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Title: Three Bright Girls - A Story of Chance and Mischance
Author: Armstrong, Annie E.
Language: English
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[Frontispiece: MOLLY READS A LETTER FROM HUGH.]



  Three Bright Girls

  A Story of Chance and Mischance


  BY

  ANNIE E. ARMSTRONG

  Author of "Madge's Mistake" "A Very Odd Girl"
  "Violet Yereker's Vanity" &c.



  _WITH SIX PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS BY W. PARKINSON_



  BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED
  LONDON GLASGOW AND DUBLIN



  CONTENTS.

  CHAP.

  I. Hot Chestnuts
  II. Doris's First Dinner-party
  III. Shopping and a Rehearsal
  IV. Hugh's Mentor
  V. Husband and Wife
  VI. Tableaux Vivants
  VII. Startling News
  VIII. Gone!
  IX. A House of Mourning
  X. Facing the Future
  XI. The Brothers Talboys
  XII. A New Home
  XIII. The Horton Boys distinguish Themselves
  XIV. A Council of War
  XV. Doris makes a Pudding
  XVI. Trying to make both Ends meet
  XVII. Daisy's Birthday
  XVIII. Dr. John Sinclair
  XIX. A Visit from Aunt Sophia and the Horton Boys
  XX. Becky
  XXI. A Disastrous Visit to a Frog Pond
  XXII. Daisy's Illness
  XXIII. Dick's Good News
  XXIV. Doris's "Knight of the Woods"
  XXV. Honor answers an Advertisement
  XXVI. The Mr. Talboys resort to Strategy
  XXVII. Two Departures
  XXVIII. Brighter Days
  XXIX. "What a Tease you are, Molly!"
  XXX. Hugh's Parting Gift
  XXXI. Preparations for a Ball
  XXXII. John Sinclair's Fairy Tale
  XXXIII. The Wood-Cutter and the Princess
  XXXIV. "I am Lancelot," says Sir Edward
  XXXV. Doris's Wedding
  XXXVI. The End of a Fairy Tale



ILLUSTRATIONS.


Molly reads a Letter from Hugh .... _Frontis._

Honor assists Doris to dress for Dinner

Doris sings "The Sands of Dee"

"Listen!" said Molly, "there is the Ghost again"

Daisy and the Mr. Talboys visit Whitestar

"You are not going to disappoint me, Honor?"



THREE BRIGHT GIRLS:

A STORY OF CHANCE AND MISCHANCE.



CHAPTER I.

HOT CHESTNUTS.

Pop!

"There's one!" cries an excited voice.

Pop! bang!

"There's another! look, two! and both on my side," exclaims an
equally eager though older voice.

"Here, Doris, you just sheer off to your own side and pick up your
own, if you've got the pluck to risk burning those white fingers of
yours;" and casting contemptuous glances at the hands in question,
the speaker, a bright, handsome boy of about thirteen, dives down
upon the rug and commences making sundry ineffectual snatches at
several chestnuts which are lying smoking and gleaming amongst the
cinders.

"Not so fast, good sir," cries the owner of the white hands,
following her brother's example and, despite her seventeen years,
prostrating herself beside him.  "White or black, I bet you twopence
I pick them up quicker than you.  Here, Molly, hold the plate.  Now,
Dick, start fair, you know.  Oh! there's another!"  And thereupon
commences a hot skirmish, in every sense, over the nuts, which by
this time are besprinkling the hearth pretty freely: so hot and
energetic, in fact, that the other occupants of the room wisely
retire from the contest, contenting themselves with looking on, and
exploding with laughter now and again at the suppressed exclamations
indicative of the warm nature of the undertaking.

A breathless silence for at least two minutes, then, flushed with
victory, Doris rises from the floor and is about to lay her plate on
the table, when, lo! another loud pop.  Whereupon Dick rushes over
with great violence to the spot where his sister is standing, and
knocking against her in his efforts to reach the prize first, Doris
loses her balance, and clutching wildly at the back of a chair which
Daisy is sitting on and tilting back comfortably, down come Daisy,
chair, Doris, and nuts, all in an indiscriminate heap on the floor.
Loud exclamations arise on all sides, and a pitiful howl is wrung
from Daisy, who has planted her hand, in falling, on an almost
red-hot chestnut.  Doris does not attempt to get up, but, still
sitting where she has arrived in such summary fashion, she rates Dick
soundly for his ungallant behaviour, her voice subsiding into a sort
of wail as she concludes with the remark, "And now I suppose I shall
have to do my hair again, you _wretched_ boy.  I can't appear before
every one like this.  Look here!" and giving her head a shake
forward, down comes the pretty erection of golden curls which half an
hour ago had crowned so becomingly the small neat head.

"Bless me!" exclaims the incorrigible boy, "I quite forgot my lady is
to grace the festive board downstairs to-night.  But don't you tell
me, Miss Doris, that you wouldn't have done your hair again anyhow!
_I_ know what a time girls take dressing, and my name is not Dick
Merivale if you don't spend a good hour this evening pranking and
prinking before the glass."

"Help me up, Dick, and don't talk so much," says Doris, quietly
ignoring this tirade; "and now, if you have _quite_ finished and will
be kind enough to let Honor speak, I shall be glad.  To my certain
knowledge she has been trying to make herself heard for the last five
minutes."

The noise having now subsided, a clear, gentle voice is heard from
the neighbourhood of the fireplace, where Honor is kneeling beside
the afflicted Daisy and examining the small burn caused by the hot
chestnut.

"I was only saying, Doris, that if Lane is too busy with mother to
help you I will turn lady's-maid and do your hair and dress you.
Molly, do put down that poker."

"You're a dear!" exclaims impetuous Doris throwing her arms round
Honor's neck.  "I would ever so much rather you helped me than Lane.
She's so prim and fussy.  Where is Lucy, though?--mother will not
want them both."

"O, I meant to tell you.  Her sister is worse again, so mother let
her go home to see her.  Now let us have these chestnuts if we're
going to.  Pull your chairs up to the fire again and let us be cosy.
Good gracious, what an untidy rug you've made!  What would Miss
Denison say if she saw it?  Dick, my boy, you will have to mend your
manners before she returns, or she will be looking every hour of the
day in that quiet way of hers which speaks such volumes.  Really I am
glad she is coming back to-morrow, for I have had about enough of
keeping order, or trying to, since she left."

"Why didn't she appoint _me_ commander-in-chief?" says Doris, pouting
over the skinning of a still-hot nut.  "I am the eldest, though no
one ever seems to think so."

"Because you are such a scatter-brained piece of goods," puts in her
polite brother.  "No one with a grain of sense would ever credit your
being the elder by twelve, nay, thirteen months.  Why, Honor looks a
hundred compared to you!"

"Thanks, Dick.  You are monstrously polite this afternoon," said
Honor quietly.  "In what consists my antiquity, pray?--has my hair
turned white? or have I lost all my front teeth?"

"O, I meant nothing about your appearance," replies the boy, looking
rather sheepish; "I mean as to sense and cleverness and--and all that
sort of thing, you know.  Of course Doris is considered the beauty of
the family, with her light fluffy hair and her great blue eyes, but
to my thinking old Honor is every bit as good-looking.  What say you,
Molly?"

"She's a dear old Honor, that's what she is," says Molly, looking up
and patting her elder sister's hand affectionately.  To be sure the
effect of this statement is somewhat marred by the fact of the
speaker's mouth being full of chestnuts.  The sentiment is the same,
however, and Dick, banging his hand down on the table, cries
triumphantly, "There you are, you see--_old_ again!  _Now_ what have
you got to say, Miss Honor?"

"That you are a goose and that Molly is another, for if she will
persist in tilting her chair like that she will follow Daisy's
example and come to the ground."

Molly brings her chair on to its fore-legs with a bang, then proceeds
to announce solemnly, "We don't seem to be getting a bit nearer to
settling these theatricals.  Here's Miss Denison coming back
to-morrow expecting us to have arranged everything and to have been
rehearsing our parts, and--"

"_Parts!_" echoes Dick; "how can you call it a part when you have
nothing to do but to sit or stand still?"

"Well, it _is_ a part all the same," cries Molly, not to be put down.
"Each one is a part of the whole picture, I suppose; so if you can't
allow it in one sense you can in another."

"Hum, especially when there is only one person in the picture!"
mutters Dick.  But here Honor's voice is heard saying, "Well,
children, no disputing or we shall never settle anything.  Now, who
has got the list of the subjects that we made out last night?"

"Here it is," says Doris, who has had it spread out on her knees
studying for some time.  "Now, first of all, is it quite settled that
we are only to have nursery rhymes; or do you think people will think
it silly?"

"We _might_ have one or two historical scenes, perhaps," says Honor
reflectively.

"Or one or two Shakespearian or Tennysonian," suggests Dick, who has
rather high-flown ideas.  "Let us do the 'play scene' in Hamlet.
_I'll_ be Hamlet, and--I--suppose Doris would have to be Ophelia."

"How absurd you are, Dick!" exclaims that damsel satirically.  "Where
would you get all the people from?  Do for goodness' sake bring the
picture before your mind's eye for a moment.  Why, besides Hamlet and
Ophelia there are the king and queen, all their ladies and gentlemen,
and then all the players.  Why, we couldn't do it, not with _all_ the
boys next door even; and just think what a bother the scene would be
to arrange.  We should want a double stage, and all sorts of regal
appendages which I am sure we could not find anywhere.  You Hamlet,
too!" she finishes up with scorn.

"All right!  Don't excite yourself," says Dick calmly.

"I think," says Honor, "we shall be wiser to keep to the nursery
rhymes, because we can take any amount of license with them, and use
our own discretion about the dressing of them.  But if we take a
scene that everybody knows we _must be_ careful to have everything
perfectly correct; and though I should be sorry to underrate the
talent of such celebrities in the art of acting as ourselves, I
_don't think_ we are up to it.  Now, Doris, read your list."

"Mother Hubbard," reads Doris; "verse where she looks in the
cupboard.  Vic will do the dog capitally.  Molly will coach her up in
her part and--"

"There, you hear!" exclaims that young lady.  "Doris calls them parts
too, and so they are, of course!" and looking at her brother
defiantly she attacks the chestnuts with renewed ardour.

"What shall we do for the cupboard?" inquires Daisy with wide-open
eyes.

"We can get Mrs. Mason to let us have one of her portable safes up,
and if there are a few plates and dishes left inside, with anything
in the eatable way on them, Vic is sure to sit up and beg."

"Well, that one will do," says Molly, getting up and hanging over her
sister's shoulder; "but read on, Doris.  Look! the time is going on
awfully fast; in another hour you'll have to dress."

So Doris reads the list, which gives general satisfaction.  Then
laying it down, she says, "If only father helps us, we shall _do_.
He only wants a little petting and coaxing, and I am sure he will.
Hark! that's the carriage now, isn't it?  Run and look, Dick; is it
father?"

"Yes, and it's snowing like anything.  I declare he has got quite
white while standing a minute to speak to Rawlings.  We must give him
time to get off his coat and speak to mother, and then we'll fetch
him up here, and not let him go until he promises all we want."

"Hey! what's that I hear?" cries a cheery voice at the door.  "Come
now, that is what one might call a very moderate request, ladies and
gentlemen.  Why, where is Bobby?  Oh, gone to tea next door; a common
occurrence, eh?  Now, come and kiss me, girls.  Bless my heart, one
at a time, one at a time; there are plenty of kisses for all.  And
here's mother, looking jealous, I declare!"

"I shouldn't wonder," says Mrs. Merivale, who, almost unobserved in
the midst of all the tumult, has quietly entered the room behind her
husband.  "Enough to make anyone jealous, I should think.  Honor,
dear," her tone changing to one of anxiety, "I hope you haven't been
letting Daisy eat many of those nasty indigestible nuts."

"O, no, mother!" replies Daisy herself promptly, "I wanted heaps
more, but Honor said 'No.'"

"Yes, and with a capital N too," remarks Molly.

"I came up with your father because I want to speak to you two
girls," resumes Mrs. Merivale.  "Lucy has not come back yet, so I
don't think she will now, that is in time to dress Doris.  So I
thought you would help her, Honor, for I want her to look nice.  You
know what dress; the new plain white silk.  And, mind, not a single
ornament, not one!"

"O, mother!" exclaims Doris, pouting; "not my pearl cross that father
gave me on my last birthday?"

"Tut, my dear!" puts in Mr. Merivale, who has overheard this touching
appeal, "let her wear it.  What's the use of having things if they
are never to see the light?"

"Well, as it is only pearl, I don't mind.  I will send Lane to see
that all is right," continues Mrs. Merivale, "and to give any
finishing touches that may be wanted; and now I must go downstairs
again.  There are several things I want to see to before I dress.
Don't be late in the drawing-room, Doris, that is all I beg.  And,
James, don't stay long up here.  They will be trapping and inveigling
you into all sorts of rash promises if you do;" and Mrs. Merivale
leaves the room, putting her head in again, however, to say to Honor,
"Let Jane come up and sit with the children whilst you are with
Doris, and _don't_ let them be up late.  If Lucy is not back, Jane
can call for Bobby; William will be too busy to-night.  _Please_ see,
Honor, that Daisy and Bobby go up to nurse punctually at half-past
seven.  Molly and Dick, I trust to you both to go up at nine."

There is a chorus of "All right, mother!" and as the door closes they
all five flock round their father; questioning, demanding, coaxing
and wheedling, until, becoming confused amongst them all, he begs to
be allowed to sit down and take the questions in turn.

"Have I been to the carpenter's?--Yes, I have, and he is going to
look in to-morrow morning to take a look at the room.  Have I been to
the costumier's?--No, I haven't, for I don't know what you do want
and what you don't.  Moreover, I think if you can do without anything
from there, all the better.  I can't say I like the idea of your
wearing hired costumes.  Anything like swords, sceptres, helmets, or
such like you may order, or I will for you; but anything in the way
of gowns, I'd rather you bought the stuff for them and have them
made.  You will then be better able to please your own tastes.  Get
your mother to let you have Mrs. Needles-and-pins, or whatever her
name may be, here for a day or two, and if you like to put down all
that you are likely to want, I will undertake that you have the money
for it.  Now, I can't say more than that, can I?"

General approbation of this plan is expressed, and Mr. Merivale is
about to escape, muttering something about "Mother fidgeting herself
into fiddle-strings," when he is once more seized upon, and Molly,
who is generally to the fore where speaking is concerned, asks in a
stage-whisper, "What about the music for the dancing, father?"

"Why, bless my soul, there's plenty of time for that, surely!  Now,
let me see, what evening is fixed?--the 27th, isn't it?  Very well,
then, this is only the 13th; so you have a clear fortnight before
you."

"Yes, father, I know," says persevering Molly; "but you see, dear old
Dad, we want to feel that it is _all_ settled, and nothing left on
our minds, you know!"

"O, _do_ you, now?" says Mr. Merivale, pinching his daughter's rosy
cheek.  "Well, I wish _I_ could get everything in my business settled
off so satisfactorily, and nothing left on _my_ mind.  Well, well, we
will see; I will go and look up someone to play in a few days--don't
you fuss about it, I won't forget.  Now, really, children, I _must_
go down.  Let me go, there's good girls."

"And make mother promise to give us a real _good_ supper, not
sandwiches and sweets only!" they scream after him down the passage.

"Yes, yes, I'll see to it all," calls back the victimized parent,
only too thankful to escape at any price, and never stopping to
consider what extra responsibilities he is taking upon himself.

Having settled down quietly once more, there is an animated
consultation on the important subject of the dresses, and the
respective prices of chintz, velveteen, silk, lace, &c. &c., are
discussed with interest.

"It is so difficult to tell what sum we really shall want," says
Doris, leaning her chin on her hand and staring absently into the
fire.  "However, I propose that you and I, Honor, go to Miss Renny
to-morrow morning and just consult her as to quantities and so on,
and then we could arrange about her coming to work at the same time."

"Yes, I think that will be the best plan.  Good gracious, Doris! look
at the clock!  What time is dinner to-night?"

"Eight," replied Doris, "and mother said I was to be in the
drawing-room not a moment later than half-past seven;" and starting
up, the girls dart out of the room and up the stairs like a lightning
flash into Doris's room, where, on the bed, is carefully arranged the
toilette she is to wear on this the occasion of her first
dinner-party.

"And now come and help me with my hair, there's a good girl," cries
Doris presently; "and _do_ you think you could curl it at the back
without burning me _very_ terribly?  You did horribly last time you
undertook it, you know.  My gracious! there's the second gong!  Why,
Lane will be up in a moment, and sha'n't I catch it if I am not
nearly ready!"

"My dear Doris, if you would only sit down in this chair and not fuss
so, we should get on much faster.  Now give me the hair-pins as I
want them, and keep quiet for a few minutes if you can."

[Illustration: HONOR ASSISTS DORIS TO DRESS FOR DINNER.]

After having brushed the long silky hair through, Honor with a few
skilful twirls and twists raises a becoming erection which (as Doris
says) would do credit to a court hair-dresser.

"And now for the awful moment!" exclaims Honor, grasping the
curling-tongs and thrusting them ferociously into the fire.  "Now sit
still, dear, if you can, and it shall not be _my_ fault if you are
burnt.  There, I think I have really made you look lovely!" and she
steps back gazing admiringly at her sister, who, with cheeks slightly
flushed, and eyes almost preternaturally bright, looks in her soft
white dressing-gown as pretty a picture as one would wish to see.

"Now tell me who is coming to-night, and all about it?  Anyone from
next door?"

"Why, there is only one of them old enough--Hugh; and he is only
nineteen," says Doris with all the conscious superiority of a
seventeen-and-a-half-year-old girl.  "I believe he _is_ coming,
though; with his mother, of course.  I wish mother would let me go in
to dinner with him; it will be so dreadfully slow and dull if I have
to sit through two whole mortal hours with some stupid old fogy who
thinks of nothing but his dinner.  Well, then, let me see if I can
remember the rest.  Oh, _Honor_, don't squeeze so; I can't bear that
hook.  Good gracious! how tight Madame Cecile has made the waist!"

"You'll _have_ to bear it," says Honor, gasping, and remorselessly
pulling and tugging at the refractory hooks and eyes.  "I heard
Madame Cecile mutter to herself the other day that she must make your
waist smaller, so I suppose she means to systematically pull in an
inch or so every time she makes you a new dress.  Ah--there it is at
last!  How do you feel?"

"O dreadfully tight and wretched.  Now if I have any breath left I
will go on telling you who is asked for to-night.  Aunt is coming for
one, with the Pagets, you know.  That means a party of three at once.
Then the rector and Mrs. Benson.  Now, let me see, with father,
mother, and myself that is eight; and I am sure we are to be
fourteen.  O, I know--Colonel and Mrs. Danvers, Captain Hall, that's
eleven: Mrs. Horton and Hugh, thirteen--now _who_ is fourteen?"

"Why, Molly's old friend, Sir Peter Beresford," chimes in Honor.  "I
know he is coming, because I heard mother telling Rankin that he must
be put up near the end of the table out of all the draughts.  O, here
comes Lane.  I wonder what she will have to say to the capabilities
of the new maid."

"Now, young ladies, sharp's the word.  Turn yourself round, Miss
Doris, and let me see if all's right;" and the woman proceeds to turn
and twist her young mistress about with the scant ceremony of an old
and privileged servant who, as she is fond of saying, "dressed and
waited on your ma before ever you were born or thought of, my dears."
Giving a pull here, and a twist there, Lane at length is pleased to
announce that all is satisfactory.

At this moment Mrs. Merivale glides into the room, a floating
ensemble of velvet, silk, lace, bugles, feathers, and what not; one
of those costumes in which you can accuse nothing of being
predominant, and as a whole is perfect.

"Mother!" gasp both the girls.  "What a _lovely_ dress, and how
nicely Lane has done your hair!"

Lane sniffs gracious approval of this compliment, and turning to her
mistress says, "I think Miss Doris will do, ma'am?"

Holding her double eye-glass up by its beautiful mother-of-pearl
handle, the mother makes a critical survey of her daughter from head
to foot, then dropping it languidly to her side she nods
encouragingly.  "Yes, very nice.  Nothing like white _silk_ for very
young girls.  Satin is too old looking.  Honor, your dressing does
you credit, dear; you have done her hair charmingly.  Now you may as
well come down at once with me, Doris.  Have you everything--fan,
handkerchief, gloves?  Oh, I see you have those on! wise girl to get
them nicely arranged before you leave your room."

"O! that was Honor's doing, not mine," says Doris promptly.  "She
would have me rigged out all complete, as Dick would say."

"_Doris!_" exclaims Mrs. Merivale as she sails out of the room
followed by that young lady, "_pray_ do not always be using those
expressions which Dick seems to delight in,--troublesome boy!  You
are always down upon him for these Americanisms which he has picked
up (at school, I suppose), but it seems to me you are ready enough to
make use of them too.  I do hope you will be careful to behave nicely
altogether to-night, and not like a hoydenish school-girl as you do
more often, I fear, especially when Miss Denison is not by."

"O don't be anxious about me, mother; _I_ shall pull through somehow,
and conduct myself with such propriety as even to satisfy Aunt
Sophia.  If you _should_ see me doing anything dreadful at the
dinner-table, and I am too far away for a stage-whisper, you might
'hail' like Mary Ann the scholar in _Our Mutual Friend_, you know,
then I shall understand and pull myself together."

"You incorrigible girl," says Mrs. Merivale with something between a
laugh and a sigh; "but now run back, dear, and get my fan off the
dressing-table in my room.  O, and look in and tell Honor that she
can come down for an hour or so to-night if she likes.  Tell her to
wear her white nun's veiling with the moiré sash and ribbons."

Charmed with this message Doris is soon back in her own room, where
she finds Honor still helping Lane to put things a little straight,
in Lucy's prolonged absence, which is irritating the older maid not a
little.

"Honor, my girl, you are to come down into the drawing-room to-night;
mother says so.  O, and you are to wear your nun's veiling, &c.  Now
_don't_ say you don't want to!"

"I don't, truly," says Honor, looking from Doris to Lane and back
again.  "I am tired and sleepy now, and it is a bother to have to
change one's dress just for an hour, when I'd _far_ rather be in bed."

"Well, I call it downright spiteful of you, Honor.  Just the evening
of all others that I want you.  I was looking forward to telling you
all about the dinner, and we could have had a jolly time in a
secluded corner with Hugh.  And oh, I forgot, Regy is coming in after
dinner; so we four might have some rare fun.  _Do_ come, there's a
dear!"  And Doris looks at Honor so beseechingly that she sacrifices
her own feelings in the matter and says, "Very well, dear, I'll come.
Now run away, there's mother calling you."



CHAPTER II.

DORIS'S FIRST DINNER-PARTY.

That quarter of an hour before dinner, which to people who are used
to it is generally rather a bore than otherwise, is quite an
amusement to Doris, whose only experience of dinner-parties hitherto
has been a bird's-eye view, obtained by hanging over the balustrade,
of the guests filing into the dining-room.  To-night the girl feels
all the importance of being for the first time an actual participant
in the entertainment; and flushed with the consciousness of her own
dignity in having to assist her mother in receiving their friends,
and the proud knowledge that she is wearing a properly-made dress,
she feels there is at last some advantage in being the eldest girl of
the family.  A long peal at the bell, and Doris rushes hastily across
to her mother.

"Do you _really_ wish me to talk to every one, mother, and divide my
attentions between them all, as I have seen you doing?"

"Yes, dear, of course.  You will soon take it up and get accustomed
to the ways of society.  I want you to see a little in your own home
before coming out next season, so that you may gain a little
experience; otherwise I should not let you dine with us at your age.
I don't know, I am sure, what your aunt will say to what I suppose
she will call my injudicious haste in bringing you forward.  She
considers eighteen quite the correct age for introducing girls, but
six months the other side--"

"Dr. and Mrs. Benson," announces Rankin; and Mrs. Merivale, followed
by her daughter, goes forward to receive the first guests.  The
rector takes immediate possession of his host, and getting him on to
the rug before the fire enters into an animated discussion with him
on the prime minister's speech of the previous night; dashing into it
so suddenly that Doris, who is standing by, is inspired with the idea
that they must have begun this conversation some time during the same
day somewhere, and having perhaps been interrupted, have now taken it
up again at the exact point at which they left off.  Mrs. Merivale
and the rector's wife being seated together on a sofa talking softly
about their respective families, Doris roams about the room a little
until another loud peal at the bell causes her to retire a little
behind her mother's chair, in order to be in readiness when the next
visitors are announced.  This time it is Colonel and Mrs. Danvers and
almost close upon them are ushered in Mrs. and Mr. Hugh Horton and
Captain Hall, as if they had all come together.  There is quite a
buzz of conversation in the room now, and Doris finds herself seated
by Mrs. Danvers, with Captain Hall and Hugh standing before them,
laughing and chatting as if she had been accustomed to this sort of
thing all her days.

"Well, how do you think you will like your first dinner-party,
Doris?" inquires Hugh, going round and leaning over her chair.

"O, I think it will be jolly.  I am enjoying it all so far; only if
mother sends me down with one of the old fogies the dinner part of
the performance will be awfully dull.  You take me down, Hugh, _do_;
then we can discuss the tableaux and the party, you know.  We have
got a lot settled to-night, and the carpenter is coming to-morrow to
see about arranging the room.  It only remains to be decided which we
shall choose."

"All serene!" replies the young fellow.  "I'll take you down if I
can, Doris; but your mother may have other views for me, you know.
Ah! here come some more.  I say, Doris, is Honor coming down
to-night?"

"No--that is, yes," hurriedly answers Doris, rising as the door is
thrown open, and "Mr. and Mrs. Paget" and "Lady Woodhouse" are
announced.

"Why, bless my heart, child, what does this mean?" exclaims the
latter lady, bearing down upon her niece, and lifting her eye-glass.

"What does _what_ mean, aunt?" inquires Doris demurely, and meeting
the astonished stare of her aunt with unmoved gravity.

"Why, your being down here, dressed up in a gown which I am quite
sure Miss Renny was never guilty of making.  You are never going to
dine?"

"Yes, I am, aunt, of course, or I shouldn't be down here at all.
Mother says she means me to appear a little at home before really
coming out.  She wants me to get a little into the ways of society."

"Ways of fiddle-sticks, _I_ should say!" rejoins Lady Woodhouse
tartly.  "In my young days one was never seen or heard of until
properly introduced.  Let me see, how old are you, child--seventeen,
eighteen?"

"Seventeen and a half, aunt."

Lady Woodhouse holds up her hands in horror.  "Not even eighteen!
What is the world coming to?  But there, your mother is one of the
most injudicious women I know, and always will be, I suppose.  Well,
Mr. Hugh Horton, and how are you?  I suppose you two young people are
going down together, eh?"

"No such luck, I'm afraid.  I believe I'm to take one of the other
ladies--Mrs. Danvers, in fact."

"Nothing of the sort!" exclaims this energetic lady.  "I have made up
my mind you shall take me, young man.  Go over and tell your mother,
Doris, that I insist upon going down with Mr. Hugh Horton.  Then we
will see if we can't contrive to sit next to you and your escort.
Mind now, child, when you see me leaving the room, you follow; then
we shall manage, I daresay.  Ah! here comes Sir Peter--last, as
usual.  Now I suppose the party is complete.  Run, Doris, or you will
be too late."

Almost before Sir Peter has greeted his host and hostess, the door is
once more thrown wide, and the announcement "Dinner is served" brings
the assembled guests to their feet.  Doris is standing obedient,
close by her aunt, who has already taken forcible possession of Hugh,
when a cheery, manly voice from behind says "Now, Miss Doris, your
mother tells me I am to have the honour of taking you in to dinner on
this auspicious occasion of your first appearance in public;" and
Colonel Danvers stands before her with smiling face and outstretched
hand.

"I couldn't come and speak to you before," he explains, "for your
father and the rector pinned me at the other end of the room and
dragged me into a political discussion."

"O, I am so glad I am to sit beside you!" exclaims Doris with genuine
pleasure.  "I was dreadfully afraid it would be Captain Hall; and he
is so stupid, you know.  It takes him about five minutes to get out
the most ordinary remarks with his silly affected drawl."

"Now, Doris;" and Lady Woodhouse turns to leave the room, closely
followed by Colonel Danvers and her niece, Mrs. Merivale and Sir
Peter Beresford bringing up the rear.  As Doris and the colonel turn
the corner of the stairs a smart wrap on the former's head causes
them to look up to the flight above, where they descry Molly, armed
with a battledore, hanging over the balustrade.  "Hush! don't say
anything.  How is Doris behaving?" she says with breathless
inconsistency.  Colonel Danvers looks up laughingly and nods a
greeting.  "O, pretty well, considering;" and Doris adds, "Do go
away, Molly.  Did you actually dare to rap my head with that thing?"
But Molly, seeing that her mother is close at hand, disappears
mysteriously, and there is much scuffling and giggling heard on the
next landing, where evidently the others are collected also.

Although Doris finds herself seated between Hugh and her favourite
the colonel, she is so dazzled and confused with the brightness of
the scene and the incessant flow of talk that she at first sits
perfectly silent.

With the assistance of Colonel Danvers she gravely studies her
_ménu_, he explaining the meaning of some of the elaborate names of
the dishes, which to her, fresh from the school-room, are as Greek.

Presently Mrs. Benson, who is on the other side of the colonel, takes
up his attention for a time; and as Hugh and Lady Woodhouse are now
carrying on a spirited conversation on her right, Doris quietly takes
a look all round the table.

There is old Mr. Paget sitting next to Mrs. Horton, with his
table-napkin tucked up over his shirt-front, looking as if he had not
tasted food for the last month, such undivided attention is he giving
to his soup; Mrs. Danvers is carrying on a rather one-sided
flirtation with Captain Hall; and good-natured Mrs. Paget is talking
with all her might to old Sir Peter, who is looking worried to the
last degree by the palpable exertions of the good lady to make
herself agreeable and entertaining.

"Why, how quiet we are!" suddenly remarks the colonel, looking down
at the bright face beside him.

"Yes, I should think so," says Doris laughing.  "It's a terrible
ordeal, the responsibility of having to keep one's self in order, you
know, and do all that is right and nothing that is wrong.  Do you
remember your first dinner-party?" she continues.

"Yes, I remember it only too well; I have reason to, I assure you."

"Why?  Did anything dreadful happen?"

"Well, yes; I thought it dreadful.  What! no champagne?"

"I don't know that mother would like me to have it; I told her to
'hail' when anything important was likely to happen, but she is so
taken up with Sir Peter that I believe she has forgotten all about
me.  Never mind, I'll telegraph to father."

"No, you need not do that!" exclaims the colonel, as well as he can
for laughing.  "Say 'yes' the next time it comes round, and I will
take the responsibility.  There, I see Rankin looking this way, I'll
beckon him.  Some champagne for Miss Doris, please," he says, and in
another moment her glass is filled with the sparkling, foaming wine,
at which she looks half frightened however.

"Well, now, what were you going to tell me about your first
dinner-party?" she asks.  "What dreadful thing was it that happened?"

"Well, I must tell you that I had to take a severe-looking old
dowager in to dinner that evening.  She was very rich, I suppose, for
I remember that the flashing of her diamonds made me quite nervous,
especially as she had a sharp way of suddenly turning round to speak
to one with a kind of jerk, which made me jump, and more than, once I
nearly dropped my spoon or fork, or whatever it chanced to be.  I
must also mention that this good lady was also very fat and very
ugly.  Well, matters went on pretty well altogether until dessert.  I
had just had my glass filled with port, when suddenly a voice on my
right said, 'Mr. Danvers, may I trouble you to crack these filberts
for me?'  I turned so suddenly, that before I saw what I was doing my
elbow had overturned the glass of port, and away it went in one
remorseless stream down the old lady's gown.  I was so horrified at
the awful catastrophe that I sat helpless, as if stunned, and the old
lady was just about to pour forth a torrent of wrathful reproaches on
to my defenceless head, her eyes meanwhile flashing as much as her
diamonds, when a man sitting on the other side of her (a fellow of
about my own age now) suddenly jumped up, seized a decanter of
sherry, and saying hastily, 'Allow me, madam,' he quietly and
deliberately poured a good half of its contents upon the gown where
the darker wine had left a deep red stain."

"Good gracious!" exclaims Doris with wide-open eyes, "was that to
take the old lady's attention from off you?"

"Well, yes and no," says Colonel Danvers taking up a pear and slowly
peeling it with great nicety; "but the fact is I didn't wait to see,
for the much ill-used lady, on receiving what she thought to be an
insult added to the injury she had sustained, flew, so to speak, at
this gentleman, one Major Carpenter; and seeing that for the moment
my very existence was forgotten, I must confess that I was cowardly
enough to slip out of my place unperceived and into the hall, where a
good-natured young footman, who had seen the whole thing, I suppose,
opened the library door, remarking as he did so, 'There's a nice fire
in here, sir.'  You see, I couldn't go into the drawing-room when
even the ladies had not left the table."

"Poor old lady!" says Doris, cracking nuts perseveringly; "she _must_
have been put out with such outrageous behaviour on the part of _two_
gentlemen.  Now, don't you think so?"

"Well, I don't know.  You say 'poor old lady,' but you never give a
thought to the agonies of mind which _I_ suffered.  You are rather
hard on _me_, I think."

"Well, but you _were_ rather cowardly, by your own confession you
were, to run off and leave Major Carpenter to bear the full brunt of
the old lady's displeasure.  O yes, it certainly was _very_ bad of
you!"

"Ah! yes, I suppose it was," says the colonel, leaning back in his
chair; "and yet, Doris, since that time I have stood before a
cannon's mouth without flinching.  I have ridden across an open plain
with, not cannon, but shot of all description 'to right of me' and
'to left of me,' without so much as a friendly shrub to protect me
from the sight of the enemy.  Oh! I assure you, that was a very warm
position in more senses than one.  However, here I am still, safe and
sound; but I verily believe if I spilt a glass of port upon another
old lady's dress I should feel just as inclined to turn coward and
run away as ever, for the truth must be told, Doris, ever since that
eventful night I have felt a mortal antipathy, not unmixed with fear,
in the company of fat, cross old ladies."

Doris sits silent for a few seconds, giving her attention to the pear
which Colonel Danvers has just put upon her plate.  Then she says,
"You haven't told me yet what your friend threw the sherry upon the
dress for?"

"No, neither I have.  Well, the sherry it seems, if poured over a
ready-made stain of port-wine, takes it out, only leaving a sort of
ring round the place, which, I suppose, can be easily removed with a
little ordinary cleaning.  Somebody explained afterwards to the old
lady why Major Carpenter had done it, and in a few days he received a
note from her, thanking him for the service he had rendered her on
the occasion of Mrs. Mordant's dinner-party, and begging to apologize
for any little annoyance she might possibly have shown when the
accident occurred.  Ever after that evening she designated me as
'that young man, Mr. Danvers,' whilst my friend was 'that charming
Major Carpenter.'  There's your mother, Doris, signalling for the
ladies' departure.  You must tell me all about these theatricals in
the drawing-room afterwards, will you?"

Arrived upstairs, Doris makes at once for a secluded niche draped
with curtains in one of the windows, wherein she knows she will find
Honor ensconced, probably with a book.

The book is at a discount this evening, for Regy Horton, a fair,
delicate-looking boy of seventeen, has already arrived, and he and
Honor are deep in a discussion about some picture they have lately
seen, painting being an art of which they are both passionately fond.

"Now this is really delightful!" exclaims Doris, throwing herself on
the wide window-seat beside her sister.  "We will just keep here by
ourselves until the gentlemen come up, and then I will fetch Hugh and
Colonel Danvers, and we will all talk over the 27th."

"That's all very well, Doris, but you can't do just as you like
to-night, you know.  You will have to talk to people; bless you, your
duties are not _half_ over yet.  Here comes mother now to fetch you.
There, didn't I say so?"

"Doris, you must not hide yourself in a corner," remonstrates Mrs.
Merivale, coming up to the little group; "you must come and do your
share of talking.  And have you brought any of your songs down?  I
shall expect you to sing by and by."

"O, mother, I _can't_--I can't really!  I should sink through the
floor.  Besides, Molly is not here to accompany me; and she is the
only one who can, decently.  Honor's a goose at accompaniments."

"Never mind, dear, we will see," says Mrs. Merivale vaguely.  "Come,
Honor, and you too, Regy; we can't have any more whisperings behind
curtains when as yet there is no one to amuse the ladies."

So Doris and Honor are both dragged out of their corner, much to
their chagrin, and there is a suspicion of a pout on the rosy lips of
the former as the three advance into the middle of the room.

Later on, when the gentlemen have come up, and tea and coffee have
been served, Doris, with much mystery, beckons Colonel Danvers over
to the little group consisting of herself, Honor, and the two Horton
boys.

"You _will_ be the 'old woman,' won't you?" gasps Doris excitedly.
"You would do it so beautifully.  And you _promised_, you know, to do
anything we wanted; now, didn't you?"

"A very rash promise apparently.  May I be permitted to inquire to
what 'old woman' you are referring?"

"Why, the 'old woman' who lived in a shoe, to be sure.  Honor and I
have talked it all over, and if we dress you up in one of nurse's
gowns, with an apron and cap, you will look _lovely_!"

"Upon my word, I feel highly complimented.  I hope I shall not be
considered inquisitive if I ask whether this old woman was considered
handsome or not?  By the by," adds the colonel with a crestfallen
look, and stroking his moustache, "how shall I dispose of this
commodity?  You will never be so despotic as to command me to cut it
off, will you?"

Both the girls cry simultaneously "Oh, no, of _course_ not!" and Hugh
adds reassuringly, "Oh, that's nothing; you can flatten it down
easily with a little cosmetic, and it won't show at all if you powder
your face after."

"Very well, then.  I will undertake to promise anything in that line
if one of you girls will consent to be in my custody with a view to
receiving the first whipping.  Really," adds the colonel laughing, "I
don't think the picture will be half bad if there are plenty of
children forthcoming and the shoe is well managed.  What are your
plans concerning it, Hugh?" and the two proceed to enter into a deep
discussion relative to the height, depth, and width thereof, when
suddenly Honor and Doris are electrified by the sight of Molly
entering the room, arrayed in a white frock matching that which Honor
wears.  Molly has a roll of music under her arm, and with the
greatest self-possession in the world she marches up to the grand
piano and lays it down.  She then stands as if awaiting further
orders, with flushed face, bright sparkling eyes, and hair tumbling
over her forehead and ears and curling down upon her neck in rather
wild but pretty confusion.

"Good gracious!" exclaims Doris aside to Honor, "what can it mean?"

"It is very plain to _me_ what it means," replied Honor.  "Didn't you
see the music she brought in with her?  That music is _yours_, my
dear,--your songs; and mother has sent for Molly to play the
accompaniments.  So now you can't escape."

"Well, I really call that _mean_ of mother!" exclaims Doris.  "Molly,
why weren't you in bed and asleep, you wretched child, like any other
reasonable being?  then you _couldn't_ have come down, you know."

"Mother sent me a message not long ago," replies Molly promptly, "to
say I was to get dressed and to look out some of your nicest songs,
and come down when I was sent for.  So of course I was arrayed in my
white frock, with more speed than elegance, I'm afraid, for my sash
is all awry, and I can't reach round to do it for myself; and," she
adds, lowering her voice mysteriously, "I have actually come down in
odd shoes.  Look!" holding out first one foot and then the other.
"One rosette is nearly twice as large as the other, and I verily
believe one shoe is kid and the other patent leather!  It _is_--look!
Then it is your shoe I caught up, Honor, and that accounts for it
pinching so horribly; why _will_ you persist in having such small
feet?  Well, I must take care not to show both feet at once, and then
it will be all right--they're both nice shoes of their kind."

"Why didn't you go back and change them?" inquires Doris turning over
the songs.

"I never knew they were odd until I was on the landing outside the
door, and Rankin, as soon as he saw me, threw the door wide open, so
I couldn't do anything but walk in and make the best of it."

"Doris, will you sing us something, dear?" says Mrs. Merivale from
the distance; and Doris, somewhat reassured by her feeling of
complete confidence in her young accompanist, resigns herself to her
fate with a tolerably good grace.  Gounod's graceful little chanson
'Au Printemps' is the first the girls select from the goodly pile
which Molly has brought down, and the effective accompaniment with
the fresh young voice soon draw an appreciative group round the
piano.  'The Sands of Dee' is next placed upon the stand by Colonel
Danvers, and Molly, nothing loth, starts off at once with the prelude
without ever consulting Doris's inclination in the matter.

[Illustration: DORIS SINGS "THE SANDS OF DEE."]

One or two other songs quickly follow, and then some of the guests
take their leave, while one or two, Colonel Danvers and old Sir Peter
being amongst the number, go up and speak kindly to Molly, who, now
that her duties are over, is standing a little abstractedly by the
piano, running her fingers noiselessly up and down the keys.

"What a pity the Hortons had to leave so early," says the colonel to
Molly.  "With you here to accompany so well we might have prevailed
on Hugh to sing.  I do so like of all things to hear his tenor voice
in 'Molly Bawn,' and also the immortal 'Sally in our Alley.'"

"One would think he could sing nothing else," remarks Molly, "by the
way in which he persists in dosing us with those two, and especially
the former.  I am always wanting him to learn others--there are such
heaps of pretty tenor songs--but it's no use; he will keep on with
those and other old ones.  He says none of the new songs can hold a
candle to them, but I don't know--I believe it is laziness, really."

The example of the first departures being quickly followed by others,
the room is soon cleared of all the guests, save Sir Peter Beresford,
who being passionately fond of music, begs his hostess to allow Molly
to sit up five minutes longer that she may play him one more piece.

Mrs. Merivale looks doubtfully from Molly to the clock and then back
again.

"Well, sit down, Molly, and play something to Sir Peter--you know
which are his favourites,--then you must all three run away off to
bed instantly.  Here is Doris yawning behind her fan, and Honor looks
whiter than her frock, if anything.  I don't know what father will
say, I am sure."

"O, let them stay a bit longer," says indulgent Mr. Merivale, and
crossing over to the piano he seats himself beside his three girls,
and listens with no little pride to Molly's musicianly playing.  The
piece ended, Mrs. Merivale keeps to her word, and hardly allowing Sir
Peter time to thank Doris and Molly for the musical treat which he
declares they have given him, she bids her daughters say
"good-night," and with a kiss to each, dismisses them.



CHAPTER III.

SHOPPING AND A REHEARSAL.

The next morning breaks dismally enough outside.  The streets are
thickly carpeted with snow, which has fallen plenteously and almost
without cessation during the previous night.  There is a deadened,
muffled sound of occasional traffic only in the usually busy streets,
and even this is soon drowned in the scrape, scrape of shovels with
which armies of small boys parade the quieter streets and terraces,
wherein are the houses of the rich and prosperous men of the large,
smoke-begrimed manufacturing town, whilst the fortunate occupants of
these large fashionable mansions, who are still curled up comfortably
under warm eider-down quilts, are unpleasantly roused to a
consciousness of what awaits them by the loud persistent cries of
"Sweep yer doorway, ma'am,--doorway ma'am?"

Indoors things look somewhat more cheerful, especially at the
Merivales, who are an early-rising family.  It still wants a few
minutes to eight, but Doris and Honor, true to habit, are already
kneeling on the rug before the bright fire, spreading their hands as
near as they dare over the glowing coals, and carrying on a spirited
talk, which proves that the few hours' sleep of which they have been
deprived has not done them much harm.  The door opens, and enter
Molly--yawning hopelessly, and it must be confessed looking haggard
and pale, with dark rings round her large blue eyes.

"Hallo, Moll! late hours don't evidently suit you, my dear.  You _do_
look an object of pity, upon my word.  Here, come to the fire and
stop chattering your teeth, for goodness' sake!"

Molly accepts the invitation and joins her sisters, and after a few
minutes Mr. Merivale comes in rubbing his hands briskly.

"Now, girls, let the old man see a bit of the fire!  Ah! just eight,"
taking out his watch and comparing it with the clock on the
mantel-piece.  "Good girls, to be punctual after your late hours.
Ring the bell, Honor; it's no use waiting for your mother this
morning.  She has one of her bad headaches, and I shouldn't wonder if
she does not come down at all.  She said she would send word by Lane
after prayers, so we need not wait now."

By this time the servants have filed into the room and taken their
places; and the old nurse having also appeared with her two
particular charges, Daisy and Bobby, Mr. Merivale takes his place at
a side-table, and morning prayers are commenced.  Before leaving the
room again nurse places the two children in their usual places at the
breakfast-table, and at the same moment Lane steps forward from the
row of servants, and going up to Honor says, "If you please, Miss
Honor, your ma says will you make breakfast this morning, for her
head is that bad she can't raise it from her pillow?"

"_Honor_, of course!" and with a pout and a flounce Doris takes her
usual seat at the table, while Honor moves to the end opposite her
father, who is busily occupied in sorting the letters.

Breakfast is generally a quiet meal at No. 4 Lancaster Terrace, for
Mr. Merivale leaves the house at half-past nine punctually every
morning in order to be at the bank before it is opened to the public.

There is little or no conversation therefore this morning, the mother
being absent, and the six girls and boys take their breakfast in
almost complete silence, speaking, if at all, in low subdued voices
which will not disturb their father over his newspapers and letters.

Presently he puts these aside, however, and as he passes his cup up
to be refilled by Honor says, "Didn't I hear mother say Miss Denison
was to return to-day?"

"Yes, father," answers Doris.  "Mother heard from her yesterday, and
she is to arrive by the 12.45 train."

"O, I wonder if mother will let us meet her," says Honor, looking up.

"Well, why not ask her?" says Mr. Merivale, rising from the table.
"I don't suppose she will be going out herself this morning, so you
might take the carriage in that case."

"O, that _would_ be jolly!" cries Doris, jumping up and clapping her
hands; "and I tell you what, Honor, we'll try and get mother to let
us have it all the morning, then we shall get through no end of
business.  Father will ask her--won't you, dear?"

"Not I, indeed; go and ask her yourself.  Besides, it is time I was
off--there will be no one to open the safe, and then what will they
do, eh?" and so saying Mr. Merivale bustles into the hall, where
William is standing waiting to help his master into his overcoat, and
snatching the _Times_ from Honor's hand, who, with Doris and Molly in
her wake, has pursued him out on to the steps, he makes his escape
into the brougham which is waiting at the door.

Doris and Honor hold a consultation on their way back to the
dining-room as to the pros and cons of their getting permission to
use the carriage, and on Doris promising to be spokeswoman, they both
run up to their mother's room.

"Mother, we want the carriage, Honor and I, to do our shopping, you
know.  And father says if we are out we may as well take it on to the
station and meet Miss Denny; so we can, can't we, mother?"  And Doris
takes up one of the slender white hands lying upon the coverlet, and
softly pats and strokes it between her own.

Mrs. Merivale shrinkingly turns her head away from her anxious young
daughter's appealing gaze, and closing her eyes says, "My _dear_
Doris, you might have a little more consideration for my nerves, I
think.  Here I am, completely prostrated, and you rush into the room
like an earthquake, thinking of nothing but yourself.  Do _pray_
leave me alone, and, oh yes! you can have _both_ the carriages if you
like, only leave me in peace; and Honor, give me the Cologne, and
then find Lane and send her to me.  And _do_, all of you, try to walk
a little less like elephants than you generally do.  Oh! pray shut
the door quietly."

The girls are quenched, and leave the room much more quietly than
they entered it.

"I hope to goodness _I_ shall never have any nerves," says Doris
pouting, as she links her arm in Honor's.  "Mother is fussy and cross
this morning.  I believe she would like us all to sit perfectly mute
through the livelong day whenever she has one of her headaches.  Now
don't look shocked, Honor, my girl!  You know in your own heart of
hearts you think so too, only you are too good to say it, even to
yourself.  I often wonder what mother would do if father were a poor
man, and she had to make her own dresses, and do her own hair, and we
had the washing done at home.  Ah! that would just suit mother,
wouldn't it?  Fancy how delicious--a perpetual smell of washing!"

"Hush, dear!" says Honor gently, "you must not talk like that about
mother; she is delicate, of course, and you know what Miss Denison
says about the back being fitted to the burden."

"O, that's all very well! but you know there are burdens clapped on
people's backs when they least expect it sometimes, at least so I've
read in books, so I don't altogether believe in _that_ statement."

In half an hour's time the two girls, radiant and comfortable, with
rugs, foot-warmers, and muffs, are being whisked through the now
slushy streets by a pair of fresh young horses.  A very delightful
morning of shopping follows, until Honor, looking at her watch, is
startled to find that they have only just time to get to the station
to meet the train by which their governess is travelling.

"Be quick, dear," she says to Doris, who is divided between the
conflicting beauties of two delicate chintzes, one of which is
destined to adorn the person of "Mary," of the perverse character,
"or we shall not be there before the train comes in, and then poor
Miss Denny will think there's no one there to meet her."

Honor's fears of being late are not without some foundation, they
find, for as they step on to the platform the train is already
gliding into the station.  A hand is seen waving a recognition from
one of the carriage windows, and as Doris and Honor rush up to the
door, a tall pleasant-looking woman steps down, and is quickly being
nearly stifled and smothered in the embraces of her impetuous pupils.

"And now, girls," straightening her bonnet and then giving a hand to
each, "how are all at home?"

"O, all right!" replies Doris, promptly dismissing the subject; "and
we have no end to talk to you about.  The theatricals will be a
_tre-men_-dous success.  Honor and I have been shopping this morning;
that's how it is we have got the carriage.  Mother had one of her
headaches, you know, so she couldn't come and meet you herself; and
oh, isn't it _splendid_?--Colonel Danvers is really going to be the
old woman!"

