child had brown hair and eyes; and the skin, though exquisitely
clear and delicate, was, of necessity, darker than that which went to
constitute a well-ordered, self-respecting Le Mesurier.

In the first days of her life, therefore, in spite of the love that
encompassed her, the child was held to be something of an alien.  The
pride in the lovely little creature that overflowed the mother’s heart
came rather timidly, rather deprecatingly, from her lips. None of her
boys had presumed to be anything but fair, the most daring among them
attaining to only light brown hair, and all looked upon the world with
the traditional blue eyes.  The case, however, was not unprecedented;
and when this fact was ascertained, the family was free to recover its
natural calm and to pursue the even tenor of its way, holding its head
even higher than heretofore.

One day, as Helen Le Mesurier was exhibiting the little beauty to a host
of admiring friends, with a wistful and slightly apologetic manner, in
which attitude she vainly sought to veil her pride, Hubert, her husband,
was struck with a sudden thought.  Hastily quitting the room, unnoticed,
he sped in some excitement to the picture-gallery, situate in the west
wing of the great house.  Too impatient to brook the delay of unbarring
the heavy shutters, he seized and lighted a lamp, which he held at arm’s
length above his head, as he eagerly and swiftly scanned row upon row of
dead and gone Le Mesuriers portrayed upon the walls.  Everywhere fair
hair, from light brown to gold, gleamed in the lamplight,
straight-featured, broad-browed, the women dazzlingly fair of skin, the
men square-chinned, and, for the most part, curly-headed—one and all
blue-eyed.

But Hubert passed these by, for some vague memory had awakened within
him.  Surely his father had once shown him, as a child, the portrait of
a dark-eyed girl, half in pride, half in apology.  If his memory were
not tricking him, such a portrait must be in existence.  He made his way
directly to the more secluded parts of the room.  His diligence was soon
rewarded, for there, within a corner niche, almost at his feet, he
discovered the object of his search: a small portrait of a lovely little
girl, scarcely above miniature size, surrounded by an oak frame.  Her
hair, of a nut-brown, waved and rippled to her waist, and a pair of wide
brown eyes looked out, mischievously, upon the beholder; the wonderfully
clear and delicate skin was warm of tone.

Setting down the lamp, Hubert, his fingers trembling with eagerness,
unfastened the picture, and, turning it, read upon the back: "Hazel Le
Mesurier, aged five years, 1671."

Thus it was that the Le Mesurier girl came to be named Hazel.

At five years of age a painting was made of her head and shoulders, in
like pose, on the same sized canvas as that of her namesake, and,
behold, the two faces, allowing for the dissimilarities of style arising
from the difference of the schools of painting of so remote a period
from those of the present time, were as like, one to the other, as
two—hazelnuts!

When his daughter had attained to her ninth year, Hubert Le Mesurier
fell ill and died, being then in the forty-fifth year of his age.

The twenty-and-odd years of his majority had been one hard struggle to
redeem the heavily mortgaged estate inherited from a spendthrift father
and grandfather.  His endeavours ended in failure; he had speculated
deeply for many years, keeping his fortunes, with few fluctuations, at
the same dreary level.  On his demise came the inevitable crash: the
foreclosure of the mortgage.  Other debts there were; so that, when
Helen and her eldest boy, Guy, of some nineteen or twenty years, who,
having the ordering of these things, had quieted and pacified even the
loudest crying among their creditors, and were once more enabled to
breathe freely, now that so heavy a burden as debt was removed from the
delicate shoulders of the mother and the youthful ones of the son—so
inapposite a load for either to bear—they found the great house a very
barrack in its echoing bareness, being, indeed, divested of many things.

Heavy oak furniture, some dating from Queen Anne’s time, covered in
decent palls, was moved away in vans down the gloomy avenue of great
trees, with funeral gait.  Also much valuable plate and almost priceless
china.

But the mourners who had sustained this loss were left rejoicing in that
the portrait gallery, sacred to the Le Mesuriers, doubly sacred to Helen
as her husband’s dying trust, was left inviolate; and as the poor thing
stood, surrounded by her five sons, in the huge marble-paved entrance
hall, she exclaimed, tears of very thankfulness coursing down her
cheeks:

"Why should we grieve while we have each other? While together we can
protect what my Hubert, what your father held so dear."

Each Le Mesurier boy, in varied pose of heroic resolve, protested his
loyalty and devotion to his father’s memory, and to the honoured name of
ancient lineage which he bore; and each Le Mesurier boy’s heart beat
strong and fast according to the stage of development in which his
inherent pride of race had found expression and proportionally to the
valorous and chivalric feeling that stirred in the depth of each
affectionate Le Mesurier boy’s nature toward his lady mother.

Hazel, with outspread skirts, gravely danced, twirled and pirouetted
with light, quick feet in the background; but on hearing the tears in
her mother’s voice, with a little caressing cry she flew to Helen’s
side, flung her arms about her and, looking up into her face, cried:

"Mother, mother, don’t forget that you have _me_"; and Helen, as she
stroked the curly head, and looked into the upturned brown eyes, felt
warm comfort glow at her heart, in that nought but death could wrest
from her these six priceless treasures, her children.

The stables and carriage-house were emptied.  Then came the disbandment
of the company of servants. Many wept, and, refusing the wage due to
them, took sorrowful leave of their mistress and the young masters whose
infancy they had tended.

Two, however, there were who did not weep and who, on the almost
indignantly named plea of having left their former beloved master and
mistress, Helen’s parents, for the express purpose of following the
fortunes of Helen herself, on her marriage with Hubert Le Mesurier,
stood their ground in the most literal sense, by obstinately declining
to go.  These two were Miles the butler and Martha Doidge, who,
kitchenmaid in her early youth, at thirty—the age of her exodus with
Helen—had been raised step by step till now, at fifty, the good woman
had attained to the dignity of housekeeper at Hazelhurst.

"But my dear, faithful Martha," Mrs. Le Mesurier expostulated, "you
forget: there will be no field for such services as yours.  Most of the
rooms will be closed and your cupboards will be empty.  And you, Miles,
your duties have been wrested from your hands."

Such arguments were vain.  Martha Doidge established herself as cook and
general factotum, managing, with the help of two young girls from the
neighbouring hamlet, with great dexterity and order, the domestic
affairs pertaining to the habitable part of Hazelhurst.

As for Miles, who was nigh upon sixty years, he did all that a faithful,
hardworking servant might, indoors and out.  Five o’clock in the morning
would often find him gardening assiduously, polishing windows, or
engaged in some such work, attired in a dilapidated old suit, which he
called his "undress"; but nine o’clock would see him serving the simple
breakfast with all the old dignity and with even added respect, arrayed,
as became the butler of "high family," in all the glory of the
fast-growing-shabby-and-shiny full dress of his vocation.

Almost speechless was Miles with indignation, and something more, when
Helen—deeply concerned for her old servant, that he should put aside all
his own interests in his devotion to herself and her children—made to
him the proposition that he should seek the position of butler at
Earnscleugh.  She had heard that the young master was about to return
from his sojourning abroad, to take up his abode permanently in the home
of his fathers; that great preparations were in making, and that the
usual staff of servants was needed in the completion of these
preparations.  As for her own household, Helen urged, the two young
maids could serve the simple meals that Doidge so daintily prepared; but
in their adverse fortunes they could not expect to command the services
of the best servant, she verily believed, in the land, nor could she
wish to be instrumental in helping to deter him from his
self-advancement.

Thus, by flattering and cajoling, did Helen endeavour to dissuade the
old retainer from continuing in what she deemed so great a sacrifice;
but she had not calculated on the very real affection that, deep-rooted,
had sprung up in the old man’s heart during all the years of his
servitude, and when, his anger cooled, Miles pleaded, visibly affected,
that to go, to turn his back on the family, would to him be leaving all
honour and grateful love behind; that his only wish was to end his days
in her service, she at length desisted from her efforts to render the
faithful fellow more worldly wise; and pressing his hand, assured him of
the affection and esteem with which she and her family regarded him; of
how rejoiced they would all be to learn that, despite their recent
losses, they were not to part with their old retainer; that he, who had
been with them so long, was to be with them yet.

So it was that Helen soothed the poor fellow’s wounded sensibilities,
and Miles continued butler at Hazelhurst.

Various were his ingenuities in that capacity, and gradually Helen and
her children learned to respect the innocent devices out of regard for
the feelings of their perpetrator.  The sideboard was ever furnished
with decanters of wine, which—seeing that the cellars had been emptied
of all, save the old port deemed necessary by the physician and friend
of the family for Helen, in the rather delicate state of her
health—might well be looked upon somewhat dubiously and hastily declined
in favour of the clear, crystal water, a gourd of which Miles was
careful to offer with the wine.  Nor was such refusal made difficult,
for Miles did not press the doubtful beverage on his young masters,
seeming rather to be relieved that it should be held in disfavour among
them, though he religiously continued, during luncheon and dinner, to
carry it round the table, sometimes under one name, sometimes by
another.

Whether the wine was procured at the village grocery or whether it was
tinted water, as Hazel ingeniously suggested, remained a mystery to all
but Miles himself; but certain it was that the decanters seldom needed
replenishing, so that no fears were entertained of a drain upon the
household disbursements or the private pocket of the Le Mesuriers’
butler.

Dire was the wrath of Miles should any of the womenfolk presume to
encroach upon his right.  Since the day of his coming to
Hazelhurst—twenty years ago, to be exact—the young footmen under his
supervision were most deferential to an old retainer upon whom the
family conferred so many honours, and in whom they reposed so much trust
and confidence.  Miles had enjoyed his power and made the most of it,
ordering, regulating, and drilling his satellites with perfection of
manipulation.  Now, however, that Fortune had frowned, things would
indeed have come to a pretty pass, to Miles’s thinking, had he permitted
women to fulfil the functions pertaining to the table that had hitherto
been performed by men only.  No; the fiat had gone forth that Miles
himself undertook to wait upon the family at meals; but woe to the maid
who failed to be at hand at the right moment, to bear the required dish,
or to receive the whispered communication.  Woe also to her, who,
lacking nicety of perception in such matters, or, more blameworthy
still, in mere feminine curiosity, ventured a step into the room, or
stood without in such position as should discover to those at table the
agency by which the butler carried out his duties with such order and
precision.

Whether Helen and her family were supposed to be in ignorance of the
number and sex of their attendants, or whether matters were ordered thus
by the redoubted Miles, upon the prompting of his own delicate feeling
on the point, remained as zealously guarded a mystery as the wine.

On one occasion the maid from the hamlet engaged by Martha Doidge, being
new to her duties, after knocking to attract the butler’s attention did
most unwisely and erroneously open the door and advance three steps into
the sacred precincts of the dining-room, bringing some course for which
Miles was not yet ready: a fact which his stern disregard of her summons
should have made plain to her.

So frightened was the girl when, on turning her fascinated eyes from the
table, they encountered those of the butler, who seemed to be bearing
down upon her, swift and noiseless, awful in the majesty of his wrath,
that, setting the dish upon the floor, she turned and fled.  Miles,
pausing beside the dish in momentary hesitation as to which of these
barbaric proceedings he should first give attention, followed in hot
pursuit, closing the door behind him.

Hazel and the boys were convulsed with stifled laughter, and Helen,
herself somewhat discomposed, could only beg of them to control
themselves before the faithful servant returned to the room.

The girl had evidently not retreated far, judging by the space of time
that Miles was absent, judging also by the ominous sniffs that fell upon
the ears of the dinner party when the door was reopened.

Miles entered, red of face and somewhat short of breath; but nothing
could surpass his dignity.  He lifted the dish from the ground, and
renewing the plates with miraculous speed, handed it round with the
utmost composure, to all outward seeming.

The meal over, Miles sought an interview with his mistress, apologising
for any laxity of order that she might have noticed, assuring her that
the like should not occur again; and that Mrs. Doidge had discharged the
girl for her remissness.  Helen had much ado to get the sentence of
dismissal commuted to a month’s trial.



                              *CHAPTER I*


On a bright day in late June, Hazel, now a tall slip of a girl of
sixteen, was wandering through the bit of woodland that stretched from
the immediate vicinage of Hazelhurst on its right flank to the boundary
of the land that had been left to the Le Mesuriers when, seven years
since, the greater part of the estate had been sold.  Tempting offers
had been tendered, both for the ground as it stood, and for the timber
grown upon it; but Mrs. Le Mesurier had remained firm, and her sons had
resolved that no poverty should induce them to part with this last
remaining portion of their heritage.

As to Hazel, the woodland was her kingdom, her empire.  She loved every
inch of its leafy, winding tracks; she was acquainted with every
squirrel and bird housed within its hospitable shelter; she gloried in
each veteran oak and cherished each tender sapling.

To-day, as she sauntered on, her small brown hands clasped before her,
pensive, her head bent, the soft brown hair falling like a mantle around
her, she seemed a very wood-nymph in her simple gown—the exact shade of
the gnarled trunks, in which russet tint it was her mother’s fancy to
clothe the girl.

Presently, wearied of pursuing the beaten pathways she turned aside to
stroll over a thick, springy carpet of last year’s crumpled leaves,
strewn with fir cones, pine needles, acorns, and acorn cups.  A squirrel
ran by her, paused and looked back, with what seemed to the girl a
roguish twinkling of his bright eyes; then, with a salute of his bushy
tail, was gone.  Birds of sorts, ceaselessly trilling their sweet notes,
hopped to the lower branches as she passed; presently one or two,
leaving the piping chorus for a space, fluttered to the ground near her
feet and, as she paused, seemed to be considering her in a conclusive,
bright-eyed way, with heads first on this side, then on that, as if
questioning the cause of her muteness.

And, indeed, Hazel was unlike herself this summer morning.  It was her
wont to greet her subjects graciously with chirps and chirrups and all
manner of sweet wood-notes. At her soft cooing a ringdove would belike
perch upon her shoulder, when she was minded to have one confidante!
But her "twee-twee" would create a whirr among the tree branches, and a
very medley of her feathery vassals would appear on the lowest boughs,
hopping, chirruping in bright-eyed questioning.  In bright-eyed greed
also; for they little doubted that when their liege lady had done with
her clear piping to that great, greedy, black thrush, who responded with
bows which would have been deferential and dignified had they only been
less choppy, and if he would only have desisted from shuffling his feet
and sidling restlessly up and down his perch the while performing them;
when she was pleased to stop chirping caressingly to the robins and
sending forth clear wood-note calls to summon the few pet woodlarks to
her presence, the manchet of bread which usually bulged her pocket would
surely be drawn out and dispensed in crumbs around her.

But to-day the pocket of the brown gown was suspiciously and ominously
flat, and Hazel held her peace, as if she feared to render unhappy the
pretty winged creatures by the sad-toned chirps and chirrups which would
surely be all she could contrive this morning if she endeavoured to be
sociable.

Presently the girl came upon a rugged oak-tree. She paused and looked
wistfully up into its branches, watching the sunlight glinting in and
out among the leaves, marking each delicate shape in relief against its
background of yellow light or blue shadow, each articulation of the
brown branches outlined clean and distinct, affording delicious peeps of
blue sky between.

Hazel, with impulsive motion, threw her arms about the trunk, and,
kissing the rough, sweet-smelling bark, turned her head and pressed her
soft pink cheek against the rugged surface of this lifelong friend.

"Ah," she said aloud, yearningly, "ah!" and the brown eyes filled with
tears, "I wish I could earn some money."

However strangely this admission may have sounded to any winged or
bushy-tailed audience that chanced to be within hearing, they were too
polite to allow their surprise to show itself, either by excited
increase of trills and cooings, or by sudden cessation of all sound.
The sunlight gleamed in quivering, shimmering shafts, as before; the
topmost tree branches waved slightly overhead; and the mischievous
squirrel, who must have been within earshot, now discovered himself and,
taking his seat not far from the girl, looked upon her more in sympathy
than in condemnation.

That the remark did sound out of place and somewhat mercenary is hardly
to be denied, coming as it did from this brown-haired Dryad amid such
pacific surroundings.  For Dryads are not supposed to know the worth of
money, nor to be harassed with such need: the woods wherein they dwell
and have their being affording them everything of the freshest and
fairest that they can possibly require.  Still the wish expressed was
not so unfitting in its nature as might at first appear; for this
particular wood-nymph had a mother—quite a peculiarity among Dryads, it
is generally understood. And this mother was less well than usual,
causing much anxiety and distress to her little daughter, who, however
odd it may seem, possessed a very human heart beating within her breast,
an immense capacity for joy and sorrow, and a great sympathy withal;
though, for her, personal acquaintance with grief was, happily, slight.

Mrs. Le Mesurier had never recovered from the shocking grief that her
husband’s death had caused her. For her children’s sake she had mastered
herself to some extent, to all outward seeming becoming once more the
cheerful little mother whom they had always known and adored: ready in
her sympathy with the young life around her, wise in her counsel and, in
her protection, loving.  But she, and she only, though the family
physician could testify to the results, knew of the bitter suffering in
the hours of dark and quiet, that sapped her strength and told on her
vitality.  Hers was a nature that could better bear a selfish indulgence
of that suffering, even if it should cast an abnormal melancholy over
her naturally joyous temperament, than the pent-up emotion which, when
the strain became too great, burst with terrible force over the poor
thing, leaving her so inert and listless that the armour of bravery,
which in sheer habit she would buckle on with each new day, was
sometimes very thin and worn, affording her but a poor guard against the
assailing sorrow.

Of late her health had fluctuated strangely.  No sufficient reason
accounting for such ebb and flow, the doctor was fain to lay the charge
to the strength-stealing propensities of an early, warm spring and hot
summer.

Hazel had gone daily to the village in person to select a couple of
choice peaches or other dainty luxury—alas! all too seldom seen now at
Hazelhurst, where once upon a time great baskets of such delicacies were
pressed upon the poor of the neighbourhood.  But to-day the poor child
had made the last disbursement from her slender store of pocket-money,
and was searching her mind for some suitable means by which to make
replenishment.  Each of her brothers gave his mite toward the support of
the household: why not she?

Guy, the eldest, through great good fortune and the exertion of
influential friends, had become a private secretary in a Government
office, for which post he was taken from college, and was now earning a
modest income.  Cecil, the second, was abroad, doing well in the Indian
Civil Service.  Gerald, the third, articled to a chartered accountant,
was hoping to pass his examination in a couple of years.  Hugh, the
fourth, and Teddie, the fifth Le Mesurier boy, both at the present time
"something in the City," accompanied their brother Gerald to town each
Monday morning, returning to the family roof-tree for the week-end, so
hungering for the simple delights of their quiet home, and for the
sweet, fresh air of their beloved woods, that from the train window, as
they approached their destination, each curly head would be thrust forth
to catch the first sight of Hazel, who never failed to be awaiting their
arrival upon the platform, her eager face and glad eyes an earnest of
her welcome; and each famous pair of lungs would greedily drink in each
faintest breeze wafted to them from the direction of Hazelhurst.

Gerald, of a steady, plodding temperament, gave no slightest cause for
uneasiness, either to his mother or to the kind patron who had helped
the boy to this opening in life.  But, alas, of Hugh and Teddie
otherwise! Cyril Westmacott, a younger brother of Helen’s, had kept the
two boys at school till the age of eighteen, but, having sons of his
own, could not afford a college education to follow.  Hugh, therefore,
for the last two years, had lived a somewhat desultory life since
leaving school till the present time, when he held a rather vague
position in a London office—a life which greatly unfitted the boy, never
of a studious or persevering nature, for such steady application as
nondescript appointments in the City render desirable for the attainment
of a more lucrative post.

Teddie, only a few months from school, was equally restless under
restraint and impatient of all monotony. Unfortunately, monotony
constituted, in great part, the high-stooled City life of the two
youngest Le Mesurier boys.

To-day was Monday, a depressing fact to Hazel, who accompanied three
long-legged and long-faced brothers to the station, some two miles
distant from Hazelhurst, with mournful regularity in the early morning
of that day, come wet, come shine, after a hearty breakfast at half-past
six, served to the party by Miles, who, respectful and deeply
sympathetic, urged one and all to keep up their strength for the trying
ordeal they were about to undergo.  Nor were his efforts vain, for no
excitation of mind, not even that of sorrow, to the best of his
knowledge, had ever affected the wonderful appetites of his young
masters.

And now the girl, returned to the quiet house to find her mother not yet
risen, had found its solitude unbearable, the very echoes that the
famous Le Mesurier voice had awakened within its walls having died now
into quite disproportionate silence, it seemed to Hazel, who, fleeing to
the woods, had given herself up to sad meditation, in which the wistful
desire to earn money herself held prominent place.

Lying on a bed of soft mosses, she lost herself in thought, and more
than an hour must have passed when the sound of footsteps fell upon her
startled ears. Raising herself to a distrustful sitting posture, the
girl awaited what should chance, presently descrying the figure of Miles
the butler, evidently in quest of herself, though at the moment of her
discovery she could perceive him passing among the trees along many and
divergent tracks.

"Miles," she cried, "Miles"; and, springing to her feet, the girl ran to
meet the old servant.  "Is mother asking for me?" she inquired.

To her surprise, for all answer, Miles, rummaging in the breast pocket
of his coat, produced an orange-coloured envelope: a telegram addressed
to Hazel; and, placing the missive upon a tiny salver he was carrying,
presented it to his young mistress; then retiring a few paces, awaited
her pleasure.

Truly the two figures presented an odd contrast one to the other; the
girl slim, graceful, upright as the feathery larch near which she stood,
pink-cheeked, bright-eyed, the embodiment of delicate, supple youth; the
old man, clothed in shabby black, the fresh green around rendering his
poor habiliments more rusty-looking and threadbare than ever, the baggy
knees lending to his attitude the effect of a curtsey from which he had
never recovered.  Yet the face, though seamed with many a line, was
fresh-coloured and well favoured, possessing a cheery, bland expression,
born of peace and contentment—heritage of advancing age into which,
alas, all too few come.

Hazel, recovering from her astonishment at finding herself the recipient
of a message of sufficient importance to necessitate a telegram, with
trembling fingers opened the envelope and read the following words:

"Been sacked: break news gently to mother: meet afternoon train,
TEDDIE."

"Miles," the girl said tremulously—and as the servant approached she
regarded him in awed solemnity—"to be sacked is to be discharged, isn’t
it?"

"Yes, miss," Miles replied, his eyes almost as dilated as those of his
young mistress, "is—is the message from one of the young gentlemen,
miss?  Has one of them been—er—discharged, miss, if I may make so free?"

Hazel, flushing red, then pale, read aloud the contents of the telegram,
Miles listening with bated breath; after which the two regarded one
another in silence, both guiltily conscious that their emotions were not
altogether of such a nature as the occasion seemed to demand.

True, Hazel did feel consternation in that this darling of her heart,
this same Teddie, who for three long months had been self-supporting,
was now to be returned to them: for the girl was aware that her idol, to
put into words her own half-sad, half-humorous thoughts on the subject,
was an expensive luxury; that the slender resources of Hazelhurst were
sorely tried during the redoubted Teddie’s visitations.  Her mind was
further exercised as to the cause of his dismissal, though she guessed
it to be, and rightly, largely owing to the, it must be confessed,
somewhat peppery temper of Teddie.  She was distressed, on these several
accounts, for the sake of her mother, from whom it was essentially
necessary to keep all matters of a character likely to prove agitating
or disturbing.  So that it was with feelings very mixed, though a
delicious exultation predominated, that Hazel made her way to the house
to acquaint her mother, using what gentle tact she might, with the
exciting intelligence.  Miles followed.  In his way he was equally
rejoiced with his little lady, for the quietude of Hazelhurst from
Monday at 7 a.m. till Saturday at 4 p.m. was hardly more to his taste
than to hers.

On the threshold Hazel paused and, turning, asked Miles to bring her a
glass of port and biscuits, it being close upon the customary hour at
which her mother partook of that refreshment.

On entering her mother’s room, Hazel found herself in the moment of time
for the performance of the duties of tirewoman; for Helen, seated before
the mirror, brush in hand, was engaged in smoothing her hair, somewhat
surprised at her little daughter’s tardiness to be at this, her dearly
loved, self-imposed task.  Setting the wine upon a side-table, Hazel
crossed the spacious room, and, kneeling beside her mother’s chair,
placed her arms about her and kissed her.

"Good morning to you, sweet my mother," she said, gaily, looking
lovingly upon the delicate face that was so dear to her.  "I hope I see
you well and that you have only just begun to brush your hair.  You were
not up when I came home this morning, and I have got late somehow.  I
was in the wood, where I do believe," the girl added, half laughing,
"that time is not."

With that she rose to her feet and, taking the brush from the table,
where her mother had laid it—the better to return her daughter’s
caress—with gentle hand proceeded to smooth the masses of fair hair that
rippled and waved so like her own; presently, with deft fingers,
skilfully twisting and coiling it into a great knot behind the shapely
head.  Then assisting her mother to exchange her dressing-gown for a
simple morning-gown of some soft, black material—Helen always wore
black—the girl placed the tray containing biscuits and wine before her,
bidding her eat and drink whilst she told her some news.

"Really important news," Hazel said, "and not altogether good," she
added, rather at a loss to know how to follow Teddie’s wise dictate, of
which her own heart so wholly approved.

"It cannot be altogether bad," her mother returned, "though half afraid:
you also look very glad about something, Hazel."

"Well," Hazel responded, "I must not keep you on tenterhooks, mother;
so, if you promise to keep before you the delicious, really delicious,
view of the case, and try not to mind the—er—rather awkward side, I will
tell you.  Teddie has been sack—has been dismissed, you know," Hazel
amended, then paused and regarded her mother apprehensively.

To her immense relief, Helen, albeit a little startled at this really
alarming intelligence, was smiling at her daughter’s ingenuous way of
breaking the same.

"One can’t help being glad, can one?" Hazel said simply, her countenance
radiant, quite mistaking the tenor of her mother’s thoughts.  And the
girl, fully reassured, dropped all hesitancy of speech and, becoming
less guarded in the expression of her exultant joy, proceeded without
further dalliance to lay before her mother a hundred-and-one good
reasons for rejoicing in the return of this redoubtable youngest son,
only lamenting the lack of a fatted calf for killing.

"We must hope that he will find something to do before leaving his
present position," Helen remarked, Stroking the soft pink cheek, as
Hazel, having exhausted her repertory to hand, paused to collect further
store wherewith to swell the arguments in favour of her generous
premises.

Her raptures thus unwittingly checked, she could only gaze upon her
mother in mute dismay, truly concerned to find that so important a
detail of the momentous announcement had yet to be imparted.

"Dearest," she said at length, "that is not likely. He has so little
time—the—the fact is, he is coming home to-day"; and she drew from her
bosom, where it had lain, carefully concealed, the fateful pink paper.

"Hazel," her mother exclaimed, more alarmed than the girl had yet seen
her, "what can he have done to be dismissed at a moment’s notice?
Something must be seriously wrong!"

"He has probably shied an inkpot at Carrots’ head," Hazel returned
laconically.  "But, motherling, he may get some job or another quite
quickly.  You know what taking manners Teddie has, how every one likes
him the first moment of seeing him."

"Hazel, my dear child, what extraordinary expressions! You really must
not use such words," Helen remonstrated, her breath fairly taken away by
the girl’s remarkable suggestion as the solution of the proposition, and
her glib and peculiar phraseology in wording it. "And why," Helen
proceeded, "why should you imagine that Teddie, a gentleman—a Le
Mesurier—should so demean himself as to throw inkpots at—er—at Carrots,
did you say, dear? at Carrots’ head?  Who is Carrots, pray?"

"I don’t know who he is, motherling.  They call him Carrots at the
office because his hair is so red—Carrots or the Lout.  Teddie generally
speaks of him as the Lout," Hazel rejoined meekly, in pretty penitence.

Mrs. Le Mesurier glanced uneasily at her daughter. "Probably of French
extraction," she murmured, the suspicion, that this again might be a
word not commonly used among ladies, ousted from her mind on
encountering Hazel’s innocently candid brown eyes.  "But, dear, you have
not yet explained.  Why should you imagine for a moment that Teddie——"

"Well, you see, mother dear," the girl interposed, eager to justify
herself, "Teddie did it once before—I thought he would have told you—and
so I supposed it not unlikely, considering how he enjoyed doing it that
time—having tasted blood, as it were—he should, if roused, be unable to
resist doing it again.  He says there was a fearful row that time," she
went on enthusiastically, "Carrots gave a sort of bellow when the inkpot
struck him, and at that moment, who should come into the room but—the
boss.  I am not exactly using slang now, mother," the girl hastened to
explain, breaking off the narrative at this most critical juncture, "I
am only quoting Teddie, who tells the story so graphically—somehow, more
classical language would not suit it. Now would it?" she asked, quaintly
deprecative.

"I fear you are too much with the boys, Hazel," her mother remarked,
gravely, "or rather, _were_ too much with them," she amended, a little
sigh escaping her for those absent ones, "and your mind was always
impressionable, your memory retentive.  Even as a tiny child you would
always clothe a story in the exact words in which it had been told you,
whether by servant, schoolboy, or your mother and father."

"Yes, I do that rather," Hazel admitted contritely. "I must always let
people know I am quoting.  That would make it better, at all events less
bad, wouldn’t it, mother?" and she nestled fondly against her mother’s
knee.

"Well, go on, dearie."  And Helen smiled to herself as she stroked the
curly head.  "What happened when Mr. Hamilton came in?"

Thus encouraged, Hazel resumed the thread of her narrative.  "Teddie
says that Carrots blubbed pretty badly—mind, dear, I am quoting Teddie,"
the girl again interrupted herself, somewhat abashed to find that the
tale seemed to fairly bristle with words of doubtful repute, "and, being
a sneak, he instantly went and blabbed."

"What is that?" Helen asked.  "It is fortunate you don’t quote Teddie
very often, Hazel."

"He told the—Mr. Hamilton all about it," Hazel explained, "and Mr.
Hamilton said: ’Le Mesurier,’"—here Hazel assumed a dramatic pose,
suggestive of righteous wrath denouncing an evildoer—"’Le Mesurier, if
such scandalous behaviour occurs again, I shall discharge you on the
spot.  Had you been any young man other than you are,’" Hazel continued,
speaking in a voice that would make righteous wrath itself tremble, "’I
should have requested you to leave my office instantly. As it is, I
shall expect you to apologise to Mr.’—I don’t know his name, mother—’and
to make what amends you can for your most unwarrantable behaviour.’"

"And did Teddie apologise?" Mrs. Le Mesurier asked, much diverted.

"Not he," Hazel cried exultantly.  "The sequel to the story bespeaks the
character of both.  Teddie offered Carrots five shillings instead—you
know what a very little pocket-money he has, mother; and if you will
believe it, the Lout accepted it.  The next day," Hazel continued, after
a pause devoted to pacing the room in some excitement, "Mr. Hamilton
called Teddie into his private office, and inquired whether a
reconciliation had been effected.  Teddie answered that Carrots was
satisfied.  ’You did apologise, then, Le Mesurier?’ Mr. Hamilton asked,
Teddie thought in some surprise, though he tried to hide it.  ’No, sir,’
says Teddie.  ’No?’ says Mr. Hamilton, puzzled. ’You said just now that
the young man was satisfied. Explain yourself, if you please.’  ’I did
not apologise, I would rather leave you, sir, than do so; I offered five
shillings instead, and the’—I think Teddie said the cad," Hazel broke
off apologetically, "’and the cad accepted it.’"

"Yes?" Mrs. Le Mesurier said interrogatively, too much interested to
expostulate.

"That was all," Hazel returned.  "Teddie says that just then Mr.
Hamilton had a fit of coughing, and, as he held his handkerchief to his
face, Teddie could not see the expression.  So he took Mr. Hamilton’s
wave of the hand as a sign to leave him, and went."

"My boy must have entertained an extraordinarily poor opinion of the
young man, to have proposed giving him money instead of asking his
pardon," Mrs. Le Mesurier commented.

"Yes indeed," agreed Hazel.  "It was a far worse insult than having an
inkpot thrown at your head. But Teddie was justified in his opinion,
mother, for Carrots was quite pleased."

"And you don’t know what it was that so angered Teddie in the first
instance?" Mrs. Le Mesurier asked.

"No, he would never tell me," Hazel answered.



                              *CHAPTER II*


On this fateful Monday the five o’clock train was miraculously punctual.
At precisely two minutes to the hour its serpentine, many-jointed body
rounded the bend of the line, gracefully and with dignity, being neither
flurried nor dilatory in its smooth, gliding motion, emitting neither
shrill whistle nor vulgar puffings, as some quite well-appointed trains
do, thinking to force recognition of the length of their run and their
hard-pressed punctuality by triumphant noise or most distressful
breathing.  It is true that the great engine gave vent to a soft,
long-drawn sigh, and that its huge body seemed to pulsate slightly as
the train ranged itself obligingly along the platform; but so
unostentatiously, so obviously desiring not to attract attention, that
it was to be supposed the monster’s heart really was a little delicate,
occasioning palpitation and more or less exhaustion.

A fair, curly head, unmistakably a Le Mesurier’s, had emerged from the
window of a third-class compartment some ten minutes before the train
was stationed, drinking in, with the usual rapacity, the sweet
sun-warmed air; and presently, the bend rounded, a smile lighted the
boyish face, as his eyes fell on a little figure in brown cotton gown
and shady straw hat standing upon the platform.

"Confound it all," muttered the youngest son of Hubert Le Mesurier—to
whose memory, peace—"here I have been practising how to make a long
face, for decency’s sake, and was really beginning to feel a bit low;
and now the first glimpse of Hazel upsets it all, and away goes
melancholy."

Resisting a desire to fling himself from the train while it was still in
motion, as was his custom, Teddie, awaiting his time, descended to the
platform as one whose soul is heavy within him; and Hazel, her sunny
smile checked at sight of her brother’s demeanour, came toward him
sedately, in deference to his feelings.

"How did she take it?" were Teddie’s first words, spoken in somewhat
hollow accents.

"Much better than you would think," Hazel responded, seeking to reassure
him.  "Of course, she hopes you will get some other employment quickly;
and—and, of course, Teddie dear, she is rather troubled as to what it
was, you know.  She is naturally afraid that something rather serious
may have occurred."

Hazel linked her arm comfortingly within her brother’s, the while she
apprised him of these circumstances. She did not attempt to persuade or
coax his confidence, knowing that in his own good time he would tell her
all.

Teddie groaned.

"You see," the girl continued, pressing the angular elbow to her side,
and looking up into the moody countenance, "she can’t help thinking it
rather—rather sudden: the dismissal, I mean.  That is only natural,
isn’t it, Teddie?" Hazel asked apologetically.

"Your bag, sir," said Mitchell, the younger of the two porters that the
station boasted.  "Carry it up for you, sir?" the man inquired
respectfully.  The Le Mesuriers were held in great esteem by Mitchell
and his colleagues.

"Thanks, Bob, no," the boy returned, "it is not heavy"; and taking the
lean, attenuated, and excessively shabby portmanteau containing Teddie’s
night apparel and toilet requisites from the man’s hand, the brother and
sister walked from the station and out upon the sunlit road.

"You must not take it too much to heart, old fellow," Hazel said
presently.  "How do you feel?"

"Rather cut up and a bit blue, you know," Teddie responded with
hesitancy.  "You see, it was rather sudden, and—and came upon a fellow
with rather a shock."

"Yes," Hazel agreed sympathetically; "it was sudden."

"So, of course, I feel it rather," Teddie continued pathetically, though
seemingly soothed.  "And, anyway, I gave the brute a fine black eye," he
broke out gleefully, in startling exultation.

"Not—not Carrots?" gasped Hazel.

"The worst of it is," Teddie continued, gloom descending once more, "the
worst of it is that I am not at all sure that Hugh may not turn up one
day this week—in this same way, you know.  He was given a month’s notice
more than three weeks ago, but has said nothing about it, hoping to get
something else all this time."

"Does—does he wish to keep what he has done private?" Hazel asked with
delicate hesitancy, "or may you tell me?"

"He has not _done_ anything," her brother replied; "that is just it: he
won’t work, you know.  I don’t blame the old boy, I have always known it
to be simply impossible for Hugh to work; if he gets a pen or pencil in
his fingers, he is bound to _draw_.  Have you not noticed it in him?
His blotting-paper at the office is a sight," Teddie continued, "and,
which may have hastened matters, his boss found a likeness of
himself—not a flattering one—among Hugh’s papers."

"How dreadful!" said Hazel in consternation.

"Pretty bad, isn’t it?" Teddie agreed.

"And oh, Teddie," the girl went on, "my pocket-money gave out to-day.
You know how I like to give mother some little delicacy.  I don’t know
whether you could lend me any.  Sixpence would do for to-day."

Teddie felt in all his pockets and produced three halfpence.  "I am
awfully sorry," he said ruefully; "and to think I spent one and
fourpence on a steak to-day."

"You _must_ have been hungry," his sister exclaimed, amazed.

"Oh, not to eat," laughed Teddie.  "It was for Carrots’ eye."

Hazel looked her astonishment.

"You see," her brother explained, "it was after the row.  Hamilton had
gone out to lunch, and I was going to mine, when I noticed that Carrots,
who was sitting at his desk, was holding his face in his hands and
groaning."

"Yes," said Hazel pitifully, "and then?"

"Well," Teddie continued, "the eye certainly looked pretty bad—seemed to
be a worse one than I really intended to give him, you know, and it put
me in mind of beef steak somehow.  So I went to the nearest butcher and
bought one."

"But, Teddie," said Hazel, much interested, "surely a much smaller piece
would have done?"

"It never struck me," Teddie declared.  "I was never in a butcher’s shop
before.  I suppose I thought they would not halve it.  The master of the
shop said: ’What can I do for you, sir?’  I said: ’I want a steak.’
’The best?’ he said.  ’Yes,’ I said; ’the juiciest you have got: it is
for—’  I was just going to tell him it was for a black eye, but there
was a wretched little errand boy in the shop, grinning, so I said: ’It
is for one person.’  He slapped a piece on to the scales and wrapped it
up in newspaper, and said it would be one and four—which was lucky, as I
had got only one and fivepence halfpenny.  I ran back to the office and
put it down on the desk, in front of Carrots, and went out again."

"Did it do him any good?" Hazel asked.

"I don’t know," her brother answered.  "I left for good after that, you
know."

"But, Teddie," she protested, "then you have had no lunch."

"Oh, that does not matter," the boy rejoined tragically, as on this
reminder healthy pangs of hunger reasserted themselves.  "That is quite
the least part of the whole bad business—I don’t suppose I _could_ eat,
you know, if I tried.  It is just possible," he continued, with
increased gloom and some irritation, "that the Lout had a rattling lunch
with what was over: he could easily fry it on the shovel over the office
gas."

"It would make the office smell rather, to cook there, wouldn’t it?"
suggested Hazel.  "Mr. Hamilton might be angry."

"An awfully nice smell," groaned Teddie, "enough to make Hamilton want
to sit in the outer office all the rest of the afternoon."

Hazel, making a shrewd guess at her brother’s innermost feelings and
private sufferings, endeavoured to divert his mind from beefsteak or any
other subject likely to aggravate them.  And again affectionately
stroking the shabby coat sleeve, she proceeded to discourse on divers
topics, thus whiling away the time, that must otherwise have dragged
terribly for poor hungry Teddy, as the two trudged along the somewhat
monotonous track of dusty road, under a sun that was only now beginning
to be aware that the hot summer day was waning; that it would therefore
become him to restrain his ardour, and to relax his fierce and fiery
countenance to more gentle demonstrations of his warm and impulsive
temperament.

On reaching the house, after safely bestowing the delinquent upon his
mother’s care, Hazel sped across the marble-flagged hall, down one of
the numerous passages and through a baize-covered swing-door, which shut
off that portion of the house devoted to servants’ offices.  She made
her way to the kitchen, an old-fashioned stone kitchen, where sundry
odours made apparent the circumstance that dinner was in preparation.
The two village maids dropped curtsies, and Mrs. Doidge turned from the
fire to welcome her young lady.

"Will you kindly be seated, miss?" asked the ex-housekeeper.  "Mattie,
leave that bit of ironing and place the easy chair nearer the window for
Miss Hazel."

"No, Mrs. Doidge, thank you," Hazel interposed.  "I cannot stay a
moment.  I only wanted some slices of bread and butter, rather thick,
please, and a cup of tea, if you have boiling water.  Mr. Teddie has
come home, as I daresay Miles told you; but what do you think?—he has
had no lunch."

The three women were quickly in a bustle, many ejaculations of concern
escaping Mrs. Doidge’s lips, in that Teddie, her pet and darling—next to
Hazel, be it understood—should thus be famishing within these very
walls.  Hazel had no need to urge haste, and was presently bearing away
a tray, followed by many remonstrances from Mrs. Doidge, who protested
she could easily spare one of the maids on so short an errand. Teddie,
whose quick ear caught the tap of Hazel’s little foot against the
panels, rose to give her admittance, and hungrily eyed the food that he
yet deemed it only decent to turn from in seeming disgust.

"Just leave it near me," he said, in response to his sister’s pleading.
"I may perhaps find I can nibble a piece of bread presently."

Hazel had fully expected to find her mother and brother deep in
conversation concerning the circumstance of his sudden, not to say
precipitate, restoration to the bosom of his family; but the truth was
that Teddie possessed very little information of which to deliver
himself.  It appeared that his _bête noire_, Carrots, had grievously
insulted the young gentleman, nor him alone, but the ancient name of Le
Mesurier, in grossest manner, such as no gentleman, let alone a Le
Mesurier, could allow to pass and yet hope to retain his honour.
Therefore had Teddie risen up in his wrath, and, with vengeful force,
had smitten this enemy of his house, inflicting a black eye.  The young
man’s employer had at that moment made his appearance.  We have the
sequel of the story in the reappearance of poor Teddie at Hazelhurst on
the day of his departure thence.

