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Title: Mignon - or, Bootles' Baby
Author: Winter, John Strange
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mignon - or, Bootles' Baby" ***

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



                                  MIGNON


                               A Novelette

                             BY J. S. Winter

            AUTHOR OF “CAVALRY LIFE” AND “REGIMENTAL LEGENDS”

                                * * * * *

                               ILLUSTRATED

                                * * * * *

    _Books you may hold readily in your hand are the most useful_, _after
                                     all_

                                                               DR. JOHNSON

                                * * * * *

                                 NEW YORK

                      HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS

                                   1885



ILLUSTRATIONS

“Let’s go and have a look at it.”                                      17
Bootles, proud of his new accomplishment, lifted the child awkwardly   21
in his arms.
“I can’t condemn that helpless thing to the workhouse.”                33
Mignon’s own–illustration.                                             37
Mrs. Gray rose and went close to him, laying her hand upon his arm.    43
But Lacy was already on the ground, and caught Miss Mignon out of      55
harm’s way.
“What a lot of medals you’ve got!”                                     59
In another moment they had drawn up at the great gothic doorway.       73
Lacy was occupied in making desperate love to the Russian lady.        83
Then with one imploring backward look she went away and left him       89
alone.
He dropped into a chair and took her in his arms.                      93
The swarming crowd round the other was watching a more exciting race   103
than that which they had just witnessed.
A race between life and death.                                         107
Bootles watched them—the two things he loved best on earth.            117



CHAPTER I.


IT was considerably after midnight when one of three officers seated at a
whist-table in the mess-room of the Cavalry Barracks at Idleminster,
where the Scarlet Lancers were quartered, called out, “Bootles, come and
take a hand—there’s a good chap.”

Captain Algernon Ferrers, more commonly known as “Bootles,” looked up.

“I don’t mind if I do,” he said, rising and moving towards them.  “What
do you want me to do?  Who’s my partner?”

The three other men stared at one another in surprise, for Bootles was
one of the best whist-players in the regiment, and in an ordinary way
would as soon have thought of counting honors as of settling the
questions of partners other than by cutting, except in the case of a
revenge.

“Why, take a card, of course, my friend,” laughed Lacy, in a ridiculously
soft voice.  Lacy was a recent importation from the White Dragoons, and
had taken possession of the place left vacant in Bootles’s every-day life
by Scott Laurie’s marriage.

“Ah, yes; to be sure—cut, of course.  I believe,” said Bootles, looking
at the three faces before him in an uncertain way—“I believe I’ve got a
headache.”

“Oh, nothing like whist for a headache,” answered Hartog, turning up the
last card.  “Ace of diamonds.”  However, after stumbling through one
game—after twice trumping his partner’s trick, a revoke, and several such
like blunders—he rose to his feet.

“It’s no use, you fellows; I’m no good to-night—I can’t even see the
cards.  Get some one to take my place and make a fresh start.”

“Why, you’re ill, Bootles,” cried Preston.  “What is it?”

“It’s a devil of a headache,” answered Bootles, promptly.  “Here’s
Miles—the very man.  Goodnight.”

“Good-night,” called the fellows after him.  Then they settled down to
their game, and Preston dealt.

“Never saw Bootles seedy before,” said Lacy.

“Oh yes; he gets these headaches sometimes,” answered Hartog.  “Not
often, though.  Miles, your lead.”

Meantime Bootles went wearily away, almost feeling his road under the
veranda of the mess-rooms, along the broad _pavé_ in front of the
officers’ quarters, and up the wide flight of stone steps to his rooms
facing the green of the barrack square.  Being the senior captain, with
only one bachelor field-officer in the regiment, he had two large and
pleasant rooms, not very grandly furnished, for, though a rich man, he
was not an extravagant one, and saw no fun in having costly goods and
chattels to be at the tender mercies of soldier servants; but they were
neat, clean, and comfortable, with a sufficiency of great easy
travelling-chairs, plenty of fur rugs, and lots of pretty little pictures
and knickknacks.

The fire in his sitting-room was fast dying out, but a bright and
cheerful blaze illumined his sleeping-room, shining on the brass knobs of
his cot, on the silver ornamentations at the corners of his
dressing-case, on three or four scent bottles on the tall
cretonne-petticoated toilette table, and on the tired but resplendent
figure of Bootles himself.

He dragged the big chair pretty near to the fire, and dropped into it
with a sigh of relief, absolutely too sick and weary to think about
getting into bed just then.  As Hartog had said, sometimes these
headaches seized him, but it did not happen often; in fact, he had not
had one for more than a year—quite often enough, he said.

Well, he had been lying in the big and easy chair, his eyes shut and his
hands hanging idly over the broad straps which served for arms, for
perhaps half an hour, when to his surprise he heard a soft rustling
movement behind him.  His first and not unnatural thought was that the
fellows had come to draw him, so, without moving, he called out, “Oh!
confound it all, don’t come boring a poor devil with a headache.  By
Jove, it’s cruelty to animals, neither more nor less.”

The soft rustling ceased, and Bootles closed his eyes again, with a
devout prayer that they would, in response to this appeal, take
themselves off.  But presently it began again, accompanied by a sound
which made his heart jump almost into his mouth, and beat so furiously as
to be simply suffocating.  It stopped—was repeated—“_The_—DEVIL,”
muttered Bootles.

But it was not the devil at all—more like a little angel, in truth; for
after a moment’s irresolution he sprang from his chair and faced the
horror behind him.  It really was a horror to him, for there, sitting up
among the pillows of the cot, with the clothes pushed back, was a baby, a
baby whose short golden curls shone in the fire-light—a little child
dressed in white, with a pair of wide-open, wondering eyes, as bright as
stars and as blue as sapphires.

Bootles stood in dismay staring at it.

“Where, in the name of all that’s wonderful, did _you_ come from?” he
asked aloud, keeping at a safe distance lest it should suddenly start
howling.

But the little stranger did not howl; on the contrary, as its bewildered
eyes fell upon Bootles’s resplendent figure, his gold-laced scarlet
jacket and gold-embroidered waistcoat of white velvet, his gold-laced
overalls and jingling spurs, it stretched out its little arms and cried,
“Boo, boo, boo—!”

Bootles took a step back in his surprise, and his headache vanished as if
by magic.

“By—Jove!” he exclaimed.

“Boo—boo—boo!” crowed the usurper of the cot, cheerily.

Bootles went a step nearer.  “Why, you’re a queer little beggar,” he
remarked.  “Where did you come from, eh?”

The “queer little beggar” suddenly changed its tone, and started another
system of crowing more triumphant and cheery than the first.

“Chucka—chucka—chucka—chuck!” it went.

Bootles began to laugh.  “Can’t talk, hey?  Well, what do you want?” as
it struggled fiercely to rise, and stretched out its small arms more
impatiently than before.  “Want to be lifted up, hey?  Oh, but dash it,”
scratching his head perplexedly, “I can’t lift you up, you know; it’s out
of the question—impossible.  By Jove, I might let you drop and smash
you!”

“Chucka—chucka—chucka!  Boo—oo—oo!” gobbled the baby, as if it were the
best joke in the world.

Bootles positively roared.

“You don’t mind?  Well, come along, then,” approaching very gingerly, and
wondering where he should begin to get hold of it, so to speak.

The baby soon settled that question, holding out its arms towards his
neck.  Then somehow he gathered it up and carried it in doubt and
trepidation to the big chair by the fire, where the creature sat
contentedly upon his knee, the curly golden head resting against his
scarlet jacket, the soft fingers of one baby hand tight twined round one
of his, the other picking and wandering aimlessly about the scrolls and
curves of the gold embroidery on his waistcoat.

“By Jove! you’re a jolly little chap,” said Bootles, just as if it could
understand him.  “But the question is, where did you come from, and
what’s to be done with you?  You can’t stop here, you know.”

The babe’s big blue eyes raised themselves to his, and the fingers which
had been twined round his made a grab at his watch-chain.

“Gar—gar—garr—rah!” it remarked, in such evident delight that Bootles
laughed again.

“Oh, you like it, do you?  Well, you’re a queer little beggar; no mistake
about that.  I wonder whom you belong to, and where you live when you are
at home?  Can’t be a barrack child—too dainty-looking and not slobbery
enough.  And this dress”—taking hold of the richly embroidered white
skirt—“this must have cost a lot; and it’s all lace too.”

He knew what embroidery cost by his own mess waistcoats and his tunics.
Then not only was the dress of the child of a very costly description,
but its sleeves were tied up with Cambridge blue ribbons that were
evidently new, and its waist was encircled by a broad sash of the same
material and tint.  Altogether it was just such a child as he was
occasionally called upon to admire in the houses of his married brother
officers; yet that any lady in the regiment would lend her baby for a
whole night to a set of harum-scarum young fellows for the purpose of
playing a trick on a brother officer was manifestly absurd.  And besides
that, Bootles was so good-natured and such a favorite with the ladies of
the regiment that he thought he knew all their babies by sight, and he
became afraid that this one was indeed a little stranger in the land,
welcome or unwelcome.

Yet if it was the fellows’ doing, where had they got it?  And if it was
not the fellows’ doing, why should any one leave a baby asleep in his
cot?  The whole thing was inexplicable.

Just then the child, in playing with his chain, slipped a little on the
smooth cloth of his overalls, and Bootles, with a “Whoa! whoa, my lad!”
hauled it up again.  In doing so he felt a piece of paper rustle
somewhere about the embroidered skirt.

“A note.  This grows melodramatic,” said Bootles, craning his head to
find it.  “Oh, here we are!  Now we shall see.”

The note was written in a firm, large, yet thoroughly feminine hand, and
ran thus:

    “You will not absolve me from my oath of secrecy respecting our
    marriage, though now that I have offended you, I may starve or go to
    the work-house.  I cannot break my oath, though you have broken _all_
    yours, but I am determined that you _shall_ acknowledge your child.
    I am going to leave her to-night in your rooms with her clothes.  By
    midnight I shall be out of the country.  I do this because I have
    obtained a good situation, and because when I reach my destination I
    shall have spent my last shilling.  I give you fair warning, however,
    that if you desert the child, or fail to acknowledge her, I will
    break my oath and proclaim our marriage.  If you engage a nurse she
    will not be much trouble.  She is a good and sweet-tempered child,
    and I have called her Mary, after your dear mother.  Oh, how she
    would pity me if she could see me now!  Farewell.”

From that moment Bootles absolved “the fellows” from any share in the
affair; but what to do with the child he had not the least idea.

“It is the very devil,” he said aloud, watching the busy fingers still
playing with his chain.

He gathered it awkwardly in his arms, and rose to look for the clothing
spoken of in the letter.  Yes, there it was, a parcel of goodly size,
wrapped in a stout brown paper cover, and on the chair beside his cot lay
the out-door garments of a young child—a white coat bordered with fur, a
fur-trimmed cap, and some other things, which Bootles did not quite
understand the use of; white wool fingerless gloves (at least he did not
know what else they could be), and some longer things of the same class,
like stockings without feet.

Bootles shook his head bewilderingly.  “Mother means it to stop; _I_
don’t know what to do,” he said, helplessly.