"My _dear_ Doris, how you do run on!" says Miss Denison, smiling down
at the bright face by her side.  "A few moments ago you said all were
well at home, and now you say your mother has a bad headache.  Now do
let Honor speak too, dear," she adds laughing, as Doris shows signs
of starting off on a fresh subject.

All chatting pleasantly together the drive home seems to be
accomplished in about half the usual time, and as soon as Miss
Denison has been extricated from the carriage, which, in addition to
the three occupants, is filled almost to overflowing with packages,
she has to undergo a warm reception from Molly and Dick, who are
dancing a sort of Highland fling of expectation on the door-step as
the carriage drives up.

Then they all follow Miss Denison up to Mrs. Merivale's boudoir,
where, now almost recovered, she is languidly looking over her
letters of the morning.

"My _dear_ Miss Denison," she says, holding out both hands as the
governess approaches her, "you can have no conception what an
unspeakable relief your return is to me.  I thought I should have
_died_ sometimes with the terrible racket these children have made.
Their father doesn't seem to mind it--indeed I really believe he
_likes_ it rather than otherwise; but oh, what my poor nerves have
gone through!" and Mrs. Merivale shudders and looks round for her
smelling-salts.

"_What_ we shall do without you when you leave us for good I really
_don't know_," she continues.  "Honor and Molly will have to go to
school, I think.  Doris must stay at home, of course, if she is to
come out next season.  O, how I wish Honor was the eldest!--she is so
quiet and sensible compared to that child there.  It is all very well
when I am quite well myself, but these headaches completely prostrate
me, and when they are all at home together it is almost _more_ than I
can stand.  Molly, _do_ stop shuffling your feet!"

"I am sure, dear Mrs. Merivale, I would willingly have made my
engagement a longer one still," says Miss Denison sitting down close
to her, while Doris squeezes up to her side, Honor sits on a stool at
their feet, and Molly and Dick take up their position behind the
sofa; "but Frank declares he will wait no longer, saying--which is
quite true, of course--that I have put him off twice already.  I
should like to have finished Honor as well as Doris, especially as I
fear that young lady has not done me as much credit as she might have
done.  Now, Honor is more studiously inclined, and so I _think_ is
Molly."

"Now, I call it mean talking like that!" cries Doris pouting.  "If I
haven't a natural taste for study it isn't _my_ fault, and it's twice
and three times as easy for people to learn when they really _like_
it, and not half so praiseworthy in _my_ opinion.  Never mind," she
adds, tossing her head, "I shall marry a duke; and it won't matter
then whether or not I can speak French, German, or Italian!"

"O my stars, hark to that, Miss Denison!" exclaims Dick.  "Why, my
good Doris, if you marry a duke you will have to go to court, you
know; and supposing the queen invited you to dinner, and she took it
into her head suddenly to have nothing but Chinese, or--or Fi-ji-an
spoken all the time, where would you be _then_, my girl?"

"Don't be absurd!" retorts Doris loftily; "and do let Miss Denny go
on with what she was saying."

But at this moment the gong sounds and there is a general move.  A
merry and noisy meal is the luncheon to-day; Mr. Merivale, who has
come home unexpectedly, being himself one of the merriest of the
party.

After much discussion and a few passages-at-arms between Doris,
Molly, and Dick, which are promptly suppressed, however, by Miss
Denison, a rehearsal is called for half-past six o'clock, after the
school-room tea.  A note, in a somewhat sprawling masculine hand, is
written and despatched by Molly to command the presence of the five
Horton boys at that hour; and as the carpenter has pronounced the
school-room to be most suitable for the erection of a stage, the time
before tea is devoted chiefly to the clearing of all superfluous
articles (of which there are not a few) away into cupboards and
ottomans, &c.  Presently Hugh, Regy, Alick, Ted, and Joey Horton
arrive, and hard, steady rehearsal is the order of the evening until
bed-time.



CHAPTER IV.

HUGH'S MENTOR.

The time soon flies past, every one being in a whirl of excitement
which passes Mrs. Merivale's comprehension.  But at last the day
before that fixed for the party arrives, and the house is in a
perfect uproar from attic to basement.

Mrs. Merivale has struck a bargain with the girls that, so long as
they undertake to keep everything in connection with the theatricals
out of her sight and hearing, she will promise to eschew all aches
and pains, and take into her own hands the entire management of the
rest of the entertainment.  This is more in her line; and from little
things the girls overhear from time to time they feel satisfied as to
their Christmas party being a success.

On the day in question the general excitement reaches a pitch which
defies description.  Downstairs the cook has lately been reduced to a
pitch of frenzy by the constant demand for paste, glue-pots to be
heated, flat-irons, &c.  To-day, however, she has struck against
this, for has she not the supper of the next night to prepare?  So
she has shut her kitchen doors, and announced emphatically that under
no pretext whatever will she open them to any of the young ladies or
gentlemen until the party is over.  Mr. Merivale is heard to declare
that "there is not a place whereon to rest the sole of my foot," for
even his bedroom is not exempt (on this the last day) from litter of
various kinds.  On one occasion, when sitting down for a few minutes'
chat with his wife, Doris, looking in to ask a question, suddenly
rushes across the room, and seizing her astonished parent by the
lapels of his coat exclaims, "O, _father_, you're sitting on my Queen
of Hearts dress! and you _must_ have smashed the crown flat!  O, how
_could_ you?"

There is to be a dress rehearsal this evening at half-past seven, and
Colonel and Mrs. Danvers are coming to dine quietly, so that the
former can enter upon his duties as stage-manager as well as practise
his part of the "old woman."

It is about five o'clock, and Miss Denison and the young people are
seated at tea in the school-room, when Jane enters, and addressing
herself to Molly says rather mysteriously, "O, if you please, Miss
Molly, Mr. Hugh is down in the hall, and he wants to speak to you
most particular for a minute.  I asked him to step into the
drawing-room, but he said 'no,' nor he wouldn't come up here neither."

"What can he want?" says Molly, rising from her chair; "may I go,
Miss Denny?"

Permission granted, down she runs and finds Hugh sitting
disconsolately on one of the hall chairs, his hands in his pockets,
and his eyes fixed moodily upon the ceiling.

"What are you sitting there for like a hall-porter?" she cries with
scant ceremony; "and why couldn't you come upstairs like a reasonable
being?  Why, _what_ is the matter?  You look as doleful as a
crocodile!"  And copying the expression of his face to a nicety, she
plants herself before the young fellow and thrusts her hands into
imaginary pockets.  Then she suddenly bursts into irrepressible
laughter.

"Well, you needn't laugh at a fellow!  _You_ would look gloomy if
after days and days of work you found yourself in the same quandary
as I am.  It's the shoe, that's what it is!"

"O, it's the _shoe_ that pinches, is it?" and teasing Molly goes off
into fresh fits of laughter.

"Well, you needn't laugh! as I said before.  The fact is I don't know
how to get it here: it is so large, you see.  It's really a beautiful
shoe, and will hold a lot of youngsters, but the fact remains that I
can't even get it out of the door of my own room!  What's to be
done?"  A pause.  Then Hugh goes on, "You see I want to get it in
here while it is dark, because if anyone saw it being taken in they
would think we were all lunatics, naturally."

Molly rests her chin upon her hand and ponders deeply.  "How many
pieces is it in?" she asks.

"Only three," mutters Hugh despondently.

"Well, now," says Molly, "why can't you take it to pieces again?  I
will help you, and it will be such fun lacing it all up again.  We
ought to have had it made _here_, in the house; then there would have
been no bother at all.  As it is, to take it to pieces is the only
thing I can suggest.  Shall I run and ask Miss Denny if I may go in
now with you, and then we shall get it put together again in time for
the rehearsal to-night?"

"Yes, do, and I will wait here.  What a clever girl you are, Molly!
I knew you would think of a way out of the difficulty."

"Pooh!" says Molly.  "That's nothing.  It's you boys who are so
_helpless_ without us girls to manage for you!  I won't be a second;"
and away she bounds up the staircase.

In two or three minutes she reappears with a large piece of cake in
one hand.  Tucking the other through Hugh's arm she remarks (rather
unintelligibly, her mouth being full of cake), "Miss Denny said I
might, so I drank my tea standing, and--oh, have a bit of cake, do!
I have only begun it on this side."  Hugh with great gravity accepts
the offer, Molly breaking off a good-sized piece of the great slice;
and this matter being satisfactorily arranged, they quickly slip out
of one door and in at the other.  As they pass through the hall a
door opens, and a refined, gentle-looking woman of about four or five
and forty pauses on the threshold in surprise at the unexpected sight
of Molly under the escort of her son at that time of the evening.

"My dear boy," she says, "what _are_ you doing with Molly?  Why, do
you know that the child has no hat on, nor even a wrap of any kind?"

"I _had_ a wrap, Mrs. Horton, but I have just thrown it off, and it
was not worth while to put anything on my head."

"O, if you have only just come from next door that is a different
matter," says Mrs. Horton, reassured.  "What has Hugh dragged you in
here for now?" she continues kindly while she puts one arm
affectionately round the girl's shoulders.  "It is surely your
tea-time now, dear, and it is too bad if he has taken you away from
that."

Hugh looks guilty, but Molly comes to the rescue for the second time.

"O, I didn't mind, indeed, Mrs. Horton," she says.  "Hugh was so
dreadfully put out about the shoe, you know, so I thought it best to
come in and see what we could do about it.  He didn't ask me to come
at all; I offered to myself."

"I shouldn't have bothered Molly about it at all, mother," the young
fellow puts in; "but you see it is your 'at home' day, and I didn't
know whether every one had gone.  And what to do about this blessed
shoe I didn't know, with the time running on so fast too; and I had
_promised_ to have it ready for to-night's rehearsal.  Molly's a dear
good-natured girl, and I knew she would find some way of managing."

"Well, Hugh, you know I would gladly have done anything I could for
you about it; but of course, as you say, I couldn't very well leave
my guests.  Now, shall we go up and see what this tyrannical shoe
requires?"

On reaching the large room upstairs which is devoted exclusively to
the use of the boys, they find all the other four engaged in
different occupations, more or less noisy.  The babel of tongues
ceases, however, at the sight of the trio looking in upon them, and
there is a general rush towards the door.  While Ted and Joey seize
upon their mother, Regy and Alick dart at Molly, and dragging her
across the room to where a funereal-looking object is reclining
against the wall, they proceed to describe noisily the difficulties
of the case.

"I wanted it lowered out of the window!" cries Alick, determined to
be heard, "and hauled up again into yours.  That would have been
_quite easy_, you know, and not half the fuss in my opinion."

"Who cares for _your_ opinion, Alick?" says Regy contemptuously.

"No, but really," goes on the boy, not to be suppressed, "it will be
an awful shame to take it all to pieces.  Why, I declare I never knew
Hugh to work at anything so hard before."

"Nor I," mutters Regy, glancing at his brother, who is leaning up
against the mantel-piece staring gloomily at the object of discussion.

"Well, Molly knows best," he remarks decidedly, "so it's no use
discussing it any longer.  Who's got a pair of sharp scissors or a
knife or something?  Mother, you will help us take it to pieces,
won't you?"

"And you and I and Colonel Danvers will soon have it together again
when once we get it in there," says Molly, jerking her head in the
direction of the next house.  "O, good gracious, what's this?" she
exclaims, as she trips up over some hard object sticking out from
under the shoe.

"Why, it's one of the supports--_wood_, you know," explains Ted,
nodding solemnly at Molly.  "You weren't such a goose as to think
cardboard would stand up in that way alone, were you?"

"Where are your manners, Ted?" puts in Hugh.  "Molly, did you hurt
yourself?  Come round, and let me show you the whole concern."

The "whole concern" having been duly admired, and all its points of
beauty expatiated on, they all set to work, and in a very short time
the shoe is once more in three distinct pieces; and while the boys
are busily taking the laces out with elaborate care, Molly,
thoroughly at home in the house, as indeed are all the girls, strolls
out of the room and down the passage to a little room at the
end--Hugh's private sanctum and study.

"_Study_, indeed!" thinks Molly to herself as she stands looking
scornfully round; for the room, it must be confessed, does not
suggest the idea of any very violent mental work going on within its
four walls.  Books there are in plenty, certainly: good, substantial,
solid reading too; but there they are, comfortably reposing on their
shelves, "looking," as Molly says to herself, "as if they had not
been touched for the last six weeks."  She has just marched up to the
books in question, and is in the act of drawing her finger along
their dusty backs, when Hugh puts his head in at the door.

"Now, Miss Molly, what are you doing in my study?" he demands, "and
what are you turning up that elegant little nose about?  Come, what's
wrong, eh?"  And crossing over hastily, he reaches the girl's side
just in time to see her finish writing with her finger the word
"dust" in large capital letters.

"_That_ is what is wrong," she says, turning round slowly and facing
the young fellow; "d-u-s-t, _dust_!  A fine study indeed!" she
continues, glancing round contemptuously.  "Look how painfully tidy
the rest of the room is!  My goodness, you should just see our
school-room when we are in the thick of our lessons and really mean
business!  Doris and I get covered with ink, and our hair gets all
rumpled up, and sometimes we stick pens into it without knowing.
Honor knits her brows and frowns away like anything, and Miss
Denison's voice is several degrees more severe than usual.  Oh, I
assure you we look _tragic_ when we really _are_ working!  I should
like to know, now, what use it is your going to Sandhurst," she
continues severely, "when you never so much as open a book at home?
Ah! you are a lazy fellow, Hugh; and I don't believe you will ever
pass all your exams.  If you ever do get into the army (which I very
much doubt) it will be by the backdoor, I verily believe."

"Why, what do _you_ know about the backdoor, Molly?" exclaims Hugh,
bursting into uncontrollable laughter.

"O, I know all about it," replies Molly, nodding gravely.  "I heard
father talking about it to Colonel Danvers the other evening.  Father
was saying he wondered how Cyril Harcourt got into the army.  And
Colonel Danvers said, 'Oh, _he_ got in by the backdoor, you know.'
So I asked father afterwards what it meant, and he told me by getting
into the militia first; and I thought to myself, 'Ah! that's what
Hugh will have to do.'  And so you will, you know, if you ever do get
in, which, as I said before, I very much--"

"No, don't say it again," says the young fellow, putting his hand
over Molly's mouth.  "I'll do anything in the world to please you,
Molly, and I'll work like--like fury, only don't pitch into me any
more.  Encourage me a bit sometimes, and I shall do wonders yet.  I
daresay you could even help me sometimes if you only would.  I don't
mean in the actual way of studying, you know, though I believe you
are a hundred times more clever than I am; but I mean as to keeping
me up to the mark, and all that sort of thing."

"Yes, that's all very well," says Molly, shaking her head.  "I do try
to do that, I'm sure; but if you won't help yourself, _I_ can't help
you.  And look here, Hugh, it is all very well to say you will do it
to please _me_; but what about your mother, who I know worries
_dreadfully_ about you?  It's downright wicked of you, when you come
to think of it.  Upon my word it is."

"So it is, Molly.  You are quite right, and I deserve every word you
are saying," says Hugh dejectedly.

"Now, will you make me a promise, like a dear, good boy?"

"Yes, that I will!" he cries with energy.  "And what is more, I will
keep it, my wise little mentor."

"That is right, Hugh.  Well, I won't say anything about to-morrow, of
course, because until that has come and gone I don't suppose we shall
any of us know whether we are on our heads or our heels.  But will
you promise me that the next day you will really set to work--real
_hard_ work, such as other young men do?  Then you will soon make up
for lost time, with your talents, which it is perfectly _sinful_ to
throw away.  You will very soon get used to it, and after a bit it
won't seem such a trouble to you to work.  And look here, Hugh," she
adds, suddenly growing grave, and speaking in a whisper, "'Help
yourself, and God will help you,' you know.  Now, will you promise
me?"  And looking anxiously up into her companion's face, Molly holds
out her hand.

"I will, Molly; upon my word I will," replies Hugh earnestly.  And
taking the girl's hand in both his own, he adds, "What a dear, good
girl you are, Molly, and how I wish I had a sister like you!  Ah!
never fear, I shall fire away now and pass all my exams, in less than
no time; and then you shall see what I can do afterwards, Miss Molly!"

"O, yes!" says the girl, moving towards the door, "I have no fear for
you when once the studying is over; it is _that_ which is the
stumbling-block, eh?  But thanks so very, very much for your promise,
dear Hugh.  I consider your exams, all as good as passed, now that I
have that.  Hark! there they are calling us.  All right--coming!"
And away she darts down the passage, all life and fun again.

Hugh follows, in time to see her pounced upon by all the four boys,
who, it seems, are in the midst of a violent dispute as to who shall
have the honour of carrying in the several portions of the shoe next
door.  At last the question is settled, and the parts are carried
with much caution and solemnity out of the Hortons' house and into
the Merivales' by the three elder boys, Molly, escorted by Ted and
little Joey bringing up the rear with the laces, &c.

"Good gracious!" exclaims Doris, whom they meet half-way up the
staircase, "what a _time_ you have been!  We are all ready; and Miss
Denny, and nurse, and Honor have been dressing up Colonel Danvers,
and he looks splendid!"

"Does he?  All right! we shall not be two minutes in putting the shoe
together again; come along, boys!"  And away scampers Molly up to the
school-room, closely followed by all the Hortons.

At last it is ready, and Colonel Danvers and Mr. Merivale, assisted
by most of the boys, hoist it up satisfactorily into its place.

As the colonel is looking somewhat embarrassed in his petticoats,
shawl, and big poke-bonnet, it is decided that the "old woman who
lived in a shoe" shall be rehearsed next.  It is also settled that
this picture shall be placed first in the programme, instead of third
as originally intended.  This is partly because Colonel Danvers
declares he shall be consumed with nervousness until his part is
over, and he can once more appear in his own proper attire.

"You see, I am not used to petticoats and long gowns," he remarks
plaintively; "so _please_ let us get that tableau over as early as
possible!"

It being necessary to have everything in working order, the curtain
is let down, and in the first trial rests itself triumphantly at one
end on a part of the shoe, leaving a startling array of ankles and
feet plainly visible to those looking on.

This being remedied, great consternation is caused by the sudden
mysterious disappearance of Bobby.  On search being made it is
discovered that the curtain in its first descent has knocked him over
into the interior of the shoe, from which strange, unearthly sounds
are issuing.  He is speedily rescued, however, apparently none the
worse for his sudden collapse, except that his mouth, eyes, and hair
are pretty freely filled with dust.  Having, however, been once more
set upon his legs, he soon recovers from his sneezing fit and joins
in the laugh with the rest.

In the second trial all goes well, and the other pictures are duly
rehearsed according to their order on the programme.  After a few
hours' steady practising they are one and all pronounced to be
satisfactory by the audience, which, though limited (consisting only
of Mrs. Merivale, Mrs. Danvers, and Mrs. Horton), is decidedly
critical; and after a little light refreshment, for which they all
betake themselves to the dining-room, the party is dispersed, the
colonel in a devout state of thankfulness at feeling himself, as he
expresses it, a man once more.



CHAPTER V.

HUSBAND AND WIFE.

Mr. and Mrs. Merivale are still seated at the breakfast-table on the
morning of the 27th, the former deep in his newspaper, the latter
taking another glance through her letters.  The children have already
taken themselves off some time, and with Miss Denison are busy
upstairs putting finishing touches to some of the costumes for the
evening.

"Here is a letter from Sophia," presently remarks Mrs. Merivale to
her husband.  "She proposes coming to us for a few days on her way
back to town when she leaves the Pagets; would you like--  Why,
James, what is the matter?" and rising quickly from her chair she
hurries round to his side, startled by the ashy paleness which has
suddenly overspread his face.

"No--no, it is--nothing!" gasps Mr. Merivale; but at the same moment
he drops the paper and presses his hand against his side with a
little smothered moan.  Mrs. Merivale snatches up her salts (which
are always at hand) and holds them under her husband's nostrils, then
hastily unscrewing the other end of the pretty toy she deluges her
handkerchief with _eau de Cologne_, and bathes his forehead and
temples until there is once more a little colour in his face.
"Thanks, dear," he says at last feebly.  "I am all right again
now--it was only--a stitch--that's all!  You need not look so
frightened, Mary, my dear.  The pain was sharp while it lasted, but I
am quite myself now, indeed I am.  Give me a little strong coffee,
Mary; and perhaps I had better have a spoonful of brandy in it."

"You must call and see Dr. Newton," says Mrs. Merivale as she busies
herself with the coffee; "and now _do_ try and get home an hour or
two earlier to-day.  I am sure there is no reason why you should not."

"Oh, but there is!" says Mr. Merivale, sipping his coffee.  "That's
just it.  Waymark has gone away for a few days, and I shall have
double work until he comes back, instead of being able to take things
easily."

"How very provoking!  What could he want to take a holiday for just
now?  Surely it is an unheard-of time for a holiday."

"Yes, so it would be.  But this is no holiday, I fancy, for I believe
he said something about an aunt being very ill and being summoned to
see her; but really I was so busy at the time I hardly noticed what
he did say.  I had called him into my private room to show him a
letter from Clayton & Co., who have a large account with us, you
know.  It was merely advising us as a matter of form that they would
be withdrawing the bulk of their deposit on the 30th instant, and as
Waymark sees to all the books and that sort of thing, I wanted him to
have the letter of course; then it was that he told me he must leave
for a few days, said he was just coming in to tell me about it."

"Well, and what about the letter? didn't he see that this would give
you extra trouble?"

"Well, he didn't seem to concern himself much about that; which after
his bad news was natural, I suppose.  But he said Mr. Hobson knew as
much about the books as himself, and that I need have no trouble
about the matter, as I could leave it all to him.  He only looked in
a moment after that to say good-bye, and that very possibly he would
be back himself by the 30th, in time to give a look to the affair.
So now you see, Mary, instead of sitting here I ought to be hurrying
off.  Of course I shall get home as soon as ever I can, for the
children's sake as well as my own; but as to seeing the doctor
to-day, I can't promise.  It will do very well in a day or two when I
have more time.  It seems quite ridiculous to have made such a fuss
about nothing, for I feel as right as a trivet now."

"_Nothing!_" repeats Mrs. Merivale testily.  "If you could have seen
your face as _I_ saw it, James, you would not talk of 'nothing' in
that manner.  Besides, you have had these _stitches_, as you call
them, more than once lately, and you _ought_ to have advice.  But
there! you won't, of course.  I never knew any man so care-less about
himself--_never_; and I might just as well talk to the wind for any
notice you take of what _I_ say.  O, dear me! was ever any woman in
this wide world tried and worried as I am?"

"Well, there, there, Mary; don't worry yourself about me," and Mr.
Merivale comes up to his wife and kisses her affectionately.  "I
promise you I will go, only I _cannot_ spare time for the next day or
two.  But the moment Waymark comes back, we will go together if you
like.  Now, I can't say more than that, can I?"

His wife looks somewhat consoled, and for her husband's sake she
shakes off the anxiety she really feels.  With a once-more smiling
face she helps him on with his overcoat herself, and stands at the
street door until the brougham has driven away.  There is not much
time for thinking when she gets back into the dining-room, for with a
rush like a whirlwind the girls run down the staircase and quickly
surround her, each one proffering a different request.  Poor Mrs.
Merivale! her hands go distractedly to her head at last, and sinking
into a chair she cries, "Oh, my _dear_ girls, do run away and leave
me now!  You _promised_ not to worry me about the tableaux, and if
you _will_ persist in doing so I shall be completely prostrated
before the evening comes, and then what will you do?  You have got
poor Miss Denison up there slaving for you, and I am sure she is a
host in herself.  That's right, run away!  Oh, _don't_ slam the door!
Now, cook, what is it?" and with a sigh of resignation the
unfortunate lady gives her attention to the final arrangements for
the supper.



CHAPTER VI.

TABLEAUX VIVANTS.

After a day of rush and bustle for every one in the house alike, the
hour of eight, at which the guests have been invited, at length
arrives, and whilst Mrs. Merivale receives them herself on the first
staircase landing, a man-servant conducts them to the school-room,
where they are placed in their seats by two maids dressed in neat
black dresses and dainty little lace caps and aprons.  These damsels
present each guest with the prettiest of programmes, which sets forth
a sufficiently attractive list of _Tableaux Vivants_, finishing up
with the information, "At the piano, Miss Denison and Miss Mary
Merivale."

These two are already seated at the piano, waiting with exemplary
patience for the signal to begin the overture.  There have been
extensive practisings going on for some time between the two, and now
the "ballet music" from Gounod's "Faust" is spread open before them,
and Molly is leaning back in her chair gazing abstractedly at the
curtain, while Miss Denison is making futile efforts to shield one of
the candles which shows a disposition to gutter.

Suddenly the little bell is rung, rousing Molly from her reverie, and
the sweet strains of the above-mentioned music soon reduce the
audience to a state of quietude and attention.

Molly, thorough musician that she is, plays on with such rapt
attention to the music and naught else that a gradually increasing
agitation of the curtain at the nearest wing is entirely lost upon
her.  Quite forgetful of the fact that she is bound to make a
precipitate retreat the moment the final chord is struck, in order to
swell the number of the children belonging to the lady who resided in
the shoe, she plays on until she becomes aware of Miss Denison's
voice whispering in her ear "They are _ready, Molly_, and we must
hurry the end of this."

Still Molly only half catches the words, till suddenly Dick, reduced
to desperation, puts his head out from behind the curtain, and after
making frantic signs to cease, says in an audible whisper, "That's
enough, Molly, we're all ready and waiting for you."

This peremptory summons recalls the girl to the business of the
evening, and giving a quick nod of comprehension to her governess,
they both hurry through the few remaining bars, and finishing up with
two or three banging, crashing chords, as Molly puts it, she pushes
back her chair and promptly disappears.

There is only a delay of a few seconds before the little bell tinkles
again, and while Miss Denison plays a soft melody the curtain rises
on the first tableau.

Certainly "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe" was a great
success.

Colonel Danvers, arrayed in one of the nurse's cotton gowns, with a
little shawl pinned over his shoulders and a large poke-bonnet, looks
the character of the "old woman" to perfection, as with one hand he
grasps Honor's arm with a firm grip, whilst a formidable-looking
birch is raised threateningly over her with the other.  The rest of
the children are all seated round and about the shoe in various
attitudes; some half in and half out of it.  All are supplied with
basins, popularly supposed to contain broth, and Molly, well to the
fore, with bare feet and rumpled head, is pausing in the act of
carrying her spoon to her mouth, with a distinct expression of "Will
it be _my_ turn next?" in her wide-open blue eyes.

The curtain goes down amidst a storm of applause; and it being
arranged that no encores will be accepted, there is instantly a rush
of pattering feet across the stage, accompanied by much giggling and
whispering, and then a mysterious sound of pushing and dragging,
which duly announces the removal of the shoe.

Honor's "Mother Hubbard" comes next, and Molly once more takes her
place at the piano, her presence not being required again on the
stage until the end of the first part of the programme, where her
much-dreaded part of the "Maiden all forlorn" comes on.  Molly is
anything but happy in her mind about this part of the programme, she
having grave misgivings as to Hugh's intentions in the matter.

"Look here, Hugh," she says, when his services not being in request
elsewhere he strolls into the room and hangs over the piano,
nominally to turn over the music, "I shall ask Colonel Danvers to
make our picture awfully short.  I don't know, I'm sure, how you mean
to manage about that stupid kiss; but it is very certain you can't
keep on kissing me all the time; and another thing is, if you have
your face so close to mine I _know_ I shall be tempted to bite you.
I shouldn't be able to help it, I am sure."

"Well, I suppose I must risk that," laughs Hugh good-naturedly; "and
I don't suppose you would bite very hard either."

"O, wouldn't I though! my teeth are as sharp as anything.  You have
no idea what they can do when they give their mind to a thing.  Hush!
here is Doris's 'Mary, Mary.' Doesn't she look pretty?"

And so she does.  A chintz with a green ground has carried the
day,--green being, Doris had declared, the colour best suited to
Mary's contrariness of nature.  So green it is, even to the neat
little high-heel shoes of which Doris is not a little proud.

A miniature garden has been quickly improvised for this picture; and
the girl standing in the middle of it, with finger on pouting lip and
a general air of discontent and vexation, looks natural and well.
Truth to tell, the pouting expression is not altogether foreign to
Doris's face; and while the audience is thinking how well she has
assumed the contrariness, Dick whispers to his sister, "I say, Honor,
Doris's pouting propensities have come in useful at last, haven't
they?"

There is only one more picture now before the end of the first part,
so Molly once more disappears, and is in time to help in placing
Daisy in position as "Miss Muffit," with her companion the spider, of
which she feels rather a wholesome dread.  Unfortunately for her
feelings, Regy, who has manufactured it, has made one of the
creature's legs a shade shorter than the rest.  The consequence is
that, when the spider is standing, this short leg dangles loosely and
suggestively, inspiring poor Daisy with genuine terror.  The best
side is, of course, turned towards the audience, and when the curtain
goes up the little girl is discovered in a very natural attitude of
fright, as she shrinks away from the monster, with her cup of
curds-and-whey in one hand and her spoon in the other.  Molly emerges
from the dressing-room just as a storm of vociferous applause informs
her that the curtain has descended on the much-appreciated picture of
"Little Miss Muffit."  As she passes into the school-room behind the
huge screen which hides the actors and actresses from view as they
enter, she meets Hugh, who is evidently feeling as forlorn as the
"maiden" herself in his ragged and tattered garb.  He is keeping well
in the shadow at present, and only steps forward as Molly comes up.

"You don't look very handsome," she remarks laconically; "and--yes, I
verily believe your face is dirty."

"Yes," says Hugh guiltily, "I'm afraid it is.  The fact is, I smudged
it with a bit of burnt cork.  I was going to wash it--I was indeed,"
he adds hastily, "but we heard the applause beginning for 'Miss
Muffit,' and Colonel Danvers said there wasn't time, and declared it
was not the least likely that the 'Man all tattered and torn' would
have a clean face.  I can go and wash it now," he says humbly, "if
you think it will do to keep everybody waiting."

"O, no!" says Molly hastily, "we can't do that, of course; but do for
goodness' sake give it a rub with your handkerchief.  Have you got
one?" she adds, looking doubtfully at him; "perhaps you haven't even
got a pocket in that tattered old coat.  Well, here's mine;" and
diving into the depths of the capacious pocket which is hidden away
in the folds of the still-room maid's cotton dress which she is
wearing, she produces a small dainty cambric affair, which Hugh, with
a mixture of amusement and awe, accepts gratefully.  At this moment
Colonel Danvers hurries up.

"Come, you two," he says, "they will be tired of waiting.  Now, you
sit here on this stool, Molly.  That's right--capital!  Show your
face a _little_ more to the audience; now lean it on your hand--so,
and twist up your apron with the other.  I'll see to the 'man'--don't
you move on any account now, there's a good girl.  Now, Hugh, just
here.  All right! you'll remember the sign, and don't fall over the
pail;" and before Molly has time to ascertain his whereabouts the
bell tinkles, and up goes the curtain.

It is a pretty picture enough; for a neat little rustic scene has
been painted for the back of the stage, in which the refractory cow
may be seen grazing, rather peaceably perhaps considering its
reputation for bad temper.  A sun-bonnet is lying on the green baize
in front of Molly, and at her side is a genuine milking-pail borrowed
from the dairy.  Molly herself is staring straight before her in a
truly dejected manner, while Hugh has the appearance of having crept
up stealthily till within about half a yard of her.  The seconds
creep on, and as Hugh has not moved an inch Molly reassures herself
with the thought that after all it was only his nonsense about being
obliged to give the kiss.  She congratulates herself too soon,
however, for as the bell rings for the curtain to descend, Hugh
suddenly darts forward and kisses her lightly on the cheek just as it
is about half-way down.

The peals of laughter which, with the applause, ring through the room
testify to the audience's thorough appreciation of the joke; but
Molly as she rises expresses extreme indignation at what she called
Hugh's "horrid meanness," throwing dark hints over her shoulder as
she marches from the room as to all favours being discontinued for
the remainder of the evening.  Hugh looks so disconsolate that
Colonel Danvers slaps him on the shoulder, saying with a hearty
laugh, "Come, cheer up, man! the fun of the picture was in the kiss,
you know, and Molly doesn't mean what she says.  You leave her little
ladyship to me and I'll see that it's all right; she is only put out
for the moment.  Now clear the stage for the first scene of 'The
queen was in the parlour.'  Where is the queen?  Oh, here you are,
Doris!  Yes, you will do very well; but your crown is all on one
side, and the effect is rakish in the extreme.  Come here, and let me
straighten it."

"O, for goodness' sake mind the honey!" cries Doris excitedly.  "It's
trickling down the sides now, I do believe!" and she holds up the pot
down the side of which a thin stream of the sticky substance is
steadily making its way.  "I found Teddy and Dick at it, you know,"
she continues, deliberately drawing one finger up the side of the pot
to stay the stream; "and in the scuffle it got knocked over, and
before I could rescue it of course some must needs run over.  I have
stuck to it ever since though!" she adds triumphantly.

"It seems to me that it has stuck to _you_," says the colonel dryly.
"How in the world can you endure to have such sticky fingers?"

"O, I don't mind," says Doris carelessly.  "I shall require to have
some of it spread upon bread by and by, you know, and I shall be sure
to smear myself then.  I always do with honey or jam or anything of
that kind.  Besides, having once got the pot I don't intend to put it
down again.  Oh, good gracious, Bobby, you're standing on my train!
_Do_ pull him off, Colonel Danvers!"  The stage-manager does as he is
desired, and Master Bob is led off by the ear mildly protesting at
the indignity offered him.

Molly has long ago returned to her duties at the piano, for during
the "interval of ten minutes" the audience must, of course, be
sufficiently amused.

That over, the three pictures of "The queen was in the parlour,
eating bread and honey," "The king was in his counting-house,
counting out his money," and "The maid was in the garden, hanging out
the clothes," rapidly follow, with Doris as queen, Regy Horton as
king, and Honor as the maid, a stuffed magpie having been engaged for
the role of the blackbird.

Directly the curtain descends on the last of these three Molly once
more leaves Miss Denison at the piano, it being imperative that she
shall increase the number of domestics appertaining to the kitchen in
which the Queen of Hearts is discovered making tarts.

Honor is the queen on this occasion, and Dick personates the knave in
the second scene.  Great care and thought have been expended on the
dressing of this set of pictures, and in the last, when a goodly
crowd, all representing the suit of hearts, is collected on the
stage, the effect is really good.  Hugh manages to get up the bland,
vacant kind of expression in which the kings of a pack of cards
generally rejoice, and Honor, after the manner of cardboard queens,
looks decidedly cross, presumably at the abduction of her tarts;
while Dick has the debonair, impudent manner peculiar to the knaves.
If anything mars the effect of this last tableau it is the painful
fact that the knave of hearts, as he stands with his arms folded,
scornfully glancing down at the dish of tarts, shows distinct signs
of having tasted as well as purloined those dainties; for his flushed
countenance is embellished here and there with little streaks of jam,
which if not becoming are at least highly suggestive.

This last picture brings the dramatic portion of the evening to a
close, and the actors and actresses dash madly from the room,
regardless of the dire confusion left behind them; for in another
moment the audience will be making their exit by the same door on
their way to the study, where light refreshments are being served
before the next business of the evening, namely the dancing, begins.
Honor and Doris are soon ready to join the throng below, for it has
been arranged that they shall keep to their last dresses in the
tableaux for the remainder of the evening.  Molly, however, is to
wear the new white silk which is to do duty for the round of
Christmas parties which the girls are generally in request for.  It
is some time, therefore, before she makes her appearance in the
drawing-room.  The dancing has already commenced, but Doris and Honor
are still standing, the centre of a congratulatory group, and it is
only when their respective partners come forward to claim them that a
truce is given to the compliments which might have turned the heads
of any less sensible girls than they.

When Molly at length appears she feels, to use her own expression,
rather "out of it," for during her absence engagements have of course
been made for the first one or two dances, so she leans rather
disconsolately against a doorway from which the door has been
removed, and half hidden by a curtain she looks on at the gay scene
before her.  She is just answering some energetic signs from Alick
Horton, and telegraphing back her willingness to finish the dance
with him if he can safely pilot himself round to her retreat without
being run down by the many couples now whirling round the room, when
her shoulder is touched from behind, and Colonel Danvers puts back
the curtain, saying as he does so, "Now, Miss Molly, I have brought a
penitent sinner with me who is desirous of having the honour of
dancing with you."

Molly glances up, and seeing Hugh standing beside the colonel with a
crestfallen and guilty appearance, looks down again saying, "I am not
going to dance this time, thank you; or if I do," she adds hastily,
seeing Alick approaching slowly and surely, "it will be with Alick; I
have promised him."

The mention of his brother's name appears to have an irritating
effect on Hugh, for he says hastily, and not without some temper, "O,
Alick is nobody! he can wait.  Come now, Molly, you promised me, you
know."

But Molly shakes her head.

"Well, but you know, Molly, that kiss could not be helped," puts in
the colonel at this juncture; "and for my part I think Hugh managed
it in a highly commendable manner.  Besides, poor boy, he is really
dreadfully put out at having been compelled, as it were, to annoy
you, and I am sure he will never dream of doing such a thing again;
will you, Hugh?" and he turns towards the young man with a roguish
twinkle in his eye.

Hugh does not respond, but he looks pleadingly towards his little
favourite, and holding out his hand says, "Come, Molly, won't you?"

Molly considers a moment, then slowly moving towards Hugh she says,
"Just this one dance then, Hugh, as Colonel Danvers wishes it."

"And plenty more when that one's done!" calls the Colonel after them,
as he goes off with Alick to find another partner for him.

The evening goes on merrily and fast, and Molly's programme is
speedily filled up, the initials H. H. figuring pretty often in it
notwithstanding her previous displeasure.  Doris and Honor are heard
to confess more than once during the evening that they are sorry they
were tempted by feelings of vanity to keep on their regal attire, the
trains thereof constantly tripping them up and embarrassing them
generally, to say nothing of an unfortunate habit, which their
respective crowns possess, of tumbling off on the slightest
provocation.  Thus they are seen to look envyingly from time to time
at Molly, who in all the independence of short skirts and crownless
head, is enjoying herself thoroughly.

Most of the guests have departed, and only a few familiar friends are
still standing about the staircase and hall when Hugh goes up to
Molly, who, now completely tired out, is sitting on one of the hall
chairs, gazing abstractedly into the dining-room opposite.

"Good-night, Molly," he whispers, "and I wanted to tell you that
to-morrow will be the first day of my hard work: _real hard_ work,
you know, that even _you_ would approve of.  I haven't very much more
time at home now, but I mean to make the most of it, and when once I
get back to Sandhurst I shall work like a nigger if I can feel that
you are trusting me."

"O, I am so glad, Hugh!" says the girl, looking up brightly at the
handsome, earnest face above her; "because I know you will do so well
if you only give yourself a fair chance, and do not give way to that
wicked laziness.  I do so want you to be famous and distinguished and
all that sort of thing when you go out to India, if you do go."

"I don't know exactly what I am to distinguish myself in, unless it
is pig-sticking or some other pursuit of that character," laughs
Hugh; "but seriously, if I do get on well out there, or anywhere else
indeed, I know whom I shall have to thank for it.  And now good-night
again, Molly; sleep well, and if it is still fine and frosty
to-morrow, I'll come and take you for a spin on the ice."



CHAPTER VII.

STARTLING NEWS.

It is ten o'clock in the morning, and Mr. Merivale, senior partner of
Merivale, Waymark, & Co., bankers, is seated at the table in his own
private room, meditating an attack upon the formidable pile of
letters which lies before him.  He is looking pale and depressed on
this, the morning after his children's party, and is saying to
himself that if only Waymark were back, he really would take a few
days' rest.  He is just about to open one of the letters when a tap
comes to the door, and the head and confidential clerk, Mr. Hobson,
enters the room.  He starts back, however, as Mr. Merivale raises his
head from the still unopened letter in his hand, and muttering to
himself "God bless my soul!" hurries to the mantel-piece, where a
glass jug of cold water stands, and quickly pouring out a glassful he
takes it to his principal, saying, "You look a little faint and tired
this morning, sir; will you drink some water, and then I will ring
for the sherry?  Dear, dear, how very pale you are, to be sure!" and
the kind old man bustles over to the bell, which he pulls vigorously.
Then hastening to the door, and at the same time keeping one eye on
Mr. Merivale, he opens it, and pouncing on a young clerk who is
leisurely strolling down the passage with his hands in his pockets,
gives him a sharp peremptory order, which astonishes that young
gentleman not a little.

On turning back into the room the old man is immensely relieved to
see a little colour once more in the face of Mr. Merivale; but he
will not allow him to speak as yet, and the housekeeper at the bank
entering at this moment with the sherry, he seizes the decanter from
the tray, and pours out a glass.  Then Hobson stands by his elbow,
waiting patiently until the short gasps of breath become longer and
more regular, and the spasm, which had frightened him very
considerably, has passed off.  Then he quietly insists on Mr.
Merivale taking the sherry, and in a few minutes has the satisfaction
of seeing him sit upright in his chair, apparently himself again,
though with a face still pale and drawn-looking.

"Thanks, Hobson, thanks!" he says, passing his hand over his
forehead.  "Don't look so anxious, old friend; I have had these
little attacks once or twice before, but I assure you it is nothing
serious.  My wife was telling me only a day or two since that I ought
to have advice; but I know just what the doctor would say--'General
debility and want of tone,' &c. &c., and then he would suggest rest,
and change of air and scene, and all the rest of it, which you know,
as well as I do, I cannot get while Waymark is away.  Take some
sherry, Hobson, and do sit down."

"Ay, that's just where it is," replies the old man slowly.  "This is
really what I came to speak to you about, sir.  Is it your wish that
I should attend to this matter of Clayton & Co."

"Yes, by all means, Hobson.  I shall be really grateful if you will
take it all off my shoulders; and, of course, if there is any little
thing you want to talk over, why, you will know where to find me if I
am not here."

"Just so, just so," replies the old man, getting up.  "And now, sir,
if you will take my advice you will go straight home and rest for the
remainder of the day.  You trust me, sir, to see that all's right,
and if anything particular should take place during the day, I might
perhaps step round in the evening.  Now, shall I send for a cab for
you?--the brougham has gone off long ago, of course."

A cab being procured, Mr. Merivale gets into his overcoat, and,
accompanied by Mr. Hobson, goes down the steps of the bank.  As the
cab drives away, the old man, who is still watching it, shakes his
head, and says mournfully to himself, "No, no, I don't like it at
all.  I have never seen such pallor but once before, and then--  Oh,
a telegram--answer prepaid, eh?  All right!  I'm coming;" and the old
man goes back to his desk with a heavy heart, and opening the yellow
envelope returns to the business of the day.

* * * * * * * *

Miss Denison and her pupils are all seated round the school-room
fire, in various stages of fatigue and sleepiness.  There has been a
sociable high-tea at seven o'clock instead of the usual late dinner,
at which all the family, from Mr. Merivale down to Bobby, have been
present.

Conversation is being carried on in rather a desultory sort of
fashion, the only variety being Dick's persistence in asking riddles,
which are invariably proved to have no answers.

Discussion waxes warm presently on the subject of that beautiful poem
on the letter H, often attributed to Lord Byron, but written by
Catherine Fanshawe.  Dick protests loudly that it is Shelley's, while
Honor and Doris are equally sure it is Byron's.

"What do _you_ say, Miss Denny?" asked Doris raising herself on to
her elbow and looking up from her place on the hearth-rug.  "You know
everything, so surely you can settle the question."

"I was not aware that I am such a walking encyclopædia as you seem to
imagine," replies Miss Denison laughing, and shaking out a skein of
wool preparatory to placing it on Molly's hands; "and, to tell you
the truth, Doris, my own personal experience is that the more one
learns, the more one finds there is to learn.  At the present moment
I cannot recollect the author of that enigma, but my impression is
that you are both wrong, though I could not say so for certain.  Now,
who can recite it without a mistake?  If someone can, very likely I
shall call to mind the name of the author.  But first ring the bell,
Dick; Daisy and Bobby must go to bed."

"A capital idea!" cries Dick, referring to the suggestion about the
poem, "and I'll give anyone who says it through without a single
hitch a whole packet of butterscotch.  There!"

"I don't believe you have got the money to buy it," says Molly
crushingly; "for I heard you only this morning bewailing the fact
that you had only three halfpence left in the wide world."

"You can get penny packets," mutters Dick; but he is promptly
suppressed, for Honor in a clear melodious voice is already
beginning--

  "'Twas whispered in heaven, 'twas muttered in hell,
  And echo caught faintly the sound as it fell;
  On the confines of earth 'twas permitted to rest,
  And the depths of the ocean its presence confessed.
  'Twill be found in the sphere when 'tis riven asunder,
  Be seen in the lightning, and heard in the thunder.
  'Twas allotted to man in his earliest breath,
  Attends at his birth, and awaits him at death.
  It presides o'er his happiness, honour, and health,
  Is the prop of his house and the end of his wealth.
  Without it the soldier and seaman may roam,
  But woe to the wretch who expels it from home.
  In the whispers of conscience its voice will be found,
  Nor e'en in the whirlwind of passion be drowned.
  'Twill not soften the heart, and though deaf to the ear,
  'Twill make it acutely and instantly hear.
  But in shade let it rest, like a delicate flower--
  Oh, breathe on it softly--it dies in an hour.'"


A burst of applause greets Honor as she steps down from the footstool
upon which Molly has previously handed her with much ceremony.  No
one, however, seems any nearer settling the author than before.

"Most annoying, to be sure," says Miss Denison, tapping the fender
impatiently with her foot; "I do dislike to be baffled like this.
I'll tell you what, we will send down and ask your father to let us
have both Byron and Shelley from the study.  After all I think it
_must_ be one of those two--anyway, we will search until we _do_ find
it.  Now, who will be my ambassador?"

All start up at the same moment, each signifying his or her
willingness to undertake the commission.  But Miss Denison singles
out Doris, as being most accustomed to putting in an appearance
downstairs at that time of the evening, and Doris accordingly leaves
the room with a look of calm superiority at the others.  The interval
is spent in hot argument as before, and Dick is just offering Molly a
bet consisting of a new book of travels against her recently
purchased tennis racquet when the door opens, and Doris with a white,
scared face re-enters the room.

"_Doris!_" exclaim all the voices in a breath, "what is the matter?"

The girl comes slowly towards the table, and resting one hand upon it
she pushes back her ruffled fair hair with the other.

"I--I hardly know--" she gasps, "but something is wrong.  I don't
know what--only old Mr. Hobson is shut up with father in the study,
and mother said I must not go in.  Then father came rushing into the
room and asked mother for his keys which he had left on the
dining-table, and oh, it was his face that frightened me so--it was
so white, and drawn, and old-looking!" and with a smothered sob
Doris's head falls on the shoulder of the kind governess, who has
risen and is standing with her arm round her pupil's waist.

"Courage, dear!" she whispers, gently stroking the bowed head.  "This
trouble, whatever it is, may not be so serious after all.  Come, dry
your eyes and wait here with the others whilst I go down to your
mother and see if there is anything I can do;" and Miss Denison
leaves the little group, with the exception of Doris, who is still
crying quietly, standing staring at each other in blank dismay.

Before many minutes have elapsed Miss Denison returns, and though her
face looks grave and anxious, she makes an effort to speak cheerfully.

"Your father has had some bad news in connection with his business,
girls; but I do not know yet to what extent.  We must all hope for
the best, therefore, until we know more; and in the meantime, every
one must do his and her best not to increase the trouble by showing
grief which, after all, may prove to be quite uncalled for.  It is
already after nine, so Molly and Dick had better go to bed.  I want
you, Doris, to go down to your mother.  You will find her in the
drawing-room; and your father wants you to go to him in the study,
Honor.  I heard the hall door shut just now, so I expect Mr. Hobson
has gone: he was just leaving as I came up.  Now, dears, I will run
up and say just a word to nurse, and then I will go down again to
your mother.  Honor, you will know where to find me.  Your father may
want to send some telegrams, and I may be able to help you."

When Doris enters the drawing-room she looks with a little surprise
at her mother, who with closed eyes, handkerchief pressed to her
delicate nose, and smelling-salts well within reach, is now
gracefully reclining on the sofa.

Advancing further into the room she says softly, "Miss Denny sent me
to you, mother, and she is coming down again herself after she has
spoken to nurse.  Honor is with father in the study."

"Yes, very well," says Mrs. Merivale languidly.  "And now lower the
lamps, Doris; and oh! do move about quietly.  Now bring a chair and
come and sit here, close to the sofa.  I suppose you have heard the
wretched news that old Mr. Hobson has brought to-night?  It seems
that your father's partner has embezzled immense sums from the bank,
and when he heard of the probability of something occurring which
would expose the whole thing, he quietly decamped, taking care to get
a sufficiently good start to do away with any chance of his capture."
Mrs. Merivale pauses a moment to give a vicious little pull to the
sofa cushion, then she goes on impatiently, "I don't suppose it would
have gone on to such an extent in any other case; but your father is
the most unsuspecting man that ever breathed.  He would allow himself
to be cheated by anyone, under his very nose.  I always disliked that
man, and I told your father so; but of course I might just as well
talk to the chairs and tables for all the attention there is paid to
anything I say.  Oh, good gracious! here is that dreadful dog!  _Do_,
for goodness' sake, take the creature away!"