Hazel, bent on humouring the hungry lad, after placing the food within
easy reach, discreetly turned away and occupied eye and hand in the
rearrangement of flowers in their several vases, adroitly holding her
mother in conversation the while; but when, five minutes later, having
completed her task with all possible deliberation, and having duly
considered the result of her labour, with head on this side and that,
the girl came forward to take her favourite seat beside her mother’s
chair: lo, the cup was empty, the plate bare, and Teddie was ingenuously
reviewing his boots in taciturn and blue-eyed melancholy.

Despite himself, however, the boy could not long pretend to a condition
so at variance with his joyful, hopeful young nature.  In truth, by
dinner-time, in response to the second sounding of the gong, fresh
washed and dressed, his hunger appeased—for it is to be supposed that
Teddie was responsible for the disappearance of the bread and butter and
tea—he presented himself, to Hazel’s delight, in the likeness of the
more familiar Teddie, having set aside all pseudo-dejection, and, if
truth be told, looking wonderfully handsome in his evening garb, which,
though shabby and curiously appointed with high lights in all prominent
places, was well brushed, and displayed a goodly show of spotless and
snow-white cuff.  So fresh and handsome did the boy look, indeed, that
Hazel, quite impressed, regarded him in admiration.

"Why, Teddie," she cried, "how nice you look!  And you were complaining,
only last night, that your dinner jacket was not fit to wear.  It is a
little shiny, certainly, but——"

"You don’t suppose," said Teddie seriously, amazed at her simplicity,
"you don’t suppose that I should be such a noodle as to wear my own
evening clothes? No, no, I save my own, whenever I get the chance!"

"Oh, what a shame," Hazel expostulated.  "Then whose are these?"

"Why, Hugh’s," her brother informed her, with an irrepressible chuckle.
"And it is all very well to cry shame, Hazel; but why do you suppose
this suit looks so decent?  Because, forsooth, Hugh puts it carefully
away and wears mine whenever he can.  And again, why has mine become so
extremely shabby?  Because, when he has it on—and he manages to wear it
pretty often, let me tell you—he is utterly reckless as to how he treats
it: he will lie upon the grass in it; and he wore it a great deal while
he was making those bookshelves for you, and messing about generally in
the carpenter’s room of an evening."

"Mrs. Doidge has fine-drawn the hole in the knee where the chisel went
through, sir," murmured Miles, as he offered his young master the
vegetables, with deferential bend, "and I brushed and laid everything
out upon your bed, sir, as usual."

"Thank you, Miles; yes, I saw that," Teddie rejoined. "Well, they will
be all the readier.  I am afraid I shall be wearing them very soon:
something tells me that it won’t be long before Hugh comes," he added,
turning to Hazel.

Good, faithful Miles!  With how much perseverance did he endeavour, in
things great and small, to keep up his loved "family" to the level of
their former status, deeming such condition essential to their
well-being! With what toil and labour did he strive that each of his
young masters should at all times appear well groomed, that they might
not miss, nor show they lacked, the attentions of the two valets whose
services had been entirely devoted to his five sons, by Hubert’s order!

And indeed, as Miles himself was wont to confess, if it were not for the
saving help of their faithful servant, long ere this would the young
gentlemen have presented themselves at dinner in morning dress, to be
tended by a couple of maids—Miles always lost his equanimity at the mere
thought of women at table.  He shuddered to contemplate the probable
condition of the plate and glass, that constituted his greatest pride,
under feminine control.

He would look into the drawing-room or search the hall—either of which
places were gathering grounds of the family—a few minutes before the
sounding of the dinner-gong, and if one luckless Le Mesurier boy chanced
to be lurking in some corner, in morning garb, hoping to escape the
watchful eye of the redoubted butler, Miles would immediately spy him
out, and with bland severity inform the delinquent that he would ask
Mrs. Doidge to "put the dinner back" a quarter of an hour, if his young
master could find that sufficient time in which to make his toilet.  His
patient persistence at length shamed the boys into meek acquiescence, so
that Miles had relaxed his stern vigilance somewhat of late, showing in
its stead a pathetic trust in their own sense of right, such as they
could not disregard.

The flower-garden too, in the immediate neighbourhood of the house,
would be overrun with weeds—as he had once found it after a month’s
confinement to the house with an obstinate attack of
rheumatism—entailing the extra expense of outside help for their
suppression. It is true that Miss Hazel had wrestled with the noxious
growths—as her little brown hands testified, for she either could not or
would not keep on the queerly fashioned and enormous gloves that Mrs.
Doidge assured the girl were the correct thing for gardening, and with
which the good woman was careful to supply her; but what was his little
mistress’s feeble strength, pitted against the alarming odds of the
pertinacious herbage? Miles asked pitifully, when even he, tough,
work-hardened old man that he was, found the fight a fierce and
oft-to-be-repeated one: for the foe, fresh and smiling in their green
uniform, seemed to bear charmed lives, and to rise in formidable ranks
like so many phoenixes from the weed carnage.  Extermination seemed an
impossibility, notwithstanding the feverish energy with which Miles went
forth to combat, and the wondrous strategy that he brought to bear upon
the imposing and ever-smiling green army.



                             *CHAPTER III*


Two days later, Teddie and Hazel, she seated on far-stretching,
hopelessly tangled tree-roots, he prone upon his back on the dry moss,
disported themselves in the leafy shade of the beloved greenwood, deep
in consultation on the same momentous question that Hazel had
endeavoured to solve alone: how might she earn money?

Typewriting had been discussed, but the idea was soon abandoned, Teddie
informing his sister that, to be successful in that branch of industry,
a peculiar kind of appearance was desirable—indeed, was essentially
needful—an appearance that Hazel entirely lacked, as she herself would
admit, could she see "the sort" that frequented the office adjoining Mr.
Hamilton’s.

"Why," the boy declared, "they would simply stare if _you_ suddenly
turned up there and asked for a job, and the boss would inquire
delicately where your mother was, and would instruct his head clerk to
take you back to her."

"I should not go like this," Hazel returned, deprecatingly, fingering a
piece of her white spotted muslin, and eyeing her brother wistfully.  "I
should probably have a tailor-made tweed dress, and a man’s straw hat,
and thick boots, and a stand-up collar and tie.  You have no idea
how—how strong-minded I could look, if I had the proper dress for
bringing it out.  Most women owe it to their dress: I am quite sure they
don’t feel and stride about like that, in their dressing-gowns."

She regarded him pleadingly; the mere thought of becoming one of the
City band—the doing away for ever with the dolorous Monday morning
partings—above all, the obtaining of means to supply her mother with
endless little luxuries, made the proposition a very tempting one to the
girl.

But Teddie shook his head.  "It is a peculiar _stamp_," he said
musingly, "and, take my word for it, Hazel, it is not all in the
clothes.  Why, some of them dress quite æsthetically; but it is no go,
they are typewriters.  Not that I disapprove of them as a class," he
hastened to add.  "If it comes to that, some of them are quite pretty,
but—well, you would not do, and that is all about it."

There was a short silence.  The sun glinted in and out among the
tree-branches in shimmering shafts of yellow light, the leaves quivered
slightly in the still air, the birds chirped, and Hazel sighed.

"Besides," Teddie continued, feeling perhaps that he had been somewhat
unsympathetically sweeping in his assertions, "there would be the
expense of learning.  You don’t become a full-blown typewriter all at
once, you know.  You don’t just sit down and manage it, so to speak, as
you happen to be able to play the piano—without lessons."

Hazel brightened visibly so soon as this very real obstacle—means—was
put before her: she was willing to give up any attempt at scaling an
obstruction that would obviously harm her in the ascent.  It was not
that she was cowardly, or easily discouraged—far from it: never was girl
pluckier or keener spirited; but she was wise in her generation, and saw
that the loss entailed in the attempt to gain was greater than the gain
itself; that the other side of the block, in short, was not worth the
reaching.

"That is true," she admitted, relieved.  "There is the tailor-made
dress, too!  Let us talk of other ways."  She hesitated.  "Now, don’t
laugh, Teddie," she went on, "just think seriously over what I am going
to propose, and then say yes or no, after due consideration, you know.
Teddie—could I be a governess?"  And the girl unconsciously straightened
her back, while an expression of mild severity overspread her
countenance.

Teddie’s surprise at this, to him astounding, idea silenced his tongue.
After a few moments the slender figure drooped—Hazel never stooped, she
drooped: as different a state, mental and physical, as ugliness from
beauty—the pretty features relaxed.

"Of course I know," she resumed modestly, "that they would have to be
very, very young children—or very backward older ones.  I should prefer
the backward ones: the very young are so fascinating.  I don’t know
whether I should have the strength of mind, if they were hot and tired,
and wanting to play, to insist on their finishing the spelling-lesson or
sum; and I know that, while you cannot be too kind and too patient, you
also cannot be too firm in having the little task completed.  But," she
added reflectively, chin in hand, "I should be wise and see to it that
the task was a very short and easy one, especially if the child was
particularly longing to go out, or was not quite well."

The girl had almost forgotten her brother’s presence, and had entered
into a little world of her own.  She pictured to herself a pleasant,
airy schoolroom with three or four happy, rosy children seated at the
table, of which she herself was the head, strewn with the usual
schoolroom paraphernalia: rulers, slates, dingy spelling-books of
dog’s-eared, awe-inspiring columns of words, slate pencils whose points
and bluntness alike set your teeth on edge when you looked at them;
copy-books with pot-hooks and hangers to copy in pencil—for Hazel would
permit no inkpots nor ink-bespattering pens to enter her domain, to
sully the purity of clean pinafores and childish fingers.  Yes, she
would be careful that the room should be airy, for she knew that much of
rosy-cheeked happiness must depend upon that; the lessons short and
interesting: for how should a child, mewed up in a close atmosphere, set
to learn a tedious task, which no older mind had first rendered pleasant
and understandable by a little intelligent smoothing and explaining, be
aught but fidgety, cross, and unhappy?  A child’s mind should be lightly
taxed, Hazel decided.  She also decided that, however unorthodox it
might be, she would always have freshly cut flowers upon her schoolroom
table. Lessons were to be connected with pretty things, as well as with
smeary slate and dingy spelling-book. Besides, how useful they would be
in furnishing themes on which to discourse to her eager-eared young
charges!

These ideas floated through the girl’s vivid imagination within the
space of a few moments only.  Presently she roused herself, and shook
herself free of the reverie into which she had fallen.

"I suppose it ought to be the backward ones," she said with a sigh.

"To think of Miss Le Mesurier becoming a governess," Teddie observed
ruminatingly.  "It is ridiculous, Hazel. Why, you would be romping with
them round the table?  And why are they to be so very young or, if
older, dolts?  Do you mean you cannot teach?"

"I don’t quite know," Hazel returned, hesitating and pausing.  "My—my
education has been—er—has been rather choppy, hasn’t it?" she asked a
little timidly, fearful of wounding her brother’s feelings, for the five
boys had had practically the charge of their little sister’s education.
Cecil, until he had obtained his present post in the Indian Civil
Service, had given her a daily lesson in some or other branch of
knowledge, at irregular times, certainly—an occasional hour before
breakfast, or half an hour before bedtime.  But the girl was an apt
pupil.  She marked, learned, and inwardly digested—her clever little
brain seemed to be well nourished: for the food on which it was fed,
albeit scanty, was of goodly quality, and the very ample time allowed
her for the assimilation of each respective lesson was perhaps the
secret, in part, of her strongly marked digestive power.

Then Guy had taken her in hand, but soon confessed himself no
teacher—that Hazel’s odd questions puzzled him.  Soon afterwards he left
home to play his modest part in the government of his country.  The girl
was then passed over to Gerald—good, steady, faithful, plodding Gerald.
In him she found her master: he an intelligent, interesting pupil.
Together they would while away the long morning hours in profound study,
in summer taking their books to the woods; in winter the bearskin before
the hall hearth would often be the scene of their labour.

Necessity, however, caused long months of enforced holiday, when the
girl would have been impatient of days, and of late Saturday evening had
become the only time possible for Gerald to devote to two or three hours
of tutorage; while on Sunday, between church hours, the young man would
read aloud and make instructive comments to a little auditor, all ears
and eyes, upon books, the like of which caused the hair of Hugh and
Teddie to rise upon their heads in amaze, in that their brother and
sister should find pleasure in such "deadly dry stuff," to couch the
expression in their own tongue.  And Monday morning would see the
persevering tutor, at a very early hour, correcting writings of his
pupil’s authorship, and further arranging a programme for the ensuing
days of his absence.

"I don’t fancy I am well grounded," the girl went on, "and I should
suppose that to be very important to teachers."  She paused.

"I must say," Teddie remarked remonstrantly, "that you are not very
complimentary to Gerald—or to me, if it comes to that.  I have given you
a turn at arithmetic, myself, and I have found you smart enough."

"Yes, oh yes, thank you, old fellow," Hazel returned hastily,
apologetically.  "He and—and you"—it appeared a little difficult to the
girl to make the addition—"have the talent of teaching.  Now, even
supposing my learning to be sufficient, have _I_?"

"I don’t see that it _is_ the question," returned her brother, much
mollified, "for none of us would let you become a governess: it would be
too absurd—you are only a child yourself."

At this Hazel waxed indignant.  "I am young," she admitted with naïve
frankness, "but I am tall and fond of children.  Mother was saying
lately that my next new dress must be made quite long.  See," she cried,
springing up and walking swiftly to and fro in straight-limbed, supple
grace, "they are all but long already.  And of course," the girl
continued, resuming her seat, "I should do up my hair and wear
’ladies’,’ instead of ’girls’’ hats.  As I said before, you have no idea
how much is owed to clothes."

There was a short silence.  Teddie, upon his back, groaned slightly.

"Now listen, Teddie," Hazel presently continued, "I have one more plan
to lay before you and, really, out of three, it is only reasonable to
expect you to think seriously of one, and finally to agree to try it and
help me to persuade mother.  In this last plan, indeed, we need not
consult her—she need know nothing about it, but just live happily and
enjoy the results of it."

The girl paused and looked about her, half startled, on encountering the
inquisitive glance of the bright eyes of her favourite squirrel who,
afraid to approach nearer—his mistress, the wood-nymph, seemingly
entertaining company—appeared to be listening with all his might for the
proposition about to be unfolded by her.

"Teddie," Hazel said, bending over him and speaking low, "what do you
say to us—to you and me—_keeping a lodger_ at Hazelhurst?"

In the pause that ensued Teddie rolled over upon his face, but never a
word spoke he.  Hazel regarded him a little anxiously, uncertain as to
his state of mind.  At length he broke the silence.

"_We should have to feed it_," he remarked, in hollow accents.

"I thought of that," Hazel returned eagerly, delighted that the proposal
met with no more definite negative, "but suppose we were lucky—suppose
we found a very delicate one, who wanted heaps of fresh air—we could
give it the whole of the west wing, for instance—but one that could eat
hardly anything? But no, that would not do," she continued, after
pausing to reflect, "it would be more expense in the end, than less, to
have a delicate lodger, I mean. You see, one would have to provide
chicken and jelly, even if it would not eat, just to try to tempt it.
No, we hid better look out for a moderately healthy one, but one who was
used to plain food, you know: the sort that likes bread and cheese for
lunch, better than anything else, and is a firm teetotaller. Who is that
coming, I wonder?" she broke off suddenly.

The two raised themselves to listen, in breathless silence.

"Perhaps it is some one looking for lodgings," Teddie whispered
mischievously.  "Now remember, Hazel, twenty guineas a week for the west
wing, garrets five shillings each, and the basement seven-and-six."

"It is Hugh," the girl exclaimed, springing to her feet and running to
meet the fourth Le Mesurier boy, who, hot, dusty, and tired, yet
returned his sister’s greeting affectionately, if somewhat
shame-facedly, as he became aware of the presence of his brother.

Teddie, at Hazel’s exclamation, had sunk back into his former position
and now lay, cool and comfortable, complacently regarding the new-comer
with twinkling eyes.

"Hallo!" he said brightly.  "So you have turned up, have you?  I hope
you will be comfortable.  I have spent a very pleasant couple of days
here myself.  I ran down, without lunch, on Monday, and Mrs. Doidge has
been feeding me up ever since."  And Teddie gave vent to a sigh of
satisfaction.

"Slack beast," murmured Hugh disgustedly.  Yielding to the silent
entreaty of Hazel’s little hand and seating himself upon some moss, he
threw off his hat and proceeded to mop his damp face.

"What is that?" Teddie asked innocently.  "But, I say, you do look hot,
old fellow.  Walked up, I suppose?"

"Ugh," grunted Hugh.

"Doubtless in some perturbation of mind," Teddie continued
sympathetically.  "Very heating, this weather.  And your bag, too—had
books in it, perhaps?"

A slightly sardonic smile overspread Hugh’s countenance.

"Talking of books, there was one of yours that I packed with mine," he
announced in a friendly way, "and I left the bag at the station,
thinking you might like to fetch it."

Teddie’s blue eyes of a sudden blazed with wrath. "Do you mean to say,"
he asked, an ominous quietude marking his manner, "do you mean to say
that you left a heavy bag of books at the station for me to fetch, your
only excuse being that the bag contains a wretched thirty-page
paper-covered pamphlet on Dentistry that chanced to be left in my name
at our lodgings?"

"Partly that," returned Hugh, with the same air of engaging frankness.
"I thought you would be pleased to see it again, and I knew it would
grieve you to have me toiling up with anything belonging to you. Also
partly because I thought the exercise would do you good: you have been
out at grass long enough. I am glad I was so fully justified in my
ideas," he added, "for on your own admitting you are eating your head
off, and doing nothing all day."

"I hope you have a second supply of hair-brushes and—er—other things
pertaining to the toilet," Teddie observed politely, his anger
evaporated, a similar smile lighting his boyish features, "because I
don’t suppose you will feel inclined to make a second trip to the
station to-day, and I don’t happen to be going that way this afternoon.
By the way, I shall have to wear my own dress clothes to-night," he
added, with the air of one who is struck with an idea that necessitates
reflection.

It was now Hugh’s turn to wax indignant, but the sight of Hazel
returning at this auspicious moment, bearing in her hand a large glass
of lemon-squash, which she tendered to the hot and dusty lad,
extinguished instantly the dire wrath that was kindling within his
breast, making him feel very amiable toward his thoughtful little sister
in particular, and to a world that included Teddie, in general.

"Ah," he exclaimed, pausing in the draught in order to take a deep
breath, "there is nothing like lemon-squash in hot weather," and he
turned a softened pair of blue eyes upon his brother, with a look of
gathering trust that seemed only to ask sympathy.

Teddie vainly tried to look indifferent as he regarded the favoured Hugh
a trifle wistfully; but nature is weak.

"It is a curious thing, Hazel," he remarked insinuatingly, "how awfully
thirsty one gets this weather, even doing nothing."

"Oh, Teddie, I am so sorry," the girl made answer, "but Mrs. Doidge has
no more spare lemons.  Perhaps Hugh——" she broke off: it was too late.
The glass was drained to the last drop, and Hugh, with a sigh of
contentment, arranged his long limbs upon the mossy carpet for half an
hour’s repose before luncheon.

A couple of hours later Teddie, tired of inaction, being besides of an
extremely good-hearted disposition, having melted sufficiently toward
his brother, took his way to the station for the purpose of carrying
home that brother’s personal effects; but, only human, he could not
resist the desire to open the bag and subtract therefrom the luckless
pamphlet, which he proceeded to tear into shreds and scatter along the
hedgerow.



                              *CHAPTER IV*


About a week after the circumstances of mixed joy and embarrassment
recorded in the last chapter, there came strolling through the Le
Mesuriers’ wood one Paul Charteris, tall, lithe, and handsome being in
the thirty-first year of his age.  The master of Earnscleugh was on his
way to Hazelhurst with the intention of paying his respects to its
mistress, whom he had not seen for some six or seven years, having for
that t space of time been an attach in the British Embassy at St.
Petersburg.  Eight years since, on the death of his father, Vivian, his
elder brother, had inherited Earnscleugh and all pertaining to it,
including the great town house.  Vivian was devoted to his brother, and
begged that they two should continue to share the old home as
heretofore.  But Paul’s was a restless spirit: his college career ended,
he must be up and doing.  The interest of influential friends soon
obtained for the young man the coveted post in Russia, and Vivian, with
regret, was perforce obliged to yield where he had no authority to
interfere.  Therefore, for six long years was Paul Charteris no more
seen among his people.  Yet, while the elder brother yearned for the
companionship he had always known, he could not but admit that it was
better so, that action was necessary to Paul.  For himself it was
different He was essentially a student by nature, and wished only for a
retired life.  A slight limp in his gait fostered and favoured this
recluse propensity, and the solitary years before his death were lived
almost exclusively in the library at Earnscleugh, devoted to study, at
such times as his multifarious duties with steward or lawyer—faithfully
and patiently performed by the young master—left him free to follow his
own devices.

Then came the death of Vivian at the early age of three-and-thirty, and
Paul was called to take upon his own shoulders the responsibility of the
vast estates of Earnscleugh.

He did not respond at once.  Indeed, it would have been difficult for
him to throw up his position at short notice.  Neither had the young man
any great inclination to take possession of his own, for the inheritance
was rendered hateful to him, that had come to him only with the loss of
his brother.  He dreaded the sight of the empty place, the lonely
library, the disused smoking-room, with its many familiar objects: skins
of animals, boyish attempts at photography that the two brothers had
always kept upon the walls and mantelshelf, as relics of their happy
childhood.  He shuddered as he thought upon such desolation.

So that a year had elapsed since the death of Vivian, and Paul had
arrived only a few days since, his trouble somewhat softened by the
healing of time.  Nevertheless, it was a sorrowful ordeal.  He yearned
inexpressibly for the sight of his brother’s form, seated in the old
place at the study table, as he had so often pictured to himself; for
the gladness that was wont to light Vivian’s features at the appearance
of himself, after even a temporary separation; for the tones of his
voice.  However, the first dreaded days were rendered considerably less
painful by the almost continuous presence of Mr. Lewis, the family
solicitor, or Crawford, the steward.

Yet, the first press of affairs over, Paul found more leisure in which
to indulge his sorrow, and very sorely it beset him: its tyranny at
length forcing him to rouse himself and endeavour to throw off the
oppression. He presently bethought him of the friends and acquaintances
of years gone by, and determined upon a course of visits, that should at
once renew kindly recollections and while away the tedium of hours not
enlightened by work.  The Le Mesuriers were naturally uppermost in his
mind, for the Hazelhurst estates joined those of Earnscleugh.  They were
nice enough boys, he was glad to remind himself—they would be strapping
young fellows by now—and for their mother he entertained affectionate
memories, for she had been a good friend and counsellor to the two
motherless sons of Philip Charteris.  Vivian, indeed, could remember her
first coming to Hazelhurst, a bright, beautiful young creature, and the
boy of six had formed quite a romantic attachment. Then there was that
little brown witch of a girl, Hazel.  Hazel must be sixteen or
seventeen, Paul reflected, and he smiled at the recollection of their
last interview, seven years since.

He had taken leave of Mrs. Le Mesurier and of such Le Mesurier boys as
were present, and was departing through the wood, without accomplishing
a farewell to his little friend Hazel, who was nowhere to be found.
Passing beneath an oak, he heard above him a suppressed exclamation,
then the rending of "gathers," and the child stood beside him, holding
her torn frock together with one hand and courteously tending him the
other.

"You are going away, aren’t you?" she had asked him gravely.  "You have
been to say good-bye to mother and the boys?" and she turned to
accompany him to the boundary fence.

"Yes," Paul replied, "and I was afraid I should have to go without
seeing you."

"It would not have mattered," she answered, "you saw me on Tuesday, only
three days ago.  What will it matter, when you are going away for years,
whether you saw me on Tuesday or Friday?"

"But I did not say good-bye on Tuesday," Paul returned, much amused.
"That matters; don’t you think so?"

"No," Hazel said quaintly.  "Going away means good-bye.  There is no
need to say it, except in your heart."

"Still I like to say it to you and in my heart as well," Paul persisted.
"To-morrow, when I shall be already in Paris, I shall be saying,
’Good-bye, little Hazel, good-bye; don’t forget me.’  And then I shall
like to recall how you looked and what you said in answer."

At this juncture they had reached the fence dividing the two estates,
and Paul turned to face his little companion.

"I am going away for years," he said, a trifle wistfully.  "Will you
give a fellow a kiss, Hazel?"

"No," Hazel returned decisively.  "I am sorry, but I am too old.  You
may take both my hands, if you like," she added graciously.

Paul gratefully possessed himself of the proffered hands, and looked
long into the upturned childish eyes.

"I wonder whether you will be as pretty when I come back as you are
now," was his boyish comment.

"I don’t know," Hazel returned indifferently.  "I hope I shan’t be any
browner," she added; "the boys do tease me so."

"And shall you be saying ’good-bye, Paul,’ in your heart to-morrow?" he
asked eagerly.

"Of course," she said earnestly, somewhat surprised at the question.
"All the time till you are home again."

"Let me hear you say it now," he entreated.

"Good-bye, Paul," she said obediently, and made to withdraw her hands.

"And you are quite sure about the—about the kiss?" he asked diffidently.

Hazel regarded him in mild reproach.

"I am sorry," he said hastily.  "I did not mean to ask again.  Good-bye,
Hazel; don’t forget me."

He vaulted over the fence and was gone.

Following the same twisting path that he had passed over then, with his
child companion, the young man was presently aware that his dog, which
had trotted on ahead, was leaping backwards and forwards before a
certain tree, breaking into short, excited barks.  Thinking it likely
that Towzer was scaring some pet or other of Hazel’s, Paul called
sharply to his four-footed friend, but was not heeded by that usually
most obedient of dogs.  Becoming angry, he quickened his pace, and,
raising his stick, was about to punish Towzer, when, to his
astonishment, its point was seized from above and held firmly—after one
or two ineffectual efforts to wrest it from his hand—while a girlish
voice said, in laughing tones:

"No, you don’t."

Paul peered up, in among the clustering foliage, and presently descried
the recumbent form of a girl, lying at full length along one of the
great boughs—her dress, of the exact shade of the bark, rendering her
discovery difficult.  The girl released her hold of the stick and sat
up, one slender foot and ankle becoming visible beneath the canopy of
leaves above the young man’s head, and with both hands she parted the
green screen before her face and peeped down at him.  It was a lovely
face that Paul beheld—bewitching, indescribable in its charm, framed in
soft brown hair.

"Hazel—Miss Le Mesurier," he cried, "have you lived in that tree ever
since I went away?"  For he now recognised the giant oak.  "I always
said you were a little Dryad.  Won’t you deign to come down and be
mortal for a while?"

"Certainly," returned Miss Le Mesurier, and hesitated. "If you will be
so good as to walk on," she added, rather severely, "I will join you in
a few moments."

Paul did as he was bidden.  A rustling among the branches ensued, then a
light jump to the ground; and as he turned eagerly to greet her, Paul
was almost expectant of seeing one little hand occupied in the holding
together of a rent skirt, so vivid were old associations with him just
then.  She came swiftly to his side, the soft cloud of hair floating
around her. In the brown eyes shone a glad friendliness—the same grave,
direct regard he remembered so well: a child-like, inquiring,
essentially intelligent gravity, often to be remarked in clever, highly
sensitive faces—and Hazel’s was a very clever and acutely sensitive
little face, in the truest sense for women, womanly.  But, though
childlike and open as ever, the expressive countenance was more grand,
more noble—an earnest that the beautiful little nature of the _child_
Hazel had grown up in the way of its starting, without deviation.

She held out a hand to Paul, very slightly larger than the one that had
bidden him farewell; and if it was not browner, it was quite as brown,
but such a pretty, soft, warm tinge in the clear, transparent skin as
made all whiter skin appear harsh in contrast, to Paul’s thinking.  It
courteously shook his, and withdrew.

"How long have you been home?" she asked, when the wise, childlike eyes
were satisfied; and, truly, Paul was a goodly sight.

"Six days," Paul returned.  "I arrived here on Monday.  But there was
work to see to; and, besides, I did not feel like visiting any one, just
at first."

"Of course," the girl responded sympathetically. "The boys will be home
to-day," she added.  "Three of them.  So to-morrow—to-night even—you
will have something cheering."

"I feel cheered already," Paul returned, cheerfully enough, as they
turned to walk on together in the direction of the house.  "How are
they?  How is your mother?" he inquired.

"Mother is fairly well," Hazel replied.  "The boys are always well."

"And doing well?" Paul asked.  "Affairs are prospering, I hope?"—the
fortunes of the Le Mesuriers were ever an open secret.

"No," Hazel admitted, frankly and without reserve, "things are rather
bad, and we are dreadfully poor just now—especially myself.  You would
hardly believe it," she went on confidentially, "but if it had not been
for one and sixpence that Hugh gave me last Wednesday—already it has
come down to eightpence—I should not possess a halfpenny.  See," and the
girl held out a limp little silken purse.

Paul took it from her.  "What a quaint little thing! May I look inside?"
he asked.

"Of course," Hazel said.  "But I have told you exactly what is in it:
eightpence."

And sure enough, two threepenny pieces and four halfpennies rolled out
upon Paul’s open palm.

"It is partly owing to the fact of Hugh and Teddie being out of work,"
Hazel went on, when the purse had been restored to her, and safely
bestowed in her pocket.  "They are in town to-day looking for something.
But I am very much afraid they won’t find anything.  You know," she
added, unconsciously moving a little nearer to him as they walked, "the
main difficulty is, I believe, that they don’t look ’clerky,’ and their
name is not a ’clerky’ one, is it?  These trifles make a difference,
don’t you think?"  And she looked up at him with considering, brown
eyes.

"I am sure they must," Paul assented.

"It only struck me lately," Hazel, following her own train of thought,
presently resumed, "quite lately, how exactly like the portrait of Hugo
Le Mesurier Teddie is.  Of course Hugo has long hair and a lace
collar—he was a Cavalier in the days of Cromwell, you know—but if he
changed his clothes and cut his hair, the face alone would be enough to
make people say they did not require a clerk"—and she sighed.

"I can well believe it," Paul agreed, sympathetically.

"I have been consulting the boys as to how I might earn a little money,
if it were only five shillings a week," the girl continued.  "They say I
don’t look like a typewriter.  What do you think?"

"Great Heavens, no!" Paul ejaculated vehemently, horrified at the bare
suggestion.

"That is how they feel," Hazel returned resignedly. "Only, they are a
little calmer about it: they have seen so many, you know, poor things,"
she added, ingenuously.  "Next," she began again, after a slight pause,
"we considered letting lodgings, without mother’s knowledge.  But Teddie
says a ’cute lodger would take me in horribly.  He says I am no more cut
out for a landlady than for a typewriter.  Do you agree with that?"

"Most emphatically," Paul replied, unable to restrain a smile, which,
however, escaped the girl’s notice.

"You do?" she said, a trifle wistfully, as though half disappointed.  "I
hoped that you might, on thinking it over, consider it not such a bad
plan as it at first appeared to you.  I had thought of an invalid
lady-lodger, who would require plenty of fresh air, but very little
food.  Though on second thoughts it occurred to me that we should have
to persuade her with all sorts of dainties.  So that would not do.  But
a gentleman, now, a gentleman, however unscrupulous in most matters,
would not take a lady in, would he?"  And the girl looked for his
assurance.

"He would be an infernal cad if he did," Paul returned fiercely, tugging
at his moustache.

"Yes," Hazel agreed.  "I should hardly think that quite such cads
existed, should you?  Such very infernal ones, I mean.  For even the
greatest gentleman cad must have the sleeping instincts of a gentleman."

Paul’s face was inscrutable.

"Now a bounder is different," was Hazel’s startling announcement.  "A
bounder has never been a gentleman. He was born bounding, as you might
say. I would rather deal with a cad myself: a bounder is so hopeless."

There was a short silence, devoted by both to reviewing the situation.

"But, Haz—Miss Le Mesurier," Paul amended, "you—you surely are not
seriously thinking of—of this? Especially a gentleman.  It—it—well, it
would not be very usual, you know, especially if your mother is to be
kept in ignorance."

"You mean, it is not the thing?" Hazel asked, simply, coming to his aid.
"Oh, but we Le Mesuriers never trouble much about conventionalities,"
she explained airily.  "Teddie says that ladies or gentlemen are always
safe in following their inclinations—provided, of course, that those
inclinations are not bad.  Now, I don’t think you could call my
inclinations bad," she went on, meditatively, giving to the weighty
question its due consideration.  "They do rather lead me to take in a
gentleman lodger, but he need not necessarily be a cad, you must
remember.  He might be very nice, and we might get quite fond of him."

"Certainly," poor Paul agreed, rather helplessly.  It was evident that
Hazel had interpreted his words to mean, he was under the impression
that she, and the Le Mesuriers generally, delighted in cads and the like
doubtful company.

At this juncture they reached the flower-garden, which, thanks be to
Miles, looked pleasant enough. The girl led her companion swiftly
through its winding paths and up the broad flight of steps.  The
marble-paved hall, with its shaded open windows, was deliciously cool
and refreshing after the heat and glare without.  In one of the wide
recesses Miles was busied about the tea-table, collecting chairs from
different quarters of the sparsely furnished hall.  He turned as the two
approached.

"You remember Miles?" Hazel asked of Paul. "Miles, Mr. Charteris has
come home."

The old man bowed deferentially and made to withdraw, but Paul went
forward and took the hand of the faithful old servant.

"Remember Miles?  I should think I did, and the many things he has
forgiven me when I was a boy," he said warmly.

A gleam of pleasure lighted the butler’s furrowed countenance.

"I have had a deal of experience of boys," he said, somewhat
sententiously, "having five young masters of my own, and I know what is
natural to them, and only right, and what is wrong."

"And I was only natural, was I?" Paul laughingly asked.

"Yes, sir," Miles answered stolidly.

Hazel, who had gone in quest of her mother, soon returned with Helen.

"I am very glad to see you, Paul," Mrs. Le Mesurier said simply,
regarding him with something of her daughter’s direct gaze.  "You are
’Paul’ still, I hope?"

"If you will—if you please," he returned earnestly, and it suddenly
occurred to the young man that Hazel had not named him at all.

He remarked little change in Mrs. Le Mesurier, save that she appeared to
him more frail, perhaps, and the blue eyes seemed almost grey, as though
the tears of her great grief had faded them.

"We have much to tell you of Vivian," she observed, as they seated
themselves and Hazel made tea. "You know what a student he was, but he
always found time to come to us, and always welcomed my children to his
house.  Indeed, they had the run of it at all times," she added.  "I
often feared it must inconvenience him."

"It was his greatest happiness," Paul said simply. "He frequently
mentioned the boys and—and your daughter in his letters to me, and how
their presence enlivened the old home."

"Poor Vivian!" Helen murmured.  "He missed you sadly, Paul; but he
always confessed that things were best as they were; that he would not
have you home to pine in idleness."

She related many anecdotes of his brother that she knew would cheer
Paul, and they fell to talking over old reminiscences, presently coming
back to the topics of to-day, and the existing state of affairs; and
Paul was soon laying before Helen a plan of his own sudden devising.

"Why should not Hugh come to me for a while as my secretary?" he asked.
"If he does not care for the work, after giving it a trial, he can
continue his search in the City."

"I don’t want to seem conceited," Hazel broke in upon the conversation.
She was seated near her mother on a low stool, chin in hand, deeply
interested in all that passed.  "I don’t want to seem conceited," she
said modestly, "but I can’t help thinking that you had better have _me_.
One often hears of lady secretaries," she went on, in expostulation at
the smile upon her mother’s face, a smile that Paul’s countenance
reflected; "it would be delightful, and you would not mind how I
dressed, would you?" she added, turning eagerly to Paul.  "You would let
me have my hair down, and let me wear what I liked, provided I came
punctually at the hours you named, and did the work properly."

Paul looked upon the ground.  It was difficult to keep the muscles about
his mouth under control.  Helen was about to speak when Hazel resumed:
for it appeared to her that Paul was considering the matter.

"I dare say you would be rather cross with me sometimes, at first," she
admitted, "and think my writing queer and untidy; but I should soon fall
into your ways, and my writing is at least legible.  I have more of a
business head than Hugh," she added, after a pause. "You see, I am not
hampered by a love of drawing."

Mrs. Le Mesurier had acquainted her guest with Hugh’s difficulties of
temperament.

The girl awaited a decision breathlessly, but it was Helen who first
spoke, the while Paul contemplated the little brown business head, with
its wonderful, drooping hair, in silent and varied emotions.

"It would not do, Hazel," she said quietly.  "Neither Paul nor myself
would like it, nor think it wise."

Hazel glanced quickly at Paul, only to see him confirm her mother’s
words by a smiling shake of the head.

"Very well, motherling," she said resignedly, "and, after all, it would
be selfish in me not to let Hugh have the trial," she added, more
brightly.

Nevertheless, the girl looked down at the two small hands in her lap,
and sighed.



                              *CHAPTER V*


The next day, Sunday, Hugh, Gerald, and Teddie, the two latter in high
and unrelenting collars, well smoothed as to hair, attired in
well-brushed clothes and boots of an almost supernatural polish—for
Miles, the faithful, had personally attended their toilet—soberly and
with elaborate care helped each the other over the boundary fence,
intent upon returning, with prompt courtesy, the call their mother had
received from Paul Charteris.  The three wished to create a favourable
impression upon their whilom friend, and a "decent get-up," to use
Hugh’s own words, was of the utmost importance for producing this
desired result.  Hugh, who had affected a low collar and loose tie,
would have been well satisfied with himself were it not for the annoying
circumstance that his new shoes pinched horribly, and that they
squeaked, being somewhat low down in the scale of gentlemen’s shoes, and
bent on blatantly announcing the fact.

"Confound the things," he said angrily, trying various modes of
locomotion, and finally adopting a mincing step of airy lightness, which
seemed somewhat to pacify his fretful footgear, albeit he was pinched no
whit less severely.

"Confoundedly hot in these high collars," Teddie grumbled, as he
unfolded a snowy handkerchief and dabbed his moist brow.  Immediately
there was wafted upon the air the scent of lavender.

Hugh and Gerald regarded their brother in some severity, not unmixed
with envy, in that they had neglected to make this elegant addition to
their own toilets. "By Jove, Teddie," Gerald expostulated, "you must
have literally soused that handkerchief."

"It is a bit damp," Teddie acknowledged composedly, "Comes in very
refreshing."

Pursuing the winding paths in as direct a line as the topographical
possibilities of the wood admitted, they at length came upon a large
lawn that skirted the trees and lay smooth and green before the shady
verandah of the south side of the house.  Several long, low cane chairs
stood invitingly about the verandah, and upon one of these, stretched at
full length, in utter and complete comfort, was Paul Charteris, in loose
white flannel garb, a cigar between his lips, a novel in his hand.

He sprang to his feet with an exclamation of welcome as Gerald, Hugh,
and Teddie made their appearance across the lawn.

"Now, you fellows, just make yourselves comfortable and cool off," Paul
said in amused compassion, as he marked the heated condition of the
trio, and his quick glance took stock of the unsuitability of their
habiliments.  "I will look up Jackson, and ask for something to drink."

Hugh, glad to avail himself of the invitation, mincingly mounted the
steps, and sank gratefully into the easiest chair, the other two
likewise seating themselves.

Paul, disappearing for a few moments, quickly returned, followed by a
servant bearing a tray, containing various sparkling liquids in
multifarious bottles.  Over this good and cooling cheer conversation
soon became easy and natural, Teddie becoming so much himself as to
refer energetically to stand-up collars as a "rotten invention."

"Look here, Charteris," he said, "perhaps, as you are alone, you won’t
mind my taking it off for a bit," and he proceeded to unfasten the
offending piece of starched linen, in accordance with his host’s warmly
expressed advice, while Hugh surreptitiously slipped his poor tortured
toes from their natural quarters into the main body of the shoe.

"You don’t object to a pipe, Charteris?" Gerald inquired, producing from
his pocket a well-worn briar-root, and, on Paul’s assurance that he
often enjoyed one himself, Hugh and Teddie quickly produced two others
for his edification.

"Hazel received an invitation last night to spend a week with the
Travers," Gerald announced conversationally, when all four were
luxuriously smoking.  "She is rather bothered about it; she does not
care to leave the mater for so long."

"She could cut the visit short," Paul said, not unwilling to suggest so
pleasing a solution of the difficulty. "How—er—how would your sister
go?" he added, prefiguring himself and Hazel taking the long drive
together in his dogcart, through the beautiful countryside.

But Gerald’s reply quickly extinguished any such day-dream.  "Oh, young
Travers would fetch her in the trap; that is easy enough," he said
carelessly.

"Is that Digby?" Paul asked quickly.

"Yes," Gerald replied, "he is desperately gone on Hazel—makes an awful
idiot of himself."

"How old is he?" Paul asked curtly.

"About two- or three-and-twenty," Teddie broke in. "He is a decent
fellow enough if only he would not sing."

Paul’s innate delicacy would not permit him to ask that which he longed
to know: whether or not that brown-eyed child, Hazel, reciprocated the
feeling of the importunate Travers.  However, Hugh soon relieved him on
that score.

"Of course, Hazel does not guess what he is up to," he said, somewhat
scornfully, in no wise trying to hide his contempt of the laboriously
arranged and clumsily carried out tactics of young Travers.  "How should
she?  None of us are likely to open her eyes.  He only succeeds in
boring her fearfully; she keeps out of his way whenever she can."

Paul was conscious of a sudden interest, almost amounting to a liking,
for the luckless young man. "What sort of a fellow is he to look at?" he
asked, readjusting his tie with some complacency.

"Oh, well enough," Hugh returned, to which somewhat vague description
Paul’s other guests grunted agreement.