It occurred to him then that perhaps some of the fellows might be able to
make a suggestion.  He did not know what to do with the child for the
night, nor, for the matter of that, what to do with it for the moment.
He had the sense not to take it out into the chill midnight air, and when
he attempted to put it back into the cot it rebelled, clinging to his
watch-chain with might and main.

“Well, have it then,” he said, slipping it off.

The baby, pleased with the glittering toy, set up a cry of delight, and
Bootles took the opportunity of slipping out.  He entered the anteroom
with a very rueful face, finding it pretty much as he had left it.  Lacy
was the first to catch sight of him.

“Halloo, Bootles, what’s the mat-tah?” he asked.  “Is your head worse?”

“My head?  Oh, I forgot all about it,” Bootles replied.  “But, I say, I’m
in a mess.  There’s a baby in my room.”

“A WHAT?” they cried, with one voice.

“A baby,” repeated Bootles, dismally.

“Al—ive?” asked Lacy, with his head on one side.

“Alive!  Oh, very, very much so, and means to stop, for it has brought
its entire wardrobe and a letter of introduction with it,” holding the
letter for any one to take who chose.  It was Lacy who did so, and he
asked if he should read it up.

“Yes, do,” said Bootles, dropping into a chair with a groan.  “Perhaps
some one else will own to it.”

So Lacy read the letter in his ridiculous drawl of a voice, and ceased
amid profound silence—“Fa-ah-well!”

“Well?” said Bootles, finding no one seemed inclined to speak.  “Well?”

“Well,” said Preston, solemnly, “if you want my opinion, Bootles, I think
you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

A general laugh followed, but Bootles protested.

“Oh, don’t imagine it’s me.  I’ve nothing to do with it.  I shouldn’t
have come to you fellows if I had.”

“No, no, of course not,” returned Miles, promptly, but with an air which
raised another shout.

“Then it’s a plant,” announced Preston, in a tone of conviction.

“Of course it’s a plant,” cried Bootles; “but why in the wide world
should it be planted on me?”

“Why, indeed?” echoed Miles, feelingly.

“Besides,” Bootles continued, “some of you know my mother, and that her
name was not Mary but Margaret.”

Now as several of those present had known Lady Margaret Ferrers very
well, that was a strong point in favor of Preston’s assertion that the
affair was a plant.  The chief question, however, was what could be done
with the little stranger for that night.  Some woman, of course, must
look after it, but who?  It was then after two o’clock, and the lights
had been out hours ago in the married people’s quarters.  Bootles did not
know what to do, and said so.

“Is it in your room now?” Preston asked.

“Yes.”

“Where did you find it?”

“In my cot.”

“The devil you did!  I wonder you weren’t frightened out of your very
wits.”

“I nearly was,” Bootles admitted.

“Did you see it at once?  Was it howling?”

“Howling?  Not a bit of it.  Never saw a jollier little beggar in all my
life.”

“Oh!” ejaculated Miles, blankly.  “I say, you fellows, don’t that sound
to you very much like the proud pap—ah?”

“You fellows” all laughed at this, even perplexed Bootles, and Hartog
asked a question.

“Did you see it directly, Bootles?”

“Oh no; not for half an hour or more.”

“What on earth did you do?”

“Why, I looked at it of course.  What would you have done?”

“Did you _touch_ it?”

Bootles laughed.  “Yes, by Jove, the little beggar came to me like a
bird.”

“Great gods!” uttered Miles, “and you can doubt the fatherliness of
_that_!”

“Oh, what an ass you are!” returned Hartog; then, as if by a bright
inspiration, suggested, “I say, let’s go and have a look at it.”

Thereupon the assembled officers, five of them, trooped along the way
Bootles had stumbled over alone in the blindness of his now forgotten
headache.  The baby was still in the cot, contentedly playing with the
watch and chain, and at the sight of the five resplendent figures it set
up a loud “Boo—boo—boo—ing,” followed by a “Chucka—chucka—chucka—ing.”
Evidently it considered this was the land of Goshen.

“Seems to take after its mother in its love for a scarlet jacket,”
remarked Miles, sententiously.  “I’ve heard that the child is father of
the man—seems of the woman too.”

“Bootles,” said Lacy, gravely, “isn’t it very pwretty?”

“Yes, poor little beggar.”

“Let’s see you nurse it,” cried Hartog.

So Bootles, proud of this new accomplishment, lifted the child awkwardly
in his arms, pretty much as he might have done if it had been a sackful
of eggs, and he had made a wager he wouldn’t break one of them.  He
carried it to the fire.

                [Picture: Let’s go and have a look at it]

“Just light the candles, one of you,” he said.

“It’s the image of Bootles,” persisted Miles.

“Well, it isn’t mine, except by deed of gift,” returned Bootles, with a
laugh.

“Bootles,” said Lacy, “look back over your past life—”  Here he made a
pause.

“Well?” said Bootles, expectantly.

“Twry to think if you can twrace any likeness to some early love, who may
have marwried—or, for that matter, _not_ have marwried—some one else,
and—er—wremembering your kind heart—for you have a dashed kind heart,
Bootles, there’s no denying it—may have found herself hard up or too much
encumbered—for—er—you know, a babay is sometimes an awkward addition to a
lady’s belongings—and may have twrusted to your—er—general—well, shall we
say softness of chawracter to see it well pwrovided for—er—see?”

“No, I don’t.  Of course I see what you mean, but I can’t—”

“Well—er—” Lacy broke in, “I—er—pewraps was not thinking so much of
_your_ case as of my own.  You see,” appealing to the other three, “the
advent of this—er—babay cwreates a precedent, and—er—if it should chance
to occur to my first love—it would be awkward—for me, very awkward.  Her
name,” plunging headlong into a story they all knew, “was Naomi,
and—er—she—er—in fact, jilted me for an elephantine parson, whose
reverend name was—er—Fligg, Solomon Fligg.  Now, if Mrs.—er—Solomon Fligg
was to take it into her head to pack up the—er—eleven little Fliggs and
send ’em to me—it would be what I should call awkward—devilish awkward.”
Lacy’s four hearers positively roared, and the baby on Bootles’s knee
chuckled and crowed with delight.

“I believe it understands,” Preston laughed.

“No.  But it seems a jolly little chap,” answered Bootles.  “Oh, I
forgot, ’tis a girl.  I say, I do wish you fellows would advise me what
to do.  How can I get any one to attend to it?”

“Oh, roll it up in the bedclothes and sleep on the sofa.  It will go to
sleep when it’s tired,” said one.

“With its clothes on?” said Bootles, doubtfully.  “I rather fancy they
undress babies when they put ’em to bed.”

“I don’t advise you to try.  Oh, it won’t hurt for to-night.”

   [Picture: Bootles, proud of his new accomplishment, lifted the child
                          awkwardly in his arms]

“There’s a cab just driven up.  I believe it’s the Grays.  I saw them go
out dressed before dinner,” said Hartog.  The Grays were the adjutant and
his wife, who lived in barracks.  “She would help you in a minute.”

“Oh, go and see; there’s a good chap,” Bootles cried, eagerly.

Hartog therefore went out.  He found that it was the adjutant with his
wife returning from a party, and to the lady he addressed himself.  “Oh,
Mrs. Gray, Bootles is in such trouble—” he began.

“In trouble?—Bootles?—Captain Ferrers?” she said.  “What is the matter?”

“Well, he’s got a baby,” Hartog answered.

“Got WHAT?” Mrs. Gray cried.

“A baby.  It’s been left in his rooms, clothes and all, and Bootles don’t
know what the de—, what in the world, I mean, to do with it.”

“Shall I go in and see it?” Mrs. Gray asked.

“I wish you would.  Some of the others are there.”

Well, eventually Mrs. Gray carried off the little stranger to her own
quarters, and put it to bed.  As for Bootles, he too went to bed, but
during the whole of that blessed night he never slept a wink.



CHAPTER II.


WHEN Bootles showed his face in the mess-room the following morning he
was greeted by such a volley of chaff as would have driven a more nervous
man, or one less of a favorite than himself, to despair.  Already the
story had gone the round of the barracks, and Bootles found the greater
part of his brother officers ready and willing to take Miles’s view of
the affair, whether in chaff or downright good earnest he could not say.

“Halloo! Bootles, my man,” shouted one when he entered, “what’s this
story we hear?  Is it possible that Bootles—our immaculate and
philanthropical Bootles—  Oh, Bootles! Bootles! how are the mighty
fallen!”

“Hey?” inquired Bootles, sweetly.

“I wouldn’t have believed it of you, Bootles; I wouldn’t indeed.  Any
other fellow in the regiment—that soft-headed Lacy grinning over there,
for instance—but _our Bootles_—”  He broke off as if words could not
express the volumes he thought, but found his tongue and went on again
before Bootles could open his mouth.  “Our Bootles with an unacknowledged
wife sworn not to disclose her marriage—our Bootles with a baby—our
Bootles a papa!  Oh lor!”

“Why didn’t you manage better, Bootles?” cried another.  “You might have
sent her an odd fiver now and then.  You have plenty.”

“Is she pretty, Bootles?” asked a third.

“Was there by any chance a flaw in the marriage?” inquired a fourth.

“Do you think I’m a fool?” asked Bootles, pleasantly.  “I tell you it’s a
plant.  I know nothing about the creature.”

“Just my view,” struck in Miles.  “Just what I said last night.  It’s
absurd, you know, to expect him to own it.  No fellow would.  Besides,
does Bootles look like the father of a fine bouncing baby that goes
‘Chucka, chucka, chuck?’  It’s absurd, you know.”

Even Bootles joined in the laugh which followed, and Miles continued:

“The only thing is—and it really is awkward for Bootles—the extraordinary
likeness.  Blue eyes, golden hair, fair complexion.  I should say
myself”—looking at his comrade critically, “that at the same age Bootles
was just such a baby as that which turned up so mysteriously last night.”

“That’s as may be.  Any way, the youngster is not mine,” said Bootles,
emphatically; “and what to do with the little beggar _I_ don’t know.”

“Send it back to its mother,” suggested Dawson.

“But I don’t know who the mother is,” Bootles answered, impatiently.

“Oh no; so you say.  Well, then, the brat must have growed, like Topsy.
If I were you I should send it to the police-station.”

“The police-station?  Oh no; hang it all, the poor little beggar has done
nothing to start the world in that way,” Bootles answered.

“Did any of you,” asked Miles of the general company, “ever hear of a
chap called Solomon?”

“I—er—did,” answered Lacy, promptly.  “His other name was—er—Fligg.  The
Reverend Solomon Fligg.”

“Oh, we’ve all heard of _him_! but I meant a rather more celebrated
person.  There is a story about him—I rather think it’s in
Proverbs”—eliciting a yell of laughter.  “Not Proverbs?  Well, perhaps
it’s in the Song of Solomon.  It’s about two mothers, who each had a
baby, and one of them managed to smother hers in the night, and finding
it dead when she woke up in the morning, claimed the other baby.  Of
course the other woman kicked up a row, a regular shindy, and they came
before Solomon to get the matter settled.  ‘Both claim it,’ said he.
‘Oh, chop it in half, and let each have a share—’  But you all know the
rest.  How the real mother gave up her claim sooner than see the child
halved.  Now in this case, you see, Bootles hasn’t the heart to send the
child off to the police-station, as he would if—”

“Here’s the colonel,” said some one at this point, and in less than two
seconds he appeared.