Doris is just in time to catch up Vic as she bounds on to the sofa
with a view to settling herself for a comfortable nap on the end of
Mrs. Merivale's dress.  Being put on the floor and told to lie down,
she does so under protest, and with a "whoofa" of indignation.  But
presently discrying an attraction in the shape of a misguided fly,
that with reckless confidence has emerged from some safe nook and is
flying feebly towards one of the lamps, she starts up, and making
snap after snap, careers madly after it round the room.  Suddenly
catching sight of her own stumpy tail, however, which in the
excitement of the hunt bids fair to wag its owner's body off its
legs, she pulls up suddenly, then whirls round and round, teetotum
fashion, in pursuit of the offending object.  Mrs. Merivale is in a
state of frenzy.

"Doris!" she exclaims angrily, "do catch the dog and put it out of
the room.  I call it downright cruel of you to encourage it as you
do.  But there, I must say you are all alike in that respect; no one
ever considers _me_!  Even in this tiresome upset (and I am sure I
don't clearly understand _what_ it is or _why_ it is) your father's
one thought seems to be 'the children,' and what will be done about
this, that, and the other concerning them."

"O _mother_!  I'm sure you do father an injustice in saying that!"
cries Doris indignantly.  "You _must_ know that you are always his
first thought in everything."

"Well, I don't know.  And what," continues Mrs. Merivale, giving
another little impatient pull to the sofa cushion--"what am I to
understand when your father talks of ruin?  I suppose we shall have
to give up one of the carriages, perhaps; though which I don't know.
It will be _too_ dreadful to think of stifling in a brougham during
the day, and yet if we kept the victoria, how in the world could I go
out at night?"

A brief pause, in which Doris reads for about the twentieth time the
advertisement which is staring her in the face from the back of a
periodical which lies uncut upon the table.

Then Mrs. Merivale sighs rather than says, "I suppose too we shall
have to do with a servant or two less.  I do really think"--a bright
idea suddenly striking her--"that you could very well do without a
maid in the school-room now; and perhaps we could manage with only
one housemaid, though I should dread proposing such a thing to
Louisa, and of course I could not think of letting _her_ go.  It is
equally impossible too that I could spare Lane, after having her with
me such a number of years.  I don't really see what else I can do.
We need not give so many dinner-parties, perhaps; a light supper
costs less than a dinner, and one need not be so particular about the
wines.  You, Doris, will have to come out at one of the county balls,
instead of being presented in London; and Honor will have to take
painting lessons from some cheaper master than Signor Visetti.  I
daresay, after all, we would only have been paying for his name."
Another short pause, and then "I suppose if things are really so
serious as your father makes them out to be, Dick, poor boy, will
have to make up his mind to give up Oxford in the future.  Oh, thank
goodness, here is Miss Denison!  Now, Doris, you can go; and do hurry
Lane with that cup of tea she is getting--and, Doris," as the girl,
only too glad to escape, nears the door, "_pray_ shut that dog up;
and if it cannot be quiet _in_ the house, let it go to the stables.
It is what most other dogs have to do."



CHAPTER VIII.

GONE!

In the meantime a very different conversation is being carried on in
the study, whither Honor has gone to her father.  Although Mr.
Merivale has had some difficulty in making his wife understand the
extent of the trouble which has come upon them, he finds it quite
another matter with his daughter.  In a very few minutes Honor's
clear head has completely taken in the situation; and it is an
unspeakable relief to Mr. Merivale to feel that there is one in the
family at all events upon whose aid he can rely in that hard and
difficult task which now lies before him, that of beginning life over
again.  The girl's loving sympathy also goes far towards softening
the blow which has fallen with such cruel force, and though still
haggard and wan-looking it is with a little smile that he at length
looks up and says, "So we must all make the best of it, Honor; and
after a time, I daresay, we shall manage very well.  If only your
mother understood a little better; but you see, dear, she has always
from her birth upwards lived in affluence and luxury, and it will
come very hard upon her, poor thing, to have to live such an utterly
different kind of life."

Honor, who with her chin resting upon her hand is staring
abstractedly into the fire, merely nods acquiescence to her father's
remarks, until after a brief silence she looks up.

"And will there be absolutely nothing left for us, father?  Will all
mother's fortune have to go too?"

"Yes, all of hers, my dear, except a trifling sum which, thank God,
is safely invested in something else.  I don't know what she will
say, poor thing, when she comes to learn this.  No, Honor, we must
make up our minds to face the worst; for even with the cursory glance
I have taken into the bank affairs to-night with Hobson, I can see
that when we have given up every farthing that we possess there will
still be a deficiency which is perfectly frightful to contemplate.
Ah!  Honor, if we were the only sufferers I could begin again with a
comparatively light heart; but when I think of the numbers who are
ruined by the dishonesty of one scoundrel--of the hardly-earned
savings of many an honest, hard-working man, all swamped, all
swamped--I feel that to sit here, powerless to alleviate the
sufferings of all the victims of this gigantic fraud, is enough to
drive me out of my senses.  Oh, if only I had known, if only I could
have guessed!  But for some time past Waymark has taken more and more
upon himself, saying always that it was to save me trouble as my
health became uncertain; and how could I tell? _how_ could I tell?"
And with a smothered sob poor Mr. Merivale's head falls forward on
his arms.

"Don't, father,--don't!" says Honor, putting her arms lovingly round
him and drawing his head down upon her shoulder.  "The thought that
no blame can possibly rest on you should be a comfort to you; and you
cannot do more than you are going to do, dear father, in giving up
everything you possess."

"No, dear; alas! that is all I _can_ do.  But do that I will to the
uttermost farthing; and if it would only mend matters I would give
the very coat from off my back only too gladly."

"Will they try to overtake Mr. Waymark, father?" presently asks Honor.

"They will try, dear, but with little hope of success, for he has too
good a start to be easily found.  Now, are you sure you have got
those telegrams worded exactly as I dictated?  Very well, then, let
William take them off to the station at once.  I am anxious your aunt
should have hers, because I am sure she will come over and see your
mother at once, and I think she will very likely be able to explain
matters to her better than I can.  And now, dear, leave me, and at
ten o'clock bring me a cup of strong coffee with your own hands; and
don't let me be disturbed by anyone until then, for I have papers to
look through and writing to do which may keep me up half the night.
Tell your mother this, Honor, and beg her not to be anxious about me,
but to go to bed soon.  Poor thing! this will be a terrible blow to
her.  But you must help her to bear it--you and Doris.  Ah, poor
little Doris!--send her to me for a minute, Honor.  I should like to
say a few words to her too.  Molly and the others have gone to bed, I
suppose?"

"Yes, some little time ago.  I will bring your coffee punctually,
father; and after Doris has left you I will see that no one disturbs
you."

As Honor a few minutes later mounts the staircase, lost in thought,
she comes suddenly upon a white-robed figure which is standing with
rumpled hair and wide-open blue eyes gazing anxiously down into the
hall below.

"Hush! don't say anything, Honor!" whispers the figure excitedly; "I
can't stay in bed--it's no use, so I have just slipped on my
dressing-gown, and here I am.  O, _don't_ send me back, Honor!" the
girl adds imploringly as she sees symptoms of nervousness as to cold,
&c., pass over her sister's face.  "Let me go into the school-room,
do.  I'll be as still as a mouse, _really_ I will, only _don't_ ask
me to go back to bed!"

"Poor Molly!" says Honor, putting an arm round her sister.  Then
relenting she turns down the passage towards the school-room, and
pushing open the door leads her in and ensconces her in a big
arm-chair by the still-smouldering fire.

"Ah! that's better," sighs Molly as Honor seizes the poker and stirs
the embers into a cheerful blaze; "and now _do_ tell me, Honor dear,
what this trouble is, and all about it."

"It is soon told, Molly," says the girl, and seating herself in a low
chair opposite her sister she tells her of the dishonesty of their
father's partner.  Then there is a brief pause, during which Honor,
poker still in hand, knocks a "stranger" off the second bar, and
Molly drops a slipper.  "So now, dear," continues Honor, "you will
know what father means when he speaks of ruin; for ruined we are,
Molly, as to fortune, though, thank God, father still bears an
unstained name and can hold his head as high as ever he did."

That Molly at length grasps the situation is evinced by the way she
sits staring at her sister with eyes wide open and full of trouble.
She does not speak for a few minutes, but at last she leans forward,
and taking Honor's face between her two hands she says slowly and
with a little painful sort of gasp, "When you speak of father giving
up all he possesses you mean his own fortune, I suppose, all his
_money_, I mean, and perhaps mother's too--eh, Honor?"

"No, dear," says the elder sister gently, and taking one of Molly's
hands between her own.  "We shall not only lose that, but everything!
The houses will be sold, both this and Sunnymeade; all the furniture,
pictures, and plate; the horses and carriages; and, in fact, as I
said, Molly, _everything_.  Poor father says he must begin life over
again, and that we shall all have to help him."

"Poor mother!" says Molly presently, after another pause.

"Ah, poor mother!" repeats Honor, rising and kissing her young
sister.  "We shall have to take care of her now, dear, and do all we
can to prevent her feeling the great change that is coming into all
our lives.  And now, dear, you _must_ go to bed again; you will feel
happier now that you really know the worst, so you must try and not
think about it now, but go to sleep."

Having seen Molly comfortably tucked up once more, Honor wanders
downstairs, and is just turning into the drawing-room in an aimless
sort of way when she meets Miss Denison coming out.

"I was just looking for you, Honor," she says, putting her arm
through her pupil's and turning back with her into the room.  "Your
mother seems so poorly that Doris and Lane have been seeing her to
bed; she had one of her hysterical attacks, but she is better now,
and I think it will be best to leave her quiet."  And Miss Denison
sighs as she tries to stir the fire into some little semblance of
life.  "Your father has sent for Mr. Trent, has he not, dear?"

"Yes, and for Aunt Sophia too," replies Honor, sinking into a chair
opposite her governess; "though I don't know exactly what good _she_
can do."

"I don't know about that," says Miss Denison quickly.  "Your aunt is
a very sensible, clear-sighted woman, and I daresay he thought she
would be a comfort to your mother, and that she may be able to
explain things better to her than he can."

And so governess and pupil sit talking, until the little French clock
on the mantel-piece striking ten, Honor jumps up, remembering her
promise to take her father's coffee to him at that hour.  As she lays
her hand upon the bell, the door opens, and Rankin appears with a
little tray which Honor takes from him.

"I shall not be many minutes, Miss Denny," she says as she leaves the
room.  "Father is busy writing, so he is sure not to keep me."

Arrived at the study, Honor opens the door softly and goes into the
room.  Her father is still seated where she left him, his head a
little bent forward over the papers spread open on the table.  He
appears so engrossed in looking at these that Honor's entrance does
not even disturb him, and she carries the cup to the table and places
it within reach, quietly waiting by her father's side until he shall
speak to her.

The girl's eyes wander to the fireplace.  The fire is out, and with
the exception of the ticking of the large clock on the mantel-piece,
which sounds louder than usual, there is an unnatural stillness in
the room which oppresses her.

She glances down at the quiet figure by her side, which still seems
unconscious of her presence.  Then she notices for the first time
that the pen in her father's hand, although resting on the paper, is
not moving.  She leans forward quickly and lays her warm hand upon
the motionless one near her; she shudders and draws back, then moves
rapidly to the other side of the chair, and with tender hands raises
the drooping head.  With one glance at the dearly loved face, now so
ashen and white, Honor learns the fearful truth, and with a shriek of
anguish which rings from cellar to attic she falls senseless to the
ground.



CHAPTER IX.

A HOUSE OF MOURNING.

When Honor opens her eyes again it is to find herself on her own bed,
with kind Miss Denison leaning over her, bathing her forehead and
temples with _eau de Cologne_.  Molly stands on one side of the bed
at a little distance looking pale and frightened; and an elderly
gentleman is standing by the other side with his finger on Honor's
pulse.  He nods across the bed to Miss Denison as the girl looks
round and then tries to sit up.

"She will do now," he says quietly, "so I will go down to Mrs.
Merivale again;" and he quietly slips out of the room, beckoning
Molly to follow him.

Honor lies quite still for a few minutes; then, slowly turning her
eyes towards her governess, she asks the question which Miss Denison
has been so dreading.  Then gently and kindly she breaks the sad news
to her: tells her how Dr. Newton had said that her poor father had
been dead for more than an hour when he was called in; that it was
disease of the heart, and the shock of the bank failure had been too
much for him.

"And mother?  Poor mother!" says Honor at length, when, a long and
violent fit of crying over, she leans back against her pillows, calm,
though pale and exhausted.

"She is better now, dear.  We had great trouble with her at first--or
rather Lane and Doris and the doctor had, for I was with you, dear.
She went from one fit of hysterics into another; and now, of course,
she is utterly worn out.  Your Aunt Sophia took her in hand directly
she came (it is really most providential that she was so near); and
then kind Mrs. Horton has been such a comfort to her.  I sent in to
her, you know, and she came herself the moment she got my message."

"But how came aunt here to-night?" asks Honor, putting her hand to
her head and knitting her straight little brows.  "I can't remember
clearly, but surely I spoke of _to-morrow_ morning in my telegram."

"Yes, dear; so you did.  But when this happened I got Doris to write
a hasty line which I sent off with the brougham to the Pagets', and
your aunt came back in the brougham.  She will be a great help to you
all till your mother has got a little over the shock; she always had
great influence over her, you know.  And now, dear Honor, I shall
give you the little draught the doctor ordered for you, and then I
will leave you to sleep, for that will bring you strength to bear
your trouble better than anything else.  I shall be within call, for
I have promised Doris to sleep with her to-night; so we will put the
door ajar between your rooms.  Now, dear, God bless you!  And you
must promise me, Honor, to be brave, and not to fret any more
to-night.  You know you told me your dear father's last words to you
were of thankfulness for the comfort and help he was sure you would
be to him.  And now, more than ever, you must prove that you are
worthy of the trust he placed in you--for a trust it is, dear
Honor--and one, I know, that with God's help you will faithfully
discharge.  Your poor mother will need a long time to recover from so
severe a shock.  And although Doris is older than you, she is younger
in ideas and character, and has not, I fear, so much common sense as
my little Honor.  But now, dear child, good-night once more.  I shall
not let anyone else come near you, as I am most anxious you should
get to sleep."  And kissing the girl most affectionately, Miss
Denison softly leaves the room.

A little later and the house which but a short time since was the
scene of so much happiness and rejoicing is wrapped in silent gloom;
and as nature asserts its rights with the younger members of the
family, giving them temporary relief from their sorrow in blessed
sleep, older heads are resting on their pillows with wide-open,
sleepless eyes, looking vaguely into the future which has changed so
quickly from sunshine into shadow.

* * * * * * * *

Three days have passed since Mr. Merivale's death and Honor has
already taken most of the cares and responsibilities of the family
and household upon her young shoulders with a quiet dignity and
gentle patience which amaze her mother completely.  The old family
solicitor, Mr. Trent, has already called several times and had long
and serious talks with Honor--Mrs. Merivale having sent down a
message to the effect that she was too completely prostrated to see
_anyone_, and would he say anything he had to say to Honor, as it
would be quite the same thing.  It was doubtful whether Mr. Trent
entertained the same idea on this subject, for whereas he had before
quaked in his shoes at the bare idea of the task which lay before him
of trying to make his late client's widow understand certain facts
which he felt morally certain she was incapable of grasping, he now
found that he had a very different sort of person to deal with--one,
in fact, to use his own expression, "with her head screwed on the
right way."  With a kindness and delicacy which went straight to poor
Honor's heart, he took all the arrangements for the funeral upon
himself, and proved indeed a most kind and valuable friend in more
ways than one.

"You and your aunt, my dear Miss Honor," the kind little gentleman
had said, "will have to put things clearly, so to speak, before your
mother, since she cannot see me.  It will, I fear, be very difficult
to make her understand that all--literally _all_--she has now to
depend upon is £50 a year; and that is only owing to a fortunate
chance, the money having been invested in some other concern; of
course had it been placed in the bank it would have gone with the
rest.  To be sure there is your own little bit of money left you by
your godmother, but that only amounts to about £20 a year.  Dear me,
dear me! it is terrible; a paltry sum of £70 a year to bring up a
large family upon, and without a stick or a stone to start with!"

And now Honor is standing just where the old lawyer has left her
after the foregoing conversation, gazing dreamily into the fire.
"You and your aunt must make her understand"--those are the words
which keep repeating themselves over and over; but to a girl of
Honor's sensitive nature the task of doing so is no light one.

"Ah me!" sighs the girl as she leaves the room and slowly mounts the
stairs, "I wish Aunt Sophia were here!"

But Aunt Sophia is not there, so Honor has to open the door and go in
alone.  Mrs. Merivale is seated at a little writing-table, which is
strewn with deep black-edged paper and envelopes.  She is not
writing, however, but leaning back in her chair looking drearily
before her.  As Honor enters she rouses herself, and wiping away the
tears which stand in her eyes she motions the girl to come and sit
beside her.

"I wanted to speak to you, dear," she says, taking Honor's hand in
her own, "and I was just going to send Lane for you.  Now that I am
better you must tell me a little of what has been done.  How have you
managed about the mourning?"

"Miss Renny has been here, mother, ever since--ever since it
happened, and all our dresses are nearly finished now, and I expect
yours from Mrs. Carey will be home to-night.  We couldn't disturb you
the other morning about it, so aunt and I together chose a style we
thought you would like.  Ours are all alike--cashmere and crêpe made
quite plainly; and yours, dear mother, will be of crêpe cloth, and of
course heavily trimmed with crêpe."

"Yes, dear; that is all quite right.  Only I wish Mrs. Carey had made
all your dresses as well.  Miss Renny would have made you others for
common wear afterwards, you know.  But now, dear, this is what I
wanted to consult you about, you are so much more clear-headed and
sensible than Doris.  About my better dresses, dear,--I mean those
that Madame Cecile will have the making of.  I shall not have any
dinner dresses made at present, because I shall not be going out or
receiving for some time to come, but I was just going to write to
Cecile to ask for patterns."

"Dear mother," says Honor gently, "I am so glad you spoke to me about
this first, because it would have been so awkward if you had already
sent."

"Why awkward, dear?  What do you mean, Honor?"

"Don't you remember, dear mother, the sad news poor, dear father had
before this other dreadful trouble came upon us?"

"Well, of course I do," Mrs. Merivale answers rather testily; "but I
don't really see why you should take this time to remind me of it,
and I must say, Honor, I think it very inconsiderate and unfeeling of
you to come and worry me like this, and your poor, dear father not
yet laid in his grave.  I should think I have gone through grief and
trouble enough," continues Mrs. Merivale, weeping, "without my
children making things harder for me!"

"Dear mother," cries poor Honor, sobbing in concert, "pray, pray do
not think I mean to be unkind; but Mr. Trent has been talking to aunt
and to me, and it seems, dear mother, as if we shall hardly have
enough to live upon when everything is settled up."

"Hardly enough to live upon!" repeats Mrs. Merivale, sitting up and
drying her eyes.  "My dear child, don't talk nonsense.  As if I did
not know more about these things than you do.  I know we shall have
to cut down our expenses, and diminish our household probably; do
with a servant or two less, I mean.  But as for being _poor_, Honor,
you are talking ridiculous nonsense, child, as I said before.  Why,
even if your father's money were all lost--which I should say is very
unlikely, people do exaggerate so,--but even if that were all gone,
there is my fortune, which if necessary we could very well manage
with somehow."

Poor Honor sighs at the hopelessness of the situation; but with a
feeling of desperation she is just about to speak when the door
opens, and to her great relief Lady Woodhouse enters the room.

"O, Sophia!" exclaims Mrs. Merivale with a little hysterical gasp, "I
_am_ so glad you have come in, my dear.  Here is Honor talking the
most outrageous nonsense; trying to make out that all our property is
gone, and--well, in fact that we are as poor as church mice!"

"Well, and so you are," remarks Lady Woodhouse, sitting down and
untying her bonnet-strings with a jerk, "the child has said nothing
but the truth.  I am sorry," she adds, softening a little on seeing
the cambric handkerchief drawn from her sister's pocket preparatory
to a fresh burst of grief--"I'm sorry to have to speak so plainly;
but it seems to me that poor James did his best to make you
understand the state of affairs in his conversation with you the
night of his death; and considering all he said to you then, I must
say it passes my comprehension that you can still be ignorant of your
true position.  Mr. Trent begged me to speak to you on the subject,
and that is why I have come now, because I think it is so much better
than putting it off until after the funeral; for I am sure there will
be little or no time to arrange anything then.  Now, Mary, be
sensible, my dear, and let us talk quietly over a comfortable cup of
tea."

Mrs. Merivale, however, is not in a humour to do anything quietly,
and Lady Woodhouse on her way to ring the bell for tea is suddenly
electrified by a sound behind her, partaking of the nature of a
scream, a gasp, and a convulsive laugh all at once.  In plain words,
the trying nature of the past conversation has reduced Mrs. Merivale
to a violent fit of hysterics; and Lady Woodhouse, deeming it
advisable that she should be left alone with her sister for a time,
takes the smelling-salts from Honor's hand, and whispering "Leave her
to me, child, and I will bring her round," signs to the girl to leave
the room.

On going downstairs Honor sees Hugh Horton standing in a hesitating
sort of manner on the door-mat; a wreath of rare white flowers in one
hand, and a note in the other.

"I told William I wouldn't see anyone, Honor," he whispers, coming
forward and laying the wreath on the hall table, "but he would go off
to see if there was anyone about, and as I wanted to leave a message
from mother I was obliged to wait till he came back.  How are you
all, Honor dear?  No, I won't come in," he adds, as the girl silently
motions him towards the dining-room; "I won't really.  I only wanted
to give you that (nodding towards the wreath), with love from us all.
And I was to tell you, Honor, that mother will come in to-night after
dinner to have a talk with Mrs. Merivale and Lady Woodhouse about a
suggestion she wants to make."

"It is very kind of her," says Honor simply.  "She has been such a
comfort to us all;" and with a little stifled sob she buries her face
in the wreath which she has taken up.  "White violets, how beautiful!
and the flower that father loved best.  How good of you, Hugh!"

"I remembered that when mother and I were giving orders for it this
morning, and I knew you would like them.  How is Molly, Honor?"

"She is a little better now, I think; but her grief has been
something terrible.  Poor girl!  She idolized father almost, and the
shock has been almost too much for her.  She is so highly sensitive,
and she feels the loss so much, never having seen him alive again
after dinner on that dreadful evening.  Doris and I were both with
him, you know; and of course it was just chance that Molly was not
there too.  At first she was nearly wild with grief, then she sank
into a sort of dull apathy, taking notice of nothing and of nobody.
Miss Denny has been kindness itself to her, as she has to us all,
indeed; and to-day Molly seems more like her old self."

"I am so glad," Hugh says feelingly, "Good-bye, Honor, for the
present; let me know, mind, if there is _anything_ I can do for any
of you;" and hastily pressing the girl's hand the young man runs down
the steps and out of sight.



CHAPTER X.

FACING THE FUTURE.

The day of the funeral has come and gone.  The last fond look has
been taken, and the last kiss given to the calm, placid face, so soon
to be hidden from sight.  And now the mortal remains of the fond
husband, loving father, and kind master have been carried from the
once happy home, and, followed by a large number of sympathetic
friends and acquaintances, in addition to the little train of
mourners, are laid in their last resting-place.

The blinds are once more drawn up, and the winter sunlight streams
into the dining-room, where are assembled Lady Woodhouse, Miss
Denison, Doris, and Honor, with Mr. Trent and the old head clerk, Mr.
Hobson, who is visibly overcome by the sadness of the occasion.

"It is no use," remarks Mr. Trent, moving some papers about, and
seeming chiefly to address himself to the old man seated opposite
him.  "It will be no use going through my late client's will,
although it was properly drawn up and witnessed only a few months
back."

"Not the least in the world," asserts Mr. Hobson, taking off his
spectacles and carefully polishing them up.

"Therefore," continues Mr. Trent slowly, "we may dispense with the
usual forms and give our attention, Mr. Hobson, to settling the
future affairs of Mrs. Merivale and these poor young ladies here.  I
have looked through Mr. Merivale's papers, and I find that there will
be absolutely nothing but your own little property, Miss Honor, and
the small portion of your mother's fortune, which is safely invested.
The two together will amount to £70 per annum, and that, I regret to
say, is absolutely all."  With that the old gentleman looks kindly,
and with eyes not altogether free from dimness, at the two orphan
daughters of his late client, and for a few moments there is a dead
silence in the room, broken by Honor, who presently asks:

"But, Mr. Trent, ought we to keep this--I mean, ought we not to give
up _everything_ in such a case as this?"

Lady Woodhouse gasps, and is about to pour forth a torrent of
remonstrances, when Mr. Trent, also looking slightly taken aback,
replies:

"My dear young lady, just consider a moment.  You have a perfect
right to this money, and, pardon me if I ask, what would you propose
to do without it?  You cannot even realize what a paltry sum it is
when house-rent, food, and clothing, to say nothing if any other
expenses have to come out of it.  You are doing as much as it is
possible to do; indeed more than some persons would do; and I can
assure you, Miss Honor, that there is not one among the unfortunate
sufferers in this collapse who will not be satisfied with the course
that is being taken."

Honor sighs and brushes away a tear.  "I was thinking," she says, "of
some of the last words my dear father ever spoke.  He said he would
give the very coat from off his back if that would be of any use."

"_If_ it would be of any use," repeated the old gentleman kindly;
"but would it, my dear? would it?  You must not allow your proper
judgment to be run away with by your feeling--through an exaggerated
feeling--of justice."

"Exactly what I was going to observe," says Lady Woodhouse with a
jerk of her bonnet-strings.  "You are your father's child all over,
Honor; and I will say this of you: you are conscientious almost to a
fault, and so was he, poor man.  You can, I am sure, take the £70 a
year with a clear conscience; so for goodness' sake let us hear no
more about it.  You have yet to learn what a mere drop in the ocean
it will be when you come to try living on it--and that at once.  Now
do, girls, let us be plain and business-like, and give up talking
nonsense.  I have only an hour before I must return to the Pagets',
and I have promised to have a cup of tea with your mother before I
go, so that we can make our final arrangements for the journey
to-morrow.  Now, I understand that there is a certain amount of
furniture in the house which belongs to your mother.  I'm afraid it's
not much; but still it is better than nothing.  Where is it?"

"There is some in the school-room," answer the girls together, "and
the rest is in the nurseries."  And Honor adds despondently:

"I'm afraid there are not more than two beds."

"Well--now this is what I want you to do, Honor.  Mr. Trent, I
understand, has most kindly invited you and Miss Denison, while she
is with you, to go and stay with him and Mrs. Trent for a little
while.  Now I want you while you are there to make out a list of what
else is absolutely necessary in the way of furniture and send it to
me.  Mr. Hobson, it appears, has very kindly been looking at the
advertisements of houses, and he tells me he has brought one or two
to show you, which might, perhaps, be worth answering.  He will, I
feel sure, give you all the advice and help that he can in this
matter.  I am thankful, too, that good Miss Denison will be with you
a little while longer, for I know what a comfort she will be to you;
and if you are in any doubt or perplexity on any point you must go to
her, Honor; she will give you the best and wisest advice."

"I shall indeed look forward to being of some use to Honor while I am
with her," says Miss Denison; "and you may rest assured, dear Lady
Woodhouse, that I shall do all in my power to help her and the rest
of my young charges in settling and arranging all that has to be
done."

"You are a good, kind creature," exclaims Lady Woodhouse impulsively,
"and these girls ought to be grateful to you for the way in which you
have brought them up.  I always told my sister that if any of them
turned out well she would have you to thank for it.  Now, Honor, I
must go.  See that your mother and the two girls are ready when I
call in the morning.  You know Mr. Paget cannot bear to have his
horses kept waiting a moment; and I'm sure _I_ don't want to be the
cause of their taking cold.  You will have all the rest of the
packing to see to with Lane after we have gone."

"O, our packing will not take long," replies Honor, "with Miss Denny
and Lane to help us."

"Not take long, child!  Why, what can you be thinking about?  Your
mother's wardrobe will be something to get together and pack."

"O, I didn't think of packing anything of mother's excepting what she
will be requiring now.  I mean," adds Honor with a little tightening
of her lips, "that I do not think it would be right to keep any of
mother's handsome dresses, and certainly not her jewels.  Doris and I
have, of course, very little in that way; but," with a little
threatening look at her sister, "I shall expect her to do as I do,
and give up _everything_ that is of value."

Doris does not look highly pleased at this proposition, but she says:

"Of course, Honor," meekly enough, though she is immensely relieved
at her aunt's next words:

"What you say about the jewels is quite right, Honor,--that is to
say, your mother's; in fact we have already talked over the subject
together.  Little personal gifts, and indeed any jewellery your
mother had before she was married, she will, however, keep," adds
Aunt Sophia rather decidedly.  "And Doris and you must keep the
little trinkets you have; which are, I suppose, most of them birthday
presents.  You say yourself they are not worth speaking of.  As to
the dresses, you are really quite quixotic, Honor; no one would
expect such a sacrifice; and when you all go out of mourning it is
more than probable that you will feel very thankful that you have
taken my advice.  Now I really must go, or I shall be late."  And
shaking hands with Miss Denison and the two gentlemen, Lady Woodhouse
leaves the room.

Those left behind immediately enter on a discussion touching the
question of the new house.  Mr. Hobson has cut out one or two
advertisements which on consideration are not found to be
particularly _un_suitable, which, perhaps, is something, in the
matter of house-hunting!  One of them states that there is a
nine-roomed house to let--good drainage, large garden, hen-house, and
pig-sty.  Low rent to careful tenant.--Apply to Messrs. E. & B.
Talboys, care of Messrs. Gilmore, solicitors, High Street, Edendale
Village, &c.

Taking it altogether, this sounds hopeful.  So Honor sits down, and
with Mr. Hobson's assistance answers the advertisement, while Doris
and Miss Denison leave the room with Mr. Trent, whom Mrs. Merivale is
now equal to seeing "just for a few minutes," prior to her departure
with her sister next day for London.  For the rest of that day and
all the morning of the next Honor and Miss Denison are engaged in
packing and directing all that is theirs to take, and with the
assistance of Lane and of the school-room maid (who has begged with
tears to be allowed to remain with the family, at any rate until they
are settled in the new house) they get through a great deal.  And
when at last they have watched the departure of the carriage
containing Mrs. Merivale, Lady Woodhouse, Doris, and Daisy to the
station, they enter the house again, to see if all is in order for
the sale which is so soon to follow their own departure, with that
feeling of blank melancholy attendant on that much-to-be-pitied
condition of having "nothing to do."  Dick and Bobby are already
established next door with their good friends the Hortons--Molly to
follow later, according to the kind suggestion made a few days before
by Mrs. Horton; and there they are to remain until the family plans
shall be more settled.

While Miss Denison and Honor are making a last pilgrimage round the
house, Molly stands disconsolately at the dining-room window pressing
her little _retroussé_ nose against the pane.  Suddenly she sees a
telegraph-boy running up the steps, and her nerves being all unstrung
by recent grief and sorrow Molly rushes with pale affrighted face to
the door, fearful of more trouble to come perhaps, to take the
message from the boy.  She gives a little sigh of relief, however, as
she glances at the direction and sees her governess's name upon it,
and her long legs soon carry her upstairs to her mother's boudoir,
where Honor and Miss Denison are.  As Miss Denison reads the telegram
her face changes, and in a voice trembling with agitation she says:

"My poor girls!  I shall have to leave you directly after all.  This
is from Frank's mother saying that he is dangerously ill, and that I
must get there without a moment's delay.  O, how unfortunate, to be
sure!  I cannot bear to leave you all alone at such a sad time; and
nothing but this would induce me to do so.  But you see, Honor--you
see--how imperative it is.  Indeed I fear even now that I may be too
late;" and thinking of her own trouble for the first time Miss
Denison breaks utterly down, and with her pupils' arms round her,
their tears mingling with hers, she sobs uncontrollably for a few
seconds.

Active steps have to be taken, however, and in less than an hour the
remaining occupants of the house have left it for ever, and Honor and
Molly are standing on the platform at the station by the locked door
of the compartment in which Miss Denison is seated, looking down upon
them with wet and sorrowful eyes.  One last hand-clasp and a
half-stifled sob, and the train moving slowly from the platform
leaves the two girls standing, hand in hand, desolate and alone.



CHAPTER XI.

THE BROTHERS TALBOYS.

It is ten o'clock on one of those warm balmy mornings which in this
erratic climate of ours sometimes come upon us in the month of
February.  The bushes and hedges, and even some of the young trees,
lacking experience and knowledge, allow themselves to be deluded into
the idea that spring is coming, and are making feeble attempts at
budding.  They are apparently ignorant of the fact that the next
frost will cut off the too venturesome little sprouts, and breathing
upon them with its chilling breath reduce them all to the little
brown lifeless-looking twigs that they were before the week's spell
of mild weather had turned their heads.  Even the rose trees, in
which the garden of "The Rosery" abounds, show signs here and there
of succumbing to the seductively balmy air, and it is with real grief
that the two little old gentlemen, who are trotting round the garden
taking their usual after-breakfast constitutional, shake their heads
at these unlooked-for symptoms of frivolity in their much-cherished
pets, murmuring plaintively:

"The blossoms will not be half so fine this year; this will weaken
them dreadfully."

These two little old gentlemen are none other than the Messrs. E. and
B. Talboys alluded to in the advertisement of the nine-roomed house
to let, and owners of the same.  In appearance and manners they are
almost exactly alike, being in point of fact twins; the only
noticeable difference being that one, Mr. Edward, is in all points a
little more strongly developed than his brother, Mr. Benjamin.  Mr.
Edward is perhaps a trifle the taller of the two, but as he is at the
same time also a trifle stouter the difference in height is hardly if
at all perceptible.  Both have good, benevolent faces; but here again
is the slight, very slight, difference referred to.  Both brothers
have bright blue eyes; but while Mr. Benjamin's have the mild, limpid
expression which tells of the more placid nature beneath, Mr.
Edward's have a keenness, amounting at times almost to a glitter,
which is entirely absent in those of his brother.  Both have the same
perfect aquiline nose; and while the mouth and chin in both faces are
equally good in a measure, the curves of Mr. Edward's mouth, and the
slight extra squareness of his chin, testify to his having the
stronger character.  The same thing is to be noticed in the matter of
dress; for although the brothers are always dressed exactly alike,
they appear to wear their clothes differently.  Both have high shirt
collars, but there is, or appears to be, always less starch in those
of Mr. Benjamin; and while his cravat is tied in a modest little bow,
which has a trick of being always either a little to the left or the
right of the stud which fastens the collar in front, Mr. Edward's is
always tied with the greatest precision, the end of one loop
protruding exactly the same distance from the middle of the collar as
the other.  There are also little creases and folds to be sometimes
detected in Mr. Benjamin's coat, which never by any chance can be
discovered in that of his brother.  Mr. Benjamin walks with a slight
limp, owing to an accident which had occurred years ago when they
were young men.  Both the old gentlemen, therefore, carry a stout
black walking-stick, with a gold knob at the top.  The subject of
this accident is a sore one to both brothers, and it is without
exception the only one upon which they have ever been known to
disagree.

A cricket match in which both brothers were playing was being held on
the village cricketing ground.  Edward was batting, and his brother
was fielding close to the opposite wicket.  The rays of the setting
sun were streaming down upon the field, right in the very eyes of the
batsman; and as the ball came swiftly bounding towards him straight
as a dart from the practised hand of the bowler, it seemed to
Edward's dazzled sight that there were two balls instead of one to
claim his attention.  With a feeling of desperation he rushed, so to
speak, at the ball; but in the flurry he received it on the edge of
his bat, and sent it flying with the strength for which he was envied
by the whole field exactly in the opposite direction to that he
intended.  It was a few seconds before he noticed that the other
wicket was deserted, and that nearly all the men were clustered round
one who was stretched upon the grass at their feet.  With a terrible
fear at his heart he strode across to the little throng, to find, to
his grief and horror, that it was indeed his brother lying helpless
before him.  Though nearly fainting with agony Benjamin was in the
wildest state of anxiety that the truth should be kept from his
brother as to his having been unwittingly the cause of his broken
ankle, the pain of which was rendering him half unconscious as he
leant back, faint and white, in the arms of the wicket-keeper.

"Don't let him know it!" he gasped, unconscious of the fact that his
brother was standing close beside him; "let him think I
slipped--and--fell.  You see the sun was in my--eyes--or I would have
seen it--coming; I ought to have got out of the way.  Don't let him
know--don't let--" and with these words he fainted, and was carefully
carried from the ground by his sympathetic friends, Edward being
still too much stunned to take any active part in the proceedings.
Ever since that hot early evening in August it had been a subject of
discussion between the brothers as to whether the sun could possibly
set in two places at once, each one being perfectly convinced that he
himself had been standing opposite to its dazzling rays.

Only two days ago the brothers Talboys had met Honor and Molly
Merivale by appointment at "The Rookery," as the house they had been
advertising was called.  Old Mr. Hobson had come down with the girls,
rightly thinking that there should be someone older than Honor
present on such an important occasion as taking a new house.

"You cannot be expected to understand anything about bad drainage,
damp, and such things, my dear," he had said to Honor, "and it will
do me good to run down into the country for an hour or two; so let us
consider it settled that I go with you and Miss Molly whenever it is
convenient for you to fix a day.  No--not a word of thanks, my dear;
I am only too glad to be of use to the children of my dear old
friend, your father."

And so at the appointed time Mr. Ned and Mr. Ben, waiting about for
their possible new tenants, passing now in now out of the
quaint-looking old house, were not a little surprised to see bearing
down upon them from the road, two young ladies, an old gentleman who
was walking by their side, and four youths, or more correctly
speaking two youths and two boys, who made a sort of straggling
procession in single file.  For at the last moment, when Honor,
Molly, and Hugh Horton were just starting with old Mr. Hobson, Dick,
accompanied by Regy and Alick, suddenly arrived upon the scene,
determined to look over the new house also.

"Why, bless my soul, Brother Ben!" exclaimed Edward, planting his
stick firmly on the ground and looking with undisguised dismay at the
troupe now entering the gate, "these boys can never all belong to the
family.  Why, why--they will make havoc of the garden before they
have been a week in the place."

"I do not suppose they _all_ belong to the family," mildly responded
Brother Ben, "and even if they do they may turn out to be quiet,
well-disposed lads enough."

And of that the boys themselves gave ample proof, so polite and
respectful were they to the two old gentlemen, whose minds being now
relieved on the score of the possible if not probable destruction of
the garden, soon found themselves chatting away with them and showing
them about (as Mr. Ben said afterwards to his brother) "as if they
were our own boys, you know."  The house proved to be a thoroughly
old-fashioned, rambling place, although small as to the actual number
of rooms.  There were long passages with deep capacious cupboards,
"which would have made delightful store-closets, if we only had
anything to store," whispers Honor to Molly with a sigh.  Upstairs
were the funniest old-fashioned bed-rooms, with two steps leading up
to one and three down into another, and so on.  Altogether there were
five bed-rooms on that floor, and two attics above which had not been
included in the advertisement, and which Honor, who, followed by
Molly, had crept up the few steep steps which led to them, declared
to be "lovely!" partly on account of the odd nooks and corners caused
by the roof, which seemed to slope in half a dozen different ways,
and partly from the fine and extensive view to be obtained from the
window in each attic.  But on speaking of these attics to the
brothers they shook their heads, and Mr. Ned, who was always
spokesman, said:

"My dear young ladies, we did not include them in the number of rooms
mentioned, because we consider them to be uninhabitable.  If they
should prove to be of any use we shall indeed be glad; but I would
recommend their not being used as sleeping-rooms, as we fear--nay, we
feel sure, of there being not a few mice already in possession, to
say nothing of spiders.  Is it not so, Brother Ben?"

Mr. Ben nodded, folded his hands over his stick and glancing up at
the chimneys of the said attics, murmured, "Surely, surely!" his
invariable reply to any of his brother's statements.

The good old men had been much distressed and interested on hearing
from Mr. Hobson, who took them aside for the express purpose, some of
the sad circumstances of Mr. Merivale's sudden death, and the ruin
which had come upon his family as upon so many others.  This they had
of course heard of, and when, from two or three little remarks that
the old clerk let drop respecting his late employer, they found that
he was the James Merivale who had been at the same school with them,
their delight knew no bounds.

"You see, my dear sir," cried Mr. Ned, excitedly pinning Mr. Hobson
by the button-hole, "it places things in such a totally different
light.  The fact of our having known the father of these young ladies
when a boy enables us to render them many little services which we
might otherwise perhaps have hesitated to offer.  To be sure," he
added, looking doubtfully at his brother, "James Merivale was a very
little chap when he came to Dr. Gurney's; you remember, Ben, he
entered the school much about the time that you and I were
leaving--not before I had thrashed the bully of the school in his
service though.  Ah!" continued the old gentleman, chuckling to
himself, "Tom Yates was the boy; don't you recollect, Ben?  He
remembered _me_ for many a long day, I reckon.  There was another big
lad in our form, too, who detested Yates as much as we did--Arthur
Villiers (poor fellow, he's gone too).  I remember giving him the tip
to keep an eye on the youngster after we left; bless you, Yates
daren't lay a finger on anyone when Villiers was by.  A cowardly lump
of humanity he was, like all bullies.  Eh, Ben?"

And so the old men ran on; and the girls and Mr. Hobson were as
pleased with them as the brothers were with the unaffected natural
manners of Honor and Molly.  So now the two brothers are in the
garden, as has been said, looking at their plants and watching for
the postman; and at length their minds are set at rest by the
appearance of that ancient individual, and they eagerly seize the
letter (the only one this morning) which he holds towards them.  It
is, in fact, neither more nor less than the expected letter from the
Merivales, which is to decide whether or not they will take "The
Rookery."

Hastily tearing it open Mr. Ned proceeds to read it aloud for the
benefit of his brother, who is nevertheless looking over his shoulder.

"There!" he says as he folds it up and puts it into his pocket with a
little sigh of gratification, "I thought they _would_ take it,
Brother Ben; but I am really sorry we asked as much as twenty pounds
rent, under all the very sad circumstances, because, you see, Ben,
fifteen pounds would be five pounds less!  A mere nothing to us one
way or the other; but a great deal, I expect, to them, poor things.
It wouldn't have done, however, to run the risk of hurting their
feelings in the matter, and perhaps fifteen pounds a year is rather a
low figure for a house like 'The Rookery.'

"Dear me! dear me!  How sad, to be sure, to be thrown in an hour, as
one may say, from affluence into poverty; for poverty it is, Brother
Ben, you may take my word for it.  But now really, brother, we must
not stand gossiping here like this when there are a thousand and one
little things to see to up at the house before the family takes
possession.  You really are a terrible old chatterbox, Ben, when you
once get a start."

And Brother Ned, who as usual has been keeping the conversation
exclusively to himself, shakes his head and his stick at quiet old
Ben, as together they pass out of the garden gate and trot down the
road towards "The Rookery."



CHAPTER XII.

A NEW HOME.

Three weeks have passed, and Honor and Molly have just stepped out of
the old station fly at the door of their new abode, possession of
which they are to take that very day.  There have been not a few
expeditions backwards and forwards from town; but now everything is
settled, the house ready for their reception, and the furniture
actually on its way.  The two girls are standing on the steps
watching the driver, who, with the assistance of Jane, is bringing
their trunks and boxes into the hall.  Although the deep, heavy
mourning of the sisters tells of their recent bereavement, the
sorrowful look which seemed to have settled on their young faces but
a few weeks since has now passed away; for at fifteen and seventeen
the spirits are elastic, and however sharp and painful the grief may
be at first, the buoyancy of youth soon asserts itself, and the
trouble melts away into the past, ere long resembling a dream which,
though vivid at the time, gradually becomes more shadowy and
indistinct as time rolls on.

"I can't think why some of the boys didn't come down with us,"
remarks Molly rather crossly, as she kneels down and unfastens the
cords of a hamper in which her pet cat is packed.  "Now they really
_would_ have been of use to-day, whereas, whenever they came with us
before, they seemed to do nothing but get in the way."

"O, Molly!" remonstrates Honor, "how _can_ you say so?  Look how
beautifully Hugh trained all the creepers over the front of the
house; and I'm sure it must have been a work of patience too, for
they were in a fearful tangle.  It quite distressed those nice old
gentlemen to see how persistently Hugh worked at them; but they were
simply delighted when they were done.  They told me afterwards that
they were most anxious to save him the trouble by sending in their
own gardener to do it; but Hugh was determined, so they let him have
his own way."

Molly shakes her head as, with Timothy now enthroned upon her
shoulder, she gazes out of the open door.

"Boys are always a nuisance, more or less," she observes, "though I
don't deny that I like them well enough in their place; and of course
I allow that Hugh has fastened up the creepers well, especially the
yellow jasmine."

Molly says this quite magnanimously, and is about to descend the
steps with a view to receiving an armful of the small packages now
being extricated from the interior of the fly, when a loud knocking
from inside the house suddenly startles both the girls into a
listening attitude.

"Hark!" says Molly with finger on lip, "it's the family ghost coming
down to receive us!  Not _our_ ghost--the late occupant's, you know.
Listen! there it is again.  Who'll come up with me to see who or what
it is?  It _sounds_ from the attics."

[Illustration: "LISTEN!" SAID MOLLY, "THERE IS THE GHOST AGAIN."]

"O, I durs'n't, miss!" exclaims Jane, dropping a whole bundle of
parcels as Molly glances in her direction; "ghost or no ghost, I
durs'n't go a-nigh the attics while that knocking is going on.  O, my
gracious, Miss Honor--there it is again!  I shall drop with fright,
my legs is that trembling!"

And suiting the action to the word, Jane, regardless of appearances,
subsides in a sitting posture on the top of the hamper which the cat
has lately vacated.

"Hush--h!" cries Molly theatrically, and secretly enjoying the girl's
discomfiture; "he's dragging something about up there!  Perhaps it is
the old arm-chair of his deceased great-grandmother, or possibly his
own coffin--" But here Honor interposes, seeing signs of a further
collapse in Jane's frightened face, and frowningly signing to Molly
she says:

"Nonsense! how can you both be so silly?  It is probably some workmen
still attending to something at the top of the house.  I'll call out
and see."  And mounting a few steps she calls loudly: "Is anyone up
there?"

"No!" answers a ringing voice from the attic regions.  "Half a
second, Honor, and I'll be down; I'm just finishing."

"_Finishing!_" echoes Molly, puckering up her eyebrows; "what in the
name of goodness is Hugh finishing here?  Let us go and see.  Jane
can come too if she likes."

But that young person prefers to remain where she is, deeming perhaps
that her greater safety lies in proximity to the man who is still
unloading the heavily-laden fly.

"I'd rather stay here, if you please, miss," she says with her hand
pressed against her side; "the fright has give me such a turn, and
the air will do me good perhaps if--"  But Honor is off up the stairs
after Molly, whom she finds pounding away with her little doubled-up
fists at the closed door of the largest and best attic.

"All right, all right!" cries a voice within; and then suddenly the
door is thrown wide open by Hugh, and both girls cross the threshold
cautiously.

The floor of the room, which had looked so shabby and bare three
weeks ago, is now stained and polished from one end to the other.
There is a small square of Turkey carpet in front of the fireplace,
while several skins are scattered at intervals over the rest of the
floor.  At both little windows thick oriental curtains are
artistically draped, and across a large angular recess is hung
another on large brass rings.  Just on this side of the curtain
stands an easel--Honor's, with a sketch of her own lying upon it;
while on a little rough table, half hidden by the curtain, lie all
her painting materials.  Two or three high-backed oak chairs, which
had formerly been part of the furniture of Mr. Merivale's study, are
standing about the room; while three little dainty-looking wicker
chairs are placed invitingly near the bright crackling fire so
merrily burning at the other end of the room.  In a recess near the
fireplace is a low, pretty book-case containing all the girls'
favourite books, while on the top stand several little bronze
statuettes.  A large basket work-table with "a second floor," as Hugh
describes the upper shelf, completely fitted up with materials of all
kinds, stands near one of the chairs; and a nice little table, with a
reading-lamp upon it, completes the furniture of the room.

Both the girls gasp as, taking courage, they advance further into the
room.  Their eyes fill with tears as they recognize some of their
much-prized belongings which they had never expected to possess
again; and they are both so touched at the kind delicacy of thought
for them which is so plainly visible in every little detail of the
room, that for a second or two they are too much overcome to speak.
Hugh, who is leaning with one elbow on the mantel-piece, sees the
struggle which both the girls are making for composure, and fearful
of the consequences, having already all an Englishman's horror of "a
scene," he says rather abruptly, "I hope you will all like it.  The
working affair is mother's arrangement, and I believe it is well
furnished.  The easel, the painting things,--and the statuettes were
Regy's thought; and everything else is--well, among us all, as it
were;" the real fact being that the "everything else" alluded to had
been Hugh's own particular care.

"O, Hugh," cry both the girls, darting forward and each seizing one
of the young fellow's hands, "how good--how _kind_ of you! and how
beautifully you have arranged everything, in this short time too!"

"Well, to tell you the truth, I believe Alick, Regy, and I have each
worn out a pair of trousers walking round the room on our
knees--doing the staining and polishing, you know; for that was a big
job, and we were so afraid we wouldn't get it done in time.  We had
to press Ted and also Dick (under strict promise of secrecy) into the
service the last day or two."

