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Title: Three Bright Girls
       A Story of Chance and Mischance

Author: Annie E. Armstrong

Illustrator: W. Parkinson

Release Date: July 13, 2020 [EBook #62631]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


Produced by Al Haines


Three Bright Girls

A Story of Chance and Mischance



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





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


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?"






"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."


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."



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.


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.



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.



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.



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.



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."



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."



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.



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.



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 unsuitable, 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.



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."



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."


"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."



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.



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.



"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.



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."


"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.



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.



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."



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.



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.



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."



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."



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.



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."



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.



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.



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.



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."



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.



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."



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.



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!



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.


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."


"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.



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.



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.



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."


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