"Greeky," Hugh went on, for his host’s better understanding, and the
subject was dropped, this graphic portraiture being deemed so eminently
exhaustive that Charteris must be criticising a vivid mental picture of
young Travers, the while he reclined with half-closed eyes, puffing
lazily at his cigar.

"By the way," Paul began presently, turning to Hugh, "has Mrs. Le
Mesurier spoken to you of the idea we formed?—just a suggestion, you
know; you must, of course, feel at perfect liberty to—er——"

"Yes, thanks, awfully," Hugh replied suavely.  "I’ll turn up to-morrow.
Nine o’clock suit—nine to four?"

For a moment Paul was staggered by such prompt acceptance of the post
and subsequent arrangement of detail.  "I think ten would suit me
better," he said, a trifle apologetic.  "I like to go in for various
modes of exercise for a couple of hours before beginning work."

"All the same to me," Hugh returned airily.  "Ten to five, then?"

"What do you say to having no fixed hour for leaving?" Paul suggested.
"Just turn up at ten every day, and we can see what work there is to do,
and do it.  You will as often as not get through in an hour or two."

"That will just suit me," Hugh declared frankly. "And the salary?"

"Well," Paul said, with hesitancy, "a hundred a year would—er——"

"Phew," whistled Teddie, resorting to his bescented handkerchief; "and
to think how I have to slave for a miserable forty!"

"But then, look how distasteful any kind of clerical work is to me,"
Hugh said ingenuously, gently expostulating with the unreasonable
Teddie.  "Even one hour is very real hard work to me; whereas Gerald,
here, positively likes such business.  If you look at things in their
right proportions, you will find that I could hardly be overpaid,
whatever you gave me."

Teddie did not look convinced by his brother’s argument, and Paul, half
amused, half dismayed at the outspoken candour of his secretary-elect,
could not but determine that, whatever it was that filled the fair,
curly head, diplomacy did not number among the gifts of Hugh Le
Mesurier.

When, after some further talk, the young men rose to take their leave,
Paul insisted upon accompanying his guests on at least part of their
homeward way. Friendly relations were now so far established between the
houses of Earnscleugh and Hazelhurst, that Teddie strolled with easy
grace across the lawn, carrying the obnoxious collar in his hand, ever
and anon waving it airily in gesticulation in the course of his
conversation with Paul and Gerald; whilst Hugh modestly brought up the
rear, stepping gingerly in bright red socks, bearing around his neck the
plaintive shoes, slung together by their laces.

Hazel, meanwhile, who had walked with her brothers to the verge of the
estate, had settled herself cosily upon the carpet of moss with a book,
to await their return.  Curiously enough, a desire to accompany them
never entered the girl’s mind, though it had ever been her habit to join
her brothers in their excursions.  Vivian Charteris had been well
accustomed to the sight of Hazel’s little figure among the tall and
lanky forms of the Le Mesurier boys.  Indeed, he would have sorely
missed the bright and gentle girl, whom he had known intimately from
babyhood, and for whom he entertained a brother’s regard.  He had
gloried in the Le Mesurier lungs—more especially when voiced by the
silvery tones of his little, brown-eyed favourite—echoing through his
domain or about his house.  But Vivian was Vivian, the grave and serious
student, sixteen or seventeen years older than herself.  Now, a quite
unconscious reticence seemed to withhold the girl, to forbid the old
childish freedom. Paul was almost a stranger to her: for, during the
earliest years of her childhood, he had only spent at Earnscleugh the
brief holidays of the long school-terms. At the age of eighteen he had
entered upon his college career, visiting either his home or travelling
abroad in the vacations; finally quitting England when Hazel had
attained to her tenth year.  So that, while familiar with his name, of
the actual Paul the girl knew little.

Hazel sprang to her feet as her quick ear caught the sounds of footsteps
approaching from the direction of Earnscleugh.  Perching herself upon
the fence, she peered eagerly down the little, twisting, shady pathway
that she well knew led most directly to the house, presently perceiving
Teddie’s loose and angular form, looking somewhat négligé about the
neck, while his collar encircled the crown of his straw hat.  Gerald
next made his appearance round the bend, the narrow ways being of
necessity traversed in Indian-file order.

"Was Charteris at home?" Hazel called, with all the vaunted strength of
the Le Mesurier lungs, poised upon the topmost rung, balancing her lithe
body, hands on hip.

"He is here," Teddie called back, and, too late, Hazel discovered the
figure of Paul, following close upon Gerald, whilst Hugh still brought
up the rear in besocked feet.

Hazel precipitately dismounted from her lofty stand, her sensitive
little face growing pale with dismay at what she deemed her unmannerly
way of dispensing with the formality of the usual prefix of "Mr.,"
which, however, Paul thoroughly understood: not as a rude peculiarity in
the girl herself—little aristocrat that she was to her finger-tips—but
as natural in the circumstance of that girl possessing five brothers.

There was the bare possibility in Hazel’s mind that her words had not
caught Paul’s ear, or, being audible to him, that the omission had not
been remarked. With this faint hope to buoy her, she held out her hand
to meet Paul’s over the fence, the while with flushed countenance she
lifted her eyes, half shy, half anxious, and endeavoured to read the
handsome face the merry eyes, that seemed laughingly to defy her
scrutiny, whether consciously or unconsciously she could not determine.

As a matter of fact Paul was perfectly aware of her embarrassment and
its cause, and was much amused. He was bent upon keeping her in a state
of uncertainty, however, and merely commented upon the beauty of the
day, which mischievous spirit was hardly in accordance with the young
man’s usual attitude towards her.

With a demure response Hazel moved a little away, soon becoming
interested in a cluster of flowers at her feet, Shepherd’s Eye, that
seemed to gaze up at her in blue wonder and sympathy.  She proceeded to
pluck the small, starlike blossoms, her brothers and Paul meanwhile
sitting upon or leaning against the mossgrown boundary fence, in several
and varied poses of ease and comfort, engaging languidly in such broken
and disjointed conversation as befitted the heat of the noonday.

"What is the name of that little flower?" Paul’s voice broke in upon
Hazel’s musing.  He had followed her unawares, and made as if to take
one tiny blue star from her bunch.

But Hazel pressed upon him the whole miniature posy, in frank
generosity.

"Take them all," she said.  "Are they not sweet? They are called
Shepherd’s Eye—they grow mostly over there, in the meadow."

"Shepherd’s Eye!" Paul said, gratefully accepting the gift.  "But here
are red ones, exactly like the blue."

"I call them Sad Shepherd’s Eye," she returned. "They are eyes that must
have been weeping bitterly for hours.  I only care for the happy, blue
ones."

"They are prettiest, certainly," Paul rejoined; "but I should like one
or two of the red ones, to remind me of your pretty fancy.  Let me
gather them; you will make yourself hot and tired."

But Hazel disclaimed all fatigue, and was presently tying together some
of the tiny red blossoms with a wisp of tough grass.

"When are you two coming?" Gerald called.  "I say, Charteris, come along
home to lunch.  The mater will be glad to see you."

Paul looked at Hazel.  "May I?" he asked diffidently. "Mrs. Le Mesurier
may——."

"Mother says that the house is always open to you," the girl replied in
her gracious little way.

Having completed her task, she gave the flowers into Paul’s eager
keeping, and proceeded to lead the way through the shady tracks of
Hazelhurst wood, her brothers affecting to breathe again as they safely
went by the great oak-tree with Hazel still in their midst; albeit she
had cast a lingering look up into its leafy shade, in passing.

As the significance of the long-drawn sighs caught Hazel’s
understanding, she faced them swiftly, and still keeping step with the
four, danced along backwards, the better to explain away their
groundless fears.

Paul thought he had never seen anything so pretty.

"I never climb trees when I am wearing my white dress," she said
remonstrantly.  "It is the one thing that makes Mrs. Doidge really
cross.  She says it takes Mattie two hours, every time, to get it up."
And Hazel looked down at her simple muslin frock with some pride, in
that it should prove to be so important a factor in the weekly routine
of domestic labour.  Having duly impressed her hearers, the girl faced
about and continued the unbroken march in silence, with pretty, swinging
motion, all her own.

Presently the booming of a gong came to them on the still air.

"By the way," Gerald said, of a sudden oppressed with his quick
transition from guest to host, "you will forgive any shortcomings in the
meal, won’t you, Charteris?  It is of no use attempting to disguise the
fact that we are living—well, extremely simply, just now."

"You will be all right, Charteris," Teddie chimed in comfortably.  "You
are fed by old Miles on roast mutton and rice pudding with such a
tremendous amount of ceremony that you are quite deceived into thinking
you are in for a royal feast.  And, after all, you can always eat up
your own dainties when you get back to your place."

"Talking of Miles’s impressive ways," Hugh said presently, "the mater
had to speak to him once—he was actually serving cabbage round as a
separate course, as if it were asparagus or artichokes.  Oh, and by the
way," he added, "I should advise you not to accept the coloured fluid he
offers.  No one knows what it is."

Thus warned at all points, the guest was ushered into the presence of
Mrs. Le Mesurier.  The party soon adjourned to the dining-room, where
the fare, if simple, was most excellently cooked and daintily served,
and Paul found the refined simplicity very much to his taste, vowing
within himself that, with all his wealth, he would for the future
practise such simplicity himself: in truth, he was inclined to think the
thing could not be overdone.  The trouble would be to make his
housekeeper and butler view the case in like light—people of their class
thought so much of pomp and show.  Oh, well, let them be, but he would
have his own way when entertaining company.

He did not recall Hugh’s caution with regard to the wine—whether to the
butler’s dismay or gratification would be hard to conjecture.  Certain
it was that the guest was the observed of Miles, with no small amount of
interest furtively bestowed, and some palpable apprehension, as he first
sipped the beverage.

Something in the flavour of the vintage rendered Paul reflective, or
mayhap brought to mind Hugh’s words.  For a few moments his countenance
was somewhat blank of expression, then, with a slight gasp, he
heroically raised the glass to his lips and drained its contents.  The
next minute the old serving-man was beside him, eager, tremulous, with
the fateful decanter poised for discharging.

Paul’s fortitude gave way.  "No more, thank you, Miles," he murmured
hurriedly.  "I must not take more than one glass," he added
confidentially, eyeing the decanter with solemn conviction; "that is a
full-bodied wine."

"Yes, sir," returned the delighted Miles, "and between you and me, sir,
it is not what you would call an expensive wine, either.  My mistress
has better in the cellar, but I had not time to get it up," he murmured
in pseudo-apology, for he deemed the vintage good enough as a luncheon
beverage for any gentleman, old or young.

Paul nodded response, and asked for water.

The meal proceeded merrily enough when the boys had ceased to choke over
the incident of the wine. Happily they were eating fish, so that Miles
was in blissful ignorance as to the real cause of their unwonted
distress, sternly rebuking his fellow-servants for the careless way in
which the food had been prepared as he sat, half an hour later, at his
own dinner in the servants’ hall.



                              *CHAPTER VI*


After luncheon the party adjourned to the woods, Helen promising the
young people that she would join them later, and suggesting that tea
should be served in the open air at four o’clock.

The Le Mesurier boys composed themselves to rest during the heat of the
early afternoon, and ranged themselves each according to his idea of
comfort.  They chose the spot where Hazel was wont to hold her court of
feathery and furry subjects; for, while the trees were sufficiently
thick to afford a bountiful shade, there was a commodity of space in
which to stretch long limbs, besides the pleasing circumstance that the
carpet of last year’s leaves was soft and springy, whilst the spicy
odour of fir-cones and pine-needles proved grateful to the nostril and
conducive to slumber.

Paul Charteris felt no desire to follow their example; probably Hazel
would settle herself at too great a distance, and become lost in her
book.  Neither did he wish to close his eyes, for the real was even more
charming than the imaginary Hazel.  So, marking that she, too, seemed in
no wise disposed for idleness—for she was flitting hither and thither
among the trees in restless but evident enjoyment, plucking a flower,
cooing to a wood-pigeon, extricating with deft tenderness two creeping
plants one from the other, giving to each a fresh start in its race upon
the tree-trunk to which they clung—he begged to be taken to the old
oak-tree, the wood-nymph’s home, to have its many beauties expounded to
him.  Accordingly the two, unnoticed by the napping Le Mesurier boys,
set forth at so goodly a pace that at length Paul cried out in
remonstrance, fearful lest such business-like locomotion should see them
back to the starting-point within the space of a few minutes.

"Are you so hot?" Hazel asked pitifully.  "How thoughtless of me!  But I
am quite cool—feel," and, craning her slender neck towards him, she
tilted her head, that he might the more readily touch her soft cheek and
thereby prove the truth of her assertion.

And Paul, nothing loth, delicately stroked the pink cheek once down to
the pretty chin; nor durst he linger in the delicious contact, for the
girl’s spontaneity, bespeaking as it did liking for and trust in
himself, however unconsciously bestowed, was as sweet as it was precious
to the young man, and woe be to him if word or action of his should
startle her voluntary friendship, should cause her to shrink within
herself, away from him.  Unspeakable happiness might one day be his, if
he possessed his soul in patience, and fostered the pretty trust that
might daily, all unknowingly, draw nearer, cling closer, till time
should ripen friendship into a sweet consciousness, and he might pluck
the beauteous flower and wear it for all eternity within his breast.  In
the meantime he would gratefully, thankfully, sun himself in her esteem.

"Beautifully cool," he murmured slowly.  "But do not blame yourself," he
went on.  "I am not uncomfortably warm—only—it is rather a nice little
walk—that is to say, I do not often have you to myself; I don’t want to
get back too soon."

"You find it companionable, just we two by ourselves," Hazel said
ingenuously, by way of making explanation to the young man of his own
hardly comprehended reasons for enjoyment.

"Yes," Paul said demurely, "I find it companionable."

"Thank you," Hazel returned politely.  "I like it, too; though I am
never happier than when I have all the five boys roaming about with me,"
she added, with blunt but perfect truth.  "I suppose you don’t remember
much of Cecil and Guy?"

"I remember them perfectly," Paul averred.  "Is it long since you saw
them?"

"We have not seen Cecil for years—India is so far," she answered with a
little sigh; "but Guy comes to Hazelhurst now and again for a day or
two, once in two months or so.  He is due now," she continued,
"overdue—not having been here for nine weeks.  It would be very
convenient if he came just now—for money, you know.  He always gives me
money—generally two or three pounds—once as many as five.  You see," she
added, "I shall be obliged to spend that eightpence to-morrow."

"At what hour do you intend to—er—to go shopping?" Paul inquired
eagerly.  "I was wondering whether I might escort you, and help you to
carry the—the parcels, you know."

Hazel laughed merrily.  "Eightpence will only just buy a couple of
peaches," she explained.  "Perhaps only one, if they have gone back to
sixpence each; and the fruiterer never lets me carry even that.  He
sends a man and a cart all this way, with it or them in a basket."

"But if I were with you," he protested, with much earnestness, "he would
let me take it."

"I doubt it," Hazel said, still dimpling, "unless you disguised yourself
beforehand.  This is the tree," she broke off.  "Come here—stand just
so—now look up: that great fork, as you see, forms a broad, comfortable
seat, the main trunk being its back.  It is my house-place; the only
really commodious apartment; and either of the great branches
constitutes a couch, though the one on the left is the more comfortable.
Higher up—stand a little more so—there are some snug little retreats,
though I rarely sit there, as they are only the attics.  I go up
occasionally to see that no horrible spider is lurking about, but not to
stay; for they are rather cramped and, as you see, in places the roof
leaks and the shade is rather glaring.  So I just get through my
household duties as quickly as possible with that twig brush that you
can see hanging against the trunk in the house-place, and come down
again to my comfortable chair or couch to think or read.  On Sundays I
hold church to myself there."

"It is delightful, delicious," Paul averred, twisting and craning his
neck in all the directions she indicated. "It is—it is heavenly.  And
the leaves are so thick as to give good shelter, even in hard rain," he
added. "Do you ever receive visitors—other, I mean, than your pet birds
and squirrels?"

"Hugh and Teddie come sometimes," she replied. "They sprawl along the
two couches, while I take the chair.  That is very nice, and perfectly
comfortable, but once or twice they have all five wanted to come—so that
three of them had to sit in the attics.  Now, you see, even if they can
manage to settle themselves fairly comfortably, it spoils the ease of
those below to have them sitting up there, as their legs get rather in
the way, swinging right down into the house-place, you know; for there
are no couches in the attics, only broken-down chairs, so to say."

"The chair in the house-place looks wide enough for two," Paul observed
consideringly.

"Ye—es," Hazel rejoined dubiously, "but it is not: the fork cramps you."

As the two sauntered back to the spot where the Le Mesurier boys had
seemingly encamped for the remainder of the day, Mrs. Le Mesurier was
entertaining a guest at Hazelhurst in the person of Mr. Hamilton,
Teddie’s late employer.

"I hope, madam, that in giving myself the pleasure of calling upon you,
I have not taken too great a liberty," the courtly, elderly gentleman
was saying. "My excuse must be my great liking for that young—that boy
of yours, whom I am very eager to see re-established in my office, in
pursuance of his former duties there."

"But, my dear sir," Helen interposed, cautioningly, "do you think it
wise?  That young man, who is, as I understand from my son, nicknamed
Carrots——"

"Carrots is gone, madam," her guest interposed with a somewhat grim
smile.  "For months past I only awaited a good and fair excuse for
discharging him, which that young—which your son’s behaviour, madam,
scarcely afforded me."  Here Mr. Hamilton coughed, to hide another and
far more genial smile.  "Unfortunately for all concerned," he continued,
"Samuel Smith was a most exemplary clerk, business-like"—Helen
winced—"discreet, punctual to his work, good head for figures."

"My boy was punctual, I trust," Helen murmured, as Mr. Hamilton paused,
feeling that of all this list of qualifications punctuality was the
safest item to mention.

"Once in a blue moon, perhaps," returned Teddie’s superior, "but let
that pass.  I like the boy, though he requires a sharp eye kept upon
him, I can assure you, madam," he continued severely, resolutely
checking a strong tendency on the part of his risible muscles to twitch.
"He will have to make many promises of amendment for the
future—reasonable ones enough, as I think you will admit."

"Mr. Hamilton," Helen interrupted gently, though somewhat proudly, "my
son is not asking to be taken back.  If you wish again to employ him,"
she added, after a pause, "I fear you must not hope to wring too many
promises from him.  He is so proud: it is in the Le Mesurier blood."

Mr. Hamilton shrewdly guessed that the maternal side also had bestowed
the characteristic in question, but, being a wise man and a just, he saw
and admitted the reasonableness of the gentle rebuff.

"Leave the boy in peace or, taking him, don’t nag, you would say,
madam," he replied, good-humouredly enough.  "Well, I shall have him
back if he will come. I have your permission?"

"I shall be very glad to know him once again safe with you," Helen
replied graciously.  "He is attached to you, and really felt leaving
you.  He bears you no grudge," she added, "owning that you could not
have acted otherwise than you did, under the circumstances."

"Owned himself to be in the wrong, did he—the young scamp?  I am glad to
hear it.  Attached to me, is he?  I am fond of the boy myself.  Had a
son once, about his age—something of his spirit," and Mr. Hamilton
turned away toward the window and blew his nose.

"Your only son?" Helen asked pitifully.

"My only child, ma’am," the old gentleman returned, somewhat brusquely.

But she was not hurt by his manner, understanding him.

After further talk of Teddie and other subjects, Helen asked her guest
to accompany her to the woods, where her daughter and three of her sons
would presently congregate for tea.  So together they set forth, Mr.
Hamilton in open admiration of all they passed on the way.

In the meanwhile of Gerald, Hugh, and Teddie there is little to tell,
unless it is of their dreams, which, to judge by the profound peace
depicted upon their countenances, were of a beatific nature.  For nigh
upon two hours had they three lain thus wrapped in innocent, childlike
slumber, the while their sister and Paul Charteris held low-toned
converse together, somewhat apart; Paul, in his kindly consideration,
deeming it a pity to disturb such blissful tranquillity.

"They had a hot walk this morning, poor fellows!" he said
compassionately.  "Let them rest."

But Miles had no such compunction, when, a while later, he made
preparation for tea, with so much demonstration and clatter—quite at
variance indeed with his usual noiseless motion and deft skill in the
handling of such rattle- and jingle-begetting articles as cups, saucers,
and spoons—that one by one, or rather pair by pair, the blue eyes of the
Le Mesurier boys opened and blinked in the light of day, dazed at first
somewhat, and blank as to expression, till by slow degrees dire wrath
blazed up in their depths—direst in the pair owned by the peppery
Teddie—as they fell upon the callous disturber of their peace, and the
enormity of the offence began to dawn upon their reviving intellects.

"Hang it all, Miles," Teddie remonstrated, "can’t a fellow close his
eyes for five minutes without you must come and make such an outrageous
row; and for what?" he asked, with a comically injured voice and mien.
"That we may feast our eyes on that wretched crockery for two hours and
more."

"Yes, Miles," put in Gerald, somewhat more dignified in his sense of
grievance, "whatever possesses you to bring out all those paraphernalia
ten minutes after luncheon?"

"If it were not for your grey hairs, Miles," added Hugh severely, "you
would just have to cart it all back again."

Miles chuckled.  He also had indulged in a nap in this, his one free
hour in the week, and knowing of its pleasures and of the pain of
awakening; being, besides, greatly refreshed, he felt lenient towards
his young masters for what he deemed the mere puerile irritation that
sometimes besets the young on first being roused from sleep.

"I am arranging the _china_, Mr. Ted," he explained, with marked
emphasis on the word china, in reproof of the reflection cast upon that
valuable earthenware, "in compliance with my mistress’s wish that tea
should be served at four o’clock."

Hazel, who with Paul had been enjoying the foregoing dialogue, at this
juncture interposed.

"You silly boys," she exclaimed, laughing merrily, "you have all been
fast asleep.  And you have had the narrowest possible escape of being
surprised by a stranger," she added, looking down one of the pathways
leading from the house.  "See, who is it, coming with mother?"

The whole party followed the direction of her gaze, to behold their
mother accompanied by an elderly gentleman, inclined to portliness,
wearing a short, iron-grey beard and moustache.  Teddie, rubbing his
eyes to observe the more surely, presently gave vent to a long, low
whistle.

"Great Scott!" he remarked briefly, and rose uncertainly to his feet.

Slowly the two approached, conversing as they came. By the time they
reached the little party, that had risen to receive them, Teddie had
completely recovered himself, and, by right of acquaintanceship,
advanced to greet his mother’s guest.

"Hallo, Mr. Hamilton, this is a surprise," he said cordially, holding
out a friendly hand.  "I am glad to see you."

Mr. Hamilton took the proffered hand, and stood regarding the lanky
youth’s honest countenance for some moments before he spoke.

"Thank you, Le Mesurier," he said, with twinkling eyes; "I hope you
won’t be less glad when I tell you what occasions my visit.  The truth
is I am shorthanded, young Smith having left me——"  He paused and
hesitated.

"Is that ’the Lout?’" asked Hazel, who was listening wide-eyed.  "Oh,
Teddie, then you could go back."

"My sister," said Teddie, shortly, formally.  "Hazel, you should not
interrupt."

"Oh, I beg your pardon," she said, turning a pair of penitent brown eyes
on Mr. Hamilton.  "I—I was so pleased, you know."

"Not at all, my dear young lady," he returned, somewhat drily, half
incensed, half amused, to note that this lovely girl also, like the
mother, seemed to consider all coaxing and persuading in the matter due
and necessary to the independent Teddie.  "Not at all; but may I inquire
what it was you asked?"

"If ’young Smith’ was ’the Lout,’" Hazel replied, blushing.

"I did not know him by that name," Mr. Hamilton replied, smiling in
spite of himself; "but I dare say it is the same person—the epithet is
not inapposite.  Well, Le Mesurier," he continued, "what do you say?
Like another trial, eh?  But, mind, you must keep your ink-pot in your
desk; and there must be no further need of raw steaks in my office—it is
not a butcher’s shop, you know.  Is that a bargain?"

"That’s all right," Teddie responded laconically. "Well, Mr. Hamilton,
I’ll come back; but there is one little thing I’d like to mention—a
little hint to help to keep the peace.  If you would not mind being a
trifle more particular in the future as to the society one works with in
your office."

Mr. Hamilton gasped.

"Then that is all right," Teddie said comfortably, "and I, for my part,
will try to keep my temper, which, to be sure, is a bit hot when roused;
though nothing can be sweeter," he added earnestly, "when people do
their best, in a reasonable sort of way—I don’t ask too much—to please
me."

Mr. Hamilton mechanically received a cup of tea from Hugh’s hand, and
looked from him to Helen somewhat helplessly.

"Ted," Helen interposed, a little reproachfully, "you must expect to
take your chance as to companions. And pray, of what credit is it to you
to keep your temper if it is never tried—if you are never tempted to
lose it?"

"I don’t _ask_ any credit, mother," her son answered, smiling
affectionately upon her.  "It merely struck me as a pity, being
naturally, as I have said, particularly sweet, to rouse it
unnecessarily."

It was now Helen’s turn to look helpless.

"But you will thank Mr. Hamilton for his kind offer?" she asked, taking
the hand as well as the cup that he brought to the little table, for
more tea.

"As to that," Teddie replied genially, "he and I are good enough
friends, and fully understand each other; don’t we?" he added, turning
to Mr. Hamilton, who, his sense of irritation completely subsided, was
looking immensely entertained.

"Yes, yes," he responded warmly, "we are good friends, my dear boy."

Teddie looked gratified, and, asking to be allowed to present his two
brothers and his friend, Paul Charteris, who were congregated somewhat
in the background, the conversation became more general.

Hazel, seated near to Mr. Hamilton, took occasion to study him as
closely as politeness would permit.  So this was the redoubted Mr.
Hamilton, Teddie’s dreaded "boss," whom Hazel had held to be the most
imposing of men.  She had once entertained the thought of addressing a
letter to him, in Teddie’s behalf, but had abandoned the idea as too
fearful.  So this was he, this kindly looking elderly man, who from time
to time threw her glances of much benignity and interest, and who called
Teddie his dear boy.  What could Teddie have been thinking of, to have
made of him such a _bête noire_?  There was, to be sure, at times, a
certain severity about the mouth, but the eyes were always kind, the
girl thought.  If she could but summon the spirit to engage him in talk
concerning her own private affairs!  Of a surety he would be a most
likely person to help her; for was he not an eminent "City man," living
in the very thick of that City life of which she, Hazel, knew so little,
yet thought so much?  Perhaps, even, he was born and bred there, and was
as much at his ease, as much at home in its murky atmosphere, among its
imperial buildings, as she was here, in her beloved woods.  How
wonderful to walk the City, the dear, grand City, as he did; to wend
one’s way through a very labyrinth of courts, alleys, and byways, never
to lose oneself, to know one’s whereabouts always, as she knew the
woods, blindfolded!

Hazel’s chin was in her hand, her elbow supported on her knee, and her
eyes grew round and deeply reverential as she lost herself in the
contemplation of this being from another sphere.  The magnetic influence
of her gaze presently drew Mr. Hamilton’s eyes to meet hers, but so
gently did he turn, so quietly did they fall upon her, that the girl was
not startled from her reverie, but continued to gaze in reverence,
whilst an eager questioning grew up in her speaking eyes.

"You were wishing to say something, my dear?" he asked kindly, and with
a sudden impulsive tenderness, new to him, he laid a broad hand upon the
girl’s brown head.

Hazel hesitated, then glanced about her.  Her brothers were engaged for
the moment in some discussion together, her mother in interested
listening. Paul Charteris, certainly, was observing herself, and, being
nearest, would catch her words; but she did not mind Paul: he would not
interfere.  She even gave him a little smile—an invitation to attend,
should he care to do so.

"I know that you do not keep lady clerks," she began, with gentle,
confidential eagerness, "but have you ever thought of changing your
mind?"

Mr. Hamilton looked his amazement.

"I should like to be one very much," she continued, "most of all yours;
and I was wondering whether, supposing you could get two good,
serviceable clerks from the same house—people that you knew something of
and could rely upon—it would not be worth your while to alter your rule
and have a lady."

Mr. Hamilton’s eyes encountered those of Paul Charteris for one moment—a
moment charged with sympathy, pregnant with feeling—and both men
endeavoured to conceal their amusement by pulling at their moustaches.

"Do I understand that by ’two serviceable clerks’ you refer to yourself
and your brother Edward?" asked Mr. Hamilton, when he had sufficiently
recovered himself.

"Yes," Hazel replied cheerfully.  "I am much more business-like than I
appear—Teddie you already know. I am not saying that the advantage would
be all on your side," she went on, "only, naturally I like to think of
you first.  The advantage to me would be very great; indeed, if you
don’t take me, I am afraid I shall have to give up the idea altogether,
because mother is very particular in her wish that I should not travel
or walk alone.  Now this arrangement"—and the girl made an airy gesture
with her hand in her brother’s direction—"would give me Teddie’s company
from door to door; and if on occasion, say a press of work, he could not
take me to lunch, you would see that another clerk went with me,
wouldn’t you?" and she looked to Paul for sympathy in so congenial a
plan.

"I certainly should be very much tempted to make an exception to my
rule, if by doing so you would honour me by coming daily to my office,"
Mr. Hamilton responded gallantly; "but, my dear young lady, with all
these brothers, there cannot be the slightest necessity for——"

"Oh, no necessity," Hazel interposed.  "Just for pocket-money, you know,
and—and to feel that I am doing my part."

"But," suggested Paul quietly, "is it not the part of an only and
much-beloved daughter to stay at home, to be a companion to her mother,
and to make home a bright and happy place for the workers to come to?"

"I should not be much with mother, certainly," Hazel said reflectively;
"but, as to the boys, why, I should be home when they were."

"Apart from the—er—inadvisability on several scores," Mr. Hamilton
resumed, smiling kindly at the girl, "your mother could never spare you,
my child; an only daughter must be an unspeakable treasure—one that she
must always wish to keep near her. And—pardon me if I seem amused at
what I see you take so seriously—but, it is not conceivable; one cannot
imagine you in the City."

In which sentiment Paul appeared to participate.

"That is what they all say," Hazel rejoined, somewhat mournfully.
"Well," she added, more cheerfully, "to stay with her, I suppose, _is_
doing something for mother."



                             *CHAPTER VII*


Upon a day—a Tuesday, to be specific—there passed into the gates of
Hazelhurst a smart trap, drawn at a smart pace by a smart horse, the
smart equipage being impelled by the smart mental qualifications of
Digby Travers, dubbed "Greeky."  The turn-out was really remarkably
smart; the trap itself, with its polished woodwork and brass
appointments, glistened and shone in the sunlight, whilst the gleam of
the plated harness was reflected in the glossy coat of the well-groomed
quadruped.

Paul Charteris had for the space of a whole hour waited and watched in
the marble hall of Hazelhurst, his restless pacing only relieved by
occasional halts at the foot of the stairway that led—well, to the rooms
above, and to Hazel’s chamber, that numbered, naturally enough, among
the rest.  His vigil began at precisely one minute to ten, and the
ancient grandfather’s clock was even now tremulously clearing its throat
with wheezy, whirring sound, suggestive of asthma, preparatory to
striking eleven.  Truth to tell, it was only with considerable effort
that the clock could strike at all, its general feebleness being the
more marked since undergoing a very severe operation, not too skilfully
performed, by Teddie Le Mesurier, wherein the whole of the worn internal
mechanism was taken to pieces and subjected to the hardy
treatment—better suited to the constitution of younger clocks—of oil and
emery-paper, the massage being administered with no light hand.
Furthermore, there was a strong misgiving in the minds of all but Teddie
himself as to whether there was not some flaw in the reconstruction of
the clock. But the boy was sensitive upon the point, and easily hurt, so
that it was only by furtive glances in its direction that the family
ever dared to manifest anxiety when sounds, more dubious than ordinary,
seemed to suggest that each struggle to give expression to the time of
day must surely be the last.

The eleven laboured strokes were just completed when the sound of wheels
fell upon Paul’s ear.  He withdrew his patient gaze from the direction
of the remote sanctum above and turned to look uneasily through the
arched doorway, to see Travers’s trap pull up before it.  At the same
moment Hazel appeared at the head of the staircase, flushed and
important, dragging at an enormous trunk.  Paul sprang to her aid, and,
bracing every muscle for a mighty effort, nearly overbalanced himself,
as the trunk responded to his exertions with the most unexpected and
discomposing readiness, being in truth of that light consistency known
as wickerwork, and covered with black leather; nor was it one quarter
part full.

"Why, it’s nearly empty," he exclaimed in triumphant tone, for the fact
argued well for the shortness of the proposed visit.

"Nearly empty!" Hazel cried, indignant, "and I have been nearly an hour
packing!  There are two or three changes of ribbons, and two pairs of
shoes, besides what I am wearing, and my best muslin that has just been
’got up,’ and must not be crushed, Mrs. Doidge says.  I wonder if you
would mind going to the horse’s head.  Digby is waiting to come in," she
broke off, as a prolonged whistle was heard from without.

Digby Travers, shading his eyes from the glare, could just discern a
man’s form, which he supposed by its occupation of trunk-bearer to be
that of a servant. Paul, eager to fulfil the little lady’s slightest
behest, safely deposited his burden near the entrance, and presented
himself before the surprised and somewhat disconcerted Travers.

"I—would you be so very good as to mind the horse while I look for a
servant?" Digby stammered.  "I have come to take Miss Le Mesurier back
with me," he added, a suggestion of defiance marking look and tone as he
encountered the nascent hostility of the other’s glance.

Paul felt resentment in that young Travers should make use of so formal
an appellation in naming the girl, knowing well that for years—from
earliest childhood—the two had been Hazel and Digby to one another.  The
formality was for _him_, then—for _his_ benefit: that he might the more
readily comprehend, once and for all, his exact position toward the Le
Mesurier family in general, and toward Hazel in particular.  He was to
understand that he was not accounted friend of the family in the astute
eyes of this old and staunch, if somewhat proprietary, ally of the house
of Le Mesurier.  Yet, with complete though not unnatural inconsistency,
Paul in his heart of hearts knew, and, knowing, owned, that the mention
of the girl’s Christian name would have been quite as distasteful to
him.

"Why did you not bring a man with you?" he asked, striving to speak with
polite indifference.  "But perhaps you are not aware how shorthanded
Mrs. Le Mesurier is.  There is only one servant here, old Miles,
and—well, it stands to reason, he is always busy."

Digby stared politely.

"My name is Travers," he said at length, ingenuously; as who shall say,
"Now that I have put aside any doubt as to my identity, you will be
spared the trouble of making further communication concerning the Le
Mesuriers."  "You are Charteris—Paul Charteris," he continued.  "I
remember your face quite well, though it is ages since we met.  Thanks,
awfully, for looking to the horse, but I must find Miles to help me up
with that trunk," and he eyed with complacent regard the black,
dome-topped object just discernible in the shadow of the hall.

"It is very light," Paul returned, not ill pleased to volunteer the
information, "Do you know where Miles is?" he asked of Hazel, who
appeared at that moment, framed in the great arched doorway—and a very
pretty picture she made.

Digby sprang to her, and Paul groaned inwardly as he marked the fervour
of the young man’s greeting, albeit he found comfort in noting the
girl’s cool reception of, and most inadequate response to, the same; for
she withdrew her hand from the devout clasp that held it, so soon as the
orthodox number of moments to be devoted to that ceremony was ended.
Nor did her eyes rest upon his face longer than the one direct look—of
Hazel’s peculiar directness—that kindly interest and innate courtesy
alike dictated.

"Why didn’t you bring some one with you?" she asked, somewhat severely.
"It is not very polite to oblige Mr. Charteris to stand in the sun."

"There was the luggage," faltered Digby.  "There was not much room, you
know."

He glanced sheepishly at Paul, but there was understanding without
sympathy to be read in Paul’s countenance; and young Travers inwardly
dubbed this old acquaintance and near neighbour of the Le Mesuriers,
hard and callous of disposition.

"Well, I’ll hold the horse," Hazel said, descending the steps and taking
the bridle from Paul’s hand, "and perhaps you two would not mind lifting
up the trunk. It is not so heavy as it looks."

This matter dexterously accomplished, Digby Travers got to his seat
again, expecting Paul to help Hazel to her allotted place, frankly eager
to be gone.  He was somewhat taken aback when the girl, who had
disappeared for the space of a few moments, returned with an enormous
umbrella of sombre green hue, which she opened with some difficulty, and
proffered to him with both hands, gravely matter-of-fact.

"I shall not be long," she announced, "but I want to see mother again
before we start, and—and I did not know Mr. Charteris had called.  You
don’t mind, do you?" she added, "It is rather heavy, but the stick is so
tall that you can rest the handle on the seat beside you if you take
your hat off, and, though ugly, it casts a cool and restful light."

So saying she re-entered the house, followed by Paul, leaving poor Digby
disconsolate beneath an extensive shade; so extensive, indeed, that
though noonday was approaching and the sun was high in the heavens, the
quadruped also enjoyed the benefit of it, over its hind quarters, well
to its middle.

"Have you been here long?" Hazel asked of her companion, as the two
paused in the hall, at the foot of the stairway.

The girl’s usually bright spirit was clouded for the moment.  A while
since all had been bustle and excitement—she had made her small plans
and arrangements with much of interest and ardour—had packed her small
wardrobe with a keen sense of anticipatory pleasure.  There had been
something of the stirring nature of the heroic in yesterday’s farewells
to the elongated Monday faces of her brothers; and her tender solicitude
was not unmixed with youthful elation at the thought that her mother
would miss her right sorely.  Now, of a sudden, all this seemed changed.
Without doubt or question, she did not want to go, and the vague
consciousness that Paul did not wish it either, that he too would miss
her, did not tend to lift the girl’s despondency; for she was tender,
true, and pure womanly, and, being so, knew nothing of the malicious joy
of that perversity wherein so many of Eve’s daughters delight.

She sank down upon the first stair, rather listlessly, and looked to
Paul for his answer.

"An hour," he said, "when you appeared.  But Hazel," he added
commiseratingly, "you have tired yourself over all that packing.  Could
not one of the maids have done it?"

"I am not tired, thank you," she answered absently, "at least, I do not
think I am."

Paul did not look satisfied.  The girl was pale, and the small hands,
usually nervous-looking and energetic, lay limp before her.

"I am sorry," she continued, "I did not know. Miles could not have
known, or he would have sent us a message.  You must have been very
dull."

"I wanted _you_, of course," Paul admitted truthfully, "but I would not
have had you disturbed.  I ought not to have expected more of your
company than the few minutes you could give me on leave-taking."

So saying, Paul Charteris seated himself beside her upon the broad,
shallow step, and possessed himself of one of the passive hands.

"What have you been doing?" he asked gently.

Hazel regarded the captive hand, or rather its prison, but her thoughts
were not of it.

"Mr. Charteris," she said, timidly lifting her eyes to his, as with an
effort she decided to speak her mind, "do you think—would it be very
odd, if I sat behind in the phaeton, with—with the trunk, you know?  Do
you suppose Digby would mind, or think me very rude?"

"He would have no right to object," Paul answered warmly, pleased that
she had appealed to him.  "If he annoys you, he cannot expect better
treatment."

"But that is my trouble," she explained, disengaging her hand to take up
and fondle a fluffy ball of a kitten.  "He only annoys me by being too
nice.  So it seems unkind to feel annoyed.  If only one could sit with
one’s back to the horse for fear of draughts and smuts," she went on,
"as one would, with one’s back to an engine!  I want to sit so that he
cannot look into my face every time that he says anything."

Paul hastily removed his eyes from her countenance. "Just so," he said,
"very naturally."  But, though indignant on the girl’s behalf, he felt
he could not justly blame Digby Travers for this.

"And everything he says has two or more meanings," Hazel continued
impatiently.  "Now, when _you_ say, ’Is it not a glorious day?’ you
mean: is it not a glorious day?"  She paused.

"And what does Digby mean?" Paul asked quietly, the while feeling he
should like to demand the answer from Travers himself.

"I don’t quite know," Hazel answered, troubled. "He seems to think that
he and I have reasons for thinking it much more glorious than other
people. But I must go up to mother," she added, rising, "I cannot keep
him waiting long, and—and I feel better, now that I have told you."

Left to himself, Paul paced up and down in deep thought.  Did not
Hazel’s confidence in him authorise him to speak to young Travers?  Yet
no; Digby would not admit the authority—would ask a much greater right
than that of a friend—nay, of a mere acquaintance, as he would probably
pronounce Paul, who in the jealousy of his heart sought to keep others
from the girl’s side, to take away from him, Digby Travers, and from all
men other than himself, Paul Charteris, the natural right of trying for,
and the gladsome chance of obtaining, the affections of Hazel Le
Mesurier.  No, he must let matters take their course.  He could but
advise the girl to cut short her visit, should she suffer any discomfort
more marked than heretofore.  He would remind her that it was not
incumbent upon her to put up with any discomfort whatsoever—that she
need not consider herself selfish, or fear that she was wanting in
strength to endure, for wishing to return home, and in acting upon that
wish; for in such wise, he knew, would Hazel take herself to task: she
would resist such weakness, as she would deem it, with all the power of
her strong little nature—suffering much, that others should not suffer
little, as was her wont.  He would counsel her to tell her mother of
Digby’s importunities, should they become difficult to her own
management, or trouble her unduly.

Soon! ah, soon, he might win the right to shield her himself—Paul’s
pulses stirred at the thought, his heart warmed within him—the right of
lover and true knight. Soon, soon.  As yet she was a trustful,
affectionate child, at an age when a few months only of patient waiting,
of wholesome self-restraint, might see her blossom into a loving woman,
forced thereto by the very strength and warmth of his unspoken love,
even as a bud expands to a flower in the eloquent ardour of perpetual
and encompassing sunshine, however mute and unvoiced that sunshine
perforce must be.