The girls having now quite recovered themselves, they proceed to make
a tour of inspection round the room; and Molly, having dived behind
the curtain, discovers Honor's old big portfolio filled to
overflowing with sketches, good, bad, and indifferent, which the poor
girl, thinking sketching and painting days were over, had had no
heart to bring away with her.  Making this discovery Molly cries with
enthusiasm:

"Why, here is Honor's dear old portfolio!  You _are_ good to have
thought of that!  I know it was you, because here is the label in
your own handwriting.  I could hug you for that, Hugh!"

"Well, why don't you?" asks Hugh promptly.

At this moment Honor, who is standing at one of the windows feasting
her eyes on the lovely view which is stretching far and wide,
exclaims:

"Why, what is this huge thing in the cart turning in at the gate?  It
isn't the furniture, I'm sure!  It must be a mistake.  I had better
go down and tell them before they begin to unpack it--whatever it is."

But Hugh is before her; and Honor and Molly arrive on the front steps
just in time to hear him say "All right!" to the men in charge of the
van with so much confidence that Honor stares stupidly at him and
says nothing.  Then one of the men comes forward and touching his hat
presents a letter to her.

"I don't know which of the young ladies it is for, miss," he says,
then retires down the steps again to where the others are already
unpacking the mysterious contents of the van.

"It is for you, Molly, I suppose; you are the only 'Miss M. Merivale'
in the family excepting Daisy."  And when her sister has broken the
seal Honor looks over her shoulder and reads the following:--


"My dear Miss Molly,

"Please accept the accompanying little present from an old man whom
you have often delighted with your playing.  My old enemy the gout
has necessitated my leaving England again for a time; so young Mr.
Horton has promised to attend the sale at Lancaster Terrace and to
manage this little business for me.  I have written to your mother
expressing the great sympathy I feel for you all in your sad
bereavement, and to say that I shall take the earliest opportunity of
calling to see you on my return, when you will perhaps oblige me with
your admirable rendering of the 'Sonata Pathetique.'  This will be
the pleasantest thanks I can receive.

  "Believe me to remain,
      "Yours very truly,
          "PETER BERESFORD."


Molly turns to Honor with eyes full of grateful tears at this
unexpected kindness from a fresh quarter, but she is unable to say
anything, for at the same moment the head man approaches them again
and asks which room the instrument is to be taken into.  It had been
a bitter trial to poor Molly to have to leave her beloved piano to
the mercy of strangers, and her unbounded delight may be imagined,
therefore, now that she finds herself looking upon it once more with
the proud consciousness that it is her own--her very own!  Honor
calls her into what will be the drawing-room, where she and Hugh are
standing consulting with the man as to the best place to put it.

"Not _too_ near the window, and certainly not near the door," says
practical Molly promptly.  "It mustn't be in a draught.  _Here_ would
be a good place.  Don't you think so, Honor?  O, good gracious! here
they come with it, staggering under its weight.  How nicely it will
help to furnish the room, Honor!  And oh, what a dear old man Sir
Peter is!  I hope you'll grow up like him, Hugh!"

"Thanks!  I shall want to strike out in a line of my own before I
reach Sir Peter's age," laughs Hugh.  "Do you wish me to be the same
height also, Molly? because I can't accommodate you there, being
already about half a foot taller."

At this point all three are driven ignominiously into a corner by the
piano, which, being now placed on the little wheeled platform used
for such purposes, runs into the room in quite a jaunty manner.

"I suppose it _is_ ours," hazards Honor, looking rather dubiously at
the back of it.

"Of course it is; can't you recognize it?  Besides, look here"--and
Molly takes up one of the legs which have been laid down in a
corner,--"don't you see where Timothy sharpened his claws one day
just before Christmas?  Here are the long scratches, down the right
leg.  What a way mother was in!  I remember it quite well.  Don't
you, Honor?"

"I think I can vouch for its being your own also," says Hugh,
"considering that I bought it at the sale; besides, Sir Peter sent
the note to me, and asked me to give it to the man to bring with it,
and I saw it packed up myself."



CHAPTER XIII.

THE HORTON BOYS DISTINGUISH THEMSELVES.

The three young people are just leaving the room, all deploring the
protracted absence of the furniture vans, which the men had solemnly
declared to Honor would be there by ten o'clock, if not sooner (it
being now between twelve and one), when they are suddenly startled by
a tremendous commotion outside in the garden, and rushing down the
steps they hear a series of "chuck-a-chucks" in every key and style,
coming from round the other side of the house.  Hastening to that
part of the garden they rush right into the midst of a panting group
of boys, whose heated countenances denote excitement in the highest
degree.  Alick is leaning, flushed with victory, against the wall of
the chicken-house, a pendent hen in each hand, which, notwithstanding
the disadvantages of an inverted position, still give utterance now
and then to mildly remonstrating "chuck-a-chucks."  Ted is at the
same moment engaged in gravely dodging a fine duck, which appears
anxious to betake itself to the flower-garden; and just as Hugh and
the girls are all opening their mouths together to speak, Regy
appears from behind the chicken-house also the triumphant captor of
two indignant hens.  They all look at one another, and then burst out
laughing simultaneously, and Regy, not stopping to explain matters,
says:

"We've got them all now, I think, Alick, except the second speckled
hen--hang her!  She's got right out into the road again, with Dick,
hatless, in hot pursuit.  I can't do anything with that old rooster!
He seems to have some extraordinary aversion to the henhouse, and
shows a distinct preference for the pig-sty; these hens got in there
too, but I routed them all out; but old Pincher, not to be done, flew
up to the top of the sty, and there he is now, standing on one leg
and crowing with all his might.  Here, Ted, out of the road!  Let's
get these beggars shut up; and then, perhaps, with our united
exertions we may capture Mr. Pincher.  O, here's Dick!  You've caught
her then; hold her tight while I open the door again.  I declare
there are enough feathers flying about to stuff a bed almost."

Then they all set to, and after an animated chase succeed in
capturing and housing the "old rooster."  Honor and Molly are quick
in their efforts to thank the boys for this kindness, but nothing
will induce them to listen; and some words that Honor lets drop
leading them to infer that she and Molly have come to the house
prepared with some temporary refreshment, Alick, Ted, and Dick
instantly make for the kitchen, where the others, following, find
them busily engaged in emptying a hamper of its contents.

"You'll have to make shift without chairs and tables, ladies and
gentlemen," remarks Alick, diving into the hamper again and
reappearing with a large, tempting-looking pie in his hands.

"Nonsense!" cries Dick.  "Why should we, when there's a comfortably
furnished room with a large fire upstairs?"

"Indeed, you boys are not going to have the run of _that_ room,"
Molly puts in hastily, and Honor adds:

"No, certainly not!  And just think, what a litter we would make
having our lunch up there.  This will do very well; only I _wish_ we
had something to sit down upon."

Hugh, suddenly appearing to be inspired with some grand idea, darts
across the kitchen and begins vigorously pulling at the dresser
drawers.

"Stop a bit!" he cries.  "I've got an idea; here, Regy, lend a hand!"

And in a trice they have got out two of the drawers and have seated
the two girls on them with grave politeness; Molly's being placed
sideways, propped against the wall, in consideration of the extra
length of her legs; while Honor's is turned upside down, and makes
quite a comfortable seat.

"If you don't feel comfortable you can change with us, you know,"
says Regy, as he and Hugh seat themselves on the wide window-sill.
"The rest of you must dispose yourselves on the dresser and the
hamper--Ted's the lightest, so he'd better have the hamper."

Then follows an impromptu sort of picnic, which gives complete
satisfaction to all, especially as to the fare; for kind Mrs. Trent
has not forgotten that boys and girls, especially when working hard,
are apt to get hungry, and rightly thinking that it would probably be
a long time before anyone had leisure to think about cooking, she has
included many useful things, with an eye to future needs.

"O, I say!" cries Alick, suddenly laying down his knife and fork;
"isn't there anything to drink?"

"Pump, out there," briefly explains Molly, waving a jam tart in the
direction of the garden.

"Oh, yes! so there is.  Let's go and get a drink all round; I'm
awfully thirsty too."  And Dick scrambles down from the dresser to
the floor, and then pauses, "We've nothing in the world to drink out
of!" he says ruefully.  This proves only too true, for though Mrs.
Trent and her cook have had the forethought to pack a few small
plates and knives and forks, anything in the shape of a drinking
vessel has been utterly forgotten.

"Wouldn't a flower-pot do?" mildly inquires Ted, doubtful as to how
his brilliant suggestion will be received.

"Why, you muff!" replies Alick scornfully, "what about the hole?  But
try it yourself by all means if you like, unless you'd rather have a
sieve."

But here Honor, who has been roaming about in hopes of finding
something to answer their purpose, rushes into their midst
triumphantly flourishing a tin can above her head.

"Look!" she cries.  "I found this on the copper; it is what old Mrs.
Evans brought her beer in, I expect, and I suppose she forgot to take
it back when she went to her dinner.  Will it do, do you think?"

But to Honor's dismay a chorus of groans greets her.

"_Honor!_" exclaims Molly indignantly, "a nasty beery thing like
that!  And most likely the old woman has been drinking out of it!"

"Well, and if she has; there's plenty of hot water.  We can wash it,
I suppose!  At any rate I can't think of anything else," concludes
poor Honor, looking rather sat upon, "but the inkstand in our room
upstairs.  Will _that_ do?"

But Regy is already at work washing and rinsing the tin can, and as
he has heroically promised to take first drink and report thereon,
they all troop out to the pump in a body.  While there engaged old
Mrs. Evans, who has been hired to scrub the floors and make herself
generally useful, arrives simultaneously with the furniture.  Hugh,
equal to the occasion, gravely hands back the tin can to its owner,
and thanks her so politely, and with such a courtly bow, for the
service she has rendered them in leaving it behind, that the old
woman is thrown into a perfect frenzy of curtsies, accompanied by
assurances of being honoured, and proud, &c. &c.

Hard work begins in earnest now for all, it being two o'clock, and
everything yet to be done.  The men are at first inclined to be
independent, thinking doubtless that with only these young people to
direct matters they can do pretty much as they like.  They soon find
out their mistake, however, and are not a little impressed with the
quiet persistence with which Honor asserts her will and gets her own
way in everything from first to last.  The men appear to have a
rooted objection to put up the bedsteads until the last thing, but
they are soon overruled by Honor, who stands over them, so to speak,
until every bed is in its place.  By six o'clock everything is
brought into the house, and Hugh and Regy, who have packed off the
younger boys by an earlier train, are taking a general look round
after having seen the men safely off the premises.  They have tried
all the bolts and bars and put up the shutters outside, and Molly
having declared for the twentieth time that if Honor is afraid she is
not, the two youths take their departure, promising to come again the
next morning to help get things straight before the arrival of Mrs.
Merivale with Doris and Daisy, who are expected the day after.



CHAPTER XIV.

A COUNCIL OF WAR.

The two days have quickly flown, and the family have all settled down
into their places in the new house, which Honor's and Molly's busy
fingers have rendered not only habitable, but almost comfortable.
Mrs. Merivale plaintively approves of all that has been done, but
soon announces her intention of retiring to her room for the rest of
the day, her nerves, she declares, being quite unequal to the ordeal
of going over the house with the girls.  They, poor things! have been
looking forward to this pleasure.

"Never mind," whispers Doris to Honor, "we'll settle mother
comfortably in her room, and then we will all go round together.
What time is tea?"

"O, any time we like to have it!  What time is it now, Doris?"

"Four o'clock.  Well, let us have it at five; that will give us an
hour to look at everything, and to get tea ready.  What fun, getting
tea for ourselves!"

"Yes, all very well at first," says practical Molly, as with hands
clasped behind her she follows her mother and sisters upstairs.
"You'll soon get tired of it, though, and other things too, when it
comes to having to do them whether you like it or not."

Mrs. Merivale is almost enthusiastic--for her--over the arrangements
of her bed-room, which the girls have fitted up with much loving
forethought and care.  There is a tiny dressing-room leading out of
the large airy bed-room, into which all ablutionary arrangements have
been banished; while the room itself is fitted up as half sitting-,
half bed-room.

The tears came into the poor woman's eyes as, looking round the room,
she recognizes certain little nick-nacks, which, though valueless in
themselves, are from old associations worth much to their owner.
Even Honor thought there could be no possible harm in collecting
these little possessions when packing for her mother; and so there
are a few favourite books, some pretty photograph-frames, a
work-basket, and other little trifles, which give the room a cheery
and home-like appearance.  Although the furniture is of the plainest
description, the room is brightened up and made pretty with dainty
muslin draperies; and the really warm carpet and the thick curtains
at the windows give an air of comfort at once.  Indeed the room
presents a marked contrast to those of the girls, with their little
strips of carpet and curtainless windows, and only what is absolutely
necessary in the way of furniture.

Having left their mother comfortably settled in her easy-chair, the
girls and boys all go off on a tour of inspection round the house,
both inside and out, Honor and Molly proudly doing the honours.

"These are no vagrant fowls, bought anywhere, allow me to inform
you," says Molly as the party approach the hen-house; "they came,
every one of them, from the Mortons' own farm at Oakleigh.  Don't you
recognize Mr. Pincher?  A rare lot of trouble he gave the boys the
other day; but he has settled down pretty well now, I think."

Daisy especially is delighted with this addition to the
establishment, and asks anxiously if she may take the fowls into her
own care.  She and Doris, indeed, are both enraptured with all the
arrangements.  So far from feeling any dismay at the prospect of
living a totally different life from that to which they have been
accustomed from infancy, their spirits rise, and with the hopefulness
and love of change which are invariably found in youth, they all seem
to look forward to their new life with real pleasure, which is only
damped when they think of the kind and dear father, still so sorely
missed by all at times.

"After all, I think it will be really jolly living in a small house,"
remarks Dick, following the girls into the house again.  "One won't
be able to roam about wondering which room to go into; which will be
rather a relief, to _my_ mind.  There is the dining-room, and the
drawing-room, and if they won't do, why, one can just sit on the
stairs!"

Unanimous approval of these sentiments is expressed; but as they come
to the end of their peregrinations round the house Doris suddenly
becomes grave, and putting her arm within Honor's as they turn into
the sitting-room for tea, she says:

"Honor, my girl, we must have a good long talk together very soon.
I've no end of messages from aunt, and if I don't deliver them at
once I shall forget half.  Shall we hold a council of war when the
children have gone to bed to-night?"

Here Dick begs to be informed if he is expected to consider himself
one of "the children" referred to; but being reassured on this point,
renews his attack on the bread-and-butter with unruffled composure,
while his sisters continue their conversation.

A few hours later Honor looks into the room where Doris is on her
knees before a large trunk, busily unpacking, and says softly, Daisy
being asleep:

"Let us go down, Doris, dear, and have our chat.  The fire is out in
the sitting-room, but there's a splendid one in the kitchen, and Jane
won't be there, for mother, feeling a little nervous, said she would
like her to sit beside her with her work.  I left Dick and Molly
roasting apples," she adds, "so if we want to have any we had better
look sharp, I expect."

In a few minutes the four young people are comfortably settled round
the fire, Honor in state in the only available chair, the second one
being occupied by Timothy.  Doris, having extracted from Molly a
solemn assurance that there is no such thing as a beetle (black) in
the house, establishes herself on the corner of the large
kitchen-fender, while Molly occupies the opposite one, and Dick
perches himself on the table, within easy reach of the plate of
apples.

"Well now, to begin," says Doris, "aunt sent her love, and she was
very glad indeed that you were able to make her cheque do, because,
she says, it shows you _must_ have some ideas of management; and you
know what _that_ means with aunt, and she considers it augurs well
for the future.  She says, too, that she thinks we ought to manage
now, with the sum we have yearly, and what we may be able to
earn--for of course I told her, girls, that we should all turn to and
do _something_,--though goodness knows what _I_ am fit for!"  Doris
gloomily adds, "However, that's neither here nor there.  What was I
saying?  Oh yes, about the money!  Aunt says--what is, of course,
very true--that she has given us a fair start, and that, unless any
dire calamity should fall upon us, we must not expect her to do
anything more, as she would not like to ask uncle again for a long
time.  She wants you to write, Honor, and tell her everything--what
we decide on trying to do, and all that sort of thing, you know; and
she implored me not to forget to ask what wages you are paying Jane;
because, she says, we have no business to keep an expensive servant.
We ought to have some strong girl from the village to do the rough
work, and manage all the rest--cooking and all, mind--among us.
Well, now wait a minute"--for here Molly shows signs of breaking into
the conversation,--"I haven't half finished yet!  Aunt has been
talking to me about mother, as well.  She has had her own doctor to
see her; and he says that this shock and trouble have really brought
her into a very low and delicate state of health.  You know, Honor,
aunt _used_ not to have a spark of patience with mother's nervous
attacks, and headaches, and so on; but she quite astonished me the
other day by suddenly taking hold of my arm and saying: 'Doris, your
mother now is really what she has fancied herself for years past--she
is a delicate woman, and if you and the others are not careful she
will become a confirmed invalid.  You are not a child now, and I can
speak openly to both you and Honor, I think."  And then aunt went on
to say plainly that it is not in mother's power--she is sure--to take
the management of affairs now; and that _we_ must take all the
trouble and worry on our own shoulders, and not bother her about
money and so on.  'Let her keep quiet, child,' aunt said, 'and give
her little bits of work to do--she likes needle-work, you know; and
you girls must learn to do for yourselves; it will be a good lesson
for you before you get husbands and homes of your own, if you ever
do'" (here Dick laughs softly and derisively), "'and,'" proceeds
Doris with dignity, "'your husbands will thank their stars that they
have got wives who can do something besides eat and sleep, and dress
and make calls!'  There--I think I've said everything now; so you can
all talk away as much as you please; I am going to eat apples!"

A slight scuffle here ensues between Doris and Dick, both of whom
have made a simultaneous dash at the largest apple.

Order being restored, Honor begins to unfold the plans which she and
Molly have been making--namely, that she herself means to try and
turn her talent for painting to account; while Molly, after many
misgivings as to her competency to do so, has made up her mind to try
and get pupils for music.

"How do you mean to set about it?" inquires Doris, not without a
certain spice of incredulity in her voice.

"Oh, we've settled that--Honor and I!" answers Molly, stirring the
fire energetically.  "We have the nicest landlords--the dearest old
fellows in the world--and they are most anxious to do anything for us
that we will let them do.  In fact," concludes Molly, "they would
jump over the moon, willingly, I am sure, if they thought it would do
us the least little bit of good!"

"Molly!" exclaims Honor.  "But she is right, to a certain extent;
they are the _kindest_ old gentlemen.  And they knew father at
school, you know, only as quite a small boy; but they make so much of
this, and have been, oh, so kind to us!  We must take Doris and Daisy
to see them, Molly.  We promised we would; they are most anxious to
make your acquaintance."

"When you have quite finished, Honor, I'll go on with what _I_ was
saying," says Molly in an aggrieved tone; adding, "We mean, Doris, to
consult these old gentlemen.  They know every one about the place, of
course; and surely there must be some children wanting the very
superior musical education that _I_ can give them--a-hem!  Then they
are already tremendous admirers of Honor's drawings; I saw them
nodding their old heads over that little village scene of hers the
other day, and Mr. Ned said, 'Excellent! admirable! so true to
nature--is it not, Brother Ben?'  And Brother Ben answered, 'Surely!
surely!' as he always does, you know."

"It's all very well for you, girls," suddenly breaks in Dick, who,
having finished the last apple, finds leisure now for putting in a
word, "but no one seems to consider _me_ in any way.  I suppose _I_
should like to do something to help also."

"Well, so you can.  There will be heaps of things to do about the
house that you could easily manage; and that would be really a help,"
says Doris.

"I don't mean that sort of thing," answers the boy testily.  "If you
girls are going to work and make money, I must say I should like to
do the same.  And I would too--only the worst of it is I haven't half
finished my schooling yet;" and Dick breaks off with a sigh.

"Poor Dick'" says Honor, taking his hand in hers, "I have been
thinking so much about that, and what is best to be done.  Bobby's
and Daisy's education we can easily carry on among us, and I shall
keep Molly up to her French, and teach her the little German I know;
but what we are to do about Dick, I don't know, girls.  I do know a
good bit of Latin, but I daresay he knows as much as I do.  Oh, how I
wish Uncle John had offered to keep him at Marlborough--if only for
another year! he might have done much in that time."

"Well, don't you worry about me, girls," says the boy, looking up
with a flushed face; "I daresay I shall get along somehow."

"Well now," says Doris, "I want to know all about the Horton boys.
Were they really of much use in the moving? and is Hugh reading hard
now?  Oh, and that reminds me!" she cries, without waiting for
answers to her questions, "Colonel and Mrs. Danvers called while we
were at aunt's to say good-bye; they start for India in a week's
time.  The colonel told me to tell you both how sorry he is not to
see you before leaving; and he begged me to say to you especially,
Molly, that if Hugh is ordered to the same part of the country when
he goes out he will keep an eye on him."

Molly, with a lingering remembrance of "the maiden-all-forlorn"
episode, tosses her head with a slightly heightened colour, but takes
no notice of the message otherwise.  There is rather a long pause;
then Doris, clasping her hands behind her head and leaning back
against Honor's knees, says:

"How good every one has been to us in all this trouble!  If it were
not for the loss of dear father, the rest would have been almost
worth going through if only for those proofs of real friendship which
have been shown us--by Sir Peter and others--to say nothing of aunt's
and Uncle John's kindness in starting us afresh."

"Yes," says Honor musingly, "we have indeed been fortunate.  Who
would have thought that the dear old piano would ever he ours again!
and how glad dear father would be if he could know that some of his
favourite pictures were hanging on these walls!  That was such a kind
thought of Colonel Danvers."

"Yes; it touched mother very much; and so did the Hortons'
kindness--I don't know what you girls would have done without them.
It's all very well for people to talk about the world being hard and
cold; but to _my_ thinking it's a very pleasant world, with lots of
kind-hearted people in it."

Molly shakes her head dubiously.

"It has certainly been the case so far," she says, "but we don't know
what is in store for us; we are none of us very old yet!"

"Well, you _are_ a Job's comforter!" cries Doris, getting up and
shaking herself.  "I think after that we had all better shut up and
retire to bed--don't you, Honor?  We had better get all the sleep and
strength we can before we are all hurled into this sea of trouble
which Molly apparently descries looming in the distance!  Hallo!
here's Dick asleep!  Wake up, my boy, wake up!--we're all off to
bed!" and Doris administers sundry little sisterly pullings and
pinchings, which eventually arouse Dick sufficiently to enable him
lazily to follow his sisters up the stairs to bed.



CHAPTER XV.

DORIS MAKES A PUDDING.

"Seventeen pounds ten! seventeen pounds ten!" mutters Honor to
herself, as with paper and pencil in hand and with knitted brows she
makes little notes, seated the while on a corner of the kitchen table.

"I wish you wouldn't shake so!" says Doris, who, with sleeves rolled
up and in a huge white apron, is in all the agonies of making a
steak-pudding.  "If you keep on chattering too," she goes on, "I know
I shall leave out half the things, and then you'll never consider how
you harassed me with those pounds, shillings, and pence; but 'blame
it all on to me,' as Bobby says.  Let me see, now: have I got
everything in?  Oh, I know! a little pot in the middle to keep the
gravy in.  Now, I shall have to move some of the meat again.  There!
Oh, goodness me!  I do hope the crust will be eatable; but I don't
suppose it will in the least.  It seems brick-bat-ified to me.  Well,
I've done my best, anyway."  And with a prodigious sigh of relief
Doris ties the cloth.  "Now," she says, "you can go on, Honor; what
about this horrid money?  I really wish we had lived in the time of
the ancient Britons, then we shouldn't have wanted money at all.  It
is no doubt a very nice thing when one has plenty of it; but when one
hasn't!--"  Words fail to express Doris's horror of such a situation,
and her cast-up eyes and elevated floury hands finish the sentence
for her.

"We are not quite so badly off as that," Honor says, returning to the
attack.  "I was just saying, seventeen pounds ten a quarter.  Take
five pounds from that--for rent, you know--and it leaves twelve
pounds ten.  That's not much is it, Doris?  If we want to live we
shall _have_ to do something to make both ends meet.  Hark, there's
the door-bell!  Who can it be, I wonder?"

In a few seconds Jane appears with the intelligence that she has just
ushered the two Mr. Talboys into the drawing-room, having been quite
ignorant of the fact that Molly is there, serenely seated on the
floor, working away at the chintz covers which she and the other
girls are making for some of the shabby old school-room furniture
which now has to do-duty for the drawing-room.  Molly is arrayed in
one of Jane's large aprons, to keep her black frock from soiling the
delicate colours of the stuff; and, as usual, when she is busy, her
hair is rumpled up in a fashion which is perhaps more becoming than
tidy.

"Don't fuss yourself, Honor," says Doris composedly.  "Molly will not
mind a bit, and I daresay she will explain the situation in some way
of her own which will amuse the old gentlemen immensely.  Here she
comes; now we shall hear."

"Girls!" cries Molly, dancing into the kitchen, "here are the Mr.
Talboys.  They found me sitting on the floor amongst all the work;
and I couldn't get up at first, because my legs were so cramped.  So
they came and helped me up, and then we all stood and laughed, till I
remembered my manners and asked them to sit down.  I only just saved
Mr. Ben from seating himself on the broken chair, but I rushed up in
time and explained that that was only to be looked at.  Then I told
them Doris was making a pudding, and that you were busy about
something, Honor; but that I would come and see if you had finished.
What's the matter?  Why do you both look at me as if I had been
committing high treason?"

"Well, you _have_ in a way," says Doris reprovingly, "talking all
that nonsense.  Weren't the old gentlemen surprised?"

"Not a bit," answers Molly promptly; "they enjoyed the fun, and I
left them chattering away to Daisy and Bobby as if they had known
them all their lives.  Now, don't stand there, you two, as if you
were going to preach me a sermon five miles long; come and see the
old gentlemen.  They are most anxious to make Doris's acquaintance."

"Yes, that's all very well," says that young lady as she and Honor
follow Molly; "but you needn't have said anything about the pudding."

"Well, I must say I don't see anything very extraordinary in either
the making or the eating of a pudding," argues Molly, leading the way
to the drawing-room with her head in the air.

With that she opens the door, and waving her hand towards her sister,
says:

"This is Doris, Mr. Talboys.  She was dreadfully shocked because I
told you she was making a pudding, which I think very silly."

"_Molly!_" exclaims Honor, whereupon the young lady lapses into
silence.

"I am very glad to hear you were so sensibly employed, my dear Miss
Doris," says Mr. Ned, taking the girl's hand and warmly greeting her.
"I am afraid there are not many young ladies in these days who can
boast of such useful knowledge as that of making a pudding; but in
our young days it was considered as necessary for the daughters of a
family to be taught to cook, to bake, to preserve, and so on, as it
was to learn reading and writing and all the rest of it.  Was it not,
Brother Ben?"

"Surely, surely!" answers Mr. Ben, nodding to his brother from the
opposite end of the room.

In a very short time they are all chatting freely together; and
Honor, thinking it a good opportunity, gathers up her courage, after
a little nervous glance at her sisters, to tell the brothers of their
wish to turn their talents to account in order to increase their
income.  The old gentlemen are delighted, and enthusiastically
promise all the help that they can possibly give in the matter.
Indeed, they express profound regret that their age prevents their
becoming pupils of the young ladies themselves.

"Ben had a decided talent for drawing as a youngster," says Mr. Ned
with a roguish twinkle in his eye.  "You remember that wonderful
quadruped you once drew, Ben, about which there were such divided
opinions?  My own idea was that it was a sheep of unusual dimensions;
but I believe finally it was settled that it was a horse--possibly an
Arab.  They are small animals, you know."

"I think I intended it for a cow, Brother Ned," remarks Mr. Benjamin
modestly; "but I assure you, young ladies, my talent for drawing was
not to be compared to my brother's--shall we say genius--for music.
He was actually known one day, after many hours of hard study, to
have picked out and played (with one finger) that difficult and
classical work popularly known as 'God Save the Queen.'  Now, what do
you think of _that_?"

Amidst the general laughter which arises at this good-natured
sparring between the two old men, they rise to take their leave; and
while Mr. Ned intrusts to Honor a courteous message to her mother to
the effect that he and his brother will shortly do themselves the
honour of calling upon her, when they shall hope to find her
sufficiently recovered to receive them, Mr. Ben is entreating Doris
to allow Daisy and Bobby to go to tea with them the next day.

"Master Dick here would consider himself too old to join such a
juvenile party, I expect," says the old man, patting him on the back
kindly; "but we mean to ask you all to come and spend an evening with
us soon, if you can put up with two such old fogies as Brother Ned
and myself for hosts.  We must have someone from the town to come and
tune the piano; and then, perhaps, my brother will play his piece to
you--eh, Ned?"

"Certainly, Ben; but then we must also bring down that wonderful
picture of yours for the young ladies to see.  Miss Honor might
perhaps take some very useful hints from it;" and with that parting
shot Mr. Ned gives Mr. Benjamin his arm, and they trot down the steps
together, away down the garden, and into the road.



CHAPTER XVI.

TRYING TO MAKE BOTH ENDS MEET.

Things go on quietly enough for some time, but as each day comes
round it is pretty sure to bring with it some little trial and
vexation; trifling in itself perhaps, but none the less wearying to
the three girls, who with hopeful hearts are striving laboriously to
cut and contrive in order to get the utmost out of every halfpenny.

Honor has shown from the first an almost dogged determination to have
nothing brought into the house that cannot be paid for at once.

"We know to a farthing what our income is," she says quietly and
firmly; "and what we cannot afford to have we must learn to do
without."

Nevertheless it goes to the girl's heart when, having had to draw
perhaps from the little sum set aside for the week's living for some
other incidental expense, she has to say, "No meat to-day, girls and
boys; we must make our dinners from potatoes and bread and butter."

"And very good fare too," some will say perhaps; but for girls and
boys who have been brought up in the lap of luxury, and who in their
sudden transition from affluence to well-nigh poverty have retained
their usual healthy appetites, it is a little trying it must surely
be allowed.  To Doris and Honor the fact of having to deny themselves
meat, and sometimes other things which are almost necessaries, is no
great trial so long as they can somehow or other make both ends meet;
but it does pain them to see that Molly's and Dick's faces are no
longer so round and plump as formerly, and that little Daisy pushes
away her plate of untempting food from before her sometimes,
plaintively saying she is "not hungry to-day."  The novelty of the
situation having worn off also to a great extent, the spirits of
Doris and Molly especially flag visibly at times; and while Doris
sighs over her work with a generally listless air, Molly grows
despondent, and even a little cross, as she goes about her daily
duties.  Poor Honor makes brave and determined efforts to preserve
both her cheerfulness and her temper for the sake of all, but there
are two little upright lines between her straight brows which tell of
constant care and anxious thought; and many a quiet tear is shed
when, tired in body and anxious in mind, the girl finds herself alone
in her room with no one to witness her giving way to her overwrought
feelings.

Still, there are gleams of brightness in the new life, and many an
act of kindness is shown to the girls by the neighbouring families;
on all of whom the Merivales have been most thoroughly impressed by
the brothers Talboys.  The first to call are the clergyman and his
wife, and they prove to be affable, kindly-disposed people.  Then
most of the families round about call on Mrs. Merivale also, and do
their best to cheer the girls with accounts of what goes on during
the summer months, saying kindly that they hope they will look
forward to plenty of games of tennis with their own daughters.

But although every one promises to remember their wishes to obtain
teaching, and to do his or her best in the matter, no pupils come for
Molly; and although Honor takes up her painting again with renewed
ardour, nobody seems to require lessons in that either.

The brothers Talboys hold many a serious conversation over the trials
and difficulties of their young friends, as they call them; but
beyond sending them some game from time to time, or something from
their own poultry-yard, dairy, or garden, they do not see their way
to helping them much without running the risk of hurting their
feelings.

One morning the old gentlemen are leaning over a gate looking
admiringly at their sleek Alderneys grazing in the distance, when
suddenly down the lane behind them come Daisy and Bobby hand in hand.
During the short time that the family has been settled at the
Rookery, these two children, and especially Daisy, have taken a firm
hold on the warm hearts of the two old brothers.  Their blind
devotion to the latter would bid fair, indeed, to turn the head of
any less good and demure little maiden than Daisy, for she can hardly
express a wish in their hearing which is not gratified; and when the
children go to tea at the Rosery--which event occurs once a week, if
not oftener--the recklessness of their two frolicsome hosts in the
matter of cakes, jam, cream, &c., defies description.

The brothers no sooner now see the children approaching than they
pounce upon them instantly, and after duly inquiring after every one
at home, Mr. Ned unfastens the gate, and taking Daisy by the hand
leads her away into the field.

"I know you would like to come and speak to White-star," he says;
"they are both going to be milked in a few minutes, and if you like
you shall stay and see them, and have a drink of nice new milk too.
What are we to do for a tumbler though, eh?"

"I'll run and fetch one, sir," pipes up little Bobby, who is
perfectly at home in all the arrangements of the Rosery, both in and
out of the house, "or shall I run to the dairy and ask Susan to bring
something?"

"Yes, yes, my boy, that would be better, for you might fall down and
cut yourself.  Here, wait a minute, Master Bob, a piece of cake would
not come amiss with the milk, I take it, eh?  Go and ask Mrs. Edwards
to put some cake, several large slices, into a little basket for you;
and then we will all have lunch out here together."

[Illustration: DAISY AND THE MR. TALBOYS VISIT WHITESTAR.]

"And give White-star some," cries Daisy excitedly.

"Oh, certainly, give White-star some," repeats Mr. Ned approvingly;
"it would be a poor return after giving us her milk not to offer her
any refreshment herself.  I am not certain, however, that she would
not prefer some nice fresh grass even to plum-cake if you were to
pluck it and offer it to her.  Ah!  I thought so!" as the little girl
goes fearlessly up to the placid-looking animal, her hands full of
sweet-smelling grass.  White-star stoops her head, gravely inspecting
Daisy at first, then she puts her soft velvety nose into the child's
hands and gently gathers up the contents into her mouth.

"It seems to me," says Mr. Ben, folding his hands over his stick and
looking at the gentle pair--"it seems to me that White-star has a
great deal to say to this little maid.  What say you, Brother Ned?
Now I shouldn't be the least surprised if she is thinking how much
she would like you to have a lot of her good milk every day to fatten
up your cheeks a little, don't you think so, Brother Ned?"

"I was thinking the very same thing myself," answers Mr. Ned, nodding
approval of his brother's idea.  "Oh! here comes Susan with the pail
and the glasses, and here is Master Bob also heavily laden with the
cake and the milking-stool.  Now then, the first drink for the lady
of course."

"And so it is your birthday to-morrow," suddenly remarks Mr. Ned
after a longish pause, during which undivided attention is given to
the milk and cake.

"Yes," says Daisy gravely nodding; "who told you?"

"Master Bob there.  And he told me, moreover, what present he is
going to give you, and I can assure you it will be--well, to use the
young gentleman's own words--a regular stunner."

"Oh!" cries Daisy, "_do_ tell me, Mr. Talboys."

"Oh, I couldn't think of such a thing.  And why, bless my soul, it is
getting quite late, Brother Ben; if we are to see these little folks
home I think we had better be starting."

And so after a time the quartette appears at the Rookery, and the
children are handed over to Honor, who has seen them coming through
the gate.  It is an everyday occurrence now this finding of the
children with the two Mr. Talboys.  If they are missing for any
length of time, someone says, "Oh, they are up at the Rosery, of
course;" and after a time sure enough they arrive either in charge of
Priscilla, the parlour-maid, or with the old gentlemen themselves.



CHAPTER XVII.

DAISY'S BIRTHDAY.

The next morning every one is on the _qui vive_ for the postman, for
is it not Daisy's birthday! and will there not be mysterious packets,
from the Horton's alone, enough to fill his bag!

The excitement of receiving the presents from her own family has now
subsided; and Daisy, having seen Bobby's offering, consisting of a
pair of black and white rabbits, duty installed in a separate hutch
improvised for the occasion, and on which is scrawled, in somewhat
doubtful caligraphy, Daisy's own name as proprietress, that young
lady betakes herself to the drawing-room, where Mrs. Merivale is
installed (feeling a trifle stronger to-day), in honour of her little
daughter's birthday.  At last the postman appears, and there is a
general rush to the door.

A packet from Mrs. Horton, one from each of the boys, one from Aunt
Sophia, and another from Miss Denison.  There is also a letter for
Honor from the last named, and one for Jane.  With these two Bobby is
despatched to the kitchen regions, where Honor and Doris are--the
former making a cake--and where Jane is also.  Doris seizes on the
letter, and Honor's hands being floury, opens it and reads it to her,
Jane having retired into the scullery with her missive.

Miss Denison's letter is like herself--kindness throughout.  Not one
little incident with which they have acquainted her is forgotten, and
the whole letter conveys with it such an air of her affectionate
manner that it almost seems to the girls as if she were standing
there and speaking to them in person.  She sends good news about the
recovery of her _fiancé_; and in order that she may accompany him in
his prescribed sojourn to the south of France, they are about to be
married almost immediately.  Doris and Honor are still chatting over
the contents of the letter, when Jane, deluged in tears, rushes into
the kitchen and startles them both with the announcement that she
must leave at once.

"Oh, if you please, Miss Honor, mother's been taken ill so sudden,
and my sister Sarah says I sha'n't never see her alive again very
like if I don't hurry off at once."

"Of course you shall go, Jane," says Honor, suspending the operation
of egg-beating and rubbing her hands upon a cloth.  "Of course mother
will let you go by the first train there is.  Poor girl!" she adds
kindly, putting her hand on her shoulder, for Jane with her apron to
her eyes has subsided into a chair,--"poor girl! it is indeed sudden;
but doesn't your sister give any hope, Jane?  Perhaps your mother may
get over this attack; while there is life there is always hope, you
know."

"I don't know, I'm sure, miss," returns the girl with alternate sobs
and sniffs.  "There's the letter, Miss Honor; perhaps you'd like to
read it."

Honor does so, and finding the case more serious than she had thought
it might be--being in fact the doctor's own report--she hands the
letter without speaking to Doris, and making her a sign to follow,
quietly leaves the kitchen.

A fearful thought has just struck Honor, and as Doris comes out to
her in the passage she stares at her blankly, saying:

"What in the _world_ shall we do for her wages, Doris?  She _must_
have them before she goes."

"I have got the ten shillings aunt gave me when I left," says poor
Doris dolefully.  "I must give that towards them, of course.  And I
think mother has a little money by her.  We must try and make it up
among us, Honor, and we must borrow again from the house-keeping
money, and dine off puddings and potatoes and such things a little
more often."

Here Molly comes bounding out into the passage.

"Why, what is the matter with you two?" she asks.  "You look as if
you had discovered a dynamite plot or something."

Whereupon Honor tells her of the difficulty, and Molly, diving into
the recesses of her pocket, draws forth a jubilee half-crown, which
she has been hoarding up for future emergencies.

"Take it, Honor," she says, "it will have to go some time or other,
so it may as well go now!"

And with a sigh of resignation she is turning away again, but Honor
stops her.

"No, dear," she says, kissing her young sister, "it is like your
generosity to give up all you possess; but with a little management,
and perhaps a little help from mother, we shall be able to arrange, I
am sure; and Doris shall not give up hers either."

"Well, but _you_ are giving up every farthing of your own little
private income for the good of everybody," exclaims Doris.  "And I'm
sure it is only fair that Molly and I should do the little we _can_
do."

"Well, you know, Doris, I am only thankful that I have that little
income to devote to us all.  It would not give me the very slightest
pleasure to keep it to myself; and, after all, girls, it benefits me
as much as it does anyone.  It's share and share alike with us all
now, I think, isn't it?"

"You're a good old soul, and that's a fact!" cries Molly impulsively,
"and the most unselfish creature that ever breathed."

"What nonsense, Molly!" says Honor, blushing at this burst of praise.

"She is quite right, of course," says Doris, "and I only wish I was
half as good."

"And now," remarks Molly, "after this digression, as the books say, I
suppose you mean to come and consult mother about Jane and all the
rest of it, don't you?"

"Of course.  You run and get the time-table, Molly, and we will look
out a train."

It is with great difficulty that Jane can be persuaded to take all
the money that is due to her.

"I'm sure, Miss Honor, I never thought about such a thing as wages,"
says the girl with her apron to her eyes.  "I would readily have
stayed with you young ladies and the mistress without thinking of
money, miss, except when you pleased to give me a little now and
again.  And if you will just give me enough for my journey, Miss
Honor, and so as I have a shilling or two in my pocket when I gets
home, I would rather not take any more, if you please, miss."

But Honor and Doris together gently overrule the girl's generous
impulses, and insist on her taking what is due to her, Mrs. Merivale
adding a trifling present as a little return for the kindness of
heart which Jane has shown to them all in their days of adversity.

In little more than an hour's time Jane has departed with all her
belongings, and the girls and Dick are still standing at the door
watching her, as with handkerchief to her eyes she goes down the
road, when their attention is drawn to a novel kind of procession,
consisting of the Mr. Talboys' stable-boy, Joe, bearing something
resembling a pail, with elaborate care, the under-gardener with a
wheel-barrow containing some large and odd-looking packages, and
lastly Priscilla, holding in her arms with as much solicitude as if
it were a baby, a long, mysterious-looking parcel.  The party enters
the gate with much gravity and makes for the side entrance.

"From the Mr. Talboys, Miss Merivale," says Priscilla, the man and
boy bashfully hanging back.  "Put the pail inside the door, Joe," she
adds, and then she takes the packages from the barrow, and turning to
Honor says: "Shall I step inside with them, ma'am?  The masters told
me I was to be sure and deliver them myself.  Oh, and there's a
letter for Miss Daisy as well.  And I was to give the masters'
compliments, and ask how Mrs. Merivale finds herself this morning."

Up to this point the girls have done nothing but stare with mute
astonishment at the oddly-laden trio.  But at length, when the
parcels are actually laid down, and the maid stands waiting for her
answer, Honor finds her tongue:

"Tell your masters, please," she says, "that mother is feeling a
little stronger this morning."

And before Honor can say another word the maid is out of the house
and through the gate, where the man and the boy--both grinning from
ear to ear--are awaiting her.

"What _can_ it mean?" cries Doris, beginning to feel the parcels,
while Timothy, the cat, walks gravely up to the pail and commences a
deliberate inspection of the outside.  "This is knobby!" Doris goes
on; "and this soft--O, my gracious! what's that?" as a sound like a
rather squeaky voice is heard to issue from the long parcel.

"Let us read the letter," says prompt Molly; "then we shall
understand it all.  No, let Daisy open it--it's her letter.  I quite
expect they are birthday presents from the old gentlemen.  Now, let
us see!"

And they all crowd round the child while she carefully opens the
envelope and unfolds the letter.


"To Miss Margaret Merivale.

"My dear Miss Daisy,

"Brother Ben and I are sending some little presents for your
birthday, with our best love.  The young lady herself is from Brother
Ben, whilst her carriage and luggage (including her bed) are from
myself.  I believe the young lady is rather particular about her
sleeping arrangements, and has therefore thought it better to take
her own bed with her.  White-star is most anxious that we should
deliver a very important message from her.  She sends her love, and
hopes you will accept for a birthday present the can of new milk she
is sending you, and that you will let her send you some every day for
the future.  White-star thinks it will fatten up your cheeks, and she
would far rather you had her milk than that the pig should.

  "Wishing you many happy returns of the day,
        "We are, dear little Miss Daisy,
              "Your affectionate friends,
                      "EDWARD TALBOYS.
                      "BENJAMIN TALBOYS."


"There, didn't I say so!" exclaims Molly.  "What dear old boys they
are, and how fond of Daisy!  Come along, child, and let us undo the
parcels."

"O, what a _lovely_ doll!"

Daisy stands perfectly entranced, and, truth to tell, a little in awe
of the fashionable young lady which emerges from the many wrappings
of soft white paper in which she has been carefully enshrouded.  A
young person of most eccentric character she proves to be, for on a
certain spring being touched she walks along for some yards with her
head in the air in a truly martial manner; and when (on her showing
deliberate intention of walking into the coal-scuttle) Honor snatches
her up from the ground, she gives vent to loud cries of "Papa!
Mamma!" which astonish her hearers not a little.  Finally, on being
placed in a reclining position in her new owner's arms, she shows
symptoms of faintness, and closing her eyes in a melodramatic manner
lies back quite motionless.  Daisy looks anxious at this catastrophe,
but is reassured on finding that the young lady opens her handsome
brown orbs again the moment she is made to sit up.

Honor and Doris presently suggest that all the presents shall be
taken into the room where Mrs. Merivale is sitting, and a good hour
or more is spent by Doris and the others in unpacking the handsome
perambulator which has arrived with her ladyship, and also her
beautiful bed.  This last is completely fitted up, even to a little
eider-down quilt.  But the unpacking of the wardrobe--that is the
thing! and Doris, at heart as great a baby over dolls and their
belongings as Daisy herself, sits on the floor surrounded with
walking costumes, dinner dresses, ball dresses, &c., and enjoys
herself with her little sister to her heart's content.



CHAPTER XVIII.

DR. JOHN SINCLAIR.

That same afternoon Honor puts on her hat and walks into the village
in search of a girl to take Jane's place, if such an individual can
be found, which she privately doubts.  She first goes to old Mrs.
Evans, the charwoman, and makes a few inquiries about the girls in
the village.  This lady, however, probably with an eye to "No. 1,"
discourages the idea of "keepin' a gal permanent."  With regard to
herself she is "willin' to oblige, and don't mind how often she goes
up to the 'ouse, pervided she gets one day in the week to do her own
bit o' washin'."  This not being at all Honor's idea, and the old
woman appearing to have no other by which she may benefit, she takes
her departure.

She next goes to the little grocer's shop and makes inquiries there,
learning that they believe they know of a likely young woman.  She
has been living at the butcher's over the way, partly as nurse, they
think, and having left about a week ago is likely to be looking out
for a new place.  Flora Smart is the name by which this young person
is known.  So Honor thinks she may as well go "over the way" as
anywhere else to pursue her inquiries.

Mrs. Masters, the butcher's wife, is a brisk and chatty little woman,
who enters into the discussion of possible and impossible girls with
a keen and lively interest.  She thinks Mrs. Phips possesses a
granddaughter who, though not calculated to set the Thames on fire
with her cleverness, is a good girl enough as far as honesty,
truthfulness, and cleanliness go.  She is greatly desirous of
"bettering herself," whatever that may be; and Mrs. Masters thinks
that if Miss Merivale don't mind the trouble of training her, she may
turn out a handy kind of girl.

"I have just been recommended a girl called Flora Smart," remarks
Honor presently.  "I believe she was with you for a time, Mrs.
Masters."

"Yes, miss; for a very short time though, I'm thankful to say.  I had
her to help with the children, and to give a hand when it was needed
to my own servant that I've had with me for years.  She was an idle
hussy though, and didn't care to do anything but take the children
out.  Ah, and they nearly met their death, or might have done, with
her wicked carelessness!" she adds with an involuntary shudder.

"How was that?" asks Honor, impressed with Mrs. Masters' manner.

"Well, miss, she had taken the two youngest out in the perambulator;
and from what I heard after I suppose that, when she got half-way
down Meadow Lane, there she saw some acquaintance of hers--a young
man it was; and as she thought the perambulator might be seen if she
took it with her, she just left it in the middle of the lane and ran
back round the corner, quite out of sight of the children.  Well,
miss, it was market-day; and presently there came along the usual
drove of cattle, the drovers far behind.  Fortunately the doctor was
coming along that way too, and recognizing them and seeing their
danger at once, he just took and wheeled them home to me, saying as
he brought them up to the door, 'I think your little ones will be
safer with you, Mrs. Masters, than in the middle of Meadow Lane by
themselves on market-day.'  Dear! it did give me such a turn, to be
sure, miss; for he told me after that he quite thinks the
perambulator would have been overturned, some of the cattle were so
wild and unruly.  Ah, a kind-hearted gentleman is Dr. Sinclair!  He
would do anyone a good turn, from the highest to the lowest."

"Dr. Sinclair!" repeats Honor.  "Is that the name of the doctor here,
Mrs. Masters?  I really didn't know there was a doctor here at all;
though I suppose there always is, even in a little village like this."

"Dear me, now, Miss Merivale, to think that you don't know him even
by sight, and he often rides up your way too!"

"I am generally too busy to notice many passers-by," says Honor
smiling; "but now I think of it, I believe I have heard the Mr.
Talboys mention him."

"Ah, to be sure you would, miss; if 'twas only on his father's
account; though I'm not sure if the old gentlemen don't like the son
just as well, if not better.  But you see, miss, it was the old
doctor that attended Mr. Benjamin with his broken ankle; I think they
were all boys at school together--so I've heard my husband say.  Yes,
it was quite a blow to the old gentlemen when the old doctor died.
There! talk of the angel--why, that's the young doctor himself coming
up the road yonder.  Now you can see him for yourself, miss.

Honor lifts her eyes as a rider comes slowly up the remainder of the
steep hill which leads into the village.  She sees a well-made,
broad-shouldered man, who cannot be much under six feet in height,
bestriding a handsome glossy chestnut, which in the matter of
muscular strength and powerfulness of build is as noticeable as his
master.

Dr. John Sinclair appears to be deep in thought, for his eyes are
raised no higher than his horse's head as he sits flicking its ears
softly with the end of his riding-whip, a performance which the
creature apparently rather enjoys than otherwise, judging by the
tossing of its head, accompanied by little whinnyings of approval.
As he rides past the butcher's shop, though, the doctor raises his
head, and catching sight of Mrs. Masters smiles brightly and
courteously.  As he lifts his hat, his eyes rest upon Honor with a
little inquiring expression.