“Why, Ferrers,” he said, “I’ve been hearing a queer tale about you.”

“Yes, sir,” said Bootles, dismally; “and where it will end _I_ don’t
know!  Here am I saddled—”

“Well, of course you know whether the child has any claim upon you—” the
colonel began.

“Upon my honor it has not, colonel,” said Bootles, earnestly.

“Then that, of course, settles the question,” replied the colonel, with a
frown at the grinning faces along the table.  “I should send the child to
the workhouse immediately.”

“The workhouse?” repeated Bootles, reflectively.

“I’ll bet any one a fiver he don’t,” murmured Miles to his neighbors.

“Not he.  Madame la Mère knew what she was doing when she picked out
Bootles.  He’ll get one of the sergeants’ wives to look after it; see if
he don’t.”

After the chief had left the room, Bootles continued his breakfast in
silence, considering the two suggestions for the disposal of the child.
Now, if the truth be told, Bootles had a horror of workhouses.  He had
gone deeply into the “Casual” question, and pitied a tramp from the very
inmost recesses of his kind heart.  It fairly made him sick to think of
that bonny golden head growing up among the shorn and unlovely locks of a
pauper brood—to think of the little soft fingers that had twined
themselves so confidently about his own, and had picked at the
embroideries of his mess waistcoat, being slapped by the matron, or set
as soon as they should be strong enough to do coarse and hard work, to
develop into the unnaturally widened and unkempt hand of a
“Marchioness”—to think of that little dainty thing being nourished on
skilly, or on whatever hard fare pauper children are fed—to think of that
little aristocrat being brought up among the children of thieves and
vagabonds!

“Oh, confound it all,” he broke out, “I _can’t_.”

“I never expected you could,” retorted Miles.  “It wouldn’t be natural if
you did.”

This time Bootles did not laugh; on the contrary, he looked up and
regarded Miles with a grave and searching gaze, rather disconcerting to
that quizzical young gentleman.

“Are you judging me out of your own bushel?” he asked.

“How?  What do you mean?” Miles stammered.

“Do _you_ happen to know anything of the matter?” Bootles persisted.

“I?  Oh no.  On my honor I don’t.”

“Ah!  As the colonel said just now, that settles the question.  You’re a
very witty fellow, Miles, very.  I shouldn’t wonder, after a while, if
you ain’t quite the sharp man of the regiment.  Only your jokes are like
the clown’s jokes at the circus—one gets to know them.  They’re in this
kind of way:

“‘Ever been in Paris, Mr. Lando?’

“‘Yes, of course, Bell.’

“‘Ever been in Vienna, Mr. Lando?’

“‘To be sure, Bell.’

“‘Ever been in Geneva, Mr. Lando?’

“‘Of course I have, Bell.’

“‘Ever been in jail, Mr. Lando?’

“Of course I have, Bell—at least—that’s to say—I mean—no, of course I
haven’t.’

“‘Why, Mr. Lando, I _saw_ you there.’

“‘You saw me in jail, Bell?  And what were you doing to see me?’

“Oh!’ grandly, ‘I was staying with the governor for the good of my
’ealth.’

“‘And hadn’t stealing a cow something to do with it, eh, Bell?’

“‘Yah.  Who stole a watch?’

“‘A Jersey cow, eh, Bell?’

“Yah.  What time is it, Mr. Lando?’

“‘Just about milking time, Bell, my friend.’

“It’s all very funny once, you know, Miles,” Bootles ended, disdainfully.
“But when you’ve been to the circus half a dozen times you don’t see
anything to laugh at, somehow.”

For grace’s sake Miles was obliged to laugh, for every one else roared,
except Bootles, who went on speaking very gravely:

“I know it’s very amusing to make a joke of the affair, to say I know
more about it than I will confess.  I have told the colonel _on my honor_
that the child is not mine, nor do I know whose it is.  If it were mine I
should not have made the story public property—it’s not in reason that I
should.  My difficulty is what to do with it.  The colonel suggests the
workhouse, Dawson the police-station—one simply means the other, and I
can’t bring me to do it.  It is an awful thing for the child of a tramp
or a thief to be reared in a workhouse—and this is no common person’s
child.  For anything I know it may belong to one of you.”

“That’s true enough,” observed a man who had not yet taken part in the
discussion, except to laugh now and then.  “But remember, Bootles, if you
saddle yourself with the child you will have to go on with it.  It will
stick to you like a burr, and though we are all ready to accept your word
of honor, the world may not be so.  If you put the brat out to nurse in
the regiment, the story may crop up years hence, just when you least
desire or expect it; and, you know, a story—mixed and confused by time
and repetition—about a deserted wife may come to have a very ugly sound
about it.  Now if, as the colonel suggests, you send the child to the
workhouse, you wash your hands of the whole business.  Then, again, if
the brat is brought up in the regiment, with the _disadvantage_ of your
protection, what will she be in twenty years’ time?  Neither fish, flesh,
nor good red herring.  Far better the oblivion of pauperism than the
distinction among the men of being Captain Ferrers’s—shall we say
_protégée_?”

“Yes, there’s a great deal in that,” Bootles admitted.  He had at all
times a great respect for Harkness, and profound faith in the soundness
of his judgment.  He saw at once that any plan of bringing the child up
among the married people of the regiment would not do, and yet—_the
workhouse_.

He rose from the table and settled his forage cap upon his head.  “I dare
say you fellows will laugh at me,” he said, almost desperately, as he
pulled the chin-strap over his mustache, “but I can’t condemn that
helpless thing to the workhouse—I _can’t_, and that’s all about it.  It
seems to me,” he went on, rubbing the end of his whip on the back of a
chair, and looking at no one—“it seems to me that the child’s future in
this world and the next depends upon the course I take now.  And you may
laugh at me—I dare say you will,” he said, quite nervously for him—“but I
shall get a proper nurse to take charge of it, and I shall keep it myself
until some one turns up to claim it—or—or for good.”

    [Picture: “I can’t condemn that helpless thing to the workhouse”]

Just then officers’-call sounded, and Bootles made a clean bolt of it,
leaving his brother officers staring amazedly at one another.  The first
of them to make a move was Lacy—the first, too, to speak.

“Upon my soul,” said he, “Bootles is a devilish fine fellow; and, d— it
all,” he added, getting very red, and scarcely drawling, in his intense
rage of admiration, “if there were a few more fellows in the world like
him, it would be a vewry diffewrent place to what it is.”



CHAPTER III.


AS soon as Bootles had a spare moment he made his way to the adjutant’s
quarters, where he found Mrs. Gray playing with the mysterious baby.

“Oh, is that you, Captain Ferrers?” she exclaimed.  “Come and see your
waif.  She is the dearest little thing.  Why, I do believe she knows
you.”

Bootles whistled to the child, which promptly made a grab at his chain,
and when he sat down on the sofa on which it was sprawling, tried very
hard to get at the gold badge on his collar.  Shoulder badges had not
then come in.

“Mrs. Gray,” Bootles said, “she’s very well dressed, is she not?”

“Oh, very,” Mrs. Gray answered, smoothing out the child’s skirt so as to
display the fine and deep embroidery.  “Unusually so.  All its clothes
are of the finest and most expensive description.”

“I thought so; it doesn’t look like a common child, eh?”

“Not at all,” replied the lady, promptly.

                   [Picture: Mignon’s Own–Illustration]

“Well,” Bootles told her, “I’ve been most unmercifully chaffed, which was
only to be expected; but the colonel takes my word about it, and of
course the others don’t matter.  I can’t think, though, why the mother
has chosen me.”

“All, well, you see, Captain Ferrers,” said the adjutant’s wife, with a
smile, “it is rather inconvenient sometimes to have a character for great
kindness of heart.  I should say you are the greatest favorite in the
regiment, and, naturally enough, the officers speak of it sometimes in
society.  ‘Oh, Bootles is this, and Bootles is that;’ ‘Bootles wouldn’t
turn a dog from his door;’ ‘Bootles would share his last sixpence with a
poor chap who was down,’ and so on.  _I_ have heard, Captain Ferrers, of
your emptying your pockets to divide among three poor tramps who had
begged no more than a pipe of tobacco.  _I_ have heard of your standing
up for”—with a deeper smile—“the poor devils of casuals; and if I hear
it, why not others? why not the mother of this child?”

“True.  But I think you all overrate my character,” Bootles replied,
modestly.  “You know I don’t go in for being saintly at all.”

“That is just it.  If you did you would have no more influence than Major
Allardyce, whom every one laughs at.  But you don’t; you are one of
themselves, and yet you will always help a man who is down; you will do
any unfortunate creature a good turn.  Oh, I hear a good deal, though you
choose to make light of it.  And you know, Captain Ferrers, we are not
told that the good Samaritan made a great spluttering about what he did;
but the professional saints, the priest and the Levite, passed by on the
other side.”

“You are very complimentary,” Bootles said, blushing a little; “much more
than I deserve, I’m sure.  The fellows”—laughing at the remembrance—“were
much less merciful.  Then about the child.  Dawson suggests sending it to
the police-station, the colonel to the workhouse; and one means the
other, of course.”

Mrs. Gray caught the child to her breast with a cry of dismay, and
Bootles went on:

“Yes, I feel as you do about it.  I can’t do it, and that’s all about it.
It would be on my conscience all my life.  Besides, some day the mother
might come back for it, and though of course, as the colonel says, there
is no claim upon me, yet, if for the sake of a few pounds I had turned
the poor little beggar adrift, ruined its life—why I simply couldn’t face
her, and that’s all about it.  And besides that, Mrs. Gray, I have a
lurking suspicion that the letter is genuine, and that it was not written
to or intended for me.  It reads to me like the letter of a woman who was
desperate.”

“Yes, a woman must have been desperate indeed to willingly part with such
a child as that,” said Mrs. Gray, smoothing the gold baby curls.

“So I think, for nature is nature all the world over,” Bootles answered.
“And besides, to tell you the honest truth, there is a resemblance in the
child to some one I knew once—”

“Yes?” eagerly.

“Oh no, not that!  She is dead.  She was engaged to a fellow I knew,
desperately fond of him, and he—jilted her.”

“Mr. Kerr?”

Bootles stared.  “Who told you?”

“He told me himself, I think to ease his mind,” she answered, quietly.

“Ah!  Well, it killed her.  She died heart-broken.  I saw her,” he said,
rising and going to the window, whence he stood staring out over the
square, “a few hours after she died.  That child’s mother may look like
that now, and I can’t and won’t turn it adrift, whatever the fellows or
any one else chooses to think or say, and that’s all about it.”

Two bright tears gathered in Mrs. Gray’s eyes, and falling, fell upon the
baby’s curls of gold, two priceless diamonds from the unfathomable and
exhaustless mines of pity.  For a moment or two there was silence, broken
at last by the child’s laugh, as a ray of sickly winter sunshine fell
upon the glittering chain in its little hands.  The sound recovered
Bootles, who turned from the window.