As he thus mused, Hazel came down again in greatly recovered spirits;
for Helen had guessed more of that which disturbed her child’s peace of
mind than the girl herself could have told her, or had acknowledged even
to herself; and with loving tact had soothed her as only a mother can.

"Don’t stay away longer than you like, dearie," she had concluded, "and
Hazel, you would not wish that your motherling should not miss you, or
that the boys and Paul should be pleased to have you gone? They will all
be glad to have you back, and will appreciate you more than ever," she
added playfully, her heart telling her that there was no need of further
appreciation on the part of Mr. Paul Charteris, Paul had not heard
Hazel’s light step upon the stair, so that she reached the hall and
stood confronting him before he knew of her presence.

"I am going now," she said.  "Good-bye."

He took the outstretched hand and looked into the upturned eyes.

"You have not been troubling for me," she added anxiously, "about Digby?
He is very nice to me, and I don’t really mind him—I thought I did, but
it was mostly because I did not want to go.  I—I don’t like leaving
mother, you know."  So saying, the small hand wrung his, and withdrew
itself.

The two then proceeded together across the threshold and down the steps;
and, if hard upon the little victim, it was even harder upon him who led
her to the sacrifice.



                             *CHAPTER VIII*


Comfort, solid comfort, best describes The Beeches, its inmates, and all
appertaining to it and them.  Solid comfort without luxury, ease without
laziness, happiness without a positively cloying sweetness.

John Travers was not handsome, but comfortable-looking; his figure,
perhaps, was becoming a thought too comfortable; but then John Travers
was fifty-five, and plenty had been his lot for nigh upon eightfold of
the proverbial seven years that go to make plenty a really established
fact.  Then, too, he gave way, perhaps somewhat injudiciously, to a
liking for white waistcoats and rather large and conspicuous
watch-chains.

Of Elizabeth Travers, his wife, little need be told in description, for
much is learned of her ways and days in twenty-four hours.  That she,
too, was comfortable need hardly be said; else John, who was a devoted
husband, would not have been so.  But she was not in the least too
comfortable to be a fitting wife for John Travers, or the truly motherly
mother of his children. For surely a broad breast is the natural haven
for young heads, when wearied of the very fulness of the joys of
childhood, or stricken with its tragic, if fleeting griefs.

John and Elizabeth Travers had two sons and two daughters.  What could
be more comfortable than that?  Is not "two of each" in all good things
the very acme of satisfaction and contentment?  The children themselves
were comfortable, considering their years; for if ever there is a period
more devoted than another to strange misgivings, fervent hopes, and
acute sensibilities, that period is youth; and none of these
characteristics can be said to be "comfortable" ones.

Digby, their first-born, now twenty-three years of age, and a student at
Oxford, was enjoying the long vacation under the comfortable parental
roof-tree.  Of Francis, the second son, aged nineteen, was to be made
what is known as a gentleman farmer—an ever-increasing interest in the
somewhat laborious pursuits of tilling, ploughing, sowing, and
harvesting, not to mention a love of animals, making apparent at a very
early age the bent of the boy’s mind.  That he had not Digby’s intellect
was obvious to those who knew both brothers; but that Francis was going
to do very well in his own line was everybody’s opinion.  His enthusiasm
for all bucolic pursuits, together with a keen—no, not a keen; there was
nothing keen about Francis—together with a good, sound judgment of all
things connected with them, was marked.  If his eye lacked quick
observation or keen appreciation, as it lighted on some matter of
interest or beauty, it was steady, honest, trustworthy, and not without
a certain shrewdness.  And it were hard upon him to criticise the
tendency of lip to part with lip; for there was nothing of weakness or
indecision about the large, well-cut mouth, which could close firmly
enough at such times when depth of thought or concentration of mind were
required of him.  Rather should the characteristic be looked upon as the
natural consequence of open-air labour, of a nature that demands more
oxygen than can in reason be expected to find its way to the lungs by
the nasal channel alone; if the fact that to one who frequently studies
the sky for signs of changes of weather with the long, earnest scrutiny
bestowed by Francis Travers, was not in itself explanation enough for an
ofttimes open mouth.

The daughters, Doris and Phyllis, aged sixteen and twelve years, were
slim, fair-haired maidens.  Doris, the elder, looked upon life with
grave eyes, seeing only its serious side, and determinedly facing that
aspect with resolute lips and somewhat pale cheeks, quaint and demure.
Phyllis, on the other hand, while in no way boisterous—sharing, indeed,
in some part her sister’s quietude of mind and demeanour—was rosily
cheerful and a thorough child.  It was quaint Doris’s aim to keep her
thus; and odd it was to note the enforcement of the staid authority
which the slender four years of seniority gave to the girl in the
absence of their mother, or of their governess, Miss Manifold.

Miss Manifold—nicknamed "Sins and Wickedness" by Hugh and Teddie Le
Mesurier—the daughter of a Lincolnshire squire, long since deceased, was
a good woman, well liked by her two pupils, whose well-being she had
sincerely at heart.  At the present moment she was absent from The
Beeches, being once more returned into the bosom of her family for the
Midsummer holidays.  This fact, meaning as it did freedom of will and
action, combined with the pleasing circumstance that Hazel Le Mesurier’s
impending visit was about to be realised, brought much rejoicing to the
girls; for even sober Doris was not impervious to the delights of a few
weeks’ unrestricted leisure, nor unmindful of the advantages of living
for that short interval without the eye of supervision upon her every
movement.

She and Phyllis were, for the fourth time this morning, taking a survey
of the bedroom that had been allotted to their girl-guest—moving,
changing, and rearranging articles of furniture or ornament to suit
Hazel’s queer taste and odd fancy.  The bed they had dragged before one
of the windows, for Hazel had once confided to these two friends that
she liked nothing better than to sleep with her head pillowed on the
sill; only that it was not often that bed and sill chanced to stand in
the necessary relative position one to the other. Also the bed must
needs be wide enough to permit the full stretch of her limbs, when she
had twisted herself to this crosswise position.  She assured Doris and
Phyllis that to gaze up at the stars until you fell asleep was conducive
to the dreaming of the most lovely dreams, whilst the soft fanning of
the summer night-air proved most pleasant and refreshing.

"And what if it rains?" her breathless auditors had asked.

"That is nice, too, in its way," Hazel had made answer.  "But once," she
added ruefully, "when I was sleeping so, I was so sound asleep that it
did not wake me until my hair was drenched, and I had to get up and rub
it with a towel for nearly two hours."

"How your arms must have ached," Doris said, eyeing the heavy brown
mane, half in admiration, half in pity.

"And I was so sleepy," Hazel continued, "that every time I stopped to
rest my arms a moment I found myself nodding, with the towel in my lap."

"Didn’t you have a bad cold the next day?" Phyllis asked.

"No, I never catch cold," Hazel answered.  "It is being so much in the
open air, I suppose."

The dressing-table, too, was never to block a window and obscure the
view in Hazel’s room; and there must always be flowers upon it.  Having
ascertained that all was to her liking, Phyllis and Doris fared forth to
the garden gate, rightly judging that, had their brother found Hazel
ready to accompany him, the two must long ere this have made their
appearance.

It was a pretty view that stretched away before The Beeches.  As they
stood at the entrance gate, which faced the road, the girls looked upon
a wide, sunny tract of undulating common ground, ablaze with yellow
gorse.  Trending toward the west in long dark line was a ridge of
fir-trees sharply defined and almost black against the even blue of the
sky, but merging into soft and softer gradations of consistency and
colour on the wood’s southern extremity, its outline finally well-nigh
lost in a mist of feathery larches.  To the east was a low range of
hills with brown, thatched, and red-tiled cottages and farmhouses dotted
at intervals at its base, whilst a rivulet that flowed past the
Travers’s estate, forming indeed the boundary on its right flank, wended
its way in and out, twisting and twining, a white ribbon shot with
sunlight, till lost to sight in the valley.

And there, round the bend came the trap.  Hazel, perched high, her hands
encased in Digby Travers’s thick gloves, was driving, to her own evident
delight and self-importance, having successfully eluded her companion’s
practically demonstrated teaching by declaring that she did not care
what was the orthodox way of manipulating the reins; that she and the
horse understood one another well enough.

Hazel was delighted with her room, and had no suggestions to offer
respecting any change in the position of its furniture.  Everything was
perfect, she frankly told her gratified friends.  Her quick eye had
lighted upon a tiny escritoire standing in one corner, and a thought
flashed into her mind, an idea as novel to her as it was pleasing.  She
grasped the delightful idea, seized upon it, and stowed it carefully
away in a corner of her brain, until such time as she should have
leisure to look into the alluring possibilities it suggested—to cogitate
without fear of interruption.

Just now, with very active assistance from Doris and Phyllis, Hazel was
removing the dust of travel from her person.

When the three girls descended to the dining-room for luncheon, they
found the rest of the family already there assembled; and Hazel received
a warm kiss from the motherly Mrs. Travers, whilst Mr. Travers took her
right hand, and Francis possessed himself of her left; Doris and Phyllis
hovered about her; Digby looked on approvingly.  Having been thus duly
welcomed and received into the bosom of the family, Hazel, as the party
seated themselves around the table, addressed herself to Francis.

"Well, farmer," she said, with _bonne camaraderie_, "and how are the
crops?"

"They are coming on all right," he replied, somewhat sheepishly.  He
liked Hazel; but considered her a terrible little tease.  She had always
laughed at his manner of walking, declaring that he swayed backwards and
forwards, as a sailor will roll from side to side.

"It comes of always imagining that you are stepping over ploughed
furrows," she told him, "just as a horse is trained to step high by
having obstacles put in his way."

"And the live stock?" she went on.

"Flourishing, thank you," he returned.

"Hens sitting?" she asked.  "And oh, Francis, did that baby pig learn to
grunt properly, the one that loved wallowing in the mire?"

But here her hostess claimed the girl’s attention, and Francis settled
himself to the business in hand—luncheon—inwardly resolving to be even
with Hazel yet.

The day passed pleasantly enough, resting with books and work in the
shade during the afternoon, walking through the sunlit meadows when the
heat of the day was subsiding.  In the evening the young folk
entertained each other with music, Hazel singing some quaint songs in
her own way—an adorable little way in the opinion of Paul Charteris, an
opinion shared to-night most fervently by Digby Travers.

Soon after ten o’clock Hazel found herself alone at last, with hours
before her, supposing she could manage to keep awake, for meditation
upon the scheme that had come to her at sight of the little
writing-table. Her own room at home did not boast such a convenience,
and it is to be presumed that the publicity of the position of the few
desks and escritoires about the house had prevented the idea from
occurring to Hazel’s mind before.

She would write a story—a thrilling, exciting story—and make all the
money she could possibly want! Here, all alone in the undisturbed quiet
of her own room, she would write diligently, and her week’s visit might
result in half-a-dozen stories for Teddie to take to some editor!

Hazel was perturbed by no fear that she might lack talent and ability,
but it was not long before she perceived that she was mistaken in the
amount of work that she could accomplish in so short a time.  She wisely
refrained from installing herself at the desk that night, thinking that
she could not do better in these first hours, while all was exciting and
new in this plan of work, than get to bed as quickly as possible, and
devote an hour or two to the evolving of a plot, and to the construction
of her first story, before sleep should come upon her.

So far from thinking it hard to conjure up matter upon which to base her
tale, the difficulty seemed to lie in the fact that she must perforce
write only one at a time, if she wished to be conscientious and
systematic. All through the washing of her face and hands, and the
brushing of her hair, mechanically performed, her head was teeming with
all manner of stirring incidents, which rose up in her imagination,
refusing to be placed in any nice order of sequence; inconsistent with
one another; contending together—obviously "copy" for many stories of
widely different natures.

"And then there is my style," the would-be authoress reflected, as she
sank down at length among the pillows. "I wonder what my style will be:
whether I have to find one—to settle upon one of many—or whether a
particular one will come to me of itself."

And this was as far as Hazel got that first night.



                              *CHAPTER IX*


Hazel was awakened next morning by an unaccustomed sound that seemed for
some time to have penetrated her sleep-wrapped senses, without rousing
them to full consciousness.  She lay still, and listened with all her
ears; but there was no renewal of the disturbance, and she was about to
compose herself to sleep—the clock upon the mantel-shelf telling her she
might do so for another half-hour—when the unwonted strains began again.
They were not those of a donkey braying, nor of a horse whinnying, nor
of a cock crowing, but of a young man singing.

It was not a very tuneful performance, but it was most fervently and
expressively rendered; and Hazel, as it dawned upon her that she was the
subject of the morning serenade, hearkened with very mixed emotions.

"I suppose he _considers_ it serenading," she said to herself; and she
experienced a feeling of importance, intermingled with awe.  "I thought
they had gone out of fashion," she meditated.  "Certainly they have in
England: I suppose Digby’s continental trips have given him foreign
notions."

    I stand at your window sighing
      As the weary hours go by,
    And the time is slowly dying


"Horribly," Hazel’s reflections broke in.  "Why don’t you hurry up, or
get some one to mark it for you?"

    That once too quick did fly.


"What a good thing that he has not a guitar!  It would make a dreadful
jumble.  You need not wail so, if the pain I have caused you is so
exquisite," she apostrophised the anguished lover; and scorn took
possession of her.  "If you were a cat, one would pour water on you.  I
am not sure if one would not be justified in thinking you were a cat,"
and her eyes sparkled with fun and mischief.

Despite the foreign notions laid to his charge, the young man’s sense of
the fitness of things kept him from standing long under one window in
particular, even while the beauty of the flowering shrub beneath the
guest-chamber gave excuse for a somewhat lingering gait in passing; so
that it was only now and again that Hazel caught a connected line or two
of the impassioned refrain; while his sisters, not to mention his father
and mother, were regaled with a goodly, if not quite with an even share,
till Francis thrust a betousled head from his window and asked his
brother to "stow it," a request which caused the disconsolate Digby to
wander farther from the house, and to break into fresh melody among the
trees that skirted the lawn.

Hazel had unexpected good fortune, in that the morning was passed in
almost uninterrupted silence; for, breakfast over, Mr. Travers and his
sons furnished themselves with fishing-tackle and, begging the girls to
join the expedition and witness sport, the party made their way down to
the river side and were soon ranged along its near bank.  Hazel was not
long in seizing the opportunity thus offered, and was soon lost in her
own reflections.

Her mind was quieter now than last night, when, in the first hours of
possessing the exciting idea of a scheme of action so congenial to her,
all had been pleasurable turmoil.  Now she could think more connectedly,
could shape her thoughts to some end.  She wisely resolved to leave
style alone—at all events at first—until she had ascertained for a fact
that the style which came naturally to her was poor. She would be
careful concerning grammar, but she had always detested the sight of the
outside cover of books upon the subject, and so far as she could
remember, had never opened one.

She set up an imaginary stage in her mind, bringing her characters one
by one to bow before her, and to ask modestly whether they would please
her; what relations they were to bear one to another; what influence
life upon life.  Then the grouping must be pleasingly harmonious or
disturbingly discordant: there must be nothing tame nor indifferent
about her work.

"We need not be so absolutely dumb," Digby Travers murmured, and Hazel
awoke with a start. "I’d rather lose all the fish, if catching it can
only be accomplished by not talking to you, or not hearing you talk."

"Hush," Hazel rejoined.  "The others don’t feel like that, and besides,"
she added truthfully, "I want to think."

"Oh, well," the young man returned, in a somewhat injured tone, "that is
another thing, of course"; and he continued his occupation in gloomy
silence, the while Hazel resumed her thread of cogitation. Presently she
began to realise that she must be simpler and more methodical in her
ideas—less profound. After all, she was not undertaking the writing of a
book.  Let her conjure up some pretty little story, and write it
carefully and faithfully—perhaps the pathos and the humour would take
care of themselves.

That night, in the seclusion of her own room, she set to work, in a
fever of energy and fervent purpose. She had gone upstairs at ten, but
it was nigh upon one o’clock when the girl at length extinguished her
light and laid her down to rest.  Even then sleep did not come to her
quickly, for her brain was thoroughly roused and excited.

Three evenings devoted to this work sufficed to complete her story, and
on the fourth, after carefully revising her work, she proceeded to write
it out neatly, and the result of her labour was to her own entire
satisfaction.

Anticipating the certainty of having all in readiness before she slept,
she had, during the day, addressed a letter to Teddie asking him to meet
her in town next morning, which epistle she directed to his lodging; for
she felt the urgency of completing all such arrangements from her
friends’ house, wishing as she did to keep all secret until such time as
she could ask for sympathy in her disappointment, or for congratulations
in her success.

She had little difficulty in gaining the consent of Mrs. Travers to this
expedition.  She did not deem it necessary to take her kind hostess
wholly into her confidence: Mrs. Travers was satisfied with the girl’s
assurance that her mother would not object to what she was about to do,
provided Teddie was with her, and good-naturedly acquiesced in her
entreaty that she might be allowed to keep her little secret from every
one but the brother, whose aid was essential in the completion of her
business.

The following day, immediately after the morning meal, hugging her
precious manuscript, she was driven to the station in the company of the
four young Traverses, all of whom warmly insisted upon seeing her off.
The frame of mind into which these four friends had been thrown, owing
to her unwonted demeanour and most mysterious silence concerning this
expedition, may be easily imagined.  Doris and Phyllis were openly and
frankly curious, with that feminine curiosity that knows no concealment;
nor did they cease in their endeavours to worm Hazel’s secret from her,
resorting at length to stratagem, in the hope that the girl, if caught
for a moment off her guard, might yet be led into revealing the cause of
her mission.

"Teddie will meet this train," was all she would say, "and perhaps you
will be kind enough to meet the one arriving here at 3.50," and she
turned to the taciturn Digby.

Digby Travers was much more to be pitied than either his sisters or
Francis: the latter being genuinely amused, and inclined to chaff Hazel,
nor was he troubled one whit with the restless curiosity that beset the
girls, or the sense of grievance that lurked in the bosom of his
brother.  For Digby felt himself to be deeply injured.  It is true that
he had not, like the others, deliberately asked Hazel to tell him her
reason for running up to town: he would not urge her to confide in him,
but he was hurt that she did not volunteer the explanation of her
movements, at all events to him, even if she wished the matter to remain
secret from the others.  Hazel was partially aware of the state of his
feelings, and looked to see him brighten at her proposal, but the gloom
did not lift from Digby’s countenance.

"As you like," he made answer, with would-be nonchalance.  "Either I or
Francis—or the man, if we are prevented."

And then Hazel’s eyes were opened, figuratively and actually, and she
gazed upon him for some moments in mute wonder and some little distress.
While he spoke and acted like the Digby she had known so long, her
suspicions were not aroused, her mind being fully occupied with managing
him—smoothing the little difficulties that his importunities caused her,
keeping him at arm’s length instinctively, all unconscious that she was
doing so, or that there was any need to do so.  But now the situation
began to dawn upon her. While he remained attentive to all her little
needs and wishes, displaying an odd admixture of slavish devotion and
proprietary authority, such as had characterised his attitude towards
her so long as she could remember—for even the rough schoolboy had
lorded it over the very small maiden—she had taken it all as a matter of
course—as Digby’s "way."  For tenderness, shame-faced at first, had
crept in so imperceptibly, so gradually supplanting the old
rough-and-ready affection; and the old boyish, somewhat overbearing and
dictatorial manner had by such gentle degrees given place to another
sort of proprietariness, that these things seemed to have grown with his
growth; and the girl, beyond an occasional sense of annoyance at such
times, when Digby appeared rather trying and more difficult to manage
than of yore, had never given the matter a second thought.  But now,
with this abrupt change of front, this veering round, so to say, from
eager and solicitous attention to a poorly assumed indifference,
manifestly born of a certain recklessness and of deeply felt resentment
against herself, a horrible suggestion presented itself to the girl’s
mind, and she looked at Digby Travers in wide-eyed dismay.

"I believe he is beginning to be a sort of lover," she said to herself,
and her heart beat a little faster.

She reflected upon this new problem at her ease, after she had been
safely bestowed in a first-class compartment with ladies, of whom Digby
had inquired their destination, committing Hazel to their charge.

Many little incidents recurred to her mind, that had puzzled her at the
time, but now seemed to explain themselves with unmistakable conviction.

"He must not be allowed to propose," for, strange and bewildering as it
seemed to the girl, yet, assuming him to be a lover, that was the young
man’s end and aim—"to propose: it would be too terrible."  Besides, he
had no right to do so; Hazel must save him from himself—he was deceiving
himself: he was not a proper lover, a real lover.  It was too absurd.
She almost laughed aloud at the absurdity of it.  Intuitively her
thoughts turned to Paul for help.  The next moment the girl had shrunk
within herself—her face aflame. The only place in the whole world that
presented itself to her imagination was her mother’s shoulder; but she
was all unconscious that it was from Paul she desired to hide her face.

Presently she grew more collected, and took herself to task.  She told
herself that all her good sense and wisest judgment must be brought to
bear upon the subject.  She did not think she should trouble her mother:
she might conceivably confide in Teddie, if she found it expedient to do
so, but certainly, oh certainly, in no one else.  And perhaps, after
all, she could manage unaided; perhaps some coldly proffered hints would
bring Digby to his senses.  Even now she believed she must be
mistaken—it was so preposterous, this new idea.

In the meantime she must set herself resolutely to put the thing out of
her mind.  Only so could she attend properly to the business in hand.
She unfolded the manuscript, re-read it, and found that she was still
satisfied with it, although the details of the story began to pall a
little, as was natural.

As she finished reviewing the precious document the train drew up in
Paddington Station, and there upon the platform, trying hard not to look
interested, stood Teddie.

Hazel’s eyes lighted on him instantly.  Eagerly, almost tremulously, she
once more unfolded the manuscript, and, springing from the carriage, ran
to his side.

"It is called ’The Victoria Cross, and How it was Won,’" she announced
breathlessly to her astonished brother, and forthwith began to read.

"What is?" Teddie asked, bluntly interrupting her.

"Why, the story," she answered, for the moment confounded by her
auditor’s lack of sympathy and appreciation.  "Didn’t you know?  I have
written a story," and she was about to proceed with the narrative, when
he again interposed.

"I know nothing," he said with an injured air, "but that you wanted me
to meet this train, and did not give me time to say I could not; it was
dashed inconvenient, I can tell you."

For a moment the girl’s ardour was damped.

"Oh, Teddie, I am so sorry," she exclaimed, "but I wanted to take it at
once to an editor.  I had to be quick, while I was at the Traverses, as
I could not take it from home without confiding in mother, and it is a
surprise for her."

Her bright face clouded, and she regarded her brother wistfully.  "Is it
very inconvenient?" she asked.

Teddie’s generous young heart was touched.  "Oh, it is all right," he
answered gruffly.  "Let us hear it."

Hazel, nothing loth, began once more as the two strolled down the
platform, hardly pausing, in her absorbed interest, as she handed her
ticket to the amused collector.

Teddie, though gradually becoming fired with something of her
enthusiasm, was hardly yet so engrossed but that he had sufficient sense
left of his surroundings to be aware of the unsuitability of the place
for either reading aloud or listening.  He therefore guided the
unconscious girl, without again interrupting her, to a waiting-room,
which he noted with satisfaction was empty.  Here the two ensconced
themselves, and Hazel read on to the finish, Teddie hearkening with all
his ears; nor did he once remove his eyes from her face, where a bright
spot of colour, born of excitement, was glowing on either cheek.

"That is the end," she announced triumphantly. "What do you think of
it?"

"Jolly good," Teddie declared with gratifying warmth. "Come on," he
added, springing to his feet; "let us get a cab."

"A cab?  Oh, Teddie, ought we to?" she asked timorously.  "What made you
think of it?"

For all answer Teddie led the way from the station, hailed a passing
hansom, and helped her into it.

"Don’t you see?" he explained presently, after directing the man through
the trap.  "Don’t you see that the story will pay you again and again
for a cab?"

And as they bowled along in silent enjoyment, Hazel could not but marvel
upon the rapidity of the change that prosperity, through authorship, had
wrought upon her life.

"Who are we taking it to?" she asked presently.

"A fellow I know of," Teddie replied.  "Or rather, two fellows, Langham
and Fielding.  A friend of mine got a story taken by them not half so
good as this."

"I am glad I asked you to help me," Hazel returned gratefully.  "I only
hope it won’t matter very much taking you from your work, you know."

"Say no more about that," Teddie responded complacently.  "It was a bit
awkward, but how was I to know that it was all for such a good purpose?
Here we are," he added, as the cab drew up before a building, and Hazel,
timidly lifting her eyes, read in gold letters upon the window-pane,
"Messrs. Langham & Fielding, Publishers."

They entered the building, and found themselves in a large, bare place
that looked to their inexperienced eyes to be a combination of
book-warehouse, office, and shop, for new books were stacked upon
shelves all round the apartment; parcels of all sizes were piled upon
the floor, among which, in an adjacent corner, a man in a leather apron
was busy sorting.  Some clerkly looking young men sat or stood at high
desks, whilst a long counter ran down the room, rather to one side,
which an office-lad seemed to be engaged in polishing.

A fellow-feeling for the clerks, a wish not to disturb them in their
arduous tasks, made Teddie Le Mesurier turn to the boy.

"This lady," he said, intimating Hazel, who trembled slightly, "wishes
to see one of your principals—the editor of the —— Magazine, if
possible."

"Who is it from?" inquired the office-boy mechanically, as, without a
vestige of expression, his gaze seemed to fix itself on Teddie’s left
ear.

Hazel looked blank.  "Who is it from?" she reiterated, at a loss.

"Now look here," said Teddie angrily, "none of your office gibberish.
Just take up my card and say——"

At this juncture a pleasant-faced clerk stepped forward.  "Get back to
your work, Tommie," he said briskly, and he turned to the pair.  "What
can I do for you?" he asked, looking from one to the other.

Teddie repeated his formula and handed the young man his card.  "We are
on the lady’s errand," he explained, "but she has no card," and Hazel
felt mortified, she scarcely knew why; but it seemed so terribly young
not to possess cards, although she had never before felt the lack.

"Is it an appointment?" asked the clerk.  "Will your business be known?"

"No," Teddie returned stoutly, "but there must be a beginning, you know.
We wish to submit a manuscript."

The young man left them, to reappear in a few moments.

"The editor will see you at once," he informed them.  "Please step this
way."

He led them up a flight of stairs, and, showing them into a room, closed
the door behind them.  It was large and comfortably furnished, with more
of the private library than office about it.  The only occupant, a tall,
good-looking man, of some fifty years of age, rose to receive them,
tendering Hazel a chair near his own desk, the while Teddie seated
himself somewhat in the background.

"I wish to submit a manuscript which I think you will find very suitable
for the —— Magazine," Hazel began, with an easy confidence and
graciousness of manner that generally proved very pleasing from the
little lady.  "Are you Mr. Langham or Mr. Fielding?"

"My name is Charles Langham," he answered, bowing, a slight smile
relaxing his somewhat grave features.  "It is a short story, I presume?"

"Yes," Hazel returned.  "My brother Edward," intimating Teddie, who
looked very much at home, sitting well forward in his chair, his stick
between his knees, his chin resting upon its knob, "has known you to
take a story, not nearly so good, he says."

"Not half, by Jove!" put in Teddie.

"You would not like to read it now?" suggested Hazel.  "It would not
take you long."

"I think not," Mr. Langham replied.  "You see, that is not our usual
way; but if you will leave it with me, I will place it in the hands of
our reader, who will give me his report."

"Yes, I see," Hazel said, a trifle disappointed.

"You don’t think you could make a concession for once?" asked Teddie.

"I think not," Mr. Langham repeated, pulling at his moustache.  "It
would be very irregular."

"Of course," responded Teddie politely.  "You see, Hazel, that is what
readers are for: to save the editors the trouble and loss of time
incurred in reading a lot of unacceptable rubbish."

"And Mr. Langham cannot know that mine is not rubbish," Hazel rejoined,
wishing to be reasonable.  "It is called ’The Victoria Cross, and How it
was Won,’" she continued, turning to the editor.  "The hero goes to the
front, and there is a tremendous battle, which I think I have succeeded
in making very realistic."

"Stunning," put in Teddie.

"And then," she resumed, waxing eloquent in her theme, "afterwards, upon
the battlefield, when he is lying wounded in the moonlight, a fearful
vision rises before his eyes."

"Blood-curdling," remarked Teddie, _sotto voce_.

"But it is only his delirium that distorts things and makes them
fearful.  In reality it is his mother."

Mr. Langham did his utmost to appear properly interested, and
endeavoured to keep his countenance, wherein he was only partially
successful.  It was a delightful pair, he thought: this handsome young
fellow and lovely, dainty girl.  And, busy as he was, he made no move to
hurry Hazel.  The girl’s spontaneity was refreshing, her ardour and
evident good faith in her attempt at authorship were touching to a man
of his sympathetic and benevolent nature. He was quite anxious not to
precipitate their departure by word or sign.

"I know I must not keep you," Hazel concluded, rising from her seat;
"but you will be glad to hear that it all ends peacefully and happily,
and his great bravery is fully recognised."

"That is very satisfactory," Mr. Langham returned, rising also.
"Stories should always end happily, I think."

"I think so, too," Hazel returned.  "Good-bye," she added, giving him
her hand.  "I hope we have not kept you too long."

Mr. Langham released the hand with something of reluctance, and preceded
his visitors to the door.  He shook hands with Teddie, and was somewhat
astonished at the warmth of the young man’s grasp.

"Yes," Teddie agreed, "I hope we have not kept you too long."  And the
pair passed out.

"Do you know"—and Hazel’s head reappeared as Mr. Langham was about to
close the door—"do you know, before I saw you," she said laughing, "I
had quite made up my mind not to speak at all—except, of course, to
answer any questions you might put to me.  I thought it would be the
business-like, correct way; and, besides, I had a sort of notion that
editors were rather terrible—as a class," she added hastily, fearful of
wounding the sensibility of the editor in question.  "Even now I cannot
help thinking you are an exception.  Good-bye."  And she was gone.

Charles Langham, this exception to his kind, stood listening to the
sound of their dying footsteps, then turned to his interrupted work with
a smile and a sigh.

"And now," said Teddie, looking at his watch, "I must take you back to
the station and get on to the office."

Hazel had intended to spend the whole morning with her brother, and
probably lunch with him, before she returned to the Traverses: hence her
injunctions to Digby to meet her, or cause her to be met, by the 3.50
train.  She was, therefore, disappointed; but of this she would let
nothing appear.  Teddie had already given enough, and too much, of his
time at so short a notice.

"Very well," she said cheerfully.  "And Teddie—I know it is all right—I
shall get the money for my story in time—but, as we have not got it yet,
had not it perhaps better be an omnibus?"

To this economical arrangement Teddie—himself less glowingly optimistic
than he had been a short while since—agreed.  At the station they found,
somewhat to their dismay, that there was no train for a couple of hours
or so—it was now but little past eleven.

Teddie considered the situation.  "Well," he said, "you won’t get home
till past two o’clock.  I had better get you some buns and leave you in
the waiting-room.  I am awfully sorry, but it cannot be helped. Do you
think you will be all right?"

"Perfectly," Hazel returned brightly.

Teddie left her, to return a few minutes later armed with a magazine,
and a paper bag containing twelve halfpenny buns.

Left to herself, Hazel began to read; but her mind being preoccupied,
she found the stories and jokes uninteresting, and presently fell
a-thinking.  Was it not near here that her mother’s uncle, Percival
Desborough, lived?  Why should she not utilise the time that must
perforce elapse before she could embark upon her return journey by
visiting him?  Something within her urged her to go, though the prospect
was somewhat terrifying.  She had heard so much of this uncle’s hardness
of heart and violence of temper. Poor, lonely old man! how many a time
had she wished to see him and judge for herself if he were so hopelessly
unamiable and unapproachable as all who knew him averred—all but her
mother, who had never lost the belief that there was a soft spot
somewhere in the poor, selfish old man’s heart.

She had plenty of time, for it would be just as well to take the train
by which the Traverses would expect her to arrive—the one after that
which Teddie had supposed she would take.

Setting indecision aside, Hazel seized the bag of buns and left the
station.  Following the direction of a policeman, and later of a
friendly inclined milkman, she found the house easily, and, though her
hand trembled a little, she beat a brave tattoo upon the door.  Her
knock was answered by an imposing footman, who appeared to do his utmost
not to show surprise at sight of Hazel.

"Is my uncle, Mr. Percival Desborough, at home?" she inquired, in as
steady a voice as she could command.

The servant answered in the affirmative, and Hazel walked in.  A few
moments later she heard herself announced, slowly, distinctly, and most
unmistakably: "Miss Le Mesurier!"



                              *CHAPTER X*


Hazel entered her great-uncle’s library with beating heart indeed, but
with no outward show of fear or trepidation.  It was a large room,
furnished in good, if somewhat ponderous taste. Books lined the
oak-panelled walls from ceiling to floor; the window curtains and other
hangings were for the most part of a heavy, sombrous, red colour,
harmonising well with the rich, though subdued tints of the deep-piled
carpet and oak furniture, nearly black with age.  The many windows, in
all sorts of unexpected recesses, though they admitted light none too
freely, being either of stained glass or otherwise darkened with
drapery, saved the room from positive gloom, more especially when the
eye had become accustomed to the dusky conditions, as doubtless was the
eye of Percival Desborough.  He turned in his chair with a groan and
scrutinised the girlish form that stood motionless by the door, waiting
till her sight should serve her; for, after the glare of the white
pavement without, she was at first well-nigh blinded.

"What do you want?" he asked, ungraciously enough.  It was the same
question he had asked of the girl’s mother some years since, and
practically the last words he had spoken to her or her family.

Hazel turned her head in the direction whence the voice proceeded.  "I
want to see you," she answered, "only it is so very dark."

"And why do you want to see me?" he returned brusquely.  "Have you come
to ask for money?"

"Oh no," Hazel replied, advancing swiftly now, and holding out her hand.
"And please don’t begin by being disagreeable," she added pleadingly—"at
all events, not before we have even shaken hands; I don’t want to feel I
cannot shake hands with you—as you have made many of us feel,
particularly as I had made up my mind to start fair."

The old man took the proffered hand almost before he knew what he was
about.  He was slightly taken aback.

"To start fair!" he repeated, somewhat vacantly.

"You see," Hazel continued, drawing up a low chair, and seating herself
in friendly proximity to her august relative, "I have heard of you all
my life as being so unapproachable and—and even rude, sometimes, if you
don’t mind my telling you so. But mother says you were not always like
that.  She says that when she was a girl you were fond of her and very
kind to her.  So for years I have felt convinced that your—your manners
were chiefly owing to—to loneliness and gout."  For the first time Hazel
allowed her glance to rest pitifully upon the poor, bandaged foot, that
she was careful not to touch. "Which must be a very terrible
combination," she added sympathetically.

"If you have come here to pity me, the sooner you leave the better," he
answered irascibly, a very paroxysm of twinges rendering civil speech
for the moment an impossibility.

Hazel saw him wince, and understood.

"Oh, I have not," she returned gently.  "At least, I can keep it to
myself.  I know how annoying pity can be in certain moods.  But I hoped
I might amuse and interest you," she added wistfully, "almost before you
knew that such a thing was possible, by calling upon you and giving you
all the family news."

Mr. Desborough moved uneasily in his chair.  "I don’t want to hear
anything about them—not a word, do you hear?"

"Don’t you?" said Hazel, and she sighed.  "Are you sure?"

"Quite sure," he answered savagely.  "I have done with my niece, with
the whole family, and their begging letters——"

He stopped short, for Hazel, flushing scarlet, then turning very pale,
rose proudly from her seat and stood confronting him.

"Uncle Percival," she said, her voice vibrating with anger, "say
anything you like of me, and if I cannot stand it I can go away; but you
shall not say a word against my mother or the boys—you had better not
even mention them in my hearing.  My mother is—well, never mind, I would
rather not discuss her with you; and my brothers are dear, good fellows,
every one of them, and—and courteous gentlemen, who would never speak of
an absent lady as you have done.  I want to be tolerant," she added,
"but unless you take it back, unless you retract what you said, I shall
feel obliged to leave you at once."

"Sit down," her uncle rejoined surlily.  "Don’t make such a fuss."

"You take it back; that about—about the letters?" she demanded eagerly.

"Yes—yes," he answered testily.  "Sit down."

Hazel sat down.  Percival Desborough was surprised and interested in the
novel sensations awakened within him by the presence of his visitor,
this young relative. He had experienced a feeling of alarm, positive
alarm, at her threat to leave him, though he did not acknowledge this to
himself, or for a moment give it credence.

"So you wish to be tolerant, do you?" he asked, after a pause.  His
voice was gruff, but Hazel could detect some kindlier note beneath the
gruffness.

"Yes," she made answer.  "I think you might grant that I am," she added,
smiling up at him from her low seat.  "Now, Teddie would not have stood
you for two minutes—you have not a very nice way of greeting people, you
know.  Your first words, if you had spoken them to Teddie, would have
driven him out of the room without his answering.  Now, don’t you want
to hear why I am up in town?  You would never guess."

"Well?" grunted Uncle Percival, as she paused.

"I have taken a story I have written to a publisher—an editor, I should
say.  I very much want to earn some money, and I find I can write," she
added modestly. "Teddie met me in town and went with me—I am glad he
did.  He always impresses people so favourably. And when we got back to
the station we found that I had two hours to wait for a train."

"So he brought you here?" Mr. Desborough inquired.

"Oh no," Hazel replied, in a tone that might imply that Teddie would not
have done so under any consideration.  "Oh no, he left me in a
first-class ladies’ waiting-room—he had to go back to his office, you
know—and while I was sitting there I remembered how near you were, and
how often I had thought that some day, unknown to any one, I would come
to see you and try to make friends.  Don’t you think we might be
friends, you and I?" she added ingenuously.

"What do you want money for?" her uncle inquired, evasively.

"Just pocket-money," Hazel said.  "I am always running out of it.  You
would not believe how inconvenient it is.  I am always seeing new ways
of earning some.  I see one to-day—only mother would not let me."

"What do you think of doing?" her uncle asked. He was becoming
interested, and almost amiable—he, who had been interested in nothing
and in no one but self for years.  He admired this bright, gentle girl
in spite of himself; he was beginning to dread the moment when she would
get up and say she must go.

"You will laugh," Hazel returned, "but my latest idea is to be a
companion—to you—for so much a week, you know: that would mean that you
could dismiss me, or that I could leave you, at a week’s notice.  If I
went without _any_ notice, quite suddenly, I should have to forgo a
week’s salary.  But it would never do," she continued reflectively,
"mother would never let me. She says she must always have me with her.
But it is a pity.  There is no doubt you need a companion, and I
certainly want money."

"I much prefer living by myself," her uncle replied brusquely.  "I don’t
want any companion."

"I think you do," Hazel returned, standing to her opinion bravely.  "To
begin with, look at this room!"

"What of it?" her uncle asked harshly.  "It is a very good room, well
furnished, capacious, comfortable."

But Hazel observed that he was roused, and did not seem displeased to
have some matter to discuss.

"It is dark," she persisted, "and stuffy.  No one could spend many hours
a day in it, as I dare say you do, without their health and spirits
being affected.  Human beings are like plants: they want light and air,"
she added oracularly.  "I know I could not live here and feel well and
happy and—and good tempered"—with delicate hesitancy.

"What should you propose to do?" Mr. Desborough asked.

"To throw open the windows and drag back some of the curtains.  May I?
You will find it such an improvement."

"Mrs. Hodges would be horrified," her uncle returned, "and rightly.  The
sun would fade all pattern from the valuable carpet."

"But you are more valuable than the carpet," Hazel pleaded, "and you
must not forget that the dark fades _you_."

At this juncture the footman entered the room to announce that luncheon
was served, in the exact tone of voice and with the selfsame manner in
which he had announced Hazel.  Then, relaxing the rigid muscles of his
body, the while his face took an even added look of stoic resolve, he
advanced to his master’s side and deferentially offered his arm.
Percival Desborough regarded the arm with an expression of dislike,
almost of disgust, depicted upon his hard-featured countenance.  There
was nothing personal in this show of feeling, as Thomas had probably
long ago discovered.

"Must you go through the pain of walking?" asked Hazel pitifully, quick
to note and interpret.  "Won’t you have a tray brought here?"

"I prefer to eat in the dining-room," her uncle answered shortly, as he
got to his feet with a groan and a half audible word of an exclamatory
nature.

But, with all his bad temper, and his sensibilities rendered
ultra-critical, as they were, through pain and discontent, the poor
gentleman could find no real fault with the way in which Thomas, like
some machine of wonderful mechanism, manoeuvred the movements of both
himself and his master, with an accuracy of eye-measurement controlling
hand and limb, truly amazing, acquired only by years of practice.
During those years, however, devoted by the servant to learning how to
satisfy his master, Mr. Desborough had acquired the habit of expressing
his opinions somewhat freely concerning the stupidity of Thomas in
particular and of his kind in general.  So that even now, albeit
Thomas’s manipulation was perfect, and his master, aware of the fact,
would not under any consideration trust the removal of himself from room
to room to any other than this well-tested servant, he could not refrain
from relieving himself of some of the well-worn and hackneyed phrases,
to the use of which he had accustomed himself during the years of
Thomas’s noviciate.  But these recriminations had always to be voiced
well in advance of the moment to which they were supposed to allude;
else their unreasonableness struck disagreeably upon even Mr. Desborough
himself.

"Should you like my shoulder, or do you prefer your stick?" Hazel asked,
springing to her feet.

"Thank you," her uncle returned drily, "I am more accustomed to the
stick—I had better keep to it."  But there was a gleam of amusement in
his eye, as he surveyed the shoulder in question, squared for action.
"You will lunch with me?"