"Aye, that's just like him," says the woman with a gratified look as
she acknowledges the young man's salutation with a pleased little
bow, "he would lift his hat to a poor beggar woman just as quickly as
to a duchess; and that's what makes every one about here worship him
so.  There's no thoughts of class or the like with Dr. John Sinclair,
miss; and one to him is as good as another, where there's help and
kindness needed.  But there now, I am wasting your time, Miss
Merivale, as well as my own.  My husband always tells me mine is a
terrible tongue to go, especially when any talk of the young doctor
comes up, for then I always feel as if I could never say enough for
him.  Besides everything else he has done, he pulled my youngest boy
through with croup, when every one else had given him up; and I have
never forgotten that--no, nor ever shall.  Well, miss, I think you
will do well to go to Mrs. Phips.  I know her grand-daughter is a
decent sort of girl, though she ain't very bright.  But I do think it
would be worth trying her, perhaps.  Oh, no thanks needed, I'm sure,
miss," as Honor expresses gratitude for the information.  "Good-day
to you, miss; and I hope the girl may suit."



CHAPTER XIX.

A VISIT FROM AUNT SOPHIA AND THE HORTON BOYS.

After a tolerably satisfactory interview with Mrs. Phips and her
granddaughter Becky, Honor at length returns home, where she finds
unusual excitement reigning, all sorts of unexpected things having
happened in her absence.

The moment her hand touches the latch of the gate Molly comes flying
down the garden to meet her, her eyes sparkling, her hair blown
about, her apron all awry.

"Such news!" she cries breathlessly.  "That nice clergyman has been
here, and he wants his little girl to have music lessons; so now I've
got a real live pupil, Honor!  Isn't that _splendid_?  To be sure
they can't give very good pay," she adds, a little ruefully, "but it
will all help, won't it?"

"Of course it will, dear!" says Honor, kissing her.  "I am so glad--"

Molly cuts her short:

"But that isn't all," she says.  "Aunt's here, sitting with her
bonnet on as usual, though we've all had a try to make her take it
off.  And mother seems quite cheered up.  Well, then Hugh and Regy
arrived by the same train, Hugh nearly bursting with most important
news.  Come along in; you can go and talk to them all while Doris and
I finish getting the tea.  Oh, and give me the key of the
store-cupboard; I want to get out some of that lovely jam the Mr.
Talboys sent Daisy.  The boys wanted to come and help in the kitchen,
but I shut them out and locked the door.  I do hope Doris hasn't let
them in in my absence!"

And being tormented with doubt on this score Molly retires in haste,
and Honor enters the drawing-room, where she finds Daisy, with the
assistance of Miss Celestine Ermyntrude Talboys--as she has persisted
in naming her doll,--gravely doing the honours to Hugh and Regy,
while her mother and aunt are seated close together in earnest
confidential conversation.

In due course tea is announced, and as Mrs. Merivale expresses her
intention of joining them to-day, there is quite a large party when
Dick and Bobby also arrive home from a long ramble they have been
having in the woods.

Lady Woodhouse, it appears, has come down with the intention of
having a good long chat with them all, and to see how things are
going generally.

Hugh's important piece of news is that he, having "worked like a
nigger" for the last few months with a "coach," has sent in his
papers, and is awaiting the result anxiously, but hopefully too, his
"coach" having spoken in the highest praise of his ability when once
he had put his shoulder to the wheel.

They have a very merry tea, and when it is over and the visitors have
returned to the drawing-room, Doris and Honor remain behind to clear
away and wash up the tea-things, while Molly goes to look after the
poultry.  She is engrossed in trying to prevent Mr. Pincher and one
or two of the greediest hens from snapping up the entire supply of
maize and other luxuries, which she is scattering amongst them,
before their more modest companions can get a chance, when she hears
a clear tenor voice not far off ringing out the words--

  "O, Molly Bawn, why leave me pining,
    All lonely waiting here for you,
  While stars above are brightly shining
    Because they've nothing else to do!"

Molly listens a moment, and then turning the basket upside down, and
shaking out the last grains, she wheels about and faces Hugh as he
comes round the corner and stands before her.

"It's a pity you have nothing to do but to go about singing such
nonsense," she observes.  "It may be all very well for the stars,
perhaps--I don't know their ways and habits--but I should think _you_
might easily find something else to do."

"Well, so I can, and _do_ in fact, at least I have done lately,"
returns poor Hugh confusedly.  "Come now, Molly," he pleads, "don't
be hard on a fellow!  I thought you would be so pleased with the news
I brought down to-day."

"Well, so I am, of course; but," rather unkindly adds Molly, "you
hav'n't passed yet, you know!"

Hugh looks a trifle hurt for a moment; but then he says quietly
enough:

"No; you are right there, Molly.  But if I fail this time I do think
it will be my misfortune rather than my fault; for ever since you
lectured me so on the subject of my work I _have_ worked with a
vengeance, and chiefly, I believe, for your sake."

"Why, what nonsense, Hugh!  Why in the world for my sake?"

"Well, it's hardly likely I would want you to think that all your
words were thrown away on me--pearls before swine, you know, and all
that sort of thing.  No; but seriously, Molly, I have done my level
best to deserve the little bit--the _very_ little bit, I'm
afraid,--of good opinion you have of me.  Though I don't mean to say
that I hav'n't worked for my own sake too, and for mother's.  But,
upon my honour, I don't believe I ever saw the matter in a proper
light until you put it so plainly before me, Molly.  My mother has
often said a few words to me on the subject, of course, but no one
but you ever had the courage to tell me out to my face that I was
fast drifting into an idle, useless vagabond; and--"

"I never said such a thing!" exclaims Molly, firing up indignantly.
"How dare you say I said what I didn't!"

"Well, really, you know, you implied something of the sort.  Now,
didn't you?  But you won't let a fellow finish what he is saying.  I
was going to add that no one had ever tried to show me what I might
have drifted into but you; and I shall always feel that I owe you a
debt of gratitude for it, whatever you may say to the contrary.  And
I tell you what, Molly dear, I have felt happier during these few
months of hard work than I have for a long time past.  It has roused
me, and given me a taste for work, and made me feel that there is
something worth living for beyond the little everyday pleasures of
life.  Ah!  I shall often think of my little mentor and the _d-u-s-t_
she wrote on my books, when I am miles and miles away; that is if I
go," he adds hastily, anticipating any incredulous remark which Molly
may be about to make.

"Of course you will go away, if it depends on your passing your
exam," says the girl quietly, as they go slowly back together by the
laurel hedge, she pulling off a dead leaf here and there.  "I always
said that, if you remember; I mean that it rested with yourself, as
it were.  You see, too, what your 'coach' told you."

"Oh, hang the 'coach!'" exclaims Hugh disrespectfully.  "I care a
hundred times more for your opinion than for old Dobson's; though
he's not a bad sort of fellow, and a perfect rattler at cramming."

"Of course," says Molly demurely, "I know my opinion is of exceeding
great value; but, you see, I haven't been in the habit of _cramming_
a lot of young men for a good many years past, and therefore his
experience may possibly be wider than mine.  Now, come in, and talk
to mother and aunt; your train will be going before long."

"Stop a minute," cries Hugh, catching her hand and detaining her
before she opens the door; "will you write to me if I _do_ go away,
Molly?"

"Oh, yes," she replies graciously; "I'll write.  And, look here,
Hugh, if you should go _very_ far away, say to China, or New Zealand,
or--or--Kamtchatka--I'll work you a pair of slippers--there!"  And
with a grave, emphatic nod, she pushes open the door and runs into
the house.

In the meantime Lady Woodhouse has been hearing all the news from
Doris and Honor, the former of whom is seated on a footstool at her
aunt's feet, her chin resting in her hands, and with a generally
doleful sort of air about her.

"No, it's no use, aunt," she is saying.  "I hate domesticating, and
that's all about it.  I've tried my hand at everything pretty nearly,
and I think each has failed in an equally successful manner.  A
beef-steak pudding is a thing to be spoken of with bated breath in
this house, ever since I made one, not long after we settled here.  I
believe the whole family suffered from violent indigestion for a week
and more; and now if it is proposed to have a pudding for dinner,
someone--generally Dick or Molly--inquires in a most pointed manner,
'Who's going to make it?'  I tried a treacle pudding one day, when
they had well recovered from the other; but I was so flurried with
thinking how in the world I should prevent the treacle from running
out at the ends that I forgot the lard altogether; so no one suffered
from the richness of the paste that day, because it was simply flour
and water.  It doesn't seem to matter _what_ it is," poor Doris goes
on after a pause; "I even failed in boiling some potatoes the other
day, for the water all boiled away (I suppose I didn't put enough),
and I found the potatoes all stuck to the bottom of the pot, and
burnt horribly!  And it's just the same in other things.  If I feed
the chickens in the evening one of them is sure to be found either
dead or dying the next morning.  The very milk goes sour if _I_ by
chance put it away!"

"Hum--that's because you don't put it in the right place, I suspect,"
remarks Aunt Sophia grimly.

"Very likely; but that doesn't alter the fact that it _does_ go sour,
and that everything I have to do with is bound to go wrong in some
way or other.  Now, aunt, _do_ take off your bonnet!"

"I tell you I'm not going to, child," says Lady Woodhouse, holding on
to it with both hands.  "You know very well that until my trunk is
unpacked I cannot get a cap, and sit bareheaded I will not.  But if
you are so very anxious upon the subject you can take my keys and go
and find one."

Molly, who has just entered, volunteers to do this, and after this
little interruption Lady Woodhouse says abruptly:

"Well then, Miss Doris, I take it that you are not of very much use
in this establishment, eh?"

"No, I am afraid not," answers Doris, looking rather crestfallen.
"The only thing I can do decently is needlework, and I _am_ of use in
that sometimes.  Am I not, Honor?"

"You are lots of use in all sorts of ways, Doris; only you allow
yourself to be so easily discouraged.  But she does do plain
needlework beautifully, aunt; and, oh, there has been _such_ a lot of
mending and darning to do in the house linen since we came here.  We
only brought what was very old.  The best was all included in the
sale."

"I don't believe it need have been," grumbles Doris in an undertone;
"but you know, aunt, Honor became quite _aggressively_ conscientious
by the time we were actually leaving.  I declare I wonder she allowed
us to keep our own hair!"

"_Doris!_" exclaims Honor, in the midst of a general laugh.

"Very well, then," resumes Aunt Sophia, quite regardless of the
interruption, "you would not, I suppose, be missed from home so much
as one of the others.  Now, how do you think you would like to go
abroad with your uncle and me for a time?  Mind you," she adds
quickly, "it would not be a _short_ time probably; our travels might
possibly extend over a year, or even more.  Now, the question is, can
your mother and sisters and these boys spare you--and can you spare
them?"

Doris gasps.  Poor girl! to travel is always what she has so greatly
longed to do.  And her father had promised her that "he would think
about it one fine day."  And now to have the chance after all, when
she had fancied it had gone for ever!  No wonder Doris gasps with
delight as she looks eagerly round to read in the others' faces their
ideas on the subject.

"I don't know yet when we shall be going," continues Lady Woodhouse,
without waiting for anyone to speak.  "Your uncle has some law
business on hand, and he can't leave till that is settled; and
goodness knows when that will be.  However, you'll want a little time
to get ready, won't you?  And I think you might decrease your
mourning now, Honor, or certainly in another month.  People don't now
wear the heavy crêpe that they used, even for a parent.  Oh, my cap?
Thank you, Molly."

"I hope it is the right one, aunt," says the girl as she stands
waiting for the bonnet.

"It can't very well be the wrong one, child, since I only brought one
with me.  Did you think I would bring a dozen for a visit of two
days?"

So at length, after a good deal of argument for and against, it is
settled that Doris is to hold herself in readiness to accompany her
uncle and aunt whenever they feel disposed to summon her.

Honor does not disguise the fact that she will miss her sister not a
little.

"Of course it is all nonsense Doris saying she is of no use," she
remarks, stroking Vic's soft drooping ears.  "She has for one thing
taken Daisy and Bobby regularly to their lessons lately, and even
Dick has joined them sometimes, but somehow he and Doris don't pull
very well together on the subject of study, and I'm afraid just
lately it has been dropped altogether.  Of course, when Doris goes
this will fall to me or Molly, but Molly would be as sorry as I
should to let poor Doris miss such an opportunity; and for aunt's
sake too we shall be glad for her to go.  It is the least we can do
after all her goodness to us."

"Tut, child," says Lady Woodhouse, "that is nothing; you are all good
girls, and I am glad to do anything I _can_ for you.  But it seems to
me that Doris is the best, taking her altogether, to come with us to
see something of the world; and then, of course, she is the eldest."

"Yes!" cries Doris, jumping up and clapping her hands; "and, who
knows, I may marry a duke yet!"

"Marry a fiddlestick!" snaps Lady Woodhouse; and there the subject
drops for the present.



CHAPTER XX.

BECKY.

Just as Lady Woodhouse is about to take her departure two days later,
the new domestic, Becky Phips, arrives, accompanied by her
"gra'm'ther," who assists in carrying her small box and a mysterious
brown paper bag on which much care is lavished by Becky, and which
afterwards turns out to contain nothing more nor less than that young
person's "best 'at."

Aunt Sophia, who is standing on the steps peering up and down the
road in search of the fly, now due, which is to convey her to the
station, catches sight of the girl as she goes round to the back
entrance, and raising her hands and eyes at the same time turns to
Honor, exclaiming--

"Good gracious, child!  Where did you pick up such an
eccentric-looking piece of goods as that?  Did anyone ever see such a
remarkable head!  My dear Honor, mark my words: that girl will either
turn out extraordinarily clever or surprisingly stupid.  She could be
nothing between the two with a head like that, you know.  Let me
know, child, which she proves to be.  I shall quite look forward to
hearing whether she is an unsurpassable treasure, or whether she
drives you all to despair and madness by her outrageous stupidity.
Ah, here's the fly!  That's right.  Now, Honor, don't forget.  All
right, driver."  And away goes Aunt Sophia, nodding her head out of
the window until a bend in the road hides the fly from view, and the
girls go indoors again to interview Becky.  Certainly she is a
remarkable-looking young person; and many a grave discussion is held
as to the phrenological meaning of the enormous bumps on either side
of her head.  To Becky herself they chiefly mean that not all the
bonnet-pins and hair-pins in the world will keep her cap straight; if
it is not leaning over too much on one side, it is sure to be on the
other.  This imparts a rakish sort of air to the girl, which is
trying in the extreme to Mrs. Merivale.

At last Dick settles the matter off-hand one day, by announcing once
for all that they are the bumps of hunger--the girl proving to have
an insatiable appetite, and the consumption of bread, potatoes, and
anything in the nature of pudding being truly astonishing--not to say
alarming--since her arrival at the Rookery.  It does not take Honor
long to make up her mind as to what will be the report to her aunt
regarding the girl's possible cleverness or stupidity, for she
presently developes such an apparently inexhaustible fund of the
latter commodity as often to reduce the entire family to the verge of
frenzy.  There are only two things which Becky appears capable of
doing with any regularity or determination, and these are "swilling"
the back-yard and letting the kitchen fire go out.  Thus little
scenes are constantly taking place as follows: Mrs. Merivale
expresses a wish to have a cup of tea somewhat earlier than usual.
Honor goes into the kitchen.  Kettle ostentatiously placed over what
was once a fire, but is now a depressing collection of black cold
cinders.

Honor--"I thought I told you, Becky, _always_ to have the kettle
boiling by three o'clock.  Just look at it."

Becky (with cap awry)--"Ain't it boiling, miss?  Why, I put it on
nigh two hours ago.  I'm _sure_ I did!"

Honor (desperately)--"What is the use, Becky, of putting the kettle
over a fire that has gone out.  Oh, dear! oh, dear!  I don't believe
I shall ever be able to teach you anything; I really don't!"

Becky (resignedly)--"No, miss."

Then perhaps Doris, in an unusually domestic frame of mind, will come
rushing into the sitting-room one morning, her arms full of the
little light muslin draperies with which, at small cost, she and her
sisters have so smartened up the scantily furnished bedrooms.

"Now, girls," she cries, "anything in this line that you want washed?
Mother has actually trusted me with her lawn collars and cuffs.  She
remarked (in a not very complimentary manner, I think), 'that at
least I could hardly do them _worse_ than old Mrs. What's-her-name
does them.'  Yes, do you know, I really think I _shall_ develop a
talent for washing and ironing--so long as it is something light and
pretty--laces or muslins, or something.  I feel that it is _in_ me
somehow.  Now, don't laugh!  I'm going to _dare_ Becky to let the
fire out, on pain of death or instant dismissal."

All goes well and merrily for some time.  The fire burns brightly,
the kettle sings, the boiler hisses; and Doris, also singing, and
attired in a big coarse white apron, stands over a small tub, her
pretty arms plunged up to the elbows in soap-suds.

In the afternoon, however, loud and wrathful lamentations rend the
air when Doris, having enjoyed a well-merited lounge in the only
comfortable chair in the sitting-room, goes into the kitchen to
commence her ironing, and finds--a plentiful supply of irons indeed,
but carefully arranged before a fire which has been out a good hour
or more!  Doris does not take these little _contre-temps_ so quietly
as Honor, so there ensues a stormy torrent of scolding on her side,
and mild protestations and feeble efforts at self-justification on
Becky's, until the latter finally retires in floods of tears into the
scullery, and Doris, being remonstrated with by Honor, rushes up to
their bed-room in a fit of the sulks and locks herself in.

On the first Sunday that comes round, however, the whole family is
electrified by an unexpected talent, not to say genius, for
boot-cleaning, which Becky suddenly proves herself to possess.

It has been noticed that from the neighbourhood of the wood-cellar
where she keeps all the paraphernalia of brushes and blacking, sounds
of one of Moody and Sankey's hymns have been issuing, pitched in an
unusually high key, and when, a little later, Becky places all the
boots in a row at the foot of the stairs, saying with pride, "There,
miss; I think I've made them look proper!" the girls feel that the
joyful sounds are accounted for.

Indeed, as Honor, Molly, Dick, Daisy, and Bobby are all seated
afterwards in the little village church, on a conspicuous bench
without any front, and right under the reading-desk, the eyes of the
eldest girl travel proudly down the row of neat-looking boots and
shoes, till they reach Bobby's little high-lows, when her pride
receives a sudden shock, for right across the left one she notices
for the first time an ugly-looking crack, which will of a surety
develop into a split in a day or two.  It is to be feared that poor
Honor's attention wanders from the sermon more than once that
morning, her mind being harassed and distracted with the constantly
recurring thought, that unless Bobby is to go almost barefoot he will
certainly have to be re-shod before that week is out.



CHAPTER XXI.

A DISASTROUS VISIT TO A FROG POND.

But before that day is out Honor finds that there are likely to be
more troubles before her than the want of new boots.  For Daisy, who
has been trusted to the care of Dick and Bobby for a long walk in the
fields, comes home with flushed little cheeks, cold feet and hot
hands, and while declining in her quiet, determined way to touch a
morsel of anything to eat, begs, almost with tears in her eyes, for
cup after cup of tea.

"The child looks really ill," says Mrs. Merivale anxiously.  "I can't
think what can have made her feverish so suddenly."

"What have you been doing with her?" demands Molly of her two
brothers as she cuts bread with an energy almost terrible to behold.

Bobby mutters something unintelligible about "frogs," his mouth being
full of bread-and-butter at the moment.  But at length, after a
cross-examination of both boys, it turns out that Daisy, who is a
lover of anything in the way of an animal from caterpillars upwards,
has been standing for a good half hour and more on the wet, marshy
banks of a large pond, admiring the frogs with which it abounds.

"I suppose the time passed quicker than we thought," Says Dick
apologetically.  "It was such fun, you know; for some of them came
quite close to us.  I had a job to keep Daisy from going right into
the shallow water after one old fellow, who was sitting up on a kind
of plank."

"He was washing his face," explains Daisy in a husky little voice.

"He wasn't," says Bobby; "he was scratching his ear!"

"I don't believe they've got any ears to scratch," remarks Dick
placidly.  "You'd better pile it on, young Bob, and say he was wiping
his eyes with a fine cambric handkerchief."

"You should have been more careful, Dick," puts in Mrs. Merivale.
"You know how susceptible Daisy is to cold; and I'm sure we thought
you might be trusted with her."

The poor boy looks terribly taken down at this mild reproof, for his
devotion to his little sister is great, and there is nothing he would
not do for her sake.  He almost gulps, therefore, as he explains
further that he had tried in vain to make the child leave the spot
when once he had remembered how imprudent it was for her to be
standing there in the damp.

At this point there is an unexpected diversion, caused by Daisy
demanding to be put to bed--a most unprecedented request, it being,
as a rule, her one aim and object to keep _out_ of bed as long as
possible.

She is taken off, therefore, by Doris and Honor, having first kissed
Dick, and stroked his cheek with her feverish little hand, saying:

"It wasn't Dick's fault, you know.  I wouldn't come away from the
frogs when he wanted me to; so you mustn't scold him, mother, dear."

As the evening wears on the child seems to grow so much worse that
Honor consults her mother as to the advisability of sending for the
doctor; and in a short time Dick is despatched with a little note
begging him to look in as soon as possible.  He soon returns, with
the information that the doctor is expected in soon, and that the
note would be given to him at once.  The boy has hardly hung up his
cap in the hall when a firm, brisk step is heard on the gravel path
outside, and in another minute (the front door being open) Honor, who
is crossing the hall, finds herself shaking hands with the young
doctor in as friendly a manner as if she had known him all her life.

"I was out at rather an important case," he says, making for the
staircase as a matter of course, "when your brother left the note;
but I believe I caught sight of him just as he was leaving my place.
I was only half-way up that dreadful hill, and not near enough to
call to him, or I might have ridden on at once.  My horse was tired
though, and when I found there was no immediate hurry I thought I had
better walk up and see the little patient.  Is she in bed, Miss
Merivale?"

"Oh, yes," Honor replies, leading the way upstairs; "and as soon as
we got her into bed she became very feverish.  And she is dreadfully
restless, poor child.  I hope," stopping abruptly on the landing and
facing the doctor, "I do hope, Dr. Sinclair, there is no scarlet
fever about here.  She is so dreadfully flushed, and so thirsty that
Doris--Doris is my eldest sister--and I have been getting quite
nervous."

"Do not alarm yourself on that score," says the doctor reassuringly.
"I can honestly tell you that there has not been a case of scarlet
fever in this healthy village for years.  No; your little sister has
always looked to me a delicate child, and to tell you the truth I
have noticed lately that she has certainly become more fragile than
she seemed to be when you first came here.  We doctors notice these
things where others would not, perhaps.  Now for my little patient,"
and he walks into the room, closely followed by Honor, never noticing
the painful flush which his words have called to the poor girl's face.

"She has certainly become more fragile since you came here!"

Yes; these words fall on Honor's heart like lead, and cause it to
feel as heavy; for has it not been her constant and painful
reflection that ever since they left the old life poor little
delicate Daisy, with the exception of White-star's milk, has had very
little of the nourishing, strengthening food to which she has been
accustomed ever since her birth.

After a brief introduction to Doris, Dr. Sinclair makes a grave and
careful inspection of little Daisy.  Presently, with his cool firm
hand resting on the child's forehead, he turns to the girls, and
speaking in a slightly lowered voice he says:

"There is no danger of its being infectious fever of any kind.  She
is suffering from a severe form of low fever; a thing that with so
delicate a child is even more difficult to treat sometimes.  Her
constitution has completely run down, and she has no strength to
speak of at all.  Has she had no appetite?  What have you been giving
her to eat?"

Honor flushes again painfully as she answers in a low voice:

"She has had a good deal of milk lately, Dr. Sinclair; and sometimes
a little fowl--and--eggs, of course.  And Daisy is fond of
milk-puddings; and--and in fact she has a great many puddings of all
kinds--" and here the poor girl breaks off suddenly, feeling in her
heart that it is not a very extensive list of dainties she has
enumerated.

"But meat," says the doctor, turning smilingly towards Honor; "what
meat has she had?  She wants good steaks and chops and strong
beef-tea, jellies and a little good port, and that sort of thing.
Hasn't she cared for meat lately?"

The tears fill Honor's eyes and a lump rises in her throat, but she
swallows it down bravely; and turning a little away from the keen
eyes of the doctor, says sadly:

"My little sister used to have all these things in my father's
lifetime, doctor, but since he--since he died we have not been so
well off, and," with a pitiful little smile, "we have not been able
to afford all these nourishing things which we know dear little Daisy
ought to have."

Honor's face is almost as white now as it was flushed before, for the
effort to speak thus has been great.  She turns towards the window,
but before she can reach it the doctor is at her side with
outstretched hands.

"Forgive me," he says simply; "I had forgotten all your trouble.
Please forgive my careless, and what must have seemed to you, my
heartless words."

"Indeed," replies Honor gently, and accepting his proffered hand,
"there is no need of forgiveness.  You only spoke the truth, though
it sounded a little cruel at the moment; but it was my fault in being
so silly as to feel it," and she hastily wipes away two obstreperous
tears which have forced their way from beneath her lowered eyelids.

"It was my unfortunately straight way of speaking," resumes the
doctor moving towards the bed again; "speaking right out what I think
without considering the consequences."

"Unfortunate," repeats Honor, raising her eyebrows; "I should call it
a very good way of speaking.  I think it must be dreadful to lack the
courage to say what one really thinks."

"Oh, yes, of course," the doctor agrees; "but there are always two
ways of saying a thing, Miss Merivale; and I assure you I often get
myself into hot-water with my bluntness of speech, especially with
touchy old gentlemen whose ideas as to their ailments, either real or
imaginary, do not always agree with mine.  Now then, I will tell your
mother what to do for the little patient if you will take me to her,
and I will send round a draught directly I get home."

"Mother will be very pleased to see you, Dr. Sinclair, but please
give me all the necessary directions about Daisy.  Doris and I will
have to nurse her, so it will be better."

"Certainly.  But is your mother ill, then?"

"No, not _ill_ exactly," replies Honor truthfully; "but she is very
delicate and extremely nervous, and we, my sisters and I, always save
her all the trouble and anxiety that we can.  Indeed," she adds
hastily, seeing a slightly incredulous expression pass across the
young man's face, "she would not be strong enough to do _anything_ in
the way of nursing."

"Hum!" mutters the doctor grimly, and following Honor walks down to
the drawing-room, where Mrs. Merivale, with smelling-bottle close at
hand, is reclining on the sofa.  It does not take the clear-sighted
doctor long to sum up this lady's character.

"Full of fads and fancies," he thinks to himself as he stands, hat in
hand, answering the questions she puts to him concerning the state of
her little daughter.

So, preferring to make Honor responsible in all matters connected
with the sick-room, he takes his departure as speedily as politeness
will let him, saying as he shakes hands with her that he will look
round early in the morning.  By that time poor little Daisy is
considerably worse, the fever having increased greatly during the
night.  Dr. Sinclair looks grave, and thinking it better to be open
with his "sensible little friend," as he calls Honor to himself,
tells her plainly that the child will in all probability be seriously
ill.

"Do not alarm yourself unnecessarily as yet," he says kindly to her
and Molly, who with widely opened eyes is scanning his face
anxiously, "she is very young, of course, and although her strength
is at a very low ebb she will very likely pull through it quite
nicely.  It is wonderful what children do go through.  So we must all
cheer up and hope for the best."



CHAPTER XXII.

DAISY'S ILLNESS.

About an hour after the doctor has gone that morning the garden gate
is rather hastily opened, and there is a ring at the door-bell.  The
Mr. Talboys, in the last stage of anxiety, have arrived to inquire
about their little favourite.

"Now, my dear Miss Honor," they both cry, each seizing one of her
hands, "is there _nothing_ we can do--either for the poor child or
for yourselves, you know?  I am quite sure there must be something,
if we can only think of it.  Calves-foot jelly now, for instance.
Mrs. Edwards makes most delicious calves-foot jelly.  She shall make
some this very day--eh, Brother Ben?  Yes, we'll call at the
butcher's on our way home and see if they have any calves' feet, and
if not, why, they must kill a calf, that's all."

Then the two old gentlemen explain that they had met Dr. Sinclair in
the village, and he had told them about poor little Daisy--the first
they had heard of it; and so they had come right off to inquire
without delay.

"And now," says Mr. Benjamin, taking the initiative for once, "you
must remember your promise, Miss Honor, my dear, to let my brother
and myself know at once if you can think of anything--no matter
what--that we can do for you.  Now Priscilla, for instance.  Don't
you think she would be a help if we sent her over to you for a few
hours every day?  I don't mean actually for the nursing, but to give
assistance in a general sort of way in the house, you know.  She is a
good-natured, warm-hearted girl, is Priscilla, and I am sure would be
glad to turn her hand to anything--eh, Brother Ned?"

"Just so, just so," agrees Mr. Edward, planting his stick firmly on
the floor; "a very excellent idea, Brother Ben; but of course it is
to be exactly as Miss Honor thinks herself.  And now we must not
waste her time any more.  You will give Daisy the flowers, with our
love, and--oh, yes, I remember--the boy will be round by and by with
a few little things that we thought might be useful.  Good-bye,
good-bye!"

And before Honor has a chance of saying a word of thanks off the
brothers trot together, waving their hands smilingly to her as they
look back from the gate.

It is a long, long time, however, before poor little Daisy can touch
any of the tempting and strengthening things which the kind old
gentlemen are constantly sending up to the house, for she soon
becomes so much worse that a little of White-star's milk, with
soda-water, is almost all she lives upon for some time.  It is,
indeed, an anxious fortnight for all while Daisy--the pet and darling
of the household--lies so weak and helpless, and, in the intervals
between the attacks of fever, so patiently on her bed of sickness.
Her little frame is so wasted, and her weakness so great, that to
those watching around her it sometimes seems as if each breath drawn
might free the spirit from the little frail body.

Through all this period of sadness and trouble Dr. Sinclair proves
himself a most kind and untiring friend.  Indeed, before many days
are over the good-hearted young fellow is on perfectly familiar terms
with the whole family, and besides attending to his patient he looks
after each one individually, from Mrs. Merivale, whom he gets
gradually to like and pity, down to young Bobby, whom he finds on his
arrival one day prostrated with a violent bilious attack, an almost
inevitable consequence of his having taken both dinner and tea with
the Mr. Talboys on the previous day.  At length there comes a day
when the doctor looks even graver than usual as he stands by the bed
of his little patient, who has become in those weary days of watching
almost as dear to him as a little sister might have been.  And his
affection is warmly returned by Daisy, who looks forward with
feverish excitement to his every visit, lying with her great blue
eyes--now seeming so much larger in the thin, pale, little
face--turning ever towards the door, and gleaming with brightness the
moment the step of her "dear old doctor," as she calls him, is heard
outside.  Once in the room his presence has a singularly soothing
influence upon the child; and more than once has the sleepless, weary
little body succumbed to the almost magnetic touch of his large, cool
hand, when, resting it firmly but gently upon her forehead, he has
stood and watched the heavy eyelids droop and droop, until, if only
for a few minutes, his little patient sleeps.

Dr. Sinclair says very little as he makes his examination on this
particular morning.  But as Honor follows him downstairs he turns
into the empty sitting-room, and taking up his hat and stick from the
table suddenly faces her.

"Can you bear to hear the truth?" he asks abruptly.

Honor feels her heart tighten at these ominous words, but she meets
the doctor's keen inquiring gaze unflinchingly, and answers bravely:

"I would far rather know the worst than be kept in suspense."

Then the young man gently and pityingly tells her that the next
four-and-twenty hours will decide whether little Daisy will live or
die, and that almost everything will depend on the care and attention
she receives during that time.

"Do not be afraid for me," she says a little brokenly.  "I am not one
to give way, you know; and I am quite strong, and perfectly able to
sit up for many more nights yet.  When will you send the draught?"

"I shall not send it at all," he answers briefly.  "I would far
rather that this exhaustion should end, as I still hope it may, in a
healthy and natural sleep.  But sleep the child _must have_ somehow;
so I shall look in about five, and, with your permission, Miss Honor,
I shall remain during the night to help watch my little patient."

"Oh, how good of you!" exclaims the girl.  "It will be such a relief
to feel that I am not responsible, as it were; not that I am
afraid--please, don't think that."

Having thus arranged, the young man hurries off to get in all the
work he can before returning to the Rookery.  He has not got far on
his road, however, when suddenly turning a corner he runs straight
against the brothers Talboys, who are hurrying from the opposite
direction.  Before the doctor can open his mouth to speak, one has
seized the lapel of his coat and the other his arm, and
simultaneously they pant out the same question:

"How is she?  How have you left her?  My dear Dr. John, we have been
so anxious, and we have been watching for you this hour or more; we
felt we couldn't trouble the family by calling to inquire this
morning."  And Mr. Ned, who, it is needless to say, has quickly
out-distanced his brother in speaking, shakes the doctor's arm
roughly in his anxiety.

"I left the poor child in a very critical state, sir," he replies,
trying to conceal his impatience at being detained thus unexpectedly;
"but I am returning there at the end of the afternoon, and should
there be any change, either for better or worse, I will try and send
you up a message."

"Not for the worse, Dr. John?" repeats Mr. Ben, while both the kind
old faces express much emotion.  "You don't look for a change for the
worse, do you?"

"No, no, my dear sirs; God forbid that I should look for it.  But as
yet I cannot tell, though to-night must decide the case one way or
the other.  We will pull her through yet, Mr. Talboys, if it be God's
will; and if not--"

A lump rises in the young man's throat which prevents his finishing
his sentence, and shaking off Mr. Ben's detaining hand as gently as
he can, he tries to make his escape.  But Mr. Ned hurries after him,
and once more seizing his hand cries, with tears in his eyes:

"Save her, Dr. John! only save the child, and my Brother Ben and I
shall owe you a debt of gratitude that we can never sufficiently
repay."



CHAPTER XXIII.

DICK'S GOOD NEWS.

The message which Dr. Sinclair promised the Mr. Talboys is despatched
about ten o'clock the same night by his own errand-boy, whom he has
brought with him to the Rookery and installed in the kitchen, in case
of his wanting anything from his surgery during the night, as also to
make himself useful in any way that he can in the house, all Becky's
energies being concentrated on keeping the kitchen fire in.

The message is one that brings tears of joy and thankfulness to the
eyes of the soft-hearted old gentlemen, for it tells them that their
little favourite sank into a deep sleep about seven, and that if it
continues, as Dr. Sinclair hopes and thinks it will, all danger will
be at an end.

The old gentlemen retire to their beds, therefore, in a happier frame
of mind than that in which they had left them the same morning.  A
long, anxious night of watching follows, through most of which Dr.
Sinclair sits patiently, his large hand clasped tightly by Daisy's
little thin one, until he becomes too cramped almost to move, though
not all the agony in the world would have induced him to do so at the
risk of rousing his little patient.

But presently, with the dawn, comes the knowledge that the little
girl will live, for she still sleeps soundly.  It is only then that
Honor (on the doctor quietly persisting in her doing so) consents to
give up her place to Molly, and with a thankful heart she goes to
take the rest which, now that the suspense is over, she is obliged to
confess that she sadly needs.  As the doctor returns to his own house
that same morning, he looks in at the Rosery, and delights the two
old gentlemen with the good news he has to tell them.  Not very long
afterwards the brothers walk up to the Rookery together, but
declining to stir an inch beyond the doorstep, make their inquiries
of Doris--who comes out to see them--in a hushed, low voice, and
having intrusted her with the lovely posy of spring flowers which
they have brought for Daisy, go softly down the steps and gravel-walk
on tiptoe, that no sound may reach the room above, where lies the
little sufferer.

Daisy, now having taken a turn for the better, makes rapid progress
for a little while; but once having left her bed, an intense weakness
and lassitude set in which take the united strength of the whole
family to battle against.  For Daisy will not eat, unless someone
stands over her and compels her to do so.  She becomes fretful too;
and being too young herself to see the necessity of trying to take
the strengthening food that is brought to her at intervals, she gets
quite cross, telling them all plainly that it is very unkind to tease
her so, and that if she likes to give the greater part of her dainty
food to Timothy (who is always in close attendance at meal-times),
she doesn't see why she shouldn't.  So Mrs. Merivale implores, the
girls coax and persuade, and the doctor scolds a little sometimes,
till finding he must exert his authority, he proceeds to do so in a
manner which astonishes no one so much as the little lady herself.

The effort once made, Daisy's appetite improves little by little,
until at length she gives very practical illustration of that
sensible French proverb, "_L'appetit vient en mangeant_."

Every one (with the exception of Timothy, perhaps) is delighted with
this improvement, and it is now that Honor has reason to be so
grateful to the Mr. Talboys; for when once the little invalid is
sufficiently convalescent to take such things, jellies, both sweet
and savoury, strong soups, good old port (a hint as to which,
perhaps, Dr. Sinclair is answerable for), and, indeed, all the
nourishing things that can be thought of, are showered down upon the
household for little Daisy's benefit.

It is a subject for deep thankfulness to Mrs. Merivale and her elder
daughters that, in their days of adversity, they should have been
thrown amongst such generous, warm-hearted friends; for although no
one actually puts the thought into words, they all know full well in
their secret hearts that were it not for the generosity of their two
kind old landlords, little Daisy would never have thrown off the
terrible weakness which assailed her when the actual illness was a
thing of the past.

The day of the Messrs. Talboys' first visit to their little favourite
was an occasion to be remembered by all; so overcome with emotion
were they at first, and then so almost boyishly delighted when they
found that Daisy could manage to chat with them a little.  Both the
old gentlemen's handkerchiefs did active duty for a few minutes at
first, but they soon recovered their spirits in presenting the child
with the little gifts, with which, as a matter of course, they had
come laden.

The time allowed for the first visit soon slips away, however; but it
is arranged that directly Daisy is well enough to sit up for any
length of time, the Mr. Talboys shall come to tea with her one day.
They take their departure quite satisfied therefore, looking back and
nodding and smiling so many times that Mr. Ned, who is gradually
backing towards the stairs, is only saved from shooting headlong down
by Doris, who, appearing on the scene just at the critical moment,
grasps his arms and restores his balance before he knows where he is.

From this time the days go on monotonously enough.  The doctor comes
and goes, though not every day now, of course; and the two old
gentlemen trot backwards and forwards, always bringing something for
the little invalid, until her mother and sisters have to tell them
that they are fast doing their best to spoil their pet.

Household matters also go on very much as before; and now that the
greater trouble is lifted off their shoulders, the same little
everyday annoyances and vexations begin to harass and worry the girls
again.  Clothes wear out, especially boots and shoes.  Then Becky one
day, with her cap more awry even than usual in the excitement of the
moment, suddenly announces the startling and pleasing intelligence
that "There ain't no more coals in the cellar than what'll light the
kitchen fire to-morrow morning!"

Honor, too, begins to worry terribly about the entire cessation of
Dick's studies.  Daisy (before her illness) and Bobby, she and the
other girls could very well manage between them, but Dick they feel
to be altogether beyond them; and many an hour is spent by Honor at
night, tossing and turning, and wondering what can be done for the
boy.

One Saturday, when Daisy is promoted to the sofa in the sitting-room,
and, domestic work being over for the day, the others are all seated
delightedly round her with work, books, &c., Dick suddenly bursts
into their midst, wildly waving his cap in the air.

"Hooray!  hoo-ray!" he shouts.  "You'll never guess what news I've
brought you, not if you guess for a hundred years!  No more bothering
and thinking for you, Miss Honor, as to how you can contrive to get
your reprobate brother a decent education!  Hooray!" and up goes his
cap to the ceiling, greatly to the peril of the gas globes.

When the boy can be persuaded to calm down and talk like a reasonable
being, the good news is gradually extracted from him, and proves to
be as follows:--

The night before being Friday, and therefore practice-night at St.
Luke's, Dick had been prowling round the church as usual, in the hope
of having a musical treat from the organ, which in the hands of a
promising young musician (a native of the village), pealed forth
harmonies which flew straight to Dick's music-loving soul.  As he
entered the half-lighted church, and made for a secluded corner where
he was in the habit of enjoying the choir-practice unseen, he
suddenly ran full tilt against the vicar, who was emerging from the
vestry.

"Ah, my lad!" exclaimed Mr. Bolton, with a little gasp at the
collision; "have you come to listen to our practice?  Perhaps you
sing yourself, do you?"

"A little, sir," answered Dick shyly, as they moved more towards the
light together; "but I am _very_ fond of it," he added with
enthusiasm.

"Why, now I see you better," exclaimed the vicar suddenly, "I am sure
I know your face!  Don't you come with your sisters to church every
Sunday and sit just about there?" pointing with his stick.  "Ah, I
thought so; and I have noticed how very much you seem to enjoy the
music, and that you have a fine clear voice of your own."

And then it ended in Mr. Bolton asking him how he would like to join
the choir; and afterwards, greatly to his delight, he was actually
given a stall in the chancel and allowed to follow the choir as best
he could, one of the boys good-naturedly sharing his music-books with
him.  All through the practice Mr. Bolton kept a sharp look-out on
Dick, noting with what evident enjoyment the boy joined in anything
that he was familiar with, while listening with rapt attention to all
that he was not.

After it was all over he came up to the boy, who (the choir having
dispersed) was standing aloof, wondering whether he ought to thank
the vicar for his kindness, and placing his hand on his shoulder
kindly said, "I have asked Mr. St. John to stay behind after the
others have gone, I want him to try your voice;" and motioning to the
boy to wait, he disappeared into the vestry.

Mr. St. John, the organist, expressed himself delighted with Dick's
voice, and when at last after a little kind encouragement and
pressing on the part of the young man he sang with genuine feeling
and taste Handel's thrilling recitative, "There were shepherds
abiding in the field," the delight of both gentlemen knew no bounds.

After questioning the boy a little Mr. Bolton closed the interview by
telling him to come and see him on the afternoon of the next day.

"And now comes the cream of the whole thing!" cries Dick excitedly,
after having given the foregoing information in a series of short,
spasmodic sentences.

"After I had told Mr. Bolton that I most distinctly _should_ like to
join the choir, he asked me all the questions imaginable about my
education, and, oh, ever so many things that I can't remember now.
But to continue (as the books say), I let out that you were all
worrying about my schooling having to stop, and directly I said that
he quite brightened up, and told me that if I liked he thought he
could be of service to me about that.  It seems, you see, that he
generally gives his chief choir-boys about four pounds a year; but
that would not be of very much use to me, he said (I thought to
myself it just _would_, though).  And so he proposed that in return
for my services--my _services_, mind--he would carry on my education
with his own boy and the two pupils he has living at the vicarage.
'The more the merrier, my boy,' he said; 'and Mr. Holmes and I can as
well tackle _four_ as three youngsters like you.'  Mr. St. John is to
train my voice, of course; and now, which of you girls can make a
surplice?  And, oh yes, I forgot, Mr. Bolton is coming to see you
about it all to-morrow, mother.  There now! don't you think I have
done a good day's work?  _I_ do!"  And up goes the cap to the ceiling
once more.  "Ah! you little thought," he goes on, suddenly calming
down--"you little thought what I meant some time ago when I said I
had a plan in my head about something; but, honestly, you know, I
didn't expect it would turn out in this stunning fashion.  What I
intended doing was to offer myself for the choir, you see, because I
guessed they paid something, though I didn't know what.  And that is
the reason I have been going to the practices so much lately, trying
every time to screw up my courage to speak to Mr. Bolton.  But now, I
suppose, you girls and mother will all think the education plan the
best, though I must say I think it rather hard on a fellow.  But
still," he adds magnanimously, "if it takes a load off all your
shoulders, of course I shall be very glad."

It need hardly be said with what delight Dick's news is received by
every one, and as she lays her head upon her pillow that night, Honor
thinks of her brother's words, and feels that a "load" is indeed
lifted off her heavily burdened shoulders.



CHAPTER XXIV.

DORIS'S "KNIGHT OF THE WOODS."

It is a lovely, warm day at the beginning of June, and Doris, having
made the beds in conjunction with Molly, and afterwards drifted round
the rooms with a duster in a desultory sort of fashion which, had she
seen her, would have driven energetic Honor well-nigh crazy, presents
herself in the kitchen where her sister is engaged in certain
culinary matters.

"That soup smells good!" she remarks, as Honor, pepper-caster in
hand, gives a final stir round the saucepan over which she is
bending, and turns to confront her sister.

"There is not much in it besides the pea-flour, and a flavouring of
carrots and onions--oh, and the bacon bone, which has been stewing
ever since the early morning.  But it's cheap," Honor winds up with a
sigh; "and really Dick's and Bobby's appetites seem to grow larger
every day, to say nothing of Becky's!"

"Well, I came to tell you that I can not stay indoors any longer on
such a lovely morning as this.  I know it's no use asking you to come
too, because you would be certain to find some very good reason
against it.  So, as Molly is going to the vicarage to give Dolly
Bolton her lesson, I shall just take my book and go and sit in Lord
What's-his-name's woods for a time."

"He is not a lord, I tell you," says Honor rather testily, "any more
than you or I.  He is only a baronet.--Sir Something Somebody, I
forget what now.  It was only the other day that Mr. Edward Talboys
was pointing out the house (The Court, I think he called it) to me,
and he said that the owner was nearly always abroad, and that it had
been shut up for years in consequence."

"All the better for us," remarks Doris.  "Well, I'm off.  Good-bye,
Honor; if I find any flowers worth having, I'll bring you some."

Walking briskly along, Vic bounding forward in advance, elated at the
idea of a prolonged hunt, Doris and she soon come to the woods, and
climbing over a little stile, strike off down a path to the right
which they both seem to be familiar with.  Following this for some
distance, Doris turns suddenly to the left, and in another instant is
in the most lovely little glade imaginable.  The girls have named it
their "parlour," for it is carpeted with a rich emerald turf, which
is dotted over at intervals with numberless wild flowers of the
woods.  Several trees have been felled at this spot, and the
moss-covered stumps afford capital resting-places, especially one
stump, which has two straggling sort of boughs behind it, thus
forming quite an inviting arm-chair.

Opposite this is a curiously-shaped tree, which when once climbed
into makes a luxurious lounge for anyone who is lazily inclined.

There being no one to embarrass Doris on this particular occasion by
watching her ascent into the tree, she is established there in a very
few seconds, and ordering Vic (greatly to the animal's surprise and
indignation) to "lie down," she opens her book and leans back
comfortably in her leafy couch.  The minutes fly quickly, and the
book being an interesting one, Doris hardly raises her eyes from it
until a whole hour has sped away.  Not till then does she become
aware that Vic has entirely disappeared from view, and is not to be
heard any more than seen.  Doris sits up and looks round, with no
satisfactory result, however; and she is just screwing up her mouth
to whistle, when she is startled by a shrill cry away in the
distance, followed by a shout in a man's voice of "Drop it, drop it,
you brute!"

Then in another moment Vic, with a young rabbit in her strong jaws,
bursts through the thicket to the right, runs across the glade, and
is at once out of sight again.  She is closely followed by a tall,
broad-shouldered young fellow, who, while making one last abortive
attempt to rescue the unfortunate rabbit from its captor, catches his
foot in a straggling briar and measures his length on the soft turf,
almost at Doris's feet.

"Now or never!" thinks the girl to herself, preparing to descend--for
with an exclamation which would doubtless have been suppressed had he
guessed his close proximity to a lady, the young man commences to
pick up first himself and then his hat.

With a desperate jump Doris alights safely on the stump below; but,
as with a little less caution she prepares to leave that also, an
unkind branch above hitches itself into one of the bows of her hat
and whisks the whole erection off her head, so that when the young
man suddenly turns round he finds himself confronted by a hatless
young lady, who has apparently sprung from nowhere!  They both look
up at the hat, then they look at each other, and burst into a merry
laugh.

Lifting his hat, which he has just replaced on his head, the young
fellow says, "Really I must apologize for my very abrupt appearance.
I had not the least idea that anyone was here.  I hope I did not
startle you very much.  May I be permitted to inquire if you have
dropped from the clouds?"

Doris indicates with a wave of her hand the place from which she has
descended, and without paying attention to the words addressed to her
says, "O, I wish you had been a little quicker!  Do you think the
poor thing was dead?"

His manner changes the moment he sees the genuine anxiety in the
young face looking up at him, and he answers gently, "O, yes, I think
so, certainly; and even if not then, I am very sure it must be dead
now.  I wish too that I could have been quicker, though for my own
personal comfort I was rather disastrously so.  I am afraid it is no
use going after them now.  It is a game little dog: does it belong to
you?"

"Yes, the wretched little creature!  Who would have thought of her
going off hunting like that?  I told her to lie down too."

An amused twinkle comes into the young man's eyes.  "You could hardly
expect her to do that, I think," he says, "especially in a place like
this.  It would not be in dog's nature to do it, you know.  Have you
been here long?"

"Well, yes, I suppose I have," says Doris, glancing furtively at her
hat, which is wholly out of her reach.  "My book was interesting, and
I forgot all about time and Vic too.  I suppose it _was_ hardly
reasonable to expect her to keep quiet all that time."

"I think so," says her companion with a smile.  "Let me put in a word
for her and intreat your pardon on her behalf.  But dear me, how
thoughtlessly I am behaving! allowing you to stand bareheaded in the
sun and never making an attempt to recover your hat for you."

"It _is_ rather hot," remarks Doris somewhat reproachfully.  "The sun
penetrates even this shady nook after a time;" and then she watches
with keen interest the jumps and snatches which are being made at the
refractory hat.  "We call this our 'parlour,'" the girl goes on.
"Isn't it pretty here?  But I really think you had better get up on
one of those stumps.  I don't think you will ever get it down with
your stick."