“And so, Mrs. Gray,” he said, carefully avoiding the gaze of her wet
eyes, “I have determined to keep the little beggar; but Harkness, who’s
no fool, you know, has convinced me that it won’t do to trust to any of
the barrack women to look after her.  Therefore, if you won’t mind
undertaking it for a few days, I will advertise for a respectable elderly
nurse to take entire charge of the creature.  I dare say I can arrange
with Smithers for an extra room, and you’ll let me come to you for advice
now and then, won’t you?”

Mrs. Gray rose and went close to him, laying her hand upon his arm.
“Captain Ferrers,” she said, earnestly, “you will have your reward.  God
will bless you for this.”

 [Picture: Mrs. Gray rose and went close to him, laying her hand upon his
                                   arm]

“Oh, please don’t, Mrs. Gray,” Bootles stammered.  “Really I’d rather
you’d chaff me.”

Mrs. Gray laughed outright.  “Well, you know what my sentiments are, so
for the future I will chaff you unmercifully.—Come in,” she added, in a
louder tone, as a “tap-tap” sounded on the door.

The permission was followed by the entrance of Lacy, who came in with a
pleasant “Good—er—morning,” and a soft laugh at the sight of the baby on
the sofa.

“I—er—thought old Bootles would be here,” he explained.  “And
besides—I—er—wanted to see the babay.  Seems to me, Bootles,” he added,
staring with an absurd air of reflective wisdom at the infant, “as if the
face is somehow familiar to me.  Oh, I don’t mean you.  It isn’t a bit
like you.  But there is a likeness, though I don’t know where to plant
it.”

“Perhaps it will grow,” suggested Bootles.

“Ah! pewraps it will, and pewraps it won’t.  The worst of the affair is
that it is cwreating a pwrecedent”—not for worlds would he have admitted
to his friend that he thought him the fine fellow he had declared him in
the mess-room that morning—“and if we are _all_ inundated with babays I
wreally don’t know” (plaintively) “what the wregiment will come to.”

“Gar—ah—gar—ah!” chuckled the subject of this speech over the gold knob
at the top of Lacy’s whip.  “Cluck—cluck—cluck!”

“Little beggah seems to find it a good joke, any way,” Lacy cried.  “I’m
a gwreat hand at nursing.  Our adjutant’s wife in the White Dwragoons had
thwree—all at once.  I say, Mrs. Gwray, stick something on it, and I’ll
take it out and show it wround.”

“Dare you?” she asked.

“Dawre I?  Just twry.  By-the-bye, it’s cold this morning—vewry cold.”

Mrs. Gray therefore fetched the child’s white coat and cap and those
other white woollen articles, which Bootles now discovered to be
leggings, and quickly transformed the little woman into a sort of
snowball.  The two men watched the operation with intense interest.

“_La figlia del wreggimento_,” laughed Lacy.  “I declare, Bootles, she’s
quite a credit to us.  I never saw such a _petite mademoiselle_.”

Bootles started.  It reminded him who had been jilted by his friend and
died for love.  He had always called her Mademoiselle Mignon.

“Mademoiselle Mignon,” he said, carelessly; “not a bad name for her.”

“Vewry good,” returned Lacy, preparing to present arms.

He proved himself a much better nurse than Bootles.  He gathered the
child on his left arm and marched off to the anteroom, in front of which
the officers were standing about, waiting for church.  They set up a
shout at the sight of him, and crowded round to inspect the new
importation.  Mademoiselle Mignon bore the inspection calmly, conscious
perhaps—as she was such a knowing little person—of the effect of her big,
blue, star-like eyes under the white fur of her cap.

“What a pity she ain’t twenty years older!” was the first comment, and it
was said in such a tone of genuine regret that all the fellows laughed
again.  Miss Mignon gobbled with satisfaction.

“Seems a jolly little beggar,” said another.

“Chut—chut—chut!” remarked Miss Mignon.

“Never saw such a jolly little beggar in all my life,” asserted another
voice.

“Pretty work she’ll make in the regiment sixteen or seventeen years
hence,” grumbled old Garnet.

“Ah, well, nevah mind, Garnet—nevah you mind, Major Garnet, sir,” cried
Hartog, “we shall all be dead by then;” but this being an exceedingly old
and threadbare regimental joke was instantly snubbed in the face of the
new and substantial one.

“Has it any teeth?” demanded Miles, the orderly officer for the day.

“Don’t know.  Open your mouth, little one,” said Lacy, gravely.

At this point Miss Mignon made a delighted lunge in the direction of the
belt across Miles’s breast.  Lacy shouted, “Whoa, whoa,” and Miles
immediately backed out of reach.  Miss Mignon’s mouth went dismally down,
until Lacy remembered the knob of his whip, and held it up for
delectation.

“Boo—boo!” she crowed.

“By Jove!  She can half say Bootles already,” ejaculated Hartog.  “And
here he comes.”

“Now, then,” Bootles called out, “have any of you fellows made up your
mind to own this little baggage?”

“No; none of us,” they laughed; but one man, Gilchrist by name, said,
with a sneer, he should rather think not, and added two unnecessary
words—“_workhouse brat_!”

Bootles turned, and looked down upon him in profoundest contempt.

“My dear chap,” he said, coolly, “to charge _you_ with being the father
of _that_ child,” pointing with his whip to the picture in Lacy’s arms,
“would be a compliment on your personal appearance which I should never,
under any circumstances, have dreamed of paying you.”

“I’ll tell you what it is,” said Hartog afterwards to Lacy, “Bootles is a
dashed good fellow—one of the best fellows in the world.  I don’t know
that there’s another I’d trust as far or as thoroughly; but all the same,
Bootles is sometimes best left alone, and, for my part, I think Gilchrist
and every one else had best leave him alone about this youngster.”

“Ya—as,” returned Lacy; then began to laugh.  “Oh! but it was fine,
though, about ‘personal appearance.’”  And then he added, “Ugly little
beast!”



CHAPTER IV.


IT was not to be expected, and Bootles did not expect it, that the story
of the mysterious little stranger could be confined to barracks.  In
fact, in the course of a few hours it had flown all over the town,
gaining additions and alterations by the frequency of its repetition,
until at last Bootles himself could hardly recognize it.  A baby had been
found in Captain Ferrers’s rooms; no one knew where it had come from nor
to whom it belonged.  Then—Captain Ferrers had rescued a young baby from
a brutal father who was going to dash its brains out against the
door-post.  Then—Captain Ferrers had picked up a new-born infant while
hunting with the duke’s hounds.  Then—Captain Ferrers was suffering from
mental aberration, or, to speak plainly, was getting a bit cracked, and
had adopted a child a year old out of Idleminster workhouse.  Then—It was
really most romantic, but Captain Ferrers had been engaged to and jilted
by a young lady long ago—which, of course, accounted for his being
impervious to the fascinations of the Idleminster girls—who had married,
been deserted by her husband, and now died—some versions of the story
said “committed suicide”—leaving him the charge of a baby, etc.

Some people told one version of the story and some people told another,
but nobody blamed Bootles very much.  It might be because he was so rich
and so handsome and pleasant; it might be because Idleminster society was
free from that leaven of censoriousness which causes most people to look
at most things from the worst possible view.

But Bootles went on his serene way, telling the true state of the case to
every one who mentioned the affair to him, and always ending, “And hang
it, you know, it’s a pretty little beggar, and I _couldn’t_ send it to
the workhouse.”

He made no secret about it at all, and on the Saturday following the
advent of the child an advertisement appeared in the Idleminster
_Chronicle_ which made Idleminster tongues clack for a week:

    “_Wanted_, _immediately_, _a highly respectable and thoroughly
    experienced nurse of middle age_, _to __take the entire charge of a
    child about a year old_.  _Good wages to a suitable person_.  _Apply
    to Captain Ferrers_, _Scarlet Lancers_.”

In due time this advertisement produced the right sort of person, and a
staid and respectable widow of about fifty was soon installed in a room
next to Mr. Gray’s quarters, in charge of Miss Mignon, as the child had
already come to be called by everybody.

It was a charming child—strong and healthy, seemed to have no trouble
with temper or teeth, hardly ever cried, and might be seen morning and
afternoon being wheeled by its nurse in a baby-carriage about the barrack
square or along the road outside the Broad Arrow boundaries.  And so, as
the weeks rolled by and wore into months, it began to toddle about, and
could say “Bootles” as plain as a pike-staff.

In April the Scarlet Lancers were moved from Idleminster to Blankhampton,
where Bootles had to undergo a new experience, for every one there took
him for a widower on account of the child.

Bootles would explain.  “Take her about with me?  Yes; she likes it.
Always wants to go when she sees the trap.  A bother?  Not a bit of it;
the jolliest little woman in creation, and as good as gold.  What am I
going to do with her when she grows up?  Well, Lacy says he is going to
marry her.  If he don’t, somebody else will—no fear.”

Taking it all round, Miss Mignon had a remarkably good time of it, and
seemed thoroughly to appreciate the pleasant places in which her lines
had fallen.  It was wonderful, too, what an immense favorite she was with
“the fellows.”  At first she had been “Bootles’s brat,” but very soon
that was dropped, and by the time she could toddle, which she did in very
good time, no one thought of mentioning her or of speaking to her except
as “Miss Mignon.”  Scarcely any of the officers dreamed for a moment of
returning after a few days’ leave without “taking along,” as the
Americans say, a box of sweets or a bundle of toys for Miss Mignon.
Indeed the young lady came to have such a collection that after a while
Mrs. Nurse’s patient soul arose, and with Captain Ferrers’s permission
all the discarded ones were distributed among the less fortunate children
of the regiment.

But Miss Mignon’s favorite plaything was Bootles himself—after Bootles,
Lacy.  People said it was wonderful, the depth of the affection between
the big soldier of thirty-five and the little dot of a child, scarcely
two.  Bootles she adored, and where Bootles was she would be, if by hook
or by crook she could convey her small person into his presence.  Once
she spied him turn in at the gates on the right hand of the colonel, when
the regiment was returning from a field-day, and escaping from her
nurse’s hand, set off as hard as she could run in the direction of the
band, which immediately preceded the commanding officer.  Mrs. Nurse gave
chase, but alas! Mrs. Nurse was stout, and had the ill luck, moreover, to
come a cropper over a drain tile lying conveniently in her way, while the
child, unconscious of danger, ran straight for Bootles.  Neither Bootles
nor Lacy, who was on the colonel’s left, perceived her until she was
close upon them, waving her small hands, and shouting, in her shrill and
joyous child’s voice, “Bootles!  Bootles!”

It seemed to Bootles, as be looked past the colonel, that the child was
almost under the hoofs of Lacy’s charger.  “Lacy!” he called out—“Lacy!”
But Lacy was already on the ground, and caught Miss Mignon out of harm’s
way; but when he turned round he saw that his friend’s face was as white
as chalk.

 [Picture: But Lacy was already on the ground, and caught Miss Mignon out
                              of harm’s way]

As for the colonel, when he saw Mrs. Nurse gathering herself up with
rueful looks at the drain tile, he simply roared, and Miss Mignon chimed
in as if it were the finest joke in the world.