"Thank you," the girl answered.  "I had not thought of it, but there is
certainly plenty of time."

"Where did you intend to lunch?" her uncle answered when, the laborious
journey accomplished, they were seated at the table.

"Where?" Hazel repeated.  "Oh, in the waiting room.  Teddie bought me
twelve halfpenny buns, thinking that I was going to take an earlier
train, and that I should not be very late for lunch.  I should be glad
if I might leave them here," she went on, "It is such a bagful and,
however hungry I am, I can never eat more than two halfpenny buns. Can
you?"

"I don’t know," returned her uncle with a grim smile.  "I have
forgotten.  Eh, Thomas?"

Thomas was so startled at this most unusually amicable address, that he
nearly dropped the dish that he was in the act of handing.

"Teddie knows this—this peculiarity of mine," Hazel continued; "but he
is always so generous, and always likes to do things on a large scale.
He said he knew I should not eat them, but nevertheless he liked to
think I had them."

"I suppose you engaged an outside porter?" her uncle inquired.

The amazed Thomas had not seen him in so jocular a vein for years.

Hazel laughed.  "You would like Teddie.  Everyone does, without being
able to help themselves."

"Humph," her uncle ejaculated.

"I could give you another instance of his large-heartedness," the girl
went on.  "It is a good story, and not long."  She proceeded to relate
the incident of the quarrel with Carrots, its cause, the black eye, the
beefsteak, and of her brother’s subsequent dismissal.  Her uncle
endeavoured to hide an interest that was manifest.

"What is the boy doing now?" he asked gruffly.

"He is back there," she answered.  "Mr. Hamilton soon afterwards
discharged Carrots and came to see us and took Teddie back."

"What does he get?" her uncle inquired.

"Fifty pounds a year," Hazel replied cheerily, with some pride.  "He has
had a rise lately—it used to be forty."

Her uncle muttered something in response, then coughed to cover his
words.

"I beg your pardon?" Hazel apologised.

Her uncle evaded the note of interrogation.  "What do the others earn?"
he asked.

"I don’t know exactly what Cecil’s salary is," she returned.  "He sends
every penny home that he can afford; he is in India, you know, and it is
a good lot—a couple of hundred, I should imagine.  Guy and Gerald have
each a hundred a year; Gerald gives up fifty of his, but Guy, who is
obliged to dress better, has to keep seventy-five for himself."  She
paused.

"There is another one, isn’t there?" Mr. Desborough asked.

"Yes, Hugh," the devoted sister continued.  "Till lately he had forty,
like Teddie, but now he is getting a hundred too."

"And what does he contribute?"

"I think seventy or eighty.  You see, he lives at home."

"How is that?" Mr. Desborough inquired sharply.

"He is a private secretary to Paul Charteris.  You have heard of him, I
suppose?  His ground adjoins ours."

"Paul?" repeated her uncle.  "Paul?  That was not the name, surely?"

"You are thinking of the father, Philip Charteris," explained Hazel.
"He died, years ago; then Vivian died, his eldest son, and now it is
Paul."

"So it is Paul now.  What is he like?"  And Percival Desborough eyed the
girl keenly.

"You would like him," she returned with enthusiasm. "You feel you can
confide in him.  To me he is almost like one of my brothers, only, of
course, he is much older.  But he appears quite young—somehow you forget
his age."

"What is his age?"

"Oh, he must be thirty," Hazel answered, as one who speaks, with both
pity and reverence, of a life well-nigh spent.

Her uncle chuckled amusedly.  "Is he bald?" he asked.

"He has got most beautiful thick hair," Hazel returned indignantly.

There was a pause.

"By the way," her uncle remarked, "where did you get your dark looks?"

"It is a sort of freak," Hazel rejoined, half apologetically.  "It
occurs in the family every now and again.  Years and years ago there was
a Hazel Le Mesurier like me, only very much prettier; there is a
portrait of her in the gallery at home, dated 1661, taken of her when
she was five years old."

"It is a relief to hear she was prettier," Mr. Desborough said drily.
"But about Hugh: what does young Charteris want with a private
secretary?"

Hazel opened her eyes.  "Oh," she explained, "he has heaps of things to
see to and look after.  He was saying only the other day that he thinks,
if Hugh does not mind, he will get an older man, and let Hugh be
assistant secretary."

Mr. Desborough stared at her aghast.  "That would be nothing more nor
less than an act of charity bestowed upon the lad," he said at length.
"Nothing will make me believe that Charteris requires two secretaries.
He wants an excuse to help the family, so he keeps on a worthless young
man."

"How can you say such a thing!" Hazel cried hotly. "Mr. Charteris begged
to have him, and told mother it would be a great convenience, because,
Hazelhurst being so near, he need not live at Earnscleugh, as most
secretaries would have to do."

"A good argument, truly," her uncle remarked curtly.

"I shall inquire into the matter directly I get home," the girl
continued, more quietly, "and if I see or suspect the faintest reason to
believe there is anything in what you say, Hugh shall at once come away,
and look for something else.  Worthless, indeed!"—her wrath rising
again—"Why, he would be a very clever artist if only he could learn."

"There, there," said her uncle pettishly, "I may be wrong."  But he was
fairly well convinced of the way in which matters stood, and felt a
twinge of discomfort as he made a shrewd guess at the feelings
entertained towards himself by young Charteris, should that young man
learn of the suspicion he had sown in the mind of his niece.

Luncheon over, they returned as they came—under the safe escort of
Thomas—and were once more established in the library.

Hazel consulted the clock.  "I ought to leave here in half an hour," she
observed, making an effort to regain her composure, and resolutely
setting aside this new matter for troubled thought till she should have
quiet and leisure.

"By the way," Mr. Desborough began, "you said just now you were short of
pocket-money."  He took from his pocket a book, and produced therefrom a
crisp piece of paper, which he handed to Hazel.  He was experiencing a
new and strange sense of remorse, in that he had caused this bright
girl, if but for a moment, a disquieting thought, and he took himself to
task for a meddlesome old fool, interfering in matters that were better
left alone.  He was anxious to conciliate his great-niece, but a trifle
doubtful as to how his overtures might be met.  He, Percival Desborough,
was growing distrustful of himself, and oddly solicitous for the good
opinion of a slip of a girl, of whose very existence, a couple of hours
earlier, he was scarcely aware.

Hazel took the bit of paper.  "What is it?" she asked, unfolding it
distrustfully.

"A banknote," her uncle returned.  "Put it in your purse, and let me
know when it is gone."

Hazel flushed, refolded the note and handed it back. "You must not think
me ungenerous," she said gently, "or imagine that I am brooding over
anything that you have said; especially as you retracted the most—the
most unpleasant of your ideas about us; but you must own I could not
accept this."

"Tut-tut," her uncle retorted, surprised and somewhat disconcerted,
"stuff and nonsense!  As if a young girl like you could not take a tip
from an old fellow like me! and her uncle to boot."

"I am sorry," Hazel replied determinedly, "but I really could not"; and
she again tendered him the note.

"Afraid of losing your dignity, are you?" he said. "Well, I have my
pride too, and I refuse to take it back."

Hazel pondered the situation.  She was not unsympathetic with her uncle,
in the rather trying predicament in which he had placed himself, and
could enter into his feelings very nearly.  But, strive as she might,
she could not put away his unkind, nay, his cruel, words, at the
beginning of their interview, spoken in pain as they were, and, mayhap,
in all thoughtlessness.  But they were too fresh in her memory.

"I see your difficulty," she said at length.  "What shall I do?"

"Do what you will," her uncle returned testily.  He was not to be
worsted in the struggle.

There was a long pause, and the two combatants eyed the small,
innocent-looking cause of contention, that now lay upon a little table
beside them.

At length Hazel took it up, and was about to tear it to shreds and
transfer it to the waste-paper basket, deeming such a course the best
way to right the embarrassment, when suddenly light flooded her mind.

"I may do anything I like with it?" she demanded, her spirit rising, her
eyes flashing.  "Anything, and in your name, seeing that the money is
not mine?"

"I don’t care what you do with it," her uncle returned with asperity.

Hazel rose and rang the bell, then reseated herself and steadfastly
returned her uncle’s gaze of mute hostility.  The door opened and the
same servant appeared, silently closed the door behind him, and stood
awaiting orders.

"Thomas," said Hazel.

"Yes, Miss."

The man advanced a few steps.

"Your master wishes to make you this little present in recognition of
your long and faithful services," and she handed the astonished man the
obnoxious ten-pound note.  "Doubtless he will do much more for you some
day," she added.

"Thank you, Miss," said the dazed Thomas.

Mr. Desborough threw back his head and broke into a hearty laugh, to the
added confusion of the poor man, who had not heard his master laugh for
years.  But Uncle Percival offered no explanation.  Recovering his
serenity, he turned to the servant.

"Order the carriage for 2.30 to take Miss Le Mesurier to Paddington
Station," he said briefly. "That is the least you can do for the young
lady; eh, Thomas?"

The footman left the room, and Mr. Desborough turned to his niece.
"Well," he said, "I acknowledge that you have worsted me in the fray;
and now, I suppose, I am committed to leave the fellow a legacy," and he
laughed again.

"You would wish to do so whether I had committed you to it or not, would
not you?" Hazel asked.  She had fastened on her hat, and was now
proceeding to draw on her gloves.

Percival Desborough regarded her critically.  "Have you any lovers,
child?" he asked abruptly.

Hazel was about to deny stoutly the existence of any such factor in her
life, when a vision of Digby Travers rose before her startled
imagination, to her discomfort and dismay.

"Well?" queried Uncle Percival.  "You seem to be in uncertainty.  Don’t
tell me that a girl does not know when a young fellow is making himself
a fool over her."

Hazel raised a somewhat perplexed and flushed countenance, but she
looked her august relative squarely in the eyes.  "If you had asked me
that yesterday," she said, "I should have answered no, without
hesitation—no one could have been more sure; but it was only this
morning that I began to be half afraid——" she paused.

"Don’t like him, eh?" her uncle interposed.  "What is his name?"

"I think I won’t tell you, please," she answered. "You see, I simply
must be mistaken: it would be too ridiculous."

"Quite so," returned Uncle Percival.  "You probably are mistaken.  It
would be too ridiculous, quite too inconceivable," and he regarded her
quizzically.

"There is the carriage," Hazel said.  "Good-bye, Uncle Percival."

She gave him her hand, and was surprised to find it retained—awkwardly
and without sentimentality, but, nevertheless, Uncle Percival held on to
the small member with a goodly grip.

"You would not care to give a cross old man a kiss, I suppose?" he
asked, in an odd voice.

Hazel bent lower, and with gracious dignity saluted her uncle’s cheek.

At the same moment Thomas opened the door. "The carriage is waiting," he
announced, with a slight catch in his voice.  Hazel walked out of the
room. Her uncle’s eyes followed the little figure until the closing of
the door hid it from his sight.  Then he looked, slowly and
discontentedly, around the room.

"It is quite true," he murmured aloud, "it is dark—much too dark."



                              *CHAPTER XI*


Doris and Phyllis Travers clung close to their friend and guest, Hazel
Le Mesurier, for the eve of her departure had come.  This was the last
long day to be spent together, and they were determined to make the most
of it.  With arms twined about one another’s waists, the three slim
maidens sauntered through the sunny meadow toward the river, with the
intention of spending a couple of hours upon its banks in the quiet
enjoyment of one another’s society.

"If you could only stay a day or two longer," sighed Doris, while
Phyllis edged yet closer, and in silence pressed the hand she held in
hers.

"I must go," Hazel said resolutely.  "You see," she reiterated for the
third time, "you must be home for your birthday, rather particularly for
a seventeenth birthday."

With the first part of this assertion her friends agreed cordially, but
upon the soundness of the added clause they were dubious.
Twelve-year-old Phyllis nodded, meekly puzzled; sixteen-year-old Doris
looked for more, as one who, while wishing to be perfectly reasonable,
yet felt an explanation of so bold a statement to be her due.

Hazel was conscious of the lack of absolute sympathy, and set about
removing any doubts upon the point that it was but natural the two young
girls should entertain.

"Seventeen," she resumed, "is rather a special age. You might almost say
it marks an epoch in one’s life. It is a great step from sixteen.  At
sixteen you may think childhood is completely over and for ever gone,
but it isn’t.  Only you have to be seventeen to be aware how young
sixteen was"; and she regarded Doris meditatively.  "It is an age," she
went on, "when, if your parents can afford it, you are presented at
Court and ’brought out.’  You generally begin with a dance at home.  You
put on your first long dress, you do up your hair, though, to be sure,
some young women wait for all this till they are eighteen."  She paused.

"I think that is wiser," Doris said boldly, though with an inward
misgiving that Hazel might hold that her ideas upon the subject were not
valid, as issuing from the mouth of sixteen.  "Seventeen seems too young
for all that sort of thing; and it is always sad to cut short one’s
youth.  I always tell Phyllis to keep young as long as ever she can."

"I don’t see that it is sad!  I don’t know that youth is such a
particularly happy period of one’s existence," Hazel began, but Doris
pursed her lips warningly, glancing significantly toward her young
sister, giving her worldly-wise friend to understand that they must suit
their conversation to the most youthful among them.

Hazel, while appreciating the wisdom that dictated the caution, could
not bring herself to own, in this instance, that such prudence was
necessary.  She was about to make reply, when excited voices of
children, raised in distress, attracted the attention of the three
girls, and next moment they were running at full speed toward the spot
whence the cries proceeded.

"I am afraid one of them has fallen into the water," Doris panted.

"Leave it to me," Hazel gasped back, "I can swim. They may be only
quarrelling."

But a strange fear at her heart gave denial to her words, and urged her
on, ever faster.  As they neared the bank, a small child emerged from
behind the line of willows that edged the water, and sped toward them in
wildest distress.

"Bobbie," she sobbed, "oh, he’s drownded dead, he’s drownded dead."

"Come and show me," Hazel called to the child as she passed, but the
little thing only stood wringing her hands.

There were other children upon the bank, however, and Hazel soon learned
that Bobbie had risen twice since his immersion, each time lower down
the stream. There was no time to lose if she would save the boy’s life.
Tearing off her hat, she ran several yards lower, so far as she could
judge, than the spot where he had been last seen, and, springing into
the river, struck out and reached its centre, where the current was
strongest, at the same moment that the child’s unconscious form rose for
the third time and drifted against her.  With a little cry of
thankfulness, Hazel seized the helpless body, and, careful to keep the
head above water, began to return.  It was difficult: the current was
strong, and she had only the use of one arm; her clothes hampered her
terribly; but at length she succeeded in bringing her burden to shore,
where many willing hands were held out to rescue.  Hazel was panting
distressfully, but she did not lose a moment in setting about the task
of bringing breath back to the seemingly lifeless body.  Phyllis she
sent post-haste to the house for brandy, and, bidding the little group
of children to stand back, she gave the child into Doris’s arms.

"Hold him so," she gasped, "head down, so," and pulling the little
tongue well forward, she proceeded to give several smart punches upon
the pit of the stomach, thus ridding it of much of the water that the
child had swallowed in such large quantities.  Then laying him gently
upon his back, she continued the work of resuscitation, lifting the arms
above the head, round and down to the sides, with slow, rhythmic motion,
expanding and contracting the lungs.  So engrossed were the two girls,
that they were wholly unaware of the fact that a small party was
hastening toward them from the house, headed by two young men, who were
running some distance in advance. Doris was the first to perceive them,
and she gave an exclamation of relief.  Hazel never looked up; her eyes
were riveted upon the small face, noting its death-like pallor; the
purple eyelids; watching, so far in vain, for the first tinge of colour,
for the first flicker of the eye-lashes that should tell of returning
life.

"Is the brandy coming?" she asked.  Her back was well-nigh broken, but
she never paused in her labour of love and mercy, did not even wait to
wipe her hot brow, or to put back some teasing locks of hair that were
dripping into her eyes and down her cheeks. Indeed, she was hardly
conscious of aught else, in her growing anxiety, but the fact that life
was strangely long in returning to the little frame.

"I can see Phyllis coming," Doris replied, "but there are others much
nearer: Digby and—yes, Mr. Charteris, are nearly here.  Perhaps they are
bringing the brandy."

Hazel worked on.  In another minute the two young men were beside her,
eagerly proffering aid; and, to her immense relief, a large firm hand
was tendering her a flask.  She seized upon it, and grew sick with
alternate hope and fear.  She felt that the fiery liquid was the poor
little child’s last chance—a very little while would decide now.
Trembling with anxiety, she set Doris to chafe the wrists and hands with
the potent fluid, whilst she moistened the blue, pinched lips, dabbed
the temples, and endeavoured to pour a few drops down the throat.

"Oh, for Christ’s sake, for Christ’s sake," the girl prayed, but her dry
lips refused to voice the prayer.

Did the little face look less ghastly, or was it her imagination?  And
surely—yes, surely the eyelids quivered.  With redoubled energy she
worked on.

"Can we help?  Do tell us what to do," Paul’s voice said.  He was
kneeling at the child’s feet, arranging a blanket round the limbs; Digby
paced up and down, never taking his eyes from the little group. Hazel
did not turn or start.  It seemed natural that Paul should be there, in
case she wanted him.  She made an effort to speak, but her throat was
too contracted.  She could only answer him with a shake of her head.

Of a sudden the boy’s eyes opened, and a faint colour stole into cheeks
and lips.  Hazel gave a little sob of thankfulness—Doris began to cry;
it was saved, saved, this little life!  The tension was broken; Hazel
staggered to her feet, dizzy with excitement and fatigue. Digby and Paul
lifted the child from the ground, and Digby made for the house with his
burden, well covered in the blanket, with all speed.

Hazel stood staring blankly after her charge; then, of a sudden,
self-consciousness stung her, acting as a momentary stimulus.  What a
guy she must look—what a guy she had looked all this time, kneeling in
her clinging, dripping clothes and hair!  How could she meet the little
party of people now close upon them, how manage to walk to the house!
She turned blindly, tremblingly, flushing red, to Doris and Paul. Then
the question answered itself; for the next moment Paul was wrapping a
second blanket around herself and, relieved of this and all other need
for thought or care, she quietly fainted away, and was borne to the
house in Paul’s strong arms, all shame and distress gone from her.

Paul Charteris had come to pay a morning call at The Beeches, with
leisure to stay to lunch if asked to do so.  He was yearning for a
glimpse of Hazel and desirous of learning the day that should terminate
her visit.  Mrs. Travers was about to propose to her guest a stroll down
to the riverside in quest of her girls, at the moment of Phyllis’s
breathless entrance and alarming demand for brandy.  Paul’s heart ceased
to beat for a space, for in the first confused account rendered by the
panting girl he only understood that Hazel had been in the water!

Quickly ascertaining the true state of affairs, the whole household
fared forth hurriedly, bearing blankets, and the invaluable liquor that
had saved the child’s life—Paul and Digby running at top speed ahead.

Rescued and rescuer were soon warm and comfortable, for, once at the
house, nothing was lacking that could aid in their quick recovery.  Mrs.
Travers and Doris soon had Hazel in dry clothes, and after the
administration of a hot drink of Mrs. Travers’s own concocting, the
spent girl was easily persuaded to rest upon her bed. Every comfort,
too, was lavished upon little Bobbie; so that, when the child’s mother,
Mrs. Boutcher, arrived, nothing remained but for her to sit beside his
couch and watch, with thankful heart, his peaceful slumber.

Hazel also slept; which circumstance Phyllis crept halfway down the
stairs to report, Paul halfway up, to learn; and he was able to leave
after lunch, satisfied that all was well with the patients.  He stoutly
refused to have his coat dried, assuring good, kind Mrs. Travers that it
was not damp, or in the least way the worse for its close contact with
his dripping burden; in face of the fact that in the middle of the
shoulder of the grey tweed was a round dark patch of wet, where Hazel’s
head had lain, and long streaks down his sleeve, where her dripping hair
had clung—a circumstance to be observed by all blessed with eyes to see,
and which Digby Travers noted with a pang of jealous misery. He fully
appreciated the feeling that prompted Paul’s stout resistance, for it
would indeed be desecration to subject the garment to the rough handling
of a servant and to the drying influence of the kitchen fire! For a
while he left Paul to fight it out by himself as best he might.
Presently more generous feelings came to him, and he quickly put a stop
to his mother’s importunate suggestions for the supposed comfort of her
guest by a half sullen, but affectionate: "Don’t bother Charteris,
mother, he is all right"; and Paul darted a grateful look at his rival,
which, however, the other refused to meet.

Thus Mr. Charteris set out upon his homeward way, well pleased with his
visit.  He had obtained his glimpse of Hazel—nay, more, had for the
space of nine or ten blessed minutes held her within his arms—here Paul
reverently touched the damp patch upon his shoulder; he had learnt that
she was to return home on the morrow; and, incidentally, so far as he
was concerned, he had called upon the Traverses and paid his somewhat
long-neglected respects.  Further, he had learnt from the despondent
gloom upon Digby Travers’s countenance, that this young man’s love
affair was not prospering.  Altogether it was very satisfactory.

A somewhat shaky Hazel descended to the drawing-room for tea, and right
gladly was she welcomed.  No one could do enough for the little heroine.
She was soon installed in the easiest of easy chairs, and the dainties
of the tea-table were lavished upon her by Doris, Phyllis, the morose
Digby, and the sturdily admiring Francis.

"I say, where did you learn it all?" the potential farmer asked, sinking
down, with her cup in his hand, upon a hassock at her feet, and gazing
up at her from his point of vantage.

Hazel did not at once reply.  She had lifted shy eyes, so soon as she
was settled to her friends’ liking, and took a survey of the room.  Mrs.
Travers was smiling upon her from the tea-table, where her duties as
mistress of the house held her prisoner; Mr. Travers, seated near his
wife, was nodding kindly approval; but Paul—Paul was not there, and the
girl at one and the same time experienced both disappointment and
relief.

"You might tell a fellow," pursued Francis.  "If the little chap had
been left to me, well—he would not be alive to know it: that is one good
thing."

"I don’t quite know—I must have read it somewhere," she answered a
trifle absently.  Then rousing herself, she turned to Digby.  "But
Bobbie owes his life to you and Mr. Charteris, as much as to me. You
were so prompt with the brandy and blankets; Phyllis was quick too, and
Doris helped so much. Please don’t put it on to me, for we all worked
together."

But Bobbie’s mother, who presently begged for, and obtained, an
interview with Bobbie’s rescuer, was not to be put off in this wise.
She admitted that all thanks and praise were due to God; "but you were
His chief instrument, Miss," she averred again and again, "and as such
you might have done the work badly."

Hazel did not quite see the logic of this, but she held her peace,
believing it to be the kinder part to accept the thanks that the
grateful woman was so anxious to render her.



                             *CHAPTER XII*


Time—five o’clock in the afternoon.  Scene—the homestead of Paul
Charteris, or rather that portion of the house, the windows of which
opened upon the verandah overlooking the green lawn that merged into the
Le Mesuriers’ ground.  The sky was dark and lurid.  Thick, straight
lines of silver rain were striking slantwise upon the lawn, like giant
harp-strings, the wind playing discordant notes upon them, until the
prelude ended in a crash of thunder, and the whole power of the
invisible orchestra began.

For the last few days the weather had been immoderately hot, and it
seemed that, their last atom of patience chafed away by the discomfort
of the extreme heat, even the most worm-like among the spirits of the
air had turned at last, and in an access of irritable sensibility were
giving vent to their opinions, and flinging inertia and exhausted forces
to the winds.  Some rode upon darkling clouds that scudded across the
angry heavens, colliding with one another in their haste: or, who shall
say, perhaps deliberately charging one another in their tempestuous
rage, making a veritable tilting-ground of that usually peaceful realm,
the clash of their invisible lances striking fire in vivid zig-zag
streaks, whilst the thunder of their contact seemed to shake the very
earth.  Others again put their whole energy into the rain, as if seeking
to deluge the countryside; and mercilessly did they beat a little bowed
and huddled figure that emerged from the comparative shelter of the
trees, after a moment of fearful hesitation, and sped across the open,
making directly for the verandah.

Paul Charteris sat within his library, deeply brooding. He appeared to
be occupied at the writing-table, but for long his pen had remained
idle.  He found difficulty in concentrating his thoughts upon the work
in hand; all sorts of pleasant and congenial fancies had hold of him.
But presently a tapping upon the window-pane began to attract his
attention intermittently, unconsciously teasing, till, shaking off his
reverie, he fell to blaming the gardener.

"That jasmine down again," ran his thoughts.  "But perhaps it is hardly
Tompkins’s fault, though I did tell him to see to it himself last
time—such rain and wind as this!  But no, it cannot be the jasmine."

For the taps had become insistent, to an accompaniment of what sounded
like the kicking of a foot against the lower wood part of the
door-window—little, sharp, imperative kicks—and Paul, fully roused at
last, sprang to his feet, faced about, and saw in the dim light, to his
no small amazement, a muffled figure, the head shrouded in a long dark
cloak.  He opened the window, and was about to resent this intrusion at
so private a part of the house, beginning with directions as to where
the doors were to be found, when the figure darted past him into the
room, with gesture and movement familiar to him; and letting the cloak
drop in a damp heap upon the floor, Hazel Le Mesurier stood laughing at
him.

"How astonished you look," she cried, "and it certainly is a queer
afternoon to choose for calling; but I did not have to put on my best
things to run over here, and I particularly want to see you; I have not
slept much for two nights thinking about it," she added, suddenly grave,
and seating herself in a lounge-chair with something of the gesture of a
tired child.

Paul stood still, his hand upon the open window, collecting his senses.
What a delicious, unexpected, utterly unlooked-for treat.  He could
hardly believe in his good fortune.

"You had better shut the window," Hazel resumed, the least hint of
petulance in her tone.  "See, the rain is driving in.  Even the verandah
roof is not broad enough to keep out such rain.  Oh dear, it was a
business to get here—but I had to come."

A slight uneasiness was beginning to mingle with Paul’s delight.  Did
the girl’s mother know of her daughter’s visit to him in this somewhat
unconventional, impulsive way?  Probably not.  Yet he durst not risk
offending the little lady by such a question, which, to say the least,
would hardly sound polite.  Any way here she was, here, and the
storm-darkened room. seemed flooded with sunshine!  Then a thought
struck him: Hugh had not left the house.  He felt he ought to propose
fetching Hugh, but he was much afraid that Hazel would eagerly jump at
the chance of seeing her brother, in her sociable little way, and in her
utter indifference as to whether she was alone with Paul or not.

"You have not had tea?" Paul asked, closing the window and advancing
into the room.  "Shall I ring for some, and—and ask Hugh to join us?"

"You can ring for tea," Hazel rejoined decisively, "but I don’t want
Hugh here—at all events not just yet.  He would be the very worst person
to overhear what I have to say.  I must say it to you quite alone."

Paul felt immensely relieved.  He had done his duty; he had left the
settlement of a slightly embarrassing situation to the lady, and if that
lady forbade him to call a third person to the interview about to take
place, it was not for him to insist.  Yet, on looking at her again his
conscience smote him.  The lady was so young, so unsophisticated—his
bonnie Hazel—perhaps he ought to act for her, give her brotherly advice
and hints as to what was customary.

But no, he could not do it.  If he succeeded in making her see at all
what he meant, it would be at the cost of embarrassing her, and nothing
would be more cruel than so to wound the girl.

He seated himself at some distance from her and divined, to his amused
chagrin, from her look of surprise, as she involuntarily glanced at a
chair near her own and thence to the one he had taken, that she had
momentarily deemed him unfriendly inclined, but was the next instant
content and satisfied with the reason of his action: the chair he had
taken was the more comfortable!

"You have forgotten to ring," she began; "but it is just as well,
because I shall only keep you a few minutes and then you can have tea,
and Hugh."  Paul felt a third misinterpretation of his movements would
be a last straw.  "I daresay you are pining for company this dull
afternoon," she continued; "and oh, Mr. Charteris," she broke off, "it
is very serious what I have to say."

"You shall tell me in a moment," he replied; "but are you not very wet?
Had I not better put a match to that firing?  We could dry your cloak,
and you could put your feet to it.  It seems I am always to see you
dripping, like a mermaid."

Hazel flushed at this allusion to the incident of two days since; but
now that he had brought it to her recollection, she took furtive glances
at the grey coat he was wearing, an uneasy sense that it was familiar to
her pervading her mind; and surely, yes, surely—or was it her
imagination?—a patch upon the right shoulder showed slightly darker than
the rest, as the flames he was kindling played upon his figure, us if it
was still somewhat damp.

She was in ignorance of the exact mode of her conveyance to the house,
but had shrewd suspicions—suspicions that made her too shy to ask
questions. She was sure of one thing: she had not walked.

"You are none the worse for your immersion, I hope?" Paul asked, still
busy with the fire.  He knew that he was embarrassing her, but his
pleasure in her company made him mischievously inclined.

"No, thank you," Hazel answered demurely.  "I am quite well."

Silence fell between them.  "This is going to be a big blaze," Paul
remarked presently.  "I hope you won’t find it too hot."

"Oh no," Hazel replied rather vaguely.  She was trying to screw up her
courage to ask that which she had come to ask.  Why not out with, it
now, whilst his eyes were turned from her?  Indeed, if she slipped into
that other chair, she would be quite out of his range of vision.

"Mr. Charteris," came a very small voice from somewhere behind him—she
had contrived the exchange of seats so quietly that he, intent upon his
work, had not noticed the movement—"Mr. Charteris, are you giving—that
is, are you in a sort of way—I mean, do you——"  Her voice quavered, and
she stopped.

Paul wheeled round and stood before her, regarding her in amazement.
She looked up at him piteously, and then away again.  Paul, half amused,
half concerned at the obvious perturbation and perplexity of mind under
which she was labouring, waited in silence, a silence fraught with
sympathy, for her to continue.

"Oh, could not you turn your back again?" she cried in desperation,
"and—and I’ll try to tell you."

Paul, with one stride, was beside her and, kneeling upon one knee to
bring himself to her level, took both tremulous hands in his.

"What is it, little one?" he asked.  "What is this dreadful, ’serious’
something you have on your mind?"

"Won’t you please to go away or walk about?" she besought him.

But Paul knew that this would be just as difficult for her.  "No," he
said firmly.  "Just tell me, Hazel, and get it over."

"But perhaps it is horrid and—and unladylike of me," she wailed.
"Perhaps you will be hurt or offended."

"Tell me," he repeated gently.

Hazel moved restively in her chair.  "I wish I had not come here," she
said rebelliously.

Paul waited, and then, with a little gasp, it all came out.

"It is about Hugh.  Are you having him in—in charity?"  Her voice sank
to a whisper upon the last, fateful word, and she lay back in her chair,
and tightly closed her eyes.  What would he say?  How would he take it?
She had not the courage to look at him.

But Paul never seemed to fail her—he did not fail her now.  "Hazel," he
said quietly, after a long pause, "what put such an idea into your
head?"

"Uncle Percival," Hazel answered laconically, with startling
promptitude.  Slowly she opened her eyes, but she turned her look away
from him.

Paul rose to his feet and quietly began to pace the floor.  "Uncle
Percival ought to be—boiled," he said at length, indignantly.  "How came
he to mention the topic at all to you?"

"I called upon him," Hazel rejoined; and she proceeded to relate what
had passed between herself and her relative.

"You are a plucky child to have ’bearded’ him," Paul observed, when she
had finished.  He had heard much of "Uncle Percival," but little to his
credit.

"Oh, he was not so bad," Hazel said, modestly disclaiming the
compliment.  "I was frightened of him at first, but he got nicer and
nicer.  In the end," she added naïvely, "he asked me to kiss him. That
was quite friendly of him, was not it?"

"Very friendly indeed," Paul answered, his views concerning "Uncle
Percival" undergoing a quick change.  "I had no idea he was so—so human.
And—and—did you?"

"Oh yes," Hazel said blandly.  "Just a quick one on the cheek, you
know—not at all as you would kiss mother, or as you would hug the boys."

"Just so," Paul returned meekly.  "The old ruffian did not deserve such
luck," was his inward comment.

There was a somewhat lengthy pause, devoted by Paul to pondering the
subject.  But of a sudden he looked up to find the girl regarding him
beseechingly.

"You—you have not answered yet," she said, timidly reminding him.

"Need I say anything?" he asked, amused at her insistence.  "Do you not
know me better than to suspect me of doing such a thing?  Why, it would
not only be an insult to Hugh, but Mrs. Le Mesurier would be quick to
see through, and resent, such interference."

Hazel gave vent to a sigh of relief; and Paul went on.  "How could you
credit such a suspicion for a moment?  Don’t you see how pleasant it is
for me to have some one about that I know and like?  Why, that in itself
is worth the—the mere salary, let alone the fact that he is really
useful.  Are you satisfied?  Do you believe me?"  And he regarded his
visitor quizzically.

"Of course," Hazel said generously, and with a little flush.  "Between
you and me," she continued, "I could not help feeling, from what I know
of Hugh, that there might be a certain amount of truth about the char—,
in what Uncle Percival said," she amended. "There is no denying that
Hugh has not much of a business head, and—and that, therefore, it
follows that he cannot be quite as useful to you as you would wish.  I—I
could not help feeling that the new man you think of engaging could
easily do it all, you know.  But I quite believe you," she added
sincerely, feeling apologetic for harping upon the subject, or, indeed,
for adding a single word after having acknowledged herself satisfied;
having clinched, so to say, with Paul in faith and trust.  "But he would
make a splendid artist, would not he?" she said enthusiastically.

"Yes," Paul replied, "he is very clever.  It is a thousand pities that
he cannot take it up; for, I will admit, he would make a better artist
than secretary."

Hazel glowed with gratified pride.  "Well," she said, "I must go.  Hugh
had better not see me.  He would, of course, want to know why I had
come."

Paul smothered a sigh.  "But your feet," he objected. "Are your shoes
properly dry?"

"Oh, I think dry enough," she returned.  "They will be wet again by the
time I am home."

"You will change then, of course?" Paul asked anxiously, and Hazel
promised she would.

"By the way," Hazel remarked, "it was my birthday yesterday."  They had
both risen, and the girl turned her back upon him as she spoke, and
stood looking pensively from the window.

"Yes," Paul returned.

"You knew?" Hazel asked.

"Of course," he answered.  There was a pause.

"Why didn’t you come then?  We—they quite missed you."

"I was not asked," Paul explained earnestly.  "I thought you might have
special plans for the day, and that I might be in the way."

Hazel waited, dissatisfied, for more; but no more, it seemed, was
forthcoming.

"You did not even wish me many happy returns of the day," she commented,
still turning from him.

"No," Paul admitted, with unwonted and seemingly unnecessary sternness.

"Well," she remarked, not knowing whether to be more hurt or surprised,
"I—I think you might."

"You know I wish you everything the world has to give—all good and all
blessings," Paul broke out, a marked fervour in his tone, and paused.

"Yes?" Hazel asked, a little breathless, with a sense of being somewhat
overpowered.

"As to gifts," Paul went on desperately, "I would come with my arms
full—I would lay all I had at——"  He broke off, and with an effort
seemed to pull himself together.

"You need not make such a lot of it," Hazel expostulated, in innocent
surprise.  "It is not a twenty-first, or anything so important as that.
And even if it were, I should only expect, supposing you wished to give
me anything at all, that is, I should only expect one present; just a
small remembrance, you know, the—the usual thing."

"There is no usual——" He stopped short and endeavoured to recover
himself.  "Hazel," he said quietly, "you have not thought the omission
due to carelessness, or doubted my—my friendship?"

"Oh no," Hazel declared, "and I did not think of presents: they never
entered my head.  And as to the wishes—well, you have wished them now,
and thank you very much," she added, somewhat hurriedly, half fearful of
a repetition of the very full measure, so fervently expressed.  "The
rain has stopped.  I will start at once."

She left her cloak, at Paul’s urgent request, to be dried and returned
to her later.  She stepped out of the French window and, turning, gave
her hand to Paul.

"I am so glad I came and cleared it all up—about Hugh," she said warmly.
"Good-bye."

"Good-bye," he rejoined, "and many, many happy returns of yesterday," he
added, dropping the hand.

Something in his tone puzzled Hazel, and she looked at him wonderingly.

"How odd Paul, that is, Mr. Charteris, is to-day," she mused as she sped
across the lawn.



                             *CHAPTER XIII*


"My dear child," exclaimed Helen Le Mesurier, "what an afternoon to
choose for walking!"

Mrs. Le Mesurier was seated in the recess of the sparsely furnished
hall, where tea was usually served. She had already partaken of that
refreshment, but set about making more at sight of her daughter. Hazel
gratefully accepted a cup and seated herself for a chat.

"I have not been for a walk," she said; "at least, I have walked, but
not for walking’s sake.  I have been calling upon Mr. Charteris."

Helen looked surprised, as naturally she might.

"Hazel!" she expostulated.  "What purpose could you have had?  He comes
here so often.  Could you not have asked my advice as to going?  It
looks a little odd—a young girl calling by herself," she added gently.
"Paul will think it odd."

She knew her child, and that slight reproof was enough—the least hint
that intimated forwardness, in a way, too much; yet both must be given:
such was a mother’s duty.

The girl’s face flushed red, and hastily setting down her cup, she
looked at her mother in mute distress.

"Oh, surely not," she pleaded; "surely he thought it perfectly
natural—just as I did, mother.  I—I wanted to see him very particularly.
I could not wait for him to come.  If I had waited I might not have had
the opportunity of saying what I wanted to say—it was about Hugh."

"You found Hugh there, of course?" Helen interposed comfortingly.  "That
makes things better.  May mothie come into the mystery about Hugh?"

She had made the useful and necessary suggestion of incorrectness in her
young daughter’s action, and knew that she need say no more upon the
subject—that she might with safety pour oil upon the little wound she
had perforce inflicted, and bind it up to her child’s comfort: for the
sensitive girl would not so err again.  But the kind words, spoken to
bring consolation, brought instead new apprehension to Hazel.

"He was in the house," she admitted: "but he was not——"  She broke off,
of a sudden recollecting how Paul had proposed Hugh’s presence, and how
she had forbidden it.  "Mr. Charteris wanted to call him and I would not
let him.  Oh, do you believe he will think me a horrid, bold sort of
person?" and she looked beseechingly for her mother’s reply.

Helen had difficulty in restraining a smile, as her eyes rested upon her
daughter’s face: the idea of the possessor of that face being considered
a "horrid, bold sort of person" proving almost too ludicrous for the
maintenance of gravity: delicate, sensitive, refined, beautiful as a
flower; just now tremulous, beseeching.

"No," she admitted, after what was to Hazel an agonised pause, "I don’t
think he will."  And the smile had its way.  "But tell me, dearie, why
you went at all."

So Hazel told all, beginning at Uncle Percival’s uncomfortable and
startling suggestion, that Paul Charteris was giving in charity to the
Le Mesuriers, through the medium of the "worthless young man"—Hugh. She
had before told her mother of the visit to her uncle; and Helen, half
amused, half concerned, had not wholly disapproved of her girl’s
spiritedness; but this portion of the conversation during that visit
Hazel had before omitted to report, not wishing to anger her mother
against Mr. Desborough, or indeed to disturb her peace of mind until
she, Hazel, had first ascertained the truth.

"So you see how I did it all for the best, mother. You see how important
it was to learn the truth, and at once, without troubling you, dearest,
if I could possibly help it."

"Yes, dearie, I do see.  So, I know, does Paul. Do not be troubled about
it any more.  Only remember that we must, none of us, defy certain
conventionalities—we must observe rules by which to regulate our
behaviour.  They mostly have their good sense and usefulness, though at
times we may find them irksome, and tiresome to follow, and feel
impatient at their restrictions."

"Yes, mother," rejoined the pretty penitent, meekly.

And then followed one of those close embraces in which mother and
daughter were wont to indulge at the termination of every discourse
between them, that held in it anything in the nature of reprimand and
submission; expressing full, free, and loving forgiveness on the
mother’s part, and sincere contrition and penitence on the part of the
loving daughter.

But the discomforting impression that Hazel had received, that Paul
might be thinking her forward, proved disastrous to that young man’s
peace; for Hazel did her utmost to avoid him, and managed, with most
unlooked-for success, to elude meetings—generally slipping away to her
own room if he came to the house, and seldom risking discovery by
spending much time in her tree; though, had he but known it, one Sunday
morning she was holding church there, as was her wont; but she kept so
absolutely still, as he passed beneath the branches, the full midsummer
leafage of which afforded so complete a screen as to hide entirely any
living thing that took refuge there among, be it bird, beast, or—girl,
that she was not discovered.

One morning poor Hazel’s story was returned, with the editor’s
compliments and regrets.  The girl retired within herself, concerning
this great disappointment, until such time as she could confide in
Teddie, and receive advice as to her further movements.

Saturday came at last, and a very sober Hazel met the afternoon train,
bringing Teddie alone.  Gerald, he said, was following by the next.

"And it is just as well, Hazel," the boy added, wearily.  "I am nearly
off my head with worry. And though, of course, you cannot help a fellow,
still you can sympathise with a chap and ease him a bit."

At once Hazel’s own troubles became insignificant, and she was all
attention; but, as was her custom, she did not press her sympathy upon
him in words, but walked on beside him, earnest-faced and ready-witted,
waiting for what he should choose to tell her.

"I want five pounds," her brother broke out at length, "and five pounds
I must have."

Hazel’s heart sank.  What a nuisance money was!

"Now the question is how I am to get it," Teddie went on.  "Your story
will bring in quite that—and you would, I know, lend me the cash.  But
goodness knows when you will hear of it again. Editors are the dickens
for keeping people waiting."

"He did not keep _me_ long," said Hazel, mournfully, and she drew from
her pocket the ill-fated manuscript, and Teddie, with incredulous horror
in his eyes, read slowly: "The Victoria Cross and How it was Won," twice
through before he could believe the evidence of his senses.