This advice being followed, the hat is captured in due course of time
and handed to its owner.  Then jumping down he says, "O, your
'parlour' you call it?  Well, I am sure it is a very lovely one.  How
beautiful those shadows are!  Do you know these woods well? do you
often come here?"

"Yes, pretty often," replies the girl briskly.  "Have _you_ ever been
here before?"

"O yes, I know the place well; in fact I spent a good part of my
boyhood here.  Will you think me very unpardonably curious if I ask
your name, and how long you have been living in Edendale?  I know Sir
Charles Ferrars, and I don't remember his having ever spoken of any
new arrivals; and he generally keeps himself _au courant_ with the
affairs of the neighbourhood, though he seldom honours it with his
presence.  That is why I ask."

"No, I don't suppose he _would_ have spoken of us even if he had been
at the Court when we came here," says Doris a little bitterly.  "We
didn't arrive here with a flourish of trumpets exactly.  But I am not
paying attention to your questions.  My name is Doris Merivale, and
we have been here, let me see, rather more than four months, or
_about_ four, I think.  Now, I think you ought to tell me _your_
name.  One good turn deserves another, you know."

"Exactly.  My name is Ferrars--Lancelot Ferrars," he says carelessly
and a little absently.  "In fact I am a distant relation of Sir
Charles."

"Oh," says Doris, and subsides into silence.

"Merivale!" repeats Mr. Ferrars softly to himself.  "Have you an aunt
living in London, Miss Merivale, by name Lady Woodhouse?  I am sure I
have seen your face somewhere before, and I can only think that it
was in a frame on one of her tables."

"Very likely," remarks the girl sadly.  "She used to be rather fond
of talking about her eldest niece, who was to have been presented at
the first drawing-room this season.  Yes, she is our aunt.  And so
you know her?  Did she tell you of our come-down in the world?"

"She told me," says Mr. Ferrars, looking kindly at the flushed face,
which showed the girl's bitter thoughts and emotions, "of the sudden
misfortunes of a sister and her family--not of any _come-down_, as
you express it.  One need not necessarily come down with adversity,
you know."

Doris looks gratefully at him, then swallowing the lump in her throat
she says, trying to smile, "No, perhaps not; but it makes one very
cross and discontented, I think."

"Does it?  You do not look either the one or the other, so far as I
can see."

"O, you don't know what I am at home," says the girl shaking her head
gloomily.  "Now, although I have certainly enjoyed my morning out
here, I have an uncomfortable sort of feeling (conscience, I suppose)
that I ought to be at home domesticating.  But I am not above
confessing that I cordially _hate_ anything of the kind; and so I was
wicked and played truant and left poor Honor to do all the work by
herself."

"Honor!--what a pretty name!" says Mr. Ferrars, while he
industriously peels off the bark from a little stick.  "Is she your
domestic?"

Doris breaks into a rippling laugh.  "Honor is my sister," she says,
"and the dearest old girl in the world."

"Is she much older than you?"

"Older?---she is _younger_ than I am!" exclaims Doris, fairly
laughing out this time.

"I beg your pardon," begins Mr. Ferrars, looking a little vexed, "but
I thought I understood you to say 'old girl' in reference to your
sister just now."

"O, yes, I daresay I did," replies Doris checking her laughter; "but
that is a way we all have of speaking of her.  She seems like a
little mother to us all, and appears to take a delight in all those
things which _I_ hate.  Honor has always been the industrious one of
the family, and it was just the same in the school-room.  Miss Denny
(our late governess) used to complain dreadfully of my laziness over
my lessons; and although I was supposed to be 'finished,' and was
going up to town for my first season, I am _sure_ I couldn't speak a
whole sentence in French without at least two mistakes.  I used to
tell them all not to bother about me, because I had made up my mind
to marry a duke after I was presented and had 'come out;' then, you
see, I could have done just as I liked, and should always have had
everything done for me."

"You couldn't have had French spoken for you though," objects Mr.
Ferrars smiling up at the girl, who is seated in state in the
arm-chair; "and I fancy even a duchess would sometimes be called upon
to speak another language than her own.  Would _nothing_ less than a
duke do?"

Doris shakes her head solemnly.

"I had _quite_ made up mind to be a duchess, nothing more nor less.
But that is all at an end now," she adds with a little sigh.  "I
suppose I shall remain plain Doris Merivale to the end of my days."

"O, I don't know; why should you?"

"Well, you see, all chance of a duke or anybody of that sort is quite
at an end now, and no ordinary person would care to have me."

"Why not?"

"Because I am such a useless sort of girl.  Now, Honor, and even
Molly (Molly is another of my sisters), would I think make good wives
for poor men, because they seem to be able to turn their hands to
anything, whereas every single thing I undertake, no matter what it
is, is bound to fail.  No, it's no use.  I must make a good marriage
or live and die an old maid.  Aunt says that is all I am fit for, and
she ought to know."

"Which, a good marriage or an old maid?" the young man inquires
mischievously.

Doris suddenly stops and laughs.

"What dreadful nonsense I am talking!" she says half apologetically,
and blushing a little.  "I never can stop myself when I once begin,
and I get dreadfully scolded at home for it.  It is really quite an
event to have someone to talk to though, out of the family I mean;
and we are so horribly dull at home.  I hope you don't think me
dreadfully silly?"

"Silly! why should I?" says Mr. Ferrars kindly.  "On the contrary I
like to hear anyone talking naturally, and I assure you I have been
very much interested in all that you have told me.  Are you fond of
pictures?"

"Yes; that is, I like looking at them _very_ much, but I don't
understand them in the least.  Honor is the one for that sort of
thing."

"Does your sister paint, then?"

"Yes, she really paints well, I believe; and just before poor father
died, and we became so horribly poor, she was going to have lessons
from some good artist.  But of course it all came to nothing.  Poor
Honor was bitterly disappointed."

"I am _sure_ she must have been," says Mr. Ferrars feelingly.  "I
know what I would have felt under the circumstances."

"Why, do _you_ paint, then?" inquires Doris, opening wide her bright
blue eyes.

"Yes, oh yes; I paint a little," he answers smiling.

"Then you are an artist, I am sure!" exclaims the girl eagerly.  "I
was trying to settle in my own mind whether you were in the army or
an artist.  I was sure it was one of the two.  Ah, you wretched
little creature, here you are at last!"

This last remark is addressed to Vic, who with depressed tail and
ears has suddenly appeared before them, looking guilty to the last
degree.

"Don't scold her now, poor creature!" says Mr. Ferrars, stroking the
dog's head encouragingly.  "You promised to let her off, don't you
remember?"

"Very well," says Doris, "I'll forgive her this time.  Good
gracious!" she exclaims after a little pause, "just look where the
sun has got to.  Why it must be one o'clock or more!"

"It is a quarter past," says Mr. Ferrars consulting his watch; "and
that reminds me if I don't put my best foot foremost I'll not catch
my train."

"Are you leaving Edendale then?"

"Yes, I am only passing through the place; but I could not resist
taking a walk in the woods on this lovely morning.  Are you in a
hurry too?"

"My goodness, yes!" exclaims Doris excitedly, "I ought to have been
home ages ago."

"I am so sorry," says Mr. Ferrars holding out his hand, "that I
cannot accompany you home; but I fear it is impossible.  I shall hope
to meet you, however, some day at your aunt's.  Good-bye, and thank
you for the pleasant hour's talk we have had, and which I have
thoroughly enjoyed."  And first stooping to pick up Doris's book from
the grass, on which it has been lying unnoticed ever since it fell
there, he lifts his hat and walks away at a brisk pace, looking back
once, before he turns off the path, to smile and wave his hand to her.

"A nice unaffected little girl," thinks Lancelot Ferrars to himself
as he walks quickly towards the station.  "I hope I shall see her
again some day, poor child!"

And Doris, as she calls Vic to follow her, says softly to herself,
"Lancelot!  Lancelot Ferrars!  What a pretty name!  And what a nice,
gentlemanly fellow he seems.  Just the sort of man poor father would
have liked, I think.  I wonder if I shall ever see him again.  I
suppose not."



CHAPTER XXV.

HONOR ANSWERS AN ADVERTISEMENT.

When Doris gets home she finds them all seated at dinner, partaking
of the pea-soup, which appears to be popular.  Honor and Molly seem
to be rather elated about something concerning themselves, and Doris
is inclined to be put out at the scant attention they give to the
account of her adventure in the wood.

Only Dick and Mrs. Merivale appear at all interested in her story;
the former beginning without loss of time to tease his sister about
her "knight of the woods."  When there is once more a little quiet,
it transpires that the postman has arrived in Doris's absence, and
besides bringing letters for Mrs. Merivale and Molly, from Hugh
Horton, telling them of his having obtained his commission, and of
the probability of his leaving soon for Ireland after all, there is
one for Doris from her aunt, and also a newspaper with an
advertisement marked with a large cross in red ink, to which Lady
Woodhouse begs Honor will give her particular attention.

This is to the effect that persons with any knowledge of painting can
easily earn a pound weekly, by painting on tin--the latest novelty in
art, and greatly in demand.  Then the advertisement goes on to say
that by applying at a certain place in the town, those desirous of
taking up this very remunerative employment can be instructed in this
branch of art in two lessons, at one-and-six each.

"So you see I have made up my mind to go and inquire about it all
this very afternoon if I can get away," says Honor folding up the
paper.  "Just think, if I can earn a pound a week, what a difference
it will make to us!  With that and what Molly makes by her teaching,
we shall really be getting along quite famously.  O, and that reminds
me: have you told Doris about your probable new pupil, Molly?"

"No, but I was just going to.  It seems that some new people have
taken the house opposite the Vicarage, and Mr. Bolton has spoken to
them about me.  There are several children, I believe, and he seems
to think that if I get the eldest girl on well (if I have her at all,
that is) I may have the others when they are old enough.  I fancy
they are not very aristocratic sort of people: retired bakers or
something, but they have lots of money, so I shall hope to get good
terms.  I shall have to bring all the dignity I can muster to the
fore, I expect, for Mr. Bolton said in his quaint, quiet way that he
was 'afraid they were not very good children from all he heard;' so
if he confesses to that much you may depend upon it they are pretty
bad.  I am going to call on Mrs. Hallam, that is the bakeress's name"
("_Molly!_" exclaims her mother), "to-morrow," continues that young
lady unmoved, "so then I shall know all about them.  O, by the by,
Hugh says he shall very likely run down to-morrow afternoon.  What
does aunt say, Doris?"

"Aunt?" says Doris, who has been absently looking out of the window.
"Oh, she tells me she may want me to join her next week; but uncle's
business is still a little uncertain, so it may not be till the week
after.  She has sent me five pounds to get myself a few new things.
Kind of her, isn't it?"

"O, you lucky girl!" exclaims Molly.  "How I wish someone would give
me five pounds to rig myself out with!"

"You will be _earning_ as many soon, Molly, and that will be better,"
says Doris with a little flush.  "If I were not such a poor useless
creature I might be at home doing something too, instead of going
away from everybody for ages!" and to everyone's surprise the girl
suddenly bursts into tears.

The general consternation caused by this unexpected end to the
conversation does not prevent plenty of loving sympathy being shown
towards Doris.  Poor little light-hearted Doris! who, though
overwhelmed with joy at first at the prospect of travelling, now
discovers down in the depths of her soft little heart a feeling which
amounts to nothing less than dismay, now that she is brought face to
face with the fact that before many more days have passed over her
head she will have to say good-bye to the mother, sisters, and
brothers from whom she has never before been separated beyond a week
or two.

Molly comes to the rescue presently with one of her short, practical
remarks, having first suppressed Dick, whom she--not Doris
fortunately--has heard to mutter something to the effect that his
sister "is fretting because she will never see her 'knight' again."

"Well now, cheer up, my girl," she says briskly.  "Eighteen months or
even a couple of years will slip round and carry you with them before
you have time to look about; and just think what an awfully jolly
time we shall all have when you come home again!  Now," proceeding
coolly to tuck up her frock and pin it behind her, "who's coming with
me to help Becky clear away the dinner things and prevent her
smashing them all?  O, dear me, Dick, how you do worry!  _Do_ go out;
there's a good boy.  Now, Honor, if you want to catch that next train
you had better be off to dress.  We will leave mother and Daisy to
rest quietly together, and Doris will come with me, won't you?"

Thus running on she carries her sister off with her, and it is not
long before plenty of laughter is heard from the regions of the
kitchen, Becky having retired into the depths of the wood-cellar to
black Honor's boots.

No. 3 Prospect Road, which is the address given in the advertisement,
does not look a very flourishing sort of place in Honor's idea.
There are a few little insignificant pictures in the window, chiefly
water-colour and crayon drawings, very indifferently executed; a
portrait of a severe-looking lady, half of it very dark, half
restored presumably to its former state; some frames, looking rather
the worse for wear; and a few artists' colours scattered about
indiscriminately.  Behind these a dirty-red curtain is drawn, giving
a sort of private air to the interior of the shop.

Honor had expected to see some imposing studio, where perhaps
photography was carried on also, and it is with a feeling of
disappointment that she turns the handle of the door, after having
looked once more at the advertisement to make sure she has made no
mistake.

As the girl enters the shop, a fat little man emerges from behind
some lumber which is piled up at the other end, and coming forward
and rubbing his hands begins to talk very quickly, with a strong
German accent.  Gesticulating and chattering the whole time, Mr.
Nathan (that being this gentleman's name) proceeds to show Honor some
specimens of the painting on tin, which are certainly very pretty.
Some, about a foot square, representing charming little winter
scenes, consisting merely of a foreground of snow, innumerable firs,
a frozen stream with a rustic bridge, a church, through the windows
of which a comfortable-looking red light streams, and a background of
peaky snow-clad hills.  Others represent waterfalls, with the usual
surroundings, and others are simple rustic scenes.

Now, Honor is quick enough to see that beyond the knowledge of
preparing the tin for the application of the colours, there is no
instruction needed at all; at least for herself, and in the course of
conversation she is more than once led to suspect that she knows more
about painting than Mr. Nathan himself.  So she plainly tells the man
that the two lessons mentioned in the advertisement will not be
required in her case, and that if he will supply her with the tin,
and tell her the secret of the preparation, that will be all she
needs, finishing up with the inquiry of how many little pictures he
expects her to do for the stated pound a week.

"I have everything else that I require," says Honor, anxious to
conclude the bargain.  "You will see by these that I know something
about painting;" and with very pardonable pride she places before the
astonished little man several sketches which her former master, who
was no mean artist, had pronounced "excellent."

Mr. Nathan looks with supreme and undisguised astonishment first at
the sketches and then at Honor.  Then he pulls himself together, and
with many "hums" and "haws" and waves of the hands he says, "But
pardon me, my dear young lady, will you be so obliging as to look
once again at my advertisement, which I fear you do not rightly
comprehend?--or stay, I have a paper here;" and running his dirty,
fat forefinger down one of the columns he at length stops and points
out to Honor the words, "One pound a week may be earned," &c. &c.
"You see, mees, it does not say I myself will give one pound.  I give
two lessons, one-and-six each; then my pupils paint the views, four,
six, what they please, and I put them in my window and on my counter,
so; then customers will come, and one will say 'I will buy this,' and
another 'I will buy that.'  And sometimes many are sold, and
sometimes also _none_.  It depends much"--with a little shrug--"on
the merit of the painting, without doubt; and therefore, my dear
young lady, yours would sell well, _ve-ry_ well, I should say.  The
commission I charge is not much, and--"  But here Honor, who begins
to see through the old impostor, interrupts him, and moving towards
the door says, "Thank you, I think it is useless to continue the
conversation.  I understood from your advertisement that you could
offer employment for which you would give certain payment.  But it
seems to me," she adds with justifiable warmth, "that the only
_certain_ part in the matter is the fact that your possible pupils
would be paying _you_ for the two lessons, which I notice are made
rather a point of in the advertisement.  Good-afternoon!"  And poor
Honor, trembling with suppressed indignation and disappointment,
hurries out of the shop and is out of sight before the old man can
recover from his astonishment.  Thoroughly disgusted and discouraged
by the result of her expedition to the town, poor Honor gets back to
the station with all possible speed, and before long is safely
ensconced in a corner of a third-class carriage, where, finding
herself alone, she indulges in a good cry, which somewhat relieves
her feelings; though she cannot, poor girl, forget the dreadful fact
that the three shillings expended on her fare there and back have
been utterly wasted and thrown away.  She has dried her eyes again,
and is trying, with her usual common sense, to reconcile herself to
the loss, which cannot now be helped, when suddenly, just as the
train is about to start, the door of the compartment is flung wide
open, and a stout little elderly gentleman shoots past her right to
the end of the seat opposite, while a good-natured-looking porter,
who is standing on the step closing the door, says, touching his cap,
"There weren't no time for the 'firsts,' sir; they be right at the
other end."  "Thank you, thank you," gasps the old gentleman, sitting
up and straightening his hat, "this will do very nicely, very nicely
indeed.  Dear me, now, what a fortunate, I may say providential
thing, that my brother was not with me!  Why, bless my soul, if it's
not Miss Honor!"  And leaning forward Mr. Edward Talboys, for he it
is, seizes the girl's two hands and shakes them up and down in such a
kind, affectionate manner that Honor, still feeling a little
hysterical, has hard work to keep her tears from rising again.  "And
now," says Mr. Ned, who, though he appears not to do so, notices the
girl's pale cheeks and swollen eyelids--"now, you must tell me where
you have been and what you have been doing.  Wait a minute, I mean to
have a guess.  You have been, perhaps, to see your kind old friend
Mrs. Horton? or perhaps that very excellent old gentleman Mr.
Dobson--no, Hobson, who came down with you when you paid your first
visit to the Rookery?"  Honor smiles and shakes her head.  "Then
perhaps," says the old gentleman, with his head on one side, "you
have been doing a little shopping?"

"No, not shopping, Mr. Talboys," says the girl with a tremulous
voice; and then, longing for a little sympathy, she tells the whole
history of the advertisement from beginning to end.

Mr. Ned works himself into a regular heat over the story, and for
some time Honor scarcely knows which predominates--indignation at the
man or pity for herself.  First he is for taking the next train back
again and giving Mr. Nathan "a good round piece of his mind," as he
expresses it.  Then he calms down a little, and shaking his head
solemnly, says, "A hoax, my dear--nothing but a rascally hoax to
extort money.  You may see the advertisements every day in some form
or another.  The paper is full of them.  Now, if only you had come
and asked our advice about it.  But dear me, how should a young girl
like you know that there are such cheating rogues in the world!"
Then, after a few more remarks of a similar character, Mr. Talboys
leans back in his seat for a while quite lost in thought, and it is
not until they are nearing the little station of Edendale that he
rouses himself again.

He startles Honor, who has also been wrapped up in her own thoughts,
by suddenly leaning forward and saying, "Now, can you find time, my
dear, to run up to us to-morrow morning--any time, any time after
breakfast that is convenient to yourself, you know?  I am inclined to
be interested in this painting on tin of which you have been telling
me, and I should like to know more about it.  I should like my
brother Ben to hear something about it too.  With his artistic taste,
I am sure he will be deeply interested in the subject.  Now, what
time would you like to fix, Miss Honor,--shall we say eleven?  Are
you _quite_ sure that will be convenient?"  Honor satisfying Mr.
Talboys on this point, they part outside the station gates; and while
the old gentleman trots off to the village on some
suddenly-remembered business, Honor, with a heart lightened and
cheered by his kindness and sympathy, goes her way towards home.



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE MR. TALBOYS RESORT TO STRATEGY.

On arriving at the Rosery the next morning Honor finds the two old
gentlemen waiting in the garden to receive her, both in an unwonted
state of excitement.  For they have been arranging a little plot
together, which they are burning to disclose (partially) when the
right moment shall arrive.

Mr. Edward had gone home the evening before with his thoughts running
on the tin painting, and pinning his brother Ben by the button-hole
without loss of time he told him of a plan which he had thought of
for Honor's benefit, and which only required discussion with him, Mr.
Benjamin, to be carried into instant effect.

"And although I should still like to break Mr. Nathan's head with
this stick," says Mr. Edward to his brother, and shaking the said
stick menacingly, "I cannot help feeling grateful to the rogue, Ben,
for having, as it were, paved the way for our helping Miss Honor,
poor child, in a manner which cannot possibly hurt her feelings.
That was a good thought of yours, Ben, a capital thought, about
Spaull the picture-dealer.  If this tin painting is to come into
vogue for a time--and I suppose it will from what Miss Honor said--he
will be just the man to place the paintings with; and of course we
must bind him over to strict secrecy as to our part in the business,
eh, Ben?" and Mr. Ned nudges his brother playfully with his stick.

"Yes," answers Mr. Benjamin, nodding and smiling.

"Why, bless me," adds Mr. Ned, "we shall have to do quite a nice
little piece of acting.  But here comes Miss Honor.  Now we shall see
what she says to our plan.  Mind you must be very careful, Ben, not
to let the cat out of the bag--you run on at such a rate sometimes,
you know; and it would never do for her to think we were paying for
the paintings in the first instance, though of course it will be
quite the same to us when Spaull refunds the money."  And here they
trot forward to open the gate for Honor, who has just reached it.

After inquiring rather breathlessly as to the welfare of the roses at
the Rookery, and Molly's real, honest opinion about them, they dash
straight into the subject of the painting.

"We have been talking it all over, Brother Ben and I, and it seems to
us that with your gift for painting, my dear, you might make a very
nice thing of this.  Now, we happen to know a man in the
picture-dealing trade, a Mr. Spaull, a most respectable man, who
would be just the very person to suit our purpose; and what we
propose--"

"Yes, what we propose," repeats Mr. Ben, nodding at Honor.

"Is," resumes Mr. Ned, "that you shall paint so many pictures,
varying in size and style perhaps, for a fixed price, which will be
paid--be paid by--by--"

"By the _party_," says Mr. Ben, frowning a little at his brother.

"Exactly--by the party," repeats Mr. Ned.

"Mr. Spaull," quietly suggests Honor with a smile.

"Just so, just so--Mr. Spaull, of course!" cry both the brothers
together.  "Dear me, how very warm it is this morning!" continues Mr.
Ned.  "Did I say that this--er, this _person_ would pay for the
pictures at once, on completion, you know? and sell them at his, that
is to say, Mr. Spaull's convenience?"  And Mr. Ned, concluding rather
abruptly, looks helplessly towards his brother for encouragement.

"The fact is," remarks Mr. Ben, coming nobly to the rescue, "my
brother is apt to become a little confused when speaking of this
firm.  There are partners--"

"Yes, yes; partners!" cries Mr. Ned delightedly.  "Two partners!"

"_Three_," corrects Mr. Ben; "although only the one name, that of
Spaull, appears.  I think my brother wants you to go up to the town
with him to-morrow, to the proper art shop there, where, he says, you
can provide yourself with the necessary materials, and get what
information you require respecting the preparation of the tin at the
same time."

"Yes, that is exactly what I mean, my dear Miss Honor," says Mr. Ned,
nodding approvingly at his brother.  "And while you are seeing to
_your_ business, _I_ will go and have a talk with Mr. Spaull.  You
see, I think it will be so much more pleasant if you transact your
business with him _through_ me, as it were.  So what do you say to
going with me to-morrow?  When I say 'me,' of course I mean _us_.
Brother Ben will like to give his opinion as well, I am sure, and we
all know what a valuable one it is on a subject like this.  Don't we,
Ben?"

It is useless to try to describe poor Honor's delight and gratitude
at this kind thought of her old friends.  As they all go down the
little drive together, she tries to say a few words of thanks, first
to one, and then to the other; but the brothers have so much to say
on their own account that she cannot get a word in edge-ways.  When
they reach the gate, Mr. Benjamin takes Honor's hand, and tapping Mr.
Edward on the shoulder with his walking-stick, says:

"My brother here is taking such an active part in the management of
this little affair, that I hope, my dear, you will allow _me_ to
purchase for you all the materials which you are likely to require;
merely as a set off against his part in the business, you know," he
adds hastily, "for I can see plainly that he will become quite
conceited if he has _everything_ his own way."

Honor, with her almost over-scrupulous objection to accepting
anything which actually costs money, hesitates a moment, but she sees
such a look of disappointment creeping over the old man's countenance
that she quickly changes her mind, and thanks him for his kindness
with such a beaming face as to effectually set at rest any fears he
may have had at first of having offended her.

As Honor walks home she takes herself to task about what some people
have called her _fault_ of independence.

"I wonder whether I _do_ carry it too far sometimes," she says to
herself.  "Mother and Molly say I do, and Molly at any rate has a
very fair amount of independence in _her_ composition.  I suppose if
shown too much it amounts to ungraciousness, as I know it did with
dear Mr. Ben just now, though I do hope I made up for it afterwards.
Yes, I suppose I overdo it sometimes; and I know Dr. Sinclair thought
so the other day, when he spoke so kindly of there being plenty of
time for sending in his bill.  I _know_ I answered him ungratefully,
and as if we had ten thousand a year at least, when he knows just as
well as I do, I daresay, that ten thousand pence is much nearer the
mark.  I felt what an idiot I had made of myself, with my nasty,
false pride; for where in the world the poor man is to get his money
from at all _I_ can't see, unless anything really comes of this
painting and I can save up.  Yes, it is all very well; but where, I
wonder, would I have got the money for the tin and things, if good
old Mr. Ben had not taken it upon himself to buy them.  I am sure I
am thankful enough now that he told me he would, especially after
wasting those three shillings yesterday.  O, dear me, I hope the Mr.
Talboys know how grateful I am to them!  I wonder what would have
become of us all since we came here if it hadn't been for them.  Ah,
well!  I must try and remember in future that real, proper
independence is a perfectly different thing from the feeling which I
know has been growing on me lately, and which I am _sure_ now is
false pride.  Aunt was quite right in what she said to me the other
day; I am afraid I do not consider the feelings of others enough
sometimes."

Therefore it comes about that Honor has a softened manner with her
from this time.  Not that it is in the girl's nature ever to be
anything but gentle and kind to every one around her.  But,
nevertheless, there is a _something_ different now which causes her
mother to say, "Ah, poor girl! anyone can see what a load is lifted
from her shoulders, now that she has the prospect of making a little
money."

And Doris says to Molly one day, "Honor is not so excruciatingly
particular in the spending of a penny or so as she used to be, is she
Molly?  Poor old girl!  I'm afraid the struggle to make the best of
our poverty has been a hard one for her---harder than we think, I
expect, for she is not one to _say_ much, you know.  She never talks
openly about what she feels, as some people do."

"No," says Molly.  "Honor's a little brick, there's no doubt about
that; and it is plain to see that this painting, for which she is
sure to be properly paid, is an immense relief to her mind."

It is now that the attic which the Horton boys had taken such pains
to fit up, comes to be thoroughly appreciated.

Honor and the Mr. Talboys have paid their visits respectively to the
ironmonger's (where Mr. Benjamin was with difficulty prevented from
purchasing a whole roll of tin), to the art material shop, and to Mr.
Spaull's the picture-dealer.  To this last, however, Mr. Edward
preferred going alone, telling his brother with a very palpable nod
and wink that he is sure Miss Honor will like to have a look at the
shops, and that it will save time, therefore, if they separate for a
while.

Well supplied with everything she can possibly need, Honor now
snatches every spare moment and spends it in the "studio," painting
away with an energy which Doris and Molly declare takes their breath
away.  Sometimes Daisy sits up there, cosily curled up in the most
comfortable arm-chair.  But this does not happen very often, as the
smell of the oils and turpentine turn the child faint.

Molly, however, who has taken to "reading herself up," as she calls
it, is often up there, and may be found in her favourite attitude
when particularly absorbed in anything--her elbows planted on the
table, and her fingers buried in her hair.

Doris at this time is much taken up with needlework, her five pounds
having been expended chiefly in materials for underclothing, boots
and shoes, and other really necessary things for a prolonged visit
abroad.

"I would far rather your aunt found you a little badly off as regards
dresses or hats, than in linen and such things," said Mrs. Merivale
sensibly.  "Your aunt is a generous woman, and if she finds that her
present has been wisely spent, I do not suppose she will let you
suffer in the matter of dresses."

So between them all they had managed to cut out these garments, and
Mrs. Merivale and Doris are busily engaged in making them, with
occasional assistance from the others.

Doris, therefore, is often to be found upstairs also; and Honor and
Molly, having suddenly awakened to the necessity of their sister
being able upon her arrival on foreign shores to say a sentence or
two in French without utterly disgracing herself, they form a sort of
class, which Doris (under protest) is made to join.

"And for one whole mortal hour," said Doris, complaining to Hugh
Horton afterwards, "did we sit like three noodles, hammering away at
French conversation, Molly with a huge dictionary at her elbow, and
both she and Honor pretending they liked it.  You may imagine that
_my_ remarks were few and far between.  They call it 'rubbing up' my
French, you know; and I'm sure it is all labour thrown away, for all
the rubbing up in the world, even with the best French polish, would
never make me express myself decently in any language but my own.
And to tell you the truth, Hugh," lowering her voice, "I am not
always so _very_ confident of doing that.  It's dreadfully shocking,
of course, but none the less true."

And so there is often quite an industrious party to be found up in
the attic studio, with the windows wide open, letting in the sweet
soft air, laden with the scent of the rich grass (so soon to fall
beneath the scythe), and the multitudes of early summer flowers; and
the girls feel that they are happier in their busy useful life, even
though there are still crosses and trials for all to bear at times,
than in former days, when living a life of luxury and ease.  There is
one never-to-be-forgotten sorrow which all share, however, and though
some time has elapsed now since their kind and indulgent father
passed away, his memory is still as fresh as ever in their young
minds.  It is, indeed, a common thing with them all, even still, to
study what probably would have been his wishes in settling little
matters concerning their own affairs, saying to themselves, "I wonder
if father would have approved," or "I think that would have pleased
father," showing, therefore, that the good influence of his gentle
though firm training still remains with them.



CHAPTER XXVII.

TWO DEPARTURES.

The month of June goes on auspiciously both out-of-doors and in at
the Rookery.  Besides having brought the rose-trees to a state of
perfection, which charms and delights the Mr. Talboys beyond measure,
Molly has secured not only one, but two of the retired baker's
daughters for music pupils.  Indeed, Mrs. Hallam is so charmed with
the progress that Violet and Lilian (who are really musical by
nature) are making in the hands of their clever little instructress,
that she, Molly, is promised the whole family (which is numerous) in
succession so soon as each one becomes old enough.

To be sure, Violet and Lilian Hallam give poor Molly a good deal of
trouble between them, their tempers being anything but sweet; but she
is not a girl to brook the slightest disrespect or impertinence from
anyone, much less from a child who is under her own control for the
time being.  The consequence is, that having found this out for
themselves in their very first lesson, and discovered that their
usual method of treating their governess is not practicable in Miss
Merivale's case, they take it out of each other.  On duet days
especially they often actually come to blows, and on these occasions
the music, it is to be feared, sometimes obtains scant attention;
Molly's whole time being taken up in preventing the sisters from
doing one another an injury.

Their mother they rule with a rod of iron.  The head nurse, who has
been with Mrs. Hallam since the birth of her first child, is in a
chronic state of giving notice, though she is generally persuaded
into staying on by her master and mistress, and yet the young rebels,
though such termagants in a general way, have at heart warm and
affectionate natures.  Not one governess has ever been known to stay
beyond the first quarter, so that Mrs. Hallam, coming suddenly into
the room one day and seeing her daughters hanging round Molly, to
whom they have taken an immense fancy, throws up her hands in
amazement.

"I cannot think how you manage them so well, Miss Merivale!  You
never give way to them, and yet they always seem as docile as lambs
with you, and they are so fond of you too!  I never can get them to
attend to a word _I_ say.  Their father is the only one in the house
that can manage them."

Molly smiles, and while pinning on her hat mutters something about
their mother being "too indulgent perhaps."  She does not say what is
really in her mind, however, that the very fact of her not giving way
to her obstreperous pupils is probably the reason that they are
better behaved with her than anyone else.

Besides the Hallams, Molly has one or two other pupils in prospect,
so that before long she hopes to help very considerably with the
household expenses.  As it is, indeed, she contributes a nice little
sum from time to time, her pride and delight being unbounded when,
having completed her first course of lessons to Dolly Bolton, she
brings home her first earnings and pours the little pile of money
into Honor's lap.

Honor also is now making a steady little income every week by her
painting on tin, which has become most popular, especially in the
immediate neighbourhood.  Besides the stipulated number of landscapes
for Mr. Spaull, which are taken up at stated intervals by Mr. Edward
Talboys with most elaborate care, Honor has a good many odd orders;
for the old gentlemen were so charmed and delighted with the effect
of the pretty little scenes that they immediately made a round of
calls, with a view to showing their specimen to all their friends and
perhaps getting some pupils for their _protégé_.

The time is now rapidly drawing near when Doris is to join her aunt
in town, previous to their departure for the Continent.

The weather having taken a capricious fancy to be extremely hot, in
fact more like late July or August than June, the girls sit
out-of-doors a great deal with their work and their books.

Although no one speaks openly of it, there is a feeling with them all
that Doris cannot be made too much of in these last few days before
her long separation from them.  Doris's pillow is often wet with the
tears which she quietly sheds at night, when she thinks Honor is
asleep, at the thought that to-morrow will bring her one day nearer
to the parting she so much dreads.

Time marches on, however, in his inexorable fashion, and the last day
having really come, all go about their work with an elaborately
indifferent air, each one making heroic efforts to keep up for the
others' sake.  The whole family (with the exception of Mrs. Merivale,
who has taken leave of her daughter at home quietly) is now standing
by the door of a third-class compartment in the London train, in
which Doris, surrounded by small packages, is standing up, with
tear-bestreamed face, a large smut on her forehead, and a general
limpness which extends itself to the handkerchief in her hand, which
just now is doing double duty as it were, as are those of all the
others.

Doris has been kissed by each one in turn several times, and the
usual last questions have been asked and answered, and now the guard
comes along with his key, and having locked the door quietly moves
them all back a little; with no lasting result, however, for they are
all crowding round again the moment he is gone.

"Are you _sure_," says Honor with a trembling voice, "that you have
got everything?"

"O yes, _everything_!" answers Doris with a gasp of despair.

Honor looks round incredulously, for each one has been carrying to
the station a bag, basket, or something belonging to her sister, and
as her careful eye travels round she suddenly pounces on Molly, who
is discovered still clinging desperately to Doris's umbrella, her
thoughts being entirely taken up with the direful fact that the
dreaded moment has indeed arrived at last!  The umbrella is handed in
through the window, and kissing being now rather a daring thing to
attempt after the stentorian "Stand away there!" of the guard, Honor
and Molly are reaching up their hands for a final squeeze, when
Doris, first feeling wildly in the little pocket of her jacket, then
diving after her purse, exclaims:

"Good gracious! my ticket; who's got it?  I haven't!"

In the excitement of the search Doris overturns her little luncheon
basket, and, oblivious of the fact that the cork of her travelling
flask has come out, and the milk it contains is quietly spreading
itself out on the cushion until it comes to a little ridge in the
leather, where it collects in a nice little pool, she leans
distractedly out of the window to see the result of the hurried
search which they are all making in all sorts of impossible places.

But at this critical moment, and just as the guard is about to blow
his whistle, Dick, who has strolled off to look at the
advertisements, appears on the scene, and Honor, suddenly remembering
that she had intrusted him with the money for the ticket when first
they arrived at the station, rushes at him and grasps his arm wildly.

"The ticket!" she gasps; "you've forgotten to take the ticket!"

"I haven't," returns Dick, much injured.  "I thought I gave it to
you.  Oh, here it is; better late than never!" and with supreme
indifference at the anxiety depicted on every face he hands it up to
Doris, and at the same moment the train moves.

They all run along beside it for a second or two, but its pace soon
gets beyond theirs, and they are left disconsolately on the platform,
waving their hands to a white handkerchief which is fluttering from
one of the windows, and is literally all of Doris that is now to be
seen.

* * * * * * * * *

That same afternoon Hugh Horton runs down to bid them all farewell
before leaving for Ireland the next day.  He is naturally not in the
best of spirits, and looks so gloomy and melancholy while reminding
Molly of her promise regarding the slippers, that that young lady
tells him plainly that if he cannot look a little more cheerful over
it he shall not have them at all.

"Don't be unkind, Molly," remonstrates Honor.

"I'm not," replies the girl, reddening; "besides he is not going to
Kamtchatka.  I said I would make them if he went there, or to some
other outlandish place."

"It does not matter, Molly, _where_ one goes particularly, when
leaving all one loves behind;" and Hugh sighs heavily.  "It would be
just as painful to me to take up my quarters in the next village
merely, if I knew for certain that I should not see my mother or--or
any of you for some long time to come."

Molly looks a little abashed.

"But you will have leave," she says.

"O yes, of course I shall have leave; but not very often, I suppose."

"You must write to us as often as you can," says Mrs. Merivale
kindly.  "You know I take just as much interest in all you boys as if
you were my own."

Molly strolls down to the gate with Hugh when he has taken leave of
all the others; but he is very silent, and she, thinking that perhaps
she has hurt his sensitive feelings with some of her random talk, is
silent also.

In a minute or two Hugh rouses himself, however, and says:

"Molly, I have never told you how awfully glad I am that you are all
getting on so much better now, as to funds and all that sort of
thing, you know.  I do think you have all shown yourselves such good
girls in having met your misfortunes so bravely; and I cannot tell
you how glad I feel that you have all had your reward, and have a
little more peace and comfort now than you had.  Mother is always
talking about you all, and saying how much she admires the spirit and
unselfishness with which you turned to and made the best of
everything."

"_I'm_ not unselfish!" cries Molly, looking surprised.  "Why, I'd
take a footstool or an easy-chair from anybody!  It's no use saying I
don't care about being comfortable, because I _do_!"

Hugh takes no notice of this interruption, but goes on as if nothing
had been said.

"Yes, we were talking about you last night, mother and I, and what do
you think she said about you, Molly, particularly?"

Molly shakes her head.

"I don't know," she says.

"She told me she considered that you had had quite as much to do with
influencing me for good as she had.  I told her of some of your
lectures too, and she says you are a right-minded, good girl, and she
admires you for what she calls your 'spirit' in taking me to task as
you did."

Molly blushes up to the roots of her chestnut curls at this praise
from one whose opinion is to be valued.

"Did you tell her about the _dust_?" she inquires.

"Of course I did!" replies Hugh, laughing, "and she enjoyed the story
immensely.  And now, Molly, you will write to me while I'm away,
won't you?  You can lecture and blow me up as much as you like, only
let me go away thinking that my little mentor will still take the
same interest in scapegrace Hugh that she has hitherto."

"Yes, I will, Hugh; here's my hand upon it.  Of course it is all
nonsense," she adds suddenly; "but if--if I have really been of any
use in--in urging you on, you know, I am _very_ glad.  And now, would
you like me to tell you a secret?  Well, the slippers are more than
half done already!  Good-bye; be a good boy!" and without waiting for
another word she runs back to the house, never stopping till she has
reached the steps, when she turns round and waves her hand with
rather a feeble smile.

She is not _quite_ sure whether it is Hugh still standing where she
left him, or whether it is only the gate-post, for there are two
large tears trickling down the now saddened and softened face of
plain-speaking little Molly, which seriously obstruct her vision.

There is quite a feeling of desolation all through the house after
this second departure, for although not actually one of themselves,
Hugh and his brothers have so often been down to see them that he is
missed as much as if he were almost.

In a few days Doris's first letter arrives, and they are all relieved
to find that she is less home-sick than might have been expected.
Their own spirits rise in proportion therefore.

Part of Doris's letter runs thus:--


"We had a bad passage across, at least so aunt says.  I didn't feel
it a bit though.  Uncle disappeared mysteriously, and as he looked
rather pale when he reappeared on our reaching Calais, I strongly
suspected he was not very flourishing either.  I have made a grand
discovery, however, through this bad weather.  Nothing more nor less
than the reason why aunt will never take off her bonnet unless she
has a cap at hand to put on immediately.  Aunt, I must tell you, very
soon expressed her intention of going down into the cabin, so I went
with her and made her as comfortable as circumstances would permit.
It was such a dreadfully close, stuffy atmosphere that I was thankful
to get up into the air again.  After a time I thought I ought to go
down and see how poor aunty was getting on; so after a good deal of
stumbling and floundering (for the boat was rolling very much) I at
last managed to get down, and there I found her in a truly pitiable
state.  She had been dreadfully ill, but so it seems had been nearly
all the other people, and I suppose the stewardess could not pay much
attention to so many, for I found aunt in a miserable state, half on
and half off the sofa, and looking as pale as death.  'O, Doris
child!' she gasped faintly, 'if ever I get out of this boat alive I
will never go into another, if I have to live all my life in France!'
Well, I raised her up and placed her a little more comfortably, and
in doing this her bonnet fell off, and--you girls won't believe me,
perhaps, but I daresay mother knows--there, as plain to see as
anything, was a little bald patch, about as big as half-a-crown, on
the top of her head!  Poor aunt! she was in far too great misery to
think about such trifles then, and only told me to put her feet a
little higher and to bring her smelling-bottle.  But I shall _always_
think of it whenever anyone asks her to take her bonnet off!  By the
by, aunt says she knows Mr. Ferrars quite well.  She calls him 'A
very estimable young man!'  How _dreadful_!  She says, too, we may
meet him somewhere or other abroad.  He told her he was going to
'knock about a little' on the Continent.  The expression did not come
spontaneously from aunt; I dragged it out of her, under protest!  I
wonder if we _shall_ see him!"


Mrs. Merivale folds up the letter.  "I wonder if they will!" she says.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

BRIGHTER DAYS.

Two years have sped quickly, and it is once more a warm, lovely day
in June.  The French windows of the Rookery sitting-room are wide
open, letting in the still, summer air, and Mrs. Merivale and Honor,
both with their work, are seated just inside, so as to get full
benefit of any little fitful breeze which may spring up, without
exposing themselves to the glare of the sunlit garden.

Yes, two years have flown since Doris left home to go abroad with her
aunt, and her mother and sister are talking over a letter which they
have received from her that morning, and which, with two others, is
lying in the former's lap.

Honor is a little taller than when we last saw her, though not much;
but her figure has filled out, making her look more womanly, though
still small and slight altogether.  She has still the same quaint
little oval face, and the same steadfast, earnest look in her soft
brown eyes; but, with the exception of the two little straight lines
between her brows, the anxious, care-worn look has gone from it, and
in its place there is a happy, contented expression, which her mother
looks upon with thankfulness.  The two years have also changed Mrs.
Merivale, though not perhaps so much in appearance as character.

She has to a great extent lost that fretful nervousness and
selfishness which, before her husband's death, and, indeed, for some
time after, had seemed to be growing upon her.  Though still feeble
in health her disposition has grown more cheerful, and she has become
more self-reliant than of old.  Honor has unconsciously taken to
consulting her more in the management of their household affairs, and
although she still takes all the active part upon herself, she often
finds her mother's advice of great value now.

To such matters as banging doors, creaking boots, loud voices, &c.,
which used formerly to "jar" upon her nerves, she has become almost
impervious, whilst to be "completely prostrated" is a calamity of
rare occurrence, excepting on occasions of real and genuine nervous
headaches.

The two years have been quiet, uneventful ones enough to the
inhabitants of Edendale.  The most exciting thing that has taken
place, perhaps, being the sudden and unexpected death, while in
Africa somewhere, of Sir Charles Ferrars of Ferrars Court.  But as he
had never lived at the Court for long together, and latterly not at
all, his death was not an event to stir the sympathies of the
surrounding neighbourhood greatly.  Of course every one said, "How
very sad--so sudden, you know!" and then they began to speculate as
to what the heir would be like, and whether he would take possession
soon, &c. &c.  But in a few days the whole affair was forgotten; and
as no heir arrived on the scene to satisfy their curiosity, they soon
forgot that there was one to speculate about.

Dr. John Sinclair is constantly to be seen at the Rookery; indeed, he
has fallen into the habit of going there, at one hour or another,
almost every day.

With the first really hot weather of the year before, Daisy's health
had flagged rather alarmingly, and the young doctor began to fear
that her illness of the previous spring had left a permanent mark
upon her.  Thus had he become a constant visitor in order to watch
the child closely.

At the present time Daisy is, for her, in comparatively robust
health, but every one knows how difficult it is to get out of any
habit once taken to, whether it be good or bad, and young Dr.
Sinclair is to be seen at the Rookery almost as frequently as ever,
although there is now no special need for looking after his little
patient from a medical point of view.

Dick, now a strapping lad of fifteen, has pleased the Rev. Mr. Bolton
beyond measure during the two years he has been with him, and the
good old vicar does not know which to be most delighted with--his
beautiful voice, or the industry and perseverance which he has
displayed regarding his own studies.

Molly's pupils have so increased in number that she has for some time
past been making a nice steady little income, and she has even felt
justified in affording herself some finishing lessons from a good
master.

Mrs. Horton, always ready to do the girls any kind service now that
their mother cannot go about with them, and more especially since
their aunt left England, has taken both Honor and Molly up to London
for a few weeks' visit at different times; and the former also,
considering that it would be money well spent, has given herself the
benefit of a little "brushing up," as she calls it, in her art.  Both
the girls, therefore, are able to take a better stand in their
teaching (for Honor has pupils now in addition to her own painting),
and Molly often finds herself correcting, encouraging, or
remonstrating, as the case may be, with girls a good deal older than
herself; for her fame as a musicianly teacher has spread far and
wide, and she has as many grown-up girls as pupils, who are anxious
to keep up their practice, as younger ones.  Molly has three of the
Hallam children now, and a fourth is nearly ready to begin, Indeed,
were it feasible, Mrs. Hallam would like to include the baby still in
arms in her list of pupils, so anxious is she that they shall all
commence early enough and get all the benefit they can from what she
is constantly quoting to her friends as "first-class teaching, my
dear."

The Mr. Talboys look if anything younger than they did a couple of
years back.  They have residing in the stables of the Rosery a
pretty, knowing-looking pony rejoicing in the name of Puck, the pet
and property of Miss Margaret Merivale.  At the time previously
spoken of, when little Daisy had drooped so with the heat of the
summer, and Dr. Sinclair had been racking his brains to think what
could be done to revive the feeble strength, which at times seemed
ready to ebb away altogether, a bright idea struck him one day.
Riding!--the very thing.  But how in the world could such a thing be
managed?  Although the Merivales were in a very different position
now to that which they were in when they first came to the village,
they were not, he was sure, well enough off to buy and keep a pony.

"Now, if only she could ride Jack," thought the doctor to himself,
"he would, I know, be as gentle as a lamb with a child upon his back.
But, bless me! his back would be far too broad for little Daisy!
Besides, who would there be to ride with her?  I don't think Jack
would care to consent to a leading rein at his age!"

But nevertheless the doctor goes on thinking and thinking (for during
the long time he has now attended the child she has become very dear
to him), until he suddenly becomes possessed of a still brighter
idea.  He will go to the Mr. Talboys and talk it over with them.

One would certainly have thought, from the almost childish delight
which the generous old men expressed at this brilliant idea of their
young friend's, that it was one which would benefit themselves
greatly.  But so indeed it was, for they could know no higher
privilege than to do good to others.

"My _dear_ Dr. John," they had both cried, "you could not have done
us a greater kindness than by coming to consult us about this capital
plan of yours.  I think," continues Mr. Ned, "I may with truth say
that Brother Ben and myself have been worrying as to what could be
done to pick up the child's strength as much as you have, my dear
boy, and we _know_ how it has troubled you, do we not, brother?"

And so there had been no rest for anybody until a desirable animal
had been found and purchased.  The old gentlemen were somewhat
particular in making their choice, and a trifle difficult to please.
Of course it was to be pretty.  Not too tall, nor too small.  Neither
too old nor too young.  It was to be a thoroughly respectable pony,
and reliable as to temper; but while wishing it to possess a "spice
of spirit," as they expressed it, it was to be steady and
sober-minded at heart!  It must be confessed that to find all these
excellent qualities possessed by one ordinary pony was rather
difficult, and, perhaps, more than ought to have been expected.  But
the brothers did not want an ordinary pony!  On the contrary they had
made up their minds to have an extraordinary one; and it is to be
feared that more than one horse-dealer lost his temper when, having
trotted out his best ponies before the two exacting old gentlemen,
who stood watching their paces with heads on one side, it turned out
that not one of them came up to their ideas of what a pony _ought_ to
be.

Indeed one man was overheard to say to his ostler (taking it for
granted that the Mr. Talboys were deaf as well as old) that he
"should think the old gents had better get one made to order!" which
caused Mr. Ned to wish him "good-morning."

At length, however, a desirable pony was found, and having been
presented to Daisy in due form, was installed in the comfortable
stable at the Rosery.

There being no one at home who could take out Daisy for her airings
on Puck--for the doctor said _walking_ would be of no use; she must
have a good canter every day--the young man begged that he might be
allowed to take her under his charge.  He could give her a good run,
he said, every day, when going his distant rounds on Jack, and the
Rosery lying between his own house and the Rookery, he could always
call for Puck on his way for Daisy.

This arrangement met with the little girl's entire approval, in fact
she very soon confided to her dear Doctor John that there was _no
one_ else she would have trusted herself to in her first attempts at
riding.

Ere long, however, the young doctor had made a very fair little
horsewoman of Daisy, and the pair were constantly to be seen
cantering over the country together, with Rufus, the doctor's red
setter, and Vic (who condescended to be friendly under the
circumstances) at their heels.