“That was a smash,” she remarked, from her proud position on Lacy’s
shoulder, “just like Humpty Dumpty”—a comment which gave that estimable
person the name of Mrs. Humpty Dumpty as long as she remained with the
regiment.

A few weeks after this the annual inspection came off, and Miss Mignon,
resenting the lengthened absence of her Bootles, again managed to escape
from her nurse, and pattered boldly, as fast as her small feet would
carry her, right into the mess-room, where Bootles was sitting, just
opposite the general, at the late lunch.  Miss Mignon not seeing him at
first, wandered coolly behind the row of scarlet-clad backs, until she
spied him at the other side of the table.  Then, having no awe whatever
of inspecting officers, she wedged herself in between his chair and the
colonel’s with a triumphant and joyous laugh.

The general gave a great start, and the colonel laughed.  Bootles, in
dismay, jumped up, and came quickly round the table to take her away.

“Well, you little rogue,” said the colonel, reaching a nectarine for her.
“What do you want?”

“I wanted Bootles, sir,” said Miss Mignon, confidentially.  “And nurse
falled asleep, so I tooked French leave.”  Almost the only peculiarity in
her speech was the habit of making all verbs regular.

“And who are you, my little maid?” the general asked, in extreme
amusement.

“Oh, I’m Miss Mignon,” with dignity.

The old general fairly chuckled with delight, and as he had put his arm
round the child, Bootles, who was standing behind, could not very well
take her away.

“Oh, Miss Mignon—hey?  And whom do you belong to?”

“Why, to Bootles,” in surprise at his ignorance.

“To Bootles?  And who is Bootles?”

“Bootles is Bootles, and I love him,” Miss Mignon replied, as if that
settled everything.

“Happy Bootles!” cried the old soldier.

“What a lot of medals you’ve got!” cried Miss Mignon, pressing closer.

“I’m afraid, sir, she is troubling you,” Bootles interposed at this
point, but secretly delighted with the turn affairs had taken.

              [Picture: “What a lot of medals you’ve got!”]

“No, no; let her see my medals,” replied the general, who was as proud of
his medals as Bootles of Miss Mignon.

“Are you a ‘sir’ too?” Miss Mignon asked, gazing at the handsome old man
with more respect.

“What does she mean?” he cried.

Bootles laughed.

“Well, sir, she hears us speak to the colonel so, that is all.”

“Dear me!  What a remarkably intelligent and attractive child!” exclaimed
the general, quietly.  “How old is she?”

“About two, sir.”

Now it happened that the old general had a craze for absolute accuracy,
and he caught Bootles up with pleasant sharpness.

“Oh!  Does that mean more or less?”

“I can’t say, sir.  She is about two.  I do not know the date of her
birth.”

“Then she is not yours?”

“I am not her father, sir, but at present she belongs to me,” Bootles
said, smiling.  “I’m afraid—”

“Not at all, but perhaps she had better go.  What a charming child!”
This last was perhaps because Miss Mignon, finding her time had come—and
she never made a fuss on such occasions—put two soft arms round his neck,
and gave him such a genuine hug of friendship that the old man’s heart
was quite taken by storm.

So Miss Mignon was carried off, looking back to the last over Bootles’s
shoulder, and waving her adieu to the handsome old man, who had such a
fascinating array of clasps and medals.

“I didn’t quite understand—what relation is the child to him?” he asked
of the colonel.

“None whatever.  Ferrers found her late one night in his bed, with her
wardrobe, and a letter from the mother, written as if Ferrers was the
father.  He, however, gave me his word of honor that he knew nothing
about it, and some of us think the whole affair was simply a plant, as he
is known to be a very kind-hearted fellow.  Others, however, Ferrers
among them, think that note and child were intended for one of the
others.  Nobody, however, would own to it, and Ferrers has kept the child
ever since—I don’t suppose he would part with her now for anything.  I
wanted him to send her to the workhouse, but ’tis a jolly bright little
soul, and I am glad he did not.”

“Then he is not married?”

“Oh dear no.  He pays a woman fifty pounds a year to look after her, and
all her meals go from the mess.  In fact, he is bringing her up as if she
were his own; and the child adores him—simply adores him.”

“I respect that man,” said the general, warmly.  “It is an awful thing
for a child to be reared in a workhouse—awful.”

“Yes; Bootles feels very strongly on the subject,” replied the colonel,
absently.

By the time Bootles returned, the officers had risen from the table, and
he met the guests and the seniors just entering the anteroom.

“I’ll shake hands with you, Captain Ferrers, if you please,” said the
general, cordially.  “I agree with you that it is an awful thing for a
child to be brought up in a workhouse.  It is a subject upon which I feel
very strongly—very strongly.  A child reared as a pauper does not start
the world with a fair chance.  I have met so often, in the course of my
military experience, with recruits bred in the Unions—I never knew one do
well.  No; pauperism is ground into them, and they are never able to
shake it off.”

“Well, sir, that is my opinion,” said Bootles, modestly.  “I hope,
though, you won’t think my little maid is often so obtrusive as to-day.
She is really always very good.”

“A charming little child,” replied the general, as if he meant it too,
and then he shook hands with Bootles again.



CHAPTER V.


THERE was only one blot in the sweetness and light of Miss Mignon’s baby
character, so far as the officers of the Scarlet Lancers were concerned.
Among them all there was only one whom she did not like.  She had degrees
of love—Bootles ranked first, then Lacy, then two or three groups of
friends whom she liked best, better, and well; but she had no degrees of
dislike where she did not love.  She hated, hated fiercely and furiously,
hated with all her baby heart and soul.  There were several persons in
her small world whom she detested thus, absolutely declining to hold
communication or to accept overtures from them, however sweetly made; but
there was only one of the officers who came under this head, and he was
Gilchrist, the man who had dubbed her at first _workhouse brat_.  Miss
Mignon could not endure him.  When old enough to understand that a
certain box of sweeties had come from Mr. Gilchrist, she would drop it as
if it burned her fingers, draw down the corners of her mouth, and remark,
“Miss Mignon is very much obliged;” an observation which invariably sent
Bootles and Lacy off into fits of laughter, at which the little maid
would fly open-armed to him, and cry, “But Mignon _loves_ Bootles.”  But
the fact remained the same, that Miss Mignon detested Gilchrist, who,
indeed, was not a favorite in the regiment.  Nor, indeed, did Gilchrist
seem to like Miss Mignon any better, though he now and then brought his
offerings of toys and bonbons like the rest.  In the face of Bootles’s
severe snub about the two odious words he had applied to her, he was
hardly such a simpleton as to further rouse or annoy the most popular man
in the regiment; yet if he could possibly cast a slur on Bootles or on
the child he did it.  Never from his lips came the pet name “Miss
Mignon,” never did his black eyes rest on her without a sneer or a jibe;
if he could by any chance twist Bootles’s words into an admission that
the child was really his, he took care never to lose the opportunity.

“Oh, come, now,” Preston cried one day, when he had been sneering at
Bootles and Lacy, who had just driven away with the child between them,
“Bootles is a right good sort—no mistake on that point.  No sneaking
hypocrisy about him.  It would be well for you and me if we were half as
fine chaps; but we are not, Gilchrist, and, what is more, we never shall
be.”

“Oh no; but where is the mother of that brat?”

“How should I know? or Bootles?  I shouldn’t mind laying my life that
Bootles never did and never will cause her or any other woman to write
such a letter as came with the child that night.  Jolly good thing for
this one if she was Bootles’s wife, instead of being tied up to the hound
who bound her to secrecy and deserted her.  Perhaps she’s dead, poor
soul!  Who knows?”

“Perhaps she isn’t,” Gilchrist sneered.  “Some people never die.”

Good-natured and not very wise Preston stared at him, and Hartog looked
from behind his newspaper, aghast at the bitterness of his tone.

“Good heavens, Gilchrist!” Preston cried, “are you _wanting_ somebody to
die?”

Gilchrist tried to laugh, and succeeded very badly.  He rose from his
chair, knocking a few scattered cigar ashes carefully off his braided
cuff.

“Well, I confess I should not be sorry to see that prating brat of
Bootles’s out of the road.  We should perhaps get at the truth then.”
And having delivered himself of this feeling speech, he went out, banging
the door after him.

“Well, upon my soul!” exclaimed Preston.

“Oh, the man’s got a tile loose in his upper story,” said Hartog,
decidedly.  “No man in his senses would talk such miserable rot as that.
Always thought Gilchrist a crazy fool myself, but I’m sure of it now.”

“And how he sticks to it Miss Mignon is Bootles’s own child—as if it
could be any good for him to say she isn’t if she is.”

“No.  I shall tell Bootles to keep an eye on Gilchrist.  I say, what a
comfort it would be if he would only exchange!  I suppose we can’t manage
to dazzle him with the delights of India, eh?”

“Not very well.  Besides, he lost ever so much seniority by coming to
us.”

“No such luck.  It’s queer, though, he should be so persistent about
Bootles and Miss Mignon.  I suppose he wants to daub Bootles with some of
his own mud.  Thinks if he only throws enough, some of it’s sure to
stick; and so it would with most men.  Happily, however, it don’t in the
least matter what a little cad like Gilchrist chooses to say about a man
like Bootles—a jealous little beast.”

Neither of them said any more about the matter, but Hartog took the
earliest opportunity of repeating to Bootles what “that ass Gilchrist”
had said about seeing that prating brat of Bootles’s out of the road, and
in consequence a kind of watch was set upon the child.  Not that Bootles,
though he had a very poor opinion of Gilchrist and Gilchrist’s brains,
was afraid for a moment that he would give Miss Mignon poisoned bonbons,
or run off with her and drop her in the river; yet he did think it not
improbable that he might encourage an already dangerous spirit of
adventure, and of course be absolutely blameless if she could get
trampled by a horse’s cruel hoofs, or crushed by one of the many traps
going in and out of barracks.

When Bootles had taken his first long leave after Miss Mignon’s coming,
he had left her at Idleminster in charge of her nurse; but when long
leave came round again, and she must have been about two and a half, he
decided to take her with him.  One reason for this was certainly a fear
of any pranks Gilchrist might choose to play, another that Lacy was
taking his leave at the same time, and Bootles was afraid, in the absence
of both, Miss Mignon might fret herself into a fever.  And, besides, he
had missed the child during a fortnight’s deer-stalking in Scotland that
autumn more than he would have liked to own.

From Blankhampton, therefore, they went to his place, Ferrers Court,
where he was to entertain a rather large party for Christmas, with a
sister of his mother’s, and his only near relative, to do the honors for
him, and among his guests a Mrs. Smith, a widow, and sister to that dead
girl to whom he fancied a resemblance in Miss Mignon.  However, at the
last moment, Mrs. Smith wrote to excuse herself.

“I am very, very sorry,” she said, “but a very dear friend of mine, with
whom I spent two winters in Italy, has suddenly appeared, with a
travelling companion and two maids, to pay me a long-promised visit of at
least two months.  She is a Russian countess—a widow like myself, and
wishes, I fancy, to improve her English, which she already speaks very
well.  Of course I am dreadfully disappointed, but cannot help it.”