"The fellow will never get on," he told Hazel dispassionately.  "He will
come to no good end. He has not the first essentials for getting on in
his particular business.  He does not know a good thing when he sees it;
he does not know what suits the public taste, and probably cares less.
Well, I pity him."

"But his magazine is a very good one, I mean of high standing"—Hazel
ventured timidly, thinking Teddie’s calm not altogether natural or
healthy—"and it is very well known."

"Mere luck," announced Teddie.  "It won’t last It can’t.  But I shall go
and ask for an explanation," he continued, his anger rising, somewhat to
his sister’s relief.  "He will have to satisfy me."

"He seemed rather nice, if you remember," Hazel observed, in just
defence of the roundly abused editor. "That is the worst of it.  If he
had been, well, a disagreeable sort of man, whom you strongly suspected
of being ultra-critical and ill-natured, why, then, one would try again
with a light heart.  But, Teddie, I cannot help thinking he would have
taken it if he could."

"You either forget what I told you of the stories he has accepted, or
else you have no faith in my judgment, Hazel," Teddie returned
censoriously.  "I can assure you he has taken all sorts of trash.  I
have seen it—in print."

"And you do not think mine trash?" Hazel asked doubtfully.

"No," declared the loyal Teddie, half defiantly, "I don’t.  And that
moonlight scene after the battle, and the battle itself, if it comes to
that, are just ripping."

They halted upon the roadway, Teddie to light a cigarette, Hazel to open
and unfold the manuscript, to refresh her memory on the parts so highly
commended.  Together they stood awhile, he reading over her shoulder;
but the reconsideration of her work brought the girl no comfort.  Even
to her youth and inexperience the story appeared crude, obviously the
writing of a beginner—and a very young one, of no especial talent.  Even
her brother began to experience a disquieting sense of imperfection as
he read on. Somehow the tale lacked the brilliancy of dramatic force
that he had, on first reading, attributed to it; and for the first time
he was uneasily conscious of a desire to laugh in quite the wrong
places.  But he was not going to discourage his sister altogether for
all that, though perhaps it would be true kindness to discontinue such
unqualified commendation.

"I expect your bad writing put him off," he said at length, with
brotherly bluntness.  "You ought to have got me or Digby or some one to
write it out neatly for you."

"Yes?" questioned Hazel, only half reassured.  "Do you think that would
have made all the difference, Teddie?"

"It might," Teddie affirmed with, however, less assurance than
heretofore.  It was, after all, false kindness to give nothing but
praise.  "But if it is not that, it may be the—the ’vision’ they don’t
like; and you know, Hazel, I am beginning to doubt myself whether it has
not got a ludicrous side.  Do you think yourself that it is natural?
_Would_ the mother be knocking about a battlefield, thousands of miles
from home?"

"Perhaps she would not," admitted poor Hazel. "But you see, Teddie, she
was supposed to be a widow with no other children, and very, very fond
of this only son, whom she follows to the front unbeknown to him, having
no home ties to keep her in England."

The girl looked wistfully for her brother’s next comment.

"I think," he said decidedly, as they walked on again, "that you have
too much killing in your style. I admit that you are good at it, but it
may not be liked, especially in a woman writer.  It is—it is hard, you
might say blood-thirsty.  Just look how you kill them off," he continued
ruthlessly, waxing eloquent in his theme, "wholesale!"

Hazel looked somewhat shocked as this appalling idea was presented to
her.

"Teddie," she gasped, "where—where have I killed them off so?  Of course
you have to have deaths in battle.  It is one of the horrors of war."

"It is not only the battle," Teddie insisted.  "It is not only
generally, so to speak, but you delight in bringing deaths into private
life.  Look at your hero’s family, for example: how you have to make
that wretched woman widowed and childless; excepting, of course, the
hero himself, but even him you bring to the point of death. It is not
good art," he concluded, shaking his head.

"Yes," she admitted sadly; "perhaps it is a rather unwomanly trait in my
writing."

"I am glad you see it," her brother returned, softening somewhat.  "Why,
you have only got to have a murder in it to make ’Battle, Murder, and
Sudden Death’ an excellent title."

"Well," Hazel declared, after a pause, "I shall give up trying to make
money in that way.  My only real gift is music.  There is no doubt about
it, that I should never make an author.  If only people would hire me to
sing at little concerts.  You know what a success I am at the school
concert at Christmas-time, and how old Jonathan Higgins would walk ten
miles to hear ’My mother bids me bind my hair,’ as I sing it.  I am
thinking of that five pounds, old fellow," she added dismally.

"Yes, by Jove!" Teddie rejoined, and relapsed into silence.  "Since my
rise," he began presently, "I have been in constant difficulties.  It is
always the way. When you have not a halfpenny, you do nothing and go
nowhere."

Hazel nodded.  She longed to ask her brother to what extent he had
broken through this wise régime, but held her peace.

"I date my difficulties from the day when I gave a champagne lunch to
five fellows I know."

"The day of the rise?" his sister asked shrewdly, awed by this peep into
dissipated life.

"You have got it," Teddie admitted.  "It may have been foolish, but the
fellows have stood me treat often enough—or offered to—and my usual
answer, that I did not go in for society because I could not afford to
do my part, did not always work, you know. I got talked over.  Since
then," he continued, "I have stood a theatre or two, and—well, the long
and short of it is, that Mrs. Walters, our landlady, wants her rent, and
is beginning to make a nuisance of herself."

Hazel thought of the ten pounds that she had bestowed on her uncle’s
servant; but, troubled as she was for her brother, she could not repent
her of the deed.

"You can’t borrow of Hugh or Gerald?" she ventured gently.

"No," Teddie told her.  "We have once for all agreed not to borrow from
each other, and it is not a bad plan: for though it is dashed hard luck
that _I_ am bound down not to borrow of them, I am thankful to think
they cannot borrow of me," he added ruefully.

"Yes," Hazel returned, struck with the sense of this, "that certainly is
a good thing.  Well," she added, "you must let me think it well over.  I
will do my best, Teddie, to help you."

Already a half-formed plan had arisen in her mind, but she greatly
wondered whether she could bring herself to go through with it.
Certainly she could not for herself; yet for Teddie it was different—for
Teddie she could do much.

Presently they left the roadway, clambered up a high bank, and plunging
through a tangle of brambles, entered the cool, leafy walks of their own
grounds—a delicious relief after the dust and glare.  The foliage was
just now at its full, and for the most part of a dark green, each leaf
heavy, thick, and strong, with as yet no hint of autumn in its
perfection of maturity. Elm, lime, beech, horse-chestnut, oak, copper
beech, silver birch, feathery larch, ash, fir, and pine; what an
enthralling medley of delight!  The great tree branches, heavy to
repletion, waved stately in the gentle summer wind, dignified, majestic,
all the sportiveness of youth and spring-time gone; rugged-barked,
smooth-barked, light grey; green trunks, whitey-grey trunks, almost
black trunks; gnarled, veined, moss-grown, creeper-covered; the
unspeakable grace of the smaller boughs growing from out the larger
limbs: each shapely twig, after a series of knots and delicate
articulations, terminating in a leaf of perfect outline, each
indentation clearly defined, the edges of some almost fluted in the
vigour of their full, crisp growth.

What was there in her beloved woodland that the girl did not know and
love; from the swelling, bursting buds of spring—nay, before that, when
the bare, brown twigs had nothing to show, save a certain swollen look,
and yet seemed instinct with life—to the falling of the leaf?  Some
leaves there were of such tenacity that only the insistent pushing and
shooting of the spring buds could at last succeed in ousting the poor
crumpled yellow or brown thing from its place.  And oh, the flooring of
the woods in autumn; the rustling of one’s tread through the fallen
leaves of many hues; the crunch of the little triangular beech-nuts,
still in their rough, brown, lily-shaped, gaping pods, or fallen out of
them, the more ready to hand for the squirrels; the acorns, smiling up
green and smooth, half in half out of their dainty brown cup, looking as
if a squeeze at the cup’s base would cause the slippery nut to shoot out
like a benignant green bullet; fir-cones like miniature pineapples cut
in cork; spiky pine needles, that only bent in mockery if you tried to
prick anything with them; softly bristling chestnut burrs, all agape,
discovering the shining red-brown treasure within; and patches of
bracken, never far to seek.

In another month’s time, Hazel knew, such autumn delights would begin.
Just now, nothing could be lovelier than the dense, heavy foliage of
full summer; for the shades of green were rich in their many gradations,
whilst the grey mosses and woodland grasses gave change in plenty to the
eye.

On reaching home, they found a visitor with Helen, in the person of Mr.
Charteris.  Hardly a visitor, so Hazel thought, in momentary dismay—he
seemed to live at Hazelhurst.  There was no escaping this time, as
hostess and guest were awaiting the two to begin tea, at which her
mother liked the girl to preside. Down she sat in their midst,
pink-cheeked, and very busily did she occupy herself—tea-making seemed
to have become the most soul-absorbing work, calling for her undivided
attention.

All this was terribly apparent to poor Paul.  It must be himself she was
shunning—she was not usually so engrossed, surely, as not to be able to
join in the chat, or notice any one, but just steadily fill and refill
cups, with stern precision, taxing her memory upon the momentous
question of little milk, much milk, one lump, two lumps, no sugar, tea
rather weak, tea strong, tea average.  "Dear me," thought Paul, "what a
lot there is in tea-making if one notices, and I have always thought it
so simple."

Presently he asked her if he could help—do something besides handing
dishes.  She only grew yet pinker-cheeked, refused to look at him—Paul
was sure she was aware that he was trying to make her look—and said
there was really nothing to do.  And she effected her escape as soon as
possible, partly, Paul suspected wretchedly, to avoid giving him her
hand.  And yet, in contrariness, no sooner did she hear him go than she
felt inclined to cry, and longed, with a strange inconsistency that
puzzled herself, to run after him—to let her hand rest in that strong,
dear grasp of his for a few moments, whilst she assured him there was
nothing, nothing the matter.



                             *CHAPTER XIV*


"OSBORNE HOUSE, LANCASTER GATE,
       "_July_ 12, 19—.

"MY DEAR HELEN,

"It may not be news to tell you that I am a lonely old man; but how
lonely and, for the matter of that, how old, I am but now beginning to
realise. The realisation came upon me with the visit of that girl of
yours—Hazel, she said her name was; rather an absurdly fanciful name, by
the way: but there, I won’t carp, and it suits the child.  I confess to
you that she has taken me by storm; I have tried to fight against such
feelings, called myself a sentimental old fool, in my second childhood,
which is probably the right explanation; but however that may be, the
feeling remains.  She came into this dreary house like a breath of
country, this Hazel of yours, and set me thinking of woods, nuts,
berries, and flowers.  Spirited, too: gave as good as she got from the
old man.  The long and short of it is: will you allow the child to stay
with me for a short while?  I know I have no claim upon you, no right to
ask favours—I never for a moment imagined it possible that I _should_
ever ask a favour.  That I have, and no small one, I grant, is in itself
an apology for the past—a holding out of the olive-branch and all the
rest of it.  Don’t keep me waiting long for your answer.  As I said
before, I am a sentimental old fool, in my dotage, and I am lonely, or I
should never have brought myself to the pitch of courage necessary for
writing to you—of risking the probable humiliation of being denied what
I ask—which, I admit, is all I deserve at your hands.

"However you may decide concerning my request, let there be peace
between us for the girl’s sake, and for the sake of old times.  Let me
once again have the privilege of signing myself

"Your affectionate uncle,
       "PERCIVAL DESBOROUGH."



"HAZELHURST, BERKS,
       "_July_ 13, 19—.

"MY DEAR UNCLE,

"It was with mingled pleasure and pain that I read your letter.  I know
full well you are lonely.  In my girlhood I can remember you as a
kindly, sociable man—sociable in a domestic sense: I cannot remember
that you ever cared for society.  And it is unlikely that one should so
change in one’s later years as to be happy and content, with doors
barred against one’s nearest kin; living on alone, entertaining hard
thoughts and, dear uncle, let me say unjust thoughts, of those of whom
one was once fond.  I gladly take the extended olive-branch.

"Do not think me ungenerous, if I say that I cannot make up my mind to
allow Hazel to stay with you. She is my only daughter, and your house,
devoid as it is of women-folk, is not the place I should choose for a
young girl.  May I suggest that she should come to spend a day with you,
and, need I say, dear uncle, how pleased I should be if you would visit
us here, if you could bring yourself to put up with our plain faring and
simple ways?

"Your affectionate niece,
       "HELEN LE MESURIER.

"P.S.—We can easily accommodate your servant."



"OSBORNE HOUSE, LANCASTER GATE,
       "_July_ 14, 19—.

"MY DEAR HELEN,

"I must not grumble at your decision.  I will think over the proposal
you make, that I should come down to Hazelhurst to stay a while.  In the
meantime send the girl on Friday next, if convenient to you.  The
carriage shall meet the train.

"Your affectionate uncle
       "PERCIVAL DESBOROUGH.’


When Hazel heard she was asked to go and see her uncle again, she was
half pleased, half dismayed. The plan she was evolving for helping
Teddie was at once made simpler: for it was to Uncle Percival that she
was about to turn for aid, if she could sufficiently crush down her
pride.  The very difficulty of getting to him, had made her plan seem
easy and feasible.  But now that this difficulty was removed, she found
her little scheme of a sudden assume terrible proportions.  However,
there was no harm in going: there was nothing _infra dig._ or
humiliating in that; and once there, she could feel her way as to what
she should confide and what leave unsaid.

When Paul Charteris heard of the prospective visit, he begged to be
allowed to drive Hazel to the station; and Helen agreed that it was a
long, hot, dusty walk with which to begin a day’s outing.

"I think," she added, "that you may take it for granted that Hazel will
like to drive—she is not here to ask—yet she was a moment ago.  Where
has she gone?"

No, of course, Hazel was not there.  She had heard Paul coming, and,
with a murmured excuse to her mother, had fled precipitately.

"By the way, dear, Paul proposes driving you to the station," her mother
told her, when the eventful day arrived.

The girl flushed, and then grew pale.  "Oh, mother," she exclaimed.  "I
should rather have walked.  Miles could have taken me."

Helen looked her surprise.  "But it is so hot and dusty, Hazel.  You
will be quite tired by the time you reach London.  I am sorry, dear, but
I felt so sure you would like to drive.  You so love driving," she
added, puzzled, somewhat at a loss.

Then a thought struck her.

"Has Paul offended you in any way?" she asked gently, of a sudden.  "Is
it my fancy, or are you avoiding him?"

"Oh no; he has not offended me," the girl made answer hastily,
evasively.  "But I love the walk, and—oh well, it does not matter,
motherling."  And the disturbed young face kissed the anxious one
reassuringly, and Hazel went off to make herself ready.

It was a very demure young lady, whom Paul handed into the trap, half an
hour later; but, though she had regained her outward composure, her
spirit had risen in revolt against her charioteer.  She felt like a
little snared hare, and was angry and shy all at once.  She sat beside
him mute, looking straight before her, and Paul from time to time
endeavoured to get a peep at the face beneath the hat-brim.

"We will drive slowly," he remarked at length.  "If I give Ben Dyson his
head, we should be at the station in ten minutes, and we have a good
half-hour. Isn’t it glorious weather?"

Hazel admitted that it was, and again relapsed into silence.

"You are very quiet," Paul observed presently. "Won’t you talk to me,
Hazel?  I do hope you are not thinking it presumptuous in me, that I
asked to drive you," he added anxiously.

Hazel’s soft little heart began to melt.  After all, it was very kind of
him, and thoughtful.  How was he to know she wanted to keep out of his
way?  She did not wish him to know; she hoped that, if by chance he
noticed that he saw less of her than usual just now, he would put it
down to mere coincidence. Probably he had not noticed; she hoped not—she
did not wish to hurt or annoy him.

"No," she answered quickly.  Then, with shyness, gratitude, and dignity
all fighting together, she added: "It was very kind of you—very.  But I
am fond of walking.  I—I thought you might have asked me, and not
mother," she concluded, with some severity.

Then Paul determined to have it out with her. "Hazel," he asked, with
grave directness, "answer me truly.  Have I offended or hurt you in any
way?"

He tried to catch a glimpse of her face; but it was turned from him, her
eyes in busy contemplation of the hedgerow.

"No; oh no," she said hurriedly.  "You have never seen Uncle Percival,
have you?" she asked, bent upon turning the conversation.  Paul was
rather alarming, when earnest and grave and unchatty.

"Hazel," he persisted, "tell me: Do you or do you not like driving?"

"Oh, very much!" she exclaimed enthusiastically; "and it is a long,
dreary walk," she added, off her guard.

Then came a terrible silence.  Paul was too generous to take advantage
of the slip, and Hazel, feeling an irrepressible desire to know the
worst that his face might be expressing, glanced up hastily as she
turned to view, with absorbing interest, the farther hedge.

He was smiling quietly to himself and looking very satisfied over
something.  So much her brief look told her, and she felt her resentment
again rising.

"One can like driving, and yet have reasons for wishing to walk," she
said severely, again taking up her weapon, but this time in some
trepidation.

"Of course," he answered lightly.  "One might object to the
companionship of one’s driver."

No response from Hazel.

"Is that it, Hazel?" he asked presently.

Still no reply.

"I have feared for some little time," he resumed, "that you have been
avoiding my society.  I cannot tell you how the suspicion has grieved
me.  I have spent much time in wondering wherein I have erred. Won’t you
tell me, Hazel, and set me right?"

Sympathetic Hazel was much distressed.  "You have done nothing," she
said earnestly, "nothing.  Please do not think so again."

"But something has happened," he persisted, "and I think I have a right
to know what, as it concerns myself so deeply.  Don’t you admit my
right?"

"It does not concern you," she repeated, and hesitated. "One can offend
oneself sometimes," she added desperately, enigmatically.  "I offended
myself a little while ago.  You are not in the least to blame.  Oh,
please, do not talk of it any more."

A silence fell between them.  On reaching the station Paul secured a
compartment for Hazel’s exclusive use. This was easily done, as the
early morning city train, with its many passengers, was gone some time
since, and there were few to go by this.  A handsome tip to the guard
settled the matter: Hazel was to be locked in.  Having seen her seated,
he proceeded to furnish her with all sorts of illustrated papers and a
dainty basket of grapes from a fruit-shop outside the station.  Then,
everything completed to his satisfaction, he leaned upon the door of the
carriage as she sat within, amidst a very sea of papers.

"Don’t look at that yet," he pleaded, in remonstrance, as she took up a
magazine.  "It is only two minutes till time is up."

Hazel obediently laid down the journal.  It would be unkind to go on
puzzling him, now that she knew he had noticed her avoidance of him, and
was aware that something had troubled her.  It would be particularly
ungracious too, after all this recent kindness. Besides, it was easier
here: he was farther away, and she breathed more freely.  Surely she
could look at him once or twice, and talk in a natural manner? She did
look at him.  He was regarding herself earnestly.

"Hazel," he said humbly, "am I forgiven for not asking your permission,
direct, for driving you?"

"Yes," Hazel said with dignity, rearranging the fruit in the basket.

"Thank you," he answered, with courtly gravity, "and—and you did not
mind _me_ driving you?"

"No," she admitted graciously.  The train beginning to move, she handed
him, through the window, half her bunch of purple grapes, as an earnest
of her favour; and Paul, reading in the resolute little face, that
protest was useless, accepted the gift in meek gratitude.

The short railroad journey was uneventful enough. The girl sat
comfortably, immersed in papers.  It is true, her mind was slightly
distracted by their number; but when it had occurred to her to take them
all with her to her uncle’s house, it mattered less what she read first,
the distressful doubt, that she might be missing the best things, being
thus overcome.  The grapes she left untouched.  Grapes, she argued, were
not a fruit for persons in rude health like herself; they were
essentially a delicacy for invalids.  She would try to take them home
for her mother; but if her uncle should chance to be specially fond of
them, and she caught him eyeing them in wistful greed—why, then he
should have them.  Was not the poor man more than half an invalid?

The well-contented guard passed with respectful salutation at every
station, and lingered by her window—not intrusively or in any way
causing offence, but in a manner that inspired confidence, and rendered
communication easy, should his charge wish to say or ask anything.
Generally it was a broad back that presented itself, a yard or two from
the window.  Hazel could not discover that he walked sideways, yet it
was wonderful how the back was suddenly _there_; also was it marvellous
how his numerous duties: seeing luggage in and out of the vans, the
shouting of instructions, the assisting out and showing in of
passengers, even the closing of doors left open by phlegmatic men or
ladies in clean gloves, finally the waving of the green flag—all seemed
to be efficiently accomplished in front of, or curiously near to, her
own compartment.

She had half a mind to give him the grapes: he looked so very warm; but
upon reflection she came to the conclusion that a glass of beer, in
which he might indulge at the cost of a very small diminution of Paul’s
tip, would be a more appropriate refreshment for a hot railway guard
than grapes, and in all probability more to his taste.  Besides, her
mother, even her uncle, would appreciate them more.

At Paddington Station the guard could not do enough for her.  He seemed
quite distressed that more was not required of him, and inclined to
think Thomas, Mr. Desborough’s footman, officious!  He was gratified,
however, with the girl’s prettily expressed thanks for his care of her,
and by her friendly little nod of farewell.

If Thomas experienced any feeling of surprise at the surfeit of reading
matter Miss Le Mesurier bade him collect, he doggedly concealed any such
emotion, and followed the little lady down the platform with a pile,
carried traywise, between his two hands, bearing in its centre the
basket of grapes, to the waiting carriage.

A few minutes later she found herself entering the same room, in which
her uncle had received her before; but this time she was not so fearful.

"You seem to have been plentifully provided with entertainment for the
journey," her uncle observed, half rising to receive a timid kiss upon
his left whisker, his eye lighting upon the heap that a servant was
placing on a side-table.  "Is that young Edward again, he of the buns,
or are all your brothers given to reckless expenditure?"

"It was not any of the boys this time," Hazel replied laughing; "Mr.
Charteris got them.  I could not finish even one, so I thought I would
bring them with me. It seemed a pity to leave so many in the train."

"Mr. Charteris, eh?  That is the elderly Paul, is not it?" the old man
asked, chuckling.  He was in high good-humour, more free from pain than
had been the case for some time, and bent upon enjoying the society of
this naïve girl, his great-niece, to whose visit he had looked forward
with a sense of pleasure that surprised himself.

"Elderly?" Hazel questioned, at a loss.

"Why, yes," her uncle returned.  "You said he must be thirty and more.
But you would not allow he was bald."

Hazel had at once noticed the absence of wrappings about the poor gouty
foot, which to-day was encased, like its fellow, in a comfortable
slipper; and guessed, in glad sympathy, that her uncle’s health was much
improved since her last visit.  But she did not inquire after it; she
did not believe in the wisdom or kindness of at once driving the poor
man’s thoughts back upon the subject that too generally held them, and
from which, in all probability, they had not long strayed.

She seated herself in companionable proximity, and fell to talking of
family news and family doings, since they two had last met.

"And your story?" her uncle asked presently.

"It came back," Hazel said, shaking her head dolefully.  "I was
particularly sorry, as I had a special and good purpose to spend the
money on."

"A new frock?" inquired her uncle.

Hazel opened her eyes at this frivolous sally; her simple ideas upon
dress began and ended with a few yards of inexpensive material, made up
by the provident Mrs. Doidge—Hazel herself assisting with the long
seams.

"Oh no," she explained, "I was expecting _five pounds_ or so.  If you
like, you shall read it some day—coming fresh to it, you might be able
to pick out faults that have escaped mine and Teddie’s notice.  But I
very much fear," she added dejectedly, "that it is all faults from
beginning to end, in which case, of course, it would not patch up."

"I daresay your talents lie in other directions," her uncle said, quite
sympathetically for him.  "You play and sing, don’t you?"

"Yes," Hazel admitted.

"Thank Heaven you don’t give the young ladies’ invariable answer ’A
little,’" Mr. Desborough exclaimed in approval.  "The girl who plays and
sings ’a little’ is generally merciless in the number and length of her
attempts, and in the frequency with which she renders them.  Go to the
piano now and let me hear what you can do."

Somewhat reluctantly, Hazel rose to do his bidding. Like all sensitive
temperaments, the girl was influenced in a great degree by her
surroundings and by the atmospheric conditions of the moment.  Just now
she felt utterly disinclined for this sudden and most unexpected
performance of any musical ability she might possess, with her Uncle
Desborough as auditor. The music-stool became a dock, and the little
prisoner was put upon her trial before a severe and critical judge.

She seated herself and played, badly enough, a bright piece of Chopin—a
sorry choice for nervous fingers and distracted mind.  But under all his
brusque, nay, hard, exterior there lay somewhere deep down in his breast
a very human and sympathetic heart, a fact too often overlooked or
forgotten by his friends, and consequently—there being no one to remind
him of it—forgotten by himself.  Hazel’s friendly, gentle ways, and
sweet spontaneity had gone straight to the centre of that
long-slumbering organ, causing it to stir in new and warm pulsations, to
his own no small amazement. He was better aware than the girl herself of
the height and depth to which such delicate sensibilities as constituted
her mental and spiritual composition, could rise and fall; and knew well
enough that the present moment was inauspicious for showing her talent
in its true dimensions.

"That is a beautiful thing," was all he said.  "Play me something more."

At that there whelmed over Hazel a sense of shame. How unkind and unfair
to make any one listen to such poorly executed music—most of all her
uncle, who, she now gathered for the first time, was an artist, an
expert—for she had instantly detected the sympathy in his tone—to whom,
therefore, her best was due. How unkind to let her nervous
self-consciousness entirely spoil that which, to such an one, might
prove a pleasure, if she but did her best—a pleasure that she feared the
old man all too seldom enjoyed in his lonely life.  She played again,
Grieg this time, with her whole heart in the rendering; then, with a
quick change of mood and key, she began to sing a sweet, plaintive
ditty, her fervent little soul in her voice, tender, exquisite; then
another and yet another.

Tired at last, she rose from the piano.

"Good gracious, child," Uncle Desborough exclaimed, amazed.  "Where did
you learn to sing like that?"

"Mother used to teach me," Hazel responded simply; "but I don’t have any
lessons now."



                              *CHAPTER XV*


Lunch was announced, and the presence of servants did not permit of
intimate talk; but, once again settled in the library, Hazel opened
fire, very gently, it must be confessed.

"Uncle Percival," she began, "do you remember giving me a ten-pound note
last time I was here?"

"I am not likely to forget that incident," her uncle replied drily, "and
how royally you flung legacies at my servant, after bestowing the note
upon him—for present expenses, it is to be presumed.  Well?"

"Well," Hazel said gravely, "on that occasion you made it impossible for
me to accept it for myself; but since then you have been so kind, so—so
courteous that—Uncle Percival, will you give me five pounds?"

"What for?" Mr. Desborough asked bluntly, but with interest.

"Well," Hazel replied.  "I should have liked to keep that a secret if I
could; but it is quite impossible, because as soon as I have got it, I
must go out, and you will want to know where I am going."

"Certainly," her uncle assented, "and you must have the carriage."  He
was looking amused now.  "Shopping, I suppose?"

"No," Hazel said; "I want to leave it at Teddie’s lodging."

"Whew," whistled Uncle Percival.  "Sits the wind in that quarter?  Is
the boy out of pocket-money?"

"It is much more serious than that," Hazel told him gravely.  "He has no
money to pay his rent with, and the landlady is beginning to—to kick, he
says."

Mr. Desborough raised his hand and coughed, to hide a smile.  "How has
he got himself into this mess?" he asked.  "I thought he had a rise
lately."

"He was given a rise," Hazel admitted, "but he says that from that time
his difficulties began.  You see," she went on confidentially, "he
treated five friends to a champagne lunch, and a theatre or two—I
suspect stalls; I did not want to worry him by asking; but Teddie is so
generous."

"The young jackanapes," ejaculated Mr. Desborough.

"I must be very, very careful to keep from him that the money comes from
_you_," Hazel said, with charming frankness.  "If he knew, or even
suspected, I should not be able to get him to accept it."

"Upon my——," Uncle Percival began, but checked himself.  "Well," he
continued, with pseudo-humility, that sat oddly upon him, "let him think
it comes from you, as indeed it does."

"But where should I have got it?" she asked, with dramatic gesture.
"However," she added, "let him puzzle, the truth will probably only
strike him after he has paid his debts—and then, though he may scold me
a little, it will be too late for him to refuse it."

"Well," Mr. Desborough said, "ring, and we will order the carriage and
leave the money at the domicile of this grateful young man.  He seems to
be of a very independent character."

"For anything I know, he will save up and pay you back," Hazel announced
cheerfully; "but that can’t be helped, can it?  We cannot allow him to
be turned into the streets.  Did you say _we_ would go?"

"If you don’t object to an old man’s company," he returned.

"How nice," Hazel exclaimed, in genuine pleasure; "and it will do you
good, Uncle Percival."

"Humph," was his gruff response, more for the sake of rendering less
astonishing the unusual order to the servant, who now appeared—to seem
at least in some way his ordinary self—than that he felt any displeasure
in the enterprise.  Hazel’s undisguised delight in the prospect of a
drive in his, a cross-grained old man’s company, warmed his heart, till
he felt almost ashamed of a childlike eagerness to "be off."

With very slight assistance from Thomas, Mr. Desborough reached the
carriage step, where he turned, and with courtly politeness helped the
lady to be seated.  Hazel named the address in Baker Street, and away
they drove.

"How well a top hat suits you," Hazel said, eyeing her august relative
in frank admiration.  "You look like an old Duke."

"Pshaw," he returned, much pleased, and furtively twisting his
moustache, "the fitter company then for a little princess like
yourself," he added, with old-fashioned gallantry.

Hazel glanced in naïve amazement at her simple cotton gown.  "A
princess," she said amusedly, "dressed in stuff that cost
sixpence-three-farthings a yard."

"No one would notice your dress with——" he ended abruptly and changed
the subject.  "With that face," he had been on the point of adding, but
he disapproved of such outspoken compliments, and was afraid of making
the girl vain.  One of the chief charms of Hazel’s unusual beauty was
her complete unconsciousness of it—a charm that Percival Desborough
fully appreciated.

Arrived at the lodging-house, Hazel made her way in alone.  "I shall not
keep you long," she told her companion, "but I have made up my mind to
speak to the landlady privately."

"I am Miss Le Mesurier," she announced to Mrs. Walters, who herself
opened to Hazel.

"The young gentlemen’s sister, Miss, I presume?" the woman inquired
respectfully.  Indeed the sight of the liveried servants and handsome
bays quite awed her, and set her wishing that she had sent Caroline,
despite her dirty working apron, to open the door, instead of doing that
service herself.

"Yes, and I should like to see their rooms, if you please," Hazel
returned, "and I have a letter that I wish to leave on Mr. Edward’s
table."

"Certainly Miss, certainly," the landlady replied soothingly, manifestly
anxious to assure the visitor that nothing could be more reasonable.

She led the way upstairs.  "This is the sitting-room, Miss," Mrs.
Walters informed her, throwing open the first door on a landing above,
"and that is Mr. Gerald’s room opening out of it—Mr. Edward sleeps
upstairs, as did Mr. Hugh before he left."

The girl looked about her with much interest.  It was a poor little room
enough, but clean and sunny. Oilcloth covered the floor, with an
occasional cheap rug stranded here and there.  White lace curtains
draped the little bow window, and a struggling geranium wrestled with
existence in too small a pot, with pale, caked earth, on a little
flower-stand with a green woolly mat.  The inevitable horsehair sofa and
chairs predominated, covered with the equally inevitable white cotton
crochet antimacassars, and a hideously designed clock ticked harshly on
the little shiny black mantelpiece, behind which a wonderfully dim and
speckled mirror had its place.  Upon the walls hung photographs of Mrs.
Walters at all ages, sometimes alone, sometimes one of a self-conscious
group, attired in ugly large-hipped costumes.

"I don’t put many ornaments on the mantelpiece, Miss," the landlady
explained.  "The young gentlemen likes to sit in them easy chairs, and
to put their feet on it."  She pointed out two chairs that looked to
Hazel something misnamed, seeing that they were shiny and slippery and
studded here and there with bristles, with a large lumpy dent in the
centre of each.

A small sideboard, rather overloaded with wax fruit under glass cases,
stood against the wall opposite the fireplace—Hazel suspected that some
of these "ornaments" had given way to the feet, now absent—and a round
table occupied the middle of the room.

"I suppose they have meals here?" Hazel asked, regarding it critically.

"Breakfast and dinner, Miss; late dinner, if you please.  They get their
lunches out."

"Yes, I know," Hazel told her; "but I mean, do they dine at _this_
table?"

The piece of furniture in question, though standing straight, somehow
gave one the impression of ricketiness, and the girl’s warm heart was
yearning over the comfort of her brothers.

"Oh yes, Miss; and there is room and to spare on it, now that Mr. Hugh
is gone—_he_ would always have the plant-stand drawn up for the potatoes
or the second vegetable."

"I cannot stay long," Hazel announced; "I must not keep my uncle
waiting, but I wanted to ask you a thing or two: I know you won’t mind.
Are their appetites good?"

Mrs. Walters raised her hands and eyes to the ceiling, smoke-begrimed
above the gas bracket.  "I have never known their like for eating," she
declared solemnly.  "I have a small appetite myself," she went on
conversationally, bringing her eyes to the level of Hazel’s face, and
her hands to her sides, "a little I must have, but not enough to choke
the system."

Hazel looked aghast.  "But do my brothers choke their systems?" she
asked, somewhat startled.

"No, Miss," the woman returned, hastening to reassure her visitor.  "Oh
no, but sometimes I can’t but think it would not take much more.  But
there," she added, "it may be that I take so little myself."

"Yet you are not thin," the girl observed with kindly interest.

This was delicately put, for in truth Mrs. Walters was very distinctly
stout.

The landlady shook her head.  "It is not fat," she announced solemnly,
pinching her own plump arm.

"No?" questioned Hazel gently, surprised.

"No," Mrs. Walters averred, with grave insistency, "it is not fat.  I am
blown out, you know, Miss.  Puffy, as you might say."

Hazel crossed the room, and entered the tiny bedchamber beyond.  So this
was where he slept!  Dear, old, plodding Gerald, how she hoped he was
comfortable. She made bold to sit on the bed to test its springs.  There
was not much response to her vigorous bouncing.  Everything was clean
and tidy, but there was certainly no superfluity of luxury.  The sight
of the water-bottle put Hazel in mind of the distressed geranium.  She
took it up and made her way to the outer room again.

"You do not mind?" she asked brightly of the landlady.  "I am so fond of
tending plants."

Mrs. Walters replied graciously enough, but commented upon the amazing
amount of water the plant "took."  This expression of opinion went far
to reassure Hazel on the subject of the boys’ systems; food and drink
were evidently subjects on which Mrs. Walters was wont to exaggerate.

Teddie’s bedchamber was the counterpart of Gerald’s, and Hazel had soon
made her inspection of it.  There was but one striking
characteristic—not unusual to top bedrooms—to mark it from the other:
whereas in the lower room all was concise, in pairs and sets, upstairs
the ewer did not match with the basin, whilst an enormous tumbler
overshadowed a diminutive water-bottle. The mirror was cracked across,
making one’s features appear horribly defective and out of drawing, and
the few cheap ornaments were for the most part oddments—a detail which
the girl’s quick eye noted as a slight improvement upon the austere,
unbending stiffness of the severe pairs, ranged upon mantelshelf and
toilet-table in Gerald’s sanctum.

The loving sister smoothed and patted the little white pillow—Mrs.
Walters had remained without upon the landing—and, from her position at
the head of the bed, took note of the exact view of the room that must
needs meet her brother’s waking eyes in the morning light.  It was not
particularly cheerful: a rickety chest of drawers, lacking two knobs;
and above it, hung all askew, a large card bearing the words, "Lord,
remember me, a sinner," was within his direct range of vision.  The text
was printed in silver letters, surrounded by a maze of pink roses,
whilst from behind a large cluster of the same blossoms, upon the left
of the card, there arose, with amazing abruptness and lack of warning,
an emaciated church spire.  Hazel could only hope that Teddie was not
prone to lie long and reflect; or if he was, that, for his own peace of
mind, he kept a clear conscience.

She left her bank-note in its envelope, together with a scribbled
explanation, in a conspicuous place on the little dressing-table.  It
was conceivable that he would prefer that Gerald should know nothing of
it, so that she would not leave it in the sitting-room.  She made her
way downstairs, followed by Mrs. Walters.  At the house-door she turned
to say good-bye.

"I hope I have not troubled you," she said.  "It is good of you to let
me see the rooms: one is so interested, you know."

"Quite so, Miss," the landlady answered, "and I hope you are pleased,
Miss."

"I think they look fairly comfortable," Hazel returned, somewhat
cautiously, "and beautifully clean.  I know," she added, anxious to be
just, "I know that you do not ask a very heavy rent, so the boys must
not expect anything grand."

Again bidding her good-bye, Hazel tripped down the steps, and seated
herself in the carriage, which at that moment had pulled up, after a
turn or two up and down the road.

"Well," her uncle said, "I am afraid, if you are to catch the train your
mother mentioned, it is about time to be making our way to the station.
Do you wish to return first, to fetch your papers and what not?"

"Oh, mother’s grapes," exclaimed Hazel.  "Yes, please, if there is
time."

The order home was given, and soon, armed with the same provision for
her entertainment upon the return journey, Hazel, still accompanied by
her uncle, was driven to the station.

"Come and see me again soon, my dear," the old man said.  "And you are
quite sure," he added, lowering his voice, that the attendant footman
might not overhear his words, "you are quite sure that you won’t accept
pocket-money for yourself?" for he had been pressing notes upon the girl
for her own use.

"Quite sure, thank you, uncle dear.  You must not mind.  You see, I
don’t actually _need_ it—Teddie did," and she kissed the wrinkled cheek
that was presented to her with real warmth.  "Good-bye."

And once again the old man was left alone.

It was in the loneliness of the hours that followed that Percival
Desborough made up his mind to go to Hazelhurst.

Alighting from the train, Hazel’s eyes encountered Paul Charteris.  She
looked up and smiled in frank affection, at once setting his anxiety at
rest respecting his reception: for he had not asked permission to take
the little lady home.  Intimating by word and gesture that the guard was
welcome to the very considerable amount of literature within the
carriage, Hazel followed her charioteer out of the station, and was soon
once more seated beside him in the trap.  But alas for his new-found
peace and elation of spirit, the girl’s manner quickly returned to the
determined evasion of eye, of question, of himself generally; and again
Paul was profoundly troubled.  Almost in silence they reached home.


Things had continued in this wise for many long days, when the young
man, coming to call at Hazelhurst, chanced upon Hazel in the
flower-garden.  She made as if to flee, but the next moment,
recollecting herself, she stood her ground, and awaited his approach.

"It is my birthday to-day," Paul announced, as they shook hands,
feigning not to heed her timorous demeanour.

"Is it really?" she exclaimed, much interested. Hazel was young—a
birthday was still a great event to her.  "I wish you many happy returns
of the day. Mother is in the house; shall we go to her?"

"Certainly," Paul answered, and hesitated.  "You will not give me a
tangible token of your well-wishing?" he asked wistfully.

Hazel looked her amazement.  "How can I?" she questioned.  "I did not
know in time."  How very odd and—and bold of Paul to ask for a birthday
present! One did not ask one’s nearest relatives!

"It would not take you long to gather me a flower," he answered,
unashamed, although he read something of her thoughts.  "I should prize
that immensely."

Hazel turned at the suggestion, in a little flutter of eagerness, to
select a rosebud, or whatever chanced to look most fitting, wherewith to
honour the occasion; and after some diligent search was about to pluck,
when of a sudden something stayed her hand.  In an instant the sweet,
unconscious child was gone, and a dignified maiden stood in her stead.

"You may take anything you fancy," she said. "Miles won’t mind."

The young man stood appalled.  "You—you won’t give me one?" he
expostulated.

"You can’t want it very much if you find it too much trouble to take one
for yourself," she answered evasively.

"Hazel," he said, much aggrieved, "you have given me flowers before.
Don’t you remember the little bunch of Shepherd’s Eye?"

Yes, Hazel remembered—she was minded how glad she had been that he
thought them so pretty, and had asked for them so eagerly.  He was just
as eager now—he was fond of flowers.  How was it that somehow she could
not bring herself to give him one?  It was so little to ask of her!
What had happened—what had come between her and this dear friend?  What
was it?  It had been much happier then.  Surely he was the same?  Yet
something was not the same, somehow things were different.  She looked
up: there was troubled questioning in the wistful brown eyes. Was she
relenting?

"You will give me a flower?" he asked eagerly, drawing a step nearer.

His ardour frightened her.  Had he spoken lightly and affected
carelessness—had he managed to hide, or disguise, much of the fervour
that marked his simple request, she would perhaps, though troubled and
perplexed at her own reluctance, have complied with it.  She drew back
as he advanced and put her hands behind her, looking half timid, half
defiant.

"No," she answered determinedly.

Paul stood regarding her thoughtfully.  "Why not?" he asked at length,
bluntly.

"I—I don’t know," Hazel murmured, truthfully enough.  "Won’t you please
come to the house?"

For a moment they stood thus, regarding one another in silence: the
brown eyes still in wistful questioning, the manly blue-grey ones
half-angry, half-sad, wholly puzzled.

"I think not to-day," he said at last.  Raising his cap, he turned upon
his heel, and, retracing his steps, was soon lost in the shadow of the
wood.



                             *CHAPTER XVI*


Two days later, at the same hour, Paul Charteris was seated in Helen’s
drawing-room.

"She is so young," Helen was pleading; "such a child."

Paul sat in silence, big, manly, and troubled withal.