The letters mentioned at the beginning of this chapter are, besides
the one from Doris, from Lady Woodhouse and Mr. Lancelot Ferrars, the
latter containing a formal proposal of marriage for Doris.

The two have been thrown together a great deal abroad, and Lady
Woodhouse has smiled with grim approval whenever the young fellow has
appeared, quite by accident as it were, at the same place in which
they are staying.

"Your uncle and Mr. Ferrars seem to have taken quite a fancy to each
other lately," judicially remarked Aunt Sophia, with a little, almost
imperceptible sniff, which always accompanied any attempt at acting
on her part.

"You see, Doris, it must be lonely work for a man to be travelling by
himself; though, of course, Mr. Ferrars has his profession as an
artist to attend to.  But your uncle has only you and me to talk to,
so I am very glad Mr. Ferrars seeks his society for that reason; for
people may say what they like, child, but men do like talking to each
other when they get the chance better than to us women.  I suppose
they think they have more brains than we," with a slight toss of her
head, "though all I can say is that if they have, they don't always
know how to use them."

So, although Lady Woodhouse saw plainly that this constant visitor
was becoming attached to her niece, she prided herself immensely on
her diplomacy and tact in not allowing the girl to get what she
called any nonsensical ideas into her head, at any rate for the
present.

She has written to her sister now on the subject in high spirits, and
though certain parts of the letter are for Mrs. Merivale's own
private perusal only, she is reading out most of it to Honor.


"Doris seems genuinely fond of the young man now," writes Lady
Woodhouse.  "At first, I tell you candidly, I thought I would have
some trouble with her, for she seemed to have a fixed idea in her
silly head that by making some great match she might retrieve the
fortunes of the whole family.  She told me plainly one day that she
would see plenty of people during the two years that she was
travelling about, and that if she got a good chance she would
certainly take it.  But all this, I am bound to acknowledge, was
before Mr. Ferrars began to pay her any attention.  As ill luck would
have it, however, a wretched little elderly French count, with false
teeth and dyed hair and moustache, began to pay her attention also
just at the same time (Doris is certainly a pretty girl, Mary), and
for a little while I shook in my shoes; for common report set him
down as being enormously rich.  Well, I saw at last that the child
was getting worried over it all.  So was Mr. Ferrars, naturally.  And
so one fine day I gave my lady a talking to.  'You can do as you
like,' I said, 'subject to your mother, of course, but don't say
afterwards you were not warned.  You can accept this made-up old fop
with his million of francs (mind _francs_, not pounds) and be a
miserable woman for the rest of your life if you like.  On the other
hand here is a young, good-looking fellow who is sincerely attached
to you, and though he may have only his few hundreds, he is not the
man to take a wife unless he can keep her comfortably.'  I think my
words came just at the right time.  Anyhow, it all came right; and
when Doris came to me and told me she would rather be the wife of
Lancelot Ferrars with only one hundred a year than marry the richest
duke in the world, I knew, my dear Mary, that the child's heart was
in the right place after all.  I can congratulate you heartily, for
young Ferrars is one of the nicest young men I know, and will be just
the right sort of husband for Doris.  Then, of course, his good
position--"


"Good position!" echo both Dick (who has just entered the room) and
Honor, pricking up their ears.

"Position as a painter," remarks Mrs. Merivale, folding up her letter
with dignity.  "That is all I need read to you.  The rest is all upon
business matters."

"Then we may expect to see Mr. Ferrars some time this week, I
suppose," says Honor presently.  For in his short courteous note he
has begged leave to call on Mrs. Merivale, previous to his departure
for some distant part of the world where he has some important
business to transact.

"I do hope he will let us know beforehand," says Honor, already
tormenting herself as to culinary matters, "or else he will be quite
certain to choose a day when we have nothing but cold mutton for
dinner--and none too much of that, very likely."

"Hooray!" shouts Dick, tossing up his cap.  "Fancy little Doris being
engaged!  Good gracious! the house won't hold her when she comes
back!"

"She seems to be very happy," says Honor, who is reading her sister's
letter for about the sixth time.  "She little thought what would come
of her adventure in the wood that day.  Dear little Doris, I hope she
has a happy life before her."



CHAPTER XXIX.

"WHAT A TEASE YOU ARE, MOLLY!"

In the meantime a conversation of quite a different character is
going on in the garden, under the drooping boughs of a fine old
weeping-ash, the welcome shade of which is much sought by the girls
in hot weather.

Molly is seated on a garden chair, working away industriously at
something in the dress line, her work-basket on another chair by her
side.

Seated just opposite to her is Dr. John Sinclair, his hat lying on
the grass at his feet, and his head resting on his arms, which are
folded behind it.

"And so this is what you have dropped in for," remarks Molly, shaking
out her work.

"Yes," he says, gazing up into the sky.  "We were on our way back,
and just passing the Rosery gate when Mr. Ned ran out and stopped us.
I represented that you would all be expecting Daisy home, that she
had only her habit on, that she might be tired.  All to no purpose,
as I have told you.  She must stop to tea, and surely someone could
call for her later; and if not, why, Priscilla could take her home.
And so," he concludes rather slowly, "I said I would call about eight
o'clock.  I--I thought perhaps Miss Honor would like to walk up with
me in the cool of the evening, you know."

"O!" says Molly, shooting a little glance at him over her work.

"Do you think she would care to?" asks the doctor, bringing his arms
forward and stooping to pick up his stick, which is also on the grass.

"I don't know really," replies Molly carelessly; "you had better ask
her.  I am not sure, though, that I shall not go myself.  I suppose I
should do as well?  Dick wanted one of us to walk over to the mere
this evening with him and Jack Bolton, and--yes, I think he said
Ernest Hildyard was to be one of the party.  Why, what in the world
are you getting so red about?  Don't, it makes one hotter than ever!"
and Molly, biting her thread, takes another little look at her
companion.

"Better stick to his reading," she hears him mutter to himself, and
then he begins hitting at the turf with his stick.

"Well, he is a bit lazy, I suppose; but then so are lots of other
people, and I don't see why he should be expected to stay in on such
a lovely evening as this will be.  Oh, _please_ take care!  You'll
hit my foot in a minute; besides, you are spoiling the turf."

"I'm sure I beg your pardon," says Dr. John, now stooping for his hat
also.  "I think I had better be going.  I will call for Daisy alone,
then."

"What has made you so cross?" inquires teasing Molly, searching
amongst her cottons.  "I really think it is most ungracious of you to
say you 'will go _alone_ to fetch Daisy' when I have only this moment
offered myself as a companion.  Now, don't go--sit down again, and I
will tell you something."

"Pooh!" mutters the young man crossly, "what's the use?"

"It _isn't_ pooh," says Molly severely; "and it is a great deal of
use, if you choose to listen.  _I_ am going on this expedition with
the boys this evening, and Honor, as far as I know, is going to stay
at home; unless," she wickedly adds, "you should care to ask _her_
instead of _me_ to walk up to the Rosery with you.  If you do, and
she does go, I advise you to be a little more amiable.  Now, _please_
leave that silk alone: you are getting it into a frightful tangle!"

"What a tease you are, Molly!" says Dr. Sinclair, looking, however,
more cheerful on the whole.

"I?  Why?  What have I said or done?"

"You said Honor was going for a walk with that young idiot, Hildyard."

"Well, why shouldn't she?  But, as it happens, I did _not_ say
anything of the kind.  I said the boys wanted _one_ of us to go, and
Honor never dreamed of going any more than _you_ did.  You shouldn't
jump at conclusions so quickly.  Now, tell me, what do you think of
this news about Doris?"

"O, I am awfully glad.  I think from what you have all told me that
Ferrars must be a nice fellow.  We shall have you going off next,
Molly."

"Me?--oh, dear no!  Besides, it is Honor's turn before mine, you
know."

"Is it true this that I hear about young Horton, or rather his
regiment, being ordered off to the Soudan?"

"Yes," says Molly quietly, bending over her work.  "It is quite true."

"When does he arrive from Ireland?"

"Mrs. Horton wrote us word that she expected him to-morrow."

"And _you_ will expect him the day after, I suppose?"

"I daresay he will come to see us soon," says Molly simply; "his time
will be very short before he leaves altogether."

"Poor fellow!" says the doctor musingly.  "It is a pity he is being
sent so far away.  Well, I must really be off now--by Jove, it's
later than I thought!  Good-bye for the present, Molly.  Perhaps you
would not mind asking Miss Honor if she will stroll up for Daisy with
me?  I'd no idea it was so late, or I would have run in and asked her
myself."

"All right," says Molly reassuringly.  "I'll see that she goes."

The girl looks after him as he goes swinging down the road.

"He's a nice fellow," she says to herself.  "I shouldn't at all mind
having him for a brother.  I wonder, now, whether Honor likes him as
much as he does her.  Anyone can see with half an eye that it is not
Daisy alone that he comes here to see.  He's dreadfully jealous,
though.  He makes himself quite ridiculous over that young Hildyard,
just because he stares at Honor so in church.  Such a _child_, too,
as Ernest is; and I don't believe Honor has ever spoken to him more
than two or three times at the outside.  It really is absurd.  I
can't help teasing Dr. John about it.  All right, coming!" she cries,
in answer to a summons to tea from Honor; and gathering up her work,
she goes slowly back to the house.

There is perhaps more alteration in Molly's appearance than in any of
the others in these two past years.  She is now turned seventeen, and
tall for her age.  She carries herself gracefully, and her slight
though rounded figure is shown to advantage to-day in the light,
simply-made dress which she is wearing on account of the heat.

Molly's hair has been turned up for some time now, ever since she
took to teaching, in fact.  "You cannot expect me to command respect
from my pupils with my hair hanging down my back," she had said when
the others had been inclined to remonstrate.  It is all gathered up,
therefore, in a pretty top-knot of bright, sunny, chestnut curls,
which, notwithstanding the number of pins she uses, do their best to
escape and tumble, as of old, about her forehead, ears, and neck.
She is not, perhaps, what most people would call strictly pretty; but
she is _very_ charming, and her deep blue eyes, with their long
lashes, are really beautiful.  Her complexion though brilliant is at
the same time delicate, and one of her greatest charms is in the
ever-varying expression of her face.  Her nose is not strictly
aquiline, but her pretty sensitive mouth and firm little chin make up
for its deficiencies; and last, but not least, there is the pretty
way in which her hair grows about her forehead and temples.

Altogether Mrs. Merivale has reason to feel proud of her three now
grown-up daughters, and she often turns away with a heavy sigh when
she thinks with what fond pride their dead father would look upon
them could he see them now.



CHAPTER XXX.

HUGH'S PARTING GIFT.

A few afternoons later Honor and Molly are both seated at work under
the weeping ash, but the weather being hotter than ever they have
retired to the very back of the natural arbour which the drooping
boughs form.  Of course they have the advantage of being able to see
all that goes on outside, while quite invisible themselves.

They are talking on the usual inexhaustible subject of the present
time, namely, their future brother-in-law, Mr. Lancelot Ferrars, who
has been down, and having had a mysterious talk with Mrs. Merivale in
the drawing-room, has taken early dinner (not cold mutton) with them
in quite a brotherly sort of fashion.  After dinner he had been
introduced to the studio, as being a place likely to interest him.
Then after a stroll round the garden, and an early cup of tea
insisted upon by Molly, he had gone off to the station to catch the
next train back to town.

Altogether they are very pleased with their new relative in
perspective, and are never tired of discussing his merits, either
real or imaginary.

"He looks as if he had a little spice of temper in his composition,"
says Molly, while hunting for her scissors.  "I saw it in his eyes."

"Well, I don't like him any the less for that," replies Honor, "so
long as he knows how to control it.  He looks as if he was accustomed
to having his own way too, and--well, as if he wouldn't stand any
nonsense from anybody."

"All the better for Doris," says Molly sagely.  "She wants keeping in
order, you know, and he will do it.  I don't mean to imply that he
will beat her, or anything of that sort, Honor; but, it is as you
say, I am sure he would stand no nonsense from anyone.  And quite
right, too.  I hate people without a will of their own.  Why, there's
a man going up the drive to the front door!"

"Dear me, you don't say so.  Probably it is the baker," and Honor
goes on with her work serenely.

"Nonsense, Honor!" cries Molly, peering excitedly through the close
branches.  "The baker goes to the backdoor, too.  It's a gentleman--a
_gentleman_, I tell you.  Come here and look!"

At this startling announcement Honor rises and looks over Molly's
shoulder.

"I believe it is Hugh," she says; "only somehow he looks so much
older.  How long is it since we have seen him, Molly?"

"I saw him about a year ago; but I expect it is longer since you did.
It was while I was in London with Mrs. Horton.  Good gracious, Honor,
it _is_ Hugh, and he's got a moustache!"

This remark is called forth by the fact of the visitor having turned
round on reaching the steps, and given an inquiring glance round the
garden, as if in search of someone.

"O, thank goodness, Mary is answering the bell; not but what Hugh is
used to Becky's shortcomings.  Now he will be shown into the
drawing-room in style.  I hope mother isn't asleep on the sofa."

"Come along, Molly," cries Honor, preparing to leave the arbour.  "We
need not wait to have his name brought to us."

But Molly shows distinct signs of cowardice as they approach the
drawing-room together, and as Honor actually opens the door and
enters, she hangs back, and peeps curiously at Hugh from behind her
sister.

"Why, Molly, have you forgotten me?  Don't you know me?" he says,
taking her two hands in his, and looking down into her fair flushed
face.

Molly laughs.

"You _have_ changed," she says a little shyly, "and if we hadn't
watched you all the time you were walking up to the door, I don't
know that I _should_ have known you in this half light."

"Ah," says Honor, "you little thought we were in our 'leafy retreat,'
as we used to call it.  I expect you would have found your way to us
there if you had."

"I am very sure I should," answers Hugh, going over to the window.
"Shall I draw up the blinds, Mrs. Merivale? the sun is off the room
now."

"O, _don't_!" cries Molly, who seems to be seized with an
unaccountable fit of shyness.  "I do hate a light room; so does
mother."

Mrs. Merivale, however, happens to prefer a little light on this
occasion, now that the sun is going down, and says in the same breath
with Molly, "Yes, do please, Hugh."

So, with a little deprecating look towards Molly, up go the blinds
and in comes the light.

Molly ensconces herself in a corner behind her mother, and allowing
nearly all the conversation to fall on the others, sits very still,
making silent observations of the alterations in her old playmate.

It turns out that Hugh is under orders to sail for Egypt a good deal
sooner than he expected, and as his time is much taken up in dodging
about at the Horse-guards, he finds he will not probably have the
opportunity of coming down again before leaving for good.  He has
come, therefore, with the intention of staying the evening, if they
will have him.

Honor, on hearing this, immediately becomes exercised in her mind as
to the state of the larder, and making a sign to Molly to follow her,
she quietly leaves the room.

So Mrs. Merivale and Hugh sit chatting together while the two girls
consult with Mary about the arrangement of a nice little supper.  It
must here be explained that with their improved position the
Merivales have engaged a more capable servant, it being necessary to
have someone who can do without the perpetual looking after and
directing which Becky, even in her brightest moments, always
required--both Honor's and Molly's time being taken up now with other
than domestic matters.  Becky, however, still remains, greatly to her
delight, she having become much attached to "missus" and the young
ladies.  She is useful in the rougher work of the house, all rights
as to swilling the backyard and blacking boots being reserved by her.
Thus the delinquency of the fire, and, indeed, others which have been
almost beyond endurance sometimes, are not so constantly brought
before the family now.  Mary is a good-natured girl, and as a rule
the two get on very well, unless the kitchen fire is let out.  Then,
her face is a sight to see.

Presently Hugh comes out, and finding his way to the kitchen as of
old, tells the girls he is going to run up to see the Mr. Talboys
between tea and supper.  Perhaps Molly will go with him?

But Molly, perverse to the last, remembers some most important
business she has to do, and says "no."

Hugh turns away, looking hurt, as well he may, and Honor, after
frowning her displeasure at her younger sister, follows him out.

"I would go with you myself, Hugh, but I have a little bit of
painting which I really _must_ do before the light goes.  I didn't
know," she adds, "that Molly had anything very important to do; but I
suppose she knows her own business best."

But Molly, who does not wait to hear her sister's opinions on the
subject, beats a retreat out to the back-yard, nominally to look
after the fowls.

When Hugh has gone to the Rosery, and she joins her mother and Honor
in the drawing-room, they both fall upon her, metaphorically
speaking, and scold her roundly for what they call her unkindness and
vanity.  Hard words these for poor Molly to hear as she stands
abashed before them, especially coming from either her mother or
Honor, who are both so gentle with her always.

"It is not as if you were a child now," says Mrs. Merivale in a vexed
tone of voice.  "What might have passed for fun two or three years
ago amounts to rudeness in a girl of your age.  And how you can like
to be unkind--yes, unkind, Molly,--I really do not know.  What made
you refuse to walk up to the Rosery with Hugh?  You are certainly his
favourite of all the girls" (here she tries to speak carelessly),
"and when he is going away, goodness knows how far and for how long,
you must needs be almost uncivil to him.  Now, I must beg, Molly,
that you do your best to make Hugh's last evening here a happy one.
I don't suppose he is in very good spirits, poor fellow! and we don't
want to put him into worse.  Do you hear me?  Very well.  Come here
and give me a kiss.  Now, you can run away if you like."

Molly, who is almost on the verge of tears, is glad to avail herself
of this permission.  Catching up her large white garden hat she
returns to the ash, with the intention of getting her work, which she
has left there in a state of chaos.

Sitting down, however, she begins thinking, and presently a tear
drops on her hands, which are lying loosely clasped in her lap.
Others seeming likely to follow, she is just raising her hand to
brush them away, when at a little distance she, hears, in Hugh's fine
tenor, the old familiar song he is so fond of singing:

  "O, Molly Bawn, why leave me pining,
    All lonely waiting here for you,
  While stars above are brightly shining,
    Because they've nothing else to do!"

In another moment he has caught sight of her white dress through the
branches of the tree, and going quickly round to the entrance, he
goes in and sits down by her side.

"Why, Molly!  In the dumps?" he says kindly.

Molly shakes her head, but says nothing, and there is a long pause.

"I wish you could have found time to go up to the Rosery with me,
Molly," Hugh says at length.  "It was so cool and pleasant.  I think
it would have done you good after the hot day."

A little gasping kind of sigh, then, "I _could_ have gone if I had
chosen," says truthful Molly.  "It was all humbug about the business."

Hugh looks at her a little curiously.

"Why didn't you come then?" he asks.

"I don't know," says Molly, and again there is silence.

"And so you think I have changed so much?" queries Hugh presently.

"Yes, that is just it," replies Molly more briskly.  "You _do_ seem
to have become so--so _different_ somehow."

"In what lies the difference, Molly?"

"Well, I hardly know, Hugh--and yet I _do_ know; only I don't like to
say."

"Say away," he says, leaning back in his chair and laughing.  "_I_
won't mind."

"O, it is nothing disparaging," and Molly takes her hat off and
swings it round.  "The fact is you seem so--so dreadfully _old_ now
to what you were.  Do you know," she adds, sinking her voice and
nodding in her old way, "I felt quite afraid of you when I came into
the drawing-room and peeped at you from behind Honor; I did indeed.
Then there was your moustache, too.  It makes you look quite severe,
and I could not help wondering how I ever had the face to lecture and
blow you up as I did in the old days.  But you seemed so boyish then
to what you do now.  The alteration quite startled me at first."

Hugh laughs.

"I am awfully sorry, Molly.  But you didn't expect me to go on being
boyish to the end of my days, did you?  You see, I have knocked about
the world a little now: I don't mean as to distance; that has to
come," he adds with a little sigh.  "But since I joined my regiment I
have, of course, been thrown much more into the society of men--men
much older than myself mostly, and I suppose the life altogether does
change a fellow.  My mother says the same as you, Molly.  But
notwithstanding the ferocious appearance that my moustache gives me
generally," he goes on after a pause, "I assure you I am just the
same in heart as ever.  Just the same old playmate and companion if
you will let me be, and as ready and anxious for lectures and
scoldings from my little mentor as ever; so I hope she will not throw
me over as a bad job, now that I am no longer a _boy_.  Now, do you
know, I think _I_ have more reason to complain of the change in
_you_, Molly, of the two.  What with your long frocks and your
turned-up hair, and--oh, lots of things, really you are quite
alarming to contemplate.  You have grown so tall, too; why, I don't
believe I am a head taller than you now, and I was a good deal more,
you know."

"I am _sure_ you are not," returns Molly promptly, "Stand up and let
us see."

Standing back to back, it is somewhat difficult to decide, so it is
agreed that Honor shall settle the point later.

When they have done laughing they sit down again, Hugh remarking,
"'Fair play is a jewel,' you know, and if you grow up, as you call
it, I don't see why I should not too.  What pretty work that is,
Molly!  Do you know, my slippers are beginning to wear out."

"Are they?  Well, I'll see if I can find an old pair of somebody's
for you.  Do you think mine would fit you?" and Molly holds out her
foot with a neat little morocco slipper on it.

"Too large, by a long way!" he mutters, shaking his head.  Then there
is silence for a few minutes, and Molly puts exactly five stitches
into her work.

"Will you wear this as a little keepsake, Molly, and think of me
sometimes when you look at it?"

"This" is a beautiful though simple pearl ring, which Hugh has put
into her lap.

"O, how beautiful!" exclaims the girl, her eyes lighting with
pleasure.  "But--I don't know whether mother would care for me to
wear it, Hugh."

"I have asked her, Molly, and she has no objection at all.  It is
only a keepsake, you know."

Hugh does not add that he has been asking Mrs. Merivale's permission
to place a more important ring on her daughter's finger on his return
from Egypt, provided that young lady raises no objections herself.
Molly knows naught of this, however, and proceeds to place the ring
on the third finger of her right hand with elaborate propriety,
turning it round, and looking admiringly on the shimmering pearls,
for they are fine ones, and being set with diamond dust, are shown to
advantage.

"It is kind of you, Hugh; but I did not want anything to remember you
by.  I don't think I should have forgotten you.  They are _lovely_
pearls, and I am so fond of pearls, too."

The young fellow looks pleased.

"Don't you think it would look nicer on the other hand, Molly?  I
think rings look awkward somehow on the right."

"Well, it hurts awfully if anyone squeezes one's hand when shaking
it.  Now, who was it who used to make me scream nearly, rings or no
rings?  Oh, I know! poor old Sir Peter Beresford.  You know, I
suppose, that he died last year?"

"Yes, poor old fellow!  What a nice old man he was.  Here, let me put
it on for you, Molly.  There! it looks ever so much nicer on that
finger.  You _will_ think of me and write regularly too, won't you,
dear?"

"Yes," says Molly hastily; but she looks rather frightened, and Hugh
hastens to change the subject.

"We are quits now," he says.  "I have still got the ring you gave me!"

"The ring I gave you!" exclaims Molly staring.

"Yes, the ring you gave me.  It is no use your pretending that you
hav'n't given me one, because here it is!" and from a compartment of
his pocketbook, in which he has been industriously hunting, he takes
out and holds up a gorgeous arrangement of blue and white beads,
strung on horse-hair--a present which Molly now remembers having made
him with great solemnity when she was about ten years old.

"You can't say another word now, Molly," he says laughing.

"Diamonds and sapphires!" says Molly taking this valuable ring in her
hand, "my favourite mixture; but how very absurd of you to keep it
all this time, Hugh."

"Not at all.  I assure you I value it very much," and he returns it
to his pocket-book with great care.

"I call it highly ridiculous.  But now I am going round to my roses,
and you may come too if you like.  I want to cut some for the table."

"I am glad you are getting over some of your terror of me," laughs
Hugh following her.

"The brothers Talboys tell me you are quite a little witch with your
roses; they say you have brought them to such perfection."

"I believe I _do_ know something about them," answers Molly.

"Becky!" she calls, catching sight of that damsel through the kitchen
window, "bring out the large blue china bowl and put it on the front
steps.  Where no one will step into it; _not_ in the middle.  And
fill it with water, please.  Do you know," she says as she catches up
Hugh again, "that Becky is perfectly overcome by the sight of your
moustache.  I do hope she won't smash the bowl in consequence.  She
is a great admirer of yours, you know," she runs on, snipping a rose
off here and there.  "When you went away last time she confided to me
that you were 'the nicest gentleman as she ever see!'  There's a
pretty compliment for you.  This afternoon she said to me, 'Mr. Hugh
_has haltered_!'  I wondered for the moment if you had ridden down
and 'tethered your roan to a tree.'"

Hugh laughs heartily.

"I am sure I feel immensely flattered.  What a lovely bud that is you
are cutting now, Molly!"

"It is for you, Hugh.  Stand still a moment and I will pin it in your
button-hole."

Hugh's pleased and gratified look defies description as he obeys
orders, and stands looking down at the busy little fingers while they
deftly fasten the bud in his coat.

"I shall never--" he is beginning to say, when Molly cuts his remark
short.

"There is Honor!" she cries; "she shall help us to put all these in
water," and running down the path she leaves him to follow.

In the evening, after supper, there is a little music.  Molly plays,
and Hugh sings one or two songs with a voice that trembles a little
sometimes, Molly, after a slight skirmish on the subject,
accompanying him.

Then Honor nobly struggles through a pianoforte duet with her younger
sister by way of a change, her modest bass sounding rather feeble in
comparison with Molly's spirited treble.  It is only Schulhoff's
"Grand Waltz" they are playing; nevertheless, Honor quakes when they
come to the last two or three pages; but she centres all her hopes on
Molly, and, amidst plenty of laughter (for Hugh and Dick are both in
attendance to turn over), she is landed safely by her at the last
chord.  Then Dick sings, but notwithstanding the efforts made by
every one to be cheerful their spirits seem to go down lower and
lower as the evening advances; and when, after a long unbroken
silence, Hugh suddenly seats himself at the piano, and sings with
simple expression and pathos Hatton's "Good-bye, Sweetheart," tears
rise to the eyes of nearly every one in the room.

It is a relief almost when Hugh rises and says he must be leaving.
Mrs. Merivale having suggested that Honor and Molly shall walk down
to the gate with him, and sent them on before, takes an affectionate
leave of the young fellow, saying as she does so, "We will not let
her forget you, dear Hugh."  He is too much overcome to speak, but
the look of gratitude upon his face as he stoops and kisses her is
understood and appreciated by Mrs. Merivale.

The two girls are standing quietly by the gate when Hugh reaches it,
and for a moment he stands beside them, silent also.  Then he turns
to the elder girl:

"Good-bye, Honor," he says gently.  "You will let me hear everything
that goes on, won't you?--all about Doris too; and tell her, with my
love, how sorry I was not to see her again.  I will write pretty
often; as often as I can that is, unless I am knocked over by the
Arabs one day."  Then he kisses her and moves towards Molly, who, a
little pale and very quiet, is leaning against the gate-post.  He
takes her two hands in his, and looks earnestly into her face for a
moment.  Then--

"God bless you, Molly!" he says brokenly.  "Don't forget me!" and
stooping he presses a lingering kiss almost reverently upon her
forehead, and--the gate swings back and he is gone.

Honor is just wondering whether Molly is crying or what, so quietly
is she standing, just where Hugh left her, when suddenly a figure
rushes past them in hot haste.

"I'm going to walk to the station with him!" cries Dick's voice.
"Great dolt that I was not to think of it before!" and away he dashes
through the gate.

After this little diversion the girls walk slowly back to the house,
and joining their mother they stand talking together, or rather she
and Honor do.  After a few minutes Molly, still very quiet, says she
is tired and will go to bed.

"Poor child!" says Mrs. Merivale as the door closes, "I think she
feels his going.  I wonder if she _does_ care for him, and is just
finding it out?  I think we were right, though, Hugh and I--don't
you, Honor?"

"What about, mother?"

"Why, I told you.  Where is your memory, child?  When he asked if he
might give her that ring, he told me of his attachment to Molly.  But
he said it should be just as I wished whether he said anything to her
or not.  He said she was still so young in many ways that he did not
want to frighten her, and perhaps destroy his chances later.  He
said, very sensibly I thought, that there is plenty of time; that
they are both young, and he would rather that Molly grew to care for
him on her own account as it were, than by its being suggested, so to
speak.  _Don't_ walk up and down so, Honor!  You fidget me to death,
child, and I am expressing myself anyhow!"

Honor seats herself, and her mother goes on:

"Well, that was the gist of what he said, and I think it was a very
right way of looking at things.  What do you say?"

"Yes, I think so, certainly," replies Honor warmly.  "I always liked
Hugh, and I only hope Molly will be as fond of him one day as he is
of her."

"He says," resumes Mrs. Merivale, paying no heed to this remark,
"that if he does not come back in the ordinary course of things, he
shall get short leave if he finds the time running on.  There's Dick!
Mind, not a _word_ to him, Honor; he would tease the child out of her
senses.  I think the safest way will be for only you and me to know
it.  Doris will be so taken up with her own affairs that she will not
give any thought to the matter.  Of course his mother knows.  She has
always hoped for this, it seems.  Ah, Molly is a good girl!  You are
_all_ good girls, Honor.  Now, good-night, dear; you look tired too,
and I am sure _I_ am."



CHAPTER XXXI.

PREPARATIONS FOR A BALL.

About a week after this Doris comes home, arriving in such wild
spirits that the household, which has lately become a little dull,
does not seem the same.  Since Hugh's departure Molly has certainly
been more quiet and subdued than of old, often sitting lost in
thought, till Dick one day was reduced to telling her she seemed
always "wool-gathering" now, and asked was "it a paying business?"
The fact of the case was, that Hugh's manner and gift on the evening
of his last visit had set Molly thinking.  No one can resist the
influence of Doris's happy gaiety, however; and though still disposed
to be a little thoughtful at times, Molly is soon roused into her own
bright self again.

For some days after her arrival home, Doris's tongue hardly ever
ceases going.

"Aunt was awfully kind to me, and I can tell you she is as pleased as
Punch about my engagement.  Only she will call Lancelot (a little
blush) 'an estimable young man,' which does sound so dreadful,
doesn't it?  And so poor Hugh has gone," she runs on.  "Yes, it's a
pretty ring, Molly, very simple"--and here she glances rather
complacently at her own half-hoop of fine diamonds--"but good taste;
oh, yes, very.  I always thought there would be something between you
two; but I suppose I was mistaken," she says airily.

"Yes, aunt was very kind.  Uncle is _much_ better, and looks quite
ten years younger.  It was such fun!  Aunt, I suppose, thought I
should be conceited if I thought Lancelot was coming so much for my
sake, so she told me that uncle and he had struck up a wonderful
affection for each other, and that amused uncle immensely.  He used
to wink at me openly whenever Mr. Ferrars was announced.

"Uncle and I are regular chums; and when he said good-bye he patted
my face, and told me I was a good girl, and that he was going to send
me a cheque when I begin to get my 'fal-lals and furbelows' together
for my marriage."

The wedding has been fixed for about six months later, but Doris does
not consider it a bit too soon to commence the all-important business
of her trousseau, and soon the house is a perfect sea of long-cloth,
cambric, and lace.  For it is settled that all the under-linen shall
be made at home, with the assistance of the girls at the schools,
perhaps, in which both Honor and Molly have for some time held
classes on Sunday.

"Plenty of time for dresses and such things later on," said Mrs.
Merivale; and Doris agreed with her.  Lancelot Ferrars was now in
London, Mrs. Merivale and Doris had heard, and up to his eyes in
business.  He would run down to see them soon, however, he said.

Some few weeks after this, when they are all settled down quietly
once more, a startling piece of intelligence is spread through
Edendale, which throws every one, from the highest to the lowest,
into an unwonted state of surprise and expectation.

The new heir to the Court is said to be about to return from "foreign
parts," and intends coming down in about a fortnight's time to take
formal possession of his inheritance.

There is to be first a tenants' dinner, and then a ball, to which
every one for miles round is to be invited.  Of course the whole
neighbourhood is in a tremendous state of excitement over this
unexpected news, more especially as it is reported that the new
baronet intends living at the Court a good deal.  There is much
speculation on many points, and mothers who have unmarried daughters
on their hands still, nod approvingly at all they hear of the
preparations in connection with the proposed gaieties--all hoping for
the best.  For some declare that he is as yet a bachelor, though
others are equally certain that he has been married for years.

Sir Edward Ferrars does not, it appears, feel disposed to gratify
their curiosity on this point any more than any other.  For he does
not attempt to come near the place, leaving all arrangements as to
the entertainment entirely in the hands of those appointed to carry
it through, calmly announcing that he does not intend putting in an
appearance himself until absolutely necessary.  People are obliged
perforce to be content, and they can only look forward to the day of
the ball with redoubled zest.

In course of time cards of invitation are sent out for July 10th, the
Merivale's being for "Mrs. and the Miss Merivales."  Doris goes up to
town soon after this to stay for a few days with her aunt, and
Lancelot coming in one day she shows him the invitation.

"I brought it up to show aunt," she says.

Mr. Ferrars laughs a little.

"Sir Edward thought it best to say 'the Miss Merivales,' I suppose.
I did say there were three of you, but I daresay he forgot.  He's a
queer sort of fellow, I believe.  His predecessor was also rather
eccentric, you know.  Of course you are all going, Doris?" he says
presently.  "I shall be there.  One of my aunts is going to play
hostess for Sir Edward, and I have promised to go and help them.
It's an awful bore, though."

"Honor and I are going," says Doris, referring to the first remark.
"I am not quite sure about Molly."

"O, let little Molly go!  Besides," cries Lancelot with energy, "she
must, as my future bride's sister, you know."

Doris stares a little.

"How in the world are people to know that you and I are engaged; and
even if they did, what would they care about either me or Molly?  We
are nothing to Sir Edward."

"Ah, true, I forgot that.  But you know what country places are,
Doris; and I wouldn't mind betting five pounds that before you have
been in the room half an hour the fact of our engagement will have
leaked out."

"Do you know much of this Sir Edward?" inquires Doris after a pause.
"Is he married?  Some say he is, some say he isn't."

"I don't _think_ he is," says Lancelot slowly.  "I fancy I heard
something about his being engaged, though."

"O, _what_ a pity!"

"Why, Doris?"

"Because I thought he would have done nicely for Honor, or Molly
perhaps."

"It strikes me there are two people who would strongly object to such
an arrangement," says Mr. Ferrars, leaning back in his chair and
smiling at Doris.  "I don't think Dr. Sinclair would care about it,
nor young Horton."

Doris opens her eyes.

"Hugh!" she says with astonishment in her voice.  "Why, nothing has
been said about these two, Lancelot."

"Perhaps not," he answers lazily; "but there will be, sooner or
later, you will see, my dear.  Don't say anything to Molly, though; I
don't think your mother wishes it.  As for Sinclair, anyone can see
he is fond of Honor."

"O yes, of course, I know that.  But fancy Molly!  My goodness, it
seems only yesterday that she was in short frocks!"  And Doris falls
to musing.

It is finally decided that Molly _shall_ go to the ball with her
sisters, and now an important question comes up.  What are they all
to wear?

"I would rather not go at all than go badly dressed," says Doris with
a suspicion of a pout.  "How _horrid_ it is to be poor!  There will
be all the Trevelyan family there: they are _sure_ to be, because
even Lancelot knows them quite intimately, and so also of course Sir
Edward must, to some extent; and they are the greatest people about
this part of the world, I suppose.  I can just imagine how Lady Anne
will put up her eye-glass and examine us from top to toe."

"I don't care if she does," says Molly promptly.  "You can afford to
be looked at, Doris, for you are a hundred times better looking than
she is, and you are sure to get a lot more partners, notwithstanding
her title."

But here Mrs. Merivale suddenly becomes possessed of an idea, and
intimates that such is the case by holding up her hand and saying
"Hush!"

She then reminds Honor of the trunks of dresses belonging to her,
which, it will be remembered, there had been some little argument
about keeping at the time of the sale.

"Were they kept, Honor?"

"Yes, mother.  Aunt insisted that it was more than anyone would
expect or even think of (I mean to leave them), so she had her own
way, and they are up in the second attic now in those big boxes."

"Quite right, too," remarks Doris, referring to her aunt's having
come off victorious in the matter.

So then and there a tremendous turn out takes place; and Mrs.
Merivale's bed-room, where the foregoing conversation has taken
place, is the scene of trying on and taking off for a good hour.

Doris and Molly turn out their own particular hoards also, though the
latter's, in the matter of evening apparel, is somewhat scanty.
Still it is found that their white silks, which were their winter
party dresses, and only new shortly before the death of their father,
are in perfectly good condition still, and with judicious management
the two together can be made into one very presentable dress for
Molly.

Doris's few evening dresses provided by her aunt when abroad, and
modest enough in themselves, prove to be a little shabby when seen by
daylight, and the girl's spirits begin to sink accordingly.

"That pale pink of mother's is lovely," she says, looking at one
which Honor is in the act of shaking out, "but Lancelot insists on my
being in white.  Such nonsense!  I declare I would spend my last few
shillings in having a new white net or something; but it would look
absurd for Molly to be in silk and me not.  What about Honor, too?"

At this critical moment Becky appears staggering under the weight of
a large milliner's box, her cap a little more awry than usual.

"For you, miss," she says, planting it on the floor close before
Doris.  "There ain't nothing to pay;" and looking very much as if she
would like to stay, she slowly leaves the room.

"For me?  Good gracious! what can it be?" and Doris pounces on the
box, and tearing off both paper and string she very soon gets at the
contents.  A new dead, white silk is then triumphantly displayed,
made with artistic simplicity, the only trimming being a little good
lace.

Off comes Doris's dress in a trice, and in almost less time than it
takes to tell she is in the new one, pulling here and patting there
until it is all fastened (Doris gasping a little, but striving to
conceal that fact), and pronounced by one and all to "do" charmingly.

"My stars," says Dick, appearing suddenly on the scene, "you _do_
look stunning!  What a pity our knight is not here to gaze upon his
future bride in this--shall I say, regal attire," and the boy falls
into an attitude of admiration and devotion.  Doris bows her
acknowledgments of these graceful compliments with a heightened
colour; but whether the colour is due to the undeniable tightness of
the bodice or the mention of the "knight" we will leave an open
question; Dick inclining to the latter opinion, Doris (privately) to
the former.

"You ungrateful girl!" suddenly cries Honor, who is engaged in
smoothing out the many sheets of crumpled tissue paper strewn about
the box and on the floor.  "Here is a letter from aunt; how came you
not to see it?"

It appears that the present is from Sir John.  He wishes Doris to
look well at the coming ball, Lady Woodhouse goes on to say, young
Ferrars being of the same family as Sir Edward.

"Well, that is kind of uncle, isn't it?  Now I shall not care two
straws for Lady Anne Trevelyan or anyone else."

On further examination of the hoards another white silk (one of Mrs.
Merivale's) is discovered, which will do nicely for Honor if altered
and renovated.

"I want you all to be dressed alike in that respect," says Mrs.
Merivale.  "You know, girls, I always liked white silk for you in the
old days before your poor father died," and she sighs heavily.

And so the weighty subject of the ball dresses is settled, and a
young woman in the village, whom the girls have found to be possessed
of some ideas as to style and so on, is engaged to come into the
house to alter those destined for Honor and Molly.



CHAPTER XXXII.

JOHN SINCLAIR'S FAIRY TALE.

All this time Daisy and Dr. John Sinclair continue to take their
almost daily rides, greatly to the delight of the former if not the
latter.  Not that the young man feels one whit less the pleasure of
having his little favourite intrusted to his care, and of watching
her slow but steady return to health and spirits.

But of late he has become dull and spiritless, going about his work
in a listless sort of way which is quite foreign to him as a rule,
and which cannot fail to be noticed by anyone who knows him well.

It will have been gathered from some foregoing hints that ever since
the young doctor had been called in to attend Daisy in her illness,
he had been gradually becoming attached to her sister Honor.

At first he had been amused, afterwards attracted, by all her quiet
little motherly ways when nursing Daisy, and when he came to be a
daily visitor at the house he soon learned to appreciate and admire
the girl who, for the sake of all around her, was making such brave
and heroic efforts against an adverse fate.

It was not difficult for the doctor's keen eyes to see that Honor,
young as she was, was the guide and mainstay of the whole household,
nothing, not even the merest trifle being ever settled or arranged
without consultation with her first.

And all this was done with graceful cheerfulness and sweetness of
temper; for it was very seldom, sorely tried though she was at times,
that Honor allowed herself to become ruffled or cross, even with poor
Becky in her most stupid fits; and no one but the girl herself knew
what a weary, tired-out little frame it often was she stretched upon
her bed at night with a sigh of thankfulness for her well-earned
rest.  Then when better times came, and cares and anxieties lessened,
the young doctor saw a new side to her character; for whereas she had
before been almost unnaturally sober-minded for one so young, she was
now like a bright sunbeam in the house.

No wonder Dr. Sinclair began to think how cheerless his house (which
hitherto had appeared to be all that was desirable) looked on his
arrival home, and how different it would all be if there was someone
always waiting to receive him.  In summer-time he would picture this
person sitting in the porch, perhaps, with needlework, and when
winter came, in a cozy sitting-room all aglow with firelight, with
possibly a pair of slippers warming near the fender.  O, yes, it was
a charming picture!  In truth the young doctor, hitherto so matter of
fact and prosaic, had taken to painting many such pictures in his
mind's eye, and the centre figure always bore, strange to say, a
strong resemblance to Honor Merivale.  But John Sinclair had got his
way to make in the world, for although he had stepped into his
father's practice on the latter's death, the list of well-to-do
patients was not a very extensive one, there being but few
(comparatively) large houses round about the neighbourhood; and the
young fellow being kind-hearted and lenient in such matters, fees
came in but slowly from his poorer patients, often not at all.

This had been of no consequence to the old gentleman during his
lifetime, for he had money of his own which made him independent of
his profession.  In later years, however, he had speculated largely
and unsuccessfully, and when on his death-bed he was obliged to tell
his son that all he had to leave him was his house and just the bare
practice.  This intelligence had in no way disconcerted John
Sinclair, however.  He said he had his brains and his hands, and with
those useful commodities had no fears for the future.

He had soon worked the practice up into something very much better
than it had been formerly, and, what was more encouraging, he was
beginning to be looked upon with favour by his brother practitioners,
it being now no uncommon thing for him to be sent for to neighbouring
towns to hold consultations with men of long standing and experience.

Still his fortune was not made, and in his castle-building moments he
now became painfully conscious of many defects in his bachelor home.

The carpets, which a little while back had appeared quite handsome in
his eyes, now look threadbare and worn.  The curtains are all of them
old-fashioned and dingy.  The leather of the dining-room furniture
has suddenly become shabby and scratched, whilst the coverings of all
the drawing-room chairs and sofas, &c., are faded to the last degree.

No, he could not ask Honor to share his home as it is.  He must wait
until he shall have the means to brighten up the old house with
modern furniture, and to make it both pretty and comfortable.  He
must wait, too, until he has a certain income (how much, he has not
quite decided even to himself) to depend upon yearly.

"She has slaved and laboured enough, poor child!" he says to himself
sighing, "and she shall never have to do it again through any
rashness of mine."

So altogether John Sinclair is not in the best of spirits just now,
for while he is waiting might not someone else step in and secure the
prize.

Mrs. Merivale sees the change, and guesses pretty accurately the
reason of it.  But while she pities him from her heart she feels
rightly that nothing she can do will mend matters.

Daisy does not find her companion nearly so amusing and cheerful now
as she used to, and one morning, feeling in extra good spirits
herself, and only getting mono-syllabic answers to all her childish
flow of chatter, she plainly informs him of that fact without the
slightest regard to his feelings.

"Am I not?" says Sinclair, laughing a little and pulling himself
together; for he had been leaning forward in his saddle wrapped in
gloomy thoughts, until the child's abrupt remark roused him.

"Well, I am very sorry, Daisy.  I'll try to be a little more lively
in future.  Shall I tell you a new story?"

Daisy looks at him, and then shakes her head.

"I like the old one best," she says, "about the princess, you know,
and the wood-cutter.  But I don't like the way it finishes up.  You
must make it end differently, Dr. John."

"Why, how did it end?--I almost forget now;" and he passes his hand
over his eyes and strives to take his memory back to please his
exacting little patient.

"Why, I believe _I_ know it all better than you!" remarks the child
with some contempt.  "Don't you remember?  The princess had a lot of
brothers and sisters; but, you know, she can only have been a
princess in disguise, because she was a kind of Cinderella at home.
Then the wood-cutter, just because he _was_ a wood-cutter, would not
ask the princess to marry him, although he was _dreadfully_ fond of
her; and _I_ think that was silly, you know, because it was quite
likely that some fairy would have made him a prince when they were
married, and then, you see, it would have been all right.  You must
make up a new ending," concludes Daisy authoritatively, "and make the
wood-cutter ask the princess to marry him, and then they will both be
happy ever after."

"Do you think they really would be?" asks Dr. John anxiously.

"Of _course_ they would--they always are!" replies Daisy, with firm
conviction that the approved manner of winding up fairy tales in
general cannot fail to be successful in this case also.

"You can arrange it all nicely when you are at home to-night,"
continues the child, "and mind you make it very long."

"To be sure," says the young man as he lifts his little charge off
her pony and stands her by the gate.  "Yards long, if you like,
Daisy; and we will take an extra long ride so as to get it all in
comfortably."

As he stops at the Rosery stables to leave Puck, the old gentlemen at
work in the garden catch sight of their young favourite; and nothing
will do but he must go in and take a glass of ale and some cake with
them, the brothers being devoted to cake themselves, and thinking of
necessity that every one else must be likewise.  So Jack is taken in
company with Puck to the nice cool stable, where he is entertained
with a fresh drink and a few oats, while his master goes into the
shady, old-fashioned dining-room with his old hosts.  It soon becomes
apparent that they have lured him in with some special object, for
after a humming and hawing from both gentlemen in turn Mr. Edward at
length says:

"The fact is, my dear Dr. John, we have been wanting to speak to you
for some time past on a little matter of business; and I do not see
that we could have a better opportunity than now."

Mr. Benjamin nods approvingly, and saying "exactly," looks at his
brother expectantly.

"You see, my dear boy," resumes the elder brother slowly, "if you
will pardon us for saying so, we do think it is time you were
thinking of getting married.  Hush!  pray let me finish what I was
about to say.  Of course Mrs. Mildew, though a truly excellent woman
in her way, is, it cannot be denied, advancing in years; and we fear
that she does not always make you as comfortable as--as, well, as she
might.  Now, Brother Ben and I, you must remember, have known you
ever since you were a little chap--so high, and have looked upon you
as a son almost.  Naturally, therefore, we have put you down in our
will for a trifle.  But we have lately been thinking that the wiser
plan would be to let you have the benefit of this little sum during
our lifetime--in fact, at once.  It will bring you in about a hundred
a year, and with your own practice, we think you might make a
sufficient income to keep a wife very comfortably.

"Of course," says Mr. Ned, holding up his hand again for silence--"of
course _this_ is a matter in which we cannot advise you, and which
must be left entirely to yourself.  I daresay, however, you know
plenty of young ladies in the different towns about;" and he nods and
smiles archly at the young fellow.

"You see, my dear boy, it looks so much better for a doctor to be a
married man," suddenly puts in Mr. Benjamin; "and should you be so
fortunate as to meet with anyone in the future whom you would like
to--to make Mrs. John, you know, you would naturally want to furbish
up the old place a bit--now, wouldn't you?"

"Another thing," strikes in Mr. Edward, both brothers seeming equally
determined that John shall not have an opportunity of getting in a
single word edgeways until they have said all their say, "it would be
an immense relief to both Brother Ben and myself to feel that we
still had you at hand to fly to in any case of emergency.  We have
always had the fear that you might perhaps be running away to set up
in some more prosperous place than this."

Here the old gentleman pauses, and John Sinclair, seizing his
opportunity, speaks at last--not that he is allowed to say much,
however, for the old fellows have not half finished yet, and they
will not listen to a single word of thanks.

When John once brings in the word "obligation" they are both down
upon him at once.

"There is no obligation in the matter at all, my dear boy, unless it
is on our side.  As I said to Brother Ben this morning, 'It is pure
selfishness on our part, Ben, nothing more nor less.  Because, you
see, we like to see with our own eyes that what we intend doing is
really done, and without any haggling with lawyers and executors.'
Why, bless me, if every one acted on this principle there would be a
little more justice and comfort in the world, I'm thinking."

After a little more brisk conversation and some chaffing on the
subject of the future "Mrs. John" (Mr. Ben having declared that his
young friend was blushing, and that he believed he already had his
eye on some charming young lady, though whom it could be he couldn't
tell), the young doctor is allowed to take his departure.

Riding slowly down the cool, green lanes, Jack rather enjoying the
unusual pace, Sinclair repeats over and over to himself Daisy's
words, "The wood-cutter must ask the princess to marry him," till at
last, giving the saddle a sounding smack with the handle of his
riding-whip, he exclaims to himself, "He shall ask her, and that this
very day!  Only," his face falling a little, "will she raise any
objections to leaving all her brothers and sisters, I wonder?"  He is
put to the test sooner than he expects, for as he comes out of the
lane at the crossroads, a little way down one of which his own house
stands, whom should he see seated on the stile, a small basket by her
side, but Honor Merivale!



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE WOOD-CUTTER AND THE PRINCESS.

In a moment John Sinclair is off his horse, and drawing his arm
through the reins he approaches Honor.

"Now I am fortunate," he says, putting one foot up on the lower plank
of the stile.  "I was just wishing for someone to communicate a piece
of good news to; and lo! here is someone ready and waiting, as it
were."