Now it happened that Bootles had a very deep and great respect and liking
for Mrs. Smith, and not for all the widowed countesses in Russia was he
willing to upset his plans; therefore he wrote off at once to Mrs. Smith,
after a five minutes’ consultation with Lady Marion, to beg her to carry
out her original intentions, and bring Madame and her retinue “along.”
Would she telegraph her reply?

Mrs. Smith did so, the reply being, Yes.  Moreover, she supplemented the
telegram by a letter, in which she mentioned among other things that
Madame Gourbolska’s travelling companion must be treated in all ways as
an ordinary guest.

So, at the time originally appointed for Mrs. Smith’s coming, the party
of six—three ladies and three maids—arrived.  Bootles himself went to the
station to meet them.  He found that Madame Gourbolska was young, not
more than thirty, of the plump and fair Russian type, quite fair enough
to hold her own beside Mrs. Smith, whom he regarded as the most beautiful
woman of his acquaintance.  The third lady, Miss Grace, was fair also,
perhaps not so positively beautiful as either the English or the Russian
lady, but fair-haired, fair-skinned, with soft blue-gray eyes, intensely
blue in some lights, as Bootles noticed directly.  Graceful she was to a
degree, and as he watched her move across the little station he thought
how wonderfully her name suited her.

Mrs. Smith smiled at him as he helped her to mount to the top of the
omnibus.  “Is not the likeness wonderful?” she said, with one of those
quick sighs with which we speak of our dead; and then she said, “Poor
Rosy.”

Bootles turned and looked at Miss Grace again, his mind going back to
those dark days, past and gone now, when he and his best friend had been
estranged for honor’s sake; when he and this imperially beautiful woman
had stood side by side watching a young life die out; had together seen
the sacrifice of a heart, the martyr of love to man.

“Yes, it is very great,” he said, briefly.

That dead sister of Mrs. Smith had always been and would always be a
not-to-be-broken bond of union between them, for the widow knew how
gladly “that grand Bootles,” as she always called him, would have tried
to make up for the love she had lost, while to Bootles Mrs. Smith stood
out from the rest of womankind as the sister of the only woman he had
ever wished or asked to marry him.

He helped Miss Grace up to the seat beside Mrs. Smith, and took his own
place beside the Russian lady, who entertained him very well during the
three miles’ drive between Eagles Station and Ferrers Court.

    [Picture: In another moment they had drawn up at the great gothic
                                door-way]

“Oh, but what a paradise!” she cried, as the carriage turned into the
court-yard.

“I am delighted that it pleases you,” he answered, glancing round to see
what effect his ancestral home had upon Miss Grace.

“Lovely!” she murmured to Mrs. Smith.

In another moment they had drawn up at the great Gothic door-way, and
immediately the figure of a little child dressed in white appeared on the
top of the broad steps, kissing her small hands in token of welcome.

“Go in directly; you’ll get cold.  Go in, I say,” Bootles called out.  It
was, indeed, bitterly cold, and a few flakes of snow were falling.  But
Miss Mignon had a budget of news for her Bootles, and was not to be done
out of telling it.

“Lal has had a letter from home,” she piped out in her shrill voice.  Lal
was her name for Lacy, and home meant Blankhampton Barracks.  “And the
St. Bernard has gotted two puppies—beauties—and I’m to have one.  Lal
says so.  And Terry has broked his leg.”  Terry was one of Bootleg’s
grooms.  “And Major Ally’s going to be married.”

Bootles was so surprised that he forgot the cold and his order that Miss
Mignon should go in.

“_What_!” he exclaimed, incredulously.

Just then Lacy himself came to the top of the steps with open arms, so to
speak, and carried off Mrs. Smith into the house.  Miss Mignon took
advantage of the opportunity to run down the steps just as Bootles helped
Madame Gourbolska to the ground.

“I welcome you with much pleasure,” he said, cordially—“Miss Grace also,”
as he gave her his hand to jump the last step.  “I am afraid you are
tired.  You are very white.”

“I am tired,” she said, in a low voice, not looking at him, but at the
child.

“It is so bitterly cold.  Don’t stand a moment.  Mignon, _will_ you go
in?”

Miss Mignon skipped up the steps, and the Russian lady caught her in her
arms.

“Oh, you little angel! and what is your name?”

“I’m Miss Mignon.  You’re a very pretty lady,” returned Mignon,
critically.  “I wanted to go to the station, but Bootles said it was too
cold, and Lal—”

“Madame does not know what Bootles and Lal mean,” interrupted Bootles.

“This is Bootles, and that’s Lal,” Miss Mignon informed her.  “I’m Miss
Mignon, and I belong to Bootles.”

“Oh, you belong to Bootles.  I am sure he must be very proud of you,”
Madame answered.

“I believe I’m a great bother to him,” Miss Mignon announced, in a
matter-of-fact tone.

Bootles laughed.  “Come to the fire, Madame,” he said.  Then turning to
Miss Grace, “I’m sure you are very cold—you are as white as a ghost.  I’m
sure,” addressing Lady Marion, “Aunt Marion, wine would be much better
than this tea.”

“No, no; tea,” they cried—at least the two elder ladies, for Miss Grace
seemed to have no ears for any one but the child.

“Won’t you speak to me?” she asked, presently, as Miss Mignon gravely
regarded her with her big blue eyes.

Miss Mignon went close to her immediately.  “Did Bootles let you drive?”
she asked, with interest.

Miss Grace shook her head, and lifted Miss Mignon onto her knee.  “I did
not ask him,” she said.

“Oh!”  Then, after a pause, “I al—ways do.”

“But not a pair?” in surprise.

Miss Mignon nodded.  “When they’re not too fresh.  Bootles would have
letted you, if you’d asked him.”

“I will another time.”

“Lacy,” said Bootles, suddenly, “is it true about Allardyce?”

“Hartog says so.  They say she—er—dwrinks like a duck.”

“Pooh!”  But Bootles laughed as if it was a great joke, and Mrs. Smith
begged to be enlightened.

“Oh! don’t you remember Allardyce?  He’s the great military teetotal
light.”

“And—er—he wreally is an AWFUL duf-fah,” remarked Miss Mignon, in so
exact and so unconscious an imitation of Lacy’s drawl that her hearers
went off into fits of laughter, and Miss Grace, clasping her close to her
breast, bent, and kissed the luxuriant golden curls.

“You’re crying,” said Miss Mignon, promptly, scanning Miss Grace’s face
with her big eyes.

“No; but you made me laugh,” she said, hastily.

“Some people do cry when they laugh,” Miss Mignon informed her.  “Our
colonel does.  Now Major Garnet always chokes, and then Bootles thumps
him.  I don’t know what he’ll do,” she added, in a tone of deep concern,
“if he chokes while we are away.”

“I never saw such an original little piece of mischief in my life,” cried
Mrs. Smith.  “And how charmingly dressed—is she not, Madame?  So sensible
of you to cover her up with that warm serge up to her throat and down to
her wrists.  Who put you up to it?”

“I fancy we evolved the idea among us.  You see she runs in and out of my
rooms, her own, and Mrs. Gray’s, the adjutant’s wife, that is,” Bootles
answered.  “And barrack corridors are not exactly hot-houses.  Besides,
our doctor keeps his eye on her, and he blames the wrapping-up for her
never having a day’s illness.”

“I believe in it,” asserted Mrs. Smith.

“And I—oh! our married ladies tell me I am quite an authority on the
subject.  I can tell you we get fearfully chaffed about her, Lacy and I.”

“Why?” Miss Grace asked.

“Well, because she goes about with us a good deal, and people seem to
find the situation difficult to understand.”  He took it for granted that
she knew all about Miss Mignon, and she did not press the question
further.  But half an hour later, when Mrs. Smith was thinking of
dressing, Miss Grace tapped at her door and entered.

“Could you lend me a few black pins?” she asked.  “Madame and I have both
forgotten them.”

“Certainly, my dear—take the box.”

But Miss Grace only took a few in the pink palm of her hand.

“What a pretty child that is!” she said, carelessly.  “Did the mother die
when it was born?”

“Oh, my dear!” cried Mrs. Smith, “she is not Captain Ferrers’s child.  No
relation whatever.”

“No?  Whose, then?”

“Ah!  That is a question.”  Then she briefly told Miss Mignon’s history,
ending: “But he will never part with her now.  He is so fond of her, and
she adores him.”

“He is a fine fellow,” said Miss Grace, toying with the pins in her hand.

“A fine fellow!  He is a splendid character,” Mrs. Smith cried, warmly.
“I assure you I have studied that man—and I have known him for years—and
I _cannot_ find a fault in him.  Years ago, when we were in great
trouble, my mother and I, at the time my sister died, oh, he _was_ so
good, so—well,” with a quick sigh, “I cannot explain it all, but he was
such a comfort to us, and she died, poor darling, under very painful
circumstances, especially for me.  Oh, there are very few in the world
like him—not one in ten thousand.  Take his action as regarded that dear
little child, for instance.  His brother officers wanted him to send her
to the workhouse, but as he wrote to me, ‘Some day I may meet the mother,
and how should I face her?’”

“Ah!” murmured Miss Grace, and Mrs. Smith went on.

“It was no small undertaking for a man in his position, for he has not
left her to the entire care of servants—she is continually with him and
Mr. Lacy, who is also very fond of her.  Do you know, he pays her nurse
fifty pounds a year.  In fact, she is just as if she were really his own
child.  But it is just like him.”

“And they would have sent her to the workhouse?”

“One or two of them—not Mr. Lacy, of course.”

Miss Grace was silent for a few moments.  Then she roused herself as from
a brown-study.

“Well, I am detaining you, Mrs. Smith, and shall be late myself.  Thank
you very much.”  Then she went away, passing softly down the corridor,
and entered her room, locking the door behind her.  But once in that safe
shelter she flung the pins on the table and dropped upon her knees,
burying her face in her hands, while the scalding tears forced their way
between her fingers, and the great sobs shook her frame.  “‘Some day he
might meet the mother,’ she sobbed, ‘and how should he face her?’  Oh, my
child, my little child, how shall I face him?  How shall I bear it?  How
shall I live in the same house with him without falling on my knees and
blessing him for saving my little child from—God knows what?”

[Picture: Lacy was occupied in making desperate love to the Russian lady]



CHAPTER VI.


A MONTH had passed, and the three ladies still remained at Ferrers Court,
though other visitors had come and gone, lots of them.  Lacy was still
there also, and occupied in making desperate love to the Russian lady,
utterly ignoring two important facts—one that she only laughed at him,
the other that she was three years his senior.

But while all this was going on, Bootles had fallen in love at last, as
men and women only fall once in their lives, and of course the lady was
Madame Gourbolska’s friend, Miss Grace—had he but known it, the mother of
Mignon.

But Bootles never suspected that for a moment.  True, there was a
likeness so strong as to proclaim the truth, and many a time Miss Grace
wondered, when she caught sight of the child’s face and her own in a
glass, that all these people did not see it.  Yet neither Bootles nor any
one else did see it, and the game of love was played on with desperate
earnestness on his side, and with equally desperate desire to prevent it
on hers.