"I feel such an unutterable brute to speak to you about it," he returned
at length.  "If you knew how I have struggled to keep it to myself; but
it is too much, it goes beyond my strength."

He groaned, turning his eyes from the delicate face, in remorse at the
conflicting emotions he had raised.

If only Hubert Le Mesurier were alive!  There would be nothing about
which to hesitate; they would talk as man to man.  But the widowed
Helen, so gentle, so defenceless, seeking only what was best for her
child.  What a brute he was!  And yet, speak he must: he could no longer
contain himself.  He knew well enough that the next time he encountered
Hazel alone he must demand an explanation of her strange manner towards
himself.  He felt it was highly improbable he could see Hazel without
opening his heart to her.  It was but right to warn Helen as to how
things stood with him: it had become essential that Helen should be told
all there was to tell.

"Paul," she said at last, very gently, "you must go away for a time."

Paul’s face grew pale.  He regarded her in mute consternation.

"It is for her good," she went on.  "Does not that reflection make you
willing to go—to bear a few months’ banishment?"

Poor Paul, his elbow on his knee, his head in his hand, could only groan
aloud.

"Do you mean I am to go, uncertain of my fate, before I speak to her?"
he asked; and the pain in his eyes made Helen waver.

"Would it not be harder afterwards?" she asked, seeking to argue with
him.  "Suppose—mind, I do not know my child’s heart towards you, though
of this I am sure, that she is fond of you in her innocent, frank
way—but suppose she—she gives you permission to stay—how can you go
then, Paul?"

"I could go then," he cried vehemently, "far more easily than now, when
all is uncertainty and torture. It would be hard; but I could go if need
be," he added wistfully, "if you demand such trial of me."

"It is not to try you," she made answer.  "It is for Hazel’s good, that
she may remain settled and undisturbed, that she may have time for
reflection and to learn her own mind."  She paused.  Hazel’s voice was
heard trilling a light air as she passed through the hall.

"You mean that I may speak?" the young man asked, springing to his feet,
an eager flush rising to his face.  "She will never learn her own mind
toward me if I do not speak—she will never think of me in that way.  I
should only return to find things as they are.  You will let me speak?"

The two regarded one another for some moments—the two beings who, of all
the world, loved Hazel best. She, with that wonderful mother-love that
denies self, that sacrifices all to the good and the happiness of the
child, that asks no return; he, with the strong man’s heart-whole
devotion, yearning, protecting, longing to have and to hold and to
cherish, through all changes, but fiercely demanding love’s tribute of
love.

Helen sighed softly, and smiled.

"Go, then," she said.  "I expect you will find her in the wood.  And,
Paul, if she does not know herself—if she cannot answer you now as you
would wish, do not despair.  Be hopeful, and leave things to time to put
right."

In two strides the young man was beside her. Raising her hand to his
lips, he reverently kissed the slender fingers, and without a word
turned and left her.

As he walked through the wood, Paul Charteris soon descried the girl’s
form, flitting now here now there, now eluding his sight like some
will-o’-the-wisp, strayed far from home during the night, and thus
overtaken by day—a will-o’-the-wisp made visible to the eye now that its
light was extinguished, or, rather, absorbed by the sunshine.  Of a
sudden he came upon her.  She was standing in the middle of the clear
space that commended itself to the purpose in hand: she was feeding her
pets, dispensing crumbs of bread and cake around her.  A ringdove cooed
upon her shoulder, whilst a pair of squirrels frisked about her feet.

"What a little witch she is!" Paul mused as he watched, himself unseen.

He tried to call "Hazel," but throat and tongue refused their office.
Instead, he advanced and discovered himself.

Hazel nodded to him brightly.

"Did you come to see them fed?" she asked.  "Are they not fascinating?"

"I came to see you," he made answer.  "Hazel, I have something very
special to say.  Will you listen?"

Hazel looked about her, the brightness dying from her face.  There was
no escaping him now.  The most direct path to the house he himself
blocked.  If she turned down a by-way he would but follow.

"Will you listen, Hazel?" he repeated.

"Yes," she said, reluctant, half defiant.  "Tell me now, whilst I feed
the birds," she added imperiously.

"No," Paul rejoined stoutly, "it is much too important and—and serious.
I will wait till you have finished."

Although the girl had practically completed her task when he came upon
her, the last few crumbs were scattered, one by one, from the small yet
seemingly inexhaustible stock still left.  And then, when he thought the
time had come, when all seemed ready, Hazel sought to fix his attention
upon a hundred-and-one different objects—this plant, that tree, the
brightness of a pet squirrel’s eyes, the bushiness of another’s tail,
the soft grey plumage of the wood pigeon.  Would Paul like one on his
shoulder?  She believed she could coax it there.  Paul was soon nearly
frantic, fearful of offending or scaring her, divided between risking
the one or the other, torn with indecision, yet determined throughout
not to let so fitting an opportunity slip by ungrasped.  Hazel had no
faintest clue as to how he was minded: she only knew that he was grave
again, and, though she had not so much as given one glance at his face,
she knew his eyes to be serious and deep and unfathomable.  In a word,
he was in that tiresome mood that somehow troubled her.  She must divert
his attention from herself, she must distract his mind with all manner
of interests; and these the wood amply afforded.

"Look at that green caterpillar," she exclaimed. "We might——"

"Hazel," Paul said desperately, interrupting her, "will you listen?  It
is so important—to me."

"You said ’serious’ before," Hazel rejoined, a trifle flippantly.  Her
back was turned upon him.  She began busily to collect fir-cones.

"I want to tell you that I love you," the young man said at last, simply
and quietly.  "I love you, Hazel."

"Thank you," Hazel said in polite good faith, half turning a flushed
cheek toward him.  "It is—it is very good of you.  But if you don’t
mind, try not to feel serious about it.  Of course I like to hear you
say it—just once; but I knew it, I—I mean I always felt you were fond of
me."

"Child, child," Paul murmured.  Then aloud: "Are you fond of me?"

"Oh yes," she answered frankly.  "You know I am. But it is not a very
usual thing to ask a lady," she added reprovingly.  "Teddie says you
have to guess at a lady’s feelings.  By the way, have you had tea?"

Despite his emotion, a smile of genuine amusement, mingled with
exquisite tenderness, played about Paul’s mouth as his eyes dwelt upon
the little kneeling figure, so determinedly turned from him.  He must
try again. He did not want to startle her, he must endeavour to make his
meaning dawn slowly upon her mind; and when he had achieved this, what,
ah what would her answer be!  Had the girl’s feelings toward him only to
be awakened?  Was love dormant?  Or—unspeakable anguish was in the
thought—was there no love within her breast for him?  He must know—he
must know: the pain of uncertainty was becoming more than he could bear.
He recalled Helen’s words and found comfort in them.  "If she does not
know herself, if she cannot answer you now as you would wish, do not
despair, be hopeful, and leave things to time to put right."

"Hazel," he said gently, "I am so anxious.  I should be so grateful to
you if you would stand up and—and give me your undivided attention, just
for two minutes."

The girl complied, reluctant, wondering, half uneasy at the appeal in
his voice, half curious.  She stood before him with folded hands and
waited.

Paul came a step nearer.  "Hazel, it _is_ a usual question to ask, when
a man loves a girl as I love you, with all his heart, with all his soul;
when he feels he must have her love, or live without it in misery all
his days.  Then he _must_ ask her if she could ever love him."

For the first time Hazel looked up in his face, her own paling.

"Is this—is this a _proposal_?" she asked, awe and solemnity widening
and darkening her eyes.  "Do you mean—you want me to—to actually _marry_
you?"

Paul’s lips twitched at the corners.  "Yes," he said stoutly.  "Tell
me—tell me that you will."

There was a pause, passed in agony by Paul, in amazed reflection by
Hazel.

"Child, answer me," he said at length hoarsely, possessing himself of
her hands.

"I might, after years and years," she said consideringly. "But, Mr.
Charteris, I never dreamed you were a—that you felt like that.  You are
not at all a usual sort."  Her mind had reverted to Digby Travers, his
looks, his sighs, his serenades.  How troublesome he was to manage; how
he would always try to get her to himself, when she was longing for the
society of others; how he would hold her hand too long at every possible
opportunity.  That was the lover one read of in stories, one saw
depicted in pictures. But—but she began to acknowledge to herself that
it was possible that here was a "real one" of another type; his face,
his eyes all strenuous, all—all.  And he had this in common with the
lover of her ideas: he held her hands—both! as if he would never let
them go.

Hazel tried to free her hands.

"Yes," said Paul, "when you have told me that you love me."

Silence fell between them.

"If I say I do," Hazel asked slowly, weighing her words, "does it mean I
must—does it mean I have got to marry you?"

"It would mean that some day you might love me enough to like to marry
me," Paul answered boldly and simply.  "But never mind that now, Hazel.
Just tell me whether you love me, even—even a little, and I will wait so
patiently for that little to grow."

Again she fell to reflecting.  "I am fond of you," she said earnestly,
"and, yes, perhaps you could call it—call it—just a very little, you
know.  But I don’t know why you need ask me," she said resentfully; "and
now will you please let go my hands?"

"Then you care for me—a little?" the young man asked joyfully.

"Yes," Hazel returned with gracious dignity, then, timidly, half in
exultation, half in fear, "Am I an engaged woman now?" she asked.

"If you will accept me as your lover, yes," Paul answered.  He was all
aglow with happiness.  It is true that she was timid, shrinking, only
now half conscious of what he meant, of what he offered.  Yet through it
all, nay, because of that very timidity, he felt that she cared for
him—a little, and a great yearning filled his soul to make that little
much.  As yet he must be content that she had not repelled him; for,
child as she was, Paul felt assured that the sweet, strong woman-being
within her would have rejected his love with none of the uncertainty
with which she had half accepted it; would have rejected it finally and
with decision—for the time being, at all events.  How utterly adorable
she was, this queen among girls, this innocent, but half awake, maiden!
How could he ever deserve her—how make himself worthy?  What an
inestimable privilege was his: to teach her love.  An intense, an
infinite tenderness was astir in the young fellow’s strong, manly
nature.  Ah, how patient, how gentle he must be!  Nor could he ever be
patient and gentle enough. He would bear that in mind, always.

"Hazel, my little love," he murmured.  "Look in my eyes and tell me once
more that you love me—a little. Say: ’Paul, I love you, and presently I
shall love you more.’"

Hazel raised her eyes obediently, but only to his collar stud.  "I—I
love you a little," she stammered.

"You won’t look at me?" he pleaded.

"I _am_ looking, hard," she averred, blinking at his chin.

"And you won’t say, ’Paul’?"

"It would be too silly," she objected, "when you are here, attending to
me."

He longed to seal the compact between them with a kiss, a solemn, sacred
kiss; but he felt the time was not yet.  She had given him so much!
Just now he must not ask for more.  He must respect her sweet delicacy;
he must not dismay or trouble her.  He would be patient, gentle, all
unselfish.  In this wise he might grow to be worthy of her love, and,
worthy, might gain it.



                             *CHAPTER XVII*


To return to the day of Hazel’s visit to her brother’s lodgings,
Teddie’s incredulous delight, when he came home to the rooms in Baker
Street, and had toiled up to the little top chamber, somewhat
dispirited, to find the bank-note upon his dressing-table, may be
imagined.  He eagerly seized upon and read the few lines that Hazel had
written in explanation. They did not tell him much; only that he might
spend the money with an easy mind; asking him to try to keep free from
debt in the future, as next time she would find it far more difficult to
help him.

Although Teddie knew of his sister’s visit to their great-uncle, the
thought never entered his head that he could possibly owe this very
opportune aid to that circumstance.  After much silent puzzling—for he
was not going to confide in Gerald on the subject—he came to the
conclusion that Hazel had, probably through the medium of Miles, sold
her gold bangle, and so provided her distressed brother with pecuniary
assistance. Mentally dubbing her a little brick, Teddie proceeded to
make his toilet for the evening, with more zest than he had pursued any
other of the day’s duties. He poured a plentiful supply of water into
the basin with the plain red band around its girth, from the ewer that
was besprinkled with blue flowers.  Removing his coat and collar, and
thrusting his hands into his trousers pockets, he plunged his hot face
into its cool depths, whilst with wide-open eyes he glared glassily at
the bottom of the basin, some two inches from his nose, in seemingly
futile wrath; then rolled them from side to side in fierce, yet vacant,
contemplation of his environments, apparently much to his refreshment.

He emerged blowing like a grampus, and fell to rubbing his rosy
countenance vigorously with the somewhat harsh little towel of Mrs.
Walters’s providing. He seemed to get an astonishing amount of
satisfaction from these drastic measures, only desisting when his arms
ached and his face was aglow with the friction. After belabouring his
curly head severely with surprisingly stiff hair-brushes, he prized open
the handleless little top drawer of the chest, which had been pushed
injudiciously far in the shutting, with his pocket-knife—a broken,
rusty, and blunt implement, long since dedicated to such uses—and
supplied himself with a fresh collar and a change of tie.  He would have
liked to make a more complete toilet, for the Le Mesurier boys
religiously dressed for the evening; but dressing meant a fresh shirt,
and it frequently fell out that toward the end of the week clean shirts
were scarce. To-day was Friday; the linen would be home to-morrow, and
Teddie knew without looking that the first long drawer, boasting two
knobs and devoted to the warding of his underclothing, was devoid of
this particular article of wearing-apparel; for he had recklessly
indulged himself this week.

So, perforce content with his hardy ablutions and slight changes of
attire, he descended to the little sitting-room, to find Gerald already
ensconced in his easy-chair, his slippered feet duly in place against
the mantelshelf, luxuriously smoking an attenuated cigarette. He, too,
had regulated his toilet with skill and sagacity, in accordance with the
day of the week; but, more favoured than Teddie—for Gerald was never in
arrear with his half of the rent—he had used a pint milk-jug of hot
water sent up from the kitchen from the landlady, by Caroline the
hand-maid.

"By Jove, you look pink!" Gerald remarked lazily, as his brother seated
himself in the opposite chair and settled his feet in position.  "Cold
water, I suppose?"

"I prefer it," Teddie answered, briefly but good-humouredly.  "Whew, I
am peckish!  I hope dinner will be punctual."

The cloth was already spread, and in a few minutes Caroline entered the
room with a loaded tray, somewhat short of breath.

Gerald carved the mutton, Teddie served the vegetables.

"Oh, if you please, sir," Caroline said before retiring, "missis says
will you please to knock on the floor with yer ’eel when ye’re ready for
the sweet.  It is my evening out, and missis says as ’ow I can get ready
now and she’ll answer yer."

She addressed herself to Gerald, but looked the while deprecatingly at
Teddie, who, though perhaps the more severe of the two young gentlemen,
and more particular to have things to his liking, was her favourite,
even while she stood in greater awe of him.

"Very well," Gerald returned; "but why doesn’t she—Mrs. Walters—ask us
to ring as usual?"

"She’s a-sitting in the cool, sir—she’s in the first-floor front
sitting-room."  Caroline almost whispered this solemn circumstance; for
the first-floor front sitting-room was a marvel of shining lustres,
hunting scenes, and crimson and gold furniture.  "She mightn’t ’ear the
_bell_, but she’s just under yer ’eel."

"All right," Gerald rejoined, and nodded dismissal. "We will make her
hear."

"Don’t be late home, Caroline," Teddie put in, warningly.  "Back by ten
sharp, mind."

"Yes, sir," Caroline answered docilely.

"And tell your young man from me that you are a good enough sort," he
continued; "and I would say more, but I don’t want to make you vain."
He began to attack his dinner with youthful ardour and interest.

"Thank you, sir," the girl answered deferentially. She left the room,
quite overwhelmed with Mr. Edward’s compliment, a broad smile of
pleasure pervading her countenance.

"You are very genial to-night," remarked Gerald presently.

The two had by this time made considerable inroad on their somewhat
astonishing platefuls, and were at leisure to take matters a little more
easily.

"Am I?" asked Teddie, gratified.  "I feel genial."  And he beamed about
the room.

Without further comment the two finished with the mutton, and began a
solemn tattoo upon the floor with their heels; becoming so interested in
the martial sounds produced with military precision and kettledrum-like
effect, that they only desisted on becoming aware that Mrs. Walters was
calling desperately from below, "I’m comin’."

The "sweet" of which Caroline had spoken proved to be baked sago.  When
the landlady reappeared to remove this dish, Teddie, with well-assumed
carelessness, addressed her.

"By the way, Mrs. Walters," he said, "I believe I have an account to
settle with you."  He drew from his pocket the five-pound note, and
handed it to the mollified woman.  "Give me the change at your
convenience," he added; "don’t trouble now."

Gerald, from his armchair, turned and regarded his brother in speechless
amazement.  Recovering somewhat, he glanced with apprehensive interest
at Teddie’s waistcoat pocket, trying to ascertain whether the huge
Waterbury watch—which, by the way, if sold, might bring the owner
half-a-crown—was still there.  The silver chain was in its place, and he
fancied he heard the tick of that strong and renowned piece of
mechanism.

"Where the deuce——" he began, but Teddie frowned at him warningly.

"And I wanted to tell you that I wish to give a dinner to two or three
friends one day next week," he went on, quite informally.  "I think it
would be more homelike to give it here, and less expensive. You could
get in some cooked things, so as not to have too much to do: a meat pie,
for instance.  You could manage soup, fish, and a joint, could not you?
One entrée would do, game or something.  There only remain the sweets
and the savoury, cheese and dessert, and, of course, coffee."

"I should have to get in help," Mrs. Walters announced; "me and Caroline
could never manage alone."

"No?" Teddie asked.  "Not a simple little dinner like that?  However,
that is your look-out.  Get all the help you want; and, by the way, have
you another table that we could shove up against this, and cover the two
with one cloth?"

When Mrs. Walters withdrew Teddie sat him down to write his invitations.

"It is only old Hugh," he told his brother, who was puffing at his pipe
in silence and in seeming insouciance, but was in truth very anxious to
know the meaning of Teddie’s sudden affluence.  "It has bothered me all
along that the old fellow left us without our giving any farewell
ceremony."

Gerald grunted.  "Who is to meet him?" he asked.

"Well, I thought old Hamilton might like to come," Teddie answered.  "He
has seen Hugh once or twice, and has taken a liking to him."

Gerald nodded.  "Any one else?" he asked.

"What do you say to having Charteris?  He does run up to town for a
dinner occasionally."

The notes of invitation were written and posted, and, before going down
to Hazelhurst next day, Teddie had another interview with Mrs. Walters.

"It is settled for Monday night," he told her.  "I don’t like to have
these things hanging on.  As far as I know at present, there will be
three guests.  You have got about two pounds in hand—refund yourself
from that if the stuff makes you out of pocket. Anything over and above
you can mention in the bill."

But once more at home, Teddie got the whole truth out of Hazel, and dire
was his wrath.  He partially forgave his repentant little sister on
hearing the history of her first visit to her uncle, and the fate of the
former note.

"And we are such good friends now," Hazel told him, "that, although I
could not possibly take anything for myself, I felt I could ask for you,
Teddie: I was so miserable about you."

Teddie was mollified, when he learned that his sister had informed her
uncle, that she should endeavour to keep secret how she came by the
money.  But Monday afternoon found him seated in the library of the
house in Lancaster Gate, in conversation with that august relative.

Mr. Desborough’s surprise was extreme when the curly-headed youth was
announced, and, truth to tell, he was very much interested and amused in
the subsequent conversation.

"I never expected to be sitting _here_," Teddie declared ingenuously.
"But as I believe there is some talk of your visiting us at Hazelhurst,
I don’t mind meeting you half-way."

"Thank you," Mr. Desborough said drily.

"As to what has brought me here," Teddie went on, "you may perhaps
guess.  I have only just learned from my sister, that she actually asked
you for money with which to help me in my—in my private affairs."

"What then?" Uncle Percival asked gruffly as Teddie paused.

"What then?" his nephew repeated hotly.  "You don’t suppose for a moment
that I can sit down in that knowledge without making a protest, do you?"
He regarded his uncle fiercely, and awaited an answer.

"I don’t know, I am sure," Mr. Desborough replied at length.  "I have
forgotten how I should have felt at your age.  I think I should have
taken anything I could get."

"I don’t believe you," Teddie rejoined warmly. "You may be a
cantankerous old man, but I wouldn’t make myself out worse than I am if
I were you."

Mr. Desborough was about to expostulate angrily with Teddie on this
somewhat intemperate expression, but when he had recovered sufficient
breath for the purpose Teddie was, with bland indifference to his
feelings, pursuing the conversation.

"I shall, of course, pay it back with all the speed in my power," he
said.  "Unfortunately it is already spent, or you should have the very
note back.  But I won’t leave this house more in your debt than I can
help."  He rose, and, ransacking his pockets, produced four shillings
and fivepence halfpenny, which he proceeded to place beside his uncle.

Mr. Desborough had much ado not to break into a hearty laugh.  He began
to think that the young fellow was as pleasing in his way as his little
favourite, Hazel.

"Look you here, my boy," he returned, bent upon pacifying his irate
nephew, "give an old man the pleasure of feeling he is of some use to
his young relatives."

"I can’t do it," Teddie declared, with, however, a softened mien, for he
was touched by the unmistakable note of appeal in the old man’s voice;
"but I am forced to accept what is already spent on the rent and on
to-night’s dinner."

"Ah!" Mr. Desborough exclaimed.  "To-night’s dinner, eh?  What are you
going to have?"

Teddie rehearsed the menu, then began to explain matters further, as he
became conscious of his uncle’s extreme surprise.

"Oh, we don’t fare like that every evening, simple though it is," he
said in self-justification.  "This is an entertainment long owed to my
brother Hugh, and a couple of friends are asked to meet him."

Silence fell between them.  Once the old man cleared his throat and was
about to speak, but checked himself.  When he did speak, he had
evidently put something of moment aside.

"What shall you give them to drink?" he asked, in kindly interest.

"Whisky and soda or bottled beer," Teddie told him with prompt decision.
"I did hope to give them a glass of decent claret, but that is off, of
course."

Again a silence.

"Look you here, my boy."  Uncle Desborough seemed bent upon having it
out.  Fear of rebuff had caused him to hesitate, and a strange sense of
the unwonted good-fellowship of what he was about to propose made him
awkward.  "What do you say to asking me to your dinner?  Would not that
square matters?"

"We shall be delighted," Teddie made answer, very stiffly.  "But, of
course, we cannot let one of our guests pay for his dinner."

"An old fellow like myself won’t be in the way?" Mr. Desborough asked.

The half-wistful tone of the question, meant to be brusque, was not lost
upon his nephew.

"Not at all," he replied, more genially.  "We shall be glad of your
company.  A quarter to eight, then, to-night."

A few hours later Gerald and Teddie were receiving their four guests
with hearty welcome.  The amazement of Gerald and Hugh when Mr.
Desborough was announced can hardly be conceived, for Teddie had
mischievously kept dark the circumstance of his coming. Their innate
good-breeding and natural courtesy prompted them quickly to overcome the
tendency to stand petrified with open mouths; for after only a momentary
pause they were shaking hands warmly, as if their uncle’s condescension
were the most natural thing in the world.

"You are Paul Charteris, of whom my niece Hazel spoke?" Mr. Desborough
asked of the latest arrival.

Paul flushed at the sudden mention of that name.

"Yes," he returned, "I have the good fortune to be a near neighbour of
the Le Mesuriers."

It was marvellous to witness the little party being chivied about by the
bustling landlady and her handmaid, till at length, finding it
impossible to congregate about the hearth or by the window, the
expedience began to dawn upon the group of dispersing singly. Thus they
sat in formidable array round the walls of the room, whilst Hugh and Mr.
Desborough conversed amicably together, seated side by side upon the
horsehair sofa.

Presently Mrs. Walters, very red and important, beckoned Gerald out of
the room to discuss with him the subject of chairs; for, beside the two
miscalled easy-chairs, there were but two others in the boys’
sitting-room, and under no circumstances could the landlady of the Baker
Street rooms be induced to lend any of the gold and crimson furniture of
the "first-floor front."  She always said it would be "robbing Peter to
pay Paul," but it was natural that her tenants should not see the
connection, or, seeing, bring themselves to regard the matter in that
light. This evening she was willing to make a great concession. Mr.
Gerald might have the music-stool from the "first-floor front."  It was
against her rules, as he knew, but the company must be seated somehow,
and the music-stool did not belong to a suite, so that it could be
replaced readily, should any mischance overtake it.

The boys were, of course, at liberty to use their bedroom chairs as they
pleased; so that when the guests were finally seated, Mr. Desborough and
Mr. Hamilton occupied the two chairs of the sitting-room; Paul Charteris
was accommodated with the cane chair from Gerald’s bedroom, its somewhat
low stature being at once remedied and rendered easy by a pillow; Hugh
was perched upon the music-stool, whilst Gerald and Teddie affably
dispensed hospitality, seated side by side on the sofa, which had been
drawn up for that occasion.

"I am awfully sorry," Gerald said, "there is nothing much to offer in
the way of drink."  He glanced apologetically at the little sideboard,
where bottled beer, whisky, and syphons of soda-water were arranged.

Uncle Percival cleared his throat.

"I—er—took the liberty," he said—and he glanced deprecatingly at
Teddie—"I took the liberty—I hope an old uncle may be excused—of
bringing some wine with me.  My servant is still below, if you like him
to bring up some sherry for the soup."

"Uncle Percival, you are a brick!" Hugh exclaimed, whilst Teddie gave
his august relative an approving nod.

Thomas answered the bell, with decanter and glasses. A well-trained
servant was he; for nothing could exceed his grave and deferential
respect as his eyes lighted upon his master, seated upon the left
hand—for Hugh was the guest of the evening—of the two flushed and eager
young hosts upon the sofa.  Yet the scene must of a surety have put a
severe strain upon the risible muscles of any human being, necessitating
a strong curb upon his sense of humour. Burgundy was handed round with
the joint, and presently a suggestive "pop" from the region of the
sideboard brought Mr. Desborough’s eyes to meet Teddie’s guiltily.

"Uncle, you are a trump," declared Teddie, slapping his uncle upon the
shoulder.

Gerald rose and, leaning over Teddie, solemnly and in silence gripped
his uncle’s hand.

"I thought it might help with the evening’s joviality," murmured the
recipient of these attentions.  "My dear fellows, what an excellent
dinner you have provided—my compliments to your cook."

Which was tactful of Uncle Desborough.

Presently Paul Charteris rose and asked whether he had permission to
propose a toast to the guest of the evening.  Hugh modestly cast down
his eyes as the company responded to the call with enthusiasm; Teddie
meekly petitioning Providence that his shadow might never grow less.

Hugh rose to return thanks.  He made a short speech, to the effect that,
though happy in the capacity of Charteris’s private secretary, he could
never cease to regret that he had broken up the happy trefoil.  He was
half sorry that his brothers had not asked _his_ whilom boss to this
festive gathering, but that, perhaps after all, they had done rightly:
Mr. Hooper might not have cared to come.  He and Hugh had never had the
luck to hit it off together as his brother Edward and _his_ superior,
Mr. Hamilton, had always done.  Mr. Hooper was one of those men who did
not appreciate the earnest endeavours and well-spent energy of the best
years—or rather of a best year—at all events nine or ten months of a
fellow’s life.  He had never liked or encouraged his, Hugh’s, taste for
drawing.  He concluded by expressing his pleasure at finding himself in
such thoroughly genial and sympathetic company, and he heartily returned
his brother Edward’s wish concerning his shadow—might all their shadows
expand, if there must be any change in them.  He begged to propose the
health of their uncle, Percival Desborough.

Mr. Desborough acknowledged the courtesy and begged to be excused from
either rising or speaking. His gout troubled him somewhat, and he had no
gift for putting choice words together.  He could but say he was
sincerely glad to be among them all that night.

Upon this Teddie rose and asked the company to drink to his superior,
Mr. Hamilton, to whom he had, he feared, in times gone by, been somewhat
of a trial in his wild days.  That, however, was all over.  He had grown
steady and was better understood than of yore.  Nothing could exceed the
happiness of the relations now existing between them.

Mr. Hamilton rose, was about to speak, but instead he broke into a
hearty laugh and slapped the steady young man on the back.  He declared
that he would not say more than that he heartily concurred with all that
his young host had deposed, and that he sincerely reciprocated his young
host’s feeling towards himself.

Gerald rose and said that since no one seemed inclined to name him, he
thought he would waive ceremony and drink to himself if they would all
join him, which they did amidst shouts of laughter.  Gerald proceeded to
remark that if he might be permitted he toasted his fellow-host Edward,
more generally known as Teddie, who had taken upon himself almost the
entire trouble and responsibility of the little dinner they were now
enjoying.  The company responded with cheers, waxing so warm that at
length Teddie felt it incumbent on him to rise modestly and bow, which
he did, somewhat bashfully.

He was about to reseat himself when Gerald gave him a sharp dig in the
ribs and murmured a word, lost to the company amid the general turmoil.
Teddie nodded comprehendingly and, placing his hand on Gerald’s
shoulder, together they stood and awaited silence.

"Gentlemen, you may smoke," issued from their lips, as through one
mouthpiece, so soon as quiet was attained; and the two proffered their
dilapidated cases, containing the excessively lean cigarettes they were
in the habit of smoking.

The glances of the two elderly men present had met more than once during
this unique entertainment—they met again now, and each drew from his
pocket a well-stocked cigar case, and offered in return their contents,
the while, in perfect gravity, they courteously accepted of their hosts’
store.

Paul also came to the fore well provided with cigars, at the sight of
which the boys’ eyes glistened.

"Smoke your own stuff, any one who would rather," Teddie said
graciously.  "Thanks, yes," he added, "I’ll have a cigar."

So that, while the hosts and their brother Hugh puffed contentedly at
the fragrant and ever-coveted weed, Mr. Desborough, Mr. Hamilton, and
Paul Charteris feigned to enjoy the worst cigarettes it had ever been
their fate to taste, praising them most unduly in that they did not
"bite," and were a pleasant, light change for an after-dinner smoke.

"Quite so," Teddie agreed: "those who like a light smoke will—er—will
find them light.  For myself I confess I prefer a cigar.  But then, you
know," he added ingenuously, "cigars are rather beyond my means just
now, and are consequently a treat."

"I am glad you are thinking of running down to Hazelhurst for a visit,"
Gerald said conversationally, addressing his uncle.  "Run down with me
and Teddie on Saturday."

Percival Desborough was suffering from remorse. What an old fool he had
been!  What an unconscionable old fool!  All these years, these bitter,
lonely years of mental and bodily pain, years that were a nightmare to
look back upon, were of his own contriving.  These three handsome young
fellows, of whom any relative might be proud—what an interest they would
have brought into his life, and to what better purpose could he have put
his money than to educate them and start them fair, upon a better
footing in the world, than could be attained by their own and his poor
niece Helen’s unaided efforts?  There were two more, he remembered,
conceivably as artless and ingenuous as the four of Hubert Le Mesurier’s
children with whom he was already acquainted.  What a fool, what a fool!
He saw it now, and all for what? Fancied slights, imaginary affronts,
from this or that member of the Westmacott family; probably the outcome
of a distorted mind, fed upon morbid fancies, rendered irritable by
bodily pain.  Real or fancied, they no way included his niece Helen; but
in shutting himself away from the world, his injustice had embraced all
within its narrow, bigoted bonds; contention and discord had rankled in
his poor, warped mind, and burned fiercely, with little or nothing to
feed the fire but his own imaginings.

As, in the long hours of the evening spent alone after Hazel’s visit,
when the determination came upon him to accept the invitation to go to
Hazelhurst, so, in the lonely night hours that followed the
entertainment provided by the Le Mesurier boys, did Percival Desborough
make up his mind to agree to Gerald’s proposal to run down with his
young relatives the following Saturday.



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*


"I don’t see how I can go on being engaged to you," Hazel announced.

It was a chilly day in October.  Autumnal tints abounded in splendour.
Hazel herself suggested autumn to Paul’s mind.  Her soft, nut-brown hair
was surmounted by a little scarlet cap, fur-trimmed; and she wore a
scarlet coat, edged also with brown fur. She seemed a combination of
wych-hazel and mountain ash.  They were driving in Paul’s trap, on
visiting intent.  The persons about to be honoured were Bobbie Boutcher
and Bobbie Boutcher’s mother.

"Why not?" Paul asked, in no wise visibly dismayed.

"The boys," Hazel declared tragically.  "You don’t know what I have to
endure: you have no idea. Even Uncle Percival teases now."

"What do they do?" Paul asked, much interested.

"Some of it is too—too awful to repeat," she averred solemnly.  "But the
names they call you—and me!"

"Give me an example," Paul said encouragingly.

"Yesterday, for instance," the girl pursued, "Teddie said: ’Hazel, I
have not seen old Peter for two whole hours: I wonder if he has fled the
country—you must not be too surprised if he has.’  Sometimes they call
you Moses, and bring up the old joke: Why is it known for certain that
Moses wore a wig—only, of course, they don’t apply it to you."

"I would not mind all that," Paul returned, laughing.

"There is one person who calls you Pau—calls you by your rightful
Christian name," the girl amended hastily, "and that is Uncle Percival;
but then he spoils it by putting the adjective ’elderly’ before it."

"How do you mean?" Paul asked, somewhat startled.

"Oh, it is a silly old joke," she answered scornfully. "Months ago," she
continued, with an emphasis that seemed to intimate years, "before I was
seventeen, I had an absurd notion that you were about middle-aged. Of
course, you are no longer young," she went on, in frank
self-justification; "but when I told him—Uncle Percival—that you were
over thirty, he asked if you were bald, and has ever since asked after
you as the elderly—er——" she hesitated, slightly embarrassed.

"Paul?" suggested that young man, and he broke into a hearty laugh.
"Child," he pursued, his laughter subsiding into a merriment something
mischievous, "can’t you even quote my Christian name, let alone call me
by it?"

"It comes to the same thing," Hazel returned severely, "and I don’t at
all see why one must call you by it, because one happens to be engaged
to you."

"You’ll have to come to it, Hazel.  What do you call me at home?"

"By it, sometimes," she admitted, "but I don’t often mention you."

"Would you not think me very stiff, if I called you Miss Le Mesurier?"
he asked, seeking to plead with her.

"Yes," she confessed, "but that is—that is different."  Then she glanced
up swiftly.  The appeal in his voice was not lost upon her, and she
wanted the evidence of her eyes to aid in reassuring herself, that he
was not really hurt—that he did not seriously care.  The eyes that met
hers were brimming with fun, but beneath shone love and tenderness—love
and tenderness so unmistakable, so all-convincing, that even Hazel could
read, though she hardly understood.  And just discernible, though on the
surface only, Hazel comforted herself, was a faint, wistful shadow, a
tiny cloud over the depth of brilliant happiness, and all because she
could not bring herself to take the leap—such a little leap it must
appear to him—of calling him Paul to his face.

"I will try some day," she said piteously, "but you must not mind if I
can’t.  You don’t mind, do you?" she asked anxiously.

"I should like to hear you say it, Hazel," he answered gravely,
tenderly.  "Is it so very hard, little one?"

For all answer the red cap nodded vigorously.

"Then I must be patient a while longer," he said, suppressing a sigh.
When would the child know her mind and love him?  It was inexpressibly
sweet, this shy reception of his loving attention and most inadequate
response to the warmth of his advances.  There was an indescribable
charm in the quick glance that returned his steady regard, in the
slight, cool pressure of the little hand that could only be retained in
his warm clasp very much against its will.  She still preferred the
presence of her beloved brothers with herself and Paul, to being alone
with him.

Then, to his comfort, a vivid recollection of her face recurred to his
mind, when he had told her he was going away for some months.  She had
faced round upon him quickly, looking very white and perplexed.

"But you can’t," she had persisted again and again. "You can’t—you are
engaged to me."

"I promised your mother that I would go," he returned, watching her face
closely.  "Only she can release me, but I shall not ask her to do so—it
would not be honourable.  Shall you care, Hazel?  Shall you miss me?"

But she would not tell him.

A few days later Helen, with her gentle smile, had most unexpectedly
cancelled the sentence of banishment.

"It is of no use your going, Paul," she had said. "The child will fret
and you—you will be miserable."

"And so you feel you cannot endure the boys’ banter?" Paul asked of his
companion, somewhat ruefully.

"Oh well," she answered cheerfully, "I must, for the present.  It is
rather nice being engaged to you," she continued naïvely, "and it is so
convenient."

"Convenient?" poor Paul echoed blankly.

"You see," she explained, "I never could get about anywhere: the boys
being almost always away, and Miles busy.  Besides, it was very lonely,
with only a servant, about twenty yards behind you.  But now, now I can
go great distances, in the trap if we wish, and we can talk, and
altogether it is very comfortable."

"Very," agreed Paul, at once amused and dismayed.

Something dry in the tone of his response made her look up quickly.

"I hope you don’t misunderstand me," she said timidly.  "I should not
like you to think I was only making use of you.  I—I am very fond of
you," she added, her voice sinking, "and I enjoy being engaged, very
much."

Paul sighed.  It was a great admission, this, from her; but oh, how
unsatisfying!  It was but a whet to his appetite, it made him hungrier
than ever.

A silence fell between them.

"You have not yet told me what the boys call _you_," he said presently,
trying to speak lightly.

"I really could not," she replied, and he was surprised and distressed
to see that she shrank from him, albeit the movement was scarcely
perceptible.

By dint of long and earnest persuasion he wrung from her a promise that
she would tell him—some time—and then, with a sense of being hunted and
driven to bay, their destination reached, Hazel, with a desperate
courage, feeling that she had better get over the inevitable at once,
seized the opportunity when Paul’s back was turned to her—whilst he
examined the horse’s hoof for a suspected stone—to whisper almost
inaudibly, somewhere near the region of his ear:

"Mrs. Charteris."

Paul caught the words, and, starting up to capture and question the
whisperer, was surprised to find that, quick as were his movements, he
was already too late. The small back of the future Mrs. Charteris was
already presented to him as she stood sedately, some yards away,
knocking at the door of the Boutchers’ cottage.

Mrs. Boutcher opened to Hazel with a gratified beam upon her shining,
pink, well-favoured countenance.

"You’re welcome, miss," she said, with a quaint, bobbing curtsey, "and
the gentleman too, I am sure. Won’t he come in, miss?  It is a poor
place, but he is heartily welcome."

Hazel glanced behind her.  Paul was securing the horse and trap to the
stone post of the gateway.

"Thank you," she returned, "Mr. Charteris will like to come in, I know.
We came to see little Bobbie, and I wanted to give you a pinafore for
him, that I have made all myself, after Mrs. Doidge had cut it out."

Bobbie himself, present, but invisible behind his mother’s back, was now
dragged forward.

"For shame!" Mrs. Boutcher exclaimed, gently shaking him.  "Don’t you
know the young lady what saved you from the very jaws?  Say ’’Ow do you
do?’ this moment, and none of your nonsense.  He’ll understand some day
what an obligation he is a-labouring under to you, miss," Mrs. Boutcher
hastened to explain apologetically.  "At present he is no more grateful
nor what he would ’ave been if you’d just let him be."

Hazel had been to see her _protégé_ twice before to-day, and found the
constant references to what Mrs. Boutcher termed her "’eroism" somewhat
embarrassing.  Nevertheless, the good woman’s conversation caused her
much diversion.  One singularity of hers was never to mention death by
name, though the meaning of the dread word was conveyed to her audience
frequently, in all manner of ingeniously wrapped up and elegantly
expressed phrases.

Paul came in, and Mrs. Boutcher, with ready hospitality, dusted a second
chair and asked him to be seated.

"And if I might make you a cup of tea after your drive, I’m sure I
should be honoured," she assured her guests.

She proceeded to bustle about, on hospitality intent, whilst Hazel lost
no time in coaxing Bobbie to come to her and try on his new pinafore.
She had a way of her own with children.  She did not appear to notice
the small individual himself, but seemed deeply interested in the toy he
held, and begged to look at it more nearly.  The boy drew nearer, lost
his shyness little by little, and was soon exhibiting his treasure and
expounding its many virtues to an apparently absorbed auditor.

"It is wonderful," Hazel commented.  "I have something in this parcel
besides the pinafore.  Come and sit on my knee and see if you can untie
the string."

Presently the child was seated in Hazel’s lap, contentedly eating
chocolates.  He was a pretty, fair-haired, blue-eyed boy, and Hazel felt
real affection for the little fellow.  Beside her innate love of
children, she felt a proprietary interest in Bobbie, whose life she had
undoubtedly saved.  Mrs. Boutcher regarded the pair with admiration and
maternal pride, her head on one side, a steaming kettle in her hand,
poised for discharging.

"Look at that, now!" she exclaimed, turning to Paul for sympathy, "and
him so shy as he’ll run away when the minister shows his face at the
door, as if it was the bogeyman’s."  She approached Paul and lowered her
voice.  "You’d never guess, not to look at him," she said
confidentially, "as it’s but three months ago as he was rescued from out
the Valley of the Shadow.  Dear me," she continued, shaking her head,
"yes, it was a mercy—not vouchsafed to all of us neither.  There was
Mrs. Jones’s now—she’s moved since, and it’s no wonder—her little boy
fell into the water, just as it might be my Bobbie, and he crossed the
River," she whispered hoarsely.

Paul looked relieved.

"The child could swim?  That was fortunate."

"Law bless you, no, sir.  Swim?  He went down like a stone in the middle
of the stream."

"I understood you to say he crossed the river," Paul explained,
nonplussed.

"The Jordan, sir," Mrs. Boutcher returned in a hushed voice, somewhat
shocked at the practical way in which her guest interpreted her words—it
was not clear to her whether in ignorance or wanton inadvertency—"the
River as we must all cross some day, to reach the Golden Shore."

Paul nodded comprehendingly.

"Poor little fellow," he murmured.