"I was waiting for a fresh stock of breath after climbing up that
hill, Dr. Sinclair, not for you."

"Possibly," he returns, smiling; "but now you are here you will let
me tell my news, won't you?"

Then in a few words he tells her of the conversation that has been
held that morning by the Mr. Talboys and himself.

"I am so glad!" exclaims Honor, holding out her hand in the impulse
of the moment, "and they will be so delighted at home too!  You work
so hard and are so good to every one, I am sure you thoroughly
deserve this good fortune."

"The brothers find serious fault with me for one thing, however,"
resumes the doctor after a short pause.  "They think it is high time
I thought of getting married."

"Oh!" says Honor, and suddenly discovering that her hand is still
resting in that of Sinclair, she gently draws it away and strokes
Jack's velvet nose.

"Yes, they say a doctor ought to be a married man.  I think so too.
What do _you_ say, Miss Honor?"

"O, I daresay it may be well in some cases, but you have got on very
well so far."

"Yes, so far perhaps," and letting the reins drop, that Jack may
graze at will, Sinclair seats himself on the stile, a plank below
Honor.

"By the by," he says, looking up suddenly, "you remember that story I
have often told Daisy, about the wood-cutter and the princess?  You
must have heard it, because I am sure I have told it some hundreds of
times altogether.  Well, I have to revise it, to suit her little
ladyship's taste.  She no longer approves of it as it was.  I
thought, perhaps, you might help me.  First of all the princess, so
far as I remember, had no name.  I don't think I ever troubled myself
about giving her one.  Now, what do you think of 'Honoria'--Princess
Honoria?  I think it sounds well; do you?"

"O yes," replies the girl, laughing a little.  "That would do very
well, I daresay."

"Well then, do you think 'John' too commonplace a name for the
wood-cutter?"

Honor starts a little.

"I think you might find one better suited to a fairy tale," she says
quietly.

"Do you?  Oh, I think it would do so well.  O yes, certainly; his
name must be John.  You can settle the next question for me.  Daisy
says the wood-cutter is to ask the princess to marry him.  Shall he
do so, Honor?"

Poor Honor!  She cannot get off the stile, because there sits the
doctor below, making her descent practically impossible until he
chooses to move; and her broad-brimmed hat, though effectually
shading her eyes from the sun, cannot shield her from the earnest
eyes looking up so anxiously into her face.  She cannot put up her
sun-shade either, for both her hands are now imprisoned, and while
flushing painfully she tries to withdraw them, she looks away across
the fields and says nothing.

"Won't you answer me, Honor?" he says after a minute.

"I--I think it would be a pity for him to ask her," she says in a low
voice.

"Why?"

Honor brings her face round again, and with a great effort continues
speaking in the light manner in which they began, notwithstanding
that her hands are still held tightly.

"Why," she says with a little smile.  "Don't you remember that the
princess had a lot of brothers and sisters, and--and they might not
like her to go away, and she might not think it right to leave them,
you know."

"They might marry too," mutters Sinclair gloomily.  Then suddenly
bending forward again, he says with trembling voice, "Honor, dear
child, do not trifle with me.  You know that I have loved you for a
long, long time, almost ever since I first knew you.  But I have been
waiting--oh, such a weary waiting!--until I should have something
else to offer you besides my worthless self.  And now that I _can_ do
it, you are not going to disappoint me, dear?  Say you will be my
wife, Honor."

[Illustration: "YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DISAPPOINT ME, HONOR?"]

"O don't, please don't!" cries the girl, trying distractedly to get
possession of her own hands again.  "O, Dr. Sinclair, I _wish_ you
had not asked me!"

"Why?" he asks again quietly.

"Because--because, I cannot bear to seem ungrateful or unkind, and
yet I must.  O, will you please let me go?"

"I will let you go when you have answered me two questions, Honor,"
he says, dropping her hands and drawing back.  "Will you first tell
me why you are obliged to disappoint me?"

Honor struggles bravely to keep back her tears, while she says in a
low voice: "I could not leave them, Dr. Sinclair.  My mother and
sisters and the boys, I mean.  Somehow I have never thought of such a
thing as marrying for myself."

"Not lately, Honor?"

Honor looks down, but does not answer.

"I promised father, only a little while before he died," she goes on,
"that I would always do all I could to help the others."

"But you did not promise him never to marry?  Your father would not
have exacted such a promise, I am sure.  Now, Honor dear, be
reasonable.  Doris is going to be married, and Molly will follow
before very long."

"Molly?" repeats Honor, looking up.

"Yes, of course she will, as soon as young Horton comes home again.
Well, there are two off the list.  You would not consider the boys so
much in the matter, I suppose; and your mother could divide her time
between Doris and ourselves.  Daisy I have always looked forward to
having to live with us.  Ah! what would poor little Daisy say if she
knew that the princess was refusing to marry the wood-cutter, and to
give her that big brother she so much covets!  Ah, Honor, dear child,
think before you speak again.  Don't decide hurriedly, I beseech you.
Take a day to consider--two or three, if you will; but remember, that
if your final answer is again 'no,' you give me a lifelong sorrow to
live down.

"No!" he suddenly adds with an energy that startles Honor and Jack
both, "not a _life_-long sorrow, for I shall still hope, even if I
have to wait for years.  There is only one thing that will rob me of
all hope.  If you tell me that you cannot care for me, then will I
leave you here at once, and I will never open my lips on the subject
again."

But Honor, who would rather die than tell an untruth, cannot tell him
anything of the kind, and so she turns a little reproachful look upon
him, shaking her head sadly, and as it droops lower and lower two
great tears fall upon the hands which are now again holding hers in a
firm grasp.

At the sight of her tears the doctor has instant remorse.

"Forgive me, Honor," he says gently.  "I have been too hard on you; I
am a selfish fellow, and now I have distressed you."

But Honor, who is still crying quietly, again shakes her head, and in
a whisper that he can hardly hear she says:

"No, no, you have not.  Please, do not think that.  I--I am crying
for, for happiness, I think.  But oh, I am so sorry too!  _Please_,
let me get my handkerchief!"

What would have been the result of this somewhat contradictory
statement, it would be perhaps rash to speculate upon, judging by the
look of happiness which suddenly overspreads the doctor's face.  But
at this critical moment a small urchin turns the corner of the lane
and slowly comes into sight.  He holds a tin-can in one hand and
something tied up in a red-cotton handkerchief in the
other--presumably his dinner.  The fact of coming upon the party at
the stile so suddenly and unexpectedly appears to embarrass him
exceedingly, for he stands as if rooted to the spot, gaping and
staring, first at the horse, then at Sinclair, then at Honor; his
eyes travelling back again in reversed order, and finally resting on
Jack, with whom he seems struck with admiration.  All chance of
private conversation being apparently at an end, John Sinclair rises,
and first possessing himself of Honor's basket, holds out his hand
and helps her down from the stile with elaborate politeness.  Then
once more slipping the reins over his arm, he retraces his steps
(Jack meekly following, though it is the opposite direction from
home), and walks slowly along by Honor's side until they reach the
gate of the Rookery.

When Honor enters the house it is with a confused sense of having
conceded so far as to make three distinct promises to Dr. John
Sinclair.  One is that should Molly marry some day in the far distant
future, she, Honor, shall consider herself pledged to become Mrs.
Sinclair, at a moment's notice.  The second is that she shall
straightway inform her mother of what has passed between them, as he
intends calling that evening to speak to Mrs. Merivale on the subject
himself.

The third concession (and Honor blushes when she thinks of it) is
that "Dr. Sinclair" is to be dropped from that time forth, and that
she is to call him simply "John" for the future.  Honor, however,
privately resolves to call him nothing, if she can avoid doing
otherwise, as a way out of the difficulty.

They are all seated at the dinner-table when she enters the room,
Doris at the head carving, for which Honor is devoutly thankful,
feeling possibly that in her present state of confusion she would not
know a shoulder of mutton from a round of beef.  Mrs. Merivale is at
the other end of the table.

"You _are_ late," says Doris, brandishing the carving-knife.  "Which
will you have, Honor, hashed mutton or cold beef?"

"Cold mutton, please," replies Honor, and Doris, staring a little,
begins to carve her some beef, thinking to herself that the hot sun
has turned her sister's head a little.

Dick presently pushes the salad over.

"No, thanks," says Honor absently; and at that Dick arrests the
progress of the fork which is half-way to his mouth, and laying it
down again exclaims:

"Why, what is the matter with Honor?  She is as red as a poppy; she
calls beef mutton and refuses salad in the same breath!"

"Mind your own business and don't tease!" says Molly, who had caught
sight of the doctor with Honor at the gate, and has her own private
opinion as to her sister's embarrassment.  "Eat your dinner, Dick,
and get back to your lessons.  That's the best thing you can do.
Can't you see," leaning over and helping herself to more salad, "that
Honor is done up with the heat?  I really thought I should have
collapsed with it myself this morning when I was coming home, down
that hot, glaring, dusty road.  What did Lancelot say in his letter
this morning, Doris?"

Honor looks gratefully at her younger sister, and having had time to
recover herself, she tries to talk and to make a pretence of eating,
though the chief part of her meat is surreptitiously received by
Timothy under the table.

The conversation at length becomes general, and is chiefly about the
ball, which is no further off now than the next evening.

Later on in the day Lady Woodhouse is to arrive, she having promised
to chaperone her three nieces to the ball.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

"I AM LANCELOT," SAYS SIR EDWARD.

The dresses for the ball have all been finished off satisfactorily,
and now that the evening of the 10th has really arrived, the three
girls are standing in the drawing-room, preparatory to starting with
their aunt for the Court.

They make a pretty group in their simple, white silk gowns and
natural flowers.  Doris is perhaps a little the most important
looking, as being the eldest of the three.  Standing with a handsome
posy of choice hothouse flowers (sent down from London that morning
by Mr. Ferrars) in her hand, she looks, as she certainly is, a very
pretty and graceful girl.

Honor, with an opposition posy, which had arrived with some mystery
that afternoon, and is explained with great persistency by Dick as
being an offering from Ernest Hildyard, looks almost equally pretty
to-night, with a soft flush upon her cheeks and a happy light in her
eyes, which seems lately to have become habitual to them.  But it is
Molly who carries off the palm for beauty on this occasion, though
not, perhaps, looking in the same ecstatic spirits as her two
sisters; and her mother as she looks at her feels a little pardonable
pride in the thought that probably her three daughters will be the
best-looking girls in the ball-room.

"She is looking lovely to-night!" whispers the delighted mother to
Honor.  "I do wish Hugh were here to see her, poor fellow!"

Lady Woodhouse and Molly are also provided with posies of choice
flowers, Priscilla having left them at the Rookery that evening about
six, with her masters' compliments, a card being tied on each, one
for "Lady Woodhouse," the other "Miss Mary Merivale."

Evidently some little bird had whispered to the old gentlemen that it
would be quite unnecessary to send a similar offering to either Doris
or Honor.

"We must take care what we are about, Ben," remarked Mr. Edward to
his brother, "or we shall have these two young fellows getting
jealous of us."

When the only available fly in the village is at length announced by
Dick and Bobby, who have both been on the tiptoe of expectation for
some time, Lady Woodhouse gathers up her skirts, and followed by her
three nieces walks down the gravel path, Dick being in attendance to
receive her goloshes, which, though there has not been a drop of rain
for weeks, she insists on wearing over her evening shoes until she
shall be safely seated in the aforesaid fly.

As the boy hands Honor in, he charges her to be sure to ask Sinclair
how he likes the flowers Mr. Hildyard has sent her, but on receiving
a smart rap on his head with a fan from Molly, who is close behind
him, he wisely retires into the background.

"Bless me! what a rattle-trap kind of conveyance," says Lady
Woodhouse to Honor, who is seated opposite, "and _how_ it smells of
straw!  You girls had better hold up your gowns off the floor; I
don't suppose it is any too clean.  And, dear me, there is a piece of
glass out of the pane behind Molly!  You had better pull the window
up on your side, child, or you will be getting a stiff neck or an
ear-ache."

* * * * * * * *

It is certainly not to be denied that those whose business it has
been to make all the arrangements for the ball have achieved wonders,
for the stately, gloomy-looking old place, which until now had been
shut up for so many years, is scarcely to be recognized in the
brilliantly-lighted and flower-bedecked mansion, at whose wide-thrown
doors the guests are being set down from carriage after carriage.

The garden is so arranged as to look like a continuation of the
beautiful conservatories, and the trees and bushes all being hung
with coloured lamps, the whole scene is like a miniature fairy-land.
There is a large marquee at one end, with light refreshments, and
this arrangement is appreciated not a little by the guests, who are
thankful on this hot summer night to have the excuse of a stroll in
the open air in order to obtain their ices and claret-cup between the
dances.

Just inside the great drawing-room stands an aristocratic-looking,
silver-haired lady, who, with the assistance of three gentlemen
(Lancelot and two younger-looking men), is receiving the guests.  The
dancing is to be in the great hall, so when most of the visitors have
arrived they are conducted thither without delay.

"I wonder which is Sir Edward?" whispers Doris to Honor; "they are
neither of them half so good-looking as Lancelot."  For Mr. Ferrars
has merely said "my cousins" in introducing them to the girls.

But at this moment there is a little stir near the door, and the next
moment the Earl and Countess of Castleton, with their daughters, Lady
Anne and Lady Margaret Trevelyan, enter the room.

As the host and hostess have been waiting for the arrival of this
party before giving the signal for the dancing to commence, Lancelot
immediately leads the way to the hall with Lady Castleton.  The rest
of the guests follow, Lord Castleton, rather to Doris's surprise,
begging the honour of the first dance with her, while the two
"cousins" bear off the Ladies Anne and Margaret.

Doris, though appearing pleased enough, nevertheless feels rather put
out.  As she had looked forward to dancing the first dance with
Lancelot, she cannot help wondering why _he_ should be opening the
ball with Lady Castleton, instead of his cousin Sir Edward.  Lord
Castleton does not mend matters in her opinion by planting himself
and her immediately opposite to Lancelot and his partner, thus giving
her precedence of Lady Anne and Lady Margaret.

The girl is so confused with this (to her) odd arrangement that her
conversational powers are seriously affected, and she thinks to
herself what a stupid little thing she must appear to his lordship.
She sees in the distance, in another set, Honor with John Sinclair,
and Molly with Lord Hinton, a friend and college chum of Lancelot's,
who has come down with him, and she finds herself privately thinking
that if her partner were any other than Lord Castleton she would
insist on leaving this very select set and joining the other.

She makes the best of it, however, and meeting a little affectionate
and encouraging glance from her vis-à-vis just as the band plays the
opening bars of the quadrille, she brightens up, and chats to her
elderly partner while gracefully moving through the figures in a
manner which quite charms his lordship.

Doris is once more standing by her aunt's side when Lancelot hurries
up.  "I must have this one waltz before I do any more duty dances,
Doris.  Come along!" and in another instant they are gliding round
the room together.  After several turns Mr. Ferrars guides her to the
end of the hall, where some heavy curtains are hung.  He lifts one,
and Doris, looking a little surprised, passes through.  They are now
in a sort of inner hall, and hurrying Doris down it he throws open
one of the doors and stands aside for her to enter.  It is a
cosy-looking study which they are now standing in, the windows, like
those of nearly all the rooms on that side, leading straight to the
garden.  The only thing, however, that Doris notices particularly in
the room itself is a nearly full-length portrait of Lancelot over the
mantel-piece.

"Are you tired?" he asks, putting her into a comfortable
lounging-chair, and taking his stand by the fireplace, one elbow
resting on the mantel-piece.

"Tired!--after only two dances?  Why, I shouldn't expect to be tired
if I danced all night long, Lancelot."

"And now, tell me, Doris," he says after a short pause, "how do you
like Sir Edward?"

"Sir Edward?" repeats Doris staring a little.  "Why, I don't even
know who he is yet.  You only said 'my cousin' when you introduced
them both to us.  How can I possibly tell?"

"And yet you have been dancing with him," says Lancelot with a little
smile.

"I!--with Sir Edward?" says Doris evidently thinking that her
companion is wandering in his mind a little.

"Yes, _you_, with Sir Edward.  Look here, Doris," taking her arm and
raising her from the chair, "that is Sir Edward Ferrars up there!"
and he points to the portrait of himself.

"_Lancelot!_" gasps Doris, and she turns her wonder-stricken face
towards him, while a little pained look comes into her eyes.  "Why
have you called yourself Lancelot, then?" she inquires, her voice
sounding a little hurt and constrained.

"Because I _am_ Lancelot," Sir Edward says gently, and taking her
hands into his.  "But I am Edward too, Doris; the other is only my
second name, though I have always been called by it since my infancy.
You see, I never expected to come into this property, Doris.  It came
almost like a blow to me.  There was another man, a distant cousin,
who was the direct heir; but, poor fellow! he was a black sheep, I am
afraid, and he came to an untimely end.  It was all hushed up at the
time, and I knew no more of it than anyone else.  You may imagine,
then, how surprised I was when I found myself the happy possessor of
this property.  Happy, because I have found someone to share it with
me, Doris.  I should not have cared two straws about it otherwise."

"But--but _why_ did you deceive me, Lancelot?" says Doris, with the
threatening of a pout on her fair face.

"I did not deceive you, dear.  I simply let things take their own
course, with you that is, and I was as much Lancelot Ferrars then as
now, now as then.  The only two people I told of my accession to this
property were your aunt and your mother.  I was bound to tell them,
of course."

"And why," says Doris, still looking and feeling a little hurt,
"_why_ couldn't you tell _me_ too?"

"You must forgive me, Doris.  Do you remember what you said to me
over and over again about making some great match?  I remember you
tossing your little head one day when we were sitting in the balcony
of the hotel at Venice and saying 'What was love compared to riches!'"

Doris blushes and hangs her head.

"Then there appeared this rich old French count--"

"He wasn't _very_ old," interrupts Doris.

"Older than I am at any rate.  And I thought at first you were a
little bit dazzled with the prospect of horses and carriages and
diamonds and so forth, so, although I knew even then that I was in a
position to give them to you also, I made up my mind I would be sure
that you were accepting me for myself, even as the artist who could
only give you a very different position to that which the old (I beg
pardon, the middle-aged) count could, and I suppose _did_, offer you.
Am I forgiven, Doris?  I must be hastening back to my duties now; but
you must tell me first, dear, if you care any less for Sir Edward
than for the Lancelot you have known so long?"

Doris lifts her face, a little paler than when they entered the room
at first, and with unshed tears standing in her large blue eyes she
says:

"Dear Lancelot, I care for you no less, no more than at first.  I do
not think I could ever be fonder of you than I was when I promised to
become your wife.  But I am glad now that you tried me, and that I
accepted you in ignorance of your real position.  O," she adds a
little archly, "it was horribly mean of you, but I am very, very glad
now!"

Sir Edward (for we may as well give him his title now) folds Doris in
his arms for one brief moment, then he hurries her out of the room.
As they are approaching the hall once more, he whispers, "Give me
your programme, Lady Ferrars!  I must squeeze in every dance that I
can with your ladyship; but oh, these duty dances!  I _must_ have one
with Honor, and Molly too.  Now you understand, I suppose, why I
opened the proceedings with Lady Castleton, and why the Earl was
_your_ partner?"

"But he doesn't know, does he?" says Doris, looking frightened.

"Yes, I gave him a hint.  We are old friends; my father and he were
very intimate in days gone by.  Lord Castleton has just told me that
he thinks Miss Merivale is a very charming girl.  I shouldn't be a
bit surprised if he proposes your health at supper to-night.  There
will have to be a little speechifying, worse luck, because of the
occasion."

"O, good gracious, I hope he won't!" exclaims Doris excitedly.  "If
he does, I shall fall straight under the table with nervousness!"

"Never mind," says Sir Edward calmly.  "If you do I can fish you up
again."

Presently the Mr. Talboys come up to Doris full of hearty
congratulations, as do also most of the guests in the room that
night, who have not known the true state of affairs any more than
Doris herself.  Molly, indeed, is reduced to such a state of surprise
and wonder, that Honor thinks it well to whisper that her present
partner, a youth of tender age, will be frightened if she continues
to stare in that vacant manner.

The Mr. Talboys, who, after their usual custom had been amongst the
first arrivals, have been immensely gratified and pleased by all the
attention their three favourites have been receiving.  The little
surprise of Lancelot turning out to be Sir Edward, they take quite as
a matter of course.

"Doubtless he had very excellent reasons, my dear Ben," observed Mr.
Ned.  "You see, no one knew him down here, not a soul, excepting the
Merivales and ourselves, and I should say Mr. Ferrars--I mean Sir
Edward--is an unobtrusive sort of man.  O yes, very, I should think."

To Lady Woodhouse Doris is at the same moment saying, "Aunt, how
could you and mother play me such a trick?  It was too bad of you
both."

"Tut, child!" says Aunt Sophia with a little toss of her head, "it
was for your own good.  If young Ferrars had really been a pauper and
was pretending to be a prince, I might have thought twice about it,
perhaps.  Here he comes for you.  Dear me, how tired I am getting!"
and the poor lady tries to stifle a yawn behind her fan.

By and by, in one of the pauses in their waltz, Sir Edward suddenly
says, "You will have to call me 'Edward' now, you know.  You can't go
on with Lancelot: no one would know whom you were talking about.  Of
course it must be Edward."

"Well, I suppose it must," says Doris, taking little sniffs at her
flowers.  "But I don't like it half so well.  It is so formal too.  I
shall have to call you 'Ned' for short, shall I?"

"You can't do that, because Mr. Talboys will always think you are
speaking to him when he is present.  _Ted_ might do, though.  It
sounds so romantic and pretty, doesn't it?  Honor and Molly are
getting lots of attention, aren't they?  Poor Horton, I wish he was
here.  Shall we have another turn, Doris?"

Not long after this there is a general move amongst the guests who
are still left, and while Lady Woodhouse and her three nieces are
waiting together in a little group, Sir Edward, his cousins, Lord
Hinton, and John Sinclair being in close attendance, Mrs. Cunnyngham,
Sir Edward's aunt, says a few kind, courteous words to her nephew's
promised bride, finally kissing her affectionately when saying
"good-night."

Sir Edward takes Lady Woodhouse out to the carriage, Lord Hinton
following with Doris.

Mr. Ernest Hildyard, who has been leaning against the wall consumed
with jealousy of his successful rival John Sinclair for the best part
of the evening, on seeing this move rushes forward, inspired by one
last glimmer of hope, and is about to offer his arm to Honor, when
Sinclair with a little triumphant smile strides forward and quietly
takes possession of her.

The disappointed youth falls back to Molly's side just as one of Mrs.
Cunnyngham's sons also reaches her; but with a little smile at the
latter Molly puts her hand on young Hildyard's arm, and Cunnyngham,
understanding her smile, steps back, liking her all the better for
the little kind-hearted act.

Both brothers, however, accompany her as well, and there is quite a
merry leave-taking amongst them all as the gentlemen stand
congregated on the lowest step, after having seen their fair charges
stowed away in the fly.  The first rosy streaks of dawn are appearing
in the east as they drive away from the Court, and poor Lady
Woodhouse, tired and shivery, throws herself back in her seat
exclaiming:

"There! thank goodness _that_ is over.  I would not go through it all
again, no, not if I were paid for it!"  Mary is in attendance with
the goloshes as the fly draws up at the gate, and they all go as
quietly and softly into the house and up the stairs as if, as Doris
says, they were housebreakers.

The girls follow their aunt into her room and help her out of her
finery, as she calls it.

"Why, dear me," says the good lady, sinking into a chair, "you girls
look as fresh as larks even now--excepting Molly perhaps: the child
looks pale.  Get me my night-cap somebody, I am dying to get this
lace arrangement off.  That diamond pin has been running into my head
the best part of the evening."

"Poor Aunt!" says Doris.  "Take off your cap and I'll have the other
ready in a minute."  And the naughty girl winks at Honor as she turns
away to look for it.

Molly, however, too tired for jokes, is before her, and is already
standing by her aunt with the night-cap in her hands.

"That's a good girl," says Lady Woodhouse, drawing her face down and
kissing it.  "And now be off, all of you.  You have already lost
several hours of beauty-sleep, and you will be looking as haggard as
old women to-morrow!"  And kissing them all affectionately, she
dismisses her three maids for the night, or more correctly speaking,
morning.



CHAPTER XXXV.

DORIS'S WEDDING.

Breakfast is considerably later than usual the next morning, in
consequence of the gaieties of the previous night.  Mrs. Merivale has
therefore made an effort to be present on this occasion in order to
hear full accounts of the ball.

Lady Woodhouse has now somewhat recovered from her fatigue, but the
girls all look pale and heavy-eyed, being altogether unaccustomed to
such late hours.  Molly sits in a hopeless state of yawning, hardly
eating any breakfast, and leaving all the others to do the talking,
only throwing in a word here and there.  Doris has been scolding her
mother for her part in what she calls the _trick_ played upon her as
to the real position of her _fiancé_, and Mrs. Merivale has more than
once been obliged to appeal laughingly to her sister for support in
what she holds out as her _reasons_ against her daughter's arguments.

That young lady at length clinches the matter by emphatically
declaring it to be all "fudge," whatever that may be, and that she is
quite surprised at Lancelot having behaved so badly.

"Yes," presently remarks Lady Woodhouse, chipping the top off an egg,
"I will say this for your girls, Mary,--a more lady-like, refined
trio you could not see.  If they were not here," she continues with
an inconsistency worthy of the Emerald Isle itself, "I should go on
to say what is perfectly true, that they were the admiration of the
greater part of the guests, and the envy of the rest.  Why, if their
programmes had been as long as my arm, they could have filled them
over and over.  O, yes, I certainly feel well repaid for those long,
weary hours of sitting there, pretending I liked it, when I would
_far_ rather have been in my bed.  Well, as I said before, the girls
do you credit, Mary.  You and that excellent Miss Denison that was;
you would have brought them up to be refined even had they had to go
out charing.  Good gracious! here's that cat of yours playing with my
shoe-strings.  Take him away, Molly, do!  And now, Doris, what is
this you are telling us about Sir Edward?  If he wants you to marry
him in three weeks' time instead of several months, why in the world
shouldn't you do so?"

"It is so quick, aunt," objects Doris.

"Quick?  What nonsense, child!  And now, let me tell you this, Doris,
and I am sure your mother will agree with me.  Considering that you
are going to your husband without so much as a sixpence of your own,
I think it is your duty--do you hear?--your _duty_ to consider his
wishes.  Goodness knows, the property has been neglected long enough;
and if Sir Edward wishes to settle down on his estate as quickly as
he can, I don't see why _you_ should raise objections.  _Do_ leave
off twirling that knife round, Dick.  It fidgets me to death."

After a good deal of argument on the subject, it is settled that
Doris (in her aunt's wording) shall behave herself like a sensible
young woman, and inform Sir Edward, who is to call at twelve o'clock
that morning, that she is ready to be borne off to the altar at any
moment he shall think desirable; and Molly, suddenly looking up at
the clock and remembering that she is due at the Hallams at half-past
ten, darts away from the table to put on her hat.

And so it comes to pass that the wedding is fixed for that day three
weeks.

Much as Sir Edward would have wished for a quiet wedding--just simply
the Merivale party and a few of his own relatives--it is found to be
impossible, under all the circumstances.  So Doris finds (not
entirely to her chagrin) that she is, after all, to have the grand
wedding which she has always promised herself on the occasion of her
union with the much-talked-of duke.  Although the house for the next
three weeks is in a perfect uproar of preparation regarding
everything appertaining to the bride's trousseau, much trouble, and
expense too, is taken off their hands by the Mr. Talboys, who insist,
taking no denial, on giving the breakfast at their own house.

Grave and long, therefore, are the consultations held by the old
gentlemen with Mrs. Edwards, their cook and housekeeper, and anxious
the discussions with Priscilla, the parlour-maid, on the subject of
certain valuable silver and china, which are stored away in the
depths of a capacious closet, and have not seen the light of day for
years.

Nearly all Doris's time is taken up in trying on and being fitted,
until she hardly knows what dresses she does possess.  Many are the
notes of thanks, too, which she has to write for the really nice
presents she receives, conspicuous amongst which are a beautiful set
of amethysts from Mr. Edward, and another of fine pearls from Mr.
Benjamin Talboys.

Sir John and Lady Woodhouse have come forward most generously in the
matter of the trousseau, the former having said to his wife: "We must
see that little Doris is well set up for gowns and bonnets and so
forth, my dear.  I should not like her to step into such a position
scantily supplied.  You see it is our duty, as it were, to see the
affair all through satisfactorily, the young people having met so
often while Doris was under our charge."

And so the rich silk embroidered with seed pearls in which Doris now
stands, waiting for her carriage, has been the gift of her kind
uncle, as well as most of the other dresses; and while, before
starting for the church, he clasps upon the girl's wrist a slender
band of pearls (his wedding present), he whispers to her, "You must
never forget, my dear, that _I_ was the attraction, and that Sir
Edward always came to see _me_, not _you_, you know!" and laughingly
patting her cheek, he trots away after his wife.

No less a personage than the Earl of Castleton has solicited the
honour of giving away the bride, partly on account of his friendship
with Sir Edward, but quite as much for the real liking he has taken
to "little Miss Doris," as he calls her.

Lord Castleton seems every bit as nervous as Doris herself on this
occasion, for he fusses about the room, first to the window then to
the mantel-piece, taking little sniffs here and there at the flowers,
then back again to the window.  He can think of nothing particular to
say either, excepting every now and then expatiating on the beauty of
the day, which has certainly turned out lovely, and also begging
Doris not to be nervous.

He is just admiring the beautiful diamond necklace (Sir Edward's
gift) which Doris wears, when the carriage is announced, and the
earl, with a dignity which fills the stragglers at the gate with awe,
proudly conducts the bride to it.

Lord Hinton acts as best-man to his friend, Sir Edward, and the
ceremony once over, he of course takes Honor into his charge as first
bridesmaid, Dr. John Sinclair accepting the inevitable with a fairly
good grace, remarking as he follows the rest of the party down the
aisle with Molly on his arm:

"You and I must console each other, Molly; we both seem rather out of
it to-day, though your turn will come as surely as mine yet."

The moment has now come when Doris must take leave of all her family
and the kind friends standing around her.  She is looking lovely in
her plainly-made dress of dark green cloth and tan Suède waistcoat
and facings, with bonnet and gloves to match.  Though when bidding
her adieux the tears are standing in her soft blue eyes, she wisely
keeps them from falling (for after all it is not a compliment to
one's bridegroom to start on the wedding tour in floods of tears);
and as she takes her husband's arm and goes down the steps, she turns
before entering the carriage and throws a beaming glance back to them
all.

In another moment, amidst a perfect storm of rice, the Mr. Talboys
actually struggling with Dick and John Sinclair for the largest
quantities, Sir Edward and Lady Ferrars are off, _en route_ to
Seaforth Abbey, one of Lord Castleton's seats in the neighbourhood of
the English lakes, which he has placed at their disposal for the
honeymoon.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE END OF A FAIRY TALE.

Another year has passed, and on a hot lazy afternoon in August a
group may be seen lounging on the lawn of the Rookery, under the
shade of one or two fine old trees.

Mrs. Merivale and Lady Woodhouse are seated close together in earnest
conversation over some matter which is of importance to themselves
only.

Sir Edward and Lady Ferrars, who have now been settled at the Court
for some long time, have dropped in at the Rookery, as they are fond
of doing, and are seated with Honor a little distance off.

Presently Doris rises and joins her mother and aunt, and after a
little pause, during which Sir Edward rolls up and lights a
cigarette, he turns to his sister-in-law and says:

"Do you know, Honor, I have come here this afternoon with the
deliberate intention of giving you a good talking to.  I told Doris I
should this morning, and she quite agreed."

"Why, what have I done?" inquires Honor laughing.

"It is not what you _have_ done, but what you seem determined _not_
to do, young lady," returns Sir Edward.  "To speak plainly, I do not
think you are treating Sinclair fairly.  That is what I want to tell
you."

Honor is opening her mouth to speak, a little surprise on her face at
this accusation, when Sir Edward continues:

"No, I really don't, Honor.  Here is this letter, which came more
than a week ago, telling us of young Horton already being on his way
home, poor fellow! and you know very well what will take place when
once he does come, for Molly certainly returns his affection now.  I
am sure of it.  And yet you go on, putting off Sinclair still; and
for no reason at all as far as I can see."

Honor looks a little abashed, but Sir Edward goes on again, first
sending a cloud of smoke up into the tree above.

"You know what I intend doing for Bobby and Dick, Honor.  Of course
it is high time now in any case that Bob went to a good
boarding-school, and he can divide his holidays amongst us when they
come round.  Dick cannot do better than remain where he is for a
little while linger; but I have told the lad that when the right time
comes he shall have his heart's desire, and go to Oxford.  Now,
Honor, be reasonable.  What is there to prevent your marrying
Sinclair now?  There are only your mother and Daisy left, and I am
sure the former would be very happy living with us, taking turns, I
mean, with you and ourselves.  And as for Daisy, Sinclair has often
spoken of his great wish to have the child to live entirely with
himself and you in the future.  Now, I don't think you can say
another word.  I consider I have blown away all your scruples as
completely as I am blowing away this smoke.  So now, Miss Honor, we
shall both, Doris and I, expect cards for your wedding shortly;" and
before the girl can say a word in reply Sir Edward gets up and joins
the other group, feeling doubtless that it will do more good if she
is left to digest his remarks at her own leisure.

The Mr. Talboys are coming to tea this afternoon, bringing with them
two guests of their own--Daisy and Bobby.  So, after sitting a moment
or two, Honor gets up and goes into the house to give a look to the
preparations for tea, which is to be in the garden on this occasion.

While this conversation is going on, Molly is seated in a swing which
is suspended to a tree near a small arbour, at the back of which is a
little gate in the hedge, much used by the servants, it being a short
way to the back of the house.

Often the girls use this way of entrance too, especially when they
want to get in quickly.

To-day, on her return home from some of her pupils, Molly turns in
this way, and seating herself in the swing throws her hat down on the
grass before her.

It is not because she is tired that Molly stays here instead of going
straight into the house, but because she wants to be quiet for a few
moments, in order to read again for about the twentieth time that
letter spoken of by Sir Edward to Honor, which is from Col. Danvers,
and is in her pocket at the present moment.  Gently swinging to and
fro, one hand steadying the rope, the other holding the letter down
in her lap, Molly reads the words which she could now almost say off
by heart.

The first portion of the letter is taken up with inquiries for all at
home, and a brief explanation of his having been ordered to the
Soudan some little time back.  There, greatly to his surprise, he had
come across Hugh Horton, the two from that time being thrown much
together.  Then comes the description of a small skirmish with the
Arabs one day when they were both out together, in which Hugh was
badly wounded in nobly going to the rescue of one of his own men.

Having been cut off somehow from the rest of the party, this man
suddenly found himself face to face with three Arabs, who, promptly
attacking him, would soon have made short work of the matter, had not
Hugh, seeing the state of affairs from a distance, galloped up to his
assistance.  Even then the two had a hard fight for it, and it is
doubtful whether either would have lived to tell the tale had not
others of the party ridden up to their rescue; for while the Arabs at
the sight of them took instant refuge in flight, Hugh at the same
moment rolled forward in his saddle and fell heavily to the ground,
close to where Private Williams had fallen a few seconds previously.

Altogether the letter is a long one, but a little further on--after
describing the dangerous state in which Hugh (now Captain Horton) had
lain for weeks, the surgeon having in fact given up all hope of his
recovery--there are some words which Molly is never tired of reading.


"I nursed him through it all myself," the colonel goes on, "with the
assistance of his own servant, and altogether, when not raving in
delirium, he was as patient as a man with a broken arm, a deep sabre
gash across his forehead, and quite a nice little collection of
bullets in his body altogether, could be expected to be, I think.
Through all his delirium, and even when quietly sleeping sometimes,
the name of 'Molly Bawn' was constantly on his lips.  I mention this
in case you should happen to know anything of the young lady in
question!  Well, a truce to joking.  I am sending poor Horton home to
you all a complete wreck of his former self.  Take care of him, and
be kind to him, Molly.  He needs it sadly.  I think you may expect
him almost any time after you receive this letter, for I want to
start him off the moment I can."


A few more words and the letter ends.  Not so the motion of the
swing.  For Molly still sits, reading a little bit here and there
over again, until the tears slowly gather in her eyes, and fall one
by one with a little splash on to the paper in her lap.

"Dear Hugh!" she says softly to herself, "I hope he will come soon."

The words are hardly spoken when her heart tightens, and for a second
or two almost ceases to beat.  For hark!  A tenor voice somewhere in
the neighbourhood of the road is singing, or to speak more correctly,
humming, the first verse of "Molly Bawn."

Molly arrests the motion of the swing and listens; her heart now
beating to suffocation almost, while a flush rises to her fair young
face.  It dies away again suddenly, however, for in another instant a
tall figure stands beside her with pale haggard face, on which the
dark and now sweeping moustache looks fiercer than ever.

There is the same soft light in the eyes as of old though, as Hugh,
with a little smothered cry of "Molly, darling!" throws his one
available arm round the startled girl, just in time to prevent her
from falling.

"Hugh!" she cries.  And in those three words all is said, all told;
and the next moment Molly is leaning her head upon his shoulder,
shedding tears of thankfulness for his safe return.

A little later on, when (regardless of spiders and other innumerable
creeping things) they are seated in the arbour, Hugh having begged
earnestly for a few minutes' quiet talk before joining the others,
Molly suddenly looks up.

"Poor fellow! you do indeed look as if you need to be taken care of.
Is your poor arm really getting stronger now?" and she gently strokes
the right arm, which he still wears in a sling.

"O, that will soon be all right," he says, capturing the little hand
and holding it fast.  "It was the knock on the head which nearly did
for me.  Look here, Molly!" and lifting a lock of hair which falls a
little over one side of his forehead, he shows her a wound which
extends pretty far back.  Not an ugly-looking scar, but a deep and
dangerous cut at the time.

"Yes," he says, "I did not know much after getting that, Molly; but I
should have known still less if it had not been for _you_."

"For me?" says the girl looking up inquiringly.

"Yes, for you, dear.  Here, help me to get into my breast-pocket,
Molly I have something to show you."

With a little struggling Hugh's pocket-book is at length extracted
from his pocket, and after some fumbling among its contents he
presently produces a little flat silver box of oriental-looking
workmanship, which looks a good deal dented and a little bent.

He gives it into Molly's hands.

"Open it," he says, and the girl, wondering a little, does so.

A faded white rose lies within it, a faint, sweet fragrance clinging
to it still.

"My rose!" says Molly softly, her eyes filling with tears.

"_Mine_," returns Hugh gently, and taking it out of her hand he puts
it away again carefully.

"Yes, if it had not been for this rose, Molly, I should not be
sitting here beside you now.  The bullet which would have been buried
in my heart struck this (touching the box), and glanced aside.  So
you see, Molly, it was _you_ who saved my life!--a worthless one
enough until you took me in hand, dear.  Well, now I suppose we must
go and join the others.  What a start I shall give them!"

When they reach the lawn they find the Mr. Talboys have arrived with
Daisy and Bobby; and when they have all got over their first
astonishment at the sight of the haggard-looking personage walking by
Molly's side, there is a general rush, and hearty congratulations are
showered on Hugh by every one upon his safe arrival home again.
Although nothing is actually said upon the subject, it is not
difficult to guess at the true state of affairs when they glance from
Hugh's speaking face to Molly, where she stands a little apart, with
downcast eyes and heightened colour; and there is extra warmth thrown
into the welcome to the returned wanderer on this account perhaps.

"But where is Daisy?--not ill, I hope;" and Hugh looks inquiringly
towards Molly.

"O no," says Mrs. Merivale rising.  "I am thankful to say that she is
quite a little Samson to what she was formerly.  But she and Bobby
have been dining with the Mr. Talboys to-day, and Daisy seems a
little done up with the heat.  She complained of headache, so Honor
insisted on her lying on the sofa in the drawing-room for a little
while.  I will take you to see her myself, Hugh;" and putting her arm
within his they turn towards the house together.

"The fact is," remarks Honor, shaking her head gravely at the
brothers Talboys, "Mr. Ned and Mr. Ben have been giving the children
too many good things.  Bobby already begins to look as if a powder
might be desirable sooner or later."

"_Honor!_" exclaims that young gentleman indignantly, while Mr. Ned,
much concerned at the charge brought against himself and his brother,
says emphatically:

"I _assure_ you, my dear, we have been most judicious in that
respect, and I am sure that Daisy at least had nothing richer than
apricot-tart and cream.  To be sure," he adds after a minute, "I have
some slight recollection of my brother Ben and Daisy having finished
up the tart between them, but I _don't_ think it was a very large
one.  Master Bob and I preferred something more substantial--didn't
we, young man?"

"Yes," replies Bobby promptly.  "We had a roly-poly jam-pudding, Mr.
Ned and I.  And we had the jam-pot up as well, because we thought
Mrs. Edwards had not put enough in--didn't we, Mr. Ned?"

"Hush--sh--sh!" says Mr. Edward, shaking his finger at the boy; "you
mustn't tell tales out of school, young Bob, or we shall have Miss
Honor after us with the cane!"

When Mrs. Merivale a little later comes out of the drawing-room,
leaving Hugh still chatting to Daisy, Molly is just descending the
stairs, having been up to her room to take her hat off.  She waits
for her, therefore, and tenderly folding her daughter in her arms she
whispers, "I am so glad, dear child!  Now go into the drawing-room
and sit with him and Daisy in the cool for a little while.  We will
call you out when tea is ready.  I will tell the others and make it
all easy for you, dear.  See if Hugh would like anything after his
dusty walk.  Poor fellow, what a wreck he is indeed!" and opening the
door again Mrs. Merivale gently pushes her daughter into the room.

Sitting there in the welcome shade of the darkened room, with one
hand in Hugh's strong grasp and the other clasped by Daisy's little
sympathetic fingers, Molly listens quietly to all that Hugh is
telling her little sister of his experiences and adventures abroad;
and presently he turns to her and tells her of the devotion and
kindness with which Colonel Danvers tended him while on his bed of
sickness, and indeed up to the time he had left Egypt.

"He told me afterwards," Hugh adds, "that he was determined to pull
me through 'for little Molly's sake.'"

At this moment Becky opens the door, and with a frightened glance at
the "capting" announces that tea is ready and waiting.  So they leave
Daisy to herself, promising to send some tea in to her.

There is such a large party on the lawn altogether that Honor and
Molly divide the labour between them and have opposition tables,
Honor with tea, Molly with coffee.  Hugh is seated in a comfortable
wicker chair near Molly's table (he preferring coffee to tea), and is
being made much of by everybody.  There is a beautiful sapphire and
diamond ring on the third finger of Molly's left hand now, the pearls
playing number two; and as Hugh watches the little hands moving about
the cups, the flashes emitted by the fine stones cause him much
inward satisfaction, as proving some really tangible arrangement _at
last_!

Presently John Sinclair strolls in, and being a tea-drinker,
naturally comes to anchor beside Honor's table.  He is very soon, as
usual, plunged in some scientific discussion with Sir Edward Ferrars,
a great liking for each other having sprung up between the two young
men.  But notwithstanding the rapt attention he is apparently
bestowing on the subject, Doctor Sinclair reads the "signs of the
times" as quickly as anyone, and the sight of Hugh seated by Molly
and the flashing of the latter's diamonds and sapphires afford him
every bit as much satisfaction as they do Hugh.

"I have come to the end of my cream!" suddenly exclaims Molly.  "Who
will fetch me some more?"

"I will," cries Honor, jumping up.  "I can lay my hand on it at once.
Don't let Dick eat all the sugar while I am gone."

In another moment John Sinclair rises quickly from his chair.

"I will go and see how Daisy is getting on," he remarks, and, quite
oblivious of the fact that Sir Edward has just asked him some
abstruse question, the answer to which he is eagerly waiting for, off
he starts with rapid strides towards the house.  Sir Edward, however,
looks at Doris and laughs, well pleased.  After waiting patiently for
some considerable time Molly at length exclaims:

"Good gracious! what a time she is fetching that cream!  O, here they
all come together."

"Daisy feels better," remarks Honor with some confusion in her
manner, "so we have brought her out with us."

"Exactly," says Brother Ben, his eyes twinkling meanwhile.  Molly
looks at her sister a moment, then with a little smile at Hugh she
says:

"Yes, Honor, but where is my cream?"

There is a general smile, and then Dick offers his services.

"I _may_ perhaps manage to remember what I am going for," he says;
"but it is a long, _long_ walk to the house, and I fear it is
doubtful, as Honor has already shown.  However, I'll try."

"And don't drink half of it before you get back!" cries Sinclair
after him.

While Dick is absent there is rather an awkward silence, which Sir
Edward suddenly breaks by bursting into a hearty laugh.

"You must really forgive me," he says to Honor and Sinclair, "but it
is so very absurd to see you two sitting there trying to look as if
nothing at all particular has happened.  Of course every one of us
here," and he looks round, "has long known of the tacit understanding
as to Honor's possible marriage in the future (I say 'possible'
because of her noble and generous scruples in the matter), and I am
sure, therefore, that she will forgive me for speaking thus openly
before this family party, and our old and valued friends, the Mr.
Talboys."  The brothers bow delightedly.

"So now, Sinclair," and Sir Edward holds out his hand, "may I
congratulate you and Honor on your formal engagement?"  Of course
every one flocks round them, and the general excitement is at high
pitch for a few minutes, it being presently increased by Bobby
contriving to upset a milk jug.  For this catastrophe Honor is
devoutly thankful, since it takes every one's attention away from
herself for a time.  Moreover, it benefits Vic and Timothy, who
generally grace the tea-board with their presence.  The former has
been industriously shaking Honor's dress for the last few minutes,
being under the impression that all the handshaking and kissing are
some new kind of game.  But they both rush forward now with one
accord to the little pond of milk, which is rapidly sinking into the
thirsty turf, and lap energetically until it is gone.

Presently, when they have all settled down again quietly, Mr. Edward
Talboys plants his stick firmly on the grass in front of him and says:

"Now, there is one thing, my dear friends, that my brother Ben and I
have set our hearts upon, and in case of any little misunderstanding
in the future, we think it is best, perhaps, to mention it at once."

"Just so, just so," says Mr. Ben nodding.

"We wish very much to have the honour of giving away the two brides
when the time for the wedding (which will be a double one, I suppose)
shall come.  We had looked forward, you know, to performing this
little ceremony for Doris on the occasion of her becoming Lady
Ferrars, but although we were obliged to make the best of it then, we
much hope there will be no similar disappointment in store for us
_this_ time."

"My dear sirs, I am sure that nothing would please my sisters
better," answers Sir Edward for the two girls.  "I had intended
taking that duty on myself, but you have a far superior claim; and so
with your leave we will consider that matter settled.  I shall devote
myself exclusively to your mother, Doris, for the whole day, so you
must look out for someone else."

"O, I shall find someone, never fear," retorts Lady Ferrars, tossing
her fair little head at her lord.

"And what is to become of me, pray?" inquires Lady Woodhouse, looking
round at every one in turn.

"O, I am going to be your cavalier, aunt," says Dick with a courtly
bow.  "Just you wait until you see me.  I mean to get myself up to
the nines, _I_ can tell you, and you will be able to congratulate
yourself on having the best-looking fellow in the church as your
escort, _not_ excepting the two bridegrooms."

"Dick!" cries every one together, and Lady Woodhouse, giving him a
rap with the handle of her sunshade, says:

"Go along with you, do!  As if I should consent to having a young
jack-a-napes like you for a cavalier."

Here Daisy, who had run after Dick when he went for the cream, and
has been absent ever since, reappears amongst them all with some
little sketches which she has been doing under Honor's supervision in
Hugh's absence, and which she is anxious to show to him.

After they have been duly examined and admired, Sir Edward calls her
over to him.

"I fancy your friend Dr. John can finish your story for you now,
Daisy," he whispers.  "Go and tell him I say so."

Nothing loth, the child goes across to where he is sitting, and
demands his instant and undivided attention.

So John Sinclair, with one arm round the child as she stands close
beside him, begins briefly narrating the old fairy tale in a low
voice, hurrying over it until he comes to the part in which he has
made the required alterations.

"Wait a minute!" cries Daisy excitedly; "you must speak out loud now,
because I don't believe any of the others know the new ending.  Now
then."

"So," resumes John, "the woodcutter asked the princess to marry him--"

"He was a prince really, you know," puts in Daisy parenthetically,
for the benefit of the company generally.

"And," continues John, "as all her sisters were married excepting
one--"

"She said she would!" cries the child, clapping her hands and beaming
round upon everybody.  Then there is a short pause, during which John
glances at Honor.

"And--" at length queries Daisy, looking up into her favourite's face.

"And--er--" says John.  "Let me see.  O yes, the princess took the
wood-cutter by the hand and led him up to her little sister, saying:

"'Buttercup, I have brought you a new brother.  Will you come and
live with him and me far away in the wood, in a little hut which is
covered with roses?'"

"And what did Buttercup say?" inquires Daisy, who is listening with
breathless interest to this entirely new part of the story.

"I don't know," says John rather lamely; "what would _you_ have said?"

"O, _I_ would have said 'yes,'" she replies promptly.

"Well, I think you had better finish the story, Daisy.  You know it
quite as well as I do, if not better."

"Well," says Daisy gravely, "Buttercup said she _would_ like to live
with them in the hut covered with roses.  And then the wood-cutter
and the princess were married very soon, and they all lived happily
ever after."



THE END.





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