But Bootles admired shy game, and Miss Grace’s evident shyness made him
only the more earnest; and not being troubled with that faint heart which
never won fair lady, he had no intention of allowing Madame Gourbolska to
depart from beneath his roof without asking Miss Grace to return to it as
its mistress.  Therefore one afternoon, when he returned from hunting in
much bespattered pink, and went into the fire-lit library, where he found
Miss Grace half dreaming by the fire, he shut the door with the intention
of getting it over at once.  Miss Grace rose with some signs of
confusion.

“Don’t go for a minute,” said Bootles; “I want to speak to you.  It seems
to me that you have grown very fond of my little Mignon.  Is it not so?”

Miss Grace caught at the carvings of the oaken chimney-shelf to steady
herself, and her heart began to beat hard and fast.

“Yes, I am very fond of her,” she stammered.

“I wish you would take her for your own,” Bootles said, very gently.

“For—my own?” sharply.  “What do you mean?”

For a moment she thought he knew all, but his next words undeceived her.

“If she had such a mother as you, poor little motherless waif, and if _I_
had such a wife, and if Ferrers Court had such a mistress!  Oh! don’t you
understand what I mean?” taking her hand.

Miss Grace snatched the hand away.  “Oh, don’t, _don’t_, DON’T!” she
said, turning away.

But Bootles possessed himself of it again.  “Must I tell you more?  Oh,
my darling, how from the very first day I ever saw you I loved you with
all my heart and soul?  How, when I bade you welcome to my house, I
could, and would if I had dared, have taken you up to my heart and kissed
you before every one?  How—”

“Oh, tell me nothing—nothing!” she cried, with feverish haste.  “Don’t
you understand it cannot be?  It is impossible—quite impossible.”

“Impossible!” he echoed, blankly.  “Why is it impossible?  Not because
you don’t care, that I’ll swear.”

She said nothing.

“Or, if that is so, look at me and say I don’t love you.”

But Miss Grace did not speak, nor yet did she look.

“Or will you tell me that there is some one else whom you like better?”
he asked, regaining hope.

No, Miss Grace did not seem inclined to vouchsafe that information
either.

“Or that the care of the child would be an objection?”

“_No_!” she burst out, in an agonized tone.

“Then what do you mean by impossible?” he asked.  “It seems to me very
possible indeed.”

She looked at him—that proud, handsome, erect man, with a smile of
expectant happiness on his good face—and tried to take her hands away.

“Oh!” she sobbed out, “don’t you think I would if I could?  I have not
been so happy that I would throw away such happiness as you could give
me.  Some day you may know what it costs me to tell you that it is quite
impossible.”

“You give me no hope?” he asked, in a dull voice, and she saw that he had
grown white to his very lips.

“None,” she returned; then added, bitterly, “Oh, hope and I have had
nothing to say to one another this long, long while.”

Bootles dropped her hand listlessly.  “Then it is no use my boring you,”
he said, turning away.

  [Picture: Then with one imploring backward look she went away and left
                                him alone]

A fierce denial rose to the girl’s lips, but she choked it down and
suffered his words in silence.  Then meekly, and with one imploring
backward look at his tall figure as he stood, his head well up in spite
of his defeat, looking into the fire, she went away and left him alone.



CHAPTER VII.


SO it was all over.  This was the end of all his hopes and dreams and
wishes!  This was the end!  None of his bright hopes would ever be—none
of his golden dreams would come to pass.  His wishes had no weight with
the woman he loved.  He had looked forward—like a fool, he thought,
bitterly—and had pictured her in a dozen different ways: at the head of
his table, in the hunting-field, in the middle age, and in the decline of
life, as Mignon’s mother, as his wife.  But it was all over now.  When
Madame’s visit was over, she would go from under his roof, never to come
back to it any more, forever.

He was still standing there when the door opened with some difficulty,
and Miss Mignon appeared on the threshold.

“Bootles?” she said, inquiringly.

Bootles turned round to her.  “Well?” he answered.

Miss Mignon heard the misery in his voice and ran to him.  “Bootles got a
headache?” she asked.

       [Picture: He dropped into a chair and took her in his arms]

He dropped into a chair and took her in his arms.  “Such a headache,
Mignon.”

Miss Mignon knew what Bootles’s headaches were, and drew his head down
upon her small shoulder with an air of protecting and comforting dignity,
equally pretty and absurd in one so young.

“Mignon _loves_ Bootles,” she whispered.

“Will Mignon always love Bootles?” he asked.

“Always,” was the confident reply.  “Mignon will _always_ love Bootles.”

And so in and because of his trouble the little child crept closer and
closer into his heart, and drove out the greatest bitterness of his
disappointment, and the clasp of her soft arms about his neck seemed to
take away the sharpest sting of defeat.  The touch of her baby lips upon
his aching forehead—and it _did_ ache—brought him a larger measure of
comfort than any living thing had power to do at that moment.

If only he had known that Mignon was _her_ child!

But Bootles was not the man to sulk with fate; if Miss Grace would not
have him, no more was to be said, and no one but Mrs. Smith saw anything
unusual between them.  But trust Mrs. Smith.  She walked into Miss
Grace’s room and taxed her with it—taxed her in so friendly a way that
the girl began to cry miserably.  Mrs. Smith fumed.

“It is absurd,” she cried, “to refuse such a man—such a
position—such—such—  Oh! it’s absurd.  I have no patience with you.  You
will never have such a chance again—never.”

“Oh, never,” she sobbed.

“Why, then, throw it away?  Let me go and tell—”

“No; tell him nothing.  I have already told him it is impossible.  Oh,
Mrs. Smith!” she cried, passionately, “do you think any woman in her
senses would refuse him if she could help it?  Not I, I assure you.”

“It is inexplicable,” said Mrs. Smith, but she protested no further.

So the next day they left Ferrers Court, Bootles driving them to the
station.  But it was all very different now—very different, too, from the
last time he had driven them anywhere.  There was no laughter, no joking,
no promise to come again.  He was not outwardly angry, not harsh nor hard
in any way, but he was very polite; and politeness from him was
heart-breaking.

It was soon over when they reached the station—a few minutes of that kind
of conversation which people make when they are waiting for a carriage or
a train, as they said the passengers of the _London_ made while walking
up and down quietly waiting for the end.  There was a handshaking all
round, the lifting of Bootles’s and Lacy’s hats, a fuss over Miss Mignon,
and that was all.  Miss Grace, on looking out of the carriage window with
tear-dimmed eyes, saw that they were together, the child’s hand in his.
Miss Mignon’s last words were yet ringing in her ears: “Bootles has
gotted such a headache.”

“Then Mignon must be very kind to him,” Miss Grace whispered.

Ay, Miss Mignon had need to be kind, for Bootles had “gotted” such a
heartache too!



CHAPTER VIII.


A CROWD of roughs, a lesser crowd of third-rate spectators, and a lesser
gathering of fashionable ones were assembled on the Blankhampton
racecourse, for it was the day of the Scarlet Lancer Steeple-chases.

On the Grand Stand were to be seen most of the rank and fashion of the
neighborhood, and a goodly show of that class of people who are always to
be found about towns which are also military stations—the class of people
who have daughters to marry, and not much money to marry them with.

There were all the Scarlet Lancer ladies in full force, from the
colonel’s wife in blue velvet and sables, to the quartermaster’s lady in
a hard felt hat, with long diamond and pearl ear-rings.  There were
officers in cords and boots, their silken finery hidden by Newmarket
coats.  And there was the bride, Mrs. Allardyce, in pink and gray, the
major’s racing colors—oh lor! as the fellows said when they saw her.  And
there was Miss Mignon, a little three-year-old belle, got up in Bootles’s
colors—scarlet, purple, and gold—adapted in her small case to a warm
frock of purple velvet, braided with scarlet and gold, and on her golden
curls a jockey-cap to match it.  Utterly absurd, most people said, but
Bootles didn’t seem to see it.  Nor, for the matter of that, did Miss
Mignon herself.  Held by Bootles, or, when Bootles was riding, by Lacy,
she sat on the broad ledge of the balcony and surveyed the world, like a
queen in miniature.

It was a fine place for seeing; yes, and a fine place for hearing too, as
Lacy testified afterwards in his own peculiar style of delivery.

“Er—I and Miss Mignon were waiting for Bootles to come down the lawn,
when—er—a laday next to us—er—a little unpwrepossessing person—I found
out afterwards that her name is Berwry—with a nose like a teapot-spout,
and a mouth of the bull-dog ordah—little daughter, by-the-bye, pretty
much of the same type, but just a shade less hideous—suddenly
electwrified us by pulling out a huge pair of gold eye-glasses, and
holding the wrace-card at arm’s-length.

“‘Ow!’ said she, in a mincing voice, when Miles came down the lane
looking like a sack of flour in a purple satin jacket—‘Ow, CAP-tain
Ferwrahs!  Ow, Dorothy, my deah, CAP-tain Ferwrahs!  _Vewry_ handsome—and
how _beau_-tifully he wrides!  Ow, I’m shaw he’ll win, and what a
_lovely_ horse!  CAP-tain Ferwrahs!  He’s vewry handsome.’

“Well—er—I gave Miss Mignon a gwreat squeeze to hold her tongue—and she
did.  This Mrs.—er—Berwry went on expatiating on Miles’s great beauty of
person, and on the absolute certainty of his winning.  ‘And his pet name
is Bootles,’she informed us.  His _pet_ name!  Well, pwresently Bootles
came sailing down the lawn in all his glowry, and Miss Mignon quite
forgot the old girl, and shouted out to him.  ‘Bootles,’ she
called—‘Bootles.’

“Bootles glanced up, and waved his hand, and—er—the old party called
Berwry turned wound and eyed her sharply, saw the scarlet, purple, and
gold of her dwress, looked at her card, and said, witheringly, ‘Ow, I
don’t know _him_,’ as if there were a dozen Captain Ferwers knocking
about, and this was one of the eleven she didn’t know.

“Well, when the wrace was over—er—who should come up but Miles.

“‘Ah, Miles,’ said I, ‘I—er—heard a laday expatiating just now on your
extrwreme beauty and gwrace and elegance of person—was shaw you’d win.
What a pity you didn’t!’

“‘Bless my soul!’ said Miles; ‘was she pretty?”

“‘Oh, don’t be flattered; she took you for Bootles,’ said I, ignoring the
question.

“‘Bootles’s money again!’ cwried Miles, with a gwreat wroar of laughter.

“Well, in two twos up comes Bootles.  ‘See me win, Mignon?’” said he.

“So I—er—told him the stowry too, and Bootles laughed that absurd ‘Ha!
ha!’ of his.  ‘Come along and have some lunch, Mignon, my sweetheart,’
said he, ‘_and let’s be out of this_.’”

But it was after this incident that the most important event of that
bright May day occurred—one of those fearful struggles to win, when half
a dozen horses show well for the post, and all the field finds tongue and
shouts its hardest.

“Ferrers wins!  Blue and fawn—yellow and black!  Miles wins—Miles wins!
No, no; Ferrers in front—fawn and blue!  Hartog—Hartog—Hartog wins!
Miles in front!  Ah, he’s down!  Ferrers—Miles—blue and fawn—Gilchrist
gains—Miles—Gilchrist—Ferrers wins—Ferrers wins!  All up with the others!
Ferrers WINS!”