"You should hear our minister speak, sir," Mrs. Boutcher went on.  ’"E
just draws the tears to your eyes.  But you don’t attend our chapel?"

"No," Paul admitted, "but Miss Le Mesurier often takes me to church.  We
have a clever preacher there."

Hazel, catching her name, looked up.  "Yes, Mrs. Boutcher," she said,
"it is so nice.  I used to go very seldom: the boys were often lazy or
careless, and sometimes really tired after their week’s work.  Mother,
of course, could not go so far."

Mrs. Boutcher had fervently spread a fair white cloth, and poured out
two cups of tea.  She now begged her guests to be seated, and whilst
they refreshed themselves, she again took up the conversation.

"Our minister," she said solemnly, slowly shaking her head, "surpasses
all I ever ’eard in the preaching line.  Preach?  His father preached
afore him, and he has two sons what preach."

"A clever family," Paul commented.

Mrs. Boutcher’s feelings did not allow her to find words readily, but
presently she wisely gave up endeavouring to express herself, and went
on in lighter vein.

"It seems to come to them natural like, the moment they ascend the
pulpit.  It’s just child’s play to them, father and sons alike, as it
was child’s play to the minister’s father afore them."

For one brief moment the eyes of Paul and Hazel met, but they very
creditably maintained their gravity. Paul wondered what a clever
preacher, and a good earnest man to boot, would feel if he could hear
the strenuous endeavour, the never-ceasing watching, praying, and
battling of his life, pronounced child’s play.

Hazel could not let it pass.  "Mrs. Boutcher," she said gently, "we
surely cannot call the great and good work of clergymen child’s play to
them.  It is his work, is not it? and the cleverer he is the more he is
bound to do his utmost, as an artist would, for instance."

Mrs. Boutcher was not convinced.  "It may be with some," she admitted,
"but it’s no work to our minister, Miss.  You should hear him—it just
flows from him, with no effort on his part."

It began to dawn upon Hazel, that her hostess had not used the term
child’s play in its usual sense, a suspicion that was confirmed a little
later, when the good woman placed a large log upon the fire.

"That is a fine fellow," Paul remarked.  "Couldn’t I chop him in two for
you, Mrs. Boutcher?"

But the hospitable Mrs. Boutcher demurred.  "I could not think of
troubling you, sir.  To be sure, it’s a fine log," she agreed, "a
regular masterpiece."

Paul and Hazel did not stay long with the Boutchers: they had promised
themselves a half hour with the Traverses that afternoon.  They set
forth again, therefore, so soon as tea was finished, reaching The
Beeches within the space of a few minutes.

Hazel breathed again when, on entering the drawing-room, one glance
assured her that Digby was absent. There was the usual warm reception:
Doris, Phyllis, and Francis, who was present with his mother and
sisters, could not do enough for the young couple—surrounding them on
all sides, besetting them with questions and attentions.  Finally Hazel
was ensconced upon the sofa—in the very middle—with cushions at her
back, a hassock under her feet, Phyllis and Doris on either side of her,
and Francis gracefully reclining on the floor in front of her.  Mrs.
Travers and Paul were seated together a little apart from this sociable
group, but their interest seemed to be with it; the eyes of both were
directed upon it and upon the little gracious central figure, and Paul
could have embraced his hostess there and then for the affectionate
admiration and motherly pride that beamed from her kind eyes.

"I have congratulated you before," she said, turning to him, "many
times, but I must do so again.  I think you a very fortunate young man,
and, if I may say so, I also think you are worthy of your happiness,"
she added warmly.

"Ah no," disclaimed the devout lover, "who could be that?  But I shall
never cease to try to be so."

"Do you always do your hair up now?" asked Phyllis of Hazel.

"Always," she replied, "except week-ends, and when I am riding."

"Riding?" Phyllis and Doris exclaimed in unison, breathless with
interest.  "Oh, do you ride?  Who with?"

"With him," Hazel replied, nodding towards Paul, without looking at him.
"We go for the most lovely rides—twelve and fifteen miles."

"Oh, how lovely."  The breathless auditors were again in unison.

"I wish I was engaged," sighed Phyllis.

The elder sister nudged Hazel to gain her attention. "Try not to appear
too happy," she whispered earnestly. "You know the trouble I have with
her—how I try to keep her a child."

Hazel nodded sympathetically.  "But I am afraid I cannot help it," she
whispered back.  "I am so happy, you know.  What shall I do?" she added
helplessly.

"Can’t you hint that for many things you are sorry that childhood is
over?" suggested the demure maiden, anxiously regarding the fresh,
sweet, rosy face, the happy brown eyes.

"But I am not," Hazel replied, bluntly frank.

"Oh, Doris, don’t keep Hazel all to yourself," Phyllis exclaimed
plaintively.  "Hazel, have you got a riding habit?"

"Yes, a lovely one, made by a London tailor.  Uncle Percival gave it
me—he is always wanting to give me dresses, but mothie does not like him
to."

"What colour is it?" Doris asked, interested herself, and deeming her
little sister’s interest in this subject—and possible envy—legitimate.

"Brown," Hazel made answer—"almost exactly the colour of my horse."

"Your horse?"

"_He_ did," Hazel said, anticipating the question, again nodding in
Paul’s direction.

"How many hands?" inquired Francis from below. He had never taken his
eyes from Hazel’s face.

"Sixteen," she answered promptly.

"What breed?" he inquired further.

"Now, Francis," Phyllis said, "don’t begin a lot of your tiresome
farming questions.  Hazel, how brown it must all look!  I suppose one
can hardly notice whether your hair is down or not.  But why do you have
it down for week-ends?"

"The boys," Hazel explained laconically.  "It entices them to tease and
call me names if I have it up. Besides," she added resignedly, "they
only take it down, so what is the use?"

"So should I," observed Francis lazily.  "I wouldn’t have it up now, if
I were Charteris."

"But you look so fearfully young," she complained. "And you must
remember that I—I am an engaged wo—, that I am engaged, you know," she
amended.

"Perhaps I shall be in four or five years’ time," Phyllis said, with a
little eager bounce of anticipated pleasure.  "Oh, I wish the time would
come."

"Phyllis!" poor Doris remonstrated, appalled.  "Be young while you can,
dear," she urged.

"Hazel does not look any the older for it," retorted Phyllis.  "Oh,
Hazel, do tell us some of his pet names for you."

Hazel gasped and glanced hurriedly at Paul.  Paul, who had not caught
Phyllis’s words, smiled at her and wondered within himself whether he
read her glance aright: it seemed to appeal to him for help.

Francis came to the rescue.  "Look here, Phyllis," he expostulated,
"don’t make any more of an _enfant terrible_ of yourself than you need.
I say," he continued, tactfully seeking to change the conversation, "how
sick Digby will be when he hears that you called."

This announcement effectually turned the current of Hazel’s thoughts.
She tried to appear properly concerned, but relief and gratitude were
all that Francis could read in the look she turned upon him.

Paul somehow contrived to bring Mrs. Travers and himself nearer the
sofa, and the conversation became general.

When the adieux were made, Phyllis’s contrite look was rewarded by an
extra good-bye kiss and a forgiving little squeeze of Hazel’s hand.



                             *CHAPTER XIX*


But that was to befall which gave Hazel cause to wish that Digby Travers
had been present, during Paul’s and her visit to his father’s house.  It
would have proved uncomfortable, embarrassing, a sore trial of endurance
for the moment; but once over, once the inevitable first meeting after
the event of the engagement was ended, she could but have felt immensely
relieved, albeit her heart would have ached with compassion for the poor
young man, if, indeed, she saw reason for such emotion.  She was always
buoyed with the comfort of that doubt.  Perhaps he was no "lover."  He
and Paul were as the poles asunder; and Hazel could not doubt Paul.
Therefore, either Digby was not in love with her, or there were many
sorts of lovers and many grades of being in love. Paul seemed to be of a
somewhat high grade, she thought.

Hazel was walking through the Hazelhurst woods alone, pondering these
matters in her heart.  She had set out for an hour’s brisk exercise at
about three o’clock in the afternoon, intent upon completing a favourite
round within the limit of that time, a round that took her across the
comparatively open space where she was in the habit of feeding her pets,
past the great oak, down many winding paths to the boundary fence, then,
turning at right angles, a short way terminating in a hazel copse, and
thence home.

She walked rapidly: the early November air was chill and crisp, making
quick movement enjoyable and exhilarating.  The woods were almost
dismantled, but the many trees that were evergreen did not allow their
thinness to be very marked, nor their nakedness too pronounced.
Everywhere stood clumps of sturdy green that endured through all
changes, brave and gravely cheerful, as if possessed of spirit too
strong to know airy flights of imagination or mournful droopings of
soul.  They were never more than gravely cheerful, even in springtime’s
tremulous joy or summer’s triumphant glory: sober enough, indeed, to
give one—at such seasons—occasional vague feelings of irritation at
their seeming stolidness.  But ah! the gratitude with which one gazes
upon these reliable, impervious old friends, when all else green in the
dear woodlands is shrivelled and dead; whilst the more sensitive trees,
that undergo so many phases of experience, are fortifying themselves
with the long sleep of winter.

Hazel was grateful to the evergreens now, as she sped along, throwing
them many and admiring glances, vividly realising their sterling
qualities.  She was just emerging from the hazel copse, all aglow with
exercise, when a shadow fell across her path, and Digby Travers spoke
her name.

"At last," he said, "and alone."

Hazel’s presence of mind did not desert her.

"Why, Digby!" she exclaimed, "how did you know I was here?"

"It was rather early for calling when I arrived," he answered, somewhat
wearily, "so I strolled about in the woods; and presently I caught sight
of your scarlet coat through the trees."

It had been but one o’clock when the poor young man reached Hazelhurst,
and for two hours and more he had been roaming the woods.

"How dull you must have found it," she returned, a trifle puzzled.  "You
ought to have gone straight to the house.  Being early does not matter
with informal old friends.  Come with me now and have tea."

She was concerned for him: he was pale and haggard, but she dared not
express her sympathy too openly, and tried to appear brisk and
matter-of-fact.

"Tired!" echoed Digby Travers, in a somewhat hollow tone.  "If that were
all!"

"You are not ill?" she asked quickly, in alarm.

"I wish I were," he answered, with a short, mirthless laugh.  "I am sick
to death of living; but no, I am not ill in the ordinary sense of the
word.  I am fortunate to have met you," he continued.  "I have longed
and yearned to see you alone, if only for a few minutes, to satisfy
myself with my own eyes that you were happy."

It was not quite clear to Hazel why he must see her alone to ascertain
that fact, but she did not care to question him upon so delicate a
point.

"_Are_ you happy?" he asked, as she continued silent.

"Oh yes, very, thank you!" she assured him fervently.

But the assurance did not seem to gladden him.

"So I hoped and supposed," he rejoined, with increased gloom.  "And that
being so," he added, after a pause, "what does one crushed spirit
matter?"

"Do you mean yours?" asked Hazel blankly.

"I don’t blame you," he went on, evading the question.  "From the first
you tried to show me that my attentions were unwelcome, and I am a fool
not to have overcome my feelings long ago."

His words could leave no doubt in Hazel’s mind. He certainly was, or had
been, in love.  She was at a loss what to say to him, but she was,
nevertheless, profoundly pitiful, for occasional glimpses of
understanding were beginning to come to her; brief glimpses of
slow-dawning light, that grew grey again before any vivid pitch was
reached, were now and again permitted her youthful mind and tender
sensibilities, rendering her capable of a depth of compassion toward the
poor young man, that would surely have brought comfort to him, had she
but expressed something of what she felt.  And, all unknown to herself,
it was Paul’s influence and Paul’s teaching that were thus awakening her
woman’s heart.

"I am dreadfully sorry if I have crushed your spirit," she said at
length; "I never meant to.  I cannot quite imagine how it has come
about.  You have always had me for a friend, and you have me still.  Now
you have another friend in him, haven’t you?" she added, seeking to
cheer him.

Digby groaned.  Now indeed was he convinced that his suit was hopeless.
Il she had spoken of "Mr. Charteris," or even of "Paul," it might
conceivably mean that she had yet to learn her own mind; but when a girl
alludes to "him" simply, that girl was lost for ever to Digby Travers.

"You like him, don’t you?" Hazel pursued, slightly startled at the
reception that met her question.

"Oh yes, well enough, that is, very much," poor Digby stammered,
writhing under her innocent and puzzled look.  He could not, in justice
to Paul, feel that the girl’s heart had been stolen from him, for he
knew he had never for one moment possessed it. Yet there was always the
possibility that she might ultimately have grown to love him, if Paul
Charteris had not come between them.  And now he was asked to look upon
"him" as a friend!

"Then try to be happy," Hazel said persuasively, giving him her hand,
"and don’t feel crushed any more.  You shall—shall stay with us, you
know, often, and we will all be such friends.  Still, of course, that
will not be for years yet," she added, blushing.

But this was too much for his fortitude.  He dropped Hazel’s hand, and,
turning very pale, he walked a few steps unsteadily, leaned against a
tree as if for support, and, sinking his head upon his arm, stood
motionless, save for the laboured heaving of his breast. Hazel hovered
about him in greatest distress.

"Digby, Digby," she cried, "I never thought you would mind so much.  You
shall see a good deal of me; you shall indeed.  I will ask him—I will
ask him if he would mind your _living_ with us, if that would comfort
you," she added desperately.  "But you must wait.  We don’t want to—we
don’t want to do it yet for years."

"Hazel," Digby answered, speaking in short, panting breaths, "you don’t
know what you are saying.  How should you?  You are only a child.  But
for God’s sake, don’t tantalise a poor wretch like me with such cruel
words."

"Cruel?" poor Hazel exclaimed, with a sob.  "When I am thinking all the
time of what I can do and say and promise to comfort you!  What can you
mean, Digby?  And a child indeed!  Me a child!"

Digby raised his head, and regarded her with haggard eyes.  A very
tender smile played over his drawn features.  He seemed suddenly to have
become a grave and thoughtful man—ten years older than the Digby she had
known but a few months since.

"Yes," he said, quietly persistent, setting his back to the tree, and
folding his arms upon his breast, "a child, a sweet, kind, impulsive,
gentle little girl; and as such you are distractingly adorable.
Well"—he straightened himself and advanced a few paces—"God make the man
of your choice worthy of you, and capable of loving you as I would have
loved you."

"I did not exactly choose him," Hazel said quickly, seeking to justify
herself in Digby’s eyes, "he—he chose me.  Not but that I like being
engaged to him very much," she added hastily, fearful lest he should
misunderstand her.

But Digby understood her better than she understood herself.  He read
the new happiness in her face aright—the shy and almost tender light in
her eyes when she spoke of Paul.  And he envied Paul, as he had envied
no man yet, the hour to come when the realisation of her love for him
should dawn and break over her soul.  He smiled again, a brave smile,
and held out his hand.

"Good-bye," he said, making a resolute effort to compose himself.  "You
are just home: I will leave you here."

"You won’t come in?" she asked piteously, holding him fast.

"No," he said; "I could not face the others to-day. And don’t let me
feel I have been a brute and distressed you.  I shall get over it some
day—and——"

"Do you think you will soon?" Hazel asked eagerly, raising tearful eyes
to his face.

"Perhaps quite soon," he returned cheerfully, with a slight gulp.  "And
then, as you say, we shall all be friends.  Good-bye."  He wrung her
hand and walked abruptly away.

Hazel was not to be deceived by this sudden assumption of
lightheartedness.  She stood for a few moments looking after him.  He
did not look back—never even halted in his walk, but kept straight on,
turned a bend in the path and was gone.

She walked slowly through the flower garden, and, blinded by tears, went
stumbling up the steps, and would have fallen over the threshold if she
had not, instead, fallen into Paul’s arms, outstretched to receive her.
And there she remained passive, like a wounded bird, fluttered home.
Paul found the situation too blissful to risk the result of speaking for
the moment. But Hazel had no intention of moving just yet.  The breast
of that tweed coat, now that she was shut in before any alternative had
been given her, was a very convenient place, safe from his scrutiny; she
was conscious of a sense of comfort that began to steal over her, and
was vaguely surprised to find how very pleasant it was, to have strong
protecting arms about her, just when she was feeling weak and helpless
and sad.

He knew that she was crying, for he had seen her face as she came up the
steps.  He tried to obtain a glimpse of it now, but she kept it hidden
in his coat. He gently removed the red cap, and softly kissed the
tumbled hair.  He must know what it was that troubled her.  So,
tightening his hold, he asked her gently what the matter was.

"It is Digby," she answered, suppressing a rising sob. "It is all
dreadfully complicated.  He is very unhappy at my being engaged to you.
It—it seems that he wanted me himself."

Paul smiled broadly.  The next moment he was grave enough.

"What right had he to say such things to you—now? I must ask him to
explain himself," he rejoined.

Hazel could divine from the energy with which he spoke that Paul was
angry.

"If you want to fight," she said, a little nervous tremor running
through her, "you will have to wait.  He is too weak just now, he—he had
to lean against a tree to talk.  But oh, you would not be so unkind,
would you?  He is so unhappy," she added beseechingly.

"No, no," Paul hastened to reassure her.  "I don’t want to fight the
poor fellow.  But he ought to have been man enough not to have troubled
you, Hazel."

"He was so unreasonable," she went on.  "I tried to comfort him, and he
told me not to tantalise him with cruel words—_cruel_ he called them."

Hazel raised her head a moment in order to see what Paul thought of such
perverseness.  Paul, who made a very shrewd guess at the nature of
Hazel’s "comforting," hurriedly raised his hand and stroked his
moustache. Hazel’s head hastily resumed its former position, after one
brief glance.

"But he was very manly," she pursued earnestly, anxious to do poor Digby
justice.  "I have never known him so—so nice as he was just at the end.
He—he said he should get over it soon," she added, more cheerfully,
"but—but he does not seem to want to live with us."

"What?" Paul cried, with such vehemence that Hazel jumped.  "What?"

"He seemed so fond of me," Hazel explained modestly.  "So I said, if he
liked I would ask you if you would mind his living with us—in
after-years, you know.  I am sure _I_ did not want him," she added
plaintively.

"Hazel," Paul said, gently bantering, "I begin to see that to the
seclusion of your life alone is owed the fact that our future home will
not be overrun by disappointed swains."

By this time Hazel was so far recovered as to be able to emerge from her
place of hiding.  As she sought to release herself from the enfolding
arms, Paul bent his head and looked tenderly into her flushed,
tear-stained face.

"Little one," he whispered, "may I, just for once, kiss away those last
tears from your eyes?"

"Oh no, thank you," she said hastily, somewhat frightened at the
suggestion.  She proceeded energetically to dab her eyes, in order to
remove all temptation, and, making a more determined effort, succeeded
in freeing herself, Paul most reluctantly releasing her.

He opened the inner door of the hall.  As Hazel entered, her eyes fell
upon Hugh’s back, or, rather, upon the back of an easy-chair, above
which the top of Hugh’s head was revealed.  A fire blazed and crackled
on the hall hearth, and the young man was enjoying its warmth, very much
at his ease.  He and Paul had been up to town that morning, the former
to see his uncle; and, returning to Hazelhurst together, Hugh had soon
settled himself to marvel over the restlessness of a lover in the
absence of his beloved; whilst Paul, learning from Miles that Hazel was
out walking, had taken up his position on the threshold, impatient for
her coming, yet afraid to venture forth, not knowing by which way she
would come.

Hugh did not look round on their entrance: hearing Paul’s voice, he at
once concluded that Hazel had returned.  Hazel made her escape upstairs
to bathe her eyes.  After succeeding in removing all traces of her late
emotion, she entered Helen’s room to propose that her mother should come
with her and hear the result of Hugh’s visit to their uncle.  Helen
readily consented.  They were all much interested concerning Hugh’s
future prospects.  As for Paul Charteris, he was relieved as well as
interested; for the farce of Hugh as secretary was apparently about to
terminate most agreeably—a circumstance almost as pleasing to his
employer as to Hugh himself.  He was to study art for a time, and if he
fulfilled the hopes his uncle had been led to entertain of him, he was
to be provided with a studio of his own, and started in life.

"Don’t you trouble about finishing up work at my place, old fellow,"
Paul said to him.  "You will like some time off, before beginning the
new work."

Hugh readily acquiesced.  "All right.  I do feel the need of a bit of a
holiday," he admitted.

"So do I, by Jove," Teddie observed.  He and Gerald, noiselessly opening
the inner door, had overheard Hugh’s remark.  "Hullo, Mrs. Char—!
Hullo, Charteris, I did not see you."

The two proceeded to place hats, coats, and portmanteaux aside, whilst
the group about the hearth pushed their chairs farther back, at once
enlarging the circle and inviting the new-comers within its hospitable
radius.

"If I had not completely forgotten it was Saturday!" Hugh commented,
regarding his brothers something patronisingly, as one to whom all days
in the week were alike, so far as momentous settings forth and comings
in were concerned.  For was not Hugh a gentleman at large?

Gerald and Teddie did not take possession of the two vacant chairs that
Hazel—who had not forgotten to expect them—had been careful to provide,
preferring to seat themselves upon the rug and support their backs
against mother and sister, in such pose as should render the stroking of
the two curly heads a natural and easy occupation.

When Hugh’s affair had been thoroughly discussed, Helen produced two
letters from her absent sons, Guy and Cecil, each announcing his
intention of being home for Christmas.  Further debate followed this
gratifying news; and many and ingenious were the propositions tendered
by the Le Mesurier boys for the entertainment of their brothers; till
interruption on the part of Miles roused them all to a sense of the
present, and to the necessity of dispersing, in obedience to the
butler’s peremptory injunctions, as voiced by the gong.



                              *CHAPTER XX*


Teddie Le Mesurier sat in the inner office with his superior.  Mr.
Hamilton had a knack of contriving to get the boy to himself, in a
manner which eluded the particular notice of the other young men in his
employment, and which seemed always perfectly natural and without
artifice.  Neither did Mr. Hamilton keep rigorously silent throughout
the long working-hours; for, greatly as he believed in discipline,
Teddie’s ingenuous talk had an odd fascination for this elderly man,
bereft of an only son; and there were times when, if not directly
encouraged to lay aside his pen, Teddie at least found a most attentive
and appreciative auditor, when he was pleased to regale his friend with
stories and anecdotes pertaining to his and his brothers’ younger years.

"Get on with your work, my boy," Mr. Hamilton would say, with a
brusqueness that was supposed to cover any ill-concealed delight that
might have been apparent to Teddie; whilst many a burst of hearty
laughter was of a sudden checked, in the hope that such mirthful sounds
had not yet reached the ears of those in the outer office: thus seeking
to save his own dignity, and his young friend from any possible
ill-feeling among his colleagues.

To-day Teddie had not been invited to sit in the private office; but,
preferring Mr. Hamilton’s society to that of his fellow-clerks, and
calling to mind that the leather-padded chair was more desirable than
his own high stool, and that the writing-table was pleasanter to write
upon than his own desk, he decided to make use of these advantages.

Gathering together his working materials, he walked boldly in, after a
slight but withal a defiant knock, seated himself, and was immediately
profoundly wrapped in his task.  Mr. Hamilton looked up, somewhat
surprised, coughed to gain the young man’s attention, and ejaculated:
"Well, upon my word!"  But Teddie, beyond one abstracted look and
mechanical nod, sat on imperturbable, his elbows on the table, his
fingers run through his hair, so deeply immersed—only, indeed, altering
his attitude for the purpose of distractedly turning over papers—that
Mr. Hamilton, passing his hand over his moustache, and giving vent to a
suppressed chuckle, at length desisted from his attempts to attract
Teddie’s eye or ear, glad enough not to press for an explanation of such
unaccustomed behaviour; for he liked the boy’s company above any other,
and was secretly flattered that Teddie had evinced a similar feeling.
But he decided that the young rogue, as he mentally termed him, should
not go unpunished.

It was early—about ten; work for the day was but just begun.  For two
long hours not a word was exchanged.  Soon Teddie’s most exaggerated
ardour began to wane.  He plunged his fingers into his hair less
feverishly, and turned over papers in a less distraught manner.  Slowly
but surely he assumed his normal bearing: calm was succeeded by
lassitude. Teddie yawned, stretched, fidgeted, and drummed softly with
his fingers upon the table.  Never had he known his superior so
unsociable.

Finally he leaned back in his chair and deliberately regarded Mr.
Hamilton, upon whom he had hitherto bestowed only fleeting and furtive
glances.  All to no purpose: his companion remained deeply engrossed
with the work in hand.  Never had Teddie known him so utterly impervious
to his surroundings.  In the outer office he knew well enough that
occasional murmured remarks were made now and again, or a joke was
cracked: all helping to pass the tedium of the long morning with less
insupportable dryness than seemed to be his fate here.  Three hours had
now elapsed in unbroken silence.  With an impatient sigh he languidly
resumed his work.  But that sigh was too much for the soft-hearted side
of Mr. Hamilton’s nature.  He looked up.  Teddie was viciously making a
full-stop with the point of a long-suffering pen.  In truth, so hard had
he dug into the paper that the withdrawal of the pen caused a splutter
of ink, destroying the fair surface of the foolscap.  With a
low-breathed imprecation he, too, looked up, somewhat guiltily, and met
his companion’s eyes.

"You don’t seem quite so busy just now," Mr. Hamilton observed drily.

"No," Teddy returned shortly.  "Hang it all," he added, in his old,
peppery way, "a fellow cannot keep up the pace that I have been going
these three hours and more."

He certainly had done more in those three hours than he often achieved
in a day, the elder man noted with amusement.

"Perhaps you have leisure to answer a question or two?" he asked
cheerfully.  "I am rather puzzled. I am not aware that I had expressed a
wish—that I had, in short, asked any one to come in this morning. You
were so very busy, I did not care to disturb you by inquiring why you
had come."

Teddy was somewhat abashed, but he still looked his interlocutor
squarely in the eyes.

"I thought perhaps it was a bit dull in here for you alone," he said
coolly.  "I don’t care where I sit; but this chair and table are more
comfortable than that rotten stool and desk."

"So you put up with my company for the sake of the more agreeable
furniture?" Mr. Hamilton rejoined, eyeing him keenly.

"As to that, your company is good enough," Teddie admitted.  "I thought,
you know," he added, dropping his pen on the floor and diving after it,
"we might get on rather well, if this table were looked upon as mine."

Mr. Hamilton was conquered.  "Put your work away, and let us have a chat
before going out to lunch," he said.  "And yes, my boy," he added
genially, "suppose we consider that your table, and let us for the
future share this room together.  What do you say?"

"Done," Teddie resumed briefly.  But his companion was content with the
reply.  The boy had flushed up and was looking immensely gratified.

At this juncture there came a knock on the door, and a clerk entered to
say, that Mr. Desborough’s servant desired to speak with Mr. Le
Mesurier.  In some wonder Teddie followed him into the outer office,
and, taking the man apart, asked his business.

"My master is very ill, sir," Thomas returned, "and is asking to speak
with you, sir."

"What is the matter with him?" Teddie asked, blankly.

"The doctors don’t exactly say, sir, but the heart’s action is giving
out, as I understand it.  Can you come at once, sir?  It is a matter of
a few hours, at best."

Teddie nodded and re-entered the inner office, to acquaint Mr. Hamilton
with the sad intelligence.

"You had better take a cab and be off instantly," was his kindly advice.

And Teddy, accompanied by the man, followed his counsel, only stopping
at a telegraph office on the way, to ask Helen to come to Lancaster
Gate.

A doctor turned from the bedside as Teddie entered his uncle’s room.  He
motioned the young man aside, and laid great stress upon not exciting
the patient, and expressed the opinion that relatives should be informed
of the approaching end.

Teddie was relieved to see his uncle look much as usual.  In his utter
inexperience he had supposed the fatal illness must inevitably have
worked terrible havoc in his appearance.  Beyond accentuation of the
lines, with which age and suffering had furrowed his face, the boy could
perceive but little change.

At once reassured, he grasped the feeble hand that was held out to him,
and began to pour forth boyish words of cheer and comfort, bringing a
smile to his uncle’s lips.

"This is only a bad attack.  You’ll be over it in no time," he assured
him.  "Doctors are mostly old women and love croaking.  Shall I shake up
your pillow?" he asked, at a loss what to say or do next, "and—and give
you a dose of medicine?"

"Teddie," Mr. Desborough said—and at the sound of his voice Teddie’s
hope sank again—"Teddie, we must look this thing squarely in the face.
I am dying, my boy, and I sent for you.  I had one or two things to
speak of.  I leave all I have, unconditionally, to my niece Helen, which
circumstance you will all learn soon enough now.  But what I wanted to
say is this.  That little sister of yours, my little Hazel"—his face
softened strangely as he spoke her name—"who has always been wanting to
’earn money,’ to quote her own words"—again he smiled—"for the most
unselfish purposes, ought to be told that she, and she alone, has
redeemed the fortunes of her house.  But for her I should never have
become reconciled to my niece Helen, or learned to love her and her
children."

"It was my intention," he continued, after pausing to rest, "to leave
all to Hazel; but she will be well provided for; and I know her well
enough to feel convinced that, were she here, she would tell me how
infinitely she would prefer that this money should restore the old home
and the old name to their former status.  The child can then go to her
new home, and enter upon her new life with a light heart. Will you tell
her this from me?"

Something gripped Teddie’s throat.  "All right," he said huskily, "I’ll
tell her."

"As for you, my boy, you are not going to refuse, for your own part, to
be benefited by your old uncle’s money, in that hot-spirited way of
yours?" Mr. Desborough asked, half anxious, half amused.

Teddie cleared his throat.  "No, no," he assured the dying man, "we will
take it and use it.  But, I say, uncle, hang the money," he burst out.
"Don’t talk like this.  You have got years to live yet.  You get well
and let us all go on in the good old way. Why, mother and Hazel were
saying how they hoped you would spend Christmas with us, and
we—they—think an awful lot of you.  Don’t go and die yet."

A gleam of pure and genuine happiness passed over the face on the
pillow.  He was not to die, then, quite unmourned; and as for this
warm-hearted boy and his little pet, Hazel, and his niece Helen, for the
matter of that, he could believe that they would rather keep the crusty
old relative among them than be possessed of his money, incredible as it
seemed.

"I should like to see Helen," he said suddenly, and he looked wistfully
at his young nephew.  "Do you think she could come?"

"I have already telegraphed to her," Teddie replied; "she could be here
by about five o’clock, I think."

At about that time Helen arrived, eager to be of use, if only to help to
comfort the last hours of the poor life that was slipping away.  She sat
by his bed and talked softly to him in her gentle, affectionate way,
careful not to agitate or excite him, keeping all painful subjects from
his thoughts.  Once, despite her endeavours, he began to blame himself,
and Helen was infinitely touched at the yearning and distress his eyes
expressed, at the bitterness his words evinced, for the long years of
estrangement from her and her children.

"Do not blame yourself too much," she said tenderly.  "I, too, was
wrong.  I ought to have pushed my way into your heart and forced you to
love me, instead of allowing you to shut me out. My only excuse, dear
uncle, lies in the fact that I was poor and you were rich, and I shrank
from the possible construction that might have been put upon my
behaviour by others, had I seemed to force my friendship upon you.  Now
I see that such shrinking was morbid and selfish.  So, dear uncle, don’t
be troubled any more.  We understand each other now, and freely do we
forgive one another.  Is it not so?"

He made no answer, but feebly returned the pressure of her hand.

"All is well with you," she murmured presently, as she noted the weary
droop of his eyelids.  "All is well and happy.  We all love you.  Think
only of that—we all love you, we all love you."

She murmured the words again and again.  They seemed to soothe the dying
man, as a lullaby might soothe a little child, who had awakened,
distressed, from a bad dream.  His eyes closed, a tranquil expression
spread over his worn features, and he sank into sleep, still grasping
his niece’s hand.

From this childlike slumber he passed gradually, peacefully, into that
sleep, the beatific happiness of whose dreams was already stamped upon
the face, smoothing away all troubled lines, leaving a slight, strange
smile upon the lips.

Thus the troublous life, that had somehow missed happiness, passed away
to the keeping of Him who understands all things, so fully, so widely,
so comprehensively, that in His eyes there remains but little to
forgive: for such is the Divine Compassion.



                             *CHAPTER XXI*


Hazel was standing before the mirror in her room, thoughtfully fastening
her riding habit. "It is _beginning_ to get shabby," she reflected; "but
as he says I am never to wear anything but brown for riding, there is no
purpose in having another made for the sake of change: dark green, for
instance.  I wonder whether he would find a name for me in dark green.
Let me see: in brown I am Wych-hazel; in my scarlet coat I am Witch; and
in my white dresses I am just Hazel—in rather a special voice, of
course," she reminded herself, blushing.  "But dark green——"

"What name would you give me if I had a dark green dress?" she asked, a
while later, as she and Paul Charteris brought their horses from a brisk
canter to a walk.

"Moss Rose, of course," he answered, without hesitation.  "I am so glad
that Uncle Percival insisted that no one should wear mourning for him.
I should not like to see you in black, child.  It would look tragic, and
I don’t know what I could call you."

"Won’t Teddie find it funny going back to college, after being a clerk
so long?" Hazel said, laughing.

Paul agreed.  "When are you going to call me Paul?" he asked of a
sudden.  "I am longing to hear you."

Hazel looked dubious.  "Some people never do," she answered, desirous of
showing him she was not peculiar. "We once knew a man named John
Dalrymple, and his wife called him Mr. Dalrymple, and when she was very
friendly, just Dalrymple, but never John."

"Then suppose you begin by calling me Charteris," he suggested.

"Perhaps I don’t feel friendly enough," she returned mischievously.
"Shall I go ahead here, or will you?"

They had entered upon a bit of woodland, through which a bridle track
led to the open country beyond. It was a somewhat dangerous path to
traverse on horseback, save in the full light of day: for here and there
a far-stretching tree would reach out a powerful limb, as though to stay
the rider’s further progress; and, as if angered at the prudence of the
low-ducking horseman, would make a desperate endeavour to clutch at his
hat.  It successful in this attempt, the trophy would be flung to the
ground in malicious glee, causing a considerable amount of trouble to
the hapless owner; there being nothing for it but to rein up, dismount,
and retrace the distance already passed over to recover the ill-used
headgear.

Under foot the way was smooth enough, well beaten, and, to-day,
frost-bound; so that no distraction offered itself to divert the mind
from close attention to these dangers overhead.

It was a lovely scene.  Dew and frost had combined to set a sparkling
filigree upon patches of bracken, whilst in the less-sheltered spots
whole groups of trees stood as if carved in white glistening coral, the
knots and articulations of each massive trunk, shapely branch, and twig
clearly defined against a sky of such steely blue, that the scarlet of
the holly berries was rendered doubly vivid in compliment, and the
shining dark blue-green of the holly leaves looked almost cruel in the
strength and sharpness of their stiff outline—the hard, even curves
between the tiny spikes seeming only to serve to strengthen the
merciless little weapons, as though Nature, in her vein of architect,
was aware of the support lying within the arch-like fashion of shape,
and revelled in the knowledge.  Upon the ground dead leaf-drifts in
masses shimmered white and hard-caked together; hollow hazel-nuts and
dry alder cones lay stiff and stark; touchwood abounded—all wreckage of
the passing year, most beautiful in death, keeping life in whatsoever it
covered, giving warmth and protection to delicate root and bulb, to grey
lichen and green mosses; whilst the dead brake fern helped to nurse next
year’s glory of bracken—all jealously guarding the priceless treasures
locked within the earth, showing that death is not vain.

Rest in life was upon all things; beautiful in itself and in the promise
it gave forth.  For oh, the transcendent loveliness of a few months
later, when Nature should arise from her long, long beauty-sleep,
warm-flushed, star-eyed, instinct with tender vigour, to bathe in dew
and sun baths!

Hazel gazed upon the undergrowth with reflecting knowledge.  It was one
of her delights to separate with the eye, briar and bramble,
whortleberry and woodrush, from out the delicious tangle it exhibited,
to paint and fashion it all in spring colours and shapes of scarlet
bells and purple berries.

Now and again Paul looked round at the girl, smiling to himself at her
abstracted face and mien.  Twice he called to her to beware of a
treacherous branch, and Hazel obediently ducked.  He was about to do so
on a third occasion, when that befell which, terrible as it appeared to
Hazel, left Paul thankful in that the seeming mischance wrought him
nothing but good, and bid him enter into his man’s heritage: a woman’s
love—to taste of its fulness.  For, in an unguarded moment, when stress
of emotion had unlocked the close-fastened child-heart, there was no
time to secure it again before Paul had entered and taken full
possession.

At the moment of turning in the saddle to call Hazel’s attention to the
third and last limb along the track, that threatened danger, his horse
had sighted a wheel-barrow—left by some woodsman beside the
pathway—before it stood revealed to his master; and, swerving, with a
sudden leap plunged forward, dashing his rider against the low-hanging
bough that, with nice calculation, he had given himself ample time to
avoid, had not the unforeseen so altered the measured pace that the
riders had adopted.

Struck full in the chest, Paul’s progress was effectually stayed, the
startled animal swept from under him, and the next moment he was
stretched his length upon the ground.

With a low cry of dismay, so soon as she could check her horse’s wild
curvetting, before, indeed, bringing him to a stand, Hazel slipped from
her saddle and, speeding to the spot, knelt beside Paul’s inanimate
form.  In an agony of tender solicitude she raised his head, that her
arm might pillow it.  The ground was slightly stained with blood from a
small scalp wound and, in most unwonted sort—for the girl was ever prone
to look at all ills in their best and most hopeful aspect—Hazel was
under the appalling conviction that her lover was dead.

Lowering his head again, she opened his coat and waistcoat and placed a
little, trembling hand upon his heart, but could detect no motion.  She
bent her cheek near his mouth, but the cold air permitted no warm breath
to penetrate to her senses.  In wild grief the poor girl called
frantically upon his name.

"Paul, Paul," she cried; "Oh, Paul, darling old fellow!  I am saying it
now, but you can’t hear me! I am kissing you, Paul, but you can’t feel
it!  You are dead—dead—and can never know that at last your Wych-hazel
was able to tell you how she loved you!"

And, with a piteous little moan, the stricken child sank down beside
him, and with her head upon his breast, one arm flung appealingly about
his neck, she mercifully lost consciousness.

Paul, who was but momentarily stunned, heard her without at once being
able to rouse himself from the stupor into which the fall had thrown
him.  In dreamy delight he drank in the words that fell upon his ears,
even while he could not comprehend their full import. He felt two
tremulous kisses upon his cheek; but it was not till her voice fell
silent and he felt her weight against him, that he realised she had
fainted.

Then necessity came to his aid.  With a desperate effort he shook
himself free from the torpor of mind and body, and succeeded in
collecting his wandering senses.  Placing his arm about the unconscious
girl, he raised himself to a sitting posture, and proceeded to chafe the
hand that his movement had caused to slip from his neck to his breast,
whilst in his turn he called her name, beseeching her to open her eyes.
And presently Hazel, with a little fluttering sigh, obeyed his agonised
appeal, and, opening her eyes, looked up into his face, while Paul
talked softly and watched consciousness returning to their depths.

Lying there, placid and content as a little child, the memory of what
had happened of a sudden flooded her mind.  Paul was smiling quietly
upon her, and, strangest of all, was looking quite his usual self!  The
fearful dread her heart had held, rendered her speechless for a moment,
wrapped in silent thanksgiving.

Then she drew away from him and rose to her feet.

"Are you hurt?" she asked.  "Do you think you can move up and down,
however slowly, while I look for your horse?  You must not freeze, you
know."

Paul had risen also, and, pacing backward and forward, declared himself
quite unhurt and well able to search for his truant steed.

Hazel’s horse was in the near neighbourhood, restlessly moving from
place to place; nor was the other far to seek.  The animal had been but
momentarily startled: his panic having quickly subsided, he could now be
heard whinnying at a short distance from the scene of the misadventure.
In a few minutes Paul had secured both bridles, and at Hazel’s
suggestion they retraced on foot the woodland pathway, after she had
trundled the cause of the mischief—the woodsman’s wheelbarrow—deeper
into the wood, lest some other hapless rider should meet with like
calamity.

As she grew more and more assured that Paul was really none the worse, a
very agony of shyness seized upon Hazel.  What had she confessed in
those moments, when unspeakable desolation had fallen upon her soul? And
how much had Paul heard and understood?  She took occasion to glance
furtively at him, as they two rode slowly homeward, side by side.  It
was generally to find him regarding herself with a new happiness in
every line of his countenance and added light to his eyes, such as
greatly disquieted her.

Arrived at Hazelhurst, Hazel acquainted her mother with the
circumstances of the accident.  After dressing the slight hurt with the
aid of her daughter, Helen insisted upon rest and refreshment before
Paul should be allowed to depart for home, despite the shortness of the
distance between the two houses.

So that dark was falling when he bade his kind hostess farewell, and
Hazel accompanied him to the door.

Emboldened by the dimness of the fading light, she crept close up to
him, bending her head that he should not study her face.

"You—you knew what I thought?" she asked, trembling a little.

"Yes, poor child," he answered tenderly, stroking the soft hair.

She guessed by his half-soothing, half-bantering tone, that he divined
her thoughts.  Creeping yet closer, she placed her two hands upon his
breast.  His own closed over them.

"You—you heard?" she whispered, her eyes downcast.

Then he had pity upon her.

"Hazel," he said earnestly, "I heard you say you loved me, and I heard
you call my name.  But it was not till you fainted that I was able to
rouse myself."

He might have added he could yet feel the two timid kisses that had
fallen upon his cheek, but he was merciful.

A silence fell between them.  Hazel was wrestling with her shyness.  She
must know.

In desperation she raised her head and looked quickly into his face.
Her lips parted, but it was a quick blush that asked the question.

"And that too, little love," he murmured.



                                 FINIS





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