And then the company, good, bad, and indifferent, had time to remember
that a man was down—no, not one man, but two.  To find out that Hartog
was bruised and stunned, but able with help to get to the dressing-room
and recover himself, to learn that the swarming crowd around the other
was watching a more exciting race than that which they had just witnessed
with shouts and applause, that they were watching with awe and in silence
a race between life and death—for Gilchrist, the “odd” man of the
regiment, the man who had been nobody’s friend, nobody’s chum, was lying
in the midst of them with his back broken, waiting for a hurdle.

They were all as sorry as men could be who had never been moved by
feelings of friendship.  The proceedings were stopped at once, and they
went gravely back to barracks, those who had ridden, to get into
morning-clothes, and all of them to hang about waiting for news.

But there was no hope, absolutely no hope whatever.  With all his faults,
failings, and peculiarities, Gavor Gilchrist was passing away from their
midst by exchange, as Hartog had once wished—the exchange, not of one
regiment for another, but of this world for the next.

[Picture: The swarming crowd round the other was watching a more exciting
              race than that which they had just witnessed]

It was about six o’clock that the senior of the two surgeons in
attendance on Gilchrist entered the anteroom, and, looking around,
beckoned for Bootles.

“What news?” asked several voices.

“He won’t last the night.  Bootles, he wants you.”

“I’ll come,” said Bootles, rising.

“Sure to want Bootles,” observed Preston.

“Oh yes; I should myself,” returned another.

“Won’t last the night,” remarked a third.  “Well, I never did like
Gilchrist—never; but, all the same, I’m deuced sorry for him now, poor
chap.  For oh, by Jove! it’s a fearful thing when you come to that.”

And then they fell into silence again, waiting for Bootles to come back.
Half an hour passed—three-quarters; then Bootles did not come.  An hour;
then Bootles appeared—came with a white face and a scared look in his
blue eyes, followed by the doctor who had fetched him.  Every man in the
room was roused from a lounging attitude to one of expectation and
surprise.

“Bootles,” said Lacy, moving towards him.

But Bootles did not even look at him.  He turned to the doctor and
uttered words the like of which none of his hearers had ever heard from
him before.

“I kept my temper, doctor—you think I did?  I know the man’s dying.  Yes,
I know, and I shouldn’t like to think I lost my temper with a poor chap
who was dying, but—but—No; I won’t say a word.  I’ll go away and keep to
myself until I’ve got over it a little.  If I stop here I shall say
something I shall be sorry for all the rest of my life.”

“What is it, Bootles?” broke in Lacy, in his soft voice.

But Bootles did not reply for a moment.  He stood still, trying hard to
control himself; but Lacy, who had laid his hand upon his sleeve, felt
that he was shaking from head to foot, and his very lips were trembling.

“Tell us,” said Lacy, persuasively.  “What is it?”

“He is Mignon’s father!” Bootles answered.  And then he broke from Lacy’s
grasp and fled.

“Impossible!” Lacy cried.

“Not at all; it is true,” the doctor answered.  “He is making his will
now, leaving Bootles sole guardian and trustee to the child.”

“The brute,” burst out Preston, indignantly, remembering Gilchrist’s
words—not so long ago.

                 [Picture: A race between life and death]

“Hush, hush!  The man is dying, and death alters everything,” the doctor
cried.

“And Bootles kept his temper?  Said nothing?”

“Not one word—of reproach.”

“Has he seen her?”

“No.  He would not, though Bootles asked him.”

“His own child—and she Miss Mignon!”

“All the better.  She cannot endure him.”

“By Jove!  But what a blow for Bootles!”

“How will he take it?  Will it make any difference?”

“As wregards Miss Mignon?  What wrot you talk.  As if Bootles—”  But
there Lacy broke off in disgust, and the babel of surmises, questions,
and answers went on.

And that night Gavor Gilchrist died.



CHAPTER IX.


OH, but it was a blow for Bootles!  To find he had been duped, tricked,
made a fool of all this time; to remember the anxiety, the trouble, the
expense to which he had been put; nay, to recall the chaff he had
endured, and then to discover that Miss Mignon was Gilchrist’s child—the
child of the man he went perhaps nearer to hating than any one he had
ever known in all his life!  Everything came back to him then—the dead
man’s jibes and sneers and taunts, his unwearied efforts to tax him with
an offence which he knew he had not committed.  And though he had failed
in that, oh, what a fool Gilchrist had made of him!  That was the sting
Bootles felt most of anything.

For hours after he left the anteroom Bootles kept out of every one’s
way—indeed until Lacy came to tell him that Gilchrist was dead.  Then, it
being close upon the hour of eleven, he went and knocked at the door of
Mignon’s nursery.  The nurse opened it a few inches, and seeing who it
was, set it open wide.

“Is Miss Mignon asleep?” he asked.

“Yes, sir; hours ago,” the woman answered.

He passed into the inner room, where the child was lying.  A candle
burned on a table beside the cot, casting its light on the fair baby
face, now flushed in sleep, and on the tangled golden curls.  Both her
arms lay outside the eider coverlet, one hand grasping the whip with
which he had ridden and won that day, the other holding the card of the
races.  Bootles bent and scanned her face closely, but not one trace
could he discern of likeness to the father—not one—and he drew a deep
breath of relief that it was so.

Well he remembered Lacy’s puzzled scrutiny of the year-old baby.
“There’s a likeness, but I don’t know where to plant it.”  If there had
been a likeness to Gilchrist then, it had now passed away; and as Bootles
satisfied himself that it was so, his love for her, which during the last
few hours had hung trembling in the balance, though he would hardly have
acknowledged it, even to himself, re-asserted itself, and rose up in his
heart stronger than ever.  Just then she moved uneasily in her sleep.

“Lal, where _is_ Bootles?” she asked.  Then, after a pause, “Gotted
_another_ headache?”  And an instant later, “Miss Grace said Mignon was
to be very kind to Bootles.”

Bootles bent down and kissed her, and she awoke.

“Bootles,” she said, in sleepy surprise; then, imperatively, “Take me
up.”

So Bootles carried her to the fire in the adjoining room, where the nurse
was sewing a fresh frill of lace on the pretty velvet frock, with its
braidings of scarlet and gold, which she had worn that day.

“Lal said Mignon wasn’t to go to Bootles,” she said, reproachfully.

“Bootles has been bothered, Mignon,” he answered.

“Poor Bootles!” stroking his cheek with her soft hand.  “Bootles was
vexed; Lal said so.  But not with Mignon.  Mignon told Lal so,”
confidently.

“Never with Mignon,” answered Bootles, resting his cheek against the
tossed golden curls, and feeling as if he had done this faithful baby
heart a moral injustice by his hours of anger and doubt.

There was a moment of silence, broken by the nurse.  “Have you heard,
sir, how Mr. Gilchrist is?” she asked.

Bootles roused himself.  “He is dead, nurse.  Died half an hour ago.”

“Then, if you please, sir,” she asked, hesitatingly, “might I ask if it
is true about Miss Mignon?”

“Yes, it is true,” his face darkening.

“Because, sir, Miss Mignon should have mourning,” she began, when Bootles
cut her short.

“I shall not allow her to wear mourning for Mr. Gilchrist,” he said,
curtly; so the nurse dared say no more.

Three days later the funeral took place; and if the facts of the dead
man’s having acknowledged Miss Mignon as his child, and having admitted
to Bootles that he had transferred her that night from his own quarters
to Bootles’s rooms, created a sensation, it was as nothing to the intense
surprise caused by the will, which was read, by the dead man’s desire,
before all the officers of the regiment.

In it he left his entire property to his daughter, Mary Gilchrist, now in
the care of Captain Ferrers, and commonly known as Mignon, on condition
that Captain Ferrers consented to be her sole guardian and trustee until
she had attained the age of twenty-one, or until her marriage, provided
it should be with her guardian’s sanction, and on the express
understanding that Captain Ferrers should not give up the care of the
child to her mother, even temporarily.  To his wife, Helen Gilchrist, a
copy of this testament was to be sent forthwith.  Should any of the
conditions be violated, the whole property of which he died possessed
should go to his cousin, Lucian Gavor Gilchrist; but if the conditions be
faithfully observed Captain Ferrers should have the power of applying
any, or all, of the income arising from the estate for the use and
maintenance of the said Mary Gilchrist.

“Cwrazy!” murmured Lacy to Bootles, who listened in contemptuous silence,
and wondered in no small dismay what kind of a life he should have if
Mignon’s mother chose to make herself objectionable.

But the will was not crazy at all; far from it.  It was only a very
cleverly thought-out plan for keeping mother and child apart.  Bootles
would take care not to endanger Mignon’s inheritance, and Gilchrist had
taken advantage of it to carry out his animosity towards his wife to the
bitter end.

But of course there was one contingency he had never thought of or
provided for—_marriage_.

It was less than a week after Gilchrist’s death that Bootles received a
note by hand, signed Helen Gilchrist.

“Already!” he groaned, impatiently.

“May I trouble you to send the child to see me for half an hour during
this afternoon?” she said, and that was all.

But Bootles did not see sending the child to be quietly stolen away.  He
forgot quite that since Gilchrist had not left his widow a farthing she
would probably be now no better able to provide for the child than she
had been when compelled to cast her baby upon the father’s mercy.
Therefore, immediately after lunch, he drove down to the hotel from which
the note had been written.  Yes; Mrs. Gilchrist was within—this way.  And
then—then—Bootles, with the child fast holding his hand, was shown into a
room, and there they found—_Miss Grace_!

The truth flashed into his mind instantly.  She rose hurriedly, and he
saw that she was clad in black, but was not in widow’s dress.  She fell
upon her knees and almost smothered Mignon with kisses.

“Mignon!  Mignon!” she cried.

“Mignon has been very kind to Bootles,” Mignon explained, not knowing
whether to laugh or cry.

“My Mignon! my baby!” the mother sobbed.  Bootles watched them—the two
things he loved best on earth.

“Have you nothing to say to me?” he asked at last.

“What shall I say?”  She had risen from her knees, and now moved shyly
away.

“You might say,” said Bootles, severely, “that you are very sorry that
you, a married woman, deceived me and stole my heart away.  You might say
that, for one thing.”

“But I am not sorry,” cried Mignon’s mother, audaciously.

“Then you might take a leaf out of Mignon’s book, and say, as she says
when I have a headache, ‘Mignon _loves_ Bootles.’”

  [Picture: Bootles watched them—the two things he loved best on earth]

“I wreally do think,” remarked Lacy to the fellows, when the astounding
news had been told and freely discussed, “that now we must let that poor,
malicious, cwrooked-minded chap wrest in his gwrave in peace.  Seems to
me,” he continued, with his most reflective air, “that—er—Solomon was
wright, and said a vewry wise thing, when he said, ‘Love laughs at
locksmiths.’”

“Solomon!” cried a voice, amid a shout of laughter.

“Oh, wasn’t it Solomon?” questioned Lacy, mildly.  “It’s of no
consequence; some one said it.  But only think of that poor devil
spending his last moments wraising a barwrier to keep mother and child
apart, and old Bootles fulfils all the conditions to the letter, and
bwreaks them all in the spirit by—marwriage!”

                                * * * * *

                                 THE END.





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